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Monday 15 November 2021

Reviews: Tharn, Outrun The Sunlight, Tower, Dead Vessels (Reviews By Alex Swift & Matt Bladen)

THARN – Collisions (Surviving Sounds/Trepanation Recordings) [Alex Swift]

Consisting of four songs, all over five minutes long, THARN do not thrive on simplicity or succinctness, employing a mixture of primeval aggression and cerebral melody for an experience which is as beautiful as it is cathartic. The duo have not existed for long, forming just before the onset of the virus, with their songs capturing feelings of hopelessness and desperation in the face of catastrophe. The textured, rich, and atmospheric psychedelic textures across these compositions lend themselves wonderfully to this sentiment, while the aggressive moments are reminiscent of the more experimental side of post-hardcore, in a contrast that is both fascinating and perplexing. 

Listening to Collisions all the way through (I’m not one to gate keep how others listen to music, but this is a record you should listen to in its entirety) can be a strange experience, yet also a highly emotional one if you open yourself up to what its trying to do. Its one to listen to in that quiet space between melancholy and contentment, perhaps at night, when your head is free of the worldly distractions that threaten to tear us away from our love of music, and our appreciation of the subtle. That’s certainly the context which suited me finest and allowed this album to wash over me and reach into the deepest part of my imagination, to have an effect that was as inspiring as it was emotive. 

That said, if I may raise one last point about my taste for this type of music, I feel I should point out that like a lot of music of an atmospheric and sensual nature, I am unlikely to find myself returning to this unless I am in that very particular headspace. Don’t take that as a criticism – plenty of great music has that effect. Indeed, its testament to the uniqueness of this work that its not something to be enjoyed every day, but something to be listened to and savoured in those ‘moments’ when its needed to both soothe and stimulate us. 8/10

Tower - Shock To The System (Cruz Del Sur) [Matt Bladen]

Finally! New York heavy metal enthusiasts Tower return with their first full length since 2016. They have however dropped an EP back on 2019 but this feels like a long time coming since I bought their debut on a whim in a record store (remember them?) back in 2016. Hooked on the cover which was just the band huddled together, there seemed to be something dangerous about the band. Then I saw what record label it was I had a feeling that it would be brimming with traditional heavy metal and on first listen I was right. What followed was many spins indulging in the fast, furious and fabulous classic sounding heaviness from Tower. So you could say that Shock The System is anticipated. That anticipation has been very much been rewarded on the first two tracks alone.

Blood Moon is a snorting, almost punk-like opener that gives you a sense of what to expect. The dual axe attack of Zak Penley and James Danzo in gloriously filthy interplay as Sarabeth Linden's gritty vocal style conjures some mystical imagery. On Prince Of Darkness, Linden shows more versatility on a track that sounds like an ode to Ozzy both lyrically and musically with it's mid-paced beginning ramping up towards a big climatic finale. It's a set piece of the record coming only as the second offering but they manage to reset with instrumental blast Metatron before diving back into some apocalyptic proto-thrash on Running Out Of Time, the new rhythm section of drummer James Jones and bassist Jack Florio shifting things with rapidity.

This seems to be a trademark of Tower's sound as their NWOTHM style is full of biting distortion and reckless abandon, it's a New York sound built on the streets and full of attitude, owing as much to Mercyful Fate as they do to Anthrax or The Ramones. For every track that has a lot of pace and speed, there's some that come as more expansive with a few changes on pace and tone making for a more mature offering than their debut. Shock The System is a perfect follow up to their debut, packed with as much speed metal madness, occult leanings and general disenfranchisement.

Outrun The Sunlight – A Vast Field Of Silence (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Although concept albums are nothing new in the field of progressive music, instrumental concept albums are perhaps more of a rarity. That’s not to say you can’t tell a story through music alone – different rhythms, atmospheres and moods exist precisely to move the listener through different frames of perception. However, without the element of lyricism, everything is far more abstract and open to interpretation. So, how do Outrun The Sunlight achieve that cinematic, journeying, and conceptual effect on their fourth album? The answer to that is to base the entire album around one melody. I realise that might not sound that impressive - after all, many bands spend their entire careers trying to make the songs sound distinct from each other for fear that they will be considered formulaic. However, this experiment is navigated with skill and dexterity. 

Opener, Awareness introduces us to the central melody – a spiralling yet hauntingly memorable piece that rings out on the electric guitar with a sense of importance. This accompanied by groove-laden rhythmic touches, with aids the track in its sense of constantly welling scope and ambition. Emerald Joy continue son that ambient, peaceful note, bearing just enough weight in its djent-inspired backing instrumentals to carry some heft and make for an impressionistic listening experience. This album is perhaps at its finest though when its not working to be brash and instead exceeding through its delicacy - this is most pronounced on the acoustic piece Luminous Stillness. This is a fascinating example of music that takes you to another world, without having to use a single word to do so. The melody here is essentially the same as the one which winds its way through the rest of the record, yet this is where it feels the most uplifting, the most resonant and the most beautiful - to me this song perfectly encapsulates what Outrun The Sunlight were trying to achieve with this record. 

There are other affecting moments here - Dreamless Chaos is absolutely haunting while Zero Dimension is theatrical and grandiose in its ambitions. These pieces prove what you can do with just one sequence of notes, spelling out the art of making music unique and interesting in exquisite detail. A Vast Field Of Silence is at its best when its employing a varied palate of instrumentals and playing techniques to make for a genuinely heart wrenching listen, and at its worst in moments where it wanders into overly schmaltzy, sentimental, or self-indulgent territory as is the danger with instrumental music. Experimenting with the idea of building an entire album around one melody is certainly brave and I’d say that for the most part this made for an engaging listen, even if my attention wasn’t fully captured from start to finish 6/10

Dead Vessels - Lies Told By Thieves (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

A band who declare themselves to be "kind, generous souls with low expectations", referring to giving this album away for pay what you want on their bandcamp. Dead Vessels' EP came about after the months of frustrations due to lockdown, the Brummies managed to put down three tracks that showcases their "unique combination of riffs and shouting" as they put it. "Riffs and shouting" pretty much covers it, as this four piece put sludge, drone, shoegaze and doom into a blender and then throw that blender into a Birmingham canal to see if it floats.

The three tracks clock in at over 7 minutes apiece and similarly to Cardiff's own Tides Of Sulfur there's a rage that bubbles below the surface on Lies Told By Thieves, a speech by Richard Nixon leading into title track which is the longest one here, builds a oppressive pace of doom, shifting into some leads and shoegazing melodies Tricky Dick's Watergate confession interspersed throughout. Followed up by Lessons Of Darkness which has a claustrophobic, atmospheric drone sound (inspired by a Werner Hertzog film). The EP closes out with Like Drowning In Tar which takes another left-field turn into post-hardcore squealing. Lies Told By Thieves is an introduction to the multi-faceted, extreme heaviness of Dead Vessels, if it's anywhere near as powerful live as it is on this EP it'll be terrifying. 6/10

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