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Monday, 23 November 2020

Reviews: Ingrina, Dragged Under, Black Sky Research, Wodooman (Rich, Alex, Luca & Matt)

Ingrina: Siste Lys (Medication Time Records) [Rich Oliver]

Siste Lys is the second album from French band Ingrina. They are a seven piece made up of two drummers, three guitarists, a bassist and a vocalist and this vast number of musicians justifies the massive sound that this band has. Siste Lys is comprised of a mix of new and old material.  There are three new songs and three old songs that have been reworked. The sound is a compelling and dramatic mix of shoegaze, sludge metal, post-rock and dark ambient sounds which is as haunting as it is nightmarish. Two new songs Jailers and Walls start the album off and they are bristling with dense and dark soundscapes with burst with anguish. The shimmery guitars usually associated with shoegaze instead sound jarring, discordant and full of torment whilst also having moments which are dark, ethereal and haunting. 

There is an interjection of morose and melancholic melodies to songs such as Casual and Stolidity whilst album closer Frozen is a bit mellower and introspective sounding whilst losing none of the woe and gloom of the tracks that preceded it. The album has a very dense and dirty sound with very few clean sounding moments. Everything is drenched in layers of noise and distortion whilst the vocals are agonized echoing screams. The sound throughout the whole album is vast and uncompromising. My first exposure to Ingrina was a very enjoyable one. This is one that definitely took me out of my comfort zone and I found plenty to enjoy. It is an unrelenting album with loads going on and has plenty of replayability to it. It is definitely one of those albums where you discover extra layers and hidden nuances on repeated listens. If dark soundscapes and post-rock sounds are your thing then Ingrina comes highly recommended.8/10

Dragged Under: The World is In Your Way (Mascot Records) [Alex Swift]

Seattle hardcore punks, Dragged Under pull no punches in the conviction and power they bring to their music. From the opening cavalcade of noise on The Real You, their music seethes with a sense of chaotic anger. All this is underpinned by visceral drumming and stark, impassioned melodies that contrast brilliantly with the frenetic tempos. Vitally, despite being grounded in post-hardcore music, the musicianship here is often very impressive. Take a moment like Instability, where the rhythms are macerating yet complex, and the guitars command with intricate patterns that contribute to the gigantic sonic chaos being created. There’s an underlying feeling throughout that Dragged Under could just as easily apply themselves to metal or rap-rock if they felt the need to, as the groove-laden beats of Roots and the spiraling distortion of Covered In Sin demonstrate their versatility. 

If there’s one criticism that can be chucked at Dragged Under its that while vigour and grit are in high supply, in terms of originality, they do seem to deploying the formula of creating a wall of sound which they build with anthemic melodies, biting bass textures, and pure clamour. It’s a style that was popularized by the nu-metal scene of the early 2000s but has really seen a resurgence with acts like Fever 333 and most recently Bring Me The Horizon coming to take the crown of popular rock with music which has the effect of drowning you in sound. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a style which I like but one which, to be done well, has to make every instrument and sound – all of which are standing out in the mix – count! There are certainly moments, such as on the vicious and multi-layered Hypochondria, where I appreciated every element being chucked in my direction. 

That said, by the time Riot and The Hardest Drug rolled around, everything was blurring together. Neither the synthesisers, the guitars, or the percussion were exploding out at me in a way that seized my interest and kept it there! Even though The World Is In Your Way can drag in places, there’s a sense of passion and zeal behind the release which hints at the serious potential for improvement on future records! I think that Dragged Under needs to find a space where they can hone more originality as a band, and need to learn to properly harness the traits of subtlety, precision, and detail. With all that, they have the potential to become a dominating force within their genre! 7/10

Black Sky Research: One [Lucas Tuckwood]

Today we welcome newcomers to the scene by the name of Black Sky Research, presenting their debut EP, One. Spinning a story of apocalyptic proportions across five concise tracks, it treads through familiar territory in an ambitious, yet ultimately fruitless effort. I personally feel that standard rock these days is a little one-note, and unfortunately Research doesn't quite dissuade me from that view. There’s not a lot of variety in tempo, and the guitars tend to riff aimlessly beneath energetic vocals during the endless choruses, only given fleeting moments in which to really flex their muscles. The instruments feel like a mere accessory to the vocals, rather than functioning as one, rather ironically given the EP’s title. 

The musicianship is of quite a high standard however, and they achieve their goal to create a cinematic listening experience- it’s just a somewhat boring film, and the diverse backgrounds of each of the members fails to culminate in anything that feels truly fresh. While the lyrical content does provide an interesting story, the comparative blandness of the music does little in complementing it. Fans of the genre will enjoy this release, and can feel safe in the knowledge that your supply of samey music is near infinite. As for the rest of you, you’ve heard these songs before, and you’ll hear them a hundred times again. 5/10

Wodooman: Osidilove (Self Released)

Occasionally we get something a little different and Wodooman is certainly a lot different to the crushing riffs and explosive heaviness of some of the bands we feature here. This band have a sound they say is more influenced by Husker Du, The Cardiacs, The Cure and Mark Lanegan, so there is almost guaranteed to be a different kind of darkness/heaviness to it, one that is a little more Gothic and otherworldly, making it more emotionally than traditionally heavy.

Wodooman is a the newest project of Iwan Ap Huw Morgan, who has been around the Cardiff underground scene since the Nineties being a part of Mondo Trans Shop and Black Cesar so his penchant for riffs is obvious having spent time in big heavy riffing stoner/desert rock bands. But his first solo outing is a little different stripping things back to a much more acoustically influenced sound built around the idea of an acoustic troubadour telling dark folk tales Obsidilove is a conceptual record of a Warrior-sorcerer descending into the unknown dealing with darkness he sees in an obsidian mirror.

Iwan Ap Huw Morgan plays the guitar here using a lot of musical influences from The Cure and Bob Mould to create multi-layered riffs that are usually built around intricate breezy clean strumming and buzzing electric phrasing while his low vocal delivery bringing a vibrant edge to the lyrics on the supernatural Crimson Shrine. It's not just Morgan that plays on the record thigh as Kate Wood (Obey Cobra) brings some counterpoint vocals and takes and occasional lead on the title track.

Steven Goundrey (Gulp, Ghostlawns) adds bass as does Frank Naughton (Rocket Goldstar) who also provides organs, synths and percussion (on the jaunty Back To The Void especially) along with producing most of record, with the exception of three tracks. Andy Fung (Derrero, No Thee No Ess, Cymbient) gives the backbone behind the kit as Paul Battenbough is the additional guitar. Together creating a intriguing mix of psychy alternative rock, occult folk, prog and indie rock that stems from the long experience of Morgan for a journey through a mystical world, making for a very different solo record that is born out of Morgan's previous bands. 7/10

Reviews: Killer Be Killed, Kepler Ten, Hello Operator, Highwater (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Killer Be Killed: Reluctant Hero (Nuclear Blast)

Supergroups on the whole don't tend to stand the test of time, they are mostly one-and-done groups coming together for one album and then going back to their respective bands, and that dear reader is the point as supergroups are invariably side/collaborative projects between musicians that tour and record with other bands. In the case of Killer Be Killed bands such as Mastodon, the home base of Troy Sanders (vocals/bass) and Soulfly/Cavalera Conspiracy, Max Cavalera's (vocals/guitar) babies are rarely off the road and while Greg Puciatio (vocals/guitar) is no longer touring with The Dillinger Escape Plan he has his new project Black Queen to keep him busy. No wonder then that the follow up to their 2014 self titled album has taken so long to come, but according to Sanders the band have been coming together sporadically and writing this record in secret to take a little bit of the pressure off, leading to a surprise release. 

In this instance surely the pandemic has helped allowing the members to concentrate on this new record without the rigours of touring with their 'main' bands. Back in 2014 Paul H gave Killer Be Killed an 8/10 calling it: "an impressive album which combines the talents of four excellent musicians" singing the praises of all three vocalists along with the drummer Dave Elitch who doesn't return on Reluctant Hero replaced by Ben Koller of Converge/Mutoid Man (a member of the band since Killer Be Killed's debut show in 2015). He's no slouch either bringing a varied drumming style on the sludgier tracks like Inner Calm From The Outer Storms which opens with some Mastodon-esque grooves and Sanders' vocals taking the lead before things speed up ready for Max to spit with that aggression we all recognize. 

Vocally the most expansive is Greg who screams, snarls and sings across the record which like the debut straddles numerous genres from Filthy Vagabond which shifts from has a punchy hardcore power into thrashier realms while From A Crowded Wound is a throbbing spacey track with an unstoppable groove riff that close it out meanincingly. They have carried over all of what made their debut so good but added to it with Reluctant Hero it's a much more calculated release, diligently trying to explore more soundscapes than their debut meaning that this record is beyond a mere fusion of the three vocalists' own styles with a healthy amount of differentiation from their collective influences to make this album one of the pleasant surprises 2020 has given to us (about time right?). 8/10  

Kepler Ten: A New Kind Of Sideways (White Star Records)

Finally! After what seems like a long time (though it's only been four years ) Kepler Ten return with their follow up to 2017's Delta V. I fell in love with the bands mix of AOR-meets-prog rock which reminded me of Grace Under Pressure-era Rush (the band are also still a Rush tribute) as the songs are heavily led by synths, with a rock edge, however they still have epic run times, moving things towards the earlier sounds of Rush and American prog metal band Dream Theater. A New Kind Of Sideways is a semi-conceptual record with the trio of James Durand (vocals/bass/keys) Steve Hales (drums/piano) and Alistair Bell (guitars) concentrating on the fact that “as human beings we are all the same and have a duty of care and responsibility towards each other regardless of age, race, gender or sexuality.” 

A heady concept that is worked through the emotive nature of each track with the album having numerous reflections on what has come before especially on the 18 minute closing number One And The Same which makes reference to opening instrumental Universal. Having had a successful time after Delta V the band have played Lonely Robot (featuring White Star Records bossman John Mitchell) , Von Hertzen Brothers and HRH Prog VI, the wait for a second album has been very anticipated by myself and other prog fans, so what has the intervening years meant for this second album? Well we open with the instrumental as I've said however Clarity is the first song proper and it's the ideal introduction to what Kepler Ten do with a melodic edge to some powerful prog rock backing, it's radio friendly dare I say poppy, but with a heavy rock punch to it. 

