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Friday, 3 December 2021

Reviews: So Hideous, Nightshade, Weedpecker, Under The Church (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Paul Scoble, Rich P & Matt Bladen)

So Hideous - None But A Pure Heart Can Sing (Silent Pendulum Records) [Richard Oliver]

One thing I keep stating is that black metal is at its most interesting when it escapes the confines of the genre or ‘trve black metal’ and explores different sounds. Post-black metal is a genre that revels in experimentation and So Hideous are a prime example of a band from this subgenre pushing black metal to its experimental limits and mixing in a multitude of elements from outside of the genre. None But A Pure Heart Can Sing is the third album from the New York post-black metal band and it is a sonic tour de force combining black metal fury with cinematic post-metal with the inclusion of a string section, a horn section and Afrobeat percussion. It sounds like a head fuck of a combination and at times it is but it is also absolutely glorious.

None But A Pure Heart Can Sing is a compact album with five songs spread out over 32 minutes but there is so much jam packed into those 32 minutes that it seems like a far longer album than it actually is. The five songs themselves are all unique to themselves from the opening maelstrom of guitars and strings that is Souvenir (Echo) which is equally dissonant as it is epic. The Emerald Pearl mixes elements of a spaghetti western soundtrack with post-metal aesthetics and fantastic use of the horn section which is followed by the wonderful Intermezzo which has a vast post-rock feel to it with gorgeous melodies before it switches to gentle shoegaze like guitars, piano and strings and provides us with some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful music on the album. The longest song on the album Motorik Visage is probably the most ambitious with a mix of furious post-black metal and classically influenced sequences with greater prevalence on the luscious string section whilst still managing to remain heavy as hell with a suitably unhinged vocal performance from frontman Christopher Cruz.

I absolutely love it when metal gets out of its comfort zone and leaps forth into the realms of creativity and experimentation and So Hideous are a band that have absolutely blown me away with this album. It’s not really a fitting band name as this album is far from hideous it is absolutely stunning. A blinding mix of the furious, the cinematic and the experimental. It is one of those rare albums that I wish was a bit longer. 9/10

Nightshade - Sounds Of Dark Matter (My Kingdom Music) [Paul Scoble]

Nightshade are in the second part of their career. The first part lasted from 1998 to 2005 and produced one album in 2001’s Nebula Trance. The band, who are based in Lausanne, Switzerland, features two members; Tom on Guitar, Bass and Programming and Dave on Vocals. The pair decided they had unfinished business and reformed in 2020, Sounds Of Dark Matter is the first album that Nightshade have released since reforming. 

Nightshade’s sound is firmly rooted in Industrial, the fact that the band were first active in the late nineties and early two-thousands isn’t that surprising as some of the material does have the feel of that era of Industrial, but it’s not as simple as that. With the bands reformation they have added the ‘Blackened’ prefix to the Industrial label, something that wouldn’t have been used on their first time round as the term ‘Blackened’ was better known in association with eggs, rather than with music. Sounds Of Dark Matter does have a Blackened edge to it, you can hear this in the music on at least two different tracks, and the harsh vocals that are used throughout this album could have come from a Black Metal album, nice and nasty. The track New Era, probably has the most obviously Blackened material on it as there are industrial sounding blast beat on it, the rest of the track features chanting (so black metal), and some very effective electronics that flow nicely with the Guitar riffs and in some places it reminds me of Black Metal/Psy-Trance lunatics Mesarthim. 

The material that doesn’t feel that Blackened is similar to early 2000’s Industrial (for obvious reasons), there are parts that are reminiscent of Rammstein, there are some parts that are quite Strapping Young Lad/Early Devin Townsend, and a lot of originality as well. The beats are mid-paced with lots of energy, and the electronic parts are handled very well, particularly on the tracks where the distorted guitar takes a back seat, Zero Matter Gravity for example has mix of harsh and nasty guitar led industrial and minimal electro pop that, despite the disparate nature of the structure, works very well because the transitions between the different sounding parts are handled very well. Final track A Call From Distant Skies is another interesting track, that is dramatic and measured, there is the feel of a soundtrack, when the basic sound grows to huge proportions. The track has a slow and mellow piano part before the dramatic electronica drives the song to a quiet end. Sounds Of Dark Matter is a very good piece of Industrial Metal. The material is rooted in the early 2000’s but with the addition of blackened elements and a lot of nuance the band have brought everything up to date to be a really good contemporary Industrial album. 7/10

Weedpecker - IV: The Stream Of Forgotten Thoughts (Stickman Records) [Rich P]

Weedpecker is back after multiple lineup changes with a huge step forward from their back catalog with IV: The Stream Of Forgotten Thoughts. A band named Weedpecker can sometimes do themselves an injustice with the assumption that they are just a bong-hitting obsessed stoner band with not much more to offer. This could be no further from the truth. The album is a complex, psych/stoner mind-bending journey that shows the band’s maturity and growth, and it delivers on all fronts. The band leans in heavy on the psych with this one, and the result may be one of the best albums of 2021. The record opens strong with No Heartbeat Collective which is a nice hint of what is to come throughout the album: heavy, driving rock with those psych overtones that take this record to the next level. It’s a ripper of an opening track and the perfect way to start the journey. 

You get a bit of everything with IV: driving, heavy stoner rock with Fire Far Away. Some trippy psych (with a bit of soulful sax!) on The Trip Treatment. Some heavy stoner jamming on what may be my favorite track, Big Brain Monsters. The closer, Symbiotic Nova, wraps it all up nicely with all the best elements we heard through the 40 plus minutes prior. Overall, this record was a huge surprise for me. The level of growth from this band was unexpected and they may have found the formula to make the leap to the next level with this lineup. IV is a perfect blend heavy and psychedelic rock that never overdoes it on either side and never outstays its welcome with too long songs or needless psych noodling. Weedpecker will absolutely have a place towards the top of my album of the year list. This is a must listen. 9/10

Under The Church - Total Burial EP (Pulverised Records) [Matt Bladen]

The second EP from International death metal collective Under The Church, is their first new music since their 2017 album Supernatural Punishment. It's five tracks of raw, brutal, gore soaked death metal. The production on this record makes it sound as if it was featured on underground tape trade. Fuzzing bass, drums with too much treble and guitars that are distorted to the point of feeling a little muddy. Total Burial EP doesn't hang around to much, starting brutal and staying brutal, even the solos peeling off your flesh, songs like Just Another Death feeling like Slayer and Entombed, that influence coming through as well on grinding opener Day Of Reckoning. With members from Sweden and Iceland, it's no wonder there's a big whack of Swedeath on this EP. Grimy and goulish Total Burial EP keeps Under The Church in the death metal mix. 6/10

Reviews: Unanimated, Wolftooth, Doodswens, Smoking Martha (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Unanimated – Victory In Blood (Century Media Records)

Having been heavily influenced by Dismember, Swedish melodeath crew Unanimated released their seminal albums in 1993, 1995 and 2009 respectively, between 1996 and 2007 the band spilt up and since the release of their 2009 effort In The Light Of Darkness they have acquired two ‘new’ members Anders Schultz (drums) and Jonas Deroueche (guitars), joining with founding members Richard Cabeza(bass) and Jojje Bohlin (guitar) and longtime vocalist Micke Broberg. Signing to Century Media in 2018 their Annhilation In Blood EP, showed what they still capable of but it probably didn’t prepare you for what is the most vicious, aggressive album in their career. 

Perhaps 30 years in the business and having to record in a pandemic took their toll on the band but the melodic sound from their past only lingers here, the acoustic driven middle of XIII or any of the clean interludes that break up the violence. Mostly it’s full bore ravenous death metal paying deference to Lucifer in all his forms. From a band who have always dealt with the more macabre side of life, Victory In Blood studiously walks the left hand path, perhaps alienating some but surely welcoming their fan base deeper into the collective mind-set of the band. Despite the evocative blood red cover of the record inside you will find a coldness one that does draw from acts such as Dismembers but also Celtic Frost on the fiercely in-your face songs such as Sceptre Of Vengeance and the title track. 

The only song that alludes heavily to their previous records is final song The Poetry Of The Scared Earth, which is fully melodeath in its pace shifts, usage of lead guitars and anthemic chug. It blends in well though with the bands more focused, volatile style that they have adopted on their fourth release. With the promise of more albums on Century Media, it will be interesting to see what route the band take next, as they have reached the point where any risks they take will inevitably be accepted with black wings and open arms. 8/10

Wolftooth – Blood & Iron (Napalm Records)

The Midwest of America, is fertile ground for riff hungry proto-metal bands and Wolftooth are no exception to that rule. Busting out of Richmond, Indiana, this heavy doom rocking foursome are now on their third full length after two well received previous albums. Wolftooth haven’t deviated much from what made those records a bloody good listen, keeping the twin axe harmonies, marching riffage and fantasy lyrics. Blood & Iron is another chapter of Wolftooth’s anthemic metal power taking inspiration from bands such as The Sword, Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road especially in the guitar and vocal departments, the latter also sees Ozzy being brought to mind. 

Opening track, the nautical Ahab has more than a nod to classic Sabbath phrasing, Winter White is built around some joyous twin harmonies and plentiful solos, set to a persistent rhythm. Track such as this are set against the pacier proto-thrash offerings like Broken Sword, making for a diverse listening experience that does settle into one solitary groove as they meld American and European influences, even bringing in a touch of the Middle East on Hellespont. The fantasy lyrics mean that they can explore unknown realms with the music, but it never feels forced or silly, so many metal bands are influenced by writers such as Michael Moorcock that in the trad-metal scene it’s almost stupid not to write tracks about epic battles or fantasy. 

