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Saturday, 23 January 2021

Reviews: Wardruna, Asphyx, Dead Daises, Painted Wives (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Charlie Rogers & Paul Hutchings)

Wardruna: Kvitravn (Music For Nations) [Matt Bladen]

Some bands are more than just instrument players or singers, they are an elemental force. Their music is drawn from the very rocks, seas and skies of their homelands. It often helps when the homelands are as awe-inspiring as Norway’s frozen tundra as they make any sort of ‘traditional’ music from these places even more evocative. In various countries these traditional folk songs are passed down from generations, but real skill come with taking these traditions and creating something new and modern that is rooted in their history. Einar Selvik, main man of Wardruna has been aiming for this since first putting together the band and he feels he’s nearly nailed it on latest album Kvitravn (White Raven) a record that is steeped in Nordic myths and the nature of humanity, delivered with Nordic folk instruments. Much of this comes from Selvik’s scholarly, academic understanding of Norse history and music, his knowledge used to co-compose some of the music for the TV show Vikings, to add authenticity. 

Now this doesn’t sound like the sort of thing a metal/rock publication would cover, but Wardruna have been infiltrating the metal scene for a few years now their dark, esoteric folk music has been used to flesh out power and black metal bands for years but even when it’s at its purest there is an underlying heaviness that comes from the layers of instrumentation and chanted vocals, a song such as Grá pairing Einar’s mournful lows with Lindy-Fay Hella’s yearning over the percussive stripped backing. According to Selvik, the lyrics on this album are important, coming from the oral society, traditions and runes, there is huge influence of Norse poetry on the album with the album being in Norwegian adding to its mystique allowing you to debate the meanings of the songs and also delve into these Norse traditions more. Since formation in 2002 Wardruna have been garnering bigger and bigger audiences throughout the globe, they are a band that through their sound have won over a hardened metal crowd, their Pagan music appealing to the Cvlt along with the Radio 6 Music listener. 

A distinct protectionist ethos has meant this si the first album on a ‘major’ label but when your art is based upon years of study and your own traditions it makes sense not to want to compromise it with the, often destructive music industry. A risk for sure but one that will mean Wardruna become more than curio or an underground sensation, hopefully with the majestic Kvitravn Wardruna’s interpretation of Nordic traditional music will reach out beyond where it is now to a hopefully appreciative audience. A truly unique and special band Wardruna should be essential listening. 10/10

Asphyx: Necroceros (Century Media Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Arguably The Netherlands’ greatest Death Metal band, Asphyx have been bursting eardrums for longer than I’ve been alive. Necroceros is their 10th full length release, 51 minutes of clenched fist, teeth gritting death metal. The band is by their own admission not interested in chasing higher and higher bpm, nor being the most technically proficient musicians out there, but rather playing rock solid heavy tunes to bang your head along to, and they’ve absolutely delivered that here. Hitting the ground running, The Sole Cure Is Death' wastes no time by sprinting out of the blocks with an aggressive thrashy bluster. The pace eventually lets up as the song plunges into a doom laden sludge, vocals howling over the darkness conjured by the laboured riffing. 

Building pace again, the song transitions back into the thrashy opening phrases before closing. In one song, Asphyx demonstrate the majority of the elements used over the whole album, so it works well as an appetiser. Molten Black Earth follows with largely an inverse of the previous track’s layout, opting for a magma-like main riff that drags across the ears, and an up tempo mid section that serves as a change of pace. The album predominantly uses the mixture of these thrashy and doomy elements to pull the pace around, creating both feelings of dread and urgency, and it’s rare for any one song to maintain a constant pace throughout - the exception being Botox Implosion, which firmly sits in a higher gear for the entire track thanks to the manic drumming propelling it forwards. There’s also a break during Three Years Of Famine that I feel has a distinct medieval vibe to it that will no doubt be a marmite moment for many listeners. 

Occasionally, the slower parts tend to drag on for maybe slightly too long, and I found myself eager for a change of pace, but these would arrive soon after. Production on the album is solid, with great sounding guitars, booming bass, thunderous drums, and an immediately recognisable vocal tone. Moments where the instrumentation thins out feel well executed, and the swamp-like drudge never loses any clarity where it matters. Overall, it’s a great listen. Fans of the band will no doubt be pleased, and for new fans like myself, there’s plenty to enjoy. 8/10

The Dead Daisies: Holy Ground (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s no secret that I held this lot in contempt. Their past recordings have been a collection of covers and below par hard rock tracks that have done nothing to even get a whiff of smoke from the fireplace. But the arrival of Glenn Hughes to this rock collective provided enough of a carrot for me to dip back in. 
The list of former members is long and it’s the departure of vocalist John Corabi that is perhaps most significant. You can change any other position, but the vocals carry the entire identity of any band. Hughes, the self-styled voice of rock arrives to replace Corabi and bassist Marco Mendoza, who struts off into the distance. Hughes joins drummer Dean Castronovo, guitarist Doug Aldrich and sole founder member David Lowy. Kicking off with the bombastic title track, the first thing that hits is Hughes’ voice. At 69, the man shows no signs of wear in the larynx department, something I find incredible given his voracious appetite for illicit substances for most of the 1980s. Instantly recognisable, his stamp is all over Holy Ground. It’s big, it’s loud, full of melody with a hard backbone. Aldrich appears to have been given opportunity to let his playing flow, and there is little more to say except that it’s the perfect choice to open the album. The next four tracks follow in similar vein. 

All of them carry a huge sound, no doubt due in part to some excellent and expected high production values. The playing is tight, the musicianship solid and Aldrich excels with some soaring solos. Hughes has clearly brought a new lease of life to the band, his song writing and wide range of influences evident. Not only do we get the hard rock stomp that has followed his career from Purple to Sabbath and beyond, but Hughes brings his R'n'B feel, a bit of funk and ample swagger. There’s the semi-ballad My Fate and the boogie of Chosen and Justified, with a bluesy outro which mixes the direction once more. It’s the Purple roots that run deepest on Holy Ground. Previous records had seen The Dead Daisies veer more toward Creedence Clearwater Revival, but the change in direction is welcome. Hughes soars majestically, his voice dominant without overpowering. Saving Grace is the ideal example, a track that could fit into almost any era of Hughes five-decade career. Of course, it wouldn’t be The Dead Daisies without a cover and its 70s rockers Humble Pie who get the treatment this time. 30 Days In The Hole first appeared in 1972’s Smokin’ album and they do a robust job. The lyrical content and themes of isolation are very apt for current times, and Hughes does a grand job once more. Between Aldrich and him, they keep the track under tight control, with the thick slab of keyboards providing just the right additional balance. 

Leaving the emotionally soaked Far Away to last, this seven-minute piece is a slow burning melodic rock ballad which slowly evolves into a sonic soundscape with dramatic orchestral elements blending majestically. It offers a final showcase of the band’s many talents. Whilst the band’s press releases are as over the top as ever, hailing Holy Ground as an instant classic is way too premature, this is a particularly good hard rock album. By far the best album by this collective, Hughes should take a bow. Getting him on board has been a masterful decision, one that should see this album finish high in the end of year listings. 8/10

Painted Wives: New Medusa (The Century Family Records) [Matt Bladen]

Following up their Century Media released Obsessed With The End, Painted Wives have returned with their follow up New Medusa. I remember listening to the debut album and being mighty impressed by it at the time bringing fat riffs along with melodies galore. Well New Medusa is another slab of heavy doom influenced stoner metal that shifts between Mastodon, High On Fire and Gojira sounds with impressive ease. Waves of crunching heavy riffs from founding member Justin Suitor and Jeff Lyman both of whom shift the heaviness with oodles of melody too Suitors' vocals doing serious justice to Ryan Williams' lyrics (yes they have lyricist as part of the band, how vert Procol Harum). 

In true Mastodon style tracks like Device really ramp up those space age vibes, which re-appear on the warped ballad Golden Silver which also brings back their AIC flourishes. Downstairs cranks up a doom sound Derek Eglit's drumming shifting the track with power and finesse. Across the 12 cuts this record has, a brilliant mix of styles that gives you everything I've mentioned before and a lot more. Some albums need to be listened to, I could drone on and on about every single nuance but New Medusa needs to played to really understand why it's so bloody good! 8/10

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Reviews: Ektomorf, Red Method, Ufferndaith (Reviews By Richard Oliver & Matt Bladen)

Ektomorf: Reborn (Napalm Records) [Richard Oliver]

Reborn is the new album from long running Hungarian metallers Ektomorf. It is the first album for new label Napalm Records but the fifteenth album for the band overall. Ektomorf formed back in 1993 and were very much part of the groove metal, alternative metal and nu metal movement during the 90’s and 00’s. There have been many noted similarities to Sepultura and Soulfly during their career not only in musical sound and style but frontman Zoltan has a vocal style that is a dead ringer for Max Cavalera.

On previous album Fury, Ektomorf seemed to be shifting towards a more aggressive, thrash-influenced sound and that move is further cemented on Reborn. Although touted as a thrash metal album, Reborn still very much sits in the groove metal camp to my ears with the heavily downtuned guitars and groove metal riffing style prevalent throughout. There is definite influence from thrash and the more aggressive end of thrash with songs such as Ebullition and Where The Hate Conceives bristling with fury and relentless with fury. There is also a distinct increased use of melody especially in the guitar solos with some really tasty melodic leads in the title track and Fear Me. These melodic tendencies very much have a classic Metallica influence to them and instrumental Forsaken seems to be very heavily influenced by Metallica’s classic instrumental Orion.