Following this things get a bit more old school on Falling Down which is very much more AOR-flavoured song with lots of bubbling synths, clean guitar lines over driving lead bass and the soulful vocals that bring to mind some of the Frontiers acts, Icarus Eyes does the same with a powerful  Weaver takes a much more progressive, darker, route full of lush orchestrations ala Lonely Robot, with the darker tones continuing on the albums big ballad These Few Words. The musical dexterity here is belied by the catchiness of the songs, and yeah ok they do half inch the bass riff from Distant Early Warning on A New Kind Of Sideways as the rest of the song shifts into Yes realms. For prog fans A New Kind Of Sideways is a tour-de-force of technically proficient, but more importantly totally accessible modern prog rock with all the classic traits, it's magnificent. 9/10            

Hello Operator: S/T (Aviator Entertainment)

I'm unsure if Hello Operator were named after The White Stripes song of the same name but there is a distinct indie/garage rock sound to the band that brings in the pounding fuzz thump of Royal Blood on I Created A Monster, some The White Stripes-like riffage on King Solomon as well as big heap of The Arctic Monkeys when things slow down on Strangers In The Rain and The Choreographer much of this comparison comes from the voice of the singer who has that Alex Turner sneer. The band have been called ferocious by other publications and they really bring a massive riffs to more mainstream songwriting, I'd go as far as to say that Toronto band are very much Radio 1 fodder and will get a lot of airplay on the 'alternative' radio stations that deal with the guitar driven music that balances pop and rock. With just one EP before it this self titled full length gives the band numerous chances to show off their differing styles and their obvious musical talent. Expect big things as they will be playing everywhere soon I'm sure, for me though it's all a bit familiar to be overly entertaining. 6/10

Highwater: Mother Nature (Self Released)

Retro blues rocking? Must be Swedish! Yep yet more 70's inspired blues rocking from the Scandinavians who follow up their 2018 EP with this full length debut that has the choppy hip shaking blues rock of Free on Falling (In Love Again), The Allman Brothers (Roll On Down) and a little bit of Stevie Ray Vaughn on the skuttle-buttlin title track. There doesn't seem to be a huge amount of information on the band but from what I can seem they are a tight four piece of vocals/guitar/bass/drums harking back to the 70's rock hayday of blues influenced bands such as Mountain, where steady rhythm sections brought groove and power, the guitars were channelling the influence of those bluesmen with a bit of distorted rocking with the exception of Someone To Blame which is 'proper' blues that reminds me a little of Gary Moore as the vocalist brings a soulful presence moving from a low croon to a higher delivery. It does make you beg the question does the world need another Swedish blues rock band with lots of retro imagery and sound? Well probably not but Highwater deliver the good well enough if you've never stepped out of the past. 6/10 

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Reviews: Light Field Reverie, Hellraizerr, 10 Code, Ellefson (Matt & Paul H)

Light Field Reverie: Another World (Avantgarde Music) [Matt Bladen]

Light Field Reverie have been slowly releasing singles for a while now but it's taken a global pandemic for their debut full length to come to fruition. Formed as a collaborative project between Mike Lamb and Scotty Lodge of the amazing Sojourner with Heike Langhans of the equally amazing Draconian. Another World is a stunning collection of evocative, sorrowful and heartbreaking songs that can't really be classed as just doom, as there are layers of ambient synths underscoring Langhans captivating, haunting vocals as the songs traverse the line between the crippling heaviness and ethereal melodies Lamb giving the lion's share of the musical backing with guitars, synths, piano and drums all coming from him as Lodge gives us the chest rumbling low end, Langhans too providing the 80's New Romantic synths that cut through on The Oldest House in contrast to the fat riffs that chug along when the lighter passages shift into darker ones. 

Despite the downbeat sound of the record, it deals with the concepts of "home, belonging, and finding light in an uncertain world" so it is a record of catharsis that comes through Langhans' vocals mainly. Lamb not only takes most of the instrumentation he also produces, mixes and masters (making the record sound gorgeous) and wrote the album with Langhans although Ghost Bird is a reinterpretation of the Lysithea's (another band featuring Lamb) song The Lighthouse, which features Sojourner's Emilio Crespo growling as Dreamwalker is Langhans reimagining the song Renn from her :LOR3L3I: solo project. If I was to sum up this record I'd say Draconian and Sojourner getting their Goth on and writing songs for Depeche Mode (Another World) fans. If that tickles your fancy then I suggest you seek out Another World as it's wonderful! 9/10

Hellraizerr: Life After Death (Reaper Metal Productions) [Paul Hutchings] 

One of the filthiest and refreshingly brilliant albums of the year, HellRaizerr’s downright dirty blend of speed, thrash, death, and horror metal hits you like a cold shower on a winter’s day. 13 tracks all blisteringly fast come at you over 43 maniacal minutes with no attempt made to apply the brakes for one second. Hellraizerr come at you from Los Angeles, California, and comprise Cursed Moon’s Sal Hellraizerr on vocals, guitar, bass and synth, with support from Chris Hellking – Drums and vocals on Seeing Red and Vengeance Rising, Adam Axe – Lead guitars and additional synths from Jason Bacajol. What makes this album so appealing is the underlying rock n’ roll feel which gives Life After Death an irresistible groove. 

Throw in some synths and samples, and grisly growling vocals and you have a visceral combination which is crushingly heavy with just the right amount of melody. Blistering drums batter away as the onslaught commences with Summoning Of Demons, a barrage of horror and terror which continues with the power of songs including Collector Of Souls and Hordes Of Decay. And then, when you think you have an idea of how this will pan out, Hellbound curves into view, and completely changes everything. A solid synth beat which combines with a pulsing bass line, soaring guitar and the occasional crashing riff, this is more Depeche Mode and a real different change of tempo, style, and approach. 

Tempo and approach changes again on Vengeance Rising, which reminds me of the rawness of early Tank and that might be another reason why Life After Death appeals; there is an underlying feel of the NWOBHM movement within this album. Life After Death combines the raw power of early punk, the grit of Motörhead and protype thrash but with a bass line and rhythm that is almost psychobilly in flavour. Think Sabbat meets Demented Are Go with the more pop sensibilities of Rob Zombie thrown in, and then clear your mind again as Vicious Assault adds a bit of black metal and electronica into the mix. It’s a bit of everything but with such a visceral undercurrent that it may well make a cheeky late assault on the top 20 of 2020. 9/10

10 Code: Ride (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Another day another grungy rock band from Greece. They really do love this stuff and nearly every band who styles themselves in this genre play it well, so then what do 10 Code also stylised as tencode (referencing the now defunct CB signalling codes used by Law Enforcement in North America mainly - Radio Engineer Ed) offer to the burgeoning pool of bands that feature Deaf Radio, Planet Of Zeus et al. Well from the kick off you can hear that there is a heavy 90's alt influence throughout referencing the key sounds of Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and even bands such as Smashing Pumpkins. 

Though when Let Go bursts out of your speakers it's genre legends Nightstalker as the dirty riffs of Petros Potamianos (guitars) and Apostolos Boules (guitars) get your head nodding along with the pulsing rhythms of Haris Anagnostou (drums) and George Paraskevopoulos (bass) which come into their own on the funky yet dissonant second track Be Nothing. As things progress you get a little hints of the Foos on the title track and All On Me while there is a woozy Soundgarden buzz on Inside Your Head and Eyes with Petros' voice having a Josh Todd-like snarl ideal for the album's definitive edginess. On this second record 10 Code are rising the ranks of the Greek alt/stoner/grunge bands with Ride. 7/10  

Ellefson: No Covers (EMP Records) [Paul Hutchings]

2019’s debut solo album Sleeping Giants was decent enough and introduced the Megadeth’s bassist’s business partner Thom Hazaert on vocals. Hazaert is a well-known businessman, journalist and label owner and his outing on Sleeping Giants was reasonable. Now Ellefson is back with album number two and it’s a real challenging one to consider. Conceived during lockdown, No Covers is exactly the opposite of its title, with 19 tracks from various rock and metal artists selected by Ellefson and Hazaert and then performed with guitarists Andy Martongelli and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (Sons Of Apollo, Yes, Ex-Guns N' Roses), drummer Paolo Caridi and a host of guest musicians who make up the who’s who of metal. Now, this must have been some logistical challenge to arrange and record and there is nothing wrong with the album in any way. We’ve all seen musicians jamming and recording throughout the last eight months.  

The album’s origins are explained by Ellefson. “This album was a totally impromptu conversation between me and Thom over the phone. I had just come home from Nashville in early June recording the new Megadeth album, and Thom and I already had an Ellefson record in the works to release in October of this year. We just looked at the calendar and said, ‘we’re not going to be able to tour; we’re not going to be able to support this thing. It will probably just end up falling through the cracks and nothing will happen.’ We decided why waste all that energy we put into these new songs, and I remember we both said at the same time, why don’t we just do some covers”. What do we get? Well, Ellefson states that he didn’t go for the obvious covers and overall, that’s a fair assessment. The tracks selected are delivered faithfully, and with varying amounts of success. Taking on Freewheel Burning as the album’s opening song is a brave move. Musically, the band can match the might of the Priest but Hazaert isn’t the metal Jesus, let alone the Metal God and he struggles badly on a song that is dominated by Halford’s high pitched delivery. It’s a bit of a guitar jam mind, with Ellefson joined by boss Mustaine, Andy James Gus G and Jason McMaster. 

