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Tuesday 31 August 2021

Reviews: SOAC, Woman Is The Earth, Telma, Crimson Fire (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Sons Of Alpha Centuari – Push (Exile On Mainstream Records)

Following their successful continuing collaborative project with members of Yawning Man (Yawning Sons), Sons Of Alpha Centuari return with their third album Push. Here they have started with their influential instrumental ambient shoegaze, groovy stoner and dreamy soundscapes but brought in an angrier, heavy sound of 90’s altmetal/post-hardcore, stylised by the first inclusion of vocals in SOAC music. Along with the core line up of Marlon King (guitars), Nick Hannon (bass), Stevie B (drums) and Blake (effects), the band have collaborated with drummer Mitch Wheeler (Will Haven) and vocalist Jonah Matranga (Far, Gratitude), who has an anguished vocal very similar to Deftones’ Chino Moreno. It’s the Deftones influence that really stands out on Push, tracks such as the woozy Listen sounding like the band in their late 90’s heyday.

The record is a powerful homage to progressive post-hardcore with the band playing the heaviest music they have been a part of, shifting away of their normally ethereal sound to something a little more gritty, though still having a ambience and shimmer to it. The addition of the Will Haven sticksman brings a thrust, and as I’ve said Jonah’s voice is ragged and haunted. For a band that have been stalwarts of the instrumental stoner scene for 20 years, along with Karma To Burn and Yawning Man, hearing them drastically shift to a post-hardcore fury may jar some longer term fans but SOAC have never shied away from a collaboration and Push is certainly their most different to date. 7/10

Woman Is The Earth - Dust Forever (Init Records)

Dust Forever is the fifth occult offering from post-black metal band Woman Is The Earth. Though they don't stick to the genre like glue much of this record is build around atmospherics, light and shade is present in all the songs, while there seems to also be a cathartic rage that heavily takes from bands such as Alcest and Deafheaven. Multi-layered guitars often move into slithering synths, as the anguished screams are heavily echoed, as if captured in another room. In fact the album seamlessly blends the abrasive with the atmospheric, blastbeats are unrelenting driving these eight songs, Crystal Tomb and Through A Beating Heart both continuing Woman Is The Earth's furious pace, as Breath Of A Dying Star undulating into different time signatures. This Minneapolis trio cast a wicked spell with their post-black metal styling. Aggressive and vicious Dust Forever lingers long after your listening ends. 7/10

Telma - Eternal (Self Released)

Heavy grooves from Larissa as Telma bring their style of modern heavy rocking to a wider audience. Forging a sound that is similar to countrymen Phase Reverse, Telma mix trad metal, thrash and stoner sounds together on their debut album. Grizzled, Greek accented vocals from Anthony Kyritsis carry the songs emotional lyrics on tracks such as Bipolar Distress but throughout his vocal style suits the bands musical style well. Filip Kotoulas provides the record with a booming low end, joined in the locomotive rhythm section by Mike Tziastoudis' powerhouse drumming, the thick grooves of Perfect Storm. The six stringing duo of Markos Kotoulas and Kostas Koutsomarkos are your riff masters, adding some melodics to the grungy title track which segue into thick riffs as Stream Of Thoughts adds yet more grooves and bursts into Zakk style soloing. With influences of bands like Pantera, Metallica, Alice In Chains and Disturbed Eternal is a modern heavy rock album that bursts out of the speakers with muscle! 7/10

Crimson Fire - Another Dimension (No Remorse Records)

After bringing metal back on Metal Is Back their 2010 album, it looks as if it's here to stay on what is Greek power metal band Crimson Fire's third release. Another Dimension is as I said power metal, twin guitar harmonies, galloping rhythms and anthemic powerful choruses, it's basically European power metal at its most melodic. A track such as Don't Fall From The Sky is pretty much all you need to know with a sound that steals much from Helloween, Fire Below moves into Stratovarius as On The Edge is near enough AOR. Another Dimension doesn't exceed what you's expect from a band such as Crimson Fire but it's full of decent melodic metal, the occasional keyboard flashing in on No Fear to widen the general musical style. The vocals are really the only place where you might have to acclimatize as the singer is a bit pitchy in places. For power metal fanatics or anyone who regularly attends Greece's Up The Hammers Festival. 6/10 

Reviews: TesseracT, White Stones, Sami Yaffa, Lady Beast (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

TesseracT - P O R T A L S (Kscope) [Matt Bladen]

The original concept for P O R T A L S was to be a live cinematic, the prog metal mastery of the band shown through some of their most well known songs, with an evocative lighting, visual effects and a screenplay to make it more than just a concert stream, but a fully fledged musical journey, TesseracT themselves taking their performance to another level. With songs from their entire career, the obvious tracks such as all three parts of Concealing Fate running at over 18 minutes, along with Of Matter and Of Energy amongst many others. As there is a screenplay behind this performance, the songs are structured in a way to carry the story forward while also showing those who have not seen TesseracT evolve into the band they are now. The album obviously loses some of the intent from the P O R T A L S video release as this is just the audio portion, but it is the sound of a perfectly honed unit pulling out diamonds from their discography and delivering them with precision and passion. 

The band have stated that the pandemic allowed them to focus on the next stage of their evolution, of which this project is the beginning of, it made them understand what TesseracT could be going forward, thus making this retrospective setlist the go to. As it's a stream that was pre-recorded, you can't call it a live album, so what this record is a compilation that serves as an ideal intro to TesseracT but also signals the next part of their journey as a band. Alec "Acle" Kahney (lead guitar), Jay Postones (drums), James 'Metal' Monteith (rhythm guitar), Amos Williams (bass/growls) and Daniel Tompkins (vocals) have redefined the livestream show with P O R T A L S creating a musical historical document of their success so far. 8/10 

White Stones - Dancing Into Oblivion (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

White Stones debut album Kuarahy was Opeth bassist Martin Mendez paying homage to his history in death metal bands but also his Latin heritage. That album had a lot of South American and Swedish flavours sitting between Sepultura and Opeth musically. Because of the global pandemic, they were unable to promote and tour their debut release. But  Mendez has managed to create another White Stones album in the numerous lockdowns moving the sound more towards the intense progressive complexity of bands such as Death as the riffs hit harder in odd time signatures Mendez saying that Dancing Into Oblivion was inspired by lots of jazz artists such as John Coltrane, Chain Of Command featuring the first taste of this increased level of technicality. 

It sounds a lot like Mendez' day job, with an early-Opeth atmosphere. Mendez handles all the guitar and bass here, his dexterity abound on numbers such as Iron Titans and Woven Dreams where drummer Joan Carles Marí Tur brings an expressive style of percussion. These two tracks are the most jazz influenced of the album making for a great intermezzo that leads into the most technical songs on the record, Mendez's riffs shifting between melodic and heavy, Eloi Boucherie, adding his aggressive growls to the whole album. As Joao Sasseti providing the solo guitars from his home in Portugal but you can't hear the join as the rest of the band recorded in Barcelona, this is to make sure the whole album sounds organic, which it does, the band trying hard to keep it as close to the studio sessions as possible. Dancing Into Oblivion furthers the exploration of Martin Mendez's solo project, he is now armed with two albums in two defined styles ready to unleash upon the metal audience. 8/10

Sami Yaffa - The Innermost Journey To Your Outermost Mind (Livewire/Cargo Records) [Simon Black]

One of my gateway bands to all this wonderful skiffle music I have been listening to since the mid 1980’s was Hanoi Rocks. By the time I came across them, they were already no longer a thing having melted away after the tragic and utterly stupid death of drummer Razzle at the hands of Vince Neil in L.A. in 1985. Yaffa was a part of that period, but like most of the band took a back seat to the egos and presence of Andy McCoy and charismatic frontman Michael Monroe, with who Yaffa still works. He’s been busy in between as well, with time spent with Joan Jett and The New York Dolls, so this solo album has been a long time coming.

Yaffa takes both bass and vocal duties on the album and has a surprisingly good Rock’n’Roll and Bluesy sounding voice that plays best to the more Hard Rock and slightly Sleazy tracks on here. The music in general is straight R’n’R, with a good dose of Punk attitude, but it does experiment a fair amount as well. Personally the tracks where Yaffa sticks to his roots work best, with Selling Me Shit capturing that ethos best, despite the unexpected Reggae instrumental section curveball. There’s more of that groove later on with Rotten Roots too. The slower paced balladic Down At St. Joes shows him in a more pensive mood, but his raw voice really works best with the more emphatic tracks. Single Last Time is probably the strongest track on here by a country mile, as it takes the mood down a tone or two and is a much darker and sombre piece of music than anything else on here.

The material on here has been percolating for a number of years, which explains the breadth of music styles in here. In general the more pacey songs work the best, but this does demonstrate a good range of styles, although if you are looking for the energy, pace and sheer buzz of his earliest work you may be disappointed. 6/10

Lady Beast – Omens (Reaper Metal Productions) [Simon Black]

Nothing beats a good old fashioned bit of proper Heavy Metal, especially when it’s done properly. Lady Beast deliver that very traditional early NWOBHM era (and earlier) Metal rather well. With three full albums already under their belt, this five track EP is the first time I’ve come across them. Deborah Levine’s vocals are clear, striking and sit very high in the mix. As they should, she’s got a powerful and richly timbre voice that deserves your attention.

The rest of the band by comparison, apart from the occasional solo break, feel that little too far in the background in a mix that really lets down what the music is trying to do. There’s a fashion of the moment to try and make these more retro influenced bands sound like they were recorded on analogue technology of forty years ago and personally it annoys the hell out of me, especially when you consider most of the classics from that era are constantly remixing and remastering to try and improve on their early efforts. The consequence sometimes is a flat and insipid sound and this disk unfortunately suffers quite badly from this, which is a shame as the songs and performances deserve way better.

