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Thursday 30 September 2021

Reviews: Enslaved, Drott, Enquire Within, Sepulchre By The Sea (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Richard Oliver, Paul Hutchings & Zak Skane)

Enslaved - Caravans To The Outer Worlds (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Scoble]

Enslaved shouldn’t need too much introduction to anyone with a little knowledge of Heavy Metal. The band formed in 1991 and 30 years later are still going strong. During their 3 decades together the band have released 15 albums, their first, Vikingligr Veldi in 1994, and their last album, Uygard, came out last year and was very favourably reviewed in these pages and elsewhere. Initially Enslaved played a very savage and harsh style of Black Metal before slowly modifying their sound to become one of the best Progressive Metal bands currently active. 

Enslaved are clearly an album band, as one thing they have not done very often is release Ep’s, Caravans To The Outer Worlds is only the bands 4th Ep. The line up that has made this rare beast is Ivar Bjørnson on Guitars, Grutle Kjellson on Vocals and Bass, Arve 'Ice Dale' Isdal on guitar, Håkon Vinje on Keyboards and Clean Vocals and Iver Sandøy on drums. The EP features 4 tracks 2 main songs; title track Caravans To The Outer Worlds and Ruun II - The Epitaph, and 2 instrumentals called Intermezzo I - Lonnlig. Gudlig, and Intermezzo II - The Navigator, which act as an intro and outro to the song Ruun II - The Epitaph.

Caravans To The Outer Worlds opens with just Bass before Keyboards are added, the song then drops into fairly aggressive Progressive Metal that is nicely uptempo and driving, the song has a mix of harsh and clean vocals, the occasional Blast Beat and 2 very fast and aggressive Guitar solos. It’s Enslaved’s Prog Metal sound but aggressive and purposeful, until the end which is quieter and brooding.
Intermezzo I - Lonnlig. Gudlig is slow and very heavy, it sounds like Enslaved, but, like the title track it’s a little bit more vexed than the band have been for a while. 

Intermezzo I - Lonnlig. Gudlig takes the audience into Ruun II - The Epitaph. This track is much less aggressive that the opener, but also has a bark and brooding feel to it. The Guitars are clean throughout the track so it has a little bit of a Post Rock feel that I haven’t heard from Enslaved before. The track is fairly Keyboard heavy so despite the lack of distorted guitars, the song still manages to build to a feeling of hugeness. Intermezzo II - The Navigator is driving, taut Progressive Metal, there are lots of layers and in places it sounds a little bit like Devin Townsend, but without the wackiness.

Caravans To The Outer Worlds is a great piece of Progressive Metal. The tracks work very well together and the flow of material is fantastic. Although as an EP the lack of length means this doesn’t have the dramatic sweep of the bands last album, but this material clearly isn’t meant to have that kind of sense to it, the band knew this material was slightly different to their usual material, which is why it’s been put out as an Ep. This is an essential addition to any Enslaved fans collection. 8/10

Drott - Orcus (By Norse Music) [Richard Oliver]

Drott is a three piece Norwegian band made up of Mattias Monsen, Arve Isdal of Enslaved and Ivar Thormodsæter of Ulver. They formed only very recently in 2020 and released a self-titled E.P. earlier this year but now comes their debut full length album Orcus.

Orcus is an album inspired by forces of nature, superstition and spirituality and the musicians themselves with their varied musical background ranging from metal and jazz to classical music have created a unique sounding entity. This is an album that sits in the realms of the avant-garde, progressive and psychedelic with the songs themselves being mainly instrumental and built upon soundscapes and atmosphere. The sounds and atmospheres within these songs is varying from the driving progressive rock of Katabasis, the gloomy and oppressive Psychopomp, the Far Eastern folk of By The Lunar Lake and the progressive metal leanings of the title track.

With varying sounds and styles the album does lack a bit of cohesiveness but the music on offer is very enjoyable even if the jumps in styles between tracks can be a bit jarring at times. This is an album that peels away its layers with each consecutive listen and is definitely a listen that demands your attention. This is an album that will appeal to fans of progressive music as well as those who like their music drowning in darkness. 7/10

Enquire Within – Rebirth (Metal Rocka Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The follow up to their debut Bloodlines, Rebirth sees the London based quartet bringing the modern metal once more and it’s a ferocious combination of thrashy melodic metal combined with irresistible groove. From what I understand, Rebirth is the story of a man who finds himself amid a war-torn conflict, carrying out acts of evil and racked with remorse questioned the lies he was told when he signed up. The album follows his journey through mental health chaos, his questioning of why he found killing and combat enjoyable and the balance between that and the terrifying realisation that suicide may be the only solution. Ultimately, our man loses control and embarks on another maniacal journey which he needs to feed his bloodlust. 

Formed in 2016 and based in London, the combination of metal-core and thrash with a melodic edge is the signature for Enquire Within. The contrast between clean and roaring vocals is pleasing and works well. The band have a huge sound, the production enhances the driving bass lines and the songs are woven neatly around the storyline, Whilst much of Rebirth is bludgeoning riffs and hammering drums, there’s opportunity to bring the emotion to the fore, such as the harrowing Burned, which takes a more balanced and semi-ballad approach. Get Out sits firmly in the Slipknot camp, the haunting guitar work straddling the frantic switch between vocals. Influences are evident in parts; Slipknot, Trivium, Machine Head and AX7 are all evident but without overwhelming the originality that is on display. 

It’s modern metal, but with plenty of nods to those seminal bands. Rebirth has an important story line, flagging the conflict of mental health and the impact of war. It is solid, fiery, and well worth a listen. 7/10

Sepulchre By The Sea – Ratiocination (Self Released) [Zak Skane]

Sepulchre by the Sea are a one man Atmospheric Black Metal band from Bristol that has formed over the duration of lockdown. The project takes lyrical influences from artist like Edgar Allan Poe. Their opening track Ghost Of The Departed starts off with this well recorded low rumbling soundscape before it comes in with cinematic glockenspiel produced melodies. Once we are greeted by this cinematic soundscapes band hits us in the face with some Insomnium inspired melancholy riffs. Throughout the track the band keep it interesting by adding additional ambient guitar sections to keep the listeners attention. 

Their second track comes in with this soundscape of people screaming before it comes in generating some black metal vibes with blast beats tremolo picked power chords before it comes into some 6/8 swinging grooves. The best way I can explain this track is if Behemoth and Lamb Of God did a collaboration. Their third and final track Ratiocinations begins with this heavy fuzz guitars that remind me of the intro to Metallica's Orion before it comes in with shoegazey black metal section that takes homage to bands like Deafheavan especially with the heavy reverbed vocals. 

When it comes to second half of the song the band create a more up beat atmosphere by introducing acoustic guitar ambient tremolo sections and a major key solo backed played over blast beats?! With three tracks having the duration of a five track EP in total the band have done a really good keeping the listener engaged especially with adding different instrumentation and atmospheres through out their songs. I would say that the productions quality is a bit on the rough side but that doesn’t stop the bands musicianship shining through. 8/10.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Reviews: Ministry, Skam, Dead Man's Whiskey, Cistvaen (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Ministry - Moral Hygiene (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

Ministry is an act I’ve not really taken much notice of for a very long time, although in the early 90’s I was all over this sort of stuff. The whole Industrial movement reached its peak for me with the Psalm 69 album - their fifth by the way, though most think it’s the first (although to be fair even Al Jourgensen doesn’t like to talk about their Synth-Pop roots). By a combination of major label support riding the coattails of what Nine Inch Nails had achieved commercially with Pretty Hate Machine and a beautifully timed melding of technology and song-writing to produce an album that had the ethos of what was effectively a technically manufactured product with the energy and groove of a full on live band, this album was a hit.

This is quite important as at that time Industrial records were studio projects crafted in dark rooms by one or two people, a drum machine and a big bag of drugs. Jorgenson also opted for a way heavier guitar sound than was the norm with that album and so Industrial Metal was properly born, a bit like an Alien chestburster ripping itself free from its host, leaving a surprised and still warm carcass behind it. This album blew the door open for the movement in many way, but branched both Ministry and the genre in a completely different direction. Sadly for me my love affair with them ended when I saw them live and experienced bleak and total disappointment. This was material that did not work live, especially when the front man is off his tits, so they and everything they recorded thereafter never crossed my radar again until now.

The world has moved on of course and now acts have got quite good at making the technical elements work live and more organically, which means you get bands who achieve the strange end result of working better live than in studio (a la Rammstein). Ministry have the benefit of both hindsight and survivor guilt to ensure that they keep that balance as well … that and regular bouts of rehab. This is also music that by virtue of having its roots in technology and studios is perfectly suited for lockdown production methods, so the consequence that this is an album that actually sounds closer to their formative years in tone, whilst maintaining a level of catchiness and accessibility. It actually reminds me of The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, with its robotic back rhythms and interweaved samples there is more of that repetitive industrial groove underpinning the whole album, yet this does absolutely have the full fat and energy of a live band as well. 

Production wise the sound and mix bounce around a lot a fair bit and despite subtly overlapping the tracks in the running order, its clear they weren’t all birthed in the same studio sessions. This is no bad thing, as there’s nothing worse than a flat sounding album dragging on interminably and repetitively for its own sake, but it’s these fatter live sounding tracks like the superbly crafted Search And Destroy that steal the show. The downside is there’s not enough of them. That said, a pleasant surprise and a partial return to form. 6/10

SKAM – Venous (X-Ray Records) [Simon Black]

Unfortunately a more recent Swedish Death/Grindcore act is trying to use the same name, but these boys have been at it since 2011 and have accumulated quite an extensive back catalogue in that time, and their rate of output seems refreshingly prolific. I had the pleasure of reviewing these Leicester boys Intra EP last year and remember being blown away at home mature and well-rounded this 90’s Indie-Rock infused act were. Apart from being completely unable to get out there and let people outside that fine city know that they are still there, little has changed in that regard.

This is the second half of the project and this EP has another six tracks of what collectively the band are calling Intravenous. This does naturally feel like it’s picking up where last year left off, but these tracks are not quite so full on and take a few moments to add a more subtle side to their sound alongside the straight ahead rocking groove, which makes perfect sense now that it’s clear that the two EP’s are half of a cohesive project. The more acoustic and gentle opening to Deadliest Sin is slower but still bristles with unrestrained energy, making the moments of chorus cranking up the overdrive not sound like the normal clichéd power ballad fare, instead it bristles with it’s simple, yet deeply emotive and fist-punching solo. Brilliant.

