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Friday 29 January 2021

Reviews: Steven Wilson (Review By Matt Bladen)

Steven Wilson: The Future Bites (Caroline International)

Originally expected in June 2020, The Future Bites, the sixth solo album from musical polymath Steven Wilson, was pushed back to a January 2021 release for obvious reasons. But as with nearly all of his output it's worth the wait, building on the change of style he brought on his previous record To The Bone, The Future Bites looks almost certain to alienate the fans that just want him to reform Porcupine Tree and prog rock out. Drawing heavily on electronic pop records from the 80's, he even makes a tongue-in-cheek reference to how much he's influenced by the decade on 12 Things I Forgot, probably the most 'Steven Wilson' song on the album, all layered acoustics, dramatic piano and clever lyrics. The record is bristling with repeating electronics, funky beats and yes some rock guitars, but of course there is a major sense of unpredictability here as you'd expect on a Steven Wilson record, with a real feeling of not knowing what is going to happen as the choppy, dare I say upbeat Self is counteracted by the thumping hip-hop beat of King Ghost

It's this twosome that brings me to my next comparison. I mentioned that it may alienate Porcupine Tree fans but for my money, it's musically very close to those very first 'bedroom' PT recordings, as Wilson himself has called them 'The Delirium Years'. The Future Bites is very much Wilson reflecting on his early years and the soundtrack of that time. Whereas then he was very cynical and negative then, here is cynicism is tinged with optimism and curiosity, most of his ire aimed at the consumer culture we live in. Now if you've heard Personal Shopper this will be very obvious, the 9 minute track savagely stripping down the consumer culture, with a pulsating dark electronic backing. On Personal Shopper to the mid-song coda comes from Sir Reginald Dwight himself reading a list of high class goods counterpointed with various 'selfs'. It sounds surreal but works extremely well, the King of Excess himself on a song against it. This attack on consumerism has be parodied by the marketing campaign for the record where various fake companies and brands were set up to link to the records promotion. 

Back to the music and Eminent Sleaze is a modern Stax classic, full of big backing vocals from vocalists Wendy Harriot, Bobbie Gordon, and Crystal Williams, while Man Of The People a more dreamlike state. The all have that unmistakable yearning falsetto vocal and the multi-instrumentalism, though he's not alone here with long term bass player Nick Beggs, keyboardists Adam Holzman and Richard Barbieri, drummer Michael Spearman and even EDM artist David Kosten (aka Faultline) all flexing their musical muscles. Final track Count Of Unease does instill a sense of exactly that but it is a cathartic close to this record which once again substantiates why Steven Wilson can be recognised as one of the most entertaining artists the UK has produced, a worthy successor to the Art Rock/Pop acts like King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, XTC, Roxy Music, Tears For Fears and even bands such as Radiohead. The Future Bites but the present is oh so brilliant. 9/10 

Reviews: W.E.T, Barbarian Hermit, Crystal Viper, The Straddlerz (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings & Simon Black)

W.E.T.: Retransmission (Frontiers Records) [Richard Oliver] 

Retransmission is the fourth album from melodic hard rock supergroup W.E.T. who were formed in 2008 by core members Jeff Scott Soto (vocals), Erik Mårtensson (guitars/keyboards) and Robert Såll (guitars/keyboards).  The line up is completed by Magnus Henriksson (lead guitars), Andreas Passmark (bass) and Robban Bäck (drums). W.E.T. are not a band I have heard previously though I’ve seen the name mentioned before and seeing as they are signed to Frontiers Records I was expecting some melodic hard rock and AOR and that is exactly what I got. Not a bad thing as when this genre is done well it can be wholly captivating and W.E.T. are a great example of this style of music done extremely well. The key components of melodic hard rock are all there - cool riffs, slick leads, cheesy keys, melodic vocals and colossal choruses. 

The songs are generally upbeat and are a healthy mix of hard-edged rockers such as The Moment Of Truth, Beautiful Game and One Final Kiss and soft rock ballads such as Got To Be About Love and What Are You Waiting For. The band put in great performances especially frontman Jeff Scott Soto who is an accomplished singer from his work with Journey, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Sons Of Apollo.  The album is also immaculately produced and mixed and sounding like it had a huge recording budget. This is a good album from W.E.T. which whilst meeting all the standards of melodic hard rock you would expect though W.E.T. seem to aim to have a more contemporary sound rather than sounding like an 80’s throwback band (although I personally love a bit of 80’s throwback). This is still a very limited genre with a very defined sound and if you’ve heard a few similar bands from this genre then you’ve heard them all. Still this album sounds incredible and has a great bunch of songs. 7/10

Barbarian Hermit: One - Reissue (APF Records) [Matt Bladen]

Manchester riff merchants Barbarian Hermit's album Solitude And Savagery was one that rarely left my stereo after it's release in 2018, in the review I erroneously called it their debut, when in fact it was One that was their first album. (I mean that's obvious right?). Although it was originally only available on CD-R bootlegged by the band from their demo. On the back of Solitude And Savagery the band have looked back at their debut, due mainly to original vocalist Simon Scarlett (who sang on One) returning to the band mid-2020 replacing Ed Campbell. One is Barbarian Hermit exploding out of the gate with crushing down-tuned fuzz that marries the grooves of stoner metal with the monumental sludge battery. 

This record has been remastered by the legendary Chris Fielding (who waved his magic over the 2018 record) and his sonics make sure that tracks such as Tigerhorse really resonate through your old lug holes, Mike Regan and Adam Robertshaw's fuzzy guitar playing really cranking out through your speakers as the Chris Wood's driving bass and Loz Brindley's hammering drumbeats rattle around in your skull powering chuggers like Barbarian Enforcement. As well as being sonically bolstered by Chris Fielding there is also a new track to tickle your fancy. Through The Periscope Of The Deadly Sub is a monolithic new song that hopefully hints at the direction of any potential new record. 

