Find us on Facebook!

To keep updated like our page at:

Or on Twitter:

Or E-mail us at:

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Reviews: Manimal, Apollo Stands, Urban Primate, Signum Draconis (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Manimal - Armageddon (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

Samuel Nyman and company return with their fourth full length record Armageddon. So is it a world ending release? Well world ending may be a little bit of an over the top but these Swedish power metal veterans have definitely paid homage to their influences sounding like the darker speed metal styles of Mercyful Fate (Evil Soul and Master Of Pain) along with Judas Priest (the driving Forged In Metal). Nyman's theatrical histrionic voice is unleashed on album opener Burn In Hell as guitarist Henrik Stenroos peels off some melodic, fluid solos and leads while the rhythm section of Kenny Boufadene (Bass) and André Holmqvist (Drums) bring blistering speed to Burn In Hell, and some guts to the powerful title track.

Henrik is the main musical force behind Manimal and his songwriting is at its nadir here encapsulating the range between speed metal, power metal and classic heavy metal, the breezy melodies counteracted by darker heavier tones. More than just a power metal band across their previous three albums their sound has been refined into the heavy menagerie you hear on Armageddon. Slaves Of Babylon comes in with a more modern flavour even having some aggressive shouts, Chains Of Fury has the fist pumping mid-paced thump of Accept. Even when they explore more melodic textures on Path To The Unknown they counteract it with elements of fast paced (almost rapped) vocal delivery, reminding me a lot of Queensryche in it's shifting riff pattern. 

This fourth record is the culmination of Manimal's musical journey so far, an accomplished heavy metal album, that fuses anthemic choruses with a heavier style of power metal which deserves to be played through big speakers! No Bruce Willis needed, this is an Armageddon that doesn't need stopping. 8/10    

Apollo Stands - Interstellar (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

The third album from UK modern metal troop Apollo Stands. This five piece consisting of Alexei Swatman (Guitar/Vocals/Keys), Ry Hase (Lead Vocals), Olly Smith (Lead Guitar), Matt Hayward (Bass), and Edgar Taljaard (drums), play a style of music that draws its inspiration from various styles, there's doom, tech and metalcore, laced throughout the 7 songs on this album. From the swelling Insolarus synths and orchestrations that opens the record up, to the pumping synthwave meets hardcore of Synthetic, the Gothic Please Wait and the albums best song HiveInterstellar is an album that keeps itself in the modern tech/metalcore/nu-metal style but the use of the synths/keys make it a bit more interesting than the hundreds of bands also doing this style. Apollo Stands deliver what they do with tenacity and a expertise but unless electronically laced modern metalcore is your bag you'll likely overlook it. 6/10

Signum Draconis - The Divine Comedy: Inferno (Rockshots Records) [Simon Black]

I suppose it was inevitable that something like this would happen one day. The Italian branch of the Power Metal family has always had a grandiose and operatic tone, reflecting the musical landscape and heritage of the country but this one (and it’s one of three) is another level entirely. Based on Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s extended poetic opus from the middle ages, the band have chosen to tackle this epic across three separate concept records mirroring the structure of the original source material with this one coming in at a whopping hour and thirty six minutes for this first part of the triptych alone (which means a double CD if you go for the physical version).

What I have to ask is, should they?

Personally I think this is very brave thing to do and I wonder why the band did not at least attempt to test the waters with some kind of sampler EP before diving into such an epic piece of work. I am guessing here, but that the fact that they have a three album commitment from their label tells me all I need to know about the persuasiveness of guitarist and composer Oscar Grace. This is a monstrous undertaking for any band, let alone a new one and Grace has assembled an impressive array of guest cast of including an additional ten vocalist members and the input of the whole of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra and their Choir throughout for the not insignificant orchestrations. 

The whole piece has been written in its entirety and consequently I understand, but has had a rather long gestation period. Given the rich and lavish sounding production to go with all of those contributing bodies, this cannot have been a cheap undertaking. Given that both the production and performance standards are both top notch it’s clear that a huge amount of love an effort have gone into this, with cleverly crafted characterisation and a richness of musical skill in the instrumental arrangements that is quite frankly dizzying. To be honest the very dedicated Symphonic/Operatic niche of the Italian Power sub-genre are going to be letting out a little bit of wee when they hear this. Those are the positive aspects…

The negatives are is that its subject matter and delivery are very firmly in the classical heritage and therefore not particularly accessible to anyone outside of them, or the particular and very niche in-country fan base for this sort of thing. They are also going to struggle to win over a new audience, as neither of the singles Gate Of Hell nor Whirlwind of Lovers screams ‘radio / mosh pit friendly hit’. Both of them are lengthy, operatic and although emblematic of the majority of what you get on the record, are not the sort of thing to pull in a new listener who is not already steeped in this sort of thing. Add to this the fact that the core five musicians are unlikely to be able to bring ten supporting artistes, a choir and a full orchestra on tour with them as a new band, this feels like a studio project playing to a very specific fan base. 

Normally this sort of thing appeals to me, but even I am struggling to hang my hat on it, given that I’m not an aficionado of the source material and there’s no ‘everyman song on here to pull me in. Perhaps a more summarised version of the story would have worked a little better, as the slavish following to the lengthy source material, whilst impressive is really hard going even to ears normally attuned to this sort of material. Nevertheless, points have to be awarded for effort, but some editing and focus is needed moving forwards. 6/10

Urban Primate – Desolation (Self Released) [Simon Black]

This Danish five piece have been around on and off since 2010, but having taken an not insignificant eight year hiatus are only getting around to their debut album now, although there have been some EP’s under their belt during their original run, with three members of the original line up still remaining in play. Musically this is hard and heavy stuff, with plenty of Stoner and Doom tropes and no small amount of the heavier end of grunge in the mix, which the band are completely open about - meaning it’s positively dripping in atmosphere and mood. Those influences means that heavy and solid rhythmic ruffing are the backbone of their sound, but rather than starting slow and building, these songs tend to pile right in from the opening bars and keep relentlessly delivering the message. That said, tracks like Lesson are fast and furious and move the energy levels from contained and relentless to in your face and consequently are going to have a broader more general metal fan appeal as a result.

There’s some quite nifty technical displays as well – not showy, flashy or frivolous, but some quite mean beat pauses and time shifts that break up the slab-like riffage and grab the listener’s attention just at the point when you think you know what’s coming next. Again, Lesson is a master class in this technique, but current single Lies does this well to boot. The attention is really held well by frontman Benjamin Larsen, whose voice has huge power and presence and grabs you from the get go, even though he’s not sliding up and down the range too much. He doesn’t need to – he just turns on the power and the whole song structure jumps up a groove without needing to thrash his larynx with crazy key changes, although the really subtle hints that he absolutely could do this if he wanted to at little inflection points throughout indicate that this is a singer with some incredible control – a word that probably summarises the whole of this record to be honest. All of this is sitting in an incredibly well recorded and mastered production that shows time, thought and a damned good ear from the mixing desk.

Given that they’ve had a long gestation period, they’ve kept the duration to what it needs to be and focussed on delivering a bunch of songs that scream what they are about without outstaying their welcome. Neither are the individual track run times too long, with only a couple creeping into the six minute bracket. This hints to me that this is a band who have wisely chosen from a wider arsenal of material and focussed on making their debut impactful. That it certainly is… 8/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment