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Monday 31 August 2020

The Spotlight: Interview With Forlorn World (Josh McMorran) by Paul Hutchings

Forlorn World Interview

Bloodshot Dawn is a band that most readers of the site will be aware of. Technical melodic death metal with a brutal twist, the band have toured relentlessly with founder and frontman Josh McMorran’s relentless energy driving the band forward. Josh is now set to release his solo project, Forlorn World, with the debut album Umbra due out at the end of October. Paul caught up with Josh recently to find out a bit more about Forlorn World and to sneak an update on news from the Bloodshot camp.
Having been given early opportunity to listen to Umbra, I’m happy to report that it’s a cracking piece of work. The result of over a year of painstaking development. Josh is happy with the result. “I’m really pleased. It’s kind of an experiment as I’ve never mixed and produced my own album. I didn’t have high expectations and didn’t plan to release anything, but it was good enough to do so. It far outweighed my expectations”. 

Josh has been involved in the music industry for many years, but there is obviously a point in the musical journey when you are ready to take on this kind of challenge. “I’ve never been compelled to do anything by myself” Josh explained. “I wanted to get better with the production side of things, to learn more about how to technically put an album together. Bloodshot Dawn have an album written and we are working towards the expenses side of that”. With Covid 19 impacting on the touring of all bands, this left Josh with the opportunity to accelerate his work on Forlorn World. “I started working on it in July 2019, so it was to tide myself over; we can’t do much with Bloodshot now, being from different countries”. Josh admits that he may not have been able to do Umbra, certainly not to the same standard ten years ago. “I’m a bit more open-minded now, I guess. It’s played more in the vein of my favourite listenings, the bands I listen to. You can recognise the bands I listen to by listening to Forlorn World.”
If you are familiar with Bloodshot Dawn, you’ll know that Josh possesses a ferocious roar and growl, so it is interesting on Umbra that there are sections of clean vocals, which work well alongside the harsher more recognisable delivery. “I studied vocals. It is something I’ve only wanted to incorporate in my own music, but it is a difficult thing to balance. 

When I pick up a guitar it’s quite brutal, the rhythmic style, and it’s taken me awhile to work out how to approach it. But it’s experimental. I’m new to vocal melodies, over metal. I want to improve on that”. Josh’s style of playing is technically intricate, and I expressed my admiration that he can sing and play at the same time. The pressure of doing quality clean vocals in the Bloodshot arena isn't something that Josh envisages. “I wouldn’t want the pressure of having to sing in tune and play the guitar live. It’s not an easy skill. I don’t want to bring in something that is weak to Bloodshot”. This isn’t that Josh isn’t confident that he could learn to do it, far from it. “It’s hard enough to scream and play the technical stuff that I do is hard enough. Adding clean vocals to that is just such a challenge”. Josh points out that Jari Mäenpää [Wintersun] dropped the guitar playing to concentrate on his vocals. “I wouldn’t want to discredit the rest of the music by singing out of tune. Forlorn World gives me a platform to do stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily do live”. Should Forlorn World ever go live, then Josh feels that he’d likely drop to vocals only with others doing the guitar parts.

Umbra features a range of guests on it including Franceso Paoli (Fleshgod Apocalypse), Morgan Reid and Yo Oniytan. The songs appear to fit with the artists who take part but was the music written with any of those guests in mind? “I’ve collaborated a lot on the Bloodshot albums, so I wanted to get my friends on board, those that I feel are underrated I guess. None of the songs were written with the players in mind. The sections that they play on, I suppose they do cater for them. I asked them before writing their parts in. There is one solo I needed to get someone in last minute due to C-19. Generally, most of the parts cater for the players who are on them. The vocal guests on the final two tracks are portraying characters within the realms of the concept. There is interaction between the main and sub-characters”. 

Bloodshot music has a predominantly sci-fi feel although there is always personal themes to the lyrics that Josh writes. In Umbra there is a story to explore. “A lot of my lyrics are observational. They are ambiguous, the writing I do, and I like to have a fantasy theme as it’s good for imagery and artwork. It’s good to have to something to relate to for the art. The first three (and the new) Bloodshot albums there has been a rolling concept between the artwork. This is part of the same lure, all dimensional stuff. If you have the cover, you can see that there is a war, and there is a main character who is a wizard. It’s kind of a standard story. He’s been stripped of all he owned and had his family taken away and he’s being chased down. After being exiled he’s become a powerful wizard and he’s trying to leave the planet he’s on. The story is in the lyrics, it’s all there. If you read between the art (both on Bloodshot) and future releases, it’ll all link together in the end”. Josh sums it up rather nicely when he says it’s basically a cinematic story about a wizard!! He continues “there are monologues and the battle scene is the peak of the story on the album cover.”

Those that follow Josh on his Facebook pages for Forlorn World will have noticed that the album art is designed and created by his fiancé, Tea Morgan. “She’s a very talented painter” Josh says. “It was less pressure for her to do the artwork on my project. It’s her first album cover. It’s fantastic. I have a metre square version on my wall. We worked together and I had the idea in mind and she created perspective as I can’t draw! It’s really eye catching”. Tea has done a stunning job, and Umbra sits alongside those superb covers that are a symbol of the Bloodshot Dawn releases. 

Josh explains that artwork is one of the most important factors for underground bands as getting new listeners is a real challenge. “Having that presentation before people have laid ears on your band is the first tipping point. You don’t see a dude slamming an egg on his head and think, that’ll be a masterpiece. You want something that takes your attention instantly. In a world of constant scrolling that is difficult to do”.

Forlorn World is of course a track of the debut album by Bloodshot Dawn. Josh is clear that band names are important. “The song Forlorn World was quite personal to me lyrically, so it kind of encompassed a time in my life. The name means a lot personally. When you are in a forlorn world by yourself, everything is depressing and stuff, and getting out of that depression is something I’ve had to do multiple times. It may seem a depressing reason to call it that but for me it’s a sign of positivity as I’m not in that world. I’m very happy even though the world is messed up. I’m in a good place.

Friday 28 August 2020

Reviews: Gojira, Incantation, Redemption, ROME (Paul H, Paul S, Simon & Alex)

 Gojira: Live At Red Rocks (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Recorded at their support slot to Opeth on 11th May 2017 at Red Rock Amphitheatre, this 67 minute show was originally streamed by the French metallers on 21st May 2020 in the middle of lockdown. If you’ve ever seen Gojira live, you’ll know that they are one of the most compelling live bands around and this set, for a support slot is phenomenal. 

It’s a hit after hit setlist, which was part of the Magma touring cycle. Kicking off with Only Pain, the technical wave of metal hits hard and often. Huge audience reaction is sparked throughout, with highlights including the always blistering Flying WhalesThe Heaviest Matter In The Universe, and The Cell. The irony of Joe Duplantier urging the crowd to be “in the moment” before levelling the place with a monstrous Backbone, as well as a couple of errors left in, create an honest and accurate representation of the band in the live arena. 

Sonically, this is a solid and captivating recording. Gojira are a machine, their headline status in the UK and across the globe has been earnt with hard work. The recent release Another World promises much for the widely anticipated seventh album. In the meantime, put those headphones on, strap yourself in and enjoy the blast wave. 9/10

Incantation: Sect Of Vile Divinities (Relapse Records) [Paul Scoble]

Incantation have been making Old School Death Metal since the days when it was just called Death Metal. The band who have been in existence since 1989, have made 10 albums before Sect Of Vile Divinities, the first being Onward To Golgotha in 1992. The four piece, who originally formed in New Jersey before re-locating to Pennsylvania, features John McEntee on Guitar and Vocals, Kyle Severn on Drums, Chuck Sherwood on Bass and Luke Shivey on Guitar. The band have a reputation for quality, so has Sect Of Vile Divinities lived up to the bands reputation?

The bands sound is rooted in late eighties, early nineties Death Metal. So, fast, tight tremolo picked riffs, blasting drums, screaming atonal solos and deep, gruff harsh vocals. The fast parts feel a little more Swedish Old School rather than Florida Old School. The band are also very good at sickeningly slow and putrid riffs that sound hugely evil and nasty, and are reminiscent of Asphyx or Autopsy. There are mid-paced parts but they are in a minority compared to blasting fast sections and the slow, putrid evil.

Another way this album reminds me of the Old School is the length of the songs. Most of the 12 tracks are pretty short with 4 tracks coming in at less than 3 minutes, so nothing outstays its welcome. Opening track Ritual Impurity (Seven Of The Sky Is One) is a good example of Incantations sound. The track opens with a blasting section of tremolo picked riffs that are battering and aggressive. The track then goes into a sickeningly slow and nasty riff, where guitar harmonies are used to make the track sound horrifically evil and is drenched in tri-tones. The song vacillates between these two sounds, and quickly comes to an end.

When Incantation do fast and savage they do not mess about, it’s fast and nasty in the extreme, close to fellow extremists like Drawn And Quartered or Pissgrave. This is shown beautifully by the track Entrails Of The Hag Queen which has some blisteringly fast, savage parts to it. Another fantastic fast track is Fury’s Manifesto which is thrashy and full of energy, it’s vibrant, forceful and driving. That track also features very heavy slower part, that juxtaposes the fast, and is one of the heaviest riffs I’ve heard in a long time.

Incantation don’t just use the slower parts for juxtapositioning. The track Ignis Fatuus is slow and grinding the whole way through, it features some sickening harmonies and reminds me why the Catholic Church banned the use of the Tri-tone.

Sect Of Vile Divinities is a fantastic album. It’s not that Incantation have found some sort of groundbreaking way to do Death Metal, there isn’t anything on this album that hasn’t been done before, what makes this album great is the quality. Every riff is brilliant, every solo is superbly played and really add to the songs, the drumming is savage, the vocals are near perfect. This is going to be in album of the year lists, possibly at the top. This is an album made by a band at the top of their game, Incantation are clearly masters of this kind of Death Metal, and the rest of us should be happy we’ve got to be their students. 9/10

Redemption: Alive In Color (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Progressive Metal is a funny old beast. It’s definitely not for everyone, but when at the top of its game for me can be the pinnacle of the best of what the metal genre can achieve. For me the energy of the metal side of things, mixed with the more bombastic side of technical wizardry makes this the sub-genre I reach for when the ‘not-we’ in their naïve innocence make stupid statements like “It’s just noise”. “This is what it can be”, I will respond, “check out how well these guys can play” and at that point reach for something like Dream Theater, or if the poor bastard is from the metal side of things, something more aggressive like Symphony X. The comparison has a reason, dear reader, as Redemption sit firmly between these two Progressive Metal stalwarts sound wise.

