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Thursday, 15 April 2021

Reviews: Holding Absence & Bruit ≤ (Reviews By Liam True& Matt Bladen)

Holding Absence - The Greatest Mistake Of My Life (Sharptone Records) [Liam True]

Trying to top a debut such as their self-titled album, Holding Absence have been teasing up with clops and portions of the new album since Afterlife dropped in January earlier this year. Since then the hype around The Greatest Mistake Of My Life has been building with the release of Circles and nomoreroses. Ditching their previous presence of social media as a drab black and white background the change left fans everywhere scratching their heads with what’s coming next. A change of sound & change of direction from their debut? Thankfully not.

TGMOML has risen above the hype and crushed the self-titled offering from the band as they’ve taken the sound that made noticeable across the modern Rock scene, polished it and tweaked it to create the monstrous album they’ve created by vocalist Lucas Woodland the album starts with an atmospheric opening before Woodland proclaims ‘I’m Alive’ while the band launch themselves atop a shimmering landscape of Post-Hardcore & Hard Rock mixtures that they blend together effortlessly. From here on out the band fluctuate their pace with the slow burning ballad Curse Me With Your Kiss that leads directly into the arena filling lead single anthem Afterlife. The guitar work of Scott Carey and drummer Ashley Green combine with Woodlands vocals to create an addictive mellow vision on Drugs And Love & Circles as they both show the bands skills of pace and tempo as they lull us into a false sense of security as nomoreroses blasts back into their faster heavier side.

The Cardiff three piece are down a man as bassist James Joseph announced he’d left the band prior to Afterlife’s release. But the band hasn’t shown any signs of stopping as TGMOML is not only more melodic but also more on the heavier side of the spectrum on times. Beyond Belief & Die Alone are the perfect back to back duo that encompasses the bands ability to shift their style tempo to make the album that much more moving. Phantoms is a haunting interlude that sounds as disturbing as it is beautiful. Mourning Song is a slow burner clocking in at 7 minutes but shows the band are more than capable at writing longer songs that still sound fresh. Ending the album is the title track that was performed in the 1930’s and then discovered by Lucas’ great uncle in the 50’s by some incredible feat. Feeling that it holds true to the narrative of the album, they play the original song straight from the vinyl with the signature crackling noises in full effect to give the feeling that the past has coincided with the present. Another small note about the album is that almost every single song transitions into each other, making it a better experience to listen in one sitting.

It’s a dazzlingly fantastic album from the band that shows the band are moving forward with their sound but still retaining the signature tone they’re known for that is a shoe in to be album of the year and even album of the decade. You’ll need to pay close attention to Holding Absence as after their upcoming UK & European tour they’ll be spearheading the Rock genre to all new heights. And in a few years time they’ll be at the forefront of the modern Rock scene headlining arenas with their names in lights. It’s a beacon of hope in these tough times that we all needed to shine through us.

The Greatest Mistake Of My Life? Far from it. The greatest record of 2021. Without a doubt. 10/10

Bruit ≤ - The Machine Is Burning And Now Everyone Knows It Could Happen Again (Elusive Sound) [Matt Bladen]

For all the heavy metal we get here at MoM Towers, we do occasionally get something different that breaks from the heavy riffs and growled vocals. Toulouse four piece Bruit ≤ are an ambient/neoclassical/post-rock band with an encompassing sound that draws heavily from Mogwai, Mono, Explosions In The Sky on the post rock side, bringing the ambiance of Massive Attack and Portishead. The band members are Theophile Antolinos (guitar/tape), Clément Libes (bass/violin/keyboard), Julien Aoufi (drums) and Luc Blanchot (cello), as you can see from the instruments that this isn't going to be a steamroller, but more of an exploration of soundscapes, the multi layered instrumentation beautifully composed to ebb and flow across these four long running tracks which need to have room to breathe. 

This musical exploration culminates in the cathartic title track that closes out the album with a level of emotion, that just builds and builds towards a much needed release 5 minutes before the end, the comedown a reverb/echoed last part. Theophile's guitar playing is wonderfully lucid, folksy acoustics and shimmering clean electric guitars, Luc's drumming is sparse but multifaceted shifting these audio journeys as Clément's bass throbs deep in a grooving well, the keys are integral to the ghostly encompassing sound that brings a darkness to Industry, which also highlights the stirring cello of Luc who combines with Clément's violin on the Renaissance, an ethereal folk number that evolves into a widescreen mid-section. 

Two tracks in and I was enraptured by this album, the four members of the band orchestrate a stunning musical vision with Florianne Tardy (clarinet), Benoit Huet (French horn), Fabien Dormic (bass trombone) and Juliette Carlier (vibraphone) all adding their own touches to this wonderful album. Not metal, but it carries a weight of bands like Cult Of Luna. Staggering. 10/10       

Reviews: Cheap Trick, The Vintage Caravan, Motorpsycho, Son Of Boar (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Cheap Trick – In Another World (BMG) [Paul Hutchings]

2017’s We’re All Alright was the Illinois outfit’s 18th album and it was bloody good too. I avoided Christmas Christmas like the plague, but now, four years later, the band are back with album number 20 and you know what, it’s as fresh as the eponymous debut way back in 1977. Having waited a year to release the album, another one held up by the pandemic, it’s pleasing to report that In Another World once again shines with the polished blend of pop and rock that Zander, Nielsen, Petersson and more recently Daxx Nielsen do so well. It’s effortless, classic, and stepped in the band’s own traditions and influences. Short, sharp, and instant earworms, there isn’t a band in the world who sound like Cheap Trick (apart from The Beatles obviously!). There’s a skill in their songwriting which is rare in rock music today. 

Hooks, melody, and harmonies, it’s all here whilst Nielsen can let loose on occasions. Check out the stomp of Light Up The Fire, the pleasing joy of The Summer Looks Good On You or the smouldering burn of Passing Through. There’s the obligatory ballad on So It Goes, with Robin Zander on top form. There’s the anthemic Here’s Looking At You and hey, we even get the guest appearance of a certain Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) who adds guitar on the cover of John Lennon’s Gimme Some Truth which closes the album.Nearly 50 years in the business, some bands can clearly still cut it. Cheap Trick are one of those bands and like AC/DC’s Power Up, there’s something clearly pumping through the veins of these elder statesmen. Long may their reign continue because this is another golden release. 9/10

The Vintage Caravan - Monuments (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Vintage Caravan practically embody the word 'retro', their prog/psychedelic rock and incendiary live show hark back to the multi-coloured world of the late-60's San Francisco when peace and love ruled to the strains of a Fender guitar abused through a Valve-Tubed Marshall Stack. Across their previous four albums they have maneuvered through a psychedelic journey of heavy riffs and cosmic influences. The Icelandic trio quickly rising through the ranks to become one of the band's premier rock proponents. They have toured with Opeth recently and have improved with every album and tour cycle, so there is a lot of expectation on this fifth album Monuments

Any worry is dispelled by the trademark style of powerful drumming from Stefán Ari Stefánsson, locking in with Alexander Örn Númason's throbbing basslines like that ideal Mitchell/Redding pairing of Electric Ladyland. The rhythm section is what gives this record it's skeleton, a deft heaviness on which Óskar Logi Ágústsson can let loose his guitar histrionics as he rushes between his vocal lines and shooting out flashes of six string brilliance on chuggers such as Can't Get You Off My Mind. Monuments is The Vintage Caravan sound coming of age and maturing into a retro-influenced modern rock band. There's some jazzy breaks on Crystalized, Dark Times starts off with an acoustic intro before it becomes unleashed. 

It's not all hard rocking bluster on the album though as This One's For You is a torchlight ballad placed in the middle in the album before Forgotten builds up again with a swirling heavy rock assault. Monuments has also taken a few hints from Swedes Ghost on the atmospheric Hell but it's on the final song Clarity that all these minor additions to The Vintage Caravan sound are fully formed on a 8 minute beauty, closing this 60 minutes of near perfect rock n roll. When gigs return The Vintage Caravan should be high on your 'go see' list. 9/10  

Motorpsycho - Kingdom Of Oblivion (Stickman Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Music is all about discovery and the realisation that Norwegian outfit Motorpsycho have been plying their trade since the early 90s means that this review will be like water off a duck’s back. A quick glance at their discography confirms that they are hugely prolific, with this latest album in the mid-20s. By my quick tally, around the 25th or 26th release.

Having experimented their entire career, beginning as a heavy grunge outfit and moved through jazz, psychedelia, and progressive rock, it’s probably not a surprise to find that Kingdom Of Oblivion contains some straightforward stoner tracks and some completely left field songs. Swathes of acoustic guitar, flutes and gentle percussion stand alongside more crashing tracks and buried in the middle of the album we find a hypnotic and bizarre version of Hawkwind’s The Watcher (featuring The Crimson Eye).

Today’s version of Motorpsycho retains the founding members Bent Sæther and Hans-Magnus Ryan alongside drummer Tomas Järmyr who joined in 2017 and so already has an armful of releases to his credit. Whilst some of the tracks do veer off on their own voyage, the best songs here are when the band let the riffs rain down, such as the opening track, The Warning Pt. 1 & 2 or the haze filled 11-minute penultimate track, The Transmutation Of Cosmoctopus-Lurker which is heavier than a lorry load of elephants carrying a bag of anvils each. In between, all kinds of weird and wonderful action takes place.

Kingdom Of Oblivion isn’t an album you can put on for a quick listen. It’s 70 minutes in length and tends to work best when the music flows from start to finish. Then you can immerse yourself into the soundscapes and aural abstract that this phenomenal band from Trondheim have crafted. Many will find the album dull. I found it quite spectacularly magical in places although overlong in parts. But they won’t give a single shit. It’s music to enjoy, relax or get uptight to. You choose. Just give it the space and time it deserves. If you don’t, there is only one loser. 7/10

Son Of Boar - Son Of Boar (Stoned Rocka Recordings) [Matt Bladen]

Kicking off with a sprawling 9 minute Stoned Wall the debut full length from Bradford bruisers Son Of Boar, is a record that has been on the horizon for a while now. With lots of stage time put in, they have channeled their sonic assault into this debut record as a statement of intent. They play a crunching stoner doom which has the psych/biker elements of Orange Goblin to it, the muscular vocals of Luke Oliver barking out the lyrics on the thundering All In Your Head Gaz Bates' bass and Luke Doran's drums powering locomotive riff of this song while also grinding away on the doomier Satanic Panic

Stoner/doom is nothing without riffs, so Adam Waddell and Lyndon Birchall have a lot riding on them so it's great that they get a chance to crank out something filthy frequently phasing between distortion and heady psych atmospheres, Snakes & Daggers having that bottom end slap of towering doom before louchly wandering into hallucinatory passages and coming back again. Signed to Stoned Rocka Recordings, Son Of Boar is a shot to the arm to the stoner doom genre, taking from the genre leaders but adding their own spin. 8/10

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Reviews: Bewitcher, Endseeker, Arion, Infinite & Divine (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Paul Hutchings, Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Bewitcher - Cursed Be Thy Kingdom (Century Media Records) [Richard Oliver]

Alongside bands such as Midnight and Hellripper, Bewitcher have been at the spearhead of a movement in the heavy metal underground and that is blackened speed metal. Taking the 80’s speed metal sound and adding in a touch of black metal attitude with more than a few nods to genre pioneers Venom. It is a movement that has gained lots of traction in recent years and has garnered quite a following meaning that Cursed Be Thy Kingdom which is the third album from Bewitcher is quite an anticipated album. Bewitcher formed in 2013 in Portland, Oregon and quickly turned heads with their self titled debut album in 2016 and its follow up Under The Witching Cross in 2019. 

