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Friday, 14 August 2020

Reviews: Mercury Circle, Slaves, Kiljin, Yargos (Rich, Bob, Lucas & Matt)

Mercury Circle: The Dawn Of Vitriol (Noble Demon) [Rich Oliver]

The Dawn Of Vitriol is the debut release from Mercury Circle which is the new project from Jaani Peuhu of Iconcrash and Swallow The Sun fame. With a sound that is dubbed as ‘new doom’ this EP is a very compelling and luscious mix of Katatonia-esque doom and dark gothic synth-laden soundscapes. It’s a unique fusion that works tremendously well and very much caught my undivided attention.

This EP is comprised of five songs working as a teaser for a full length album to follow in due course. This is beautifully dark and atmospheric music which as well as somber and stirring is cinematic in its scope with songs that build up beautifully and pay off tremendously. The opening song Oil Of Vitriol is very much a slow burner but builds up to an epic crescendo whilst the lead single The Beauty Of Agony has a wonderful balance of the metal elements and the atmospheric soundscapes. Black Flags is more in the synth and electronically driven whilst The Last Fall is more inclined towards the metal side of the bands sound. Closing song New Dawn again balances both elements of the bands sound whilst adding a more experimental edge.

Whilst Mercury Circle is Jaani’s baby with him handling vocals, keyboards and guitars he is joined by Jussi Hämäläinen of Hanging Garden on guitars and synths, Juppe Sutela of To/Die/For on guitars, Ande Kiiski of Sleeping Monsters on bass and fellow Swallow The Sun member Juuso Raatikainen on drums. Mercury Circle have very much impressed me with the debut EP. It hits all the spots when it comes to dark and atmospheric metal but with the greater use of synths and soundscapes it very much stands on its own in the dark and doomy subgenres of metal. I very much look forward to hearing more from this band. 8/10

Slaves: To Better Days (SBG Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

When I first saw ‘Slaves’ on my album review pile I thought it was another release from the gold album releasing, UK Indie-Punk duo of the same name who are frequently blasting out in the Bobster household, but no. (FULL DISCLOSURE! So did I, that'll teach me for not checking - Ed) I must confess I was unaware there is a post-hardcore five-piece hailing out of Sacramento, California with the same name before today and I am quite amazed that the two outfits seem to have successfully co-existed without record company litigation or copyright controversy. So just to be clear, we are talking about the US version.

Slaves, often stylised as SLVS (the ‘V’ replacing a vowel seems bang on trend at the minute, probably as it has the added commercial bonus of focussing internet searches specifically to those artists especially if it’s a common name; CHVRCHES, PVRIS etc). Also, due to the recent BLM movement in the USA, the band have announced they are ditching the name and this is the last release using the moniker feeling it is no longer appropriate. Slaves have had quite a tumultuous journey since their inception in 2014, with five members departed/been replaced and eight musicians having come and gone for touring purposes. Yet, in amongst all the comings & goings, it hasn’t prevented Slaves being well supported by their fans and label alike, and being quite prolific in the studio with this, To Better Days their fourth full release and a shopping list of 21 singles in five years to 2020.

This latest (and last under the current name) album sits very comfortably at the high gloss, commercial end of American pop/rock which, with the recent addition of The Voice US runner-up Matt McAndrew’s pop/rock TV appeal, creates a modern sounding, chart friendly, mashed up fusion of synth walls, occasional nu-metal riffery and an almost R&B styling in places. McAndrew has a very clear, higher range, that when dipping into tracks could be mistaken for a Justin Timberlake type or even LeAnn Rimes in places (Footprints, Prayers and Like I Do). This should not be mistaken for a criticism at all though, Slaves have certainly fallen on their feet in nabbing a great vocalist and benefitting from the huge exposure and audience that the global TV audition process that is The Voice franchise will bring. The recent addition of McAndrew has clearly impacted on the original bands direction it seems though as (without trawling through all their back catalogue) their bio description of ‘Post Hardcore’ has long since left the building and should be roundly ignored when choosing your choice of listening.

The album starts off with a just-over a one minute intro track, the eponymous To Better Days which will give you the blueprint as to where their direction lies. Breathy vocal, drum machine and 80’s synth. The next track Prayers, weaves itself into Witch Hunt which continues to incorporate sporadic commercial samples with autotune and echoey background vocals throughout. This is a theme that continues over the entirety of the album and it’s all produced extremely well to a high gloss finish. Talk To A Friend is another drum machine & keyboard soulful, dance vocal meets rocky chorus fusion. It’s a track that will no doubt get stuck in the US top ten or on a car commercial. It’s a catchy album, aimed at the heart of as many popular US music markets as they can point at.

