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Tuesday 30 November 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sleep Token (Live Review By Megan Jenkins)

Sleep Token & A.A Williams at Y Plas, Cardiff, 19/11/21

If, somehow over the last year, you haven’t heard of Sleep Token, then you must be living under a rock. They’re a band that needs no introduction to many of today’s modern metal fans, using masks and ‘codenames’ to keep anonymity of its members from the audience.

Upon arriving at Y Plas, I was shocked at the sheer number of people that had turned up. What was once a niche underground band is no more. Support for the night came from A.A.Williams (6), an act that I am genuinely finding it hard to describe. I’m assuming that the name derives from the lead singer and doesn’t represent the entire band that was on stage. I went into this set completely blind and I left it with so many mixed feelings. You can’t deny it, she’s a talented singer and songwriter, it just seemed like the complete wrong choice as the support act for a band whose set would no doubt be full of aggressive moshing. Similar to Sleep Token, she seems to shroud herself in mystery, flooding the stage with smoke to accompany her mystique and broody, slow music. It seemed like an extremely mismatched act for the main event, other than this air of mystery she had on stage.

The crowd weren’t exactly worked up by this and seemed to be getting more and more agitated by the minute. That is until frontman for Sleep Token (9), the Vessel, walked onto stage and started tinkling the keys of a piano that was off to the side, playing the opening notes to Atlantic. He began the set with no aid from the rest of the band and had the entire crowd captivated from the start – no easy feat in itself. The use of masks and anonymity of the band members themselves makes it difficult to sense if they are actually enjoying themselves or not, but they choose to show their expressions through dancing and moving around the stage like there’s no tomorrow, which the audience has no problem reciprocating.

Most of the set was comprised of their brand-new album This Place Will Become Your Tomb, which was not a bad thing at all. Instead of going just with the arguably safer option of playing all new material, they switched to some of the more well-known songs like The Offering and Sugar, the bass heavy breakdowns of which had the entire floor throwing themselves around in pure ecstasy. There’s nothing quite like hearing an audience singing along to a band and hearing them sing to the acapella Fall For Me made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Sleep Token have truly impressed me with their showmanship and the dedicated relationships they have forged with their audience, despite not actually being able to know their identity. Just from the display I saw in Y Plas, I wouldn’t be shocked if by the festival season next year Sleep Token are playing some of the bigger stages to some audiences of impressive stature.

Monday 29 November 2021

Reviews: Cynic, Black Label Society, Demonstealer, Converge & Chelsea Wolfe (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Cynic - Ascension Codes (Season Of Mist)

There are backstories to all bands. However there are probably fewer more turbulent than that of Florida Progressive Metal band Cynic. Having sporadically released albuns across what can be considered a start stop career, punctuated by break ups and reformations, the band have sealed their place as one that is almost a mythic name on prog circles influencing countless bands from many genres. After the release of their third album Kindly Bent To Free Us, the band split again (although with a little friction and confusion) founding drummer Sean Reinert leaving the band, replaced by Matt Lynch. The single Humanoid felt like a rebirth of sorts Cynic still channelling those ascendent space rock vibes of their latter years doing away with the extreme metal almost all together. 

However as always seems to the way with Cynic, they take one step forward and three steps back. During 2020 not only did they have the pandemic to contend with but also tragically bassist Sean Malone took his own life, as announced by Paul Masvidal, and despite no longer being in the band, tributes were paid as well to Sean Reinert who passed away in 2020 also. Born on the back of both of these tragedies Ascension Codes could either be the next evolution in the bands history or its final showcase. 

The record is nine 'full' songs split by nine smaller 'code' interludes to drive the ethereal flow of the record. Lynch once again is behind the sprawling percussive sound as Masvidal's otherworldly guitar prowess and vocoadered/angelic/growled vocals, reinforce this as a Cynic record. Taking the place of Malone is Dave MacKay who provides us with synth (and non synth bass) as well as keys. There is also a glut of guests on the record including Plini, DARK (Roopam Garg), Max Phelps of Exist along with other more mystical members such as two vocalists, a crystal bowl player and a spiritual healer who vocalises on the codes. It's all part of the rich tapestry of soundscapes this record has pitching the natural against the synthetic. 

Once again Masvidal produces with co-producer Warren Riker also mixing the record, making sure it all flows beautifully. Stirring instrumentals segue into one another like a transcendental voyage explained through the medium of jazz-influenced prog rock. Hopefully Masvidal continues to carve the path that so many others follow as Ascension Codes reboots the mainframe. 9/10

Black Label Society - Doom Crew Inc (Spinefarm Records)

Don't let the acoustic intro of Set You Free, the eleventh album from Black Label Society is full of fat, juicy riffs and those are flowing widdly solos from band leader Zakk Wylde. But as always there's a knack of producing heavy rock moments with anthemic choruses, drawn straight from the play book of his mentor Ozzy. Destroy & Conquer is a song that would fit easily on one of those latter day Ozzy albums that featured Zakk on guitar. Especially when it slows to a soulful heavy groove at the end. You Made Me Want To Live meanwhile features some reverb drenched guitar/vocals that a re heavily influenced by Sabbath and Monster Magnet as a matter of fact. 

With 10 albums behind them, there's never going to be anything that will wildly detour from their signature sound but Doom Crew Inc is Black Label Society doing what brought them to the dance, ok so there are three ballads, with Forever & A Day being very The Beatles, along with a re-recording of Love Reign Down, from Stronger Than Death but mostly we have some stoic groove driven rock where Zakky allows some of the kudos to be soaked Dario Lorina who expands his rhythm guitar role to some tasty co-leads. It's BLS being BLS and the Berserkers will lap it up. Everyone else will get a decent heavy rock record. 7/10

Demonstealer - The Holocene Termination (Demonstealer Records)

Featuring a plethora of guests such as Eugene Ryabchenko (Fleshgod Apocalypse), Simon Schilling (Marduk), Robin Stone (The Amenta), Krzysztof Klingbein (Deathspawn) on drums, with Anton Zhikharev (Gorgasm) and Jeff Hughell (Six Feet Under) on bass. The Demonstealer Sahil Makhija returns with his fifth release as a solo artist and it's four tracks of punishing technical death metal that sees Sahil playing all of the guitars (except where noted) with the remaining artists providing the rhythm sections. 

Opening with the punishing title track, screams and growls come from The Demonstealer himself, he provides some glorious clean guitars that cut through the extreme metal assault. Nick Padovani (Equipoise) giving the guest solo here. An Epoch Of Degradation adds more thrash and black metal to the EP, rampaging along at full gallop, without taking a breath. Recorded during pandemic Sahil is lucky that Demonstealer has always been a solo effort so everything has been recorded and played by him only the mixing going outside to Wojtek and Sławek Wiesławski. 

From Extinction Begins Evolution is the most technical offering on the record, shifting riffs numerous times, with a full bore riffage, it's probably also the heaviest offering here too feeling more like Demonic Resurrection than anything else. What She Creates comes last having more technically savage death metal as Veronica Bordacchini (Fleshgod Apocalypse) brings some soaring operatic clean vocals, that makes me feel a little like Epica or After Forever. Against adversity The Demonstealer has managed to create yet another meaty solo EP. 8/10

It's available now here: https://demonstealer.bandcamp.com/ 

Converge & Chelsea Wolfe - Bloodmoon I (Epitaph)

Produced by their own Kurt Ballou, the genre leading hardcore punk foursome, Converge have released their tenth album and it's a huge departure from what they have done before. It's a collaborative effort that features Gothic/Avant Garde chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe along with her longtime collaborator Ben Chisholm and Cave In's Stephen Brodsky (a former member of Converge). With the additional musicians joining, Jacob Bannon (vocals), Kurt Ballou (guitars), Nate Newton (bass) and Ben Koller (drums), they have almost become a supergroup who sculpt a record that is far more grandiose than anything the band have done before. 

The roaring hardcore punk comes on Tongues Playing God where Bannon roars viciously over some deafening, distortion. Lord Of Liars too is an off-kilter treat with brilliant syncopated guitar playing and powerful percussion as Bannon merges well with the gorgeous vocals of Wolfe. She shows another side to her singing on this record being able to adapt it as the tracks required. Songs such as Blood Moon and Flower Moon bring some long, winding down tuned doom, while Failure Forever adding Gothic tinges. 

If you're a long time Converge fan you may find this album to be a major detour from their visceral hardcore style but along with Wolfe, Chisholm and Brodsky they have stumbled upon a winning formula that will appeal to fans of Cult Of Luna (who love a collab), the guitar playing of Ballou especially potent on the dark, brooding Scorpion's Sting, the deftness of it showing why he's more than just a biting riff merchant. Emotionally powerful, wonderfully composed and displaying a side of Converge that may carry them past their 31st year and into a much broader future. 9/10 

Friday 26 November 2021

Reviews: Hypocrisy, Voices, Resolve, Secreum (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich P)

Hypocrisy - Worship (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Peter Tägtgren's death metal project Hypocrisy come back with a vengeance. Their fourteenth studio release is their first since 2013's End Of Disclosure. Though in that time Peter has been busy with his other project Pain as well as with Till in Lindemann, but finally he has returned to the sci-fi death metal mothership with yet more conspiracy fuelled music with lyrics around the New World Order, aliens, elders and science fiction. Their melodic death metal is rightly seen as being inspirational due to Tägtgren's usage of melodic lead guitars, swathes of keyboards and raging blastbeats. After this enforced break it's clear that Hypocrisy have returned more pissed off and violent than before. 