Comprised of Terry McDaniel on bass and Johnny Harrod on drums in the driving backroom, with Chris Sullivan and Jeff Cole on guitars, Wolftooth’s third album is their first for Napalm and with the label backing them we could be seeing the emergence of the next great trad-American metal band. Hold your swords up high and rejoice in Wolftooth’s battle hymns. 8/10

Doodswens – Lichtvrees (Svart Records)

Meaning “Fear Of Light” Lichtvrees is the debut album from Dutch black metal band Doodswens (Death Wish), and as the title suggests it’s a bleak offering of nihilistic, savagery that comes from the raw underground scene of the early 90’s. If you are in anyway familiar with the early Scandinavian bands of the black metal scene you’ll be able to pick up the influences that are rife on this Dutch duo’s debut. Screamed exclusively in Dutch this duo of Fraukje van Burg (vocals/guitar) and Inge van der Zon (drums) have captured a foreboding sense of gloom and doom on this record, it shifts between flurries of outright aggression and long introspective instrumental phrases, the two of them in perfect unison with harrowing efforts such as Eindzicht

Citing human conditions such as depression and negative thoughts as their inspiration, the album is one that as the title suggest lets no light in. Joy is non-existent throughout, the songs here are glacial slabs of Scandi misery wrapped up in downbeat atmospherics, and the flashes of speed on Het Zwartewaterland used to jump from one brooding segment to another, the record fleshed out with shorter passages that include spoken word and intense workouts. As the cold started to creep in this past week, Lichtvrees became a much more pertinent album, played with a conviction and passion, this bleak conceptual piece is obsessed with finding enlightenment about what it all means, good or bad, something that is all the more involving in the long dark, winter months. A focussed debut that establishes Doodswens as a band to keep an eye out for. 8/10

Smoking Martha: Universe (Xelon Entertainment)

Kicking off with a riff that channels AC/DC through the lenses of No Doubt, Good Girls is a punchy opener to the second album from Brisbane alt rockers Smoking Martha. As Tasha D shouts “Let’s drink the Kool Aid” you get a feeling that Smoking Martha are a band who are begging for a party after what they say are “two shoulder surgeries and a pandemic”. Tasha D’s vocals are attitude filled concoction of Gwen Stefani and Taylor Momsen, breathy and defiant, her delivery is passionate as the band behind her play an exciting style of music that cherry-picks from various styles of rock but injects melody and hooks into every single one.

The instrumental trio of Mick Broome (guitar), Matty Mulheran (bass) and Jordy Poynter (drums) provide the musical backing, for all the style changes that are featured on Universe. Whether on anthemic semi-ballads such as Wonderful Happiness, the smoky blues of Intermission or the country shuffle of Neon Lights, Smoking Martha are a band with eclectic influences which has in turn made their second album a much more mature musical offering. Their radio-baiting singles and musical dexterity reminds me of Kiwi band Devilskin, and while Smoking Martha aren’t quite as heavy as their Antipodean compatriots, (though It’s A Lie is an outright rocker), they have knack of crafting sing-alongs full of a crunchy riffs and huge choruses. Universe will make people pay attention to Smoking Martha for sure. A recorded glimpse into what should be a heck of a live show. Jump on the bandwagon now to avoid missing out. 7/10

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Reviews: Imminence, Vomit The Soul, King Buffalo, Sainted Sinners (Reviews By Zak Skane, Charlie Rogers, Simon Black & Alexander Hay)

Imminence – Heaven In Hiding (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

Fronted by vocalist.violinist Eddie Berge, alongside guitarists Harald Barrett and Alex Arnoldsson. Imminence also features drummer Peter Hanstrom and bass player Christian Hoijer. They have become the fastest rising prospects in metalcore with their symphonic laced sound captivating audiences globally with their unique take of the genre. Now with their new album Heaven In Hiding the band are taking us on an emotional journey exploring themes such as depression and self reflection. This record kicks off with I Am Become A Name, which starts off with a throbbing deep sub bass sound before other layers are introduced like the slickly sci-fi sounding synths. The fluttering string sections and this eerie reversed vocal soundscape before the first song on album begins. 

When Ghost kick in get you classic modern metalcore bouncy riffs before you are introduced with some cinematic string sections. The stomping riffs in the chorus with the top staying “Can you tell my ghost” does remind me a lot of In Flames. This is followed by Temptation, which features some guitar melodies that reminisce of the band Breaking Benjamin mixed with the Architects sounding modern metalcore. Surrender is when the band start playing with dynamics by stripping away to just drums bass and vocal in the verse sections before coming with soaring choruses. Moth To A Flame starts off with these subtle plucking strings that you would hear in a lullaby accompanied with a subtle 808 pulse before it ramps up with the heavy riffage. 

Alleviate reminds me of Dead By April's approach of writing ballads with the piano accompanied by metal instrumentations and clean sung vocals that feature lyrical themes of heartbreak and self despair. Enslaved pushes the strings sections front and center driving the song in a more a electronic symphonic direction. The final highlight is the song that is in این نیز بگذرد, translated from Persian to This Too Shall Pass, is the most cinematic song on the this album, the way the band composed the instrumentation of the strings and applying the pounding percussion means it can easily fit on a movie score. Even the vocals play a great part the emotional trip that the song is producing. 

If I can describe this albums sound in a nutshell I would call it moving, with the combination of modern metalcore laced with theatrical orchestrations, it really makes for an enjoyable listening experience, especially through headphones. With the nods to other bands in the industry like Breaking Benjamin, In Flames and Dead By April the band win fans over with their mature captivating sound. 9/10.

Vomit The Soul - Cold (Unique Leader) [Charlie Rogers]

Italian brutal death trio Vomit The Soul are not a name I’d heard of before, and given they’re named after a Cannibal Corpse song of the same title, hopes were high going into the record. Immediately launching into a brow furrowing bombardment of blast beats, bass twangs, guitar flurries, and indecipherable gutturals, my initial reaction was Cold is going to be unreasonably heavy. And it is. Monstrous gutturals throughout accompany punishing riffs that don’t stay any longer in the air than necessary. Explosive drums clatter about in the soundscape, giving a chaotic and disorienting aura. While the guitars are generally chugging along in the typical slam/brutal death style, occasionally lifting out of the musical gutter to play flourishes and lead lines, it really is the bass tone and lines that grabs the most attention. 

Whatever bassist Stefano Ciucci chose to play on this record, renowned engineer Stefano Morabito made sure you knew about it - both rhythmic chugs to compliment Max Santarelli’s riffage, and taking his own flamboyant path of counter melody. It’s all placed expertly in the mix, alongside Ycio Orsanigo’s terrifying drumming, which rarely gives the ear a break from blisteringly quick double kicks and assertive snare shots. It’s through this relentless barrage of brutality that I find myself yearning for something to latch on to musically. A hook, a melodic line, something to remember once the record is done other than “christ that was heavy”. And maybe that’s the point of this style, but for my own personal preferences I think the best songwriting has distinct staying power. While the record is indeed unreasonably heavy, it’s lack of variation stops me from rating it higher. Clocking in at just 33 minutes, it gets in, blasts its way through the material and gets out - no filler, no samples, just riffs and blasts. 7/10

King Buffalo – Acheron (Stickman Records) [Simon Black]

New York Progsters King Buffallo have like everyone else thrown their planning completely out of the window in recent years. Acheron is the second in an unintended series of 3 albums that started with The Burden Of Restlessness, with a final part to follow next year. This one however had the advantage of being the product of the whole band being co-located in a studio, as opposed to via the computer-plus-musicians-in-an-airing-cupboard method that everyone has been honing over the last two years. I say ‘studio’, I mean ‘cave’. I mean that literally, their studio was in a cave - to the point where background running water noise spill can be heard in places, so presumably at least one of the band members is a student of the classics and has chosen the album title with no small amount of irony.

At first I thought this was an EP, given that there’s only four tracks on here, but they are properly progressive and meaty in intent, averaging around the ten minute mark each. This length and the classical thematic touches lend this quite a soothing and melodically laid back air, although you never hear it in quite the same way again once you take on board the circumstances of its recording (unlike the more punchy approach of the first part of the trilogy). An equally large influence seems to be Meddle-era Pink Floyd still suffering from a post-psychedelic era hangover as well, as things take a while to build, but have and despite the meandering sound actually have fairly robust musical structures underpinning that.

I will be honest in that the story elements completely pass you by, as this is mood music to ambiently draw you in and over time peel away and reveal its depths, but I’m impressed enough by the quality of the song-writing and performances to want to go back and hear more from these guys. 7/10

Sainted Sinners – Taste It (Roar! Rock Of Angels Records) [Alexander Hay]

There's nothing wrong with being nice, even though that might not be the first thing that comes to mind with the heavier types of rock 'n roll. Especially on this album, whose cover art has a random woman licking a bottle of bourbon in a suggestive manner. (If nothing else, it's unsanitary.) And this is probably the best way to sum up the new record by Sainted Sinners, a retro rock band from Germany, joining the legions of other retro rock bands who think history ended somewhere on the Sunset Strip in the late 1980s.

Maybe 'nice' is damning with faint praise, of course. But it's a pleasant album to listen to. If anything, despite the attempts to capture that sleaze and rock vibe, the band can't help themselves by sounding constantly upbeat. There's the track where they celebrate being able to go back on tour (new Covid strains notwithstanding), an REM cover, and a certain joie de vivre, even if that's centred on getting bladdered and shagged a lot. Some of the riffs aren't bad either, and there are even some inventive moments, like the interesting blend of chords and keyboards on one track, Never Back Down.

This may sound like a glowing review, but that would be to overlook how ruthlessly above average it all is. There are good moments here and there, as said, but this is in the midst of hard rock that's a little too sterile, a little too - agreeable? This is an album you can take home to meet your parents; it would even vomit on the carpet in a charming manner. But if you're buying this record, you're probably not doing it for the thrill of the cutting edge anyway. Or the hygiene. 6/10

Reviews: Death Angel, Paul Gilbert, Daxma, Repentance (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Cook)

Death Angel - The Bastard Tracks (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

Back in May this year, Death Angel joined the ranks of the many bands who have kept their profile alive through a live stream performance. Now this name is a bit oxymoronic, as they are never genuinely live, being recorded and edited but hey, at this point in the pandemic none of us really cared a jot. I also firmly believe that the livestream format is here to say and it’s precisely because of events like this that they will continue to have a place in the pantheon. The Bastard Tracks is an eye-opener of a name and it refers to songs that generally only the hard core fans would generally know and recognise. This was a bold and good choice, as most bands during this period have opted for greatest hits sets, or ones voted for by the fans (which comes down to the same thing more often than not), so taking the step to only play material that is rarely, or indeed never played live is a great way to say “thank you” to your fan base.

Despite my deep love of 80’s Thrash, Death Angel are not a band that I have had as much exposure to compared to all the other acts that emerged from the fertile soil of the Bay Area in this period, so this perhaps means I can listen to this without too many preconceptions regarding the choice of material. First off, the energy and razor sharp delivery grab you from the get go and as you would expect from seasoned old pro’s like this, the delivery machine is running on full pelt. The choice of songs might not be as recognisable, but they rattle through the lengthy fifteen song set with energy and aplomb.

As always on these things the sound mix seems to fall somewhere between the cleaner tonal delivery that comes out of a studio recording but with the added energy of an as-live performance, although I have yet to see one of those things that goes anywhere near capturing the richer, fatter, truly live sound that comes from a band playing a large room with the acoustic and vocal contributions of a few thousand screaming fans. They also miss that crucial interaction and the energy boost that the band is getting from the punters, without which the net effect is that we are watching a tour rehearsal, even though it’s actually coming from the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, but with no audience the acoustics still come across as a little tinny.

