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Friday 29 October 2021

Reviews: Running Wild, First Fragment, Giöbia & The Cosmic Dead, 156/SIlence (Reviews Richard Oliver & Matt Bladen)

Running Wild - Blood On Blood (Steamhammer/SPV) [Richard Oliver]

Before Alestorm and all the subsequent copycat bands such as Rumahoy and Lagerstein appeared and created the “pirate metal” genre, there was only one band with whom pirates and heavy metal could be associated and that was the legendary Running Wild. These pirate loving German power metallers have been at it since 1979 and although frontman and guitarist “Rock ‘N’ Rolf” is the sole original member of the band, they are showing no signs of stopping with the release of their eighteenth album Blood On Blood.

Like any band that has been going as long as they have, Running Wild have had their ups and downs but can generally be relied upon to release a solid album of Teutonic power metal. And that’s exactly what Blood On Blood is - a solid and reliable album of anthemic and fist pumping heavy metal with songs soaked in blood and gunpowder such as Wings Of Fire, Diamonds And Pearls and Crossing The Blades. As well as the usual themes of piracy there are songs such as Wild And Free and Wild Wild Nights that are designed as party anthems bringing to mind 80’s hair metal. They are probably the least effective songs on the album along with One Night One Day which really doesn’t work bordering on power ballad territory. Things are saved at the end with the near 11 minute The Iron Times 1618-1648 which brings to mind the old Iron Maiden epics of old in its length, scope and composition.

Blood On Blood is another decent Running Wild album. “Rock ‘N’ Rolf” has stated that Blood On Blood “is an album that in my opinion is probably the best in Running Wild`s career to date” which is a bold statement. Whilst a lot better than albums such as Rogues En Vogue and Shadowmaker, this album doesn’t hold a candle to albums from the band's heyday such as Under Jolly Roger, Blazon Stone, Port Royal, Black Hand Inn and Death Or Glory. It is still however a very enjoyable album that will be best accompanied by some cold beers (like all good heavy metal) and some of these songs will sound fantastic should Running Wild get to tour the album anytime soon. Much like fellow countryman U.D.O.’s latest album this is a solid piece of Teutonic heavy metal. 7/10

First Fragment - Gloire Éternelle (Unique Leader Records) [Richard Oliver]

Gloire Éternelle is the new album from French Canadian technical death metal band First Fragment. The band formed in 2007 and have released an E.P. The Afterthought Ecstasy and a debut album Dasein to date with Gloire Éternelle being the second album by the band. Technical death metal is a very broad term to describe the music of First Fragment as there is so much going on here from progressive leanings to neo-classical shred. It is an extremely hyperactive album but has some of the most jaw-dropping musicianship that you will hear on a metal album this year. The lead guitar work from Phil Tougas is simply astonishing and likely to make any aspiring guitarist rage quit on the spot, sounding at times like Yngwie Malmsteen playing extreme metal with tons of neo-classical shredding played at a million miles an hour.

Equally impressive is the bass playing of Dominic “Forest” Lapointe who demands attention with his fretless wizardry certainly at times bringing to mind the mighty Les Claypool with moments throughout the album that sound like if Primus decided to become a technical death metal band with basslines that are as funky as they are technically insane. During most songs the lead guitar and the bass are both competing for the limelight and both are so equally impressive it is hard to know which to focus on. There are progressive elements as well from the start with the opening title track incorporating flamenco guitars as well as swing rhythms whilst La Veuve Et Le Martyr mixes those swing rhythms with a huge wedge of funk.

Other notable songs throughout the album include Ataraxie which has unbelievable amounts of speed as well as some truly unreal drumming from Nicholas “Le Fou” Wells, instrumental Sonata En Mi Mineur which brings the pace and craziness right down with a stunning solo straight from the David Gilmour book of prog guitar solos as well as some stunning flamenco guitars and the mighty nearly 19 minute In’el which manages to incorporate all the elements in prior songs into one monstrous epic. Despite the stunning musicianship throughout where this album does fall a bit short is its length. With ten songs spread across 71 minutes it is just way too long and by about the fourth song things start to get a bit repetitive and despite the musical pyrotechnics being exploded into my ears I did find my attention waning on the second half of the album.

I’ve often said that technical death metal is very much style over substance and First Fragment also fall into that trap. What helps make them stand out over a lot of other bands in the genre though is that their level of musicianship is above and beyond most others and there is some stupid amounts of musical talent in tech death. From a musicianship point of view Gloire Éternelle is an jaw dropping piece of work but from the perspective of a metalhead with a short attention span it is a bit bloated and a bit too much to stomach in one sitting. 7/10

Giöbia & The Cosmic Dead - The Intergalactic Connection: Exploring The Sideral Remote Hyperspace (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Matt Bladen]

5...Strap into your seat. 4...Check instruments. 3...Finalize functionality. 2...Prepare for ignition. 1...Lift off! A as that needle hits the groove of this space rock split, you will be transported into the realms only explored by USS Voyager. The wordy The Intergalactic Connection – Exploring The Sideral Remote Hyperspace is a collaboration between Italian Astronauta's Giöbia and Scottish space travellers The Cosmic Dead. At only four tracks, both bands deliver mostly instrumental space rock, full of swirling psychedelia, atmospheric shoegaze and even some rock as well. The split has been compared to the bands such as Gong, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd (post Syd, pre Dark Side) and I can hear why as soon as the first of the three songs by the Italians. 

Canyon Moon straps you into that 60's/70's vibe of heavy synths/organs, cascading against the guitars, bass and drums that get the groove going. Giöbia are a more traditional sounding band, with a more direct rock driven approach, moving into Spaghetti Western themes on Julia Dream. The Cosmic Dead are a more ethereal than their Italian counterparts with all band members playing wah while they also have a fiddle player that really adds an otherworldly feel to sprawling desert rock anthem Crater Creator, their only track on this split but with a run time of 19 minutes it makes an impression. Jump on to this journey and explore the outer limits of space. 7/10  

156/Silence - Don't Hold Your Breath (Sharptone Records) [Matt Bladen]

Don't Hold Your Breath is made up of four slices of aggression. It's almost an encore to 156/Silence's previous full length released in 2020. The EP feels raw as if what we here is exactly what they were playing in the studio, no overdubs or musical additions, just blasting metallic hardcore. Musically there's no real difference between this EP and their previous album, the band tapping a rich seam of creativity allowing the songs speak for themselves though with vocalist Jack Murray, they shout, growl, roar and snarl, rather than speak. He has an impressive delivery that reminds me a bit of Corey Taylor back in the early days of Slipknot. However on Coup De Grace (The Final Blow) he adopts straight hardcore delivery which is ideal for this songs use of synths and varying time signatures. This for me is the best track on the EP, I'm not the worlds biggest metalcore/hardcore fan but 156/Silence do have something to them. If you missed their full length this would be the best access point to get into 156/Silence. 7/10

Reviews: Bastarður, Plush, Ad Infinitum, Existance (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Bastarður – Satan’s Loss Of Son (Season Of Mist)

Satan’s Loss Of Son is just over 28 minutes of raging crust punk-meets-black metal. Imagine Darkthrone playing Entombed while throwing down with Lemmy in a dirty bar and you’re on the right, if a little beaten, track. The creation of Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, who is also the vocalist/guitarist of Sólstafir, Bastarður is a rip snorting, face melting, thrash along that has the outright aggression of grindcore along with the groove of Entombed or Motorhead. In what is a totally different style to his day job Tryggvason, forged his creation at his parents’ home after a relationship breakdown, he channelled his feelings into a personal project to explore his love of all thing filthy recruiting Dimma drummer Birgir Jónsson underpinning Tryggvason’s everything else. 

What they unleashed over those few days of recording was a snarling, primeval record filled with biting guitar tones, relentless percussive abuse and growled vocals. Though essentially a duo there are a lot of guests that add to the record Marc Grewe of Morgoth/Insidious Disease adds his growls to Neonlight Blitzkrieg, while Agitator-In-Chief Alan Averill (Primordial) crops up on Black Flag Fools, there’s also a host of guitar solos from Ragnar Zolberg and Thráinn Árni Baldvinsson, both of whom employing the explosive style of Jeff Hanneman (Tryggvason himself compares them to the legendary Slayer man) or Eddie Clarke, on Neonlight Blitzkrieg especially. With a debut that storms out of the block, with as much stopping power as an Icelandic volcano Bastarður is the flip side to Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s musical psyche, indulging in his love of punk and riffs. Play loud and get wild. 7/10  

Plush – Plush (Pavement Entertainment)

Comprised of singer, songwriter and guitarist Moriah Formica , drummer Brooke Colucci, guitarist Bella Perron and bassist Ashley Suppa. Plush are brand new American rock band and despite all of the members being under the legal drinking age in the United States, they all have bags of experience when it comes to performing. Coming together under the moniker of Plush, all the band members have come to the public’s attention in one way or another, Ashley hailed as the ‘female Cliff Burton’, Bella studies at Berklee College Of Music following in the footsteps of John Pertucci and Mark Tremonti. Bands such as Alter Bridge, Halestorm and Disturbed are clear influences on this debut, the big riffs of Bella underpinned by the muscular bass playing of Ashley, as viral star Brooke lays down the grooves on her kit. 

The talent level here is very high, the songs catchy and radio friendly but also full of virtuoso playing and also heaviness. Case in point first single Athena where Moriah shows why she was such a sensation on NBC’s The Voice, her vocal having the same kind of power as Ann Wilson of Heart (she performed Crazy On You in her audition). Athena is a dark and brooding opener, with a defiant empowering chorus, Champion maintains the heaviness, in that early 2000’s style while second single Hate is the story of broken relationship, with bags of attitude, while Sober is a stripped back ballad. At 13 tracks the band are looking to make an impression and showcase the full range of their talent and to be honest there isn’t a weak song here. 

Yes it’s very much in the American style of radio friendly metal but the musicianship and song writing is of a quality far advanced of this bands years. With production from Johnny K, this self-titled release is big, swaggering heavy rock record, which sets Plush up stardom. 7/10

Ad Infinitum - Chapter II: Legacy (Napalm Records)

Back in 2020, Simon reviewed the debut of this Swiss Symphonic metal act. He noted that Chapter I: Monarchy had great musicianship and was not too overly showy or self-indulgent like a lot of bands in this genre. Listening to this follow up album I have to agree that Ad Infinitum keep things simple enough to focus on what makes a good song, but also there’s enough flare for it not to bore you to tears. Much of the praise surrounding this band goes to singer Melissa Bonny who’s crystalline vocals soars above the music which comes in at the melodic of the symphonic style, with my mind making associations to acts such as Amaranthe and Beyond The Black. 