Musically the weakest track The Poisoned Path is bizarrely up first, but if you jump to Reaper, you get a high octane HM belter worthy of the band. It’s probably the best song on here and has you hooked after the opening bars. Blood For Blood keeps the energy and tempo going nicely before the EP drops into a well delivered, if slightly trebly sounding Speed Metal cover version of Rainbow’s Kill The King. It’s probably the clearest statement of the band’s influences and works well especially as Levine sounds nothing like Dio, but delivers a performance worthy of her range and skill. The Fool's Journey closes things out well with the same energy and drive and apart from that weaker opening song I’m left with a feeling that this is a band who know how to write and deliver a good track, but that they should really think again when it comes to the engineering, production and mixing. 6/10

Monday 30 August 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: All Day Festival At Fuel Rock Club Presented By DFTS Promotions (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

DFTS Promotions Presents: All Dayer At Fuel Rock Club

The first 'proper' gig in a long time, was and all Dayer from Fuel Rock Club. They say go hard or go home but I must say I did have some trepidation. Thankfully the decision was made to keep the doors open in the venue so bands could still be seen and heard from outside. When I did venture inside I made sure to distance and wear my mask, much to amusement of some people, but I'm glad I wasn't the only one doing it!
Organised by DFTS Promotions this was mixture of Stoner/doom/noise/hardcore bands varying in style throughout the day was started by some prog funk metal from Birth (6) a three piece that play quirky music with a groove and a punk attitude. Their momentum faulted a little when the drummer had to go off the stage for a bit to sort out an issue but as an opening band they did well. Next up was something heavier from Scrape (8) a stoner flavoured hardcore band that reminded me of bands such as Torche, melodic and riffy but also angry and confrontational they brought together two styles well ramping up the tempo (and the heat) in the room.

Between every band I headed outside for some air and a drink which was a relief from the hot going room (despite me being miles away from others) however like any good journo I ploughed back in to catch the last two bands before the 45 minute break in proceedings, well thought out almost splitting the show into 2 sections meaning food could be sought.

Next up was the slow, heavy, stylings of Mines (7). This five piece opened up a lot of ears, then proceeded to make them bleed with a terrifying mix of sludge heaviness and harsh noise dissonance, everything from the down-tuned guitars, to the vocal shouts and electronics was used to instill a feeling of discomfort that was successfully achieved at this show. As our ears started to recover it was time for Dimensions (7) to pick up the batton. Playing for the first time with their original line up for the first time in 6 years, this well drilled noise machine didn't need any time to shake off the rust playing to a hungry audience of friends all of whom appreciated the doom/stoner/hardcore potpourri of Dimensions welcoming them back like a long lost family member.

This sense of joviality and longing for some kind of live music was evident throughout the evening most if not all of the bands heartily cheered as the crowd that had amassed were just please to be watching live music again. After the mandatory break the music returned the end of summer daylight beginning to die as once again Fuel's performance area was shaken by the Satanic, instrumental post-rock soundscape crafting of Who Are The Monsters (8), their cavernous riffs and shogazing fuzz brought almost a sense of calm euphoria to the show, the three piece layering riffs upon riffs until you couldn't help but be taken away by the power of it all.

A perfect way to restart the show as things took a much more confrontational turn as They Live, We Sleep (7) stepped on to the Fuel stage and unleashed their hardcore sludge onto a room that had been washed away with riffs. They Live We Sleep were much angrier and vicious, the guitars having an angular bite while bile was vented through the screamed vocals. With the temperature rising again in the room the time was just right for this dalliance with outright aggression, what was to come was more traditional stoner/doom riffs so having this tasty shot of pure rage fit well.

So it was time for the last two bands of the night first up the stoner/punk/hardcore power trio Made Of Teeth (7) once again unleashed on an unsuspecting public, dual vocal shouts, plenty of punchy riffs and between song banter are what Made Of Teeth do well. Clear favourites with the crowd they were slick on stage, as if there hadn't been a gap in performing at all. Cranking out the tunes at high velocity, these three are a sonic explosion and it was great to see them back on stage.

The final band of the night was South West Wales stoner/doom survivors Sigiriya (8), taking to the stage with a confidence and swagger they kicked off a set of groovy, smoking stoner riffs cranked out by Stuart O'Hara the six string wizard of the band while Paul Bidmead (bass) and Rhys David Miles (drums) drive those rhythms that rattled Fuels back room. With a huge noise kicking out some Sabbath worship Matt Williams pipes croon over the top rounding off the band that didn't seem to have lost a step. The only major difference was that Matt seems to have had his locks shewn off during the lockdown period, but unlike Sampson this hasn't effected his strength. Sigiriya support King Witch (along with King Kraken) in Swansea next month, so it looks like a jaunt Westward beckons. 

As far as this show goes, it was a thoroughly entertaining way to return to gigs, being only the second show in Fuel in 18 months, it felt odd for sure, but very good to be back in front of some live music.  

Friday 27 August 2021

Reviews: Jinjer, NMB, Sugar Horse, Winter Nights (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Alex Swift)

Jinjer – Wallflower (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

I get it, I do, music fans have to have new bands to latch on to. The creation for the superstars of tomorrow is vital for any genre to succeed (maybe not classical), but I do get a little tired of the ‘next big thing’ title that is often bandied around ad nausea about which ever band is currently in the spotlight, or has an interesting backstory etc. Much of it comes from the music press who are determined to make it that everyone likes the band, and if you don’t you’re in some way odd. Jinjer are one such band, the Ukrainian djent act have been touted as ‘the next big thing’ for a long while now. I don’t hold this against them, if it moves their career forward great, the same thing can also be said of Alien Weaponry, and to be honest it is probably just me being a grump but like with Alien Weaponry, Jinjer are not really my thing, however I’m willing to have my mind changed.

Now I know they are talented, versatile band both on record and live, their achingly modern, progressive, heavy as hell style of djent, encompasses numerous styles throughout and their vocalist, Tatiana Shmayluk has brilliant command of both the harsh and clean vocal styles, using the latter a lot more here than on previous albums. She also provides the band with some bold, antagonistic lyrics for what is more often than not is furiously intense metallic flurries such as on Colossus, a little hit of pop punk on Copycat but also shows a fragility when they move into introspection on tracks such as the title track. Wallflower is a lot more interesting to me than their previous albums adding a bit of depth to their previously one-dimensional djent/metalcore sound.

An album that sets Jinjer up for the future and displays a deliberate effort to evolve their style as a band. I’m still not a fan of this ‘next big thing’ hype train that is often levelled at bands, as I think the music should do the talking (as Aerosmith once said) but Jinjer have managed to win me over to their side with Wallflower as an entertaining listen. 7/10

Neal Morse Band – Innocence and Danger (Inside Out Music) [Alex Swift]

People who have read my work will know that while I cite my adoration for prog often, Neal Morse is not a name that comes up in my writing terribly often – that’s not to say I don’t respect the man. On the contrary I recognise his contribution to the world of progressive music, and while I don’t care much for his brand of Christian rock he always sprinkles his lyricism with intriguing storytelling and rich, vivid language. That said, I was interested in the new Neal Morse record for two reasons – firstly, while his work with prog-rock supergroup Transatlantic is no less indulgent I enjoyed the opus they released earlier this year and would have done so a lot more had they agreed on a musical direction and made one record. Secondly, there were whispers leading up to this album that while the piece was never intended as a double album, the strength of the song caused Innocence And Danger to become another epic, rather than sheer ambition guiding the process. While the core identity of this band has always consisted of Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George, the addition of two extra members, with the creative input of the entire band accounted for, has cast doubt on whether the band should be named after their leading member with the ‘NMB’ abbreviation giving the impression in recent years that this is a new project altogether.

The first disc of this sonic exploration consists of eight songs, while the second consists of two grand, multipart pieces, which are 19 and 31 minutes respectively. Opening the first disc is Do It All Again. This is a serene and joyous piece. The anthem certainly feels like its rejoicing in a cathartic and emotional sense. Each musician trades off eloquently both in vocal duties and chance to shine instrumentally. This lends a diverse set of moods and ides to the track and its clear that the band are working together collaboratively and combining their musical influence in ways that we haven’t seen with this band to quite this degree before. Bird On A Wire, by contrast is more intense and animalistic in tone, setting the heart racing through the stunning technical prowess of each of the members and the driving momentum which gallops throughout the piece. That’s not to say that every song relies on scale to make a point! Some, like the retro infused Your Place In The Sun and the piano led Another Story To Tell are far more scaled back and atmospheric in composition, helping to make for a more varied and absorbing listening experience.

Taking the peaceful and subdued nature of these tracks and making the emotions they established pay off into something far more outstanding is The Way It Had To Be. Both skilfully crafted and emotionally compelling, this ballad accentuates the beautiful and wonderous aspects to these musicians playing styles, the keys intersecting brilliantly with the slide guitars and ethereal vocals. Following a impressively played yet largely unremarkable solo piece from our frontman, we get Not Afraid Part 1 – the thematic precursor to one of the epics on the second disc, and a piece which despite not being anything remarkable or genre-defying, helps to draw this side of the album to a contemplative and introspective finale. Or at least that song would be the closer if not for a rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. This, to me, is neither necessary nor impressive. The original very much relies on simplicity and subtlety in order to make its point and can be interpreted as mournful or exuberant due to that simplicity. NMB’s complex prog adaptation of the classic serves to rob the piece of that element. Therefore, while I could certainly see why some would like this kind of experiment, I found myself confused by the end of the first disc, holding a myriad a different feelings.

Not Afraid Pt. 2 opens the second half of this album and honestly for its huge length it’s very much what you may have come to expect from Neal Morse – progressive music which is very bright, shimmering and optimistic in nature. However, the way the piano led overtures set the majestic tone for the song, the influences from such acts as Pink Floyd and Genesis are ever present on this song, emphasising emotionality and saying more with less. It’s unquestionably derivative, yet I’d rather sit through a song that I fell I’ve heard a million times, than sit through one which champions complexity above relatability! Indeed, while this one is successful in the way its use of dynamics excellently commands your emotions, I don’t think this needs to be this long, with the piece sadly falling into the ambition over curiosity trap that I mentioned earlier. 

