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Monday, 10 August 2020

Reviews: Deep Purple, Black Crown Initiate, Cory Marks, Mattias Ohlsson Project (Paul H & Matt)

Deep Purple: Whoosh! (earMusic) [Paul Hutchings]

A word of advice before you dive into Whoosh! Don’t judge it on one listen. At first the 21st studio album presents as an episode in self-indulgence. On second listen you begin to appreciate the work of the master craftsmen a bit more. By the time you get into your fifth or sixth spin, it’s clear that despite the advance of time, Deep Purple remain consummate musicians. Sure, they are at a stage in their career where they get selected as the Radio 2 album of the week, but when they are in full flow there is still little that can touch them.

2017’s Infinite hinted at the end of the road for the band but whilst they are three years closer to the finish line, it would take something tragic or dramatic to write off Deep Purple from continuing for some time yet. An average age of 72 means that except for Steve Morse, all the band would be subject to shielding requirements in the current climate. I’ve seen numerous posts stating that Purple are a pale imitation of their former selves. To me, this is utter nonsense. The current line-up has been together for 18 years and in the past decade have made some of their best work.

So, what does Whoosh! bring us? Well, it was never going to be the fire and muscle of 1972. But it’s 50 minutes of high-quality rock music for a start. Ian Gillan’s understated delivery remains as cool as it ever was. He may not hit those screams of Child In Time and Speed King but his voice remains smooth and bluesy, restrained and playing to his strengths. The clever use of double tracking and harmonies filling things out. Steve Morse’s guitar playing is as fluid as ever, whilst the continual interplay with Don Airey’s lush keyboards playing once again conjures memories of those classic duels between Messrs Blackmore and Lord. Check out the interplay on first single Nothing At All. It’s clever, simple yet delightfully complex.

It’s the ever-present Ian Paice who continues to amaze, with his jazz-fused drumming a delight to listen to. Locked in with long-term partner in rhythm Roger Glover, Purple have always had an unshakable engine room and they remain astonishingly solid.

At this stage in their career, it would be a surprise if Purple were delivering groundbreaking music and whilst there are clear links with the styles that surfaced on the previous two releases, there is still enough to enthuse hard rock fans. There are a few songs of the weaker variety. I’m not over fussed about Step By Step with the overproduced organ sound, but the driving riffs on the anthemic The Long Way Round which includes some delightful guitar work, the dark and moody Man Alive and the catchy opening song Throw My Bones are of the highest calibre. They’ve outlived Zeppelin and Sabbath, can still headline Wacken and Hellfest and with another polished production from Bob Ezrin, Deep Purple confirm that there is still plenty of life in the old dogs. Take your time, spin it several times, and appreciate the fact that these legends are still able to produce music of exceptional quality. 9/10

Black Crown Initiate: Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Now housed with Century Media, Pennsylvanian progressive death metal band Black Crown Initiate’s third album is a sweeping soundscape, blending a myriad of styles. Through 50 minutes of intense, bludgeoning black metal, progressive passages and more gentle breaks from the mainstream, this album is ambitious and at times epic. Part of the Rivers Of Nihil tour that hit Bristol late last year, the band’s expansive and detailed approach will either draw you in deeply or fail to ignite the internal fires. It was four years ago that we reviewed Selves We Cannot Forgive, an album which showed much promise and this release pushes the boundaries further. The blast beats remain, the razor-sharp riffing still slices at the skin and the counterbalance of clean and aggressive roaring vocals works well. Andy Thomas’s cleans are much improved and prove the ideal foil to main vocalist James Dorton.

There have been comparisons with Opeth in the past, people likening BCI to the Swedes prior to their move away from the death growled vocals. Whilst the sonic display available here does touch on Opeth’s grandeur, BCI’s style sweeps forward in dramatic manner which to me on occasion flagged elements of Devin Townsend’s musical genius. Original guitarist Ethan McKenna returns for the first time since the band’s debut EP and provides a stellar show with some exceptional guitar work. BCI’s complex, layered sound certainly give the listener something to work with. When the band explode, the death metal is as intense as any band on the scene, and yet the melody remains a constant. Thomas’ cleans remain a surprise every time they kick in. Years In Frigid Light is a classic example, the song ebbing and flowing from skull crushing heaviness to soaring, emotion-soaked segments. Unafraid of a curved ball, Bellow is simply two minutes of demonic growling.