Blasting off with the blistering title track, that builds from classical guitars into a outright mayhem, the excellent Chemical Whore comes next upping the cinematic quality of this record, with a grinding mid-paced march Mikael Hedlund (bass) and Horgh (drums) providing the punchy backing for Peter's everything else. The arctic feeling of Dead World brings a new dimension as it leads into the albums centerpiece the epic We're The Walking Dead, a brooding ballad that so often is consumed in overwrought vocals and a slow doom riff. The renewed tenacity of this record comes through on every track from the blasting Another Day to the fist pumping Bug In The Net, Worship is not just a title but a command, they have come to reclaim their throne with the most visceral album of their career. 8/10

Voices - Breaking The Trauma Bond (Church Road Records) [Matt Bladen]

Following a three year break the band that perfectly exemplify avant-garde metal, Voices, return with their latest mind bending offering. Based in the extremity of black and death metal Voices, add many other layers to their sound as Beckoning Shadows where there's an electronic, thud that moves into the some raging hardcore before switching into black metal, though with clean vocals. Yeah it sounds confusing but across 16 songs and 68 minutes, these frequent genre shifts keep you not just entertained but in state of anticipation about what will happen next. Following Beckoning Shadows is My Sick Mind which is fully electronic, feeling a bit like a NIN song showcasing the clean angsty voice and piano of frontman Peter Benjamin. Peter also provides guitars along with Matthew Adnet and Sam Loynes who is the man behind the keys/synths as well. 

These loaded triple guitars mean that Voices can be intensely heavy but also atmospheric and deft as well. The gothic Whispers is fine example of this. The overall feel of the record is one of an imposing darkness, across the extensive run time the band brood and rage, throwing in just about everything they want to musically. It's David Gray (drums) and Dan Abela (bass) that keep the frenetic pace even on tracks such as Kaleidoscope Of Thorns which is almost a Gothic rock number, there is an underlying blast beat. It's a hell of a lot to take in, especially in one sitting, but multiple listens reveal more and more, whether you have the time to listen to a 68 minute album more than once is I guess based around your life but Breaking The Trauma Bond really needs your time. For those who have followed bands such as Akercocke and Mr Bungle, Voices are one act you need need to immerse yourself in, their bleak musical landscape is richly populated on this fourth album, their most ambitious effort to date. 7/10

Resolve – Between Me And The Machine (Arising Empire) [Rich P]

I generally feel like I have heard it all in the metalcore/post-hardcore space with what is out there today. At this point I usually gravitate away from the genre, but I like to also keep an open mind (and ear) to what’s new. Hence my taking on this review of Resolve’s new album Between Me And The Machine. Let’s see if we tread upon any new ground on their latest effort.

The album opens strong and heavy with Beautiful Hell which has a bit of a Fear Factory vibe with their use of synths and proceed to set up the heavy for the rest of the record. There is no doubt these guys can play and the production throughout is flawless. My issue is how this kind of sounds a lot like what I hear out there with some of the other bands in this genre. Theses guys do it very well, just not any different. My favorite track, D.G.G.R.S. brings the prog with some of the hardcore breakdowns I am a sucker for. 

Emerald Skies is another stand out track that combines the clean and scream vocals effectively and reminds me a bit of Killswitch Engage and Lamb Of God and hybrid really showcases the instrumental talent of the band. I also really dug the title track; a nine-minute epic that I can see them closing sets with on their upcoming tour.

Overall, I enjoyed the record, but I may be jaded when it comes to this genre. I want to hear something unique, but outside of the title track I am not scratching that itch. Resolve does what they do very well, but nothing that breaks any new ground. Fans of the genre should be pleased; I may just be asking for too much. 6/10

Secreum – Embrace EP (Self Released) [Rich P]

Secreum list several genres in their bio: extreme, death, progressive, groove, thrash. A little bit of everything. Sometimes this can lead to a band’s identity crisis, but sometimes it can create something exciting and new. Let’s see which way their debut EP leans.

The EP opens with a bit of a throw away instrumental track that leads into a very Slayer riff to kick off the ripper of a track Trapped From Within. I really dig the clean/scream vocal dynamic and I have a feeling this song would translate live very well. Secreum absolutely brings the heavy, especially on Contrarian Mind, which brings a full-on death metal assault with some guitar work that for some reason is remind me of Prong (which is a very good thing). The guitar work on the title track is excellent, especially the solo towards the end.

I like what I have heard so far from Secreum on this EP and I expect big things from their debut full length. The band incorporates the best of all those genres listed above without being too schizophrenic in their approach. I would love to be able to check them out live as I think these songs would translate well to the stage. These guys can certainly play and certainly bring the heavy. I am looking forward to hearing more but for now will crank this EP, loud. 7/10

Thursday 25 November 2021

Reviews: Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Deep Purple, Victory, When The Deadbolt Breaks (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Rich P, Simon Black & Richard Oliver)

Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Noktvrn (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Der Weg Einer Freiheit shouldn’t need any introduction to anyone interested in European Black Metal. For anyone not aware of the band, they formed in 2009 in Würzburg, Germany and released their first, self titled album one year later. The band's second album; Unstille was released in 2012 and their third, Stellar came out 3 years later in 2015. Finisterre, the band's last studio album was released in 2017, the last we heard from the band was the live album, Live In Berlin in 2019. The band, made up of Nikita Kamprad on Guitar and Vocals, Tobias Schuler on Drums, Nico Ziska on Bass and Nicolas Rausch on Guitar, have always had a reputation for interesting and creative Progressive / Atmospheric Black Metal, have the four Germans kept this up on their latest album? 

The album opens with a soft, clean and quite quiet guitar intro called Finisterre II which leads us into the first full track, Monument. Monument opens with soft riffs which build to driving and intense Black Metal. There is a nice amount of blasting fast tremolo picked riffs, with nasty harsh vocals, which then drops into a section that is driving and aggressive, but also has a lot of melody and tunefulness before going back to end with the slow and soft parts that opened the track. Am Rande Der Dunkelheit opens with blasting fast Atmospheric Black Metal before going into a slow and very heavy part, the track then takes a turn towards Post Black Metal, there are still tremolo picked riffs and Blast Beats but it feels less aggressive and bigger and more expansive. The track then goes into huger and slower territory with some very big and heavy riffs before bringing the song to an end with some fast Post Black Metal riffing. 

Am Rande Der Dunkelheit shows a certain amount of different thinking for Der Einer Freiheit, the slower parts and the Post Black Metal style show the band experimenting more, but still showing some savage Black Metal blasting as well, so it feels like a transitional track. If the last track shows signs of Der Weg Einer Freiheit experimenting more then Immortal sees them drop convention almost completely. The track is mainly slow and brooding, initially with clean guitars and clean vocals. When the heavy does arrive it’s slow and harsh with a relentless intensity that drives the track along. There is another clean section before the song builds back to dark, but tuneful Post Black Metal. Next track Morgen is similar to Am Rande Der Dunkelheit, a mix of harsh, fast and blasting Black Metal and softer and slower Post Black Metal. 

The Post Black Metal sections feel huge, affecting and sweeping in nature and really works with the more traditional Black Metal sections. Gegen Das Licht has a big, slow opening which takes its time building in drive and intensity, before dropping into some very fast and nasty Black Metal that has a hardcorey feeling to it and is probably the most savage and nasty Black Metal on this album. The track then goes into a slow and very heavy section before the track comes to an end with a church organ. The final track on Noktvrn is Haven

Haven is the most interesting and innovative track on the album. The song is mainly soft, introverted strummed guitar and very high register vocals. The opening half of the song has no percussion on it and feels brooding and reserved, the high register, falsetto vocals remind me of some of the material on Muse’s album Origin Of Symmetry, a style of singing that some find distasteful, but I love (I love it on Origin Of Symmetry and on Haven). This song is reminiscent of some Blur material as well as classic Pink Floyd, and is a long way from Der Weg Einer Freiheit earlier material. The second half of the track continues the feel of the first half, but increases the intensity and drive by adding drums to the mix. Throughout the song the riffs and vocal melodies remain the same, but everything around them become bigger and bigger. 

Noktvrn is a stunning album. Der Weg Einer Freiheit’s career is clearly taking them on a journey, and Noktvrn is a part of that journey. We see the band partially on the way from a more orthodox style of Black Metal to something completely different. So there are still elements of Black Metal and Post Black Metal, but also elements that do not fit in with either of those styles. The more you listen to this album the more it feels like a complete piece of work, despite some of the disparate parts. An impressive album from one of the most interesting Metal bands currently active. 9/10

Deep Purple - Turning To Crime (earMusic) [Rich P]

Did the world need a Deep Purple covers record? No. Is it super fun? Absolutely. Will I listen to it again? Probably not. But it was enjoyable while I had it blasting. The album kicks off with the very cool Love cover, 7 And 7 Is, which is an amazing song with some killer keys and is right in the wheelhouse of this configuration of the band. The absolute classic Fleetwood Mac track Oh Well is a standout with Ian Gillan putting his vocal stamp on an already perfect song. Purple's take on Lucifer, originally by Bob Seger System, sounded like it could have been a Deep Purple classic and may be my favorite track on the album. 

 The always amazing Cream gem White Room is a great addition to any covers album when the band knows what they are doing, and these guys have been kicking it for 50 years, so they qualify. You can tell Deep Purple had fun making this album, revisiting all the music they came up with and have loved over the years. At this point they are not breaking any new ground, but that is not what this effort is about. I am not sure it has any staying power but Turning To Crime will be a fun listen for die hard Purple fans to see how their favorite band interpret some of rock's classics. 6/10

Victory - Gods Of Tomorrow (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Victory have been very quiet for a long while, with ten years having passed since last they released an album – perhaps understandable, given that guitarist and band leader Herman Frank pulls double duties with Accept. The line-up is totally different from last time out though, with only Frank and vocalist Jioti Parcharidis remaining since 2011’s Don´t Talk Science. Whilst relatively back burner in the UK, they were definitely up there in the 80’s in their native Germany so it will be interesting to see how much of a comeback this record proves to be. First off, it’s a highly competent Hard Rock affair, with solid by the numbers song writing and structures and a slightly heavier sound than they are renowned for in their heyday, so in everything but name this feels like a new project. 

The trouble is a lot has happened in the scene in the last ten years, with a lot of new band entrants successfully fusing the 80’s influences with a more contemporary sound to create something fresh, plus labels like Frontiers pumping out endless Melodic Hard Rock supergroup projects like there’s no tomorrow for the older artists – which makes this, very much more rooted firmly in the past feels like it’s just twenty years too late. To be clear, there is nothing actually wrong with it – there’s some good material here, well mixed and competently delivered. 