Bonny’s vocals are excellent shifting effortlessly between cleans and roars but the three other members of the band, Adrian Thessenvitz (guitars), Korbinian Benedict (bass) and Niklas Müller (drums), also leave their mark, the four piece relying on a lot of orchestrations from Elias Holmlid to flesh out this concept record. Yep like the debut it’s a concept record this time around the legacy of Vlad The Impaler and the duality between his heroism and barbarity, which led to the legends of Count Dracula but also the prosperity of the Ottoman Empire. The focus on a historical figure means that the band can evolve their writing style throughout getting dark when required but also unleashing some big anthems such as Unstoppable

Self-produced by the band and mixed/mastered by Jacob Hansen, Chapter II: Legacy is an ideal follow up to their debut album from 2020. Doing what made that album good but adding bit more depth and variation in the song writing. The addition of Nils Molin of Dynazty/Amaranthe on dramatic ballad Afterlife, is also very welcome. Another year and Ad Infinitum release another great symphonic metal offering. 7/10

Existance – Wolf Attack (Bloodblast Distribution/Black Viper Records/Spiritual Beast)

Not to be associated with French symphonic metal band Exxistance, this French band are a heavy riffing, classic heavy/speed metal band. Wolf Attack is their third studio album, produced by François Merle before being mastered by the legendary Jacob Hansen, it’s a non-stop run through of traditional heavy metal that sound more German/Swedish than it does French. Tracks like Power Of The Gods has more in line with Helloween or Accept, Preacher Of Insanity is outright speed metal, Sniper Alley brings a bit more drama and a mid-paced groove. 

There's a lot of chest beating metal here though occasionally the band do add some more 80's rock flavours such as on Rock N Roll, You Gotta Rock It or Jenny's Dream where there's a lot of The Scorpions.The two styles jar a little too much for me, especially the ballad Tears Of Fire which is highly saccharine and doesn't sit well at all. This Wolf Attack is a little restrained at times meaning that it is a little bit of a mishmash, though it's listenable. 6/10 

Thursday 28 October 2021

Reviews: The Lucid Furs, The Human Veil, Anti-Mortem, Liberty Lies (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Lucid Furs - Damn! That Was Easy (Argonauta Records)

Another day, another retro loving blues rock band. The Lucid Furs have a bit of an advantage being from one of the cities that spearheaded that 70's rock revolution, Detroit, Michigan. With years of heritage behind them due to their location, you would expect The Lucid Furs to be well versed in blues rock and you would be right. This second album wraps up blues, rock, soul and funk in one neat little package with the smoky, speakeasy sounds on Explain, more psychedelic rocking on Right On My Level and Pull The String as Conscious rumbles with the jazz rhythms of Dan Regenauer (drums) and Nick James (bass). 

The album is structured well, not every song is just mindless rock n roll, there's a real soul feel to these songs, the spirit of Detroit acts such as Alice Cooper, The MC5 and Grand Funk Railroad. Another Page having those wild guitars and vocals GFR are the masters of, Geordie Kasza's guitar rooted in the blues but never constrained by it, just listen to those grunge vibes on Over Again. Vocally Karen O'Connor is from the Elin Larsson, Ann Wilson and Janis Joplin school of singing, full of power and grit. As the album ends with the the acoustic tones of A One Time Investment, you're keenly aware that the camaraderie of this band is what drives them, it feels like many of these songs are more like jams than composed tracks and is more exciting because of it. Another retro loving blues rock band? Yeah but a good one. 7/10     

The Human Veil – The Hybrid Era (Self Released)

Manchester modern metalcore band The Human Veil, have tried, deliberately to improve upon their debut EP Fractures. Now obviously most bands try to do this, but The Human Veil have brought a conceptual nature to this record, to link the tracks together. The theme that flows through this album is the struggles we have with our mental health and that many are unable to speak about it keeping their demons inside to rule over them. Mental health is quite prominent topic at the moment in metal music, especially in the metalcore/modern metal world due in part to these bands using the clean/harsh dynamics to offer up that mix of frustration and introspection. The Hybrid Era does this across its five tracks with the most powerful offerings being Enemies and Pray For Me

The album also marks a change to the band’s sound, inspired by neon sci-fi the tracks all feature bags of electronics, along with symphonic elements, shifting them away from standard metalcore templates. Alive especially pairs bleeping electronics, with lots of strings and a crushing guitar breakdown, coming at the end of the EP, it’s a sign of their natural progression into this wider soundscape. They have also backed away from the traditional heaviness, allowing more emotion to ring out, making this EP the next stage of evolution for The Human Veil, welcome to their Hybrid Era. 7/10

Anti-Mortem - Anti-Mortem (Romo Music Group)

Well this is a blast from the past! Anti-Mortem, a band who released their first album in 2014 and shortly after split up. Leaving what I thought was going to be only album, well they have returned from Oklahoma with new music. Preceded by two singles in the midst of 2020, this is second full length album from the proponents of ‘New Southern’. While Anti-Mortem has been as dead as their namesake, the founding members Larado and Nevada Romo have been busy with Texas Hippie Coalition a band not too dissimilar to Anti-Mortem’s groove/thrash Southern metal mixture. Self-titling an album usually indicates some kind of rebirth and while only the Romo brothers remain from that first version of the band. 

Musically things stay pretty similar to that debut, with perhaps more of a look to some of the Pantera off shoots such as Hellyeah, Damageplan, rather than the cowboys from hell themselves. From the defiant STFU, to the bouncy The Good Life there’s a lot of big riffs but after the doom but boring Money there’s the Back And Forth which sounds like a bad Korn cover. Happily those Southern licks come back on Oh Yeah and Old Washita, which is a bonus track here but comes from the earlier period. For me some of the sonic experimentation doesn’t work, Anti-Mortem work brilliantly as a Southern metal band, the additions of nu-metal for me detract from this album. Nice to see you back, but stick to what you do best guys! 6/10  

Liberty Lies – Halloween EP (Self Released)

Comprised of Shaun Richards (vocals), Josh Pritchett (guitar), Adam Stevens (drums) and Miles Bagshaw (bass), Black Country rockers Liberty Lies are ready for spooky season with their Halloween EP. It features one new song, the single Monster along with four covers. Monster is very much in their NWOCR sound but with their alt rock twist, the covers though have been chosen for their spooky names. They do Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon where Shaun duets with Chloe Ozwell of Sister Shotgun, there’s also Highway To Hell which features The Fallen State. 

There two tracks that were made famous by Creedence Clearwater Revival, I Put A Spell On You which is the band doing this soul classic with the amps made louder while Bad Moon Rising features Wolf Jaw and is a little more bittersweet due to the recent tragic death of their frontman Tom Leighton. All of the covers are relatively decent and stick close to the originals making the Halloween EP essentially a bit of seasonally fun curio as they work on their third full length. Not essential but a fun listen for your Halloween weekend. 6/10 

Reviews: Joe Bonamassa, Lucifer, Sammy Berrell, Trep (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Joe Bonamassa – Time Clocks (Provogue/J&R Adventures)

The hardest working man in music returns with another album, his 16th offering sees him yet again adapt like the musical chameleon he is. Whereas his 2020 release Royal Tea was very much inspired by the British Blues Explosion, Time Clocks is Bonamassa writing with no boundaries, drawing from years of experience and perseverance to the blues rock cause to make his most mature and cinematic album yet. Once again produced by Kevin Shirley, this time the album was mixed by Bob Clearmountain for a fluidity to the record, allowing each track to transition into the other seamlessly as if describing the passing of time or our journey through life.

This is reflected in the lyrical content, the album opening up with the driving Notches, the chorus declaring numerous times that Joe has “miles under my wheels, notches in my walking cane”, this been there done that, would do it all again attitude is present across the entire album as the tracks move between classic blues, arena ready rockers as well as adding soul, gospel, folk and anything else they can get in there. There’s a sense of occasion to this record, it’s an album with a scope that suits the man who is probably the biggest blues rock artist in the world, consistently creating not just for himself but as a producer/writer and more recently label owner.

Locked down in New York, he rediscovered that vitality and hunger that powered one of his early game changing albums Blues Deluxe which was recorded in New York while he was still in the struggling artist phase of his career. So now 20 years later Time Clocks is him reflecting on those intervening years and again taking inspiration from the city to make his ‘New York Record’. Joey Bones is at his best when he’s slinging one of the guitars taken from his extensive collection and howling at the moon with that distinctive vocal style. Notches is belting opener for this record, full of Zeppelin-isms but with a traditional blues heart. Curtain Call has this kind of rock monster sound favoured by Zeppelin, Purple et al. Notches is followed by the strutting groove of The Heart That Never Waits, giving you the other side of Bonamassa’s psych as rock god gives way to bluesman. This track also has those brilliant soulful backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Prinnie Stevens, as we get in the pocket laid down by bassist Steve Mackey and long time collaborator Anton Fig on drums.

Coming from that ‘New York Record’ influence we are taken into the incredible title track which could have been ripped from a Broadway cast recording, it would especially powerful in Dolby Atmos, the format which this album was mixed for. Along with Fig and Mackey, the record also features Lachy Doley on piano/organs, who ramps up those Hammond for the ballad stirring elemental Mind’s Eye. Bobby Summerfield takes the percussion on the funky Hanging On A Loser and Bunna Lawrie who adds that most rock n roll of instruments the didgeridoo. Time Clocks is Bonamassa showing that he won’t be relinquishing that blues rock titan moniker any time soon, expressive, poignant and driven by his passion for creating music, this is the voice (and guitar) of experience shining through. 9/10   

Lucifer – IV (Century Media)

On their fourth full length album, Stockholm-based occult proto-metal masters, leave no doubt in your mind where their allegiances lay. The album cover depicts frontwoman Johanna tied to a cross in a crucifixion scene with dark red light engulfing this image that may raise a few eyebrows in the Catholic Church. But then when the band name is Lucifer, this sort of blasphemy should be expected, as you’d guess, or would know had you heard albums I-III. Lucifer play the devil’s music, occult tinged 70’s proto-metal stemming from Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Blue Oyster Cult, just listen for those Buck Dharmaisms on Crucifix (I Burn For You)

Previous outings have mainly featured writing from Johanna and Nicke Andersson (drums) at their The Honk Palace Studio but on IV, they have, for the first time expanded the song writing to include the other band members, guitarists, Linus Björklund and Martin Nordin mainly making for a much more collective effort, some of the production two being done at guitarist Linus Björklund’s studio. This collective effort allows for a few sonic experiments into dark folk, horror –tinged soul but mostly a lot of stomping, groovy rock n roll that sticks to the left hand path. The occult/horror themes are much more pronounced on this album too, from the cover art to the release date of Halloween, as well as the songs themselves all upping the spooky. 