Musically this is technically tight stuff, with feet firmly in the metal world, and not the more experimental end of say a Spock’s Beard or Dream Theater in more self-indulgent days. It’s also the first release with new guitarist Simone Mularoni and Vikram Shankar on the ivories (coming so very close on the heels of singer Tom Englund), and it must be said debuting the new chaps in one go with a live release (which includes video formats) is a very brave more indeed. Englund is also not playing guitar with these guys, which is a shame as he’s perfectly accomplished in his own right in this respect, and an extra guitar might have added some additional layering. Not that this album is short of this quality. I’m not particularly familiar with their back catalogue, so with all these factors combined it is like discovering a new act for the first time.

Set wise this is a full show double CD release recorded at Progpower, USA in 2018, so at an hour and thirty-six minutes with 14 tracks, none of which can exactly be classified as short you certainly get your money’s worth. Where Englund shines is song where that anguished tone can shine, but unfortunately that becomes a bit monotonous after a while, and you find yourself wishing that some of the tracks had someone of the range and power of a Rob Allen to add a bit of variety. Maybe this line up just needs to find its feet and cut some tunes together, but sadly this wasn’t quite on the money for me and lacked a little bit of energy. 6/10

Rome: The Lone Furrow (Trisol Music Group) [Alex Swift]

Cinematic and traditional in aesthetics, Rome emanates medieval qualities through their gothic melancholy. Almost entirely acoustic yet utilizing the textures of echo and minimalism to create a strikingly harrowing sound, The Lone Furrow gives the impression of being a new way to embrace the dark, dour and bleak qualities associated with their genre. Despite the absence of rampaging riffs, hostile howls, and gluttonous breakdowns, I’m still very tempted to describe the music on display here as ‘metal’. Take the ethereal gambit of TYRIAT SIG TYRIAS where the guitars exude folklore, while the singing bears a coarse yet commanding quality, and the ardently pulverizing reverb from the percussion lends a sense of shrouded mystery – are these not the elements you may traditionally find in folk metal, or that inspired by Celtic and Norse mythology? 

THE ANGRY CUP continues to prove forceful and imposing with its war-like tribal drumming and a mesmerizing chorus chant that hypnotizes the listener. Soon, gargantuan orchestrals loom, interacting with the chanted cadences of the chilling crescendo. Indeed, the addition of Nergal Darski of Behemoth on guest vocals stands as a particularly apt and brilliant decision. The record becomes even more intriguing once you dig into the lyricism which is poetic and political in equal measure. A multi-lingualist Jerome, who leads the project, laces his stanzas with pieces of French and German, as well as English. With ravaging eloquence, the wordplay deconstructs our relationship with the natural world and our refusal to learn from history, always weaving its messages with so much beauty and subtlety that you could forget that you are listening to a condemnation of death and destruction, on an industrial scale. Throughout, you find that these players have an aptitude disturbing and disquieting the audience in a way that leaves them enthralled. Whether that’s by gently captivating them with a sinuous story as on THE LAY OF IRIA, or making their emotions weep with a sombre moment as on PALMYRA, there’s an intensely enchanting quality to the music on display.
I’m incredibly inclined to say that this piece may be one of my favourites of this year. Detached from any preconceptions of how they ‘should’ sound, Rome has crafted an album that is both dark and beautiful. With that combination and the spellbinding way in which those elements are executed, they may have created one of the most artistic works of 2020. 9/10

Reviews: Halestorm, Harmonize, Dying Vision, Reasons Behind (Steve, Lucas, Rich & Mike)

Halestorm: Reimagined (Atlantic Records) [Steve Haines]

Hale siblings Arejay and Lzzy started making music together over 2 decades ago but it is only since Halestorm’s debut album landed in 2009 that they have been making waves with their female-fronted hard rock. In fact, they were the first female-fronted rock band to win a Grammy for their song Love Bites (So Do I). The band have made a habit of releasing EPs of cover versions between studio albums and the current gap following 2018’s Vicious is no exception – it’s just that the artist they have chosen to cover is, well, themselves. With the notable exception of a cover version of I Will Always Love You which itself has been a Halestorm fan-favourite at some live shows in the past, the Reimagined EP features songs from across the band’s back catalogue, all of which have been largely stripped back while losing none of their impact thanks to Lzzy Hale’s delivery of the tweaked vocals. In stripping back tracks like I Get Off and I Miss The Misery, the band have had to largely abandon their familiar chugging, driving guitar style and this leads to some fantastic musical layering that makes for a wonderfully nuanced result. 

I Am The Fire goes from a supercharged rock track to a classically acoustic version that works well delivering a new take on an already great song. When stripping back tracks it can lead to a quandary – one that the band faces with the haunting ballad Break In – how do you strip back what is already down to the bare bones? Answer: you don’t. Instead, you find someone who is known for similar vocal stylings and throw her into the mix to provide a whole new dynamic. Step forward Amy Lee from Evanescence whose voice combines beautifully with Hale’s to, again, give a nuanced take on the already impressive original. While the Halestorm covers by, umm, Halestorm showcase the band’s abilities to unplug and rework songs to great effect, the cover of I Will Always Love You is unquestionably Lzzy Hale’s platform to shine even more than with the full band tracks. 

It is a great take on a well loved song. Existing Halestorm fans will enjoy the way that songs they know have been reworked and new listeners will hear a cross-section of Halestorm’s musical history in a way that shows what a great band they are and those listeners could, indeed SHOULD, invest time going through the band’s back catalogue if they enjoy this brief introduction. 8/10

Harmonize: Warrior In The Night (Self Released) [Lucas Tuckwood]

Today did descend upon me an armour-clad fellow brandishing a ridiculously long sword, his hair blowing in the wind. Shining in his hand was…. a CD. Warrior In The Night by Harmonize to be specific, lo and behold it is some wonderful power metal. Hailing from Cyprus, these obscure headbangers have been at the grindstone since 2012, keeping their swords sharp, and keeping that classic power metal spirit going, and managing to add a certain amount of spice to the age-old formula. 
The first several tracks are a standard power affair- you get a hefty dose of powerful, mid-tempo riffage, combined with some nice harmonising vocals. The songs deal in the fantastical, telling tales of warriors battling the evil forces of darkness- you get track names like Never Back Down, which is quite emblematic of this genre. 

However, one would be doing themselves a disservice to dismiss this album as nothing but power metal cheese, as there’s actually a fair bit of experimentation on display here. Later tracks include growled, rasped vocals on top of the clean ones, which add a darker tinge to the songs, as if showing that the darkness is corrupting the Warrior depicted on the cover. The tempos begin to slow, the riffs get a little more sombre, and a heck of a lot heavier, especially the track Crawling Among Shadows. It’s an interesting thematic choice, and I find it adds a lot of character to this album, and keeps it from falling in line with others of this genre. 

The spoken word outro also contributes to this album’s rather in-depth lore. In all, I was quite surprised by the twist of Cain this album manages to pull, and I think it’s worth a listen just for it alone. If you’re inclined towards power metal, I would not hesitate to recommend this album. 9/10

Dying Vision: The Death And Its Slaughter (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

The Death And Its Slaughter is the new album from London based extreme metal band Dying Vision. It is self-released and the second album from the five piece and is a further example that there is some absolutely fantastic metal in the UK’s underground scene. Dying Vision perform a mix of black and death metal which leans very heavily on the melodic side of these subgenres but whilst being highly melodic does not sacrifice any of the violence and aggression of the black and death metal sounds. The vocals sit somewhere halfway between the throaty rasp of black metal and the guttural roars of death metal and often flits between the two styles. The music is highly energetic and goes straight for the jugular, rarely coming up for breath during the album's 35 minute duration. 

Opener Dark Passenger builds up atmosphere for the first minute before unleashing hell on the listener with Horrifying Pattern Of The Mind maintaining the bludgeoning. Most songs lull the listener into a false sense of security with a more atmospheric and melodic opening such as Lost In The Darkness and Human Condition before switching to the bands relentless yet highly melodic style. The most melodic sounding song and probably my personal favourite is the fantastic Burning Shadows whilst the driving Testimony Of The Fallen is a close contender as is the epic album closer and lead single Plague Bringer. Whilst not a band on my radar previously, Dying Vision have definitely caught my interest and The Death And Its Slaughter is a fantastic album. They manage to perfectly merge fury and melody in a highly enjoyable way and are definitely a band I will be keeping an eye out for. I’m always looking for UK extreme metal bands to champion and Dying Vision most definitely deserve any applause sent their way. 8/10

Reasons Behind: Project M.I.S.T (Scarlet Records) [Mike Chapman]

With eclectic taste in music this album seemed perfect for me, be it synthwave, goth, EDM or metal my mind is open. When genres collide it has to be blended to be appealing, it turns out the blend Reasons Behind are offering just aren't to my taste. Project MIST is a concept album about life and reality, a theme I very much enjoy, add to the mix the melodic vocals of Elisa Bonaf and you do have a winning formula. The production is clean and punchy, the riffs tasty but the use of electronics just doesn’t sit right for me, a personal gripe of course. As a fan of the likes of Enter Shikari & Crystal Lake I can attest to my love of electronics in metal, but with those bands the synths feel woven into the sonic soundscape of their respective back catalogues, with Project MIST they feel a background addition and don’t bring anything to what would otherwise be a very solid symphonic metal album. 

I cannot criticise the songs themselves, Reasons Behind have crafted a very likeable album with an interesting concept, but none of the electronics feel essential components to them. From a symphonic metal standpoint Reasons Behind have hit the mark. Fireflies In The Wind is a song that definitely got stuck in my head, the guitarwork cuts through nicely and feels meaty making it hard not to get your head banging, Living A Lie was another standout track for me, the drumming attracting particular attention. As always I urge you to give this album a try, Reasons Behind have certainly given us an enjoyable listen, there is a lot to like here, take a listen and decide for yourselves. 7/10

Thursday 27 August 2020

Reviews: Pain Of Salvation, Walter Trout, Poema Arcanvs, Manticora (Paul H & Matt)

Pain of Salvation: Panther (InsideOut Records) [Paul Hutchings]

2017’s In The Passing Light of Day could well have been a peak for Pain Of Salvation. The band, led by the multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlöw, have long demonstrated an independence which has allowed them to throw of the shackles of development restricting labels. Always thoughtful and sincere, their musical styles and approaches have refused to be pigeonholed. the line-up may have changed, but Pain Of Salvation remain both enigmatic and enticing with each release. In The Passing Light Of Day was an intricate and soulful piece focusing on notions of mortality and joy. At times it was a blistering metal band in full motion, at others a blend of compelling complex progressive rock.

