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Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Reviews: Pupil Slicer, Rob Zombie, Starmen, Autumn's Child (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Simon Black)

Pupil Slicer - Mirrors (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Astonishingly, the absolute carnage that erupts from the headphones on Mirrors is the product of a mere three people. Kate Davies - Guitar/Vocals, Josh Andrews – Drums and Luke Fabian - Bass/ Additional Vocals. Described as a combination of angular mathcore and brutal grindcore, this is the musical equivalent of being beaten with a baseball bat. It’s a violent, aggressive blast which sees Davies exorcise demons and ghosts from her personal life. I have every sympathy with her for her experiences. Depression, abuse, and anxiety are nobody’s friend and if her vicious vocal explosions help her address the harrowing experiences all the better. It’s hard to know what she’s screaming about mind; such is the intensity with which she spews forth. And she is also giving the guitar a good pasting. One can only cower in fear at what this three must get up to on stage. 

The London outfit slam through track after track before hitting two much longer tracks at the finale. Before that, Pupil Slicer rage through a series of blistering shorter tracks that vary from a minute to six. It’s all a bit frantic, although the band do thread some quieter passages for brief moments of reflection. It’s all a bit intense for me at times. I’m not a big grindcore/mathcore kind of guy and whilst I can appreciate the sheer energy and effort that Pupil Slicer pour into their craft; it washes over me. Regardless of my opinion, this is a gritty, raw, and punishing release. If this is what the kids are listening to, I’m glad I’m old. If you like carnage, raging emotions and music that hits you harder than a tsunami in 2011, this battery of angst and rage balled up in this debut album will be one to get hold of. Me, I’m off to listen to Pink Floyd, before my head explodes. 7/10.

Rob Zombie - The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

As one wag on Rob Zombie’s Facebook page pointed out – smart speaker friendly titles are not really his thing, but at least it’s not likely to get mixed up with anyone else’s work. I suspect this lengthy title is Zombie’s way of poking fun at the QAnon world we find ourselves in, given that they kind of extreme comic book nonsense that has been the stuff of his records forever now seems to have entered mainstream discourse. As you would expect from this old hand, the classic Zombie production feel is all over this album, with its Post-Industrial mix, lots of samples and punchy beat breaks to mix things up. As always we have plenty of spooky sounds in the impeccable mix and the album does sound exactly like what you would expect a Rob Zombie album to sound like.

There’s only one thing missing unfortunately, which is a bit of a doozy, and that’s some decent songs. This might be a bit unfortunate, given that although his seventh solo recording it’s his first for new label Nuclear Blast and the first for five years and he probably needed to make a bit of a hit. Perhaps what Zombie need is a platform and AI-based tool to poke his music into the heads of the most receptive potential audience and that way he can be sure of shifting all the copies on vinyl, cassette and retro long cardboard CD cover and any other formats that wind up the environmentalists?

Now don’t get me wrong – I love this artist. I loved him when it was White Zombie, I loved the early cadre of solo releases and I love to watch him perform, because he frankly remains one of the greatest show men of the Modern Metal age, however this album is not reversing the downward spiral in the new album department any time soon. Like the last few releases this lacks the punchy hard-hitting delivery that put him on the map – you can have your distinctive sound and production values, but these should be there to embellish what is fundamentally a catchy and enjoyable song or three and sadly too many songs on this release are rambling, unfocussed and sadly unmemorable. 

It sounds right - classic and perfect Zombie formula 101, but sadly the strength of song-writing just is not there. There are a couple of moments when it feels like he’s back on groove, but then things fizzle out and lose focus again. We need songs of the calibre of Dragula, Living Dead Girl or the frankly definitive Feel So Numb, but sadly there’s nothing remotely like that on this disk. 4/10

Starmen - By The Grace Of Rock’n’Roll (Melodic Passion) [Simon Black]

The third album from these Swedish Hard Rockers carries on where previous offerings have left off – a good healthy slab of 70’s and 80’s influenced Hard Rock, that may or may not look like it was made by an entire group of Paul Stanley Starchild lookalikes. The KISS comparison is an easy one, not the least from the obvious make up and costume comparison, but for the fact that all four of them take turns in singing and the fact that Kristian Hermanson (Starman Red) is a dead vocal ringer for Stanley. If these guys weren’t all originally in a KISS Tribute band before this project, then my kitchen may soon start to smell of baked hat.

