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Tuesday 22 September 2020

Reviews: Svalbard, The Ocean, Brother Firetribe, Typhus (Matt, Paul S, Rich & Paul H)

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. 10/10  

The 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. 

The song goes between those two main feelings, before combining the huge and heavy Doom riffs with the layered vocals from the Post Metal sections, in a way that feels very satisfying. Next comes the albums centrepiece (ok it’s the second song, so it’s not really in the centre, but this is the centrepiece nonetheless). Jurassic | Cretaceous is a huge, sprawling thirteen and a half minute monster of a track. It is mainly powerful Progressive Metal mixed in with tauter and more controlled sections, that then go back to the more expansive Progressive sections. In the middle of the song there is a protracted Post Rock section with lots of clean guitars, that then slowly builds back to the huge Progressive Metal style from the beginning of the track. Next we get the track Palaeocene, which is mainly Progressive Metal that is mid-paced and driving, there is a soft Post Rock section before heading back into aggressive doom territory. Eocene is Post Rock all the way through. The guitars are mainly clean (there is a distorted guitar in the second half, but it’s fairly low in the mix, so the feel is clean electric guitar), and it reminds me a little The Police. 

Oligocene is a soft, brooding Post Rock instrumental. Miocene | Pliocene begins with Post Rock clean guitars, coupled with harsh vocals, this then morphs into Progressive Metal with clean vocals. These two feelings are juxtaposed for about 4 minutes. Pleistocene opens with a minimal driving Prog Rock that sounds a little bit like Muse, before the track gets bigger, with strings being added to the heavy riffing, giving the song a huge amount of depth. The song ends with some properly extreme Progressive Metal which is full of Blast-beats. The album ends with Holocene, which is atmospheric Post Rock with an eastern feeling that again has strings on it, and feels lush and beautiful, and is a very satisfying way to end the album. Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic I Cenozoic is a fantastic piece of Progressive Metal. The album feels expansive and huge, whilst at the same time having some beautifully soft and minimal moments. The band are clearly masters of balance and equipoise. Nothing feels out of place, or jarring; the heavy moments are balanced by soft and beautiful, expansive with introverted, extreme with mild. It all fits together perfectly. This is an album that has been made by people who really know what they are doing, they are masters of their craft, and that comes over in every second of this album. 9/10

Brother Firetribe: Feel The Burn (Odyssey Music) [Rich Oliver] 

Finnish melodic rockers Brother Firetribe are back with album number five Feel The Burn which sees the band at their consistent high level with another great album chock full of AOR anthems. Since previous album Sunbound in 2017, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen has departed the band with his duties with Nightwish meaning he sadly no longer has the time to dedicate to Brother Firetribe so joining the band for Feel The Burn is guitarist Roope Riihijärvi who certainly proves himself with a fantastic performance and some beautifully slick guitar solos. Brother Firetribe have always excelled in writing catchy and feel good anthems and they have definitely not lost their touch. 

Feel The Burn is chock full of them from punchy opener I Salute You, the dramatic and synth heavy Bring On The Rain, the appallingly catchy Chariots Of Fire (it will get stuck in your head for days) and the hugely anthemic Rock In The City. The band put in fantastic performances with the keyboard work from Tomppa Nikulainen being exceptional and shifting from retro 80’s style synths to a more contemporary trancy style whilst the vocals from Pekka Heino are as good as ever being dramatic yet restrained and never overblown. Feel The Burn is another fine album in the Brother Firetribe discography. 

It isn’t as immediately catchy as previous album Sunbound but this album will definitely worm its way into your subconscious after multiple listens. Brother Firetribe are yet to have a misstep and Feel The Burn is a great AOR album full of slick and melodic anthems which the band are known for. 8/10

Typhus: Mass Produced Perfection (Punishment 18 Records) [Paul Hutchings]

In a year of wave after wave of quality thrash metal it’s tough to even get noticed. When it’s your debut release this becomes a massive challenge so it’s pleasing to listen to Mass Produced Perfection, the first long player by Athenian thrashers Typhus and give it a massive thumbs up. Typhus formed out of their former band Nuclear Terror who were operational from 2009 – 2019. Three of the four members of Nuclear Terror are now part of Typhus, namely singer and bassist Kostas Korg, guitarist Kostas Foukarakis and drummer Dimitris Ginis. New boy Socrates Alexiou adds additional guitars on an album that makes no secret of its influences. 

From the opening bars of first single Serpents Of An Aberrant Reality to the closing thrasher Faith Machinery, Typhus have crafted an extremely solid debut. Sure, they are not reinventing the wheel but there is plenty here to excite your average thrash metal fan. Duelling guitars, massive racing riffing, pulsating drums and frenetic vocals, Typhus soak up all of the Bay Area sounds, merge in a bit of the Germanic behemoths, especially Kreator and then include hints of some of the UK and scene as well. Mass Produced Perfection is well produced, well composed, and solidly performed. In fact, there is little I didn’t like on this release. Keeping things tight but still retaining the ferocity of their peers and influences, Typhus can be summed up in that final song Faith Machinery which is a stunning closing track. The market is most definitely saturated, but Typhus have given themselves opportunity to climb above the cesspool of also rans. 8/10

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