Swirling organs give Hammer Horror vibes on Mausoleum, a track driven by Harald Göthblad’s bass fuzz before switching into the unnerving acoustic interlude of The Funeral Pyre that sets a path for the gothic swagger of Cold As A Tombstone. The guitar interplay between Linus and Martin is up there with of the best in this style, they feed off each other whether it’s on a pumping punk rock riff or a slower fluid piece of melody (Louise), their playing harking back to those 70’s glory days as Nicke again kicks the shit out his drum set, dropping in some fills and counter rhythms that you may not hear on first listen while Harald’s bass is the big, pulsating anchor for the whole record. 

Of course I’ve said tonnes about Johanna’s majestic, shamanic vocals before but on these darker hued tracks there’s menace behind the 70’s soulfulness. With the evilness increased on this fourth record Lucifer grow ever close to becoming the Manson Family of retro rocking, however only the music here kills (I hope). 9/10

Sammy Berell – Beyond The Veil (Dark Force Records)

Before we start I have to say that I understand when a newer/unknown artist is trying to break through, I try not to be too critical but believe me when I say that Beyond The Veil is probably one of the worst recorded albums I’ve heard this year. The production and mix is attempting to be ‘retro’ sounding like those Malmsteen records in the 80’s but it comes off as a little insipid and at times almost like the record is warped. A shame as Swedish guitarist Sammy Berell is obviously obsessed with playing the guitar and creating neo-classical music like his classical heroes such as Bach along with artists such as fellow countryman Yngwie. 

It’s the Malmsteen element that is what carries this album along, in fact it seems to almost become a shameless copy at times Berell having Göran Edman on his debut album and now featuring Mark Boals, both of whom are former Malmsteen vocalists. The music, much like Malmsteens, is self-indulgent fretboard wankery, that will lapped up by the Japanese market but for me would possibly have more of an impact if it didn’t sound like it was recorded underwater. Obviously talented and playing what he loves it’s difficult to criticize the man himself but as a musical exercise, Beyond The Veil, is a little too tiring. 5/10   

Trep - Renewed (Self Released)

When I pressed play on the latest EP from South Wales collective Trep, I'll admit that I originally thought that I might have been given the wrong album. What I was faced with was 5 track EP of alternative/groove metal that seems right at home in the early 2000's (and I had assumed had stayed there). Gone was intricate progressive notions of their debut EP, replaced with heavier riffs and fatter grooves. No wonder then that this EP is named Renewed as Trep sound like a totally different band here, while this may cause confusion to anyone that has listened to the band pre-pandemic, the shift in style was necessary as Trep lost their vocalist/guitarist so both were needed to round out the duo of drummer Max Hill and bassist Sam Green, the engine room and architects of Trep's new sound. 

To bring the riffs they tapped Declan McCabe (Blind Divide) while up front they brought in powerhouse Rachel Thomas who flirts between Skin and Cristina Scabbia as a vocal influence. She is a great singer for this style, while McCabe can crank out a riff, but don't expect a lot flashy solos. I really enjoyed Trep as the prog band they were, and while there is a lot of keys sitting in the background, it's not prog. Still this new sound is well performed by all involved, it's a style that I've never been overly fond of since it's early 2000's heyday. Still if those sounds of Godsmack, Sevendust and Breaking Benjamin still make you bounce about in your baggy jeans then you'll enjoy this refocussed, heavier Trep. 7/10 

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Reviews: Elimination, TheCityIsOurs, Circa Survive, AFM Compilation (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen]

Elimination – Echoes Of The Abyss (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Sidestepping the clouds thrown up by the race to the top flight of the UK thrash league, Suffolk’s Elimination have calmly gone about their business. Their return in 2017 with Neil Stevens now flanked by dual guitarists David Hill and Leigh Rumsby was unspectacular but the band threw the Of Gods and Beasts EP out in the middle of 2020, and suddenly thrash fans took notice. 

That EP was merely a warning shot. Echoes Of The Abyss is possibly the UK thrash album of 2021. Retaining the feel and grit of the band’s previous albums, it’s a well-crafted, thoughtful and above all enjoyable record that improves on every listen. Disciples Of The Beast which opens the album is majestic, the slower paced tempo giving way to more routine thrash with a savage riff that kicks off the body of the song. Stevens’s gravel throated roars work in harmony with the band’s aggressive style, the dual guitars singing in synchronised harmony. 

Most of the album follows the thrashers blueprint which I don’t see as a huge issue; This Is War is explosive whilst the short sharp shock of Victims By Design sits neatly in the middle, hiding a hook that lingers long in the memory. The tracks are fresh, visceral and get the head nodding in all the right places.

Like Might Of Cygnus on Shrapnel’s Palace Of The Insane last year, Echoes Of The Abyss holds one final ace in the form of final song Infernal. It’s a monstrous track, over ten minutes long. Some cynics may say that Elimination are looking for the Metallica masterpiece here, but I take each song on its own merits. Whilst any thrash band of this generation has roots deep in those ‘godfather’ bands, you can surely appreciate Infernal for what it is – a fine track that allows the band to conclude one of the albums of the year in fine style. 9/10

Circa Survive - A Dream About Love (Rise Records) [Matt Bladen]

Circa Survive are a progressive, post-hardcore band from Seattle and for 17 years they have been part of their own niche musically. They are very much about survival especially in the few years since their last album in 2017, trying to navigate the political turmoil of the country while singer Anthony Green fought his own battle with his Heroin relapse and his recovery. He has used the bands Patreon to create individual songs, his work ethic keeping him focussed on something. However in the last year where much of the band spent time away from each other isolated, they faced their toughest challenges, due to the inability to create together they focussed on their Pateron but also set about creating this EP, which details the struggles of the band.

Imposter Syndrome deals with Green's addiction and it's a poignant, offering as Green reassessed his relationship with songwriting as an outlet and the entire band learned to ease off the gas a little focussing on themselves and as such the creation of this EP and the songs themselves benefit from the space and deft touch they have been given. This EP feels esoteric in places, Even Better is a throbbing piece of electronica, while Gone For Good is atmospheric shoegazing all have that unique vocal delivery from Green, he imbues the songs with a emotive style that still sits in the members Emo roots. If this is the beginning of a new more focussed, chilled out era for Circa Survive then I for one welcome it as A Dream About Love is an album from a band with a renewed focus. 7/10

TheCityIsOurs – Coma (Arising Empire) [Matt Bladen]

Following a period of uncertainty after their previous vocalist left the band, London modern metal crew TheCityIsOurs return to the fray with new singer Oli Duncanson a long-time friend of the band, he slots in perfectly with co-vocalist/guitarist Mikey Page, once again completing the bands harsh/clean vocals style. Coma is the bands second album and it’s the typical sort of release you’d want from Arising Empire, poppy hooks at odds with heavy post-hardcore riffs, each chorus ringing with a tinge of emo while the songs have distorted grooves, and some syncopated leads all while the symphonic/electronic elements buzz in the background. 

The five piece are on form here definitely producing a record that will definitely excite their fans, though it’s drawn from loss, the songs such as riffers Death Of Me, Dangerous, Body Count and even the more melodic, ballad offerings like So Sad all have a positivity to them, though with a dark concept surrounding them. Produced by Oz Craggs and Ermin Hamidovic who have credits with bands such as Neck Deep and Architects between them Coma doesn’t sleep easy. It’s brimming with vitality and will get fans of this modern sound excited for sure. 7/10

25 Years Metal Addiction - The Rare & The Unreleased (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

This compilation does what it says on the tin. Celebrating 25 years of AFM Records, the label has pulled together a rather handsome feast from its archives, with a double album of tracks from bands on the label whose songs were either unpublished or only available as country-exclusive editions. Alongside established big hitters like UDO, Firewind and Lordi we find less well known or underrated outfits like Serious Black, Solution .45 and Shakra. 

In the main, it’s driving heavy metal with a decent production quality. It certainly doesn’t sit in the extreme camp, but it’s most definitely pleasing enough heavy metal, with a drift into the melodic realm at times and an album that would be a pleasing companion on a road trip. Whether compilation albums in an era of streaming services are something of a blast from the past is debatable, but there is sufficient here to make it worth a deviation. 7/10

Reviews: Archspire, Aexylium, Last Hounds, Elkapath (Reviews By Charlie Rogers & Dr Claire Hanley, Simon Black, Zak Skane & Paul Hutchings)

Archspire - Bleed The Future (Season Of Mist) [Charlie Rogers & Dr Claire Hanley]

Vancouver’s resident speed demons are back with their 4th full length Bleed The Future; short and sweet, it clocks in at 32 minutes over 8 tracks. The band have consistently offered up impressively swift music, with their 2017 release Relentless Mutation setting the bar exceptionally high. Exceeding this marker would be no easy feat, and yet somehow they managed it. Case in point, Drone Corpse Aviator is blisteringly fast from the get go. Technically outstanding as always, the frantic energy is second to none. There’s a moment to breathe in the middle 8 section, before being catapulted into the groove ridden chorus where Oli furiously chants the title. The stage is set, they’ve well and truly thrown down the gauntlet.

Rising to the technical challenge, Abandon The Linear does just that. As laid back as 300 bpm can feel while also breaking the sound barrier, long legato lines from Tobi and Dean’s guitars show off their melodic chops against the maelstrom of rhythm underneath, courtesy of Spencer. Jared’s tone is absolutely jaw dropping, with sections of exposed bass adding additional textures.The most chaotic track, Drain Of Incarnation, has a whirlwind of clashing riffs that balance against each other on a knife’s edge. Acrid Canon has a catchy, multi-layered and multi-tempo approach that is a fantastic example of subdividing the beat, and Reverie On The Onyx plays with time giving us a 3/4 waltz section that’s impossible not to headbang to.

Golden Mouth Of Ruin muscles it’s way into the record with an all consuming swagger. So much bravado, and a confident air of well-earned arrogance. Insane melodic layering comes through with absolute clarity, a testament to both the band’s aptitude for songwriting and producer Dave Otero’s masterful mixing skills. Along similar lines, Bleed The Future has groove for days with memorable guitar phrasing, and A.U.M. certainly brings back “the fucking danger in the music” as the track’s opening sample requests, with laser precision and unyielding ferocity - even the clean section is fast, but you’d expect that by now!