Yes One is a revisiting of Barbarian Hermit's early years but it's also marks the next stage in the bands history as Simon (and his cracking voice) returns to the fold. If you loved Solitude And Savagery (and why wouldn't you?) you will love diving back into One if you didn't the first time around. 8/10

Crystal Viper: The Cult (Listenable Records) [Paul Hutchings]

We’ve reviewed the last two albums by Polish outfit Crystal Viper. Neither Queen Of The Witches or Tales Of Ice And Fire stirred our metal loins too much, but our meagre views won’t stop the Poles as they return with album number eight. With Blazon Stone main man Cederick Forsberg now on drums, it’s another 45 minutes of solid heavy metal led once more by vocalist and rhythm guitarist Marta Gabriel. The Cult contains ten full tracks that follow the atmospheric intro/opener Providence and unsurprisingly Crystal Viper stick closely to their previous formulas. Its loud, fast, and unashamedly traditional heavy metal. 

Tracks such as Sleeping Giants, The Calling and the rip-roaring title track contain everything that you want. Duelling guitars, driving bass lines, anchoring drumming, and Marta’s powerful vocals. Sometimes if it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it and it’s clear that Crystal Viper have no intention of reaching for the toolbox anytime soon. If you enjoy Helloween, Primal Fear, Maiden, Priest and even Grand Magus, then there will something for you in this album. As we’ve said in previous reviews, it’s not ground-breaking in any sense but it is well played, well-constructed and the songs are solid if unspectacular. Certainly, an enjoyable listen once again. 6/10

The Straddlerz: The Straddlerz (Self Released) [Simon Black]

These guys have an interesting backstory. Although plugged as a US act in the press release, the core of the band is singer Linda Filippin from Italy and guitarist Michael Reynal from Argentina who came together in New York, seemingly pulling the band’s name out of a hat five minutes before their first gig. It’s not clear where the rest of the band’s guest line up are located – not that it probably matters in these remote times, but the core have since relocated to Filippin’s native Italy. It’s clearly taken a while to pull this together judging from the number of drum credits alone, and this slightly chaotic effect is both a positive and a negative aspect of this particular record. 

This is down and dirty Rock’n’Roll, which when at its best has the energy and rawness of a live moment captured in digital amber for all time and there are definitely plenty of moments like this on the record. Without You and Junkie Bastards are great examples of this - they are down, dirty, and feel like they could have been recorded in a rehearsal room or semi-live, with raw vocals, and the dirty energy of a band riffing off each other. 

But then again some tracks are almost polished and clinical in places, which leads me to think some of this material has been assembled in pieces remotely and is consequently lacking that vital energy. It really does sound like two completely different albums have been spliced together, although they are clearly from the same act. Compare these rough and ready later (and presumably older) tracks with the likes of Circle Of Insanity. In these instances the instruments are all clear and distinct (as opposed to weaved together as a living whole), the vocals are cleaner and some of the guitar work positively shreds technically. None of this is bad by the way, but the net effect is very disconcerting as the record does not have a consistent house sound. 

Where it works well is that this is Rock’n’Roll song writing at its best, with an energy and enthusiasm that even the most clinically laid down songs on the record cannot stifle. I suspect these guys need to gel their thing on the road, to the point where the players can anticipate each other’s tics and make the harsh reality and fact of remote recording irrelevant - which is pretty damn hard if you’ve not spent the time face to face honing your set for the punters. Nevertheless a damn promising start. 6/10

Thursday 28 January 2021

Reviews: Michael Schenker Group, Tribulation, The Body, The Hawkins (Reviews By Simon Black, Matt Bladen, Paul Scoble & Alex Swift)

Michael Schenker Group: Immortal (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

So I am going to be a bit controversial here. Historically I’ve never really been able to see what the fuss about Michael Schenker is all about. OK, I got that he was a key contributor to the early 70’s Hard Rock scene. I got that he’s a huge part of the birth of Scorpions (a band I love by the way). I got that without UFO’s commercially accessible contribution to the UK Hard Rock scene, it perhaps would have never have paved the way for NWOBHM and all that followed in quite the same way. But frankly as a guitar player he’s never been as hot as the ‘Flying-V Guitar Hero’ hype that has surrounded him, and that’s an opinion that has only been reinforced for me whenever I have seen him play live. He’s no shredder normally and although he can play some great commercially friendly melody lines, I have struggled to see why he is treated with such reverence as an axeman.

But as a songwriter, well that’s a completely different fischkessel. 

His tenure in Scorpions was too brief to measure this, but you can’t deny that the song-writing for which he is credited on during UFO’s Strangers In The Night era – their most successful records and whose popularity dwindled with his departure, was absolutely top-notch. Add him back to the mix for UFO’s comeback in the 1990’s with Walk On Water and once again a palpable hit ensued, take him away again and they whither once more. In the 80’s MSG incarnation again, although nothing special was going on in the six string department, there were some cracking tunes in that period. And this album reinforces that observation.