Those albums are chock full of 80’s speed metal throwback, blackened snarls and a fuck you rock & roll attitude. Cursed Be Thy Kingdom pretty much carries on where Bewitcher left off though there is also change in the air. Opening instrumental Ashe has acoustic guitars, bluesy soloing and a spaghetti western feel to it before the 80’s metal riffs come crashing in on Death Returns... Although the speed metal elements are still there they are very much toned down this time round and replaced with a more traditional heavy metal approach sounding like a blackened take on traditional metal revivalist bands such as Night Demon and Enforcer. There are plenty of fist banging heavy metal anthems throughout the album such as Satanick Magick Attack and Electric Phantoms which are impossible not to bang your head to whilst songs such as Cursed Be Thy Kingdom and Metal Burner bring the speed metal elements to the fore. 

At the same time there are songs which take a more measured approach and are in a more mid paced traditional metal style such as Mystifier (White Night City) and Valley Of The Ravens. These slight variations in style ensures that this album retains your interest and it also helps that these songs are catchy as hell. It’s safe to say that Cursed Be Thy Kingdom is an absolute banger of an album. Whilst some fans will lament the blackened speed attack of the prior records, the sheer quality of the songs on offer here should win them over. 80’s metal worship with blackened aggression and bags of rock & roll attitude. It has taken me ages to write this review as I have spent most of the time banging my head which is always the sign of a great album. Bewitcher are very much proof that old school heavy metal is still alive and well and long may it continue. 9/10

Endseeker - Mount Carcass (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

There are two trains of thought about death metal today. One is that the genre is healthier than it’s been for a long time, whilst the volume of releases from average outfits may also suggest that the genre is in danger of saturation. Barely a week goes by without more albums dropping in the file for review which repeat the old school death metal style. Well, Germany’s Endseeker are very much a band cut from the OSDM cloth, but one that bring with their sound a huge slice of contemporary. Mount Carcass is their third album and has merely highlighted that it is a challenge to keep up with all that is out there. 2017’s Flesh Hammer Prophecy and 2019’s The Harvest are now on the list of catch-up albums after listening to this absolute beast of a record. 35 minutes of concrete shattering, riff heavy pounding, there’s little to dislike here. 

The opening pile driver of Unholy Rites sets the scene, wave after wave of punishing brutality smashing through the aural senses. There is melodic undertones and hooks galore, and with the band stripping back their sound to a raw and more organic feel, it’s an instant hit. Sure, there a massive Entombed feel about it, the HM2 sound present and correct but sometimes you want that pulverising beast which bastes you like a spit mounted chicken, this is the bad boy. It simply stomps a size 12 in your face and storms off into the sunset. Whilst Mount Carcass is a fiery bugger, the title is a metaphor for modern society with an observation on the state of the world, the drive for money and the way we are led by madmen. The band focus on the changes in the political and global landscape and the constant impact on humanity’s comfort zone. 

This is the album where Endkeeper nail their political views to the mast, venting their anger and frustration at the entire world. The title track is a comparison to the overcrowded slops of Everest, where climbers pay thousands of dollars to spend minutes at the top of the world, surrounded by bodies and rubbish of those who failed to make it back. Merciless Tide touches on the onslaught of conspiracy theorists who have gained a foothold, Pulling back to the roots, Endseeker’s ferocious onslaught combines a punkish attitude with a straightforward, uncomplicated approach which will only stop you nodding your head if you are without a pulse. 

There’s also diversion from the politics. Unholy Rites is back to blood and guts of zombies whilst Frantic Redemption charts the story of the famous bear Pablo Escobar, who died after eating $15 million of cocaine. And there’s the closing track, a cover of the title track from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York which brings a new take on the classic movie song. With a production that links the past with the present, Mount Carcass is likely to feature quite highly in the 2021 polls. It’s a stellar release and one that deserves widespread audiences. 9/10

Arion - Vultures Die Alone (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

After ten years, Arion cannot be said to have an excessively prolific rate of output, so it’s probably just as well that quality over quantity is at the core of their methodology. They aren’t an act I’ve come across before and the music is a mixture of Melodic, Symphonic and Progressive Metal in fairly equal doses, with a very strong dollop of Modern Metal just to stop things from sounding in any way dated. Vocally Lassi Vääränen sounds very Chester Bennington – with that same deep soulful gravelly quality, brimming with energy and able to turn on the pathos at a moment’s notice.

The album kicks right down to business with the energetic opener Out Of My Life, with a driving pace and plenty of technical flourishes to illustrate the technical proficiency of this Finnish five piece and I am continually impressed with the expansive use of the guitar and keyboard dynamics, the interplay between which fools you into thinking there’s more than just the four instrumentalists in the mix. They also are not afraid to play progressively with those dynamics and this track faultlessly slips into a more slow-paced and haunting instrumental interlude without sounding the slightest bit jarring. The single Bloodline features a guest turn from Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo, although you have to listen for it. The main power ballad In The Name Of Love takes the second guest turn from Cyan Kicks and although well-structured is a bit predictable and really the only weak spot on the disk, although I suspect it will become the second single because someone, somewhere in their organisation probably still thinks Eurovision is worth trying for (which is how they came to notice in the first instance if you were not aware). Fortunately there are plenty of belting fast-paced rockers on here to make up for it.

The ten songs on here keep themselves quite restrained length wise, with only one lengthy and quite beautiful instrumental piece passing the five minute mark (Where The Ocean Greets The Sky). It’s a credit to the musicianship that they pull that trick on the sole instrumental track so effectively, as like every other piece of music on here it does not outstay its welcome. Again the interplay between these musicians is what makes it flow and none of them is given too much predominance in the mix, although each can clearly and distinctly be heard to the ear – perhaps not surprising with Stratovarius guitarist Matias Kupiainen at the producer’s helm and to be fair the whole album has a similar production calibre as to be found on the last couple of records from the fellow Finnish Symphonic pioneers. To be honest, with the exception of the syrupy ballad, this is forty-three minutes of top-drawer Melodic earworms and definitely feels like one of those records that I am not done with yet. 9/10.

Infinite & Divine - Silver Lining (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

Swedish band Infinite & Divine are essentially a two piece comprising of Jan Åkesson and Tezzi (a/k/a Terese Persson. All the music is from Jan, with the exception of drums which are provided by Jens Westberg, while Tezzi provides all the vocals. Silver Lining is their debut record and it's very much in the style of Within Temptation, Delain et al, pairing heavy riffs with understated symphonics for more emotional power. Jan shows that he is a very talented composer bringing all of the musical elements of this album as it changes between hard rockers, AOR melodies and early 2000's metal. Now what really won me over on this record are the great vocals of Tezzi who has a rawer, more soulful voice than her contemporaries sounding a little like Ann Wilson or Pat Benatar rather than relying on operatic style. 

Take a track such as Keep Moving On and you'll be able to hear that blues influence to her singing, Wasteland is 80's-tastic, Burn No More brings a little more of a galloping folk sound you would hear on Gary Moore's rock albums. So there very deep vein of melodic rock to be mined on Silver Lining with enough variation to keep your head bobbing.  With the three 9/10 albums in this review from my colleagues, giving Infinite & Divine a lower score may seem to be detrimental to the album, but be aware that Silver Lining is a very good album, if bouncy, melodic rock with excellent vocals is your thing. 8/10

Reviews: Cannibal Corpse, Primal Fear, Altarage, Motorjesus (Reviews By Dr Claire Hanley/Charlie Rogers, Paul Hutchings, Matt Bladen & Alex Swift)

Cannibal Corpse - Violence Unimagined (Metal Blade Records) [Dr Claire Hanley & Charlie Rogers]

If you’ve only just heard of Cannibal Corpse, you’re either new to death metal, or you’ve just seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Either way, welcome aboard. It’s fair to say that the band has written the playbook on killer Death Metal records, and Violence Unimagined is no exception.

Bursting into existence, Murderous Rampage is a frantic jaunt through cutthroat riffs that breathes life back into the aggression machine. With long-time producer Erik Rutan picking up guitar duties in the wake of Pat O’Brien’s departure, it’s evident that he’s bringing new energy, new tonality, and harmonic voicings that Corpse hasn’t displayed before. This is most evident in the attention grabbing intro to Condemnation Contagion (easily one of the defining tracks on the album) but sits in contrast to the high octane Necrogenic Resurrection, which is reminiscent of Icepick Lobotomy from A Skeletal Domain.

The rest of the record largely falls into three categories - Furious, Flex, and Funky.

Of the fast and furious tunes, Overtorture has Corpsegrinder spitting machine-gun vocals in parallel with the frantic guitar picking. Ritual Annihilation is along a similar vein, however the mix during the speedier sections loses some of the clarity, leaving the listener struggling to make sense of the aural onslaught. Although there’s a badass riff that busts in at 2:10, with an abundance of attitude to make up for its shortcomings.

When it comes to attitude, Inhumane Harvest reigns supreme. It’s a sonic flex of a track that matches the band’s monster status as Death Metal royalty. Full to burst with grit, you can hear the bulging sinews of the riffs as they move across the phrases. Cerements Of The Flayed is equally menacing, and Follow The Blood - much like Condemnation Contagion - is steadfast and resolute, with a mid-paced groove that stomps through your ears. Webster’s bass, noticeably absent for much of the album, really hits hard during this track; making it a standout moment.

