Wednesday, 30 September 2020
Reviews: Morta Skuld, Scordatura, Six Feet Under, Hellion Prime (Rich, Charlie & Dr Claire, Paul H & Simon)
If you took one look at Idles when they first emerged onto the scene in 2017 with the raging debut Brutalism, you would not have immediately thought ‘yep, there’s a band who will soon win the praise of critics and a dedicated cult following’. Not that they weren’t great then. Hell, with their cutting combination of acerbically optimistic lyricism, enrapturing rhythms, and gargantuan guitars, I’ve been happy to call myself a fan since the beginning. All I mean is that they’ve never given the impression of an act ready to take the world by storm. I figure they can hardly believe the reality themselves, especially judging by their standout Glastonbury performance where the lyrics are powerfully chanted along in unison, moving singer Joe Talbot to tears.
War starts the album strong with apocalyptic composition, the rapid-fire bass textures splicing like the blades of a helicopter, while the drums fire off erratically, imitating the thunder of machine guns. The guitars climb high before plunging, conveying the desperation and inhumanity of the concepts being described, while the keyboards add an intense, vivid quality. The line ‘We’re all going straight to hell’ might give the impression that this record is taking a more negative outlook. Rather, Talbot and co. have always been great at contrasting the often bleak reality with the hope of what might be - dragging you to hell to show you why you don’t want to end up there. Grounds excellently carries that concept, with the huge hooks of ‘Do you hear that thunder? That’s the sound of strength in numbers’ and their now well-respected cries of ‘UNIFY!’ This song is far from preaching to the choir though.
After Anxiety which condemns the mental strain arising from the world at present, and the sardonic Kill them with kindness mocks the pho-peacemaker attitude that you can always just smile and nod when confronted with oppression, we get to the politically astute anthem Model Village. ‘You gotta laugh as the curtain twitches, and the villagers bury their riches, but the village doesn't know what rich is, just snitches snitchin' on snitches’ proclaims one line, laughing at the absurdity of a model society based on driving out anyone who doesn’t meet the stereotypical definition of ‘Britishness’. The plucky, energetic beat adds to the sinister, smirking quality laced from start to finish. Featuring Jehnny Beth of Savages fame Ne Touche Pas Moi is a commanding ‘pistol’ for the creeps and wolf-whistlers, containing cries of ‘This is your dance space!’ and ‘Consent!’. Carcinogenic might be one of the best anthems these musicians have ever pressed to plastic vinyl or otherwise.
Continuing the idea of hope in a time of crises, We finish on A Hymn and Danke. The former didn’t really appeal to me as a single, yet makes perfect sense in the context of the records themes and darkly optimistic musical motifs. The latter meanwhile is a drawn-out, simmering sonic vortex, proving wonderfully cathartic. Pointedly, its lyrics are centered on a singular concept that defines the albums' message and Idles mission as a band “True love will find you in the end. You’ll find out just who was your friend” 9/10
Obsidian Kingdom: Meat Machine (Season Of Mist) [Dave Marcovecchio]
The decade of the 1990's seems to have a lot of cultural stock these days. Why, even in September 2020 two of the biggest releases have been a long-awaited sequel to Bill & Ted and a total revamping of Tony Hawks Pro Skater. Truly the sounds and styles of the decade are back in fashion full swing, and Barcelona prog-polymaths Obsidian Kingdom have embraced on their 3rd full-length, Meat Machine with wide open arms.
A slight departure from their previous releases, the album sees Obsidian Kingdom continue their trajectory from full-blown avant-garde into something a bit more accessible, sitting somewhere in between post-metal, noise rock and progressive. In particular the sounds of 90's alt-metal permeate this record. Bass and Drums clunk heavily and satisfyingly, off kilter melodies and dreamy vocal lines soar and even the odd synth and electronic part add a tinge of industrial to the mix. Musically this could easily be the result of 90's era Tool and Deftones, with a small pinch of Nine Inch Nails and Dillinger Escape Plan (in their quiet moments).
While most of this album plays it safe with this throwback sound (less 'Avant Garde' more 'rester en arrière') there are a few moments where the mould is shattered. Opener The Edge switches from a bellowing verse to a quiet piano section with ease, Womb Of Wire features a ferocious black-metal tinged outro and the latter half of Spanker honest-to-god sounds like a Steve Vai reworking of the old Yahoo! Jingle (another top-notch 90's reference there). Thematically and lyrically the album is an exploration of anxiety and existential dread of the modern world, so perhaps this yearning for the simpler times of 20-30 years ago is very much a deliberate and considered choice.
