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Friday 28 May 2021

Reviews: Alluvial, Khandra, Chelsea (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Paul Scoble & Zak Skane)

Alluvial - Sarcoma (Nuclear Blast) [Richard Oliver]

There has been major upheaval in the Alluvial camp since the release of their debut album The Deep Longing For Annihilation in 2017. The band back then was an instrumental showcase for guitarists Wes Hauch (ex-Black Crown Initiate/ex-The Faceless) and Keith Merrow (Conquering Dystopia/Merrow) but in the intervening years Keith Merrow has left the project and been replaced with a full band line up (rather than the use of session musicians previously) for their second album Sarcoma. I lamented in my review of The Deep Longing For Annihilation that Alluvial’s music would be all the more effective with the inclusion of a vocalist. Well obviously someone was paying attention as Alluvial now has a full time vocalist in the form of Kevin Muller (The Merciless Concept/ex-Suffocation). The inclusion of Kevin’s furious bellows means that the music on Sarcoma is a bit more ferocious and crushing than previously albeit with all the progressive and technical flourishes that gave the band their identity. The opening trio of songs are hell bent of levelling any building in the vicinity of the speakers that the album is being pumped out of with the title track being a particularly vicious beast of contemporary death metal. 

The death metal on offer is very much a modern sounding take on the genre which draws in elements of deathcore and djent but uses these elements to good effect to make the songs as heavy as humanly possible. The prog elements don’t really come to the fore until 40 Stories which has a very jazzy feel to it and is far less sonically devastating aided by the inclusion of clean vocals. There are also nods to Gojira in this song whose influence can be clearly heard at multiple points during the album. Exponent carries on the momentum of skull crushing heaviness and The Putrid Sunrise proves to be an album highlight by leaning into more traditional thrash-influenced death metal. There are also a couple of interesting instrumental tracks Zero which has a very dark and uneasy feeling about it and veers on noise and dark ambient and Sugar Paper which showcases Wes’ guitar skills and a bit of a throwback to the first album. 

Sarcoma is a good album of contemporary death metal which is technical, progressive and atmospheric in equal measure. The band excels when the progressive elements come to the fore as the death metal parts are a bit too chuggy for my liking and lacking in enough good riffs but that’s just down to personal taste. The lead guitar solos throughout are utterly fantastic as would be expected from a guitarist with the skills of Wes Hauch. The transcendence of Alluvial from the side project of two guitarists to the fully fledged band has definitely yielded results and the inclusion of a vocalist has done Alluvial the world of good. This is far from a flawed album but it is still a great example of contemporary sounding death metal. 7/10

Khandra - All Occupied By Sole Death (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

For the past few years the Belarusian band Khandra have been making music together. The four piece, featuring Uladzimir B on Vocals, Dmitry R on Guitars, Pavel V on Drums and Anton S on Bass, have released two Ep’s before All Occupied By Sole Death; 2017’s All Is Of No Avail, and 2018’s There Is No Division Outside Existence. All Occupied By Sole Death is Khandra’s debut album. The album opens with a 2 minute intro of spooky noises and atmospherics called Mute Moleben, before first track Irrigating Lethal Acres With Blood arrives with a slow riff that absolutely drips with dissonance. The drumming takes a turn for the dramatic before Khandra drop the listener into one of the fastest Blast Beats I’ve ever heard, a serious breakneck blitz of rapid drumming and tremolo picked riffs. A lot of the blasting on this album has this ultra high speed style. The track then returns to the slow and dissonant mode from the beginning of the song, the slower riffs are also full of melody despite all of the dissonance. 

The song vacillates between these two styles until a slow, melodic and expansive ending. Nothing But Immortality For Aye has a similar structure to the song that preceded it, mid-paced sections with nicely melodic yet dissonant riffs and super fast blasting; the juxtaposition of expansive, slower sections with savagely rapid parts works very well. Next we have In Harvest Against The Sun which has a huge opening which is sweeping and dramatic, the main part of the song moves between slow and mid-paced with the occasional faster section, but this is mainly slower material with lots of melody. Then we get to the last minute which is an insanely fast blast beat to the end of the song. With The Blessing Of Starless Night is another song where the slower and more expansive material takes the lead, don’t worry theres still the occasional savagely fast blast beat, but this is mainly about slow and huge right up until it’s big dramatic ending. 

Thanatos is a great track, it has a slightly different feeling to the rest of the album, the mix of fast and slow is still there, but the slow is far more doomy and tri-tone heavy than on a lot of the other material, the expansiveness has taken a back seat to putrid nastiness. The album comes to an end with the title track All Occupied By Sole Death, which is probably the best track on the album. All Occupied By Sole Death is full of melody from it’s slow opening to the high speed blasting, which on this track I find to be very reminiscent of Mare Cognitum, and is full of tunefulness. All Occupied By Sole Death is a fantastic Black Metal album. It manages to pull off the very clever trick of being full of melody and fantastic tunes, whilst also being breathtakingly fast and savage. The blast beats have to be heard to be believed, the guitar and bass work is fantastic and the vocals are also very effective. If this was from a band that was established with a few albums under their belt, this would be impressive but for a debut it’s down right awe inspiring. 9/10

Chelsea - Meanwhile Gardens (Westworld) [Zak Skane]

Chelsea is four piece Punk bands that have formed in 1976 in London. The band are known for their debut single Right To Work that was released in 1977. From there the band made a name for themselves a name of being one of well-known bands that came from the underground Punk scene in London. With albums and singles released under their name the band have released their most mature album in Meanwhile Gardens. When I was listening to this album, the first thing that came into my mind when I reached the last song was that, I wouldn’t really call this a strict Punk album. For example there are a lot of Rock moments that reminds me of Bruce Springsteen especially the opening title track, Ladbroke Grove and the closing song Little Venice. There are also songs that pay homage to other bands outside that genre like the track Falling Apart that remind me of a more punky sounding version of The Cure. With the Folk/Blues Rock tinted Ladbroke Grove and the politically driven song Here And Now which sounds like a more punk infused Bob Dylan song. 

My personal highlights from this album is The Great Divide, which shows off the bands musicianship by providing texture in the guitar parts, especially in the chorus. There is also some cool sounding bass lines in verse sections that will satisfy any JJ Brunel (bassist of The Stranglers) fan. It's follow up It’s Friday which a can see being a fan favourite when gigs finally come back. The faster pace song that comes after it, Shine The Light, which is the most up-beat song on the album and the folk infused Ladbroke Grove that kicks off with a Harmonica. Finally the last song Little Venice shows off the bands song writing skills as well as there ear for melody in the guitar parts. My biggest gripe is that I have with this album is, the whole pace from start to finish. 

I felt the tempos and the drum beats on each song kept the same, which don’t get wrong, there is nothing wrong with that. AC/DC have a whole back catalogue that have the same drum beat performed on their songs, but they always varied in tempo. I also even though I got admire this album is well recorded I found that the production on this album was a bit too polished and as a result it took away some of that edge that you would expect from a Punk record. Overall even though there were good moments on this album it wasn’t stimulating enough to put in an album concept, but if you are an old school punk fan that listens to The Damned and The Clash it’s definitely worth a listen to. 6/10.

Reviews: White Moth Black Butterfly, Rhapsody Of Fire, Stormruler, The Vicious Head Society (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming (Kscope) [Matt Bladen]

Anyone who has listened to British djent leaders Tesseract will know that he is the bands signature vocalist, mainly due to the fact he has a brilliant, wide, emotive vocal range. What you may not know is that he has contemporary, experimental pop project called White Moth Black Butterfly. Following from his 2017 debut album, Tompkins has revitalised White Moth Black Butterfly, working once again with numerous songwriters and producers to create a spellbinding record that draws as much from Art Pop of Peter Gabriel as it does the danceable Retro-Future funk of acts such as The Weeknd all while stylishly filtered through the electronic glint of Daft Punk. Along with Tompkins are Skyharbour's Keshav Dhar, string arranger/producer Randy Slaugh, drummer Mac Christensen and vocalist Jordan Turner. Added to these performers are saxophonist Kenny Fong who pars away on the moody Darker Days while The Contortionist’s Eric Guenther brings swathes of virtuoso keys to penultimate track Bloom.

It’s not a standalone record though as there are links to Tesseract strewn throughout like a cypher, the excellent Portals moving closest with its pulsating electronic drive. The addition of Jordan Turner is a revelation as her half-whispered breathy vocals are part way between Ellie Goulding and Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, perfect for the trip-hop influenced beats on Under Stars and Soma. Retaining a real string section also adds variation and brightness to the record, though the music has become more explorative and experimental on this follow up. It feels very organic and joined up despite being recorded across three continents, the smaller interludes linking the songs, contributing to that idea of being on an audio journey. The sequencing too, needs to be praised as there is a feeling of layering throughout this record with the dark Unholy acting as a cathartic blow-out before the more introspective/hopeful final duo of Bloom and the anthemic Spirits. Not really a solo album but almost a counterpoint to Tesseract, White Moth Black Butterfly is as musically interesting as its companion band, with real depth to it as well. 8/10

Rhapsody Of Fire - I'll Be Your Hero EP (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, Rhapsody Of Fire remain one of the centrepieces of the Italian Symphonic/Power Metal movement, with so many bands from the genre in that country all splintering from that common root – to the point where one starts to wonder if there is anything else in the scene (there absolutely is, by the way, but you need to dig a little). Like most EP’s, this release is primarily a vehicle for the first single from the forthcoming Glory For Salvation album, which is the title track on here. Added to that is a re-recording of Where Dragons Fly, which dates back to the days when they were just plain old Rhapsody, plus a couple of live favourites. That would normally happily fulfil the run time criteria for most EP’s, but in this case we’ve also got four full bonus tracks that did not make it to the new album.

The title track itself is fairly light, melodic and radio fluffy stuff and not particularly representative of the normal belting but operatic standard that the band are known for. The first of these tracks is a quite syrupy ballad (The Wind The Rain And The Moon), which lyrically sounds like it’s part of a concept but which has a nice rich melody and the kind of guitar breaks that aren’t going to upset anyone before turning up the power for the end. The remaining three are all different versions of the same song with lyrics in different languages, which is why they have exactly the same run time of five minutes and nineteen seconds, bringing this EP in at a whopping thirty-nine minutes. I’ve reviewed plenty of albums recently that come in way under than that length, which makes me think this next album’s going to be a bit on the lengthy side.