Ektomorf have had the Sepultura/Soulfly comparisons for the majority of their career and Reborn isn’t going to do much to shift that with the record sounding very similar to the more recent Soulfly output. The album is very much lacking in originality and some songs do fall a bit flat especially with the very generic sounding groove metal riffs but you can tell that the passion is very much there and when this album hits its stride it will definitely get heads banging. This is a decent album of thrash influenced groove metal but won’t be setting any worlds ablaze. 6/10

Red Method: For The Sick - ReWorks (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Originally released in February 2020 Paul Hutchings gave For The Sick a 6/10 back then comparing it favourably to Iowa noise nicks Slipknot praising the nu-metal and industrial grooves. So nearly a year later the band have re-released their debut album in a 'Re-Worked' form with an additional song added for good measure. They have used the covid situation to dabble with the electronic elements on their debut and take to a much more industrial sound, the Slipknot sound of the vocals giving way to bands such as Rammstein, Jayce Lewis and even Gary Numan the heavy atmosphere coming on Slaves To the New World Order the new track on this record which has replaced the Nirvana cover that ended the original version. 

This is really heavily influenced by industrial Messiah throbbing with a Corey Taylor sings over Laibach vibe, as on the beginning of The Narcissist's Prayer things get very weird and dissonant. It's obvious that Alex 'The AVD' Avdis has had a much bigger slice of the musical pie on this one than he did before, adding what he did with previous band The Defiled. For The Sick - Reworks really moves this record from the metal sound into industrial soundscape. The track brings in ex-Sikth man Justin Hill on production of the intensely political song, while his co-vocalist Mikee Goodman remains on The Absent. It's a unique idea that doesn't add or detract anything from the original version rather it just filters it though a different musical lens. Interesting but not essential. 6/10

Ufferndaith: Cyn Ddued â Ffwc (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Despite having lived in Wales all of my life, I have a very low understanding of Welsh. Living in Cardiff we learn it unto Senior School and then nothing. So I've never been that involved in the Welsh language music scene, and I sure as hell didn't know that there was an extreme scene. But apparently there is and Ufferndaith (Humour) are about as extreme as it gets, their debut EP Cyn Ddued â Ffwc (As Old As Fuck) is a disconcerting style of industrial black metal that melds raw black metal nastiness with claustrophobic industrial soundscapes, the duo of the title track and Yr Aber (Ddiwedd Haf) full of disturbing noises. Now I'll admit that industrial music and raw black metal is not really my bag, and when I say raw I mean it sounds like you are listening to it down a corridor from behind the speakers. Certainly living up to the metallic industrial heritage of their hometown Merthyr Tydfil. So because of this unfortunately the EP was not really my thing. Only final track Tywyllwch Yr Oes peaked my interest, as much of it left me cold. However if glacial industrial soundscapes and dissonant black metal sounds like a fun night out to you, and of course if you speak Welsh (though when the vocals are basically screamed at you, does it matter what language they are in?) then I suggest Ufferndaith. 5/10

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Reviews: Therion, Conviction, Here Lies Man, Dragony (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Richard Oliver, Paul Scoble & Matt Bladen)

Therion: Leviathan (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

Back in the mists of time, Therion were a death metal band. Over time, under the careful tutelage of founder Christofer Johnsson, the band has pulled away from that style and is now rightly regarded as one of the founders and leading lights of the symphonic metal movement. Yet with a little careful research you’ll find links to magik, occultism and a focus on ancient writings. Leviathan is the 17th album for the band which released its first record Of Darkness … 20 years ago. Johnsson’s voracious work rate belies the fact that he curates records of incredibly complexity and intricacy. The use of choral, operatic, and symphonic elements alongside more traditional power and heavy metal means that it’s not unusual to hear flute, dynamic brass sections and sweeping orchestral movements in parallel with thick, chugging metal riffs and thundering double bass kicks. 

Leviathan is, according to Johnsson, “the first album that we have deliberately packed with Therion hit songs”. Now, I’m no expert on the band, having been aware of them but rarely having had any encounter other than mild skirmishes in new release lists, so I don’t know what a Therion hit song sounds like. What I do know is that if you like excessive, dramatic, and stirring symphonic metal music, then Leviathan should be on the pre-order list already. It’s magnificent in its opulence and drama and as the album develops it becomes more and more decadent and extravagant. The signs are there early with the imperious The Leaf On The Oak Of Far which opens the album. A racing riff holds the attention, the duelling female and male vocals capture the interest and the soaring choral backing soon takes centre stage. Fans of the band may well trace this interaction back to early works such as 1996’s Thelli. It’s followed by a more traditional Therion track, Tuonela, with the soprano tones of Lori Lews, the band’s female voice for the past decade, jousting vocally with Nightwish’s Marko Hietala. It’s already anthemic, majestic and quite ludicrously over the top. 

The sonic warblings and real operatic vocals arrive on Ai Dahka which is where things go completely over the top. It’s a hard rock song with some fantastic guitar playing, the vocals transport the track far away, backed by angelic choruses. Eye Of Algol brings a slice of Eastern promise with it, the darkened feel making it one of the standout tracks on the record. For much of the album, the atmosphere is that of a cinematic film score. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on Nocturnal Light, which opens in glorious style before receding into almost musical territory. There are hooks a plenty, the melodies are fantastic and yet, it’s so incredibly excessive that it is almost impossible to take it seriously. Johnsson’s passion for classic voices, choirs and orchestral movements shines through from start to finish. His core nod to Wagner remains unrestricted, something that is unlikely to change. Leviathan is named after a giant sea monster from Judeo-Christian myth that has roots in Babylonic lore. I imagine this will be a huge favourite with the band’s legions of fans. It is impressively constructed, and even though it leaves me somewhat cold, for many this album will be one of the highlights of the year. 7/10

Conviction: Conviction (Argonauta Records) [Richard Oliver]

In the most dreary and depressing month of the year (before any of the covid shite we are dealing with) it is apt to have a stonking piece of doom metal to listen to in the form of the self titled debut album from Conviction. Conviction are a four piece from Normandy in France who formed in 2013. After a demo and a handful of singles and compilation appearances 2021 sees their first full length debut and it’s a bit good. Conviction performs a very straightforward and unrelenting style of doom which evokes the classic doom sound of bands such as Saint Vitus and Candlemass but also takes some influence from the death doom sound of the early material of bands like My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost especially in some of the crushing riffs and mournful melodies.  The result is crushing, melancholic and monolithic doom metal with harsh, suffocating riffs but with the majority use of clean vocals by frontman Olivier Verron which are very much in a Scott “Wino” Weinrich style.

There are also some effective backing vocals from bassist Vincent Buisson and guitarist Frédéric Patte-Brasseur. The songs are all weighty in length which is usually part of the parcel when it comes to doom but there are enough tempo changes, riff assortments and interesting melodies to justify these song lengths. If anything this album flies by and I found myself very enraptured throughout. Songs such as Voices Of The Dead, Outworn and My Sanctuary are oppressive crushing pieces of doom which have an unrelenting bleakness to them but these are also met by songs such as Castles Made Of Shame which is more upbeat and has major Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus vibes whilst Curse Of The Witch is a pacier number (for doom anyway) and very much is reminiscent of classic Candlemass. 

There isn’t much I can complain about here. The performances are tight and there are some absolutely smoking performances especially in the guitar work and the songwriting is absolutely on form with a collection of long songs that kept me not only interested but enthralled throughout. I’m quite picky over my doom but this album ticked all the boxes for me. Conviction have a fantastic debut album here which plays to a lot of influence from classic doom but does it in fantastic style. 9/10

Here Lies Man: Ritual Divination (RidingEasy Records) [Paul Scoble]

Ritual Divination is Here Lies Man’s fourth album. The band is made up of members of the band Antibalas. Here Lies Man claim to mix Afro Beat percussion with Black Sabbath riffing. Although there is some influence from the doomy midlanders, a lot of the riffing, and there is a lot of riffing on this album, it feels far more rooted in late sixties and early seventies psychedelic rock. This is ably demonstrated by the song I Told You (You Shall Die) which is a fantastically uptempo exercise in fast, bouncy riffing. The percussion is impressive, most of the songs have a driving beat, backed up by extra percussion that is lower in the mix. The song What You See has some very impressive percussion which helps to drive the track along in a pleasingly head nodding way. 

Vocally thing are a little strange. The vocals are either gang vocals or they are multi-tracked, so they come across more like chants. This means that the songs feel more like a series of huge choruses, rather than songs. The riffing also emphasises this as the songs tend to only have a couple of main riffs that are repeated. This isn’t a problem as the riffs are very good, so they improve with repetition rather than getting boring. In many ways its the less obvious elements of Here Lies Man’s sound that keep changing and keep things interesting. The extra percussion might be quite low in the mix, bit there is always something interesting going on that adds more layers of interest. The psychedelic parts; keyboards and electronics also helps to keep things from getting boring. The track I Wander is a good example of this, the riffing takes a back seat, feeling more minimal, as the electronic elements dominate. 

