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Thursday, 13 May 2021

Reviews: Artillery, Bala, Levara, The Ember, The Ash (Reviews By Richard Oliver, & Matt Bladen)

Artillery - X (Metal Blade Records) [Richard Oliver]

I always get that little pang of excitement when a new album from a veteran thrash band drops swiftly followed by a moment of worry that the new album won’t live up to expectations. Thankfully any worry can be dispelled with X which is the tenth album from Danish old schoolers Artillery. This is the first Artillery album since the sad death of founding member and guitarist Morten Stützer in 2019 leaving his brother Michael Stützer as the sole founding member in the band. Thankfully the band have done Morten proud and released a cracking album with X. The later albums of Artillery have been far more in a power meets thrash metal style especially since the inclusion of vocalist Michael Bastholm Dahl in the band in 2012 and his very melodic power metal vocal style. That is still very much the case with X though I feel that the thrash elements have been ramped up a fair bit after the somewhat lacklustre The Face Of Fear album in 2018. 

This is still a very melodic album but the use of melody is perfectly mixed with some hard hitting thrash action. The trio of songs that open the album are very much a statement of intent by the band with The Devils Symphony storming out of the speakers at you. In Thrash We Trust is the thrash anthem you would hope and expect it to be whilst Turn Up The Rage proves to be an absolutely anthemic banger. There are some more restrained moments on the album such as Eternal Night and Varg I Veum which lean into far more trad and power metal territory whilst The Ghost Of Me is a proper full on metal power ballad. These songs are equally counteracted by speedy raging thrashers like Force Of Indifference and Beggars In Black Suits which are designed for exercising those neck muscles. The band sound on absolute fire throughout the album with Michael Stützer and new guitarist Kræn Meier pack in a pile of killer riffs aided by a razor sharp and meaty guitar tone whilst bassist Peter Thorslund and drummer Joshua Madsen form an absolutely formidable rhythm section. 

Vocalist Michael Bastholm Dahl continues to impress with a powerhouse performance. Whilst his voice is very melodic and would normally be more suited to power metal and traditional heavy metal, here it is a bit more toned down and more suited to a thrash band. Melodic vocals are quite a rarity in thrash metal these days and Artillery show that they definitely still have their place and can work in a thrash metal context. Despite the sad loss of Morten Stützer, this definitely hasn’t held Artillery back and X is one of the strongest albums they have done in a while and probably their best since When Death Comes in 2009. It is far more thrashy than they have sounded in a while and definitely has some throwback moments to their old school albums such as By Inheritance and Terror Squad whilst still pulling on influences from traditional and power metal. If you like your thrash fast, heavy and intense yet highly melodic then this album could not come more highly recommended. 8/10

Bala - Maleza (Century Media) [Matt Bladen]

Maleza (Undergrowth) is the third album from Anxela Baltar (vocals/guitar) and Violeta Mosquera (vocals/drums) the Spanish duo that make up Bala. This third album is another 24 minute rage through a tornado of punk/grunge/stoner delivered primarily in the Spanish language. When I say delivered I mean shouted at full volume by both Anxela and Violeta as musically there's an organic sound of being a two-piece built on just drums and guitar. Having toured in the UK, Australia and Japan, they have channeled this live experience into their third album for a very direct powerful offering. It's also quite mixed in it's sounds despite a short run time.  The thunder of Hoy-No, the frothing Cien Obstáculos, the stop-start Agitar all kick up the speed quotient while Quieres Entrar is slower and much more atmospheric as Bessie brings more than a touch of Sabbath. Fuzzy distortion, frantic percussion and bucketloads of attitude Maleza is Bala announcing themselves to a wider audience with this shock of bristling alt-rock. 7/10   

Levara - Levara (Mascot Records) [Matt Bladen]

L.A trio Levara are a band that in their short existence have supported AOR legends Toto, so they clearly have quite a pedigree. What helps is that Levara six stringer Trev is Steve Lukather's son, he is a chip off the old block with the same talent for blending blues with slicker modern rock riffage. Joining him is Brit Josh Devine who was behind the kit for One Direction and French vocalist Jules Gali. Like Toto Levara are a band that truly encapsulate their time, as Toto are your stereotypical 80's sound, Levara are very much a band for the 21st Century sounding like acts such as Daughtry and Shinedown, radio friendly rock music with some electronic shivers and pop sheen. The trio are very much focussed on inspiring the youth to discover music with anthemic, feel-good songs that are designed to be sung aloud. 

The singles such as the punchy Automatic, has repeatability that will be all over FM radio, hooked on a big vocal from Gali and a powerful guitar solo that breaks out from the first pumping main body, it's a harbinger of the rest of the album, though it's different enough to Chameleon, to bring variation. Though Chameleon has yet another colossal chorus, a trick that keeps you listening. Ballad-wise Ever Enough and No One Above You both are on the right side of saccharine, not to be overly sickly. As with a lot of the American Radio Rock bands there are probably too many ballads but these do well on US radio so you can understand why. The performances here are very good and the songwriting is also exactly the sort that will see them climbing up the ranks of the rock world very fast. A slick rock record which is far to accomplished to be a debut. 7/10

The Ember, The Ash - Fixation (Prosthetic Records) [Richard Oliver]

Fixation is the second album from The Ember, The Ash which is another solo project of 鬼 more commonly known as Canadian musician William Melsness (also of Unreqvited) who performs all instruments and vocals on this album. The Ember, The Ash mixes symphonic black metal with deathcore and the result is a mix of some very good sounding symphonic black metal and some truly dreadful deathcore. The meshing together of these two genres doesn’t really work as you get some great symphonic death metal part with a tacked on breakdown section which just spoils the whole flow (which isn’t helped by the fact that this reviewer despises deathcore style breakdowns). The deathcore heavy songs such as Strychnine and the title track are at the start of the album meaning that the second half is far more enjoyable with songs such as The Colossal Void and Celestial Fracture playing far more to the symphonic black metal sound with blast-beats, savage riffs and huge symphonic soundscapes. 

There are still some breakdowns to be found in these songs but they are far more scaled back resulting in the songs being far more listenable to my ears. Album closer Consciousness Torn From The Void is the most vast and epic song on the album and the clear highlight. A case of definitely saving the best until last. The musicianship is fantastic throughout with some great guitar work and keyboard playing. I’m not sure if the drums are programmed or not but if the drums are real then 鬼 is also a formidable drummer. The vocals left a lot to be desired for me being very much in a ‘core’ style which I found very grating. Fixation is a bold experiment mixing together these two different styles but for me it didn’t really work. It’s a shame as there are some brilliant blackened parts which are then completely ruined by banal, stupefying deathcore breakdowns. 

So basically this is an album of two polars - wonderful symphonic black metal and woeful deathcore - meaning that when this album has its good moments they are really good but when it goes bad it crashes and burns. If you like bands such as Dimmu Borgir, Abigail Williams and Cradle Of Filth and can also stomach deathcore then there will be plenty for you to enjoy here but if like me a chuggy breakdown makes your eyes roll so hard that your eyeballs turn 360 then this album is probably best avoided. 5/10

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Reviews: Frost*, Scar Of The Sun, Candlemass, Subterranean Masquerade (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Frost* - Day and Age (InsideOut Music)

A band who have always been at the cutting edge musically and heavily political too, Frost* have also been much more prolific in this second incarnation which started with Falling Satellites in 2016. That album saw band founder/keyboardist Jem Godfrey reunite with singer/guitarist John Mitchell joined by Nathan King on bass and Craig Blundell on drums. Now since then they have also brought out an EP before the writing started for this fourth studio album. Craig Blundell left the band in 2019, leaving them as a three piece Godfrey and Mitchell retreated to a cottage in Cornwall and recorded numerous tracks before going to a 'proper' studio in Jan 2020 with Nathan King to write the rest of it. 

Now Frost* have gone from having no drummer to having 3 appear on this record, they are Kaz Rodriguez (Chaka Khan, Josh Groban), Darby Todd (The Darkness, Martin Barre) and Pat Mastelotto (Mister Mister, King Crimson). Godfrey, Mitchell and King tailoring each song to the talents of the drummer. This results in an album that has wide spectrum of sounds but also a conceptual coherence, the lyrical content very much aimed at the collapse of our society due to governments, greed and corruption. Starting and ending with Mitchell screaming "Enjoy Yourselves You Scum!" it's got the same kind of malice that Pink Floyd brought to the The Wall

There is also that cinematic style here as well. The propulsive title track layered with plenty of fuzzing synths/keys shifting between several phases but hooked around that glorious repeating chorus, that laments the current state of the planet. There's a depth to this record as they've shifted away from the EDM/Dubstep influenced Falling Satellites. Though the intense Kill The Orchestra does have waves of dubstep as it rages "I'll be singing as they string you up". There is some Gabriel-like quirkiness comes in on Waiting For The Lie where all the members take a turn on vocals, however The Boy Who Stood Still has a 80's flavour to it, almost like an off cut from Grace Under Pressure or an early Porcupine Tree track, due to the spoken word storytelling over the undulating synths, various samples and big electronic drums. 