Personally the lead tracks on here all tend to the lighter side and I prefer it when Rhapsody of Fire are belting on all cylinders (reminders of which we thankfully get from the recut and two live entries), but I guess I will have to wait for the full album for this. 6/10

Stormruler – Under The Burning Eclipse (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Under The Burning Sky was originally released independently in 2020, but is now being re-released by Napalm Records. The record is the debut album from US black metal duo Stormruler and its fantasy/history inspired slab of raging black metal with lots of gloomy atmospherics. It’s also 19 tracks! The longer pieces, spilt by the short instrumental interludes between them to maintain a fluidity, as of guitarist/vocalist Jason Asberry and drummer Jesse Schobel blast away with some 2nd wave black metal, all of which are pretty similar. They have a very modern sounding musical backing but vocals that are echoed and undecipherable, sounding as if they were recorded down a corridor. It may not be truly cvlt of me but this sort of croaked vocals on top of what is actually some pretty decent, if a little repetitive, music, does little for me. I’d have preferred if the interludes were woven into the songs themselves adding a touch of progression as well as some differentiation in the vocals. Still I’m sure the ‘real’ black metal fans will lap this up. 5/10

The Vicious Head Society - Extinction Level Event (Hostile Media) [Simon Black]

Progressive music within the world of Rock and Metal is a very niche taste. Whilst most of my fellow Metalheads can all agree that although the Progressive bands generally represent the pinnacle of technical musicianship, unless you are particularly into it, many find that element to be something of a turn off and would opt for something more musically accessible. To be fair Dream Theater – probably the most successful band in the genre, took a really long time to consistently work out how to manage to juggle those two (on the surface) contradictory poles of force and even then they occasionally drop the ball (as anyone who has endured The Astonishing will tell you).

Ireland’s The Vicious Head Society have been quiet for a while now, and four years has passed since their debut Abject Tomorrow. That’s a long time for a young act to be out of view, although to be fair two years of a global pandemic don’t help. Appropriately enough, the subject matter for the record is a series of stories exploring the end of the world, which to be fair all of us are finding less of an extreme fictional topic than we did in 2019. It’s a thematic concept rather than a story arc, as there are seven different stories exploring the subject and a couple of simply dazzling instrumental tracks to boot.

For those like me who get off on technically complex music, then this is an absolute treat. The skill level here is little short of phenomenal and whilst running the gamut of Prog influences, they manage to retain a distinctive sound of their own, hidden in the twists and turns of some of the more subtle progressions and time changes. What this means in plainer English, is that this categorically doesn’t sound like a recording that is designed to say “Look at us, we’re good” by showcasing the instrumental prowess of the individual band members, because each and every song feels like it was written by a cohesive living breathing band gestalt entity. OK, they are all bloody good with their hands and fingers as well, but the point is the whole feels greater than the sum of the parts. Tracks like On A Silver Thread illustrate this well, as it’s one of the melodically more accessible numbers, but when the instrumental breaks inevitably start it’s not about one player soloing.

The alternation of two clean and aggressive voices makes a huge difference too. Nathan Maxx’s more clean approach is far from squeaky clean though and has enough rawness and edge to it to drag the emotion out of the performance, where something more operatic would have left them sounding like every other act in the genre. The contrast from Andy Ennis’s growls is distinct and gives a good sense of tonal balance to the piece. Like all Prog, it takes a good few listens to really get to appreciate what these chaps are up to, but when the music is accessible enough on first listen then this isn’t likely to be a chore. 8/10

Thursday 27 May 2021

Reviews: An Autumn For Crippled Children, Source, Dr. Colossus, No Possession (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

An Autumn For Crippled Children – As Morning Dawns We Close Our Eyes (Prosthetic Records)

With their previous record coming just a year ago An Autumn For Crippled Children, return with their new record once again combining existentialist lyrical concepts with icy black metal and soaring, atmospheric shoegaze. It makes for an intriguing listen as theirs almost an upbeat nature to the music that is counteracted by the squawking vocals and crushing black metal aggression. In just the first two tracks you can hear that the band have become less rigid in their song construction the opening number having a 80’s Goth flourish while if it weren’t for the ominous choirs, extreme vocals and tremolo picking Of Your Light could be Coldplay. I mean that in the best possible sense, there are melodic guitars and plenty of piano across these 8 tracks, adding a feel of those fishnet nights in dank clubs shouting along to Lucretia My Reflection

Although of course this would be followed by some Mayhem. The shoegaze elements set them apart from even other blackgaze bands like Alcest, their vibrancy casting a light on the darker style, mainly sticking with the thump of classic Goth. AAFCC are a very mysterious band, essentially studio based their music as all you can really use to get the measure of them and it seems that the band have tried to incorporate a much wider soundscape on this album, like the band themselves, the music comes with an air of mystery as tracks such as Melancholia would be jarring anywhere else, here it seems perfect. A step up due to the bands insistence of spending longer on each track to link them but also allow them to sit as individual pieces. As Morning Dawns We Close Our Eyes engulfs you with waves of blackgaze, giving you an interesting listen. 7/10

Source - Ethereal Self (Self Released)

The trio of Benjamin Gleason (vocals/guitars/keys), Justin Mirarck (drums) and Jake Demarco (bass) make up Boulder, Colorado band Source. Ethereal Self is their third full length a semi-conceptual record that is about "rejecting the fear-based conditioning" of our lives while "forming a unity between our physical, cosmic and ethereal selves". Heady concepts build on heavy influences, mainly the throbbing rhythmic progressive metal of bands such as Tool, A Perfect Circle and Wheel, tracks such as Origin move into these realms the most the acoustic plucking, jazzy pianos and tabla drumming all sounding like an addition to Lateralus, while Paper Tiger has that twisting, thundering Tool sound as well. Much like Tool they have an otherworldly sound to their music inspired heavily by mediation, philosophy and mindfulness, perhaps making them a little more laid back than Maynard and co. 

However Source's music is anything but, despite Origin being quite a quiet song, the rest of the album skillfully balances the chunky technical heaviness and fluid melodic passages. As they shift between both on The Goddess Death a song that reminds me of Swedish prog superstars Opeth, Pupa filled with a driving groove running through it's 13 minutes. The recording was done completely by the band in their studio, so they were able to make the entire record to their specifications, allowing every nuance to explored from the touches of 8-bit synths, to the walls of organs and twitching electronics on Nakatapurcinalick. Ethereal Self is a record that establishes Source as one of the most promising progressive metal acts of today, this American three piece are certainly ones to watch. 9/10   

Dr. Colossus – I’m A Stupid Moron With A Big Butt And My Butt Smells And I Like To Kiss My Own Butt (Self Released)

If you’re not a fan of The Simpsons then the band name and the title to this record will mean absolutely nothing to you. However if like me you’re a The Simpsons megafan then you’ll want to listen to this second full length from Australian band Dr. Colossus (named after Springfield’s resident Super-Villain). Every song is about The Simpsons, a different episode, with a title or phrase from that episode. Space Coyote for example is about Homer’s Hunter S Thompson trip through a world created by eating a Guatemalan Insanity Pepper. Previously Dr. Colossus have released a record called The Dank and compilation The Death Mountain all of which have The Simpsons themed music. However unlike the dreadful Okilly-Dokilly, Dr.Colossus play in the stoner/doom style meaning that this record sounds a lot like Sleep or The Sword jamming to songs about The Simpsons. 

They manage to cover classic scenarios such as McBain dealing with Mendoza for killing Schoey his partner (Get Mendoza), the tragic character that is Milhouse and the Van Houtens (Thrillho) and of course Treehouse of Horror VI where the advertising mascots come to life on Lard Lad, all of which have grooving stoner and huge psychy doom riffs, the latter even throwing in some lyrics from Sabbath’s Iron Man. Dr. Colossus aren’t a comedy band, despite basing their song writing on the longest running sitcom of all time, the songs are quite serious stoner doom efforts, with The Simpsons elements used instead of traditional tropes such as fantasy, magic and mystery. I’m A Stupid… is a properly good stoner/doom release that also happens to be full of The Simpsons references, it’s like someone literally looked inside my brain! 9/10

No Possession - Third Time's A Charm (Melodic Passion)

Ok journalistic integrity on this one. No Possession started life as No Possession Blues, a blues band who after a few changes took the blues off their name as they changed their sound to more straightforward rock. Third Time's A Charm is a their third album (obviously) and it's a pretty insipid record with boring, done a million times riffs and vocals that vary between off key and unlistenable. The music here is the most basic level of pub rock, the sort of songwriting you'd have from a band featuring your uncle and his mates re-living their youth. The only thing missing is a Stones or Aerosmith cover to top it off. Not even entertaining background music, I suggest stopping at three. 3/10 

Reviews: Burning Witches, Sadistik Forest, Cirith Ungol, Alastor (Reviews By Simon Black, Paul Scoble, Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Burning Witches - The Witch Of The North (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

The Swiss Heavy/Power Metallers are back with the fourth full length album, and things are a little different this time around. Having a new voice and guitarist to work into the mix is always going to influence the direction your sound travels in, but the whole tone of this album is distinctly more aggressive than on previous albums. Whereas the Power element was more predominant in the past, I would say this is a more all-round Metal with a healthy dose of Thrash album and vocally Laura Guldemond‘s voice is way more Halford in full scream mode than the more clean and wholesome sound many Power Metal bands opt for. 

In fact if I did not know where they came from, I would have assumed they were from the USA, whose variant of Power Metal tends to be harder hitting and less about singalong melodies to raise a drinking horn to. This direction of travel is somewhat reinforced by the addition of a bonus cover of Hall Of The Mountain King by Savatage, depending on which version you are listening to. To be honest it doesn’t matter, as their own material sounds way better.