Another track that lets the riffing slide and allows the psychedelia take over is the track Disappointed. However, this style does seem to obey the law of diminishing returns. Everything is fairly simple, so the fact that the album has 15 songs and is over an hour long, I did find my concentration waning in the last 15 minutes of the album. The material is also very similar to the band's last album, so if they want this to keep peoples attention developing some brevity might be a good idea for Here Lies Man. A very enjoyable, if over long album. 7/10

Dragony: Viribus Unitis (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Austria seems to be something of a symphonic/power metal heartland with bands such as Serenity, Edenbridge and Visions Of Atlantis all well respected in the genre. Dragony are from Austria, if you weren't sure this album opens with On The Blue Danube, and they have been dealing in melodic power/symphonic metal since 2007 formed by ex-Visions Of Atlantis singer Siegfried 'The Dragonslayer' Samer he has brought on members who have done their time in many of Austria's metal bands. Surprisingly Dragony have only released three albums since 2010 with Viribus Unitis their fourth record. On this album, their first for Napalm Records, having only signed in June of last year. 

They have returned somewhat to their roots, coming back with a conceptual piece around Emperor Franz Joseph, giving a different (fictional) version of what happened to their son which involves black magic and demonology as well as zombies and cyber-punks. So it's a record that really stretches the historical narrative into the fantastical. Musically they have brought a cinematic sound with huge sweeping orchestrals backing the melodic power metal that Dragony have been honing for over 10 years, Samer's vocals are brilliant having that sonorous croon of Georg Neuhauser who helps out vocally on the track A.E.I.O.U while the band are well drilled, powering through the 12 songs on this record. 

Concept aside, the tracks here stand up enough by themselves outside of it skillfully mixed and mastered by Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann (Orden Ogan) at Greenman Studios in Germany, Viribus Unitis is a big, ballsy, bravado-filled debut on Napalm Records by Dragony, that will hopefully raise them up a little higher in the melodic/power/symphonic metal scene they inhabit. 8/10

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

A View From The Screen: Avatar - Ages - An Impossible Concert Experience (Live Stream Review By Simon Black)

Avatar: Ages - An Impossible Concert Experience, Age Of Illusions, January 16 2021

Avatar have had a very successful decade. It doesn’t seem like any time at all has passed since I first came across them in 2014 when last minute travel problems for Graveyard meant that Avatar had the chance to grab a last minute upgraded slot on the Bloodstock main stage. They took that opportunity with both hands and, despite playing to a rain-weary and bleary-eyed crowd who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Somme in 1916, took their creepy version of Melo-Deth influenced Shock Rock to an unsuspecting crowd, stole the day and won a whole new audience.

Cut to January 2021 and Avatar are having a busy month. For four consecutive Saturdays (and at a very reasonable £15 a show), the band have been putting out streamed performances which between them cover their entire eight studio album discography. Last week fans were treated to a full rendition of last year’s quite excellent Hunter Gatherer and a greatest hits package to boot, which sadly I didn’t get to see. I say that with no small amount of feeling, as last year’s release earned a resounding ten out of ten from me and was just begging for the chance to be played live. This week’s show (with the moniker Illusions to reflect the fairy tale nature of the material it covers) is the turn of a fan-voted set list compiled from the Feathers & Flesh and Avatar Country albums. There’s more to come - for the next two Saturday’s in January, you can catch the remaining shows which will pull tracks from their remaining five studio albums as they work their way backwards in time through their remaining discography. 

Getting access to the shows was technically a little bit perplexing, but worth the hassle and as the final five minutes counted down, we witnessed the nice touch of having uploaded footage from the fans shouting the band’s name to create bit of the much needed live atmosphere. A nice touch and a clever move away from the frequently impersonal nature of these kinds of performance. Given that the set list has been chosen by the fans, this whole event feel more about us that it does the band and it is nice to see them get the streaming treatment, as I have to confess to being slightly disappointed that their contribution to last year’s European Festival Alliance / Bloodstock substitute used an archive festival recording.

The show opens with Johannes Eckerström soloing us into the set with Regret on a grand piano before nonchalantly walking over to a more traditional stage setting with the rest of the band. It felt very theatrical, which is absolutely what these guys do best. It was moody, effective and a taste of what was to come, with the band resplendent in their Feathers-era stage garb of red stockings and pom-poms. I am not sure that it’s a look that’s ever going to become as ubiquitous with Metal as a pair of Nu-rocks anytime soon, but fair play to them for their persistence with it. To be honest once the synchronised head banging starts, they’ve got you and the next hour just flies by as they rip their way through pretty much the whole concept album (with only Fiddler’s Farewell and Sky Burial missing from the set, I think most fans will feel they were well served in that regard). 

One interesting point to note is that the show was not a live stream per se, but more like a series of one take live concert videos, which gives the advantage of a multiplicity of scenery, props and effects to add to the mix but still keeps the rough and ready ‘as live’ feel. It’s a bit like watching 1950’s TV – we get a good ten to fifteen minutes of warts and all live playing (bum notes and cameramen getting in the way and all) and then a blackout as they pause the tape to move the band or the furniture around. They also employ the old 50’s semi-theatrical technique of following individual members of the band between the different sets, whilst those not on screen run round the back to their new positions. It sounds clunky, but it’s absolutely part of the claustrophobic feel that they seem to be trying to create. This feels in direct contrast to what most streams try and do with wide angles and soft lighting to try to make the punters feel like we were in a big open space (with Wacken’s CGI main stages being perhaps the most extreme example). The locked in feel absolutely works with this material however as well as touching a contemporary nerve, adding to the other worldly and slightly nightmarish feel of the show, to which Eckerström’s psychotic ringmaster is the finishing touch.

After a full hour there was even an intermission for two minutes to allow for a plausible costume changes, make up freshening and bladder emptying (which fortunately saw the back of the red pom-pom socks) and then we were straight into a slightly shorter set of Avatar Country material. This time the approach was slightly different, with a shorter selection of tracks and this time not entirely in original recording order. With Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jalrsby ensconced on his throne, desperately hoping that the Game of Thrones-esque fireworks behind him don’t set his dreads alight, kicks things off with Glory To Our King. Just to make things interesting, he also has an axe-cam perched on the end of his flashy red Ibanez, which is shows you how disconcertingly close he actually was to the pyro. This is made doubly disconcerting as Johannes Eckerström periodically wets his whistle from a petrol can in the background and nicely suspends the disbelief that this is all coming from a nice safe studio somewhere in the vicinity of Gothenburg.

These streamed shows can be very hit and miss and they’re not for everyone, but I can firmly state that this for me this was a very palpable hit. Although Eckerström in particular was clearly missing the audience and his inter-song banter, although creepy as only he can be, was slightly less captivating in this setting. But frankly this is a ridiculously minor niggle. The shock rock style fits very well into this format, especially when the band play off of the tricks of the visual media language. Add to this blisteringly tight performances and a spot-on sound mix and you can’t really go wrong. Given that you got a full hour and forty-five minutes of material for this show you certainly get your money’s worth. And indeed the same last week and presumably for the two remaining ones to come on the 23rd and 30th of this month. There aren’t many things for Metal fans to look forward to in the current state of the world, but these two upcoming shows are definitely up there for me. 9/10

Monday, 18 January 2021

Reviews: Ingested, Winterage, Be The Wolf, Konquest (Reviews By Charlie Rogers, Richard Oliver, Simon Black & Paul Scoble)

Ingested: Stinking Cesspool Of Liquefied Human Remnants (Unique Leader Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Slamchester’s finest export are at it again, releasing a re-mix of the tracks first featured on 2007’s split North West Slam Fest (which also featured Crepitation and Kastrated). An interesting idea definitely, as most fans may not have a copy of NWSF - using modern production and mixing techniques breathes life into this perhaps forgotten gem. The EP fades in with a sample track, as was the style at the time, before the first song Butchered And Devoured bludgeons your ears with intense blast beats and snarling guitars. The foul gutturals, snorts, and screeches produced by frontman Jay are prominent and disgusting, perfectly encapsulating the horrid landscape Ingested set out to portray. Each utterance is audible, with clarity and sitting perfectly atop the whirring, aggressive mess the instruments bring forth. But it doesn’t stop there, as the clarity extends down into the guitars, bass, and drums, with each having masses of space to show off masterful tone, razor sharp playing, and uncompromising brutality. My face aches from the unconscious positions it took upon listening. 

However, those looking for something new (who aren’t interested in re-mixes), will be found wanting here, as apart from the sample track, and aforementioned Butchered And Devoured - all other tracks have appeared during Ingested’s discography. Pre-Released Foetal Mush and Copremesis appeared on 2009’s full length Surpassing The Boundaries Of Human Suffering, and Erotic Depravity was released as a single to accompany the 10th anniversary re-release of Surpassing…. It’s a confusing release too, given how Ingested’s sound has moved away from the knuckle dragging, sloped forehead, gorilla music that appears here, and the band’s previous statements that they won’t be performing music from this era any more. That said, it’s an enjoyable venture, with a distinct “turn brain off” attitude to the songs. Worth listening to if you’ve been a fan from the start, and certainly worth investigating if you’ve not heard their early material. Just don’t expect to hear these live, unless you’ve recently purchased a DeLorean. 8/10

Winterage: The Inheritance Of Beauty (Scarlet Records) [Richard Oliver]

When you think of Italian symphonic power metal then first thoughts go to Rhapsody (and the various different versions of said band) though there are a few more bands who play a similar style and hail from Italy. You’ve got Sound Storm and Ancient Bards to name but two but looking to make a name of themselves are Winterage with their ambitious second album The Inheritance Of Beauty. What separates Winterage from a lot of other symphonic metal bands is the inclusion of  a violinist in the line up. The violinist Gabriele Boschi is one of the main songwriters in the band and her classical knowledge means that the orchestral parts have an authenticity about them. The inclusion of a full orchestra on the album also adds to this. As well as the classical influences there is also a big medieval folk influence throughout with plentiful use of folk melodies and the use of genuine folk instrumentation especially during the pirate themed The Mutineers and The Wisdom Of Us. The majority of the music on the album is standard fare when it comes to symphonic power metal which is big, overblown and bombastic arrangements full of classical influence. 

