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Monday 28 September 2020

Reviews: Carnation, Satan, Neal Morse, Black Stone Machine (Charlie, Paul H, Steve & Matt)

Carnation: Where Death Lies (Season Of Mist) [Charlie Rogers] 

Belgian riff pedallers Carnation have conjured forth their second full length release Where Death Lies proving that despite the general awfulness this year has brought about, 2020 is a solid year for death metal. Holding nothing back, the album busts in with opening track Iron Discipline, an upbeat and groovetastic number that engages the listener immediately. Having not listened to the band before, I had to jump onto the net to check out the line-up, as vocalist Simon Duson sounds eerily similar to Mikael Akerfeldt during his Bloodbath stint. In fact, the whole album sounds like it would blend very well in with that era of Bloodbath, with a close guitar tone, drum style, and song layouts from the same school of thought. And yet, there’s enough difference to know this is Carnation. Moving through the album, there’s a good variety of feels and grooves, with an overarching bounciness to the record that will no doubt translate to energetic crowds once gigging returns. Indeed, the pace of the album doesn’t let up for long, and with the average track length clocking in at just over 4 minutes, no song overstays its welcome.

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

Satan: Early Rituals (Listenable Records) [Paul Hutchings]

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 music is raw, the influences of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and a bit of Blue Öyster Cult evident in the likes of Kiss Of Death, Heads Will Roll and Blades Of Steel. It’s very listenable and showcases one of the UK metal scenes long standing vocalists Brian Ross who also fronts UK metallers Blitzkrieg. The Dirt Demo released in 1986 was the forerunner of Suspended Sentence which saw Michael Jackson in the vocal booths. Slicker and with a much thicker production, Satan’s style changed on this demo to a more Maiden-style romping bass led charge. With plenty to consider and explore, Early Rituals is a fantastic flash back to those enjoyable days when music was much less challenging, less available and probably more exciting. 8/10

Neal Morse: Sola Gratia (Inside Out Music) [Steve Haines]  

The world has become so woke these days that any work strongly extolling the virtues of a certain mindset or way of life is more divisive than ever before. That is the problem with the musically excellent Sola Gratia. In the same way that if you have Hitler, you cannot ignore the accompanying tendency towards casual genocide, this album comes with heavy dollops of Christianity that are so overt, that it’s difficult to ignore, even during the really excellent instrumental tracks as I can’t help bracing myself for a forced dose of ‘God is great’ that doesn’t always come. Musically, it’s difficult to fault and the production strikes a measured balance between all instruments. It’s just the overt Christian messages that are spoiling it to the point that they can be cringeworthy. One example is the otherwise great Never Change, probably the best song on the album for me until you get the line “God and me got it goin’ on” – I shudder at the thought even now. 

Unashamedly progressive, there are strong influences or elements of other notable bands and that adds to the musical strength of the album. At times, like in Ballyhoo and The Light On The Road To Damascus, it drifts too close to musical theatre. But the songs that are truly progressive rock are great but unfortunately liberally sprinkled with religion. For every comparison I came up with, I was having to, regretfully, add the phrase ‘with added Cliff Richard’. Never Change is quite Pink Floyd-esque (with added Cliff Richard), The Glory Of The Lord is rather Peter Cetera (with added Cliff Richard). I think you get the picture. If the references were toned down or more oblique, then this would be one of my favourite albums this year but when you know something is there, you can’t ignore it and I really, really tried if only as a tribute to the magnificent musicianship on show here. I’m sorry, but it really does spoil a good record. 6/10

Black Stone Machine: Crossroads (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

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. 

Yes Raging Slab looms large on Black Stone Machine though the explosive solos that bolster House Of Lies are pure Wylde. Now things here stay very true to the Southern metal sound but they also have a foot in stoner riffage, the title track even features Argy from Nightstalker on vocals sharing the mic with Alex who brings the six string riffs with George as Nick and Michael are the gutsy rhythm section as songs such as Call Of The Void and No Back Up Plan all have rollicking Americana and country influences with the slide guitar being used to full effect. Crossroads is a nifty Southern styled record from this Greek four-piece which comes from the heavier end of the spectrum. 7/10

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