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Thursday 25 March 2021

Reviews: Distant, Primitai, Agent Steel, Ghosts Of Atlantis (Reviews: Liam True, Simon Black, Paul Hutchings & Paul Scoble)

Distant – Dawn Of Anguish EP (Unique Leader Records) [Liam True]

The six piece hailing from Rotterdam, The Netherlands and Bratislava, Slovakia are set to bring part two of the tale of Tyrannotophia – the realm of the doomed and worlds damnation with the follow up to Dawn Of Corruption. The band began in 2014 and released their debut EPs Slither in 2015 followed by Tsukuyomi in 2017 and 2 years later saw the release of the debut full-length Tyrannotophia before the First chapter of this story was released in 2020. This monster EP clocks in with only six songs reaching only twenty one minutes of jaw breaking brutality with a moody intro that guides us to outrageously crushing riffs and a blistering vocal that melts your skin and boils your fat. 

The drums pummel your bones like being underneath a whacker plate as the breakdowns are like gurgling bowels with aspects of Tech Death thrown in with astonishing Deathcore and a sprinkle on Slam. By the time we reach The Eternal Lament, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is no way of getting darker and more stunningly broken down – however, you are wrong. This shit is just getting started, with Brutal Death Metal gutturals and a pace that reaches stationary, this track certainly has ‘Oh crap, I’m going to get absolutely pounded by the next track’ moments. The EP seems to go from strength to strength as the following track Cryogenesis adds a hint of samples and includes a guest vocal appearance by Lochie Keogh of Alpha Wolf. 

I think its fair to suggest that whilst the EP features this and another track with a guest appearance (Dusk Of Anguish featuring John Robert C. of The Last Ten Seconds Of Life) this is more of an optional extra than a necessity. Distant can more than hold their own against Deathcore band and would smash the fuck out of most of what is considered ‘heavy’ as this EP displays their incredible power and stunning ability to capture such ferocity and leaves you just yearning to start this blistering musical offering again as you try and take in its true destructive might. 8/10

Primitai - Violence Of The Skies (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Simon Black]

This London (ish) based group of Classic Metallers have been steadily building their credibility and presence since 2005. They have also managed to get some great guest appearances on their albums in the past and this is a trend that continues with Violence Of The Skies, which has appearances from Saxon’s Paul Quinn and a whole bunch of other players. They also have one of the most original websites I have come across in a while, which replicates the kind of explosion of desktop windows that most of s used to have to suffer using Windows circa version 3.11, which alone is worth checking out (at http://primitai.com/) which comes complete with a retro video game, so I’m guessing someone in their camp pays the bills with a career in IT and has been busy whilst the band have been unable to tour.

So what about the record? Well musically although you can clearly hear the Classic Metal tropes and influences, this is a remarkably modern sounding record despite following the current trend of trying to sound like it was recorded on forty year old technology. It’s got a lovely crisp and clear but no frills production sound and can’t resist adding liberal amounts of reverb magic juice vocally, because quite frankly it just works when you want an expansive sound. The downside of this is it’s not a particularly heavy sounding recording, which may not be for all, but this is more than compensated for by a bunch of well-crafted songs that fly off the platter in a blur. What it does capture brilliantly is the pent up energy and urgency that often found its way into old recordings when studio time was such a limiting factor. Considering this was recorded during the pandemic, that’s quite an achievement as many acts have struggled to capture that zeitgeist with a remote working model. 

Musically the straight ahead Metal is not without some subtly effective Prog/Power flourishes which often find their way into the instrumental and solo breaks and a great soaring vocals turn from lungsman Guy Miller, whose gutsy, soulful and powerful delivery carries each song – and he’s very high up in the mix. That’s probably the only gripe I have with the record – there’s some great stuff going on musically but that only really steps into the limelight when the vocals are taking a break, which is a shame as there’s some great technical guitar work buried in there outside of these sections. The positive side of this is it feels like a musical and cohesive whole and therefore a bit more catchy overall to the more casual listener than when you ear is trying to differentiate individual players and, let’s face it, if you don’t hook in the casual listener you don’t grow. 7/10

Agent Steel – No Other Godz Before Me (Cherry Red Records) [Paul Hutchings]

For those of a certain age, Agent Steel were a band that completely bewitched. Formed by vocalist John Cyriis was fired by Megadeth in 1984, their first two albums, Skeptics Apocalypse and Unstoppable Force, as well as the bizarre EP Mad Locust Rising were all speed metal classics. It was Cyriis’s incredibly high-pitched vocals that stood them apart from other bands of the time, along with a turnover of members and background legal chaos that would set them apart and lead to their split in 1988. Having reformed in 1998, the band released three albums without Cyriis, who did briefly return in 2010, before he reformed the name Agent Steel once more in 2018, with an entirely new line-up. No Other Godz Before Me sees Cyriis joined by guitarists Nikolay Atanasov and Vin Obscurious (really?), Shuichi Oni on bass and drummer Rasmus Kjaer. 

