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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

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