That said, this fares better than most and has reminded me that this really is a band that I need to cross off my live bucket list sometime soon. Mark Osegueda has always had a few more singing chops than some of the contemporaries, despite the Thrash house style and I was genuinely impressed by his nod to Dio in the cover of Falling Off The Edge Of The World, but then this is a band who have been heinously overlooked despite their key role in the history of the genre. Live streams are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want to do something different that might not make commercial sense as a full blown tour, then the format is perfect. Lively, energetic and even though their better songs are not represented too much, this is still an enjoyable contribution to their canon. 7/10

Paul Gilbert – ‘Twas (The Players Club) [Simon Black]

It’s become something of an annual gag that I will take on one of the increasingly enthusiastic pile of Christmas themed albums that some well-meaning musicians will bring out at this time of year from the Musipedia Slush Pile. The joke’s on the artists really, because we all know they were probably cutting this in the middle of summer, but every year someone hopes to have a snowball’s chance in hell of adding something to the pantheon of Xmas hits that drive retail shop workers insane. 

The reality is that this doesn’t happen too often, which is why the majority of the steady eddies are as old as I am. Nevertheless, when a shredder of the calibre of Paul Gilbert decides to have a go, I decide to join in the fun, even though the release date of this breaks my rules about when Xmas music is allowed to be started to play in the Black household. Fuck it, pass the mince pies then…

Most of the tracks on here are instrumental shred versions of Christmas classics, but noticeably they are all based on much older songs from America’s 50’s heyday or even older carols, presumably to avoid paying too much in the way of publishing dues and therefore allowing me to avoid Whamageddon for a few more days at least. There are some original pieces on here as well, though, most notably Three Strings For Christmas which refers to a three string section of a double neck guitar, tuned in a way that allows him to play some incredibly impressive arpeggios. 

Now if the whole album had been full of this sort of experimentation then I would probably be jumping up and down a whole lot more, but sadly it’s all a bit predictable in the main and really runs out of steam as the novelty wears off quickly. That said, Gilbert remains one of the most effortlessly enjoyable payers out there, and is always a joy to listen to, even if this album should have either been a little shorter or blown out most of the covers in favour of more original and experimental content. 6/10

Daxma - Unmarked Boxes (Blues Funeral Recordings/Majestic Mountain Records) [Matt Cook]

During the darkest of days smack dab in the middle of the pandemic, Daxma channeled all of their collective ire, melancholy and fear and created a remarkably beautiful album, Unmarked Boxes (Blue Funeral Records/Majestic Mountain Records), a post-metal/doom effort packed with varying vocal deliveries, chilling compositions and brilliant blends of styles. Isaac R., listed as the guitarist, vocalist and bassist, displayed an awe-inspiring range of singing. Album opener The Clouds Parted sees a slow dirge explode into slimy muck, somehow morphing into a very satisfying number. The aforementioned Isaac’s entrancing vocals make this one of Unmarked Boxes’ finest songs. 

Not to be overshadowed, however, is Jessica T.’s accompaniment on Anything You Lose, an outlet that sees them and Isaac majestically singing harmonized lines that sound simply angelic, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic. The first four songs play out in an alternating style, with the first and third running at just about 13-and-a-half-minutes and the second and fourth less than five minutes - the former more heavy and harsh while the latter stood as slow and somber pieces. 

On Hiraeth, drummer Thomas I. unexpectedly breaks out into a snare line, a not-so-common element within the genre, but it nestles nicely into the song that takes a more doomy approach before perfectly seeping into post-metal. Thomas again flexes their muscle on Comes Back In Another Form, sufficiently guiding the band in rhythm and confidence. A magnificent crescendo at the end dies into a fading outro, concluding a colossal collection of wonderful music. 8/10

Repentance - Volume 1 - Reborn (Noble Demon) [Matt Cook]

Don’t let the runtime fool you: the roughly 20 minutes of Repentance’s Volume 1-Reborn EP (Noble Demon) smashes you in the teeth, snaps your neck and throws your lifeless corpse to the ground in a fury of groove metal and metalcore. All The Misery introduces us by way of solid production, robust growls and easy-to-headbang-to beats. Reborn erupts from the first second thanks to a gnarly guitar solo and a guest appearance from Trivium’s axeman Corey Beaulieu.

A healthy, thrashy riff carries the listener until vocalist Adam Gilley belts out “Burn this place down,” igniting another ass-kicking solo. Down In The Water and This Is Hell keeps everyone’s necks sore and strained, while packed between is No Innocence, a chuggy song with more evidence of the clear talent from guitarists Shaun Glass and Eric Burns. Volume 1-Reborn adds Repentance’s name to the list of serviceable, dynamic and tight-sounding metal bands. The Chicago five-piece wasted no time confirming that with their newest EP. 7/10 

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Bad Touch, Piston & Dead Shed Jokers (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Bad Touch, Piston & Dead Shed Jokers, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 29.11.21

Once again Clwb Ifor Bach rumbled with the sounds of rock n roll as three more bands made their way into the venue to play for the South Wales fans.

This was supposed to be the one South Wales show on the tour when it was rescheduled. However a night at The Patriot had been added for the day before which split the crowd between the two venues leaving Clwb the worse off. Still there was a lot of diehards ready to be rocked on a cold Monday night.

Having seen the headliners do what they do numerous times a good show was guaranteed however for a lot of the early fans on attendance, it was openers Dead Shed Jokers (8) who they were here to witness. The gig marked the band's first show in two years and the first show on from frontman Hwyel's hospitalisation with Viral Encephalitis in November 2020. Happily due to resilience, his family and the amazing staff of the NHS (some of whom were in the venue) he was able to pull through. (When told, my good friend Mr Hewitt, who is a Nurse Practitioner, called him a lucky MoFo for pulling through). So that meant this show was extra special. So special on fact that the rest of the band weren't actually able to play the show so he managed to grab some of South Wales' finest musicians (his words) and play the show, nicknaming the group Dead Shed Imposters. 

We got one song from most recent effort All The Seasons (Phantom Pains)  and one, Means To The End came from Peyote Smile. The remaining three were all new songs, Car Park Blues and A Minor Worry were great but the last song Best Of Times, which closed the set was written as a dedication to everyone that looked after him during the hospitalisation. DSJ have always been something of a unique prospect on any bill marrying psychedelic blues, with grunge and dark Americana. Best Of Times especially brought to mind the twisted genius of Ton Waits as Hwyel's vocals wailed and wandered across the ringing guitars and thumping rhythms. Again totally out of place but they had a mesmerising set and the best sound of the night too.

Next up after a change over were Midlands based rockers Piston (6), doing the rock star walk off then walk back on again, in a small, not crowded venue seemed to be a little odd but hey who am I to judge. They whipped up excitement with WaxAudio's Whole Lotta Sabbath mash up as their intro tape and proceeded to deliver their hard rock swagger. The band are all decent musicians and extra kudos goes to their drummer for playing the show with a broken rib but for me their style of music is a little too similar to the myriad of other bands around at the moment. 

Not generic but just a little underwhelming, the set not helped by the muddy sound and a cover of Proud Mary, a song that has been covered by so many artists most wouldn't even know who wrote the original (it was John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival fact fans). Still a lot of the die hard crowd were moving to Pistons obvious rockstar swagger and they have to be commended for playing the gig like it was Wembley. They support Thunder on the Birmingham date of their tour next year so I'm sure this will help them make an even bigger splash.

The final band of the evening were Bad Touch (7) they got things going with the opening riff to Lift Your Head Up waiting for singer Stevie Westwood to hit the stage, there was quite a long opening until he finally came through the crowd saying down the mic that the side door was locked so he had to run around! A small Spinal Tap moment but they kicked off with the song before sliding into the hip shaking rhythms of Good On Me (the best song written about Jeans) and Strut where Stevie proceeded to do just that. Again like Piston the sound was a little muddy and at one point the mic completely cut out leading a bit of impromptu karaoke. 

Having the biggest crowd they were playing to room that was on fire, the drink was flowing and that helped digest Bad Touch's rock n soul sound playing a glut of tracks from their latest album along with some classics, there were also two covers. 25 Miles originally by Edwin Starr and Pocket, their version of Hand In Pocket by Alanis Morissette, a guitar solo spot and an Xmas Song in the encore. It was a fully fledged hard rock show heavy on the clichés but undeniably entertaining. As they closed out with 99% this hard working band, Cardiff was their 11th show with four remaining, got the crowd well and truly involved even on a Monday which is an achievement to be recognised in its own right. Slick rock n soul that we'll be certainly hearing more of on 2022.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sleep Token (Live Review By Megan Jenkins)

Sleep Token & A.A Williams at Y Plas, Cardiff, 19/11/21

If, somehow over the last year, you haven’t heard of Sleep Token, then you must be living under a rock. They’re a band that needs no introduction to many of today’s modern metal fans, using masks and ‘codenames’ to keep anonymity of its members from the audience.

Upon arriving at Y Plas, I was shocked at the sheer number of people that had turned up. What was once a niche underground band is no more. Support for the night came from A.A.Williams (6), an act that I am genuinely finding it hard to describe. I’m assuming that the name derives from the lead singer and doesn’t represent the entire band that was on stage. I went into this set completely blind and I left it with so many mixed feelings. You can’t deny it, she’s a talented singer and songwriter, it just seemed like the complete wrong choice as the support act for a band whose set would no doubt be full of aggressive moshing. Similar to Sleep Token, she seems to shroud herself in mystery, flooding the stage with smoke to accompany her mystique and broody, slow music. It seemed like an extremely mismatched act for the main event, other than this air of mystery she had on stage.

The crowd weren’t exactly worked up by this and seemed to be getting more and more agitated by the minute. That is until frontman for Sleep Token (9), the Vessel, walked onto stage and started tinkling the keys of a piano that was off to the side, playing the opening notes to Atlantic. He began the set with no aid from the rest of the band and had the entire crowd captivated from the start – no easy feat in itself. The use of masks and anonymity of the band members themselves makes it difficult to sense if they are actually enjoying themselves or not, but they choose to show their expressions through dancing and moving around the stage like there’s no tomorrow, which the audience has no problem reciprocating.

Most of the set was comprised of their brand-new album This Place Will Become Your Tomb, which was not a bad thing at all. Instead of going just with the arguably safer option of playing all new material, they switched to some of the more well-known songs like The Offering and Sugar, the bass heavy breakdowns of which had the entire floor throwing themselves around in pure ecstasy. There’s nothing quite like hearing an audience singing along to a band and hearing them sing to the acapella Fall For Me made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Sleep Token have truly impressed me with their showmanship and the dedicated relationships they have forged with their audience, despite not actually being able to know their identity. Just from the display I saw in Y Plas, I wouldn’t be shocked if by the festival season next year Sleep Token are playing some of the bigger stages to some audiences of impressive stature.