I cannot say this however for the closer – Beyond The Years is an absolute victory of musical collaboration, adventure and emotional depth. Beginning on a hunting and wraithlike note, the piece gradually builds into a sizzling and exciting anthem of conquest over darkness, complete with brilliant guitar and key work, with each instrumental section offsetting the next in the most cathartic and stupendous way imaginable. The only gripe I can think of is that the piece has to continue to impress after crescendo which ends about 20 minutes in, yet even then, I think these musicians succeed in making the last ten minutes of the album memorable.

Overall, while Innocence And Danger reminded me of many of the aspects I don’t care for in Morse’s music, I was also reminded of many of his strengths. Particularly in the moments when he is working with others to guide the creative process, he shines. I don’t think this needed to be a double album, however I don’t think the album suffers too much for that reason either. For that reason, I look forward to seeing this incarnation of NMB hone their sound and style into something truly astonishing. 8/10
Sugar Horse - The Live Long after (Small Pond Records)

With a name like Sugar Horse you may get a different impression of Bristolian foursome than the one their music gives you. The band name sounds like it could be all fun and frolics but they create noise, unashamed, unapologetic noise wrapped tightly in the aggressive, defiant sound of post-metal, they share musical traits with both Cult Of Luna and Deafheaven. An anthemic track such as Phil Spector In Hell which is full of haunting echoes or the dissonant title track both explore the light and dark of Sugar Horse's musical assault while Terrible Things Are Happening As We Speak is the album's heaviest song with shoegazing often single chord riffs matched by the raging hardcore vocals. All of this noise is bookended by the two tracks  I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…and…A Las Vegas Showgirl which are based around a Byzantine hymn, it's ringing chanting twosome that fit brilliantly beginning and ending the record with cohesion. The self proclaimed 'decidedly average' band are not average at all in fact they are an uncompromising musical force. 7/10

Winter Nights - Sky Burial (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Metalcore is a genre I have very mixed feelings on. When perfected it can be menacing and threatening, while also retaining a sense of bombast and memorability. However, in recent decades the genre has in large part settled into a sound and an identity that many metalcore acts are happy to adhere to. The formula of chugging riffs and thunderous growls mixed with sweeping melodic refrains is one I respect, yet it’s also one that wore out its welcome about ten years ago. Indeed, while there are elements of that sound in Winter Nights music I will say without any hesitation that I admire them for doing something different within the confines of their genre.

While the guitar and drum work is very in keeping with the sound of acts in the vain of Avenged Sevenfold or Atreyu, there are also a lot of gothic and traditional stylings in this band's approach. The tone of their singers voice is far more guttural and wouldn't sound out of place on a death metal album. Whatsmore, the addition of harmonious organ effects and duelling lead melodies on opener Time To Say Goodbye lends an operatic grandiosity to the opener, which leaves an impression on the listener if only due to its gigantic scale and sweeping presence. Neither Faith Nor Fear, by contrast is far more ominous in presentation, and while I certainly admire the experimentation, this is where the EP starts to falter for me. The track has a cerebral darkness and feels brooding yet stops short of being truly frightening if only down to the fact that the same conventions I mentioned earlier prevent the band from lurching into the doom-laden or sludgy territory that's needed to make a slower piece like this work.

Thankfully, the record redeems itself massively with the pulverizing and chaotic I Pray To I. Even as a reviewer, I can't begin to describe the level of detail on this track while doing these musicians skill justice. To me, this one is a fantastic example of a band working together to create something which is enraged and ferocious, yet also deeply melodic and ambitious in how each section moves into the next with a dexterity and cleanness that demonstrates the level of thought put into the music on display. We finish with Sky Burial which combines the strengths of these players for an epic closer. I don't know how I feel about this one not having the same rising and falling dynamics as previous tracks but for fan's looking for a piece which is cascading and unceasing in its melancholic undulations, as well as complex and multifaceted in performance, this is a perfect seven minutes of absolute, unbridled, mayhem!

I for one, would recommend this EP to anyone who likes a distinctly modern metal sound tempered with a very strong appreciation for the classics. Despite being far from perfect, Winter Nights demonstrate a level of technical ability and impressiveness that should leave fans of metal new and old willing and prepared to hear more. 7/10

Reviews: Ex Deo, Enemy Inside, Comet Control, Gost (Reviews Matt Bladen & Megan Jenkins)

Ex Deo - The Thirteen Years Of Nero (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ah Nero the final Julio-Claudian Emperor, who famously (but inaccurately fiddled while Rome burnt), Roman Legionary Metal force Ex Deo have focused their latest record on the The Thirteen Years Of Nero, which also manages to coincide with almost the fall of Rome itself. It follows on four years from their previous release and once again Ex Deo bring a cinematic death metal, that deals with one of the most brutal and historically famous periods in Roman history. Tracks inspired by the full sublimation of Britain, the revolt of Boudicca and the Iceni (Up The Celts!), the burning of Rome and the rise of Nero's successor Galba, through uprising, are all dealt with here with metallic intensity and historical accuracy. 

As per usual the charge is led by Praefectus Castrorum Maurizio Iacono, whose imperious roars and creative mind focus the songs along with his Tribuni Angusticlavii Jean-François Dagenais who handles production and guitar. They are aided by long time soldiers, Stéphane Barbe (lead guitar) and Dano Apekian (bass). This album also sees two new additions to the cavalry in drummer Jeramie Kling and Clemens Wijers who handles the marvelous orchestral scores. Ex Deo work best with a concept as their second album Caligvla and as the powerful Fall Of Claudius starts things off with the death of the previous Emperor (who has not been given the same treatment by the band as his predecessor and successor). 

It's the majestic Imperator where things get going the Roman Lyra (what Nero actually played) throughout the track fleshing out the heavy groove of this triumphant number. As Ex Deo begin to unleash their newest opus on the world, the riffs, strings and roars all displaying the power and passion of Ex Deo. Viciousness comes from Britannia: The 9th at Camulodonum which moves into a cascading string section, The Fiddle & The Fire brings both folk and doom metal while Boudicca (Queen Of The Iceni) is the albums most accessible track features a duet with Brittney Slayes as the Warrior Queen (apt really considering her day job in Unleash The Archers). The Thirteen Years Of Nero is Ex Deo in full formation here, bringing another brilliantly executed attack with this fourth full length. 9/10   

Enemy Inside – Seven (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Megan Jenkins]

I’m always a sucker for a female fronted band and this new release from Enemy Inside is no exception to the rule. Seven is the first release since their debut album in 2018 and it was definitely worth the three-year wait to get some new content from the German five-piece. The album opens with Crystallize, which was the first taste we got of this new sound. It incorporates heavy guitar with electronic elements seamlessly. The next track Alien has an unbelievably bouncy riff at its core, and it builds up to a breakdown with aggressive vocals, yet again incorporating electronic sounds to enhance the driving beat. The vocal harmonies throughout this album create an unusually haunting and eerie atmosphere in what’s otherwise upbeat instrumentals.

Nastassja Giulia’s vocals remind me an awful lot of Evanescence’s Amy Lee. A prime example of this is Break Through; a slower piano ballad that seems oddly placed within the album, but it shows us the range of their skills as musicians and songwriters. For me, I don’t particularly believe that it belongs as a part of this album, yet I can appreciate why they may have included it. In My Blood sounds an awful lot like Hybrid Theory era Linkin Park, in the absolute best way. Something about it makes me feel oddly nostalgic and was a nice surprise after the previous song. Bulletproof and Dynamite show the band’s skill set within electronic music. The synths that carry both intros don’t seem out of place, no matter how much of an odd choice they may seem during your first listen.
The title track, Seven, is my immediate favourite. It has all the best elements of the album and their entire sound melded into one. Haunting melodies, chunky guitar riffs, and an aggressive breakdown that made me go ‘oooooooooh’. It’s a song that instantly made me nod my head along to the beat with its bouncy opening riff and use of a guitar scale most people would just describe as ‘exotic’ - you’ll see exactly what I mean when you hear it – that enhances the entire instrumental. The next track, Black And Gold, is also a slow one. I’m glad they split up the softer songs - even if this one doesn’t stay soft for very long with the addition of distorted guitar. Still though, I think it doesn’t really have a place within the album – wherever they put the slower songs, they would seem completely out of place because of the sound of the rest of the album, but again I can appreciate what they were trying to do.

Seven finishes off with a cover of Jennifer Paige’s Crush. Its oddly satisfying to hear what was originally an upbeat pop song become its much darker, depressed younger sibling. It's one of the best ‘rock’ covers I've heard in recent years and should be the leading example to show those ‘Pop Goes Punk’ albums exactly what they should be going for. They’ve completely reworked the song and made it their own, and still left it recognisable as a version of the original – exactly what a cover should be. It’s the perfect end to a near-perfect album. 8/10

Comet Control - Inside The Sun (Tee Pee Records) [Matt Bladen]

Grab your spacesuit and set the controls for the heart of the sun as Comet Control are ready to take you on a transcendental psych rock journey into the stars. These Canadian rockers owe as much to the psych rock pioneers such as Hendrix, Caravan, Soft Machine and Aphrodite's Child as they do to the 90's revivalists like The Stone Roses, The Charlatans and our own Super Furry Animals, throw in a bit of Flaming Lips weirdness and you'll be well on the path towards Comet Control's musical enlightenment. Although this one doesn't come through peace and meditation but fuzzy, reverb drenched guitars and propulsive percussion such as you can hear on Secret Life. Although it's not all thrust the keyboard heavy introspection of Good Day To Say Goodbye slows the pace while retaining the band's focussed take on psych rock.

