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Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Reviews: Paradise Lost, Night Crowned, Thadeus Gonzalez, Friisk (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Richard Oliver, Megan Jenkins, & Paul Scoble)

Paradise Lost – At The Mill (Nuclear Blast Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Shoehorned onto a stage with social distancing enforced, anyone who saw Paradise Lost’s ‘live’ show from The Mill Nightclub in Bradford last year will have felt mixed emotions. At last, we could hear tracks from Obsidian, possibly their best album in 20 years played live, but god, it was sterile. This is not a criticism of Paradise Lost. Hell, I love the band. I interviewed Nick Holmes last year and he was fantastic. I’ve seen them many times over the years, and although they have occasionally been a bit shaky, they usually deliver. But how do you compare what is in essence the band playing together in a studio, compared to their usual live shows, where they feed off the vibes from the audience? You don’t.

This set sees Paradise Lost play three excellent tracks from ObsidianFall From GraceGhosts and Darker Thoughts, accompanied by what many would say is close to perfection in terms of the additional tracks on the set list. In fact, including Obsidian, 11 of the band’s albums are represented. The band are cohesive, fluid and genuinely relish the opportunity that was afforded to them to get back on stage. There are, however, the same issues that have faced every other band who have undertaken the dreaded ‘live stream’. The awful silence that greets the conclusion of each song. The pointless opportunity to talk to the ‘audience’ on the other side of the screen. It’s simply the antithesis of what live music is about.

As an audio experience it works fine. It is a greatest hits package with the bonus of three new songs. And there is the return to the line-up of So Much Is Lost for the first time in seven years. The production is crisp, and after a couple of early bobbles, it works well. Having paid for the original stream, I’m unsure if the DVD option would be as stimulating. A live record is always a challenge, and this is no different.

For me, At The Mill is an opportunity for diehard fans to add to the collection. If you don’t know the band, who have been around for over 33 years, then the vinyl or CD version would be a fabulous introduction. I can see why they have released it. Bands have been shafted by the Government and the whole overreaction to the pandemic. These guys don’t stack shelves in supermarkets. This is their job. But I’ll probably wait until Bloodstock, watching Nick Holmes blinking in the sun again, and I’ve already put my money in a ticket to trek across the bridge to see them in Bristol next February. 7/10

Night Crowned - Hädanfärd (Noble Demon) [Richard Oliver]

Hädanfärd is the second album from Swedish melodic black metal horde Night Crowned. Hot on the heels of their extremely impressive debut album Impius Viam released in early 2020, Night Crowned have spent the pandemic writing, recording and crafting a very worthy follow up.

Originally intended to be a double album with versions recorded in both Swedish and English this album has been released solely in Swedish which suits me fine as albums always have a certain degree of authenticity when sung in a bands native tongue. Musically it is the same formula used on their debut being a very Swedish sounding and melodic form of black metal with both the melodic and ferocious elements being perfectly balanced with each other. You get absolutely killer and hugely memorable melodies mixed with savage riffing and a barrage of brain shattering blast-beats. There is a continued use of keyboards but these are very much in the background adding moments of ethereal atmosphere, piano melodies working in conjunction with the guitar melodies and the odd symphonic moment. 

 The musicianship throughout is impeccable but that is only to be expected in a band made up of members and ex-members of bands such as Dark Funeral, Aeon, Nightrage and Cipher System. There are harsh vocals provided by K. Romlin which sit somewhere comfortably between a black metal scream and a death metal growl whilst there are also some clean vocals provided by guitarist J. Eskilsson. Songs such as Nattkrönt, Fjättrad, Gudars Skymning and Enslingen are a tour de force of ferocious black metal and luscious melodies very much throwing back to the 90’s melodic black metal sound perfected by bands such as Dissection and Unanimated but with bigger melodies and an extra degree of catchiness.

I was hugely impressed with the debut Night Crowned album and with Hädanfärd they have certainly levelled up. Everything sounds bigger and more intense and the quality of the music and performances on the album are extremely impressive considering it hasn’t been a huge amount of time since the first album and there has been a global pandemic to deal with. I’m very much a sucker for the melodic black metal sound (sorry grim trve black metal nerds) and this album is a perfect summation of that very Swedish sound. If you like extremity and melody in your metal then Hädanfärd is a must hear. 9/10

Thadeus Gonzalez - Opposite Faces Review (Rebel Waves Records) [Megan Jenkins]

Thadeus Gonzalez’ newest release showcases the things he would have learned from supporting greats like Kiss, Bon Jovi and Slash. Death Of A Good Hustle is a very solid opening track and, in my opinion, is almost perfect to begin the album. I can instantly imagine an audience chanting along with the words ‘the death’ in the chorus – it's an extremely catchy hook that is enhanced by his impressive solo. The next track Ripe has a guitar tone is immediately reminiscent of CKY’s 96 Quite Bitter Beings. It’s a punchy riff with a lot of depth, but the song slows in the verse and becomes a lot less interesting and driving. The chorus adds a female vocalist that introduces harmonies that help pick the song back up to what it was in the beginning. Horses Lay Down kills the flow of this album before its even had chance to begin properly. I’m not saying it's a bad song, in fact its lyrically extremely beautiful – I'm partial to an acoustic guitar, as a guitarist myself – but I feel that it slows the album down substantially and it seems extremely misplaces within the track list. 