Monday, 29 November 2021

Reviews: Cynic, Black Label Society, Demonstealer, Converge & Chelsea Wolfe (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Cynic - Ascension Codes (Season Of Mist)

There are backstories to all bands. However there are probably fewer more turbulent than that of Florida Progressive Metal band Cynic. Having sporadically released albuns across what can be considered a start stop career, punctuated by break ups and reformations, the band have sealed their place as one that is almost a mythic name on prog circles influencing countless bands from many genres. After the release of their third album Kindly Bent To Free Us, the band split again (although with a little friction and confusion) founding drummer Sean Reinert leaving the band, replaced by Matt Lynch. The single Humanoid felt like a rebirth of sorts Cynic still channelling those ascendent space rock vibes of their latter years doing away with the extreme metal almost all together. 

However as always seems to the way with Cynic, they take one step forward and three steps back. During 2020 not only did they have the pandemic to contend with but also tragically bassist Sean Malone took his own life, as announced by Paul Masvidal, and despite no longer being in the band, tributes were paid as well to Sean Reinert who passed away in 2020 also. Born on the back of both of these tragedies Ascension Codes could either be the next evolution in the bands history or its final showcase. 

The record is nine 'full' songs split by nine smaller 'code' interludes to drive the ethereal flow of the record. Lynch once again is behind the sprawling percussive sound as Masvidal's otherworldly guitar prowess and vocoadered/angelic/growled vocals, reinforce this as a Cynic record. Taking the place of Malone is Dave MacKay who provides us with synth (and non synth bass) as well as keys. There is also a glut of guests on the record including Plini, DARK (Roopam Garg), Max Phelps of Exist along with other more mystical members such as two vocalists, a crystal bowl player and a spiritual healer who vocalises on the codes. It's all part of the rich tapestry of soundscapes this record has pitching the natural against the synthetic. 

Once again Masvidal produces with co-producer Warren Riker also mixing the record, making sure it all flows beautifully. Stirring instrumentals segue into one another like a transcendental voyage explained through the medium of jazz-influenced prog rock. Hopefully Masvidal continues to carve the path that so many others follow as Ascension Codes reboots the mainframe. 9/10

Black Label Society - Doom Crew Inc (Spinefarm Records)

Don't let the acoustic intro of Set You Free, the eleventh album from Black Label Society is full of fat, juicy riffs and those are flowing widdly solos from band leader Zakk Wylde. But as always there's a knack of producing heavy rock moments with anthemic choruses, drawn straight from the play book of his mentor Ozzy. Destroy & Conquer is a song that would fit easily on one of those latter day Ozzy albums that featured Zakk on guitar. Especially when it slows to a soulful heavy groove at the end. You Made Me Want To Live meanwhile features some reverb drenched guitar/vocals that a re heavily influenced by Sabbath and Monster Magnet as a matter of fact. 

With 10 albums behind them, there's never going to be anything that will wildly detour from their signature sound but Doom Crew Inc is Black Label Society doing what brought them to the dance, ok so there are three ballads, with Forever & A Day being very The Beatles, along with a re-recording of Love Reign Down, from Stronger Than Death but mostly we have some stoic groove driven rock where Zakky allows some of the kudos to be soaked Dario Lorina who expands his rhythm guitar role to some tasty co-leads. It's BLS being BLS and the Berserkers will lap it up. Everyone else will get a decent heavy rock record. 7/10

Demonstealer - The Holocene Termination (Demonstealer Records)

Featuring a plethora of guests such as Eugene Ryabchenko (Fleshgod Apocalypse), Simon Schilling (Marduk), Robin Stone (The Amenta), Krzysztof Klingbein (Deathspawn) on drums, with Anton Zhikharev (Gorgasm) and Jeff Hughell (Six Feet Under) on bass. The Demonstealer Sahil Makhija returns with his fifth release as a solo artist and it's four tracks of punishing technical death metal that sees Sahil playing all of the guitars (except where noted) with the remaining artists providing the rhythm sections. 

Opening with the punishing title track, screams and growls come from The Demonstealer himself, he provides some glorious clean guitars that cut through the extreme metal assault. Nick Padovani (Equipoise) giving the guest solo here. An Epoch Of Degradation adds more thrash and black metal to the EP, rampaging along at full gallop, without taking a breath. Recorded during pandemic Sahil is lucky that Demonstealer has always been a solo effort so everything has been recorded and played by him only the mixing going outside to Wojtek and Sławek Wiesławski. 

From Extinction Begins Evolution is the most technical offering on the record, shifting riffs numerous times, with a full bore riffage, it's probably also the heaviest offering here too feeling more like Demonic Resurrection than anything else. What She Creates comes last having more technically savage death metal as Veronica Bordacchini (Fleshgod Apocalypse) brings some soaring operatic clean vocals, that makes me feel a little like Epica or After Forever. Against adversity The Demonstealer has managed to create yet another meaty solo EP. 8/10

It's available now here: https://demonstealer.bandcamp.com/ 

Converge & Chelsea Wolfe - Bloodmoon I (Epitaph)

Produced by their own Kurt Ballou, the genre leading hardcore punk foursome, Converge have released their tenth album and it's a huge departure from what they have done before. It's a collaborative effort that features Gothic/Avant Garde chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe along with her longtime collaborator Ben Chisholm and Cave In's Stephen Brodsky (a former member of Converge). With the additional musicians joining, Jacob Bannon (vocals), Kurt Ballou (guitars), Nate Newton (bass) and Ben Koller (drums), they have almost become a supergroup who sculpt a record that is far more grandiose than anything the band have done before. 

The roaring hardcore punk comes on Tongues Playing God where Bannon roars viciously over some deafening, distortion. Lord Of Liars too is an off-kilter treat with brilliant syncopated guitar playing and powerful percussion as Bannon merges well with the gorgeous vocals of Wolfe. She shows another side to her singing on this record being able to adapt it as the tracks required. Songs such as Blood Moon and Flower Moon bring some long, winding down tuned doom, while Failure Forever adding Gothic tinges. 

If you're a long time Converge fan you may find this album to be a major detour from their visceral hardcore style but along with Wolfe, Chisholm and Brodsky they have stumbled upon a winning formula that will appeal to fans of Cult Of Luna (who love a collab), the guitar playing of Ballou especially potent on the dark, brooding Scorpion's Sting, the deftness of it showing why he's more than just a biting riff merchant. Emotionally powerful, wonderfully composed and displaying a side of Converge that may carry them past their 31st year and into a much broader future. 9/10 

Friday, 26 November 2021

Reviews: Hypocrisy, Voices, Resolve, Secreum (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich P)

Hypocrisy - Worship (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Peter Tägtgren's death metal project Hypocrisy come back with a vengeance. Their fourteenth studio release is their first since 2013's End Of Disclosure. Though in that time Peter has been busy with his other project Pain as well as with Till in Lindemann, but finally he has returned to the sci-fi death metal mothership with yet more conspiracy fuelled music with lyrics around the New World Order, aliens, elders and science fiction. Their melodic death metal is rightly seen as being inspirational due to Tägtgren's usage of melodic lead guitars, swathes of keyboards and raging blastbeats. After this enforced break it's clear that Hypocrisy have returned more pissed off and violent than before. 

Blasting off with the blistering title track, that builds from classical guitars into a outright mayhem, the excellent Chemical Whore comes next upping the cinematic quality of this record, with a grinding mid-paced march Mikael Hedlund (bass) and Horgh (drums) providing the punchy backing for Peter's everything else. The arctic feeling of Dead World brings a new dimension as it leads into the albums centerpiece the epic We're The Walking Dead, a brooding ballad that so often is consumed in overwrought vocals and a slow doom riff. The renewed tenacity of this record comes through on every track from the blasting Another Day to the fist pumping Bug In The Net, Worship is not just a title but a command, they have come to reclaim their throne with the most visceral album of their career. 8/10

Voices - Breaking The Trauma Bond (Church Road Records) [Matt Bladen]

Following a three year break the band that perfectly exemplify avant-garde metal, Voices, return with their latest mind bending offering. Based in the extremity of black and death metal Voices, add many other layers to their sound as Beckoning Shadows where there's an electronic, thud that moves into the some raging hardcore before switching into black metal, though with clean vocals. Yeah it sounds confusing but across 16 songs and 68 minutes, these frequent genre shifts keep you not just entertained but in state of anticipation about what will happen next. Following Beckoning Shadows is My Sick Mind which is fully electronic, feeling a bit like a NIN song showcasing the clean angsty voice and piano of frontman Peter Benjamin. Peter also provides guitars along with Matthew Adnet and Sam Loynes who is the man behind the keys/synths as well. 

These loaded triple guitars mean that Voices can be intensely heavy but also atmospheric and deft as well. The gothic Whispers is fine example of this. The overall feel of the record is one of an imposing darkness, across the extensive run time the band brood and rage, throwing in just about everything they want to musically. It's David Gray (drums) and Dan Abela (bass) that keep the frenetic pace even on tracks such as Kaleidoscope Of Thorns which is almost a Gothic rock number, there is an underlying blast beat. It's a hell of a lot to take in, especially in one sitting, but multiple listens reveal more and more, whether you have the time to listen to a 68 minute album more than once is I guess based around your life but Breaking The Trauma Bond really needs your time. For those who have followed bands such as Akercocke and Mr Bungle, Voices are one act you need need to immerse yourself in, their bleak musical landscape is richly populated on this fourth album, their most ambitious effort to date. 7/10

Resolve – Between Me And The Machine (Arising Empire) [Rich P]

I generally feel like I have heard it all in the metalcore/post-hardcore space with what is out there today. At this point I usually gravitate away from the genre, but I like to also keep an open mind (and ear) to what’s new. Hence my taking on this review of Resolve’s new album Between Me And The Machine. Let’s see if we tread upon any new ground on their latest effort.

The album opens strong and heavy with Beautiful Hell which has a bit of a Fear Factory vibe with their use of synths and proceed to set up the heavy for the rest of the record. There is no doubt these guys can play and the production throughout is flawless. My issue is how this kind of sounds a lot like what I hear out there with some of the other bands in this genre. Theses guys do it very well, just not any different. My favorite track, D.G.G.R.S. brings the prog with some of the hardcore breakdowns I am a sucker for. 

Emerald Skies is another stand out track that combines the clean and scream vocals effectively and reminds me a bit of Killswitch Engage and Lamb Of God and hybrid really showcases the instrumental talent of the band. I also really dug the title track; a nine-minute epic that I can see them closing sets with on their upcoming tour.

