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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

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