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Tuesday 3 November 2020

Reviews: Demonical, Eleine, Skags, Malfested (Rich, Simon, Matt & Paul H)

Demonical: World Domination (Agonia Records) [Rich Oliver]

Swedish death metallers Demonical are back with their sixth album World Domination. Formed by Centinex bassist Martin Schulman, Demonical have been reliably spitting out their brand of Swedish death metal since 2006. The line up is much the same as it was for 2018’s Chaos Manifesto album though the one big difference is the recording debut of vocalist Christofer Säterdal who joined the band last year.

Demonical stick to their tried and trusted formula which is a more contemporary take on the Swedish death metal sound. All the standard features of Swe-death are there with the punky rhythms and the chainsaw guitar tone but Demonical mix the sounds of classic bands such as Unleashed, Grave and Dismember with the more melodic stylings of bands such as Evocation and Amon Amarth. Although it is more melodic leaning than most death metal it doesn’t cross into full melodic death metal territory sitting in a middle ground where the melodic and aggressive natures of the music sit side by side. The album comprises eight songs with highlights including the HM-2 fury of My Kingdom Done, the d-beat stomp of Hellfire Rain and the anthemic Victorious. One song that does deviate from the rest of is Slipping Apart which is far more melodic than the whole album with the inclusion of guest clean vocals from Nils Patrik Johansson of Astral Doors.

World Domination is another solid entry into the Demonical discography. It isn’t a spectacular release but finds Demonical doing what they do at a very solid level. The album does have a bit of a repetitive nature but death metal isn’t the most varied of genres though it does mean some songs are a bit on the forgettable side. This is a still a very enjoyable death metal album which fans of the genre should very much enjoy. 7/10

Eleine: Dancing In Hell (Black Lodge) [Simon Black]

It never ceases to amaze me how many female fronted Symphonic Metal bands there are tucked away in the Nordics, although Sweden’s Eleine are subtly different from the norm. This is very much the dark side of Symphonic Metal, with a bit more corpse paint than is normally found in the genre. Clean female vocals, but backed with a full on Death growl by guitarist Rikard Ekberg’s on most of the tracks; although when he too switches into clean mode it takes you by surprise and had me reaching for the sleeve notes to see if there were any guest slots hidden away there.

Opener Enemies lulls you into a false sense of security, as one of the gentler and more commercial sounding tracks on the record, but the titular second tracks takes a dark twist, and that tone largely stays with us throughout. To be honest tonally, it’s got more in common with Black Metal but with a Symphonic sound that’s down, dark and dirtier than anything I’ve come across in the genre before, and indeed than anything the band have released to date. Band founder and vocalist Madeleine Liljestam has a crisp, clear and very powerful set of pipes on her, and I am reminded tonally of Evanescence, but with a lot more welly, and that dark and rich blackened symphonic sound makes for a far more moody journey than I expected. 

Given that the subject matter of the music is mostly about the battles with inner demons, this is probably not surprising, but again the darker tones are more extreme than Symphonic fans may be ready for, as titles like Crawl From The Ashes, All Shall Burn or the positively Death-like Where Your Rotting Corpse Lies indicate. Even the ballad Memoriam is dripping with gloom and vulnerability, acting as an interlude of despair sandwiched in between some brutally heavy tracks.

The album closes with a short piano piece, and a Symphonic version of the penultimate track Die From Within (presumably this is not included on all versions), but it actually works really well, as it’s effectively the same tracks with the guitars and drums stripped out completely. As well as illustrating the contrasts, it’s a great musical concept, as a true symphony has the same musical themes and refrains occurring throughout, and it effectively reverses the normal trend of upping the heaviness; taking away the metal rather than adding it at the end. Surprising and effective 8/10

Skags: Digital Cage Of A Cursed Generation (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

This was interesting prospect when it dropped into our inbox, Athenian band Skags, refer to themselves as "Alternative Electronic Psychedelic Rock" with influences such as Archive, Radiohead, M83, The Pineapple Thief. I had a feeling that this could either work well or it may be a little to self-indulgent but as I pressed play on their debut album Digital Cage Of A Cursed Generation, I'll will admit I was hooked as the band sound an awful lot like British band Touchstone or Dutch act Lesoir, the fusion of synthwave-like electronics are met with poppy prog rock and the ethereal vocals, similar to recently reactivated band Pure Reason Revolution. Skags deal with the the "social issues we deal with in the digital era" especially the financial crisis that hit Greece hard. Now Digital Cage Of A Cursed Generation has pretty much every style of music I love, 80's synth pop/prog/art rock all displaying their colours and influence throughout the nine tracks. 

Using the more progressive, electronic ambient textures they can really delve deep into the emotions behind this with songs such as Put Your Hands Down having the soulful male vocals matched by some strings and bubbling guitar riff that shifts into the heavily synth backed The Consequence Of Dream with those poppy female vocals. For me though The Weekend is my favourite track on the album with a strong Pink Floyd influence filtered through Eastern sounds and a darkness of Crippled Black Phoenix though Life also ranks highly with Anathema/Steven Wilson catchiness, a sweet solo too. When I came across this album I was a little sceptical due to my love of all things arty/proggy but after one listen I was hooked, with subsequent listens unveiling more little nuances that kept me coming back to it. A strong debut from a band that I would love to see next time in Greece. 8/10 

Malfested: Shallow Graves (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in Kortrijk (Belgium) this year, Malfested bring a battering ram of old and new death metal styles, wrapped up in a 21 minute six-minute concept album that tells of a great battle between men and the undead. Whilst this sounds more like a documentary about 2020 to me, the overwhelming bludgeoning throughout leaves the listener in no doubt that this is one juicy slab of death metal. The band reference older influences like Deicide, Bloodbath and Edge of Sanity alongside modern purveyors of wall levelling blast beats like Carnation. From the opening title track through to the punishing closer Cistern Of Souls, this is one face melting blast. Ripping fs, pummelling drumming, and guttural roaring vocals. All the essential components of solid death metal are present. It isn’t’ anything particularly new, but it is confidently played, vicious and aggressive and will no doubt be a welcome addition to the DM stable in a year which has seen slab after slab of excellent DM delivered. 7/10

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