Their ability to deliver punchy numbers, with razor sharps rests and time changes is undiminished though, and I Don’t Know is and brilliant belter of a track which is ridiculously addictive and perhaps might have made a better single than the more radio friendly single Fade Out. Either way, my love of this act can only grow, as they’ve managed to squirm their way into my regular Spotify playlist and they remain high on the list of acts I’ve discovered in the last eighteen months that I really, really want to see live. 8/10

Dead Man's Whiskey - Breakout EP (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

If ever there was a band perfect for the Planet Rock listenership, it's Dead Man's Whiskey. There debut album was overlooked on it's initial release but in 2019 a remastered, expanded edition grabbed the attention of both the music press and that veritable classic rock radio station. Then like with so many other bands, the momentum stopped touring wasn't viable so this Wild Bill Hickok influenced classic rock band headed back into the story to write some more music. The result was this 5 track EP Breakout the album eye catching cover of masked, Stetson skeleton behind that now famous Hands. Face. Space podium of the Covid briefing room (the one that cost a shitload of taxpayers money) the only real clue to their Western obsession as the music on this EP comes from the classic rock sound of bands like Whitesnake on the bluesy, sleazy I Am Here, some AC/DC on the duck walking Breakout and Bon Jovi on Never Ever. They owe their influences big time but they do inject a bit of modern style to it. Though it has all been done to absolute death. What I would say is that with all the Western influences on the cover and in the band name, this EP is has little to no Southern rock sounds on it, meaning it feels a little disjointed from the visual part of the band. Still as I said the Planet Rock audience will lap it up but for me there's a bit too much deja vu. 6/10 

Cistvaen - Under The Silent Meadow Skies EP (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Forged in the frozen South West in 2017, Cistvaen are a band born out of their homestead, the natural beauty of all that is around them containing a solitude and a sadness when not in full bloom. Similarly to Winterfylleth they draw much of their inspiration from the landscape and natural history of their homeland. They do this through sprawling atmospheric black metal, that they have been touring around the country for numerous years now, having impressed everywhere they go, supporting acts such as Fen, Hecate Enthroned along with Winter Eradication and Advent Sorrow in Cardiff where we at the MoM saw them play. However with a cease to touring it was finally time for them to record songs they have honed on these multitude of live stages.

So now they have turned their attention to recording an EP that follows on from their single track Kistvaen released in May of this year. Under The Silent Meadow Skies EP was written and recorded in Summer this year in Bath, however there is no sunshine here, just three tracks of doom laden, extreme metal, each of the songs run past nine minutes, guitarists Lee Meade and Chris Finch dividing their time between evocative single note atmospherics, prolonged periods of heavy downtuned epic doom riffs and blistering tremolo picking as the rhythm section of bassist James Mardon and drummer Ed Wilcox provide an evocative backbeat to these bleak, ethereal soundscapes. 

The final track The Voice Of an Old God especially poignant and powerful the fluid melodic guitar playing settling over the distorted riffs as the pained growl of Guy Taylor carries their often pastoral and pagan lyrics. Sonically a major step up from the Kistvaen single, this an EP with a balanced sound allowing everything to be heard crisply, which is to the benefit of Cistvaen's expansive sound. An impressive debut EP and with a second in the works things are looking great for Cistvaen! 8/10   

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Reviews: Kryptos, Duel, Apostolica, Graceful (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Kryptos - Force Of Danger (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Fancy an Indian? In this case, the feisty classic metal with a thrash twist of Bangalore’s Kryptos whose latest album Force Of Danger is a decent 35-minute listen. Formed in 1998, the band have supported some of metal’s biggest names including Iron Maiden, Testament, Kreator and Exodus and have also brought out five albums. Their credentials include a couple of appearances at Wacken, supporting tours with Death Angel and a European headline tour in 2019. There’s nothing remotely original about the band’s style or approach but their competent and solid delivery means that there is nothing to dislike with Force Of Danger

Opener Raging Steel is thrashier than some of the other tracks on offer here and may appeal to those who like their metal with more speed. The likes of Dawnbreakers, Thunderchild and Nighthawks are all muscular heavy metal with a contemporary twist. Vocally, Nolan Lewis has a slightly challenging delivery, but one that suits the band’s music. There’s little variation, but I’ve heard far worse and whilst Force Of Danger won’t threaten my top ten, it was an enjoyable listen. 7/10

Duel - In Carne Persona (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Hutchings]

Album number four from Texas four-piece Duel and for me it is probably their most impressive and accessible yet. It’s crafted with magical stoner and psychedelic flavours and underpinned by a boatload of riffs, the essence of the band. The Texans get better with every release and this one brings in elements of classic heavy metal and hard rock; there’s touches of Thin Lizzy, UFO and Priest hidden away here. From the opening Children Of The Fire, with its hard rocking crunch, the mystical weaving of The Veil through to the six-minute Blood On The Claw which moves in a more expansive, sleepy way, there is nothing to dislike. 

Duel have always delivered, and this release is another superb addition to the discography. The trippy Behind The Sound and the riff-soaked Dead Eyes may hark back to the 70s but whilst the echoes of the past run deep, Duel also bring their contemporary approach, mixing their sound into a classic combination which allows each song to sink deep in the psyche. I could eulogise all day about this band; suffice, they are one of the best in the stoner genre today and hugely underrated. The band, Tom Frank - guitars/vocals Shaun Avants - bass/vocals Justin Collins – drums Jeff Henson - guitars/vocals could give Mastodon a run for their money. You should buy In Carne Persona. It’s bloody great. 9/10

Apostolica - Haeretica Ecclesia (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

This mysterious, enigmatic four piece all go by biblical pseudonyms we have Ezekiel on vocals, Isaia on guitar, Jonas on bass and drummer Malachia. They combine their years of experience in other bands (so we are told) to create this debut sermon. Now there is a huge amount of Biblical references in this record. The entire thing is a concept based around the Book Of Revelations, but in the modern day. As you explore more of this album, you discover that the Biblical/Religious imagery of the band is subverted much like it is with Powerwolf, who Apostolica are a huge amount like, both musically and aesthetically. Ezekiel has rough vocals guide these heavy metal sermons on tracks such as Thanatos where the rolling organs lead into a marching chorus that is full Sabaton. 

The Swedish history metallers another major influence that looks large. Essentially Apostolica play melodic heavy metal that has an ear to the cinematic, dressing themselves in costumes and masks to keep the mystery of their membership alive. There aren't many bands who can subvert the biblical imagery as honestly as this Italian band, but they do so through dramatic, muscular symphonically backed heavy metal. Whether they will reach the same heights as Powerwolf, Sabaton and those heretics in Ghost, remains to be seen but this debut record is a bloody good start. 7/10

Graceful - Demiurga (Vlad Productions) [Matt Bladen]

Billed as heavy fusion, Graceful are about as heavy and fusion as you could get. This French band are in two words: fucking weird. Extremely experimental on their sound Demiurga is and album seeping with post metal ambience, stoner rock riffage, trip hop beats and lots of quirky oddness that will appeal to fans of Mike Patton's projects. The album is about the insecurity of the psyche and it switches between sounds with the same frequency as an unsettled mind, Eddie Coutinho's drums the most consistent and persistent sound on the record as Pierre Redondo, Claude Orain and François Orain move between guitar, bass and keys, the three of them key to this wildy explorative record. 

Water Bombs brings grooves, as does the heavy bass of Two which has a feel of current QOTSA, while opener The Passage is frenzied, François' vocals bringing to mind At The Drive In/The Mars Volta man Cedric Bixler-Zavala on I Hope You Run Fast (If You Don't Want To Die). While my colleague and myself saw Kryptos and Apostolica had nothing original, Graceful are nothing but original. Strangeness abound and musically evocative Demiurga is an interesting listening experience, I really enjoyed this audio journey, which is very much for the open minded muso. 8/10

Monday 27 September 2021

Reviews: Subfire, Tales Of The Old, Shadowmass, Wildfire (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Subfire – Define The Sinner (Symmetric Records)

As you listen to this record you may think that Subfire hail from Sweden or Germany as their tough style of power metal is very much those countries bread and butter. But no Subfire are a Greek heavy metal band and Define The Sinner is their brilliant debut album. Balancing heavy riffs and melodies well, they have complied an album of chest beating anthems, that also some more theatrical elements. You can hear these theatrical flourishes on the Eastern influenced, powerful, proggy opener Sacred Destinies a song that sounds a little like it could be on a Sons Of Apollo or Myrath. The band have been around for a while with numerous line ups all of which look to be more in the power/symphonic style but on this full length they are a lean mean four piece and have clearly taken cues from Serenity, Kamelot and Firewind as these 10 songs are as much about fist pumping metal as they are creating atmospheres. 

The music on the record was written by guitarist George Larentzakis and the lyrics come from him and drummer Symeon Sanidas in collaboration. But this is a guitarists’ album, a mixture of power and traditional metal style. All the songs are built around a great riffs, with lots of opening for the virtuoso guitar solos. A track like the battle metal march of Fate Of A Sinister World is one that really displays how good Subfire are as a band, it’s got a thrashy riff driven by galloping basslines from Rindra Rado and pacy but understated drumming from Sanidas, numerous time changes that allow acoustics to creep in as vocalist Veandok shows off his impressive range, though on the next song Sins Of Morality we get a moody ballad, backed by strings, that’s pure Roy Khan fronted Kamelot! Infinity meanwhile sounds like it could be Stratovarius with a keyboard/guitar duel. Produced by Symmetric Records boss Bob Katsionis Define The Sinner is a potent metal record that announces Subfore properly as a new force in heavy metal. 9/10

Tales Of The Old - Book Of Chaos (Pride And Joy)

Tales Of The Old is Michael Tzanakis, there's no bounds about it, he is an established keyboard player in the Greek music scene and wanted to create an album that evoked those early Rhapsody records. Having stripped away all the other members of the band since their 2012 EP, Book Of Chaos is essentially a solo album, with the only other instrumentalist being Bob Katsionis on guitar and co-production along with Tzanakis. As soon as you press play on this debut full length the sound of Rhapsody is the most prominent, keyboard/orchestration heavy symphonic metal and classical choirs are the order of the day as Michael has also managed to get Fabio Lione (Rhapsody) to sing on this one and a few other tracks, meaning that they are the ones that are most like the Italian symphonic metal legends. 

