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Thursday 12 November 2020

Reviews: Lunatic Soul, Harlott, Nuclear, Balothizer (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Lunatic Soul: Through Shaded Woods (Kscope Records)

2018’s Under The Fragmented Sky, the sixth album by Lunatic Soul was heavily electronically based. Never one to rest on his laurels, Mariusz Duda has now moved to an album devoid of everything that he used in the previous release. Instead he has extended his repertoire to explore dark Scandinavian and Slavic folk music. Through Shaded Woods is the first album that Duda has played all instruments and follows the concept of facing our worst traumas by courageously going through the woods. Influenced by his childhood home in Poland, the album is steeped in nature and woodlands. References to Wardruna and Heilung are evident. Lunatic Soul’s most recent releases have been deep and dark, the result of the grief and mourning that enveloped Duda and his Riverside comrades after the death of Piotr Grudzinski. Through Shaded Woods sees the shadows lift, with more optimistic elements creeping into the music. 

As with all Duda’s releases, there is plenty going on. The atmospheric intro of Navvie leads into the pulsing drama of The Passage, one of three lengthy workouts on the album. A combination of instruments blends into meandering progressive passages which absorb and captivate. There are almost tribal elements within these tracks, the mood flowing and traversing as the album develops. It is worth picking up one of the extended versions of this release, because disc 2 contains three additional songs which total over 35 minutes worth of music. Before you get to the bonus disc, navigate through the delicious Summoning Dance, a beautifully delicate ten-minute song that sees Duda at his most enigmatic. And when you do get to the finale, then immerse yourself in the near 28 minutes of Transition II. Enthralling, captivating and progressively majestic – this is an exercise in exploration. 

There is little else that needs saying. Duda can create an atmosphere that others don’t get near. Intelligent, creative, and enchanting. Throughout the album there are echoes of other influences, notably Dead Can Dance on Oblivion. You can search for whatever you want. This record matches his other work. It glows with a warmth rarely seen. Once more, the Pole has delivered a spell binding piece of work. 9/10

Harlott: Detritus Of The Final Age (Metal Blade Records)

Another slab of raw thrash to throw your way with the fourth album from Australian outfit Harlott. The Melbourne band have been active since 2006 and since 2013 have consistently turned out an album every couple of years. 2017’s Extinction got positive reaction here and it’s easy to see why with album number four sharper than a reversing porcupine. A feisty As We Breach opens proceedings before the two-minute blitz of Idol Minded careers into you like a runaway car. Six minutes in and you are left in no doubt that Harlott are on a mission. The mission to rip your head off with ferocious but high-quality thrash. Huge riffs kick in on Bring On The War, the tempo slowed but the crushing power retained. There’s a Germanic feel to this track, the band throwing in a big chunk of Kreator influenced thrash which is no bad thing. Two line-up changes have taken place since Extinction, with Glen Trayhern on drums and Leigh Bartley on guitar bringing new impetus. Trayhern’s drumming is on point throughout while Bartley adds some serrating solos that soar. Vocalist/guitarist Andrew Hudson is as aggressive in his vocal delivery as before, spitting his bilious lyrics about the state of the world. 

According to Hudson, he went into the writing phase with a blank sheet. Over a year later, the final product is as explosive as the three albums that preceded it. Fans of the band will know that the first three albums formed a trilogy - Origin (2013), Proliferation (2015) and Extinction. With Detritus Of The Final Age, Hudson takes a shot at the aftermath of death. There’s plenty to be angry about these days, and Australia has been through the mill in 2020. “I’ve never really had a good opinion of mankind and its systemic conditions - war, religion, greed, hate, evil - all of these things are so ingrained in what we are that it’s hard not to want angry words for the angry music we write.” Alongside that, Hudson experienced a significant loss and noted with horror how aggressively grief can take over. These issues are all reflected in this album. Whilst Prime Evil (featuring Cephalic Carnage guitarist Brian Hopp) and the title track are both thrash beasts, the first epic track on this album arrives midway with Nemesis. A seven-minute monster that focuses on the internal struggle of doubt and hatred that happens inside, and the feeling of being your own worst enemy. It features some of the most lacerating guitar work on the album and evolves at a blistering pace. 

