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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       

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