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Thursday 25 February 2021

Reviews: Holy Monitor, Neptune Is Dead, Christoffear, Kostas Sampanis (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Holy Monitor - Southern Lights (Blackspin/Primitive Music)

Psych rock is one of those genres you either don't understand or you let it creep into your listening habits until it becomes a much loved part of it. I'm very much in the latter camp, having been exposed to the psych/prog/space rock sound since I was a kid (both my parents are children of the 60's/70's). I love bands like Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, which in tern has led to my love of Church Of The Cosmic Skull, Purson etc. So when the third album from Athenian psych rockers Holy Monitor dropped into my reviews pile I put on my kaftan and coke bottle glasses before letting the needle drop so to speak. 

What I was greeted with when I started the album was a atmospheric melting pot of skyward facing space rock, ambient krautrock and proggy time signatures which makes Psych rock so entertaining to me. you can hear that this record was recorded 'live in the studio' as song such as River sound like jams where the massive organs of Vangelis Mitsis are under hooked by Alex Bolpasis' throbbing basslines, before when shift into more cinematic scope the wide open drum patterns of Dimitris Doumouliakas and return to that mesmeric, groovy opening again. 

There's a balance between the heaviness and melody on Southern Lights with some bluesy touches coming on Naked In The Rain as the phased guitars of Stefanos Mitsis and George Nikas really adding a jam-band influence of The Grateful Dead. This also comes from the echoed vocals of Stefanos who brings the sound of Garcia to the Hellenic nation. As this 39 minute record progresses we are taken into hazy jazz with Blue Whale, the choppy title track has yet more bubbling keys and a shamanistic drive, The Sky Is Falling is a big freak out of a track full of keening guitar playing and thumping bass that transitions into a fuzzy final part. Hourglass is like a lost offcut from Meddle transitioning into the final two piece of the bright and breezy Ocean Trail and the trippy but reflective Under The Sea (which isn't the Little Mermaid song). Southern Lights is a brilliant psych rock record from Holy Monitor, plug in, turn up and tune out! 9/10  

Neptune Is Dead - Chronos (Self Released)

Difficult to find online as there is an album by Altar Of Plagues called Neptune Is Dead, this band have a bit more in common with their namesake as they come from Greece. In fact they come from Thessaloniki, a city that is essentially seafront, so even more linked to Neptune. Chronos (the father of Neptune) is their debut album and it packs a groove-laden heavy rock punch. Steeped in the Hellenic stoner rock traditions of bands like Nightstalker, 1000mods and Planet Of Zeus where the fuzzy riffs are the order of the day, six stringing brothers George and Thanos Ouzounoudis bring those titanic riffs with some gusto letting Handler For The Mob breakdown as Narcissus In Vain has a much punkier edge the weight of Manos Tzinieris bass and Konstantinos Alex Noulas' drumming locking it in as the definite first single as it has a little bit of Mastodon and a little bit of Clutch to it. 

On top of these waves of stoner heaviness are the raw vocals of Frank Lampadaropoulos who really adds guts to the record. I said about the stoner influence but there's also so psych passages, the occasional slide into doom and chugging biker metal as witnessed on the Worship What We Fear. Final track The Sky is a tribute to a fallen friend of the band who died at 26, it also happens to be the most progressive emotional track on the album. Chronos is a big heavy hitting record from these Greek rockers, play loud for the full experience. 7/10  

Christoffear - We All Have Daemons (Self Released)

Hailing from Argos in Greece, Christoffear are a band that draw heavily from the 90's Gothenburg scene founded by In Flames, Dark Tranquility and At The Gates. Yep it's melodeath, blasting double kicks, thrashy guitars, deathy shouted vocals and some additional keys as well. All the music here (guitar/bass/keys/production) comes from guitarist and bandleader Christopher Boufas, with drum programming coming from bassist Stathis Karoutis. Despite this they are a full fledged live act with drummer Vaggelis Argirakis and vocalist Rafael Bavelas rounding out the band, Bavelas giving this album it's aggressive vocals style as he screams, shouts and croaks through tracks like A Deal In Dark where the heaviness is counterpointed by more melodic guitar playing. 

There is a huge Gothenburg influence and if you listen to Death Toll it's glaringly obvious however there is also a little bit of Hellenic black metal that creeps in on Hang Loose. Now I'm not really the biggest melodeath fan on the planet but this record did get my head nodding along to it as the melodic/death styles are balanced throughout appealing to hardened death fans and those that like clean guitars and solos. 7/10 

Kostas Sampanis - Autumne EP (Self Released)

Kostas Sampanis is a graduate of the department of music in Athens. He is also a self confessed prog lover with Opeth and Porcupine Tree being two of his favourites. With this in mind it was time to press play on his EP and funnily enough there is a lot of Opeth/Porcupine Tree styled music on this EP. Totally instrumental it's a record full of emotional guitar playing where we are slowly lulled into the record with the fluid Remembering You before the compositional nature of this record explodes on the multifaceted A Heartbeat Away where the Floydian influences creep in along with some AOR brightness. It's followed by the wonderfully upbeat Birth where the virtuoso playing doesn't overshadow the melodies of the song. In fact throughout the emotive stirring melodies take centre stage over Samparis' obvious technicality. He's joined by George Pouliasis (drums), Ilias Karkavelias (bass),  Stelios Fragkous (piano) along with strings programmed by Dimitris Radis five excellent compositions by a very talented player, Autumne is best enjoyed late at night in front of the fire. 6/10

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