Like an adept author steers the reader through a literary opus, Archspire expertly utilise instrumentation as vocabulary, punctuating the phrases as you're guided through a musical narrative. The anthemic atmosphere throughout the record is a welcome addition compared to past material, making this album sound even more grandiose. Fast, frantic, yet incredibly memorable. 9/10

Aexylium - The Fifth Season (Rockshots Records) [Simon Black]

Italian Symphonic Folk Metal bands don’t come across my desk every day. Having watched the birth of this genre with Skyclad from the ashes of Sabbat way back in the day, I’m always curious to see how a new act handles the melding of the Folk and the Metal, as despite the many followers in the genre now out there, few rarely achieve the originality and impact of those progenitors. That act were original because they melded Metal with Folk sentiment (although not really fully until their second album) and the contrast that came from the use of a vocalist whose background was more Progressive Thrash. Aexylium have many things in common with that, but the more Symphonic Orchestral elements give them an interesting edge. However, there’s a lot of people in this act, which means reproducing this kind of complex sound live seems eminently achievable and the Folk musicians are present in equal numbers to the more traditional Metal ones.

Opening with the frenetic The Bridge, this is Metal first and foremost and vocally opts for an extreme vocal style which jars slightly with the more Melodic elements of the sound, although this first piece is about fast and furious delivery and certainly grabs the attention well. Mountains is way more Symphonic in tone, slower and more classical in pace at the outset, with clean vocals from guest Arianna Bellinaso providing a contrast to Steven Merani’s Extreme style. The contrast of the two in duet works way better than the opening track and although no less frenetic when it gets going, melds the folk harmonies in far better than the more overtly Metal starting point of the album. Atlas Pain’s Samuele Faulisi also crops up as a guest on Battle Of Tettenhall and once again I am struck by the fact that this band work best with a range of vocal styles in the mix. Musically the song-writing works really well, with some superbly crafted songs and melodic structures, that make the record positively fly by with foot tapping energy and enthusiasm. None more so than the centrepiece of the record Skål, which is clearly going to work an absolute treat live and is the only point where the Alestorm comparisons become unavoidable.

The style bounces between these points throughout the remainder of the record, but for me the songs where the Folk is in the lead and the Symphonic elements are allowed to underscore it work best. Even the more ‘pure’ Metal song moments feel like they are there to provide credibility. The extreme vocal style again works best when contrasting and complimenting the Folk - even better with a complimentary guest vocalist in the mix and with eight musicians already in the fold, this is clearly going to be an interesting and fun live act to watch. With a wide ensemble cast already in the mix, adding one more vocal presences as a permanent fixture does not seem an unreasonable step in the future and one that will make this act really quite formidable. 8/10

Last Hounds – Burden (Venn Records) [Zak Skane]

Established in 2013 Last Hounds, are a Midlands based Hardcore band, that meld influences combining the fearless energy of the likes of Gallows and Comeback Kid, the earworm style songwriting of Letlive. with the swagger of Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes. Recent years has seen the band hone their song writing craft and tour the UK, supporting the likes of Bullets & Octane and Skindred, developing a steady and loyal fan base throughout the country.

This album just oozes with classic British glazed hardcore, from the opening track Balaclava kicks in with this bouncy twangy guitar riff that takes reminisces to bands like Vanna and TRC, before the upbeat 2/4 drum pattern comes in to confirm it’s hardcore punk influences. The groovy momentum carries on into their second track Breed with the vocalist snarling through the track with his London swagger chatting the chorus. Throughout Burden the band also explore classic punk influences like the high tempo versed Extraordinary and Incinerate as well experimenting with shorter song structures like the catchy Innocence, which only last for 53 seconds but still holds as much punch and snarl as their 3 minute ones.

Overall this is a great slice of British Hardcore/Punk the guitars have clarity but yet still sound gritty and punchy, bass sounds gnarly, drums are energetic and vocals have that classic London snarl to them. Even these guys are not reinventing the wheel they wear their influences on their sleeve well, 7/10.

Elkapath – Black Spiders (Symmetric Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Classed as synthetic gothic metal, Elkapath hail from Gloucester and comprise Carla Elkapath, Trevor England, Marios Karaisaridis and Chris Jones. With several years’ experience behind them, this is no green outfit despite having only been together in their current form since 2019. Black Spiders consists of ten tracks which have elements of punk, pop, gothic, and modern rock. Their influences are wide ranging and include The Prodigy, The Birthday Massacre, Nine Inch Nails and Korn. Kicking off with the sinister pop rock of Creepy Little Dolls that suggests the likes of The Breeders, there’s a punchy feel to the release, with the songs short, sharp and like a punch to the solar plexus. 

Dirty Whore Mouth sees Elkapath open the full range of her spiky vocal range, from yawning roars to more saccharine coated delivery. Each track brings something different, with the variation one of the refreshing elements of this record. With a quality production thanks to Bob Katsionis (ex Firewind, Outloud), Black Spiders is something a little different to the normal fare on offer here, but should you wish to mix your musical tastes a little, then this is a band who will do just that. 8/10

Tuesday 26 October 2021

Reviews: Starset, Venus Syndrome, Evil Hunter, The Sonic Overlords (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Starset - Horizons (Fearless Records) [Matt Bladen]

Dustin Bates, Starset frontman, songwriter and general creative mastermind, returns with his 'cinematic rock' band's fourth album. If you have listened to any of his previous 3 albums then you will know what to expect, the band play a style of alternative/emo rock music with large emphasis on synths and electronics, the songs full of powerful riffing, anthemic choruses and bristling with orchestrations and textured ambient elements that provide that cinematic sound the band are known for. Across their previous albums much of Bates lyrics, and music have been inspired by science fiction and the ever increasing power and role of technology in our life, as their fourth album comes to fruition, we are at a point where technology is a major part of lives for both good and bad. 

Across these 16 tracks (yep) bates mulls on life, love and relationships in this digital age, backed by a soundscape that often becomes a little too synthetic, as the EDM elements are incorporated so well it means that often you forget about the rock riffs and are essentially listening to a synth album. Still Starset have got large following so their style of music is very popular, as any of the numerous bands bringing in electronic sounds will attest. Horizons is Starset 101, and if you liked their previous albums you'll like this. If you want Tron the musical, this is as close as you'll get. 6/10    

Venus Syndrome - Cannibal Star (Rockshots Records) [Simon Black]

Originally starting life as a Dream Theater tribute act before gaining the confidence to plough their own furrow, France’s Venus Syndrome’s sophomore record continues many of the themes of their debut regarding our wilful path of self-destruction, a serious subject that is finally being taken seriously a wee bit too late. There’s some more positivity in here though, as tracks like single Sideral Groove, whose chorus “music is my life” is something we can all relate to.

The Prog roots of their tribute days can be heard loud and clear though and many aspects of that musical influencer can still be heard loud and proud - particularly in the instrumental interplay and they keyboard arrangements, but this is more like early Derek Sherinian era DT for me than the incarnations either side. Vocally as well, the style is less about soaring high notes and more about a edgier, darker, lower and moodier feel from singer Emmanuelson Ellipsisso - so more Russell Allen than James LeBrie, although not quite as charismatic as either, at least on this recording.

The sound is fairly rich and I cannot fault the technical quality of their delivery but I’m struggling to find any catchy songs to hang my hat on, as after a while the relentless environmental thematics leave you looking for a change in tone. At forty-six minutes, it’s not overly lengthy either, but it’s not got the songwriting chops to make those minutes fly by. This is a lesson DT learned some time back – that no matter how great the playing, if the audience has nothing to hook them in, then that skill is wasted. 

The exception to this is the title track, which as well as being on the short side, is pure flourish and instrumental pizazz and works all the better for it. I don’t want to be too negative, as there’s a huge amount of potential in here, but I can’t help thinking that a little focus on song-structure and catchiness will go a hell of a long way next time out, as all the other ingredients are there. 6/10

Evil Hunter - Lockdown (Demon Records) [Simon Black]

Although this is only their sophomore release, the individual members of Spain’s Evil Hunter have a much longer musical history, although 2018’s self-titled debut was their first work together. As is often the place when a more grizzled bunch come together, all the experience from previous projects comes with it, but none of the baggage, creating a powerful new whole that bristles with the energy of a much younger act. This follow up release is no exception.

This album is hugely energetic indeed and doesn’t feel like a product of the Euro Power Metal scene at all, in fact both the Editor and myself thought we were listening to something hailing from South America at first, because this record is full of the edginess, endemic sense of rebellion and attitude that layers the metal culture from that wonderful continent. That and a deep vein of traditional Heavy Bloody Metal in a greater measure than the Power aspects, with good old fashioned twin guitar riff-driven delivery and a vocalist in Damián Chicano with power, guts and a gravely, rough edge that completely suits the music and evokes early Accept and a bit of Running Wild.

The sings all fly by with energy and gusto, with some well-crafted song structures, Production that crisply allows each player to be singled out whilst keeping the sense of a cohesive whole, and in short is a firm thumbs up when it comes to crystallising exactly what a solid Metal album should sound like. The album slows the pace a little towards the end, and we get some more measured work in there, in particular the title track with it’s acoustic intro before going full power ballad for a few bars and then back to that frenetic energy for the last half. It’s a great track, and shows the guitar work at its best, even if vocally Chicano seems a bit more restrained here. 

The anthemic You’ll Never Walk Alone however remains my favourite, with its sing along chorus, slightly more Melodic Metal temperament and fist-pumping energy, it typifies what turned out to be an unexpectedly excellent album. 9/10

The Sonic Overlords - Last Days Of Babylon (M-Theory Audio) [Matt Bladen]

With this reviewing game we will often get lots of albums that want to be clever, or innovative or evolve the genre they play. Then however we also get bands such as The Sonic Overlords, Swedish riff monsters that musically mirror bands such as Dio/Martin-era Black Sabbath, Candlemass and fellow Swedes Grand Magus. Heavy, doomy and with a melodic flourishes that bring lots of groove and even a few shout along choruses Last Days Of Babylon doesn't want to reinvent the wheel just keep the truck moving. Formed by members of an Ozzy tribute band, The Sonic Overlords know how to write a chest beating riff that is anchored in doom, In My Darkest Room a good example of what they do well. 

