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Wednesday 17 March 2021

Reviews: Turbulence, Fuath, Heart Healer, Olde (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

Turbulence - Frontal (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

Lebanon is probably not the first place you think of when you talk about metal/rock heartlands. It is even more rare for a prog band to come from this region. Formed by guitarist Alain Ibrahim and keyboardist Mood Yassin in 2013, Frontal is the band's second record, it's a concept piece that really brings the vision of these two men together as a heavy, complex, modern progressive metal record. Joining them are Omar El Hage (vocals), Sayed Gereige (drums) and Anthony Atwe (bass), the five piece exploding onto the worldwide music scene due to signing with Frontiers Music, yet another addition to the labels burgeoning progressive metal roster. 

There's no hint of AOR here, it's a heavy release full of crunching riffs played in odd time signatures, jazzy shifts in pace and tone, lots of twitching electronics and versatile vocals, it balances light and shade really well with a fusion of melody and technicality that reminds me of the first two Haken releases where the aggression and overall darkness was much more audible. I'm not really that familiar with the concept but it does sound like a very sombre release, the downtuned riffs coming aggressively as the drumming flourishes throughout, the keyboards also used rhythmically on tracks like the opening number Inside The Gage.

It's a track that gives you an overview of what Turbulence are about as it shifts between the influences of Dream Theater and Yes with ease, packed full of guitar and keyboard solos as it shifts into the buzzing EDM sound of the percussive Madness Unforeseen a song with a huge chorus, the electronics shifting into Dreamless which in turn moves things into the synth heavy, jazz number Ignite. This is only halfway through the album and I found myself totally enamoured with this release, it's a stunning prog metal record that gets better with repeated listens, I haven't been this excited about prog metal since the last releases from Haken and Sons Of Apollo. 9/10 

Fuath – II (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Andy Marshall makes Steven Wilson look positively geriatric. The engine behind Scottish black metal unit Saor, he’s also got a lengthy list of other projects. Fuath is an atmospheric offshoot of Saor. With its Gaelic translation meaning ‘Hatred’, Marshall has harnessed some of the rawest and prolific inspiration from those early days of the 1990s and energised the power into what was never intended to be. Fuath was initially a one-off project that produced 2016’s I. The creative urge is never far away though, and Fuath’s return with II is a bonus for those whose tastes linger longingly for the vibrant emergence of Darkthrone, Burzum and Mayhem. 

It’s inevitable to reference Saor’s work but whilst the roots of that band focus more on Scottish themes and melodies, Fuath leans more towards the Scandinavian sound. II is submerged in the tumultuous frozen Northern backdrops that provided so much of the settings for 90s black metal. The expansive nature of the music on this five-song release allows creation of atmospheric soundscapes, sonically impressive compositions that are relentlessly hypnotic and powerful. 

Having walked the darkened forests in snow and frost during 2019’s winter days, Marshall embarked on a recording process in August and September 2020, enlisting the help of Spanish drummer Carlos Vivas to compliment Marshall’s handling of all other instrumentation and vocals. 

Although Fuath maintains much of the traditional black metal tools, there is much more to the arsenal in this second album. The walls of shimmering riffing, frenetic blast beats and strangulated vocals remain in place, but they are sharpened and complemented by contrasting passages of melodious calm, elements that support the spiritual factors that influenced much of the writing. As such, songs like Pyre and Into The Forest Of Shadows are delicately balanced, flitting between maniacal bursts of speed and harrowing screams and gentle, calming segments. The soaring sections are uplifting and provide evidence of why Marshall decided to progress Fuath from a side-project to something more focused and creative. The use of occasional clean vocals on Essence is also welcomed.

With Fuath now a serious concern, II benefits from improved production values. It’s an album which benefits from the increased clarity.  II is captivating, engaging and an impressive latest piece of work. 8/10

Heart Healer: Metal Opera By Magnus Karlsson - S/T (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

Now many of you, if you follow the comings and goings of Frontiers Music projects, will know the name Magnus Karlsson. He is the guitarist of Primal Fear, The Ferryman and his own project Freefall along with providing musicianship for both Allen/Lande and Kiske/Sommerville. Heart Healer is a natural extension of the name projects (Allen/Lande, Free Fall ect), a full on Metal Opera featuring seven of the best female vocalists in the world of rock and metal. Overseen by Frontiers President Serafino Perugino, Heart Healer is a project with a huge scope aiming for the likes of Avantasia and Ayreon, with it's symphonic conceptual nature, every vocalist playing a different roles in the storyline. Karlsson puts this album down to his interest in orchestral music and it's here that the record differs from previous ones as his songwriting and guitar skills are not in doubt but his scoring for an orchestra is a revelation songs like Back To Life are lifted to another level by the strings, he calls it grandiose, I'd make comparisons to Nightwish and Epica on bombastic Into The Unknown

The main character of The Heart Healer is played by the excellent Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires, Sascha Paeth's Masters Of Ceremony, Avantasia), she appears on the majority of the tracks and is a perfect fit as the 'main' voice on this record, powerful and dramatic, she also very versatile, meaning she can blend with the other singers very well, whether it's the stronger tones of Netta Laurenne (Smackbound) or Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast) or those on the lighter scale such as Anette Olzon (The Dark Element, ex-Nightwish) and Ailyn (Her Chariot Awaits) she is adept at moving into either. With Karlsson is a very talented band of musicians but it's his compositions that really bolster this record, especially the orchestrations making it reach those heady heights of Avantasia or Ayreon (or Aina for metal opera nerds). I'd personally love to see this record performed live with a full band and orchestra as I think it would be brilliant, though the cast of musicians may be difficult to wrangle. Still Heart Healer is a metal opera that takes on the genre leader with a unique premise and song brilliant songwriting. 8/10  

Olde - Pilgrimage (Sludgelord Records) [Paul Hutchings]

This is a sludgy great swamp of riffs, down tuning and fuzz. Pilgrimage, the third full-length from Toronto doom & stoner merchants Olde is simply great. The riffs are crushing, the tempo varied from pulsating, driving hard rock to monolithic, glacial movements that crawl. At no time does the heaviness drop, yet they manage to weave melodies and some good old rock n roll into the mix. 

Thunder crashes as A New King kicks the album off, a devastating and punishing wall of sonic abuse, the roar of Doug McLarty powering above the shovel sized guitar riffs that threaten to split skulls. It’s a massive opener, and with enough heft to move mountains. As the album develops, each track offers up something new, yet familiar. The title track is a five-minute stomp, sans vocals for the first three minutes, as the band slow the pace and let the sheer intensity of the tumbling riffs do the work before McLarty opens the gravel-soaked pipes once more. It’s impressive from start to finish.  

Having waited four years since the release of Temples, their second album in 2017, fans of Olde must be chewing their arms of in anticipation. The wait is worth it, for this is a record of epic proportions. Slab after slab of thick riffs rarely fail, but it’s always the delivery that makes the difference. Pilgrimage also features guest solos from “Chewy” Daniel Mongrain of Voivod and Nichol S. Robertson as well as a dramatic and chaotic saxophone segment during Dead Hands, thanks to Nick Teehan. Olde have done that and delivered a gargantuan beast of an album. Massive. 9/10

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