NZM: Time’s Running Out (Self Released) [Simon Black]
NZM hail from Florida and with strong connections to Yngwie Malmsteen’s touring band, you know that the Neo-Classical influence on this Power Metal four piece is never going to be too far away. To be honest, I blow hot and cold on this sort of material, as it’s been the best part of forty years since the fusion of Bach and Black Sabbath on speed led to this little niche coming into being, and in that intervening time it’s become harder to stake any real claim to originality. Shit hot playing only takes you so far in a crowded marketplace and what really makes a difference is tight song writing, and a willingness to show a little restraint and save some of the virtuosity for the live shows. NZM appear to have taken this on board, as despite the Speed, Power and Neoclassical tropes this album focuses on delivering tight and punchy songs. No long drawn out manic widdling here folks, as what we get are fourteen fast and furious numbers firmly in the three and a half-minute optimum attention span window and no drawn out epics at all.
Not that the technical virtuosity isn’t there, but it’s subtle in its delivery – opting for restrained solo durations, with flourishes of interplay between guitars and keyboards enough to raise the eyebrows in respect, but not enough to turn off the more casual listener. The title track kicks things off in a lively form, with a punchy delivery that very quickly set my concerns aside and builds out from there. That pace and energy continue for several tracks supported by an exceedingly confident Power growled vocal performance from Nick Z Marino (who is also on keyboard duties). His voice has the kind of range that Power Metal excels at, but enough of a dirty blues undertone to give some good ‘ole fashioned Rock’N’Roll sentiment. He’s a pretty darned fine keyboard player too and in juggling both roles keeps the keyboards in the right place in the mix.
It’s not all speed with the obligatory ballad either – at the mid-point of an album where it’s easy to lose direction NZM opt for two slower paced numbers (Endless Hope and Incredible Woman) which change the pace but avoid the ‘by the numbers’ radio friendly ballad clichés. The latter in particular has some beautifully understated keyboard work which prove that technical proficiency on the ivories isn’t just about how many notes you can cram into a thirty-second window. Under A Spell is pure Speed joy, and the vocals really let rip here and the album keeps alternating the pace to the end. Yes, there are Neoclassical moments, but they don’t dominate the album, leaving you wanting more. No mean feat… Don’t Say It’s Over is a great example of this – the technical introduction is short and to the point, but the focus is on the melody and overall flow, and this is probably the most showy track on the record. That balance of tone and speed combined with solid performances and tight song-writing makes this a memorable addition to the genre. 8/10
Italy has brought about the finest exports in the world and the main one no one ever really mentions is Power Metal. There are Power Metal bands from all over the globe but none have really hit the nail unlike any from Italy. And Skeletoon are one of the finest. Considering this is their fourth studio album in 4 years you’d think their creative well would have run dry, but it’s far from the truth. There are so many riffs and chorus’ from the Italian five piece.
Starting with the instrumental Prelude: Falling Galaxies it launches straight into Brighter Than 1000 Suns with burns it’s place into your mind with the catchy chorus and the sky high falsettos of vocalist Tomi Fooler mixed with the damaging duel guitars of Andrea Cappellari & Davide Piletto. Bassist Jack Stiaccini doesn’t go unnoticed as his powerful bass thunders around the band while drummer Henry Sidoti manoeuvres around the kit keeping the rhythm of the band up to pace.
From start to finish the album fantastic, full of the usual speed of Power Metal then al a few songs where they bring the mellow side and slow the album down, and even that brilliant. Italian bands have always been better in my opinion, especially in this genre. There’s a reason it’s my go to genre for Metal because it’s so catchy. And Skeletoon are now one of my favourite Power Metal bands. 9/10
Tuesday, 29 September 2020
Folk metal has managed to grow up, hold up and infuse itself with darker genres, all whilst still retaining the charm that draws so many in. At least this is certainly the case for Vredesvävd; Finntroll's new near-perfect album. A beautiful scene is set by Väktaren, an inviting symphonic ambience that would not go amiss on the title screen of a major adventure-themed film or video game. Then on to business with the first-release of the album in Ormfolk; seeing the classic hammering folk sound becoming collided with a punk-esque tempo. Vid Häxans Härd delivers an acoustic intro that would have any listener believing they were about to embark on a softer journey.
Created as a folk/rock/Americana project by Black Rainbows frontman and Heavy Psych Sounds founder Gabriele Fiori and Black Rainbows drummer Filippo Ragazzoni, From The Earth To The Sky And Back is their second album of Woodstock-inspired, 60's influenced folk rocking that creates a warming campsite vibe of long travels through the desert but also the free-and-easy vibe of San Francisco in the summer of love. Evoking the mysticism of bands like Spirit, The Allman Brothers and CSN&Y (Sitting Down On The Porch) this album of folksy musical exploration is built on layers of acoustic guitars and banjos along with the locomotive drumming getting the grooves down as it takes the listener through a psychedelic journey.