This ten track offering is frankly one of the strongest things I have heard from Schenker in a very long time. He’s also gone a bit Avantasia on this one, using a multitude of guest vocalists of legendary standing and, like his modern German stable mate has used his song-writing skill to fit around the talents of his guests. Opener Drill To Kill is mean and hungry Power Metal in the Primal Fear vein, and quite right given that Ralf Scheepers is the man for this one. It pile drives its way, allowing Scheeper’s voice full reign and is a cracking start to the album. He’s in good company, with contributions from Joe Lynn Turner and Ronnie Romero. If you have not come across this Chilean hot shot, shame on you. He’s done turns in a number of acts, but absolutely stole the show when Ritchie Blackmore finally swallowed his pride and did a Rainbow live reunion tour a few years ago. He shines equally well here and provides the bulk of the singing – a role he presumably will fill if this outfit gets to tour in any capacity in the future.

I’ve also been forced to confront my own prejudices with regards to Mr Schenker’s playing on this record, as he’s actually on really good form here. Alongside that warm Melodic Rock song-writing ability that seems to flow so effortlessly from him, we’ve actually got some pretty damn good playing to go alongside it, and yes, he really can shred when he chooses to. From the elliptical, trippy and moody soloing on album closer In Search Of Peace Of Mind, to the haunting technically clever closing sections of The Queen Of Thorns And Roses, or the hammer-on frenzy in Knight Of The Dead this is the first frankly the best playing I’ve heard from him in decades. An unexpected, but palpable hit. 8/10

Tribulation: Where Gloom Becomes Sound (Century Media Records) [Matt Bladen]

Everyone's favourite masters of the macabre and gods of the gothic Tribulation return with another volume of dark, moody metal music to add to their unholy canon. Having started out as more of straight death metal act dealing with horror imagery, their sound has evolved across their more recent albums into luscious 80's Goth rocking ala The Mission, Sisters Of Mercy and even Siouxsie Sioux, the sexy basslines underpinning stacco, melodic guitar lines mixed with harder edged metallic sound, croaked vocals and a sprinkling of hazy moorland atmospherics and proggy music. A song such as Hour Of The Wolf showing that metal shouldn't be this so damn danceable! Similar to fellow countrymen Ghost but with something a bit more threatening about them, and two Grammys under their belt, this heavily stylised band are now on record number 5. The contrast on this record as evident as a sweeping doom track like Dirge Of A Dying Soul can evolve into a solitary piano piece like Lethe.

Where Gloom Becomes Sound perfectly categorizes its title managing to almost give you the audio definition of what gloom should be as the record takes inspiration from many of Jonathan Hultén's influences with NWOBHM, Goth rock, Swedish folk and the mythical spiritual music all getting a look in, it's no wonder then that he was writing this at the same time as his splendid solo record as they can really be seen as two sides of the same coin. Where Gloom Becomes Sound is also bittersuite in it's release as it is Hultén's swansong with the band, recently replaced by Joseph Tholl (ex-Black Trip/Enforcer). It's a fitting legacy to leave capped off with this record. He took the bulk of the writing here shifting between those shimmering Goth sounds of the Theremin, church organs and soundscapes taken from a Dario Argento thriller (In Remembrance) and the riffy trad metal hallmarks. 

Just a note at this juncture to say the record sounds, incredible, the production is brilliant allowing you to identify every instrument no matter what else is going on, from the dual shifting guitars of Hultén and Adam Zaars (Elementals), to the focused drumming of Oscar Leander as Johannes Andersson's basslines rumble like a certain Mr Harris and his voice is perfectly nasty on Daughter Of The Djinn. A wonderful record that can be viewed as an end of an era, hopefully the band will continue on this dark path in future. 9/10  

The Body: I’ve Seen All I Need To See (Thrill Jockey) [Paul Scoble]

The Body have been making horrifically nasty noises since 1999. The duo, made up of Chip King on Vocals and Guitar and Lee Burford on Drums and Programming. In the 22 years they have been making music together Chip and Lee have made 7 albums on their own, and 10 collaborative albums with acts such as Thou or Full Of Hell. This album is their 8th non collaborative album, although it does feature small additional performances from Chrissy Wolpert on Piano and Vocals and Ben Eberle on vocals. This album is mainly about the two members of the band. Stylistically this album is fairly paired back compared to a lot of the material the band have made over the last few years. The Body’s style is a mix of Harsh Noise, Doom and Industrial. Distorted drum beats and huge riffs nestle with Harsh Noise elements and Chip’s shrill, nasty vocals.

The album opens with A Lament which opens with a spoken word section before some distorted, glitchy percussion, a nasty riff comes in and with some vocals. Chip King’s vocals are very shrill and nasty and do seem to be an acquired taste as some people have a serious problem with them. They are very nasty, but on I’ve Seen All I Need To See his voice is fairly low in the mix, and in many ways is more like an additional instrument, so I have no issue with them. The track has a driving and hypnotic feel to it, that is initially measured but becomes bigger and more intense as the song moves towards its end. Tied Up And Locked In is driving and doomy, it gets bigger and bigger until a it reaches monstrous proportions. Eschatological Imperative starts in a fairly measured and minimal way, the track has a hypnotic quality to it that grows in intensity until a huge, pounding ending.

A Pain Of Knowing is a Harsh Noise track with no beat and horrific vocals. The City Is Shelled is simple with a slow, droney feel that builds to a lurching, hypnotic nightmare. They Are Coming is huge, harsh and sludgy. It’s very slow and extremely heavy. The Handle The Blade is faster than most of the material on I’ve Seen All I Need To See and is driving and powerful; the track is mainly a beat with noise elements. The album comes to an end with Path Of Failure, which is mainly Harsh Noise and vocals. The track has a droney quality to it. Most of Path Of Failure has either no drums or they are very low in the mix, for the last movement, the drums increase in volume and join all the other elements for a huge crescendo to end the track and the album.