Three years after that album and the band return with the 11th Pain Of Salvation record and we can rest assured that the band has maintained the momentum. Guitarist Ragnar Zolberg has departed but this has not caused any apparent long-term damage. The line-up on Panther comprises Daniel Gildenlöw – lead vocals and lots of stuff, Johan Hallgren – guitar and vocals, Léo Margarit – drums and vocals, Daniel Karlsson – keyboards, guitars and vocals and Gustaf Hielm – bass and vocals. Hielm has recently since left the band.

As with every Pain Of Salvation album, Panther is a concept piece that delves into the conflicts and contradictions between so-called normal people and those who are wired entirely differently. “I guess a lot of the songs that came out dealt with not being part of the norm of society,” Gildenlöw says. “Because we live in a time where we’re more aware of people not fitting the norm and we’re doing everything we can as a society to acknowledge all of these individuals, but at the same time, they’re more disowned than ever, more medicated than ever. The album is painting pictures of a world, I guess. If this was a movie it would be scenes from a city. It’s set in one city, and it’s populated by dogs and the panthers, the so-called normal people, and the spectrum people. That’s the setting for the entire album.”

If you’ve ever listened to Pain Of Salvation, you’ll be acutely aware that their music cannot be classed as ‘instant’. It takes several deep dives before the music soaks in, its secrets hidden at first but delightfully revealed a step at a time.

The album opens with the electronica fused Accelerator, Gildenlöw’s harrowed vocals instantly recognisable. So begins the start of 53 minutes of detailed and intricate music which changes direction, tempo, and style in true progressive manner. The industrial edge of Unfuture contrasts with the opening track, the album developing beautifully as the songs continue. A lovely piano intro to Wait shifts the emotions, a haunting melody underpinning the track as it slowly emerges. Always one to challenge, the 1:34 banjo solo Fur challenges the senses, an almost music box feel which leads to the immense title track. Panther echoes elements of Nine Inch Nails, the industrial grit which threads through it both unique and familiar. The refrain hooks deep, the vocal delivery once more showing that when it comes to individuality, Pain Of Salvation stand a world apart from most bands. Closing the album is the breathtaking Icon. A gorgeously progressive and intricate 13 minutes, Icon is a showcase of Pain Of Salvation in 2020. Huge sweeping soundscapes, intricate patterns, and gentle interludes, it’s another demonstration of the drive and creativity which exists within this extraordinary band.

Methodically created by Gildenlöw in Eskilstuna and The Cabin, mixed together with Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In Flames, Devin Townsend) at Studio 33 in Stockholm and mastered by Thor Legvold / Sonovo (Tambours de Bronx, Purified in Blood, Susanne Sundfør, Gazpacho) in Los Angeles, with Panther Pain Of Salvation continue to push the boundaries of traditional progressive music with another beautifully crafted release. 9/10

Walter Trout: Ordinary Madness (Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group) [Matt Bladen]

It's a miracle that Walter Trout is still alive...I mean that can be said about so many 'rockstars' but Trout was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 2013, he was given 90 days to live. Luckily he managed to get a transplant and was back, chronicling it with his 2015 album Battle Scars. From there on the 69 year old has shown no signs of stopping but his musical output has become much more introspective and personal since that day, with this latest 11th solo record Ordinary Madness almost serving as a memoir for his fifty year recording career from his troubled youth to his days with John Mayall and Canned Heat and his solo career, through his struggles with mental health. It's almost an isolationist mindset throughout as the lyrics were written during touring down time and that has influenced the honest here, where Trout tries to decipher what is really crazy and what is normal. 

Once again joined by Michael Leasure (drums), Johnny Griparic (bass) and Teddy ‘Zig Zag’ Andreadis (keys) with knob twiddling coming from  long-time producer Eric Corne. He completed the recording of this just before the USA's lockdown but this record has an edge of a man with something still to prove, from the outset things are little different the dreamy title track showing an electronic edge while the passionate almost aggressive Wanna Dance comes next Trout firing off blues solos with the myriad of vintage equipment at Robby Krieger's studio where this was recorded. Things are given a shot of Americana on Heartland, while Final Curtain Call has some psych to it as does the echoing The Sun Is Going Down where you can hear The Doors creeping in, while the final track OK Boomer has a raging hard rock groove to it. Special guests on the album include Skip Edwards, Drake ‘Munkihaid’ Shining and Anthony Grisham but this is Trout defying both his age and expectations with probably one of the best records of his fifty year career! 8/10

Poema Arcanvs: Stardust Solitude (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I’d never heard of Chilean doom metal band Poema Arcanvs before this album arrived for review. My understanding is that the band have created a cult status over the years, having initially formed in the 1990s, the band sit in the same genre as early Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. With five albums to their name, they aren’t prolific in the same way as the Peaceville Three have been and their sound is certainly more retro and heavier with a combination of death growls and clean vocals and grinding riffs. But they are certainly an impressive outfit.

It’s been eight years since 2012’s Transient Chronicles was released and whilst I’m not familiar with their back catalogue, Stardust Solitude sits neatly in the genre of dark, melancholic doom. Their sound is full and powerful, the pace unsurprisingly slow but crushing, whilst the variations and moods within the album may surprise. The brooding title track opens the album, a nine-minute piece which gives a solid introduction to the band. Orphans follows, a shorter but just as impressive track, razor edged guitar weave amongst the pounding drums and mournful vocals. 

As Stardust Solitude progresses, the quality of the release becomes evident. There is a blueprint that Poema Arcanvs follow, the slow, doom-soaked music drawing you closer. It becomes immersive and haunting. The Lighthouse Keeper is an example of the band’s ability to vary their style, a track drenched in gothic overture which powers forward with an underlying riff driving the track, whilst allowing the ethereal middle section to sweep gently through. 

Full of dynamic interplay, variations and an underlying melody that provides an enchanting listen through to the final bars of epic and emotionally wrought closing song Brave, Stardust Solitude is an album of magnitude. Beautifully crafted, sinister yet uplifting at the same time, this is an album that should sate the most ravenous of doom fans. 8/10

Manticora: To Live To Kill To Live (ViciSolum Records) [Matt Bladen]

According to the PR that came with this record, Manticora were formed in Denmark back in 1997, their sound has always been a heady mixture of progressive/power/thrash metal. They have been led by brothers Lars (vocals) and Kristian (guitar) Larsen since that time and To Live To Kill To Live is the bands' 8th album serving as a follow up to 2018's ambitious horror themed concept record To Kill To Live To Kill. This record finishes of the story started on the previous record, which was accompanied by 334 page novel, keeping the much heavier style of music that they brought in on their last release. Since then too they have welcomed back bassist Kasper Gram and Lawrence Dinamarca has joined on drums ready for the recording of this final part of the story. 

Now I'll admit at this juncture that I had never heard of Manticora so diving straight into the second part of a conceptual storyline was probably not advisable but this Danish band managed to grab me from the opening 14 minute song that is Katana – The Moths and the Dragonflies/Katana – Mud which pretty much sums up what to expect from Manticora as we get a progressive metal assault filled with rampaging blast-beats, blistering thrash riffs and vocals that remind me of Warrel Dane due to the fact they shift from guttural roars to soaring power metal-like highs with ease. Now what I will say is this record is very musically dense, the five piece increasing not just the heavier aspects of their music but also their progressive factors bolstered by the conceptual nature of the album.

To Live To Kill To Live runs for over an hour so you will need to give it time to really open up but with hugely cinematic numbers such as Tasered/Ice Cage they are a band that will appeal greatly to fans of Pyramaze, Nevermore, Symphony X and Iced Earth. I will certainly be checking out the discography of Manticora on the back of this record. Great theatrical heavy prog/power metal. 8/10

Reviews: Sound Of Origin, Mercyless, Brimstone Coven, The Tangent (Matt, Liam, Mike & Steve)

Sound Of Origin: The All Seeing Eye (APF Records) [Matt Bladen]

Yet another doom-laden, heavy riffing release from the excellent APF records, this time it's Huddersfield Stoner/Doom/Bluesers Sound Of Origin who follow their 2017 EP Seeds Of The Past with their debut full length The All Seeing Eye, recorded at Foel Studios Wales, it's a record made up of 9 slabs of knuckle dragging, blues influenced, fuzzy doom with the sludgy instrumental Not Dead Yet opening into the throbbing title track which breaks down towards the end, it's a proper doom track which is followed by the grooving stoner sludge of Lockjaw which reveals Sound Of Origin's secret weapon, the amazing vocals of Joel Bulsara who can rage with your Anselmo's but also has a sonorous clean vocal that reminds me of Layne Staley. 

With Joel up front the musical dexterity of Joe 'Zeph' Wilczynski's guitar playing which shifts from fat fuzzy distorted riffs into soulful bluesy passages (Morning Bird), while the almost nuclear powered rhythm section of Jax Townsend's hammering bass and the battering drumming from Chris 'Foz' Foster also bring a a mixture of feather touches and heavier than anvil battery. As this album progresses the band get much more explorative sliding into desert rock mind bending on Stoned Messiah Blues with the other elongated tracks such as Into The Vile and Tempest Dunes weave their way into your brain with a shifting quiet/loud musical style. The All Seeing Eye is another winner on APF, if you worship at the altar of the riff, Sound Of Origin is the latest addition to the gospels. 8/10    

Mercyless: The Mother Of All Plagues (Xenokorp Records) [Liam True]

It’s hard to find a decent Death Metal band nowadays. It’s not that the scene is stale, it just most band's sound the same and don’t really try to stand out. Most of the time it’s that the guitar tone sounds the same so it gets overused and bland. Mercyless have used the same sounding tone, but on their seventh studio album they’ve put their own spin on it, so one or two songs may sound like the dull Death Metal tone then other songs sound new and unique, sounding like a mash up of Cannibal Corpse & Anakim, while keeping their signature sound intact to blaze through the record.

With the signature gutturals and rhythmic guitar work of Max Otero, he commands the fretboard and uses his vocals to infiltrate your mind like a swarm of locusts. The riffs and guitar solo’s of Gautier Merklen provide a seamless transition from the quick riffs to even faster solo’s. Then the destructive drums of Laurent Michalak create a crushing sound that shakes the foundations of the Death Metal scene. For their seventh album Mercyless are a band to contend with for one of the best Death Metal albums of 2020 so far. Full of air guitar and drumming moments, and even heavier vocals to join in it’s a ear shattering album with a lot to offer. And 35 minutes isn’t just enough for it. 8/10

Brimstone Coven: The Woes Of A Mortal Earth (Ripple Music) [Mike Chapman]

I like Doom, there I’ve said it. So it may come as no surprise that I rather enjoy Brimstone Coven. Emerging from Ohio with Corey Roth taking Vocals, guitar and songwriting duties Brimstone Coven remind me of a lot of bands, which is a good thing. Where they diverge from their counterparts is with clear, punchy production and blending it with influences across the rock spectrum to create a very enjoyable if short record. As we commit to what they have in store for us, The Inferno thrusts you into a riff laden Sabbath-esque banger that delivers the aforementioned qualities that make this album good. Dual vocals ala Alice Chains add melody to the crisp production and steady guitarwork. 