Aside from the more folk influenced songs previously mentioned other highlights include La Morte Di Venere which is a huge sweeping orchestral ballad where soprano Vittoria Leoni takes the vocal lead and absolutely owns it with a awe inspiring performance. The highlight though has to be the closing song The Amazing Toymaker. At nearly seventeen minutes in duration this is a colossally epic composition which sees Winterage throw everything in their arsenal at us from overly dramatic spoken word performances, gloriously epic and over the top orchestration and some absolutely nutty vocal performances. It veers at times into something half resembling a film soundtrack and an opera.  It is completely barmy and all the better for it. The Inheritance Of Beauty is a hugely ambitious album and whilst there are some genuinely brilliant moments the material on the album isn’t consistent throughout with some definite filler. The band are sometimes a bit too reminiscent of Rhapsody but without the songwriting ability to match. It’s a gloriously over the top album and The Amazing Toymaker is probably the cheesiest thing I will hear in 2021. 7/10

Be The Wolf: Torino (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

This Italian hard rock trio have been producing albums fairly prolifically since 2015, with this record being number four and named after their home town up in the top left corner of Italy close to both France and Switzerland. They have not been afraid to vary their output and in their times have released records that vary in style from the poppy hard rock of their debut, via respectively more bluesey and metal sounds on the ones that followed. This one has a more melodic radio friendly hard rock style however, but doesn’t constrain itself too much. Do they appeal to a Metal audience? Well yes, providing the listener is open to more varied styles and sounds and if you include the likes of the Manic Street Preachers or Muse in your tick list, then this lot and their fluid approach will work just fine for you. Given that their vocalist and guitarist Federico Mondelli may be better known as the frontman for Milanese Power Metal outfit Frozen Crown, means their Metal credentials are just fine, thank you very much.

There’s some well-crafted and catchy numbers on here. If I had to pick a favourite I would go for the wisely chosen single April, with its nodding tempo, upbeat energy, catchy chorus and focused melody lines, this song summarises the album rather well. If you like this, you will like the rest. Where this album works quite well is that all of the different styles and sounds they’ve focussed in on in previous releases are effectively thrown into the mix with this record. There’s definitely more of an Post-Grunge/Alternative rock sensibility to this as well; add some almost progressive time changes and tricks into the pot as well and this gives them quite a distinctive and fresh ‘house sound’. It’s not going to be for everyone, but if you want a more laid back thoughtful set of tracks to pass your time with then this will do just fine. 7/10

Konquest: The Night Goes On (Iron Oxide Records) [Paul Scoble]

Most one man bands come from the more extreme ends of the metal spectrum, hundreds of Black Metal, Harsh Noise, Extreme Industrial or Grindcore acts are just one person acts. However, Konquest are now flying the flag for One Man Bands in the Traditional Metal subgenre. Konquest are a One Man Band, and the man in question is Alex Rossi, who is based in Prato, Tuscany. He has been making music under the Konquest moniker since 2019, and The Night Goes On is the band's first release. As I mentioned before Konquest play a very traditional style of Heavy Metal, specifically a very early eighties, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal style that is clearly influenced by Early Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Diamond Head and possibly a little bit of Mercyful Fate. The album features 8 mid-paced, occasionally fast slices of fairly simple Traditional Heavy Metal. 

Don’t take simple as a criticism, the straightforward nature of the material is one of its strengths. The songs are short, to the point and don’t mess about, they are dripping with melody and some fantastic harmony guitars and great vocals. It’s reminiscent of the first 3 Maiden albums and is also very well produced, there is proper separation of instruments and it all sounds very clear and crisp. Title track The Night Goes On is a cracking piece of melodic, up tempo metal with some great harmonised guitars and a very singalong chorus. Too Late has loads of energy and a rhythmic similarity to Running Free, and is packed with energy and melody. Heavy Heart is appropriately the slowest and heaviest track on the album, and coming near the end of the album, it gives a pleasing change in pace. Despite this being a very good album, at one point it becomes a little too influenced by Early Iron Maiden. 

Final track The Vision features, quite prominently, an obvious riff taken from Hallowed Be Thy Name. And before you ask, Yes it is that riff, you know the one you leave the gig humming, that riff. It does spoil a really good track, and it’s a shame that it’s there, distracting you from a great album. The Night Goes On is a great album. It’s steeped in early eighties Traditional Heavy Metal, is packed with great melodic riffs and harmonies. Apart from being a little too close to someone else’s material at one point, this is a superb album. 7/10

Friday, 15 January 2021

Reviews: Fireforce, Fractal Generator, Tantivy, Oath SC (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Fireforce: Rage Of War (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records)

Now it's usually the Americans that play heavy power metal, I'm thinking mainly about Iced Earth (a band that surely won't be releasing any more albums). But bringing this style of muscular, thrash influenced style of power metal back to Europe shores is Belgian metal crew Fireforce, who along with German's Mystic Prophecy, have been leading the European front on this style of music since the early 200's. Fireforce's fourth full length record Rage Of War continues mining the same heavy power metal sound they have been brining to the metal masses since 2008. Much like many of their American cousins it's built around rugged riffs and intense drumming taking a thrash-like approach though never shies away from going into the anthemic on Ram It. As I've said this record is built around the riffs (Firepanzer), with stinging production from R.D Liapakis (Mystic Prophecy), and the inflammatory six stringing is used hide a multitude of sins, mainly the vocals which are a little hit and miss especially due to this record being far too long at 13 tracks. There needs to be a bit of creative control here as at least 4 tracks could be cut and Rage Of War would be a little more impactful. Still it's both melodic and heavy enough to satisfy power metal fans but doesn't ever really hit the spot. 6/10     

Fractal Generator: Macrocosmos (Everlasting Spew Records)

Sci-Fi and technical death metal go together like cheese and biscuits, they usually channel the sci-fi influences through dark horror themes so it's ideal for the nastier, more evil side of death metal. Fractal Generator are one such band that blend darker existential themes, science fiction and virtuoso playing. Coming from Canada, Macrocosmos is the follow up to their debut Apotheosynthesis which was an intense record that drew from (early) Decapitated and Morbid Angel, but no matter how go the musicianship was it was let down a little by the production on the record. It seems as if this was addressed by the band on this second album, as they have taken five years to write this record but have genuinely tried to step up the production. 

The band handling that themselves while they let Stefano Morabito of 16th Cellar Studio make his mark on the mixing and mastering. He has worked with bands such as Fleshgod Apocalypse so if anyone knows how to make a band sound weighty it's him. This record has a theme, dealing with the existence of larger niverses that contain our tiny universe (macrocosmos) so it's got a lot of those existential "are we alone in the universe" themes I mentioned earlier. The band, who go under the monikers: 040118180514 (bass/vocals), 040114090512 (drums), 102119200914 (guitar/vocals) are all extremely proficent musicians shifting between crushing beatdowns, thunderous blast beats that all have a progressive flourishes as tracks like Contagion and Chaosphere are face meltingly fast as the latter is underscored by some synths while Serpentine brings some melodic edges and Shadows Of Infinity has some Fear Factory industrial battery to it. 

Brutally heavy death metal from the frozen lands of North America, Macrocosmos is weighty return from Fractal Generator. 7/10

Tantivy: Eyes In The Night (Self Released)

Yet another sleazy, speed/thrash metal record mixed and mastered by Trevor William Church, Tantivy are less Maiden more Motorhead with a heap of the gnarly buzzsaw riffs of Toxic Holocaust cutting through your listening experience with an analogue production style for that early 80's sound where records like this were confined to cassettes and traded between local bands. Tantivy is a duo from Wisconsin Adam Geurink is vocals, guitars and bass while Jon Zimick bashes the drums drawing from Guerink's experience in crust-punk bands but with a melody of early Priest on Houdin Ya where the thrash meets the NWOBHM gallop, although a shed load faster. At just five tracks it's certainly a statement from Tanivity Nowhere the pick of the bunch as you can feel the pit starting to kick off as it bounds along with a choppy riff behind Geurink's raw vocal scream. A concise shot of NWOTHM as this EP announces Tantivy to the world with a bang! 7/10

Oath SC: Computer Warrior (Self Released) [2020]

Another Trevor William Church alumni Oath Sc (as to seperate them from the numerous other bands called Oath) is a little more raw than Tantivy. Basically a solo project from Steve Waddell it's also a lot more melodic with touches of AOR coming through with clean twin axe attack however that's not to say that the record is lightweight in fact there is a dark heart here with Angelwitch a big influence musically and vocally, as is Di'Anno fronted Maiden. It's been crafted as 'garage days 80's band' intentionally making the record sitting in that second tier of NWOBHM bands that never made it into the mainstream but become cult classics in their own right. 