I’ve Seen All I Need To See is a nasty, noise filled piece of work. I understand why The Body are sometimes a divisive band, but if you can get past the surface noise and nastiness, there are some fantastic riffs, beautifully hypnotic and affecting tempos and even some great tunes. It only takes a couple of listens for this album to open up to reveal more than just it’s surface. 7/10

The Hawkins: Live In The Woods (The Sign Records) [Alex Swift]

I’ve always been interested in how bands explore settings and atmosphere when making a record. You often hear stories of how acts have chosen grand locations when seeking an epic sound for their album or choosing a grotty location to capture the atmosphere of raucousness and intimacy. The idea that you can change where you are physically, or force yourself into a specific emotional state to make your work carry a level of believability is fascinating to me and makes me wonder how many metal bands spend their studio time finding reasons to be angry. As the title would suggest, Live In The Woods takes this experiment to the next level, with parts recorded deep in Swedish forests with other locations including a barn and a brewery (hey, musicians need to drink as well). 

In line with the locations chosen. The songs themselves – most of which are re-recorded versions of tracks from their last full-length LP, Silence Is A Bomb – have a rustic and raw vibe to them. With these recordings, they wanted to capture a feeling of pure, unfiltered rock n’ roll by going back to its roots – a saying they might have taken slightly to literally, come to consider. All jokes aside, I’d say The Hawkins achieved exactly the vibe they were shooting for. The guitars and percussion reverberate and echo with an intensity that speaks to them being in a wild and strange environment. The usual edges and quirks which might be eliminated by studio trickery, are all here. It’s’ like being at a live show except you can sense the difference that comes from being in a room vs. being in a forest. Moments such as Stranger In The Next Room and Libertine are great on their own as frenetic slices of high-electric blues rock, yet become even more pronounced and poignant through the tint that the strange location choice places on them. 

Also, perhaps as a result of the clarity on display, there’s an insatiably memorable quality to the tones, the tempos the erratic vocal accentuations which our frontman is so keen on. While everything seems very straightforward in terms of the playing and composition, pieces like Cut Moon Bleeds or Roomer, embed themselves in my mind, in a way that a lot of modern riff-oriented material rarely achieves for me. There’s a nostalgic value to the sound which reminds me of acts like The Answer, Clutch, or strange as it might seem to say, even early White Stripes. That’s not to say that they don’t all have sounds of their own, and as we’ve seen, these certainly have a unique approach to the production but they're also treading a careful line between classic and contemporary. My only criticism is that this is an EP and only contains songs that were previously released on a more conventionally recorded record. I hope that this is the start of more experimenting by The Hawkins. 

After all, the survival of great music demands that boundaries are broken, and what better way to break them than to redefine those traditional spaces where creativity happens – the recording studios and live music venues. 7/10

Reviews: Accept, Soen, Nervosa, Jason Bieler & TBVBO (Reviews By Richard Oliver & Matt Bladen)

Accept: Too Mean To Die (Nuclear Blast) [Richard Oliver]

With a career spanning 45 years and 15 albums under their belt it is pretty safe to say that Accept are a heavy metal institution. Their influence is huge and far reaching influencing not only power metal bands but speed and thrash metal bands. With such a vast career and a winning formula you pretty much know what you are going to get with a new Accept album. Too Mean To Die is quite a pivotal album for the band as it is the first album without founding member Peter Baltes leaving Wolf Holfmann as the sole surviving original member of the band. It is the debut album for new bassist Martin Motnik and for added third guitarist Philip Shouse. With such upheavals for the band there is the worry if Too Mean To Die still has the Accept magic. Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes.

Accept show that they mean business from the word go as opening song Zombie Apocalypse is a masterclass is fist pumping heavy metal with a classic driving Accept riff, a pummelling rhythm section and an anthemic chorus. The following title track keeps the momentum going and this opening duo is a sure fire way to make a good first impression on the listener. The album is fairly varied throughout with plenty of classic Accept fist bangers such as Sucks To Be You and Not My Problem, a doomy more atmospheric song in the form of The Undertaker, a nice throwback to the 80’s metal sound with Overnight Sensation, a melodic ballad from The Best Is Yet To Come with also has plenty of that Accept power and also Wolf Hoffman’s dabblings into the neoclassical with the phenomenal Symphony Of Pain and closing instrumental Samson And Delilah. The band put in a fantastic performance with the new members fitting in perfectly. Mark Tornillo puts in a fantastic vocal performance and Wolf Hoffmann shows why he is one of the most revered guitarists in classic heavy metal.

Despite some new members in the band Too Mean To Die very much has that classic Accept feel and carries on the momentum the band have been building since their reformation in 2009 and are very much in a purple patch of incredible heavy metal albums that began in with the fantastic Blood Of The Nations in 2010. It is a very familiar sounding album as it doesn’t really stretch Accept in any new directions but 45 years into their career who wants change?  Too Mean To Die is a bit like putting a pair of comfortable slippers on except the slippers are emblazoned with the words HEAVY FUCKING METAL. Another top effort from the German metal veterans that is sure to go down a storm with their fanbase and also maybe entice some new fans into the fold. 8/10

Soen: Imperial (Silver Lining Music) [Matt Bladen]

A new Soen album is always a cause for celebration here at MoM Towers, especially when one comes nearly a year after the previous one. When Rich reviewed that back in 2019 he put it as one of his albums of the year! So does Imperial stack up to their previous efforts? Short answer is yes. Now I can just give it a score and leave it there but that would do a disservice to the record and the stellar performances on it. The wonderful sonorous, Jonas Renkse/Mikael Akerfeldt vocals of Joel Ekelöf leading the charge adding emotion to these melodic, progressive tracks. Beneath the layers and layers is the steady hand of Martin Lopez who has been adding a deft heaviness since the beginning of the band, having spent a massive amount of time in time in Opeth. There's a world weariness to the record Lopez explaining that through music the band and hopefully their fans find catharsis, from the Pandemic, from the struggles of everyday life, from everything. 