There is variety to be had here too, tracks like my favourites When The World Is Gone & Song Of Whippoorwill treat you to some nice down tempo Doom, really capturing the atmosphere of stalwarts such as Saint Vitus and Pentagram. On the flip side we have what I would call single material in the up tempo The Darker Half, a hard rock classic in the making with a catchy chorus and great riffage that is sure to get those heads banging. On a personal level the production could have differed, as crisp and punchy as it was I can’t help but wish it was just a tad muddier and fuzzier, this by no means detracts from a very enjoyable album, as I mentioned it is what helps Brimstone Coven stand out and that certainly isn't a bad thing. Best advice is to give this album a spin, you won’t regret it. 7/10

The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance (InsideOut Music) [Steve Haines]

I have to start this review with a disclaimer: if you’ve read any of my reviews in the past, you’ll be aware of my penchant for bizarre analogies to try to help people get a feel for what I’m hearing and feeling and this review will require a great many as there’s a hell of a lot going on – and unfortunately, not in a particularly good way. The Tangent were formed in 2002 as a prog/jazz/[insert any genre you like] fusion collective headed up by Andy Tillison alongside a revolving door of personnel from then to now. I’m generally a fan of progressive music so I was looking forward to listening to this with open ears and open mind. Both mind and ears are now closed for refurbishment having sat through one hour and eighteen minutes of audio self-indulgent meandering. Imagine, if you will, being in the Jazz Club from The Fast Show and having Neil Hannon’s Divine Comedy talk you through his very worst discarded demos in spoken word form to a backdrop of jazzy hold muzak. I know – it’s a lot to imagine but honestly, it’s as close as I can get without making you listen to it.

Opening track Life On Hold takes the jazz base and throws in a generic 80s chat show theme-style jingle. Second track Jinxed In Jersey is a 15 minute inner monologue on the Eastern Seaboard of America. At this point, I’m ditching the ‘progressive’ thoughts and taking ‘experimental’ to mean ‘throw everything at it and let’s see what sticks’ but like musical flypaper, everything sticks in haphazard fashion. It already feels like a parody and I’ve only just finished song 2! There are better songs. Under Your Spell, Tower Of Babel and Midas Touch are all more cohesive and with each coming in at less than 6 minutes, a definite reminder that less is more as the self-indulgent and, dare I say, pretentious excesses are reined in (though not completely).

In amongst these ‘highlights’ we have the 28 minute Lie Back And Think Of England which is an experience of a sort. Political audio clips seem dropped for effect and no real purpose while the music wanders in vague directions, seemingly trying to find itself. Surprisingly, there are a couple of times towards the end of the track where things improve. From 20 to 23 minutes, it genuinely feels like instrumental storytelling while the section from about 25 and a half minutes to the end of the song is actually pretty good – if you cut the first 22 minutes of the ‘song’ you could have a halfway decent tune. Bonus track is the instrumental Proxima It is 12 minutes of more experimental jazz that feels like the kind of hold music companies use when they are encouraging you to hang up. I admit I’m not particularly a jazz fan, but I can respect any influences in progressive music if they’re done right and for me, this just isn’t It feels self-indulgent to the point of feeling like a vanity project. 

Unless you’re the type of person who tries to be different for the sake of being different and looking cool for doing so, there is nothing here that you couldn’t find in elevators across the world. As I said early in this review, it feels like parody that brings to mind The Fast Show’s Jazz Club though I suspect John Thomson’s erstwhile host would struggle to say “Nice!” to this.

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Reviews: Exist, The Devil's Trade, Venomous Concept, Tulkas (Paul S, Paul H, Liam & Lucas)

Exist: Egoiista (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Exist have, well, existed since 2010. The four piece made up of Max Phelps on Guitar and Vocals, Alex Weber on Bass and Vocals, Matthew Rossa on Guitar and Brody Taylor Smith on Drums. The band, who are based in Baltimore, have released 2 albums before Egoiista; So True, So Bound in 2017, and Sunlight in 2013. Exist play Progressive Metal, but it’s a little bit more complicated than simply Progressive Metal. The range of styles on this album is quite big, it takes in most of the styles that can be described as Progressive. So, we get a mid-paced fairly extreme Progressive Metal that shares quite a few similarities with more recent Ihsahn, where the vocals are harsh and the riffs are tight, complex but still flow nicely. A good example of this is the track Until The Storm Comes, which features some fantastic mid-paced prog riffs, its taut and driving and flows beautifully. The song does feature a softer part (I’ll come back to this later) with beautifully layered clean vocals and a great guitar solo, which is another thing that this album does very well, there are some very technical, but also very tuneful solos on Egoiista. The band also do some very pleasing parts that are faster and closer to Technical Death Metal that remind me a little of the band Spawn Of Possession, fast, tight, intricate riffs that have huge amounts of energy and drive. 

Spotlight’s Glow has one of these sections in it and it really adds to the track. The way different styles are mixed together on this album is another of Egoiista’s strengths, the band move between different styles seamlessly, mixing parts that shouldn’t really fit together, and make it sound like the most natural, effortless thing in the world. The two main heavy styles, mid-paced Progressive Metal and fast tight Technical Death Metal fit together pretty well, the real curve ball is in the softer and less aggressive parts. When Exist go for a softer, less metallic sound, things seem to head back to the early nineteen seventies. Musically the softer parts sound quite similar to Post Rock, clean guitar and bass with simple drumming, it’s taut and controlled and has a fairly neutral feel to it, the clean sections are made by the vocals. On the softer sections, most of the vocals are layered harmonies that are smooth in the extreme and feel to me like they came strait out of the seventies Prog Rock and Hard Rock scene. There is a similarity to ELO, Queen and early Peter Gabriel era Genesis. 

This blissed out, softer style gets a complete song to itself in Siblings Born Into Different Dimensions, which is soft, dreamlike, ethereal and in some ways psychedelic. The track, which comes about halfway through this album, acts as a pause, a brief respite from the more aggressive and nasty styles on the album. In some ways it’s like a palette cleanser separating the two halves of the album. It’s a genuinely lovely track, an oasis of calm before the album gets heavy again. Another place where there is a very effective softer section is on the last track Amongst The Trees. The softer section in question is beautifully serene and relaxed and reminded me of the early Queen song White Queen (As It Began), and is a very effective and beautiful way to end the song and album. I’ve written about the different, often disparate elements that make up this album, but one of the most impressive aspects is how this is all mixed together. The transitions between styles has been handled so well. In some places the songs go from tight and aggressive Progressive Metal, into a soft section with layered harmonies and back into Technical Death Metal, without anything feeling forced or out of place. 

Transitions between very different sounding parts happen totally naturally, and in many ways this is the most skilled and accomplished part of the album. Egoiista is a fantastic album. It’s complex and in places difficult, but also manages to be extreme, intelligent, ethereal, beautiful and challenging. There has already been a lot of very good progressive rock and metal released this year, Egoiista will stand out in what is a very impressive and very packed scene. Stunning album, highly recommended. 9/10      

The Devil’s Trade: The Call Of The Iron Peak (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

The Devil’s Trade is the solo work of Hungarian Dávid Makó, who provides vocals, guitars, and banjo. The Call Of The Iron Peak marks his debut for Season Of Mist. So, what is the Iron Peak? According to the blurb, it is a mystical place where one once found his long-lost peace, total silence, and home. Heaven?

Once you immerse yourself into this album that makes sense. Each track on this album contains deeply personal themes, as Makó delves deep into the darkness, his doom-laden folk echoing with melancholic elements. Whether it be with guitar, his strong vocals, banjo, or the synths that add atmosphere and the call for one to be at peace. Be it on the dark, emotional strains of Dead Sister (featuring Rita Szabó, Kornél Szabó on Triangulum), the harrowing No Arrival or the eerie Expelling Of The Crafty Ape, this album shivers under the intense sentiments that echo throughout. There is nothing derivatively metal about the album, and yet the atmospheric tension and feelings provide a crushing heaviness which does not require pounding riffs and drums.

Delving deep into his roots, immersing the folk of the Appalachians, the tales of Hungarian and Transylvanian tradition, Makó is calling for you to share his rituals of loves and hopes lost and found along the pilgrimage of his. The standout piece on the album is undoubtedly Dreams From The Rot, a near eight-minute piece which evokes dark thoughts. This isn’t going to appeal to that many. Exquisitely crafted and self-produced to a high standard, this is an album that needs to be listened to in a darkened room with the only light provided by candles. Time indeed to answer the call of the Iron Peak. 7/10

Venomous Concept: Politics Vs The Erection (Season Of Mist) [Liam True]

Grindcore has now become synonymous with short bursts of songs either just under or over a minute long, and to most people has become a bit of a laughing stock in the scene due to its short songs, unintelligible vocals and racing up and down the fretboard to produce the noise of Satan. Venomous Concept does fall into these stereotypes, but in the process shows that Grindcore is full of surprises. Between the blast beats of drummer Dany Herrera are the soaring solos from Shane Embury on guitar (both current members of Grindcore pioneers Napalm Death). While your mind is still being attacked you have the beautiful sounding bass of Danny Liker and the vicious feral sounding vocals of Kevin Sharp (both from previous band Brutal Truth).

Across 13 songs that span just over 34 minutes, the band unleashed the pent-up anger from inside, and looking at the album art and some of the lyrical content, it’s aimed toward a certain person of political power, not that he deserves a name drop. Through the songs, each last in between 53 seconds and nearly four minutes they drop the powerful album to change the landscape of Grindcore forever by grabbing the rule book and ripping it up before your very eyes. If there’s an extreme metal album you need to hear so far this year, make this top of your list. You won’t be disappointed. 8/10

Tulkas: The Beginning Of The End (Noble Demon) [Lucas Tuckwood]

When you say the word perfection, no two people will think of the same thing. Some might think of a movie they love, or how to spend a perfect Sunday. After today however, I know my answer will be The Beginning Of The End by Tulkas. 

This EP is a five-strong salvo of thrash missiles that serve to utterly annihilate the listener, delivering a neck snapping payload that spares no one, and leaving nothing but devastation in its wake. I don’t know what they’ve been putting in the water over in Mexico, but damn is it potent. The opener, O.G.C, lulls you in with some mid-tempo riffage, before exploding into a hail of machine gun drumming. Next is Devastation By Greed, yet more blisteringly fast thrash, incorporating a more anthemic chorus. Extinction- yet more thrash, accompanied by a magnificent solo that dances between the high frets frets with laser precision and blinding speed. 

