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Tuesday 9 February 2021

Reviews: Humanity's Last Breath, Immortal Guardian, Detritus, Starforger (Reviews: Paul Hutchings, Alex Swift, Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Humanity's Last Breath - Välde (Unique Leader Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Within a minute of the fear-inducing intro Dödsdans finishing, HLB launched into their complex technical maelstrom of Glutton; there was no hiding place. The extreme black death juggernauts from Sweden started shaking foundations. But it wasn’t simply a full-frontal aural assault that confronted me, but sheer slabs of iceberg sized riffs, punctuated by elements of industrial, all coming at me in challenging and dysfunctional angles. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and astonishingly interesting. It’s difficult not to drift to comparisons with the intensity of Meshuggah and Ulver when you are first exposed to HLB. Although the band have been around for over a decade, there is little to prepare for the harrowing dissonance that erupts from the speakers. I’m not sure exactly what is the game plan of band mastermind, guitarist, and producer Buster Odeholm (Vildjharta, Born Of Osiris, Oceano), but a more claustrophobic, overwhelming, and strangely compelling album I’ve rarely encountered. At times, its sheer sonic suffocation is hugely disruptive. 

Descent sounds like Devin Townsend if he’s been absorbed into a death metal vortex and remerged minus all the zaniness you’d expect. Pulsing bass passages, unrestrained guitars and thunderous blasts of double bass kicking all support a horrifically gruesome vocal delivery from Filip Danielsson. As the album progresses, a strange pattern of acceptance begins to emerge. The atmosphere is bleak, the darkness closes, its ethereal fingers close tightly. There is nothing to prepare you for the terror of Dehumanise, the terrifying guitar riffs hanging and shimmering for an age before everything explodes in an onslaught of relentless savagery. It pounds, it drives and it hammers. It’s astonishing and leaves the listener gasping for breath. This in the live arena must be overwhelming. I was rocking back and fore, clutching my abdomen and skull as if possessed. Music that moves you … but not by your own choice. The juxtaposition of industrial, orchestral, and sheer weight of harshness that crashes throughout Välde is beyond comprehension. 

The battering of Klas Blomgren’s high intensity drumming provides little respite, Odeholm and fellow guitarist Calle Thomer create a sonic soundscape of horror, and as you move towards the finale, if there isn’t blood underneath the nostrils from bursting vessels then you have failed this album. The bizarre and unorthodox expand further on Väldet, an industrial grind that incorporates the kind of sounds nightmares are made of. Shrieking chord progressions, metallic air horns and no lyrics all combine in a melting pot of carnage. Välde is an album that produces almost indescribable emotion. The panic, loss and fear that emerge early on render it rather dangerous. It’ll scare the living daylights out of anyone not braced for the extreme. But it is compelling, seductive and something to return to time and again if the mood is right. It’s possibly the most challenging release I’ve reviewed for many moons, but it’s also one of the most exhilarating and impressive and only the minor irritation of repeated fadeouts prevented an even higher rating. 9/10

Immortal Guardian - Psychosomatic (M-Theory Audio) [Alex Swift]

An exhilarating fusion of progressive and power metal, Immortal Guardian's second album combines sweeping theatrics, with a strong sense of quirky experimentation. Take the opening title track which begins on an almost oriental note in the ceaseless and exploratory intersection of lead guitars and keyboards. All the while the percussion charts an exploratory and textured course. As you might expect from this genre, Carlos Zema’s vocals are exaggerated and can be an acquired taste with their wild alterations between operatic and cathartic. ‘Quarantine can make your mind reality’ runs one line here’ – rather than being eerily appropriate as so many lyrics have seemed this past year, this entire album is inspired by their emotions surrounding the pandemic, making the piece one of the first of many albums poetically inspired by 2020. 

The track Lockdown – a word I’m fatigued from even hearing at this point – is a visceral piece, capturing the sounds of frustration and anger, through gnashing instrumentals and constantly alternating tempos, representing the uncertainty and anxiety which have confounded so many people’s lives over the past years. And yes, while hearing the word Lockdown being crooned with this much dramatism has something of ridiculousness, the conviction and the desire to create a record that would truly represent people’s tumultuous emotional states is undeniable. Other tracks such as Clocks or even the haunting interlude of Self Isolation create ethereal and ambient soundscapes to represent the passage of time and the effects of solitude. As dark as some of the realities confronted on this record are, Immortal Guardian, like many of us, are clinging to the hope that the storm we’ve been caught in will pass, hoping for a better world on the other side. Goodbye To Farewells is the massive centrepiece of the album. By utilizing rapidly shifting time signatures, they capture the sensation of being locked in turgid battle or being on a journey on which the course remains uncharted and uncertain. 