The mix of the older and newer approach is well crafted with all the musicians well experienced in their native countries psych rock scene. But on this record the former Quest For Fire men Chad Ross and Andrew Moszynskialong with co-founder Nicole Ross have sculpted a record that is the band at their most effective and eclectic. It hard to put it into words, so I'll say that really you need to listen to this album to fully appreciate it. If you love mind warping psych rocking with all manner of other styles hiding in the details then Inside The Sun is a fantastic cosmic cacophony from Comet Control. 8/10 

Gost – Rites Of Love And Reverence (Century Media Records) [Megan Jenkins]

Considering Gost has been releasing music since 2013 and has shared stages with the likes of Power Trip and The Black Dahlia Murder, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard his name until now. He began releasing synthpop music right at the beginning of its popularity in the early 2010s, but I’ll be brutally honest and say that ‘dark synthpop’ like his is something that I’ve never really listened to – my main experience in this genre comes from bands like Duran Duran or Bronski Beat. Some nice family friendly(ish) pop music. For me, the album doesn’t seem to know which direction it wants to go in. It seems very freeform and uses a lot of dissonant elements that I’m not overly keen on but it’s a defining characteristic of the genre, so who am I to judge when I will quite happily sit and listen to Bananarama unironically. 

A standout track would be Embrace The Blade, which begins with a chunky guitar riff that’s been layered with God knows how many effect pedals. This guitar is probably the main reason why I like it purely because it adds to the ‘dark’ theme that Gost is apparently going for, without making the instrumental sound cheesy and gaudy. His wailing vocals work best on this track, even though they’re throughout the entire album. Coven is also another standout track for me, and it wouldn’t seem entirely out of place on the soundtrack to one of the Doom video games. If only it was an instrumental instead. 

It could be because the synthpop I will usually listen to is bright and happy, but this album didn’t exactly do a lot for me. I can appreciate the amount of effort gone into making it but if I’m brutally honest, the dissonance and slow tempo just isn’t for me. 6/10

Thursday 26 August 2021

Reviews: Thyrfing, Mentalist, Mystery, Ravenlight (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Paul Hutchings, Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Thyrfing - Vanagandr (Despotz Records) [Richard Oliver]

After a gap of eight years, Sweden’s Thyrfing are back with a new album. Though we haven’t had any new music from the band since 2013’s De ödeslösa album, Thyrfing have remained active on the touring circuit but plans were put in place back in 2015 for some new music and finally in 2021 we have Vanagandr which is the eighth album from the band. Although they have been an active band since 1995, Thyrfing are definitely one of the more overlooked and underappreciated bands in the folk/viking metal genres. They have a sound that is more indebted to the epic viking metal sound forged by Quorthon with the legendary Bathory rather than the knees up joviality of many European folk metal bands and have a far darker and more epic sound and one that is also heavily influenced by black metal. 

The music on Vanagandr continues to be that meld of the dark and aggressive with the epic and triumphant. Songs such as Döp dem i eldJärnhand and Håg och minne mix all these elements together in equal measure whilst you also get songs such as Rötter which sits on the more dark and aggressive side of the bands sound whilst album closer Jordafärd very much plays to the epic side of the bands sound being a huge, sweeping and epic song. The heavy use of string sections throughout the album very much help this epic sound throughout the album whilst the guitars are very much on the blackened side with some very gnarly riffs popping up throughout the album. 

The vocals are generally on the harsh and blackened side of things though there are multiple uses of clean vocals during the albums duration. If you like your folk/viking metal on the dark and epic side of things rather than the jaunty and fun then Thyrfing are definitely a band that should be on your radar. With a band history of 26 years Thyrfing know their strengths and how to play to them and Vanagandr is another worthy piece of dark epic metal. If bands such as Moonsorrow, Finsterforst and Falkenbach are your bag then you should definitely give this a listen. 8/10

Mentalist - A Journey Into The Unknown (Pride & Joy Music) [Matt Bladen]

Mentalist are not a band that hang around. Quickly following up their 2020 debut with the sophomore album. The international line up means that the band have probably yet to perform in the same room, since the release of their first album but on record they have created some highly polished, thundering melodic power metal. The drum work of Blind Guardian founding drummer Thomen Stauch is a clear benefit to this record, as he provides power behind tracks such as the title track and other speedy numbers such as Evil Eye that are in those early Blind Guardian numbers. 

The rest of the band are comprised of Florian Hertel on bass, Kai Stringer and Peter Moog on guitars and Rob Lundgren on vocals, but there are also some guest turns from Oliver Palotai (Kamelot) on keyboards, Mike LePond (Symphony X) and Henning Basse (ex-Firewind/ex-Metallium) who adds his voice to Live Forever. I didn't know what to expect when I pressed play on this record as I hadn't heard their debut Freedom Of Speech  but I was very pleasantly surprised on my initial playthrough, with subsequent listens bringing a broader grin to my face each time I listen to it. 

The basswork is in ideal sync with Stauch's drumming, shifting from galloping riffage to a more emotive pop on An Ocean So Deep where they sound an awful lot like bands such as Kamelot and Serenity, the melodic side never overwhelming the metallic bite. Both guitarists work in unison bringing a virtuosic feel, but doesn't ever go too far into fret wankery, while Lundgren has a brilliant vocal, his most varied on their closing cover of Neneh Cherry's ManchildA Journey Into The Unknown did surprise me with how good it is. High level melodic metal that's a great listening experience. 8/10

Mystery – Live Life Loud (Metalapolis Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Album number three from the Aussie hard rockers who have been in existence for over a decade now. Live Life Loud is 43 minutes of traditional hard rock with an additional ladle of sleaze giving it a typical antipodean flavour. Plenty of hard-edged riffs, underpinned by lashing of melody, gang chanting choruses and Rocky Ravic’s smoky vocal delivery giving the record a distinctly 1980s feel.

From the band’s biog they’ve apparently had some stellar support slots, including some huge names in Mötley Crue, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, Motörhead, Megadeth & Cheap Trick. I can see their sound fitting with some of these bands but it’s a bit of a stretch to see them supporting Megadeth unless we are talking about a festival line-up.

The songs are relatively throw away. Think a harder edged Bon Jovi and that’ll probably be fair. The song titles don’t really surprise. Lust ControlRock Revolution and Nuke ‘Em High are all standard fare whilst the inevitable ballad All We Need Tonight is as expected. It’s ghastly.

I suppose if you saw Mystery in a bar, you’d grab a drink and pull up a stool for a quick watch. They are coherent and cohesive musicians … but their songs are limited in quality and didn’t do much to spark the interest. Maybe one that I’d let pass on through. 5/10

Ravenlight – Intermission (Self Released) [Simon Black]

The ongoing pandemic has really been a bit of a bummer for any band that has just started to get somewhere. Having begun to build some credibility with the well-received End Of The World EP in 2018, and some high profile shows with Evergrey, their momentum was somewhat sunk by what hit us all after this. Their debut album Project Genesis did get released last year, but without touring to support it has stagnated way more than it deserved. This EP is very much about keeping busy and improving their profile and whilst none too lengthy, is an attempt to highlight the diverse influences behind this Belfast three piece and keep some of that momentum going with some belting and well known covers. 

Opening with The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, Ravenlight wisely resist the temptation to meld Synthpop sentiments heavily into this track and whilst clearly having a Symphonic and Gothic tone to it, it’s generally a more up tempo delivery than the original, with some Celtic touches to the Synth voices in the opening bars. It’s got a lot of energy, and I can see it working well in a live set, as I’m a great believer that Metal bands doing covers get more mileage when they choose non-Metal source material to work with. Next up is a cover of the somewhat technically challenging Black Diamond, probably the song that best summarises Symphonic/Power metal pioneers Stratovarius, and is a brave choice for a three piece to take on given the blistering pace of its delivery and the not-inconsiderable skills of its progenitors, but manage it they do, although inevitably it’s not as rich sounding when you’re two bodies short on the original. 

Finally Ghost’s harder to find than rocking horse droppings Zenith gets an airing (which only cropped up on a special edition of Meliora if you are wondering why it’s rare) is a more haunting and Symphonic/Gothic affair, but lacks the energy of the first two tracks, and I can’t help but feel that a better known track from that outfit might have been a better choice to cover. Overall I am struck by a band that deliver well considering there’s only the three of them and I’m really enjoying the haunting and evocative delivery from Vocalist Rebecca Feeney, even if the rather short duration does run out of steam at the end. 6/10

Reviews: Leprous, Wormwitch, Hooded Menace, Burial In The Sky (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Paul Hutchings, Matt Bladen & Charlie Rogers/Claire Hanley)

Leprous - Aphelion (Inside Out Records) [Richard Oliver]

Whilst the pandemic has been a death sentence for live music one thing it has afforded artists and bands is time and a lot of bands have utilised that time to write and record. It feels like it was only yesterday when Leprous released their magnificent Pitfalls album (whilst it was in fact October 2019) but the Norwegian quintet are back with their seventh full length album Aphelion. Pitfalls was an album that saw the band make a continued shift away from their progressive metal origins into a more art-pop and art-rock sound. Aphelion is an album that sees the band continue on this road whilst at the same time it is classic Leprous. It continues exploring the themes of mental health struggles that was a component part of Pitfalls but whilst Pitfalls was a very emotional and heartfelt sounding album, Aphelion is a bit of a darker beast. It starts off in brooding style with the wonderful Running Low and this brooding continues throughout with songs such as Silhouette, Have You Ever? and On Hold having the emotional gravitas that is a Leprous calling card but the mood is definitely darker with a few sinister undertones. 

Punchier songs such as The Silent Revelation and The Shadow Side push the energy levels back up on the second half though it is good to see Castaway Angels here (having been released as a stand-alone single in 2020) as it is easily one of the most beautiful and moving songs the band have ever written. The true crowning moment of the album comes with album closer Nighttime Disguise which is probably going to end up as one of my favourite Leprous songs of all time. Pulling in influences and styles from throughout the band's history it almost works as a retrospective of all the band has done from start to present day in the confines of one single song from djenty riffs, huge choruses, massive sing-a-long parts and classical leanings before it ends in a massive emotional crescendo with the added inclusion of harsh vocals which haven’t been heard in a Leprous song for a very long time. It is absolutely breathtaking. 

The keyboards very much dominated in Pitfalls and whilst they are still heavily prevalent on Aphelion it is great to hear the guitars pushed back up front and centre. Cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne is given plenty to do as well with his wonderfully emotive playing swirling around the guitars and keyboards and ensuring arm hairs are standing on end. The increased use of strings throughout very much gives the album a far more cinematic feel at times. Applause has to be given to drummer Baard Kolstad whose drumming (as ever) is nothing short of spectacular with captivating and creative rhythms throughout the entirety of the record. And then of course there are the vocals by Einar Solberg. Einar is one of the finest singers out there and he continues to earn this label with his equally vulnerable and soaring powerful vocals which are just simply jaw dropping. 