Title track? You guessed it, more fucking thrash! This time however, the thundering riffs and blasting drums give way to a smooth, jazzy interlude that incorporates some magnificent bass playing from Mr Mendoza, which serves to sweeten the inevitable payoff riff, as the hellish symphony roars back into life. The final track, a cover of Metallica’s The Shortest Straw, blows the original out of the water to such a degree I don’t think I can listen to the old one ever again. Maybe it’s the presence of an actual bassline. Ever present are Mr Trapero’s jaw dropping vocals, as he bellows out some truly evil bars that work in perfect tandem with the crushing instrumental work, and in the process creating undisputed neck-snapping perfection. 

If you’re looking for the best track, throw a dart, because each song is a bona-fide masterpiece. Tulkas have managed to pack more energy into a short EP than most bands put out in their whole careers. I can’t recommend this album enough. I wonder if they’ll start selling patches soon. 10/10

Reviews: The Allman Betts Band, Bill Fisher, South Of Eden, Shrapnel Storm (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Allman Betts Band: Bless Your Heart (BMG Rights Management)

Forced to cancel the end of their UK/European tour in 2019 due to Devon Allman's illness where he had to have an emergency appendectomy operation. Things looked bleak for Allman/Betts however with Allman now on the mend the The Allman Betts Band moved forward with the second album Bless Your Heart the follow up to their debut Down To The River a record I gave 8/10 to last year. Where Down To The River was the foundation of this new union, Bless Your Heart is the first step in building their own legacy not just as the band featuring the sons of Gregg and Dickie but as a Americana-infused powerhouse of their own. Again this album features Berry Duane Oakley on bass, Johnny Stachela (guitar), John Ginty (keyboards), R Scott Bryan (percussion) and John Lum (drums) but here they have really amped up everything, starting their own mythos with a sprawling 78 minute double album clocking in at 13 tracks.

This is not a Southern rock record, it's an American rock record drawing musical inspiration from the Delta, the Bayou, the beaches of the West Coast and even the busy cityscapes of the East Coast. The singles have shown this change in sound that is present across the album with Magnolia Road giving those hazy Grateful Dead vibes on a very personal song where both Devon and Duane tell the tales of their colourful history, as Pale Horse Rider is a rolling Outlaw flavoured number built on some bubbling keys and jangling guitars. On these two songs alone you can tell that the scope of this album has been widened to encompass as many musical types from the American songbook as possible. However all of them are layered with that lush mix of acoustic, electric and slide guitars, a powerful driving rhythm section, lots of layered keys and the soulful vocals that are often accompanied by gorgeous harmonies. We get a bit of New Orleans brass on King Crawler, while Ashes Of My Lover has that Nick Cave-esque percussive voodoo and Savannah's Dream is a 12 minute jazz instrumental, you know like those famous instrumentals the Allman Brothers were known for. 

It's clear that the influence of the Allman's is here but also is Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young and also Eric Clapton (Southern Rain). I could go on ad nauseum about every song on this record as they all bring something a little different to the table. You will have to listen to the record a few times to really let it works it's magic. As like I said at the beginning of this review Bless Your Heart destroys the idea of a 'difficult second album' in fact it solidifies The Allman Betts Band as not a tribute or an offshoot of their fathers but a multifaceted, down to earth and extremely talented rock n roll band who create from the melting pot of influence that is the United States for some stunning musical magic. 9/10

Bill Fisher: Mass Hypnosis & The Dark Triad (Septaphonic Records)

Known to many as Brother Bill from Church Of The Cosmic Skull, Bill Fisher has been a busy boy during the Covid-19 lockdown of Nottingham (and the rest of the UK), ramping up the conspiracy theories for his debut solo record under his real name. Mass Hypnosis & The Dark Triad is a daker, heavier style than the overt psychedelic leanings and Thin Lizzy worship of his dayjob. Moving things into the fuzzier stoner realms on first song All Through The Night, Fisher plays everything you can hear here, from the punchy (if a little tinny) drumming to the low strung bass on tracks such as Mirror Of Tomorrow. Now obviously as well as the rhythm section Bill also provides the big riffs and reverbed hypnotic vocals as he does with COTCS. The heaviness returns on Psychopathy where he really lets loose with the six string attack.

After two thick rockers things get back to the sound many will associate with Fisher on Celador which has an echoing instrumental sound that reminds me of desert rock bands such as Kyuss as does The Dark Triad (where those Lizzy influences creep back in). Now I don't really know how long this album took to write but if it was a lockdown project then it has emerged almost totally formed as a parallel project to The Church... and even if these songs are ones that were left of previous records they work together at giving a darker view of the white suited leader of that musical cult. Yes Fisher's writing always has an element of the occult, darkness and mystery to it but musically it is a little upbeat whereas here things differ enough to avoid the comparisons to the main bands that Andrew Stockdale's solo album did a few years ago. Enter the cult, conspiracy and mythysicm of Mass Hypnosis & The Dark Triad. 7/10      

South Of Eden: The Talk (Lava/Republic Records)

The band formerly known as Black Coffee (possibly after the Traffic song) they are now known as South Of Eden and they have got around to releasing their debut EP called The Talk. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio the band are on a mission to bring back good old fashioned rock n roll mixing it with the modern(ish) grunge lens. They have already performed with bands such as Foo Fighters and System Of A Down bringing with them a lot of prior experience with other bands before forming South Of Eden (then Black Coffee). They rapidly began establishing a following along with creating songs that didn't require any overdubbing or technological refinement just the band laying down riffs on vintage equipment. These came together under the ear of Grammy Award-winning producer Greg Wells [Adele Twenty One Pilots, Deftones] for The Talk. So have South Of Eden managed to capture the vibes of those halcyon days of hard rock. 

Well as things start off with the title track which has some of the Middle Eastern influences from frontman Ehab Omran whose vocals are very modern sounding similar to those of bands like Rival Sons, Greta Van Fleet while you get some more psych sounds on Solo with guitarists Justin Young adding some choppy funk riffs. Now they aren't just a band that crank out big rockers, they also manage to slow things down on the soulful Morning Brew where Young goes wild with some solos as the deft drumming of Tom McCullough and for bassist Nick Frantianne he gets to show off some thick solid grooves on final song Dancing With Fire. With a myriad of 'retro' rock bands on the scene it'll be interesting to see how they develop more to catch the attention. For now then they have a good classic rock EP with a lot of promise on show. 7/10

Shrapnel Storm: S/T (Great Dane Records)

Hailing from the Nordic wastes of Finland Shrapnel Storm play vicious old school death metal, apparently their influences stem from the 90's Florida scene owned by bands such as Obituary and Six Feet Under with major grooves of our own Bolt Thrower. With blistering flesh ripping riffage, growled vocals and songs that move between destructive full battery and mid-tempo stomping this self titled sophomore record, their first for 5 years, definitely reminds you of death metal's most fertile period. You can almost feel the pit starting to tracks such as First Blood, The Burning and Triumph Over The Weak. What also makes you feel as if the 2000's never happened is the production this record, the drums are a little flat but relentless nonetheless and the guitars bite with a HM2 ferocity. It makes the record sound authentic as if it could have come from the Floridian underground in the 90's as it unleashes it's gnarly death metal assault on you. If you want some old school nastiness then I'm sure Shrapnel Storm will be your ideal living room pit starter. 7/10   

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Reviews: Ages, Turtle Skull, Wills Dissolve, In Flames (Rich, Lucas, Paul S & Paul H)

Ages: Uncrown (Black Lodge Records) [Rich Oliver]

When I do a little research on a band I am given to review and the words Swedish and melodic black metal come up, my instincts immediately tell me that I am going to like this band. Well I can definitely trust my instincts as this was a fantastic album. Uncrown is the new album from Ages who are a melodic black metal band from Falun in Sweden that formed back in 2011. It is the second album from the band following on from their debut album The Malefic Miasma in 2015. The band are a three piece comprising of members/ex-members of bands such as Dissection, Nightrage, Twilight Force and Volturyon.

Uncrown follows the tried and tested formula for bands of this style of icy tremolo riffs, blast-beats, throat shredding vocals and those luscious melodies that seem second nature to Swedish metal musicians. There is a nice use of keyboards throughout the album which whilst mostly in the background add layers of atmosphere and grandiosity when required. There are also some tasteful acoustic guitar parts scattered throughout the album which are used very effectively. The songs vary from fast and furious to mid paced and atmospheric to more progressive and epic whilst some songs incorporate all of these ingredients into one song. The opening song Burn Them gets things off to a cracking start with its frantic black metal assault and sets the scene very nicely. Illicit State, A Hollow Tomb and The Death Of Kings Of Old all seriously impress with their soaring melodies and epic scale whilst Herolds Of Enslavement and Pyres sit in the more atmospheric camp. Every single song on the album is chock full of fantastic melodies and the songwriting is up to an incredibly high standard. The songs may not be catchy in the traditional sense but the melodies are extremely memorable and stick in your head for hours to come after the album has ended.

Prior to this review I had not heard of Ages but they have seriously impressed me with Uncrown. It ticks so many boxes in what I like to hear in extreme metal and whilst it doesn’t really stray out of the formula for melodic black metal there is no denying that this is a tremendous example of how good this subgenre can be. I’ll take quality over originality any day. 8/10

Turtle Skull: Monoliths (Art As Catharsis and Kozmik Artifactz) [Lucas Tuckwood]

What do you get when you stick prog and doom into a blender? You end up with Turtle Skull, that’s what. These Aussies released their first EP in 2018, and have been making the rounds among the prog scene, notable for their mixing of a wee little pinch of doom in with the standard proggy formula. Fast forward two years, and we have Monoliths, their forthcoming official debut album.

This album does not kick down the door to the saloon all guns blazing, but slowly saunters in, and introduces itself, asking for one of those fancy IPA beers. First comes Leaves, gradually acclimatising one to this album’s sombre and fuzzy sound. Their combination of melodic vocals and slow fuzz-laden riffs provides a moderate heaviness to some of the tracks, and the doomy aspects are present in the lyrics, and in the somewhat sombre atmosphere these songs generate. The highlight for me was Heartless Machines- a slightly faster track, it features well written lyrics, solid riffage, and some laser precise drumming, and the mixi is impeccable. It’s got that classic proggy sound, which may feel tiresome to those intimate with the genre, but the production sounds a hell of a lot fresher than a lot of the music you hear these days. Another standout track is an earworm by the name of Why Do You Ask?, which I can foresee being the standout track for a lot of listeners. It’s got a truly infectious chorus that’s just begging people to chant along to in some kind of flowery music festival, and oozes with that proggy charm that fans love so much.