Guldemond‘s voice is very much at the centre of things and she is more than capable of throwing in some full-on growls alongside the screams, creating a very powerful effect. Musically these ladies aren’t messing about either despite the dominant presence of a clearly formidable frontwoman, with some incredibly tight and well executed playing going on here, largely at fast and blistering tempo. For an album that doesn’t hang about in terms of pace, it is remarkably lengthy with most of the fourteen tracks coming in above the five minute mark (plus a couple of instrumental interludes) and an hour’s run time in total.

It’s a thematic rather than a story arc based concept exploring (surprise, surprise) witches and consequently the songs stand up well individually. I can’t fault the production either, as each instrument is clearly balanced in the mix, whilst still having a strong vocal presence front and centre. The challenge with the album is that apart from that cover version, the furious up-tempo pace and delivery becomes a little unrelenting and one finds oneself wishing for a bit more change of pace. Nonetheless this incarnation of Burning Witches exudes confidence and formidable playing, and the more in your face sound is a definite improvement. 8/10

Sadistik Forest - Obscure Old Remains (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Scoble]

Finish four piece Sadistik Forest have been battering eardrums since 2007. In that time the band have released 3 albums; a self titled debut in 2010, Death, Doom, Radiation in 2012, and 2018’s Morbid Majesties. Obscure Old Remains is the bands first EP. The EP features four pieces of Old School Death Metal which sounds fairly Swedish in style. The EP opens with Mandragore, which is fast OSDM, that is somewhat reminiscent of Dismember and has some rhythmic elements that feel quite Grindcore-ish. Next track, Barbarian is a mix of mid-paced parts that, despite the slower speed, feel driving and purposeful, and fast and flowing riffing that reminds me a little of Welsh Death Metal Legends Desecration. After Barbarian comes Nihil, which has a soft and melodic opening, before heading into a very heavy and driving section. 

After this we get some more fast Old School riffs that again have a slight grind feel to them, and are savagely fast. The track ends with another soft and melodic section. The EP comes to an end with the track Waters Black which opens with a slow and nasty section that is reminiscent of Bolt Thrower, maybe with a little bit of Autopsy’s nasty thrown in for good measure, before going into a faster part that is aggressive and feels relentless. The song moves between these two styles until a slow and putrid ending. Obscure Old Forest is a very good EP, it’s well written and played, and whether it’s a fast section or a slow one, it always feels packed with energy and it never feels like you are far from some rippingly fast riff, blast beat or solo. Fantastically good fun! 7/10

Cirith Ungol - Half Past Human (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s a cruel world. Having released their masterful Forever Black last year, their first for 29 years, 2020 should have been triumphant for Ventura’s Cirith Ungol. The band were due to return to Keep It True festival in Germany for a gargantuan launch party. Instead, the band hunkered down at HQ in California and let the worldwide shit storm pass by. But they didn’t rest on the glow of Forever Black. They have dug deep into the archive archives and now provide The Legion with more material which will be consumed with as much joy as that fifth album. Half Past Human is four songs exhumed from their past, as Cirith Ungol dug deep into their archival crypts, summoning long dead forces to return. Four tracks have been reimagined, and they are all absolute bangers. Route 666 kicks things off, a muscular five-minute song that opens with Rob Garven’s thumping drumming, a sumptuous riff and then Tim Baker’s unique and magical vocals casting a spell as he tells the story. 

There is some glorious guitar work as the song progresses in classic Cirith Ungol style. Ample opportunity to bang that head as the old school sound blends with a fresh, contemporary approach. Shelob’s Lair follows in similar thunderous vein, the thick riffs of Greg Lindstrom and Jim Barraza carving out another classic Lord Of The Rings inspired track from way back. Underpinning everything, Jarvis Leatherby’s gut rumbling bass powers along, keeping things steady. The shortest track here is Brutish Man Child, previously released on a retro flexi disc with Decibel magazine last year. It’s a typical jagged Cirith Ungol song, awkward time signatures breaking down into an almost jazz freestyle instrumental section before returning to the main body of the track. 

That leaves us with the epic title track. Half Past Human is a smouldering, meandering and majestic song. Over seven minutes in length, it builds slowly, leading to a huge old school guitar solo, supported by the massive drumming of Garven’s and Leatherby’s bass lines which chug alongside. Baker remains the star, his voice as impressive as those early vocals in the early 1980s. As the song reaches its crescendo the tempo increases before arriving at a magnificent finish. If you wanted a reminder that Cirith Ungol’s return last year was anything less than triumphant, then this is it. With a good wind, 2022 will at last see the band play that headline set at Keep it True. We can but hope. 9/10

Alastor - Onwards & Downwards (RidingEasy Records) [Matt Bladen]

Few bands do reflective, dark occult stoner doom than the Swedes and Alastor have encapsulated that in their latest release, cheerily title Onwards & Downwards. Now yes if you did only listen to the acoustic interlude Kassettband, which sounds like it was bootlegged of someones phone to an overactive metronome, then you may say that Alastor are nothing to write home about, but wait for the title track to unleash it's fuzzy, Sabbath worship and then you'll understand Alastor completely. Heavily distorted and engorged in occult-horror Onwards & Downwards is much more dense audio experience than any of their predecessors, encouraged by their new drummer, it feels as though the corpse has been reanimated and just wants to smoke a bong and crank out some riffs. 

Riffs is what you get, the horror film organs fill the spaces of quiet with an eerie unease as the cascade of grinding guitar sounds crash around you, Hampus Sandell and Johan Björmander the axe abusers, working against the Sabbath/Electric Wizard/Windhand blueprint. The thunderous 6, full band tracks here driven at building crushing speed by Robin Arnryd's bass and Jim Nordström drumwork, but nothing ever seems too D.I.Y about the record (except Kassettband) the audio has been tightened up from the last release, not making it too commercial but allowing a bit more maturity to creep in. Don't recoil though Onwards & Down isn't AOR there's plenty of dirty doom riffage to rattle about in your skull, just listen to the first two songs for that. Onwards & Downwards maybe the title but this points at an upward trajectory for Alastor. 8/10 

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Reviews: One Morning Left, Kaonashi, Head Of Jeddore, Hellryder (Reviews By Zak Skane, Liam True, Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

One Morning Left - Hyperactive (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

One Morning Left are a European Metal-core band that formed around 2010. Since their music video debut !liaf cipE (Epic Fail!) the band have infused electronic and quirky elements that you would get from bands like Attack Attack and old The Devil Wears Prada. In the past ten years the band have been infusing pop elements into their sound, especially with their synth sounds and clean vocal stylings. Fast forward to 2021, now signed to Arising Empire the six piece have released an 80’s infused metalcore album Hyperactive. In the first minute of listening to this albums opening track Ruby Dragon I was very impressed with the analogue synth and arpeggiator sounds that this band have captured to replicate the pure 80s sound. 

When listening to the vocals and the lyrics, I really admired the timbre of the clean vocals as well as the lyrics that take influence from the 80s classic film The Never Ending Story. Just from that first track I was sold on the bands 80s laced metalcore sound. The momentum carried on with Neon Highway where the guitars a take on a more technical approach. When it’s accompanied with the keyboards it’s reminds me of to old school shred and prog bands like old school Steve Vai and Dream Theater. Again with the 80’s inspired clean vocals mixed with the harsh vocals really help join the two worlds of modern and old school metal. 

These moments are best performed on songs like Drowned God where we get this awesome dreamscape sounding synth and arpeggiator start the song before the guitars, bass and drums come in. Creatvres has this cool swinging rhythm that’s provided by this shuffle drum beat which (to me) takes a nod to the 80’s pop music like Tears For Fears’ song Everybody Wants To Rule The World and some Songs by Michael Jackson that came from that era. Worry Less Dance More where there are some good call and response moments between the clean and harsh vocals and I also admired the clean 3/4 Jazz sections more dynamics to the bands sound. My main criticisms that I have with this album is that they’re songs like Downfall (despite the awesome clean vocal harmonies) and Hyperactive, which lose it’s essence of 80’s infused metalcore and start turning into just metalcore with keyboards in it. 

There’s some moments on the album where the structure of the good cop, bad cop or should I say bad cop, good cop (if I want to specific about the order) in where the song starts out with harsh vocals and then clean sung in choruses are rinse repeated throughout it the end of the song. Mostly I find that some of the songs on the album lack that fun element that could help their listeners have a more enjoyable experience, for example there could of some sections of the where could have breaks where it could a have been a simple kick drum pounding on the downbeat accompany the synths only sections to give it that live energy. A recent example would Eskimo Callboys Hypa Hypa or MC Thunder where you can tell they will be well received with a live audience.

In conclusion I thought this album was a fun listen. The production nailed the 80’s sound melded with modern metal sounding guitars, drums and vocals really well. The harsh vocals were performed with great energy, the clean vocals sounded powerful and the accompanying harmonies were well orchestrated. Overall if you are fan everything 80’s and metalcore this is definitely worth a listen. 7/10.

Kaonashi - Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me Senior Year (Rude Records/EV/Unbeaten) [Liam True]

Emo Mathcore is a genre I'm not familiar with in anyway shape or form. Yet it’s captivating while somehow catchy and repulsive at the same time. The technicality of the band rages through the album as they create furious and angsty music as frontman Peter Rono wails and screeches his way through the 47 minute assault on your senses. Much like their musical style and sound, the album itself is quite complex, as in the way that it sounds both very good and extremely horrid on times. The musical ability of the band is unmatched. Whether it’s duel guitarists Roger Alvarez & Alex Hallquist using their riffs and short bursts of energy to flavour and sweet the songs while the bassist August Axcelson beats his way through the sound of the band. Drummer Ryan Paoilli is in a league of his own as he demolishes the background of the band to break any silence the band ease into through their foray into the world and educational landscape that is Lemon House

While the songs are up and down, the main focus point for myself is An Evening Of Moving Pictures With Scooter Corkle as it encompasses the bands sound while bringing their song writing and chorus abilities to the forefront of the album. It then all falls a bit flat until A Recipe For A Meaningful Life kicks in, especially with that beautiful guitar solo toward the end. Even the final three songs, known as The Underdog Trilogy isn’t all that good. Granted Underdog Part ll is an acoustic dream but it still hits soft and doesn’t make an impact. It’s a decent album all round but it misses the mark on more than a few occasions. I must admit it is an acquired sound that’s not for me, but some songs are better than most. But still hits flat for me. 4/10

Head Of Jeddore - How To Slaughter A Lamb (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

There must be something about Canadians. They seem to excel at weird, mind-melting, Schizophrenic metal. The key example of this is obviously Devin Townsend but coming from one of Greg Dawson one of the minds behind Canadian Doom metal band Olde, is Head Of Jeddore an avant-garde metal project that is much more aggressive and ferocious than Olde, which languishes in the doom realms. How To Slaughter A Lamb is the debut album from Dawson in this guise drawing from the outright madness of Devin (in full Ziltoid on The Tragedy Network) but also bands such as the maddening and eclectic Mr. Bungle though Into The Well sounds like a extreme metal Captain Beefheart song. 

