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Tuesday 4 August 2020

Reviews: Stillbirth, Ghost Avenue, Orbit Culture, Ice (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Stillbirth: Revive The Throne (Unique Leader Records)

If you’ve ever been run over by a steamroller, I imagine this is what it feels like. The Germanic death metal machine Stillbirth flatten with some horrifically nasty blastbeats, slams that feel like ramming your head into concrete and all underwritten with a groove that will have you moving like an evangelical minister conducting an exorcism.

Originating from Hagen in Germany in 1999 by former guitarist (now vocals) Lukas Swiaczny, this is a niche but blistering mixture of Death Metal, Grindcore and Deathcore. Pig squeals, guttural roars and some downright filthy vocal offerings litter this lesson in brutality. Swaczny is joined by Dominik "Pumpa" König - Bass, Vocals; Jens Strack – Guitar; Simon "Shrimps" Stürmlinger – Guitar; Martin Grupe – Drums and Lukas Kaminski - Bass 2. With film excerpts interspersed between songs, all that is left is to hang on and try not to break too many bones in the ensuing tsunami.

So, ten punishing tracks hitting around 32 minutes, Revive The Throne is a rocket ride that contains razor sharp guitar riffs, pounding drums and two basses for maximum brutality. Intro Degraded To Mutilation sets the scene, gladiatorial cinematic clips giving way to an immediate studded wrist to the back of the head. It continues like this until Dethrone The King, by which time there should be blood. Fans of Ingested, Katalepsy and Cannibal Corpse will delight in the sheer power and aggression on display. The heaviest Stillbirth album ever. Strap in, close the eyes and prepare for a battery from which you may struggle to crawl away from. 7/10

Ghost Avenue: Even Angels Fail (Self Released)

Classic or traditional metal is something of a rare breed these days. Bands who favour the classic riff seem of limited supply. Norwegian traditional metallers Ghost Avenue’s latest release provided the opportunity for a bit of the old school in the current day. Even Angels Fail is the fourth album from the band and the first to feature guitarist Thomas Eljarbø. It’s also a return to their own indie label, the first time since their debut album The Engraving over a decade ago. Having started the recording process at Lionheart Studios in February, the band were stuck by the restraints of lockdown. Having recorded the vocals in singer Kim Sandvik’s garage, adding backing vocals in May, the band was finally able to mix and master.

The result is impressive. Ten tracks of solid heavy metal with a melodic feel, guitar riffs, a compact rhythm section and some memorable hooks all combine to provide an enjoyable listen. It isn’t spectacular, and it won’t threaten the top 20 of the year but there is ample to enjoy if you like your music contemporary but with an old school feel. Sandvik’s vocals are relatively high pitched and clean, holding the notes with ease, combining with nice backing harmonies. The band deliver a range of styles, with straight up metal tracks such as Best Of the BestThe Fallen and Take Cover mixing neatly with catchier numbers like Hero and Wasted Generation.

The longest song on the album is the title track which opens with some neat acoustic guitar as the atmosphere builds with electric reverb before dramatically firing into life for a fitting conclusion. Even Angels Fail is a robust and compact album, finished in challenging times. If you enjoy the current resurgence of NWOBHM, then Ghost Avenue may well be something for you to consider. 7/10

Orbit Culture: Nija (Seek & Strike)

Another band who originate from the forests of Sweden, Orbit Culture present one of the most schizophrenically charged releases I’ve heard for eons. At times absolute bludgeoning death metal, the songs quickly morph into vocally clean metalcore before lapsing back into the hammer smash face approach. Take a listen to the opening track, At The Front, or Day Of The Clouds, both of which explodes out of the traps before moving to a bass heavy almost djent style, the staccato riffing combining with soaring cleans and gruff growls.

It’s heavily laced with an industrial vibe as well, the pulsing rhythms and batteries merging Rammstein with Obituary, Fear Factory with Cannibal Corpse. Just listen to North Star Of Nija. All the while there are elements of Linkin Park, Trivium and Architects: their influences run deep.

Having released their debut EP in 2013, Orbit Culture released their debut album In Medias Res in 2014 with a further release in 2016. Nija sees a new line-up for the band, and their move to label Seek & Strike pushes them a step further in the right direction. Led by founder member, singer, and guitarist Niklas Karlsson, Orbit Culture are a confusing amalgamation of styles. There’s the battery of drums, huge riffs and heavy synths that comprise Open Eye, the harrowing jagged riffage of Mirrorslave and the slower, emotional strains of Rebirth, which really strays into alt-rock territory. To be honest, I don’t know what to make of it. When Orbital Culture open the throttle, they can blast with the best. It’s the metalcore thread that disappoints me. Maybe I want my music a bit more genre specific. Who knows? Plenty of flashes of excitement here. It just doesn’t quite do it. 6/10

Ice: The Ice Age (RidingEasy Records)

RidingEasy Records have been running a successful Brown Acid series which is recovering massive amounts of heavy psych and proto-metal music lost to the sands of time. The latest release is The Ice Age by Indianapolis quintet Ice, which was never even released upon its completion. Ice recorded ten original songs at 8-Track Studios in Chicago in 1970, only to break up shortly thereafter. Although two tracks were eventually released as a single in 1972, they were confusingly under a different name, Zukus! (Named for the Star Wars Bounty Hunter? - Sci-Fi Ed). Having converted the songs to digital and remixed them, a great job has been done in preserving the sounds of the original vocals and instruments. But is it worth it?

The answer is a resounding yes. Drenched in a psychedelic feel of the time, the opening track Gypsy welcomes you with open arms. The Byrds are the band that immediately spring to mind, the 12-string guitar, organ and vibra-slap combining into a feel good tune of the time. This is followed by Satisfy and 3 O’Clock In The Morning, both pop-friendly songs that contain neat melodies and structures. There’s a familiarity with Ice, a smoothness that is reminiscent of bands such as Grand Funk Railroad and The Move. There’s a bit of hard rock, albeit watered down somewhat in that typical US manner. The hooks are glorious, and the short sharp delivery ensures that the songs remain in the memory.

The challenge of reviewing an album the same age as you aren’t lost on me. It’s almost impossible to be critical, but at the same time I can’t over eulogise about it. It’s of its time. The shimmering organ and sweet harmonies were everywhere back then but now it’s a fresh sound with a retro vibe. Catch You, one of the two tracks released in ’72 under a different name combines a balance of wayward psychedelic pop and troglodyte thunder. And there is even a hint of Vanilla Fudge and The Moody Blues on album closer Song Of The East.

Ice consisted of vocalist/keyboardist Barry Crawford, lead vocalist/ bassist Jim Lee, drummer Mike Saligoe, lead guitarist John Schaffer and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Richard Strange. Would this album be looked at as a classic now? Who the hell can tell? All I know is that if you want to walk down retro alley, this provides as good a window into 1970 in the US as anything else around. That’s enough for me. 7/10

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