The problem is that’s ‘good’, not ‘great’… The strong vocal performance from Parcharidis is one of the better things this has going for it, but it’s not going to win any prizes for song-writing originality, which is a shame because catchy and effective songs used to be Victory’s stock in trade. More solo project than true band in feel, this feels like a missed opportunity to reinvent the band for the times. 6/10

When The Deadbolt Breaks - As Hope Valley Burns (Argonauta Records) [Richard Oliver]

When The Deadbolt Breaks are a new band to this reviewers years. Despite the fact that the band has been going for over 15 years I have never heard of them until now. Hailing from Lebanon, Connecticut and forming in 2005, When The Deadbolt Breaks are a four piece with five previous albums, a split and an EP under their belts and 2021 sees the release of album number six As Hope Valley Burns.

As Hope Valley Burns is an album that mixes the lighter and heavier sides of sludge and doom metal with a big chunk of psychedelia in there. Comprised of five songs, they veer between crushing riffs, dense noise scapes and trippy psychedelic moments. The Hanged Woman is a good example opening with a monster of a sludge riff before the song descends into dissonant soundscapes whilst The Crushing Weight Of The Sun has more of a desert rock feel to it to start before switching to a bleak and doomy sludgefest with a wholly oppressive atmosphere to it. Most of the five songs are quite lengthy and hefty numbers but there is one short song Awakening which is a sharp blast of aggression with crushing riffs and even some blast-beats.

As Hope Valley Burns is a decent album though it does have some drawbacks. The long songs means that things get dragged out a bit too much and the more psychedelic and dissonant moments didn’t really connect with me. The production is quite thin in places as well and robs the songs of some of their power. When this album goes into full crush and destroy mode it hits hard and it contains some gloriously repulsive and heavy moments of sludge metal glory.  This is an album that has its good and bad moments but overall it is still an enjoyable enough listen. 6/10

Reviews: Imperial Triumphant, The Tea Party, Crooked Shapes, Pale Wizard Records (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Imperial Triumphant - An Evening With Imperial Triumphant (Century Media)

Having released their last opus Alphaville last year Imperial Triumphant confidently strode into a division of one. Fiercely heavy, brainbrekaingly complex and as experimental as a High School Chemistry lab, the band combine the explosive aggression of black/death metal with numerous other styles such as jazz, avant garde, electronica and so on. So with Alphaville staying in the mind for a good while, it's deep into the cavernous Big apple we go for this new live release. An Evening With Imperial Triumphant, now it's only 8 tracks but so many of them are sprawling, musical explorations so we get about 40+ minutes of music on this record as the mysterious band perform selections from Alphaville and earlier albums at the Slipper Room, a variety theater in Manhattan. It's telling that their last album featured collaborations with members of Mr Bungle as Imperial Triumphant often reach that same class of "what the hell is going on?" 

They are able to translate this wildly inventive sound to the live arena, tracks such as Atomic Age are evidence of what the band do brilliantly shifting its focus several times, keeping it extremely heavy throughout they also rely heavily of quirky rhythms, tonnes of effects and percussion that is hypnotic. Chernobyl Blues follows bringing a painful industrial soundscape, that quickly shifts into a sparse main body. There's so much technical skill here it's hard to believe that they are a three piece, but anyone who watched them at Damnation in 2019 will realise that they are a multifaceted trio of musicians, applying some late night sax on Cosmopolis as Alphaville really fries the brain cells. I can understand that for some Imperial Triumphant may be a little too experimental but this live record is a good place to start if you want to enter into their chaotic world. 8/10  

The Tea Party – Blood Moon Rising (InsideOut Records)

The Tea Party return with the first album since 2014 and it’s a record that has been worked on over the past five years, tracked in numerous places as the band were scattered to the four winds, indulging in other projects and touring, however just in time for their 30th anniversary they have released Blood Moon Rising, their ninth full length which couples their Black River EP with new songs, fleshing it out into an album. Now I love The Tea Party, I’m a fan of the Canadian trio’s ‘Moroccan Roll’ which brings North African/Middle Eastern flavours to sturdy, multi-instrumental progressive rock style, however I do find this record a little disjointed. Perhaps it’s due to the laboured creative period around it but, it never quite grabs you as a cohesive album. 

There are three covers (two bonus, one in the album track list) which are frankly not needed, though their version of Zep’s Out On The Tiles is the best of the bunch, the Zep doesn’t stop there though as Black River feels like it could be from Houses Of The Holy or Physical Graffiti, the throbbing blues riff, mandolin breaks and lots of groove, capped off by Jeff Martin’s unmistakable baritone vocal. The tracks that featured on the Black River EP are all set in the British blues rock sound of bands like Zep, Free etc. If I’m honest they are the better offerings here as well, but nothing on the album is bad, it just feels as if they are going through the motions a little, adding a few extra tracks to a record that already exists, because of their inability to tour. 

Anything Jeff Martin (vocals/guitar), Stuart Chatwood (bass/keys) and Jeff Burrows (drums) put their mark on is invariably, richly musical and full of little nuances of technicality hidden behind accessibility, but this release is them going through the motions a little. 6/10

Crooked Shapes - Crooked Shapes (Self Released)

The self titled debut album from Crooked Shapes is a mix of classic hard rock and alternative rock, drawing influence from Soundgarden and Alice In Chains but also bands such as Raveneye and SKAM who as a three piece comprised of George Twydell (guitar/vocals), George 'Ivesy' Ives (bass) and Craig Carlaw (drums), they sound the most like. Grungy riffs on the instrumental title track, sit side by side with pacier groovers like Fire and the more doomy feel of Chains In My Mind, giving Crooked Shapes a breadth of sound, while never straying too far from the alt-rock template they established on previous releases. 

Having been around since 2018 and released an EP in 2019, this debut album builds upon this adding a wider sound as I've mentioned, with radio ready melodies on Fallout and Rise Again, you may think that this record was happy go lucky but much of it deals with mental health and their own struggles, the band wearing their hearts on their sleeve and channeling their issues through some hard hitting power trio rocking. Lots of power and panache on this debut offering, stand this Reading trio in good stead going forward. Crooked Shapes is a off-kilter rock treat that will garner the band lots of fans. 7/10    

Pale Wizard Records - 50 Years Of Killer (Pale Wizard Records)

Released on 27th November 1971 Alice Cooper's fourth album Killers, it was the making of the band and essentially began the rise of Vincent Furnier into the rock n roll legend he is today. It was the first record to feature the theatrical schlock n roll style that Coope would take to the nth degree after the collapse of the Alice Cooper Band. To celebrate this milestone, Pale Wizard Records have put together an album that serves as tribute to both Killers and Cooper beyond. Handpicked by the staff at Pale Wizard, 50 Years Of Killer is 8 tracks from the original album along with four Cooper covers performed by some of the best and brightest of stoner, psych and doom. 

The album tracks are basically in the same order as they are on the album Under My Wheels gets us started with the occult masters Green Lung, getting the boogie riff going with some harmonic guitars and organs. All the songs stick close enough to the originals to be a homage but are filtered through each individual band's own style, after the organ drenched Under My Wheels, The Grand Mal swagger through a distorted version of Be My Lover, while Sergeant Thunderhoof adding their trippy psych stylings to Halo Of Flies making it more mind bending than the original. From here Ritual King up the atmospherics on an echoing doom version of Desperado while 1968 and Mos Generator (no strangers to an obscure cover themselves) built up the fuzz layers for You Drive Me Nervous and bring that swirling sound to Dead Babies, as Trippy Wicked slows and thunders on on Yeah Yeah Yeah

The final album track is of course Killer which here is given a Two Tonne Fuckboot by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and actually is the closest to the sleazy original track. As for the covers. A great reinterpretation of the (majority) of the album with the bands all adding their own style to it as for the bonus tracks they are all Cooper classics Swansea's Suns Of Thunder smashing out Billion Dollar Babies utilising dual riffs and vocals, Possessor beat the heck out of the punky Muscle Of Love, as Sound Of Origin have a broken down Sick Things into a punishing doom track. The last cover is stoner rockers Alunah putting their own slant on I'm Eighteen and doing it much better than both Anthrax and Creed! It's a triumphant tribute to one of the most influential Alice albums and the Cooper Band days. Kudos to Pale Wizard Records on what apparently is the first of such releases  8/10

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Reviews: Eternity's End, Godhead Machinery, Enuff Z'Nuff, Cyclopean Walls (Reviews By Paul Scoble & Matt Bladen)

Eternity’s End - Embers Of War (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Eternity’s End are a Power Metal band from Bavaria in Germany, who have been making very twiddly noises since 2014. The bands lineup is made up of Iuri Sanson on Vocals, Christian Muenzner on Guitars & Keyboards, Justin Hombach on Guitars, Linus Klausenitzer on Bass and Hannes Grossmann on Drums. If three of those names are familiar it’s because Christian Muenzner, Linus Klausenitzer and Hannes Grossmann could be a Technical Death Metal supergroup as all three play in Technical Death Metal band Alkaloid, are all ex-members of Obscura and Christian Muenzner and Hannes Grossmann both played in Necrophagist. In Eternity’s End, however, they are playing very solo heavy Power Metal, so in many ways an easier gig than they usually play. In their 7 years of making music together the band have made 2 other albums; The Fire Within in 2016, and Unyielding in 2018.

The style of Power Metal Eternity’s End play is up-tempo and very bombastic, the pacing is very fast, just a few BPM slower than thrash, something that is emphasised by Hannes Grossmann’s liberal use of double bass drums. On most of the tracks there is a definite Neo-Classical flavour to the songs, particularly in the solos, of which there are many. There are definite similarities to Dragonforce, early Dream Evil, and probably most of all to American Power Metal band Paladin.

Opening track Dreadnought (The Voyage Of The Damned) is a good example of the sound on this album; fast, technical riffs with fantastic vocals, Iuri Sanson has a very strong clear voice with just enough of a rasp to keep it interesting, pounding drums and several solos. The solos on this album are very impressive, if you are a fan of Widdly guitars then this is an album for you, on many of the tracks you get chains of solos where both guitarists get an individual solo, then there is a harmonised melody lead, then a bass solo, and it will all end with another harmonised melody lead. All the songs have lots of solos, but Embers Of War, Deathrider and Call Of The Valkyries stand out as exceptional.