The main vocalists on the record though are tenor Alexandros Louziotis, soprano Christina Alexiou and Tzanakis who provides screams. Songs such as Dark Witch will get your symphonic metal feelers twitching as Fabio Lione returns duetting with Chaostar's Androniki Skoula. Elsewhere though the powerful Broken Heart features SixforNine's the husky vocals of Fotis Bernardo while final track The First Exorcism has Rotting Christ's Sakis Tolis barking up a storm. Book Of Chaos is a decent enough symphonic metal album with touches of the numerous metal operas as well, it features some of the best talent from the Greek metal scene, showing the strength of Michael Tzanakis' phonebook if nothing else. It's musically competent, if a little unspectacular. 6/10

Shadowmass - Oculus Diaboli (Self Released)

Speed/Thrashers Shadowmass' debut release was compared to Kill 'Em All by Paul Hutchings in 2019 and they have certainly doubled down on the raw, savage speed metal on their follow up EP Oculus Diaboli. It's with the frantic battery of songs such as Scorn Worshipper that reminded me of Brit thrashers Evile. There's a bit of melodic twist occasionally but mostly the band are very much metal of the heavy variety with lots of dirty, evil sounding thrash. A track such as OD II is a gloomy and moody instrumental driven by Constantine's bass and Maelstrom's drumming. Powerful and brooding it lives up to those classic thrash instrumentals, as they pick up the pace again on the black metal inspired Desecrators a song where Stam's tremolo picking delivering in droves. Vocally too he has a tough throaty roar which again brings to mind those early Evile records. There are positive signs throughout this EP that Shadowmass have expanded their thrash/speed sound, without getting rid of their main influence. This thrash trio have followed up their debut full length with another 19 minutes of belligerent, D.I.Y blackened thrash. I look forward to their second full length. Play loud in an open space for maximum effect. 7/10

Wildfire - Wildfire EP (Self Released)

Wildfire are a band from Athens Greece that play classic heavy metal, tracks such as Night Of The Witch bring to mind bands from the NWOBHM such as Saxon, Saracen and early Praying Mantis, but the remaining tracks on the album sit comfortably in the American sound of bands such as Dokken, Y&T and Winger.  Choppy riffs, fluid soloing and sing along choruses are very much what Wildfire do, their mid-paced metal often bringing in some more American radio sounds on Heart Offender especially. There's a lot of hair/sleaze metal sounds on this EP that are clearly the major influences of this band, but whatever you think of the music these bands produced, Wildfire are very faithful to it. Very much a case of, if you like the genre you'll like it, if not then you may miss this Wildfire. 6/10 

Reviews: Brainstorm, The Answer Lies In The Black Void, The Watch, Rites To Ruin (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Brainstorm - Wall Of Skulls (AFM Records)

Andy B. Franck has been at the forefront of heavy metal act Brainstorm from 1999 and they have been building up a reputation as fierce live act since then with founder members Torsten Ihlenfeld (guitars), Milan Loncaric (guitars) and Dieter Bernert (drums) still cranking out the riffs as the founding members after all these years. In 2018 they released Midnight Ghost an album they consider to be their nadir so far. It's hard to argue as it saw them reaching new musical heights adapting their sound from speedy power metal to more muscular classic heavy metal style. The Covid lockdown allowed Franck to take the time with the band a bit more to collaborate and continue this purple patch. 

It's paid off in spades as Wall Of Skulls is a ballsy, classic heavy metal record Franck's vocals soaring high above tracks like the galloping I, The Deceiver or the raucous Where Ravens Fly, Ihlenfled and Loncaric firing off riffs like they were bullets as Franck confirms Bernert and bassist Antonio Leva were given free reign to do as they wish with the bottom end, resulting in some of the songs having a more technical rhythm to them. The album is bright and well rounded, due to the production of Orden Organ's Seeb Levemann, who adds his vocals to Turn Off The Light while the distinct throat of Peavy Wagner of Rage appears on the thrasher Escape The Silence. These two songs marking the first time that Brainstorm have featured guests, but it's another element to the continued evolution of Brainstorm as a band. The Germans have been around for a while now but at they are living up to their billing as the most recent addition to the elder statesman of German heavy metal. 8/10

The Answer Lies In The Black Void - Forlorn (Burning World Records)

Formed as a way to explore doom metal in all it's forms, The Answer Lies In The Black Void is a collaboration between singer Martina Horváth (Thy Catafalque) and Breakcore musician Jason Köhnen (Celestial Season & Bong-Ra) both indulging in their shared love of doom while also incorporating industrial soundscapes and Martina's Hungarian folk music roots, a subject she has been studying and embracing since the age of five even singing in the St. Paul's Cathedral's choir in London. The song White Dove opens with some Hungarian Folk singing adding an additional dimension to the song. Both are part of Mansur along with Dmitry El Demerdashi, but here they move away from the blues/electronica of that band here. 

Those who have listened to Thy Catafalque will know how expressive Martina's voice is and on this record she is the filter through which these introspective, emotional lyrics are cast out into the world. On tracks such as Rubicon the haunting fragility of her voice creates a mysterious atmosphere before the crushing riffs get things moving again, those folk influences too creeping in towards the end as Matina howls over the fat riffs, following on from here is the industrial tinged Moult which is pulsating number moving more towards Jason's day job. Forlorn is a swaggering doom metal record, the genre is treated with respect by this duo but also they bring their own style to it. A synth heavy record that pays reverence to the traditions of doom, it's all encompassing and packed with dynamic soundscapes. If this is where the answers lie then deep dive into Horváth and Köhnen's black void. 8/10

The Watch - The Art Of Bleeding (Self Released)

Led by vocalist, principal songwriter and teacher Simone Rossetti since 1997 (when they were The Night Watch) The Watch are a progressive rock band from Milan, Italy. When I was doing some research about this album I saw that the band were doing a November tour in the UK where they will play the music of Genesis from 1970 to 1976. Prog/Genesis fans will know that this encompasses the period where they were fronted by Peter Gabriel (excluding their debut record). So I was immediately interested as no matter how much I enjoy the Phil Collins fronted Genesis (there I said it!), the Peter Gabriel fronted Genesis years are where they were a 'proper' prog rock band. The Watch's own music is about as close you'll get to Peter Gabriel-led Genesis in 2021, written specifically to fit in seamlessly with that material.

The thrilling mix of pastoral folk influence, dense keys and organs from the Canterbury scene, poetic lyricism and a willingness to experiment with theatricality is what made Genesis so vital in their early days. Simone's voice is a dead ringer for Gabriel, lilting and soulful, he also plays flute, keys and synths on this record, Valerio De Vittorio is also the bands keyboard/synthesizer wizard on the live making for more keyboards here than in an IT Support office. The Art Of Bleeding is the band's intro, wrapped in a gorgeous cover painting that looks like an sci-fi movie poster (very A Clockwork Orange). An Intro fixes the sound unashamedly in the 70's, the keys establishing themselves as a lead instrument on this wistful introduction. 

A repeating synth lick opens up the eerie Red and it's apparent to anyone where bands like Opeth/Steven Wilson got their influence from. Marco Fabbri's drumming gives momentum accompanying Mattia Rossetti, the bands bass and guitar rhythm slinger. Rounding out the band is Giorgio Gabriel, whose fluid lead guitar work is invoking those classic Steve Hackett guitar lines. The Art Of Bleeding is a concept record (of course it is) the songs blending into one another keeping an unsettling feeling throughout the eight song journey. Simone Rossetti is obviously a true devotee of Gabriel, he and his virtuoso band are continuing that legacy while the real band themselves are signing off. If you never wanted to Turn It On Again but always prefered to have Carpet Crawlers then discover The Art Of Bleeding. 9/10

Rites To Ruin - Fire (Self Released)

Back when Krissie Kirby left Triaxis, those of us who had been following the band since the early days were left waiting to see if she would ever return to fronting a heavy metal band? Thankfully those questions were answered when Rites To Ruin was announced, featuring Krissie on vocals along with rhythm guitarist Matt Chambers, who was one of the final members of Triaxis when they finally split up in 2018. The membership of the band was filled out to feature lead guitarist Lee Cartner, bassist Paul Boschen (Burn Thy Enemy) and drummer Tom Ross (Shadows Of Serenity). They grabbed producer Iain 'GT' Davies to set about recording what was to be their debut EP. 

Aptly named Fire it's four tracks of fast, furious heavy metal, sitting between classic metal and thrash, the four songs on this EP have a progressive element but on Forsaken the first track things stay pretty straightforward, double kick drums, galloping rhythms and lead flourishes with Krissie unleashing those powerful pipes. It's probably the song most would expect to open the record, almost a transition from Triaxis to Rites To Ruin, establishing the latter while acknowledging the former. Next up is Santanico which amps up the heaviness bringing some swinging grooves from the No More Tears Ozzy era, Lee even unleashing a Zakk Wylde-esque widdly solo. 

Things slow down on the atmospheric Rise which builds on Tom's echoed drumming into a progressive thrasher which veers between contrasting riffs guided by Matt and Paul. Finally we have the title track which keeps the progressive style on a 7 minute slab of metal with a huge shout along chorus, again bringing an Iron Maiden vibe with a little bit of Tool and Marillion too. These four songs are a welcoming introduction to Rites To Ruin and it's even better to hear Krissie belting it out once again! With live shows lined up for the end of the year, things are burning bright for this new addition to the UK metal scene. 7/10  

Friday 24 September 2021

Reviews: Tremonti, Solarius, LLNN, Signs Of The Swarm (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

Tremonti - Marching In Time (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Alter Bridge/Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti is no stranger to writing a good tune, whether it's with the two bands mentioned or in his solo effort, he has an uncanny way of marrying technically assured heavy metal with catchy songs. On his solo efforts though he's able to experiment a bit more with a heavier style, mainly his love of speed metal. This fifth record moves away from the conceptual nature of his previous album, shifting focus into a more upbeat stance, this is Mark dealing with a global pandemic through his writing on this album, making hopeful, anthemic tunes full of the obviously virtuoso guitar playing. The Last One Of Us is a perfect example of what Tremonti does well, it has a big chorus which reminds you that Mark is also an excellent singer too. But also brings lots of acoustics, clean guitars and those downtuned riffs. 

