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Wednesday 22 September 2021

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

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