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Wednesday 10 March 2021

Reviews: The Anchoress, Orden Ogan, Thunderhorse, The Crown (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Anchoress - The Art Of Losing (Kscope)

The Anchoress' (AKA Catherine Anne Davies) first album Confessions Of A Romance Novelist was extremely well received by the music press drawing comparisons to Kate Bush, Karen Carpenter and Lana Del Ray, she was praised for her stirring compositions, emotive vocals and the biting feminist of the album. Since then and now she has won numerous awards and also guested with artists such as Manic Street Preachers and Simple Minds. However not all was good in her world with several years of personal loss, including losing her father to a brain tumour and a battle/treatment for cervical cancer. The Welsh multi-instrumentalist/producer took to heart Dylan Thomas' "rage against the dying of the light" with an album that could have been very morbid but she has channels it into a wondrous collection of emotionally charged, explosion of musical artistry. 

At 13 tracks every notion of grief has been replaced by the solace and healing power of music. Bookended by the piano driven/string-laden Moon Rise (Prelude) and Moon (And End) both of which have flourishes of Debussy, keeping cyclical nature to the record in the forefront of the mind. The first exposure to a song proper is on Let It Hurt a dark, brooding track with the repeated refrain of "Let it hurt" showing that contemplation of what it is to be a woman in the 21st Century, The Exchange is a natural single, a jangling, anthemic, modern indie rocker featuring guest vocals from James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers). Again those Kate Bush comparisons are evident as is the influence of indie rock, 80's post-punk and Gothic rock too, too many styles to mention really but exactly what you'd want from such an eclectic artist. Production wise, the record is bursting with life, Davies a proud member of the Music Producers Guild, so on the synth-heavy title track you get huge walls of electronics driving it along, Unravel takes a similar tact with a fuzzy synth propulsion and hooky chorus.

As far as the concept is concerned I can't claim to be an expert on the female experience but what I can say is that it's very clear that Davies is trying to address every facet of it on this record and taking what could have been a very moribund record, turning it into a cathartic experience for both performer and listener. If you don't get a lump in your throat when listening to 5am then you're made of stone, I'll be honest it ruined me with it's visceral lyrical content. The Art Of Losing is not just a worthy follow up to Confessions Of A Romance Novelist it surpasses it. A stunningly beautiful record that deserves all the praise it gets.10/10   

Orden Ogan - Final Days (AFM Records)

Hopefully not a Nostradamus-like prediction of the end of the world (or indeed the end of the band) Final Days is latest effort from vocalist/guitarist/producer Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann's symphonic power metal band Orden Ogan. Their sixth record following on the Gunmen a record that brought them both higher acclaim and wider audience than the legions of troll fighting power metal fans, adding some melodic metal and hard rock influences. Gunmen was their most well received record by the buying public so this left them with the problem of following it up. After touring Gunmen for two years, they set about trying to record a follow up, however long term axeman Tobi decided to hang up his guitar, which left them getting in Patrick Sperling who plays alongside former bassist Niels Löffler, due to Seeb not being able to play due to hand injury but staying as just the bands singer, this brought in Steven Wussow on bass. 

So with big line up changes things were looking a little clearer for a follow up but then the pandemic hit, forcing the album to be delayed, their tour with Grave Digger and Rage to be cancelled and all matter of other issues. But finally in March 2021 Orden Ogan are releasing their follow up to Gunmen, Final Days. Immediately what his you is Seeb's production skills, making the record sound huge again as he has done with bands such as Rhapsody Of Fire, Brainstorm and Asphyx. The production style suits this record dark sci-fi concept (yep another concept album from these Germans), with much of it still very deep in that Orden Ogan style of powerful cinematic metal the band at their heaviest and also most accessible ever but there are also a few genre shifts that brings in pop and AOR. There is also a duo of guests on Alone In The Dark Ylva Eriksson (Brothers Of Metal) duets with Seeb and on Interstellar, has Firewind shredder Gus G playing the solo. 

Due to the sci-fi concept there's lot of cyber sound effects, Heart Of The Android is full of them, the glitches sounding a little like the song is skipping (giving me anxiety), it's also especially resonant if you have just watched the final episode of Wandavision. Even on Alone On The Dark there is a thumping heartbeat beneath it adding to the emotional power of the ballad. With Final Days Orden Ogan have continued on the hot streak from Gunmen, it's big, bold power metal at its best. 8/10 

The Crown - Royal Destroyer (Metal Blade Records)

Not a sly dig at Meghan Markle, Royal Destroyer is the tenth record from Swedish death metal crew The Crown who celebrated thirty years of existence (in one form or another) in 2020. So this tenth record has managed to throw in everything from 90's death metal, death n roll (R.I.P L.G. Petrov), punk thrash and more on this album. It's the follow up to 2018's Cobra Speed Venom which saw them rediscovering their early nastiness, this ethos continues on Royal Destroyer as Baptized In Violence rages in under 2 minutes leading into the blistering, constantly shifting Let The Hammering Begin where drummer Henrik Axelsson does exactly that, it's a tribute to much missed Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman and has those explosive solos that Hanneman made famous at the end Robin Sörqvist doing his best impression. 

Stylistically the music varies, while staying true to death metal while lyrically there's a lot here; Scandinavian Satan is an ode to the first generation black metal bands. Produced by Fredrik Nordström, the riffs (Magnus Olsfelt & Marko Tervonenare) biting, the vocals (Johan Lindstrand) are ragged and the melodic (Sörqvist) elements ring out when needed, especially on the doomier Glorious Hades while Full Metal Justice ramps up the blistering thrash. Royal Destroyer is The Crown royally laying down a death metal arse whooping that incorporates different soundscapes and a progressive touch. Great stuff. 8/10

Thunder Horse - Chosen One (Ripple Music)

This is an interesting proposition, a retro-fuelled doom/stoner band founded by a Stephen Bishop (vocals/guitars) who has made his name on the Texas industrial metal scene, he and lead guitarist T.C Connally set about writing an album influenced by Tony Iommi and Robin Trower. So it's heavily influenced by the 60's and 70's style but with the fuzzy filthiness of Electric Wizard and High On Fire (Among The Dead). Chosen One is their second album and it continues their journey into the abyss wrapped up in a wall of distorted amps, gurgling gravelly basslines and hypnotic vocal phrasing. The music here is mainly long slow doom pieces punctuated by touches of psych, on Let Them Bleed with it's David Gilmour lead guitar playing. 

There's also some Southern rock, on the records best track Texas where the band pine for their home State, but mainly this record is chock full of heavily distorted classic rock riffs, with songs such as Rise Of The Heathens essentially taking some dirty rock n roll and adding gothic bell ringing and a massive doom sound, the cover of Traffic's Dear Mr Fantasy is also a good indicator of the heavy blues style of Chosen One. Heavy, doomy and steeped in rock tradition Thunder Horse come galloping out of the gate once again with their sophomore effort. 7/10

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