We’re using “funky” to describe the ominous groove present in Slowly Sawn, as it’s a track with jarring riffs and odd timings that gel together surprisingly well to create an infectious swagger. Cannibal Jazz! Surround, Kill, Devour also has groove in spades. It’s a bouncy track but is overshadowed by the outstanding offerings on the record. The same can be said of Bound And Burned.

Overall, the production is solid, with most tracks effortlessly encapsulating the essence of Cannibal Corpse. That said, there’s definitely room for improvement - more of Alex Webster’s signature bass sound would be welcome. 8/10

Primal Fear - I Will Be Gone (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

Having just had an album from these boys last year (the truly outstanding Metal Commando), this was an unexpected little bonus. Given that touring has been well and truly shafted without the benefit of lubrication for the last eighteen months, German Power Metal heroes Primal Fear have wisely decided to keep their profile up with this stop-gap EP. The titular lead track is all centred around a duet between Ralf Scheepers and the frankly superb Tarja Turunen, who these days seems to be all about this sort of one-off collaboration release. 

It’s a full on ballad, with acoustic guitar accompaniment and the obligatory tambourine, making it feel more like the product of a backstage “let’s work together” conversation between the two vocalists rather than a full on Primal Fear canon release, but it gives them the opportunity to push out a couple of bonus tracks that did not make it to last year’s album. What appears to be at first glance to be an alternative version of the track is in fact a completely different track – I Will Be GoneLeave Me Alone being the first time I have heard a German Power Metal band use the very British words “bugger off, make yourself scarce and fuck off” in a song lyric, but it’s guaranteed to work live if they ever play here again. 

Although let’s face it is not something that’s going to happen soon, as they pretty much ignored the UK from their touring schedules even before Brexit. It’s clearly an attempt to keep the profile up and consequently feels a bit cobbled together but worth a spin, although the lead track is not their greatest and would have perhaps benefitted from the full Power ballad treatment rather than the slightly too soft acoustic approach. 7/10

Altarage - Succumb (Season Of Mist Underground Activists) [Matt Bladen]

Altarage are categorized as dissonant extreme metal and I haven't heard a description so on point for a while. The band come from the Basque region and very little else is known about them as they tend to be very secretive. Musically this fourth album is much like their previous offerings with explosively aggressive extreme metal that shifts between black and death metal that drills itself into your psyche with music that would stand up in court as evidence of concussive shock syndrome.Unfortunately I found very little to enjoy here, it's a little too extreme for my tastes, the vocals sit really low in the mix and are indecipherable while the riffs are just a fuzzing maelstroms of noise. I tried with this I really did but I lost my patience with it about halfway through. On stage drenched in cloaks and pummelled by speakers I guess it could be worth a watch but this is very strongly for fans of bands such as Bölzer. 4/10   

Motorjesus – Hellbreaker (AFM Records) [Alex Swift]

Really? Motorjesus? I know that as a critic I should know better than this but do you ever look at a band name and presume to know exactly what they sound like? There’s no shame in that. In this case, you picture gaudy, exaggerated hard rock, perhaps owing to a large part of their influence to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and in this case, I was proved right (I mean, you don’t look at a band with a name like this and expect ambient musings). Despite their brash, overconfident style though, Motorjesus are decent players – a fact that’s demonstrated by the full-throttle opener of Drive through Fire – the guitars are soaring, the rhythms sauntering and the vocals are impressionistic, climbing to impressive heights. 

However, what Motorjesus make up for in presence, they lack in substance or originality. I almost feel I should give this a positive review – this is after all the Musipedia Of Metal, and hey, if you’re someone who likes your metal to appeal to that sense of raucousness fused with ridiculousness you’ll probably relish this listening experience. I love a lot of that style myself – Scorpions, Saxon…Motorhead were the first band I ever appreciated seeing live. I wouldn’t be writing for this very blog if I didn’t enjoy a fair amount of ludicrous, outlandish metal! So what’s my problem in this case, beyond the name? I think the answer to that comes down to the predictability and the sense that everything this band does has been done so much better by another artist. 

If you’ve read past reviews of mine you’ll know I tend to come down hard on acts who feel like a non-ironic pastiche of their genre, and wow, do this act ticks all of the boxes. Everything here tries to capture the essence of rock n’ roll and comes across as tedious and derivative in the process. While I could appreciate the occasional hook or solo, from Beyond The Grave to Overload all I could think was “Why would I listen to this when other acts do the exact sound so much better?” Thankfully, Hellbreaker doesn’t suffer at all on a technical or production level and for this reason, I feel I can recommend this to some of my fellow writers and metal-heads who are more tolerant of this kind of ‘traditionalism’ than I am. I stress some will definitely enjoy this. I just can’t give a positive score to something I can’t see myself ever returning to. 4/10

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Reviews: Blaze Bayley, Sweet Oblivion, Screamachine, The Quill (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Blaze Bayley - War Within Me (Blaze Bayley Recordings)

Following up a triple disc concept album is a daunting task for any musician however there are few metal musicians as resilient as Blaze Bayley, he managed to forge a successful career after being leaving the biggest metal band on the planet, and for my money is the second best vocalist ever to front Iron Maiden, he has overcome some very serious personal issues and has also managed to have the most consistent solo career outside of the Maiden mothership. 

So with eclectic offerings previously from Blaze, Blaze Bayley Band, the reactivated Wolfsbane, it's this incarnation of Blaze Bayley that has been the most successful cementing the man's legacy as a heavy metal survivor. What helps is that his backing band is basically Absolva, comprised of Chris Appleton (guitars), Karl Schramm (bass) and Martin McNee (drums) and it's Chris Appleton who has really taken the lead co-writing, producing and collaborating with Bayley. War Within Me is the first album with this line up that isn't part of the wider Infinite Entanglement concept series, so I was interested to hear what this first stand alone record in nearly 10 years. 

Well it's obvious that Chris Appleton makes a continuing influence on this record bringing some more melodic metal stylings that sit between traditional British metal and European power metal, Appleton's dual lead sound vital to the galloping rockers with Schramm and McNee's tough rhythm section driving the thrashy title track and the anthemic Pull Yourself Up. Now this track is an indicator of this records very positive outlook blending hero worship of Alan Turing, Nikola Tesla and Stephen Hawking (which also continues Bayley's obsession with theoretical physics), with historical storytelling on 303 which is about the Polish & Czech airman that flew in the Battle Of Britain. The main theme of this album is triumph over adversity and it's carried well by the still brilliant, booming vocal of Bayley. As Every Storm Ends leaves you with it's optimistic outlook, you will definitely want to go back and listen to War Within Me again. Solid heavy metal from a veteran of the UK scene, play loud for maximum impact. 9/10          

Sweet Oblivion - Relentless (Frontiers Music)

This record has been a long time coming. The original Sweet Oblivion album made waves by being a loving homage to the classic era of Queensryche but unlike any band that has come before that also has the Queensryche influence, Sweet Oblivion have the endless contact book of Frontiers President Serafino Perugino at their disposal and they managed to get the definitive voice of Queensryche himself Geoff Tate as the singer. It was a wonderful album for fanboys like me, but I did also think it may be a one off as does the world need another Queensryche? Well I have been proved wrong not for the first time as Sweet Oblivion (Feat. Geoff Tate) to give them their full name have returned with a follow up album. 

Again it's an all Italian cast of musicians, however DGM's Simone Mularoni has been replaced as main songwriter/producer/guitarist by Aldo Lonobile, who has recently contributed to Secret Sphere, Timo Tolkki's Avalon & Archon Angel. So swapping one producer/musician extraordinaire for another is major change here as Geoff Tate remains the vocalist as the rest of the band is made up of  Luigi Andreone (bass) Antonio Agate (keys) and Michele Sanna (drums). On this record Tate has been much ore involved with songwriting which accounts for the slight shift in style as the blatant Queensryche homage of the first record becomes more nuanced adding some melodic/AOR touches, Strong Pressure and Another Change are examples of this bouncy AOR sound. 

Tate even got Lonobile to write him a special song (Aria) so he could sing it in Italian. Elsewhere though it's powerful progressive metal from One Again One Sin, Wake Up Call. Aria also features Walter Cianciusi and Dario Parente on guitar both of whom are in the Operation: Mindcrime live band, it's one of the strongest tracks on the album as both a Queensryche-like song and also pays tribute to the Italian musicians and label he is surrounded by. A more melodic offering than the debut with much more of the Operation:Mindcrime style through it. 7/10       

The Quill - Earthrise (Metalville)

Earthrise is the ninth(!) studio album from Swedish stoner metal band The Quill. After ten records The Quill know their sound and they ain't gonna change it for anyone. What you get here is thick, juicy stoner metal riffage that is very much in the 70's rock vein but with a dirty biker ethos. Pinching from Sabbath on the swirling Dwarf Planet especially. There's also some Orange Goblin similarities but also their biggest influence is themselves. It's when you listen to this album of nine songs (of an original 20 demos), that you lament why The Quill aren't at the same level as Goblin, Monster Magnet or even some of their Swedish brethren like Spiritual Beggars (though bassist Roger Nilsson is a former member of the latter). 

It's his grooving bass that drives tracks such as Left Brain Blues, locking down into the crunching rhythms with drummer Jolle Atlagic on the title track. Earthrise was conceived by The Quill during the pandemic and there's no sign of the band being disconnected, on songs like the Evil Omen they scrape the upper reaches of Sabbath psychedelic, the swirling guitars of Christian Carlsson and the Ozzy- but better vocals of Magnus Ekwall really carrying this and choppy 21st Century Sky into pure Black Sabbath territory. I reiterate that The Quill should be a much bigger band than they are, they have all the requisites to appeal to any lovers of 70's influenced stoner rock. I'd hold them in as high regard as bands such as Orange Goblin and on Earthside they show their worth again. 8/10

ScreaMachine – S/T (Frontiers Music)

ScreaMachine is a new project made up of Italian metal scene veterans. The musicians have been a part of Stormlord, Kaledon and Lunarsea respectively so they bring a lot of experience to the table. Formed by bassist Francessco Bucci the idea for the band was born around writing music inspired by their heroes of the classic metal sound. For what it’s worth the major sounds I can here on this record are Priest, Twisted Sister and W.A.S.P much of that coming from the melodic edges and Valerio “The Brave” Caricchio’s sneering vocal. What ScreaMachine have is a nice idea that is never really fully realised, the song writing is a little basic, the performances are precise but don’t really have a huge amount of soul, and is a little annoying is that they promise “one of the heaviest debuts of the year” and I can count on one hand heavier debuts this year. Also despite having two guitarists in the band, four hand-picked guitar players, including Simone Mularoni from DGM all add guitars to the record. For me the best song on the record is Wisdom Of Ages due to it featuring FIrewind frontman Herbie Langhans as guest vocalist and Steve Di Giorgio on fretless bass. If you want a proper ScreaMachine I suggest you check out Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens’ Beyond Fear record, as the song of the same name there is much heavier, and more satisfying than this record. 5/10

Reviews: Devil Sold His Soul, The Treatment, To The Grave, The End Machine (Reviews By Liam True & Matt Bladen)

Devil Sold His Soul – Loss (Nuclear Blast) [Liam True]

Loss is a feeling so many of us suffer so often in our all too short time spent on this mortal coil. It is a feeling so few of us can truly encapsulate in any way; an experience that is as all-encompassing and engulfing as it is terrifyingly lonely, a black hole of blurriness that breaks the very essence of our humanity down. United by their unified experiences of loss, speared on by the passing of drummer Alex Wood’s mother, Devil Sold His Soul broke their studio silence to shape the songs that comprise their first album in nine years, the aptly-titled Loss.