Not Fragile by Bachman Turner Overdrive is certainly less well known whilst the cover of Cheap Trick’s Auf Wiedersehen Pet featuring Al Jourgensen and Anthrax’s Charlie Benante is another curved ball.  The cover of Def Leppard’s Wasted is solid enough, Eat The Rich (the Krokus version) sticks faithfully to the original and Doro’s vocals add to a stomping version of Love Me Like A Reptile. The Metal Queen returns for Sheer Heart Attack. The cover of the Kiss ballad Beth leaves me cold, despite the faithful rendition, the brass sounding out of place and the vocals unfortunately no where near those of Peter Criss. Much better is the version of Fastway’s Say What You Will, which was an underrated song when it first came out. The list of artists is impressive and if you like collaborations then this should float the boat. I’m not going to knock any musician doing this type of thing in the current climate but with so much music out there, one does question why this would take preference over new and original music. Maybe those who don’t want to challenge themselves will find this more to their liking. Well played and produced, No Covers (with the homage to On Through The Night artwork) is enjoyable enough but not an album that will get regular airplay with me. 6/10

Friday, 20 November 2020

Reviews: pg.lost, Hjelvik, Contrarian, When Rivers Meet (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

pg.lost: Oscillate (Pelagic Records)

Oscillate the opening track on post-rockers pg.lost’s newest release of the same name is possibly the most self-explanatory song I’ve ever heard, as the definition goes: “move or swing back and forth in a regular rhythm” well that’s exactly what the song does building a regular pattern from the beginning adding layers upon layers and rarely differentiating, it’s almost mesmeric and hooks you in with its insistence. It’s a trick so often repeated on this album. Written as mainly instrumental music to strip away any false lyrical hints, it gives this fifth album an unwavering almost primal nature to it. E22 conjuring the crashing of waves with its huge cascading riff and tribal drumming built upon the building of tension and cathartic release that bands such as Mono follow the songs keeping you on edge until things explode into a momentous crescendo at the end that leaves you breathless. 

What’s interesting here is that the songs rarely ascribe to certain sound, with frequent forays into indie-shoegaze shimmers, ambient closeness, textured synthwave of Waves, which dare I say it sounds Christmassy and huge expansive krautrock noodling of bands like Tangerine Dream (Shelter). Mixed and mastered by Magnus Lindberg from Cult Of Luna, Oscillate is an album that has been meticulously constructed to sound as natural as possible, each track flowing into the next as you reach towards a peak that draws closer with ever cinematic song until finally and breathlessly you arrive at the close of The Headless Man. There are few albums that make me feel emotional but as I listened (tip: use headphones) I felt my eyes tearing up such is the emotional depth of this record. A wonderful musical exploration that cements Oscillate as one of the finest post-rock albums this year. 9/10

Hjelvik: Welcome To Hel (Nuclear Blast)
Is there such thing as a Rock Viking, well other than Roy Wood from Wizzard that is! Well Hjelvik seem to have hit upon the hitherto untapped genre of Classic Rock meets Viking Metal as this debut album attests with songs that owe as much to Immortal and Enslaved as it does to Deep Purple and WASP. This amalgamation of styles comes from frontman Erland Hjelvik's previous job as the founding frontman of Kvelertak and while they fuse blackened vocals and riffs with punk/hardcore and rock, Hjelvik's solo project very much adds a blackened sheen to classic heavy metal sounds. 

Songs such as Ironwood have that thrusting gallop of bands like Maiden but with a more distorted guitar sound Hjelvik's screamed vocals over the top as the bouncy riffs keep coming with songs such as Helgrinda having big Jon Lord-esque organs while the choppy The Power Ballad Of Freyr matched Amon Amarth power metal with some more hard rock rhythms. Elsewhere on the album Glory Of Hel has that touch of Blackie Lawless I talked about earlier and Ironwood also brings a touch of Hjelvik's previous band. This record is anything but formulaic blurring genre lines as Hjelvik himself admits that "Over the last couple of years I really started listening to a lot of metal again" and he's delved into the treasure trove that is classic metal sounds while adding a touch of the more extreme seen. A true hard rock Viking Welcome To Hel is a punchy debut solo record that will sound familiar but also unique. 8/10  

Contrarian: Only Time Will Tell (Willowtip Records)

Coming just over a year since their last record Their Worm Never Dies Rochester, NY natives Contrarian return with their fourth full length Only Time Will Tell. The band put the progressive in progressive death metal rarely settling in to a groove for any length of time but never letting things spiral into uncomfortable, overly jazzy or off-piste levels that certain bands allow themselves to fall into again and again. Tracks such as Cased Closed manages to shift between slower atmospheric sounds and the battering heaviness while The Mega Metropolis is packed full of intensely technical bass playing from Bill Bodily who also uses the King Crimson favourite Chapman Stick, while the drumming of Bryce Butler is unrelenting. 

Obviously as this is death metal Cody McConnell's vocals stay in the guttural grunt realms but things do get cleaner on the chorus of tracks such as the jazzy Scarlet Babylon, but Only Time Will Tell is a guitar players dream Jim Tasikas's and Brian Mason's playing is mind-blowing but it's the last layer of a very dense musical cake. As the keys/synths filter through carrying the ambient instrumental title track along with the 80's inspired Beat The Clock. A feast of musical mastery Only Time Will Tell is another deep dive into brain melting technical death metal. 7/10      

When Rivers Meet: We Fly Free (One Road Records)

As the slide driven fuzz rocker Did I Break The Law kicks into gear and those soulful smoky vocals emerge from the speakers you’d be forgiven for thinking this was another Beth Hart project. But you’d be wrong as When Rivers Meet are a husband and wife blues rock duo from the UK made up of guitarist/vocalist Aaron and vocalist/mandolin/violinist Grave Bond, their sound is very much influenced by the American blues rock style, with creeping elements of Americana and of course the British blues explosion. We Fly Free is the bands full length debut recorded with analogue, tube and valve powered equipment to keep the sound authentic and organic, Aaron’s guitars especially have warm welcoming fuzz to them like you’d hear on a Blues Pills records, Kissing The Sky shows this well as Grace’s slide resonator mandolin is also fed through an amp for a double guitar hiss. 

Add to this some bubbling Hammond organs and you get a retro-influenced record in the 21st Century. As I mentioned in the opening sentence Grace has gritty, powerful vocal similar to that of Elin Larsson or Beth Hart, she takes the majority of the main vocals however her husband also provides a low distinct timbre to the darkly folky Breaker Of Chains, while the two duet on the emotive I Will Fight and the acoustic gospel-like number Bury My Body a song that will be more evocative on stage. Recorded at The Boathouse Studio in Suffolk with Adam Bowers who also plays drums on this album joining engineer Robin G Breeze to contribute bass, organ and piano, fleshing out the duo's compositions into full formed blues rock brilliance. There's something a little special about We Fly Free which will hopefully get When Rivers Meet to the next level in their career. 8/10 

Reviews: Jinjer, Decaying Days, Sole Syndicate, Tungsten (Reviews By Liam & Simon)

Jinjer: Alive In Melbourne (Napalm Records) [Liam True]

Fresh off the release of their third studio album Macro and starting a world tour starting in Australia the Ukrainian four piece played one of their last shows in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to live shows. Previously release for the Knotfest online streams that happened over the summer the band had decided to release the concert as a stand alone live album. And it’s an absolute mammoth of a live album from one of metals up and coming big bands.

Everything about the performance is beautiful. The setlist is sublime, featuring hits such as Teacher, Teacher which sounds combines the vicious growls of vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk with her soaring cleans and almost R&B sounding delivery at the start of the track. Ape starts as a Djenty masterpiece that blends together with their Prog Metal elements to create a powerful sound that the band & crowd thrive off as guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov winds his fingers around the fretboard and where Tatiana shows off how deep her vocal range can hit with her stomach churning gutturals cause you to quiver with disgust against the tight band. Drummer Vladislav Ulasevich hones his abilities as he whirls around the kit to create the devastating beats that come to true fruition on I Speak Astronomy as he shows his choice of breaks mid beat to cause the band to sound tighter. 

Bassist Eugene Abdukhanov shines through with his bass tone echoing off fellow stringer Ibramkhalilov as they bounce off one another to devastate your eardrums. The real challenge for a live album is to get the balance of the band and vocals to not overpower each other which leaves a sour taste in your mouth. But the sound is phenomenal and as tight as a live band I've heard. While the vocals come through strong on the recording, it’s not the sound that causes it, but rather the raw ability on Tatiana’s voice that comes out during her clean highs. Everything from the setlist, the crowd to the sound of the band is the combination for a perfect live album. And with the band ending on super hits Pisces & Captain Clock, not only do the crowd go home happy, but you finish the live record fulfilled and satisfied that during the shit show that is 2020, Jinjer have crafted an experience to help you leave those thoughts behind.

Alive In Melbourne is 75 minutes of Jinjer laying waste to the Australian crowd, and if there’s ever been a band that needs more attention and that you need to see after live music returns, Jinjer should be atop that list. 10/10

Decaying Days: The Unknown Beyond (Self Released) [Liam True]

Melodic Death Metal is a dying breed of music as there’s not been a decent output from that genre since At War With Reality back in 2014. Decaying Days however have surpassed that with their second full length album. It’s a nasty, dark fuelled whirlpool from the German quintet. Aeons & A Distant Memory gel together to create two beautifully choreographed descent into hell as the guitar tones of Daniel Maurer & Tobias Muller battle together to omit a perfect grisly sound for the album. Bassist Hannes Burger’s deep sound rings throughout Into Your Eyes & Reflections as his bone crunching bass sound echoes throughout the two songs. 

Interlude is exactly what is sounds like, a small piece of filler in a killer album, but even that’s great. The acoustic sound is delightful before the band rushes back into their heavy ways. Drummer Nico Ehlers makes his mark across the album with his tempo changes sounding immaculate and so clean he makes it sound easy. From start to finish the band hit the nail perfectly on it’s head to topple the Melodic Death Metal genre on its head. And vocalist Manuel Klein fits perfect with his almost Nergal sounding shrieks being the glue that holds the album on top of the genre. It’s a perfect way for the band to introduce us to their second output. But only being 8 songs long and just under an hour, you’ll be left craving more. 8/10

Sole Syndicate: Last Days Of Eden (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

This sophomore album from this bunch of Swedish Melodic Hard Rockers is very much influenced by the times we find ourselves in, balanced by a love of classic 80’s rockin’ and strikes the balance well between the nod to the past whilst sounding fresh and relevant for the right here and now. It’s worth dwelling on that core influence for a moment, because as someone who lived through it first time round I am always cautious when younger bands try this. There are a hell of a lot of tributes from that era around right now. Some get it right, some get it horribly wrong, especially when they spend too much time trying to create a sound that came out of the era. There are two dimensions to this and that really was simply down to the conditions bands found themselves in back then. You have the rough and ready sound, which more often than not was down to bands having only very brief and expensive time windows at their disposal and out of date equipment - so what you got was material recorded close to as live, with minimal overdubs (say Thin Lizzy). 

Or alternatively the other extreme, when a band got more successful and spent too long in the studio over-producing the hell out of the product (Def Leppard). For me somewhere between the two is the sweet spot and Sole Syndicate’s sound captures this balance perfectly. The sound is fresh and raw, but there’s just the right amount of polish and production to add shine without losing that vital and essential energy. It’s an 80’s influenced Modern Metal record, and a good one to boot. Add to this some great performances – no frills, just what’s needed built on a foundation of robust song-writing and a really stand out vocal performance front man, guitarist and band leader Jonas Månsson. The album crashes explosively in with Wake Up, flowing effortlessly into …And The Truth Will Set You Free, with both of these songs picking up on the common theme of the challenges of the modern post truth world wrecked and polarised by social media. There’s anger and bile against the current Age of Ignorance, but empathy and companionship as well. The album has several tracks that seem to suggest that of we could all just rock out together all will be fine – none more so than the anthemic We Came To Rock and the cracking ballad Glory Days

This is probably the strongest track on the album, not as it first appears a harkening back to days gone by but an emotive appeal for a return to the simpler times gone by. To be honest, they were no less scary times in the 80’s if you are reading this boys – we all just got drunk and rocked out because it stopped us having to think too hard about the impending nuclear holocaust (and some of us never stopped doing both by the way…). This album is trying to suggest we do the same now, whilst also maintaining our voices to bring about meaningful change - something we often felt we lacked back in the day (see Bring Us A Hero for a cracking example of this). Album closer When Darkness Calls, brings all these elements together, with one of the most emotive choruses I have heard in a while and is a strong close to a fine record. 9/10

Tungsten: Tundra (Arising Empire) [Simon Black]

For those not familiar with this Swedish Symphonic bunch, the band was started by ex-Hammerfall drummer Anders Johansson. It’s very much a family affair, as his two sons provide the bass and guitar duties. It’s energetic and lively stuff, with some great catchy melodies and given Johansson’s background, readers may not be surprised to discover the net effect to me feels much more like anthemic Power/Medieval Metal. As is so often the case, it’s a concept piece around the central character of Volfram – a Nordic guardian of time and balance.

Lock And Load is a lively opener, and sets the tone and pace. Volfram’s Song is classic Power stuff - catchy melodies and hooks, with that melody driven by a driving keyboard riff that is pure Mittelalter-Metal. For those not familiar, these are those Medieval/Folk riff’s that always follow the same rising and falling intonation structures, which allow someone with zero knowledge of a band’s back catalogue to sing along with the Ooo-Aaaay-Oooh-Aaay-Ooo-Oooo-Aaay-Ooos in exactly the right place in a field full of metal heads in Europe without the embarrassment of obviously not knowing the lyrics. Ale-filled drinking horn obligatory.

This follows into Time, which in particular exudes that that folky feel favoured of the Pirate end of the spectrum, and a tendency for the vocal and riff melodies to synchronise, which is why I struggle to agree with classifying this as Symphonic. Divided Generations is more stripped back and has a Modern Metal feel to it, with guitars held back until the chorus and is definitely one of the more interesting moments on the album. There’s a couple of tracks like this – Paranormal a bit later on pulls the same trick and this leads me to the main challenge that I have with this record – that it lacks tonal variety.

There really are two modes and after a while the flip back and forth between Power/Medieval and this stripped back Modern feel gets repetitive, although I cannot fault any of the songs each and of themselves. That’s why when tracks like I See Fury come along, with a bit more welly and some more aggressive vocals in the chorus, I find myself feeling relief – not because it’s a particularly good track, but because there’s finally some variety. There is a big difference between having a distinct sound, and lacking variety and sadly the latter is the predominate sensation one is left with. 5/10

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Reviews: Skelethal, Eternal Champion, Stan Bush, Black Soul Horde (Rich & Matt)

Skelethal: Unveiling The Threshold (Hells Headbangers) [Rich Oliver]

Unveiling The Threshold is the second album from French death metallers Skelethal. As this new wave of old school death metal gains traction the number of bands seem to increase. No complaints here as I can’t get enough of the old school death metal sound as long as the quality of the material is high. Thankfully Skelethal are another band who produce some absolutely stonking death metal. Skelethal have a sound that is heavily influenced by the early Swedish death metal scene but there are definite nods to the Florida death metal sound as well as a big wedge of doom in there as well. As well as breakneck velocity and brain splattering intensity Skelethal know the art of slowing things down to a malevolent crawl and making death metal sound just that bit nastier. 

Songs such as Antropomorphia and Adorned With The Black Vetebra have moments which bring the pace down evoking the evil atmosphere that makes old school death metal so irresistible to this reviewer's ears. It also means when the speed and aggression kicks back in it sounds all the more effective for it. There are also the songs which are all about flesh ripping aggression such as Sidereal Lifespan and Emerging From The Ethereal Threshold which demand heads are banged and circle pits are started in your front room. The guitar work on the album is great with riffs that are gnarly and plentiful whilst the solos have a thrashy flair to them whilst the rhythm section of the band is tight and relentless. 

The vocals by Guillaume Zeller are in that old school style of being a guttural snarl and suits the tone of the music perfectly. Unveiling The Threshold is another in a long line of great contemporary old school death metal releases. It plays to the strengths of the genre and is a great throwback to the early 90’s both in sound and in the production and mix. The lack of originality is always a key factor when it comes to old school death metal revival bands but a band like Skelethal do it extremely well and as I’ve probably said before you don’t seek out innovation and originality in old school death metal. Another great death metal album for 2020.8/10

Eternal Champion: Ravening Iron (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

From Austin, Texas Eternal Champion have been giving the world their Moorcock inspired heavy metal to the world since 2012 and with each of their releases their sound has become more expansive and more cinematic really bringing the sounds of Michael Moorcock's fantasy universe to life. In his books "The Eternal Champion is a reincarnating hero that has lived many lives in the Multiverse, whose deeds are part of a larger interdimensional struggle for Cosmic Balance between the forces of Law and Chaos" so expect lots of swords and sorcery across these 8 tracks, as the galloping Worms Of The Earth is based upon Robert E. Howard's novel of the same name meaning that they aren't just about Moorcock anymore. Musically too there is a lot of differences with the, a lot of the muscular Manowar chest-beating you'd expect but the album also has many European influences with A Face In The Glare and Skullseeker reminding me a lot of Swedish megastars Ghost, as the title track and War At The Edge Of The End have the driving riffs of Grand Magus along with the obvious influence of American metal legends Manilla Road. 

The albums instrumental, The Godblade is synth-based intermission that keeps the atmosphere of this album in the mystical realms before entering into the epic closing track Banners Of Arhai. As I said earlier in the review Eternal Champion have expanded their sound with every release and the gap between their 2016 record and this one is huge leap despite the band now just being made up of four members Arthur Rizk (drums, guitars, synth), Brad Raub (bass), John Power (guitars, synths, twelve string) and vocalist Jason Tarpey who plays those most metal of instruments War Horn and Hammer & Anvil they have taken their sound to new levels of classic metal power. The songs burst out of the stereo with riffs that move between marching (Cowards Keep) and galloping (Skullseeker), killer solos that weave in and out of the songs seemingly at will and vocals that are a brilliant battle cry telling these epic tales with soul and power. Probably one of the best traditional metal albums of the year, Ravening Iron will be high on any self respecting classic metal fans end of year list! Wonderful! 9/10

Stan Bush: Dare To Dream (Cargo Records UK) [Rich Oliver]

Dare To Dream is the new album from Emmy award winning artist and melodic rock icon Stan Bush. Stan Bush is probably most well known for the songs Dare and The Touch that he contributed to the soundtrack of the original The Transformers movie in 1986 but he has had a long career with many movie soundtrack contributions as well as a lengthy discography with Dare To Dream being his fourteenth album. What we have with Dare To Dream is what you would expect from Stan Bush and that is eleven songs of uplifting, feel-good melodic rock which harks back to the mid to late 1980’s with stadium sized choruses, retro synths, slick guitar and Stan’s trademark crooning. There are countless bands that play this style to this day but Stan is a pioneer and icon in the melodic rock and AOR world and this is the music he was born to play. 

The album is chock full of punch the air anthems that will have older rockers dusting off their air guitars such as opener Born To FightHeat Of AttackNever Give Up and The 80’s (which was released as a single in 2019). You also have the trademark ballads that will get the cigarette lighters aloft such as A Dream Of LoveLive And Breathe and Home. Stan has assembled a great bunch of musicians to join him on this album and the performances are all great whilst Stan himself sounds fantastic with his voice barely aged from the 80’s heydays. Dare To Dream is a vastly enjoyable album. It is a massive throwback to the 1980’s and sounds exactly as you would expect a AOR/melodic rock album to sound. The sound is not original but it is coming from one of the most influential figures in the genre. The songs themselves are fantastic and this album is just the uplifting, feel-good release needed at the tail end of 2020. 8/10

Black Soul Horde: Land Of Demise (No Remorse Records) [Matt Bladen]

NWOBHM inspired band Black Soul Horde sound as if they could be one of the multitude of American/European NWOTHM bands that have sprung up since the mid 2000's (see above). Taking their cues from bands like Maiden, Priest, Saxon et al these bands have an affinity for a time when heavy metal bred it's first load of megastars in a genre that led to the birth of thrash and many others. The bands that spearhead this revival mainly come from North America or Scandinavia but Black Soul Horde break that tradition as they come from the much more Mediterranean climate of Athens Greece. 