Overall, I can’t think of enough good things to say about this album. Some songs can drag a little bit, but that’s the only criticism I can think of, and this is still a wonderful album regardless. Wholeheartedly recommended. 9/10

Wills Dissolve: Echoes (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Paul Scoble]

Wills Dissolve have been in existence in Houston, Texas since 2015. In their 5 years together Wills Dissolve have made quite a bit of noise; their 2018 debut The Heavens Are Not On Fire was incredibly well received. The bands blend of Death Metal and Prog as well as the deeply intelligent nature of the albums subject matter and lyrics (based around the 1833 Leonid meteor shower, and how this affected people's religious beliefs) won them a lot of fans. The album garnered lots of excellent reviews (including from Musipedia Of Metal, we gave the album 9/10) and in some ways made a rod for their own backs, as this their second album now has huge expectations attached to it. Have the 4 piece, made up of Shaun Weller on Bass, Branson Heinz on Drums, Nick Block on Guitar and Vocals and Andrew Curuana also on Guitar and vocals, lived up to the promise that The Heavens Are Not On Fire suggested? 
Echoes is a beautifully avant-guard, creative piece of work. The band were clearly aware of the expectation that was felt for their next album, and decided that playing it safe was not an option. Echoes is a single, 32 minute song that tells a story about the loneliness and sacrifice of interstellar space travel. The audience follows the thoughts and fears of one of the astronauts aboard Nebula-8, as they search for a new planet for humans to live on, after making planet earth uninhabitable. So, in many ways continuing some of the themes the band explored on The Heavens Are Not On Fire. This interstellar space theme is also expressed through the amazing cover art by Adam Burke, which is stunning and will look ridiculously good on vinyl. 

Musically, Echoes is very complex. A 32 minutes song will have to have a certain amount of complexity or it will get boring, and this is something Echoes excels at. The track starts slowly, but after a few minutes of keyboard swells, clean guitar parts and a spoken word part from the astronaut who is narrating the story, Wills Dissolve drop the audience into the main part of the song, which feels as if it is constantly changing and in flux. There are several different styles of Music on offer during the song, this is coupled with 2 main voices, one harsh and one clean. The harsh voice is Nick Block, the clean voice is Andrew Curuana, both are great but Andrew’s clean voice is one of best used in metal at the moment. To this we can add a heavily processed voice and in the last third of the track the band are joined by a guest vocalist in Damian Smith from the amazing Alters Of Grief, this gives the band lots of different vocal flavours to add to their very versatile musical styles. 

So the different vocal styles help to make this feel diverse and varied when coupled with different musical styles. Once Echoes gets properly underway the changes between sections come thick and fast, nothing stays for very long before another feel comes along to change how the track seems. There are several parts that feel very Post Metal; very clean guitar parts with clean vocals over the top. There are many places where the track is progressive Death Metal in a way that is similar to Opeth. In other places the Death Metal feels more savage and nasty in a fairly technical Death Metal way. In other places the band sounds more like a Heavy Doom band, in places sounding more like Yob or Pallbearer than any kind of Death Metal. The doomy sections near the end of the track have Damian Smiths vocals from Alters Of Grief on them, and these parts are fantastic. 

Echoes is a stunning album! A beautifully original, innovative and visionary album. It’s very complex and is constantly changing, but at the same time hangs together and feels like a coherent whole. The transitions between sections, sometimes disparate sections, all feel totally natural and don’t seem forced, this is a clever trick to pull off, and Wills Dissolve pull it off brilliantly. The Heavens Are Not On Fire had a huge amount of promise; Wills Dissolve are a band that keep their promises, Echoes does not just live up to the expectations that were placed on Wills Dissolve, Echoes goes so much further, and in years to come will be considered a classic. 9/10

In Flames: Clayman 20th Anniversary Edition (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

30 years into their career, In Flames are still able to fill good size venues and command high positions on festival line-ups. Whilst many of their original fans have moved on, it seems that a new generation are able to enjoy the band’s recent works. 

Clayman was a seminal album for In Flames. Ten years after the Gothenburg sound had emerged, the lyrical content was dark, focused on depression and internal struggles. It was the last album which featured their established melodic death metal style, with the following album Reroute To Remain moving away from the band’s traditional sound. Tracks such as Bullet Ride, Only For The Weak, Suburban Me and Pinball Map remain anthems today. That line-up featured what most regard as the classic In Flames line-up: vocalist Anders Fridėn, guitarists Jesper Strömblad and Björn Gelotte, drummer Daniel Svensson and bassist Peter Iwers. 

So far so good. As with most bands these days, an anniversary is an opportunity not only to celebrate achievement but also to remaster and make a few bucks. It’s a tough time for musicians so I’m certainly no begrudging them that. Clayman, the fifth album for In Flames, followed Colony, the duo often regarded amongst the most impressive work that the band recorded. The original release here has been remastered by Ted Jensen. There isn’t a lot wrong with the original album. Slightly more polished and refined, a sheen of grime and grit has been removed but overall, it’s not vastly different to that album released in 2000. 
It’s the additional reworked tracks that have caused the angst on this release. As well as the orchestral Themes And Variations In D Minor, described by Gelotte as “a little professional medley played by a proper musician”, which is neither here nor there in my opinion, this revised package throws us re-recorded versions of Only For The Weak, Clayman and Pinball Map. The additional songs produced by Howard Benson have been causing much frustration amongst the old school. It’s easy to see why. Having chosen songs the band still play live, the versions offered here are lightweight, poppy in parts and almost nu-metal in their delivery. Polished and shiny, the production is too crisp.
I don’t advocate living in the past for one minute. 

Yet, the question remains, why do it? The irony is even more apparent when you read that Gelotte said “we didn’t wanna re-record the whole thing. I mean, it is what it is, especially at the time and I think it sounds good the way it does”. For new fans of In Flames, this may well be a package worth grabbing hold of. But, and it’s a big but, for those who clasped Clayman dearly at the time, this is likely to be something to pass by on the other side.

Clayman gets 9/10 from me. The reworked songs a mere 4/10

Reviews: Kill The Lights, Bear Mace, Ov Shadows, Intoxicated (Liam, Paul H, Lucas & Simon)

Kill The Lights: The Sinner (Fearless Records) [Liam True]

Originally announced to be released in the summer of 2019 along with a warm up show before Download and a spot at the prestigious festival, The Sinner has been released just over a year later. Granted it’s late but during the wait we’ve been treated to a few singles from the album to quench our thirst. Another band trying to capitalise off the ‘Supergroup’ genre, although they haven’t called themselves as such, with the star power they have it’s pretty much a given. The line up includes James Clark (Throw The Fight), guitarists Jordan Whelan (Still Remains) and Travis Montgomery (Threat Signal) bassist Davey Richmond (Glamour Of The Kill) and Michael ‘Moose’ Thomas (Ex-Bullet For my Valentine). Coming from the background of Metalcore and the singles you have a pretty good idea of where the album is going and what sound they’re pounding into your skulls. But the question is, was it really worth the wait?

Personally, I think it was. While most people wouldn’t think, but as the band was promising a new take on the Metalcore genre, and given us the standard genre, they have included their own way of shaping the album. It’s not just breakdowns, gutturals or chugs, it’s more than that. There are riffs aplenty provided from Whelan and when entwined with the rhythms of Montgomery they provide a duel 6 stringed attack on the senses. The pounding bass from Richmond gives the album the much needed edge to infiltrate your mind. The powerful drums of Moose show off his Punk background and proves he still has the energy and heart to keep playing. And the vocals of Clark prove to be an odd combination to the album. His more Metal sounding vocals suit the album perfectly, while is cleans are brilliant and sound perfect, make the album the only downfall as they don’t fit on the album, as well as Through The Night & Tear Me Apart. While both are great songs, it brings the albums atmosphere down.

While the album has kind of been a let down for me personally, it’s still a terrific album with many great songs, riffs and air drum moments to keep you coming back for more (And hopefully to grow on me). And with a UK tour scheduled for March 2021 we’ll finally see the band play as a unit. Maybe the songs will be more solid in a live environment. Until then, the album will still be spinning in my rotation. 7/10

Bear Mace: Charred Field Of The Slaughterhouse (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Don’t be fooled by the name Bear Mace, or the opening track, Hibernation – Destroyed By Bears. This is no comedic outfit. The Chicago five-piece’s second full-length is a blistering old school death metal assault that gives no quarter from start to finish. 

One of the first things that immediately strike you about Charred Field Of The Slaughterhouse is the quality of the production. Mixed by Horrendous vocalist/guitarist Damien Herring, the sound is crisp and powerful, with the drums and bass fully up in the mix but at no time smothering the rest of the sound. Although I’m not familiar with the band’s 2017 debut release, Butchering The Colossus, it’s evident on first listen that Bear Mace draw their influences from the death metal legend stable: Death, Massacre, Bolt Thrower and Obituary are all present in the band’s music. The guttural vocals of Chris Scearce roar and rage, whilst the duel guitars of Mark Sugar and Tommy Bellino slice cleanly. 

Check out the razor-sharp style of Xenomorphic Conquest or the ferocious From The Sky Reigns Hell for evidence. In fact, the more one listens to Charred Field Of The Slaughterhouse, one must question why all death metal albums don’t sound as good as this. It may only be 34 minutes in length, but those 34 minutes are some of the most enjoyable minutes of 2020. 9/10

Ov Shadows: I Djavulens Avbild (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Lucas Tuckwood]

A mournful aura was emanating from my computer today. Upon inspection, I found it was Ov Shadows’ latest record, I Djavulens Avbild, bleeding its blackened heart out through my computer’s air vents. Now that I’ve cleaned my desk, I can happily say that this is some truly wonderful atmospheric black metal- the drums are frantic, the guitars haunt, and the vocals scream like a ring-wraith overhead, each contributing to the wonderfully bleak and empty atmosphere these sombre Scandinavians are known for. 

A notable difference from their last album, The Darkness Between Stars, is the decision to ditch English lyrics, and to instead write predominantly in their native Swedish. After popping some of their lyrics into a translator, they certainly fall in line with the atmosphere, and they’re rather poetic in their misery. Blasfemkist Crescendo, translated meaning Blasphemous Crescendo, is quite an appropriate description of this album. Each song cascades over the listener, and it’s best to just go with the current. Atmospheric black being quite foreign to me, it’s a little difficult for me to describe; the songs take you to a place I’m not quite equipped to describe, but it was nonetheless effective. Just sit back, put the album on, and absorb all the atmospheric juices, in all their satisfyingly mournful glory.

