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Thursday 16 September 2021

Reviews: Andrew W.K, Charlotte Wessels, Mono, Into The Valley Of Death (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Andrew W.K – God Is Partying (Napalm Records)

God Is Partying Andrew W.K’s sixth studio album sees him embracing the dark side for the first time in his career, the singles and videos for this record, Babalon especially even saw the normal white shirt and jeans combo switched to black. So has the power of positive partying left our intrepid hero? Well it’s a distinct possibility as God Is Partying, streamlines and matures W.K’s maximalist party offerings into a more melodic, darker toned sound, he has done something similar before with his second, third and fourth albums but none had the quite the same emotional grunt as this one does. If you didn’t know it was an Andrew W.K record you’d have thought it was Papa Emeritus and his band of merry ghouls, due to the heavy metal riffs, augmented by layers of keys and counter-spiritual lyrics. Now it’s the keyboards of this record that stand out W.K a brilliant player and it’s clear that the songs have been written around the synths and organs. It’s not AOR though opening with the attitude filled Everybody Sins, we go into some Gothic crushing start stop riffs, Andrew’s voice at its most measured and fragile than on any previous release, showing that he’s more than a one trick pony.

All the instrumentation is played by him and he co-produces along with Ted Young. But those who have only heard I Get Wet will be a little confused by this album as it really does sound a lot like Ghost or Blue Oyster Cult for you older readers. There are less mentions of partying and any positivity is hidden under a sheen of caution but with the world the way it is it’s clear that even this bastion of positivity may have to relinquish a little bit. God Is Partying takes you under the skin of its creator a little more than any previous record, the thrashing Babalon aimed at an unnamed female destroyer, before No One To Know crashes down around you as the albums first raw emotional moment, the stripped back verses building into the clarion call of a chorus complete with regal trumpet-like parps. The album feels like a failure and redemption arc, or more likely a tale of lost love and broken relationships. Things get more positive on Stay True To Your Heart and after I’m In Heaven is the heaviest song on the album, both figuratively and metaphorically.  As we near toward the end And Then We Blew Apart is a song of acceptance done in the style of Queen or ELO, I Made It is a classic pro-party message, but the reprise of Everybody Sins the saga the saga ends with a nod to the next chapter. God Is Partying is essentially a record where this Andrew W.K’s bulletproof upbeat armour, showed vulnerability and in doing so he’s probably made the album of his career! 9/10

Charlotte Wessels – Tales From Six Feet Under (Napalm Records)

Ex-Delain singer Charlotte Wessels, has certainly had an inspirational lockdown period. Without any touring commitments or writing to do with her former band she channeled her creative ideas into a solo project. Writing, recording and performing everything you hear on this record Tales From Six Feet Under is a compilation of songs created during her sessions at her Six Feet Under home studio. She has released a song every month since the pandemic began and now has curated what she considers to be the best for this debut solo release. Now many will guess that this album will be full of the symphonic metal style of band Wessels has been a part of in the past, but much like how she brought a poppier/darker edge to Delain with her writing, here she is able to go fully down the rabbit hole into dark, gothic alt pop and throbbing synth rock. Lana Del Rey, Marina and Billie Eilish are the references I would relate to along with bands such as Depeche Mode, whose definitive sound crops up on Afkicken, a song sung in her native Dutch (a bit of Muse in this one too) 

It is not her only foray into other languages either, the percussive Victor featuring some French. The synths and programming are very well orchestrated, adding a depth of sound to the record, on the moody, industrial Cry Little Sister, there’s a similarity to Alison Moyet and Billie Eilish, balances out Charlotte’s most impressive vocal delivery. Masterpiece moves the sound towards that of The Weeknd, a smooth electro pop banger (as the kids say). Then on the next track Lizzie there’s an understated string arrangement for Charlotte and Alissa White-Gluz to duet over, this must have been influenced heavily by Delibes’ Flower Duet. It’s towards the end of the album that the symphonic metal style comes back on the heavyweight FSU (2020). Wessels voice has always been wonderfully broad in range a juxtaposition of power and fragility and it’s her own songs highlight them better than anything before. Tales From Six Feet Under is an intimate, introspective collection of songs culled from many, to announce Wessels as a solo artist. Here’s hoping she can take these tales on the road soon. 8/10

Mono - Pilgrimage  For The Soul (Pelagic Records)

The 11th album of a 22 year career, will always garner respect from the music listening public. Japanese instrumental rockers Mono have been very firmly at the top of their genre for the majority of their career, bringing a cinematic scope to instrumental post-rock meanderings, each album since their has seen them build on the previous one, experimenting as much as possible with the quiet/loud dynamic structure of this style of music adding touches of genres one wouldn't usually link to post rock. On Pilgrimage For The Soul Mono once again push the envelope of their 'traditional' sound, the quiet elements are often a nuances whisper while the louder moments are deafening shouts, they have also written faster songs, I mean no, there's no thrash or death metal blasbeating but there is some EDM beats and even some disco. 

The album was recorded during the Japanese lockdown in summer 2020, overseen by longtime collaborator Steve Albini, this time in forced isolation has probably made them a more experimental, if that's even possible! The core trio of Takaakira "Taka" Goto (guitar), Tamaki (bass, piano), Yoda (guitar), hasn't changed since the beginning of the band, with drummer Dahm joining in 2018, the music is still sorrowful, downbeat guitar-driven instrumentals no matter what genre tropes they morph into tracks such as Imperfect Things with it's repeating drum beat and synth riff rounded off by a single guitar melody, there's an anticipation of a build that never pays off as Heaven Is A Wild Flower is a melancholy piano piece that beautifully evolves into strings but tracks such as The Auguries still retain that frenetic post rock frenzy moving into the albums longest track Hold Infinity In The Palm Of Your Hand. A beautiful and moving album that again sees Mono as one of the principal proponents of experimental rock music. 9/10    

Into The Valley Of Death - Space Age EP (Self Released)

Recorded at Studio 405 in Echo Park, California, the Space Age EP is the debut release from former The Lords Of Altamont bassist Spencer Robinson. Released under the name of Into The Valley Of Death, this EP is five tracks of stoner/desert metal full of woozy vocals, fuzzy riffs and a general drug addled fug on songs such as Under The Ground which slithers through the haze before it moves into some rumbling Strip a song with a solitary guitar and a distant drum beat. That's pretty much the story of this entire EP, it very much sounds like a totally solo album from Robinson, and while at times there are some decent riffs, Space Age is a bit too much of a one man show to make it more than just listenable. 5/10

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