Born from a band that were bringing themselves back from the brink, Loss is the continuation of the union between original vocalist Ed Gibbs and his successor Paul Green which began when Devil Sold His Soul bought them together for the 10th anniversary tour of their genre-refining debut A Fragile Hope. Like a phoenix rising from the flames, they felt reinvigorated by the fervorous reception to their touring and found themselves putting the pieces of an album together tied up by a multitude of losses they were experiencing both as bandmates and as human beings.

Loss is as much an ode to their ambient post-hardcore past as it is a voyage into unexplored post-metal shores that shifts and shapes itself throughout it’s 10 tracks like it’s an M.C. Escher painting. On Loss, Devil Sold His Soul create a series of soundscapes that are as akin to the sound of the sun shining in through your bedroom window on a hazy summers morning as they are to the sound of a sledgehammer rearranging the residual of your skull fragment-by-fragment.

Tateishi is a a glittering, effervescent experience of revolving riffs and crashing cymbals akin to anything off of Rolo Tomassi’s Time Will Die & Love Will Bury It whilst The Narcissist is a rough-and-ready post-hardcore pummel that bleeds blastbeats with the electro-infectiousness of Architects. But Not Forgotten falls somewhere in the shapeshifting spaces of blackgaze that some of Deafheaven’s more melodic cuts creates an umbrella over, brushing beautiful brutality against the barriers of your brain.

Whilst the show-stopping sensational delivery of the dual vocalists redefines once again what Devil Sold His Soul truly stands for, it’s the goosebump-inducing performance that echoes across a lake of pittering, pattering piano on the titular closer that steals the show; if you’re not crying as the cavernous repetition of ‘I hope we meet again’ etches into your eardrums, you’ve not truly experienced the loss that lingers in each and every line.

Across the lamenting labyrinth that is Loss, Devil Sold His Soul delivers a career-defining collection that comes as close to capturing the ever-evolving essence and experience of loss as undergoing it’s trials and tribulations yourself. If Loss isn’t towards the top of album of the year lists come December, then you need to re-evaluate your priorities. 8/10

The Treatment - Waiting For Good Luck (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

Waiting For Good Luck is the second album from UK rocker The Treatment to feature third vocalist Tom Rampton and the first for Andy Milburn who take up bass duties replacing founding member Rick "Swoggle" Newman. Stylistically the band have gone through numerous aspects of British rock n roll but what they always come back to is blues based boogie rock made famous by AC/DC, Status Quo, Canned Heat and Stray. This tip of the hat to bluesy boogie rock is continued on Waiting For Good Luck which opens with AC/DC-like Rat Race Tagore and Tao Grey supplying that Malcolm/Angus strut, an oft repeated trick on this record but one that continues to get the head bobbing everytime. 

Andy Milburn slots into that bass groove well getting 'in-the-pocket' (jazz term) with drummer Dhani Mansworth for Lightning In A Bottle and No Way Home which has the bar blues of the Quo. In Tom Rampton the band probably have their best singer, his melodic for radio rock but with enough grit to give it some Bon Scott edginess on Eyes On YouWaiting For You is unashamedly stuck in the late 70's style of boogie-based 'pub rock', it's not world changing but enjoyable, unfortunately at 12 songs long it's all a bit to similar and by the latter part of the album I did find my attention wandering a little. Still I'm sure when gigs come back they will be playing these tracks across the country to packed houses. 6/10

To The Grave – Epilogue (Unique Leader) [Liam True]

While Deathcore as a whole is up and down these days with what bands are ‘In’ and which are ‘Out’, it’s always a search to find one that stands out with their own noise. To The Grave unfortunately aren’t one of those bands. Their sound is the classic Deathcore sound, which isn’t a bad thing. The thing is what makes the band drag in the shadow is how boring they sound. The first few songs are actually quite good with the screeching highs of vocalist Dane Evans and his thunderous lows actually being the glue that holds the band together in my opinion. Holocaustrailia – Global Warning shows how vicious the band can be as a whole with the hellish guitar tone of both Tom Cadden & Jack Simioni pounding you while the destructive bass sound of Matt Clarke pumbles you. Ecocide & Pest Control continue the heavy barrage as drummer Simon O’Malley rains down the scythe that cuts the band loose and unleashes their fury.

And that’s where, for me, it all goes downhill. Every song from then sounds the same. The same sounding riffs, drum beats and patterns. The only thing that actually holds the record together is Dane himself as his vocals are far and beyond what they should be capable of. The band has massive potential to become the size of fellow Aussie hard hitters Thy Art Is Murder and maybe even the arena crushers of Parkway Drive. But this record shows that they do need to experiment a bit more with their songwriting to make it more intriguing to the listener. If you’re a fan of Thy Art’s older stuff with a darker tone and the production quality not being the best, which does work in To The Grave’s favour, then they’re the band for you. Personally it does drag on for the hour plus run time they have. If it was two separate albums then it may have sounded better? But right now it’s a borefest for me. 4/10

The End Machine - Phase2 (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

The End Machine project can be considered to be basically a Dokken reunion without Don himself on vocals. Their first album saw George Lynch (guitar), Jeff Pilson (bass) and Mick Brown (drums) reunite the 'classic' Dokken line up with Robert Mason (Lynch Mob/Warrant) taking up the vocals. Musically though the album is full of blues hard rock with those traditional virtuoso touches of known by fans of Lynch or Pilson both of whom are well revered for their playing. Phase2 is the second record of this project (obvious really) but they are without Mick Brown who is now retired, happily his brother Steve has assumed the drum stool for this sophomore album. What is almost obvious on this record is that their seems to be a move towards the 'Hair Metal' AOR/Hard Rock sound of 'classic' Dokken. At times I was expecting them to burst into Breaking The Chains or Tooth & Nail with a heavier riffage on Shine Your Light and Blood And Money as Lynch evokes his Mr Scary persona. Tracks such as We Walk Alone and Dark Divide stick rather resolutely to the blues sound and, of course there are some slow ballads that do drop the pace a quite a bit. Phase2 does what you'd expect from those involved but it's very much more in the Lynch Mob sound than that of Dokken and it'll more than satisfy Lynch/Pilson fans. 6/10

Monday, 12 April 2021

Reviews: The Lion's Daughter, Borstal, Baron Crane, Stepson (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Liam True, Richard Oliver & JT Smith)

The Lion’s Daughter - Skin Show (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Disturbing, raw, deviant. Three words that may quickly spring to mind on first encounter with The Lion’s Daughter and their latest release, Skin Show. The trio Rick Giordano - guitars, vocals, synths, bass, Erik Ramsier - drums and percussion and Scott Fogelbach – vocals were by all accounts immersed in blackened Sludge metal until this, their fourth album. I’m unfamiliar with their earlier works so taking this very much face on, it’s difficult to contemplate them with that sound. The St. Louis outfit kick things off with Become The Night, incorporating a heavy synth feel which is balanced by crunching riffing, ferocious drumming and Fogelbach’s rasping vocal roar. Interestingly, the band has played a bit of musical chairs with Fogelbach dedicated solely to vocals here, having played guitar and bass in 2018’s Future Cult. Here he shares the vocal duty with Girdano. Over the 42 minutes that make up this album, you are treated to an onslaught of industrial metal, made up of thick layers of synths, aggressive guitar work and the raw and savage vocals. 

At times it’s hard to put the finger on a particular sound, as The Lion’s Daughter weave their way through a myriad of styles. The opening two songs are bombastic, whilst Neon Teeth moves to a cinematic soundscape, with its anthemic pulse, synth work and driving bass. Searching deeper, regardless of the music, it’s the lyrics on Skin Show that cut deepest, focusing on topics of discomfort: sexual violence, abuse, mental health issues and anxiety. I agree with the blurb: ‘It’s the type of record that can easily garner coveted radio airplay, and yet, it can also serve as the background playlist for a BDSM orgy in an illegal dungeon or abandoned warehouse’.

The songs on Skin Show are incredibly variable. The full-on thrash of Werewolf Hospital, all intense sharp edges contrasts with the darker, deeper sonic vibe of Snakeface, whilst the dramatic, sludge-tinged conclusion to the album with The Chemist leaves you confused, emotionally scarred, and slightly unnerved. Which is no doubt where this band want you to be. It doesn’t fit conveniently into one genre defining box. You’ll need to immerse deeply to full appreciate an album that is dramatic, sinister, and generally uncomfortable but in a good way. 7/10

Borstal – At Her Majestys Pleasure (4 Family Records) [Liam True]

In the overpopulated world of top-notch extreme metal drummers, Nick Barker is an undisputed legend. With Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and Testament on his resumé, not to mention grindcore supergroup LOCK UP, he has already earned his place in metal history. But now it's time for an entirely different vibe, as Nick Barker makes a very welcome return to the stage, after a lengthy period spent behind the scenes. Six tracks of absolutely ripping metallic hardcore, with a neat and subversive twist, At Her Majesty's Pleasure fulfils the drummer's long-held desire to pay tribute to the crossover scene that inspired so many of his generation. 

With a lineup boasting members of UK hardcore legends Knuckledust and London's ultra-gnarly Dripback, Borstal could easily come across as a fun, temporary side project, but what really hits home during this exhilarating burst of thuggish precision is that Barker has assembled himself a real band here, with all the vein-popping chemistry and exuberant camaraderie that goes with it. Musical reference points are exactly as they should be. Borstal deal in a straightforward, groove-driven and relentlessly ferocious strain of metallic hardcore, steeped in the seminal clangor of NYHC greats like Cro-Mags and Sick Of It All, and from the adrenalized rush of opener Refuse To Lose onwards, the quintet's debut EP nails that sound with more energy and conviction than any band in recent memory. 