The band formed in 2012 releasing a debut record in 2013, however it's taken a while for this second album to come to light but the founding duo of John Tsiakopoulos (guitars, bass, backing vocals, production) and Jim Kotsis (lead vocals) have finally returned with another record that brings galloping bass driven rhythms with Vasilis Nanos giving the drums, twin guitar harmonies, screaming solos (from Costas Papaspyrou) and the anthemic vocal phrasing of Kotsis. At a concise 35 minutes it harks back to the NWOBHM scene where albums were packed full of punchy, fist pumping heavy metal as tracks such as Lord Of Darkness set the head nodding in unison as Stone Giants and Into The Badlands bring the speed metal as Soulships brings an edge of Running Wild. Land Of Demise is a great classic metal album that's been a long time coming but delivers in it's promises. 8/10 

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Reviews: Iron Maiden, Tombs, Liminal Shroud, Cibola (Paul S & Matt)

Iron Maiden: Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast - Live In Mexico City (Paralphone Records) [Matt Bladen]

Does the world need a another Iron Maiden album? Probably not. Does 2020 need Iron Maiden? You bet your arse it does! The metal veterans, who have never compromised on their style or sound were due to headline Download festival this year, which obviously, didn't happen, so once again they have dug into their substantial archive for their 13th(!) Live release. Recorded across three nights, in front of a rabid Mexican crowd (South American Maiden fans have long been the most passionate about the group) back in September 2019, this album gives you a taste of Maiden's Legacy Of The Beast tour. Inspired by their official videogame of the same name, the Legacy Of The Beast tour is another 'Jukebox' show and that's exactly what you get here. 

Starting with the high flying trio of Churchill's Speech/Aces High/Where Eagles Dare it's Maiden pumping out the classics first and foremost, however to this fans ears it's great to hear 'newer' songs such as The Wickerman and For The Greater Good Of God included along with two from the Blaze era Sign Of The Cross and the epic The Clansman and for the real nerds The Flight Of The Icarus which hasn't featured on a Maiden setlist since the Somewhere In Time Tour. Now I will say that on Aces High the old 'Air Raid Siren' does sound like he's struggling a little but once he gets into some of the less vocally taxing tracks that magic is still there, his voice ringing out like it did years ago. He keeps the crowd in play throughout, a shame then that they do sound a little as if they were tacked on to a stage recording, now it may be me but the crowd sound a little artificial (though this could be because there was probably bloody millions of them!). 

Now I maligned Bruce a little earlier but having the ability to do this style of singing while also darting around the stage like Tigger on speed for nearly 2 hours (17 tracks on the album) is still mightily impressive. Equally impressive are the instrumental members of the band, Nicko McBrain kicking the crap out of his drum kit like he's 28 not 68!, Steve Harris keeping the band marching on with his fluid basslines allowing while that triple axe attack of Murray, Smith and Gers to bring on those riffs and solos any self-respecting Iron Maiden fan should be able to recognize from the first bar. A two disc set that comes in numerous super special editions, Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast: Live In Mexico City shows that while the world may not need another Iron Maiden live album treding over old ground, now more than ever the world need Iron Maiden, and while this maybe would have been great as a Blu-Ray release as well as a CD, it'll surely get you singing along over Lockdown-mas, fortifying that Iron Maiden remain one of the last bastions (along with Priest and Saxon) of the time when British heavy metal ruled the world. Up The Irons! 7/10 

Tombs: Under Sullen Skies (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Tombs have been making loud, nasty noises since 2007. The band, based in Brooklyn, New York have released 4 albums before Under Sullen Skies; their first, Winter Hours in 2009, and the last, The Grand Annihilation in 2017. The bands founder and main man, Mike Hill on Guitar and Vocals is joined on this album by Drew Murphy on Bass and Vocals, Justin Spaeth on Drums and Matt Medeiros on Guitar. This album has seen more collaboration on the writing duties between Mike Hill and his band mates, this is the second album that this lineup has done and collaboration is clearly easier. Tombs started life as a Black Metal band, but have developed and evolved as the they have moved through their career. The Black Metal is still there, but it has been joined by several different styles; Post Metal, Death Metal, Sludgy Doom, and Hardcore. Angel Of Darkness is probably the most straight ahead Black metal track on the album. It opens with blast beats and tremolo picked riffs, it feels smooth and hypnotic, with an Atmospheric Black Metal feel. The song also features chanting and some slower, and very rhythmic riffs that feel quite doomy. 

Opening track Bone Furnace also starts with fairly savage Black Metal riffing, mixed with more mid-paced and driving strait metal riffs. The slower parts are driving and pummelling and fit well with the savagery of the Black Metal riffing. Secrets Of The Black Sun is a beautifully gothic track. The track is mainly clean guitar and clean vocals, it reminds me of some of Triptykon's more Gothic work. The track gets more dissonant and dark as it goes along, but the pacing stays slow and hypnotic. It’s a really affecting track that sits roughly halfway through the album, and is a great break with the savagery of the extreme metal. A lot of the material on Under Sullen Skies has a slight Hardcore attitude to it, but when that is mixed with some of the more doomy style songs you get something that is nice and sludgy, doomy, but also angry and aggressive. 

This is probably best demonstrated by the track The Hunger which is mid-paced but driving, nasty and antagonistic. Under Sullen Skies is a great piece of avant guard extreme metal. The different styles are mixed without anything feeling out of place or incongruous. The overall feeling of this album is dark and brooding, the album fits perfectly with its title, and with the year that it has been made in. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in extreme metal, or in metal in general. A beautifully dark and nasty album, highly recommended. 8/10  

Liminal Shroud: Through The False Narrows (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Paul Scoble]

This is Liminal Shroud’s first album, the band released their self titled demo two years ago. The band, who are based in Victoria in British Columbia, have been together since 2018, and feature Rich Taylor on Bass and Vocals, Drew Davidson on Drums and Aiden Crossley on Guitar and Vocals. The bands sound is a mix of Orthodox Black Metal, Depressive Black Metal and Atmospheric Black Metal, all of which is tempered with a large amount of melancholic Doom. The Black Metal styles present on this album are similar, with a lot of crossover between them so the specific type of Black Metal is more of a feeling rather than overt differences in sound. Several songs feel closer to one style more than one of the others. The slower doomy elements are present on all the tracks, and surround and enhance all of the Black Metal parts, adding melancholy tunefulness, and a lilting, soft tempo that helps to emphasise the desolate sadness. 

The opening track A Hollow Visage is a good example of the basic sound. The track opens with heavy and deeply sad doomy riffs, before going into some blasting Black Metal that feels equidistant between Depressive Black Metal and Orthodox, low-fi Black Metal. The track then vacillates between the savage Black Metal sound I’ve just described and a slower, mid-paced style of Depressive Black Metal that has some layering to it and a nice bit of melody. The feel for the whole track is sorrowful, pensive and desolate, but also manages to feel cathartic. The Atmospheric Black metal style comes over well on the track To Forget. The song opens with blast beats and tremolo picked riffs, but it’s a smoother style of blasting than on a lot of the other songs. There is a lot of layering in the tremolo picked riffs, and the band have used this to inject a huge amount of morose melody and funereal tunefulness. The song also has a more purposeful and driving section near the end, but the overall sense is of Atmospheric Black Metal rather than Orthodox or Depressive Black Metal. 

Through The False Narrows is a great album. I’m genuinely surprised that this is a debut album, as everything has been done so well. The album is a collection of very well written songs that all work as individual tracks, but also works as a complete piece of work in itself. The way the album ebbs and flows works very well, and helps to make it feel dark, despondent and sorrowful, whilst still having a cathartic feel that in a strange way is uplifting and hints that sunshine is possible after dark clouds and rain. If you like a certain amount of unhappiness mixed in with your savage Black Metal then this is an album for you. 8/10

Cibola: Downfall (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Downfall is the second EP from Toni Åkerman aka Cibola (named after the Seven cities of gold) released this year, amazing what a worldwide pandemic does to the creativity? Everything here is Åkerman from writing to playing to production and he manages to explore numerous realms of extreme metal here shifting between melodic death metal (Split), raging torrents of thrash (Still Bleeding), while also bringing ear bashing grindcore too on Veer. The four tracks here are all ideal showcases for Åkerman as a musician and for anyone that likes their music to mix extreme and melodic textures then Cibola is worth venturing to find. 6/10  

Reviews: Dark Tranquility, Communic, In Which It Burns, Subterraen (Rich & Matt)

Dark Tranquillity: Moment (Century Media Records) [Rich Oliver]

When it comes to melodic death metal Dark Tranquillity are legends and alongside In Flames they are one of the pioneering bands of the genre. During their near thirty year career they have continued to shape the sound of melodic death metal and release some of the best albums in the genre whilst never gaining some of the attention and coverage of the other bands. Present day brings us to the release of Moment which is the twelfth album from the Gothenburg veterans and it is the first album to feature two not one but two new guitarists - Johan Reinholdz (of Andromeda and Skyfire) and Christopher Amott (formerly of Arch Enemy). Despite the presence of two new guitarists in the band, Moment is immediately recognisable as Dark Tranquillity. From the moment you hit play you get those unmistakable Gothenburg style melodic death metal riffs and the dark brooding atmosphere that one can come to expect from a Dark Tranquillity album. 

Atmosphere is certainly the main feature of Moment with the darkness and melancholy amped up to great effect with songs such as The Dark Unbroken and Remain In The Unknown but some songs have a degree of energy and catchiness to them such as Ego DeceptionIdentical To None and opening song Phantom Days. Vocalist Mikael Stanne is one fine form with his fantastic harsh vocals which sit somewhere between a higher and lower register and sounds as tremendous as always. One feature which is used to great effect is the increased use of Mikael’s clean vocals which haven’t been this prevalent on a Dark Tranquillity album since 1999’s Projector album. They are used to particularly stunning effect on the CD bonus song In Truth Divided which is a definite album highlight. 

Keyboards and electronics have been a key feature of the Dark Tranquillity sound for many years and that continues on Moment with the atmospheric synth work of Martin Brändström giving gravitas to songs such as Standstill and The Dark UnbrokenMoment is another incredibly strong album in the Dark Tranquillity discography. The songs are all at a similar tone and pace so to the average listener this album could come across as a bit repetitive but if you are a fan of this band (like myself) and know their sound then this album will easily be one of the highlights of 2020. 8/10

Communic: Hiding From The World (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

With a career stretching back to 2003 (remember then?) Norwegian band Communic have been delivering high quality progressive metal. With five albums under their belt already Hiding From The World is their latest record and it rings out with the all of what has lent themselves to making Communic a well known act in Europe though UK breakthrough has eluded them a little, not that it matters. If I was to make a comparison in terms of sound I'd say they share a lot of similarities with American band Nevermore as they merge biting thrash with prog rock while also bringing in some more extreme metal fury too. 