Overall, I enjoyed the record, but I may be jaded when it comes to this genre. I want to hear something unique, but outside of the title track I am not scratching that itch. Resolve does what they do very well, but nothing that breaks any new ground. Fans of the genre should be pleased; I may just be asking for too much. 6/10

Secreum – Embrace EP (Self Released) [Rich P]

Secreum list several genres in their bio: extreme, death, progressive, groove, thrash. A little bit of everything. Sometimes this can lead to a band’s identity crisis, but sometimes it can create something exciting and new. Let’s see which way their debut EP leans.

The EP opens with a bit of a throw away instrumental track that leads into a very Slayer riff to kick off the ripper of a track Trapped From Within. I really dig the clean/scream vocal dynamic and I have a feeling this song would translate live very well. Secreum absolutely brings the heavy, especially on Contrarian Mind, which brings a full-on death metal assault with some guitar work that for some reason is remind me of Prong (which is a very good thing). The guitar work on the title track is excellent, especially the solo towards the end.

I like what I have heard so far from Secreum on this EP and I expect big things from their debut full length. The band incorporates the best of all those genres listed above without being too schizophrenic in their approach. I would love to be able to check them out live as I think these songs would translate well to the stage. These guys can certainly play and certainly bring the heavy. I am looking forward to hearing more but for now will crank this EP, loud. 7/10

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Reviews: Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Deep Purple, Victory, When The Deadbolt Breaks (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Rich P, Simon Black & Richard Oliver)

Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Noktvrn (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Der Weg Einer Freiheit shouldn’t need any introduction to anyone interested in European Black Metal. For anyone not aware of the band, they formed in 2009 in Würzburg, Germany and released their first, self titled album one year later. The band's second album; Unstille was released in 2012 and their third, Stellar came out 3 years later in 2015. Finisterre, the band's last studio album was released in 2017, the last we heard from the band was the live album, Live In Berlin in 2019. The band, made up of Nikita Kamprad on Guitar and Vocals, Tobias Schuler on Drums, Nico Ziska on Bass and Nicolas Rausch on Guitar, have always had a reputation for interesting and creative Progressive / Atmospheric Black Metal, have the four Germans kept this up on their latest album? 

The album opens with a soft, clean and quite quiet guitar intro called Finisterre II which leads us into the first full track, Monument. Monument opens with soft riffs which build to driving and intense Black Metal. There is a nice amount of blasting fast tremolo picked riffs, with nasty harsh vocals, which then drops into a section that is driving and aggressive, but also has a lot of melody and tunefulness before going back to end with the slow and soft parts that opened the track. Am Rande Der Dunkelheit opens with blasting fast Atmospheric Black Metal before going into a slow and very heavy part, the track then takes a turn towards Post Black Metal, there are still tremolo picked riffs and Blast Beats but it feels less aggressive and bigger and more expansive. The track then goes into huger and slower territory with some very big and heavy riffs before bringing the song to an end with some fast Post Black Metal riffing. 

Am Rande Der Dunkelheit shows a certain amount of different thinking for Der Einer Freiheit, the slower parts and the Post Black Metal style show the band experimenting more, but still showing some savage Black Metal blasting as well, so it feels like a transitional track. If the last track shows signs of Der Weg Einer Freiheit experimenting more then Immortal sees them drop convention almost completely. The track is mainly slow and brooding, initially with clean guitars and clean vocals. When the heavy does arrive it’s slow and harsh with a relentless intensity that drives the track along. There is another clean section before the song builds back to dark, but tuneful Post Black Metal. Next track Morgen is similar to Am Rande Der Dunkelheit, a mix of harsh, fast and blasting Black Metal and softer and slower Post Black Metal. 

The Post Black Metal sections feel huge, affecting and sweeping in nature and really works with the more traditional Black Metal sections. Gegen Das Licht has a big, slow opening which takes its time building in drive and intensity, before dropping into some very fast and nasty Black Metal that has a hardcorey feeling to it and is probably the most savage and nasty Black Metal on this album. The track then goes into a slow and very heavy section before the track comes to an end with a church organ. The final track on Noktvrn is Haven

Haven is the most interesting and innovative track on the album. The song is mainly soft, introverted strummed guitar and very high register vocals. The opening half of the song has no percussion on it and feels brooding and reserved, the high register, falsetto vocals remind me of some of the material on Muse’s album Origin Of Symmetry, a style of singing that some find distasteful, but I love (I love it on Origin Of Symmetry and on Haven). This song is reminiscent of some Blur material as well as classic Pink Floyd, and is a long way from Der Weg Einer Freiheit earlier material. The second half of the track continues the feel of the first half, but increases the intensity and drive by adding drums to the mix. Throughout the song the riffs and vocal melodies remain the same, but everything around them become bigger and bigger. 

Noktvrn is a stunning album. Der Weg Einer Freiheit’s career is clearly taking them on a journey, and Noktvrn is a part of that journey. We see the band partially on the way from a more orthodox style of Black Metal to something completely different. So there are still elements of Black Metal and Post Black Metal, but also elements that do not fit in with either of those styles. The more you listen to this album the more it feels like a complete piece of work, despite some of the disparate parts. An impressive album from one of the most interesting Metal bands currently active. 9/10

Deep Purple - Turning To Crime (earMusic) [Rich P]

Did the world need a Deep Purple covers record? No. Is it super fun? Absolutely. Will I listen to it again? Probably not. But it was enjoyable while I had it blasting. The album kicks off with the very cool Love cover, 7 And 7 Is, which is an amazing song with some killer keys and is right in the wheelhouse of this configuration of the band. The absolute classic Fleetwood Mac track Oh Well is a standout with Ian Gillan putting his vocal stamp on an already perfect song. Purple's take on Lucifer, originally by Bob Seger System, sounded like it could have been a Deep Purple classic and may be my favorite track on the album. 

 The always amazing Cream gem White Room is a great addition to any covers album when the band knows what they are doing, and these guys have been kicking it for 50 years, so they qualify. You can tell Deep Purple had fun making this album, revisiting all the music they came up with and have loved over the years. At this point they are not breaking any new ground, but that is not what this effort is about. I am not sure it has any staying power but Turning To Crime will be a fun listen for die hard Purple fans to see how their favorite band interpret some of rock's classics. 6/10

Victory - Gods Of Tomorrow (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Victory have been very quiet for a long while, with ten years having passed since last they released an album – perhaps understandable, given that guitarist and band leader Herman Frank pulls double duties with Accept. The line-up is totally different from last time out though, with only Frank and vocalist Jioti Parcharidis remaining since 2011’s Don´t Talk Science. Whilst relatively back burner in the UK, they were definitely up there in the 80’s in their native Germany so it will be interesting to see how much of a comeback this record proves to be. First off, it’s a highly competent Hard Rock affair, with solid by the numbers song writing and structures and a slightly heavier sound than they are renowned for in their heyday, so in everything but name this feels like a new project. 

The trouble is a lot has happened in the scene in the last ten years, with a lot of new band entrants successfully fusing the 80’s influences with a more contemporary sound to create something fresh, plus labels like Frontiers pumping out endless Melodic Hard Rock supergroup projects like there’s no tomorrow for the older artists – which makes this, very much more rooted firmly in the past feels like it’s just twenty years too late. To be clear, there is nothing actually wrong with it – there’s some good material here, well mixed and competently delivered. 

The problem is that’s ‘good’, not ‘great’… The strong vocal performance from Parcharidis is one of the better things this has going for it, but it’s not going to win any prizes for song-writing originality, which is a shame because catchy and effective songs used to be Victory’s stock in trade. More solo project than true band in feel, this feels like a missed opportunity to reinvent the band for the times. 6/10

When The Deadbolt Breaks - As Hope Valley Burns (Argonauta Records) [Richard Oliver]

When The Deadbolt Breaks are a new band to this reviewers years. Despite the fact that the band has been going for over 15 years I have never heard of them until now. Hailing from Lebanon, Connecticut and forming in 2005, When The Deadbolt Breaks are a four piece with five previous albums, a split and an EP under their belts and 2021 sees the release of album number six As Hope Valley Burns.

As Hope Valley Burns is an album that mixes the lighter and heavier sides of sludge and doom metal with a big chunk of psychedelia in there. Comprised of five songs, they veer between crushing riffs, dense noise scapes and trippy psychedelic moments. The Hanged Woman is a good example opening with a monster of a sludge riff before the song descends into dissonant soundscapes whilst The Crushing Weight Of The Sun has more of a desert rock feel to it to start before switching to a bleak and doomy sludgefest with a wholly oppressive atmosphere to it. Most of the five songs are quite lengthy and hefty numbers but there is one short song Awakening which is a sharp blast of aggression with crushing riffs and even some blast-beats.

As Hope Valley Burns is a decent album though it does have some drawbacks. The long songs means that things get dragged out a bit too much and the more psychedelic and dissonant moments didn’t really connect with me. The production is quite thin in places as well and robs the songs of some of their power. When this album goes into full crush and destroy mode it hits hard and it contains some gloriously repulsive and heavy moments of sludge metal glory.  This is an album that has its good and bad moments but overall it is still an enjoyable enough listen. 6/10

Reviews: Imperial Triumphant, The Tea Party, Crooked Shapes, Pale Wizard Records (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Imperial Triumphant - An Evening With Imperial Triumphant (Century Media)

Having released their last opus Alphaville last year Imperial Triumphant confidently strode into a division of one. Fiercely heavy, brainbrekaingly complex and as experimental as a High School Chemistry lab, the band combine the explosive aggression of black/death metal with numerous other styles such as jazz, avant garde, electronica and so on. So with Alphaville staying in the mind for a good while, it's deep into the cavernous Big apple we go for this new live release. An Evening With Imperial Triumphant, now it's only 8 tracks but so many of them are sprawling, musical explorations so we get about 40+ minutes of music on this record as the mysterious band perform selections from Alphaville and earlier albums at the Slipper Room, a variety theater in Manhattan. It's telling that their last album featured collaborations with members of Mr Bungle as Imperial Triumphant often reach that same class of "what the hell is going on?" 