More importantly, however, Borstal have a broad and proud British streak that precludes them from simply echoing Big Apple beatdowns. Gang vocals and the occasional burst of knuckleheaded melody point to a love for old-school UK street punk and the early '80s Oi! scene as well as bands like The Business and The Exploited. Borstal are more than capable of throwing in a jaw-shattering D-beat from time to time, too. The end result is vastly more exciting than other high-quality NYHC tribute as a result. It's genuinely hard to imagine that songs like preview single Vicious Circles and anthemic closer King Of The Jungle won't turn mosh-pits into warzones when they finally get to play these songs live. And one thing is absolutely guaranteed: Nick Barker is having the absolute time of his fucking life, back where he belongs and doing something genuinely fresh and exciting. Her Majesty will doubtless be delighted. 7/10

Baron Crâne - Commotions (Mrs Red Sounds) [Richard Oliver]

Baron Crâne are a three-piece progressive stoner rock band from Paris. Their latest release Commotions, which is the third album from the band, was originally self-released by the band in 2020 but they have signed up with Mrs Red Sound Records (curated by the band Mars Red Sky) who will be re-releasing the album in April 2021.

Despite falling under the stoner rock label, Baron Crâne are a band with a multitude of influences which affects their shifting and swirling sound. They have the stoner rock aesthetics but mix in progressive, psychedelic, jazz fusion and math rock sounds across the five songs which make up the album. Songs such as Firmin and Fifth Stone mixes desert rock riffage with these alternative sounds whilst Closing Doors veers more towards the psychedelic and jazz fusions sounds. Although primarily an instrumental band, Commotions sees Baron Crâne welcome guest vocalists with Arthur Brossard on the desert rock of Acid Rains whilst hip hop artist INCH guests on On Rase Les Murs resulting in the most experimental sounding song on the album.

When I listen to stoner rock the main attraction for me are the riffs as a great riff can put me in a good mood instantly. Unfortunately this album is very much lacking in the memorable riff department for me as the album is more focused on psychedelic soundscapes and math rock complexities than the fine art of great riffs with groove. I appreciate that this aims to be far more than a simple stoner rock album and the band very much achieve that but personally I would have liked to have heard a healthy mix of cool stoner rock riffs with these progressive elements mixed in. Stoner rock is a very crowded genre and it is great to hear a band taking the genre in new and experimental directions but Commotions lacks staying power and the songs, whilst very technically proficient in their compositions, just don’t really stick in the mind once the album has come to an end. Baron Crâne have to be applauded for the bold experimentation of their music but it is a flawed experiment. 6/10

Stepson - Help Me, Help You (Sharptone Records) [JT Smith]

This is a record that has managed something quite rare, in that I have not heard a record this uninspired, unoriginal and unappealing in quite some time. Metalcore is a genre of music that has to try particularly hard now anyway, given just how many metalcore bands there are and have been out there, and this record fails pretty miserably, sounding… Well. Lazy.

The songs are formulaic in construction, literally sounding like they’ve come off metalcore-by-numbers production line and with every metalcore cliche thrown in (here’s the slightly quieter verse before the louder, equally unmemorable chorus, here’s the slightly upbeat but emo sounding song, here’s the dirty, but tuneful vocals, here’s the ‘woah, woah,’ refrains), but with puzzlingly quiet-in-the-mix drums, guitars that are too polished and toothless (seriously, how do you get this wrong?! In Flames perfected *exactly this* guitar sound well over a decade ago, and while they may be a shadow of their former selves, they’ve contributed a lot to heavy music, not least how to dial in a good, generic, bog-standard guitar tone).

There are no high points on the album, but I can pick out a low point; I Wish is clearly a stab at a more mature, experimental dabbling in samples and electronica, and it’s unbelievably smug and self congratulatory. It goes nowhere and adds nothing to an album already veering into those territories. This is like all of the ideas discarded by Alexisonfire and Underoath were picked up and strained through a filter marked ‘2007.’ Avoid at all costs. 2/10

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Women & Metal Part 2 (Opinion Piece By Anna Loppacher)

Anna Loppacher - Musician

I have had some experience with sexism in the metal scene. It is by far not the worst kind, but nevertheless very annoying and completely unnecessary. Interestingly enough, sexist reactions have increased somewhat in relation with a recent release by my band, I guess it has to do with the band becoming more visible due to a PR campaign, and that seems to attract all kinds of people. One of my earliest experiences was when we played our third concert, several years ago. At get-in time, we (guitarist/singer, drummer (both of them white, straight, male) and me) started loading in the gear to the venue. To coordinate rigging, I asked the guitarist/singer where we should start. A guy employed at the venue overheard my question and told me "well, you can clean a bit around the stage, and after that maybe you wanna make it look nice around here, put up some flowers or something like that". I was completely taken aback and didn't manage to say anything, I just gave the guy a weird look, half surprised, quite annoyed and a bit resigned. The guitarist/singer looked the guy dead in the eye and told him: "yeah, right; she is one of the artists". After that, he didn't bother me anymore. I knew however one of the ladies working at the bar, and she told me that he always was unpleasant towards female employees. So as expected, such behaviour is seldomly a one-off act. This episode makes me wonder how we would have been treated had it been an all-female band. Would we even have gotten a gig?

Another, more recent episode related to the band-context, happened during the PR campaign for our recently released album. We had made a music video, in which the different members of the band were shown playing the song in question with an old abandoned power plant in the background; in some scenes, we green-screened in space background. Nothing unusual in other words. Both me and the guitarist/singer wore our respective patch vests in the video (we both take great pride in them, as I think everyone owning a patch vest does =) We used part of the video as a Facebook ad. People from all around the world commented on the video, there were many positive comments, some weird ones, but then there was the following one: someone commented "well, rockers these days surely look different". Our guitarist/singer commented through the band account that well, rock changes with time as all music genres do. To that, the person replied: "well I was referring to the fat keyboard player wearing glasses". 

What does one say to that? I mean, I can't be surprised exactly, this is just a tiny bit of a decade-long history of reviewers and commenters commenting on the musical skills of male musicians and the looks of female musicians (check out some of the Girlschool reviews from the early days for example, they are absolutely appalling in style, along the lines of "here we have some average-looking women who play their instruments surprisingly well"). Here I should add for context that I do not consider myself overweight. I am not slim, it does show that I like a good meal, and I am completely happy with that - I love good food =) But most importantly, I consider this issue *utterly* irrelevant to the music my band makes. Secondly, my bandmates weigh more than me (this is taking into account height differences). I can't get the thought out of my head that it was no coincidence that the commenter made an issue out of my looks, and didn't comment on the looks of my bandmates. Now that I am writing this episode down, it strikes me even more strongly how utterly inane this whole discussion is. I mean seriously, aren't there more important aspects to consider, like for example - I don't know - musical execution, composition, sound, genre, performance?!

That comment however did make me reflect a bit around women in metalbands more generally. And it does strike me: The female metal musicians I know are all conventionally beautiful, slim, white people wearing flamboyant hair styles, make-up and fancy clothes, sometimes rather revealing/sexually attractive. And yes, no one, absolutely no one wears glasses (that goes for male metal musicians as well). The glasses issue I had never even remotely thought about (not the weight/body form issue either, for that matter, for me it is really just music that matters. Comparing myself to the likes of Alyssa White-Gluz, Simone Simons, Floor Jansen, Madeleine Liljestam or Elin Larsson I see that physically, I am no match. I don't try to be either. I wear no make-up, I never have. I play live in trousers, a t-shirt and patch vest and in socks (I play bass pedals, and haven't come around to buy proper organ shoes, so anti-slip socks do the trick, they let me feel my way around the pedals just fine). Music-wise I give my everything, I pour my heart and soul into every note I play. In my opinion this is the only thing that should matter. If it at least were the case that both men and women had to endure inane comments on their looks, than one could brush it off as common human vanity. But knowing that there are so many male metal musicians out there who are no head-turners, but they have wonderful stage-presence, and that is all that matters for the show, so no one bats an eye, and then imagining the shitstorm female musicians in the same position would have coming their way...that hurts to think about.

Another, more indirect way I have experienced sexism in the music business in, is by playing shows in pubs or biker clubs. At get-in I walk into the club, and what greets me at the doors, is tons of pictures of naked women in clearly objectifying poses. Ok, so that's the status of women around here, I cannot help but think. And then of course the bar owner shares the same kind of stuff on Facebook. That particular guy treated me well the night we played there. But again, I was thinking, how would things have been if I played there with an all-female band? How would we have been treated? Did it make a difference that I at all times had my male bandmates close by? I think this is one of the adverse aspects of sexism. It is not necessarily only the bad things one experiences, it is the constant state of alert, some sort of uneasiness: something could happen...but one never knows where and when. This is really tiring. The amount and degree of sexism I have experienced, is mild, considering what I know others have experienced - I imagine for others who experience worse amounts and degrees of sexism, it must be utterly exhausting.

The constant state of alert has an influence of what spaces one perceives as safe. When I hear about my bandmates casually joining other bands or dropping in as session musician, I at one point realised: I would never feel safe doing that. In my case it's not even about physical safety, it's about my self-worth, about being seen and treated as a person. In the band I am, I feel completely safe, me and my two bandmates are very close, and I am completely confident that they see me as who I am, nothing more, nothing less. That gives me the space so many men can take for granted, to just be, and use all my energy for creating music, playing great solos, pull my weight in a rehearsal room jam. But I know very well that with any other musician, I wouldn't have that safety, I would have to check the territory, be alert, and think twice about everything I say and do. Again, it is not about who the other (unknown) musicians are, it is about what could be, and all too often is: and a painful and long history of victim blaming, rape myths and the like are very clear that whatever happens, it is always the woman's fault. The metoo-campaign feels like just a drop in the ocean, when I at the same time read about rape perpetrators in Norwegian courts walking free because holding the victim down is seen as "not using enough force" to count as rape, 50-year olds in Sweden walk free because the 16-year old they raped was at fault for hanging out with them. And these are the countries that are seen as most advanced when it comes to women's rights. We have yet such a far way to go.

Returning to the metal scene more specifically, I think both as a musician, and concert-goer/fan, sexism or the lurking threat of sexism is omnipresent. It happens more often than not that when me and my boyfriend, who is a metalhead, go to a concert and see acquaintances from the local music scene, they talk over my head and only to him. They barely acknowledge me, barely react when I chime in on the on-going conversation. If I cross paths with someone from the local scene, many of them will barely greet me. It its tiresome to try being super pro-active all the time, sometimes even reading extra on some topics to be sure to get it right when I say something about it, only to have people barely acknowledging my presence. Whatever I do will never be enough because I am a woman and don't dress like someone one could easily view as a sex object. And there again, I will never know whether people's behaviour is sexism or whether they just don't like me. This uncertainty is demotivating and can be tiresome.

