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Wednesday 22 December 2021

Reviews: Agarthic, The Drippers, Land Of Gypsies, Age Of Wolves (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Agarthic - The Inner Side (Frontiers Music Srl) [Simon Black]

Sometimes, the Frontiers factory-like production line of bespoke projects produces some absolute gems. This rather well-crafted symphonic metal product revolves around bassist Mattia Gosetti and vocalist Valeriano De Zordo, with Frontiers line producer Aldo Lonobile on the desk. A word about this though. Often with this label, such is the throughput going through the house team, that sometimes the output can be a bit formulaic, particularly if the musicians involved are locked down and contributing from different continents, but this project – perhaps because everyone is based in Italy, seems to feel like a much more carefully crafted and consistent project. 

Much of Frontiers output is about relaunching moments in time for musicians with stalled careers, or super group projects, but this feels like a proper band entity probably because the remaining positions in the lineup aren’t the usual house session players. Jesai Fiabane on guitars and Denis Novello on drums complement Gosetti and De Zordo well and this cohesive band feel is an important part of why this record works well.

It’s a concept piece exploring some of the more obscure myths and legends around hollow earth theory and such ilk, but as always these story arcs are rarely easily to unpick for a reviewer. De Zordo waxes lyrical about the joys in un-peeling these story layers with a CD booklet in one hand, but with review audio streams you don’t get that luxury, but either way it doesn’t mar the enjoyment that comes from listening to a bunch of technically gifted musicians crafting well-structured music that keeps on giving the more you listen to it.

That said, the piece would have benefited from a little tightening up and does feel like it’s running out of steam towards the end, with the strong and distinctive songs that open the piece losing momentum as the album reaches it’s inevitable, lengthy ten minute finale piece. That said, it does benefit from repeat spins, because the building musical emblems and refrains become more obvious after the first pass, so this is not an album for the faint of heart surface skimmer, but it does reward your patience at unpicking the patience and craft that went into making it. 8/10

The Drippers - Scandinavian Thunder (The Sign Records) [Matt Bladen]

Filthy, furious, garage rocking from Scandinavia. The trio of Viktor Skatt (vocals/bass), William Dickborn (vocals/guitar) and drummer Niclas Kristoferson play high voltage rock n roll drawing from the Detroit scene that spawned The Stooges and MC5 along with bands such as The Hellacopters who are the precursors to bands such as The Drippers. Scandinavian Thunder is their second album, written and recorded during the pandemic, it was a way for the band to once again show their incendiary live sound, but obviously transferred to vinyl. Their debut Action Rock was well reviewed here, and this second record is equally as good. 

Distorted fuzz riffage on No Stars is met by the punky Time For Some Action and Shine No Light where the trio blast away with a real revelry. This record again was produced, recorded and mixed by Scandinavian production legend Tomas Skogsberg and he has made sure that the ferocity of the bands live show is translated well here, making you feel like the band are playing in your front room, obviously if your stereo plays it loud enough. It's supposed to feel dirty and raw, tracks such as Rollin' Aces give you that feeling of being in a sweaty club. A massive punch of Scandinavian Thunder will make you want a tonne of beers and just rock out! 7/10

Land Of Gypsies - Land of Gypsies (Frontiers Music Srl) [Simon Black]

I have to be brutally honest – despite being a long term fan of Californian also-ran rard Rockers Great White in 2012, the point when Vocalist Terry Ilous joined was the point that I stopped caring. The Elation album did not really register, because frankly without Jack Russell’s distinctive, soulful voice, this just wasn’t the band I knew or loved. I was sad to hear of the appalling treatment Ilous received from Great White though, because no-one should be fired from a band like that, but to be honest the car crash in slow motion had been happening for a long time and that means people inevitably get hurt. Sadly in this business usually this means the hired hands. So with the knowledge that Land Of Gypsies is a project spawned by Ilous, producer/bassist Fabrizio Grossi and guitarist Serge Simic this moved from being involved in an act circling the drain to being something of a supergroup.

It doesn’t disappoint.

I haven’t heard the infamous solo album Ilous released that was the trigger for him getting the boot from Great White, but this is a world away from the frankly stale material that came from the GW camp during his brief tenure. I guess the adage that you can’t make a silk purse our of a sow’s ear holds true, as this record is the product of a core of experienced and highly skilled hard rock veterans firing on all cylinders with total artistic and creative freedom. Musically this is gutsy, well-crafted hard rock, with a gutsy and deep bluesy edge to it. Being only a four piece with a single guitar, this is quite stripped back, meaning every note and instrument sounds put loud and clear, so yes, the justifiable comparisons to Bad Company meets 70’s Whitesnake with one axe are not too far away ... or indeed Supersonic Blues Machine given they share half of their lineup. Musically Grossi and Simic manage to sound like there’s way more than just the two of them, and not by overdubbing the hell out of their work, but careful and precise, yet fluid musical delivery and song craft.