The record kicks off with the pumping A World Away Tremonti and long term friend Eric Friedman peeling off riffs like nobody's business. It's a heavy way to start the record before we're brought back to more familiar territory on Now And Forever and If Not For You with the fist in the air sing alongs, the back room of Ryan Bennett (drums) and Tanner Keegan (bass) adding a needed thump for that heavy style. The record ends with the 7 minute title track which is the story of a father having a child during a pandemic, taken mainly from Tremonti's only experience. It's an emotional way to end a record full of different emotions, The Last One Of Us is a stirring radio track, Not Afraid To Lose a ballad, as Would You Kill gets thrashy again. Marching In Time is the most fully realised of all of Tremonti's solo albums. A muscular melodic metal record from this experienced hand. 8/10        

Solarius – Universal Trial (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Hutchings]

A four track EP of never released tracks from 2006, Universal Trial may sound familiar to fans of the fuzzy psychedelia sound and with good reason. The band featured one Jonatan Ramm, guitarist, and vocalist with Gothenburg outfit Graveyard. From what I understand, these analogue tapes have been discovered after being hidden for 15 years. Predating the debut album by Graveyard, Solarius bring a classic 2000s stoner feel, rich with keys that underpin each song adding lush layers, whilst the thick heavy riff is classic of the genre’s sound. 

The title track opens the album, and it’s a feisty stomping piece with some delicious lead guitar that wails and howls as the track erupts in the final minute. Sky Of Mine has a lovely vibe, with the harmonies on the vocals soaring above the driving bass and drums. It’s got a totally different feel to the title track, with a bounce that verges on Americana for brief moments before the organ brings the song back to the more comforting style. 

Two slightly longer songs bring the EP to an end. The haunting and creepy Into The Sun with its definitive psychedelic tone and echoing guitars meanders and wanders before crashing into another explosive workout that you can’t help but nod along to. This leads to the final track, Mother Nature Mind, which begins with extended guitar interplay before dual vocals lead the band into an acoustic and melancholic finale that features more excellent lead guitar work as the crescendo arrives. It’s interesting fare, and one that fans of early Graveyard are likely to find most agreeable. 7/10

LLNN - Unmaker (Pelagic Records) [Matt Bladen]

Danish band LLNN are an elemental force of nature, their savage, raw, aggressive post-metal sound is inspired by bands such as Cult Of Luna, Amenra and The Body, carving out a niche for themselves as a band that deliver music to suffocate you. If you read the accompanying PR that came with this album you will see that they also are inspired by the unnerving soundtracks to films such as Alien or Blade Runner. These dark ambient soundscapes started to come in on their previous album Deads where the synths of Ketil G. Sejersen have really brought a sense of John Carpenter's evocative unsettling soundscapes. They linger and creep in the background of Desecrator which has Christian Bonnesen roaring like a demon bringing riffs along with bassist Rasmus Furbo. 

But on Vakuum the synths are really used for atmosphere leading into the blipping Scion along with the cacophonous Interloper and Division are exactly what you want from a band such as LLNN, swathes of doomy synths against ballbreakingly heavy metal assault. The band released a short film around making this album, with a focus on the massive amounts of sound design here. Nods to John S Bowen and even Sunn O)) on Resurrection. What is the biggest influence here is field recording artists such as Steve Roden also clearly plays a role in the creation of this record, these manipulated sounds throughout the record make it different to other post-metal acts around as there is something disconcerting about it. An interesting offering from LLNN that needs numerous plays to understand. 7/10 

Signs Of The Swarm - Absolvere (Unique Leader) [Paul Hutchings]

New to Musipedia, Pennsylvanian death metal five-piece Signs Of The Swarm’s fourth album Absolvere suggests that for those who worship at the altar of extremity, this is a band well worth investing some time. Historically, the band underwent a seismic shift in 2018 with a change in vocalist, founding member CJ replaced by Dave Simonich. His second full-length with the band sees him in vicious, feral form, guttural roars, and throat shredding screams amongst his armouries. It’s a huge opening, the boot stomp of Hymns Ov Invocation. A mix of aural abuse, there are powerful blast beats, massive driving riffs and slower, heavier slab cracking segments. It sets the tone for an album of fierce brutalist aggression. It’s explosive, animalistic and at times sensorially intimidating. And yet, underneath it all melody finds a way to survive, such as the soaring lead break on Boundless Manifestations

Over 40 minutes Signs Of the Swarm lay waste with a maelstrom of fire and brimstone. It’s not all hammer to cranium though, with some clean vocals adding an interesting melodic contrast that is unexpected. Huge breakdowns force immense jagged turns, and the overall thrust of the songs brings dissonance to the standard approach that one might expect. The punishment is relentless, and tracks such as Totem are monstrous in terms of intensity and sheer power. Then there’s the title track. At just over two minutes and an instrumental, it’s a genuine slab of technical progressive death metal with more than a touch of sci-fi. 

With most tracks reasonably short, this is an album that you can genuinely get stuck into. The immense energy that flows from the pulverising Revelations Ov A Silent King is harrowing, the slow, behemoth riffs and massacre effect of the drumming is face melting; this is an electrical storm whipping your skin into a bloody pulp. Two guests join in; on Hollow Prison we see Despised Icon’s Alex Erian deliver a sledgehammer or two of meanness whilst Shadow Of Intent’s Ben Duerr piles in on Blood Seal, possibly the most explosive track on the entire album. Closing with the intense Death Whistle, Signs Of The Swarm have laid down a marker in hyper-blasting death metal. The band comprises: Jeff Russo – guitars; Cory Smarsh – guitars; Dave Simonich – vocals; Bobby Crow – drums. 8/10

Reviews: Paradox, Mandoki Soulmates, Robledo, Robin Red, (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Paradox - Heresy II – End Of A Legend (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Take a journey back to 1981 and you’ll find the roots of Paradox. The band found their name in 1986 and released Product Of Imagination the following year. Their concept album Heresy made them internationally renowned, and over 30 years later, the band have served up a mammoth 75 minute long eighth album that once more combines their thrash and power metal style. 

It’s a special line-up with frontman Charly Steinhauer pulling together guitar wizard Christian Münzner, long time bass player Olly Keller and drummer and Paradox co-founder Alex Blaha. The result is an album that ebbs and flows, with the lengthy Escape From The Burning kicking things off in frenetic style. There’s a majestic feel to Mountains And Caves, which captures the band’s huge sound. Ample thrashing riffs will appeal to those who still like tight jeans and hi-tops, whilst the melodic vocals should resonate with those whose tastes sits with the power metal genre. 

The production is one of the highlights here, for the vocal harmonies on choruses and the powerfully driven music demand enough quality for all parts to be heard in balance. There’s some fine shredding on the solos, which hook the listener. And then there is a massive nine-minute epic that sits centrally.   A meeting of Minds straddles part metal ballad and part metal anthem and whilst it certainly has the power metal majesty, it’s a little strained at times, although there are some neat guitar breaks mid-section. 

Priestly Vows brings us back to the thrashier elements of the band, although the atmospheric mid-track tempo change doesn’t help; this band are better when levelling the place and when they accelerate once more things hot up again. This leads to the Man Of Sorrow segment, which begins with A Man Of Sorrow Prologue, a short instrumental piece that segues into the punchy Conspiracy, a thick riffed heavy metal track, all powerful drumming and searing riffs. A Man Of Sorrow maintains the heavy assault, and this is another semi-thrash track that sits in the Metal Church style. There’s a huge conclusion to the album with another lengthy track, the nine-minute plus rager The Great Denial

One of the heaviest tracks on the album, it’s also one of the most enjoyable with an all-out power metal vibe and upbeat tempo. Whilst the copy I had to review didn’t include the cover of Metal Church’s Merciless Onslaught, it was long enough without it! Overall, an enjoyable listen without really getting me over excited at any point. 7/10

Mandoki Soulmates – Utopia For Realists: Hungarian Pictures (InsideOut Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ll cut to the chase. This was possibly the most challenging review I’ve written this year. Mandoki Soulmates? Never heard of ‘em mate. And yet they’ve got a track record dating back over 30 years to their first release Out Of the Key … With The Time back in 1991. Since then, the musical collective because that’s what they are, have produced several recordings. A mere glance at the musicians involved should cause a sharp intake of breath. Alongside Leslie Mandoki, we have Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Nick van Eede (Cutting Crew), Till Brönner, Szakcsi, Jane Xie, Steve Bailey, Al Di Meola, Peter Maffay, Jesse Siebenberg (Supertramp), Cory Henry, Deobrat Mishra, Mike Stern, Margarita, Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, Sirreal, Richard Bona, Moto Fukushima, Tony Carey, and Julia Mandoki. 

Wading my way through the extensive biog that accompanied the digital recording, I establish that Utopia For Realists comprises the original studio recordings of the ProgRock suite alongside a BluRay recording of the concert film of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I’ve not seen that so cannot comment but I’ll focus on the music that was received. This isn’t something that will appeal to fans of grinding riffage and thrashing metal. There’s barely anything that resembles our usual fare here. Over an hour of jazz, progressive and rock music exquisitely delivered. It’s an ensemble who have earned worldwide praise over the years. Is it any good though? 

Well, with two tracks that last 26:38 and 15:28 respectively, the jury is out. The former, Transylvanian Dances is a meandering and at times confusing combination of classical guitar, strings, emotive lyrics and uplifting cinematic soundscapes that switch tempo, style, and slowly build through soaring highs and swooping lows. There is flute, bouzouki and many more instruments beside. It’s something to listen to with a glass of wine, whilst sitting back and allowing the composition to wash over you. The higher tempo parts are dramatic, uplifting, and substantial. At times you could dance along, with the occasional searing piece of lead guitar emerging from the pack in explosive fashion. And it all comes wrapped in a cultural kaleidoscope of influences which unsurprisingly refer to Mandoki’s life, his fleeing as an asylum seeker from a communist state to a serious artist who has crafted complex and intense music which crosses borders and boundaries. 

