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Saturday 23 January 2021

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

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

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

Now this doesn’t sound like the sort of thing a metal/rock publication would cover, but Wardruna have been infiltrating the metal scene for a few years now their dark, esoteric folk music has been used to flesh out power and black metal bands for years but even when it’s at its purest there is an underlying heaviness that comes from the layers of instrumentation and chanted vocals, a song such as GrĂ¡ 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

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