Part-thrash, part-stoner with lots of death metal and also some early 2000's metal ala System Of A Down (check out the vocals on the title track and Kathmandu). Along with Dawson (who recorded/produced/mastered/engineered the record) he has numerous musicians contributing to the record, including members of Fucked Up. The 10 tracks on this record continually keep you guessing, living in the extreme metal style for the most part, there's plenty of other musical styles that are literally thrown at you, seemingly at random but they are all part of this avant-garde sound. Throw Mike Patton, Devin Townsend and Serj Tankian into a blender and you'll come out with something close to How To Slaughter A Lamb. 7/10

Hellryder – The Devil Is a Gambler (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Badged as a German heavy metal supergroup, Hellryder’s credentials stand up to initial scrutiny. Featuring vocalist Chris Boltendahl, the voice of Gravedigger since 1980 and Axel Ritt (guitarist with Gravedigger for over a decade), drummer Timmi Breideband (Gregorian, ex Bonfire, ex Freedom Call) and bass player Steven Wussow (Orden Ogan, ex Domain, ex Xandria). This debut record is big, bombastic, and about as Teutonic metal as they come. The riffs are thick, the engine room locked and loaded, powering the songs forward and Boltendahl’s gravel-soaked vocals are unmistakable. It’s a combination of all things stereotypical in German metal, with the Accept feel of the title track a crunching, denim and leather clad beast which will go down a storm with their countrymen. It’s uncompromising, straightforward heavy metal. 

The opening trio are fast paced, with the searing Hellryder probably the pick of the three. There’s plenty of speed, with the likes of Harder, Faster, Louder, Jekyll & Hyde and the muscular Chainsaw Lilly (if you can ignore the simply dreadful chorus) pounding along. There are also some stinkers with Faceless Jesus and the horrible Passion Maker really causing a smell. In fact, this is never going to be an album with thought provoking lyrical content, and it’s probably best to try not to listen too hard. I could go on but if you haven’t got the idea by now then you probably won’t be interested anyway. This is burly, masculine metal for denim clad metalheads who want no-nonsense, 80s heavy metal with no strings. It batters, it hammers and it’s about as subtle as a kick in the nuts. 6/10

Reviews: Molybaron, Esa Holopainen, IO, Midnight City (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

Molybaron - The Mutiny (Independent/Season Of Mist Physical Distribution)

Irish/French act Molybaron have played numerous shows throughout France recently embarking on a tour with A Pale Horse Named Death. Their sound is amalgamation of burly heavy alt-metal and progressive rock technicality meaning for a record that sounds a little like it could be Therapy? and Tool playing in the same studio as Metallica and Mastodon. The Mutiny is their second record following on from their 2017 debut. That one was more Metallica -inspired whereas here the band have broadened their sound a lot. What hits you is their mastery of writing a catchy track, which also rocks hard. Lucifer one of the album's key singles displays why the devil has all the best songs as Gary Kelly leads the way with groove metal riffs, but a hook-laden chorus. 

It's followed by Amongst The Boys And The Dead Flowers which builds on a Celtic gallop having a touch of heavy Black Star Riders or indeed The Almighty, it's a certainly gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, if you've got any Celtic blood in you. Kelly's vocals are quite a unique prospect in the rock world and means that The Mutiny's multi-faceted sound works very well. The rest of the band are Steven Andre on guitar, Sebastien De Saint-Angel on bass and Camille Greneron behind the kit, the four men locked in together across this album, leaving you with a feeling of cohesion, making for an intense music experience. That has metal, rock, symphonic and electronic sounds running throughout the record.  

I didn't know much of Molybaron before this but I'll be keeping an ear out for them as The Mutiny is a clever record that never lets the more accessible elements of The Hand That Feeds You to interrupt their obvious heaviness (Twenty Four Hours), with Slave To The Algorithm and Something For The Pain both appropriate displays of this. Destined for much radio play in the future, Molybaron are a great, new(ish) heavy rock band. 8/10

Esa Holopainen – Silver Lake (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

Esa Holopainen: The name is probably familiar to you if you enjoy your melodic death metal, for he is lead guitarist and one of the founders of Finnish progressive-metallers Amorphis. As one of the main writers for the band, you’ll likely be familiar with his creatively crafted soundscapes, forged over three decades. Now Holopainen has taken some of the music that might not have fitted with the Amorphis sound, and drafted in some high-quality vocalists, who joined him from their home studios to help create an album of huge contrasts, surprising direction changes and most of all, uplifting melodies.
Having been undecided as to whether the album should be an instrumental affair or with singing, Holopainen was certain that he would not be the voice of Silver Lake

Whilst I’m not knocking his own vocal prowess, the quality that he has assembled has proved he made the correct choice. Opening with the gentle acoustic instrumental and title track, we then get treated to Sentiment, featuring the instantly recognisable and superb vocals of Katatonia’s Jonas Renske, who sings the first of his two contributions on the album. Ray Of Light, one of the tracks that Holopainen had already created features Einar Solberg of Leprous, and it’s another stunning and perfectly crafted song. The arrival of bandmate Tomi Joutsen from Amorphis increases the substance, and In Her Solitude is undoubtedly the heaviest track on this record, with Holopainen able to let free with his guitar in a feisty duel with the Hammond organ. 

Another great favourite is likely to be Promising Sun, a bouncing pop/rock combination which features the voice of Soilwork/The Night Flight Orchestra singer Björn 'Speed' Strid. For those who like female vocals, few come more enchanting that Anneke Van Giersbergen, and the Dutch singer/songwriter adds her own classic style to Fading Moon, an anthemic and uplifting song that is one of the standout tracks. Renske returns on the melancholic Apprentice, a perfect song to close out an album that is intriguing, captivating and hopefully successful for one of the most talented musicians of the current times. 9/10

Io- Fire (Argonauta Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ah sludge metal, probably the most aggressive, miserable form of metal, tied with funeral doom and depressive black metal. However sludge metal does have riffs, big ones, really big ones, riffs that could cause caverns in the moon of Jupiter this Roman unit take their name from. At just four tracks you may think Fire is an EP but the songs here are gargantuan in running length dragging riffs that are tuned down to the pits of hell, they accompany screams from somewhere near the planets core! 

Extremity is the name of the game here, there's not really any chance to calm down, no real lighter touches that give you the listener a break. Having said that it's not a one dimensional piece through, yes there are periods of long, repetitive, open chords, which very often move into the heaviest of doom, such as on the mammoth closer Poseidon (In Lava Sea) but then we also get a flurries of raging intensity, where this trio let loose. Fire is Italian three piece, Io roaring with rage and bluster. 6/10 

Midnite City -Itch You Can't Scratch (Roulette Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Just under three years ago our Rich was impressed by the Nottingham sleaze of Midnite City when they supported Vega at Fuel. Their energy impressed more than their music and on this, their third album, I can see why that might still be the case. Now, as many readers may know, I am not a big fan of sleazy, melodic rock. The likes of Motley Crüe, Poison, Def Leppard etc. are not my go to music and although I can just about tolerate them in the live arena (yes, I’ve seen Crüe several times), on record it’s a big no-no. Here it takes a mere two songs, the average Crawlin’ In The Dirt and weak Atomic before the first, ghastly power ballad, Fire Inside is ringing in your ears. Thick synths give it a distinctly 80s feel, the lyrics are so sickly sweet I needed a diabetes test after I’d listened to it and the harmonies were like nails down a blackboard. 

A bit more grit was needed after that but Darkest Before The Dawn failed on every count and then another gut churning, weaker than a kitten song with more horrendous synths in I Don’t Need Another Heartache rolled up, with one of the most hideous choruses I’ve heard for years. If I’d known this was such cringe inducing melodic rock, I think I’d have left it well alone. As it was, I soldiered on, hoping amongst hope to find a nugget of quality. The introduction of a stray cowbell on Blame It On Your Lovin’ featured more ridiculous lyrics but at least the odd flash of guitar work to give me a little hope, but then, oh fuck, children singing “na na na” on the intro to They Only Come Out At Night. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the wee donkey, this was horrible. Just horrible. It didn’t get any better and the throw away Fall To Pieces which ended this album came at just the right time. 

The music that Midnite City play just leaves me cold. There is a market for this type of hard rock, and apparently some people really enjoy this. I can see that, and the band are certainly decent in terms of what they do. It’s just not for me. And so, I apologise to the mascara clad quintet for this review will appear quite scathing. But, if I never have to listen to you again, it’ll be fine with me. I wish you well. 4/10

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Reviews: Monster Magnet, Bloodbound, Vulture, Lovebites (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Monster Magnet - A Better Dystopia (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

New Jersey veterans playing a collection of obscure 60's & 70's psych and proto-metal? Yeah that'll do. There is probably no better band on the world to do this than the space lord muthas themselves. Dave Wyndorf is living his fantasy here wailing, shouting and crooning as if Jim Morrison himself was reincarnated through the 64 year old founding member. It's clearly his influence that has led to this covers album many of these songs and bands coming from Wyndorf's youth, even providing an intro to the record with The Diamond Mine which is a recitation of DJ Dave Diamond who spearheaded the psych/acid rock scene. This ear for detail and the selection of perhaps some of the more obscure acts of that period, lends itself to becoming more like a traditional Monster Magnet record to those unfamiliar with the originals. 