Stomping riffs of founding member Morgan Zocek and impassioned singing of Marcus Zachrisson Rubin who joined the band in 2020 along with bassist Daniel Ramírez, as the band is rounded out by drummer Per Soläng. What you get here is some no frills heavy metal power, from the traditional doom of Lords Of No Tomorrow, the more restrained World On Fire and Sands Of Time which is heaviest offering here a track that is slightly reworked on the bonus track Past The End Of Time with Tony Martin carrying the vocals on this version in a definite nod to the bands influence. It won't change the world, but it is a decent listen for fans of melodic doom metal. 7/10

Reviews: Beast In Black, Toledo Steel, Seven Sisters, Michael Schinkel’s Eternal Flame (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Beast In Black - Dark Connection (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

Having members who hail from Finland, Greece and Hungary must have made this last album a little on the challenging side to pull together given recent events. Hell, I can’t even go to Nottingham for the first business trip in two years without coming back infected with fucking COVID, so hats off to these guys for either managing to meet at all, or for really nailing down the art of remote writing and recording for this release. If the name sounds familiar to another well-known Finnish Power Metal band, then that’s probably because it’s the brainchild of former Battle Beast axeman Anton Kabanen, who founded this project in 2015. The similarity of the moniker is the only thing these two acts have in common musically however and I have to say I was curious to hear what this project sounded like, as when the third album comes around, it’s often make or break time.

First off musically you cannot get away from the in your face Synthwave keyboard sound that’s been adopted throughout. It’s using the kind of keyboard voices that if I was hearing it loud in a trendy pub in Cardiff I would be pulling a grimace and heading towards the exit, but add the pounding Power Metal drums and guitar and it really, and rather unexpectedly, works. Bizarrely, they also pull it off on the album closer They Don’t Care About Us, which puts the metal sounds completely in the background and still pulls it off because it’s so bloody anthemic and catchy - like everything else on the record. The songs have an incredible richness and energy, along with a shameless and liberal layering of reverb to give it that full, fat and in your face emotive feel and it’s the spectacularly utilising the kind of production values that tell me not only the band, but also those manning the desk really, really know their kung-fu.

Greek frontman Yannis Papadopoulos ensures that there’s a very different vocal delivery here, not least by the fact that he can switch vocal styles quite fluidly, from the very squeaky clean of the style that Power Metal has too many examples of already, to the more raw and gutturally screamed approach that reminds me of Ripper Owens on a good day. Oh, and everything in between and faultlessly to boot. I had to stop and check multiple times, because this really did sound more like it was a vocal ensemble super group project with half a dozen contributors, rather than just one man. It’s when you listen to him switch and slide styles mid-bar that his skill really hits you in the face as it’s hard to believe that this trick is not coming from a cross fade on a mixing desk, rather than from an exceptional human larynx. This leads to a hugely impressive range of approaches in the mix to the ears. When you add a couple of duet guest performances from an uncredited female guest, this really adds a dimension and richness contrasted even further with Papadopoulos effortlessly flowing between vocal styles within the same song. It is a simply incredible performance

Finally, the songs. For me the holy trinity for quality albums is that fine and delicate balance between the performances of the players and the ear and technical skills of whoever is producing and mixing, but these are nothing without the foundation of good songwriting - which this record has in abundance and plenty par excellence. Each and every track on here is of the calibre of the top moments in most other records from the genre all rolled into one fantastic and well-crafted package, only let down by one of the cheesiest and sexist album covers I’ve seen in a while, but I am not holding this against them on the grounds that I’ve finally got a contribution for my end of year ‘Worst Cover of the Year’ category when December comes around.

No top scores from me for months on end then two come along at once. 10/10

Toledo Steel - Heading For The Fire (Dissonance Productions/Cherry Red Records) [Matt Bladen]

Swashbuckling Southern England, metallers Toledo Steel return with their second full length. Packed to the brim with muscular, ballsy speed metal it's been released to coincide with their co-headline run of dates along with Seven Sisters (whose new album is reviewed next). Unlike their tour mates their sound is a bit more in the early punkier sound of the NWOBHM style, perhaps drawing on the re-release of their first to demos which came out as The First Strike Of Steel last year. The musical influences come from Accept and Iron Maiden and are shared with Enforcer and Amulet as they have before but there's also a few occult themes that lend themselves to Mercyful Fate. 

Heading For The Fire sees the band varying their soundscapes a little, with some 80's-like speed metal fury on On The Loose, however they also have a more theatrical bent on Rituals By The Firelight as Tom Potter flexes his acoustic guitar prowess, though it's his razor sharp riffs and solos that most will focus on. Toledo Steel do like a riff, they also love chucking multiple riffs into songs, on the final offering, Last Rites the song itself runs over the 8 minute mark with numerous shifts in pace and timing led by the muscular rhythm section of drummer Matt Dobson and bassist Felix Dock, equally at home with proto-thrash as they are doom. The two musical styles that are increased on this record making for an overall darker tone than their previous albums. 

This is more than just a retro fest though as Toledo Steel tap into what made the NWOBHM so popular as their music has a vitality, even a track such as Wicked Woman which takes more the 80's Ozzy shine than the denim and leather one, is delivered with fire and the belly and the sneering pipes of Rich Rutter. The British NWOBHM revival is still in full swing, with the best bands of the bunch still packing a punch. 8/10 

Seven Sisters – Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1 (Cherry Red Records) [Matt Bladen]

Consisting of Kyle McNeill (guitar/vocals), Graeme Farmer (guitar), Gaz Martin (bass) and Sam Christou (drums), London’s defenders of the steel, return with the follow up to 2016’s The Cauldron And The Cross. Recorded (in Burnley) between October and December 2020 (with the exception of the drums which were September in St Albans), Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1 is I assume the first album in a forthcoming series of concept records. This explains why it begins with and has numerous cinematic flourishes throughout, creating a union between dramatic film scoring and classic British heavy metal. For example Horizon’s Eye, kicks off with a heavy metal gallop, but then has a middle section that swells with some atmospherics strings before a twin lead duel ramps up those classic sounds of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. 

The title track too features those oh so familiar twin lead harmonies and a fist pumping chorus. McNeil produced and mixed the record before Miro Rodenberg mastered it and for what is D.I.Y effort this record has a real scope to it sound wise, especially because the band are unafraid to up the prog level, matching the epic scale of their songwriting with the production. A track such as Wounds Of Design is an ideal showing of this, the longing ballad has muscle and bite to it. I’d compare Seven Sisters to bands such as Haunt and Cauldron, but they do also bring a lot of their own style, much of which comes from the unique vocals of McNeil, which I must admit I did have to warm too but once they settle with you couldn’t really imagine another vocalist singing these songs. 

Shadow Of A Falling Star Pt. 1, looks to be the beginning of a theatrical classic heavy metal concept series, luckily it’s delivered by a band with a multifaceted style that is rooted in British metal history. No wonder then that they gather a lot of critical praise, have some more on me! 8/10

Michael Schinkel’s Eternal Flame – Gravitation (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Simon Black]

This act have been round in one form or another since 1986 (as Firefox), then Eternal Flame in the late 1990’s and noughties, with this version coming into being into 2018 with the last man standing from the original line up presumably, although it’s difficult to research as not a lot of info about those previous incarnations is out there. When you listen to the material on here though, it feels like it’s running the stylistic gamut of all of those intervening years, with a bit of mid-80’s AOR thrown in for good measure. To be fair, variety is definitely the spice of life here, and the fact that this will bounce between the shredding Neo-Classical, via straight-up and solid Melodic Metal before plumbing the USA Radio AOR Rock depths of the 80’s does at least keep you on your toes.

The other thing working strongly here is Shinkel’s performance. It is as you would expect from the artist brand name selected, fundamentally his solo project and he takes lead vocal and all guitar duties throughout. His voice is a solid and clean, with just enough edge to keep it raw, but not enough of a range for you to think about ditching the axe. His guitar work though is impressive and whereas when he’s focussing on singing, the guitar work stays mainly in the rhythm mode, but when he lets rip it’s generally worth the wait. So much so that I might be so bold as to suggest sharing some of those vocal duties. As well as allowing a bit more harmonic opportunity, this is an axe man worth listening to in his own right so perhaps something to bear in mind for the future.

Production wise there’s a nice full fat MeloMetal mix in there, although quite a tiny sound crops up on some of the early tracks in the drums department though, which leads me to suspect that the material was recorded over a lengthy period of time and that perhaps some sessions were capture at a later date and remotely thanks to the small matter of a global pandemic. The challenge I have with this is that the song-writing can be a bit hit and miss, with the faster and more Neo-Classical contributions generally standing head and shoulders above the rest, if only as the Melo/AOR stuff has plenty of marketplace content already, and it’s his technical flourishes that make the better tr#acks stand out in front. So, ditch the AOR, mix up the vocals a bit and the sky’s the limit. That said, those tracks where the best is allowed to shine make it worth giving this a spin end to end. 5/10

Monday 25 October 2021

Reviews: Burning Point, Livløs, Bizarre, Void Of Vision (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Burning Point – Arsonist Of The Soul (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The Finnish power metallers keep on coming and have been featured several times in these very pages. Having formed in 1999, the band have changed line-ups on a regular basis. Often the sign of control freakery, it’s also good for new blood to join, bringing with it fresh ideas, energy, and enthusiasm. Burning Point have always been steered in the right direction by guitarist/songwriter Pete Ahonen, whose vision has maintained the band’s integrity throughout the band’s journey.

It’s been five years since previous album The Blaze, but with the arrival of new vocalist Luca Sturniolo replacing Nitte Valo, Burning Point’s eighth album is full of quality. It transpires that Sturniolo can sing. And then some. The Italian who has lived in Finland for many years possesses a rather fine set of pipes, powerful, emotional and with enough variation to bring a new spark to the fire that is Burning Point. Alongside Ahonen’s quality guitar work, there is a solid rhythm section with new members Jarkko Poussu (bass, ex-member of Finnish thrash pioneers A.R.G.), Tuomas Jaatinen (drums) and Matti Halonen (Keyboards) joining guitarist Pekka Kolivuori in a new look line-up.

As with much power metal, you either enjoy it or you don’t. Arsonist Of The Soul is 12 tracks and 49 minutes of high-quality music, some full foot to the floor speed, others more balanced and anthemic, such as the mighty title track that stands tall in the centre of the album. It’s heavy enough to avoid the traditional Eurovision pop slurs that sometimes are aimed at the lighter end of the genre, and the songs are relatively short, never overstaying their welcome but not cut short in any way.

