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Thursday 4 November 2021

Reviews: Ghost Bath, Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik, Extinction A.D, The Three Tremors (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Paul Hutchings, Richard Oliver & Simon Black)

Ghost Bath - Self Loather (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Scoble]

Ghost Bath have been making music together since 2012. In that time the band, who are based in North Dakota, have released 3 albums before Self Loather; their debut Funeral was released in 2014, its followup Moonlover was released in 2015 and the bands third album Stormourner came two years later in 2017. The band is made up of Dennis Mikula (also known as ‘Nameless’) on Vocals, Guitar and Piano, Josh Jaye on Bass, Jason Hirt on Drums, Tim Church on Guitar and John Oliver on Guitar.
In the short time Ghost Bath have been in existence they have attracted a certain amount of controversy. 

The bands debut album Funeral was released on Chinese label Pest Productions, and a lot of people were under the impression that the band were Chinese. This confusion was cleared up in a later interview, but the controversy was over why people thought that. I have seen two different explanations of how this came about; one states that this was because the band had deliberately made an attempt to fool people by claiming to be based in China, the other story is that fans made an assumption that the band were Chinese based on the nationality of their record company and the fact that Pest Production use both Chinese and English in their promotion and track listing. I’m not sure which is true as I’ve found pretty much and equal amount of either explanation. If this was deliberate Cultural Approbation then that isn’t acceptable, but if this was fans jumping to the wrong conclusion and the band not correcting them quickly enough, then I’ve got far less of a problem with that. 

Musically Self Loather is a mix of Depressive Black Metal and Post Black Metal with a few Alternative elements thrown in for good measure. opening track Convince Me To Bleed is a good example of the bands style; fast tremolo picked riffs, which are sometimes layered, provide a very melodic and tuneful base, whilst Mikula’s nasty, harsh vocals bring a little more disagreeable feel to the party. The track then goes into riffs that feel chaotic and out of control, something that crops up several times during the album, before dropping into a much more expansive and open section with lots of melody, the song then goes to it’s end with a mid-paced section with a pleasing melody lead. So, a certain amount of nastiness, but tempered with melody and tunefulness. Sanguine Mask has a slow and expansive opening that goes into a very heavy and brooding section with some very nasty and very low register vocals. 

The track then goes into some blasting fast tremolo picked riffs with very unpleasant vocals, before going back to the expansive and very heavy feel the song opened with. Sinew And Vein also has a slow opening, but this time there is a definite dissonant aspect to the heaviness. The track builds in intensity, before going into a section that is faster with mid-paced tremolo picked riffs. We then get a quiet and clean section before the the slow and dissonant feel returns. The song ends with some very fast and nasty blasting. The track Unbearable is an interesting song, it has a clean and very brooding intro before a slow riff that feels huge and sweeping, before a simple riff comes in that has a definite punky feel to it, that then develops into something that sounds far closer to Post Punk or Alternative Rock. The track does have a section that is much more aggressive and driving, but it quickly returns to Post Punk territory before a soft piano ending. 

Self Loader is a very good piece of Depressive Black Metal/Post Black Metal. When this album is aggressive and nasty it works very well, but doesn’t stand out in a very packed field of the DBM / Post BM scene as it is today. Where this album shines is when they go away from that template into the more chaotic feel, or where they move away from Black Metal into a more alternative Post Punk sound. This is a very impressive album, but if the band push the less BM sound to the fore, i think they could achieve far more. 7/10

Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik - Hardanger (By Norse) [Paul Hutchings]

The Enslaved and Wardruna duo’s previous releases Skuggsjá and Hugsjá both dove deep into their homeland with a combination of traditional and non-traditional influences and native instruments all being used in the mix. Lying a few hours from their bands HQ, Hardanger is apparently mysterious, pure, and able to blow the minds of even the most experienced hikers and nature dwellers. It is also assumed to be the area in the Germanic tribe of the Harudes settled in ancient times, becoming the first Western Norwegians.

It's not a surprise then that this two track EP seeks to provide more about this magical place, with the title track celebrating the land’s history. Full of interesting percussion, traditional instrumentation and lines of melody that transport the listener to this magical location. It features guest appearances from Lindy-Fay Hella (Wardruna, Lindy-Fay Hella & Dei Farne) and Enslaved comrades Grutle Kjellson and Iver Sandøy.

