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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

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