Mestis is the newest project of Javier Reyes from the instrumental progressive metal act Animals As Leaders, he has released two solo albums relying more on emotional/personal output rather than the much more technical showy style he plays along with Tosin Abasi in his main band. En Vivo is a live album with each track recorded in a different US city, but the way the album is mixed makes you think this is one long live release with every song recorded in the same place. This is truly a testament to Reyes' playing style as his fluid technicality lets the songs bleed into one another with a bewitching ambience.
Monday, 28 September 2020
The production is very clean, with a lot of polish applied to ensure the listener doesn’t miss a trick. In particular, the work done to give the vocals space to roar is excellent, and the performances are near perfection. I’m not too sure about the small clean passage towards the end of In Chasms Abysmal, but that’s a matter of taste and I can see why others would enjoy it. My one downside with this album would be that the tracks don’t seem to have much immediate staying power in my memory. It’s a perfectly listenable album, and probably great to have on while concentrating on another task, but once a track moves from Now Playing to Recently Listened To they become difficult to recall in detail. And that’s a real shame, because for the most part they are Recently Enjoyed. The exception to this rule is penultimate track Reincarnation, which is certainly the most distinct, featuring an ambient opening and adds some quite different riffs to the mix. To sum it all up, while not being a game changer or complete break through, it’s a very solid death metal record, and well worth checking out. 7/10
It’s a sign of the times that bands are now looking to issue virtually anything that can bring in a few coppers. It’s difficult to raise any kind of disagreement. Such is the struggle in the industry across the world, making ends meet is nigh on impossible. Satan are of course, always mentioned in the same sentence as NWOBHM, for they were indeed one of the bands that gained attention during those early 1980s days as the UK metal scene exploded. The band’s last two releases, Cruel Magic and Atom By Atom were both highly rated by the Ed with the former gaining a 9/10 in 2018. Early Rituals transports you back to those very early days with a collection of their first demos now available together in a handy collectable set. Over an hour’s worth of music, which clearly defines the band’s sound. The First Demo and Into The Fire led to the band’s seminal debut Court In The Act, an album that still maintains a position in the better NWOBHM releases.
The album is titled Crossroads so immediately my musical encyclopedia was brought to that Robert Johnson story of selling his soul for the ability to play guitar. Anything associated with this story will either be country, southern or blues and with Black Stone Machine you get all three and while the similarly named cherry boys hail from Kentucky the slightly heavier machine come from Athens Greece but with them they have brought a tonne of banjo-esque chicken picking, some bluesy noodling and even slide guitar to this debut record that sits alongside bands such as Pantera and Black Label Society due to the grunt on tracks such as Last Day Of Freedom which owes as much to Zakk as it does to Raging Slab.
Sunday, 27 September 2020
Fish: Weltschmerz (Fishy Music Ltd) [Matt Bladen]
The heavy metal hippie Arjen Anthony Lucassen is back with another epic rock opera Transitus which is the tenth album from his Ayreon project. The past few years have been busy ones for Arjen with some huge live shows such as Ayreon Universe and Electric Castle Live And Other Tales (along with the accompanying live releases that followed those shows) but he has still had the time to come up with another captivating rock opera with an extensive cast of singers and musicians.
Transitus is slightly different from other Ayreon releases being more of a stand alone story separate from the extended storyline of previous albums (though with a few subtle nods) and is more of a tragic love story with dashes of the supernatural. It is set in 1884 and centres around forbidden lovers Jonathan and Abby and the prejudice their relationship faces which ends in horrific tragedy. The lead roles are taken by Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) and Cammie Gilbert (Oceans Of Slumber) who absolutely shine as the doomed lovers. Extensive parts also are taken by Paul Manzi (Cats In Space/ex-Arena) and Amanda Somerville (Trillium) who have the parts of the main antagonists whilst there are great appearances from Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) playing the formidable father and Simone Simmons (Epica) as The Angel Of Death. There are countless other guest vocalists who all put their own stamp on the characters they portray.
The music on Transitus is unmistakably Ayreon with the projects usual mix of progressive and power metal sounds mixed with the pomp of a Broadway musical. There is a nice mix of symphonic sounds, medieval folk, swing as well as some leanings into more heavy metal territory. There aren’t many songs which stand out on their own merit as this is meant to be heard as one vast conceptual piece but the medieval folk of Talk Of The Town is a highlight as is Dumb Piece Of Rock. The metal crunch and prog pomp of Get Out Now! also impressed whilst Tommy and Cammie absolutely shine in the tender duet of Hopelessly Slipping Away. There are also some fun songs centered around the Angel Of Death and The Furies that have a swing and big band sound to them including the effective use of a horn section. The usual musical mixing pot style of an Ayreon album is very much prevalent here and as always used to great effect.