Heim til Yggdrasil is a re-imagination of Enslaved’s Return To Yggdrasill and is dramatic and uplifting. It features the entire live band form the Hugsjá tour, with Silje Solberg on Hardanger fiddle, Iver Sandøy on drums/ vocals and Håkon Vinje on piano/ vocals) whilst Ice Dale plays acoustic guitar with Grutle Kjellson adding spoken word to Selvik’s vocals. It’s a passionate song that cannot fail to raise the spirits. A short nine-minutes, but sometimes quality overrides quantity. This is one of those times. 8/10

Extinction A.D. - Chaos, Collusion, Carnage & Propaganda (Unique Leader) [Richard Oliver]

Short, sharp and to the point are three ways to describe the new E.P. from New York hardcore thrashers Extinction A.D.. This is their first release of new music since their 2018 album Decimation Treaty and their first release for new label Unique Leader Records. With four songs and a total running time of just over 10 minutes this E.P. really wastes no time and kicks in faces from the moment you hit play. Opener Chaos is a brief but brutal mix of old school thrash and New York hardcore which takes no prisoners. Following that is Collusion which is more on the hardcore side of things with its chugging riffs and beatdown rhythms before things get thrashy again with Carnage which reeks of Slayer and is all the more glorious for it. Things come to a close with a cover of Propaganda originally released by Sepultura and it is a gnarly and faithful cover of the original. This is a lovely violent little E.P. from Extinction A.D. It comes in, smashes the place up and leaves before you know what has hit you. A crushing mix of old school thrash and New York hardcore that is designed purely for breaking faces. Nothing really original or innovative here but just some gloriously violent music. 8/10

The Three Tremors – Guardians Of The Void (Steel Cartel) [Simon Black]

This is a project that Frontiers Music in Italy are probably kicking themselves for not thinking of first, given that it’s right up their street, but no - Steel Cartel got there first. I didn’t hear the self-titled debut, so was quite keen to listen to this one given that anything with Ripper Owens usually well and truly delivers the goods (and check out his recent contribution to K.K.’s Priest if you don’t believe me). I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since his short-lived stint in Judas Priest in the late 90’s, where he did a damned fine job of keeping Rob Halford’s slippers warm for him. At that time he was always spectacular to watch live and I can’t help but think that if the songwriting of the K.K. album had landed with his Priest Jugulator debut, then this Tremors record might not even be around to review three decades later. The challenge for me is that neither Sean Peck or Harry Conklin have registered much on my radar to date and their voices aren’t quite as distinctive as Mr Owens’, even though he’s doing his best to share the workload and not hog the limelight, although damned fine singers they are in their own right.

Vocal ensemble projects in the Power Metal vein frequently border on the Operatic stylistically. Now by that I don’t mean the style of singing, but the tendency for the different voices to adopt different characters in the lyrical story during the verses and come together for the choruses, which is not the approach The Three Tremors take here in the main. Although some vocal lines are split between them in the verses, the vast majority are delivered in harmony together with each voice adopting a subtly different pitch or refrain - although Ripper tends to take the high end notes, because let’s face it most human beings can’t actually hit those notes with that kind of power and vibrato without rupturing something. All the guys have a great range and power and know what’s most suited to their styles, but the danger is without a bit of a wider segregation of duties you can’t always hear what everyone is contributing clearly.

Perhaps allowing the different players to showcase a bit more individually in the first half might have helped as with all the vast majority of the tracks belting along at the same style, pace and tempo the net effect is of one rather long song. That said, it’s a bloody good one, with some good song structures, excellent playing and infectious energy with the right balance of non-intrusive riffage to allow the voices to take centre stage, but with enough shredding and technical flourish in the instrumental sections to keep the attention focussed (I Can’t Be Stopped being a great example of good old fashioned Metal at its finest). When they do start to segregate more clearly with the more measured Frailty, then this triggers a marked improvement in the album as a whole whose back end is definitely more balanced, meatier and a better showcase that the more parallelised tracks near the front.

Lyrically it’s mostly classic Metal fantastical fare, but the more political Operation Neptune’s Spear takes things away from the usual fantastical in to the more historically relevant of the end of Osama Bin Laden. Although I’m not a fan of that sort of patriotic flag waving glorification of the military myself, it’s going to and well with any Iced Earth fans who are still loyal to the cause after Jon Schaffer’s fall from grace earlier this year. Lyrics notwithstanding though, it’s a brilliantly delivered performance from all involved. Although I’ve been quite critical on here, I’m still overwhelmingly positive at the end result, because quite frankly the vocal performances are so spectacular, the song writing is crisply by the book and the instrumental performances sharp and focused. It’s certainly good enough for me to go back and listen to the debut with the second half moving from good to great and saving# the day. 8/10

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