As per usual Godfrey's keys are the driving force of Frost*'s music, with Mitchell's guitar the co-lead instrument. However you can't overlook King's bass/keys, a worthy third part of this triumvirate feeling as if he's been a part of the band since the very beginning (Milliontown). Closing things out with the industrial Repeat To Fade which almost takes the record full circle with the usage of "Enjoy Yourselves You Scum!" and "there's no way out of here, repeat to fade" giving a sense of hopelessness to an otherwise upbeat sounding song. That is Frost*'s raison d'etre and the reason why I've been following in the band for so long. Day & Age is yet another brilliant addition to the band who have always favoured quality over quantity. 9/10     

Scar Of The Sun - Inertia (Napalm Records)

Sometimes you can't help but be chuffed for a band, having followed Greek modern metal act Scar Of The Sun since their 2011 debut A Series Of Unfortunate Concurrencies through 2016's In Flood, both of those records were released through Scarlet Records I believe but this third full length sees them releasing their debut on Napalm Records. Recorded and mixed by singer Terry Nikas then mastered by Jens Borgen, Inertia is a progressive modern metal tour-de-force, the sort of music you wished In Flames still made. Nikas' vocals are brilliant across the board, he has soaring cleans that are a counterpoint to his aggressive growling. Lyrically the band deal with social injustice, mainly "the financial gain has flourished at the expense of humanity" the three part Quantum Leap Zero suite goes very deep into the the events of 2015 where suppression and revolution were rife in Greece due to financial crisis that hit the country when they defaulted on money owed to the IMF. 

On this record they once again display their very intense sound that is fused with more melodic passages, lots of keening leads cut through bludgeoning blast beats, brought to life by the tough engine room of Panagiotis Gatsopoulos (bass) and Thanos Pappas (drums). Quantum Leap Zero II: Transition To Turbulence is indicative of this style the clean/harsh vocals met with heavy/melodic riffs. It's all sat in the early Gothenburg scene but also that NWOAHM from the early 2000's with Trivium a clear comparison, Oxygen and the opening song Hydrogen both nodding to the American heavyweights. The Fallible Experiment and the title track however have more in common with Scar Symmetry, especially with the waves of synths in the background underpinning the thrashy technical riffage of guitarists Alexi Charalampous and Greg Eleftherio. 

The Fallible Experiment drifts into electronic blips leading into the atmospheric final part of the trilogy Quantum Leap Zero III: Thrust. Though the album itself ends with Anastasis a muscular thump to close this third record, it's a song that deals with devastating loss but ultimately it is about hope. Inertia pulls no punches with it's progressive, modern heavy metal sound. Lyrically attentive and intelligent, musically technical and catchy. A worthy debut on a major label! 8/10 

Candlemass – Green Valley Live (Peaceville Records)

In what is basically a triumph of technology rather than a musical endeavor, Swedish doom legends Candlemass managed to record a live streamed, lockdown show from the titular Green Valley. The show took place in 2020 and now it has become available as a DVD/CD release. So what this is basically is a live recorded album but with no crowd noise, so from the audio part of the record it’s basically a selection of live favourites. There’s nothing wrong with that but obviously there isn’t as much audio shine as there is on the original studio versions meaning that the quality suffers somewhat. 

Johan Längqvist’s vocals are the biggest casualty and while the music is still heavy, it still doesn’t have that soul shaking quality of the band on record or indeed on a full live stage. Still for a 35 year old band to embrace this new technology when a lot of bands younger than them have struggled without put during the pandemic is admirable. The set list is comprised of tracks from the first 4 Candlemass albums with Astrolous a more modern offering. I will say that it’s worth investing in the DVD if you’re a fan of the band as it’s visually a bit more exciting than the audio portion. 6/10

Subterranean Masquerade - Mountain Fever (Sensory)

What started out as a studio based progressive metal project, on the back of their previous album in 2017 they became a touring act, shedding their previous European members for a fully Israeli membership. The main change comes with Davidavi "Vidi" Dolev being the bands only vocalist now taking both the cleans and the harsh as well as everything in between. Subterranean Masquerade have always been a critics choice, winning countless kudos for their Middle Eastern inspired progressive metal, fourth album Mountain Fever extends their musical style with African/Balkan brass, Arabic Violins and lots of lush symphonic arrangements. 

Mångata is very much pitched to the classic prog rock sound and polishes off the record but it's also the simplest song on this often very dense musical record. Now I like Dolev's vocals but I do prefer the previous incumbents, luckily the music is still as good as it's always been heightened by the engineering of David Castillo and the mix of Jens Bogren, you can feel the experimental aspects on the percussive, very Middle Eastern influenced Inwards but there is a much more accessible sound to this album. Unfortunately I can't work out if this is a bonus or to its detriment as personally I do prefer their previous records a little more. 

Still this is the newest iteration of the Subterranean Masquerade story, so Mountain Fever can be considered to be a re-debut of sorts, an album that will bring a wider audience to the band and too the music of a fractured nation. 7/10

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Reviews: Tommy's Rocktrip, Sonic Haven, Kintsugi No.21, Zed Motel (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Tommy's Rocktrip - Beat Up By Rock N Roll (Frontiers Music Srl)

Tommy Clufetos' will be best known to readers as the man behind the kit for both Ozzy and Black Sabbath on their most recent tours, but he's something of a rock journeyman as a session drummer having played with Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Rob Zombie before hooking up with the Prince Of Darkness. Beat Up By Rock N Roll is his debut album with this band, dedicated to paying tribute to Clufetos' influences and the rock n roll lifestyle itself, what we have here is an album of 70's/80's American rock music from when it was the best around. Bringing on a full band comprised of Eliot Lorengo (bass), Hank Schneekluth (lead guitar), Nao Nakashima (rhythm guitar) and Doug Organ (Hammond B3 - ironically). 

Clufetos handles all the drums but also jumps on the mic for the title track, Make Me Smile and final Power Of Three though the lead vocalist proper is Eric Dover of Jellyfish and Slash's Snakepit, an underrated often over-looked singer, known more a guitarist, who at times is vocal ringer for Steven Tyler. On this album especially the rockers that are born out of the blues are some of the best on the record and Dover croons over them as the songs come across with a mixture of Sunset Strip slickness and Detroit grit. There's a jukebox idea about the record with the overall theme being rock n roll but the Hammond B3 brings some funk, Power Of Three gets some parps of Sax from Tommy C and the other guest is Shooter Jennings guitarist John Schreffler supplying a solo to the title track. 

Clufetos' heart must lay in the old school American rock tradition as the songs here veer much closer to early-Alice and Ted Nugent than Ozzy. Beat Up By Rock N Roll is a percussive rock n roll album that digs deep into the history of rock itself. 7/10 

Sonic Haven – Vagabond (Frontiers Music Srl)
Just by reading the press release for this record I could hear in my head what it was going to sound-like. Sonic Haven is a German power metal band fronted by Herbie Langhans (Firewind, Avantasia) who also produced the record with ‘dream team’ of Sascha Paeth & Miro on mixing/mastering/orchestrations. That line up alone was enough to convince me that Sonic Haven were going to be built on the Heaven’s Gate/Helloween foundation so with on listen to the record I was pleased to know I was spot on in my assumption with tracks such as End Of The World not only having that distinct Teutonic metal power to it but delivered with a real energy and a ton of experience. The title track gets things going with speedy metal riffing, understated but needed orchestrations and Langhans unleashing his tonsils right from the off.  

Alongside Langhans, whose voice I have praised numerous times, he has brought on guitarist Carsten Stepanowicz (a solo crazed mad man), bassist Dominik Stotzem (more gallops than at the Grand National) and most recognisably drummer André Hilgers who has played with Rage/Silent Force, commanding the songs like the general he is. Vagabond is an 11 track class in slick, anthemic German power metal, a couple of AOR-style ballads thrown in (Keep The Flame Alive and Save The Best For Last) but mostly you get driving, bouncy riffs, plenty of guitar solos and choruses to raise your fist too. The Darker Side is a little more muscular and dramatic, Langhans displaying his vocal range on this shifting centrepiece, sandwiched between the mid-paced mastery of End Of The World and the speedy I Believe

Vagabond is a predictably great German metal album from Langhans and co, being a part of so many other groups may mean we have to wait a while for a second album but it would be very welcome on the basis of this debut! 8/10

Kintsugi No.21 - Everything In Reverse (Self Released)

Kintsugi No.21 is the solo project of Maria Owen, who readers may know as the bass player of Grymm, however she has many musical strings to her bow. An accomplished composer/producer Everything In Reverse is a true solo album with Maria playing everything you hear without much computer influence. It's all very hands on and manual as it should be, resulting in a very intriguing yet listenable musical experience. It's heavily influenced by the Gothic/Electronica post-punk sound of the early 80's, explorative soundscapes heavy with synths and pulsing drum loops, the slow burning Persephone reminding me of some modern Gary Numan, a torchlight anthem with electric twitches and a pulsating build. 