Though the first proper track come from British space rockers Hawkwind (Born To Go), this gets the engines running as we set the controls and aim at the stratosphere, only the filthy punk metal of Motorcycle (Straight To Hell) dragging us back down to earth . Wyndorf's band kick out the jams with fuzzy garage riffs, punky rhythms and those frenzied Wyndorf vocals, they run across the gamut of brain frying acid rock, tough proto-metal and intergalactic space grooves. As I said A Better Dystopia is a coves record but if you're not Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper then you may have missed these songs, so what we have is another brain-blowing Monster Magnet record, where the inspiration illuminates how the band came about in the first place. 7/10

Bloodbound - Creatures Of The Dark Realm (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

I will be honest. I was putting off listening to this one. I tend to review a lot of the Power Metal albums we get sent, and consequently after a while a sense of trepidation can set in at the thought of yet another concept Sword & Sorcery from somewhere in Sweden. There are after all, rather a lot of them about… and their last record was a bit of a let down. However, in this case I need not have worried.

Many of these concept records suffer from being at the mercy of the two contradictory forces of the band who has spent months crafting the thing and knows every intimate detail of the story and musical concepts balanced against the passing through journalist with a mountain of reviews to get through on top of the day job. To be fair, we’re like the punters like this in the streaming age – if you buy music on spec, you invest time to give it a fair amount of airplay, but streaming has meant people pick and choose with a lot more speed, so you can lose a listener much quicker now than in days gone by. My methodology is always to not commit fingers to keyboard until after the first full listen, indeed usually during the second, with a skimmed third of the highlights a little later before submission to check I still feel the same way. Sometimes these conceptual pieces need an awful lot of listens to even begin to be able to unpick them, but with eight previous albums under their experienced belts, Bloodbound have learned to think about this from the audience’s point of view. This piece retains immediacy throughout, and yes, although there’s clearly a story – but that unfolds after the first listen.

That crucial first listen gives the audience the feeling that first and foremost there’s an album of a dozen well-crafted bits of Metal to enjoy. If you’re just hooked by the songs as single entities then, you are going to come back to the album, and that’s how you build a fan base in a really crowded marketplace. Musically these are accessible solid Power Metal in the Euro tradition, and that means clean vocals, plenty of speed and some considerable instrumental virtuosity from the musicians. As ever with Bloodbound, the melodic and anthemic sensibilities are well crafted into the songs, so you are along for the ride even if you’ve no clue what the story is about yet. I make this sound effortless, but this is the consequence of a band that’s made these kinds of errors in the past and learned from them whilst keeping an infectious sense of fun throughout. A welcome return to form. 8/10

Vulture - Dealin' Death (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

Vulture have in the past been lumped in with the multitude of NWOTHM revival bands, but their sound has always been much more akin to speed metal the NWOBHM. They consider their debut a but of mis-step as it was a little to light and melodic for the direction they wanted to go. It looks as if Dealin' Death has allowed then to become what they wanted to be. A full on thrash metal band. As soon as you get the first notes of this record you can hear that there are massive Annihilator vibes vocally and because of the numerous ever shifting riffs. There's clearly a darker tone to this record with horror inspired lyrics, the blood and gore imagery accentuated by the schizophrenic singing style, that has the Alice In Hell-era nailed. 

The band also bring some cinematic/gothic/b-movie sounds to songs such as Gorgon and Multitudes Of Terror but mostly these Germans crank out dirty second wave thrash with a savage guitar attack that ungulates and shifts jaggedly, the fuzzing bass and high treble of the drumming, harking back to that 80's production style (you know like it sounded on cassette). Unfortunately my issue with thrash still stands and even though it's only 10 songs by about song 6 they all started to sound the same (the exception are the previously mentioned Gorgon and Multitudes Of Terror). For thrashmaniacs Vulture are keeping that thrash sound alive but for me I'll go and listen to Never, Neverland. 6/10

Lovebites - Glory, Glory, To The World (JPU Records) [Simon Black]

All female Japanese outfits have been garnering an unnecessarily rough handling on social media in recent years. As always when the labels start pushing particular concepts in search of the next big thing, the world cries “Fake” and the online negativity begins, without bothering to actually check out what they are musically capable of - which really gets on my nerves. As anyone who has actually seen Baby Metal live will tell you, the anti-hype and label image belies what the musicians are truly capable of – most walk away pleasantly surprised and Lovebites are no different. This is not prefabricated commercial fluffery, but well-crafted and blisteringly delivered Speed Metal of the highest order.

This EP has been around digitally for a while and is now getting CD and vinyl physical releases at the end of the month. The focus of the physical version of the EP is primarily due to the contribution of the final track Winds Of Transylvania for the Anime Vampire Film Vladlove, with all five tracks having done pretty well in their native Japan. This is my first time hearing their material, and it was not what I was expecting.

To be honest. The title track, although perfectly well executed in itself is actually not the strongest. No Time To Hesitate really takes the speed and groove up a notch, with Thrash sentiments and time changes aplenty. There’s also some superbly executed technical excellence in here and the band are not afraid to take the time to give that skill a chance to shine, with some positively blistering interplay between the instrumentalists – of which Paranoia is probably the best example. This maybe fast, but it takes its time as well with 28 minutes of run time across the five tracks, which gives plenty of opportunity for experimentation and virtuosity. 

Dystopia Symphony at nearly seven minutes of run time illustrates this perfectly, with some superb keyboard and guitar interplay that borders on the Progressive. It also works better if you take the time to give it repeated listens, allowing the opportunity to pick up the subtleties in the structure and my interest is definitely piqued enough to go and give their two full length studio albums a listen, which is not something that happens every day. 8/10

Monday 24 May 2021

Reviews: Myles Kennedy, Vexed (Reviews By Alex Swift & Zak Skane)

Myles Kennedy – The Ides Of March (Napalm Records) [Alex Swift]

Myles Kennedy’s strides into a more stripped-back sound shouldn’t shock anyone. For while he is certainly a brilliant rock vocalist with a range that can strike you to the core yet also move you to tears, his early days in the bluegrass inspired Mayfield Four speak of his love for that style of music. Indeed, one of the most outstanding moments of an Alter Bridge show is the acoustic interlude. Indeed, while neither his main project nor his work with Slash gives him the opportunity to explore the side of his musical personality that loves folk, acoustic guitars or introspective contemplation, his first solo album Year Of The Tiger had been simmering away in the background for over a decade before its final completion. That piece was a beautiful, heartfelt, and sincere reflection on the loss of Kennedy’s father and the subsequent struggles with faith and grief that ensued following that tragic event. It’s a very isolated album, and its lyrics seem like thoughts our frontman needed to release into the world. To that end, I was surprised albeit excited when I heard there was going to be a follow up. There are of course questions about the exact route an album like this could possibly take after a project that was as revelatory and unique as the last one. That said, I can understand that Kennedy would not want to abandon this side of his musical upbringing.

Conceptually, the Ides Of March draws on similar themes from the first album, admittedly feeling a lot vaguer and more open to interpretation. Musically, there’s some intriguing developments on the ideas initially introduced there, with a fuller guitar sound more present this time around. This results in a worthy piece that excellently avoids the pitfalls that could have come from crafting a piece of this nature, but which also suffers from something of an identity crisis. Get Along is an excellent example of this conflict at play – I adore the way the complex, yet detailed country-influenced ideas adapt to the electric guitar and this is a strong opener that is both exciting and involved. However, I can’t help feeling this bears some of the faults which plague Alter Bridge – the chorus is memorable if nothing particularly moving and while I have always loved the positivity at the heart of this man’s lyrics, I can see how others would interpret them as patronising, with lines like ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ coming across as decidedly weak. In fairness, the verse material is far cleverer, and picks up on the themes of inner turmoil, detailing how far Kennedy has come while also proving reminiscent of the storytelling which defined the debut.

A Thousand Words, by contrast, is near flawless. The detailed, rich tone of the acoustics makes for a reminiscent piece, while the subtle elements from the slide guitars to the mandolins bring out the earnest, thoughtful nature of the anthem! On a more light-hearted yet no less intriguing note, the jaunty rhythms and vibrant instrumentation of In Stride commands with a feeling of liberation, that the listener can either engage with a deeper level on, or relish on a purely emotional level. Moments like Wake Me When It's Over and Moonshot simmer with the attitude of anthems destined to be performed before a rock crowd, but also bear a matured, meditative tone, inspiring in a way that later tracks like Tell It Like It Is and Wanderlust Begins fail to.

Looking beyond the musicianship to the writing, this record does not have a story in the same way as the debut had but its influence and ideas hang over this one as if to remind the listener of the notions which have informed Kennedys musings. The title track is an emotional centrepiece. “Don't let this fall apart, don't let it fall apart. Break the divide, just step away. Cool heads prevail in times of change. Remember who we are” our narrator pleads in a line that foreshadows tragedy yet pleads the listener to find the resolve to overcome. Considering the nightmare that was the past year started for many people in March of 2019, this one is discernibly and existentially chilling. Whatsmore, the epic ‘Cry of Achilles-esque’ nature of this song further aids in creating that foreboding and menacing feel. Love Rain Down is another deeply moving point at the heart of the record – it’s a pensive, gorgeous ballad that discusses “longing for answers, longing for unity, longing for solace from the dark possibilities of the day” as its writer described in one interview. 

Sifting through the fire lends a sense of thematic cohesion and is one of the most interesting moments as a consequence. “I guess that now we know, the citadel we thought was made of stone was not. It's crumbling, we're reckoning the very things we cannot stop” runs the opening line, remarking on how the aspects of life that feel certain, can often be fleeting and momentary. Despite this, the song has hopefulness at its heart, the uplifting melodies lifting the listener to a place of meditative contentment, not dread. We close on the soulful Worried Mind which uses its running length to lend words of comfort to the listener. It feels like the perfect way to end a project with the mission of reassuring and inspiring, without intending to particularly make or point or weave a grand narrative. It suffers from the ‘collection of songs’ flaw in that sense, yet still manages to be a stirring, often beautiful record with some great moments. 8/10

Vexed - Culling Culture (Napalm Records) [Zak Skane]

Vexed are a four piece British Modern metal band that formed in 2019. In the last two years the band have released two singles Dominate and Elite that features CJ Mcmahon (Thy Art is Murder) and have also toured Europe in this short space. So in 2021 the band brings us their debut album Culling Culture which will released via Napalm Records.

