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Tuesday 16 November 2021

Reviews: Bonded, Monument Of Misanthropy, Stilbirth, Fugatta (Reviews By RIchard Oliver, Charlie Rogers, Dr Claire Hanley & Simon Black)

Bonded - Into Blackness (Century Media Records) [Richard Oliver]

Nearly two years after their debut Rest In Violence, German thrashers Bonded strike back and strike hard with their second album Into Blackness. The band was formed in 2018 by former Sodom members guitarist Bernd “Bernemann” Kost and drummer Markus “Makka” Freiwald who were joined on vocals by Assassin frontman Ingo Bajonczak as well as guitarist Chris Tsitsis and bassist Marc Hauschild. Rest In Violence was a very well received debut which unfortunately received very little in the way of touring and promotion due to the pandemic striking. Luckily this afforded the band time to fine tune a follow up album which sees the band step things up from the debut.

One thing that is immediately noticeable about Into Blackness is that the speed, violence and intensity have been ramped up a considerable amount. The band have managed to bottle up the anger and frustrations of the last 18 months and unleash it in furious fashion on this record. It’s not just blind aggression on offer though as the band manage to remain suitably melodic as well as inserting some catchy choruses and hooks throughout the album whilst not taking anything from the violence and carnage. Lilith (Queen Of Blood) and The Holy Whore are prime examples of this mix combining hooks and violence whilst Into The Blackness Of A Wartime Night sits far more on the melodic side of things being one of the catchiest songs on the album. Destroy The Things I Love slows the pace being a groovy and brooding number before the violence completely explodes on Final Stand and Way Of The Knife with both songs being all out raging thrashers.

A pandemic striking just after the release of the debut album could have been the death sentence for Bonded but thankfully the band were able to continue working their regular jobs and the time allowed for Bonded to brew an absolutely killer follow up. Into Blackness is a definite step up for Bonded and is a blistering thrash attack that manages to sound simultaneously old school and contemporary. A brilliant album of Teutonic thrash goodness. 8/10

Monument Of Misanthropy - Unterweger (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Austrian brutal death powerhouse Monument Of Misanthropy are back with their second full length release Unterweger. The album is an absolute sonic barrage, rarely letting up from high energy beats and frantic guitarwork, but it retains an unmistakable groove and plenty of memorable riffs. Far from many brutal death metal records who forgo tunes and melody for the pursuit of making things brutal for brutal shake, MoM have a clear talent for writing earworms that you’ll be humming for days after listening. 

There’s a lot to praise in the instrument dept; the guitarwork from Shoi Sen and Joe Gatch is never dull, with captivating phrases weaving together as one, or harmonising to create dark and uneasy motifs like the one in Demon Of Graz. The basslines provided by Sam Terrak are rock solid, tying in with drummer Cédric Malebolgia’s bombardment of beats seamlessly. There’s a lot of variety in both the drums and the bass, and both are well mixed to ensure nothing gets drowned out. Front and foremost is vocalist George Wilfinger, who possesses a truly monstrous range - from horrifying swamp monster deep vocals, to electrifying highs - his palette is as diverse and masterful as the musicians backing him up. 

To top it all off, there are two guest vocalists of an equally high calibre: Julien Truchan of Benighted features on opening track The Mysterious Hollywood Hat-Trick, and Aborted’s Sven de Caluwé provides his signature blend of high and low screams to Miami Vice - Miami Gold. While both of these guests are arguably at the upper echelons of extreme metal, both renowned for their fantastic oral skills, George’s own vocals are so good on the rest of the record that I had to listen really hard to find the guests. That’s no detraction from the record, but one usually expects a guest to elevate a track, or bring something new to the table, and I feel this wasn’t fully utilised here. Had George performed both Sven and Julien’s parts, I don’t think I’d be able to tell in all honesty. 

At 39 minutes over 12 tracks, Unterweger has very little filler, with a handful of breather moments between the bangers - I’m not sure they’re totally necessary, but they create a foreboding atmosphere that ties in with the narrative of the songs. Highlights from the record are Tales From The Vienna Woods, Demon Of Graz, Midnight and closing track Fall From Grace - which hammers home that saving a killer track to close is a very good idea. 9/10

Stillbirth – Strain of Gods EP (Unique Leader) [Dr Claire Hanley]

The arrival of a new Stillbirth release can only mean one thing; that’s right, put your slam shoes on - it’s time to party! You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s very much business as usual as you’re greeted by brutal death metal with infectious groove but Strain Of Gods offers up some particularly filthy breakdowns, not to mention gutturals that transcend the depths of the Mariana Trench (Skinned By The Sun being a perfect example of both). 

Ultimum Exitium possesses some windmill-inspiring and whiplash-inducing sections, punctuated by expertly positioned pauses that heighten anticipation. Surfer’s Paradise is all kinds of catchy with a labyrinth of guitar lines you can absolutely get lost in, and the band continue to have you hang off their every riff with Double Fire Double Fun; a bludgeoning track which plays with the inclusion of high-pitched vocals and a tempo shift with a black metal aura. Full marks for innovation. Certainly not a direction you’d expect Stillbirth to go in but it undeniably works. 

Similarly, the inclusion of a guitar solo at the start of You Can’t Kill Us and the chilled beach vibe interlude during the title track (which really wouldn’t be out of place on an Opeth album, if it wasn’t for the seagull samples) are welcome additions, and only serve to enhance an already impressive record. Strain Of Gods is a dynamic and surprisingly eclectic offering, where the energy is always high but the tracks never feel repetitive – a true testament to Stillbirth’s superior songwriting skills. 9/10

Fugatta - The Darkest Planet (Shamash Records) [Simon Black]

The third album from these Mexican Power Metallers seems to have broken into a run in term of pace of delivery, as the gap between their debut and sophomore releases was significant and fortunately lockdown did not get in the way of this. This record is definitely more Prog with a few touches of the Symphonic than Power to my old ears, as despite the relentless Power Metal pace and stylistic tropes, the technical skill and flourish here is way beyond your average Power affair. The energy and tempo are fast and furious for sure, but so are the dizzyingly smooth time changes and transitions. Then there’s the demonically fast keyboard and guitar interludes that take the songs into more interesting territory than the surface major chord harmonic structures would first indicate, making this an interesting fusion of flavours.

For such a young group of musicians, there is a depth and skill to their writing and playing that belies their years, but then the technical demands of this sort of music tends to attract players who have been polishing their art since a very young age. Vocalist Daniel Viña has a rather impressive range to him as well. Even when he’s taking it gently, his register is quite high to start with, yet he’s able to fairly effortlessly scale up a few octaves higher when you least expect it without sounding forced or uncomfortable. It’s quite a breath taking performance. Instrumentally the rest of the band are on fire too and this does not sound like an act over ten years out of the starting blocks, as it’s full of energy, passion and polish. A nod must go to the production as well, as the decision to utilise Stratovarius guitarist and nob-twiddler Matias Kupianien for the final mastering was a wise one, as it brings a depth and maturity to the sound that beautifully embellishes each and every performer without losing the feel of a cohesive band sound.

The ten tracks that make up the core of this opus rattle along in just over forty minutes of frantic and energetic delivery and depending on your version there are alternate versions of two of them. Interestingly the lyrical nature of their native Spanish in the bonus version of The Dark Land We Belong actually really accentuates the Melodic delivery of the material and I wonder if they are inclined to do a few more songs in their native tongue in the future, as although clearly English is the norm globally, Spanish is still not exactly a minority interest language compared to say German and that did not stop Rammstein from packing stadiums the world over. Worth a spin for sure. 8/10

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