Vocally Maria reminds me of such powerhouses of Tori Amos, Alison Moyet, Bjork and also the Queen herself Ms Kate Bush at times, using a wide range throughout going from low growl and skyscraping highs. In fact the vocals are reflective of the rest of the album with the strings creeping into the electronic thump that explores the human condition and dreamscapes, thus the Philip K. Dick reference on Fireflies which has touch of Depeche Mode meets Vangelis fight going on, We Know Our Names adds a firebrand thunder of Siouxsie Sioux. Everything In Reverse is dramatic record with broad and colourful palette of music to keep you lost in this dream-like world of Maria's conception. There are a lot of pop and rock acts that could learn from this level of imagination. Dark, experimental and brilliant. 9/10

Zed Motel - Leave With Nothing (Self Released)

Zed Motel are a grungy three piece from Swansea, playing riffy 90's garage rock with dual male/female vocals. The expectation is for punchy riffs and sneering vocals with a sound similar to Band Of Horses where the vocal interplay of Chris Noir and Katie Skilton works very well on top of the bluesy garage rock riffs driven by Noir's guitar and Jonathan Williams drums. As the album shifts between Royal Blood, the White Stripes and other guitar/drum duos, Scratched being particularly reminiscent of these acts. The EP runs at six tracks all of which have strutting riffs prime for getting down to, the choruses ripe for a shout along all the while never letting the heavy fuzz slip from songs such as My Design as Hammerhead and Ramshackle take a bit of punk. Choppy, rocky and a little bit poppy, Leave With Nothing gives you a lot in a little package. 7/10 

Monday, 10 May 2021

Reviews: Ghost Iris, Osiah, Dødsferd, Signum Regis (Liam True & Paul Hutchings)

Ghost Iris – Comatose (Long Branch Records) [Liam True]

It’s a rare but wonderful sight to watch a band grow and learn with each record, building on their talent and raw potential to create the album they had in them all along. Denmark’s Ghost Iris are such a band, treading in a style that’s been around so long it’s almost in vogue again, progressive metalcore. Ghost Iris started out as a fairly straightforward djent group, and their first two releases showcased an ability to craft incredibly fun riffs, but aside from a few riffs there was little that truly stood out from the wealth of djent in the last decade. Each record had at least one song that hinted at future greatness, but even going back now, there’s definitely something missing compared to later works.

It wasn’t until 2019’s Apple Of Discord that potential turned into power, where quality songwriting met with soaring riffs. It definitely pulled from the Periphery, Heart Of A Coward, and Erra playbooks, but there was something uniquely compelling about Ghost Iris’ third record, everything was meant to be huge, even when the final results didn’t quite measure up to lofty ambitions. Songs like The Devil’s Plaything, The Rat & The Snake, and Virus were clear standouts due to what I call danceable riffs with fairly varied song structures. There were a few things holding the band back, like some clunky breakdowns and awkward transitions between the low-end verses and high-pitched choruses, but those were not damning issues. The result was a fun, great listen with promise if things were smoothed out a bit.

Thankfully, Comatose is like butter throughout, with the band’s best riffs, hooks, and a multitude of funkable djent riffs. In fact, Coda might have my favourite djent riff in the last decade, which somehow transitions perfectly to the band’s most relaxed and melodic song to date in the name of Ebb/Flow. It’s that tunes title that gets at why their fourth record is such a delight, it just flows masterfully. It takes a lot of extra energy, songcraft, and talent to get a full-length progressive metalcore/djent album to actually work well as a full listen, and that’s what Ghost Iris have done here. Each song works well in isolation but much better in sequencing. From the blunt force beginning, the more melodic middle, and exceptionally heavy ending, Comatose is a masterclass in song order.

It helps that the band’s best riffs, melodies, and song writing all finally come together throughout the record. There are still a couple odd transitions, but they oddly feel purposeful, like they are trying to jar the listener back awake. The record’s dark cult-like themes work wonders with the natural rise and fall of the record’s tunes. Oh, and Comatose is, above all else, Fun as Hell. This is the sound of a band who know what they want to do and just reminding the listener again and again of just that. A real firecracker of a great time. 7/10

Osiah – Loss (Unique Leader) [Liam True]

Two albums in and the North Eastern wrecking crew have already been given the moniker of ‘Heaviest Band In The UK’ by a few publications. And while in my opinion they don’t fit the quality of the ‘heaviest’ band, they fit the mark of being on of the UK’s brightest forces in leading the charge of Deathcore to the masses. Loss is an incredible piece of art that picks up where Kingdom Of Lies leaves off and improves on the theory tenfold.

Increasing the technical prowess of guitarist Chris Keepin as his fretboard work is unparalleled to anyone in the scene. Drummer Noah Plant makes easy work to keep the tempo up to scratch as he pummels the kit into extinction while bassist Carl Dunn uses his machine gun sounding bass to keep the sound from falling silent. The album itself it just pure carnage. It’s a 50 minute stomp to the face to anyone who questions the state of Deathcore, both in and out of the UK, but Osiah are keeping the flame high and dry as they craft the landscape that came before them. Songs like The Second Law & Queen Of Sorrow provide an insight to the vocal skill of frontman Ricky Lee Roper as he alternates between his tectonic plate shifting growls to the demonic highs that his chords can produce, and on times often sounding like a zombie from Call Of Duty that wants to infect you with the vile music that’s being produced.

With guest appearances from the slam king himself, Jason Evans of Ingested & Ben Duerr of Shadow Of Intent, the album from start to finish is an absolute belter with no songs being the same in terms of song writing and ability to show off their talents. Although previously a one man project by Roper, then transforming into Humanity Depraved, before rebranding as Osiah in 2012, the band has come a long way and will continue to shape the land of Deathcore in years to come. And right now, Loss is at the top of the chain. And it’ll take an armed army to even try to make the album budge from that pedestal. 9/10

Dødsferd – Skotos (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Dødsferd’s latest release is a 7” EP, containing two tracks, Skotadi and Cursed To Die At First Light. At under ten minutes long this is going to be a purchase for the die hard only but with a catalogue that includes ten full length albums, alongside numerous split and EP releases, if you are a fan of this band, that is unlikely to be an obstacle. It’s an emotive affair, with Skotadi explosive from the opening bars. Whilst much black metal sounds repetitive and uninspiring these days, this track contains all the attributes required. The demonic croaking lyrics are spat forth with bile and hatred, but never muted in a mix that allows the 90s feel to compete with the more contemporary sound perfectly. 

The walls of tremolo riffing create a cascade that shimmers, the dark and cold feel entrancing. This is followed by Cursed To Die At First Light, a slightly shorter song and delivered in similar vein to Skotadi. It’s an intense sleigh ride, opening at full throttle but calming the pace halfway without losing any of the intensity. Harrowing and desperate howls are dominant, but once more the drumming is ferocious, the riffs relentless and the underlying melody memorable. Completed by vocalist, guitarist, and bassist Wrath (Nikos Spanakis) and newly recruited drummer ND (Nikos S), this may be for purists only but twenty years into their career, Skotos provides a gateway to a discography ripe for exploration. 7/10

Signum Regis - Flag of Hope EP (Beyond The Storm) [Paul Hutchings]

One of our former reviews enjoyed the previous album by Signum Regis back in 2019. The Seal Of A New World earned 8/10 This seven-track EP that is longer than many albums we review. Think about it. Reign In Blood is a mere 29 minutes in length and think of the damage that it did in under half an hour. But don’t think for one minute that there is any comparison between that thrash metal flag bearer and this noodling ball of power metal… because there isn’t one. Starting with Given Up For Lost, Signum Regis begin with a rather routine but up tempo song that contains about a million power metal cliches in under four minutes. It’s pacy, catchy and an immediate demonstration that the band can play. 

However, the second track, a cover of Angra’s Stand Away is a bit of a wet one, with singer Jota Fortinho, who made his debut The Seal Of A New World album, hitting notes that maybe he shouldn’t have been asked to. Signum Regis have been around since 2007 when Ronnie König formed the band. It’s hard to work out what their modus operandi actually is on this EP. A couple of standard power metal tracks sit slightly uncomfortably next to more melodic musical explorative pieces which show the quality of musicianship, and a perfectly polished production but which may not always naturally lie side by side. 