The album starts off with Ignorant which begins with this eerie soundscape track that consist of dissonant strings and samples of sirens to hint the listener of what the theme of the album is about before it comes in with this bowel rumbling low tuned riff and half time drum beat to grab the listeners attention and makes them do their best impression of the Meshuggah face. After the intro (which I can see being a great asset to opening up their live set) the band take it up a few gears making sure that the listener is engaged with their first single Hideous. Within the first seconds of the song, the vocalist Megan grabs our attention with the hook "All I See Is Hideous", which just oozes the attitude of Iowa era Slipknot mixed with the low tuned groove of Heart Of A Coward. 

Whilst Megan is snarling at us throughout the verses the song also goes into these eastern sounding and clean sung sections, especially in bridge and choruses that reminds me old Five Finger Death Punch and Monuments which shows off the bands versatility in sound as well as Megan's vocal range. Half way through the song the band builds us up to the massive machine gun patterned breakdown section, in which I can tell is going land well with audiences in their opening and headline slots. 

Once this track finishes with a low-fi sample of the main riff being accompanied by an electric drumbeat, it leads up to the second single on the album Fake. This is the heaviest and slowest song on the album, which begins with this swelling dissonant arpeggio that you from bands like Thy Art Is Murder, Black Tongue and even Korn (if you want to go old-school). With the song being low tempo it allows the guitarist and drums space to provide some sledge hammer style groove as well as the guitar parts to become more technical when it comes the Sikth style scale runs in the pre-choruses. Which then builds us up to this doom/sludge style chorus that will keep all the Beat down fans happy.

The fourth track Epiphany starts to show us the bands more versatile side, starting off the song with this Jazzy chord sequence before again, it slaps us in the face with these low tuned riffs in the first verse, but don’t let that fool you because Epiphany also starts to show how the band have grown as songwriters with this combination with these Jazzy clean sung sections and these eastern sounding pre-chorus and chorus sections that will please any listeners of Monuments, Jinjer and Lacuna Coil. When is comes to the 5th and 6th tracks of the album start to become a bit a grey area for me as playing Misery and Narcissist back to back gets a bit fatiguing to the ears and starts to lose my attention due to the lack of dynamic transitions from each other.

When is comes into the seventh track Weaponize it begins with this eerie soundscape that reminds me of the soundtrack games like Silent Hill and movies like Hereditary which allows my ears to re-calibrate before the return of the those sledge hammer riffs. Purity is where the band start showing a lot more depth to their sound by writing a song in a major key but also keeping it sounding brutal and up to par with the previous tracks. Again this is another song on the album that proves that this band have grown as a songwriters and as musicians especially with Megan's vocals performing the highest notes on the entire album. Once the band have wowed us with Purity, this momentum is continued on (after the interlude track Drift) with Aurora, but this time hitting us with the feels with most moving song on the album. 

With the dynamic instrumental arrangements of the clean chiming delay sounds to the distorted guitar sections accompanied with Megan's versatile vocal range this is definitely highlight on the album for me. Which brings me to the final song on the album Lazarus. So just like some of the tracks on this album it again starts with a clean dissonant guitar part before it goes back into the heavy polyrhythmic chugs, but after hearing this type of intro from the other tracks the formula starts to sound very repetitive in an album setting which puts a bit of a dampener especially with it being the closing track on the album.

Overall this is a great effort for the bands signed debut album especially with songs like Hideous, Fake, Epiphany, Weaponize, Purity and Aurora at their disposal, which is guaranteed to received well by their current followers as well as their new ones. The whole delivery of this album is well track listed, despite what I stated earlier with Misery and Narcissist and the closing track Lazarus. I also found the politically/humanitarian/mental health based lyrics were well composed due to being written with nuance which allows the individual listener to interoperate the lyrics to their own meaning. I also got complement on how well the album is produced/recorded especially for the bands debut. The drums cut through mix, the synths and string tracks filled in the gaps but also added emotion and texture to the arrangements and with the low tuned guitars and bass maintained note definition/clarity but also provided that sonic punch which complements the vocals.

Now to the bit I hate, my main criticisms for this album. To be fair there are only a few minor things I can pin out on this album, my main criticism is due to lack of dynamics on the record, I found that especially with the string/synth tracks they can a bit overbearing in some of the songs, in which as a result can undermine some of the heavier sections on some of the songs for example the break down in Weaponized, so I would suggest for future reference, before breakdown hits automate the string sections a few dBs quieter before it comes back in. Also I found that it got a bit repetitive with amount of songs that started with a dissonant clean guitar part, I understand that they were there to help transcend each song from one to the other but by the last song it just got too copy and paste.

In conclusion, this is great debut album from the British four-piece Modern Metal outfit Vexed. So if you are a fan of Heart of Coward, Jinjer and Born Of Osiris or just fan Modern Metal in general, this definitely an worth checking out. 8/10.

Friday 21 May 2021

Reviews: Dawn Ray'd, Pop Evil, Impure Wilhelmina, Siniestro (Reviews By Paul Scoble & Matt Bladen)

Dawn Ray’d - Wild Fire (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Dawn Ray’d have been at the forefront of the Anti-Fascist Black Metal scene since 2015. The three members, Simon, Fabian and Matthew, have released 2 albums and an Ep in their time together; First was the Ep A Thorn, A Blight in 2015, next came the album The Unlawful Assembly in 2017 and they released the follow up album in 2019 with Behold Sedition Plainsong. So now this release, which is either an Ep or a Single depending on your point of view (I see it as a single as it is available on 7 inch).
The single features 2 songs Wildfire I and Wildfire II, but don’t worry if you are a kid of the eighties, this isn’t the song on side A, instrumental version of the same song on side B rip off that always annoyed me when I spent my saved up pocket money on vinyl when I was 12; Wildfire I and Wildfire II are very different.

Opening with a blast of Horns, Wildfire I is a nice bit of fairly Orthodox Black Metal, it is similar in style to the material from the bands last album, Behold Sedition Plainsong, and has a similar fantastic guitar sound. The track has a softer, folkier part where the horns return briefly before the blasting Black metal reasserts itself and takes the song to an end. Lyrically the track is about standing up against fascism, and the hypocrisy of anyone who sees authoritarian ideologies as radical. Wildfire II is a dark folk song that features violin and acoustic guitar. It’s a beautiful if melancholy sound that is deeply affecting, the track has less lyrics than Wildfire I but shares a similar chorus. Wildfire is a great single! I is savage and blasting, II is beautiful, introverted and sublime. Together the two songs make an excellent EP. 8/10

Pop Evil - Versatile (eOne) [Matt Bladen]

If ever there was an album that lives up to it's title, it's the sixth release from Pop Evil. Featuring the most eclectic collection of songs in the band's career, these 12 numbers were whittled down from an original 30 and it features big sing alongs like Fire Inside, the anthemic djent-styled Breathe Again which brings to mind Breaking Benjamin with it's pairing of technical riffage and melodic choruses. There's an overall style here that keeps the band in the sound of modern American rock/metal but they often move to the very fringes of this sound, Work especially is almost like industrial/rap, the opening duo of Let The Chaos Reign and Set Me Free mate me immediately say "hey that sounds like Saliva" the rapid fire lyrics joined by groovy riffs. 

The band have worked with a fresh production team to make this record as varied as possible, crafting anthems that are there to played live and moves the band into their maturity as an act. Take a song such as Raise Your Flag and it's obvious that this is a dead on show closer built on Matt DiRito's bass and Hayley Cramer's drumming it's a great slow number that splits the record ready for the poppier Human Nature to bring back the pace. The latter half of the record is a little weaker than the first but you still have that heavy-meets-melodic guitar sounds of guitarists Nick Fuelling and Dave Grahs interweaved with pulsating electronics. Versatile is as polished as a Stately Home bannister, but the tracks are all well delivered and Leigh Kakaty still has an excellent voice. So another modern rock/metal record from Pop Evil who live up to their name and tick the right boxes on Versatile. 7/10   

Impure Wilhelmina - Antidote (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

Michael Schindl founded Impure Wilhelmina in 1996 and their existence has been turbulent to say the least but also very creatively fertile, the band known for their numerous collaborations changing their sound through the years to incorporate a multitude of sounds from the more extreme side of music while also bringing in additional rock touches. Much of this coming from Schindl's shift towards clean vocals however on this seventh release a track such as Dismantling still has some post-black tremolos and screams, in stark contrast to Jasmines which has post rock vibes. Antidote builds upon their higher profile now with this seventh album.

Their previous effort receiving a prestigious Swiss music award so they approached this record with a huge amount of momentum, unfortunately due the pandemic, it's been much longer in development than previously thought but this frustration and adversity has made sure that the band have tried as much as possible to stretch their musical wings with their latest collaborator being Yvan Bing, noted engineer/producer who has worked with Phil Collins, M.I.A, Coldplay, soprano Angela Gheorghiu and even The Wu-Tang Clan, along with numerous films and television projects. He accompanied the band through their creative process, so for every lilting lighter-edged track such as the instrumental title track, there's an all-encompassing, dissonant number to follow it, the biggest of these is the closing Everything Is Vain. They're still something of an acquired taste but if you're looking for what I would call emotionally intelligent music that's dark and heavy then you should be seeking out Antidote. 7/10

Siniestro - Vortexx (Black Lodge) [Paul Scoble]

Stockholm based duo Siniestro have been making music since 2012. The band are made up of Commander on Vocals, Guitar, Bass, and Organ, and The Machine on Drums (I’m pretty certain the band has a member called The Machine, rather than this title alluding to the use of a Drum Machine). The pair have released 2 Ep’s and an Album in their career before Vortexx; first was the EP Oppression Of The Sunlight in 2014, then in 2016 the band released their debut album Revelations In Mayhem and 2018 saw their second EP Arctic Blood released. Siniestro’s style is mainly Thrash with a bit of a Crossover feel to it. in some places this is really good, fast and aggressive; for example the opening track One Last Bullet One Last Ride is a blast of fast and frenetic Thrash Metal with a fantastic chorus, that is air punchingly good. Title track (sort of) Vortex is another high energy blast that has a little taste of Death Metal added to the Thrash goodness giving it a bit of a D-Beat vibe. However, it isn’t all good, Thrash is a style that is very easy to get wrong, pacing in particular can be a critical factor in whether it works or not and pacing is an issue on some of this material. 