These guys are nothing if not prolific – having only formed in 2018, they managed two full albums last year, with this one very close behind. However, so many of the songs have that “I know this one” feeling that walks the dangerous set of thin lines between influence, tribute and plagiarism. Alongside the obvious KISS nods, I hear many other touches of contemporary comparison to Hard Rock’s roots, with big chunks of Zeppelin, UFO and others amidst a general mid-80’s American Radio friendly sound and production mix (Autograph in particular springs to mind). I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s executed perfectly and is one of the more convincing retro acts to have crossed my desk in recent months and they do sound more like KISS than KISS currently do (now there’s a band who have become their own tribute act). If that rocks your boat, then you are going to really enjoy this.

Strength of influence aside, each of the songs on here stands up well on its own as a well-crafted piece of songwriting and I can really imagine not caring two hoots about how derivative they were if I was watching them live (judging by the footage I can see), as this is a band that’s all about having a good time. Well produced and crafted, this is 20th Century Retro Rock at its finest. 7/10

Autumn’s Child - Angel’s Gate (Avalon Label) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ve said it before. I don’t know why I am always surprised at the volume of melodic rock that is out there. It’s not a genre I venture into often, but when I do it’s usually a pleasant surprise. Melodic rock, or AOR if you want, seems to be thriving. Much lighter in style and lyrical subject matter, it’s usually pleasing, cheesy riffs, driving melodies and vocal harmonies all wrapped up in a big chunk of brie. Sometimes, however, things are not what they seem. When you get a combination of Swedish musicians, there are inevitably ripples in the AOR pond. Angel’s Gate, the follow up to 2019’s self-titled debut sees Autumn’s Child traverse between the good, the band and the downright ugly. 

The band was formed by Mikael Erlandsson, part of Last Autumn’s Dream and an up-and-coming solo artist, who incorporated Claes Andreasson (guitar, keyboards), guitarist Pontus Âkesson (Moon Safari), former Eclipse drummer Robban Båck, and H.E.A.T. keyboardist Jona Tee along with guest bassists Joel Starander and Peter Samuelsson. The good on this album is the opening half of the record. Opening song Where Angels Cry opens dramatically, a solo piano and thick synths segues to a rich hard rock riff before opening out into a typical bouncy melodic rock track. Erlandsson’s clean vocals are supported by some classic harmonies whilst the underlying riff gives it a rocky edge.

This continues for the first five or six songs, and whilst the music is generic, it is well performed. Love Is Not An Enemy is another solid track in this opening salvo. The bad arrives in the shape of the inevitable ballads and firstly the ghastly Don’t Ever Leave Me. It doesn’t stop with one, oh no, because Your Words arrives a little later. Now, I know that the ballad is the staple of this type of album but sheesh, they can be hard to stomach and these two are grim. As a compositions go they are well crafted, but it’s so routine and boring. It should be on a Carpenters album. And then the ghastly. 

Only Love Can Save The World is another off the peg, wet as a duck’s undercarriage song with the soppy lyrics that mean nothing. What’s so ghastly is that it turns into a singalong and at this point its generic pop, not even rock. It is one of the most horrible songs I have ever heard, and no amount of mid-song noodling can rescue it. It’s utter crap and symbolises everything I hate about this genre. So, in a nutshell, I’d stop listening to this after about six songs. Unless you like your music lighter than a feather in which case carry on. Me? I’m off to listen to the new Cannibal Corpse single again … just to clear my ears out. 5/10

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