The difference in Ilous’s performance here and what I had heard from Great White is a country mile apart. Here he is confident, in charge and totally demanding your attention. He holds the vocal lines with power, prestige and real gutsy class, and before I know it I am three spins into this ballsy debut. You would not know it was the same man, There are some stomping rocking tracks here just screaming for a live audience – Get It Right, Shattered and Trouble are just top notch crowd pleasers, so I really hope that they tour the ass of this record and that this doesn’t get relegated to a lockdown studio project, as for me this has serious legs. 8/10

Age Of Wolves - Age Of Wolves (Pitch Black Records) [Matt Bladen]

Brought together by some of the most experienced members of the Canadian heavy scene, Age Of  Wolves is the debut album from the band of the same name. What we have here is a thundering mixture of heavy rock and hard hitting metal, bringing together classic rock, stoner, doom and traditional metal. Imagine Thin Lizzy jamming with bands such as Monster Magnet and you'll get an idea of what the record sounds like, concrete riffs put with big choruses. It's all pretty standard fare but played well. Michael Edwards has a great voice, whiskey soaked and smoky, he easily shifts from chest beating rockers like Overlord to the more bluesy tones of Grease Monkey And The Monkey Wrench

The bottom end of Dwayne LaFramboise (drums) and Ray Solomon (bass) bring a thick syrupy sound to Temple Bar, a throb to My Love Ends All, along with a punchiness to the thumping We Rise which feels like a track by Down (hopefully without the Anselmo racism). Rounding out this foursome is Al 'Yeti' Bones who is the six stringer that has wide ranging style to his playing, having big riffs interspersed by more artistic flourishes. While recording this album they have also been featured in a documentary that will be on Amazon Prime. Age Of Wolves is a big stomping heavy record worth a place on your listening pile. 7/10

Reviews: The Murder Of My Sweet, Cap Outrun, Zelbo, Usurper (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Murder Of My Sweet – A Gentleman’s Legacy (Frontiers Music Srl)

Right, just hang in there while I explain this. The Murder Of My Sweet are no strangers to a concept record but their sixth studio album A Gentleman’s Legacy is the sequel to a concept album A Gentleman’s Hurricane by the band Mind’s Eye. The link between the two is producer/drummer Daniel Flores who is the main creative force behind Mind’s Eye and The Murder Of My Sweet. So I suggest going back and listening to the Mind’s Eye record if you want to have a hope of understanding what the heck is going on story wise (or read the press release where everything is explained). But lets’ move away from that and concentrate on this album. 

Again Daniel Flores’ has crafted a dramatic theatrical record that skillfully blends prog, symphonic and power metal, Flores influenced heavily by Queensryche and Genesis on the original album so trying to recapture that here, as the lyrics delivered brilliantly once again by vocalist Angelica Rylin as the new female protagonist of the continuing story line. Clocking in at just over an hour this is prog metal record, the songs undulate and shift in tone throughout. The addition of experienced prog bassist Patrick Janson and Frontiers Music house guitarist Mike Palace upping the musical power of this record, Palace especially was fan of Mind’s Eye so jumped at the chance to play on this sequel. 

The album was true labour of love, taking longer than any previous TMOMS record but the resulting completed record makes for a thrilling listen that is worthy follow up to the Mind’s Eye original. Fans of both bands will enjoy this record due to the cinematic music, the expansive vocals and conceptual story. Whether they will revisit the story again is up in the air but A Gentleman’s Legacy is no difficult follow up. 8/10

Cap Outrun - High On Deception (Frontiers Music Srl)

Despite having one of the worst album covers I've ever seen, Cap Outrun's latest album is a quality slice of Swedish melodic prog rock. Formed in 2008 they went on hiatus shortly after however they have reformed to write their debut full length album. Still led by guitarist Andrée Theander and keyboardist Erik Wiss, Cap Outrun have a style not far off bands such as Boston and Toto, utilising AOR, Prog and other crossover/fusion elements, High On Deception is a record that will move between melodic rockers like the title track and piano led ballads such as Disaster Mindset where they also have a lot of technical elements that are taken from bands such as Dream Theater. 