An Ayreon album is always a bit of an acquired taste and Transitus isn’t going to change the mind of anyone who doesn’t get along with this style and sound but fans of Ayreon and other similar prog and rock opera acts will love this. Certain issues of the album also come with a 28 page graphic novel which is beautiful to look at and also helps give a visualisation to the story and helps the listener follow the plot a bit easier. A PDF version of the graphic novel has been made available for those who only have ordered standard issues of the album. Overall this is another great album from Arjen and Ayreon and whilst not really differing musically from previous albums it sees the project going into slightly different territory with the concepts subject matter. Ayreon are one of those few musical projects where the music and the story are as essential as each other and Arjen has come up with another great conceptual piece with Transitus. 8/10
Friday, 25 September 2020
We begin on a creeping synth melody, which gives way to a violent, apocalyptic riff. Chino’s signature screams are heard above the chaos, serenading between beautifully melodic and starkly violent, in harmony with the mutable instrumentation. This Is Genesis – the opener of Deftones’ 9th full length, Ohms. Already we are granted that sweet surreal quality which this act perfects, in various shades across their storied career. There is no act truly like them – don’t misunderstand, there are plenty of acts who they have inspired and I’m sure many who inspire them and on this new album, they continue to allude the listener with the cerebral blend of hetty darkness, immersive soundscapes, and overall command of emotion. Firmly in the tradition of creations in the vain of White Pony and Diamond Eyes, there's a combination of atmospheric ambiance and arresting aggression satiating this experience.
Perhaps the strangest quality about Ohms its skill for exploiting strange textures in creating that sense of impending doom.
Nasty: Menace (Century Media Records) [Liam True]
As much as I like the Hardcore genre it is a bit repetitive and stale lately overusing the beatdowns and call outs and the horrendous barking from new bands (Thankfully there’s none here). But Nasty have somehow taken the standard Hardcore noise and turned it into something that sounds overused, but fresh. The beatdowns are still there. The call-outs are still there, but somehow it seems new and never done before. The four piece have created something interesting about the album and I can’t put my finger on it.
Ward XVI: Metamorphosis (Metal Rocka Records) [Simon Black]
Three short years ago and this Preston-based Shock Rockers were on the New Blood stage at Bloodstock presenting hungover early birds with disembowelment, murdered bassists and the odd chainsaw massacre whilst people could still taste their morning toothpaste. It’s a shame, but for many bands who get that far that performance can be the last anyone sees of them, so it’s heartening to see a band move beyond that on this the eve of the release of their second album. I’ve not heard their first disk yet, but clearly it’s garnered them a lot of respect. I remember a discussion with an A&R guy at a label in the 90’s commenting that bands have ten years to write their first album and that following that up is a challenge that many fail to meet. Ward XVI however seem to be about to pass that next hurdle with ease, as the quality of this record is absolutely top notch.
As a reviewer it presents me with a challenge, as not being familiar with The Art Of Manipulation I have the double whammy of a concept album that’s actually a prequel to that first album. Both disks revolve around the alter ego character of singer Psychoberrie, with this one exploring her past and childhood (and my what a clever album cover to illustrate the point). It does so to spooky effect with one of the most haunting and effective moods I have heard on an album in a long while. Concepts are ten a penny in the Power and Symphonic genres, so it’s easy for bands to fall into a stereotypical and clichéd trap once the spoken word intros and horror movie tropes start to come into play, but not here. Not this band. Here they really work, creating a world that is both believable and disturbing, making the forty-nine minutes of run time pass in a blur. And the clear winning touch? That I kept on playing it, because this story hooks you in effortlessly like a good Stephen King novel.
I’m going to avoid running through the tracks in detail here, as to get the best from this record you just need to listen to it and let the story unfold around you. I will call out the tracks Broken Toys, Imago, the insanely manic Catch Me If You Can and the cracking finale Shadows, with some subtle and well used guest turns to add to the sense of operatic scale that would be worthy of the mighty Avantasia.
Judging by the footage out there, Ward XVI are clearly an incredibly visual and theatrical experience live, and with no tour to support this crucial album this band like so many have a challenge, as this record deserves to push them up a level. Musically this is a very theatrical piece rather than an out and out Metal album, with the music supporting the story rather than the story being spliced into a particular musical genre. The storytelling is massively helped by a clear and emotional vocal delivery and an absolutely cracking quality of production. This sounds like a band really heading somewhere and I for one want more. 9/10
South Of Salem: The Sinner Takes It All (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]
Apparently South Of Salem have supported acts such as Iced Earth, The Damned, Wednesday 13, and The Birthday Massacre in previous incarnations but all this experience has resulted in South Of Salem's debut album The Sinner Takes It All having the 'modern metal' trappings of bands such as Avenged Sevenfold and Black Veil Brides, so think faux-spooky imagery, anthemic heavy rock with a metal flair and lyrics that deal with greed, manipulation, corruption, abuse drawn from personal experience "because all the band members have been to hell and back with our lives in recent years" according to frontman Joey Draper.
