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Monday 27 September 2021

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  

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