Again this album was affected by the Covid pandemic but Communic have made sure that this album sounds a musically diverse and bombastic as their previous records, by being able to return to the studio (in March) reasonably quickly after laying down the initial bones of it in January (which I guess could be a tribute to the way the Scandi's have dealt with Covid). With an apt title for the world we live in now, the music here doesn't hide from anyone with lyrics that deal with the unpredictability of life and as Oddleif Stensland (vocals/guitar) puts it "(the) overall theme I had in mind during the writing of these songs,dealing with what we leave behind as a legacy when we die". 

So with some heady lyrical content as you expect, from a band that shifts between full on heaviness on tracks such as Face In The Crowd and the crunching Scavengers Await with more emotional numbers like the slow burning Born Without A Heart and the excellent muscular balladry of Forgotten. At seven reasonably long tracks (it is prog after all) Hiding From The World is another album of Nevermore/Evergrey-like progressive metal mastery from this Norwegian institution. Album number six is distilled Communic in a bottle. 7/10   

In Which It Burns: Silence The Nothing (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

Silence The Nothing is the self-released debut album from Pembrokeshire metallers In Which It Burns. In Which It Burns are an established band in the Welsh metal scene having played shows all over West and South Wales and further afield and got themselves to the final in the 2019 Metal To The Masses competition. They have three self released EP’s and a live album already under their belt but Silence The Nothing is the debut full length for the band. It is also the recording debut for new bassist Ian “The Squid” Jennings. Having seen for myself that In Which It Burns are a fantastic live band it is unfortunate that this album does not really capture that. The production and mix is quite flat and doesn’t allow the songs to really come alive. There are also songs especially at the start of the album which is very one dimensional with very simplistic chuggy groove metal riffs that go nowhere but it is one of those albums that improves as it goes on. 

The songs that are the most effective are the ones that ramp up the energy and intensity levels such as Destruction Of Faith and The Creed whilst they definitely save the best until last with the thrashtastic Victims Of My Rage. Songs such as Just Know This and Hands That Cup The Blood Of The Innocence whilst quite formulaic in nature benefit from a great level of intensity to them. The performances throughout are solid and the vocals by Wayne Mayhew whilst fairly unremarkable they do serve the music well. Silence The Nothing is not a bad album by any means but it is a rather underwhelming one and doesn't to me quite capture the In Which It Burns that I’ve seen performing on stage. With no shows in sight and the band already busy writing album number two let’s hope the new material really captures what the band can be. 6/10 

Subterraen: Rotten Human Kingdom (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Matt Bladen]

Coming from France Subterraen are the epitome of the word ponderous, following in the colossal footprints of labelmates Eremit and Juperterian, Rotten Human Kingdom takes gigantic steps like Godzilla wearing concret shoes, 3 of the four tracks here are over 10 minutes with final track Wrath Of A Downtrodden Planet a whopping 18 minutes of glacially paced sludge doom. Due to the elongated runtimes of this record vocals are sporadic with the instrumentals bringing the majority of the power though occasionally they do come in with a ghostly aggression of bands Ghost Bath raging against the virus of humanity and the hope of mother nature taking back control. There is an environmental message here as the monolithian riffs keep your ear ringing from the opening moments and it doesn't relent the downtuned, often one note riffs, driving Rotten Human Kingdom forward with a ruthless march towards the end. Doom/sludge at it's vilest; Clem Helvete (Guitar and Vocals), Chris KKP (Guitar) and Milvus (Drums) have put across their ideological point in the loudest way possible here. 7/10

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Reviews: Periphery, Warfect, Macabre, Kvilla (Alex, Matt, Liam & Lucas)

Periphery: Live In London (Century Media Records) [Alex Swift] 

Known for their technical and intricate stylings on progressive rock, Periphery are an act who very much divide opinion. I love a vast array of their work. Personally, I feel that the Alpha and Omega double album from 2015, where they leaned into the melodic and atmospheric side of their work, is where they really shone. That said, despite being inconsistent, their 2019 release, HAIL STAN, painted them in an experimental and exciting light. That said, having never seen them live, I was curious as to how their complexity would translate over into a live album. My opinion on live albums as a whole is that they need to have a reason to exist. Do they, like the Triptykon album from earlier this year, capture a particularly unique on-stage moment that just needs to be recorded in history? Do they, like a live offering from Rush, help convey the experience of a live performance, for fans who couldn’t attend?  Do they, like Enter Shikari for me, paint a band in a different light that might help convert detractors? 

Concerning Live In London, the answer to each of these questions, in turn, is: definitely not, probably not and…um…kind of, but not really. I guess you could argue that this release helps to show to Periphery’s detractors that they are not just skilled at studio trickery, and can execute their craft in a real-life setting, And, if for some reason you didn’t think they would be able to, this piece is especially impressive, as these musicians don’t miss a note, and their performance echoes that of the record. However, that’s the same factor that holds the piece back. There is very little audience interaction, improvisation is - as far as this writer can tell - non-existent and the performed versions of these tracks do not differ in any significant way from the album versions. The setlist is not even terribly diverse – at ten tracks, five of them are from the last record! Why on earth would I listen to this again, when I can just listen to one of the studio recordings? 

That’s not to invalidate the show itself. I would have probably loved to have been there, singing along with the crowd, basking in the spectacle of the light show and allowing the loudness of live music to absorb me, yet without bringing that excitement to the home listener, even in a small fashion, by not offering them anything unique, Periphery has granted us with a disc which has no reason to exist. In a year when we are all being told to “stay indoors” (see what I did there?) we desperately need something, anything that will replicate the thrill of live music from our own home. Hell, lots of musicians have been busy organizing streams or releasing live albums of their own. Still, as far as bringing those atmospheres to us are concerned, Periphery have failed to arouse an ecstatic sensation. 5/10

Warfect: Spectre Of Devastation (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Despite hailing from the Gothenburg underground there is a very Germanic sound to Warfect's style of thrash metal, think Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and you're on your way though there is a bit of the second wave American sound too, it's a bit angrier and nastier than some of the traditional thrash crews. Spectre Of Devastation is the band's fourth record and it reinforces Warfect's straight ahead thrash metal assault, croaked vocals, explosive drumming and riffs the pummel kick in from Pestilence and it rarely drops in pace from there with a death and black influences creeping in as it moves through it's 8 tracks. 

It's skillfully produced and mastered by Grammy winning Flemming Rasmussen who produced the Metallica holy trinity so he's a man that knows thrash and he eeks out every single ounce of aggression and heaviness from this trio. Made up of Fredrik Wester (vocals & guitar), Kris Wallstrom (bass) and Manne Flood (drums) Warfect manage to bring grooves to track such as the Obituary-like Left To Rot while also bringing back ferocity on Into The Fray. Spectre Of Devastation as I've said takes from Teutonic thrash metal with an American sheen, these Swedes avoid falling into the Gothenburg sound stereotypes. An ideal thrashfest for fans. 7/10

Macabre: Carnival Of Killers (Nuclear Blast) [Liam True]

Being described as ‘Murder Metal’ and being anywhere between Thrash & Death Metal I was a bit excited to hear the record considering it’s their first in 8 years. But instead I was greeted with a whirlwind of tempo changes, vocals that sound like nails against a chalkboard and catchy yet terrible songs. Tongue in cheek humour is my bread and butter, but Macabre have used forced humour in their attempts to be funny with song titles such as Richard Speck Grew Big Breasts which may make some people laugh, but for me it just fell flat. 

The song contents themselves are more horrific than I thought to be, as we have nursery rhymes altered to include Ted Bundy, a song about your bones connecting to each other and a song about being stinky. It’s just a childish attempt at dark gross humour for the sake of trying to be edgy. And considering the band have been going since 1985 they must be doing something right. I have to admit, the songs are catchy, I can see myself humming the tune of Stinky and Tea Cakes to myself, but that’s it. That’s all this album has going to them. It’s a shambolic album as the band doesn’t sound like they’re I time for about 85% of the album. If you’re a fan of the band I’m sure you’ll love it, hands down. But good god, it was an excruciating listen. 1/10

Kvilla: The Ward (Self Released) [Lucas Tuckwood]

Today we’ve got the debut EP from Manchester based hardcore outfit Kvilla, The Ward. Kvilla aim to blend aspects of black metal, hardcore and shoegaze into a brand new style, and while it doesn’t necessarily stick the landing, it’s still a fiery little debut in its own right. Across the eight tracks it certainly leaves an impression on the listener, but struggles to find its own distinctive sound. Blending genres is never easy, and managing to do so convincingly while also providing one’s own unique sound can be pretty challenging, and unfortunately Kvilla don’t quite hit the mark in that regard. 

They’ve got the hardcore down to a fine art, but it’s the black-metal inspired riffs that fail to impress, as they never stray beyond well-trodden territory. As for the shoegaze, I simply can’t hear it. No tracks really stick out, but they’re all well performed, even if the mix is a little too clean. It’s heavy, but it offers nothing you haven’t heard before. Overall, this is a decent EP, but it lacks any real spice to separate it from its contemporaries. If you enjoy hardcore and black metal you’re bound to enjoy it, but it just leaves a little to be desired. 6/10

Monday, 16 November 2020

Reviews: My Dying Bride, Ashen Reach, Avandra, Garagedays (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

My Dying Bride: Macabre Cabaret EP (Nuclear Blast)

A three track EP may seem like not much to bother with however when a band such as My Dying Bride release an EP, three tracks makes for 20+ minutes of music starting with the 10 minute title track. Just over half a year since their last full length The Ghost Of Orion the Halifax doomsters return with an EP that deals with dark romance and morbid fascination with it's links to death, I mean same old same old right? My Dying Bride have always been able to conjure morose, miserable music that resonates long after the record finishes on this EP they once again pair slow, low end riffs from guitarists Andrew Craighan and Neil Blanchett as the rhythm section of Jeff Singer (Drums) and Lena Abé (Bass) boom out hooking the songs on ear rattling low end giving the songs space to flow across the elongated run times. 