Power Metal would be nothing without great choruses, and Embers Of War is no exception, Arcturus Prime has a great sing-along chorus that is so much fun. Hounds Of Tindalos is another one with a great chorus, it’s huge, dazzling and will have you bellowing along. Considering this band features 3 Technical Death Metal Legends, it’s not surprising that in few places the riffs verge on Tech Death speed and intensity, title track Embers Of War in particular has some riffs that could be from a Technical Death Metal album, so maybe this album isn’t just for the Power Metal fans.

Embers Of War is a fantastic Power Metal album. It’s packed with great riffs, thundering tempos, soaring vocals and so many amazing solos. The amount of technical ability on this album is staggering, there is enough talent here for about a billion Pop Punk bands. I realise up-tempo, energy packed Power Metal dripping with great solos isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if you are a big fan of Power Metal then this is an essential album, no-one is producing better Power Metal than this at the moment. Widdletastic! 9/10

Godhead Machinery - Monotheistic Enslavement (Black Lion Records) [Paul Scoble]

Swedish extremists Godhead Machinery have been making deeply blasphemic music since 2015. The five piece, which is made up of Niklas Ekwall on Vocals, Robert Kail Karlsson on Guitar, Tommy Ericson on Guitar, Daniel Forsberg on Bass and Marcus Andersson on Drums, have released 2 albums before Monotheistic Enslavement; their debut Ouroboros in 2017 and their second offering, Aligned To The Grid in 2019.

Godhead Machinery’s style is broadly Black Metal of a fairly orthodox approach. Godhead Machinery’s sound works when they are going for the throat with blistering pace and velocity. When this album Blasts it’s great, tight, fast blasting drums, and viscous tremolo picked riffs rip through the listener, and batter passers by into submission. In places the Blast Beat sections have a definite chaotic feel that works very well, Godhead Machinery are clearly very good at insane swirling chaos, something that is helped by the addition in places of shredding Guitar solos that sometimes accompany the chaos. The track Dethroned is a good example of this faster, and sometimes choppy and chaotic style of fast, blasting Black Metal.

However this album isn’t all about fast blasting, unfortunately. The fast stuff is probably in the minority on Monotheistic Enslavement, this album is mainly about slow or mid-paced material, and that is where it falls down. The slower material feels overly simplistic and isn’t of the same quality as the faster material. The tempo’s feel a little strained, sections plod where they should have stomped, the riffs feel a little weak; this is simple melodic Black Metal with echoey dissonance added to it, and it feels flat.

The track Ethereal spends its whole 5 minutes feeling like an intro, the song just doesn’t go anywhere. The vocals are a little too high in the mix as well, so on the more sluggish material the vocals are too dominant and feel overbearing. The vocals are very dramatic, which works when the music is fast and savage, but on slow, plodding material they feel ridiculous and over the top, a good reminder that context is not a myth, even in Orthodox Black Metal.

Monotheistic Enslavement is not a terrible album, but it feels like a missed opportunity. The fast stuff is great, and is very enjoyable, but it is let down by the slower, more simple material. If the band had concentrated more on speed and savagery, or had made the slower music closer to the fast in terms of complexity and detail, then they could have had something, but as it is here it is a perfectly fine, if unremarkable piece of Black Metal. 6/10

Enuff Z'Nuff – Hardrock Nite (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Does the world need more The Beatles covers? No. Does it need more The Beatles covers from American glam rock bands? Again no. Mainly as that honour falls mainly to Cheap Trick, still Chip Z’Nuff and his band have always been huge fans of the Fab Four so have decided to follow that through with an album entirely comprised of The Beatles songs and selected solo tracks as well. Keen to make it as authentic as possible, the four members setting out with just guitars, bass and drums to record the songs.

Now having been fans of The Beatles (and Cheap Trick) Enuff Z'Nuff could have always released a covers record but the pandemic has finally allowed them to live out their fantasy of trading Chip, Tony, Tory and Daniel for John, Paul, George and Ringo. They manage to capture the songs pretty well, yes they’re a bit more ‘rock’ than the originals as the record is call Hard Rock Nite but they stick pretty rigidly to their original formations.

However we’ve all heard bigger and higher profile covers of Magical Mystery Tour, Live And Let Die, Helter Skelter and of course With A Little Help From My Friends so to have another one seems like a wasted opportunity to cover some deep cuts. Still I’m sure fans of the band will dig it, I just find that it’s a bit of an expensive (have you tried to licence a The Beatles song, I have), self-indulgence, that ultimately could have been a new album of original material. 4/10

Cyclopean Walls – Enter The Dreamlands (Steel Gallery Records) [Matt Bladen]

If you have ever been to the Peloponnese you will have witnessed Cyclopean masonry, it was the major form of stonework in Mycenaean architecture. Go and see the Lion’s Gate if you haven’t. Built with Limestone boulders it was built to last a lifetime while also being a sterling technical achievement. Don’t worry I haven’t gone all George Clarke on you, International band, Cyclopean Walls take their name from these structures and the band take inspiration by playing muscular prog metal that I assume they hope will last in the memory and be considered to be a technical and musical achievement. Formed by Greek Yiannis Tziallas, this is the debut full length of the band, he plays guitars and bass here but has recruited a strong line up of musicians to fill out the remaining places.

The most notable is Brazilian singer Raphael Gazal who holds the mic in various bands (including Ty Morn) and with him on board, they of course owe a debt of sound to the US prog act as they do to numerous other US proggers as well. They also pay homage to H.P Lovecraft, the songs all based in his created world Festival and The Garden both using his writings as lyrics, the former also featuring some sax from Hugo Lee and disconcerting Hammond from Yiannis Plastiras. The record also features two session drummers, two session lead guitarists, female vocals on The Dweller In Darkness and also the Esession String Quartet to make for a really cinematic sound.

Enter The Dreamlands, deals with the Lovecraft Mythos well, pairing the otherworldly, mysterious style of his writing with a darker musical style, highlighted by heavy but artistic compositions and Gazal’s theatrical vocal approach. A pleasure for any fans of bands such as Savatage, Fates Warning and Angra, Cyclopean Walls are worthy find. 7/10

Tuesday 23 November 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Boss Keloid (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Boss Keloid, Telepathy, Tuskar & Hwdu, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, 21.11.21

The first gig back at Clwb Ifor Bach promised to be heavy affair, with riffs galore from all four bands on the bill.

The 'local' openers were the newly minted Space Punks Hwdu (7) formed from veterans of the Swansea greebo scene, they play a frantic style of distorted stoner punk that features a trio of vocals and biting guitar riffs. Drawing a fair sized crowd of locals that knew the members they got things off to a flying start with tracks from their Love Crimes EP (reviewed in these very pages). Carving through the tracks with very little chit chat due to their truncated set, their music inspires having a good time and other than the headliners they were the most upbeat offering on the night. It got the crowd moving early and set things up for what was to come.

Main tour supports Tuskar (8) were up next, a two piece with a shouting drummer and mute guitarist, they play colossally heavy sludge, nods to Neurosis, Crowbar and Eyegategod were abound as the heavy strung Telecaster riffs of Tom Dimmock are enough to split concrete while the primal drumming and anguished shouts of Tyler Hodges rattled though the downstairs of Clwb. Their music kept the crowd as enthralled as it did deafened, each track another slab of lead coated sludge. The cuts all came from their previously released bar the last track which is from their February 2022 debut album, on the basis of this track alone Tuskar could easily become world beaters when that drops.

After a much needed break it was time for the atmospheric post metal stylings of Colchester foursome Telepathy (7). A band relies mainly on long instrumental passages that blend soaring post metal melodies with crushing sludge riffage, it was a more laid back affair than the two previous bands but, with the music segueing between the soaring atmospherics and the thundering riffs. Garnering the largest crowd so far it was obvious why Telepathy were billed as the special guests for the evening. Personally I did prefer the more pissed off approach of Tuskar but Telepathy managed to build a bridge between Tuskar and the headliners.

With a bit more of a change over it was time for Boss Keloid (9) took take to the stage. The Wigan Wizards, weave a musical alchemy that is hard to classify. Drawing much of their set from their brilliant latest offering Family The Smiling Thrush. The band have transcended the labels of stoner, doom etc and a now a truly progressive experience. Although not as outright heavy as some of the supports, Boss Keloid whip up a frenzy of angular riffage, anthemic songwriting and lots of prog weirdness, it's a style that has been refined over their past three records, moving them away from the sludge, stoner beginnings and into a style all of their own. 

The rhythm section of Stephen Arands (drums) and Liam Pendlebury-Green (bass) are tough but expressive, providing groove and keeping the explorations on track, while guitarist Paul Swarbrick has a similar style of playing to one Alex Lifeson, unique tones with solos that are always slightly off kilter. Providing back up guitar is vocalist Alex Hurst, he has developed a singing style that is hard to replicate and as such defines Boss Keloid musically. 

With the crowd enthralled by songs played at Damnation Festival such as Orang Of Noyn, Hats The Mandrill and Gentle Clovis they also got down to some more mind expanding additions, Boss Keloid manage to make their hour long set fly past. One of the most exciting British stoner/doom/sludge/whatever bands around, seeing then in quite an intimate space was a real treat.

Reviews: Exodus, Rhapsody Of Fire, Dream Unending, Carl Sentance (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Exodus - Persona Non Grata (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

There’s a campaign circulating on social media right now to get Exodus incorporated into the ‘Big Four’ of Thrash metal. This is an interesting idea to say the least, although about thirty years too late if we are going to be brutally honest. It’s not been easy for them, with a revolving door of members, but perhaps the fact that that’s mainly been from a relatively small pool of musicians returning to the band after a break or two, which has really helped them keep close to a core and distinctive sound.