The songwriting here is aimed directly at the Download Festival market, with imagery and lyrical angst that will endure them to the hordes of youngsters that hang around outside Blue Banana on a weekend (is that still a thing?) but an ear bothering catchiness that will also appeal to their dads. As it progressed I really struggled with this album especially when they slow things down on the maudlin Demons Are Forever which apparently features The Defiled/Red Method Keyboardist/Samplist The AVD, though he doesn't really add anything that I can hear. There will be a huge market for this album I'm sure and expect to hear more from them in the future but for me the a only thing that would make this album, that is a play on words of the ABBA classic song, a little more enjoyable. Would have been an altered lyrics cover of that song. 5/10
Reviews: Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets, Kataklysm, Alpha Wolf, Ewigkeit (Reviews By Matt Bladen)
Recorded during 3 May and 4 May 2019 at the Roundhouse in London, Live At The Roundhouse is the ‘debut’ album from Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets. Well I say ‘debut’ album but what this is a retrospective live release of Pink Floyd material from the man who has played on every single Pink Floyd release, drummer Nick Mason. When creating the project Mason wanted to re-discover those club shows that the band played before they went stratospheric with the seminal Dark Side Of The Moon. So as you can probably tell by the name this is a collection of songs from The Floyd’s early and experimental years from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn through to Obscured By Clouds, taking in Meddle and Atom Heart Mother on the way. So it’s not really a covers show (can you cover the music if you were instrumental in performing it in the first place?) but a project to celebrate the part of Floyd’s catalogue that is criminally under looked by the other two members of Floyd as well as the myriad of jukebox bands that sell out arenas playing Pink Floyd music.
Mason formed the band with guitarist Lee Harris, keyboardist Dom Beken, long time Floy bassman Guy Pratt and vocalist/guitarist Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet). Kemp’s voice is perfect, he’s not trying to sound deliberately like any of the Floyd singers but manages to encapsulate them all with his London twang and edgy delivery. The performances as you’d expect are top notch, and due to the way this record is mixed the crowd noise is muted so it does sound more like a studio recording than anything else. What really makes this record shine though is the eclectic, amazing setlist that has been put together to flow into one long audio journey. Only four of the songs have actually ever appeared on any official love releases by any member of Pink Floyd so there is a lot of virgin ground here. While many will come for One Of These Days, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Interstellar Overdrive and Arnold Layne it’s tracks like the bluesy Let There Be More Light, Green Is The Colour, If/Atom Heart Mother, The Nile Song and the wonderful Fearless that will keep you enthralled. Fearless actually, along with Lucifer Sam, Arnold Layne and Bike that were never performed by Floyd in the early years.
Listening to this at a terribly loud volume much to the disgust of The Look Of The Week’s Robert Robinson, is the only way to really digest this live record and make you feel as if you were there, the skilled band run through a 23(ish) song set list that peaks and dips in tone and pace throughout, from the quirky psych pop of the Syd-era, to the more experimental middle period where you can hear those sounds that eventually would shape their ‘best’ albums later coming to fruition. It leads towards its conclusion of the still terrifying Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, which starts off the last salvo of the evening with Point Me To The Sky closing things out spectacularly. As a Floyd fan this is a must-buy but even a casual listener should pick it up to indulge in some of lesser known Pink Floyd songs that created the prog rock behemoth we know them as today. Mason has delivered a real treat here and I for one will be front row on the next tour (whenever that is!) 9/10
Kataklysm: Unconquered (Nuclear Blast)
Canadian death metal leaders Kataklysm return with their latest opus Unconquered a rip-snorting ride through the extremity Kataklysm have always been associated with. Much of this record was finished just before the world wide lockdown, recorded and engineered by long-time producer and guitarist JF Dagenais at JFD Studio in Dallas, TX. The mix was finished by Colin Richardson who came out of his retirement for this album and was assisted by Chris Clancy (Mutiny Within) meaning that Unconquered has a biting ultra-modern sound that balances Kataklysm's technical ferocity and sheer brutality. The Killshot builds from a slow opening before being unleashed with James Payne's double kick drums leading the way, unrelentingly destroying everything in its path. Although it's practically a ballad compared to the rampaging tornado of riffs that is Defiant.