"We musicians often think with our hearts and right now, with our direct emotional connection to the audience, we must not rest, we have to be louder than ever!" states bandleader Mandoki. "The global challenges facing humanity in the coming years - pandemic, financial and economic crises, migration and integration, climate change - we only will handle successfully by overcoming divisions across all borders." Bookended by some shorter, more contemporary tracks that remain of high quality, it’s certainly an album that provides food for thought. I think you can sink deep within it, or have it on as background music, such is the easy listening style. Dig deep and you’ll hear musical expressionism that one rarely hears in our world. There’s plenty of background to explore with Mandoki’s Soulmates. It may be the perfect opportunity to now explore as the nights start to draw in. Whatever your choice, this is an album that is worth a listen. 7/10

Robledo - Wanted Man (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

It was only really a matter of time before Chilean vocalist James Robledo got to record a solo album under the Frontiers Music banner. Despite being in numerous bands, many who have read this blog or keep up with the Frontiers releases, will know it was as a part of Sinner's Blood that Robledo made his mark outside of South America. That has led to this solo record, written/produced by the veritable Alessandro Del Vecchio (bass/keys) the songs have been written especially to suit James' gravelly Jorn Lande-like voice, meaning that musically there's a lot of Jorn Lande or Jeff Scott Soto's solo projects in these songs which range from galloping melodic metal on the title track and Quicksand, a few ballads such as Dreams Deceive and Alone Again and also hard rockers like The Good Will Rise. It's a strong collection of songs, which you expect from Del Vecchio's writing, the performances of André Hilgers (Rage, Silent Force, Bonfire) on drums and Francesco Marras (Tygers Of Pan Tang) on guitar all slick and experienced. But the record rightly is about James Robledo as a vocalist and he shows his class throughout. Expect big things from James' on the back of this solo record, he certainly has the ability to reach the same heights as Ronnie Romero, who has a similar musical background. 7/10

Robin Red - Robin Red (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Having spent many years as the singer of Swedish band Degreed. In the pandemic year Robin Red decided to branch out on his own, sending his demos to Frontiers they snapped it up and set about making this idea a reality. Robin says that his major influences on this solo record were Jimmy Barnes and Bryan Adams, with that in mind, you can certainly hear elements of the Antipodean and Canadian radio rock legends all the way through this debut. Co-written with Dave Dalone from H.E.A.T who also plays guitar and produces this is radio friendly rock songs that will have you humming along, Robin's soulful vocals delivering filth on the sleazy (I'm A) Bad Habit as he moves into the realms of Def Leppard on Freedom before Reason To Survive reminds me of Rick Springfield or Del Amitri with the scrubbed acoustics. This solo record doesn't do anything new but it's full of slick, radio rock songs that would sound good out an open top sports car on a long car ride, just listen to the party blast that is Nitelife and try to argue! A good melodic rock album from a veteran of the scene. 7/10

Thursday 23 September 2021

Reviews: Alien Weaponry, Orbit Culture, Razoreater, Phil Stiles (Reviews By Zak Skane, Richard Oliver & Matt Bladen)

Alien Weaponry - Tangaroa (Napalm Records) [Zak Skane]

Alien Weaponry are a new Zealand based groove metal trio that have made waves with the previous album Tu which placed themselves number 5 on the New Zealand in which featured their trending single Kai Tangata. From the back of that album the band have earned world wide attention which gained them slots at Bloodstock 2018, and Download festival to name a few. This month the band have released their follow up Tangaroa.

With the bands follow up album they have continued to utilise their sound that they formulated on their previous album Tu, combing groove metal and with their native Maori influences including singing in their ancestral language. With Tangaroa the groove still strong especially on songs like Hatupatu and Kai Whatu in where the trio are taking their Maori inspired groove metal and firing it from both cylinders. But on this album you start to hear the boys treading new ground adding experimental guitar/synth manufactured soundscapes as well as Henry stretching his vocal ability with Unforgiving and Crooked Monsters. The only points in where the breaks on are on it’s opening track Titokowaru and Crooked Monsters in which the production lack any spunk especially with guitar tones sounding thin on Titokowaru which doesn’t give those bendy riffs any justice. The same goes for Blinded.

Overall this is a great continuation from the bands debut album Tu, the Maori inspired groove is still strong, but the band are still willing to grow and develop on top of it with songs like Unforgiving, Ahi Ka and Blinded. This is a strong 8/10.

Orbit Culture - Shaman (Seek & Strike) [Richard Oliver]

Following on from their Nija album last year, Swedish metallers Orbit Culture have treated listeners to a follow up E.P. with the five song Shaman. The basis of this E.P. stems from the fact that some of the songs on the Nija album don’t translate very well to the live environment so the band have come up with five songs which are perfectly suited to the environs of a live show. The band have certainly achieved that with the five songs being punchy, aggressive yet melodic slabs of metal that are very riff-centric but also have massive hooks and are going to be songs an audience can easily engage with.

Right from the get go opener Mast Of The World delivers crunching riffs that demand headbanging and this is built upon further with Flight Of The Fireflies which mixes clean vocals, a catchy chorus and some melodic death metal tinged riffs together in epic style. Carvings has a more groove metal and djent influenced approach but it is no less anthemic whilst Strangler is an absolute bruiser of a song which is also insanely catchy and one song that is definitely going to go down well with live audiences. The fifth and final song of the E.P. is the different but fantastic A Sailor’s Tale which sees the band branching into a more epic and melodic sound. It is easily the best song on the E.P. and one that is going to be stuck in my head for days.

Orbit Culture are a band that is difficult to categorize having influences from thrash, groove and melodic death metal genres all mixed together but who needs pigeonholing when the music on offer is this good?. The mix of crunchy riffs, big hooks and orchestral keys is a compelling one and I can only see Orbit Culture getting bigger and bigger if they keep releasing material at this level and quality. 8/10

Razoreater - Purgatory (FHED) [Matt Bladen]

Purgatory is the place between heaven and hell, a place of nothingness as the decision about your fate is being made. Purgatory is also the return of Cambridgeshire grind merchants Razoreater their first release in 5 years this time coming through Cardiff based FHED. Their album title is a reaction to the crazy things that have been happening the past year, social isolation, mental health and social routines all disrupted by an unknown threat, leaving most of the planet in this state of purgatory. The cult band have brought yet another 7 tracks of unmitigated fury, riffs that will peel flesh come at a speed not heard since Napalm Death while the drummer is surely looking for a charge of assault and battery. 

The band are well travelled having destroyed stages across the country for nearly 10 years, Purgatory is the sound of a band still pissed off with the world, creating pit ready breakdowns on One Last Nail and the groove heavy Vittu Saatana are counteracted by the outright chaos of End This Hell and I Despise Us. This being grindcore it doesn't hang around the 7 tracks barely make the record over 10 minutes but it's an intense 10 minutes Razoreater taking no prisoner with their brutal torrent of riffs. As the world sits in purgatory still Razoreater seem intent on dragging it to hell. 7/10 

Phil Stiles – The Anchorhold (Trepanation Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Anchorhold is a follow up to 2020’s The Anchorite, both of which are solo albums by Phil Stiles of Final Coil. The Anchorite didn’t do much for us then receiving a 5/10 and when I listened to The Anchorhold, I wasn’t really that excited by it. Born of frustration and isolation due to that big event that started last year and continues now. The Anchorhold is a collaborative album with Stiles reaching out to musicians to join him on this industrial/electronic/rock album. He contributes lead vocals, lead/rhythm guitar, synths/programming, but gave the other musicians (vocalists especially) to add their own style to this record). 

Kyle Brandt (A Light Within, Molitoth) and The Medea Project both appear on this record adding their own flourishes to their tracks while other guests like guitarist Richard Allsopp (A Distorted Utopia, Monachopsis), and a myriad of bassists including Roger Morter (Pornographic Sunset), Mark Gatland and Tomek Wolski contribute to the industrial throb of the album, building up the dense and desolate world it conjures. Lyrically too Stiles concentrates on the darker more depressing facets of our current predicament, overwhelmed by technology and also focussing on mental health along with his own insomnia. At times there are touches of Depeche Mode, or Laibach but mostly this album’s introspection makes it feel a little one note. There will be fans of this downbeat, industrial sound but not me I’m afraid. 5/10

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Reviews: A Pale Horse Named Death, Mostly Autumn, Vega, The Raven Age (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

A Pale Horse Named Death - Infernum In Terra (Long Branch Records) [Matt Bladen]

There are certain moments in life that require certain musical accompaniment, over the past two years, the ideal soundtrack has been melancholic doom, as the world seemingly unravels around us, the nihilistic, hopelessness of a good doom band, almost offers and excuse to be bloody miserable. Brooklyn doomsters A Pale Horse Named Death, could even have been the collective Nostradamus of this entire thing, as their third album was entitled When The World Becomes Undone, which it rapidly did not long after the album was released. Still from the ashes, shoots still grow and two years after their previous offering APHND return with their fourth album Infernum In Terra (which translates to Hell On Earth Latin fans), and is a reaction to the current state of the world, once again filled with morose, poetically tragic lyrics and swathes of impressive doom riffage, it’s possibly the most impressive set of songs frontman Sal Abruscato has put together. He has said that the album really came together in the Fall of 2020, and when you listen to it on a dark a dreary September day, the ambiance it creates is palpable. 

However he has been very careful not to become too insular on this record, unlike on previous efforts the idea was to address a wider range of topics in the lyrics rather than just personal issues. The songs on this record have a renewed depth, the riffs heavier and darker than before, the songs often swaying between crushing heaviness and melodic subtlety, but the addition of more layered instrumentation, as strings, bells and atmospherics, final song Souls In The Abyss just features a piano, while It Is Done has a more Gothic approach that leads into the heavy drag of Two Headed Snake (Propofol Dreams). All of the soundscapes improved greatly by the swallowing production. Along with the deep vocals and heavy guitars of Abruscato, he is joined by Eddie Heedles and Joe Taylor on guitar, giving the riffs a more stereoscopic sound for Shards Of Glass. Drummer Chris Hamilton and bassist Oddie McLaughlin carve out a cavernous rhythm section on tracks such as Cast Out From The Sky

There’s an obvious attempt to make this sound like the most expansive APHND album using the time cooped up in the studio to experiment with tracks such as the organ drenched Slave To The Master. Abruscato admits that he hopes to gain new fans as well as impress old ones but that in the end he is “doing what I like!” well I certainly like it too. A record for these uncertain times, allow yourself to be consumed by it and it may even make you feel better! 8/10

Mostly Autumn - Graveyard Star (Mostly Autumn Records) [Matt Bladen]

With the world in lockdown during 2020 Mostly Autumn leader Bryan Josh (guitar/vocals), his wife Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (vocals/percussion) set about creating what would become their 14th studio album. It is a record of introspection, fragility and hope, written as a documentation of the Covid-era, tracks such as the moody Razor's Edge plunging the depths of despair at points while Spirit Of Mankind has a jovial optimism. As is normal with Mostly Autumn records there's the amalgamation of 70's prog, classic rock and folk influences, the addition of the Uilleann Pipes/Low Whistle from Troy Donockley, who is currently in Nightwish but has been contributing to Mostly Autumn records for years, on tracks such as the campfire stomper Back In These Arms adding that classic MA style. Troy is not the only guest as Chris Leslie of Fairport Convention also adds his multi-instrumental musical talents to this record as well. Bryan Josh says that this album deals with the "sadness and otherworldliness" and that while it is personal to them "many will relate to the content".