It’s not going to win any prizes for originality, but let’s face it, there isn’t much that even touches original today. And if you can’t beat ‘em, then joining them seems the next best thing. Burning Point do it in style. Opener Blast In The Past, the stirring Out Of Control and the fist in the air Hit The Night all do the business in fine style. It’s glorious power metal which simply demands you sing along with the melodies and harmonies that spread through this album quicker than coronavirus in a nursing home. So, if you want something that will lift the spirits, cheer the soul, and allow you to forget your shit for just under an hour, I’d heartily recommend this album. It may sound a bit retro in parts, but that’s part of the fun. 8/10

Livløs - And Then There Were None (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Danish melodic death metal band Livløs have been grinding away since 2014, their sound a furious fusion of Scandi and American melodic death metal. This album is comprised of nine tracks that fly by with a flurry of searing lead guitar playing, HM-2 assisted riffs and double kicks galore. Tight and punishing And Then There Were None gets your head nodding from the first few moments the band playing with a focus on tracks that have been crafted to show what they do best. Taking from bands such as At The Gates and Black Dahlia Murder, the technicality goes hand in hand with the musicality, with neither being too intrusive, even vocally Livløs have a wide array of screams and growls so it's never one dimensional, something that often is a let down with Melodeath. 

Pallbearer's diversity is a proper example of this with a vocals approach that shifts throughout, before it leads into the albums only slow moment the intermission of Kistefjael that shifts the focus into the battering Drenched In Turmoil which serves as a groovier number as Seize The Night ramps up the speed again, shifting into a pulsating bass-led coda towards the end of the track. It's little additions to the standard melodeath template that make Livløs a bit more an eclectic listening experience than the norm. And Then There Were None is a melodeath album that breaks a few boundaries. 7/10

Bizarre - Invocation Codex (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Spanish death metal isn’t something we get to listen to often. Invocation Codex is the debut album from Bizarre who have no reluctance in indulging their old school extreme influences into a snarling ball of bludgeoning metal that drags Lovecraftian horror screaming through layers of sinister darkness. 

Using subtle keys to add atmosphere and texture, demonic vocals growl with a malevolent intent, whilst thunderous drumming and crunching guitar riffs piledrive without pause for breath. This is a battering of epic proportions, with the slabs of cranial exploding guitar work underpinned by some crystal-clear lead breaks, something quite unusual in this genre.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into visceral soundscapes, raging layered aural assaults that on first listen may accidentally skip some of the more subtle elements of this record. A further play should reveal some melody underneath the crushing onslaught. It certainly reaches back to some of the harsher bands of the death metal movement. Invoking The Darkness through their obscurity, this is an album that is likely to appeal to those who like their music delivered with a sledgehammer. 7/10

Void Of Vision - Chronicles I: Lust EP (UNFD) [Matt Bladen]

Kicking off with an electronic thump of sub-bass Ohne Sicht will lead you believe that this might just beg a Rammstein release, especially when the industrial soundscapes work their magic with the intensely fuzzy guitars that almost sound as if they are going to crack due to how saturated they are. The only thing that gives away that Void Of Vision are more in the modern metalcore/djent sound is the screamed vocals of Jack Bergin. If you read around this release, he is very much where much of the inspiration of this EP comes from, much of it due to his personal growth as a man changing his focus from his internal issues to the wider problems that face us. 

Mental health, relationship breakdown and predatory male behaviour in the music industry which makes up the content of single Vampyr. I guess Katie Hopkins would call them 'Woke' but these Australians are taking responsibility with this new EP and channeling into a style of music that has an experimental and uncompromising sound that brings the metallic heaviness and electronic thrust of bands such as Code Orange or Loathe. at just four tracks Chronicles I: Lust EP sees Void Of Vision returning with a renewed focus and new ideology. Heavy in numerous ways Void Of Vision make just take out your subwoofer. 7/10 

Reviews: Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1914, Dark Vision, Alex Canion (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Premiata Forneria Marconi – I Dreamed Of Electric Sheep (Inside Out Records)

Way back in 1970, Premiata Forneria Marconi (Award Winning Marconi) formed in Italy and since 1972 they have been releasing, artistic progressive rock music. At the helm of the band in 2021 is founding member Franz Di Cioccio on drums/vocals and long serving member Patrick Djivas on bass and keys, the two of them have been in this position since 2017 and again they are this albums rhythm section on top of which the rest of the record is built on. But without their anchoring sound many of these songs may become unwieldy, with them they are very musical but nothing really goes into the realms of self-indulgence. 

They wrote the record mainly at Patrick's home before they were able to record it properly due to the lockdown, however this period of downtime allowed them to explore wider creative influences the biggest being Blade Runner, based upon the Phillip K Dick novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep”, Franz and Patrick mulling upon the increasing technology dependant world we live in (I see the irony that I am writing this on an online blog), but due to the pandemic this reliance on technology has stripped away more of our collective humanity and that is what the two men wanted to explore. Lucky for them that their style of progressive music is one that is born out of the 1970’s where anything was possible, I Dreamed Of Electric Sheep, brings the best parts of King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Gabriel-fronted Genesis. 

Blues (Daily Heroes), rock, jazz and more classical/folk phrasings (Kindred Souls) are present but you can’t really classify song such as If I Had Wings and Let Go as anything but progressive as all 10 songs here are fully individual but also feel like a collective whole, Electric Sheep especially brings that jazz/pop of 80’s Rush before shifting double tapped rock solo. The rest of the band are comprised of Marco Sfogli (guitar), Lucio Fabbri (violin/viola), Alessandro Scaglione (keyboards/piano) and Alberto Bravin (keys/acoustic guitar), the multitude of organs/synths a key element of PFM’s progressive power, guests Flavio Premoli (Mini Moog) and Luca Zabbini (Hammond organ/piano/Mini Moog) also getting in on the act. 

Not content with having this large line up, I Dreamed Of Electric Sheep also features star turns by Ian Anderson’s flute (probably on one leg right?) as well as additional guitar from Steve Hackett. You would think that after so many years writing and recording the creative spark would wane a little but PFM seem as innovative and artistic as they have ever been, like with a few of their previous albums this one is available in both English and Italian, and both are great listens from prog fans. No counting sheep here, PFM are very much awake and making top notch prog. 8/10

1914 - Where Fear And Weapons Meet (Napalm Records)

It's a well known historical fact that the 1914 to 1918 conflict, known as 'The Great War' was for all intents and purposes a completely pointless waste of millions of lives. It was fought mainly due to political wranglings, achieved very little and the result of it led to increased tension across Europe the rise of extremism and yet another war. All in all its a very dark period of history that we as a nation continue to remember though each year it become more like ancient history. It is however a very inspirational period of time, due possibly to the 'unrealness' of it all, The Great War has inspired poets, writers, film/TV and bands for years. The most recent examples of the latter being Sabaton and Memoriam, with a special mention to Cardiff own Tides Of Sulfur. The most recent band to draw inspiration from this conflict are Ukrainian act 1914 who formed in 2014, 100 years after the start of the war itself. 

Their approach is to pair harrowing stories with blackened death/doom so they creep under your skin, unlocking the most desperate parts of the war. There are no tales of daring do or heroism here, like there is with the happy Swedes. That being said this is an album about life and not death with most of the song protagonists having survived, however they still experience the horrors of war. 1914 make for a ominous, at times unnerving listening experience as the colossal often labyrinthine riffs combine with the snarling vocals and authentic samples of newsreels from the time. Where Fear And Weapons Meet is the band's third album and continues telling the most gruesome, unknown and heartbreaking stories from the war often as a counter to the real propaganda, their music is akin to trench warfare and that is very much the point. 

Bookended by War In & War Out, both of which are samples of folk songs, the first Serbian the last American/British, they establish atmospherics from the get go as War In is interrupted by gunfire and leads into the first track which is full of cinematic black metal riffage and deals with Prinzip's assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but told from the killers perspective. Dense and full of aggression you are yanked into 1914's richly studied historical music. 

These stories all have great accuracy, so it's clear that these Ukrainians do their research of the subject matter. They even bring a few guests having Me And That Man's Sasha Boole providing clean vocals to the haunting, acoustic lament of Coward (addressing how 'deserters' and 'cowards' were shot on sight) as Halifax misery Nick Holmes contributes to the albums most emotionally taxing number ...And A Cross Now Marks His Place. Other powerful statements on this album are Don't Tread On Me (Harlem Hellfighters) and the epic The Green Fields Of France which is a song that will love with long after this album finishes. With the subject matter and the musical approach Where Fear And Weapons Meet is a powerful third full length from 1914. 9/10

Dark Vision - Ianos (Cult Of Parthenope)

Greece has always been one of the go to countries for Black metal, but there also a lot of bands that transcend the genre bringing in death metal, post metal and symphonic metal as well. Dark Vision are blackened death metal band from Athens an although they formed in 1996, Ianos is only their second album. This is due to numerous line up changes meaning the band only really resumed activities in 2006, since then they have released a few EP's but Ianos is the first album since 2000. The lyrics deal with struggles of the soul and they channel these through black metal sermons, tracks such as Of Unknown Artist which has a punishing death metal grooves that are punctuated by blasts of black metal picking. 

Having toured all over the country with bands such as Septicflesh and Rotting Christ both of whom they also sound like. They claim that Ianos is them at their nadir, using their years of experience to hone their sound to what it is today. With the marching drumbeat of Sulfur Vision or the rampaging Keep Dark Vision's second album is a decent enough listen for fans of extreme metal, they even throw in a Christian Death cover to really show off their Goth credentials. Hopefully there won't be as much of a wait for another Dark Vision album as Ianos shows there is life in the old dog yet. 7/10

Alex Canion - Birthmark (Self Released)

Well this another surprising release, Alex Canion is the bassist of Australian progressive metal superstars Voyager, but there's none of the synth heavy danceable prog metal of his day job here. Rather this is a much more introspective, personal release that was written and recorded over the course of more than 6 years. Canion has even recorded a documentary to show the process of how he produced this EP. A true solo album he plays the bass here yes but also forays into drums, guitars, piano and also lead vocals, recording everything in a guitar shop after hours, Alex calls it an artistic commitment and it's a commitment that pays off in droves. The five songs are all groove driven, there are a lot of repeating musical phases much like Mike Oldfield, but Canion is definitely is a bit of musical polymath as he none of the instruments here ever sound amateurish or ignored. 