Alpha Wolf: A Quiet Place To Die (Sharptone Records)
I'm not sure what Alpha Wolf's idea of quiet is but from the sound of this record it differs a little from the sandy beaches and whale song that many will be accustomed to when trying to find their quiet place. All I'm saying is that it isn't the best record to play at a spa retreat. However if you want some mosh worthy, extremely modern metalcore then this second album from Aussie heavists Alpha Wolf, who took their name from the film The Grey, is certainly the place to find it. Clocking in at just over 35 minutes in length this record is a non stop ride through aggressive metalcore grooves fused with bristling modern soundscapes that add twitching electronic elements, and some djenty palm muted riffs.
With one full length and two EP's to their name, A Quiet Place To Die is their first full length since some allegations arose against their previous singer but they have moved away from that re-establishing their brand of crushing metalcore with some touches of nu-metal bands such as Korn on Creep and Golden Fate; Isolate while there is some industrial ambience on Bleed 4 You which is bang on trend in terms of what metalcore bands are doing at the morning and features Lizi Blanco of The Beautiful Monument adding some haunting additional backing vocals. For metalcore with it's finger on the pulse and a thumping heaviness then come to Alpha Wolf's quiet place. 7/10
Ewigkeit: XXIII (D.T.M Productions)Ewigkeit is the experimental solo project from James Fogarty of In The Woods/Old Forest and his previous releases have been featured numerous times in these pages. XXIII is his latest EP and is made up of 5 new songs clocking in at 23 minutes in total. It's a conceptual piece that is a homage to the psyche-conspiracy adventure novel series the Illuminatus! Trilogy. A mad book about the Illuminati killing hippies by resurrecting a zombie army at a rock concert with only a travelling group of heroes who traverse the world in giant submarine trading cannabis for funds to fight the good fight.
Thursday, 24 September 2020
Slade: Cum On Feel The Hitz (BMG Records) [Paul Hutchings]
“Noddy Holder’s got one of the greatest voices in rock ever” - Ozzy Osbourne
High praise from two of rock’s elder statesmen. There’s a story that I always tell about Slade. It was November 30th, 1983, and I was a 13-year-old shivering in the cold outside the Top Rank Club on Cardiff’s Queen Street. Slade had burst back into the public eye with some of their heaviest music in their history. The albums Til Deaf Us Do Part and the blistering Slade On Stage Live are lightweight by today’s standards but back then they were quite feisty. They promised a rip snorting evening. And then the world fell in as we got to the doors to find a sign saying that the gig had been cancelled as the band were performing My Oh My on Top Of The Pops. Fucking bastards. I’ve hated them ever since. Noddy Holder’s booming Black Country voice which could peel paint, their horrible glam image in the 1970s and Dave Hill’s haircuts that always made him look a bit ropey. To show what a professional I am, when this double disc greatest hits came around for review, I agreed to provide a balanced and measured review, without too many references to that hideous night. But to hell with it, I’m adept at carrying grudges for 37 years with ease so let’s take the plunge and pick apart 43 songs over 2.6 hours from those inconsiderate twats who let me and 2000 others down that winter’s evening.
Raven: Metal City (Steamhammer) [Rich Oliver]
Fit For A King: The Path (Solid State records) [Liam True]
On their sixth studio album Fit For A King have reignited the fire and drive that the Metalcore scene has been looking for for the past few years. That might be a bold claim but trust me, it’s a claim I'm standing by. With a revolving door of line up changes over the years it’s been hit and miss through the back catalogue of FFAK, but in 2020 they’ve hit the nail on the head. The Path is a journey through the Texan four piece have taken the recipe for a decent Metalcore record and made it a great record. The Path may be well-worn but it's worth taking all the same. FFAK don't do originality, but they write great songs and some of these cuts will be stuck in your head for days and it'll only take a couple of spins before the hooks are dug in deep.
When this one landed on my in-tray I was a little cautious. In a week that’s been chock full of parody music, the risk of having to listen to a conceptual bit of Symphonic/Power Metal that inadvertently achieved more in the parody stakes than those who were actually trying was nagging at me like a 70’s sitcom mother-in-law. I needn’t have worried, as this debut album from this British Symphonic /Power metal outfit (yes, you did read that correctly) has really made my Friday. OK, so they aren’t completely British – the vocals are supplied by Majestica Vocalist/Sabaton guitarist Tommy Johannson, so having an existing fan base to leverage is going to be a massive help.
Wednesday, 23 September 2020
Blasting back with their third slab of punishing death metal, Stockholm’s LIK have continued in the same vein that they finished on with 2018’s Carnage. Describing the state of the world today has become a theme amongst metal bands this year and in Misanthropic Breed, LIK add their own take. “The title of the record is Misanthropic Breed, because it describes the world today and the generations that are emerging,” states vocalist/guitarist Tomas Åkvik. “In a way it's more applicable than ever with the quote ‘It's every man for himself’ being so suitable, and it’s also a ‘hidden’ homage to both Dismember and Entombed."