I may be a bit biased being a humongous fan of this band but Leprous have knocked it out of the park yet again with Aphelion. There is a part of me that misses the prog-metal sound of albums past such as Bilateral, Coal and The Congregation but when the band are putting out music as insanely good as this such the longings for a heavier sound quickly pass. When it comes to progressive music Leprous have proven themselves once again as one of the most essential bands out there. 9/10

Wormwitch – Wolf Hex (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The blackened thrash movement that has been spearheaded by the likes of Hellripper, Midnight and Bewitcher is spreading like the proverbial plague. Formed in 2015, Canadian quartet Wormwitch’s latest album Wolf Hex straddles this genre and several others in 33 minutes of explosive, raging metal.

Whilst they’d be classed as veterans with this being their third release, there is a lustful energy that surges through Wolf Hex. This is a ferocious aural assault that spreads like an oncoming tsunami. It’s a relentless battery, a sonic maelstrom of carnage but dig beneath the decaying matter and gnarled riffs and you will discover an album of pure magic. The intro Lunar Maniac provides the first indications, although the shock waves ripple unconsciously in the psyche, providing little warning of the impending black metal storm about to erupt.

Wormwitch have plenty about them. Explosively fast passages, generous and melodic sections, and addictive hooks all wrapped up in solidly performed songs that retain an earthy, raw quality. There’s an anthemic quality to Wormwitch’s sound. It’s part classic heavy metal which has been roughly hewn to the blackened thrash monsters. It works on every level. Occult in theme, the darkness and black magick that provides the very life blood of the release sees dips into folk, pagan, black and thrash metal with a visceral edge that should ensure wide appeal.

Wormwitch formed from the ashes of hardcore punk with themes of self-hate and existential despair. This early form is rarely far from the surface on an album that concludes with a rabid version of Metallica’s anthemic Hit The Lights. The band comprises Colby Hink – Guitar, Kyle Tavares – Guitar, founder Robin Harris - Vocals and Bass and Izzy Langlais – Drums. Wolf Hex is an album that should be of interest to many. If not, you should put it on your list. It is that good. 8/10

Hooded Menace - The Tritonus Bell (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

Blood soaked death/doom band Finns, Hooded Menace drag their corpses from the grave with some horror-influenced heaviness. The band state Cathedral and Paradise Lost as musical influences, though they are far more driven by their collective love of horror films, mainly the Spanish 'The Blind Dead' series. The Tritonus Bell is their sixth full length album, but they have released multiple EP's and Splits with bands such as Asphyx and Autopsy. For this album they have reached way back into their record collection for some of the earliest torch bearers of the horror metal sound, the band, as well as the buzzwords around it mention Mercyful Fate and King Diamond a lot and the Danish master of the macabre does seem to have lest his mark on this record. 

Not vocally of course as we still have guttural growls but the musical backing is more melodic and catchy than previous efforts. Much of this may be due to Andy LaRocque (King Diamond) sitting behind the producer's chair. His experience comes through on the guitars which are possibly the fastest and cleanest in the bands career. Chime Diabolicus highlights this tonal shift, with more melody than ever before, but also lots of knuckle dragging doom too. Instruments Of  Sober Finality is the albums most 'classic' sounding metal track, it is an instrumental that reminds me of tracks such as Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth) and Orion by Metallica.  

Elsewhere Blood Ornaments gets it's head down in some early-Bay Area thrash, Those Who Absorb The Night and the Scattered Into Dark takes them back to their doom beginnings as does Corpus Asunder which transitions between death metal and doom. There's also a W.A.S.P cover which doesn't really serve any purpose other than filling out the tracklist. Chugging death/doom with a classic sheen, Hooded Menace have followed up their 2018 release with a renewed vigour and a sense of experimentation. 7/10

Burial In The Sky - The Consumed Self (Rising Nemesis Records) [Charlie Rogers & Claire Hanley]

Burial In The Sky are a progressive death metal band from Pennsylvania, presenting us with their third album The Consumed Self via Rising Nemesis Records. Clearly fans of both metal and jazz, their sound blends a wide palette across different soundscapes, and features a number of instruments not normally found in the more extreme side of music - notably the saxophone and accordion. An album of contrast, clashing gritty hard death metal riffs with ethereal clean passages. There is a lot going on to say the least, particularly in the tracks An Orphaned City, Amaurosis Shroud, and Mechanisms Of Loneliness. Unfortunately, this is also the Achilles heel.

The musicianship is outstanding, with obvious proficiency across all instruments involved. However, switching across so many styles means that you’re never fully committing to a cohesive theme, which can make for a somewhat jarring listening experience. For example, closing track Anatomy Of Us moves from a waiflike intro to a heavier progressive metal section, into an orchestral interlude, then to a passage blending clean vocals with frantic drums building into a climax that never comes as the song suddenly fades away. Despite not settling on any of these themes, the song still feels like it drags on for far too long. 

It’s like switching from Porcupine Tree to Beyond Creation in a moment - both fabulous bands but I’m not longing for a mashup that might produce Porcupine Creation, or Beyond Tree. The album would certainly benefit from either fully committing to the thunderous heavy style, sprinkling quieter clean passages less frequently for effect, or going whole hog the other way and aiming for a mostly prog rock sound, rarely interrupted by the odd blastbeat. It’s a very innovative record compared to a lot of the music that’s being put out there, so credit where it’s due. Worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of Rivers of Nihil, Obscura, and Exocrine. 7/10

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Reviews: Spirit Adrift, The Slow Death, Summoner's Circle, Sonus Mortis (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Scoble]

Spirit Adrift - Forge Your Future EP (Century Media Records) [Matt Bladen]

Spirit Adrift is not just a band they are an obsession for band leader Nate Garrett. He has been on a mission to make Spirit Adrift his personal vehicle to once again make heavy metal the force it was back in the late-80's early 90's where bands like Ozzy and Metallica were at their creative and commercial peak. Spirit Adrift take a trad metal sound with touches of doom and hard rock and focus it into something that has broad appeal. Garrett, along with drummer Marcus Bryant have been the two longest serving members and since the bands creation in 2015, each album/EP has brought Spirit Adrift more kudos and seen them climb the ranks of the metal scene resulting in their most recent offering Enlightened In Eternity being widely regarded as their best yet. 

Much like Haunt's Trevor William Church, Garrett doesn't rest on his laurels, only a year removed from their previous full length the obvious lure of being a multi-instrumentalist in a pandemic has meant that Garrett and Bryant have brought Forge Your Future a three track EP, that continues with the journey started back in 2015 in the same broad musical scope as Enlightened In Eternity. Three songs of fist pumping classic metal that will keep the creative engine of Spirit Adrift purring until some shows or a new album. A place filler but an entertaining one. 7/10

The Slow Death - Siege (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Scoble]

The Slow Death have been making huge and very heavy music since 2007. The five piece, which is made up of Stuart Prickett on Guitar and Keyboards, Mandy Andresen on Vocals and Keyboards, Yonn McLaughlin on Drums, Dan Garcia on Bass and Gamaliel on Vocals, have made 3 albums before Siege; a self titled debut in 2008, II in 2012 and Ark in 2015. The Slow Death, as the name suggests, have a style that touches on Death/Doom, Funeral Doom and Progressive Doom, it’s all mainly slow, heavy and very melancholy. The band have 2 singers in Gamaliel on harsh vocals, and Mandy Andresen who has a beautiful, ethereal clean singing voice, which is often layered, and when it is the vocals sound breathtaking. Gamaliel’s voice is deep and harsh, but apart from a few sections they aren’t particularly aggressive, there is a softness to how they are delivered. This makes the vocals fit beautifully with the music, which although heavy, isn’t that aggressive.

The album is split into just four songs ranging in size from ten minutes on final track Ascent Of The Flames, up to the longest track; Pestilence, which is twenty one seconds shy of twenty minutes. The large song length is in keeping with the style of music; I doubt a 3 minute Funeral Doom or Death Doom track would work, and fits well with the bands style. It opens with Tyranny, which starts soft and clean. before heavier riffs and an Organ are added. Mandy Andresen comes in with some beautiful ethereal vocals, which after a short time are layered to become melancholically stunning. Harsh vocals from Gamaliel come in and the song feels a little bit more driving and purposeful, there is a mournful guitar solo before another clean section and then the song builds in size and intensity for for a big ending.

Second track Famine is very soft and quiet initially, before the track gets bigger and more expansive with some very emotive clean vocals from Mandy Andresen. The song then takes a turn towards the harsher, faster and more aggressive. This is one of the places where Gamaliel’s vocals have an aggressive aspect to them, the tempo picks up and at one point there is even a galloping tempo riff that is tempered by softer and very sad guitar harmonies, before the gallop fast riffs return briefly before going off again. The track then goes into beautifully mournful guitar harmonies that I found reminiscent of the band Warning until a sad piano takes the song to its end. Longest track Pestilence is also the saddest track, its intro feels like a dirge, and is a little introspective. The track is very slow and has a funeral doom feel most of the way through. The track vacillates between this funeral doom style of slow and heavy riffs, and clean and very soft music. Vocally both clean and harsh vocals are used, in a couple of places they duet, which works far better than I would have imagined. The track is brought to an end by a graceful and elegant guitar melody lead.

The album closes with the track Ascent Of The Flames, the shortest track on the album. The song opens with slow and melancholy guitar harmonies, before going into a harsh and nasty part that is closer to death metal, in this part the vocals are quite aggressive again. The harshness of the music is dropped for more funeral doom style riffs until the track goes into a softer section with clean guitars that is coupled with harsh vocals in a way that I’d of thought shouldn’t work, but does really well. The rest of the track is made up of those beautiful Warning like harmonies until the song slowly fades away.