That feeling of catharsis permeates through Illusion with it's enveloping keys from Lars Enok Åhlund who doubles down on rhythm with bassist Oleksii “Zlatoyar” Kobel, giving Antagonist some chunky riffage, though it has a huge melodic chorus which allows Cody Ford's majestic lead playing to release explosions of virtuosity. Imperial is not just full of emotion and melody but is also extremely progressive as the electronic edge of Modesty bleeds into the brilliant Dissident as the finale of Fortune purging the very last ounce of feeling from your body the production skills of Iñaki Marconi, the band and Kane Churko allowing the music to really dig down deep into your soul. Imperial is yet another brilliant modern, progressive metal record from Soen. A true must listen. 9/10

Nervosa: Perpetual Chaos (Napalm Records) [Richard Oliver]

2020 was a turbulent year for all of us but it was a very turbulent year in the Nervosa camp as it saw not one but two members of the band depart leaving just guitarist Prika Amarl as the sole surviving member of the band. Replacing band members is difficult but having to replace an entire band apart from yourself and during a global pandemic sounds nigh on impossible but Prika has done an admirable job and Nervosa is once again complete and now a four piece with Mia Wallace joining on bass, Eleni Nota occupying the drummer stool and Diva Satanica unleashing hell on vocals. Obviously with an abundance of new members some doubt must be cast on whether Nervosa will capture the ferocity of previous albums but thankfully any doubts are dispelled as soon as you hit play on Perpetual Chaos which is the fourth album from the Brazilian death thrashers. 

I am very much a fan of the more aggressive side of thrash. As much as I love the melodic side of the genre nothing satisfies me more than unrelenting speed and aggression and on that Perpetual Chaos really delivers. This is thirteen songs of no nonsense raging thrash with a savage death metal underbelly. Songs such as Guided By Evil, People Of The Abyss and Until The Very End pulsate with aggression with furious riff work from Prika, insane technical and brutalising drumwork from Eleni and throat shredding and blood curdling screams from Diva Satanica. Unfortunately the bass playing from Mia is rather buried in the mix which is a shame as she has shown herself to be a formidable bassist from her stint with Abbath. Thrash stalwarts Schmier (Destruction) and Eric A.K. (Flotsam & Jetsam) drop some guest vocals on the ferocious Genocidal Command and the speed metal attack of Rebel Soul

Perpetual Chaos is an album that barely pauses for breath with each and every song rippling with violence and savagery. With thirteen songs it can get a bit samey at times but for me the quality remained high throughout so this is but a minor criticism. If you crave violence in your thrash then Nervosa will definitely give you your fix. Savage thrashing which is not for the faint of heart. 8/10

Jason Bieler And The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra: Songs For The Apocalypse (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

If you were too young, or knowingly avoided that new wave of AOR/Sleaze Rock bands that appeared in the early 90's then you'd be for given for not knowing you Jason Bieler is. He served his time as the lead guitarist of Florida glam metal band Saigon Kick, a position he still holds today, as well as that he is the founder of Bieler Bros records (former home to Karnivool and Skindred), so much like contemporary Kip Winger, Bieler has many strings to his bow. He also seems to have a huge Filofax of friends, such is the line up on this solo/collaborative record, his first for Frontiers Music. Now if you didn't know that there was guest performances on this record and just took it that all vocals and instruments were played by Bieler then a song such as the reggae-rock of Beyond Hope could come off entirely differently, however with Benji Webbe up front it's given authenticity with the virtuosity coming from David Ellefson on bass and a solo by Bumblefoot. 

The only other vocalist on the record is Jeff Scott Soto who gives Alone In The World a good belting, that leaves most of the record with Jason behind the mic and he has a great voice (similar to that of John Mitchell) that fits the multi-faceted, jukebox style genre shifts this record presents, from the heavy groove metal of Apology which features Todd La Torre (Queensryche) on drums(!), there are numerous shifts in style but nothing really links to that 90's Glam Rock sound, well maybe Stones Will Fly which has Extreme's Pat Badger (bass) and Butch Walker (ex-Marvelous 3) on guitar It's very modern the heaviness maintained on Bring Out Your Dead which once again features David Ellefson's fuzzing bass and guest solo from Hevy Devy himself. 

Bieler has said that this is not his heaviest record yet, maybe I need to listen to his other records as Songs For The Apocalypse is pretty heavy, Annalise bringing the mind melding of bands like Neurosis and Mastodon, Anthem For Losers is sort of like country meets Cheap Trick, Horror Wobbles The Hippo is an atmospheric instrumental while the alt prog of Born Of The Sun has Clint Lowery (Sevendust) and Kyle Sanders (Hellyeah) giving it a some bounce. At 15 tracks it may be a little too much to take in for some but Bieler has outdone himself on this record. 8/10

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Reviews: Annisokay, Labyrinth, Creye, Mordkaul (Reviews By Liam True, Matt Bladen, JT Smith & Paul Scoble)

Annisokay: Aurora (Arising Empire) [Liam True]

On their fifth studio album, and first since 2018, Annisokay cut the shit and have created, what is already for me, and album of the year contender. On their first outing with vocalist Rudi Schwarzer since replacing Dave Grunewald In 2019, the band have taken the Electronicore sound and have embellished it with their signature touches and hooks creating an album that flows somewhat smoothly from one song to the next. Starting with opener Like A Parasite it’s a trance sounding opener before the crunchy guitar tone of Christoph Wieczorek mimic the sound and the band hit you with their down tuned force. Creating a catchy chorus of cleans from Wieczorek, the grizzly demonic growls of Schwarzer and memorable intro, it’s just a taster of what’s to come. STFU is exactly what you think it is. Luring you in with the clean guitar before drummer Nice Vaeen penetrates your ears with his glorious sounding kit and bassist Norbert Rose beefing up the attack on your senses, while you get Shut The Fuck Up screamed at you from all angles. 