Birthmark is a deeply personal release the album title refers to the birthmarks which are now part of what makes him unique. Equally the record itself is unique from anything else he has been involved in, from the upbeat, breezy Habitual that strikes me of Del Amitri to the more dramatic Sorrowstar which is the first single and was written about Alex's struggle with depression, carrying a Steven Wilson/Opeth edge to it. Birthmark may surprise some fans of Voyager as it is quite different sonically, but it's a tribute to Alex's talent, songwriting ability and perseverance. 7/10  

Friday 22 October 2021

Reviews: Everytime I Die, Slow Crush, Devoid, Davy Knowles (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Alex Swift)

Everytime I Die – Radical (Epitaph Records) [Matt Bladen]

Buffalo, New York's metal/hardcore bruisers Every Time I Die continue to bring the pain on their ninth studio album. It’s a record filled to the brim with incandescent rage and encapsulating a lot of the feelings of anger and isolation that is rife throughout of the United States. This record started being written in September 2020, just when America was at its most unstable for years, the album standing as a diatribe against the Trump administration and the huge divides in the country at that time. However it has only now seen the light of day as the release had been delayed because the pandemic despite it being complete before the world went to hell. 

Across the 15, sub four minute offerings here (the final track, We Go Together is a five minute cracker) ETID, manage to pack in tonnes of musical impressiveness along with an uncompromising ideology. Their hardcore edge giving way to, metalcore, Southern metal (sexsesex) and some anthemic metal on Post-Boredom. It’s here that Keith Buckley’s knack for an acerbic, sarcastic lyric, his defiant vocal defining why ETID are so well respected, he barks, screams and pleads on Desperate Pleasures, a track that is volatile and vital, Thing With Feathers meanwhile throws out that more melodic, anthemic side of the band Buckley displaying the other side of his vocal prowess. It seem as if I’m focussing a lot on the frontman, but much of why EITD are considered to be on top of their pile is due to his way to grab you by the throat and make you take notice. However any frontman is only as good as the band he’s playing with luckily ETID have an instrumental section that bludgeons. 

Andy Williams carves out meaty riffs like a Butcher, his frenzied assault on tracks like the breakdown heavy Hostile Architecture or the punky AWOL are backed by Steve Micciche’s growling bass and Clayton “Goose” Holyoak’s punchy drumming. As this noise is ringing in your ears Jordan Buckley’s lead guitars create arpeggiated counter riffs and lead breaks to expand the bands musical remit from just hardcore violence. Take for example a track like White Void which has touches of psychedelic post metal and befits a more experimental guitar style, yet still fits with the overall tone of the record. Their last album Low Teens, was considered to be a masterstroke, Radical, is nothing short of a masterpiece, distilling everything that makes the band great and worthy of their place at modern metalcore/hardcore’s top table. 8/10

Slow Crush - Hush (Church Road Records) [Alex Swift]

As their name would seem to attest to, Slow Crush perfect a hypnotising blend of post-rock and shoegaze, that’s serene yet often disquieting. The compositions sway from beautiful and melodic to dizzying and ethereal in their progression, each transition feeling natural, and each element balanced out with another, giving this act their almost neoclassical charm. Hush is a brilliant showcase of their abilities both as writers who eloquently command emotions and musicians with a diverse skill set. The album employs dirge-like, mercurial textures, summoning proverbial sensations of winter and shadow. This will be the perfect album to listen to as the nights get longer and the days colder yet could also accompany moods of despair or sensations of hopelessness surrounding the pandemic. However, in entering such a dim chapter in their progression, they also add a romantic and sentimental dimension – Hush is a record, in that sense, that reminds us there is comfort in sadness and solace in the dark. 

Opening piece Drown, beautifully immerses the listener in its experiments with distortion and sonic exploration. The piece is captivating in that it’s dreamlike yet bears nightmarish qualities, as if its peacefully singing to you while luring you into something sinister and ominous. Isa Holliday’s vocals are almost surreal in their otherworldly quality, yet that’s the same element that makes them fascinating. Following work Blue entrances and stimulates through its chaos and eery dissonance, while Swoon exemplifies these musicians command of contrast, and Gloom yearns with illustrious emotional textures, further intriguing the listener. Indeed, on that point about how brilliantly the art of contradiction is summoned throughout, although this is a harsh and brutal album in many respects – not least on the discordant Swivel and the gigantic title track – that severity is part of its exquisiteness. 

In a sense, while this is a technical record, brought to life by the striking guitar work of Ronsman and Jullet, the writing and production fulfil the experience, giving it that mesmeric and spellbinding feel. Overall, Hush see’s Slow Crush refining and shaping their sound to perfection. Despite its downhearted nature, it’s an assuaging listen, where the sections of melancholy are balanced with ones of peacefulness and tranquillity. In coalescing these seemingly distinct concepts of stoicism and innocence, they have created an album which transcends genre. 8/10

Devoid - Lonely Eye Movement (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

With the frankly ridiculous amount of bands we review week to week, month to month, it’s always nice to be surprised. I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much when I first saw French melodic metal band Devoid in my review pile, however after the first listen, I realised that I’d underestimated the band massively. Lonely Eye Movement is their second album but their first for Frontiers Music, they sent their music to the Frontiers Beyond website for consideration and were picked up by the label and signed to a multi album deal. It’s easy to hear why they impressed the label as their melodic metal sound is quite impressive and much more mature than their first album (which I went back and listened to for comparison) here they have brought together anthemic melodic metal and progressive flourishes. 

This record come four years after their debut and in that four years they have clearly honed themselves as a band as much of their impact comes from Jorris Guilbaud’s cinematic keys/synths and Shad Mae’s expressive guitar playing. Mae founded the band and he obviously has an affinity with bands such as Circus Maximus, Shadow Gallery and DGM, the virtuoso playing heightened by an ear for catchy melodic hooks and a tougher sound than many melodic metal acts. Trading off guitar playing with Mae is Gwen Kerjan with a powerful rhythm base coming from Geofreey Neau (bass) and Benjamin Lesous (drums) adding a grunt to tracks such as Imposter or the theatrical Destination Heaven which really amps up the guitar playing as well. 

For the vocals Devoid have got brawny pipes of German Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schultz who has a delivery not too far removed from Saxon’s Biff Byford. His burly singing is perfect for this style and even sounds great on the synthwave inspired ballad Waiting For The Storm a track that also features some slinky sax playing, the sax coming back on final jazz odyssey Wood And Wind. These little flourishes adding quality to this record and moving away from the standard melodic metal fodder. Well worth delving into if you like bands such as Pagan’s Mind and DGM, Lonely Eye Movement is a defining release from Devoid. 8/10

Davy Knowles – What Happens Next? (Provogue Records) [Alex Swift]

This singer-songwriter engages with influences from traditional blues to rock and roll. However, while he’s become famed for his technical skill, What Happens Next? – as the title would suggest – is an attempt to move forward into the realm of personal and considered songwriting. According to Knowles he wanted to “curb” his temptation to showcase his guitar mastery in order “to let the songs breathe". Upon listening, while I’d certainly say that Knowles achieved that with this album, these anthems remain noticeably grounded in those same traditional inspirations that their writer has been employing throughout his career. 

Opening piece Light Of The Moon has a high-tempo groove and gets the record started in impressive style. Our frontman has a soft yet soulful quality to his voice which compliments the deeply melodic yet passionate tone of the music on display. In fact, on moments like Heartbreak Or Nothing and Wake Me Up When The Nightmare Is Over Knowles shows his commitment to making a shift towards a more song-orientated approach known with hints of folk and southern rock. Likewise, Roll Me is imbued with soulful vibes, given life by the resounding guitars and subtle key accentuations. Meanwhile, Devil And The Deep Blue Sea is a moodier piece, akin to our frontman’s older work but this time with a lot more reliance on tone and mood setting, while River combines influences from Pink Floyd to Cream, in an indulgent but emotional piece. 

The album ends on the contemplative If I Ever Meet My Maker - a beautiful song that showcases just how far this musician has come in his writing, as well as his unique flair for paying homage to the classics, while bringing in lots of sentimentality and emotional heft of his own. There is nothing spectacularly impressive here, but this album at its best is a carefully crafted set of songs, with a lot of passion and heart behind them. 7/10

Thursday 21 October 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Skindred (Live Review By Neil Lewis)

Skindred, Trash Boat & Saint Agnes at Tramshed, Cardiff 08 Oct 2021

Gigs are back dear reader, and what better way to celebrate the full-scale return of live music than heading to see one of the best British live acts around playing their almost-home town. I speak of course of the mighty Skindred, the self-described “True Newportian Ragga Metal” maestros who just happen to be on the road for the “Show Time” tour, every night of which is intended to be a “celebration of life” according to front (and Welsh rock royalty) Benji Webbe.

As the original support act (Royal Republic) was unable to make the tour an alternating set of supports was arranged instead, so at the Cardiff show the night was started by rabble rousers Saint Agnes (8). Unfortunately, I missed the first couple of songs of their set due to still being in the queue when they started but what I caught certainly impressed me. The “disgusting rock band” certainly had a stage presence, with front Kitty Austen in particular drawing the attention. The bands’ sound blends a chunk of nu-metal with a bit of industrial and a smattering of techno, so if that sounds enjoyable to you, I suggest you check them out as I certainly intend to discover more of their music based on the performance I saw.

Next up were Trash Boat (8) who I was looking forward to watching after hugely enjoying their new release “Don’t You Feel Amazing”, which sees the band shift slightly from their pop-punk roots and embrace a more expansive sound featuring huge, anthemic choruses. As it happened most of their 8-song set was pulled from that album save for a sole track (Strangers) from their 2016 debut album Nothing I Write You Can Change What You've Been Through and an excellent clap-along cover of Linkin Park’s Given Up. Their performance on this night was excellent and reflects the fact that this is a band on the rise. Indeed, the musical growth evident on their latest album suggests that bigger and better things are to come, and the way the audience was engaged in their performance suggests that the next time I see Trash Boat, they may be the headliner in a venue such as the Tramshed.

Tonight’s headline act however clearly had no intentions of being upstaged in Wales, oh no. I always feel that Skindred (10) put a little extra sauce onto their shows on home turf (let’s overlook that only one member of the band is from Wales!), and tonight was to prove no exception. From the minute Benji hit the stage looking almost like the embodiment of Welsh rugby insignia (bedecked in black and red jacket and trousers and a resplendent red top hat decorated with matching red feathers) the band looked dressed to impress, and impress is exactly what they did. As the band is in the process of recording a new album there was no new material to promote for this tour which necessitated the set list being something of a greatest hits package, which was no bad thing. Crowd favourites such as Rat Race (featuring Benji belting out a bit of Delilah for good measure, which must have been just for the Welsh crowd as it was replaced with Wonderwall at the following night’s show in Bristol), Doom Riff, Pressure, Nobody and set closer Warning were all greeted rapturously by the sold-out crowd that was packed into the warm venue.