Siege is a stunning album. The feeling of sadness and melancholy is in every note or drum beat. Mandy Andresen’s vocals are so good, beautiful, powerful and nuanced and when they are layered they are just breathtaking. Gamaliel’s vocals fit brilliantly well, he has given a performance that is considered and refined, by not going over the top he has served the album rather than showing off. Musically this is a breathtaking album, as huge and melancholy Doom albums go, this is bordering on perfection. The tone of the album is sad and melancholy and in places mournful, but the act of listening to this album is deeply cathartic, it’s a sad journey, but I feel better and purged of negative emotion after listening to it. If you are looking for something sad but beautiful, this is the album you are looking for. 9/10

Summoner’s Circle - Chaos Vector (Blood Blast Distrubution) [Paul Scoble]

Knoxville, Tennessee based band Summoner's Circle have been making huge noises since 2015. The six piece, made up of Blind on Vocals, Gog on Lead Guitar, Azra on Guitar, Y’takt on Bass, Hex on Keyboards and Invictus on Drums, have released 2 albums and an EP since 2015; Become None in 2019, Tome in 2018 and the band's debut EP, First Summoning, was released in 2015. Summoner’s Circle have a fairly distinctive style, it’s a mix of Death Metal (Progressive), Black Metal (Symphonic) and Doom Metal (Progressive and Blackened), I have seen their sound described as theatrical metal and as epic metal, and there is a certain amount of truth in both descriptions as the music is definitely Epic and there is a clear theatricality to how the band do things. The bands sound is very modern, the guitars have a nice crunch to them, the drums are tight and technical with some very impressive blasting on some of the more extreme parts, the Bass gives all this a very solid foundation and the Keyboards help to hold everything together, the production is bright with some nice separation of the instruments, so everything sounds great but without the production being obvious, impinging on the songs or distracting from the performances.

Title track Chaos Vector is a good example of their sound, the song opens with some fairly aggressive, tight riffs before going into a more measured and controlled verse section, the chorus is more aggressive and driving. The two different feels help to make this an interesting piece of progressive extreme metal, it’s fairly simple structurally but everything is so well done this just makes it direct and effective. Not all of the material on Chaos Vector is as simple as the title track, The Hierophants is a very interesting piece of work. The track feels most like Medieval Black Metal, the style of Black Metal that is closer to Greensleeves than Gorgoroth, the style probably best known from the band Obsequiae. There is a definite medieval flavour to most of the riffs and melodies, the track is full of neoclassicism and also features a dramatic and very fervent spoken word section that helps to add to all of the Theatrics.

Another interesting track is the song Apostasy. The song has a slightly different feel to a lot of the other material on the album. Most of the riffing on Chaos Vector is tight and technical, but on Apostasy the riffing is much looser and feels expansive and huge. The vocals have a different feel as well; they are still harsh vocals, but on this track there is a softer, less aggressive style that fits with the less aggressive riffing, as well as some added tunefulness. In some places the song manages to feel huge and wider than the sky, but at the same time there is a little bit of introversion to this track as well, which sounds counterintuitive but that is how it feels. The chorus is a bit more aggressive, but Apostasy as a whole is a little bit softer and more measured. At the other end of the spectrum are the blast beats that feature on this album, there aren’t many of them, but when they arrive they are very effective; probably because of their scarcity. The track where the blasts come through the most id the track Vessel. After a brooding clean intro the track builds to a big dramatic riff, the track then drops into a fast and aggressive blasting section that is very effective, the song then mixes Mid-paced and slow riffs with these sudden blast beats in a way that is very successful.

Chaos Vector is a very good album, all the tracks are very enjoyable and well written and played, but there is one track that has grown a little bit taller than it’s contemporaries, that track is Terminus Egress. The song opens with a soft intro which then has this tracks standout feature; Operatic Voices, in some places layered so this sounds closer to a choir. The song also features strings which give the track much more depth and weight. The track melds extreme metal and classical in a way that is so effective that this song soars. The only other artist I can think of that has managed to do this is Tom G Warrior on some of Celtic Frost’s material or on the album Triptykon released last year, Terminus Redux is definitely something special.

Chaos Vector is a great album. It’s varied, but the album never sounds like it was made by different artists, there is a coherence to all of the material so the album has loads of different sounds, but they are all unified by a similar feel. The album is packed with great melodies, wonderful riffs and vocal lines that you will be humming to distraction. There is a certain amount of pomp and theatricality that might make some Metal (particularly Black Metal) purists sneer however, all they are showing is how Poe Faced and Boring they are, luckily I’m not Poe Faced and Boring so I loved it, it’s so much fun. 8/10  

Sonus Mortis - Past Lives (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

We've reviewed two previous Sonus Mortis records and both were given positive reviews by Paul Hutchings and myself. So here we are again with yet another project from Kevin Byrne who is the only member of Sonus Mortis handling everything here. This one though, unlike the four previous records, moves away from symphonic death/doom style into a much pacier melodeath sound with Children Of Bodom a clear influence, the lashings of dual guitar melodies and anthemic choruses very much in the vein of Mr Laiho (R.I.P). It is extremely guitar based, the rhythms galloping at a breakneck pace, synths fleshing out the melodic phrasing, as a way for yet more lead breaks and solos. 

Kevin really is a great composer and musician, it's difficult to imagine that everything on this record is done by one man, vocally he has upped his game with the growls sounding ravaged, while also bringing more clean tones. His guitar playing though is probably the best thing here tracks such as Dissident Fury is full of fluid clean guitars while the aggression ramps up on Become Static and The Devouring Design, it's the symphonic elements that really raise the game here, as they did when Byrne focussed on death/doom. Past Lives successfully adopts a different musical style, something that a lot of bands fail to do well. Where Kevin goes from here is anyone guess but on this evidence he can turn his hand to any genre. 7/10  

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Reviews: Stevie R. Pearce, Utopia, Brian Setzer, Steel Rhino (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Stevie R. Pearce And The Hooligans - Major League Son Of A Bitch (Heavy Rocka/Cargo Records) [Simon Black]

This is the sophomore album from this British Hard Rocker’s latest project. Although I’m not too familiar with his back catalogue, Mr Pearce has certainly earned his chops with the likes of Black Bullets, Enuff ’Z’ Nuff, Love/Hate and err, Warrior Soul. Once you’ve wrapped your head around that slightly eclectic list, the key thing to note is that he’s a really experienced player who really knows how a good Hard Rock tune should (and indeed should not) sound.

This is high octane stuff, with a contained yet powerfully deep thundering delivery and a highly infectious Hard Rock groove. Ball-busting opener Rip It Out sets the tone from the get go, with a strong riff, plenty of attitude and a crackingly well-built instrumental break, with a building drum beat that feels like it might not stop. The temp goes up a notch with the belter I’m On Fire, which despite its generally faster tone takes a subtle slower moment in the opening bars of the instrumental break, with a catchy little hammer riff before hammering the finish home. These sort of three minute wham-bam-thank-you-man’s work best for this band, as Pearce and gang take the best touches from his considerable Glam/Sleaze background but retaining a more modern and adult temperament than so much of that genre is responsible for. 

The tempo changes work well and highlight that song writing maturity. Equally solos are kept focused and riff driven, rather than just the attitude or any unnecessary showiness - despite the clearly visible skill of the playing, proving that restraint wins out over flashiness any day. That slower pace and maturity are more visible at the back end of the record with the pace coming down a notch or two, and some more experimental melodies and rhythms coming into play, and the variety on here make an interesting and refreshing change from the high tempo material, although sometimes that experimentation falls flat, such as the frankly bizarre Fleshwound.

Thirteen tracks in forty-five minutes means shows a focus on delivering a punch and not outstaying your welcome. The tracks may mainly be shorter, but they are the sharp and well-crafted product of an experienced group of players who know exactly how this style of music works. When they do take a little longer, the results are all the stronger for it, with the acoustic opening to ballad If I Were Blind in particular showing some real depth and the kind of track that absolutely could work on mainstream radio. This is top drawer Hard Rock from a band who know their stuff. 7/10

Utopia - Stalker (APF Records) [Matt Bladen]

Technical metal is a strange genre, it's even stranger with a band such as Utopia which comprises Corrupt Moral Altar vocalist, Chris Reese and guitarist John Bailey. Along with them are a cavalcade of prog/tech metal players such as guitarist Simon Peter King, bassist Arran McSporran (De Profundis), keyboardist Mike Moran (Ozzy Osbourne). Alongside them are three top notch drummers in the shape of Billy Rymer, Baard Kolstad (Leprous), Lee Fisher (Fawn Limbs/Psyopus) and Si Blakelock (Tangaroa/Dream Troll). This album is ridiculously vicious, it sets out to attack and destroy, peeling off riff after violent riff. Far removed from Bailey's day job as a guitarist for acts such as Aled Jones and Russell Watson. 

Stalker is a record built around a frantic style of eclectic jazz metal where the songs shift rapidly in quirky time signatures reminding me of bands such as Dillinger Escape Plan, SYL, Trepalium, Panzerballett and Shining as tracks such as Full Length Biography have those repeating polyrhythms and djent style grooves, Impotent Prophet one of the most mind-bending numbers on the record will wreck you mind, as Utopia ups the atmospherics and low slow doom sound. These are just three instances but there are numerous others where the band compliment the intelligent lyricsm with a musical dexterity that is often bewildering. For fans of virtuosic playing and extreme metal styling Stalker will get your faces gurning with appreciation. 8/10   

Brian Setzer – Gotta Have The Rumble (Surfdog/Mascot Records) [Simon Black]

Sometimes you just need a break from all the Metal. Given that my desk is normally groaning under the virtual weight of this month’s Power and Symphonic Metal releases, taking a side step to something a bit more retro makes a refreshing change. Enter the latest solo project from Brian Setzer, erstwhile of the Stray Cats and Brian Setzer Orchestra. The latter project had been the main solo vehicle for this Rockabilly Revival singer, guitarist and songwriter for a number of years, so I am not sure why the subtle rebrand has taken place, but either way if you know his name already, then you know exactly what to expect. That’s good old fashioned 50’s US Rockabilly Rock’N’Roll, which to be fair, is one of the starting points for everything that you normally get to hear in the Rock and Metal worlds.