Given that this is where Metallica’s Kirk Hammett cut his chops, they certainly have a significant place in the history of Bay Area Thrash, but given that only drummer Tom Hunting remains from the original line up (and even he had a few breaks) it’s a hard call to determine if this even qualifies as the same band. It’s also significant that many younger metal fans are somewhat bemused by the attempts by these older acts who never quite made it to the top tier who are still banging their drum and trying to keep going in an increasingly cluttered musical landscape. But recently their revival in popularity has moved from being in the noteworthy and influential category to absolutely front and centre focus. From where I am sitting though, this band have been criminally under-noticed, and that finally (at least here in Europe) seems to be starting to change…

To be fair, this has been building for a while – ask anyone in the UK who was lucky enough to catch the Testament tour in early 2019 before the world went to shit, with Death Angel (another vastly underrated act) and Exodus in the opening slot. Whereas the two acts at the top end of the bill have form in Europe and a solid fan base, Exodus have not put quite as much touring ground work over here and consequently found themselves stealing many of the shows on that tour despite starting from a challenging slot on the bill. No mean feat to be sure…

Then this album happens.

So I need to be honest, I’ve not kept up to date with much of what the band have produced since the seminal Fabulous Disaster, but this record absolutely and totally feels like very little has changed in the intervening years in terms of sheer energy and quality of material. If anything it evokes their debut Bonded By Blood more than anything for sheer frenetic energy and power. At an hour’s run time, value for money is definitely in play here, especially as I cannot really fault any single song on the album.

The album explosively grabs you by the throat from the get go and does not let up throughout, with a blisteringly tight delivery that keeps the energy, rawness and rough edges of the early days of Thrash but wrapped up in a polished and modern production sound. That’s actually not as easy to achieve as it sounds. Many acts back in the day had tiny recording opportunity windows in studios squeezed in between slots for much bigger acts, with plenty of graveyard shifts and err, ‘stimulating substances’ to get them through the mad rush to get the material down in time. That was great from the point of view of the energy factor, but often left a lot to be desired on the production quality side. As bands got more established and had longer in the studio, the production improved exponentially, but in many cases at the expense of the magic energy juice that made them so relevant in the first place. This album brilliantly and spectacularly manages both….

To be honest, the two weakest tracks here have already been released as singles (Clickbait and The Beatings Will Continue) both of which stand up perfectly well when listened to in isolation, but seem like fairly ‘by the numbers’ Thrash in the context of the album as a whole. That’s really important here. The two singles that sound great on their own, but actually step into the background on the album as a whole, because Exodus have pulled off the rare trick of an album that works best when listened to end to end… and loud! Five plays in and I’m loving it more with every spin. Welcome to Europe, boys… 10/10

Rhapsody Of Fire - Glory For Salvation (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

I don’t think there is a more tightly knit band family tree out there than what I often refer to as the Rhapsody Family. Italian Symphonic Power Metal is its own distinctive entity, with many of the bands in that scene at some point being as a result of its crossing paths with its pioneers Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli. It might have made things easier if they had kept their original name of Thundercross, but Rhapsody it was – at least until a bust up with another label and band of the same name forced them to become Rhapsody Of Fire. With Turilli’s departure things got more complex, as it birthed Luca Turilli's Rhapsody which has ploughed a parallel furrow ever since. 

More confusing still is that many of the other musicians who have passed through these projects have also gone onto spawn new projects, which means the whole scene tends to have a very distinctive and similar sound that is also deeply imbued with the Italian Classical operatic tradition in balance to the Metal. It’s not for everybody, but generally when any of these acts hit the studio, you know that you are going to get a highly polished and richly layered offering.

That’s the positive. The negative is that after a while, the seemingly never-ending flow of high-conceptual story arcs gets a little wearing and leaves you hoping for a slight change of approach (stand up Frozen Crown). But then, these boys remain the pinnacle of the sub-genre for a reason, that being no-one does it better and this album is no exception. I have to say the story arc does nothing for me (The Nephilim's Empire Saga if you are interested), of which this is the second installment as what I’m first and foremost focused on is the quality of the musical experience.

The good news is that this is a Metal album first and foremost and although teeming with Neoclassical tropes and flourishes, it seems that the orchestrations are being added afterwards, which means energy drive and power sit front and foremost in the writing and arrangements. I was none too positive about the single I’ll Be Your Hero earlier this year and I stick by that as it’s by far the weakest track on the record, although I can see why they chose it. The full record is a way more deeply well-structured beast and bizarrely some of the longer pieces hold the attention better than the ones with brevity (Abyss Of Pain II stands out very well given it’s twelve minutes of run time). 

I also find myself wishing that some of the additional instruments that crop up first with the woodwind introduction track Eternal Snow leading into the thoroughly folky but fun Terial The Hawk would happen more often, as they are what stops the album from becoming just another outing in very familiar pathways. Vocalist Giacomo Voli seems well and truly embedded in the band now, with both installments in the saga being very firmly rooted in his contributions. I wasn’t expecting to like this, but like it I did. 8/10

Dream Unending - Tide Turns Eternal (20 Buck Spin) [Matt Bladen]

Formed because of Tomb Mold’s Derrick Vela and Justin DeTore (Innumerable Forms, Sumerlands, Magic Circle, Mind Eraser) love of bands like My Dying Bride, Anathema, Paradise Lost (The Peaceville Three) and Gary Moore (?) Dream Unending is a spectral, atmospheric, crushing doom metal that paces itself, with long drawn out instrumentals punctuated by gruff growling vocals (and haunting female vocals on the title track finale). If you listen to Entrance and the first half of Adorned In Lies then you may thing that it's just a lushly orchestrated, maudlin, instrumental beauty, that is until a crushing riff and growled voices come from out of the deepest depths. 

Vella provides us with the Gilmour-esque guitar, lilting 12 String Guitar and the bass both fretted and fretless, behind his musical dexterity is the broad strokes of DeTore's expressive percussion and growled roar. Broad strokes are used here to live up to the lofty expectations of the Peaceville Three with early Anathema ringing out through the Floydian guitars and the dark brooding atmosphere. It's not what you'd expect from either man involved, evocative death/doom but with lots of musical flourishes and beautiful melodic elements like on Dream Unending or Forgotten FarewellTide Turns Eternal is an album that takes you to another world where ringing atmospherics can sit hand in hand with heaviness, harking back to those early Peaceville releases. 8/10  

Carl Sentance - Electric Eye (Drakkar Entertainment) [Matt Bladen]

If every there was a rock n roll journeyman it would be Carl Sentance. The vocalist is not only the long time frontman of NWOBHM act Persian Risk (the band that gave Motorhead Phil Campbell) along with many Welsh bands from that same wave. He has also tread the boards in various musicals, including the Whole Lotta Metal tour along with Tony Martin (a show I saw in Cardiff's St David's Hall as a child!) has recorded with Krokus, lends his pipes to Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airy's solo albums and was hand picked as Dan Cafferty's replacement in Nazareth. He has also reformed Persian Risk and has released a solo album previously.

So a long career but one that has given him a cult status as a go to vocalist due to his versatility. It's this versatility that's on display here on his second solo album Electric Eye. These no cover of the Judas Priest classic before you ask, but what is here is a collection of heavy rock songs from across the styles spectrum. The key feature to all of them though is Sentance's great voice that sounds a lot like Paul Stanley meets Biff Byford but has many different inflections to adapt to any style be it the psych feel of California Queen or a driving rocker like Judas (a hint to his role in Jesus Christ Superstar?)

The album features Carl on vocals and guitar along with Don Airey on keyboards, Bob Richards on drums and longtime sideman Wayne Banks (whom he reformed Persian Risk with) on bass. Electric Eye is an upbeat heavy rock record, there are a fair few songs here that will grab a hold of your attention such as Overload but others feel like filler making for a bit of an uneven listen. You can't fault the talent and Electric Eye feels like the album Carl wanted to make based around his influences, experience and fan base. It's decent but I'm unsure how often I'll be returning to it. 6/10

Monday 22 November 2021

Reviews: Nightland, Eyes Wide Open, Hollywood Burns, Shrouded In Darkness (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Zak Skane, Matt Cook & Paul Scoble)

Nightland – The Great Nothing (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Great Nothing is the third full length from Italian symphonic death metal band, and in what seems to be a theme at the moment it’s yet another album that reminds me of Fleshgod Apocalypse, Septicflesh and Ne Obliviscaris, a band whom founder/singer/guitarist Ludovico Cioffi was live member of. He has brought the swathes of orchestrations and intense technicality of that band into this one as their two previous release have garnered them a large following in Europe. Their latest tour was with fellow Italians Fleshgod and on the back of this they have released what is probably their most impressive album yet. Firstly the orchestrations which are used to brilliant effect, giving the album a cinematic quality, just feel those ethereal vibes on 101 Megaparsecs. The band skillfully employ the use of choirs on Shade Of A Lowering Star, the orchestrations working in unison with the virtuoso playing of guitarists Cioffi and Brendan Paolini who shift regularly between outright tremolo picking riffs and shredding solos to more subdued progressive flourishes.

These bring some emotion to the songs with their playing while never relinquishing the technicality of it all. It’s all very dramatic especially when the engine room of the two Filippo’s, Scrima on bass and Cicoria on drums are at full pelt, making for Wintersun comparisons as well. This can be felt mostly on the final three songs which make up The Great Nothing Suite, like the rest of the album it deals lyrically with astrology and the mysticism surrounding it, but here it’s much more conceptual the three songs making coming together as one closing moment ending the record in cinematic style. The orchestrations, metal instrumentation and growled vocals all in a wonderful unison. There are a lot of bands doing symphonic death metal at the moment but Nightland have enough gravitas and song writing flair to pull off being one of the newest names on everyone’s lips. 8/10

Eyes Wide Open – Through Life And Death (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

Eyes Wide Open are a four piece modern metal band based in Karlstad Sweden. The band sound pays homage  to the forefathers of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene mixed with a modern twist. Moving on from their previous album The Upside Down, the band are exploring themes of depression, greed and betrayal with their new album Through Life And Death. As soon as the opening tracks World On Fire and Devastation came in featuring swinging drum grooves courtesy of Lucas Freise, harmonising guitars from from Kistofer Stranberg and futuristic soundscapes layers in between, it instantly threw me back to classic 2000’s era Melodeath taking influences from Come Clarity and Stabbing The Drama. The momentum carries on with Fallout, which shows the band wear their influences on their sleeve especially, singer Eric Engstrand who is channeling Bjorn Strid on the choruses.