The track Buried In The Bog has this issue, despite a few decent up tempo parts the song is mainly plodding along at a slow to mid pace that is very uninspiring. Anti Human Commando is another song where slow, lumbering riffs spoil some really fun, fast thrash. Earlier I said Siniestro were ‘Mainly’ Thrash, when I said this I was referring to the track Blod eld dod, which sounds much more like a piece of Pagan or Folk Metal, the style could even be some sort of drinking song. It’s a completely different style to the rest of the album and sounds more like Alestorm. In another rather idiosyncratic move the albums nearly five minute long outro is a piece of Pipe Organ music called My Innermost Sun, I did wonder if the record company had mistakenly included the Outro to a Funeral Doom album by mistake, but apparently the best way to end an album of (mainly) Thrash Metal is nearly five minutes of Pipe Organ Noodling. 

Vortexx has some great moments, unfortunately it also has some rather plodding and uninspired moments, and some down right bizarre moments, which averages out at an album that is merely ok. If they can take the fast and frenetic and build from that they could be a really great Crossover Thrash band, however if they try to build from the other aspects of their sound, I for one would rather they didn’t bother. 6/10

Thursday 20 May 2021

Reviews: VOLA, Trick Or Treat, Herman Frank, Ice War (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Richard Oliver)

Vola - Witness (Mascot Records) [Matt Bladen]

Coming nearly three years after their celebrated last album Applause From A Distant Crowd, Witness is the latest release from Danish/Swedish band Vola. Witness opens with three tracks that will be instantly recognised as why Vola are considered to be near the top of the prog tree. Deep, down-tuned grooves that were born out of their djenty record Inmazes carry things along, especially on first single Head Mounted Sideways, but vocalist there's not much of the shouting, Asger Mygind continuing to use his resonant clean vocals for added emotional weight. In fact Witness is all about added emotional weight, it's a much darker, at times more introspective, record than its predecessor. This is because the band have explored themes such as misuse of power, societal fracturing and broken relationships. Head Mounted Sideways, deals with the idea of turning away and ignoring the decline of civilization while Inside Your Fur is about the dangers of nostalgia, a fitting climax to the record.  

Lyrically on Witness the band have microscopically dissected some of the most triggering parts of life wrapping them in a musical palette that never fails to excite. The album cover continues this theme of being a 'close up' with a super-inflated picture of an eye, thus leaving the idea of who really is the Witness open. It's also Vola taking more risks from a musical standpoint These Black Claws following on from the three 'traditional' Vola styled songs into a left field track that features Hip Hop duo Shahamen, so there's rapped lyrics and bleeps and twitches. This before things become more melodic again on Napalm which has soaring melodies but a crunchy riff. It's followed by the albums heaviest but also most cinematic song Stone Leader Falling Down. Produced by the band and mixed/mastered by Jacob Hansen, Witness is probably the most eclectic and personal Vola record so far, a bevy of progressive delights, Witness is worth both your eyes and your ears. 9/10 

Trick Or Treat - The Unlocked Songs (Scarlet Records) [Richard Oliver]

The Unlocked Songs is the new album from Italian power metallers Trick Or Treat. Despite being a fan of power metal Trick Or Treat are a band that have managed to elude me despite containing one of the best singers in the genre - the mighty Alessandro Conti (Lione/Conti, Twilight Force, ex-Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody).

This is a bit of an unusual album to get a first impression of the band as this is a compilation which consists of unreleased material, rarities, oddities and cover versions. It’s a bit of fan service ahead of a new album but it really is rather enjoyable. I’ve always been a sucker for the flowery European power metal sound and these Italians really know how to do cheesy power metal. The songs themselves are fairly varied from high energy power metal songs such as Hungarian Hangover and Aries Hall, epic symphonic power metal such as Dragonborn - Skyrim, power metal ballads such as Almost Gone, silly songs such as Heavy Metal Bunga Bunga & cover versions such as Scream (Misfits) and a live version of I’m Alive (Helloween). There are acoustic songs, a Christmas song, an old demo and much more.

As this is a compilation with material of varying styles and from various sources it is a bit inconsistent though if you are a fan of Trick Or Treat then there is plenty here for you to get your teeth into. This was a bit of a weird one to garner a first impression of a band but I was suitably impressed and it gave me an insight into the various sounds and styles the band can put out. Far from an essential listen but this is good fun. 7/10

Herman Frank - Two For A Lie (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ah Herman Frank, the Hanoverian axe man known as being a member of Victory and ex-Accept, is now on his fifth solo album. Two For A Lie continues his collaboration with vocalist Rick Altzi (At Vance/Masterplan) and bassist Michael Müller (Jaded Heart) and once more we're treated to pumping Teutonic riffage as the album lets rip ironically with Teutonic Order, it's a track that basically shows you what to expect Frank and new boy Mike Pesin giving that grunting twin axe attack while the other newbie is drummer Kevin Kott, this injection of new membership has got Frank, Altzi and Müller set out all guns blazing. Hard rock come from Danger and Venom, the nastier Hate follows with a bit of speed metal, but the majority of album sticks to that German metal sound developed by Accept, Grave Digger, Running Wild etc. Altzi has a great voice in that classic sort of screaming demon delivery on Hail The New Kings. Two For A Lie is nothing you wouldn't expect from Herman Frank, no surprises but lots of muscular trad metal flexing. 6/10 

Ice War - Sacred Land (Fighter Records) [Richard Oliver]

Sacred Land is the new album from Ice War which is the solo project of Jo “Steel” Capitalcide of Canadian speed metal band Aphrodite. Formed in 2015 from the ashes of Iron Dogs, Ice War have been steadily releasing albums and EP’s since 2017 with Sacred Land being the fifth full length album from the project. And it is very much a solo project with Jo performing all vocals and instruments. Although formed as a speed metal band, Sacred Land sees Ice War slowing things down with a heavily doom influenced epic metal sound. This is very much a meeting of Black Sabbath, Count Raven, Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road. The album is an absolute riff fest with songs such as Crystal Mirror, Nuclear Gods and Black Horse guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any self-respecting old school metalhead. And then we come to the vocals. To put it lightly Jo cannot sing and to put it more bluntly his vocals are dire. They are perfectly serviceable when Jo sticks to a lower register but as soon as he tries to go into a higher register that is where things fall apart and become at times wince inducingly bad.

The songs themselves are well structured and packed full of those beautifully doomy riffs which makes it a shame when Jo decides to open his mouth and bring things crashing down. I wouldn’t say his vocals totally ruin the album but they definitely put a big dampener on things. Thankfully the great riffs somewhat redeem this album and if you can stomach the vocals then I take my proverbial hat off to you. Had another vocalist been brought in on the album then it would be far superior but it is what it is. Some fantastic doomy epic metal let down by awful vocals. 6/10

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Reviews: Amorphis, Abkehr, Wytch, Acolyte (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Paul Scoble, Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Amorphis – Live At Helsinki Ice Hall (Nuclear Blast Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Founded in 1990 by Jan Rechberger, Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari, Amorphis have transitioned from their early death metal sound into a more melodic outfit who still retain their solid heaviness. Their last few albums have been excellent demonstrations of their quality. Indeed, it only seems like yesterday that Queen Of Time was released, although a quick check reveals it was actually 2018. How time flies!

On December 7th 2019, Amorphis took the stage in their hometown, to play a special show which has turned out to be one of their last before the pandemic (how fed up of typing that are we now?). For the band, playing a venue where they saw heroes like Deep Purple, Maiden and Metallica in the 1980s was a dream come true and it shows in this 90-minute best of show. As well as a selection of tracks from Queen Of Time, the set list features choice cuts from albums early in their career, Tales From The Thousand Lakes and Elegy, as well as more recent albums Under The Red Cloud and mid 2000 releases Skyforger and Eclipse

Like all live albums, much relies on the quality of the recording and there is nothing to complain about on this release. It’s a perfect demonstration of the band who after 30 years are still showing a level of quality that many others fail to match. Highlights are numerous, with the older songs sitting comfortably alongside the newer material. Vocalist Tomi Joutsen has been with the band since 2005 and can handle the growling and clean vocals with ease, backed on occasion by Koivusaari who carried the harsh vocals in the band’s early days. 

I have no idea about the between song banter as it’s all in Finnish, but the crowd are engaged and with the band from the start, responding as warmly to older tracks like Into Hiding (1994) as they do to more recent songs like The Golden Elk and The Four Wise Ones. Ultimately, like any live album, this is a release that is going to please the existing fan base most. However, if you are new to Amorphis, this is an ideal entry point. 8/10

Abkehr - In Blut (Vendetta Records) [Paul Scoble]

For the last six years Abkehr have been making nasty and hypnotic music. The band, which features H on drums and Raash on everything except drums, are based in Germany and In Blut is the bands third album. Abkehr released their first album, In Asche in 2017 and released the follow up, In Feuer 2 years later. In Blut shares the same song structure with the bands other 2 albums; it features four long songs entitled I, II, III, and IV. Abkehr’s style is a mix of Orthodox Black Metal and Depressive Black Metal, so; lots of Blast Beats, Tremolo Picked riffs and harsh, nasty vocals, but also tempered by some much slower, dissonant and meditative sections that fit in with the Depressive Black Metal style.

Opening track I has a dissonant start before some driving and dramatic drumming comes in (the drumming on this album is superb) at a slow, but purposeful tempo. This morphs into blasting Orthodox Black Metal riffs with some very tasty snare drum rolls. The track then goes into a depressive section which is slow and trance like. The track vacillates between those two feels for the rest of its run time, until it comes to an atmospheric ending with some keyboard parts. II is another mix of Orthodox and Depressive Black Metal. The fast blasting parts feel savage and bestial, while the depressive elements are dissonant and unsettling. Both styles of Black metal are tempered by keyboard parts, and the song has a soft atmospheric ending. 