 I certainly relate, mainly because not only is this record a wart-and-all unravelling of the bands collective psyche during this time, but also delves into the treasures of having good friends while also delivering some of the best Mostly Autumn material since the bands early days.They just seem to play better when they are dealing with melancholy, Oliva and Bryan's vocals both full of wistful odes to better days gone by, The Harder That You Hurt, especially hitting you in right in the fells. Josh's guitar solos soaring with that David Gilmour-like emotive resonance. The rest of the band too are on fine form, Ian Jennings' keyboards add the cinematics to tracks such as the epic finale Turn Around Slowly and the monstrous title track, The former being a vehicle for Angela Gordon also provides her usual beautiful collection of instrumentation that shifts between flute recorders and keys. 

While these are the more melodic flourishes of the bands style, the workman-like rhythm section of Andy Smith (bass), Chris Johnson (rhythm guitar) and Henry Rogers (drums) keeping these tracks from the danger of becoming formless meandering rather bringing focus to the record and driving the country flavoured Skin Of Mankind. There's a lot of positive noise about this new record, despite its negative bent, it could possibly the be the best Mostly Autumn record for a long, long time. 9/10 

Vega - Anarchy And Unity (Frontiers Music Srl) [Paul Hutchings]

Releases from the British rockers Vega seems to come around with a reassuring regularity. Anarchy And Unity is their seventh studio album; not bad for a band who started out in 2009 with Kiss Of Life. This album marks the debut of two new band members, guitarist Billy Taylor (ex-Inglorious) and drummer Pete Newdeck (formerly Nitrate, Midnite City). They join singer Nick Workman, guitarist Marcus Thurston, and the brothers Martin, keyboardist James and bassist Tom in a revitalised line-up. 

There are certain things you want from Vega. Soaring melodies, classic harmonies, rich clean vocals, and a steely edge that reminds you that although Vega sit firmly in the melodic rock camp, they can still hit hard when they want. Case in point is the opening duo of Beautiful Lie and Sooner Or Later, both tracks that tick ever box. The latter features some crisp, muscular guitar work alongside some excellent harmonies on the choruses. As you explore the 12 tracks spread over 48 minutes, there are as expected some lighter moments. Welcome To Wherever is more melodic and gentler than the opening pair, a bit of a lighter aloft song with a pulsing backbeat and neat rhythm section. Live For Me brings the mandatory ballad, complete with piano and big bass lines, with Workman putting in a solid performance. 

Vega always bring ample melody and its present in spades on this album. Their variation is sweeter than a sugar spillage in a sweet shop, the saccharine coated anthems that have been part of their trademark sound since 2009 as always up front and centre. Kneel To You is a real singalong track, featuring some stylish interplay between the band, with the new members allowed opportunity to show their class. The big brash Glow takes it to a different level, more pumping bass and precision drumming anchoring another high-flying song. It’s cohesive, fluid, and enjoyable from start to finish. It’s Vega in 2021 and if you enjoy your melodic rock, this is likely to be a must on the playlist. 8/10

The Raven Age – Exile (EX1 Records) [Paul Hutchings]

We’ve not been that kind to The Raven Age on this site. Alex was less than supportive during his review of 2019’s Conspiracy whilst I found their debut record Darkness Will Rise solid if uninspiring release two years previous. 

Exile is a conundrum of a record. Not a new release in many respects, it contains a mere two new tracks alongside a collection of curated songs from Conspiracy and hand-picked live tracks from their tours across the globe. Vocalist Matt James explained: “We had done alternate acoustic style versions of songs before, and the response was so positive it made us think about doing a whole album this way! Obviously, The Raven Age is first and foremost a metal band but due to the melodic nature of our songs they can lend themselves to this kind of treatment. We were pleasantly surprised how great so many of the songs sounded stripped back to their bare bones.”

The two new songs, No Man’s Land and Wait For Me kickstart the album. Both are well delivered with nice melodic overtures. They lend themselves neatly with the overall vibe of the album. Stripping back some of your songs that are a mere two years old is a brave move but one that is likely to please the band’s hardcore fans. One of the standout tracks is As The World Stood Still, a derivative of The Day The World Stood Still, which shows the band’s vulnerable and emotive side. 

For those unacquainted with the band, then this is an introduction which will be unusual. However, the four live tracks which conclude the album do bring a real flavour of how The Raven Age sound. Recordings in Santiago, LA, Vancouver, and London are big, boisterous and a demonstration of their melodic metal sound. For me, there isn’t enough to stand out from the pack and whilst this is an interesting package, it’s merely adequate in terms of song quality. 6/10

Reviews: Cognizance, Cripta Blue, Rivers Of Nihil, Toxicrose (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Paul Scoble, Dr Claire Hanley & Simon Black)

Cognizance - Upheaval (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]

2019’s Malignant Dominion earned a reasonable 7/10 in these pages. Now bolstered by a second guitarist in the shape of Apostolis “Yage” Karydis, the band have morphed into a five-piece. Harnessing the inevitable challenges of the past 18 months (how many times do we type that?) the Leeds bruisers are now well placed to deliver their sophomore release. Upheaval is a solid record, blending brutal heavy riffs with soaring technicality. Combining previous lyrical explorations of science fiction (see the two-part Syntheticus for evidence) with the band’s own reflections on humanitarian disasters, societal shifts as well as the pandemic, there’s plenty to enjoy in the 33 minutes of explosive death metal.  

Musically, it’s an aural assault but with an underpinned melody that occasionally escapes from the walls of mammoth riffing and precision drumming that is inflicted by sticksman David Diepold, who is now doing double duty after joining Germanic Tech-Deth royalty Obscura. With vocalist Henry Pryce in dominant form, Upheaval is an album that hits hard and sticks around. Changes in tempo, some searing lead breaks thanks to Karydis (Oneiric and Fever Dream) and other guitarist Alex Baillie are plentiful and impressive. The album is self-recorded and self-produced by the band, with support from the mastery of Fredrick Nordstrom who mixed and mastered the record. A man who rarely gets it wrong, he’s done a sterling job on a blistering album that shreds in explosive fashion from start to finish. 8/10

Cripta Blue - Cripta Blue (Argonauta Records) [Paul Scoble]

Italian three piece Cripta Blue have been going since 2019. The band is made up of Andrea Giuliani on Vocals and Bass, Federico Bocchini on Guitar and Silvio Dalla Valle on Drums, this self titled album is their first full length after releasing some singles. Cripta Blue play a very Rock and Roll form of Stoner Rock / Metal, huge riffs with great baritone vocals and a massive amount of swagger. The style is loose and simple, mainly Stoner Rock / Metal with a little taste of Sabbathy traditional doom, and almost perfect head nodding tempos. 

The opener Mournin’ Pyre is a great example of the bands style; mid-paced Stoner Rock with deep baritone vocals that give the songs a little bit of a gothic feel, and a great strutting swagger. The chorus also has a little resemblance to The Beatles song Helter Skelter. Next up is Magikal Ride which is a mix of up tempo, driving rock and slower, slightly stilted sections. The song also features a couple of solo’s that work very well. The issues of pacing on the slower sections are only slight, it’s the sort of thing I’d expect on a debut album, it’s not a massive problem as the faster parts of the song are excellent; the plodding nature of the slow parts are quickly forgotten. Tombstone features guest vocals by Ricky Dal Pane from the band Witchwood. The track has a darker feel than the rest of the material, it’s driving and purposeful and reminds me a little of Doom legends Pentagram. 

The wonderfully titled Creepy Eyes is a mix of fast and driving Stoner Rock in the chorus and slower and more minimal material that features heavy use of Wah Wah in the verse. Spectral Highway has a dark and brooding feel running through all of the song, some of which is heavy and aggressive, some of which is minimal and introspective. The song also features a great bluesy guitar solo. Death Wheelers is heavy mid-paced Doom, again there is a very good blues solo and boasts a great uptempo ending. The album comes to an end with the track A Space Tale. A Space Tale is a great piece of mid-paced Psych Rock, the track is instrumental and has many solos that in places remind me of Tony Iommi’s solos with Black Sabbath. 

Cripta Blues debut is a great Stoner Doom album. There are some issues with pacing, but they are only slight, I feel like I’m being picky mentioning them, apart from that this is a very good album for a debut. The material is a great mix of sleazy Stoner Rock, and old school doom. It’s reminiscent of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Cream, Pentagram, Sleep, Orange Goblin and even a little of South Wales Psych Rock ruffians Lacertilia. It’s lots and lots of fun, and will put a smile on your face. A very impressive debut, I’m already looking forward to their follow up. 7/10

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work (Metal Blade Records) [Dr Claire Hanley]

Following the critically acclaimed album Where Owls Know My Name, Rivers Of Nihil return with The Work; another dose of their distinctive brand of progressive death metal. Opening track The Tower kicks off proceedings in a very laid-back manner, with a dark and brooding tone; much enhanced by the presence of clean singing and lyrical content reflecting self-flagellation. This track also features signature hints of saxophone but, as a whole, the album sees an upgrade in sax status as it becomes a far more prominent feature in tracks such as The Void From Which No Sound Escapes, where it is used to great effect to add sonic texture.

In stark contrast to the mellow introduction of the record, Dreaming Black Clockwork is a musical foot to the throat, oozing prominence and purpose with thundering drums and a guitar tone so brutal it’ll make your eyes water. Yet, clean vocals compliment the atmosphere created by the subdued midsection before merging into a chaotic, distorted ending of tortured screams. Songs such as Focus and Episode also feature real moments of attitude, possessing some seriously infectious melodies and incredible transitions, although the former does border on juvenile shouting and comes across as somewhat angsty towards the end. In a similar vein but more of a slow-burn, Clean features some standout guitar work and drum patterns, which really hook you in and hold the record together, and then there’s More. Adopting all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, this track is ferocious and holds nothing back; which left me wanting, you guessed it…more.