In general it gets away with its retro feel better when the songs keep to the short two to three minutes of run time typical of the era. That said, Setzer does have the chops to allow for some more lengthy and experimental songs that work surprisingly well, because all the players clearly sound like they are having a good time doing it. The Cat With 9 Wives being the best example of this, even if lyrically the world has somewhat moved on somewhat. The cover and a number of the tracks may show the continued deep love of the road that still persists in the heart of America and fundamentally this remains good driving music of the kind that will always go down well at a bike rally. Setzer’s voice remains in good form, and he certainly knows how to write a tight and flowing set of tunes, added to which the production evokes the period whilst sounding rich and modern. First and foremost this remains music that is infectiously easy to listen to, even if the novelty does start to wear off after a while. 6/10

Steel Rhino - Steel Rhino (GMR Music) [Matt Bladen]

Ah Herbie Langhans, I love your voice, gritty and soulful. He has featured on numerous melodic/power metal bands and is the current frontman of Firewind. So how does he fair as the frontman of new group Steel Rhino? Well he's one of the redeeming features of this record. Drummer Mikael Rosengren is the brains behind this band, it's basically his solo record and he decided to move away from the melodic rock and embrace the heavy. Well it seems that Mikael has been listening to a lot of Accept recently as Steel Rhino is very Teutonic in terms of solid rock solid rhythms from Mikael's drum kit, the riffs come from Filip Vilhelmsson who takes the guitars and bass on the record with a dual axe attack and galloping bassline to fuse with Mikael's powerful percussion. To round things out they have picked the ideal voice for this record in Herbie who is the best thing here, elevating the reasonably basic music on the album. There are one or two tracks hear that are worth a couple of listens, and Europe will eat it up I'm sure but Steel Rhino doesn't really have enough going for it to come back more than once. 6/10

Friday 20 August 2021

Reviews: Wolves In The Throne Room, Diskord, Suns Of The Suns, Oceanhoarse (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Charlie Rogers & Simon Black)

Wolves In The Throne Room - Primordial Arcana (Century Media Records) [Matt Bladen]

Wolves In The Throne Room are a band that are rightly surrounded by mystery. Casting spells for a long time now, their entire ethos is built around being an almost cult-like group using their intensely cinematic style of black metal to bewitch and beguile the listener, bringing them down WITTR's own personal rabbit hole. After 20 years of toil, Primordial Arcana is the band's first self produced/recorded/mastered release, no outside factors just the three members collaborating on every aspect. It means that Primordial Arcana is almost the distillation of what WITTR are about as a band. 

Comprised of brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver alongside guitarist Kody Keyworth rounding things out but this is no power trio, stripped back sound. The band have always been incredibly creative and innovative in their take on extreme metal, so once again they look to add to their base sound with numerous different styles, for example the Oriental string instrument that is used all the way through the brooding Underworld Aurora a song that also beautifully mixes slow grinding doom with blasts of blistering speed, as vocally the growls feel as if they are coming from the underworld itself. While  singles Spirit Of Lightning and Primal Chasm (Gift Of Fire) both bring a sense of grandeur and occasion to the album as the riffs blaze, drums blast and vocals howl. 

Thematically the album deals with the natural world of Cascadia the 'bioregion' that encompasses their home state of Washington and has proven to be massively influential on the bands primeval, naturalistic and mystic soundscapes. Rivers flow and storms rage in the crossfades between tracks evoking a sense of calmness before yet more lashings of blastbeats and orchestral compositions that are the bread and butter of this band, however they do indulge in folky acoustics in the middle of Masters Of Rain And Storm is just one of numerous shifts as the synth textures of Eostre bring about those natural themes again as we move towards the (bonus track) finale of the Skyclad Passage which is an atmospheric instrumental to close proceedings on a wistful note. Primordial Arcana is a wonderfully deep record, one that requires multiple listens to fully unveil its splendour. 9/10 

Diskord - Degenerations (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Straight outta Oslo, with their 3rd full length album under their belt, Diskord are admittedly a new name to me. But with the description given to me as “Charlie you’ll like these, they’re inspired by Demilich” I couldn’t really turn it down, could I? I’m a big fan of angular riffs, and chaotic music, and Diskord hit the spot nicely. No time for atmosphere, samples, or whatever the modern bands are doing to open their records these days, we’re catapulted straight into the riffs from 0:00 in Loitering In The Portal. Nasally fretless bass chews through your ears, guitar tone buzzes away like the pulling apart of velcro, otherworldly shrieks and roars communicating lyrics unknown, all underpinned by some of the most manic drumming I’ve heard this year. It certainly leaves an impression, and if you’re also a Nespithe enjoyer it’ll be a good one. 

The album proceeds from here along a mad path, the interplay between the bass and guitar switching from coordinated heavy riffage to countermelody effortlessly. Percussion using all the tricks in the bag - from straight grooves, to blastbeats, to frantic fills, and even some punctuating cowbell hits. It’s about as far removed from your bog standard meat and potatoes death metal as you can be. Each track has its place, and there’s little to no fat to trim - which is very impressive considering it’s a 12 track album. I’m finding more and more to enjoy each listen through, and it’s very difficult to express what’s stopping this album from achieving a perfect score. Given the trend of how much I’m enjoying it, I’ll just recommend you check it out, and give it the 10. 10/10

Sun Of The Suns - TIIT (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

To sum up Sun Of The Suns in one word, it would be Urgh! Called the future innovators of extreme metal, TIIT is the debut album from Italian extreme metal act Sun Of The Suns. Made up of Luca Dave Scarlatti (vocals), Marco Righetti (guitar) and Ludovico Cioffi (guitar), there are some special guests in the rhythm section with Fleshgod Apocalypse sticksman Francesco Paoli on drums along with DGM's Simone Mularoni on bass. The trio that make up the band will have to work hard to keep up with these two and work hard they do, the short intro bringing you into the aggressive, explosive, crushing riffage, slapping you in the face with the groove-heavy, technical virtuosity of bands such as Whitechapel, Thy Art Is Murder, Job For A Cowboy. 

The more melodic sounds on tracks such as The Golden Cage washed away almost immediately by wave after wave of breakdowns which will get the pits moving when they unleash them live. It's a sci-fi record based around a dystopian and contaminated Planet Earth, and while most of the record is nearer to deathcore and tech death, there are some groove metal punches of Gojira on Obsolescence CorruptTIIT is a bulldozer of a record laying waste to all in it's path only small interludes such as To Decay To Revive calming the soul ready for the next beating. A brutal debut offering not for the faint of heart, if modern technical metal is what gets your camo shorts moving then I suggest checking out TIIT. 7/10

Oceanhoarse - Dead Reckoning (Noble Demon) [Simon Black]

The band have been around for a while but surprisingly never seen to have broken out of their native Finland, despite a quite lengthy series of singles, EP’s and one live LP to date before more recently finding a home on the Noble Demon label. This, their debut studio album, positively bristles with the pent up energy that those years of building to this point have culminated to and wisely chooses not to repackage any of those earlier singles and focus on newer, fresher material.

Whilst describing themselves as a plain and simple Heavy Metal band from Helsinki, Oceanhoarse have a lot more going on the mix than plain old NWOBHM or Traditional Metal vibes. It’s absolutely a part of the mix, but it’s a thoroughly modern Millie with it. That Modern twist takes in subtle motes of much of what has happened in the intervening decades since that first true Metal explosion of my youth without feeling that it has to be pin-holed into any one particular sub-genre, so I am just going to stick with Heavy Fucking Metal, because like everything going on in this fiery debt, it just fits and works.

The singles released so far are as good an entry point as any if you are simply curious. One With The Gun has a belting rhythmically brutal opening riff that grabs you into the world of Oceanhoarse and showcases singer Joonas Kosonen’s quite spectacular range from full on Metalcore to the more clean and scaling heights of delivery. Equally Reaching Skywards opts for speed over mood and shows that technically these chaps are rather tight and cohesive. Variety is the spice of life with this record which doesn’t stay still stylistically, whilst keeping a cohesive band sound and energy, energy, energy throughout. The thirteen tracks on here positively fly by and I can’t pinpoint a low point on here at all. 

As debut’s which have been building to a point of intensity go, this one is a positive belter and the thirteen tracks on here positively fly by. What this act need now is the opportunity to share their energy with the wider world, so go on, you know what you need to do… 8/10

Thursday 19 August 2021

Reviews: Warkings, Slaughter To Prevail, Witchcryer, Birth (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Warkings - Revolution (Napalm Records)

The four ancient kings return once again to guide the battle hoards towards victory with their third full length album Revolution which follows on from 2018's Reborn and 2020's Revenge with another 10 tracks of proper chest beating power/battle metal. Again the rhythm section of The Viking (bass) and The Spartan (drums) forge a powerful bottom end, driving the marching pace of Sparta Pt. II where the guitar riffs are augmented by Bouzouki as the lyrics talk of the ill-fated 300. Yes it's a well told tale but there are so few historical battles left that haven't been written about at this point that really you have to go with it. Talking of riffs they are carved out by The Crusader with ease as he slips into solos galore too, tracks such as the revolutionary Fight pitch it well right before the final chorus repeat. It's a guitar style that comes from power metal past, with some Germanic thrust to it as well. 