Apparition World does the same sort of thing. It seems very disjointed, as an individual song and in the context of the album which doesn’t again help it flow smoothly. Lightning Hits The Land picks the pace back up and the driving drum beat throughout keeps the listener's interest. Simplicity is better sometimes, and this showcases that fact, making it the best song on the album in my opinion. The guitar solo is full of dive bombs and technical guitar playing that sounds like something straight off Appetite For Destruction. It's just a shame that it fades out at this point instead of playing the solo to completion. The next few songs seem to go back to the disjointed theme that Gonzalez likes so much. Getting In The Wrong Fight picks up once the guitar kicks in but the dissonance in his playing just isn’t for me because I simply don’t think it works. There’s a time and a place for it but this song is neither. 

The Sapphire Thieves seems like an unfinished idea to me. It’s a solid riff that I feel could have been developed further into a substantial song but instead Gonzalez has opted for over a minute of the same riff repeated with little to no variation. My guess is that this song exists to split the album up slightly or to fulfil a requirement of track numbers, but it still could have been done a lot better. Never Tear Us Apart is obviously a cover of the INXS song and it’s a very good one at that. It’s an interesting take and some of the variations he’s decided to add (like the guitar riff between verses) works very well within the arrangement. His entire take on the song is an extremely enjoyable listen and has helped to redeem what I didn’t enjoy about the previous songs. 

Opposite Faces changes the pace again. It's almost like whiplash but this time I found myself enjoying it. It's driven by bass guitar and is one of the best on the album, in my opinion. I just really wished it had come sooner because of the sheer number of mixed feelings I had listening to it from start to finish. It's something my dad would call a ‘foot-tapper’ for the simple reason that it had my foot tapping along as a sat at my desk and listened to it for the first time. The clean guitar bridge cuts through the song and adds another layer to it entirely that I really like. It sounds like an arena rock classic already and, again, I can imagine it accompanied by a roaring crowd, smoke machines, and flashing lights. 

The Sounds I Saw seems like an odd choice to end the album with, until the two-minute mark. The guitar adds another layer to the song that had sounded empty previously. The electronic drums seem a very odd choice given the rest of the album and when the ‘real’ drums kick in they seem over-compressed, almost to emulate the electronic drums. As the song nears its end, it’s transformed into something a million times better than what we were initially presented with and rounds out the most conflicting album I’ve heard so far this year in the perfect way. 6/10

Friisk - …Un Torügg Bleev Blot Sand (Vendetta Records) [Paul Scoble]

German ensemble Friisk have been making music since 2018. The five piece, who are initialed rather than named are: H.K. on Bass, J.L. on Drums, T.S. on Guitar, J on Guitar and T on Vocals. In the 3 years that the band have been in existence they have made an Ep, De Doden Van’t Waterkant, in 2018 and a split, Kien Kummweer/Warndt, with Loth in 2020. …Un Torügg Bleev Blot Sand is Friisk’s first album. The album opens with a short intro called Einklang, an instrumental that is initially soft and clean, before getting bigger and heavier as it takes us into the first track with some great tremolo picked riffs. 

Dem Wind Entgegen is a mix of tight Atmospheric Black Metal and slower and Doomier, but more aggressive sections. As hinted at in Einklang, the song features some beautifully melodic tremolo picked riffs. Hoat opens with very fast and aggressive blast beats with tremolo picked riffs, at this point the feel of this track is savage and maybe even a little bit Hardcore. The track then takes a turn towards the slower but no less nasty, as we get some slow, heavy and very dissonant riffs. The fast and Hardcorey riffs return to blast the audience before we get another slow section, this time more towards the melancholic rather than dissonant. The song brings itself to and end with a slow, brooding section with huge, sad melodies. 

Versunken is a short, soft ambient instrumental. Mauern aus Nebel is a mix of fast and dramatic blasting and slow, dissonant Doomy sections. As with all the material on this album the track is filled with melody and forlorn tunefulness. This mix of Black Metal with Doom has a powerful effect, in some places it reminds me of Ultha, and there aren’t many bigger compliments I can pay to Friisk than comparing them to Ultha. Torügg bleev blot Sand juxtaposes mid-paced tremolo picked riffs, and taut blasting overlaid with huge melodies, and softer brooding and dark sections that are doomy and despondent. The overall feeling is a cathartic mix of beautifully affecting melody, and achingly sad atmosphere. Fiebertraum continues the feel of Torügg bleev blot Sand. The opening is slow and doomy, far closer to Funeral Doom than Black Metal. 

The vocals are very dramatic and fervent and the melody guitars are mournful and bereft. The song slowly builds, tremolo picked riffs are added, they have the same emotional feeling of the rest of the song, but bigger and more resolute. The tempo increases, blast beats are added, but the same feeling of grief and despair is present despite the inertia that the song now has. The song ends with soft clean acoustic passage that brings the song, and the album to a gentle, melancholy end .…Un Torügg Bleev Blot Sand is a fantastic piece of melancholy Black Metal. The mix of Atmospheric Black Metal, Depressive Black Metal and Doom works so well. The album is so full of melody and tunefulness, desperately sad and melancholy melody that is so affecting. 

The songs have a measured quality, no blasting for the sake of blasting, this is an album where every note feels considered and appraised. This doesn’t feel like a debut, it feels like an album made by a band with far more experience. Fantastic piece of work, this will be appearing on album of the year lists. 9/10

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