Burn 'Em and End Of Days are two of the bands most anthemic songs utilizing catchy melodic guitar lines sprinkled with some crowd chants to that arena flavour to win over the big audiences. Eraser and Where Death Meets Paradise (great song title) is when the band step back from being in your face and start to show more emotional dynamics into their sound, Eric singing about subjects such as loss and death accompanied with the guitars, that back off the distortion and add more clean sections. Brother featuring a soaring guitar solo, which highlights Lucas Freises skills and Echos displays the bands musicianship with Lucas providing complex beats and Kistofer composing some Thin Lizzy worthy twin harmonies. 

Overall this is a great album that reminisces on glory days of the 2000s melodeath sound, with a more up dated production to it. The only moments that I could pick where the album falls short, is on the emotional songs. I feel that the vocal delivery is little too stayed and don’t do the accompanying instrumentals justice. When I listen to a metal band going down an emotional route it’s the vocal performance that sells it for me, a good example would be In Flames’s Come Clarity, the way Anders channels the emotion through his trembling vocals performance it convinces me as a listener that is a sad song. Overall though Through Life And Death is good melodeath record. 8/10

Hollywood Burns - The Age Of The Saucers (Blood Music) [Matt Cook]

Emeric Levardon, composer and mastermind behind the electronic project Hollywood Burns, allured fans with a hodge podge of diverse and … electrifying music with the latest release, The Age Of Saucers (Blood Music). Right out the gate, Once Upon A Time (In Hell) is a sinister, spooky and shrilly styled horror intro which picks up the pace and morphs into the lively titular track, utilizing a variety of seamless arrangements, a piano piece and an ominous organ accompanied by choir singing. All wins in my book.

Anyone in search of a fitting soundtrack for hacking a computer (who isn’t?) should look no further than Abomination From Planet X before being swooned into a softer and more aptly named A Moment Of Bliss. The aforementioned Planet X even features a retro melody that conjures images of old school Inspector Gadget episodes. Another win in my book.

It is but a brief respite because Saturday Night Screamer comes barreling in, erupting into a wake-me-upper featuring feel-good beats alongside extra-terrestrial-inspired sounds and “We are your friends” repeated over and over, to be believed at the listener’s risk. Levardon experiments with a distant siren wailing, slowing and distorting in Silent Fortress. And the audience isn’t given any real vocals until Skylords, which candidly, caused this writer to perk their head up in welcomed surprise.

Producing music under the Hollywood Burns banner allows Levardon to find support from many different artists: Volkor X, Olivier Marechal, Remi Meilley, Jerome Joffray, Antoine Baup and Robin Mory all converge on this foray of electronic ecstasy, bringing their own tastes, talents and arrangements. 7/10

Shrouded In Darkness - Abyssum Abyssus Invocat (Kvlt Und Kaos Productions) [Paul Scoble]

Shrouded In Darkness are a three piece based in Gothenburg, Sweden. The band is made up of Mike on guitar, bass and drums, Daniel T on vocals and keys and Reese on lead guitar. Abyssum Abyssus Invocat is the bands first album. Shrouded In Darkness claim to play death/doom, but other than the tempos and the vocal style this is unlike any death/doom I’ve ever heard. Apart from the lead guitar parts played by Reese, all the instruments on this album sound electronic, so if the bass and rhythm guitar are real instruments then there has been a huge amount of processing of the original sounds. There is a similarity in the sound presented here, and Blut Aus Nord’s 2003 masterpiece The Work Which Transforms God, another album where the guitars didn’t sound anything like guitars. 

Apart from the opening intro track We Salute You and the final title track Abyssum Abyssus Invocat which is a dissonant soundscape, all the tracks have a slow tempo, with fairly simple drumming, there is a keyboard line that sounds like a church organ, and those guitar and bass riffs that sound like metallic electronics. The vocals and lead guitars are the only parts of this that are consistent with a traditional death/doom sound. In many ways this sounds far closer to industrial than death/doom, maybe imagine early Godflesh playing slow death metal covers and you are close to how this sounds. I want to point out that none of this is a criticism, I was surprised at what this sounded like and wanted to emphasize the originality of Shrouded In Darkness’s style of extreme music.

Unfortunately the originality in overall sound doesn’t reach the songs themselves. Of the 5 tracks that aren’t intros or soundscapes, there is very little variation. The songs have one or two riffs, which are all very similar, and other than the occasional change in tempo the tracks themselves all sound interchangeable, as if this album was one huge forty minute track that is faded in and out a few times, I had to keep on checking that I didn’t have one track on repeat. Abyssum Abyssus Invocat is definitely an interesting listen, the sound of electronic/industrial death/doom is fascinating, however this feels like an early experiment, rather than a finished article. 

They certainly have something here, but it needs to be focused more, and they need to learn to write riffs that don’t all sound the same. This is an interesting starting point, but it will probably be a couple of albums time before they produce something that is really great. 6/10

Reviews: Aephanemer, Dust In Mind, Heart Line, Corpus Diavolis (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Aephanemer – A Dream Of Wilderness (Napalm Records)

There are bands that push the boat out on recordings and then there are bands that get the entire fleet and the kitchen sink to make their music sound as impressive as possible. Toulouse band Aephanemer are a band that do this, following on from their 2019 album Prokopton, their style of melodic death metal is just a starting point for what is a cinematic, progressive musical journey across 11 songs on this follow up release A Dream Of Wilderness. The use of symphonics, is what will grab you, reflecting the styles of SepticFlesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse, the sweeping strings and ethereal choirs on Roots And Leaves will take you to the Halle aux Grains, as orchestral swells and dramatic fills take their place side by side with razor sharp melodeath heaviness. 

Le Radeau de La Méduse and Antigone both featuring almost black metal blasting, Marion Bacoul’s ferocious vocals wildly varying from growls/screams to even some operatic moments. Band leader and lead guitarist Martin Hamiche, must have taken the same approach as Devin Townsend on this third record as more is certainly more, sometimes even too much but just as it moves towards that, you’re taken down another route, with another sound, the lyrics varying between English and French while the instrumentals are brilliant Hamiche’s lead playing especially invigorating throughout, peeling off arpeggios from hell but also more deft emotional playing on Vague à l'âme. In the rhythm section Bacoul’s guitars are joined by Lucie Woaye Hune’s bass for the gallops and death metal sprints while Mickaël Bonnevialle’s unstoppable drumming only slows on the evocative orchestral pieces such as the breaks in Strider

With this third album Aephanemer have adopted to take no prisoners, throwing in as much experimentation as they want to, it’s a massive step up on all accounts and certainly sees them embracing their major label debut by hammering home exactly why they were approached by Napalm in the first place. A Dream Of Wilderness is a seriously good record that may have other melo-death albums drowning in its’ wake. Superior. 9/10

Dust In Mind - CTRL (Dark Tunes Music Group)

Characterised as a melodic death metal band with industrial metal flavours, Dust In Mind have been around since 2013. The creation of guitarist/vocalist Damien Dausch and vocalist Jennifer Gervais, various line up changes have happened since then but more recently, they brought in bassist Xavier Guiot in 2016 with drummer Thomas Marasi (Dunkelnacht) and guitarist Phillippe Miralles added in 2019 and 2020 respectively. These additions have led to something of a reinvention to the band after their previous record, the music hits harder, the riffs are stronger and feel more modern and the electronic/orchestral flourishes are more impressive. The culmination of all of this is CTRL their fourth full length. 

From the outset of the record t's obvious why they said about being industrial in their sound, as they utilise synths and dramatic orchestrations much like Italians Lacuna Coil, a band that Dust In Mind are very similar too. Dust In Mind Alps pair the throbbing electronics and orchestral backing with chuggy metal riffs and anthemic choruses. Much of this comparison can also be drawn due to Gervais' powerful, soaring, clean vocals that are counteracted by Dausch's growls and gritty cleans. Their vocals are in a special kind of unison making them very listenable, and is the best part of the bands style. 

That's not to put them down musically, they create strong output that will do well on the live music scene, brimming with hooks and enough heaviness that they don't fall into some pop traps that so many symphonic styled bands do. CTRL is Dust In Mind stamping their mark on what they do, showing the world that they are here for the long run. 7/10

Heart Line - Back In The Game (Pride & Joy Records)

Comprised of long time members of the French rock scene, Heart Line is an AOR/Melodic Rock band that has some serious chops to it. Formed by guitarist and producer Yvan Guillevic, they play a style of music that loveeds of Journey and Foreigner will love, Guillevic's guitars superbly slick shifting between choppy riffs on Back In Th Game, melodic phrases and shredding solos, his interplay with keyboardist Jorris Guilbaud is a joy to listen to, the pulsing synths of On Fire, or the saccharine electronics on Fighting To Live. Back In The Game has got that 80's Sunset Strip feeling ringing throughout it. 

Helped immeasurably by the soaring vocals of Emmanuel Creis, a really find vocally, carrying the mantle of Steve Perry or Dennis DeYoung as Heart Line feel a lot like Styx as well. The back room of drummer Walter Francais and bassist Dominique Braud powering Fire Dance which has that Scandi vibe of the multitude of AOR bands from that neck of the woods. As a debut it's extremely strong debut and will likely see them being on numerous AOR labels watch list, but for now they are hitting home runs for Pride & Joy. Turn it up and party on! 7/10

Corpus Diavolis - Apocatastase (Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions)

From Marseille, apostate black metal act Corpus Diavolis, shun God an embrace Satan yet again on their fourth studio album. The album title signifies the restoration of all things to their original state, reflecting the ideas of God through the scope of the devil, apparently conjuring intimate thoughts to savage black metal soundscapes. These French occultists rely heavily on black metal troupes filling their 6 songs with frantic blasts and tremolo riffing, the vocals shift between bestial roars and shamanic conjuring. 

Corpus Diavolis however do owe more to the Hellenic style of black metal than anything French or Norwegian, filling songs like the title track with sonorous Latin chanting, the dual guitars unleash hell building into some synth overlays. The tracks are very ‘big’ sounding as if having a full choral section brought in, while also adding a doom-like feel and dissonance. It feels Hellenic, no wonder then that George Emmanuel re-amped, mixed and mastered the album, as he paid his dues in Rotting Christ and Lucifer’s Child, so is in league with both Satan and that key Hellenic black metal sound. 