Flag Of War deceives with its ghastly intro before expanding into another routine track. The final two songs, the rather gentle and captivating Amorenada, and the bonus Ave Maria (which is an exercise in ego) just fail to ignite the spirits and 32 minutes leave you wondering what you just listened to. There is little substance to this EP. It just passes you by. I do wonder if this collection is merely a stop gap between albums. It certainly feels that way. 5/10

Friday, 7 May 2021

Reviews: Supervøid, Kataan, Trucker Diablo, Out Of Hand (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Supervøid - The Giant Nothing (Subsound Records)

Ambient music can be a little odd to review, especially on a metal/rock blog as a lot of the time it's not what you would consider 'the norm' however Supervøid's debut album is a very dark, brooding project that touches on post-metal, drone and industrial music making for a vivid cinematic soundscape at the middle of which is a heart of desolation. The project was initially devised by Eraldo Bernocchi (Sigillum-S, Obake), who plays riffs laden with lots of low end and sub frequencies from his use of baritone guitars, Xabier Iriondo (Tasaday, A Short Apnea, Buñuel) who is another virtuoso guitar player and finally drummer Jacopo Pierazzuoli (Morkobot, Obake). Having spent a lot of their careers in experimental bands you sort of get an idea of what to expect from the Supervøid debut but it's still very much a left field offering. Rounding out the band as a four piece is avant garde cellist Jo Quail who has collaborated with numerous metal acts and is a feature at festivals such as Roadburn and Damnation. So to the album and it's got a wide scope to it, pitched as a soundtrack, songs like The Acceleration Of The Universe have an electronic drive, while A Rip In The Fabric Of Space rumbles, the cello used like a voice flowing through the songs with mellifluous harmony. The Giant Nothing is something a little different but a very intriguing listening experience. 7/10     

Kataan - Kataan (Prosthetic Records)

A new project recently signed to Prosthetic Records Kataan is a two piece comprised of Nicholas Thornbury (guitar/vocals) and Brett Boldan (drums/bass), both men are known in the US metal scene and from the looks of things this is something of a coup that they are working together. This self titled EP is the first release from the duo and it's bristling with modern death metal, brought through a blackened gaze and emboldened by some wide groove craters. If I was to try and entice you to this EP now, I'd say that if you found Gojira's last two albums a little lacking, this takes things back to their earlier heavier sound. There is a deliberate downbeat style to the record, the riffs a thick mire of distortion brought to some kind of pace by exploratory drumming. It makes for skull rattling listening but never moves too far into extremity that it's not listenable. When/if they play live I'd expect several organs to shift due to the audio density. Brett is the producer here with Magnus Lindberg, who has mastered some of my favorite albums of 2020/2021 (DVNE/PG. Lost/Lucifer/Dead Lord), has mastered Kataan's EP so there is that thickness to the tracks that bellow out of your speakers/headphones. As the sludgy Vessel closes the EP, you want more from Kataan, so the promise of a full length coming will hopefully mean soon. 7/10

Trucker Diablo - Tail End Of A Hurricane (Self Released)

This record was originally slated for release in 2020 but the Norn Irish rockers Trucker Diablo have returned with their new album Tail End Of A Hurricane. Now I'll be honest I sort of lost touch with Trucker Diablo since their reformation but on the basis of the Nickelback-like opener BTKOR they still have that blue-collar rock sound I remember but with a couple of shifts to keep them pumping the diesel into the future. The extremely radio friendly Rock Kids Of The 80's (originally debuted at Planet Rock Winter's End in 2019), is a clear single which will be sung at many gigs to come. They have also brought some some punk snorting on the socially motivated Insects, a bit of Southern swagger on title track and the folky sound of Woodstock To Vietnam. Between the muscular rockers, there are couple of meaty ballads such as The Edge Of  Tonight while Bury The Ocean ramps up the epic with a crunchy guitar and bit of Ozzy-like emotion, listen to see what I mean. It will be lapped up by the Planet Rock fraternity in their droves, but Tail End Of A Hurricane is rock album with mass appeal, this Big Truck keeps on rolling into the future. 7/10 

Out Of Hand - Exility (Self Titled)

Coming from Puerto Rico, Out Of Hand are crossover thrash/death metal band that take from bands like Bolt Thrower, Gatecreeper and Power Trip unleashing face ripping riffs and shouted gang vocals that are used widely as an accompaniment to Joel Rivera's growls (on Exility Bradley Pacheco adds the screams). Exility (the album) is their debut release and it's a nasty one with a definite crossover appeal Weak Willed coming in with hardcore punk/grindcore assault, Rivera's bass and Daniel Maymi's rhythm section working at double speed throughout, from here we shift into the frenzied Becoming The Enemy which keeps a breathless pace. Exility in its entirety is a record that doesn't slow down very often the only occasionally pausing for Angel Rosado and Omar González to power on with some OSDM grooves that make up tracks like Condemned To Fall and Self Mutilation. Pit starting brutality from the first minute so grab your cargo shorts and DM's ready before you press play. Crossover heaviness from South America that will have you raging. 8/10 

Reviews: Cvlt Ov The Svn, Wretched Incarnate, Terminalist, Kings Winter (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Richard Oliver & Simon Black)

Cvlt Ov The Svn - We Are The Dragon (Napalm Records)

None more cvlt? Well it seems that occult murder pop act seem to be aiming at the Smiling Satan worshippers that Ghost have so easily bewitched. Case in point the marching, flirty Hellbound will be blaring out of a DJ Booth for certain when restrictions allow. Their music very much falls into the 'Proper Goff' sound. Pairing the industrial thump of Sisters Of Mercy, with the dark sexuality of Type O Negative, they even mention Roxette as an influence but I tried to find some on this record but couldn't. We Are The Dragon is the Finnish band's debut record, the slinky Dancing With The Devil is dripping with seductive synths, ideal music for Midnight rendezvous in your best fishnet. The band themselves are as mysterious and alluring as their music, masked, hooded and all in black Cvlt Ov The Svn are slotting neatly into the vacuum left by Marilyn Manson with the sinful I'm Gonna Find Out really working for the vocalists throaty croak. Strictly Goth boppers for this record, it'll be huge in the clubs but for me, all of the tracks were a little too similar for me to really get into it. 6/10

Wretched Incarnate - Wretched Incarnate (Self Released) [Richard Oliver]

Wretched Incarnate is the solo project from Ash Cotterill who is the vocalist and guitarist of Pemphigoid and also a member of As The World Dies. Wretched Incarnate sees the exploration of an old school death metal sound paying homage to death metal greats such as Benediction, Vomitory and Six Feet Under.

This self titled album definitely delves into that murky death metal sound with thick grooves, pummelling rhythms, blast-beats and bowel rupturing low death growls. It is a very raw and unrefined death metal sound here with emphasis on the grim and ugly. There is an abundance of filthy riffs on songs such as the fetid Narcissistic Siren, the thrasher edge of Hypodermic Syringe Theory and the relentless Purgatory. A putrefying guitar tone and lots of low end help add several layers of scum and filth to these songs. The vocals by Ash are very much in the guttural style though the inclusion of guest vocalists Sam Fowler (Raised By Owls) on Creatures Of The Underworld and Kieran Scott (Ashen Crown/Grimorte) on Undeathly Conception vary things up a bit on the vocal front.

Wretched Incarnate is a fun homage to death metal, the genre that has influenced Ash the most musically. The world of old school sounding death metal is getting very overcrowded lately and although Wretched Incarnate is an enjoyable album it is likely to get lost amongst the countless other acts doing a similar thing. Although there isn’t much to differentiate from a lot of other similar bands here Wretched Incarnate is still a fun listen and chock full of slimy death metal filth. 7/10

Terminalist - The Great Acceleration (Indisciplinarian) 

Classed as hyperthrash Danish/American Terminalist are a progressive thrash metal band led by guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Emil Hansen who along with co-guitarist Morten R. Brunn shred their asses off from the first few seconds of this record. Clear influence drawn from Testament, Voivod and even Coroner they also have the aggression of bands such as Bloodshot Dawn. The songs are densely packed with six string heroics, shifting time signatures and a relentless rhythm section made up of Kalle Tiihonen (bass) and Fredrick Amris (drums) both of whom are absolute beasts on their respective instruments. They are key to the aggression on this album highlighting the technical guitar playing perfectly, while also adding some black metal extremity to the thrash sound. 

Thus hyperthrash. Much like Canadian genre leaders there's a concept to this album one that is very sci-fiction based around the Dromology (theory of speed) by Paul Virilio, Invention Of The Shipwreck and Dromocracy are the songs that really highlight the concept which at it's core is based around pessimism of the future. At just 5 songs in length the album doesn't outstay at all pacing the two longer tracks with blistering speedsters. The Great Acceleration is hyperthrash unleashed, the last time something had this much speed and drama to it, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock were on board. 7/10   

Kings Winter - Edge Of Existence (Self Released) [Simon Black]

King’s Winter is a side project from couple Jule and Tobias Dahs, which is how they fill the gaps between Living Abyss work plus guest drummer Marco Vanga and follows on from their dipping their toes into the water with 2019’s Forging The Cataclysm EP. This is much darker and heavier than that first release, with keyboards barely detectable but is still clearly and firmly in the Heavy with a slight hint of Melo-Death Metal box.

The record doesn’t out stay its welcome and keeps the eleven songs to a relatively punchy thirty eight minutes of run time. That said there’s a samey-ness about the feel of some of the tracks, with the vocal phrasing in particular coming across as a bit repetitive in places. The actual voice itself is another story entirely, as Jule Dahs clearly has an impressive range and timbre to her, with no inconsiderable amount of power either, as well as being unafraid to drop in a few growls alongside the clean and high notes. Given that the Dahs self-recorded this before sending off for mixing, this feels to me like the classic example of what happens when you don’t spend a bit more time in pre-production with the fresh ears of a producer, who can often polish the arrangements and challenge the players to move out of their comfort zone.