Add to this the haunting vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe and Gothic flourishes such as heavy organs/strings from Shaun MacGowan on the title track and on the the dramatic A Purse Of Gold And Stars really ramp up the dark aura of this EP as we segue into the more traditional bite on A Secret Kiss which sits in the middle of the record. My Dying Bride have spent their time between full lengths wisely bringing more music to the fans, in March The Ghost Of Orion was the band's first album since 2015 and they have quickly brought more music so they are clearly riding a wave of creativity. 7/10       

Ashen Reach: Homecoming (Self Released)

When you call an album Homecoming it's either a debut album from a young, scrappy and hungry band or an established act moving back to past glories. Ashen Reach are very much the former, the Merseyside band have already gained a huge following supporting Bullet For My Valentine in Russia back in 2019, however line up changes meant just three of the line up were left, luckily they didn't call it quits adding singer Kyle Stanley and rhythm guitarist Joe O'Sullivan to that original trio lead guitarist Paddy Cummins, bassist Mike McCarroll and drummer Jess Stanley. They set about with a renewed focus and energy to create this debut record. The tenacity of the band shows through on every single nuance of this album, which takes on the Yanks at their own game with incredibly melodic, hard hitting, hook-filled songs that could easily features on an heard rock radio station. 

The punchy boiler room of Jess, Mike and Joe give big grooves to tracks such as the opener Fighting For My Life which has the 80's influence the band mention in their press and also on Heir To The Throne a distinctly modern edge that remind this writer of bands such as Alter Bridge, Shinedown and the UK's own New Device. The cracking opener leads into the rest of this album, but the quality rarely dips, that rhythms section working wonders as Paddy lets loose with a lot of Tremonti-styled solos and leads that include divebombs, little flourishes that brings more of that broad accessibility. With subjects that range from mental health, stalking, domestic abuse, love and determination no two songs on this album sound the same, the genre influences shifting as Homecoming progress. Now with the musical base established of being of a high level they have found magic with Kyle, he has a resonant, clear vocal that is very Myles Kennedy-esque able to hit colossal highs and soulful lows on tracks such as Tear It Down while also adding a genuine evilness to Prey a song about obsession. 

Now in this blog over the years I have berated alternative/radio rock bands for being too samey, for resting on their laurels and very often for aiming at the lowest common denominator which strips them of any vitality they may have had. Ashen Reach are a breath of fresh air, their music is heavy on the influences but it's all their own, played with real conviction that makes them all essential. Homecoming is the album that should have followed ABIII having that records darkness but the bouncy anthems of Blackbird. Definitely one of the AOTY! 9/10

Avandra: Skylighting (Layered Reality Productions)

Prog is a genre that I hold a huge amount of affection for and much like my thrash maniac colleagues it does mean that I can be hyper-critical of it, I'm a hard man to please (ask my fiance) but when it comes to prog there's not much I haven't heard. Well creeping out of Puerto Rico is Avandra which started as one-man project by Christian Ayala Cruz (Vocals, Guitars, Synths) before adding a live band of Luis Javier Rivera Guilbot (Guitars), Adrián Arroyo Schuck (Drums) and Gabriel Rodríguez Martinez (Bass). Their previous album Descender brought them to a wider audience even getting them on the now postponed Progpower Europe 2020 line up. 

So with accolades like that what can you expect from Skylighting their third album? Well it's a wonderful mix of shimmering ambient synth-work (with Vikram Shankar giving additional electronic touches) and technically proficent progressive metal that never strays to far into being too complex for comfort, the songs are all quite tight timewise but pack in a lot of intricate musicianship that lend themselves to the band's cinematic soundscapes. From the darkly percussive ambience of Eternal Return (a song that is pure Octavarium-period Dream Theater) into the harder tones of Afferent Realms.    

What I instantly notice that the playing here is anthemic and brilliantly delivered, what draws me though is that Christian's vocals are heavily saturated at times adding them to the rest of the musical bedrock, Skylighting has got sounds of bands such as Haken, The Contortionist and even Karnivool as they build layer upon layer to makes Noetic Probes a driving progger in direct opposition to the repeating synthwave beats on Life Is Not A Circle, But A Sphere. Avandra have taken a more introspective route here to their previous releases and it makes for a enthralling journey from the first track until the last. Interesting modern prog loveliness. 9/10

Garagedays: Something Black (El Puerto Records)

Garagedays is not the best name for a band I will admit, but then when said band is influenced so heavily by Metallica (and Motorhead) it's easy to see why it was chosen. This Austrian heavy metal act have been doing the rounds since 2011 and have released records with Massacre records, had their previous release produced by Flemming Rasmussen and toured with the likes of Jake E Lee's Red Dragon Cartel, UDO, Master and Exodus playing their thrash-inspired heavy metal across Europe building towards their fourth release which has been produced by Andy La Roque (King Diamond) and is released through German record label El Puerto Records. 

So what is Something Black like? Well if you like a lot of catchy riffs and big hooky choruses then Something Black will be one for you, opening up with the speedy Back In Line that shifts into the the thrashy title track and the big ballsy rocker And Again which is pure Black Album groove Marco Kern's Papa Het vocals and crunchy rhythm guitar letting those influences loom large. Dominik Eder (bass) and Matthias Mai (drums) linking with Kern's guitar for riffs that shift between speedy thrash run downs, classic metal anthems and an obligatory ballad which is the not so great My Own Way while To My Soul brings some Load/Reload spirit. Straight up meat-and-potatoes thrashy metal from Austria that does get the head nodding nicely. 7/10       

Friday, 13 November 2020

Reviews: Pyramaze, Soulskinner, Twister, GhØstkid (Paul H, Matt, Simon & Liam)

Pyramaze: Epitaph (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in Denmark in 2001, Pyramaze is a melodic power metal band who have released five previous albums. Amongst the ranks of former singers, Pyramaze include Matt Barlow (ex-Iced Earth), Urban Breed (Serious Black, ex- Bloodbound) and Lance King, who owns Nightmare record label. The band’s hiatus in 2011 saw a rejig of the line-up with founder guitarist Michael Kammeyer and bassist Neils Qvist departing. Pyramaze regrouped and in 2015 returned with their latest line-up, which included long standing drummer Morton Gade Sonrensen and fellow long serving keyboardist Jonah Weingarden together with singer Torje Haroy, guitarist Toke Skjønnemand and Jacob Hansen (guitar/bass). Having signed to AFM records, the band has pushed ahead with sixth studio album Epitaph

Crammed full of melody, soaring guitar solos, powerful riffs, and warm rich vocals, this is an uplifting melodic metal album. At 59 minutes long, there is a lot to explore. The band aren’t afraid to use orchestral elements, sweeping string sections that add to the epic feel of their songs. It’s a melodic ride, rich on keyboards and the multiple harmonies that give breadth to the choruses. Songs like Particle should appeal to those who enjoy their melodic rock, all dramatic juxtapositions and sweeping cinema scope style delivery. The guest appearance of Brittney Slayes of Unleash The Archers on Transcendence and the majestic 12-minute concluding epic The Time Traveller featuring Barlow and King add extra spice. With a polished production, Pyramaze’s sixth release is an invigorating blend of melodic hard rock and power metal which should maintain their position amongst the elite of the European progressive power metal outfits 7/10

Soulskinner: Seven Bowls Of Wrath (Xtreem Music) [Matt Bladen]

Greek death metal act Soulskinner have been around since 2000 and have been bringing chainsaw-like flesh ripping brutality since then across 4 previous albums. On this fifth release the gut-wrenching voice of Gothmog have gone replaced with Marios Lampouridis of Necrogasm, not that it really matters so long as there are brutal grunts on top of the bands visceral death metal assault. it's the added sense of drama that Soulskinner have that put them at odds with many of the blast like hell and piss off death metal bands out there the album kicking off with a doom-laden dramatic intro before things build into the first track proper Night which shifts between melodic doom and bludgeoning death metal with The Principles Of Truth dive bombs into a much faster realms bookended by the slower style that is reminiscent of American's Obituary and our own Bolt Thrower especially when we get into the thunderous raging of Eternal and the crunching Regeneration Of The Soul where the twin harmonies run into lightspeed and the drumming is percussive enough to flatten concrete. Despite the album title sounding like something that may happen if you piss off the cook at Wagamama's it's a nasty slice of death metal from these Ionian heavies. 8/10 

Twister: Cursed & Corrected (Off Yer Rocka Records) [Simon Black]

Twister are a new and refreshingly young act hailing from the Durham in the North East of England, although they’ve managed to gain some presence much further afield to lay the ground for their debut album. This Hard Rock four piece have done really well in a very short space of time, and you can hear why very quickly. This is also the first time that I can recall a debut album where the album title track is actually the short instrumental album opener, but whatever – it’s one of many subtle tricks thrown through the course of the fifty-one minutes and thirteen punchy, hook-laden and anthemic numbers. 

Yup, you read the length correctly – and yes, that is a lengthy album for the genre that normally struggles to give you a consistent thirty minutes of quality, but these boys manage it effortlessly. This album really holds the attention, and I cannot point my finger at any of the tracks and accuse them of fobbing us off with a filler. And you have no idea how refreshing that is when you review hundreds of albums a year. This is tight and punchy Melodic, but soulful Hard Rock – with crisp, bright tunes and cracking guitar hooks, plus added smatterings of technical virtuosity where you don’t expect them. It’s a bit like hearing Thunder for the very first time and thinking “Fuck me, that rhythm section is tight”. Twister, are a very different beast however, and there’s an extra rawness and energy usually found in the Sleaze end of the spectrum and you get the tightly polished feel of well-crafted Hard/Melodic Rock - plus some incredibly technical time change and beat jumps. It really is a clever piece of work. Then there’s the freshness in the playing. Beyond the gnat’s arse-crack tightness of drummer Jack Corbett and bassist Ryan Lee, there’s some cracking guitar work coming from lead guitar Jake Grimes, who brilliantly weaves along in the classic Stones way with frontman Stevie Stoker. 