Overall, if you’re in the mood for some spooky atmospherics, I encourage you to drop the needle on I Djavulens Avbild. It’s chock full of mournful melodies that are sure to provide an excellent soundtrack to standing around in snowy forests in sleeveless shirts, and I loved every second of it. 8/10

Intoxicated: Walled EP (Seeing Red Records) [Simon Black]

Not to be confused with the German Thrash outfit of the same name, this version hails from Florida. Despite having been around in one form or another for a couple of decades this appears to be their first proper release and is fairly in-your-face 80’s influenced Thrash, with obvious nods to fellow Floridians Death and Morbid Angel in particular (although Sacred Reich’s early material is evoked here as well). It’s fairly chaotic stuff, with a surprisingly amount of technical skill on show for a three piece, whilst also retaining that raw edge that reminds us that the punk influence on thrash was never far behind with short and punchy tracks that rarely go beyond the three minute mark.

Smash The Line is fast brutal, and spot on, with some really nice riffage going on technically with the relentless Black metal vocals hammering this beauty home. Title track Walled and Grab The Rope are looser in style, with the rawness and unpredictability of the surf thrash scene, but the EP’s closers are a positive riff-fest, and suddenly I feel 17 again. I get the sense that from their home territory, Intoxicated were one of the great ‘back in the day’ acts that inexplicably didn’t get a wider audience at the time, given that their contemporaries are quite vocally positive about them, and I can see why. Glad to see that they are finally getting a wider audience. Not so much a comeback, as a massively delayed arrival. 7/10

Monday 24 August 2020

Reviews: Luna's Call & Metallica (Reviews By Alyn & Paul H)

Luna's Call: Void (Self Released) [Alyn Hunter]

I've made it my business for quite some time to be as up to date as possible with as many branches of the UK underground metal scene. Sure, I know where my strengths lie and I'll always have a fondness for those (hello angry corpse-paint clad tremolo fiends), but having gorged myself on a glut of Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Division By Zero, Indukti, Cynic etc in my formative years – I've definitely retained an affinity for the heavier leanings of the prog-scene. I first caught wind of Luna's Call a few years ago having spotted a post on a UK metal facebook thread and although the mix was rough on the first tracks that were to eventually form the bulk of their Divinity debut album, their youtube gave me enough of a glimpse to know that this would be something special if given half the chance it deserved. Fast forward a couple of years to them performing live at Bloodstock on the New Blood stage and I got the chance to witness what I'd confidentiality and emphatically declare on any given occasion one of the UK's most promising acts for the future. 

Luna's Call is predominantly the brain-child of vocalist and guitarist Neil Purdy, a modest & softly spoken classically trained musician from the Lincolnshire area. Accompanying him are the outrageously talented trio of Liam Underdown also on guitar, Brad Laver on bass and Jamie Batt manning the kit. The playing ability of each member is nothing short of virtuosic and with Russ Russell handling the mix and master, every note from every instrument sings clearly across the full 50 minutes. In fact it's nearly entirely unreasonable how good this album sounds across all frequencies. Keeping things in house as much as possible, even the album art-work is handled by a relative of Neil's in Ian Purdy who has crafted something truly special. 

According to the band, Void explores themes of observing the Earth's environmental destruction from the vastness of outer space. Luna's Call have gone to lengths to punctuate their songs with convincing synth layers to help illustrate their vision, but the hard work is largely achieved by the song-writing itself. Compositionally speaking, there's not a second wasted across this record and barely anything is repeated yet you never find yourself lost or without direction. Every moment has striking nuance that builds the bigger picture, and the album itself is meticulously arranged with each track blending thoughtfully into the next - Enceladus being a gorgeous number that sits completely apart stylistically yet fits in perfectly and Silverfish even adding a dreamy respite towards the end. It's an album that demands a full play-through to properly digest, with In Bile They Bathe which they have already been performing live for over 2 years the only track which really feels like you could just pluck it out and scream “single” - but even then it's precursored so well by the end of Locus that I now think I'd be loathe to hear it out of its new context. 

There's a number of truly “all hairs raised” moments such as the solo after a break mid-way through Solar Immolation (a 13 minute opus in it's own right), the “Tull” sixties inspired indulgences at the end of Locus, the enormous brass swell towards closer Fly Further Cosmonaut... but these are the icing on a breathtaking cake. Neil & Brad's combined vocals flit between savage and delicate appropriately – the cleans in particular at points would make Steven Wilson weep although the bulk of the time they will almost certainly draw comparisons to latter era Opeth as Neil shares that sort of range. No elitism here, it's a good thing. 

Riffs? They're everywhere, and it's a smorgasbord of technique that covers everything from full blown technical death metal at its most flamboyant staccato-emblazoned trickery, to bombastic neoclassical and back to post-rock. You could be snapping your neck one minute and whisked to a dream-like haze the next, but they all tell the story. What's especially notable is how Brad's bass is allowed to really have a deserved voice throughout and it really shines, and the absolute masterclass of percussion laid down by Jamie is the glue that holds it together, although that's a simplification that doesn't do his detailed and intelligent performance the justice it deserves. There's clear demonstration of influences peaking throughout (Necrophagist, Cynic, Dream Theatre, Steven Wilson, Opeth of course) but Void as a whole really tells a story that “Luna's Call” have carved out their own niche amongst their contemporaries and there's enough here to not only forge itself a strong unique identity but also to serve as a gateway for others.

Retrospectively, this review is at great risk of saying an awful lot without even getting close to scratching the sides. I've had it on repeat all damned day and I still feel like I'm discovering layers but it's not a “it'll grow on me” record, more it latches onto you from the outset and merges with you symbiotically. When this record is released, just buy it, it's a work of art. This is album of the year material right here and no amount of superlatives put it better than that. Take a bow Luna's Call, I honestly hope this puts you on the radar because it's a crime if this escapes wider consumption. God forbid that Akerfeldt gets wind of this record, he may very well retire. 10/10

Metallica: S&M 2 (Blackened Recordings) [Paul Hutchings]

Do you recall Symphony & Metallica? S&M, released in 1999, was one of the first alliances between metal bands and symphony orchestras. Recorded in April 1999 at the Berkeley Community Theatre in California, S&M saw the world’s biggest metal band Metallica join forces with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Kamen. Over two hours of Metallica’s music, combined with the classical influences and sounds, I thought it was a massive album. I loved the orchestral score, the arrangements, the huge sweeping sounds and fresh life that it gave to some of those well-loved Metallica tracks. Yes, it divided the fan base with those who had hated on the band since Metallica stormed the gates of commercial success given even more fuel to rage. 

Scroll forward 20 years and Metallica remain the kings of the metal world, especially in terms of pulling power. Three studio albums in 20 years (we’ll quickly step over the car crash of Lulu) isn’t the output one might have expected, and yet despite the rather lacklustre quality of those albums, they have sold out every show they have played (not a fact but a pretty good estimate I reckon). In those 20 years I think I’ve seen them at least ten times, and they’ve never ever let me down in the live arena. Yes, the tickets are expensive, but their shows are unfailingly spectacular and I’ve yet to meet anyone who has seen them and failed to be impressed. The fire of those early years has dimmed, but the passion remained. But Metallica are corporate in a way that few could appreciate. The arguments about their status as the best ‘thrash’ band continue to be fought on the websites and social media platforms across the world. For the army of Fifth Members, the band remain the ultimate draw and much like Iron Maiden, attract a level of fanaticism that most bands can only dream of. 

On September 6th and 7th 2019, San Francisco’s Chase Center saw Metallica reunite with the San Francisco Symphony as the band formally opened the venue. Conductor Edwin Outwater was chosen several months before and the man has the right pedigree, having worked with several other artists before including Cheap Trick. He also took what he described as a ‘deep dive’ into the back catalogue of Metallica and the big four of thrash, as well as exploring Sabbath, Maiden and expressing a keen liking for Power Trip! Apparently over 70 countries were represented amongst the audience, proving the huge pull that the Metallica machine still has. The show was shown a few weeks later in a one night only event in selected cinemas and is now coming out in both audio and video version. The fan packages are extensive and pricey, but let’s concentrate on the audio version which is what I had to play with.

Let’s start by comparing the set list from 1999 with S&M2. If you discount the intro of The Ecstasy Of Gold, then eight of the songs on S&M2 also featured in 1999. Except for No Leaf Clover, these are to be expected. Live staples that would cause outrage if they were omitted but a little predictable all the same. The Call Of Ktulu sits in the same slot as it did in 1999, the obvious and traditional ‘tallica opener, and even with the orchestral arrangements it’s still one of the most powerful and heavy songs the band has ever delivered. For Whom The Bell Tolls remains my favourite Metallica song, and it’s one that works magnificently with the orchestra, whose dramatic playing once again enhances the track superbly. And then there’s the rest of Act one where the band take more of their recent music and give it the orchestral overhaul. If I’m honest, this is a bit hit and miss. Moth Into Flame and Confusion are watered down, whilst the brass section on The Day That Never Comes turns a serious messaged track into a big band number. Add the usual cabaret singalong at the end of The Memory Remains with extended crowd participation and it really isn’t that great.

The Outlaw Torn
from Load gets the full treatment, and after a lumbering build-up it evolves into a bit of a monster. No Leaf Clover gets the reprise from S&M, which is surprising as it’s one of the weaker tracks Metallica have ever written in my opinion. Act one concludes with the third track from Hardwired, Halo Of Fire and again the jury is out on this one. It’s a bland track at best and I’m not convinced the banks of strings and horns do much but mask its deficiencies.

Act two is where things really get a bit shit. It opens with a massive mistake. Yes, Lars is allowed to flap his gums. Cue several minutes of gibberish. A list of thanks, including a cringe worthy shout out to the Metallica Fan Club members which resembles the welcome Easyjet give their club card holders before he spends ages listing the flags he can see in the audience. On audio this is excruciatingly dull. Ulrich introduces the legendary Musical Director Michael Tilson Thomas who in turn does his own list of thanks [seriously, the intro is about five minute long] before an introduction to Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite Op. 20 II The Enemy God And The Dance Of The Dark Spirits. Undoubtedly a magnificent piece of classical music, here it is an exercise in self-indulgence which struggles to fit into the set. It gets worse as we are then subjected to a version of Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry, Op 19 which includes Hetfield and Hammett riffing away. It’s a cacophony which left me scratching my head. What the hell is going on. 

So, it’s 14 minutes into Act two before we get to hear another Metallica track and then it’s the awful Unforgiven III from Death Magnetic, followed by the rather dull All Within My Hands from St Anger. I’m bored by now. Nothing is grabbing the attention. The inclusion of Scott Pingell to play the start of Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth) may have seemed a good idea as a tribute to Cliff Burton. I’m not sure it worked. The solo that follows with Robert Trujillo joining the track before Ulrich hacks in with some aggressive drumming to conclude the song. Filler, more bloated self-indulgence or inspired? You decide. 