The Tragedy begins like a dance track but soon kicks you back to reality with the catchy melodies and chorus as the band themselves are on point with their technicality, not showing off, but keeping it simplistic makes it stand out. Face The Facts is one of the few songs that sound like they don’t really belong on the album. It sounds like it they’re trying too hard to sound Djent but it falls flat. Overload also falls in this category. Don’t get me wrongs it’s a decent song with the catchy drum work from Vaeen, but it sounds like filler rather than killer material. As does Under Your Tattoos. Decent song, but belongs as a bonus track or a B-side if anything. This Cocaine's Got Your Tongue starts as a Rap/Trap mix but moulds slowly into their filthy sounds as the chorus clutches you to stay with the song to the end, which is worth it. 

The Blame Game pulls together the slow and heavy sound of the band that punches hard as the band speeds up slowly to give you the adrenaline you need to headbang along. Standing Still Terminal Velocity are two decent songs that do drag on a tad, but they have the misfortune of being stuck between the diamond in the rough Friend Or Enemy that has the funkiest techno backing track I’ve heard for a while. Add that with the chorus it makes for a brilliant ender. From start to finish it’s a terrific album that could catapult the band to bigger things and needs more attention from the metal world. Sublime. 8/10

Labyrinth: Welcome To The Absurd Circus (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

In his Winterage review Richard mentioned that when you think of Italian symphonic/power metal bands then Rhapsody are the ones that immediately spring to mind. Well I would add to my learned friend that in my mind Rhapsody yes but also long running metal band Labyrinth who are essentially the Italian equivalent of Helloween, having shifted through the ever changing metal landscape with a line up that has shifted but a sound that has always retained the bands core power metal sound, even an indefinite hiatus couldn't stop them. Since 2016 the band's original founding duo of Andrea Cantarelli (guitar) and Olaf Thorsen (guitar) reunited with Roberto Tiranti (singer) for their comeback album Architecture Of A God they have hit something of a purple patch that has led into their newest record Welcome To The Absurd Circus, some would say that could be a a fine descriptor of of what has happened throughout the world over the past year (four years in the USA!). Their second record on Frontiers is another Labyrinth class in power metal with galloping tracks like Live Today, the proggier/powerful One More Last Chance, it's As Long As It Lasts that really brings some AOR balladry, Tiranti's vocals utilised well as it is on Word's Minefield too. There's the usual mixture of styles here all with that Labyrinth power and melody, we also get a great cover too of Ultravox's Dancing With Tears In My EyesWelcome To The Absurd does suffer a little from too many ballads but it's another feather in the Labyrinth cap. 7/10

Creye: Creye II (Frontiers Music) [JT Smith]

It is extremely difficult to believe that Creye II is an album from a) Sweden, and b) from 2021, and I mean that in all the best ways possible. This sophomore release from the Swedish rockers is an album that is earnestly, and honestly, with no hint of cynicism or deception, a perfect slice of precisely the sort of music that elevated eighties hair metal to the top of the musical pile for such a long time, and manages to stay away from the worst excesses of the genre that eventually led it to be the bloated, laughable monstrosity it became. This is mid eighties Californian rock writ large.

The album actually starts a little subdued with Broken Highway only giving you hints of what is to come. The guitars are puzzlingly a little low in the mix, and it almost feels a little toothless in parts until the vocal “oh oh ohs” come in in the background… But then BAM! A slice of pure eighties in *that* solo. If you can’t see an eagle soaring above a mountain in your head when you hear it, you’re dead inside. Carry On starts with a bombastic riff, and then hits you with two quintessential 80’s rock staples, the sing-a-long chorus, and then the ending bridge with nothing but vocals and heavily reverbed drums. Find A Reason opens with an honest to god, jet drive riff. I genuinely haven’t heard one of these for years. The phrase “driving rock,” makes no sense until you hear a song like this. It is made for you to be driving a Mustang down a lonely desert road as the sun is setting whilst looking wistful. It also employs the upwards key change to really hook you in emotionally, a trick they use again on Face To Face, Hold Back The Night and Closer. It doesn’t sound stale or overused, which is a testament to their excellent songwriting.

There are only a couple of bum notes on this album. Siberia feels musically and lyrically a little bit filler, like the creative juices ran a little dry, and that’s amplified by just how strong the three opening tracks were that preceded it. Can’t Stop What We Started feels completely out of place. The normally tasteful synths completely dominate here, when the guitar solo hits it’s extremely jarring, and the song truthfully sounds like someone pressured them to write a more modern sounding pop song, and it is not their strong suit. That being said, they’re not so bad that they bring the overall quality of the album down.