It's been faithfully recreated with the NWOTHM of which Oath Sc are certainly part of now. Bands like Haunt, Tanith and Unto Others (formerly Idle Hands) have successfully translated this sound of slightly progressive NWOBHM very well and Oath Sc does the same embracing the D.I.Y ethos as Waddell takes care of every instrument/vocal here to great effect, chugging away with Insomnia as those twin axe attacks comes back on the the title track. Chock full of fist pumping anthems Computer Warrior is great record from Edinburgh native Steve Waddell, channelling those glistening streets of L.A with Computer Warrior. 8/10        

Thursday, 14 January 2021

A View From The TV Screen: Nightstalker - Stages A/Live Concert Film (Review By Matt Bladen)

Nightstalker, Stages A/Live, At Gagarin 205 Live Space, Athens

The Onassis Foundation was set up by Business Magnate Aristotle Onassis in memory of his son Alexander to promote culture, education, health and social solidarity, and they have put their collective muscle behind supporting the live music/creative scene in Greece due to its cultural importance to the country. A well connected organisation active showing support to creative industries with the support of the government? What a novel idea!

Well the Onassis Foundation has set about supporting the creative/musical industries in Greece by staging a number of live concert films, the Stage A/Live project on their YouTube Channel to give the bands, stage hands, videographers, editors, assistants, engineers etc etc a chance to use/showcase their skills in the wake of the global pandemic. The band chosen as the first concert film was psychedelic stoner rock troubadours Nightstalker, one of the bands who I'd say are in the top echelon of Greek rock/metal act. These veterans of the scene (30 years and counting) had their hour long set recorded at Athens' Gagarin 205 Live Space with a comprehensive stage set up, full back line and a film crew capturing every single fuzz drenched note Nightstalker crank out.

Led by irrepressible figure of Argy behind the mic, the maelstrom of Nightstalker kicks off the throbbing Zombie Hour the huge light wall behind Argy pulsating to the thick riffage of Tolis Motsios (guitar) and Andreas Lagios (bass) as drummer Dinos Roulos thunders the band organised in a practice square all facing each other to work off each others vibes. As the blistering twosome of Forever Stoned and Just A Burn got the show going properly the production team managed to add a cinematic style to the show, documentary style camera work was giving it a guerrilla feel while the slo-mos and the visual effects brought the show some flourishes you never normally get from a concert film. After the killer cut of Baby, God Is Dead, The Dog That No-One Wanted brought some additional vocals by Tonia Antoniou and Nina Foskolou who stick around for the haunting Sad Side Of The City. At 55 minutes the show was a perfect introduction to anyone watching the bands for the first time but also one that treated the band with the sort of stage show they deserve filmed by a professional crew. I'm looking forward the future shows they have planned as this show was a real showcase of not just of the band but of the Greek creative industries in general. 8/10

Reviews: Bloody Hammers, Gatecreeper, Hunted By Elephants, Supermoon (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Bloody Hammers: Songs Of Unspeakable Terror (Napalm Records)

Returning from their crypt in Transylvania County, North Carolina occult rock n rollers Bloody Hammers return with an album that adds another gory string to their Satanic bow and arrow. Anders Manga (vocals/guitar) and wife Devallia (organist/pianist) move into otherworldly realms as yet untouched by their occult musical leanings. They have adopted the funky, punky attitude of bands such as The Misfits and The Cramps. With the "woah woah" refrain A Night To Dismember immediately has the Danzig/Only trademarks all over it. But why? I hear you ask, why have this gloomy doomy duo moved away from the psych/doom rock riffs into a much more punk-influenced sound? 

Well the answer like most things last year is Covid 19, fresh off his darkwave project Manga was stopped from touring so he and Devallia set about recording a new Bloody Hammers based upon the New York C.B.G.B alumni like the bands mentioned earlier, albeit still with that Bloody Hammers occult doom sound, B-Movie soundbites and a generally schlocky feel of something that would have been introduced by Elvira. You can hear tracks such as The Ones Who Own The Dark, the anthemic We Are The Damned and I Spit On Your Corpse blasting out of a Hearse Hot-Rod racing through a graveyard in at midnight. Manga's booming vocals and chainsaw guitar playing augmented by the searing synth lines of Devallia, for a record that is very true to the spirit of every horror-punk band ever, on Waking The Dead especially they have nailed the sound of The Misfits better than the Misfits. Coming from an enforced withdrawal from touring etc has led to this genre shift from an established act, one that has been achieved very soundly. 7/10

Gatecreeper: An Unexpected Reality (Closed Casket Activities)

Seen as one of the leading names in modern death metal Arizona heavyweights Gatecreeper have dropped a surprise album that, like the Bloody Hammers record is unlike their previous releases, as it is almost a split release with themselves. The main part focuses quite heavily on the more politically charged acerbic sound of grindcore with the tracks whizzing by in a flurry of rusty saw riffs and barked vocals, none of them really longer than 2 minutes. Where as the final song Emptiness is a monolithian 8 minute plus doom that makes up half of the EP's runtime. 

The inspiration behind this was Black Flag's My War and is something the band have been wanting to do for ages. They wanted to write an EP full of sounds they were not known for, it was only when the pandemic hit they finally decided to write a record that features nasty grindcore and doom metal, as there was no expectation of singles or tours to support it. Something of a vanity project yes, but one that will hopefully influence their future releases. A surprise beatdown in a the middle of January, that's very welcome indeed! 7/10   

Hunted By Elephants: Carry On (Self Released)

Following on from their well received debut Rise Of The Elephant in 2019, London based classic rockers Hunted By Elephants set about writing their follow up almost immediately, bolstered by the success and radio play of that albums singles. Now I will say outright that what Hunted By Elephants do, is not by any means unique, they are clearly inspired by the likes of Free, Humble Pie along with more modern names like Rival Sons, so their blues-based ear-friendly hard rock is nothing new, but when done well this music is exciting, it stretches back to the first mega-titans of rock n roll and with stations such as Planet Rock doing their best to champion bands that have this 'classic rock' sound then there are no shortage of bands that will try an capture that essence of Purple, Zeppelin, Sabbath et al. 

Hunted By Elephants (which poses the question what did the band do to the elephants to end up in this position?) take there musical influences seriously deciding that their record should be captured like the bands of yore, this means that all of the songs here have been recorded live in the studio with all the members together (a novelty in this Covid world) the studio tweaks (mastering etc) were added afterwards of course but the bulk of what you hear on Carry On is the four musicians jamming things out in the studio. It means that there is an analogue hue to the record, songs for vinyl if you will. With the easy going strut of Let Me Be easily sliding into the Lizzy-like title track.  

The pulsating low end hum of Raymond Phelan's bass gives a rich warmth when met with Alex Buttice's enthusiastic drumming, they are a fiery engine room but also deft when the record slows down into slinky blues sounds. Roman Flourendzou's six string is all buzzing riffs and solos that are stepped in panache but never work to hard to get a reaction, and finally Apostolos Liapis' rich vocals have that soulful edge of that has become the staple of a classic rock singer as he languishes in the Plant-like gruffer mid range occasionally teasing with his top notes.

As the record plows on The Weapon brings the folky flourishes of Led Zeppelin III, Keep On Giving Me Loving is pure Coverdale filth, while Towards The Light is a grandiose Deep Purple-like ballad replete with organs. Carry On is great hard rock record, I said at the beginning of the album that when it's done well this 'classic rock' sound can be very exciting and Hunted By Elephant do it very well indeed making for a brilliant follow up! 9/10 

Supermoon: S/T (Self Released) [2020]

I'm not really sure what sort of substances Vasilis Tsigkris has been using but it has certainly made him very creative. He is the driving creative force behind Supermoon which was initially a solo project, and to a point still is as Tsigkris plays everything on this record, but they are now a fully fleshed out four-piece spacecraft on the live stage anyway. This debut record is ready to take the listener on a trip through the very fabric of time and space. How Supermoon go about this is by playing hypnotic, heavy psych rock record with walls of fuzzy guitar riffage, rhythmic, tribal drumming and shamanistic, chanting, heavily echoed vocals (Mantra). 

Lyrically inspired by spirituality, nature, folk tales and mythology, there is a Eastern influence to many of the songs, moving away from bands such as Kyuss and Yawning Man into acts such as Goat (if you've never heard of them I suggest you check them out) The music here is created to bewitch you into a steady head nodding trance the dense instrumentals guiding you on this cosmic journey through a kaleidoscopic soundscape. Only with the final track Moon Rabbit does the heavy grooves give way to a more ambient atmosphere with a two part closure to this record. A stirring debut from this Athenian act, serving suggestion is your substance of choice then play nice and loud. 7/10

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Reviews: Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, Antre, Kabbalah, Midnight Spell (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Paul Scoble, Richard Oliver & Simon Black)

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou: The Helm Of Sorrow EP (Sacred Bones) [Matt Bladen]

May Our Chambers Be Full was one of the most spellbinding albums of 2020, encapsulating a year of hardship with two idiosyncratic acts blissfully working in unison for an album that was certainly on many peoples 'must have' list. However it was not an immediate record, only after numerous plays did it weaves it's magic and revealed it's brilliance, it was also apparently too short! This is because Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou have returned with an EP, called The Helm Of Sorrow, it contains four tracks that were conceived during the May Our Chambers Be Full but never made it to that record. Why this is really doesn't need to be explained, as it's certainly not to do with it being 'lesser' material in any shape or form, neither is it due to it being stylistically different, the four songs here are still 90's grunge/alternative music drenched in the band's own styles. 