There have been similar instances during and after concerts. During a cool concert at a small venue, I stand in the front row and participate very actively, headbanging, horns up, yelling, all of it. At some point, the singer starts communicating directly with me, turning the mic towards me; I start clapping with the beat and everyone joins it. The whole atmosphere is really great. And then suddenly the singer looks and me and shakes his chest. Like what the hell does he think, that somehow me participating wildly means that I am suddenly in the mood of shaking my boobs around? Suddenly, the atmosphere wasn't so great anymore. In those moments, one always just shrugs it off, but thinking what those situations actually mean, what the people in the situation are communicating, makes me just sad. It's small, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, signs and nudges: as a woman, you don't belong here, unless you agree to be a sexual object.

It's also really annoying when wanting to get laid seems to be the only reason to talk to women after a concert. One day, me and a friend went to a concert and stayed after the show. The guitarist joins our table, which I thought was really cool, of course I like the band, I like his style of playing and would have loved to have a conversation about soloing, composing etc. Quite soon I notice that he only talks to my friend, basically ignoring me. He got closer and closer to her, and my friend got more and more uncomfortable. After that evening, he, a married guy around double her age, who knew very well that she was in a relationship, kept harassing her through messages for weeks, inviting her at night to his hotel room when he was in town and stuff like that.

The not-belonging-unless-as-a-sexual-object logic I experience sometimes at metal festivals too. One year I went to a big festival; there were so many great concerts, one of my favourite bands played, the music was all that counted, I felt completely in my element as a festival-goer and was completely happy. That band interacts a lot with the crowd, but always with the crowd as people, there is never anything gender-oriented. Some hours later while waiting for another great band, I could see another band playing on the neighbouring stage. Suddenly, in the middle of the show, they asked all the women in the crowd to show their tits. I was shocked - after the concert of my favourite band I had let my guard down, for a moment I took the feeling of being just another person in the crowd, for granted. It was a beautiful moment, and it didn't last long. A similar situation occurred when I after dancing like crazy during the concert of another band I am very fond of, walked across the sign showing the entrance to a strip club. At a metal festival, seriously? And as the sign indicated, it was a heteronormative strip show, a woman objectified for men to look at. Some might argue that the sexy part of metal is part of kicking back at societal and bourgeois norms. To that I want to say, what good is a revolution that kicks downwards instead of upwards? The sexism is just the same in the upper class and in the so-called rebelling underground, so why pretend it's something different and thereby alienate half of the world's population?

To summarise the sexism part, what is most tiresome and detrimental about sexism in my experience, is constantly having to be on my guard, you never know when sexism hits, and when it hits, it will nearly never be a situation where it is beyond doubt for everyone involved that it was sexism - sometimes myself included; the question 'is it sexism or does he just dislike me?' is all too easily internalised. But as with all kinds of discrimination, if the person experiencing discrimination gets this nagging feeling, that this might be about discrimination, then there's usually a good reason for getting that nagging feeling, because the small situations are all connected to a societal pattern.

I have some thoughts about race as well. Unfortunately, the world is divided into different regions based on racist principles, and with this racist division, there follows racist migration regimes. Just a look at what countries' citizens get to travel to what other countries without a visa and what are the requirements for getting a visa (the 'what's your passport worth'-question), paints a deeply problematic picture. This affects metal bands. For a metal band from let's say Senegal or Burkina Faso to get to a European country to play a festival or a concert tour, they would have to be rising stars, signed to a label and still there might be visa difficulties. For a European band however, they might be mediocre, but as long as they can afford to rent a van or pay for petrol of a borrowed one, they can go and play small venues in mostly any country in Europe. It might not be very lucrative, but still, they can do that. In other words, if you are from a visa-wise disadvantaged country, you have to be exceptional to maybe get a chance at playing in visa-wise advantaged countries - or even in other countries of the same region; whereas, if you are from a visa-wise advantaged country, you can be mediocre or just kind of good enough and still get to play wherever you get a deal - travelling is not the problem. This is white privilege in the metal world.

Also, if one looks for that information, or listens to bands who are in that scene, one understands at one point, that there are so many festivals that we just never hear about, because they are on other continents than Europe. Why don't we get to hear about those festivals? Turns out e.g. that Togo and Burkina Faso have a great metal scene, the same is true for Botswana and Mozambique. I think we don't get to hear about those festivals and scenes through our mainstream channels because of stereotypes about what the African continent is all about. This bias in access to information perpetuates in its turn the stereotypes and the whole situation is just very generally bloody unfair and fucked up.
Also, and here I speak mostly from a European perspective, metal is mostly white people. My experience and intuition tells me that usually when a scene is mostly white, there is a reason for that. And it's not that non-white people just are into different stuff. It's about visible or invisible, intentional or non-intentional barriers (the fact that quite many white metal people wear 'locs is but one of many symptoms that can point towards a scene that is toxic for people of colour; another example is the appropriation of specific kinds of folk music into metal by people who have no connection to that tradition, yet get more press and more popularity than their peers who make similar music, but who have their roots in that tradition; I don't think I have to say anything other than point and shake my head at NSBM or their less direct, shitty little brother, "we are politically neutral" (and, surprise, we like to share Nazi insignia and we like to say that we really hate Islam, but no, we are not racist)). 

No matter what kind of barriers, the effect is still that people are excluded from a scene and no scene should accept that loss. So here we as white metalheads have to think, how can the metal scene become more inclusive? I think one big step we as a community ought to take, is to refrain from excusing unacceptable and exclusive behaviour by stating "but I like them as artists". That's whiteness in the working. I as a white person, can technically like an artist who also happens to have Nazi sympathies, support that artist, and no harm will ever come to me. People of colour don't have that luxury, what I can make pass as "just an ideology"/"we have to agree on disagreeing", can mean the difference between life and death, the difference between being acknowledged as persons and having to endure racial aggression. A position of true solidarity is acknowledging that and use our privilege to state clearly that unless a band welcomes everyone, they are not welcome.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

A View From The Front Room: Ihsahn Telemark & Pharos Livestream (Review By Alyn Hunter)

Ihsahn Telemark & Pharos Livestream

There are few Norwegian metal musicians quite as prolific as Vegard Tveitan, known more broadly as Ihsahn. Arguably fewer still held in such reverence. His portfolio of music is on par with fellow countrymen Ulver in terms of diversity, although in terms of significance it's hard to argue that with his beginnings in Emperor, Ihsahn has had more stamp on today's metal blueprint. 2020 saw Ihsahn largely confined to the studio where he wrote and self-produced two contrasting EP's in Telemark and Pharos. The former effused his more trademark stylings of blackened progressive metal alongside some punchy covers and the latter exploring a more art-pop influenced sound, again punctuated with some ambitious covers with the assistance of gifted routine collaborator and brother-in-law Einar Solberg of Leprous fame. When combined the two EP's illustrate the evolution and range of Ihsahn's sound to date with a few subtle nods to his origins. In the absence of being able to tour in his usual capacity, Ihsahn has taken the route of a live-stream at a local venue to showcase the material with the addition of excerpts from his Das Seelenbrechen record.

Back in December I watched a joint livestream of Leprous and Ihsahn where the two bands alternated after a few songs each. This was his first show performing in anything close to a live capacity since the pandemic begun and it was evident at points that this was unfamiliar territory for a musician even with Ihsahn's pedigree and experience. Some noticeable wobbles here and there, and a no doubt peculiar live environment under strict social distancing regulations would feel quite out of step with the packed venues and festival shows that Ihsahn is likely more accustomed to - but you could still see the hunger. The show was superbly produced though thanks to the talent at Munin's production company who are doing some excellent work at supporting the Norwegian music scene in difficult times, so it's unsurprising that Ihsahn teamed up with Munin once again for the production of this stream.

Early on in the stream, Ihsahn explains that this is most dynamic live production he's performed. He's probably right on the money as the lights lift when opener Losing Altitude kicks in and a seated band is unveiled. All things considered, given the first half of the show is Pharos performed in full this was a fitting arrangement for the more relaxed pace. Lush string-laden synths emblazon a strong progressive rock appetiser that crescendos and ebbs away as quickly as it arrived. Ihsahn thanks the viewers for joining before introducing Spectre At The Feast, Pharos' "radio-friendly" number following a similar vein of art-pop styling with infectious verse/chorus patterns. Following the EP's running order the title track (and this reviewer's choice cut from the EP) follows quickly after, and between the distinctly lounge feel of the verse that if anything is emphasised by the seated performance and the stark contrast of the brooding unison chorus replete with chanting, this is where it really feels like an "Ihsahn" show.

This is the point where Ihsahn makes a note that it feels strange sitting down, although this isn't to last much longer. The cover of Roads by Bristol's trip-hop pioneers Portishead was ambitious on record, and it's a tough track for even the most seasoned of vocalists which is something I allured to when reviewing the EP studio release - but Ihsahn does an admirable job of performing this live although it's clear this is still a difficult territory for his particular vocal range. That being said, without the benefits of studio magic the live environment provides an endearing vulnerable authenticity to the cover that pulls it closer to original in some respects (give the New York Live performance by Portishead a spin to really appreciate the difference that live/recorded makes!). The lights dim to a piano interlude and the familiar vocalisations of Einar Solberg echo around the stage, and it isn't long before the swaggering silhouette of Leprous' frontman has joined a now standing ensemble for an ethereal rendition of A-Ha's Manhattan Skyline. Einar's voice is the perfect match for this track, and the confidence evoked from a more familiar non-seated arrangement for Ihsahn really shines through at this point. This is the comfort zone, and it shows.

A further piano interlude signals a transition towards a different set of material, and Ihsahn quickly announces the performance of Hilber, opening track of Das Seelenbrechen. Dissonant guitars, polyrhythms, swirling synths and those ever-present scathing rasps escalate the atmosphere and change the pace of the stream culminating in a dazzling light show before the tempo is dropped once again for popular track Pulse. No surprises with this inclusion as it signified an abrupt expansion of Ihsahn's repertoire on release in 2013 and slots perfectly into the set with its downtuned trip-hop vibes. Another short break while the band re-arrange, Ihsahn introduces his performing musicians giving a significant head-nod to the keyboard player now-turned-bassist who taught himself the instrument since Telemark was written allowing him to perform at this show. Impressive stuff.