Creye II is basically the Cobra Kai soundtrack. Ironically or not, this captures the best of the more bombastic moments of 80’s rock, and hair metal, and it’s all too easy to imagine a training montage while listening to it. Glittery, slick production on the guitars, elevated solos, tastefully used synths, heavily reverbed drums, and an absolutely stunning, silky vocal performance (that if I’m honest, I would have liked a touch more grit to in parts, but this is really a nitpick) from singer August Rauer. Each song is the perfect little snippet of 3-3.30 minutes of self contained nostalgia. It doesn’t sound cringey, it doesn’t sound dated, despite being very much of a bygone era, and the only foot they really put wrong is when they stray from that formula to a more modern pop sound. A cynical person might say they were cashing on the final, waning days of the eighties revival nostalgia we’ve been experiencing for the last half decade, but they’d be wrong. This is just the identity of this band, and it completely fits. 8/10

Mordkaul: Dress Code - Blood (Wormholedeath Records) [Paul Scoble]

Born from the ashes of the bands Diablo Blvd and Hell City, Mordkaul have been in existence since 2020. The Belgian five piece, made up of Tommy Goffin on Vocals, Tim Bekaert on Guitar, Vincent Noben on Lead Guitar, Jan Rammeloo on Bass and Tony Van Den Eynde on Drums, Dress Code : Blood is the bands first album. So, apart from the slightly naff album title, is their first attempt at an album any good? Well, the band play a style of Melodic Death Metal that has a certain amount of Old School Swedish Death Metal in it as well as lots and lots of melody and tunefulness. The album has 10 tracks, of which one is a short intro (Damnation), one is a dramatic acoustic interlude (Eve) roughly halfway through the album, and 8 songs. The tracks tend to vacillate between slower material and much faster material with an old school tempo that is maybe a little bit D-beat. All Out War is a cracking track, opening with a slow and powerful section the song then kicks up a gear and we are into some fantastic Death Metal riffing with that driving, punky D-beat that drives the song forward. 

There is a brief respite for a slower but still driving riff, before the tempo heads back up with some very impressive layered riffs before a very heavy ending. Longest track, Aurora is another mix of fast and slow. The fast is full of energy and tune-fullness, however the slower parts feel a little bit plodding, the tempo is out just a little bit. However this feeling is only there occasionally, and the high energy fast parts are never very far away. The very impressive layered riffs that we encountered on All Out War are back on Virgin Whore, which is blast of high speed riffing and fantastic multi layered harmonies. Probably the most interesting track on the album is final song The Widow Black. The style is far softer than the rest of the album, far closer to Traditional Metal, the song is full of Guitar Harmonies and has a definite NWOBHM edge to it. The track is dripping with melody and tune-fullness, although the vocals, which like the rest of the album are harsh, feel a little bit incongruous. 

Other than the vocals feeling a little bit out of place, The Widow Black is fantastically musical way to end an album that is just as much about melody as it is about brutality or extremity. Dress Code:Blood is a very good Melodic Death Metal album. There are the odd place where the pacing is a little bit off and feels slightly plodding, but as soon as the tempo increases those issues disappear. For a first album this is very good, is extremely enjoyable, full of great melodies and some very impressive solos. The mixing of this massive melodic elements with fast and punky Death Metal works very well, if this is what they come up with for a first album, I am keen to hear their second. 7/10 

A View From The Screen: Asphyx - Necroceros Album Launch (Live Stream Concert Review By Paul Hutchings)

Asphyx – Necroceros Album Launch. January 23rd, 2021

In usual times, the Dutch death metal legends would have been playing to a packed venue, crushing heads with tracks from their stunning new album Necroceros as part of a tour that would coincide with the album release. Alas, times aren’t what they should be and with little end in sight, the best we metal fans can expect these days is a live stream with the band playing to an (almost) empty venue.

Before the band hit the stage, those who had tuned in on time were treated to some hysterically funny clips from the band and those who work with the band, such as the engineer, the merchandise designer and production team. Hysterical, because everything was completely self-depreciating, the comedic negative comments including how the band’s presence in the studio meant a complete refurb when they left! It all added to a carefully thought out and produced 90 minutes, which didn’t stop entertaining from 1-90.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get acquainted with Necroceros over the past couple of months and had the privilege to interview vocalist Martin van Drunen before Christmas. For those who hadn’t heard the album, this was an explosive introduction.

On stage for over an hour at the Metropool venue in Eindhoven, Asphyx delivered a pulsating set that mixed many tracks from the new record with a smattering of older songs from the discography. Without any crowd, Asphyx fed off the energy each other created and within two songs it was only the silence at the end of each track that reminded you that there wasn’t an audience present.

As noted in the recent review of the album in these pages, Asphyx aren’t interested in breaking the beats per minute record. Instead, they have focused on what they do best; neck breaking death metal presented with a side serving of doom. And they provided it in spades. Anchored by the thunderous firepower of drummer Stefan ‘Husky’ Hüskens, the band simply levelled the venue. The Sole Cure Is Death, the bludgeoning In Blazing Oceans, Necroceros and the anti-cosmetic Botox Implosion all seared into the grey matter with a sizzle.

Bassist Alwin Zuur didn’t stop moving or head banging, his instrument linked tightly with Husky, whilst guitarist Paul Baayens shredded without pause. Alongside them, Van Drunen’s trademark and instantly recognisable low growling fits perfectly. Between songs there was modesty and humour, the band giving shout outs to their crew, the venue and of course, those who were tuning in. A vicious Death … The Brutal Way split the balance of new and old songs, and Asphyx did what they do … with style.

This is the new normal for music. I hate it and it’s clear that Asphyx do too. But at a time of darkness and with that light at the end of the tunnel moving further away rather than closer, putting full effort into a live stream is the only thing we can expect. With decent lighting, some flash pots and pyro, as well as a superb sound and good camera angles, this at least gave the band an outlet and for those of us still craving the live arena, a little bit of pleasure. I’m not giving it a rating – we don’t have a benchmark for this type of gig, but let’s just say that if I did it would be high.