So it is yet again more mystery added to this project and as the evocative Orphaned Limbs starts off very in the ERR vein of atmospheric post-rock before it buildings into the raging sludge of Thou, so essentially a song of two parts that is followed by the thundering heaviness of Crone Dance where the down-tuned fuzz is floated upon by ERR's ethereal vocals as the numerous breakdowns that come seem to be anchored by some hurdy gurdy in the background, the song slowing to a doomy crawl, Recurrence melding grunge with an almost black metal-like rage as the EP closes with a cover of The Cranberries Hollywood which is essentially a heavier version of the original, vocals and all. A perfect accompanying release for May Our Chambers Be Full. 8/10      

Antre: Dark Spectrum (Withered Hand Records) [Paul Scoble]

Antre are based in Nottingham, and have been making the midlands a much noisier place since 2017. The five piece have released an EP and an album called Void before this release; I reviewed Void in 2019 and found it to be a very good piece of Orthodox Black metal. So, how have the band developed since their very well received debut. The EP contains 4 tracks. Opening track Through These Dead Eyes is probably the most strait-forward of the songs. It opens with blasting Black Metal before settling down for a more mid-paced section that is driving and purposeful, before a slow, heavy and discordant ending. Second track Become The Damned opens with some mid-paced riffing that is very tuneful and has a strong melodic centre, with some very pleasing tremolo picked riffs. 

The song then takes a turn towards some very effective Black Thrash riffs which are packed with energy, before the song takes a further turn towards some very slow and heavy riffs which take the song to its end. Mask Of The Saviour is probably the most interesting track on the EP. It opens with thrashy Black Metal riffing before getting nicely slow and discordant. The thrash returns for a moment, before we get a single acoustic guitar and spoken word part. This acoustic guitar part slowly morphs into a heavier and more powerful form of the same riff, this then slowly changes into some very good Depressive Black Metal riffing. The track comes to an end with a very slow and heavy section. Final track Cursed Existence starts with some very savage, blasting Black metal before a soft acoustic part signals the return of slow and melodic Depressive Black Metal section. 

The song ends with a faster and more thrashy section bringing everything to an end in a very energetic way. Dark Spectrum is a great EP. Every track is very good, and the ebb and flow of the EP is very good, it never gets boring as the songs constantly change. It feels as if the band is developing their sound very well, the tracks are more complex than the material on their album, Void. This bodes very well for their next release (hopefully a full album). 8/10 

Kabbalah: The Omen (Rebel Waves Records) [Richard Oliver]

The Omen is the second album from Spanish occult rockers Kabbalah. It follows the bands debut album Spectral Ascent released in 2017 and a string of EP’s that preceded that. Kabbalah are a three piece consisting of Carmen Espejo on drums, Marga Malaria on bass and Alba Ddu on guitars with all three contributing vocals. Kabbalah play a fuzzed out mix of occult rock, psychedelic rock and proto-doom metal. It is a sound that harks back to the late 60’s and early 70’s with nods to bands such as Coven, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult and Pentagram. The band do a very good job of capturing the spirit of that era with doom laden riffs soaked in mystical atmosphere, haunted vocals that exude evil and enough darkness to summon the devil. 

It is quite a straightforward sound and basically an homage to the occult rock bands of yesteryear but it is a very good homage nonetheless with songs such as Stigmatized, Lamentations and Liturgy evoking the dark spirit of the occult rock classics. The Omen whilst acting as not much more than a retro throwback to the occult rock of the late 60’s and early 70’s is a decent album. There are plenty of bands who do this retro occult rock style and whilst Kabbalah do it well there is not much here to differentiate them from other bands doing a similar style. Regardless of the lack of originality The Omen is still an enjoyable listen. 7/10

Midnight Spell: Sky Destroyer (Iron Oxide Records) [Simon Black]

It’s amazing how things come around again. When I was a teenager in the 1980’s, the Metal underground was all about Thrash and the emerging Death and Extreme Metal scenes, with NWOBHM and Trad Metal that predated it very much perceived as old school (even whilst acknowledging the debt of gratitude given that’s what generally got our attention in the first place). And let’s not even go into the commercial sensibilities underlying the Hair/Glam/Sleaze Metal scene at the time... So when I read a press release that talks about this act emerging from the underground I cannot help but smile. Things really have come full circle. Midnight Spell hail from Florida, USA and this young five piece’s debut album has been brewing since 2017. 

I’m very much reminded of the first two Iron Maiden albums musically (although vocally Paolo Velazquez is more in the Bruce Dickinson mould). Even though publicity photos evoke this image, although this band are far, far more than just a Maiden clone. There is that raw ‘as live’ energy captured on this record that does not feel over produced, there’s that crisp bass high in the mix and harmonised twin guitars flowing melodically. There are hints to more modern tropes as well, although the  time changes and instrumental pieces would not sound out of place on early Thrash albums. The opener Blood For Blood is a harsh burst of in your face Speed Metal and not really a representative track for their sound, so it’s an unusual choice for single. Velazquez feels like he’s forcing his voice a notch too far on the streams, and his style settles down a lot more with Between The Eyes – a far more straight ahead rocker, of which there are a few examples which Midnight Spell competently deliver. By the time we get to Lady Of The Moonlight, we’ve added some galloping rhythm lines and some good old fashioned Melodic Metal shredding to the mix, and really they can do no wrong from this point. 

When things do speed up again, say on Midnight Ride, we can see that there's a really tight rhythm section hidden away in here, and since their sticksman Brian Wilson has previously pounded the skins for Yngwie Malmsteen, this is perhaps not surprising, and bassist Cam Martell is clearly a student of Steve Harris. The weakness of the album lies for me with the production, as the danger with trying to emulate the sound of the past is that you miss out on the technical opportunities of the present. The positives are that the sound captures each instrument clearly and crisply, but the overall sound is not as rich, fat and heavy as the more melodic aspects would most benefit from. Definitely a highly promising start and a refreshing opener for 2021. 8/10     

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Reviews: Dread Sovereign, Starified, CB3, Ominous Glory (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Dread Sovereign: Alchemical Warfare (Metal Blade Records)

This has been a long time coming. Dread Sovereign is the black/proto-metal/doom project from Nemtheanga who has been at the forefront of the black metal scene with Primordial. With Dread Sovereign Nemtheanga plays bass along with vocals, bringing Bones on guitar and JK on drums and aiming at the sound cultivated by bands such as Venom and Hellhammer where proto-black metal is met with speed driven rock n roll. With a couple of releases under their belt, released periodically as either EP's or full lengths, the lyrical and thematic content of each of the surrounding the trio's time travelling exploits in the historical and ecumenical realms. 

These lofty lyrical themes are tilted through a praise of Satan's existence in every one of us, Alchemical Warfare embracing that with more of punk attitude, as the band put it themselves "If it's the end of days we might as well go out with middle fingers raised right?". So with that in mind how does Alchemical Warfare weigh up against the rest of the Dread Sovereign canon, well as She Wolves Of The Savage Season explodes with some gutsy, grizzled riffs that continue into The Great Beast We Serve which has battering Motorhead vibe to it as Nature Is The Devil's Church has a distinctive gallop from the early days of black metal, Nemtheanga shouting like Cronos in a bad mood. If there was a party at the end of the world, the evils of man unleashed then Alchemical Warfare would be the soundtrack you'd want playing, it's a rip snorter that doesn't end until the cover of Bathory's You Don't Move Me (I Don't Give A Fuck). 7/10

Starified: Fat Hits (Ripple Music)

Power trios are stock in trade for the stoner rock scene but here we have a band that have a much more in common with the grunge and alternative sound of the late 90's this is the second record for them as a trio from a five piece guitarist Yuriy Berezovik, bassist Dmitri Shurpakov and drummer vocalist Vadim Ambartsumian, continuing where they left of on previous album Feathers. One of the major influences here is Foo Fighters mainly due to Vadim's vocal style on tracks like What If and the riffy Same Old River reminding you of the power The Foos had back in the day, before they became another 'classic rock act.