There’s some good catchy melodies in here, and some damn fine fretwork too and all in all it’s easy to listen to. And to be fair the song-writing is pretty robust too, with some great musical arrangements, soulful lyrics and nifty playing, it just feels a little unfinished – but then lockdown is as lockdown is, and it’s way better than many have managed during this challenging period of history. Jule’s voice is the high spot here and with just a slight bit of variety in some of the phrasing this would have been a harder hitter. 6/10

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Reviews: Moon Coven, Methadone Skies, Kari-Band, Pentral (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Paul Scoble)

Moon Coven – Slumber Wood (Ripple Music) [Paul Hutchings]

As relentless as the stream of bullshit from the hole in Matt Hancock’s face, Sweden continues to throw fuzzed up stoner rock bands out into the big wide world. Moon Coven’s latest album, Slumber Wood which follows from their eponymous release of 2016. It’s everything you’d expect from a band named Moon Coven. The Sabbath influences are strong, with thunderous riffs and downtuned guitar work crunching away. There’s also more than a splash of psychedelia influences across this album, with echoes of Floyd and The Black Angels evident. David Leban’s echoing, sorrowful vocals fit the sound perfectly, whilst the additional guitars of Axel Ganhammar and Justin Boyesen and the crashing percussion of drummer Fredrick Dahlqvist ensure that the music has a gnarly, heaviness.

Tracks include the meandering drive of Pot Belly Hill, the pulsing Eye Of The Night and the expansive journey on Eye Of The Night. There is a natural tendency to repeat the same style but although there is a familiarity in the writing, the pulsing, driving rhythmic exploration gives sufficient variation to maintain interest. By all accounts Moon Coven have opened for Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, Monolord and Blue Pills. Some big hitters in the stoner world and one that has clearly worked as there is little to dislike on this release. The huge sound reverberates on Seagull, there is a bit of the bizarre on Bahgsu Nag and plenty of thunderous rumblings throughout.

With more music already well on the way to being released, Slumber Wood allows the listener to immerse themselves into a trippy world of stoner rock at its best. Close those eyes and depart this ugly world. Enter the Slumber Wood, relax and find yourself. It may be the best 40 minutes you spend today. 8/10

Methadone Skies - Retrofuture Caveman (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Hailing from Timisoara, Romania, Methadone Skies have been making music together since 2009. The four piece, made up of Alexandru Wehry on Guitar, Casian Stanciu on Guitar, Mihal Guta on Bass and Flavius Retea on Drums and Keyboards, are an instrumental act who play a mix of Psychedelic Rock, Stoner Doom and Post Rock. Retrofuture Caveman is the bands 5th album; their first release was an Ep called Explosion Of The Sun, which was released in 2010, their debut album Enter The Void was released in 2012, follow up Eclectic Electric arrived in 2014, third album Colosseus was released in 2016 and the bands fourth album Different Layers Of Fear came out in 2019. Retrofuture Caveman has taken 2 years to produce, what have the four Romanians got for us this time?

The album opens with the 17 minute title track. Retrofuture Caveman is all about dynamics and build up. The track is mainly blissful and uplifting Post Rock riffs repeated to form a hypnotic and trance inducing rhythm. The intensity builds as the track progresses, so a riff that started in a minimal way, becomes a huge and heavy riff after a couple of minutes of growth. The track has a several minute long drone section before returning to the riffs, that by this stage are huge and heavy. Infected By Friendship is dreamy Post Rock which builds in intensity during the track and has a pleasant, relaxed tempo.
Third track, The Enabler is tauter and heavier than the track that preceded it, it has a driving, hypnotic tempo. Western Luv ’67 is dreamy, blissful Post Rock that has several big, heavy sections, and ends with a section that is very heavy, and has a nice bit of added dissonance, which helps the track to stand out in all the dreamy blissfulness.

The album comes to an end with the track When The Sleeper Awakes which is a driving mix of Post Rock and Doom, the track feels hypnotic and builds to massive doom hugeness. The track is dramatic and bombastic with great riffs and is a cracking way to end the album. Retrofuture Caveman is a great piece of instrumental Post Rock/Psych Rock/Doom album. The album works on build up and diminish, the ebb and flow of this album is very impressive; Riffs that start out small, quiet and introverted after a few repetitions become huge, pounding riffs that sound and feel huge. The lack of a singer does mean that in a few places this album feels as if it could do with a little more melody; a few melody leads would have helped, but this is only in a small number of places, for the most part this is a very enjoyable and interesting album. 7/10

Kari-Band with Friends - Live At Streaming (JPU Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Originally formed by three Japanese session musicians who are live members of Baby Metal, Kari-Band aimed to push their boundaries in the genres of jazz, prog, and funk. Sadly, guitarist Mikio Fujioka passed away suddenly in January 2018 which resulted in an understandable pause in proceedings. One year on and bassist BOH and drummer Yuya Maeta picked up where they had paused and drafted in students and friends of Fujioka to guest on an array of tracks on their second EP.

This release combines three of the band’s livestream sessions and features Takashi Masuzaki (guitar), Tatsuya Nishiwaki (Keyboard and harmonica), Yucco Miller (saxophone) and Satoshi Oka (guitar). All musicians with a pedigree and CV to be worthy of inclusion on such a release. Setting it up, the first thing you notice is that this is long. 104 minutes to be precise. The songs flit from a few shorter 3–4-minute pieces to the meandering, freestyle flow of tracks like Pleasure, Song Of My Heart, Shinjuku and Impressions. The latter two clocking in at over 11 minutes each. The musicianship is astonishing. The interplay fabulous and the relaxed, collegiate approach makes it an enjoyable listen. 

At times it’s simply staggering how a group of musicians can produce such quality. Having said that, if you don’t like the experimental and unorthodox style of expressive music that Kari-Band produce, then this clearly isn’t for you. The tempos vary, the atmosphere and temperature switch from intoxicating highs to calmer, sweeter lows (Song Of My Heart being one of the latter pieces). The variety is also one that could be appreciated by those not into any of the forms referenced here. If you cannot appreciate Miller’s stellar saxophone playing, the intricate and almost telepathic rhythmic grooves of BOH and Maeta, then you may need to clean your ears a bit better. Suffice, this is an album that won’t appeal to all. In fact, it may not appeal to that many but for me, it works from start to finish in a way few albums do. I suggest that if you are curious about your musical tastes, a listen to Kari-Band may be something well worth an hour or so of your time. 8/10

Pentral - What Lies Ahead Of Us (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Pentral is a Latin word that means Inner Spirit or Life of The Soul; Pentral is also a Brazilian three piece, who play a fairly Latin style of Groove Metal. The band is based around the Lima Brothers; Victor on Guitar and Vocals and Vagner on Drums, the 2 Brothers are joined by Joe Ferry on Bass. What Lies Ahead Of Us is the bands first album. Pentral’s style is closest to Groove metal, but also features material that is Traditional Metal and some Hard Rock. Ferry and the Lima brothers are all clearly very talented musicians, the technical aspects of this album are very good, and Victor has a very good, clear, clean voice. 

The opening track Aiming For The Sun is a good example of Pentral’s style of Metal, it’s driving and up tempo with tight riffs and great vocals. All My Wounds is another up tempo track, however this one has a slightly more taut and minimal feel and a great, expansive chorus. Disconnected is another standout track, an uptempo, driving rocker. It’s nice and fast with a very tuneful chorus and is probably the best track on the album. Second to last track The Shell I’m Living In is another really decent rocker, it’s mid tempo with a great chorus and an energy packed second half.
It’s not all good though, there are some problems with this album. The track Are You Satisfied is ploddy and lacklustre with a saccharine chorus. The album also has a ballad with the track Gift From God, which is fine while it’s just acoustic guitar and vocals, but goes astray when the drums and bass come in and that saccharine, sickly sweet feeling is back, which is a shame. There is also a little bit of blandness on here, the song The Law feels weak and watered down. The guitars feel like they have been neutered and don’t stand out and as a result the song feels drab and unexciting. 

However, this isn’t a bad album, it just need some work to bring all the material up to the same standard. This is a debut album, so on the whole I think the band have made a good album, that with some tweaks could be a great album. A strong, decent debut, that hints at a band that could produce really great material, but isn’t quite there yet. 7/10

Reviews: Seth, Lucid Sins, Fragment Soul, Acid's Trip (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Seth - La Morsure Du Christ (Season Of Mist)

Seth can be viewed as the elder statesmen of French black metal, their early records have become seminal pieces in the history of black metal as the band pioneered using their native tongue rather than English. To this day hearing black metal sung in French just adds a mystique to anti-religious lyricism of Seth. La Morsure Du Christ (the bite of Christ), is their second album since their return from hiatus in 2011, but what's more influential here is that it is the first record since Seth celebrated the 20th anniversary of their debut record touring it around Europe, an all-new line up set forth on recording La Morsure Du Christ full of the same bile for religion that they had on their debut back in 1998. They have tried to recapture the fierce nature of their debut, the Gothic keyboards set against the rapid tumultuous black metal riffage, grinding bass and frantic double kicks. Sacrifice de Sang ups the Gothic stake, Hyme Au Vampire (Act III) is dramatic, filled with choirs and lilting acoustic in it's theatrical climax. 