At just 6 tracks you would expect an EP, but most of the songs are long, expansive cuts, densely populated with evocative atmospherics and unleashing Satanic fury through black metal assaults. The restoration of all things, belies the apocalypse and Corpus Diavolis are ready! 7/10

Saturday 20 November 2021

A View From The Back Of The Room: Marillion (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Marillion, St David's Hall, Cardiff, 18/11/2021

It had been a long time coming for this gig and there was a palpable buzz in Cardiff's St David's Hall, expecting excitement the floor had been opened so there was standing room available. Obviously this being me I took my seat and waited for the lights to go down at just after 7:30. 

Onto the stage walked two men, Mick Moss carrying an acoustic guitar and Dave Hall slinging an electric. Mick Moss (8) is the founding and now only member of Antimatter, he plays everything in the studio but Dave is the lead guitarist when performing live. I'm unsure what to bill this as, the official billing was Mick Moss but personally I'd say it was an Antimatter show. I digress as what we got was a set of stripped down Antimatter songs. Moss' deep resonant vocals carrying the emotion of the songs reworking them into sparse but interesting arrangements featuring acoustic and electric guitars along with a looper and a percussion box. There were a few familiar with Moss/Antimatter that cheered along as he warmed them up in a relaxed way. But this set also won over many who may not of known most notably the two guys next to me who I had to explaining their whole Moss/Antimatter thing to (lucky them) but were agreed that they'd be checking out more. (Pop the cheque in the post Mick). 

With everyone fully warmed up there was a brief pause before the main event. As the lights went down it was finally time. After having tours cancelled, being holed up in a studio and even having to crowdfund their tour insurance, resulting in some serious wipe down of all instruments after the line check. The masters of neo/modern progressive rock music Marillion (10) returned to a Cardiff stage, this was their third show of the tour after Hull and Edinburgh, and surprises were promised. 

Not that they were needed as I'm sure the throng of mentalists down on the standing part of the St David's Hall would have listened to them read the phone book. Their audience is an odd one heavily rocking out to even the lightest, most introspective number. Their passion over spilt into slanging matches between the seated and standing members of the audience at least three times during the evening but the security handled it well. It was a bizarre sight to behold but that passion their fans have for them makes Marillion a cult sensation. One of their official T-Shirts puts it more succinctly than I could baring the legend "Marillion: Still Uncool As F**k"

Sounds That Can't Be Made was a dramatic opening to the night with the band building the drama for what was to come. Steve Hogarth, aka H, is reminiscent of a drunken uncle flouting his talents at a party but obviously far superior in every way especially vocally. At times his range and power is breathtaking and he's a joy to watch and listen to while performing and during the song breaks. With a Shakespearean flair, vaudevillian panache and a humour that is self deprecating, he is the ring leader to welcome you in, inviting you to indulge in the spectacle and share a jovial drink with. 

In one instance actually handing someone down the front a (sealed) bottle of water, who asked for it. He's a consummate showman even when things go wrong, and yes they do go wrong as, a constant source of major amusement, for us not him, was that everytime he was given a guitar to augment Steve Rothery, it failed to work, except right at the end cueing a cheer from the crowd.

As promised the first surprise of the evening was the inclusion of Afraid Of Sunlight that replaced Beautiful in the set list though the rest of this songs remained the same (as Led Zeppelin once put it). Admittedly when you play set comprised of album tracks, most of which came from 1994's Brave (their most successful album with H until 2016's F E A R) or 1989's Seasons End (their first with H) with brief forays into Afraid Of Sunlight, Holidays In Eden and Marbles, it makes for a dynamic, interesting and refreshing set list as they dove deep into their discography to create this show especially for this tour.

The main set featured peaks and troughs, Ian Mosley setting the pace with his astounding drumming as Mark Kelly keeps track of all things synthesised, shifting between two huge keyboard stacks (and an MacBook) to bring out those waves of synth and samples, occasionally joined by H who adds additional piano. This business behind him lets Steve Rothery play as if it's an afterthought his relaxed style all the more impressive due to how technical it is but how easy he makes it look. On the other hand Pete Trewavas is a ball of lighting stomping his way around the stage and on the spot as he pumps out the bass grooves, he makes rock n roll look like it's a joy to play while also moving like a man half his age. With H in the middle and a superior lightshow Marillion are visual feast as well an audio one.

The main bulk was made up of tracks from the albums I've mentioned, climbing and falling with emotion and rapture. The one new song, Be Hard On Yourself, is a propulsive, upbeat rocker that apparently isn't even the best song on the album, boding well for An Hour Before It's Dark. We got a sharp intake of breath, as the first encore was the entirety of The Leavers from F E A R. This mammoth song working better live than it does on record (and it's brilliant there) full of drama and hope, sending the faithful down the front into raptures as the hugged, sang and danced along. Though they had been doing this all night, it was The Leavers that felt like a closure for the fans and the band that they had reached this point after the nearly 2 years previous.

Everyone was thanked and off they went again returning for one more encore, this has been different every night so far and in St David's Hall (where they recorded a live album a few years ago) it was two acoustic (ish) numbers starting with the evergreen Easter and closing with the joyous Made Again. An evening of catharsis, joy and more than a little drinking Marillion were on top form, safe in their Covid bubble and playing the set like their lives depended on it. If there's a better gig this year, I'll be a drunken uncle!

Friday 19 November 2021

Reviews: Obscura, Eldritch, Snake Mountain Revival, Looking For Medusa (Reviews By Charlie Rogers & Dr Claire Hanley, Simon Black, Rich P & Alexander Hay)

Obscura - A Valediction (Nuclear Blast) [Charlie Rogers & Dr Claire Hanley]

Playing with shades of light and darkness throughout, A Valediction is distinctively an Obscura record. Despite the line-up changes the band has been through, this newest offering has their sound plastered all over it. Opening the record, Forsaken has an abundance of Jeroen Paul Thesseling’s fretless bass noodling, accompanying a grandiose build up into the bulk of the song. Steffen Kummerer’s snarling vocals cut through the soundscape. The pace peaks and ebbs away; between flutters of guitar breaks and all consuming tidal waves of noise, there’s a fragile stillness and serenity. This theme is continued by Solaris. Incredibly bright and uplifting in parts, featuring twinkling guitar flourishes that sound like space dust. It’s more frantic than the proceeding track, with a real sense of urgency, and strong Neo-Classical vibes shining through from the dueling guitars soaring past like meteors - marking virtuoso Christian Münzner’s epic return to the band.

Contrasting with the lighter side, When Stars Collide enters with a gritty, harder edge. It’s a real testament to Obscura’s obscene technical precision, with interlocking scales and arpeggios showcasing the complete mastery of their instruments. Guest vocals from Bjorn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork add to the anthemic nature of the track - you can almost already imagine singing along to this at a prominent outdoor festival. Plunging deeper into the sludge, Devoured Usurper catches you off-guard with gurgling gutturals, which are a departure from Steffen’s signature barks. The track is a writhing cesspit of darkness, conjuring Mikael Åkerfeldt era Bloodbath vibes. A panic stricken mid-section switches up the tempo, enabling the song to take on a different dynamic, before David Diepold’s thunderous blastbeats close out.

Ascending from the shadows, The Beyond emerges with the grit and intensity of the previous section, whilst striving to capture the anthemic highs featured in the opening tracks. As far as sequels go, Orbital Elements II doesn’t disappoint it’s predecessor (which featured on 2009’s Cosmogenesis). It’s another instrumental flex, with a noticeable nod to Arch Enemy’s Fields Of Desolation. In Adversity switches things up once more, featuring a deathcore-esque passage that chugs beneath a shimmering guitar melody, and closing track Heritage amps up the symphonic elements by incorporating a multi-layered tempo and ethereal vocals: creating a vast wall of sound both high and wide.

Utilizing phrasing and melodic approaches from a wide palette of influences - some very prog rock parts, to classic rock, to crushing death metal, A Valediction is a real smorgasbord for the ears. But, like most buffets, there’s perhaps an abundance of similar offerings. For example, the title track, In Unity, and The Neuromancer are all epic tracks in isolation, yet don’t contribute anything novel to the record. Nonetheless, this is a stellar album that needs to be heard. 8/10

Eldritch – Eos (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

These Italian Progressive Metallers have been at it a long time and Eos brings us their twelfth studio record. I’m none too familiar with their back catalogue, but the first thing that strikes the ears is the sheer skill of the instrumental work here. Like most good prog, it’s technically dazzling and for an album that takes nearly an hour and ten minutes to do its thing is surprisingly swift listening, supported with a beautifully well-layered production style which really accentuates each and every voice in the mix, whilst still giving plenty of layers to un-peel on repeat listens.

The classic keyboard and guitar interplay, always a reliable backbone for 70’s and early 80’s influenced acts, works well and is dizzyingly proficient, if not necessarily universal in its appeal. Vocally as well Terence Holler (and what a great surname for a singer in a Rock or Metal band by the way) is competent and in control, with a good timbre, range and streak of emotion running throughout, although to be fair his style and approach don’t show too much variety in delivery between songs.

And here lies the challenge I have with this record – it’s not breaking any new ground here in the main and most of the songs are very similar in style, tone and pace. That said, when it deviates, one sits up and takes note. The well-crafted and fluid ballad I Can’t Believe It is beautifully moody, and gives Holler a chance to step up, open up and show us a bit of range and equally the follower The Awful Closure, is a full on speed fest with everyone beautifully timed and synched which would not sound out of place on a Dream Theater disk.

I hate to use the terms ‘hit’ or ‘radio friendly’ because they completely miss the point, but what it’s really missing is a catchy ‘everyman’ track that might bring in listeners from complimentary genres. The reality is that it’s not until the end of the album and a cover of Bon Jovi’s Runaway that you get a bit of that crucial catchy accessibility, and let’s face it it’s far from that acts greatest moment. To be fair the title track is also worth waiting for and makes me think that they may have been wiser to reverse the running order somewhat, with the better material definitely having been kept for last.