It seems that as time goes on, traditional heavy metal is pushed further and further into the side-lines, ever replaced by more and more extreme subgenres. Yet every now and then, you get a band that’s got that special sauce that elevates them far above the rest, and this time, it’s Neuronspoiler, back with a fresh new album. Since their debut in 2010 they’ve never once failed to disappoint, and Spoiled For Choice rather appropriately spoils the listener with veritable buffet of excellent tracks. Starting with a thrasher by the name of An Eye For An Eye, this album explodes out of the gate before returning back to more traditional metal tempos, but losing no heaviness in the process.
Athon: S/T (Argonauta Records) [Matt Bladen]
The self titled debut album is one that is very much anticipated by fans of the Italian metal band. The band apparently started as a cover's act who played songs by Mastodon, Black Tusk and Red Fang and this sludgy, fuzzy, rawness has imbued their debut record with the sound of their influences mixing stoner grooves, sludge nastiness and some crushing doom metal that has been honed at numerous shows (pre-Covid). Unfortunately their time as a cover band has made much of this album sound too much like their influences, Reverse Satyr especially has nicked a few too many Mastodon riffs. Good enough if the bands mentioned earlier do it for you then you'll enjoy Athon. 5/10
Four Stroke Baron: Monoqueen (Prosthetic Records) [Matt Bladen]
There are very few instances where a 'stop-gap' release perfectly encapsulate the style of a band but Monoqueen the third album from 'heavy pop' band Four Stroke Baron shows why the band are a band a nightmare for critics such as myself. They do what they do very damn well, but what they actually play is something harder to explain than the British Governments Covid policy. I guess 'heavy pop' is the best way to describe it as they certainly have poppy, sing along hooks, numerous uses of electronic music, some hip hop beats and a myriad of other influences into a type of rock/metal I guess more closely associated with bands like Baroness/Mastodon. There are some echoed shouted vocals, thick muscular riffs but much of what is intriguing here are the other sounds that lend themselves to Four Stroke Baron's unique sound.
So then Monoqueen, it's a record that is a mix of covers and originals that are re-recordings of songs from their debut album King Radio. Now if you've heard their debut album (and to be honest I hadn't) the originals are pretty similar just better recorded but it's the covers where this album will be bought and sold as they have gone for left field choices (for metal bands anyway) but they are bands that have influenced Four Stroke Baron's eclectic sound and ones who they share an affinity with. On this list you have Lungs by Chvrches, Why A Bitch Gotta Lie by Death Grips and Broken Whiskey Glass by Post Malone, so left of mainstream artists with even their Beatles cover being Mean Mr Mustard from the Fab Four's 'greatest' album Abbey Road. But elsewhere they have interpreted tracks by AOR rockers Red Rider and Post punk band Tones On Trail in their hazy, swirling, riff-fuelled musical smorgasboard. As I've said Four Stroke Baron are a little bit of an enigma and this EP will be many people's entry point to the band and it certainly gets you excited for what realms the new material may take us into. 7/10Dwarrowdelf: Evenstar (Northern Silence Records) [Paul Hutchings]
This is the third full-length release from Dwarrowdelf, the work of Southampton’s Tom O’Dell. We reviewed the previous release Of Dying Lights last year and noted what a talent O’Dell is. Evenstar sees Dwarrowdelf continue with their Tolkien themed narrative as the album follows the journey of Aragon and his quest to earn Arwen’s hand in marriage. Alongside O’Dell is drummer Joe Bollettiero who adds a solid engine to the whole project. Whilst still very much rooted in the black metal sphere, Evenstar sees melodeath and folk incorporated into the sound, enhancing the atmospheric styles that are the trademark of the first two records. The mix of growls and harmonious cleans works well the tremolo riffing, intricate guitar work, rolling drums and thick synths once more blending neatly.