Sadly, the outstanding swagger is short-lived and confined to brief bursts. Tower 2 is a reprisal of the opening track, which fails to add anything beyond being a point of transition. Even at over 11 minutes long, Terrestria IV: Work fades into the background against some of the other tracks and is also, therefore, relegated to the realms of forgettable. Then we have Wait and Maybe One Day. Definitely deviations from the collective whole but certainly not in a good way. The former is offered up as psychedelic and ethereal but the stadium rock ending made me contemplate whether having functional ears was actually of benefit, as did the distinctly vanilla acoustic guitar nonsense of the latter.

With influences circling the borders of Opeth and Paradise Lost, meshed with the melancholy of Katatonia and Swallow the Sun, also venturing into Meshuggah territory with a hefty dose of guitar twang, what the band refers to as the “sound world” of this record is truly unique. However, one (wo)man’s progressive is another (wo)man’s unrelenting bewilderment. While I can appreciate what the record should represent, and no doubt will for die-hard fans; for me, it lacked the desired impact and was a real chore to listen to at times (oh the irony, given the subject matter). Some songs were an absolute vibe, with sections that imprisoned your attention, but for the most part the album meanders into the mundane. 

As a final word, my fondness – or lack thereof – for this record may in part be due to our beloved Editor, who initially asked if I wanted to review the new Rings of Saturn record before shoving this into my (Drop)box. (I'm not sure I did! - Ed) So, ultimately, if you take offence at my dislike of The Work, you know where to direct your comments (P.S. Matt, you owe me space jams!). 5/10

Toxicrose – In For The Kill (Crusader Records) [Simon Black]

The sophomore release for this Swedish band of Sleazesters is not quite what I expected. For a start, there’s the whole ‘Sleaze’ moniker. It’s one of those annoying legacies of the 80’s that really hasn’t aged well and was originally applied to that specific corner of the L.A. Hair Metal movement for whom the more accurately descriptive “looks like a bunch of junkies” would have been somewhat career-limiting. This is not a rare example of journalistic tact in the 1980’s to be fair, as it’s a description that could equally have been applied by a few of the magazine writers of the time, but it has come to be applied to any Hard Rock band for whom Aerosmith (and be default the Rolling Stones) was the common ancestor. Forty years later and we’re seeing many younger bands discovering that pre-Grunge period and recreating at least the look and attitude, if not the less-healthy aspects of the period. This band do way more…

It’s also completely the wrong genre to accurately describe what Toxicrose have achieved here, as another factor of the time was that look was more important than a lot of the music. This is why there were so many cookie-cutter bands prancing around on MTV back then, but beyond the one or two singles (more often than not written by professional writers and foisted on the bands by the labels in a desperate attempt to recoup their investment) the rest of the albums too many times simply didn’t cut the mustard and they sank without a trace. Another factor in those days is that the technical and musical skill of the players was more akin to Punk - in other words attitude and annoying your Republican parents trumped musical skill on any given day.

In terms of songwriting, consistency and musicianship dimensions Toxicrose are heads and shoulders above these old 80’s acts by a country mile. They definitely have the look, although to be fair both that look and their music are way darker than anything from the original movement. Musically there’s definitely that anthemic fist-punching Rock’n’Roll/Hard Rock groove, but I wouldn’t describe them as Sleaze because these boys play so much better than anything that scene can muster. On the surface a lot of the tracks feel like they have the groove, from the drawling rhythm work and riffage, the anthemic choruses and harmonies and most of all the attitude, but as the Mozart was once described in Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, there are “To many notes”… Some of the guitar and keyboard interplay here is technically quite formidable and I can think of no better example than the title track itself, which is definitely a high point. Even when they are trying to keep it short and sweet, the overt darkness underpinning things comes to the fore. 

With ye olden Sleaze, the darkness was overt - implied and mainly delivered via embarrassing teenage lyrical tropes which really have not survived the decades in between. The songs on here are just plain dark, scary, subtle and all the better for it. What this ultimately gives you is that absolute rarity in the genre – a well-crafted and subtly layered beast of a record that improves with every listen and is absolutely not about what is sitting on the surface. 9/10

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Reviews: Spiritbox, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Doro, Edge Of Paradise (Reviews By Megan Jenkins, Matt Bladen, Simon Black & Paul Hutchings)

Spiritbox – Eternal Blue (Rise Records) [Megan Jenkins]

If you haven’t heard the name Spiritbox over the last 18 months, then I hate to break it to you but you’ve definitely been living under a rock. Formed of previous members of IWrestledABearOnce and Living With Lions, the Canadian band exploded into the mainstream back last July when they released the brutal, djent-y Holy Roller. After teasing their debut album ever since, the group finally released Eternal Blue last week and it did not disappoint.

Spiritbox have employed a lot of the things that made me fall in love with the band when writing and recording this album. It begins with Sun Killer, a song that starts with a haunting synth, deep basslines and progressive drums that keep driving the song forward to the point of no return. Mike Stringer’s guitar kicks in with the same beat as the rhythm section and adds another layer to what was already shaping up to be a heavy song. Whispers of “sun killer, sing me to sleep” bring the song back down to a ‘normal’ level. Then just as you would have turned the volume up to hear them, the breakdown kicks in with vocalist Courtney LaPlante’s aggressive screams. 

All of the songs use variations of these elements in completely different ways throughout the album. You can clearly hear the different inspiration that derives from a diverse music taste with elements of metalcore, djent, and progressive metal to create the 12 tracks we can listen to. Hurt You is a prime example, with clear influence coming from nu-metal in the deep guitar tone that is so recognisable as Stringer’s. LaPlante immediately lets loose in the song and begins screaming along – they really don’t mess around with this one. The chorus however is a lot more mellow, and she lets her other vocal talent take over and sings, yet still keeping those heavy undertones we’re all coming to love.

Spiritbox have this tell-tale sign that a breakdown is coming. Everything but the ambient synth or drum pad drops out and it begins to ever so subtly build until you think you’ve fully prepared yourself to be hit by the tonne of bricks that is Stringer’s bottom-heavy guitar tone and chunky riffs. But no matter how heavy and brutal they may make their music; they have a knack for the gentler stuff too. Tracks like The Summit are extremely progressive and use a clean guitar tone to bring the pace of the album down slightly and allow you to rest. But you’re not allowed to rest for long because by the end of the song, both of LaPlante’s vocal styles are layered over each other to create a contrasting melody.

It's obvious that I’m a huge fan of Spiritbox and pretty much everything they produce but it's oddly rewarding to see this band grow from having a seemingly small number listeners at the start of 2020, to collaborating with huge names like Architects’ Sam Carter on this brand-new album little over a year later. They're a band that can do pretty much anything in my eyes; contrasting the raw power of songs like Silk In The Strings with Constance, a haunting ballad about dementia that was dedicated to LaPlante’s grandmother. I know a lot of people are hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of the new ‘flavour of the month’ but I have a feeling Spiritbox will be around and releasing music for a lot longer than that. They’re just that good. 10/10

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Blues Album (KTBA Records) [Matt Bladen]

Having been establishing herself as one of the premier players of blues rock for a long time now, it's only with her most recent releases that Joanne Shaw Taylor has become revered in her field, reaching wide critical acclaim and success. The reception to her two previous albums and the numerous tours in support of them means that any new material by her is highly anticipated. Obviously like all artists touring was stunted by the pandemic so JST, quickly found a way to flex her creative muscles by recording the album of blues covers she had been planning for a while. Much like 'Blues Titan' Joe Bonamassa did with his blues covers album Blues Deluxe Joanne has looked to refine her own appreciation of the blues by paying homage to the heroes of it, but unlike Joey Bones she has come to it after establishing herself as one of the premier blues rock songwriters. 

What better way to record an album like this then with Bonamassa himself who co-produced the album with JST guitarist Josh Smith at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Not content with that, the album is being released through Bonamassa's KTBA Records where 10% of the profits go towards the Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation created by Bonamassa and his manager Roy Weisman. I mean he also pops up with some guitar licks and co-vocals on Little Village's Don't Go Away Mad as anyone knows he no stranger to a guest spot. The album though is about Shaw Taylor as both a player and for me a vocalist, she has shown on previous albums that her guitar prowess is superb, she has brilliant command over her instrument eeking out emotion and power from it wherever possible, be it on a Chicago Shuffle, some New Orleans funk, a Texan strut or even a bit of British blues earthiness, she leads the way with slinky solos and striding riffs. 

On The Blues Album though I found that I was more impressed by her vocals than on any previous album, perhaps it's because these aren't her songs so Shaw Taylor has to really concentrate on the vocal side of the record something Bonamassa confirmed when talking about the record saying he want to make "vocal centric straight blues record". Instrumental in most of the song choices Bonamassa and Smith have found songs that both test and highlight the strengths of JST as a performer and while there is some recognizable numbers such as Can't You See What You're Doing To Me by Albert King but also rarer cuts like Stop Messin' Around by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac or Let Me Down Easy by Little Milton. 

For me the though the song of the record is If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody which has been performed by Aretha Franklin, Eddie Floyd and Bonnie Raitt meaning that Shaw Taylor really impresses with her vocal chops here on a version worthy of those other performances. Those that have jumped on the JST hype train on the last two albums may find this a bit of a left field release as it's a very traditional blues record but it's one that is very good indeed. 8/10

Doro – Triumph And Agony Live (Rare Diamonds) [Simon Black]

Now, I’m old enough and lucky enough to have seen Warlock touring this album originally back in late 1987 in support of Dio at Nottingham’s Royal Centre - which still remains acoustically one of the best venues I’ve ever been to by the way. The set lists for this have been since lost to the mists of time, but I can bet we only got a couple of tracks at the time from what would prove to be Warlock’s (and Doro’s) magnum opus. It was actually one of the first gigs I ever attended as a spotty seventeen year old and I remember being disappointed that Warlock only got such a very short set, with barely enough room to move on the quite large stage (but then this was the tour when Ronnie went crazy ape bonkers with animatronic spiders, dragons and other space consuming theatrics to distract you from what a great front man he was).