So the summary is that if you have the ears for this kind of Prog Metal outing, then this is going to tick a lot of boxes for you, but for the more casual listener, having to rely on a cover of an 80’s Hair Metal hit to be truly catchy and accessible, then this means a big trick has been missed. 7/10

Snake Mountain Revival - Everything In Sight (Rogue Wave Records) [Rich P]

Anyone who know my musical tastes knows I love all things Ripple Music, so it is very fitting my first review is for the latest release from Ripple’s garage/psych Imprint Rogue Wave Records, Everything In Sight from Snake Mountain Revival. Like anything else Ripple announces as “coming soon” I immediately pre ordered the vinyl, then go and check out the back catalog to see what I have to look forward to. I really enjoyed the demo/EPs that were available, so my expectations were very high going in.

The opener, Satellite Ritual brings the spaced-out psych that I was looking forward to with some callbacks to the best of Hawkwind and some hints of some of the newer Black Mountain records. Moon Barron is my favorite track and reminds us that these guys also have some Sabbath records in their collection without being derivative like we here in some of the Sabbath worship out there today while incorporating the psych/space vibes we hear throughout the record.

One thing that jumps out to me throughout the record are the vocals. Several bands these days struggle to find the right sound with their vocals but SMR nailed it on Everything In Sight. This is highlighted on the track Just Feeling where Ryan Chandler brings it with his performance. You get a bit of everything I love on this record. Graveyard Grove brings some doomy/spacy vibes while the title track brings some surf rock guitars that do not sound out of place at. Pheromone brings you on a trip of the best kind with some serious heavy psych and a ripping solo. The instrumental track Water Moccasin sounds like it could be on the Pulp Fiction 2 soundtrack.

Snake Mountain Revival has released a record that will be on the top of my album of the year list for sure. It has a bit of everything, and all of it done well. The musicianship and the writing are all top notch. You can hear hints of the band’s influences but there is nothing derivative on this album at all. Everything In Sight will go down as another Ripple Music classic. 9/10

Looking For Medusa - Perseus (Rock City) [Alexander Hay]

I went looking for Medusa once. After an afternoon of fruitless searching, I managed to find her down the side of my sofa. "Oh, thank you!" she hissed. "If I'd stayed down there any longer, I’d have creased me anaconda!" "I'd just like to say the Gods of Olympus did you dirty", I said. "Maybe not as bad as Ariadne, who got turned into a spider. but close." "That's fine, dear", the Gorgon rasped. "But I'm over here. You're talking to the lampshade." "Well, excuse me for needing to keep my eyes closed!" I tutted.

Looking For Medusa is also a French rock band whose style is summed up, ominously, as "hardly classifiable." In practice, it sounds very much like hard rock via NWOBHM, with a dash of power metal. Its second album, Perseus, consists of eight tracks being very middling, and never really going beyond that. That's not to say it's awful or even just plain bland. It's all played with a discipline, finesse and utter faith in its own pomp, and it has the conviction of a band that takes itself very, very seriously, despite the temptation to camp it up.

Perhaps, then, Looking For Medusa is very good at what it does, but what it does is stubbornly, ruthlessly average. Because nothing particularly stands out here. If you fed a lot of generic hard rock/metal bands into an algorithm, told it to come up with the most predictable album ever, and hoped it wouldn't do anything racist, this record would be the end result. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that its music is polished but forever frozen in time, like a statue. 5/10

Reviews: Khemmis, L.A Guns, The Lurking Fear, Dion (Reviews By Richard Oliver & Matt Bladen)

Khemmis - Deceiver (Nuclear Blast) [Richard Oliver]

There are plenty of bands out there at the moment keeping the spirit of traditional metal alive at the moment as well as plenty of bands such as Khemmis who are mixing a traditional heavy metal sound with a doom metal sound. The Colorado band have been making waves since 2012 and with their fourth album Deceiver it may be more of the same but it sounds absolutely glorious.

Khemmis have a vast sound that incorporates doom-laden riffs and forlorn melodies with a huge cinematic trad-metal scope. The album is made up of six songs that are as equally bleak as they are vibrant and epic. The riffs are crushing such as on the monstrous House Of Cadmus and Living Pyre whilst traditional metal gallops and some punchy riffing make their way onto the huge Avernal Gate and The Astral Road though the highlight for me was the mournful Shroud Of Lethe which is the most doom-laden song on the album with hefty amounts of emotion throughout before things get really heavy and with the aid of some effective harsh vocals bring the song to a suitably savage conclusion. 
The vocals from guitarists Ben Hutcherson and Phil Pendergast are hugely melodic and righteously uplifting despite the gloomy nature of the music giving this band an ‘epic doom’ feel at times. The inclusion of harsh vocals dotted throughout the album help give it a bit of a gnarly edge as well.

Deceiver is another fine album from Khemmis. The band know their sound and their audience and don’t stray from what they have done before but Deceiver is just a fine tuning of what Khemmis do best. It doesn’t offer anything new but what it does offer is 45 minutes of glorious doomy heavy metal. 8/10

L.A Guns – Checkered Past (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Since Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis, reunited under just one L.A Guns banner, they have been producing some darker edged, swaggering hard rock records. Re-discovering that danger they had back in the early 80’s, a style that inspired pretty much the entire Sunset Strip scene. Recorded in the midst of the pandemic, Guns, Lewis, Johnny Martin (bass), Scot Coogan (drums) and Ace Von Johnson (guitar) set to capturing their blues infused sleazy hard rock yet again, and while the world was in turmoil they kept their heads and kicked out the jams ready for their return to the live stage.

What we get from these sessions is Checkered Past, a collection of punchy rock songs and introspective ballads, its Guns/Lewis writing partnership in full flight. Living Right Now is chugging punk rocker, Better Than You moves towards thrash, Cannonball an ideal propulsive opener, Get Along and If It’s Over Now meanwhile are slower numbers the first a country ballad, the second a more dramatic love/loss song that feels a little like Alice Cooper. It’s clear to see why L.A Guns are considered by some to be the unsung heroes of the Glam/Sleaze style, and while bands like G’N’R, Poison etc went on to super stardom L.A Guns has certain internal struggles that thankfully have been resolved as the band have never been better.

Comfortably slipping into their underground legends persona by relentless touring and producing albums that hark back to their glory days but also add modern flourishes that understand the changing music industry. Without the name attached, L.A Guns would be considered to be bright new thing as their style is very much in vogue again, as it stands they are still showing people how it’s done in this delight for those that much prefer that danger filled early sleaze/glam sound. 7/10

The Lurking Fear - Death, Madness, Horror, Decay (Century Media Records) [Richard Oliver]

There is an overabundance of young bands emulating that old school death metal sound of late and whilst a lot of those bands are absolutely fantastic it is always good to hear something from those who grew up in the scene. The Lurking Fear was formed in 2016 as a side-project for old school death metal buddies but soon became a lauded band in their own right after the release of their debut album Out Of The Voiceless Grave in 2017. With everything put on hold during the pandemic for not only The Lurking Fear but the main bands of the members involved it afforded them the time to write and record a follow up which we have with the suitably savage Death, Madness, Horror, Decay.

The Lurking Fear are seen as a supergroup as they feature members from many prominent extreme metal bands such as Tomas Lindberg on vocals (At The Gates, Lock Up), Jonas Stålhammar (At The Gates, God Macabre) and Fredrik Wallenberg (Skitsystem) on guitars, Andreas Axelsson (Tormented) on bass and Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates, The Haunted) on drums. Their combined old school death metal knowledge and expertise results in a ferocious beast of an album with Death, Madness, Horror, Decay

The album mixes short, sharp and savage blasts of fast-paced extremity such as Abyssal Slime, Ageless Evil and Restless Death with more measured, slightly doom-laden slabs of meaty metal goodness such as Funeral Abyss, In A Thousand Horrors Crowned and the title track. The most unusual song is Kaleidoscopic Mutations which is very discordant and features the mighty Chris Reinert (Autopsy) on guest vocals. A lot of these songs are short and to the point wasting no time and never sticking around longer than they need to which can be a good thing but also means some songs are over before you know it.

Death, Madness, Horror, Decay is a fantastic second album for The Lurking Fear. It is a step up from the debut and feels like a far more cohesive, well-rounded and savage album. With three members of At The Gates in their ranks you would think there would be similarities in sound but The Lurking Fear is very much old school death metal with very little in the way of melodic. A fantastically gnarly album featuring some legendary Swedish extreme metal talent. 8/10

Dion - Stomping Ground (KTBA Records) [Matt Bladen]

Another release on Joe Bonamassa’s KTBA Records label, another guest appearance, on the track Take It Back, but this time it’s for an artist who is a bit of an American R&B/Blues institution. Having fronted teen-idols The Belmonts back in the pre-British Invasion, Dion Francis DiMucci or just Dion has been recording since the 60’s with his most recent output sitting very deeply in the blues attracting the attention of Joey Bones who has made sure to release this album on his and Roy Weisman’s label. Dion is one of those industry legends that can be seen as a musician’s musician, so it’s no surprise that in addition to having a musical, called The Wanderer, written about his life, this record also features liner notes by Pete Townsend. 

Now unusually due to Dion’s standing amongst musicians Townsend is not even the most high profile guest on this record. Continuing the theme of his previous release Blues With Friends, Dion has enlisted some of the best and brightest to feature on this record. Co-written with long time writing partner Mike Aquilina and co-produced with Wayne Hood. From that unmistakable guitar playing of Mark Knopfler on Dancing Girl, to the boogie of Billy Gibbons on My Stomping Ground, there’s a plethora of names here as Eric Clapton (though he recently has attracted attention for things other than his music) and Peter Frampton make a mark on If You Wanna Rock N Roll and There Was A Time. As do Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen on the gospel western flavoured Angel In The Alleyway

Dion’s voice is masterfully rich and has crooning, aged quality to it, when it works in tandem with artists such as Boz Scaggs, there’s a real full bodied style to his delivery, that comes from a long career. The albums only cover is Hendrix’s Red House featuring Keb’ Mo’ continuing a theme of Dion covering Hendrix. Stomping Ground is an enjoyable straight blues release with a star studded line up, highlighting why Dion is held in high regard by musicians and music lovers alike. 7/10