The run in consists of five songs that featured on S&M. They are unsurprising. Four from Metallica; Wherever I May Roam, One, Nothing Else Matters and final song Enter Sandman with the only thrasher Master Of Puppets sandwiched in the middle. Whilst the musical talent is blisteringly good, it’s all just a bit too contrived for me. All a bit too pleased with itself and a little, dare I say, too safe in song selection. I have no doubt that if you were there it would have been bloody amazing but on audio, whilst sonically stunning, S&M2 just leaves me cold. I’m not a thrash elitist. I’ve argued for Metallica in debates about their relevance in today’s metal. S&M2 appears bloated, lazy, and overall, just a bit uninteresting. Metallica may just be ready for a Las Vegas residency; such is their stature. And that makes me sad. 6/10

Friday 21 August 2020

Reviews: Vicious Rumours, Moss Eater, Cobra Cobra, White Tower (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Vicious Rumors: Celebration Decay (SPV/Steamhammer)

Opening with thundering title track Celebration Decay sounds like Megadeth fronted by Iced Earth's Matt Barlow, the band call the lightspeed song it "a perfect opener for (their) new album". It's back to more familiar territory on Pulse Of The Dead and Arrival Of Desolation where we get the traditional galloping thrash styled heavy metal of a band that have been active since 1979, although they have only been releasing record since 1985. Celebration Decay is their thirteenth full length and this Santa Rosa four piece show no signs of changing the tunes that brought them to the dance sticking resolutely to their heavy thrash inspired American power metal. They occasionally change things up with songs such as Darkness Divine and Long Way Home (which sounds like a heavier Scorpions) however other than that much of the album follows a similar sound meaning the songs begin to sound alike. When you've been at this for 40 years there's no way that you're going to do anything radical so I guess this is another Vicious Rumors album. 5/10

Moss Eater; No Shelter, No Heaven (Coffin View Collective)

No Shelter, No Heaven a bleak title for an album full of existential dread and ominous, sometimes pugnacious doom/sludge/noise metal. ailig from Berkshire this two piece have developed a sound so full of colossal droning grooves that they produce their own gravity. So what I'm saying is, if you played this album in space it would probably attract the moon towards it. They have merged this unwavering heaviness with shimmering ambience and a real affection for abusing your aural canals as much as possible. Moss Eater are a band who have only been on the scene for a short time, but they already have 2 EP's and a feature on the 'Doomed And Stoned In England' compilation to their name so this album has been a long time coming and what you have is 48 minutes of some of the most cathartic music you'll hear all year, explosively harsh vocals, epic post-doom tapestries that crawl with thunderous low end riffs and some sprawling otherworldly sounds that keep you hooked from Son Of Nothing to the self titled final track. Experimental enough that you never quite know what's around the corner but also full of cavernous, knuckle dragging doom metal many will have an affinity too, No Shelter, No Heaven is a cathartic listening experience. 7/10  

Cobra Cobra: Life After Poison (Rat Family Records) 

We were sent this album on the back of the review of our coverage of Geoff Tyson's solo album, so it was always going to be one to check out based upon the quality of that record, despite the fact I know absolutely nothing about the band. Cobra Cobra are friends of his and they sent over their debut album Life After Poison which seems to be made up of punchy modern metal anthems that takes influences from bands like Bullet For My Valentine, Avenged Sevenfold and While She Sleeps, a mixture of massive radio choruses and heavy rock riffs. The Portland, Oregon based band are made up of Bryce (bass), Chance (drums), Chris (vocals) and Derek (guitar) Cobra Cobra are clearly all seasoned musicians as these songs ring out with a confidence, especially with the more layered orchestral tinged tracks such as The Glass Desert or the 80's leaning rockers like Hum they display the same kind of instrumental dexterity meets melodic hooks that move things into Kings X sound occasionally. For the most part though Life After Poison is a modern rock album with a metallic touch that will appeal to those with a heavier mindset as well as fans of the lighter strains of rock n roll. A competent, if not revolutionary debut. 6/10  

White Tower: Terminator EP (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

White Tower hail from Thessaloniki, Greece and are named after the cities iconic tourist attraction on the seafront. But their sound...well it's a little more Northern in fact White Tower sound German, very German, this EP is basically is a pastiche of Teutonic metal legends Accept. Mainly this is due to their love of speed metal and NWOBHM coming through not just on song title such as Pounding Heavy Metal but also on the grinding axe attack of Nick Vekis and galloping rhythms from John Maleas (bass) and Theodoros Trohidis (drums). Vocally though is where most of the Accept influences come from vocalist Gago Karapetian who has that Udo Dirkschneider squawk circa Balls To The Wall. The lyrical content is based around horror, heavy metal and sci-fi, as one song (and the EP title) stems from James Cameron's debut movie in the Terminator franchise. If you like Accept or this kind of Germanic sounding heavy metal you'll love White Tower, if you don't then you really won't. It's nothing game changing but an enjoyable enough imitation. 6/10

Reviews: Fellwarden, Terminal Nation, Lionville, Humavoid (Paul H, Liam, Steve & Matt)

Fellwarden: Wreathed In Mourncloud (Eisenwald Tonschmiede) [Paul Hutchings]

The Watcher has painstakingly crafted the follow up to 2017’s Oathbreaker over the past three years. That album was a beautiful and majestic piece of work, inspired by the rugged landscapes of the North of England. I was bewitched by it. And now, the force behind East Anglian black metallers Fen has returned with Wreathed In Mourncloud, and the result is as spectacular as Oathbreaker
Written between 2017 and 2018, and recorded at various points across 2017-20, Wreathed in Mourncloud is inspired by countless wanderings amongst the crags and fells of England’s Lake District At times pure emotion, at other times a journey of discovery, it is a stunning record. The Watcher provides vocals, guitar, bass, and keys whilst Fen drummer Havenless provides the thundering drumming and percussion. 

Opening song Pathmaker reassures, every level and detail that made Oathbreaker such a distinctive album is once more at maximum. The ethereal Scafell’s Blight haunts, punishing drumming, clean vocals and growls and frenetic tremolo riffing all combine to provide an atmospheric track that sends the spirits soaring. The synths of A Premonition change the feel without losing any intensity. It remains dramatic and emotive. 

The final three songs move into the epic category. The title track which is over ten minutes in length ebbs and flows, at times ferociously aggressive but often delicately haunting. Similarly, the explosive sections in An Elder Reckoning are frantically driven, and yet control and calm always remains. The concluding track, the longest on the album at over 12 minutes Upon A Stone concludes this stellar release with a beautifully constructed finale. 

Wreathed In Mourncloud is a gargantuan piece of work. Superbly delivered, the mix of black metal and more alternative sounds ensuring that this is an album that you can get lost in. Once drawn in, it’s simply a case of allowing the soundscapes to wash over you. Masterful in production, mastered by Greg Chandler at Priory Studios Wreathed In Mourncloud is a magnificent successor to Oathbreaker in ever dimension. 10/10

Terminal Nation: Holocene Extinction (20 Buck Spin) [Liam True]

If Napalm Death had been formed in the modern day, this is what they’d sound like. Blanding the sound of Grindcore and Death Metal, Terminal Nation are a force to be reckoned with in the modern age of extreme music. Finding a good Grindcore band in the scene today is hit and miss. You either get a stand out band or one that drifts away. TN are the one stand out band I've heard for a while since BAT. Holocene Extinction is only 13 songs over the course of 35 minutes, but when you put the album on and listen from start to finish, it doesn’t even feel like that amount of time has passed. While the average time for a song on the album is about 2 minutes, there are a few songs that hit the 4 minute barrier, not really seen in many Grindcore bands, but somehow TN can pull it off with a smooth production sound that makes the band sound more aggressive. 

You have the wailing guitars of Dalton Rail & Tommy Robinson providing an anarchist backdrop. The blast beat filled powerhouse of Chase Davis on drums. The powerful sounding bass of Chase Turner echoing though your bones. And you have Stan Liszewski spewing forth his bile upon your ear drums to make an abhorrent noise that Barney Greenway would be proud of. As far as Grindcore albums go, this is one of the best ones since Cattle Decapitation’s Dark Atlas. It’s a monumental step in the modern style of extreme music. And they’ve placed their names on the map. 9/10

Lionville: Magic is A Love Rating (Frontiers Records) [Steve Haines]

Imagine, if you will, Marty McFly bobbing along in his Delorean in 1985 and he sees a young glam metal band hitchhiking. He picks them up and suddenly the flux capacitor goes on the fritz and they end up in 2020. Now, get that band to write and record 100 songs then you take the most average ones – not crap but equally not going to set the world alight – and put them on an album. There you have my potted summary of what this album sounds like. Pretty much a whole album of Winger B-sides that feel like they’ve been plucked from any John Hughes film (the background ones, not the major credits tracks).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not at all unpleasant and would be a fine and inoffensive background to a party but there’s nothing here to get your teeth into. I spent my formative years enjoying the heyday of glam metal/soft rock so it’s a genre I enjoy and remember fondly – unfortunately Lionville have taken every cliché – the ‘finally we’re together’ lyrics, the echo vocals, the obligatory piano-driven ballads – that would have worked well in 1988 but even though there is a thirst for musical nostalgia, its about 30 years too late unless you put a new spin on it and unfortunately they don’t.

The songs are well played musically, vocals are fine and production values are good. Unfortunately, it’s so derivative and entrenched in the 1980s that it almost had me heading to the back of my wardrobe for the double denim, fingerless gloves and booking a backcombed perm (ask your parents!). Not crap, but not special either. 5/10

Humavoid: Lidless (Noble Demon) [Matt Bladen]

When modern progressive metal, in this case influenced very strongly by Meshuggah and other djenty acts, is good it can be really enjoyable. However when it's bad, it is a major struggle. Unfortunately for Finnish act Humavoid they do move more towards the 'struggle' aspect. Firstly I have no issue with the palm muted riffs and grooves here, even though they are repeated ad-nauseum meaning that the album is one big mash of 'chonky' riffs and aggressive shouted vocals, no the issues I have is their over-reliance on the massive piano chords and jazz influences that come through on every song. It's supposed to make the songs unpredictable but what it really does make them very jarring as on some occasions you have no chance to settle into the feel of a track before you're taken off on another course, into some obscure time signatures, industrial-like pulsing synths, plonking classical piano (Aluminium Rain). A lot of this was improvised, especially the drums. 

Despite this if the modern prog sound with some added oddness is your thing then you'll enjoy Humavoid musically, where I struggle is with the vocals they are very binary, it's a banshee-like scream, a guttural growl, from Suvimarja Halmetoja (vocals/piano) and Niko Kalliojärvi (guitar/vocals) shifting between them both but when Halmetoja gives us a does of a clean delivery it's really strained and even slightly atonal which makes songs such as What You Hide a struggle. I admire the chutzpah of Humavoid trying something very different but for me Lidless is a little off the boil. 5/10