The other gargantuan piece on the album comes towards the tail with penultimate song Miserere Of The Dead. A snarling, thrashing ball of aggression, this has a classic thrash stamp all over it. A thunderous first section, the track then slows to an acoustic central segment before the bass of Tom Richards segues back into an adrenaline surge. The song is propelled by Hudson spitting his lyrics, some slicing solos erupting and a final gentle fade closing the song. As if that wasn’t enough, Harlott finish with a blistering cover of Cannibal Corpse’s The Time To Kill Is Now. When you’ve picked yourself up from the floor, add Detritus Of The Final Age to the ever-growing list of excellent thrash for 2020. 9/10

Nuclear: Murder Of Crows (Black Lodge)

The gentle solo acoustic intro of Pitchblack segues into the title track of the sixth studio record from Nuclear, a wall of crushing riffs collapsing on top of you as the Chilean outfit explode into life. There is little in the way of frills to Murder Of Crows, this is full on face melting thrash metal and it’s rather good as well. Five years since Formula For Anarchy, the band who I last saw and who impressed me massively in January when opening for Abbath in London are fired up. The punk fused aggression of No Light After All follows, a frenetic punishing rager, all jagged edges and vicious guitars with more than a nod to old school death metal. Things slow down considerably on When Water Thickens Blood, a grinding, doom laden song with powerful heavy riffs. 

For the most part, Nuclear switch between the more traditional South American thrash of Abusados and Facing Towards You, all powerhouse riffing and the gruff vocals of Matias Leonicio and the faster, furious short, sharp bullets of Friendly Sociopath, No Light After All and Hatetrend. The band go for the dramatic climax with the cinematic Blood To Spare that leads into the grand finale, the seven-minute Useless To Mankind, five minutes of complete thrashing goodness before the song fades out with a similar acoustic solo outro that the album opened with. Nuclear capture the essence of 90s thrash, the time when Sepultura were still dominating, but add a modern take on it. It’s tightly played, the four musicians in harmony as they deliver their savage onslaught. As I said, no frills, merely a smash to the face with 40 minutes of aggressive thrash metal. Another to add to the thrash metal list of 2020. 8/10

Balothizer: Cretan Smash (Louvana Records)

If you fancy something a little different, then the post-Cretan chaos of power trio Balothizer is well worth checking out. The band play what is described as ‘Cretan music from Hell’, fusing Cretan music with heavy bass lines and explosive drumming, all topped off with some aggressive gravelly vocals and a large portion of thrash. It’s maniacal, crazy, and utterly compelling. Things get off to a flying start with the thunderous Jegaman, which begins with a funky beat, traditional sounds and tunes merging into a flying blitz of Hellenic chaos. Pav Mav’s driving bass and native tongue combine to give the band a genuine authenticity. It’s every bit as good as a souvlaki. Damn, now I’m hungry! Mav is joined by Nikos Ziarkas on electric lute, electronics, and backing vocals with drummer Steve J. Payne apparently not from the fair isle. 

In fact, the band originate from London, but their Greek vocals combined with the powerful compositions is a bizarre but intriguing consideration. Tribal drums introduce Peace, the Arabic overtones conjuring images not just of Greece but Arabian lands. The intoxicating ethnic elements draw you close with the imaginative compositions playing out in style. It’s impossible not to tap along as the lute weaves and winds its way around. Things take a turn for the heavier with the piledriving Penante & Levante, chanting, pounding drums and thunderous bass along with a myriad of other effects which jar and crash but somehow work. 

That leaves the psychedelic overtures of Foustalieris 2, which just runs all over the place and the concluding doom-laden Anathema. I’m not sure what to say after listening to this album. It is off the chart in places, endearing and warming in other parts and as original an album as I’ve heard despite the obvious sourcing of traditional songs. My best advice would be to grab a Mythos, a thickly cut and filled gyro and settle down for a bit. Listen to this album and then try and work out what you’ve just heard. 7/10

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