I've made a few statements about Seth's staunch anti-religious rhetoric and it's never more obvious than on the blistering Ex-Cathédrale which deals with the burning of Notre-Dame in Paris, depicted on the cover of the album, seeing it as a shift from the reign of Christianity into a much more Godless world. There's a quite a wide soundscape on this record, the use of keys/piano is quite pronounced, much like it was on their debut Les Blessures de L'Ame to which this is a stylistic sequel. It is a record that clearly follows the debut as much as possible, keeping that rage burning but the music here has been refined by a long career and a more recent desire to prove that Seth are still at the very apex of French black metal. La Morsure Du Christ is the comeback record the fans have been clamouring for since Seth decided to return from their hiatus. Through mastery of the occult and rejection of the established dogma Seth capture the lot on their sixth studio album. Well worth indulging in for fans of mature black metal. 8/10 

Lucid Sins -  Cursed! (The Sleeping Shaman/Totem Cat Records)

Glasgow's Lucid Sins are a two-piece made up of Ruaraidh Sanachan (multi) and Andreas Johnsson (vocals/guitar), their freewheeling psychedelia, has been carrying the spirit of Woodstock all across Glasgow's bustling live scene for a fair few years now, their first album Occulation was released in 2015, so seven years later they have followed up with a second record that features an expanded line up but the same darkly occult style of psych rock born in the shadow of band acid trips and Altamont violence. If I were to make a comparison I'd say Witchcraft/Ghost jamming The Doors and Wishbone Ash covers, choking on dense bong smoke as they do. When Ruaraidh spoke about the record he mentioned his love for Steely Dan and that how their band set up inspired him to bring in various musicians to contribute to the record adding four additional collaborators on guitar, bass, keys and violin. 

At 8 tracks there just enough musical discovery to beckon you into the trippy, folksy retro-fuelled musical journey of Cursed! It's an album that unashamedly draws from the late 60's/early 70's with some folky layered acoustics of bands like Steeleye Span, usually a bass for the explorative clean electric leads or swirling 'lead' organs that shift into both The Doors and Jon Lord mastery. The collaborations bring a the jam feel of bands like The Grateful Dead but vocally Andreas is a dead ringer for on Tobias Forge. From the proto-metal of Joker's Moon, through the The Devil's Sign which has lots of violin ala Fairport Convention or Kansas before proggy/gothic The Forest closes this chapter. Cursed! is a fine psych rock record, for anyone who loves their music retro and packed full of musical flourishes. 8/10 

Fragment Soul - Axiom Of Choice (Sleazy Rider Records)

Founded by Spiros Georgiou (bass) and Dimitris Louvros (guitar), Fragment Soul are a progressive metal band from Greece. Originally formed by the two men in 2016, they have been joined by Sedate Illusion keyboardist Vangelis Kakarougas, Nick Argyriou on vocals and Kostas Milonas on drums. They began to record Axiom Of Choice which is the bands' debut record. Like with so many progressive metal bands Axiom of Choice is also a concept record, dealing with darkness, despair and deliverance focussed around two main characters. For the full realisation of this dark love story at the heart of the record, the band have been joined by Draconian frontwoman Heike Langhans who lends her voice and her experience in writing etc to the project. 

This record has been a part of Spiros and Dimitris' lives since they were teenagers so it will clearly hold a lot of emotions for them, however how does it resonate with the listener? At 42 minutes and just four tracks, you can expect density if nothing else, three of the songs are over 10 minutes with the final one Oedipus Complex a snippet at just 5. Now progressive metal is a broad term and you may jump straight onto bands such as Dream Theater, but Fragment Soul are a more emotional, brooding listen, there's lots more elements of bands like Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Katatonia and even Opeth (minus death vocals). There's a sense of innate sadness abound on all four of these songs tying in to the concept of the album very well  

The songs featuring down-beat, lushly orchestrated songs with understated keys, ringing, echoed guitars, a throbbing rhythm section and despairing vocals from both voices, Nick having that strong baritone while Heike provides a beautiful haunting counterpoint especially on the desolate A Choice Between Two Evils which is brilliant slow burner. In fact the majority of this record can be called a slow burner, shifting it into the doomier sound of Heike's band Draconian the stirring strings of Every Heart Sings A Song distinctly moving into the romantic misery the Scandinavians do very well. 

There's certainly a lot of thought/time and effort gone into Axiom Of Choice and it's an album that begs for repeated listens. There will be many that don't class this as a metal album at all but I've always been a lover of the more introspective bands I referred to earlier in the review. Fragment Soul took a risk with this dense concept piece as a debut but it's a great record from a promising band. 7/10

Acid's Trip - Strings Of Soul (Heavy Psych Sounds)

Coming from former Honeymoon Disease guitarist Acid, Strings of Soul is what I guess you could call a solo record from her. There hasn't been any sort of epiphany during the down time between bands as Acid's Trip retains a sheer love of boogie rock n roll with Acid and co-guitarist Mike locking in with some twin axe action from the Robertson/Gorham or Rossi/Parfitt playbooks. In the backroom Rockhard (drums) and Lucas (bass) have a gutsiness of Taylor/Kilminster with the fuzz of Smith/Thompson. Strings Of The Soul is biker rock with Acid's vocal sneer leading the attitude filled tracks like No More Fucks and Get It Right as they bring a touches of punk, stoner and some Gothenburg groove to the record you can certainly understand why this band are touted as live act to witness in their native Sweden. If bands such as Honeymoon Disease, The Hellacopters and Dead Lord are in your leather clad listening pile then you'll be remiss not to add Strings Of Soul. 7/10   

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Reviews: Sumo Cyco, Tetrarch, Skarlett Riot, Sonic Desolution (Reviews By Neil Lewis, Liam True, Paul Hutchings & Alex Swift)

Sumo Cyco – Initiation (Napalm Records) [Neil Lewis]

If you have yet to be initiated into the world of Sumo Cyco then allow me to try and explain…. Imagine if someone took a helping of Enter Shikari, a bit of System Of A Down, and a side order of Skindred and put it all into a blender. And then put that blender into another blender, just for good measure. The band’s music and self-produced videos are essentially a wild roller coaster ride through the unfettered musical imaginations of front Skye “Sever” Sweetnam and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Matt “MD13” Drake.

Their sound takes in rock, metal, pop, and electronic elements all blended with spiky riffs, sugared and spiced vocals, punk attitudes, pop sensibilities and above all some absolutely huge choruses, all of which is delivered with an energy that is never less than infectious. The influences may be apparent if you look hard enough but rest assured Sumo stamp their own identity on proceedings. The bands videos (of which there are twenty-five on their YouTube channel as of this writing) are set in a fictional area named Cyco City, which itself features its own storylines, recurring characters, and individual affiliations. Prior to Initiation the band have self-released two albums and three EPs, two of which are acoustic reworkings of previously-released tracks. As I’ve hopefully demonstrated, there is a lot going on with Sumo Cyco.

On the musical side, it would appear that the disregard for genres which the band (completed in the live setting by drummer Matt Trozzi and bassist Oscar Anesetti) has previously demonstrated is still in full effect as the musical pendulum swings from metal to rock to pop and back again, usually during the same song. If rock and metal is your thing then the insanely catchy Bystander and This Dance Is Doomed (two clear standouts in this writers’ opinion) have your back. Prefer a pop-leaning sound? No problem, try a dose of No Surrender or M.I.A. Want something a little more relaxed (relatively speaking of course)? In that case Run With The Giants and Awakened are more likely to be your bag. Other high points of the album include forthcoming single/video (and Skye’s favourite song from this release) Bad News which features an irresistible staccato-ish riff and the obligatory sing-along chorus, Cyclone which apropos to its title is bursting with prickly energy, and the electronically-led Overdrive which features the lyric “I’m addicted to the chaos” which seems very fitting. Overall, the electronic elements, which have always been part of the signature Cyco sound, are much more pronounced this time around but it’s nothing more than a natural progression from their earlier releases.

Although much of this third full length was written and recorded in pre-pandemic times the lyrical themes are both timeless and relatable, dealing with universal subjects such as internal conflicts, overcoming life' obstacles and self-empowerment. As Skye mentioned during an interview with this blog in 2019 "I want people to feel more empowered by listening to our music but that doesn’t mean I want to sugar coat real feelings and emotions." The lyrics to Run With The Giants are the very embodiment of this approach.

One thing I would like to point out is the oft-overlooked matter of the album’s running order. The way music is consumed these days means that albums don’t always need to be structured to be listened to in one session, but to these ears Initiation appears to have been arranged for precisely that. Each song contributes to the ebb and flow of the various styles the band’s sound encompasses with there never seeming to be too much of one element together, so the more aggressive moments are always balanced by the lighter ones. As an example the fifth single, Vertigo (which, along with Overdrive are the first songs produced and co-written by someone outside the band in the form of Kane Churko who has previously worked with Ozzy, Five Finger Death Punch, In This Moment, Hellyeah and Papa Roach), almost sounded like an anomaly when it was released given its focus on electronic sounds compared with the previous guitar-led singles. When placed in the context of the full album however it sounds right at home. The only track that feels somewhat misplaced on the version used for this review is the closer Awakened, but this is largely due to its apparent status as a bonus track, meaning it’s inevitably placed at the end. In my opinion this song would have fitted better earlier on; if it was up to me I’d put it in between Run With The Giants and Overdrive but I suppose that’s what custom playlists are for.