That said, I left the venue a firm fan of Warlock and have enjoyed seeing them and Doro’s subsequent projects at every opportunity since. Any live set is always going to be peppered with tracks from this album, but getting the whole thing played end to end is obviously a special occasion, with this one being recorded at Sweden Rocks back in 2017, but held back until the 35th anniversary of the original release. All eleven tracks from the original album are on this disk - if you were there, you got a couple of extras in the encores, but these aren’t included. Like the lady herself the material does not show its age at all, with a deliberately rough and ready recording that doesn’t sound like it’s been over-engineered after the fact in the slightest. 

Doro’s voice strikes the right balance between power and rawness and the infectious energy of her delivery jumps out of the speakers. The original studio album had its slower moments, but with the benefit of thirty-five years to tighten the arrangements this is a performance that flows perfectly. Like a fine wine, the Triumph And Agony material just improves over time and this recording captures a moment of Metal history like a fly in amber perfectly. 8/10

Edge Of Paradise – The Unknown (Frontiers Music Srl) [Paul Hutchings]

I’d vaguely heard of Edge Of Paradise before receiving this album to review. A quick scan at the blurb tells me that The Unknown is their fourth album, and the current line up comprises founders Margarita Monet on vocals and keys and guitarist Dave Bates joined by drummer Jamie Moreno and bassist Ricky Bonazza.

Going in blind can be a blessing and a curse. With no knowledge of their previous records, the first thing that was noticeable was the quality of the production. Combining the talents of producer Howard Benson (Halestorm, Seether, Black Stone Cherry, etc.) Mike Plotnikoff (Halestorm, Three Days Grace) and Neil Sanderson (Three Days Grace) and mixing and mastering by Jacob Hansen (Amaranthe, Volbeat, Pretty Maids), it’s unsurprising that The Unknown is polished with a huge sound.

So, what do Edge Of Paradise sound like? Well, there are elements of pop-punk, hard rock and swathes of symphonic metal all wrapped up in a maelstrom of anthemic songs that combine Monet’s powerful vocals with band’s sonic soundscapes. There are plenty of hooks, such as the opening track Digital Paradise, which sets the tempo for the album. Edge Of Paradise don’t stick to one formula, variation within reason and some impressive and dramatic songs forming the middle part of the record. The darkness of the title track is followed by the lively Believe which sees Monet hitting the highest notes on the album.

The band can riff it out, as noted on the industrial stomp of False Idols. A more straightforward song, it drives hard and should be a good one to add to the live list. They can do the emotional ballad, such as One Last Time and the dramatic such as Leaving Earth.

I can see why Edge Of Paradise are getting such positive feedback. Monet has the sweet vocals that appeal, a cross between Taylor Momsen and Cristina Scabbia whilst the band’s commercial sound will appeal to fans who like their metal with a melodic undertone. It may not be my cup of tea but its certainly a refined record. 7/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Robert Jon & The Wreck (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Robert Jon & The Wreck with Troy Redfern, The Globe Cardiff, 16 September 2021

So my first gig at The Globe since 2019, was with Californian Southern flavoured blues rock band Robert Jon & The Wreck, a band whose latest album I had very much enjoyed when it was released a few weeks earlier. This was the first date of their UK tour and The Globe stood about half full on an evening where Biffy Clyro and Busted were both playing the capital. While looking around the room there was pretty much the same faces that you see at most of these gigs, a hardcore collection of blues rock lovers ready for the first every UK tour by Robert Jon Burrison and his excellent band. 

Before all that though it was time for the support, which came from Troy Redfern (7) the British slide guitar specialist was without his band playing a solo set armed with two Resonator guitars and a kick drum, drawing from his extensive back catalogue to rework the songs into a solo format. Troy has some serious chops, the slide guitar playing bolstered by the steel guitars, while he played wild and reckless with the vocals the limited stage space allowing him to manipulate the mic by moving back and forth as the guitars rung out and the kick drum pounded. It was more than enough to rile up the blood ready for the headliners, with the band themselves taking a look during his set. Something reciprocated while they played as Troy cut a cool figure with myself at the back of the room. 

A swift switchover and the five members of The Wreck took to the stage Steve Maggiora (keys) and Warren Murrell (bass), tucked in tight towards the side of the stage, Steve fluidly moving across the keys as things got started with The Devil Is My Only Friend, Warren and his sunglasses kicking out the initial jams with Andrew Espantman (drums) laying down a steady groove. Robert Jon's vocals are rough and soulful, delivering Hey Hey Mama and the big ballad Oh Miss Carolina, while his rhythm guitar links with the drums and bass while also adding some Allman Bros dual leads with lead guitarist Henry James. I'll just take a moment here to appreciate just how good James is a guitarist, his brilliant solos meant that on stage Robert Jon & The Wreck (8) have much longer songs, turning into a jam group similar to The Allman Bros and fellow Californians The Grateful Dead on Blame It On The Whiskey especially. 

There set covered all of their discography, the majority coming from 2015's Glory Bound and 2020's Last Light On The Highway. With the crowd cheering every song and the band clearly having a ball, it was a very strong opening to their UK tour which will see them snake their way around the UK ending this weekend. If you can check them out as they are a seriously good Southern blues band.   

Monday 20 September 2021

Reviews: Criminal, Bastette, Unchosen Ones, Areis (Reviews By Lee Burnell, Simon Black, Richard Oliver, Megan Jenkins)

Criminal – Sacrificio (Metal Blade Records) [Lee Burnell]

South American staples of Death Metal return for another hard-hitting outing with Sacrificio. A band that was destined for great things since their formation in 1991 with a  first show opening for the legendary Kreator, Criminal continued with their brutal offerings that would often make them understandable comparable to Sepultura. The four-piece keep start with Live On Your Knees, with an intro which is text book classic death/thrash metal at it’s finest. The album has a solid pacing to it and my favourite off the album Caged, simply due to how well the drumming of Danilo Estrella and the riffs from Sergio Klein and Anton Reisenegger. The first single from the album Zona del Sacrificio – the first and only song on the album performed in Spanish absolutely gave me thoughts of Brujeria. 

Albums like this are always a winner to me as each track offering gives an insight on their background and the energy and passion into play as during the time of writing, Chile was experiencing social inequality and this absolutely reflects in the writing of the album. The emotion in the album is apparent and continues with Dark Horse which incorporates a lovely breakdown towards the end, the only sign of the pace slowing on the album so far. The album ends in a fury. From Theocrazy through to Ego Killer – this album is a true heavyweight, no filler track here. This album is 42 minutes of brilliance and could absolutely be contender for death metal album of the year. 9/10

Bastette – Exposed EP (RPM Records) [Simon Black]

I’ve been lucky enough since getting back into doing this reviewing lark after a couple of decades off to be exposed to raft of new bands and styles, but sometimes something more akin to my non-Metal roots is just what the doctor ordered as I sit here fighting off Covid. Bastette are a new Pop-infused Hard Rock band from Wigan who already sound bigger than you would expect. Blending the attitude of L.A.’s The Pretty Reckless, with a more down and dirty subject matter that only a Northern British band can pull off but with a rich and luxurious and devilishly commercial Pop-Rock streak I am not going to be surprised if these guys and gal have a huge future ahead of them.

This is dark and moody in the main, but incredibly accessible stuff and avoids the trap of trying to sound Symphonic predictable, focussing on catchy riff-based melodies and keyboard harmonies and a damn fine song-writing streak that holds up through this short but highly effective five track EP. These guys clearly have as much love for Pop as they do Rock, but there’s enough subtlety and skill in the guitar work to keep most Metalheads happy to boot. The lead single, the fantastic Talk About It, in contrast is way lighter and a great choice for a single, which is probably why Planet Rock have been hammering it out a lot of late, and quite right too. It’s one of those floor-filling anthems that might just prove the vehicle for progress, and it’s certainly wetting my appetite for a full album and the chance to see them live. Fantastically accessible, but dark and moody enough to maintain credibility. 9/10

Unchosen Ones - Kill The Night (Self Released) [Richard Oliver]

Kill The Night is the debut E.P. from Spanish melodic metal band Unchosen Ones.  Formed from the ashes of previous band Astral Sidhe and joined by ex-members of Nocheni and Chaos Over Cosmos, Unchosen Ones are a five piece band and this debut E.P. is comprised of three songs that show the influences and styles that make this band what it is. The opening title track is a melodic mid-paced piece of metal that definitely has nods to traditional heavy metal with a dramatic chorus and memorable hooks. It is followed by the speedy Ashen Wasteland which is a turbo charged piece of melodic metal and definitely takes influence from both traditional heavy metal and European power metal. 

The E.P. concludes with Shadow Dancer which showcases the bands influences from melodic hard rock and AOR with a definitively 80’s vibe and nods to the AOR bands from that era. This is an enjoyable little E.P. It is short and sweet but showcases the capabilities of the band. The music is very well performed and written and is also very well produced. There is some lovely guitar work throughout as well as some tasty synth work and frontman Javier Calderon has a voice that was made for this style of music. I look forward to hearing a full length album from the band in the future as this E.P. definitely shows this band have some great potential. 7/10

Areis - Areis (Wormholedeath) [Megan Jenkins]

Areis is the self-titled debut album by, you guessed it, Areis – a French band who blend influences from hardcore, punk, black metal and post-hardcore to create their sound. Describing their own sound as ‘post-grunge’ is a clever move from the band because it covers practically every base they may need.
The album is solid from the start and the opening track, A Wretched Vow, flies out of the gate and kicks it off with a bang. Their music is reminiscent of Kentucky-based band Knocked Loose – there’s a lot of dissonant guitar-playing, an abundance of fast drums and vocals that border on screaming but aren’t quite there yet. There’s only a handful of vocalists that can pull off what I like to call the “my throat is sore and I can barely talk” vocal style and vocalist Paul Gonzalvez is a perfect example of doing it right. 

The band is at their best on tracks Le Pain Maudit and You Are The Best At Your Worst (ironically). They showcase the driving force behind this relatively new band and their raw talent as a musical unit. Areis means “to raise” in ancient Occitan and it proves to be an extremely fitting name considering that the band is formed by ex-members of Kombur and Right To The Void. It perfectly sets up their career as a band and is a great starting point to already begin to evolve their sound. I really do hope that this first taste isn’t the last we hear from Areis and that they begin to rise to great successes. 7/10