Opting next to perform the covers from Telemark first, Rock & Roll Is Dead originally by Lenny Kravitz opens up the latter portion of the performance, and stylistically fits Ihsahn's qualities well especially with his vocal versatility imprinting onto the rendition well. A solid cover of Iron Maiden's Wrathchild follows suit building up the energy further, as if you'd expect any less from a Maiden song? Before plunging into the original material of the EP, Ihsahn thanks the 20 people that were allowed to attend and the live audience at home, perhaps giving away in some capacity how much he clearly wishes to be doing what he's been used to in a live environment for so long - his words honest and weighted.

Stridig is announced and galloped into with urgency, the energy of the performance now night and day from the start with stampeding drums, furious brass synths and Ihsahn's trademark howling really selling this as a track to be showcased in front of a real crowd. Nord swiftly follows suit to continue that momentum and is a real head-mover, flitting between mid-tempo black metal stylings and almost uplifting chorus that showcases Ihsahn's niche perfectly. Criticism? Over too quickly. Ihsahn thanks both the audiences one final time in his typically understated fashion before the title track "Telemark" drifts into focus. Clearly some thought that been put into the running order as this just works - bombast, energy, tempo changes, mood swings and an earnest climax to a thoroughly enchanting & eclectic live performance from an unreasonably talented individual. 8/10

Reviews: Dead Label, Yawning Sons, Aphrodite, Winterleaf (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Dead Label - Anthology (Independant)

Dead Label are very much a band whose star is on the rise, the Irish extreme metal crew released their second album Throne Of Bones in 2016 and this led them to play numerous high profile gigs with bands such as Fear Factory, Machine Head, Jinjer, the biggest being two support slots with the mighty Gojira as well as festivals such as Bloodstock, Metaldays and Download. They were poised to make their return to Donnington last year (then this year) but with Covid this has been shelved meaning that the band have moved into recording mode, the result of which is the new EP Anthology. Formed of four previously released singles (none of which appeared on Throne Of Bones or its predecessor Sense Of Slaughter) adding two new songs in Deadweight and Flux

The new songs, and the singles, all show why the band are in that 'next big thing' category, with their groove/death/extreme metal, is razor sharp and focussed like a smart bomb ready to take out all around. Anthology is basically a piece of fan service due to cancelled gigs and while we wait for their new album but it's loaded with great music. The very personal Deadweight gets things started, the addition of new guitarist Mick Hynes adding another layer of heaviness to the already skull shattering riffs of Danny Hall (guitar), Dan O'Grady (bass) and Claire Percival (drums). 

Deadweight is a thunderous opening ramping up the aggression as it leads into the more metalcore grooves of Pure Chaos, a track that will certainly get the masses moving when gigs come back. At only six tracks they have to grab you and be varied, all factors you get here with the thrashy Triggered and the thumping Flux as False Messiah brings a melodic touch of Machine Head as the crushing Dystopian Complex closes the EP. Anthology serves its purpose of keeping your expectation high for Dead Label's new album while neatly compiling all of the releases from the last few years. 8/10 

Yawning Sons - Sky Island (Ripple Music)

The second album from Yawning Man and Sons Of Alpha Centauri is yet another desert rock masterclass from legends of the genre. Comprised of Gary Arce (guitars), Marlon King (guitars/vocals), Nick Hannon (bass), Stevie B (drums), Kyle Hanson (drums) and Blake (effects) Sky Island is a thrilling fusion of sunshine infused desert rocking and jazzy prog rock where the songs are primarily instrumental, full of reverb drenched riffs, expressive drums and using the vocals as an additional layer of instrumentation. Vocally they have yet again tapped Mario Lalli (Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson) on the ringing Cigarette Footsteps, Scott Reeder (Kyuss, The Obsessed) on the euphoric, shamanic Digital Spirit and Wendy Rae Fowler (Queens of the Stone Age, earthlings?) on the echoed Shadows And Echoes but this time bringing on Dandy Brown (Hermano, Orquesta del Desierto) for the atmospheric Low In The Valley and the grooving Gravity Underwater. Sky Island is a musical journey into the furthest reaches of the universe with the best guides we can get. Expand your mind and visit Sky Island. 8/10       

Aphrodite - Orgasmic Glory (Fighter Records) 

Aphrodite are a Canadian speed metal band formed by Jo Steel of Ice War (who release their new album in May) and musically it's very similar to Jo's other band in that there are 8 tracks of frenzied guitar playing, coming from Jo and Yan Turbo who unleash solos like they're going out of style. Jo plays everything else on the record while Tazna Speed from Demonia brings her almost acerbic vocals style to the record as well. As with a lot of speed metal there is a distinctly D.I.Y/punk edge both in the songwriting and the production too. Dance Wild And Free has a repeating shouty chorus, Meadows Of Asphodel is a little slower becoming more like traditional heavy metal. That's pretty much all you can say about this record, its raw and rabid, sitting in that first wave of NWOBHM bands, if you're a denim and leather lover then you'll be running a circle in no time. 5/10

Winterleaf - Leaves Of Winter (Self Released)

Winterleaf is the solo project of Thessaloniki melo-death band Ephemeral's singer Elias. He handles everything here (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, orchestrations) and adapts the melo-death sound of his main band with a heavier atmospheric doom sound. Imagine those earlier Paradise Lost records and the early Katatonia too and you'll be on to a winner, especially as the title track crawls it's way out of the speakers with down tuned guitars and layered strings. Musically it's very dense with Elias' compositions really having an emotional edge as he's joined by Paladine guitarist John Kats on Darkest Of My Days which is the records most melodic offering due to the lead guitars. 

One intro and two 6 minute tracks is well enough to give you a feel of what Winterleaf are about however there is a cover that closes out the album. The track is a Gothic/Death/Doom version of Iron Maiden's Brave New World, it features guest leads from Ephemeral's Jim Gaianos, and as with all other Maiden covers treads thin ice. Hearing it without Bruce's Air Raid siren and the gallop is a little disconcerting but I've got to give Elias kudos for his balls to adapt this song. Leaves Of Winter is solo record that is different enough from Elias' main band to interest. 6/10  

Reviews: Nad Sylvan, The Limit, Out Of This World, Hot Breath (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Nad Sylvan - Spiritus Mundi (InsideOut Records)

Nad Sylvan's previous record The Regal Bastard was the final part of his Vampire based trilogy of albums. They were Gothic art rocking records with a defined concept throughout, so Sylvan, ever the renaissance man decided that his next album should take a different route. One of the tracks on that record, The Lake Isle Of Innisfree, was written in conjunction with singer/songwriter Andrew Laitres. Sylvan says that he sees a lot of in Laitres, so the natural progression was for both men to collaborate on a whole album. Spiritus Mundi is that album and it too has a concept, albeit one that is based around literature, the lyrics coming from the poetry of Irishman William Butler Yeats. 

The focus musically is on the vocals with both Sylvan and Laitres contributing lead vocals, their voices working a melodic unison as Sylvan's lower tones are counterpointed by Laitres' higher register. It means vocally there's a touch of Supertramp. The ambiguity of using poetry for the lyrics means that the songs compositions are used to tell the story. Sylvan and Laitres are the main musicians on the record providing: keyboards, orchestration, electric & acoustic guitar, bass, drums, programming and acoustic nylon, steel and 12 string guitars, additional keyboards between them. So they orchestrate folksy/orchestral soundscapes that always sits more in art than in rock. Take the lilting, choral The Hawk and the fireside folk of The Witch And The Mermaid as two perfect examples of this record's down-to-earth, yet artistic milieu.  

Sylvan himself said there was a focus on sparseness on this record and that is all well and good but it does mean it can be a little too much like background music, but it's in this style of music where Sylvan's heart lies. He's also opened up his address book recruiting Tony Levin (bass), Steve Hackett (12 string guitar), Neil Whitford (electric guitar/slide guitar), Jonas Reingold (bass), Mirkko De Maio (drums, congas), Steve Piggot (electric guitar) and Kiwi Te Kanna (oboe, chinese flute) for a very dense yet airy musical palette. Spiritus Mundi (World Spirit Latin fans) has a feeling of a magic to it, the fusion of poppy art rock and poetic lyrics is Nad Sylvan at his most elegant. 7/10

The Limit - Caveman Logic (Svart Records)

As soon as Kitty Gone roared out of my stereo, the immediate word that sprung to mind was The Stooges. Caveman Logic is an album born out of NYC Punk, Detroit Garage Rock and Swedish Doom, mainly as the band behind it, The Limit is a 'supergroup' of sorts. Now I thought The Stooges many times while listening to this record and that's because of the unstoppable basslines of Jimmy Recca (ex-The Stooges) are at the heart of every single tracks here. In the engine room he has Hugo Conim on rhythm guitar and Joao Pedro on drums behind him, bringing a rip-snorting, primal rock fury that is oft-missed in these days of more melodic phrasing. 

That's not to say this Caveman Logic is as dumb as it's Neanderthal namesake would have you believe, Sonny Vincent's snarling lead guitar, showing his experience style that comes from his membership as part of NY Punk originators Testors. His dirty guitar sound is a brilliant foil for Recca's amp breaking bass thump. However it's the inclusion of Bobby Liebling (Pentagram) that will really prick up the ears on Man Vs Machine where he battles with the how technology is changing humanity against a surf rock backing, on These Days he laments the current day with a jangling alt rock bottom. 

He delivers all of this with a barrel scraping baritone that brings to mind David Allen Coe here. His influence also comes on the doom rock opening of Over Rover though this quickly moves into more muscular punk rock, Fleeting Thoughts once again turns Liebling into a grumpy old man with a touch of early-Alice sneering, while Sir Lancelot has a touch of the Ramones about it. Bolstered by their collective experience of the rock n roll lifestyle Caveman Logic is a filthy, dirty, rock n roll record from The Limit. 8/10    

Out Of This World - S/T (RCA Victor)

Following up The Final Countdown was always going to be a hard sell for Swedish melodic rock powerhouses Europe. Doing so without their founding guitarist John Norum (who hated the new 'poodle rock' sound they were moving in) would also be something of a difficult. However with guitarist Kee Marcello on board Europe's fourth album Out Of This World (having already been a part of the band on The FInal Countdown live tour) is probably the strongest of the two albums recorded after Final Countdown before the band took an extended hiatus (and have now reinvented themselves has hard rock survivors with Norum back in the fold). However Marcello has been no slouch since leaving the Europe fold he has his solo career and his own band Kee Of Hearts with Fair Warning singer Tommy Heart. 