They are able to translate this wildly inventive sound to the live arena, tracks such as Atomic Age are evidence of what the band do brilliantly shifting its focus several times, keeping it extremely heavy throughout they also rely heavily of quirky rhythms, tonnes of effects and percussion that is hypnotic. Chernobyl Blues follows bringing a painful industrial soundscape, that quickly shifts into a sparse main body. There's so much technical skill here it's hard to believe that they are a three piece, but anyone who watched them at Damnation in 2019 will realise that they are a multifaceted trio of musicians, applying some late night sax on Cosmopolis as Alphaville really fries the brain cells. I can understand that for some Imperial Triumphant may be a little too experimental but this live record is a good place to start if you want to enter into their chaotic world. 8/10  

The Tea Party – Blood Moon Rising (InsideOut Records)

The Tea Party return with the first album since 2014 and it’s a record that has been worked on over the past five years, tracked in numerous places as the band were scattered to the four winds, indulging in other projects and touring, however just in time for their 30th anniversary they have released Blood Moon Rising, their ninth full length which couples their Black River EP with new songs, fleshing it out into an album. Now I love The Tea Party, I’m a fan of the Canadian trio’s ‘Moroccan Roll’ which brings North African/Middle Eastern flavours to sturdy, multi-instrumental progressive rock style, however I do find this record a little disjointed. Perhaps it’s due to the laboured creative period around it but, it never quite grabs you as a cohesive album. 

There are three covers (two bonus, one in the album track list) which are frankly not needed, though their version of Zep’s Out On The Tiles is the best of the bunch, the Zep doesn’t stop there though as Black River feels like it could be from Houses Of The Holy or Physical Graffiti, the throbbing blues riff, mandolin breaks and lots of groove, capped off by Jeff Martin’s unmistakable baritone vocal. The tracks that featured on the Black River EP are all set in the British blues rock sound of bands like Zep, Free etc. If I’m honest they are the better offerings here as well, but nothing on the album is bad, it just feels as if they are going through the motions a little, adding a few extra tracks to a record that already exists, because of their inability to tour. 

Anything Jeff Martin (vocals/guitar), Stuart Chatwood (bass/keys) and Jeff Burrows (drums) put their mark on is invariably, richly musical and full of little nuances of technicality hidden behind accessibility, but this release is them going through the motions a little. 6/10

Crooked Shapes - Crooked Shapes (Self Released)

The self titled debut album from Crooked Shapes is a mix of classic hard rock and alternative rock, drawing influence from Soundgarden and Alice In Chains but also bands such as Raveneye and SKAM who as a three piece comprised of George Twydell (guitar/vocals), George 'Ivesy' Ives (bass) and Craig Carlaw (drums), they sound the most like. Grungy riffs on the instrumental title track, sit side by side with pacier groovers like Fire and the more doomy feel of Chains In My Mind, giving Crooked Shapes a breadth of sound, while never straying too far from the alt-rock template they established on previous releases. 

Having been around since 2018 and released an EP in 2019, this debut album builds upon this adding a wider sound as I've mentioned, with radio ready melodies on Fallout and Rise Again, you may think that this record was happy go lucky but much of it deals with mental health and their own struggles, the band wearing their hearts on their sleeve and channeling their issues through some hard hitting power trio rocking. Lots of power and panache on this debut offering, stand this Reading trio in good stead going forward. Crooked Shapes is a off-kilter rock treat that will garner the band lots of fans. 7/10    

Pale Wizard Records - 50 Years Of Killer (Pale Wizard Records)

Released on 27th November 1971 Alice Cooper's fourth album Killers, it was the making of the band and essentially began the rise of Vincent Furnier into the rock n roll legend he is today. It was the first record to feature the theatrical schlock n roll style that Coope would take to the nth degree after the collapse of the Alice Cooper Band. To celebrate this milestone, Pale Wizard Records have put together an album that serves as tribute to both Killers and Cooper beyond. Handpicked by the staff at Pale Wizard, 50 Years Of Killer is 8 tracks from the original album along with four Cooper covers performed by some of the best and brightest of stoner, psych and doom. 

The album tracks are basically in the same order as they are on the album Under My Wheels gets us started with the occult masters Green Lung, getting the boogie riff going with some harmonic guitars and organs. All the songs stick close enough to the originals to be a homage but are filtered through each individual band's own style, after the organ drenched Under My Wheels, The Grand Mal swagger through a distorted version of Be My Lover, while Sergeant Thunderhoof adding their trippy psych stylings to Halo Of Flies making it more mind bending than the original. From here Ritual King up the atmospherics on an echoing doom version of Desperado while 1968 and Mos Generator (no strangers to an obscure cover themselves) built up the fuzz layers for You Drive Me Nervous and bring that swirling sound to Dead Babies, as Trippy Wicked slows and thunders on on Yeah Yeah Yeah

The final album track is of course Killer which here is given a Two Tonne Fuckboot by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and actually is the closest to the sleazy original track. As for the covers. A great reinterpretation of the (majority) of the album with the bands all adding their own style to it as for the bonus tracks they are all Cooper classics Swansea's Suns Of Thunder smashing out Billion Dollar Babies utilising dual riffs and vocals, Possessor beat the heck out of the punky Muscle Of Love, as Sound Of Origin have a broken down Sick Things into a punishing doom track. The last cover is stoner rockers Alunah putting their own slant on I'm Eighteen and doing it much better than both Anthrax and Creed! It's a triumphant tribute to one of the most influential Alice albums and the Cooper Band days. Kudos to Pale Wizard Records on what apparently is the first of such releases  8/10

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Reviews: Eternity's End, Godhead Machinery, Enuff Z'Nuff, Cyclopean Walls (Reviews By Paul Scoble & Matt Bladen)

Eternity’s End - Embers Of War (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Eternity’s End are a Power Metal band from Bavaria in Germany, who have been making very twiddly noises since 2014. The bands lineup is made up of Iuri Sanson on Vocals, Christian Muenzner on Guitars & Keyboards, Justin Hombach on Guitars, Linus Klausenitzer on Bass and Hannes Grossmann on Drums. If three of those names are familiar it’s because Christian Muenzner, Linus Klausenitzer and Hannes Grossmann could be a Technical Death Metal supergroup as all three play in Technical Death Metal band Alkaloid, are all ex-members of Obscura and Christian Muenzner and Hannes Grossmann both played in Necrophagist. In Eternity’s End, however, they are playing very solo heavy Power Metal, so in many ways an easier gig than they usually play. In their 7 years of making music together the band have made 2 other albums; The Fire Within in 2016, and Unyielding in 2018.

The style of Power Metal Eternity’s End play is up-tempo and very bombastic, the pacing is very fast, just a few BPM slower than thrash, something that is emphasised by Hannes Grossmann’s liberal use of double bass drums. On most of the tracks there is a definite Neo-Classical flavour to the songs, particularly in the solos, of which there are many. There are definite similarities to Dragonforce, early Dream Evil, and probably most of all to American Power Metal band Paladin.

Opening track Dreadnought (The Voyage Of The Damned) is a good example of the sound on this album; fast, technical riffs with fantastic vocals, Iuri Sanson has a very strong clear voice with just enough of a rasp to keep it interesting, pounding drums and several solos. The solos on this album are very impressive, if you are a fan of Widdly guitars then this is an album for you, on many of the tracks you get chains of solos where both guitarists get an individual solo, then there is a harmonised melody lead, then a bass solo, and it will all end with another harmonised melody lead. All the songs have lots of solos, but Embers Of War, Deathrider and Call Of The Valkyries stand out as exceptional.

Power Metal would be nothing without great choruses, and Embers Of War is no exception, Arcturus Prime has a great sing-along chorus that is so much fun. Hounds Of Tindalos is another one with a great chorus, it’s huge, dazzling and will have you bellowing along. Considering this band features 3 Technical Death Metal Legends, it’s not surprising that in few places the riffs verge on Tech Death speed and intensity, title track Embers Of War in particular has some riffs that could be from a Technical Death Metal album, so maybe this album isn’t just for the Power Metal fans.

Embers Of War is a fantastic Power Metal album. It’s packed with great riffs, thundering tempos, soaring vocals and so many amazing solos. The amount of technical ability on this album is staggering, there is enough talent here for about a billion Pop Punk bands. I realise up-tempo, energy packed Power Metal dripping with great solos isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if you are a big fan of Power Metal then this is an essential album, no-one is producing better Power Metal than this at the moment. Widdletastic! 9/10

Godhead Machinery - Monotheistic Enslavement (Black Lion Records) [Paul Scoble]

Swedish extremists Godhead Machinery have been making deeply blasphemic music since 2015. The five piece, which is made up of Niklas Ekwall on Vocals, Robert Kail Karlsson on Guitar, Tommy Ericson on Guitar, Daniel Forsberg on Bass and Marcus Andersson on Drums, have released 2 albums before Monotheistic Enslavement; their debut Ouroboros in 2017 and their second offering, Aligned To The Grid in 2019.

Godhead Machinery’s style is broadly Black Metal of a fairly orthodox approach. Godhead Machinery’s sound works when they are going for the throat with blistering pace and velocity. When this album Blasts it’s great, tight, fast blasting drums, and viscous tremolo picked riffs rip through the listener, and batter passers by into submission. In places the Blast Beat sections have a definite chaotic feel that works very well, Godhead Machinery are clearly very good at insane swirling chaos, something that is helped by the addition in places of shredding Guitar solos that sometimes accompany the chaos. The track Dethroned is a good example of this faster, and sometimes choppy and chaotic style of fast, blasting Black Metal.

However this album isn’t all about fast blasting, unfortunately. The fast stuff is probably in the minority on Monotheistic Enslavement, this album is mainly about slow or mid-paced material, and that is where it falls down. The slower material feels overly simplistic and isn’t of the same quality as the faster material. The tempo’s feel a little strained, sections plod where they should have stomped, the riffs feel a little weak; this is simple melodic Black Metal with echoey dissonance added to it, and it feels flat.

The track Ethereal spends its whole 5 minutes feeling like an intro, the song just doesn’t go anywhere. The vocals are a little too high in the mix as well, so on the more sluggish material the vocals are too dominant and feel overbearing. The vocals are very dramatic, which works when the music is fast and savage, but on slow, plodding material they feel ridiculous and over the top, a good reminder that context is not a myth, even in Orthodox Black Metal.

Monotheistic Enslavement is not a terrible album, but it feels like a missed opportunity. The fast stuff is great, and is very enjoyable, but it is let down by the slower, more simple material. If the band had concentrated more on speed and savagery, or had made the slower music closer to the fast in terms of complexity and detail, then they could have had something, but as it is here it is a perfectly fine, if unremarkable piece of Black Metal. 6/10

Enuff Z'Nuff – Hardrock Nite (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Does the world need more The Beatles covers? No. Does it need more The Beatles covers from American glam rock bands? Again no. Mainly as that honour falls mainly to Cheap Trick, still Chip Z’Nuff and his band have always been huge fans of the Fab Four so have decided to follow that through with an album entirely comprised of The Beatles songs and selected solo tracks as well. Keen to make it as authentic as possible, the four members setting out with just guitars, bass and drums to record the songs.