Sunday 24 January 2021

Reviews: Werewolves, Phantom Elite, Beyond Extinction, Mindwork (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, & Matt Bladen)

Werewolves - What A Time to Be Alive (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Having signed to Prosthetic records in early 2020, the Aussie death metal outfit swiftly released debut record The Dead Are Screaming. Written and recorded in mid-2019, was it coincidence that half of their country subsequently burnt to the ground? Well, for more evidence of their global impact, sophomore release What A Time to Be Alive was recorded early in 2020 – cue worldwide pandemic. Bassist and vocalist Sam Bean (The Antichrist Imperium, The Berzerker) predicts war and famine for albums three and four. Bean is joined by drummer Dave Haley (Psycroptic, Ruins, King) and guitarist Matt Wilcock (ex-Akercoke, The Antichrist Imperium, The Berzerker) and are truly dismissive of their work, claiming to have put less effort into their debut than anything else they’ve ever recorded. 

So, with that glowing endorsement, it was with some surprise that I found What A Time To Be Alive a feisty and tasty slab of brutality, rather than a steaming pile of horse excrement. It is of course, no surprise to see the self-depreciating views expressed. These are seasoned musicians, who have been around the extreme scene for many years. When your opening song is entitled I Don’t Like You and is one of the nastiest tracks I’ve heard for many a year, you get the picture. If there was a musical equivalent of bile, then Werewolves would be it. Dominated by ugly riffs, punishing blast beats and guttural, snarling vocals that spit hate, tracks such as Unfathomably Fucked, Antisocial and the opening rage all embody the total contempt the band feel for everyone and everything. 

Regardless, there is obviously ample talent festering deep within and the album is cohesive, tight and ruthless. Mixing death metal with a serving of black metal (They Will Pay With Their Own Blood). Mixed by Joe Haley (Psycroptic) with striking artwork by Mitchell Nolte, Werewolves’ second album is far from the rubbish that Werewolves would have you believe. In fact, it’s a blisteringly good listen. 8/10

Phantom Elite: Titanium (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

Started as an offshoot of the HDK project Sanders Gomman (After Forever, MaYan, Somerville/Kiske), the idea was for this band to be able to play that music live however it shifted towards writing their own music, resulting in the first Phantom Elite record in 2018. Returning a few short years later with the follow up Titanium, once again we are reminded by how the song writing and production techniques of Gommans, along with Mark Jansen (Epica/After Forever/MaYan), have become the template for this style of this heavy symphonic style. 

The record doesn’t actually feature Gomman’s playing, Max van Esch has the responsibility of guitars and bass while Stef Rikken provides the grunts to Worst Part Of Me, but his mark is all over the record perfectly utilising the classical-meets-contemporary vocal style of Marina La Torraca (Exit Eden, Avantasia) and the powerful drumming from Joeri Warmerdam which is why Titanium lives long in the mind as a deftly conceived record. You get crunching deathy riffs on Conjure Rains, as Diamonds And Dark brings Within Temptation melodies to modern djent riffs, Glass Crown full of fizzing electronics driven by Koen Stam's synths. 

It's the swirling Silver Linings that features the most Gomman-style writing with a mix of heavy and melody as Marina duets with Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Exit Eden and HDK) for one of the best songs on the record. Phantom Elite is a rightful continuation of style Gomman pioneered all those years ago! 8/10

Beyond Extinction: The Fatal Flaws Of Humankind (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

The future of metal is increasingly looking secure in the hands of a plethora of young bands who are making their mark with some exceptional music. Meet Beyond Extinction who are a death metal outfit from Essex. With an average age of 17, Beyond Extinction are already well versed in the gnarly art of sonic abuse via some warp factor death metal. This four-track debut EP is a real hammer smashed face effort, full of powerful riffing, sledgehammer drumming and vocals that extend beyond the usual styles of the genre. The blend of subgenres sees deathcore, death metal and metal core all combine with such brutality that the EP really needs a warning stick on it. 

Snarling with malevolent anger, Beyond Extinction tackle subjects of nihilism and the imperfections of humanity. Let’s be fair, they have a massive pool of examples to draw from but kudos to them for tackling such topics. It’s a refreshing blast which should be commended. I’m all for the younger generations getting stuck into important stuff. Of the four tracks on offer, I’d nod in the direction of God Complex as the standout track. Utilising some underlying melody with a bone crushing level of riff, this is a mammoth track that highlights all that is good about the band. It pounds, kicks hard and then drops the metaphorical elbow to conclude proceedings. 

What is particularly impressive is the way that the band have melded several styles into one fireball coated delivery. With some high level shows under their belt in 2019, including some support shows with Cancer Bats, Beyond Extinction look well placed to break into the burgeoning UK death metal scene in 2021. 8/10

Mindwork: Cortex EP (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

When a record is mastered by Jens Borgen (Opeth, BTBAM, Haken) it's an easy guess that the band involved are going to be not only progressive but drawing from the extreme metal realm. Mindwork fit into the Opeth, Cynic and Death category nicely (it even features ex-Death man Bobby Koelble) So it's perfect Borgen fodder though Mindwork is very much the idea of band leader Martin Schuster (vocals, guitars etc) who not only wrote everything here but also produced the record. It's not a solo project by any means as Schuster has Filip Kittnar (drums), Dominik Vozobule (bass) and Jiri Rambousek (guitar) all helping him create a cacophony of noise that features some extremely technical playing which never full explodes into extreme metal nastiness, Depersonalized makes me think of Gojira but with Mikael Akerfeldt's introspective vocals and Gothic atmospherics, Last Lie I Told the first of the four tracks (though the first is more of an intro) to feature the death vocals but it's Grinding The Edges that really shows what they can do as a band. Proggy extreme metal that has odes to the masters, nothing new but certainly enjoyable. 7/10

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