As its title implies Initiation will be the introduction to the band for many and as such it should score highly with new listeners as it’s so accessible, especially with those catchy choruses and hooks. For existing fans it should score even higher, being both a refinement and evolution of the band’s sound and song writing skills which results in their most rewarding and accomplished album yet. As evidence of this I invite you to give Bystander a listen and just try and get the “Oh na na” chorus out of your head. At some point when something approaching “normality” returns the band will be touring the UK for the eleventh time and when that time comes I also invite you to go check them out as the stage is where they truly shine, being one of the most electrifying live acts around. Finally, I would also like to invite you to join the Cyco family. Welcome to Cyco City... enjoy your stay!

Tetrarch - Unstable (Napalm Records) [Liam True]

‘Looking in the mirror and I hate myself’ Much truth spoken in those words in today's society from frontman Josh Fore in the opening line to the second studio album by the L.A based Metalcore/Nu-Metal mixers. Before they slam themselves into I’m Not Right as small synths create an atmospheric intro while the band chugs and slugs through the first song with a catchy chorus and harsh vocals to match. Guitarists Diamond Rowe, on lead and Fore on rhythm fly along the fretboard into Negative Noise while the band have already shown their potential but continue to increase their skill sets. While it’s their second studio album, it’s their first major label release as Freak was self-released, but Unstable is being pushed and backed by Napalm Records. And the rising stars have shown they’ve got the sound and style to become world known. The production is an improvement as is the music in itself and is mixed to absolute perfection.

Title track Unstable is a direct descendant of Korn as the music and vocal delivery of Fore is reminiscent of Johnathan Davis himself. Mixed in the the older aggression styles of Slipknot and Limp Bizkit but in their own twisted and contorted style. Pushed Down is a late album highlight with its early Linkin Park vibes. More specifically Meteora. It’s energetic and infectious and showcases everything the band is capable of. It’s a brilliantly written song, with a catchy refrain and another killer solo from Diamond. The lyrics can be a little hit and miss, with some lines being incredibly thought-provoking and poignant, while others can feel a little cheesy and too on-the-nose. Fore‘s vocals are harsh but melodic, with enough aggression to satisfy the lovers of the heavier aspects of the genre. His growls on Take A Look Inside are powerful, but in contrast to that, the vocal lines on the eerie album closer Trust Me are haunting and sombre. There’s a lot of talent on show here, and they are just getting started. If they can break away and keep building elements of their own sound, Tetrarch will be headlining festival stages in no time. 9/10

Skarlett Riot – Invitca (Despotz Records) [Paul Hutchings]

You may well be familiar with Skarlett Riot. The UK quartet have been around for a while with two albums already under their belt. Their last album Regenerate gained plenty of admirers and with their latest album, Invicta, it’s easy to see why. The band have a heavy, driving sound that contains anthemic hooks a plenty, a combination of Skarlett’s soaring cleans contrasting with growling roars. I’m not a huge fan of this almost standardisation in metal today but on Invicta Skarlett Riot have nailed it, ensuring it isn’t overdone. The music is hard and heavy, with a melodic feel that will provide appeal to a wide range of fans. There are elements of Asking Alexandria, Bullet For My Valentine and In This Moment, with their compositions showing enough originality and flair to stand apart. 

The opening trio of songs provide the listener with a tasty appetizers for the rest of the album. The hard hitting Breaking The Habit and Gravity are an instant one-two, whilst Black Cloud shows a smoother, melodic style. As the album continues its journey, there are plenty of additional highlights, and once you’ve warmed to Skarlett’s voice, the music then becomes more focused and it’s easier to appreciate the battering drumming, the thick riffs, and the overall tightness of the band. Not Alone, Cut The Ties and To The Flames stand out before the slight gothic tones of Human bring the album to a close. It’s 48 minutes well spent and if you want to hear how the UK metal scene is evolving, it is well worth a listen. 7/10

Sonic Desolution – Explorer (GMR Music) [Alex Swift]

Sonic Desolution employs a varied sound palate – elements of orchestrals wind their way throughout these seven tracks with grace and exquisiteness. Indeed, for as often as they can sound decidedly retro and drawing on sounds fostered by acts before them, they sound innovative and unique. Take the opener Explorer. Beginning on stark violins, desolate keys, and sanguine acoustics there are elements of folk here, yet it’s twisted into something far darker. Once we get to the body of the song, the clash of keyboards against fuzzy distortion creates a reminiscent quality, yet the unorthodox song structure fused with the ethereal backing vocals, the weaving electronics, and mournful pianos continues to foster a sense of the strange. This is certainly a challenging piece as it’s’ not charting a course in any direction. Rather, there’s an abstract quality at play that artfully fuses influences in a way that can feel inspired yet can also be alienating, especially as many of these compositions occasionally seem content to be deliberately intangible. 

The Waltz plays with changeable tempos and an instrumental palate which while not as varied as that of the first track is incredibly sonically detailed in a way that is fascinating yet also fascinatingly perplexing. The choir-esque chanting in the chorus mixed with the circling arpeggios is one moment that stands out in my memory, yet much of the piece feels wraithlike, immaterial, and hypnotizing. I don’t say that as a negative either – it’s certainly the case that lots of thought went into this, yet I would need to be in a very particular mood to immerse myself in this piece again. The same can be said of Eye To Eye, although I do gravitate to this one more for its often beautiful focus on bright, defined melodies that swirl and dazzle, inspiring the listener with both the intricate complexity and the enigmatic joy at the heart of the anthem. For all of their weirdness though, one of the key influences underpinning Sonic Desolution's sound is that of musical theatre. Nowhere is this clearer than on the album's centrepiece Midlife Insight where the vibrant harmonies are put front and centre and more than any other song here there is a sense of storytelling both in the journeying instrumentation and the sanguine observations of life, age, and mortality which permeate the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, like every other moment on this album, this one takes some adjusting to. If you can see past the multi-faceted, occasionally confounding nature though, there’s a shining track here.
If you’re looking for ‘accessible’ this record has that in short supply. There’s no shame in that either – I enjoy a challenge, but even I had to sit with this for a while before sitting down to write this review. However, if I had to recommend a part to give casual listeners of prog and experimental music an idea of what tone Explorer is going for, without utterly puzzling them, I’d probably say Fair Warning. More minimalistic and reserved, there’s a mystifying quality to this track that transcends any preconceptions you might have had about the more bewildering aspects of this act, for nine minutes of splendour and exquisiteness. Likewise, as much as New Beginning marks a return to the avant-garde antics, the progressions feel clearly defined, and each new idea – from the neoclassical concepts in the opening seconds to the jazzy ideas which close us out – considered and thought through. However, much as I can say that I admire these musicians for creating something so meticulous and deliberate, I can’ honestly say that my attention holds up all the way through and for each successive listen, by the time I got to Tranquilandia I was exhausted and distracted. 

Don’t get me wrong – after listening to the closer and all the other individual tracks in isolation from each other, I can find elements to appreciate about each of them and many sections to love and adore. However, I feel this is an experience where the complicated stylings will be a barrier to entry for some. At least, this was the case for me. I appreciate this music and could even see myself warming to Explorer in time. For now, though, I grant my respect, without a promise to return anytime soon. 7/10

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Reviews: Dirty Honey, Desolate Realm, Backwood Spirit, 1968 (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Dirty Honey - Dirty Honey (Self Released)

You may have noticed that we haven't reviewed the Greta Van Fleet album in these pages. Despite being wowed by their first record and EP, since then they have become a little too corporate for me, they're music is deliberately aimed at appealing to a certain generation, for their nostalgia cash. Yeah I know that many other bands play on that retro thing but it seems those teenagers are the fresh faced boys are the frontmen for a massive corporate cash machine. That brings us onto Dirty Honey and their self titled full length following on from their self titled EP. 

This four piece come from Los Angeles, California and are inspired by the success of Guns N Roses, they brought the band together with Mark DiDia formerly of Columbia records as their manager, after numerous side walk and shit hole shows. Yes they have managed to support Slash and Guns N Roses, but there seems to be a soul in this band that I don't feel in Greta Van Fleet a band who Dirty Honey have many musical similarities to. Now there's a lot of G'N'R mentioned earlier but when John Notto peels of soulful solos on tracks like Gypsy there's a focused loucheness of Slash. 

Personally I'd put Dirty Honey, who take their name from Robert Plant's The Honeydrippers, in with a band like the sorely missed Temperance Movement, some whiskey-hued vocals and sunshine drenched riffs are all the rage on numbers like California Dreamin', the funky The Morning, while The Wire struts and Take My Hand adds a pinch of Zep. Dirty Honey are a soulful hard rock combo, that do have the big machine behind them but also a sense of realness to their music. 7/10

Desolate Realm - Desolate Realm (Self Released)

Helsinki duo Matias Nastolin (Guitars, Vocals, Bass) and Olli Törrönen (Drums) make up Desolate Realm. If I were to quickly tell you what they sound like, cast your mind back to when Grand Magus unleashed Iron Will, this signaled the shift from doom metal heaviness into the more traditional metal sound they have now. Desolate Realm is an album that neatly balances both well, with the classic galloping of The Chosen are counterpointed by doomier numbers like the 8 minute finale Tormented Soul. It's got touches of Candlemass, Atlantean Kodex and even Manowar, shifting into epic realms on that last track. 