Now having been fans of The Beatles (and Cheap Trick) Enuff Z'Nuff could have always released a covers record but the pandemic has finally allowed them to live out their fantasy of trading Chip, Tony, Tory and Daniel for John, Paul, George and Ringo. They manage to capture the songs pretty well, yes they’re a bit more ‘rock’ than the originals as the record is call Hard Rock Nite but they stick pretty rigidly to their original formations.

However we’ve all heard bigger and higher profile covers of Magical Mystery Tour, Live And Let Die, Helter Skelter and of course With A Little Help From My Friends so to have another one seems like a wasted opportunity to cover some deep cuts. Still I’m sure fans of the band will dig it, I just find that it’s a bit of an expensive (have you tried to licence a The Beatles song, I have), self-indulgence, that ultimately could have been a new album of original material. 4/10

Cyclopean Walls – Enter The Dreamlands (Steel Gallery Records) [Matt Bladen]

If you have ever been to the Peloponnese you will have witnessed Cyclopean masonry, it was the major form of stonework in Mycenaean architecture. Go and see the Lion’s Gate if you haven’t. Built with Limestone boulders it was built to last a lifetime while also being a sterling technical achievement. Don’t worry I haven’t gone all George Clarke on you, International band, Cyclopean Walls take their name from these structures and the band take inspiration by playing muscular prog metal that I assume they hope will last in the memory and be considered to be a technical and musical achievement. Formed by Greek Yiannis Tziallas, this is the debut full length of the band, he plays guitars and bass here but has recruited a strong line up of musicians to fill out the remaining places.

The most notable is Brazilian singer Raphael Gazal who holds the mic in various bands (including Ty Morn) and with him on board, they of course owe a debt of sound to the US prog act as they do to numerous other US proggers as well. They also pay homage to H.P Lovecraft, the songs all based in his created world Festival and The Garden both using his writings as lyrics, the former also featuring some sax from Hugo Lee and disconcerting Hammond from Yiannis Plastiras. The record also features two session drummers, two session lead guitarists, female vocals on The Dweller In Darkness and also the Esession String Quartet to make for a really cinematic sound.

Enter The Dreamlands, deals with the Lovecraft Mythos well, pairing the otherworldly, mysterious style of his writing with a darker musical style, highlighted by heavy but artistic compositions and Gazal’s theatrical vocal approach. A pleasure for any fans of bands such as Savatage, Fates Warning and Angra, Cyclopean Walls are worthy find. 7/10

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Boss Keloid (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Boss Keloid, Telepathy, Tuskar & Hwdu, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 21.11.21

The first gig back at Clwb Ifor Bach promised to be heavy affair, with riffs galore from all four bands on the bill.

The 'local' openers were the newly minted Space Punks Hwdu (7) formed from veterans of the Swansea greebo scene, they play a frantic style of distorted stoner punk that features a trio of vocals and biting guitar riffs. Drawing a fair sized crowd of locals that knew the members they got things off to a flying start with tracks from their Love Crimes EP (reviewed in these very pages). Carving through the tracks with very little chit chat due to their truncated set, their music inspires having a good time and other than the headliners they were the most upbeat offering on the night. It got the crowd moving early and set things up for what was to come.

Main tour supports Tuskar (8) were up next, a two piece with a shouting drummer and mute guitarist, they play colossally heavy sludge, nods to Neurosis, Crowbar and Eyegategod were abound as the heavy strung Telecaster riffs of Tom Dimmock are enough to split concrete while the primal drumming and anguished shouts of Tyler Hodges rattled though the downstairs of Clwb. Their music kept the crowd as enthralled as it did deafened, each track another slab of lead coated sludge. The cuts all came from their previously released bar the last track which is from their February 2022 debut album, on the basis of this track alone Tuskar could easily become world beaters when that drops.

After a much needed break it was time for the atmospheric post metal stylings of Colchester foursome Telepathy (7). A band relies mainly on long instrumental passages that blend soaring post metal melodies with crushing sludge riffage, it was a more laid back affair than the two previous bands but, with the music segueing between the soaring atmospherics and the thundering riffs. Garnering the largest crowd so far it was obvious why Telepathy were billed as the special guests for the evening. Personally I did prefer the more pissed off approach of Tuskar but Telepathy managed to build a bridge between Tuskar and the headliners.

With a bit more of a change over it was time for Boss Keloid (9) took take to the stage. The Wigan Wizards, weave a musical alchemy that is hard to classify. Drawing much of their set from their brilliant latest offering Family The Smiling Thrush. The band have transcended the labels of stoner, doom etc and a now a truly progressive experience. Although not as outright heavy as some of the supports, Boss Keloid whip up a frenzy of angular riffage, anthemic songwriting and lots of prog weirdness, it's a style that has been refined over their past three records, moving them away from the sludge, stoner beginnings and into a style all of their own. 

The rhythm section of Stephen Arands (drums) and Liam Pendlebury-Green (bass) are tough but expressive, providing groove and keeping the explorations on track, while guitarist Paul Swarbrick has a similar style of playing to one Alex Lifeson, unique tones with solos that are always slightly off kilter. Providing back up guitar is vocalist Alex Hurst, he has developed a singing style that is hard to replicate and as such defines Boss Keloid musically. 

With the crowd enthralled by songs played at Damnation Festival such as Orang Of Noyn, Hats The Mandrill and Gentle Clovis they also got down to some more mind expanding additions, Boss Keloid manage to make their hour long set fly past. One of the most exciting British stoner/doom/sludge/whatever bands around, seeing then in quite an intimate space was a real treat.

Reviews: Exodus, Rhapsody Of Fire, Dream Unending, Carl Sentance (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Exodus - Persona Non Grata (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

There’s a campaign circulating on social media right now to get Exodus incorporated into the ‘Big Four’ of Thrash metal. This is an interesting idea to say the least, although about thirty years too late if we are going to be brutally honest. It’s not been easy for them, with a revolving door of members, but perhaps the fact that that’s mainly been from a relatively small pool of musicians returning to the band after a break or two, which has really helped them keep close to a core and distinctive sound.

Given that this is where Metallica’s Kirk Hammett cut his chops, they certainly have a significant place in the history of Bay Area Thrash, but given that only drummer Tom Hunting remains from the original line up (and even he had a few breaks) it’s a hard call to determine if this even qualifies as the same band. It’s also significant that many younger metal fans are somewhat bemused by the attempts by these older acts who never quite made it to the top tier who are still banging their drum and trying to keep going in an increasingly cluttered musical landscape. But recently their revival in popularity has moved from being in the noteworthy and influential category to absolutely front and centre focus. From where I am sitting though, this band have been criminally under-noticed, and that finally (at least here in Europe) seems to be starting to change…

To be fair, this has been building for a while – ask anyone in the UK who was lucky enough to catch the Testament tour in early 2019 before the world went to shit, with Death Angel (another vastly underrated act) and Exodus in the opening slot. Whereas the two acts at the top end of the bill have form in Europe and a solid fan base, Exodus have not put quite as much touring ground work over here and consequently found themselves stealing many of the shows on that tour despite starting from a challenging slot on the bill. No mean feat to be sure…

Then this album happens.

So I need to be honest, I’ve not kept up to date with much of what the band have produced since the seminal Fabulous Disaster, but this record absolutely and totally feels like very little has changed in the intervening years in terms of sheer energy and quality of material. If anything it evokes their debut Bonded By Blood more than anything for sheer frenetic energy and power. At an hour’s run time, value for money is definitely in play here, especially as I cannot really fault any single song on the album.

The album explosively grabs you by the throat from the get go and does not let up throughout, with a blisteringly tight delivery that keeps the energy, rawness and rough edges of the early days of Thrash but wrapped up in a polished and modern production sound. That’s actually not as easy to achieve as it sounds. Many acts back in the day had tiny recording opportunity windows in studios squeezed in between slots for much bigger acts, with plenty of graveyard shifts and err, ‘stimulating substances’ to get them through the mad rush to get the material down in time. That was great from the point of view of the energy factor, but often left a lot to be desired on the production quality side. As bands got more established and had longer in the studio, the production improved exponentially, but in many cases at the expense of the magic energy juice that made them so relevant in the first place. This album brilliantly and spectacularly manages both….

To be honest, the two weakest tracks here have already been released as singles (Clickbait and The Beatings Will Continue) both of which stand up perfectly well when listened to in isolation, but seem like fairly ‘by the numbers’ Thrash in the context of the album as a whole. That’s really important here. The two singles that sound great on their own, but actually step into the background on the album as a whole, because Exodus have pulled off the rare trick of an album that works best when listened to end to end… and loud! Five plays in and I’m loving it more with every spin. Welcome to Europe, boys… 10/10

Rhapsody Of Fire - Glory For Salvation (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

I don’t think there is a more tightly knit band family tree out there than what I often refer to as the Rhapsody Family. Italian Symphonic Power Metal is its own distinctive entity, with many of the bands in that scene at some point being as a result of its crossing paths with its pioneers Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli. It might have made things easier if they had kept their original name of Thundercross, but Rhapsody it was – at least until a bust up with another label and band of the same name forced them to become Rhapsody Of Fire. With Turilli’s departure things got more complex, as it birthed Luca Turilli's Rhapsody which has ploughed a parallel furrow ever since. 

More confusing still is that many of the other musicians who have passed through these projects have also gone onto spawn new projects, which means the whole scene tends to have a very distinctive and similar sound that is also deeply imbued with the Italian Classical operatic tradition in balance to the Metal. It’s not for everybody, but generally when any of these acts hit the studio, you know that you are going to get a highly polished and richly layered offering.

That’s the positive. The negative is that after a while, the seemingly never-ending flow of high-conceptual story arcs gets a little wearing and leaves you hoping for a slight change of approach (stand up Frozen Crown). But then, these boys remain the pinnacle of the sub-genre for a reason, that being no-one does it better and this album is no exception. I have to say the story arc does nothing for me (The Nephilim's Empire Saga if you are interested), of which this is the second installment as what I’m first and foremost focused on is the quality of the musical experience.

The good news is that this is a Metal album first and foremost and although teeming with Neoclassical tropes and flourishes, it seems that the orchestrations are being added afterwards, which means energy drive and power sit front and foremost in the writing and arrangements. I was none too positive about the single I’ll Be Your Hero earlier this year and I stick by that as it’s by far the weakest track on the record, although I can see why they chose it. The full record is a way more deeply well-structured beast and bizarrely some of the longer pieces hold the attention better than the ones with brevity (Abyss Of Pain II stands out very well given it’s twelve minutes of run time). 