It continues from where Unstoppable Force left off over 30 years ago. After the intro of Passage To Afron – V, it’s all systems go with a blistering trademark Agent Steel full on speed metal assault as Crypts Of Galactic Damnation explodes through the speakers. For those not familiar with Cyriis’s unique style of singing, this is the man who makes King Diamond sound like Cliff Richard. His piercing shrieks are astonishing, making cats cry and dogs howl, such is the sheer sonic audiological assault. But, and it’s a big but, if you enjoy this individual style then Agent Steel are simply full-face melting. 

This is 40 minutes of galloping, sci-fi inspired metal that doesn’t draw breath. The Devil’s Greatest Trick races along, Sonata Cosmica thunders like a hundred racehorses on the final furlong and throughout it all the band rage underneath the soaring vocals. If you were around when Agent Steel burst onto the scene back in the mid-80s, this album is likely to do one of two things. It’ll either allow you some pleasant flashbacks to those early albums and the sheer velocity that Agent Steel operated at, or have you scratching your head at why you ever liked this band. 

Hopefully the former. Veterans Of Disaster slows the tempo slightly, but there’s still blastbeats galore, and riffs that drive hard. At all times, it’s Cyriis’s quite magnificent voice that stands apart, the overlapping harmonies and escalating scales that he emits remain utterly ludicrous. But there’s also something quite epic about Agent Steel, who at times sound like Queensr├┐che on acid. It’s feisty, fiery, and always frantic. Outer Space Connection brings the album to a speed induced conclusion before the outro of Entrance To Afron – V guides the album to a close. For me, Agent Steel were always a band worth listening to and this album is a welcome return to one of metal’s most eccentric and fabulous bands. 8/10

Ghosts Of Atlantis - (Black Lion Records) [Paul Scoble]

Hailing from that Heavy metal hotspot of Suffolk, Ghosts Of Atlantis have been making music together since 2019. The five piece, featuring Phil Primmer on Vocals, Colin Parks on Guitars and Vocals, Dex Jezierski on Guitars, Al Todd on Bass and Rob Garner on Drums, are on their first album with however the band have a lot of previous experience as the band contains current and ex members of Devilment, Sower, Extreme Noise Terror, Cold Lazarus and Failed Humanity in their ranks. The band and album are themed around the mythology of ancient Greece and as the name suggests, Atlantis. Vocally this album is very impressive, particularly the clean vocals. The harsh vocals are very good; closer to Death Metal than Black Metal, but the clean vocals stand out and are especially good when they are harmonised. The album features some very impressive performances throughout, the drums are particularly good, and this really works when the band hit the accelerator pedal. 

The fast parts of the album really work Halls Of Lemuria, When Tridents Fail, and Gardens Of Athena all have very impressive uptempo parts that are close to Melodic Death Metal and in places with a nice thrashy edge. Although has some very impressive elements, as a whole the album doesn’t really hold together. The problem is some issues to do with songwriting, and some much bigger issues to do with the bands overall style. I’ll come back to the songwriting issue later, let’s deal with style. The bands style is a mix of Melodic Death Metal, Melodic Black Metal with the addition of a style that is commonly known as Symphonic. What this sounds most like to my ears is the style of ‘Symphonic’ Black Metal that you will find on Dimmu Borgir's albums Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (2001) and Death Cult Armageddon (2003), and a certain amount of British band Cradle Of Filth. As anyone who knows anything about Black Metal knows, Dimmu Borgir are the Westlife of Black Metal, and Cradle Of Filth are the Aqua of Black Metal, unfortunately this would make Ghosts Of Atlantis the Venga Boys of Black Metal. All joking aside, this album does sound like it was made around the turn of the century. The huge overblown production job is impressively massive, but it also feels false and plastic. 

The album is drenched in synths unashamedly dominating everything, along with very dramatic drumming, but this has pushed the guitars very far down the mix. I have mentioned that the fast parts of this album are very enjoyable, however, these fast parts are few and far between. Most of the album is at a slow or mid-paced tempo, and the guitars seem to just chug in time with the drums in a very staccato way that has no syncopation (a little bit like in Nu Metal). This means that these parts feel very ploddy as there is no speed or inertia to the riffs. In the sections where the guitars just chug in time to the drums they become part of the tracks rhythm, and the song ends up sounding like synth and drums. The songs plod along feeling overblown and maybe a little pompous, and the lack of decent pacing or inertia also means most of the tracks feel very similar. The issue with songwriting is that on a couple of tracks there are some of the slow and ploddy but huge parts don’t feel like they fit together. Yes, they are in the right key and at the right tempo, but there is a feeling that the structure is just lashed together, with very little thought for how well the riffs fit together.

In several of the tracks there are sections that feel incoherent and disjointed. Taste is always a difficult thing to deal with. To my ears this feels dated, synthetic and (probably worst of all) boring. However, if you love those two Dimmu albums I mentioned, and you don’t think Cradle Of Filth are a joke, then by all means jump in, you’ll probably love it. However, if you’re like me then all this will do is remind why Symphonic Black Metal died a death once Atmospheric Black Metal bands like Agalloch, Wolves In The Throne Room or Altars Of Plague hit the scene. 5/10        

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