Most of the songs on this album clock in at longer than the average length, providing the opportunity to expand and explore. Explore the intricacy of penultimate track Holy Silence, which changes direction and tempo beautifully and almost at will. The tours with established outfits such as Behemoth, Rivers Of Nihil and 1349 in the past have allowed BCI to absorb aspects of each band and create a sound that is sonically complex and pleasingly unique. This is an album that should appeal to fans of Opeth, Cynic, Gojira and Mastodon. If you want your music to challenge, then I suggest you take the time to listen. 8/10

Cory Marks: Who I Am (Better Noise Music)

Who I Am is a statement of intent from Canadian Outlaw Country/Southern rocker Cory Marks. Yes you read that right Mr Marks is Canadian, from Ontario in fact and before you start shouting about country being a USA thing, Canada is really the last true frontier so shut up and put that Southern Cross away. Marks comes from a salt-of-the-earth upbringing that always makes for great country music but rather than spending his formative years balancing baseball/football and music, Marks spent most of his time either on the ice playing hockey, flying planes or touring across North America like a true road dog. Anyway to the music and Who I Am is a rampant mixture of country, Americana and North American radio rock, produced by Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne), it bounces out of your speakers with a bandana and bottle of bourbon.

Sort of like Shooter Jennings fronting Nickelback (which to some of you may sound like absolute hell) but for me makes it an album full of sing along anthems, the biggest of which is first single Outlaws & Outsiders, a foot stomping rocker full of fire and defiance as well as special guest appearances from Country legend Travis Tritt, Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch behind the mic and Motley Crue's Mick Mars giving his guitar a good bashing for the solo. Cory has been on tour with Toby Keith and Brantley Gilbert and I know his musical gumbo would have gone down like a house on fire with their fans. The lap steel driven Devil's Grin kicks us off before the clap/stomp of the single keeps us in the country realms however things move into the realms of syrupy American balladry on Good To Be Us which is happily followed by the heavy rocking ode to the dangers of drink Blame It On The Double.

The album moves between romantic road songs like Drive, fist-in-the air ballads like Better Off, big bad boy rockers like Keep Doing What I Do and acoustic numbers such as the excellent Out In The Rain which features the wonderful Lzzy Hale duetting with Marks. If you're a fan of that whole modern Outlaw Country meets Southern Rock radio vibe then Who Am I will be an ideal summer release. Pour yourself a glass of Crown Royal (with one ice cube), ease into your favourite chair and turn up the volume right as the sun goes down. Who is Cory Mark? One to watch! 9/10

Mattias Ohlsson Project: Illumination (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Mattias Ohlsson Project is the newest band of musician Mattias Ohlsson (obviously) and Illumination  is his first release under the new moniker, having previously released music under the Octavarium banner. Illumination is a lot heavier in terms of sound than anything he has done previously. This album is a conceptual piece spanning 67 minutes of impressive progressive heavy metal built around thumping djent-like riffs, bristling ambient textures, soaring choruses and a knack of keeping the attention across elongated run times that they share with bands such as Devin Townsend Project and Haken. The concept behind this album is one man's descent into madness and from the first track, a 2 minute odd intro The Long Dark Night built around twinkling synths and hushed vocals, it's almost like your psyche warning you about what is to come, it slips into the first heavy song on the record.

Inferno Within which ramps up the double kick drums, the palm muted riffs and pulsating electronics behind it. It's also the first track to give you a taste of the harsh/clean vocals that the album sticks with throughout, the vocalist here is good with some classic harsh screams that are a staple of the Swedish metal scene. It sets you up for a dark journey through the protagonist's descent, I'm unsure of the players on this album due to a lack of information surrounding the release but I believe Ohlsson does everything himself, if that is so then he's an extremely talented man as all of the instrumentation here is top level. I know from the info that came with this he works as a mixer meaning that this record is excellently mixed giving every instrument chance to shine as it all blends together in layers, he's aided by the mastering talent of Adam Bentley of Arch Echo, but it's very much Mattias Ohlsson's twisted vision.

Usually when you get one man projects it's uninspired bedroom black metal but Illumination has a huge scope. As you get to the longer numbers such as the anthemic 9 minute Unforgiven or the 14 minute title track that closes the record you can hear that there has been maximum effort put into this with even shorter numbers such as Innocence Lost the musical dexterity is there. Illumination is great modern prog metal record that has sort of come out of nowhere. I urge you to seek out if you love DTP or Haken! 8/10 

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