The band also cite The White Stripes and Led Zeppelin as influences but I hear a hell of a lot Faith No More with some quirky additions to the Latin influenced Don Loco, while Scapegoat starts the album with huge stoner riffs as Saraton does the same with thick heavy riffs as Noah takes things into the space rock heaviness climaxing with some explosive guitar playing. Everything here is so tight in terms of production the vocals, quite rightly taking center stage but nothing seems forgotten or overlooked. Its a record that is frothy and fun with the radio friendly alternative rock riffs met with some classic touches of Lizzy (a band Starified have covered recently). Expertly crafted riff rock from Russia, Fat Hits is a record with 10 tracks of exactly that! 8/10
  
CB3: Aeons Live Session (The Sign Records)

When a band who thrive on their live show release an album just before a global pandemic which puts pay to every single live show in over a year, then you could be forgiven for just giving up but not CB3 (Charlottas Burning Trio), they went into Signalverket in Malmö to record three songs from their album Aeon in a live environment, where they can display their instrumental, fuzzy, freak out jam rock prowess. Recorded for YouTube and on special 12 inch single. So across the three songs Acid Haze, Sonic Blaze and Warrior Queen, we get carried away on a journey through expansive psychedelic spheres of bands like Barrett-era Pink Floyd, where the music speaks louder than words the trio of, Charlotta Andersson (guitar), Pelle Lindsjö (bass), Natanael Salomonsson (drums), kick out the jams with long mind expanding experimental numbers ready for consumption by their fans. A unique idea but one that really only appeals to those who enjoy instrumental jam rock. 6/10  

Ominous Glory: The Elven Dream (Self Released)

Occasionally in this crazy world of reviewing you stumble across a record that is so unbelievably daft and overblown that you can't help but grin from ear to ear. The first time I heard Blind Guardian, Avantasia and Ayreon all promoted these feelings upon a first listen, added to that list is now Ominous Glory hailing from Philadelphia, their debut album is set in a mythical Elven Kingdom a million miles away from the East Coast of America. A concept album revolving around Elves, fantasy and Norse Mythology, featuring bombastic arrangements, multiple vocalists playing different parts and some power metal music that is a cheesy as Roquefort fondue. The album is 15 tracks long but my god do you get involved, the album builds with the first real "wow" moment comes with the Wayfaring Journeyman a driving, fist-in-the-air power metal which seems to open up the record into much more expansive realms, using the vocals of Rek Anthony (the band's main vocalist), Sarah Teets (operatic) and Ryan Hogan (death growls) to work in unison it has a Sabaton nature about it. 

Nordania brings folk touches moving into the Blind Guardian extravagance as does Echoes In TimeLove Knows No Distance is a mega ballad. The telltale signs of pretty much every major power/symphonic metal band, but all brought together with a unique storyline and some excellent arrangements. I've mentioned the vocalists and Rek Anthony has a great middle tone with the other voices, mentioned before along with Mike McElwee as the fourth singer fleshing things out on the character side. Musically things get incredibly cinematic, with Alistar Blackmane (guitar, orchestration, programming and narration), Michael Stegossi (keys), Jamison Wright (flute, keys) and Jacob Esbensen (bass) the main creative force as AJ Viana sits behind the drumkit and Jeff Teets plays some lead guitars near the end of the record. With such a dense membership, there is a lot of freedom to explore the theatrical leanings of this album as well as the influences present throughout. The Elven Dream is a magnificent debut that seems to have been many years in production, it's well worth the wait. 9/10   

Monday, 11 January 2021

Reviews: Need, Voodoo Circle, Wedge, Old Selves (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Need: Norchestrion - A Song For The End (Ikaros Records)

Some bands just get it. They understand exactly what they have to do to appeal to their fan base. Greek progressive metal band Need are a band that do this, very, very well. Taking musical cues from bands such as Dream Theater, Symphony X, Savatage and Nevermore their style of dark, melodic progressive metal is bewitching and exciting in equal measures. Their previous release, 2017's Hegaiamas: A Song For Freedom took the band to a different level to their previous releases, building their influences into a pretty much perfect progressive metal album full of virtuoso playing, sweeping symphonics, passionate vocals and a thematic link that was the band reaching a new level in their career. Thankfully after another long creation period, the same can be said of Norchestrion: A Song For The End, in fact it actually improves upon the near-perfection of its predecessor. 

This fifth full length starts off with Avia a track which is chunky, off-kilter melodic riff that wouldn't sound wrong an Evergrey record, in fact the impassioned vocals of Jon Voyager here remind me of Tom S Englund giving a depth as the proggy riffs shift into some shimmering synth work from Anthony Hadjee. It's a slow burner of an opening but packs a huge amount of musicianship into just over 5 minutes, displaying the bands fifteen years of experience. Beckethead comes next with a yet again more dancey synths moving into a metallic riff from George Ravaya which is secured by the intricate basswork of Viktor Kouloubis and the frenetic/expressive drumming of Stelios Paschalis, Beckethead is very modern sounding with the orchestrations juxtaposed with the down-tuned riffs and widdly keys. For prog metal aficionados this will be the first properly 'prog' track on the album, 7 minutes of tone shifts and it's followed by possibly the heaviest Nemmortal which is a very dark, Nevermore sounding number which has Jon Voyager exhibiting how much his vocals have improved since the band's first album. 

He leads the songs from the front with power and passion as he shouts "I've become so dark and sinister" repeatedly. Bloodlux continuing the heavy grooves of the record but it's followed by V.a.d.i.s. a spoken word piece with atmospherics at the back between two voices dealing with personality, artificial intelligence, existence and reality in a very philosophical debate. The title track brings the prog metal power back with the albums second longest piece with some muscular riffing. It leads into Circadian which takes a more textured approach with shouts out to bands like Haken or Karnivool the rippling synths behind the djenty phrasing. Next up is Ananke which really is the final music track of record (Kinward is more of spoken word poem) clocking in at a hefty nearly 19 minutes of glorious anthemic progressive noise. Norchestrion: A Song For The End is another incredible album from Need, it's going to take something pretty special to beat this as the prog metal album of the year! 10/10

Voodoo Circle: Locked & Loaded (AFM Records)

When Primal Fear guitarist Alex Beyrodt teamed up with bassist Matt Sinner (Primal Fear/Sinner) and singer David Redman (Pink Cream 69 et al) to form Voodoo Circle a certain kind of magic happened. These three men with addition of drummer Markus Kullmann (Glenn Hughes) and then keyboardist Jimmy Kresic set out to create a neo-classical hard rock band that was to me should have been the successor to Whitesnake (if David Coverdale ever retires). Driven by the virtuoso playing of Beyrodt who draws from the greats such as Ritchie Blackmore, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page in his playing Voodoo Circles first three records are absolute classics that I revisit often. However the band did shift focus a little becoming more blues and AOR based as time wore on and with their previous album Raised On Rock Herbie Langhans took the mic and for me anyway the band lost something. However the thing about magic is that it can be rediscovered and on Locked & Loaded the bands sixth record the genie has been let out of the bottle as once again Redman and Kullmann return recreating the bands ‘classic’ line up. 

The first three songs on this record: Flesh & Bone, Wasting Time and Magic Woman Chile all bring back those great memories of playing their self-titled record and Broken Heart Syndrome at full volume. They are all very heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin with some big orchestral sweeps and Eastern flourishes as Beyrodt cranks out the colossal riffs and explosive solos while Sinner and Kullmann drive the rhythms ready for the Plant-meets-Coverdale vocals of Redman. The blood is pumping from the opening moments Jacob Hansen’s production making things sound incredible as the blues returns on the tile track a 80’s style synth palate coming from Corvin Bahn, the record almost like a retrospective look back at the history of Voodoo Circle with Redman behind the mic.

Eyes Full Of Tears the albums massive ballad where they can bring back that Broken Heart Syndrome of their second record, Devil's Cross has that AOR feel to it, while Straight For The Heart has that 80’s ‘Snake attitude and the six string theatrics to match. A triumphant return to form from Voodoo Circle and hopefully this line up can be retained as the music they produce is top class hard rock! 9/10 

Wedge: Like No Tomorrow (Heavy Psych Sounds)

The word vintage is thrown around a lot in reviews, any band that tries to recreate the bygone era of the late-60’s and 70’s where rock music ruled supreme are lumped into the vintage/retro pile, whether they are authentic or not. Berlin trio Wedge are very much authentic, relying on the locked in power trio format of vocalist/guitarist/harmonica player Kiryk Drewinski, bass/organ/electric/piano/mellotron player David Gotz and drummer/percussionist Holger ‘The Holg’ Grosser, Wedge take what I call the Grand Funk positions that have been replicated many times. Like Grand Funk, Blue Cheer, Humble Pie and even Wolfmother, Wedge use vintage instruments, production methods to create a genre bending amalgamation of psychedelic hard rock steeped in the blues and Americana, shifting away from the Lizzy/Wishbone Ash sounds of their previous record Killing Tongue, Like No Tomorrow embraces the Woodstock Generation in its huge Kaftan and long flowing locks. 

Tracks like Soldier instilling a rebellious streak against oppression while Computer takes a swipe at the ever increasing reliance on digital technology with some tongue in cheek lyricism and a musical backing that moves from groovy riffs to freak outs faster than you can throw a peace sign in the air. I mentioned the vintage thing earlier and Wedge just sound vintage, even their riffs will give you déjà vu, like they’ve been recycled from somewhere else but it’s that nostalgia hit that does it when the woozy Cali sounds slither into some Allman Bros twin harmonies while the organs erupt from the rocky landscape. Like No Tomorrow is a shameless, joyous, celebration of the past just what 2021 needs. 8/10

Old Selves: Two Minds (Self Released)

Crawling out of Yorkshire with some groove heavy modern metal.metalcore Old Selves are angry, very angry indeed. Two Minds is their debut album and comes a place of furious self improvement, honing their sound during lockdown 1 (remember that?) with a much tighter sound that sprawls several sound styles, check out the dissonant post metal coda of the title track. Fusing aggression with emotion with bands such as While She Sleeps a definite influence, Old Minds go to different places adding more melodic sounds on the interlude Lost which cascades into the main single from this release, the powerful 444. However the powerful Population has an industrial tinge of Fear Factory to it as the final track Seat In The Hall has that distinctly modern, technical delivery with numerous arpeggios in the background. A debut EP with a lot of substance and ability, Old Selves have started 2021 off with an incendiary shot of modern metal. 7/10