Rounding out this historical four piece is The Tribune who commands the songs with his recognisable voice, I won't let on about the real identities of these men but the vocals are very familiar to power/symphonic metal fans. He's joined on the anthemic Spartacus by Chris Harms of Lord Of The Lost providing aggressive counterpoint vocals. Revolution is yet another call to arms from Warkings, full of battle hymns that will get fans of Hammerfall and Sabaton bouncing. It's not a hugely progressive or much of different from their previous outings. But it's damn good fun and if history lessons were more like this then everyone would take it in school! 7/10

Slaughter To Prevail - Kostolom (Sumerian)

Throwing this out their before I begin, deathcore is not a genre I will rush to. I find it all a bit similar, the endless use of breakdowns, low end battery and vocal grunts does tend to lose my interest after a while. However they have a very loyal fan base, though most of whom are a nightmare in a mosh pit. Slaughter To Prevail's frontman Alex Terrible, has over 750,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, his extreme metal vocal covers gaining him a very loyal fanbase, most of whom will obviously follow him over into his band Slaughter To Prevail, where he puts his expressive vocal style on display for everyone. Now I will give the man kudos as his voice has every facet of extreme metal singing to it Agony in the Slipknot Corey Taylor vein, while first single Baba Yaga comes from a place so guttural that the sludge will be covered in sludge, while also taking a growl. Elsewhere Bonebreaker brings a touch of Lamb Of God, Demolisher having an unstoppable battery to it, along with some gargling grunts. This Russian deathcore mob are as heavy as a truck full of anvils in a lead lined sack, battering you at every opportunity. For a second album Kostolom is a meaty slab of ball crushing metal, one that will excite deathcore fans and Slipknot lovers alike. It hasn't changed my mind, but I can appreciate the talent here. 6/10

Witchcryer - When Their Gods Come For You (Ripple Music)

Following up their 2018 debut album with their latest release When Their Gods Come For You a concept record that is based around mythological stories, from Faust, to Roman/Greek Mythology and all points in between, this is a record about tales and images. Suzy Bravo the bands vocalist is very aware of the link between stories and illustrations having dabbled in various religions along with these epic tales from history that inspire numerous other creative works. The Austin, Texas based, classic metal band, channel these stories through an epic style of doom that also draws from NWOBHM as well. Suzy's voice is raspy and full of grit, she stands out front leading the band in these riff-fests. Driving the musical power is the six stringing of Lee Jason Muxlow. He comes from the Iommi school of riffage while the powerful backing of  Marilyn on bass and Javi Moctezuma drums which brings those Sabbath grooves to songs such as Blackfoot Creation Story/Spirit Power. Witchcryer remind me a lot of fellow Texans The Sword, their mixture of classic and doom metal is so appealing, and on When Their Gods Come For You the band have released their most fully fledged album yet. 7/10

Birth - Birth (Tee Pee Records)

Birth have just signed to Bad Omen Records and their debut album is due in 2022. However as precursor to this the bands demo EP, which is released through Tee Pee Records, is being promoted by Bad Omen Records, to introduce the band to their clientele. This is three track EP of what are essentially demos, so the production is a little rough (though I've heard far worse). But I will warn you here dear reader that this is prog, proper, mind bending, expansive prog for fans of bands such as King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and early-Yes. It's expected if you know that the band features two members from the 70's Prog revivalists Astra, who have an albums that feature extensive use of jazz time signatures, racks of keys, delicate guitars and fantasy storytelling. 

Conor Riley (keyboards/acoustic guitar/vocals) and Brian Ellis (lead guitar/keyboard) were key members of the San Diego band, those waves and waves of Mellotron and Hammond organs a key sound that is brought to this new venture. Supporting them are Psicomagia bassit Trevor Mast and Psicomagia drummer Paul Marrone plays on this recording but I believe is no longer in the band. This EP starts us off on our astral journey with some Hammonds that ape Deep Purple's When A Blind Man Cries as Marrone brings spacial percussion, Mast a throbbing rhythm for the multitude of keys. Ellis' guitar playing is elegant and masterful, soaring with clean melodies against the keys which are clearly the most prominent instrument. 

Under this cinematic approach though is Riley's lilting acoustic guitar and melodic vocal which is a unison of Anderson's both Jon (Yes) and Ian (Jethro Tull). I made reference to the point that these three tracks are demos, but Christ the production doesn't disappoint and the music...well that makes me feel all gooey inside. Proper prog from some modern masters. Bring on the debut! 8/10 

Reviews: Deafheaven, Between The Buried And Me, Kyros, Sulferon (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Deafheaven - Infinite Granite (Sargent House)

Deafheaven are one band that bring ire to black metal fans it's Deafheaven. Over their 10 year history they have shifted from a black metal sound to one that is much more akin to shoegaze, bands such as Alcest are clear comparison. However on their fifth album Infinite Granite they have all but disposed of the blackgaze of their earlier albums, moving into the ambient, post-metal sound with multi-part vocal harmonies coming from George Clarke, who on this record stays in his clean register, rarely making a foray into the extreme howls he is known for. It's a revelation that has been hinted at previously but now is fully realised. Clarke's vocal is mesmerising, he uses it to great effect against the gloriously bittersweet musical backing where the soaring guitars and textured synth arrays leads things into galactic realms, only briefly moving back into their extreme metal beginnings on tracks such as Mombassa

The album, like with many post-metal acts, the band are masters of build and release, the record having an enormous sense of catharsis about it. The floaty Shellstar starts the album with a poppy bent to it, while In Blur has jangly, repeating guitars (another band trademark) and Great Mass Of Color is a most potent example of this new Deafheaven, the music feeling like a changing of the guard as the psychedelic swathes of Dream Pop coming through on Neptune Raining Diamonds and the breezy Lament For Wasps hiding the cynicism of the lyrical themes throughout this album, a theme that also sits along synesthesia, as an influence for the albums lyrics. Deafheaven have interpreted their own distorted dreamscapes into a cohesive, beguiling, hallucinatory musical document. A thrilling record that may annoy the cvlt but will enthrall everyone else. 8/10

Between The Buried And Me - Colors II (Sumerian Records)

Between The Buried And Me (BTBAM) are often hailed as one of the best, modern, progressive metal bands on this pale blue dot. Their fourth album Colors (they are American), is seen as being a seminal offering from the band. It's brought their intense form of prog metal to a wider audience, while also saw them exploring strange new sounds that has become one of their trademarks, using off-kilter polyrhythms, jazz expressionism and plenty of synths. It is probably the album BTBAM are known for and to my shame as a prog fan, I've only just heard it. BTBAM are a band, much like Dillinger Escape Plan, that have escaped me, so upon my initial foray into their music I decided Colors was a good place to start especially as this new record is a thematic sequel. 

Fanboys may spot numerous, 'easter eggs' throughout the record with lots of throwback riffs, that are deliberately put in to draw a link between the two albums. Lead vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Rogers says that like with the original album, this one was written to be an 80+ minute listening experience, with a melting pot of styles throughout it, the two massive numbers, Never Seen/Future Shock and closer Human Is Hell (Another One With Love) are sprawling, audio journeys through the virtuosity of this band. They never play a note for notes sake though, the tracks here are meant to be part of a cohesive record, thematically similar but musically experimental, possibly more so than the band have been for a long time. 

Take for example the first single Fix The Error a thrashy track that evolves into both gospel and vaudeville before climaxing with a triple drum solo from Mike Portnoy (Sons Of Apollo), Navene Koperweis (Animals As Leaders), and Ken Schalk (Candiria), though BTBAM drummer Blake Richardson doesn't get one, though he shows his mettle across the rest of the album. Of course Paul Waggoner (lead & rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Dustie Waring (rhythm &lead guitar) and Dan Briggs (bass & keyboards) all bring their brilliance to the record as well, shifting through musical genres like a schizophrenic jukebox. I was truly blown away by this record, it's prog with a Capital P, I'm also a little annoyed with myself that I didn't 'get' Between The Buried And Me sooner as I've missed out on some of the most forward-thinking music out there. If like me you're entering their world then Colors II and it's part I are the best way to do it. 9/10

Kyros - Recover (White Star Records)

Kyros' previous two releases were brilliant. Modern, synth-led prog rock, I've sung their praises numerous times in the reviews so when this new album turned up I was very excited. Their Celexa Streams Isolation Sessions was a way to bring together the music world and also to tell their fans about Kyros keyboardist/vocalist Shelby Logan Warne announcement of being transgender and undergoing transitioning. The Isolation Sessions were a way to connect with their fans but also with the bands that have inspired their unique musical sound. Recover is their first release since Shelby's announcement and it is brimming with covers of some of their biggest influences, ranging from prog rock to arty and pop groups too. Yes there's guests with White Star Records co-founder John Mitchell, Ray Hearne of Haken and Andy Robinson of IHLO, the latter two featuring on a stirring version of Haken's The Good Doctor, Robinson on vocals and Hearne on drums. 

While Mitchell appears on Heartstrings Frost* The record opens with a Behind The Lines, which is my favourite Genesis song, Kyros playing it as straight as possible but adding their own flourishes. It's the ideal song for them to cover pairing the prog technicality with pop sensibilities. This is highlighted by the TWO Rush covers, the first being Force Ten from 1987's Hold Your Fire (keyboard Rush) and the instrumental Where's My Thing from 1991's Roll The Bones. I mean two Rush covers should make this a must buy but there's also some quirky power pop from Jukebox The Ghost, pop from Imogen Heap as well as some classic prog from Giraffe and even some Devin Townsend. All of the covers are never too far away from the originals but Kyros bring their own impressive style to each of the songs, a perfect way (along with their recent surprise EP) to bring about the next chapter of Kyros. 8/10

Sulferon - Caelesti Irrumator (Sleazy Rider Records)

Sulferon is the project of Typhonas, a musician from Central Macedonia (the proper Greek one), who is also a member of Arcane Dread, Helgast, Misama and a founder member of Impalement. So he's served his time in the extreme metal scene of Greece for a while now. He's also a founding member of Sulferon playing all of the instruments and also providing the vocals. Caelesti Irrumator is his eighth full length record of ravaging black metal, dissonant and raw the album is 8 tracks of fury Typhonas' drumming furious, double kicks galore evoking the D.I.Y first wave along with countless tech metal bands, while his riffing is biting reminding me of the more the second wave with nuanced slower passages and even some melodies in the guitars (I know right?) Vocally it's also like Satanic sandpaper, a fully throated roar, the lamentations of the church here for all to hear. Caelesti Irrumator (which if my Latin is still good means Heavenly Mastubation) is a very decent black metal album that comes from both the Nordic and Hellenic black metal scenes. 7/10