Where Desolate Realm's music works well when they put both styles into one song like they do on Reckoning where they start out with chugging classic metal and the doom influence creeps in from the deep, one moving into the other seamlessly. Recorded by both members separately, there's a cohesion between the two that makes for a powerful release. Matias' guitar and bass playing both work well, crunching heavy riffs linking well with Olli's thumping drums. What really makes me think of Grand Magus is Matias' brilliant vocals, a sonorous tenor that soars when needed. Desolate Realm is a very strong heavy metal record from this Finnish duo. 8/10     

Backwood Spirit - Fresh From The Can (Pride & Joy Music)

Fresh From The Can is the second album from blues/southern rockers Backwood Spirit, unusually they don't actually come from the Southern states of the USA, the hail from Örebro, Sweden. Yes Sweden that country with more rock/metal bands per capita than any other in the world. Backwood Spirit added their name to that long list back in 2014 when guitarist Kent Engström put the band together bringing in Joje Lindskoog (drums) and singer Göran Edman (Yngwie Malmsteen), along with Peter Emilson on organs/keys. 

All these men return on this second record with Mats Berglund on bass, but as Zep put it 'the song remains the same' with a huge amount of Zeppelin influences on this record drenched in the blues, Sweet Evening (Lullaby) is very much from the laid back style of Plant & Page though Celebration (not a Zep cover) takes more from The Beatles. However where I would pitch this album is with Paul Rodgers' Free/Bad Company days due to the music and Edman's soulful vocals. Strutting rockers like Witchwood and Leavin both have this style and are delivered really well. As with any Swedish band there's a sleekness and professionalism that is hard to replicate, making for a great classic blues rock record. Perfect for some outside hospitality. 7/10  

1968 - Salvation If You Need (No Profit Recordings)

Cheshire foursome 1968 wear their influences not only on their sleeve but also their band name. 1968 was an undoubtedly great year for rock music. It's the year that saw Vincebus Eruptum/Outsideinside by Blue Cheer, Boogie With Canned Heat/Living The Blues by Canned Heat, Steppenwolf/The Second by Steppenwolf, The Beat Goes On by Vanilla Fudge, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly, Wheels Of Fire by Cream and Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, all released. I mention this as all these records are definite influences to the stoner rockers now on their second full length. Salvation If You Need contains 10 tracks, from the propulsive, jiving Rail Road Boogie to the soaring, blues drenched God Bless, this is a homage to the golden age/beginning of stoner/psych rock, played live in the studio with vintage equipment (no doubt). Grooving dirty riffs from a bygone age. 1968 are big riffing band with and album that they'll hopefully get to unleash on some stages soon. 7/10

Reviews: Gojira, Ageless Oblivion, Ironbound, Poverty's No Crime (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Gojira - Fortitude (Roadrunner)

Since 2016's Magma French metal jugganauts Gojira, ascended to that next level. They are now firmly a headline act in arenas and at festivals, this is due to them having a very strong back catalogue of extremely heavy and brilliant songs such as Flying Whales, Toxic Garbage Island, Backbone and The Heaviest Matter In The Universe. But from L'Enfant Sauvage and more noticeable on Magma there has been a much more melodic, almost rockier sound creeping in, those crushing riffs relegated to sometime explosions or out an out rage rather than the organ moving riffage we experienced at smaller earlier shows. 

Maybe this audio shift has come with age and maturity, or perhaps it's that now there is now a wider audience to their sound that they have to change things up a bit to fit their 'arena' leanings. Fortitude makes the shift even more noticeable becoming much more of a hard rock outfit on this record, though they still retain some of that powerful world flattening groove. Fortitude is incited by Born For One Thing which has those classic Gojira hallmarks, Joe Duplantier's roaring vocals and technical rhythm guitars at the forefront, his brother Mario underscoring his place as one of the 21st Centuries best drummers. Those oh-so-tasty fret-slides come back too on Sphinx, the one song here that hints at those gargantuan, Kaiju origins.   

It's 3 minutes of heaviness to win over long term fans but it's quickly followed by single Amazonia which is built all around Brazilian folk instrumentation (very Sepultura) and was part of a month long fundraiser Brazilian indigenous rights charity curated by Gojira, continuing the bands long term goal as not only being a top level metal band but also as activists against climate change, indigenous peoples and numerous other ideologies. This isn't done for the cameras or the press like so many pop stars, Gojira are truly committed to their cause, using their music to highlight issues that they care about. 

Back to the music and New Found ramps up both the 'cleaner' elements, with lots of searing leads from Christian Andreu but also has some crunching from bass Jean-Michel Labadie. Labadie is also key to the stripped down title track, something for the fireside that builds into The Chant, a song that's quite a way away from anything Gojira have done before. I made a point of saying Gojira have shifted away from the deafening heaviness of their early work, but it is still there but now things are more nuanced a much wider influence is abound as the band comfortably assert themselves as leaders in the metal world. I recommend a few listens to really let tracks like the psychedelic The Trails do their work but with some exploration, Fortitude is not just an album title, but a state of mind for Gojira, an album of this magnitude is what Gojira have been threatening to make since Terra Incognita. Majestic and undeniable! 9/10

Ageless Oblivion - Suspended Between Earth And Sky (Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings)

Returning with their first album since 2014 Hampshire technical death metal act Ageless Oblivion. It's been a long time coming due to various issues but finally they have unleashed it on an unsuspecting world. Recorded/mixed and mastered by Samuel Turbitt at Ritual Studios (The Infernal Sea/Shrapnel), the band have tried to avoid the clichéd digital pro-tools effects of other technical/modern death metal trying to make things as organic as possible. Has it been worth the 7 year wait though?

Do Ageless Oblivion still possess that fierceness that has their named revered on the UK death metal scene? Well the short answer is yes, Suspended Between Earth And Sky sets the tone with In Medias Res a tumultuous first track with furious blastbeats, grooving riffs and roared vocals played in odd time signatures, but that's not what they're all about, on a track like Anvil Chorus the bludgeoning heaviness is still there but brought at a much more doom-laden pace, there's also lots of almost post-metal dissonance to Eldmessa making for a more well rounded listening experience than a lot of other bands in the death metal spectrum. It's with great delight that I can safely say Ageless Oblivion are very much back in business. 8/10

Ironbound – The Lightbringer (Ossuary Records)

Britain’s most famous metal band is arguably Iron Maiden (they are certainly their most successful), and while they are world renowned, where their two most rabid fan bases come from are South America and the countries formerly of The USSR, Maiden were one of the few bands able to play behind the Iron Curtain and their style of epic and ultimately hopeful heavy metal was an inspiration to the millions of people living under the regime. After the fall of the USSR, Maiden toured the former Soviet Bloc numerous times, so it’s probably only natural that bands formed with that distinct Maiden sound.

Polish act Ironbound, distil that Maiden sound perfectly, the twin axe attack of guitarists Michał Halamoda and Krzysztof Całka is unleashed on Smoke And Mirrors with bassist Zbigniew Bizoń bringing the Harris-like gallop on the title track for drummer Adam Całka to wildly show his McBrain influence. Now unlike the thousands of bands that are influenced by Maiden Ironbound have decided to go with the brawny Blaze Bayley-esque vocals of Łukasz Krauze, rather than a Dickinson Air Raid Siren clone. This could be because Blaze himself has a massive following in Poland and the Eastern Bloc, but also it means that Ironbound’s take on Iron Maiden stands out.

They have brought in the slight changes to the Maiden sound from that period too, adding more prog and Euro power metal touches to the distinct NWOBHM thunder. Children Left By God is one of those mid-paced, mini-epics that will get the crowd’s fists in the air, The Turn Of The Tide even having the audacity to be one of those slow burning ballads that build from acoustics to a full band. Powerful metal from this Polish five piece, they really are Ironbound. 8/10 

Poverty's No Crime - A Secret To Hide (Metalville)

Since 1991, German progressive metal band Poverty’s No Crime, have been somewhat of an unsung, oft overlooked progressive metal band. Despite this they have a very strong pedigree with their early albums appearing on seminal underground power/prog/symphonic label Noise, before signing to progressive music specialists InsideOut Music for four albums between 1999 and 2007. Now on Metalville, Poverty’s No Crime return with their eighth album A Secret To Hide yet another progressive metal tour-de-force from a band that I hope don’t remain overlooked by progressive metal fans.

This is because their music has a keen ear for melody, the guitars especially are layered so that the electrics and acoustics work in a tandem, there’s probably a reason why band leader Volker Walsemann is a guitarist, his playing is brilliant unifying with Marco Ahrens for delicious six string melodies that are highlighted by The Great Escape which is an instrumental filled with quotes from the film. Don’t misunderstand though the rest of the band do a bang up job as well Jörg Springub’s organs and keys infiltrate songs like the anthemic Hollow Phrases and gives Flesh And Bone a touch of Rainbow/Purple.

Heiko Spaarmann’s bass is the constant shift in the pacing, bringing a grooving bottom end to Schizophrenia while Andreas Tegeler’s drumming is top notch even adding some Neil Peart drum fills to Hollow Phrases. A Secret To Hide is a progressive metal album that perfectly shows why Poverty’s No Crime have been a name in the scene for 30 years, well composed, experienced progressive metal song writing is what you get. 8/10