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Thursday 29 July 2021

Reviews: Swallow The Sun, Eastern High, Godeth, Tombstoner (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Swallow The Sun - 20 Years Of Gloom Beauty And Despair Live In Helsinki (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]
Seven albums into their 21-year journey, and Finnish doomsters Swallow The Sun’s first live album arrives almost out of necessity rather than obligation or planning. Recorded in Helsinki just as the world was going to shit around them, 20 Years Of Gloom Beauty And Despair Live In Helsinki is much more than just a ‘live album’. It’s a reminder to those older fans as well as those who fell in love with 2019’s When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light that Swallow The Sun are still alive and kicking. Recorded in February 2020 at the famed Tavastia Club in Helsinki, it is a record of two halves. The first sees the band’s acoustic performance (with a string quartet) of Songs From The North II before the second half draws on a plethora of fan favourites voted online in advance of the gig. 

At over two hours in length, it’s a mighty listen and as one might expect, it’s a challenge to absorb unless you dedicate the time to sit and focus on it. And it deserves that dedication, for the Finns have weaved a double album of greatness. The blend of dark, melancholic riffs, the mix of acoustic and crushingly heavy riffs all work without a problem. It’s a record that soars with dramatic highs before dragging the listener deep into the darkness and gloom, such is their ability to manipulate the emotions. The highlights are many. In fact, almost too many to list. Instead, I would urge you to invest the time in a copy and enjoy the sheer sadness, the despair but also the hope as it washes over you. The Finns may be 20 + years, but this album is perhaps the most detailed, perfect, and crafted album they have released yet. 9/10

Eastern High - Halo (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

As soon as you hear the opening chords of this 8-track record it's pretty much obvious that Eastern High come from that hotbed of progressive extreme metal Sweden. This Malmö five piece evolved from a thrash band, that brothers Ola (vocals) and Johan Svensson (guitar) were members of, into the more multifaceted act you hear on Halo. The progressive metal band released their debut in 2017, though this was essentially the brothers, on the back of that record they morphed into the fully fledged band that has recorded this follow up. Adding Niklas Cvetkovski (guitar), Fredrik Rosdahl (bass) and Christian Lindström (drums), they now have a much broader and well rounded sound, albeit not one that has been honed in the live scene due to the pandemic. 

This lack of touring has meant that the band can focus on this album a bit more, this attention to recording has led to Halo being a very entertaining prog metal album, the heavy/melodic balance can be heard on Dystopia which has blistering melo-death blastbeats and the kind of riffing Trivium are known for now, fluid and technical but with lots of down-tuned thunder. Now the PR mentions that Eastern High will appeal to fans of Gojira, Opeth and Soen. I'd have to agree as the title track clearly has that downbeat, dark, passionate sound Opeth and Soen bring to the table, while the final track really ends the album in an introspective slow burning ballad called Ashes To Ashes, it lingers long in your memory, the themes of grief, sticking with you. The rest of the record though needs a few listens to fully appreciate as the songs are all brilliantly composed but also full of nuances that only reveal themselves after a couple of plays. 

As Erosion Of Hearts starts things off there's a real punch of Dream Theater, that is until Ola's vocals come in with a grizzled longing that easily shifts into various styles, from a high register to guttural growls. Erosion Of Hearts features segments of a speech from Greta Thunberg for added power. It's followed by Emperor which moves into the sound of Gojira with a touch of Viking/Folk metal and is about a battle within you. Other lyrical influences on the band are whether we are alone in the universe on Morning Star, Covid-19 on Notorious Enemy and also the current state of the world on the chunky, swirling DystopiaHalo brings a Swedish slickness to produce an album of emotive, progressive metal. 8/10  

Godeth - Life To The Flame (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Life To Flame is the debut EP from Leeds bruisers Godeth, it features their previous released tracks Animal Side and All But One and sees them once again work with producer Jack Murray, who worked on their previous single Burn. This EP sounds huge, perfect for Godeth's heavy groove with progressive edge. It's difficult to pigeonhole the band as for every death metal battering, there's a progressive metal time change or a big alt metal groove ala Korn. Add to this a primarily clean vocal style that sits somewhere between Devin Townsend and Mike Patton, meaning that is stands in opposition to the growls at the beginning of the title track, a song about 16th Century Witch Burnings, where vocalist Eddie shows off his expansive vocal range which is similar to that of Warrel Dane. 

All But One very much sitting in the Nevermore sound, though you can hear it across these five tracks. Guitarist Dylan bring riffs and as Luke has the melodic phrasing and plenty of lead/solos, meanwhile bassist Lewis and drummer Danny supply these songs with a powerful bottom end. As the extreme metal influence is in unison with the trad metal style, I'm drawn to say that Godeth sound a lot like the now inactive Sacred Mother Tongue with the technicality and melody. A meaty EP from this Leeds five piece that will see them launch their assault on the UK scene soon, especially after their album launch on 30th at the Key Club. 8/10

Tombstoner - Victims Of Vile Torture (Redefining Darkness Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The Staten Island quartet’s debut EP, Descent To Madness struck the right nerve with me just over 14 months ago when it landed. Muscular chunks of extreme metal combining hardcore, grindcore, thrash and death metal with an underlying groove more infectious than the Delta variant. Well, my wish for a full-length release has been answered with the first full length, Victims Of Vile Torture.
41 minutes of skull pounding metal follows and it continues in the same vein as that impressive EP. Sitting neatly amongst the modern metal groove of Power Trip, sourcing old school from Cannibal Corpse, and dragging a bit of Gatecreeper into the fray, this release continues where Descent to Madness ended.
It’s a savaging of the nastiest kind, the riffs rain down whilst the aggressive, snarled vocals fit perfectly. What Tombstoner do well is to utilise the combination of vocals of Thomas Megill and Jesse Quinones to excellent effect; the pair feed off each other, one taking the higher screams whilst the other adds the gruffer, lower growls. Sledgehammer is aptly named, a real battering to the skull, the driving drumming of Jason Quinones pushing hard, fast and with unerring accuracy. The pace can be slowed though, Fractured Souls case in point as the riffs grind louder and longer, the frenetic blast beats working away beneath monolithic movement.
It’s often hard to source variation in death metal but this album has plenty as the sound switches, responding to the bludgeoning with rapid staccato blasts, searing solos that rip out of nowhere and punishing, always punishing explosive breakdowns. It’s difficult not to engage one’s neck muscles. Thunderous pace isn’t far away on tracks like Grave Dancer, or the blistering Armageddon which provides more doom-laden crushing flavours that unexpectedly meld into a melodic instrumental section before powering back to more bone splitting delivery. Even more surprising, the blasts of sci-fi style classical music that lace together with the demonic speed of closing track Trepidation. An unusual and dramatic conclusion.

Victims Of Vile Torture brings Tombstoner to the forefront of their genre. It’s a visceral, punishing, and brutal debut. An album well worth listening to if you like your music with absolute lashings of the extreme. 8/10

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