In between the music the stage banter from Benji was also enormously entertaining, employing his usual mix of humility and sarcasm to great effect when addressing the throng and encouraging the singalong parts of songs like That’s My Jam and Kill The Power. Indeed, tonight’s crowd seemed equally up to the task of inspiring the band as the band were up to the task of entertaining the crowd, creating a wonderfully symbiotic relationship that elevated the whole experience. There was also the relatively new addition of the “Skindred Sandwich Challenge” whereby a member of the audience is invited on stage and challenged to eat a supermarket sandwich pack in thirty seconds – which as far as I know has never been successfully completed, and as the contestant is not allowed a drink during the challenge is unlikely to ever be completed (a fact I’m sure the band is well aware of!). Topping of all this off was the bands signature crowd participation moment in the form of the infamous Newport Helicopter, which in Cardiff was assisted by a couple of members of Saint Agnes joining the t-shirt whirling fun on stage.

Like many rock fans from the South Wales area, I’ve seen Skindred live a huge number of times in a variety of different venues dating all the way back to watching them tear up The Legendary TJ’s in Newport back in the mid 2000’s. Of all the times I’ve seen them (which includes the night following this review in Bristol’s O2 Academy) I’ve never seen a bad show. It must be said that a hot crowd can make a good gig even better, and the crowd in the Tramshed were fantastic and more than played their part. So, I do feel confident in saying that this was one of the best Skindred shows I’ve ever seen. I can only echo Carly Simon’s words from their now-familiar outro tape: “Nobody does it better”.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Reviews: Green Lung, Cradle Of Filth, Bound In Fear, Within Progress (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Richard Oliver & Lee Burnell)

Green Lung - Black Harvest (Svart Records)

I would say that the London band Green Lung, are part Sabbath, part Ghost, though the band have been compared to Black Sabbath meets Brian May. Green Lung are rapidly becoming the go to band for fans of occult horror metal, if you are a kindred spirit with the forest, or if you just enjoy retro feeling heavy rock. If Jethro Tull and Deep Purple played songs about ancient evils, murderous spectres and The Devil himself then you'd get Green Lung's sound. 

Their previous album Woodland Rites was enough to get them on multiple festival bills and for their record label to re-release their demos. Since then they have ascended to lofty heights becoming a must see, so it is the only fair to call this follow up album anticipated. Black Harvest was recorded in rural mid-Wales by Wayne Adama, the band have stretched their NWOBHM-meets-classic rock template further than before adding a cinematic quality to their songs, the dense keys and organs of John Wright adding to the grooving riffs of Scott Black (guitar) and Joseph Ghast (bass). Within the songs are samples sourced from the local environment around the studio as well as instruments they found in the studio. 

The entire album was written with an experimental and even mischievous nature. The Harrowing, which opens the album, was actually recorded in a church that the band broke into so it's no wonder that it sounds like a calling from above before the swirling organs swell and the riffs cascade in ready to be fully unleashed on Old Gods, this is the first place we hear Matt Wiseman's thunderous percussion and the bewitching vocal cry of Tom Templar. A direct forceful beginning as the band take us into the more melodic realms of Leaders Of The Blind which has that Ghost vibe I referred to at the beginning of my review, the organ heavy assault continues on the pumping hard rocker Reaper's Scythe (which has a touch of Big Elf to it). The pace is kept high across these three songs welcoming you into their world of retro heavy rocking. The occult themes are at their highest on Graveyard Sun, a powerful ballad based around the Highgate Vampire, stopped down to acoustic guitars on the verses before the full band come in on choruses. 

As we are taken into the second half of the album, Black Harvest, which is mostly instrumental, followed by the spiritual sounding Upon The Altar which has some doom licks (though not as many as Doomslayer), as While You Bear The Mark ramps up those NWOBHM themes as the guitars and organs duel at its climax. When you listen to Black Harvest, you are immediately brought into Green Lung's magical world of riffs and wonder, they have capitalised on the reception of their previous record by composing not only a follow up but a superior album, forward looking while also lovingly evocative of a bygone age. This is a fantastic album to listen to, and as it closes with the stirring, world beating Born To A Dying World which has a feel of latter album Sabbath and if it points towards where they will be going as a band, I for one can't wait. It's one of, if not the album of the year for sure. 9/10

Cradle Of Filth - Existence Is Futile (Nuclear Blast) [Richard Oliver]

Love them or hate them there is no denying the influence and impact that Cradle Of Filth have had on extreme metal. They may attract the wrath of the ‘true’ black metal warrior but an impact they have certainly made and their popularity does not seem to be at all waning. In fact the band have been in a purple patch of late with a string of very strong albums which is continued with their thirteenth full length album Existence Is Futile. At this stage in their career Cradle Of Filth are sticking with what they know and doing it to an extremely strong level so you get the bands usual mix of melodic black metal, gothic theatrics and cinematic orchestrations. 

Apart from the inclusion of new keyboard player Anabelle Iratni, this is the third album in a row with the same line up which has to be some kind of record for Cradle Of Filth but this is the line up that has produced some of the most consistent material for the band so they obviously have a good thing going on. And that good thing has produced another batch of strong material including the melodic but devilish Necromantic Fantasies, the melodramatic and gothic Discourse Between A Man And His Soul, the vicious yet melodic Suffer Our Dominion and the epic yet aggressive bonus song Sisters Of The Mist. The performances throughout impress with fantastic guitar work from Rich Shaw and Ashok both in the riffs department and with the lead parts and melodies whilst newcomer Anabelle Iratni impresses with such lucious orchestrations and ethereal backing vocals. 

 If there’s one aspect of the Cradle Of Filth that puts people off it is the vocals of Dani Filth and he does little here which will change the mind of naysayers but the vocals work perfectly well with this style of music with Dani employing his trademark arsenal of shrieks, screams, growls and snarls. Existence Is Futile is another solid Cradle Of Filth album. It is not as striking and memorable as Hammer Of The Witches and Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness Of Decay were and some of the songs whilst wholly enjoyable can be a bit on the forgettable side but Existence Is Futile is a very enjoyable album and it will definitely please the fans of the band. This is Cradle Of Filth doing what they do and doing it well. 7/10

Bound In Fear – Penance (Unique Leader Records) [Lee Burnell]

Looking to continue from the well-received EP Eternal from earlier this year, Bound In Fear released Penance courtesy of Unique Leader Records. The British Deathcore ass kickers state their intentions by bringing some fantastic friends into the mix and it doesn’t take long before we meet the first of four guest spots with the intro track (De) Scendance. Viscera frontman and Unique Leader Records CEO, Jamie Graham kicks us off by adding an additional layer of brutality to ensure this track isn’t a warmup, we’re going from 0 to 60 in less than a heartbeat! Molotov Solution’s Nick Arthur joins the fray for Penance a song that doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. Some good parts, a solid breakdown towards the end but the melodic aspect of the song comes across as unoriginal. 

Scar Of Man shows of some technical guitaring prowess during the intro before suckering you in with a slight pace drop before laying on an all-assault taste of brutality. A song that heavily reminds me of Thy Art Is Murder, this is my pick of the album so far. This album has a lot of aspects for deathcore fans to get behind, whether you like blast beats to destroy you or a more sadistic slowed down melodical and methodical pace such as Beyond The Mire – there’s plenty here to satisfy deathcore fans here. When you get to I Still Dream Of The End, you get a feeling of a more twisted side to this band, making you navigate the first 3 minutes of tormenting pacing before unleashing a worldly breakdown which is impossible not to headbang to. The pace picks up again with Adrenaline before a very groovy and hardcore-like Cutthroat which I can see as a crowd pleaser with inevitable circle pits. 

The final trio of songs get even more demonic with each passing minute. Starting off with Sadist’s pig-like guttural singing coupled with a hard hitting riff, through to Nu11 which features Left To Suffer’s Taylor Barber before ending with Polarity, Bound To Fear continue to offer music for fans to get behind and to get British Deathcore on the map! 8/10

Within Progress - Inner (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Within Progress are a relatively new band from Thessaloniki, Greece. They style themselves as a modern prog metal act drawing from the anthemic alt rock scene as well as more traditional progressive metal bands. Inner is their debut album and it encapsulates what makes bands like Haken, Voyager and Vola so popular, the keeping emotion filled vocals riding on top of a technically proficient but accessible musical landscape. Reach For The Sky is a perfect example of this style I mentioned. Having already released an EP in 2018, this album has been preceded by three singles the album has been carefully promoted so as not to give too much away but to whet the appetite for the entire record.

Destructional, is this albums heaviest offering by far, dragging in the Djent riffs of Tesseract, Vangelis' guitars turned up in volume and distortion, Tasos also bringing guitar prowess as the synths set out a background swell. Destructional is the first noticeable use of a rawer vocals style too fitting in with the pulverising palm muted grooves. Hidden Wound too is heavy but with a thick electronic fuzz around it, the bottom end especially booming through your speakers like an EDM track. Absolute Circle is poppier more melodic style, a huge chorus and a bouncy groove, showing why the band are difficult to classify. These three singles have been carefully chosen to to exemplify what Within Progress do as a band but they don't stop there as the album tracks bring yet more wonder. 

Of A Ruminant, is much slower and deliberate with elements of shoegaze and an angsty feel of a band such as Nothing More, the rolling drumbeats of Polydoros allowing the pulsating bass of Giorgos to carry the track along with the vocals of Efthemis who has a soaring, full vocal style. Us, The Constellation is a punchy, galactic voyage, build around repeating synths and guitars, mostly instrumental, with some spoken word passages, there's a feel of Floyd meets Hawkwind and neatly shifts into the dramatic Absence Of Judgement which can almost be a second part to Us, The Constellation, creating a mini suite. The Pink Floyd elements come back on Sunlight Whispers, a lilting acoustic number where the riffs are brought in for the last part of the track, ringing out the emotion. 

The lyrical themes of the philosophy, human behaviour, trauma and what lies beyond our stars are actually present throughout the album, each song dealing with this; Sky We Want, Sky We Love starting out with far reaching, hopeful lyrics set to the electronic filled heavy prog, the lyrics speaking of the Syrian Civil War. Leaving us with last track Pathos, Within Progress clearly show their influence of band such as Porcupine Tree, Haken and Leprous, this slow burning number reaches a cathartic climax leaving you in no doubt that Within Progress have produced a mature, musically impressive debut album. Yet another must buy! 9/10