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Tuesday 9 March 2021

Reviews: Bonecarver, Skinny Knowledge, Autarkh, Callous Hands (Reviews By Liam True, Alex Swift, Paul Hutchings & Richard Oliver)

Bonecarver – Evil (Unique Leader) [Liam True]

Formed from the ashes of the brilliantly named Cannibal Grandpa, Spanish outfit Bonecarver have been at the forefront of the extreme scene in their native Madrid since 2014. Combining stories about infamous serial killers with their own take on brutal death metal, they have undergone a self-proclaimed reinvention in the past few years, which included a changing of name. Today sees the release of their debut album under the Bonecarver moniker and their first via Unique Leader Records – a telling of the American murderer Albert Fish with the title Evil.

Although their first full album, Bonecarver released two EPs during the second half of last decade under their old name, so it’s not like this is their first rodeo, but in terms of quality and sheer impact, what a way to go about it. That scene in Raider of the Lost Ark where two of the characters have their faces literally melted off their skulls? This is the aural equivalent from the moment opening track Revolver explodes with a fury of double kick drums and thunderous guitars, replete with savage, guttural vocals. It doesn’t so much grab the listener as throttle them with ease and then delivers the final blow with a devastating breakdown; and there are still nine tracks to go.

Overtorture brings in pig squeals alongside everything else and The Scythe continues the relentless assault, throwing in a brilliant The Black Dahlia Murder-style solo in the middle; the ending is even better though, as a spoken word build gets the adrenaline going before it drops into a filthy, repugnant finale – you can actually see the bodies flailing around the pit as you listen. Although this remains the nucleus of the album’s style, there are moments here and there which add a different flavour on top of the bludgeoning riffs and blistering drums. Mallevs Maleficarvm has a slight symphonic edge in places, which harks back to Dimmu Borgir in their prime and the false finish in Nest Of Traitors is a well-executed curveball; it comes out of absolutely nowhere at the exact moment when the listener begins to breath a bit easier after another round of sonic bullying.

The closing title track, however, asks ‘Why not both?’ and delivers a softer, momentary interlude of piano that just as quickly reverts to a pig squeal and all-out assault. For the most part, though, this is just straight up carnage; Wormhole takes after its title and could easily rip a hole in space and time if it were played loud enough whilst Hound Pound, the shortest track at just over two minutes long, somehow manages to be even faster than everything that’s come before it, which is already played at a breakneck speed. There is absolutely no let up and yet, despite the battering to the senses, nobody will ever get enough of it; this will be spun on repeat for the rest of the year, guaranteed.

When the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse descend from the skies on Judgement Day, this will be their soundtrack as they set about their own destruction of the planet. Bonecarver have spawned a monster in Evil, something truly disgusting and downright revolting; as a result, it’s one of the best death metal releases 2021 will see. 9/10

Skinny Knowledge – Don’t Turn Out The Lights (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

With the raucous, rugged energy of grunge and the memorability of pop-punk, Skinny Knowledge may not seem the most unique band to grace alternative music, but they exude a kind of optimistic energy that I find forever enthusing. “About a year and a half ago, I felt I’d lost my way a little with music” says lead singer Andy L Smooth “I motivated myself to do something I’d never done before…write a song. The songs I was writing reflected that confusion, It ended up being a collection of tales about the chaos of adolescent life”. I would say that’s an accurate analysis – these lyrics bear the contemplative charm captured by acts like Menzingers, and the playing bears the energy summoned by acts like Foo Fighters or Feeder. For a debut its’ impressively performed, cleverly produced and wonderfully emotional. The songs are cathartic yet also catchy, with an astute grip on melody and emotionality.

The opening title track hooks you in with a jaunty guitar riff, which builds up to full volume against a background of feedback. Smooth’s voice comes in powerfully – it’s rough yet soaring and earnest, hitting every note yet doing so with a scruffy sense of zealousness. It might seem something of a risk to start a debut on a mid-tempo piece designed to inspire, yet this song gets that atmosphere right. The massive singalong vocals which close help to kick the track into high gear for its impassioned final moments. Imagination keeps that freneticism going with hard hitting bass and drums, charting the course to the huge chorus – one you can just picture crowds going wild to, upon the ever closer return of gigs. This see’s our frontman screaming with an enthused fury, as the instrumentals swell and cavort around him. Alive has the vigour of a classic rock anthem – an image that’s complemented by the immense riff and the ambitious lead guitar solo, which you don’t want to end. King Of Nothing is one of the shorter tracks here, yet is also one of the most daring, with unique guitar stylings, stirring backing vocals and driving rhythms. Keep Me Out Of It is another riff based one which keeps the listener captivated with the stomping presence, despite the more simple composition. ‘Let loose our inhibitions and move to funky rhythms tonight’ runs one line on Not Coming Down and how I can’t wait to feel the sensation captured by this song again. Seriously, this is undeniably danceable, while retaining that rock n’ roll swagger.