It's this partnership that has continued on Out Of This World named after Marcello's most high profile album with Europe, it could be seen as an extension of the Kee Of Hearts project however with producer Ron Nevison (who produced Out Of This World) it has a much stronger link to the Europe record. What you get here then the brilliant vocals of Heart, the flashy guitar playing of Marcello and some guest keys from Don Airey all wrapped up in a slick, bubblegum melodic rock/AOR. Nevinson's production means that the album has a high gloss sheen to it allowing for a huge rhythm section, walls of keyboards and the guitar/vocals of Marcello/Heart to take center stage. Sitting comfortably in the songwriting style of Superstitious, the joyous Twilight kicks off the album with joie-de-vivre, In A Million Years is a sci-fi ballad looking at the future of the planet, this space/sci-fi element continued on Staring At The Sun which has a touch of The Police about it. 

It's not all Europe loving here. The Warrior is a clear example of this blatantly ripping off Van Halen's Hot For Teacher, allowing Marcello to live out his EVH fantasies. Out Of This World (Out Of This World version) has been released mainly for the Japanese market who will lap it up. But if you're a melodic rock/AOR lover then you'll enjoy this shimmering slice of poodle rock! 7/10

Hot Breath - Rubbery Lips (The Sign Records)

Firstly let me say that Rubbery Lips is not a tribute to Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. It is the debut album by Swedish garage rockers Hot Breath. Their band name sounds filthy (though I suppose they could have been called Halitosis) and it's a the ideal reflection of their down n dirty rock n roll taking from the Detroit rock scene of the 60's and the London rock scene of the 70's. Fronted by the choppy guitar and sneering vocals of Jennifer Israelsson, Hot Breath can be summed up with numbers like the sing along Magnetic and the chiming One Hit (To The Body). 

It's just filthy rock n roll in its purest form Israelsson backed by the lead guitars of Karl Edfeldt adding some abandon on Adapted Mind and the harmonics throughout. There's also the driving rhythm section of Anton Frick Kallmin (bass) and Jimmy Karlsson (drums) who drive What You're Looking For, I've Already Found the Billy Idol meets desert rock of Who's The One. Following on from a punchy EP, Rubbery Lips is a riotous rock n roll record from these Swedes, perfect for when the beer gardens reopen. 7/10 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Reviews: Soothsayer, Arabrot, Unknown Refuge, Cryptosis (Reviews By Paul Scoble, JT Smith, Matt Bladen & Charlie Rogers)

Soothsayer - Echoes Of The Earth (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Scoble]

Soothsayer have been damaging buildings foundations since 2013. The five piece, made up of Líam Hughes on Vocals, Con Doyle on Guitars and Vocals, Marc O'Grady on Guitars, Pavol Rosa on Bass and Sean Breen on Drums. The band have released 2 Ep’s with The Soothsayer in 2015 and At This Great Depth a year later, and a live album; Live In Malta in 2020. Echoes Of The Earth is the bands first full album, it’s taken a while to get a debut album out, has the time been well spent?

The album opens with the track Fringe, which feels ritualistic as it is mainly chanting with minimal percussion. This eases the listener into the album, and is a nicely atmospheric way to draw the audience in. Second track Outer Fringe begins with some huge and heavy Apocalyptic Doom, massive riffs with bellowing, harsh vocals. The song has a couple of faster, driving sections where the tempo increases along with the intensity. War Of The Doves opens with a minimal feel, just drums and vocals, this then crashes into a huge, aggressive doom section that reminds me a little of some of Yob’s heavier material, and maybe a little bit of Doom supergroup Shrinebuilder. This song also boasts a very effective, and very fervent vocal performance from Líam Hughes proving to be one of the standout factors on this album. Cities Of Smoke has a softer, more melodic and tuneful feel than a lot of the material on this album. It’s heavy in parts (particularly in the second half of the song), but is mainly about beautifully melodic tune-fullness. 

Next up is the track Six Of Nothing, which has a dissonant opening, before going into slow, mournful Doom with a relaxed tempo. As the track progresses it slowly morphs into huge, apocalyptic Doom Metal. The song slowly moves towards a faster tempo, and the intensity increases at the same time until we get to a huge, fast and heavy ending. The album ends with the longest track on the album; True North. True North manages to be both more and less extreme than the rest of the album. More, as the track features several Blast Beats that have a decidedly Black Metal feel to them, they are nasty and savage and feel extremely viscous. Less, as the track also features some very nice softer parts that have some very pleasing guitar harmonies and a distinct NWOBHM feel to them. The second half of the song vacillates between savage Black Metal blasting, and softer, melodic traditional metal harmonies, making the track a fantastic way to end the album. 

Echoes Of The Earth is a cracking album. It took me a few listens to really get into it, but when I did I listened to it obsessively. The album is packed with really great riffs, and the way the songs are structured is also a strong point of the album. The songs feel as if they are constantly changing, but at the same time don’t feel disjointed of thrown together. There is some very impressive songwriting on display here, that is highlighted by how good the individual performances are; each member excels themselves and adds to what is a very accomplished album. Echoes Of The Earth would be very impressive album if it was from a band that had a few releases under its belt; but for a debut, this is doubly impressive. Fantastic piece of Massive Doom. 9/10      

Årabrot - Norwegian Gothic (Pelagic Records) [JT Smith]

This was a record I wasn’t expecting. This is a richly dark, gothic, romantic record evocative of darker, colder Scandinavian climes, and while not every song hits as well as intended, the songs that do hit hit with the same brooding intensity of Mer De Noms era A Perfect Circle, the less cringey moments of HIM and the better moments of Melissa Auf Der Maur’s solo record (how about that for an early 2000’s blast from the past?). In fact, The Lie is pure Auf Der Maur, the same, pulsating, drum pattern, wailing vocals, hypnotic bass, and delicious, slightly chorus-y earworm guitar licks.

The Rule Of Silence is extremely imaginative, because its opening drum work, a busy, hi-hat heavy shuffle is not something that you would expect to precede the winding gothic tale (Not unlike Nine Inch Nails’ Only) that the song weaves, but the descending chord progression from the guitars and the unexpected, but welcome cellos from a guest Jo Quail appearance quickly dispel that misapprehension, and Hallucinational shows off a more longing, more romantic side to this gothic offering, with an ambient heavy introduction, heavily muffled tide sounds, and quavering, Björk-esque vocals.

Kinks Of The Heart and album closer Hard Love manage to take the sound of straightforward rock songs and add the same gothic brooding romance present in the whole album, but for my money, the best moment on an album full of excellent moments has to be the opening track Carnival Of Love. The only ways I can accurately describe this song is part mantra, part love song, part warning, and that goes equally for the vocals, the guitar work (seriously, what an opening riff), the sampled orchestral backing, and bass driven second verse. I mentioned A Perfect Circle and Mer De Noms earlier, and this song is the reason why. It is both its own beast, and evocative of The Hollow and Judith all at the same time.
This is an absolutely fantastic offering. 9/10

Unknown Refuge - From The Darkness (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Formed back in 2016 by the then 15 year old singer/bassist Alex Mancini, since then it's been an upward trajectory for the band competing in numerous Battle Of The Bands and always coming high. These shows also improved the bands songwriting culminating in some well received singles and the watchful eye of Rob Stampede who is mentoring the band on their journey to rock stardom. So then From The Darkness has a lot riding on it. Now it features those three singles To The Light, Shadows and If The Gods Be Good but that's only the beginning of the story as the remaining songs on the record are what will put Unknown Refuge on the map. 

First single To The Light is the opener and it's certainly one that makes you sit up and listen, an element of Volbeat/latter-day Metallica comes from the vocals while the music itself is a more hard hitting heavy rock shifting between Metallica (post-Black Album), BFMV and even some Alter Bridge. The maturity of the record is far beyond the members years (they are still ridiculously young), a muscular rhythm section of Alex, Morgan Deveney (drums) and Harry Skinner (rhythm guitar) drives heavy rockers like Battle Hymn which almost hits thrash level, but also adds an anthemic quality to not only this song but to big strutting rockers like Shadows and the more melodic Palace Walls

Rounding out the band is Jack Tracey who is the next generation of guitar hero from the school of Mark Tremonti adding the gutsy, fluid soloing to this album on songs like Wall Of Lies and To The Light, along with the lead guitar harmonies on final track Journey adding some Maiden galloping. From The Darkness would be a very strong debut album from a band who have been playing for 10 years, not one who have only been around for five. They are still very early in their career but on the back of this debut, these Bolton rockers won't be unknown for long! 8/10   

Cryptosis - Bionic Swarm (Century Media Records) [Charlie Rogers]

It’s alright. 6/10.

Ok ok ok, I’ll elaborate.

Previously known as Distillator, these Dutch thrashers have undergone an identity shift and rebranded as Cryptosis. The bio that accompanied the album that landed in my lap talked a very big game regarding the music, using phrases like “a sound that defies expectations and limitations with equal intensity” , “An invigorating shot in the arm for the entire metal scene, it’s guaranteed that their album is to be one of 2021’s most talked-about debuts.” and my favourite, “Cryptosis is what happens when metal is allowed to evolve”. If this is evolving, it’s evolving backwards.

The album itself is has its own distinct take on Thrash, with a clear focus on melody and hooks. While it’s got your attention, it’s quite listenable, easy to bop along to, with no real barriers to enjoyment. The problem I have with it, is staying power. The songs are all completely forgettable. Upbeat, thrilling, fleeting. Instruments are very busy, as you’d expect from the genre, with swift picking from both guitar and bass, and furious drum attacks to accompany. I’m not a fan of the thrash vocal style, favouring more the gravelly end of the spectrum, but I can’t say it doesn’t fit.

In terms of production, it’s very clear, everything coming through well and no one part feeling like it dominates the rest. In particular, some tasty bass licks get time in the spotlight, which is great. Box ticked. Upon multiple listens, I found myself enjoying track 3 Death Technology the most of the 8 song and 2 interlude offering. Can’t recall how it goes now the record has finished, but that’s the crux of my problem with this release. I don’t pretend to know the formula for writing songs that lodge themselves in my hippocampus, but it doesn’t appear that Cryptosis know either.

For thrash fans, I’m sure there’s a lot to enjoy here, and if this was released in the 1990’s I’m sure it would’ve earned all the bluster I mentioned earlier. However, I feel it falls short for a 2020’s release, and for those of us on the heavier end of the scale I recommend the following 3 bands that start with the letters C-R-Y-P-T instead: 1. Cryptopsy 2. Cryptic Shift 3. Cryptworm. So 6/10.