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Thursday, 11 February 2021

Reviews: Illuminae, Durbin, Indica Blues, Revulsion (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Illuminae - Dark Horizons (Self Released)

As lifelong devotee of the almost incestuous British prog scene I've been following every project from every member as much as I can. Bands such as Karnataka and Mostly Autumn have made way for acts such as The Reasoning, Three Colours Dark, Panic Room, Breathing Space and Chasing The Monsoon amongst countless others that aren't intrinsically linked such as Lonely Robot and Touchstone. For many though the archetypal band in this style are South Wales stalwarts Karnataka, they brought that wonderful fusion of 70’s folk/prog rock to a newer audience, complete with banks of analogue synths from Jonathan Edwards (Panic Room, Luna Rossa and Three Colours Dark), folk instrumentation, explorative guitar playing and the emotional fragility of female singers such as Rachel Cohen (The Reasoning, Three Colours Dark). Along with Cohen and Edwards the third founding member of that seminal band (who continued after those members left) is Bassist/Keyboardist Ian Jones, now Karnataka have been on a hiatus for a while now but Jones is still keeping himself busy. Firstly with Chasing The Monsoon, which consisted of himself and Lisa Fury (Karnataka) on vocals and was a very synth driven, reflective album with cinematic flourishes.

On the back of that though Jones has formed another project called Illuminae, this time teaming up with vocalist Agnieszka Swita for a much more bombastic scope of music. Anchored by the British prog sound Illuminae moves things into more theatrical realms with a huge nod to symphonic bands such as Epica, Nightwish and even a couple of the Anneke Van Giersbergen projects. Dark Horizons has been called a collection of “dark twisted symphonies” and “sweet lullabies” which is a better description than this writer could come up with as it pretty much nails what songs such as Black Angel sounds like as it shifts between an almost John Barry-like orchestral ballad into the jittering electronics, leading into the gorgeously melodic Sign Of Infinity which is built on delicate strings, a solo piano and acoustic guitars. These two tracks give you a great overview of the magic present on Dark Horizons. An album that is bookended by the two emotionally powerful epics, Lighthouse and the title track, which have those swathes of melodic synths, David Gilmour-esque guitar solos, plenty of rhythmic shifts and a balance between darkness and light. 

Along with Jones and Swita there are numerous guests on the record with Gonzalo Carrera (Karnataka) and John Helliwell (Supertramp) giving piano and sax to Sign Of Infinity. The ever present Troy Donockley (Uilleann Pipes/Nightwish) imbuing Lullaby with wonder. Keeping the the beat throughout is Craig Blundell (Frost) while guitar-wise Steve Hackett adds his string genius to The Lighthouse with Luke Machin the main lead player for the whole record. Two brilliant songwriters and an all star supporting cast make make Dark Horizons a brilliant progressive rock record that's not just for fanboys like me! 9/10

Durbin - The Beast Awakens (Frontiers Music)

James Durbin is an American Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist from Santa Cruz and some of you may know him from his appearance American Idol where he sang primarily heavy metal classics. He has been signed to Frontiers for a multi-album deal with The Beast Awakens being the debut solo outing. It continues his abject love of classic heavy metal by writing an album that is so entrenched in that sound that you'll feel like you've been taken back to the 80's. More specifically you'll think that this was a long lost album from Judas Priest or Dio, Into The Flames especially sounds like it could be on Holy Diver such is the strutting riff and fist-in-the-air chorus. It's gloriously silly very much in the vein of the NWOTHM but with more of Hollywood slickness rather than a D.I.Y ethos, much of the enjoyment of this record not only comes from the almost 'jukebox' nature of the music but from Durbin's brilliant vocals, he moves between Dio-like mids into Halford screams at will. 

He also cranks out the riffs on both rhythm and acoustic guitars. As this is Frontiers release there is a huge amount of special guest musicians though the core band are Durbin, bassist Barry Sparks (Yngwie Malmsteen, MSG, UFO) and drummer Mike Vanderhule of Y&T (another key influence on this album), Earl Salindo giving keys and electronics come from Paul Grimm. Taking the special guest slots are mainly guitarists, the most high profile of which being Phil Demmel (Vio-Lence & ex-Machine Head) who shreds like a bastard on Kings Before You which also features Le Champion/Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho on co-lead vocals. Many of the songs feature fantasy, swords and sorcery lyrics that Joey DeMaio would get excited over (The Sacred Mountain and Riders On The Wind), but the riffage while rarely straying from the traditional metal sound does bring in doom on Evil Eye and Necromancer the latter having a Ghost feel to it. There's a place here to be massively cynical about this record, but you know what the world is currently in a shit state and sometimes what you need is a big healthy dose of anthemic heavy metal to make you smile and The Beast Awakens certainly does this. Put on your leather crank up the volume and annoy your neighbours. 8/10

Indica Blues - We Are Doomed (APF Records)

We're Doomed! - the words of worry shared by Private James Fraser and C3PO in their respective series. It's also how Oxford heavies Indica Blues see the world. A pandemic, the environment, fake news, America etc the most obvious threats but there are also currently a multitude of dangers that can wipe us all out at any moment! So on that happy note we dive into We Are Doomed the second album from Indica Blues that once again brings a mind expanding psychedelic doom that has seen them tour with Elder, Samsara Blues Experiment and Mars Red Sky. So they know a thing or two about how to open up your third eye, and once again they are ona  quest to take you on their cosmic journey, driven by fuzzy riffs, groovy rhythms and passages of atmospheric experimentalism. 

So as we put down the needle on We Are Doomed the acoustic intro to Inhale is quickly forgotten in some filthy riffs from Tom Pilsworth and John Slaymaker as it has that Monster Magnet groove, Andrew Haines-Villalta's slinky basswork getting the hips and your neck moving. It's a slow burning opening that shifts into the heavy doom of the title track, a song about Nuclear War, that shows just how fucked we are! Driven by the accomplished, deft drumming of Rich Walker the 7 often labyrinthine tracks on this sophomore record really up things from the debut with a really forward thinking style of bluesy psych-drenched doom rocking that also has some expressive vocals from Pilsworth. Pack that bong, turn up the volume and press play. Yes We Are Doomed but let's go out with a bang. 8/10

Revulsion - Self Titled (Transcending Obscurity Records)

Signing to the same label as their Finnish comrades Sepulchral Curse and Sadistik Forest, Revulsion are a death metal band with a sharp modern edge that brings in the technical ferocity of Dying Fetus and Suffocation. Filled with blistering blast beats from Atte Karppinen, on tracks such as Walls there is very little slowdown on the record it races through the 10 tracks of powerful death metal. Even though it is a inherently quick record on Mustaa Hiilta they bring things down to trench digging grind Tuomas Alatalo's bass pulling the track along in a dissonant dirge before the rage comes again on Wastelands where Jari Toppinen and Jarkko Viitasalo's substantial riffs pulverise, with Silence also smashing everything within earshot. For a debut record this is full of strong, filthy death metal. Nothing revolutionary but as soon as that death metal battery roars out and Aleksi Huhta's grunts sit astride you get you head banging and aching to start a pit which is really all that matters. 6/10 

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