The album features the guest guitar work of Jeremy Reinhold on For The Kingdom I Shall Claim, one of three seven minute plus songs and Kristoffer Graemesen provides some folk infused tin whistle on In Pursuit Of Ghosts. Whether there has been much development in the song writing since Of Dying Light is debatable, and there remains a slight disconnect at times – for example, I’m not a big fan of the rather tinny synth sounds which feature on Undómiel. Evenstar is pleasing to listen to, the harmonies and melodies blending neatly with the more raucous black metal elements. There is ample to sit back and enjoy once more. 7/10
Crystal Spiders: Molt (Ripple Music) [Matt Bladen]
Under The Oak: Ripped Up By The Roots (Wormholedeath Records) [Paul Hutchings]
How do you be critical of a band who state that “Make no mistake, we are still a tribute band and will continue paying homage to the eighties, but we will do so both through our own material and through cover songs. A regular Under The Oak show will be a mixture of this, but still weighing heavily on the cover material”. A group of friends who joined forces to honour their speed and thrash heroes of the 1980s, Under The Oak clearly have no pretensions about getting to the big time. These are four guys who just want to play some meaty thrash metal. And overall, that’s exactly what they do. The ten original tracks on this debut album are routine thrash metal, tipping the nod to bands like Exodus, Flotsam And Jetsam and Testament with nothing special or indeed, awful to report.
Tuesday, 22 September 2020
Svalbard: When I Die Will I Get Better? (Church Road Records) [Matt Bladen]
Svalbard come to kick down yet more doors and smash through more glass ceilings with their third album, When I Die Will I Get Better? based upon a phrase with multiple meanings, this third album is the latest part of their evolution into one of the most vital bands around. The four piece made up of the aggressive, uncompromising rhythm section of Mark Lilley (drums), Alex Heffernan (bass) and Liam Phenlan (guitar & Rhodes) deliver brash, pulverising hardcore driven metal that allows Serena Cherry's lead guitar to bring expressive leads and post-metal, navel gazing ambience. This album packs a massive emotional kick to the knackers as it deals with society and personal issues as the lyrics rage about with sexism, misogyny, abuse and mental health, subjects that have made Svalbard one of the most crusading bands around, Cherry and Phenlan's shared vocals telling these interwoven tales of the previously mentioned themes.
Now this is where I'll have to address the elephant in the room as this record was supposed to be released on Holy Roar Records one of the most promising underground labels that signed some of the most right-on, heavy and innovative bands in the scene, however recently it came to light that the owner of the label has been accused of rape and sexual misconduct, obviously Svalbard have severed all ties with the label, as have most of the bands and the rest of the people who worked their. (We also stand with the victims). But when there was literally a fortnight until the release Svalbard lost their label (albeit with good cause).
Now there is a light at the end of this tunnel as Church Road Records are releasing When I Die Will I Get Better?, this new label is formed by ex-Holy Roar label manager Justine Jones along with her husband Sammy Urwin and ex-Holy Roar staffers Wil and Sam with a renewed focus of bringing the best of the UK's heavy scene. Due to this new signing and Svalbard's social consciousness £1 from every CD or LP sale of When I Die, Will I Get Better? via Church Road will be donated to Rape Crisis. This new label means that hopefully many of the Holy Roar bands now will move over to Church Road Records in the future.
So back to When I Die Will I Get Better? and it starts as it means to go on with the anthemic Open Wound that features Svalbard's melodious melancholic use of clean shimmering guitars to counterpoint the heavier passages with a much widescreen, post-metal sound, before the crushing savagery cuts in. These powerful melodies permeate throughout the rest of the album, creating stunning numbers such as Click Bait where the haunting opening once again into unfailingly modern, rampaging metal, the often raw lyrical content delivered with venom, but then the record will switch into dreamy segments, much like you get on the excellent Listen To Someone, all the way through the impassioned What Was She Wearing and the affecting finale Pearlescent. It never feels forced or there for the sake of it, it's all part of Svalbard's organic growth into a more mature musical unit. They are creating a wider musical spectrum here than on their previous records, reflecting their live power.
That full sonic assault is realised on Silent Restraint but it's omnipresent. When I Die Will I Get Better? is Svalbard claiming their throne as one of the most vital bands in the UK today. The answer to the albums title maybe still rhetorical but there is solid fact that heavy music doesn't get much better than this. 10/10The Ocean: Phanerozoic II - Mesozoic I Cenozoic (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Scoble]
The Ocean have been making deeply progressive noises for over 20 years now. The band formed in the year 2000, and have released 7 albums, the last being Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic in 2018. That album was the first half of a palaeontology themed double album; with Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic I Cenozoic being the completing second half. This half was meant to be released in 2019, but was delayed to this year; both halves of this double album were recorded at the same time in 2018. So, how have this German 6 piece chosen to conclude what is a very ambitious project. The 51 minute album features 8 tracks, the tracks are a mix of Progressive Metal, Post Metal, Post Rock and a little bit of Doom riffing that comes in somewhere between Yob and Pallbearer. The album opens with Triassic, which is a mix of clean Post Rock riffs, and huge and powerful doomy parts. The clean riffs are brooding and controlled, and feature very attractive layered vocals. The doomy parts have massive, heavy riffs and feature harsh vocals.
Typhus: Mass Produced Perfection (Punishment 18 Records) [Paul Hutchings]