I also find myself wishing that some of the additional instruments that crop up first with the woodwind introduction track Eternal Snow leading into the thoroughly folky but fun Terial The Hawk would happen more often, as they are what stops the album from becoming just another outing in very familiar pathways. Vocalist Giacomo Voli seems well and truly embedded in the band now, with both installments in the saga being very firmly rooted in his contributions. I wasn’t expecting to like this, but like it I did. 8/10

Dream Unending - Tide Turns Eternal (20 Buck Spin) [Matt Bladen]

Formed because of Tomb Mold’s Derrick Vela and Justin DeTore (Innumerable Forms, Sumerlands, Magic Circle, Mind Eraser) love of bands like My Dying Bride, Anathema, Paradise Lost (The Peaceville Three) and Gary Moore (?) Dream Unending is a spectral, atmospheric, crushing doom metal that paces itself, with long drawn out instrumentals punctuated by gruff growling vocals (and haunting female vocals on the title track finale). If you listen to Entrance and the first half of Adorned In Lies then you may thing that it's just a lushly orchestrated, maudlin, instrumental beauty, that is until a crushing riff and growled voices come from out of the deepest depths. 

Vella provides us with the Gilmour-esque guitar, lilting 12 String Guitar and the bass both fretted and fretless, behind his musical dexterity is the broad strokes of DeTore's expressive percussion and growled roar. Broad strokes are used here to live up to the lofty expectations of the Peaceville Three with early Anathema ringing out through the Floydian guitars and the dark brooding atmosphere. It's not what you'd expect from either man involved, evocative death/doom but with lots of musical flourishes and beautiful melodic elements like on Dream Unending or Forgotten FarewellTide Turns Eternal is an album that takes you to another world where ringing atmospherics can sit hand in hand with heaviness, harking back to those early Peaceville releases. 8/10  

Carl Sentance - Electric Eye (Drakkar Entertainment) [Matt Bladen]

If every there was a rock n roll journeyman it would be Carl Sentance. The vocalist is not only the long time frontman of NWOBHM act Persian Risk (the band that gave Motorhead Phil Campbell) along with many Welsh bands from that same wave. He has also tread the boards in various musicals, including the Whole Lotta Metal tour along with Tony Martin (a show I saw in Cardiff's St David's Hall as a child!) has recorded with Krokus, lends his pipes to Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airy's solo albums and was hand picked as Dan Cafferty's replacement in Nazareth. He has also reformed Persian Risk and has released a solo album previously.

So a long career but one that has given him a cult status as a go to vocalist due to his versatility. It's this versatility that's on display here on his second solo album Electric Eye. These no cover of the Judas Priest classic before you ask, but what is here is a collection of heavy rock songs from across the styles spectrum. The key feature to all of them though is Sentance's great voice that sounds a lot like Paul Stanley meets Biff Byford but has many different inflections to adapt to any style be it the psych feel of California Queen or a driving rocker like Judas (a hint to his role in Jesus Christ Superstar?)

The album features Carl on vocals and guitar along with Don Airey on keyboards, Bob Richards on drums and longtime sideman Wayne Banks (whom he reformed Persian Risk with) on bass. Electric Eye is an upbeat heavy rock record, there are a fair few songs here that will grab a hold of your attention such as Overload but others feel like filler making for a bit of an uneven listen. You can't fault the talent and Electric Eye feels like the album Carl wanted to make based around his influences, experience and fan base. It's decent but I'm unsure how often I'll be returning to it. 6/10

Monday, 22 November 2021

Reviews: Nightland, Eyes Wide Open, Hollywood Burns, Shrouded In Darkness (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Zak Skane, Matt Cook & Paul Scoble)

Nightland – The Great Nothing (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Great Nothing is the third full length from Italian symphonic death metal band, and in what seems to be a theme at the moment it’s yet another album that reminds me of Fleshgod Apocalypse, Septicflesh and Ne Obliviscaris, a band whom founder/singer/guitarist Ludovico Cioffi was live member of. He has brought the swathes of orchestrations and intense technicality of that band into this one as their two previous release have garnered them a large following in Europe. Their latest tour was with fellow Italians Fleshgod and on the back of this they have released what is probably their most impressive album yet. Firstly the orchestrations which are used to brilliant effect, giving the album a cinematic quality, just feel those ethereal vibes on 101 Megaparsecs. The band skillfully employ the use of choirs on Shade Of A Lowering Star, the orchestrations working in unison with the virtuoso playing of guitarists Cioffi and Brendan Paolini who shift regularly between outright tremolo picking riffs and shredding solos to more subdued progressive flourishes.

These bring some emotion to the songs with their playing while never relinquishing the technicality of it all. It’s all very dramatic especially when the engine room of the two Filippo’s, Scrima on bass and Cicoria on drums are at full pelt, making for Wintersun comparisons as well. This can be felt mostly on the final three songs which make up The Great Nothing Suite, like the rest of the album it deals lyrically with astrology and the mysticism surrounding it, but here it’s much more conceptual the three songs making coming together as one closing moment ending the record in cinematic style. The orchestrations, metal instrumentation and growled vocals all in a wonderful unison. There are a lot of bands doing symphonic death metal at the moment but Nightland have enough gravitas and song writing flair to pull off being one of the newest names on everyone’s lips. 8/10

Eyes Wide Open – Through Life And Death (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

Eyes Wide Open are a four piece modern metal band based in Karlstad Sweden. The band sound pays homage  to the forefathers of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene mixed with a modern twist. Moving on from their previous album The Upside Down, the band are exploring themes of depression, greed and betrayal with their new album Through Life And Death. As soon as the opening tracks World On Fire and Devastation came in featuring swinging drum grooves courtesy of Lucas Freise, harmonising guitars from from Kistofer Stranberg and futuristic soundscapes layers in between, it instantly threw me back to classic 2000’s era Melodeath taking influences from Come Clarity and Stabbing The Drama. The momentum carries on with Fallout, which shows the band wear their influences on their sleeve especially, singer Eric Engstrand who is channeling Bjorn Strid on the choruses.

Burn 'Em and End Of Days are two of the bands most anthemic songs utilizing catchy melodic guitar lines sprinkled with some crowd chants to that arena flavour to win over the big audiences. Eraser and Where Death Meets Paradise (great song title) is when the band step back from being in your face and start to show more emotional dynamics into their sound, Eric singing about subjects such as loss and death accompanied with the guitars, that back off the distortion and add more clean sections. Brother featuring a soaring guitar solo, which highlights Lucas Freises skills and Echos displays the bands musicianship with Lucas providing complex beats and Kistofer composing some Thin Lizzy worthy twin harmonies. 

Overall this is a great album that reminisces on glory days of the 2000s melodeath sound, with a more up dated production to it. The only moments that I could pick where the album falls short, is on the emotional songs. I feel that the vocal delivery is little too stayed and don’t do the accompanying instrumentals justice. When I listen to a metal band going down an emotional route it’s the vocal performance that sells it for me, a good example would be In Flames’s Come Clarity, the way Anders channels the emotion through his trembling vocals performance it convinces me as a listener that is a sad song. Overall though Through Life And Death is good melodeath record. 8/10

Hollywood Burns - The Age Of The Saucers (Blood Music) [Matt Cook]

Emeric Levardon, composer and mastermind behind the electronic project Hollywood Burns, allured fans with a hodge podge of diverse and … electrifying music with the latest release, The Age Of Saucers (Blood Music). Right out the gate, Once Upon A Time (In Hell) is a sinister, spooky and shrilly styled horror intro which picks up the pace and morphs into the lively titular track, utilizing a variety of seamless arrangements, a piano piece and an ominous organ accompanied by choir singing. All wins in my book.

Anyone in search of a fitting soundtrack for hacking a computer (who isn’t?) should look no further than Abomination From Planet X before being swooned into a softer and more aptly named A Moment Of Bliss. The aforementioned Planet X even features a retro melody that conjures images of old school Inspector Gadget episodes. Another win in my book.

It is but a brief respite because Saturday Night Screamer comes barreling in, erupting into a wake-me-upper featuring feel-good beats alongside extra-terrestrial-inspired sounds and “We are your friends” repeated over and over, to be believed at the listener’s risk. Levardon experiments with a distant siren wailing, slowing and distorting in Silent Fortress. And the audience isn’t given any real vocals until Skylords, which candidly, caused this writer to perk their head up in welcomed surprise.

Producing music under the Hollywood Burns banner allows Levardon to find support from many different artists: Volkor X, Olivier Marechal, Remi Meilley, Jerome Joffray, Antoine Baup and Robin Mory all converge on this foray of electronic ecstasy, bringing their own tastes, talents and arrangements. 7/10

Shrouded In Darkness - Abyssum Abyssus Invocat (Kvlt Und Kaos Productions) [Paul Scoble]

Shrouded In Darkness are a three piece based in Gothenburg, Sweden. The band is made up of Mike on guitar, bass and drums, Daniel T on vocals and keys and Reese on lead guitar. Abyssum Abyssus Invocat is the bands first album. Shrouded In Darkness claim to play death/doom, but other than the tempos and the vocal style this is unlike any death/doom I’ve ever heard. Apart from the lead guitar parts played by Reese, all the instruments on this album sound electronic, so if the bass and rhythm guitar are real instruments then there has been a huge amount of processing of the original sounds. There is a similarity in the sound presented here, and Blut Aus Nord’s 2003 masterpiece The Work Which Transforms God, another album where the guitars didn’t sound anything like guitars. 

Apart from the opening intro track We Salute You and the final title track Abyssum Abyssus Invocat which is a dissonant soundscape, all the tracks have a slow tempo, with fairly simple drumming, there is a keyboard line that sounds like a church organ, and those guitar and bass riffs that sound like metallic electronics. The vocals and lead guitars are the only parts of this that are consistent with a traditional death/doom sound. In many ways this sounds far closer to industrial than death/doom, maybe imagine early Godflesh playing slow death metal covers and you are close to how this sounds. I want to point out that none of this is a criticism, I was surprised at what this sounded like and wanted to emphasize the originality of Shrouded In Darkness’s style of extreme music.

Unfortunately the originality in overall sound doesn’t reach the songs themselves. Of the 5 tracks that aren’t intros or soundscapes, there is very little variation. The songs have one or two riffs, which are all very similar, and other than the occasional change in tempo the tracks themselves all sound interchangeable, as if this album was one huge forty minute track that is faded in and out a few times, I had to keep on checking that I didn’t have one track on repeat. Abyssum Abyssus Invocat is definitely an interesting listen, the sound of electronic/industrial death/doom is fascinating, however this feels like an early experiment, rather than a finished article. 

They certainly have something here, but it needs to be focused more, and they need to learn to write riffs that don’t all sound the same. This is an interesting starting point, but it will probably be a couple of albums time before they produce something that is really great. 6/10