Single Save Us Yourself is pure anthemic heaven – with superb catchy hooks and sing-a-long chorus, and the lockdown economy video to go with it, recorded in a sports field presumably in the North East shows that all you need is a camera, a band that can really write and really, really play. No frills, no nonsense, just damned fine toonage. If I could pick a track that absolutely encapsulates this band, it’s going to be a toss up between Monroe or Fist Fight At The Waterside, both of which are clearly going to work great live. The former because it showcases many of the techniques that give them their unique sound; the latter because it absolutely encapsulates the energy and sheer wow factor of a band who are really pointing in the right direction to go somewhere, and explode like a rocket fired down the street. This, I really want to see live soon. There are some bands that explode exponentially off the back of debut albums of this calibre and I really hope that Twister are going to be one of them. What makes this act work in such a well-trodden genre is that their sound is their own, their energy infectious and their music fresh and very, very moreish. 10/10

GhØstkid: GhØstkid (Century Media Records) [Liam True]

Born from the ashes of former Eskimo Callboy vocalist Sebastian ‘Sushi’ Biesler earlier this year, we were informed about him moving forward under the moniker GhØstkid. When a band member starts their own project you normally look to their previou band to look what direction they may take. And with GhØstkid, Sushi has taken the formula used in EC, changed it just a little, by mainly being more serious within the lyrics and song writing, which is made to sound has ugly a possible by the band. Guitarist & bassist Danny Güldener & Stanislaw Czywil (Both former members of To The Rats And Wolves) take the duty to make the record stand out with the nasty filthy guitar tones from Güldener backed by the booming blunderbuss that is the bass sound of Czywil. Then we have drummer Steve Joakim who brings the band together like glue with his hard hitting style that shatters your personification that he can only play simple Metalcore as he disembowels the kit as he plays. The album itself is a hybrid of sorts. 

The bastard son on Eskimo Callboy and Marilyn Manson as the venom spitting from the gullet of Sushi is a throwback to his earlier days but also has a hint of Manson's signature snarl that beefs up his delivery. Opener FØØl is a treat for the heaviness the album will bring. Start A Fight shows the bands ability to write a good song with a catchy chorus. Sharks shows the slower side to the record, and does it beautifully. YØu & I is a perfect blend of both the fast and slow elements to the album as it encompasses it beautifully. SupernØva is a heavy yet melodic slice of the Metalcore pie that’s being served up, made even better with the guest vocals of one Marcus Bischoff from Heaven Shall Burn. All in all it’s a tremendous album from start to finish with some guest spots that make the album just that more exciting. Even though it’s only their first album, GhØstkid have made a name for themselves by utilizing the Metal-trance of the last ten years with the added spice of the Industrial Metal side of life to create an album that hits the spot perfectly. If it’s Eskimo Callboy you’re expecting, it only has hints of them, as GhØstkid creates their own aura. 9/10

Reviews: Soulburn, Scarlet, Of Feather And Bone, Intervals (Paul H, Simon, Rich & Matt)

Soulburn: Noa’s D’ark (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings] 

Initially formed in 1996 by guitarist Eric Daniels, drummer Bob Bagchus (Asphyx) and frontman Wannes Gubbels (Pentacle), Soulburn’s journey has been far from plain sailing. Their seminal debut album Feeding on Angels was a stripped down doom-laden black metal release. Having regrouped in 2013, Daniels, Bagchus, guitarist Remco Kreft and vocalist/bassist Twan van Geel (also Legion Of The Damned) released The Suffocating Darkness. The conclusion of that era of the band coming with 2018’s Carpe Noctem EP. A refreshed line-up sees Bagchus replaced by Marc Vehaar on drums although it would take a very keen ear to note the difference as Vehaar studied the Bagchus style, which remains very much Bathory and Venom. 

The band’s fourth album, Noa’s D’ark now looms large out of the mist. Daniels is the main writer, and the ten tracks contained within this record retain all the old attributes of the previous versions of the band, whilst continuing to evoke the spirit of the blackened old school. Soulburn straddle the lines between death and black metal with an ease that is unnerving. Full of relentless riffing, blasting drumming and a rhythm section that holds everything together in a vice-like grip, it’s Van Geel’s bilious black diatribes that roar out, curling fingers that grip tightly, closing around the throat. The opening track The Morgue Of No Hope captures everything in it’s seven-minute sprawl. From bludgeoning explosive segments to more harrowing, echoing parts, it’s demonic utterings make it a truly perfect opener. 

Thematically ambiguous, the title is a mischievous play on words, much to Van Geel’s delight. His lyrics will need deciphering through liner notes, but Van Geel admits to keeping them deliberately vague. The sonic blasting that erupts from this album is at times wild, almost uncontained. The brutal speed of Tempter Ov The White Light, the propulsive drive of Anarchrist and the two-minute doom laden Triumphant One all emit a venom that sits within the blackened soul of Soulburn. Draped in darkness, there are moments of despair, light, and harrowing darkness. It’s savage and raw yet contains just enough in the production values to keep it on the right path. Ultimately, the visceral feel sits exactly right. 8/10

Scarlet: Obey The Queen (Arising Empire) [Simon Black]

It really is long overdue you know. My wife asked me once why so many of the bands in the metal scene are male fronted, and my only answer until relatively recently was that there were simply very few female fronted acts around. In the last ten years the reversal of that mode has been phenomenal, and although there’s still a way to go it feels to me now that this trend has been well and truly disrupted. Enter Scarlet, who seems to be very much a solo affair, which brings me to my next point. Scarlet has potentially a bit of a challenge on her hands. When you’re fighting for recognition in a crowded marketplace it really helps to have your own clear brand and identity. A quick internet search on the name Scarlet gives me five different bands, two of which are defunct and none of which are this Swedish act. 

I don’t think this makes any difference – this is something different, and quite, quite brilliant and it’s going to get noticed for all the right reasons. The title track positively explodes with energy and venom for the world we live in, and an absolute celebration of women, from a woman’s perspective in the age of Ignorance that led to the MeToo movement. Scarlet has built a bit of a reputation on not pulling her punches – think early Marilyn Manson, with a snort of Ghost and a splash of Static-X, playing a combination of Rap and Industrial Metal tunes. Diversity is the watchword of this album. From the opening spoken introduction, it spits bile and crashes into a stripped back Industrial Rap sound unlike anything I have quite heard before. 

I Spit Fire actually perfectly sums up what this act are about – shocks, vitriol and the unexpected. It doesn’t actually start sounding like a metal album until track four - #bossbitch, and it doesn’t stay there. Love Heroin is even more unexpected, and shows her vocal skill more or less unaccompanied in this darkest of ballads. I understand the song-writing features contributions from a whole bunch of experienced writers which no doubt contributes to that diversity, but notwithstanding this is an album of shocks and thrills. It’s a record that focuses on the vocals, and the sound also mixes is in bits of Djent guitar and programming that touches (almost) on the Nu-Metal movement. Once in a blue moon an act comes along who manages to take ingredients like Metal, Rap and produces a very different recipe. Mark my words, before long there will be many copycats around. 9/10.

Of Feather And Bone: Sulfuric Disintegration (Norman Records) [Rich Oliver]

My first exposure to Of Feather And Bone was watching them support Tomb Mold back in September last year and they were a truly ferocious act who pummelled the eardrums and internal organs in equal measure. The terrifying intensity they performed with that evening is definitely captured in their third album Sulfuric Disintegration. The three piece band formed in Denver, Colorado back in 2012 and were more of a metal leaning hardcore and crust punk band. As they have progressed they have incorporated more death metal influences into their sound before they truly embraced the death metal ways on 2018’s Bestial Hymns Of Perversion which was a violent and uncompromising album. Now with Sulfuric Disintegration, Of Feather And Bone have certainly upped the ante. Sulfuric Disintegration is intense. From start to finish this album does not relent, pause or take a breath.  It is a completely unflinching and uncompromising blast of death metal which is very old school in sound and delivery but takes a lot of cues from contemporary death metal. 

Influences from death metal masters such as Incantation and Bolt Thrower can be heard but it is the sound and influence of such bands but taken into a far more extreme and terrifying sounding direction.  Frontman and guitarist Dave Grant unleashes bowel rupturing gutturals as well as unhinged screams and howls whilst also providing a maelstrom of riffs that thrash and contort to devastating effect.  He also provides some tasty lead guitar work. Bassist Alvino Salcedo is the rhythmic backbone to this onslaught whilst drummer Preston Weippert erupts onto his kit with devastating precision and shocking ferocity. The album itself is short at just over half an hour and comprises six songs which are all utterly relentless though there are deviations into doomy territory such as on Noctemnania but on the whole songs such as Regurgitated Communion and Baptized In Boiling Phlegm are on a singular mission to crush everything and everyone in their path. 

Even though Sulfuric Disintegration is a single minded album of mass destruction what makes this so enjoyable are the inventive riffs, evil atmosphere and the general unhinged feel of this album. Death metal is normally a genre that reaches out and pummels you from the speakers but with Sulfuric Disintegration, Of Feather And Bone take a sledgehammer to your skull and keep hitting you with blows until your head is nothing but a splattered mess of bone, brains, blood and flesh. It is an absolutely wonderful listen and a must hear album for any self respecting death metal fan. 9/10

Intervals: Circadian (Sheet Happens) [Matt Bladen]

Released via Protest The Hero's record label, Circadian is the latest creation from Toronto-based progressive instrumental act Intervals. Intervals is essentially guitarist Aaron Marshall who has been delivering instrumental rock playing for long time now almost reinventing the genre with every release allowing the explorative, intensely musical compositions speak for themselves. Circadian is the first Intervals album since 2017 and his fourth overall moving away from the pop culture references for more abstract themes of being a "reminder that seeking ideal circadian flow is integral to cutting through the static noise of modern life to find true peace" inspired by Marshall's own search for balance in his life. 

The album is designed to tell a story with the tracks here all combined to flow as one long piece maximising listener engagement in a genre that occasionally suffers from style over substance. There is no such issue here as Circadian ebbs and flows with those playing the record in mind keeping engagement high, Marshall has put a huge amount of time and effort constructing the record almost forensically so it seamlessly blends the varying stylistic approaches that appear on this record with some 8-Bit influence on Vantablack, some pop punk on 5-HTP, more epic prog sounds on Lock & Key which features up-and-coming guitarist Joshua De La Victoria.Johnson is very much the brains but he is joined by the brilliant bass playing of Jacob Umansky and the explorative drumming of Nathan Bulla with sound design from Milen Petzelt-Sorace and Sergei Kofman. 

Along with De La Victoria the album also features guest guitars from Marco Sfogli (James LaBrie) on the dueling djenty String Theory as the poppy tones of D.O.S.E has some funky sax from Saxl Rose (Antonio Hancock) and more than a little bit of Toto. Circadian breaks the boundaries of what you expect from instrumental prog rock, it grabs you from the beginning and keeps you excited until the end and you want to go round again when it finishes. Circadian is brilliant, really brilliant. 9/10