III is all about the Depressive. The song has a slow but relentless tempo that is decidedly trance inducing, it’s not fast, but will have your head nodding in no time at all. The vocals feel malevolent and nasty. The album comes to an end with IV, which in many ways is the opposite of track III, as it is nearly all Orthodox Black Metal blasting. The blasting in question feels angry and unhinged, completely out of control, almost feral. There is a slower section, but it feels more like Orthodox black Metal taking a little breather, rather than Depressive Black Metal. As with the other songs on this album the track has a keyboard led, atmospheric ending. 

In Blut is a great album. It’s not the most complex album, but its simplicity is why it is so effective. Both styles, the Orthodox Blasting and the slower, more meditative Depressive style both have a hypnotic and trance inducing quality to it that needs a certain amount of repetition. This simplicity and repetition is why this is such a good, affecting album. 8/10     

Wytch – Exordium (Ripple Music) [Simon Black]

Despite having a name and album title combination that evokes some kind of Satanic Black Metal piece from the Frozen North of Europe, Sweden’s Wytch are something quite different…although they are from the frozen north of Europe… There is definitely a rising movement of female-fronted Hard Rock with a down and dirty feel and this piece feels very much like it’s picking up where The Pretty Reckless left off, or at least superficially. It’s definitely got a lot of the same influences, with a deep post-Grunge flavour in the Soundgarden mould, although in this case add a bucket load of Stoner vibe to go with it running deeply through the core of this piece. This is moodier and darker than their Californian counterparts, as well as having a more powerful musical technical depth to the playing. 

Johanna Lundberg has a crisp and clear voice when the song calls for it, one that can raise the rafters with long, high and emotionally hard notes when the song needs it, but then flips that and elegantly counterpoints that with a low dark, moody and thoroughly soulful timbre that send you down, baby down. The opener Black Hole, is the perfect example of this, as she pulls both tricks off within the same song. The three strings seems to also flow into one, so joined is the playing and the fact that Simon Lundström, Niklas Viklund and Mattias Marklund all add well woven and seamless backing vocals that make this feel like an incredibly cohesive unit musically. So joined up is the feel of this, that maybe they should have called themselves ‘The Lunds’…

Joking aside this is a really well-thought out and moody record, which although probably more Alternative than Metal in its appeal, definitely is a grower. 7/10

Acolyte - Entropy (Wild Thing Records/Blood Blast) [Matt Bladen]

We often talk about a record being theatrical and while so many bands use it to their advantage, there are few bands who a truly be called a theatrical band. Australian's Acolyte are certainly trying to take that mantle with their new album Entropy a dark, concept record that deals with the early stages of loss with musical influences drawn from Dream Theater, Leprous, Riverside and countrymen Karnivool. The band consider it to be a confrontational record, full of dark soundscapes "presented like diary entries", says frontwoman Morgan-Leigh Brown, all linked together by linking passages, whispers and some spoken word too. These all add to the theatrical, cinematic nature of the record, Morgan-Leigh's expressive vocals chronicling struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome throughout the recording of the record. 

There's a balance between modern prog metal and the classic progressive rock sound, David Van Pelt's use of both analogue and digital synths, allowing there to be lots of Rush/Yes/Pink Floyd moments. For example the self titled track solls neatly from heavy riffing into more psychedelic passages with lots of rattling synth and underpinned by Jason Grondman's bass playing. As the record moves into Resentment there's a powerful Dream Theater quality especially in the drumming of Chris Cameron, he also is key to the powerful Clarity which builds into one of Brendon Cameron (who plays guitar on the album) best guitar solos, while also featuring guest vocals from Ben Rechter. 

As the album progresses the songs get much heavier as well as getting a much wider musical scope adding clarinet, double bass, oboe along with some Middle Eastern flavoured percussion on Idiosyncrasy which is Tool-meets-Orphaned Land, heavy trenches of riffs move into the more introspective sound of Recovery and Acceptance both full of gravitas and deftly progressive. Entropy is a brilliant progressive metal album from Acolyte, a second album that deals with difficult themes with a broad musical scope. 8/10  

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Reviews: Khirki, Seventh Crystal, Illusory, Jess And The Ancient Ones (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Khirki - Κτηνωδία (Self Released)

The blending of traditional Balkan/Anatolian folk by Greek rock/metal bands has been a long running theme. The band who are the best example of this are the otherworldly Villagers Of Ioannina City, their amalgamation of psychedelic desert rock and Balkan instrumentation has been the flag bearers for a while now. Athenians Khirki have taken this history of bringing folk together with heavier sounds on their debut album Κτηνωδία (Ktinodia). Unlike VIC Khirki owe much more to the two Georgia based purveyors of intergalactic prog sludge metal Mastodon and Baroness. Now what Khriki do is where those two bands would open up into dreamy prog, they bring in the bouzouki, violin and acoustic guitar which means a track such has Black And Chrome has the groove of a runaway semi-truck but there are layers of acoustic guitars and percussion that brings a nod to the folk sound. 

The sounds of their Greek heritage on this album are a little harder to spot as they don't use traditional instrumentation as often as other acts, preferring to use it as playing style with their electric instrumentation. It means that you get a danceable riff on Raging Chrome with a bassline that sounds like a wurlitzer, driving it into the coda in the middle which adds a little sparseness before that riff comes right back to get your head banging. The sparseness returns on the atmospheric opening Medea which really amps up that ancestral musical heritage, ritualistic drumming and vocals that try to evoke the ison style of drone singing used in the orthodox church. From here we get the thrashy Bukovo as that beguiling percussion comes back on the cinematic The Barkhan Dunes. Spiros Stefanis is the man behind the kit playing with all the force and technicality of  Brann Dailor, while his compatriots, bass player Orestes Katsaros and guitarist/vocalist Dimos Ioannou add the heavy riffs and folk instruments to this excellent record. 

Closing the album out is the woozy stoner-meets-Balkan Wolf's Lament while that Mastodon energy shines through on final song Stara PlaninaΚτηνωδία is a deafeningly good time from this Athenian trio, turn it up an lose yourself in a band that are certainly well on their way to being talked about in the same sentence as VIC. If Mastodon moved from the Appalachian mountains to the Pindus mountains then they'd probably sound a lot like this. 9/10 

Seventh Crystal - Delirium (Frontiers Music Srl)

The Scandi Melodic Rock scene has never been brighter with bands like H.E.A.T and One Desire gaining a lot of stage time and column inches for their raucous stage shows and musical style that has the pomp and power of 80's radio rock and a modern electronic thump that's as hummable as it is danceable. Seventh Crystal are the latest band to grab that sparkly neon baton and run with it down an ego ramp into a baying crowd. They epitomise everything that people either love or hate about this genre. Bouncy riffs, huge chorus hooks, a vocalist that sounds like an emo Lou Gramm but looks like a Swedish Chris Jericho. This was supposed to be a solo project for frontman Kristian Fyhr, however he branched out the membership to other musicians and from the Seventh Crystal was formed. Kristian says that he starts off by writing in the pop style and then adds the beefy rock sound after that. It sound like that is the case as these 11 songs all have a distinct pop style. Delirium kind of reminds me of bands like Daughtry or Shinedown but if they took the sound of REO Speedwagon or Styx. It's got that 80's sheen but is very much a 21st record, When I'm Gone having a sound like Def Leppard goes Eurovision. Saying that Seventh Crystal would probably do very well at Melodifestivalen, if they were enter so you can decide it's that's a plus or a minus. Delirium is a slick slice of Scandi melodic rock that edges towards the pop sound than some of the others. 7/10

Illusory - Crimson Wreath (Rockshots Records)

Athenian heavy/power metal band Illusory have been gearing up for the release of their third album for a while now, their last record was released in 2016. The album improves upon what has come before with a record full of depth, theater and great songwriting. There's also a conceptual suite across three tracks, but to be honest most of the album sounds conceptual. Acedia is an acoustic/classical interlude which features Paul Logue of Eden's Curse reading out a piece in his Scottish brogue. It leads into emotional title track which has vocalist Dee Theodorou adding nuance to his powerful pipes. The title track is the first song on the record that really show how Illusory have upped their game on this their record. 

The progressive aspects sit perfectly with the heavy power metal sound which sounds like bands such as Nevermore and Jag Panzer so there's huge melodic phrases on top of thrashy riffs and plenty of twin axe attacks. There's also lots of influence from the currently inactive Edguy. The classical guitars add a Maiden sound to S.T Foresaken which just builds and builds. What Illusory also have is keys/piano/synths and orchestrations which bring a sense of gravitas with tracks like All Shall Fade. It's because of these interludes that the album is 14 songs long, however in what is a great bit of sequencing the record seems to build bringing the most impressive songs towards the end, increasing the progressive touches as it goes as well as adding a choir too. Crimson Wreath will hopefully open up Illusory to a bigger audience because they really deserve to be heard by fans of heavy power metal. 8/10

Jess And The Ancient Ones - Vertigo (Svart)

It's no secret that I'm a lover of retro occult rock, bands such as Graveyard, Blood Ceremony, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, Lucifer along with originals such as Coven have always really got my freak flag flying so I've been awaiting the newest album by Finnish act Jess And The Ancient Ones for a while now. Vertigo is that album and it's a natural successor for The Horse & Other Weird Tales, expanding on the quirky, occult theme of that record adding more layers of psychedelic pop and proto-doom but also upping the mystery and dark tone. A song like Talking Board balances this well, a song about a Ouija Board it's got a heavy complement on the big chorus but the verses are drenched in 60's Hammond tones. 

It's Black Widow meets The Doors all the while conjuring mystique with vintage horror movie samples. Vertigo has quite a striking simplistic album cover and to a point the music is that too, it lulls you into feeling good with lots of warm retro vibes but when you get to Love Zombi you are fully enrolled into the psychedelic ceremony the band letting you get a sneak peak into their kaleidoscopic coven but keeping you on edge at the same time with a sense of foreboding, Strange Earth Illusion really hammering this home with its twisted, labyrinthine assault on the senses. Retro occult rocking will always excite and intrigue this writer so Vertigo is no exception, witchy and weird Jess And The Ancient Ones have craved out their own little church in the burgeoning Occult rock dogma. 8/10