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Thursday 25 February 2021

Reviews: Anneke Van Giersbergen, Mos Generator, Culted, Iotunn (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

Anneke Van Giersbergen - The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest (InsideOut Music) [Matt Bladen]

Anneke Van Giersbergen's latest album The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest is not only her 23rd career record, it is also her most personal. Known to a many from her time in The Gathering, her collaborations with Arjen Lucassen, Devin Townsend, Danny Cavanagh and many others, her solo records are very eclectic with this one is her most surprising to date for most of her fans. The album was born out of adversity, after releasing her return to heavy metal on VUUR, Giersbergen struggled financially with recording the album and putting the band on tour. 

This was coupled with stresses in her long happy marriage, meaning that the VUUR project was shelved and Anneke started to write to cope with these personal challenges, retiring to a small house by herself with an acoustic guitar to work through these issues in the most personal album of her entire career. Musically The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest is a meditation on finding meaning and comfort in adversity, shifting between beautiful pared back folksy tracks (The End and Losing You), softly orchestrated numbers such as Agape that are bolstered by producer Gijs Coolen and emotionally powerful songs like first single My Promise which has a Eastern influence. 

For me I Saw A Car is one of the songs on this album that really speaks volumes about Anneke's mindset when recording it, it sounds jaunty with the stomp clap beat, nifty guitar playing and Anneke's brilliantly expressive voice singing counterpointed lyrics about being perfect in your imperfection. The album balances between tragedy and hope finding the latter in the former. As I Love You Like I Love You closes the album with a flood of optimism of a life back on track. A wonderful album from one of the most distinct and fantastic voices in the rock/metal. 9/10   

Mos Generator - The Lantern (Argonauta Records) [Matt Bladen]

Mastermind Tony Reed has been leading the musical explorers Mos Generator since 2000 releasing 9 full length albums in that time. The band have been very active both on record and on the touring front becoming one of the most recognisable acts in the post-Millennial stoner/doom/psych scene. So to their latest disc The Lantern which is remixed, re-released, re-named version of a 2007, 7 incher called Tales From The Vault. The songs here have been re-mixed as I said, but they have also been reordered and the EP has also a new title and cover, the re-release comes because Tales From The Vault is long out of print. Reed believes that The Lantern is so different soundwise to the original that it can be seen almost as a new album in its entirety. 

Originally recorded in a few days there's a rawness to the record that doesn't usually happen on the often multi-layered Mos Generator releases. So with The Lantern they have upped the sonic delivery of the record the title track taking things in the direction of Sabbath, while Nightwolf is a funky blues number the drums and bass locking into a solid groove for some great guitar fireworks over the top. The Lantern is Mos Generator in its rawest form six tracks of bluesy, doom hard rock, ready for re-discovery. 7/10   

Culted - Nous (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Complex, dark, and disturbing, the third full-length by industrial blackened doom collective Culted is not for those who like simple music. Nous is a departure from the norm and the listener needs to invest heavily to immerse into the concept. Michael Klassen and Matthew Friesen were first approached by Daniel Jansson to collaborate in 2008, with fellow Canadian Kevin Stevenson joining soon after. Their first LP, Below The Thunders Of The Upper Deep arrived in 2009. 

Organically formed. Culted allowed the music on Nous to emerge, locking away the interference of the outside, and experimenting with their already complicated compositions. Forays into the industrial, doom and black metal worlds produced a dissonant soundscape which scrapes and crawls, delving and diving deep into the darkest recesses of the mind. Nous explores religious and conspiratorial mind control, from the first biblical scriptures to the present day. The theory that powerful forces withhold secret information. It’s a journey of exhausting levels. Several of the songs on Nous are sonically unsettling, the structures abstract. Crown Of Lies for example, flicks from a cacophony of industrial sound to gentle passage to gargantuan, doom-laden, riff heavy glacial paced chords in the space of six minutes. Its pulverising power suffocating. 

Harrowing and devastating in their power, the tracks contained on Nous rarely fit into any stereotypical box. Huge riffs dominate at times, but without smothering. Opener Lowest Class only hints at the sheer size of this album. Daniel Jansson’s unearthly vocals echoing over a slow, pulse driven movement that searches deep. Black Bird unsettles with its unconventional time signatures and eerie, haunting effects. Opiate The Hounds is genuinely terrifying. Ankle Deep could shatter bone. The songs on Nous vary from over seven minutes in length to shorter four-minute tracks. Such is their impact, it’s hard to distinguish which are which. The sheer weight of each composition combined with the intense noise that erupts melds the album into one journey. 

With such an extreme departure from the more routine music we review, Nous has been an enormously difficult album to explore. At times, it overwhelmed with the sheer sonic impact. The walls of noise linger and damage. It’s not an album that I’d choose to listen to, but the sheer intensity was at times compelling. It needs time and investment to absorb. I may have been lighter in my approach then this release deserves. My recommendation would be to seek it out and experience Nous for yourself. Maybe then, you’ll see the conundrum I faced. 8/10

Iotunn - Access All Worlds (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

With their name meaning ‘Giant’, you’d want something huge from this five-piece from Copenhagen. The good news is that this debut album lives up to the band’s name. 

Badged as space rock, progressive power metal and various other genres, it’s refreshing to find it hard to genuinely slap a one-size fits all label on Iotunn. Formed in 2015 by guitarist Jens Nicolai Gräs and slowly perfected through a patient search for the right band members, it took until 2019 to get the pieces of the puzzle in place. An EP, The Wizard Falls, released in 2016 and mixed by no less than Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Morbid Angel, Blind Guardian, Rainbow) demonstrated the desire and talent on offer. With Jen’s brother Jesper and drummer Bjørn Wind Andersen firmly embedded in the band, it was the arrival of vocalist Jón Aldará and bassist Eskil Rask which completed the line-up and the move to the next step of the band’s progression.  

Access All Worlds is a big album. Seven songs which take a cosmic and contemplative journey which follows space travellers on a daring voyage. The compositions are long, intricate and reflect on human existence. The title track, for example, motors along for over 11 minutes. It ebbs and flows, Aldará using an impressive range which varies from soaring power metal vocals to guttural death metal styles to chart the story. The musicianship it tight, the rhythm section locked in whilst the fluid and organic style of the Gräs brothers is allowed ample time to breath and expand. 

Throwing in a battering reminder that Iotunn are able to stand tall alongside the big boys, Laihem’s Golden Pits sees the band thrashing at ludicrously fast tempo, whilst Aldará roars and soars in epic style. This is a primal melodic thrash/death metal approach which is both savage and welcome. It works as a clear contrast to the longer, more diverse tracks on the album, such as the ten-minute workout of Waves Below which adopts a more progressive metal feel and allows another opportunity for the creation of some fantastic sonic soundscapes. The music transports you far into space, which is no doubt the intention. But it’s no light proggy wander; it remains blisteringly heavy yet drenched with melody.

The creativity is unlimited, the passion endless and the tracks lengthy, yet always compelling. At times mysterious, the journey can be interpreted in many ways, although the band explain the idea as “based on space travellers trying to find answers to the apocalypse which reflects many of the impressions, feelings and thoughts human life holds that originates from something vast, mysterious, chaotic and breathtakingly spectacular”. Access All Worlds necessitates a deep dive. It’s over an hour in length, with the closing track Safe Across The Endless Night just shy of the 14-minute mark and something of an epic. It flows seamlessly from song to song, the cohesive progressive style rich and welcoming and is an album that is well worth investing a couple of hours to listen to. 8/10

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