The message through all the majestic melodies and relentless rhythms is one of camaraderie. Equally, Find A Reason employs brilliant neoclassical vibes in capturing that sensation of desperately trying to cling to the glimmers of positivity that are ever-present, and proves all the more unique for these efforts. Finally, New Day Rising beguiles the listener with an overstated yet inspiring sense of ambition that evades even the most negative feelings that you could level at the anthem! Simply put, this is an album of hope in dark times! That might sound cliché but so is a lot of Psychosomatic. Whatsmore, it’s all the better for bringing that sense of excitement and animation into people’s lives at a time when that feeling is so desperately needed! 8/10

Detritus - Myths (Embryo Industries) [Simon Black]

Having lived through Thrash first time round in the 80’s, I continue to be pleasantly surprised at quite how many acts from that period that I wasn’t actually aware of at the time have recently returned from their early grave at the hands of Grunge and all that followed it. As the current trend seems to be for many much younger acts to tip their hats to the past, this has led to labels rummaging in their archives for old material from acquisition back catalogues and giving them a fresh airing. Personally I’m all for it, as in this digital age this means that stuff that only existed on hard to find limited pressing vinyl is now much more widely available and the interest generated inspiring some of these progenitors to dust down their instruments and have another go. 

Enter Detritus with album number three. A lot of water has flowed under a good many bridges since Detritus released their original two records Perpetual Defiance (1990) and If But For One (1993) and that maturity shows clearly in this record. For a start this is not really what I would class as Thrash – say compared to their local Bristol peers Onslaught, who fundamentally sound as fast and brutal as they ever did, this is a much more slow and heavy affair closer in style and sound to Icon era Paradise Lost or Savatage than anything that came out of the Bay area. This is no bad thing and that distinctive, heavy and moody style works really well for an album that explores modern life in the context of mythical tales and hammers the point home that those who fail to learn the lessons myths contain are destined to repeat them. Add to this some really melodically progressive and experimental sounds and musical tropes and I know that I have found a record that I am likely to keep spinning for some time to come. 

This five piece have crafted a clever and well layered sound that certainly does not sound obviously like a band with three guitar players in its ranks. To get the benefit of the layering going on here you need a really good set of speakers or headphones, at which point the subtly epic mix which wouldn’t sound amiss on a good Stoner record comes right to the fore. Add to this the rough and raw but emotionally effective voice of Mark Broomhead and you have an album which is a completely pleasant surprise and a great way to start the year. 8/10

Starforger - Wreath Of Frost (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Do you remember that wonderful feeling of listening to Wintersun’s Time I back in 2012, the majesty of the compositions effortlessly fusing cinematic song writing with technical ferocity? As we all know after this there was a lot of issues and we are still waiting for the follow up (no The Forest Seasons doesn’t count!) however it seems that these is a band from Leicestershire that want to capture that neoclassical, symphonic style of melodic death metal with their first full length record Wreath Of Frost. From the opening moments of the record all I could think was Wintersun as the keys are layered so thickly that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a videogame sound track, in fact if you take away the guitar and vocals nearly everything else here is keyboards or programing as Starforger is the just two guys; Robb Skyborn (guitar, keys, prog) and Frazer Skyborn (vocals, keys, prog), together they have really treated this like a ‘proper’ studio project, not thinking how it would translate live, instead trying to make everything sound as bombastic as possible, much like Time I

Written over the course of four years, lyrically we’re in the Swords and Sorcery realms of high fantasy with folk flourishes rampant throughout the melodic death metal assault, the tinkling keys, the nod to Hans Zimmer on the two instrumentals March Of The Winter Moon and Horizons Cursed By Wintertide. Mostly though there’s a metric fucktonne of galloping double kicks and time changes, as they smash through the very power metal Starlight Song it’s hard not to have huge grin on your face. With celestial backing on the 9 minute title track which is followed by another 9 minute epic Spine Of The Ice Wyrm, this record really brought the memories of top quality symphonic melodic death metal. Wreath Of Frost will make you forget all about Time II's delay and concentrate on loving Starforger and their magnificent record! 9/10

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