Slaves (and whatever name they will be called in their next incarnation) appear to have stumbled their way to a commercially successful, squeaky clean product, seemingly ditching the darker elements of their original DNA along with some members along the way in favour of the commercial rewards of being a chart friendly vehicle for a reality TV singer – albeit a very capable one. There definitely seems to be a theme developing from some areas of the US rock scene at the minute where I’ve heard several formerly “rock” bands being rebuilt, rebranded, given some chart friendly studio jiggery-pokery and pointed at the charts. I guess it’s the way of the world, with the financial lifeblood of musicians being squeezed out it by streaming, the leviathans of TV and media ownership and COVID a lot of musicians are taking a more pragmatic view and going with the flow. To Better Days is, as described earlier in this review is, high gloss, very commercial American chart pop/rock which, with the recent addition of The Voice US runner-up Matt McAndrew. It’s far too saccharine and obvious for my tastes but I’m sure it will sell in bucket loads. 6/10

Kiljin: Master Of Illusion (Self Released) [Lucas Tuckwood]

Master Of Illusion is the debut album from Kiljin. Adorned on the cover is who one can only assume to be the Master himself in a rather good looking piece of art, but unfortunately it’s the best thing on offer here. Across thirteen tracks, the lads from Michigan manage to bring rather little to the table, and the album fails to quite hit the mark in a number of ways. This record incorporates all the ingredients of standard heavy metal, but unfortunately does nothing to add spice to the recipe, and as such one is left with a rather bland meal. It’s a shame, because I think the vocals on display here have some potential; they feel quite reminiscent of Biff Byford’s legendary pipes, but they’re in need of a little refinement. Frankly, I think Trevor’s vocals are better suited for slower tracks like Point Of No Change, but he manages to do a decent job all around. 

The same can’t be said for the fretwork, as the riffs are nothing to write home about, and the solos simply meander aimlessly before slinking back into step with the rest of the song. The drums and bass offer nothing of note. Lyrically, fantasy themes are heavily utilised, however the sometimes dumbfounding simplicity of the lyrics make them feel less like Dio, and more like a Jack Black parody with none of the comedy. Heavy metal doesn’t need to be Shakespeare, but this is just lazy. Overall, there’s some potential here, but Master Of Illusion brings just shy of nothing to the table. While there’s nothing great here, there’s nothing awful either, but it’s the debut after all, they’ve got plenty of time to practise their craft and come back swinging. 5/10

Yargos: The Dancing Mermaid (STF Records) [Matt Baden]

Yargos released their last album all the way back in 2012 (you can just hear the owner of Spotify having a fit!) but they do have an excuse for inactivity. Yargos' frontman for both of these albums was the versatile Andrew 'Mac' McDermott who you may also recognise as a previous vocalist for UK progressive metal act Threshold. Unfortunately Mac passed away in 2011, after recording the vocals for Yargos' second album, which meant that the band were pretty much brought to a halt. However the band have never really rushed into anything so any fans of the German prog rock band knew never to write the band off, but the music industry is a fickle thing and many could be forgiven if you thought that their 2012 release would be their last. But with about as much chance of appearing as an erudite user of Tik-TokYargos' third album has arrived in 2020, the year of the virus, I mean it might be an omen but hey let's avoid any more conspiracy theories.

Since 2015 the voice of the band has been Becky Gaber who not only sings in a melodic metal band but also a black metal band so she must have some range. Becky joins with the other new addition of Kai Reuter (Guitar,Bass, Programming) with established members Andreas "Andigitarre" Kienitz (Lead Guitars) and band founder Wieland "Wielo" Hofmeister (Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Piano, Programming) who founded the band in 1973 (see told you long waits for this band were a thing), they are the core of this record with some special guests in the shape of Fritz Randow (Drums), Michael Ivert (Acoustic Guitar, Bass), Ottfried Mietzke (Orchestra, Programming) and Ecki Hüdepohl (Piano). Now they have finally released their third record how does it stand up to the sometimes grandiose, often quite avant-garde progressive metal record they produced with Mac?

Well let it first be noted that this is pitched as a 'rock opera' and with Becky's incredible vocals leading the cinematic compositions of this record The Dancing Mermaid is possibly the most diverse and also heaviest record in the Yargos cannon. Becky shifts between soaring cleans and growled roars with ease while the musical accompaniment is very much harder than on the first two records taking this but without sacrificing the deeply progressive and grandiose sounds of their past. Especially due to this being a 'rock opera' styled album you can get away with an awful lot more than on a standard release (like a 73 minute run time!), however there is a lack of the 'quirkiness' that made their earlier albums quite left field, The Dancing Mermaid sounds a little too like bands such as Epica for me to invest my time for the entirety of it's gargantuan length. I'm very happy to see Yargos continuing after the loss of their vocalist but I just wish they didn't really go down the route of becoming 'heavier' as i means they've become a little lost in the pack. 6/10

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