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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 clich├ęd 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   

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