Getaway captures with the kind of high-tempo, zealous energy that you would expect. It also underpins what I love about this band so far – It would have been easy for these to come across as cut and paste replicas of their influences – crucially though, every song sounds like these musicians had fun writing and recording them. That might seem like a strange observation, yet believe me, it’s noticeable in every note. In contrast to the fast paced nature though, Sayonara is more of a slower, foreboding piece – there are nods to blues, the harmonised vocals and menacing build into the hook beguiling with yet more subtlety – finally, the band throw another curveball with a monumental riff which acts as the pay-off to all the tension created over the course of the song. Speaking of the unexpected, the next piece is an enormous yet earnest power ballad titled Wheel Of Love and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Is it mawkish and sentimental? Very, but this is coming from quite a sentimental person who’s a sucker for these sort of songs when they’re done well. The best way I can describe this one is that it beautifully captures that feeling of wishing to be trapped in a moment with people you love and never leave, partly for fear of the future and partly for not being able to imagine happiness outside of that moment. As well as that it also acknowledges the sensation of overcoming hardship – ‘holding on to this feeling I’ve craved for so long’. As if continuing on the hopeful theming, This Time acts as a punk-rock rager about taking positive control of your life and chasing your dreams irrespective of jealous criticism, while Make A Change beseeches the listener to make that positive difference, either to their own lives or to the world around them. All the while, the music seethes with a determined optimism.

Few new acts could so pointedly wear their oftentimes contrasting influences on their sleeve and get away with that. That’s exactly what Skinny Knowledge do. Case in point: the pop-punk inspired Take The Blame and the heavy metal interlude that’s appropriately titled Heavy Metal Interlude. I have little to say about these tracks outside of all the praise I’ve doled out already, except to say they demonstrate these players commitment to their craft. We end on Stand Alone. Initially, this might appear to be a bittersweet way to close, but upon reflection, it’s more of a ‘leaving behind’ song. A piece about abandoning one life to seek another. In a way that’s the crux of this record – Don’t Turn Out The Lights emphasises not running away from your problems but overcoming them and carving out a place for yourself in this universe, even if many refuse to accept the way you are. In that sense, it’s a perfect album for the times we’re living in, and certainly one that made me miss gigs. For while those precious moments might seem a memory, long hidden in the past, the light lit by them still burns, never to be turned out. 8/10

Autarkh – Form In Motion (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Pushing the artistic boundaries, this debut release from Autarkh ranks alongside Igorrr as one of the most interesting, complex, and challenging albums released in many years. Autarkh was formed by Michel Nienhuis, formerly of Dodecahedron, the outfit signed to Season Of Mist who released two albums between 2012 and 2017. Nienhuis has collaborated with producer Joris Bonis, guitarist David Luiten and electronic composer/producer Tijnn Verbruggen.

The result is an intriguing, captivating and sometimes confusing extreme metal album that combines harrowing death metal passages with techno beats, electro blasts and industrial segments. It’s something vastly different to the mainstream. I struggled for reference points at times, but that’s the beauty of such an unorthodox release. Vocally, we experience everything from chilling screams, semi-clean harmonies, and guttural roars. Musically there’s a sonic avalanche which permanently threatens to overwhelm. Banks of imposing riffs, blast beats and thick bass lines permeate the auditory senses, blended with electronica, techno, and many other styles that I can’t even capture.

Drawing from personal experience of human nature and the nature of the universe, this is a lyrical wild ride. It’s a radical piece of work which will repel many. Dive in deep, allow the absorption and you’ll get a different experience. Tracks like Introspectrum, the wild ride of Turbulence and penultimate song Alignment provide an intensity which few bands can capture. Intrigued? This is an album that will challenge, stimulate, and possible overpower you. It’s that powerful. 8/10

Callous Hands - Earth Mover (Self Released) [Richard Oliver]

Earth Mover is the new EP from Callous Hands. Hailing from Birmingham, Callous Hands are a five piece band who formed in 2017 and gained quite a reputation from their appearance in the 2019 Coventry Metal To The Masses competition. Although they did not win the competition they gained quite a following from their tight and impressive performances. Originally slated to be recorded in April but delayed due to the pandemic, Earth Mover is a three song EP. It is a short but heavy release with plenty of influence from groove metal and hardcore with riffs that steamroller their way out of the speakers at you. 

The performances throughout are tight with a pounding rhythm section whilst the ferocious hardcore bark of frontman Kieran shows that the band mean business. Whilst the performances and enthusiasm are there there wasn’t much that grabbed me and stuck with me on this EP. It is heavy as fuck but it’s a bit one dimensional and suffers from the same trap of monotony that puts me off a lot of groove metal. This is a solid release but it isn’t that memorable. 6/10

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