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Reviews: Saber, Octavision, El Colosso, Church Crusher (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Saber: Without Warning (Church Recordings) [2021]

LA retro NWOTHM riff machines Saber, play the style of speed metal that Trevor William Church favours with his band Haunt and it's probably a safe bet that their debut record Without Warning would not have been released without the help of Church who not only released it through their label but also recorded and played the drums and gives it the classic 80's production sound. Now if Church is involved in anyway with a band you can assume that they are probably going to be of a high level and about as authentic as it comes the band dressed in denim, leather and hightops, their twin axe attack and occult themed lyrics all carrying the hallmarks of the speed metal bands of yore. Take a track like Outlaw with some choppy riffs from Joel and Hat as David's throbbing bass takes the gallop here along with Leather Laced Lady. What makes the record stand above the multiple speed metal acts that seem to explode out of North America are the vocals of Steve Villa who actually has a relatively wide vocal range adept in the gritty mids as well as the skyscraping highs that speed metal bands are so associated with. Zipping past in a flurry Without Warning was released on digitally and on cassette on New Years Day and already stands out as one of the NWOTHM releases of the year! 8/10

Octavision: Coexist (Self Released) [2020]

Octavision is basically a solo project by guitarist Hovak Alaverdyan, he has set about creating a progressive metal project with some of the best musical talent around today. Hovak not only plays the incredible guitar here but also wrote all of the music and produces much like Prog metal virtuosos John Petrucci and Michael Romeo fusing that classic British prog rock phrasing, with the heavier, more explorative American style favoured as elements of djent also come in with focus too on massive orchestrations and keys from co-producer Murzo really reinforcing those classic guitar/keyboard duos that are such a feature of Dream Theater, Symphony X and Fates Warning. Other musicians that add to this record are drummer Roman Lomtadze on every single track while Avo Margaryan adds Blul (Areminian Shepherd's Flute) to the first song Mindwar. Adding bass to the record are Victor Wooten and virtuoso Billy Sheehan, no stranger to the prog genre, in fact his Sons Of Apollo bandmate Jeff Scott Soto contributing vocals to the title track which is very SOA along with Apocalyptus which is a bit funky/jazzier. These are the only two songs with  vocals on the record but the instrumental cuts are in no way inferior to the vocal songs as this is where Alaverdyan really makes his mark as a composer of interesting, catchy instrumental tracks. Personally I feel the vocal/instrumental split should have been a little more balanced but that can be addressed on later releases, Coexist is a very strong debut from a prog metal project. 7/10

El Colosso: Forgotten Ancestors (Self Released) [2020]

Bursting out of your stereo system from Melbourne Australia are El Colosso who bring their latest album Forgotten Ancestors after one of the most troubling years ever (though Australia have dealt with it far better than the UK government). Written before the Pandemic much of what makes up this record lyrically has come to fruition with a lot of it dealing with humanity reacting against science (Covidiots) while politics become more and more untruthful and confusing. Forgotten Ancestors deals with many of these themes so could be considered prophetic if it were deliberate, moreover it’s another rallying cry against all forms of oppression and subterfuge and like with the best anti-establishment bands it’s delivered with massive stoner rock grooves and the wild abandon of space rock trying to find some hope on tracks such as As One where the repeating chorus is used to unify not divide. What makes El Colosso’s message is that it’s forged to be as authentic as possible, adopting a D.I.Y approach to the recording, much of it was done individually or through Zoom (other video conferencing apps are available) not that you notice as tracks such as Too Many Times Won have a broad soundscapes that are usually reserved for big studios. Forgotten Ancestors is packed to the brim with riffs (Down), taking numerous genre shifts that result in a great hard rocking record from this Aussie band. 8/10

Church Crusher: Worship That? Never! (Mutilation Throne Records) [2021]

Kicking off from the titular line from Devil’s Advocate delivered by the permanently enraged Al Pacino, Albuquerque death/thrashers Church Crusher start as they mean to go on with religion baiting, guttural death metal, played as low tuned as possible with a relentless beat down. Now this does mean that most of the songs subscribe to a sound that’s a mixture of Deicide and Brujeria the growls never moving up from a bottom dwelling gargle, the drums full of blasting double kicks and the riffs trying to reach the end of the song as quickly as possible with a bit of crossover thrash groove thrown in too. It means that Church Crusher’s debut full length never really evolves into anything other than just light speed thrash/death with some hardcore aggression. It makes for a one dimensional listening experience but I’m sure pit-trolls will be circling their front rooms with reckless abandon. 5/10

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Reviews: Frozen Soul, Helestios, Kavyk, Blessed By Perversion (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Frozen Soul: Crypt Of Ice (Century Media Records) [2021]

Conceived in 2018 Frozen Soul go against the heat and sweat of their Texan membership with a much more glacial affair, their influences are drawn from old school death metal veterans such as Bolt Thrower and Obituary but also the numerous metal, punk and hardcore bands from the Texan scene most recently the crossover power of Power Trip (R.I.P Riley). It's here that the membership of the band come from doing time in these other bands before a few chance meeting led to the formation of Frozen Soul the focus shifting to make bleak, glacial, dense death metal. Chad Green (vocals) and Michael Munday (guitars) brought together the rest of the band, Samantha Mobley (bass), Matt Dennard (drums) and Chris Bonner (guitar) and recorded their debut full length in March of 2020, just as the pandemic hit. 

However much like most death metal bands the music is much more malignant and evil than any virus so when you get hit by the grinding riffs you can feel them course all around your body. Re-recording the three tracks from their acclaimed demo many will have already heard tracks such as the doom laden Encased In Ice, the thrashy Hand Of Vengeance and the raging Merciless but they have been given a much stronger audio quality but you also get the destructive assault of Wraith Of DeathBeat To Dust which has a hardcore beat to it and the death march of Twist The Knife all of which flesh out this vicious death metal record, for a debut full length Crypt Of Ice really nails those influences mentioned earlier in the review. Frozen Soul could be the next big thing in death metal, watch this space. 8/10    

Helestios: Your Pain Tastes Good (Self Released) [2020]

Forming in the middle of the pandemic may not be the best idea, but somehow Helestios have managed to write, record and deliver a debut album within one year. This band are based in Basingstoke but the members hail from Latvia, Greece and The Netherlands originally coming together in the UK for their first collab together. What they have managed to craft in this topsy-turvy world is a very slick modern heavy metal record that manages to use classic/thrash influences along with heavier trends born out of bands such as Machine Head where the melody is met with the heaviness of groove metal. Clocking in at over 30 minutes, Your Pain Tastes Good, which sounds like a sleaze album and is wrapped in a very power metal album cover is a much heavier, meatier record. 

Opening with some a bit of throat singing on Sacrifice before Stelios Aggelis' guitar gets us started with some nifty lead runs before the rest of the band come in with crunchy riffs, Agnis Aldiņš (bass) and Ian den Boer (drums) are the pumping bottom end linking in with Aggelis and Henrijs Leja's guitars for tracks like Black Storm which are reminiscent of Lamb Of God mainly due to Leja's gruff vocal shouts. Elsewhere on the record there are proggy elements as the riffs chop and change on Return To Baalbek while we get some dark power metal sounds on the title track, while All Attack is an outright thrash attack. A commendable mixture of sounds on this debut album from a band who are clearly more experienced than the short existence of this band alludes to. Your Pain Tastes Good is a sterling debut effort so expect Helestios to be a name you will hear on the UK scene as 2021 progresses. 7/10

Kavyk: Radiant Abyss (Caustic Hollow) [2020]

Crawling out of the swamps of Louisiana are four piece Kavyk who play a blackened style of sludgy death doom that is characterized by thundering blastbeats, out-and-out aggression in the raw vocals and furious black metal riffs. Radiant Abyss features a bubbling melting pot of styles that all veer on the extreme side of things. Cathartic Voices is a great example of this sound with blistering riffage of Troy Bennett and Max Kimmons from the outset getting the head moving as it shifts into more atmospheric realms towards the final part of the song. The rhythm section of Brian Eiermann (bass) and AJ Martinez (drums) manage to tread a fine line between destructive speed and enveloping doom (Civilized). With similarities to High On Fire and Thou, it's no wonder that James Whitten who recorded and mixed this record has worked with both bands and has given the extremity a clean-yet-dirty style that brings both torrid aggression but also crushing desperation. Radiant Abyss is a record that has been honed on the road and finally delivered in the mist of a pandemic so it's gloomy atmosphere hits you right in the feels. 6/10

Blessed By Perversion: Remnants Of Existence (Iron, Blood and Death Corporation) [2020]

Something a little more feisty now from Athens Greece as 10 year veterans Blessed By Perversion return with their second full length a record that has been around five years in the making, their previous full length Between Roots And Darkness came about in 2016. Blessed By Perversions sound is categorised by Anti-Christian/Religious lyricism and technical death metal that originated in the 90's with tracks like Among The Tombs Of The Absent Gods full of ever shifting riffs, Manolis Kouelo (rhythm guitars), Vaggelis Nanos (bass) and Vasilis Nanos (drums) unleashing the style of American death metal pioneered by bands like Death and Deicide. It's the ever-shifting death metal riffs that really highlight the talent of this band with Kostas Foutris adding some slick lead guitar playing over the top of it as Andrew Moschopoulos growls from the depths of hell. At just over 20 minutes it's a rip snorter of a record that delivers a short shock of death metal power. 7/10