Theander has brought in some quality musicans for this album adding ex-Creye drummer Carl Tudén and ex-Constancia bassist Linus Abrahamson for the bottom end while behind the mic are the smooth as silk vocals of Outloud's Chandler Mogel, once again showing his vocal versatility. What Cap Outrun is the fusion between melodic touches and technical dexterity, take a song such as Shadow On The Wall where it's a powerful piano based ballad but with some excellent guitar playing. Now there are probably too many ballads on the record, much of it sat in a slower pace but Chandler's voice is suited that, personally I like the jazz influenced stuff such as My Destination as it has massive Toto vibes. In fact I'd say if you are a fan of the silky smoothness of Toto you'll find a lot to like about Cap Outrun. A pleasing return. 7/10

Zelbo – In My Dreams (Frontiers Music Srl)

In My Dreams is packed full of keyboard heavy Scandi AOR. A Norwigiean act the Zelbo have musical links to bands like Europe, Work Of Art and Da Vinci, the last one due to Zelbo being the solo project of Da Vinci keyboardist Dag Selboskar. He has been tinkling the ivories in AOR bands since the 80’s so he’s got bags of experience, putting all of this into the slick melodic rock that features on this record. Now it’s nothing you wouldn’t have heard before if you’re an AOR fanboy/or girl but it’s delivered with a heavily buffed shine. 

The musicians Dag has assembled all giving 100% here from the soulful vocals to the deft rhythm section and the soaring guitar solos on songs such as Wild, Young And Free. Now it’s not all ballad based, thankfully as things get rocky moving into the style of Europe on Next Flight To Venus and also there’s a big whack of Journey, in fact Fortune & Fame steals the riff from Don't Stop Believing, but there are a lot of tracks that are ready to bother melodic/classic rock radio stations that will lap up these mid-80’s sounds. In My Dreams is Scandi AOR in its simplest form but with a heavily experienced band who were there the first time adding to the authenticity. 6/10

Usurper – Master Of The Realm (Self Released)

Do you like Iron Maiden? Usurper like Iron Maiden, so much so that it seems they’re trying to take their crown (get it? Usurper). Coming from Newcastle Upon Tyne, this Geordie band are clad in leather, chains and probably have every NWOBHM album released, even the obscure ones on cassette. It certainly seems that they have nailed their colours to the mast of the NWOBHM with their debut album Master Of The Realm. The first two tracks alone bring everything you’d want from the genre, War Of The Machines is a theatrical chugging anthem, that sets the tone for fantasy/historical lyrics, while Freerunner is speedy riffer with a repetitive chorus, the sort meant to be sung with fist in the air and a beer in the hand. 

What I fully appreciate here are Paul Atkinson’s vocals which are better than many NWOTHM band, though he does sound more like European screamers such as Michael Kiske than Bruce Dickinson, just to have a good singer fronting a traditional heavy metal band is a win. On the The Devil & The Traveler he manipulates his voice for both parts. The production on the album too feels tough but authentic to the style, there’s clearly been a lot of time and work put into this record to make it a much more superior offering to the EP. 

The twin axe attack of Ian Fisher and Liam Kennedy is prominent throughout, on Sailing At Full Mast (ooh err missus) especially while bassist Joe Summerfield and drummer Den Taylor flex their muscle as the driving force beneath the guitar riffs on Witchfinder. Master Of The Realm is a really strong debut from Usurper, with all the Maidenisms you'd want and much more it's a great listen. 8/10

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Reviews: Wicked Sensation, Wombbath, Gore Brigade, Flying Guillotines (Reviews By Simon Black, Richard Oliver, Matt Cook & Matt Bladen)

Wicked Sensation – Outbreak (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Simon Black]

The one thing I love about doing this reviewing lark is the ability for something to come completely from left field and surprise me. Now, I often pick up things from the melodic, power, progressive and symphonic ends of the metal spectrum (plus combinations thereof), as it seems not many of us across the two sites I contribute to seem to want to, despite this being quite a commercial viable corner of the market. The reality is that this is the style of music that turned my head back in the 80’s and if it’s done right in the here and now, still does so. This is just such an example…

The danger with a lot of melodic metal/hard rock is that too many of the acts are either trying to recapture their long gone heyday, or sound like they were actually all alive back then and this often sticks out as a forced attempt to sound retro, without actually capturing the zeitgeist of it. When it works just right, it’s because the style and heritage dates back thirty years, but the song-writing, delivery and performances take into account all those decades in between. 

That’s one of the reasons I have become more and more appreciative of the modern hard rock and metal scene, because it’s unashamedly carrying in the same musical spirit whilst trying to forget all about the all the back combing and hairspray, because musically the love of the scene has not faltered over time and still has a growing audience. The band are (mostly) German, which makes Wicked Sensation a bit of an oddity, as this is unashamed full-throttle stadium rock from a bygone age, but with the freshness of delivery that 2021 audiences demand.

For a start there’s no retro embarrassing lyrical content, with the choice of subject matter being all about the Covid outbreak that what we have all lived through for the last three years. OK, they’ve stepped back from the sensitivities slightly by adding a conceptual science fiction allegorical story element to it (in this case a ‘time walker’ being sent back to this point in history), but the sensitivity is appropriate, not to mention subtly wielded political commentary in tracks like Face Reality, which rather directly illustrates the dangers of what happens when public health issues become politicized. It’s also an incredibly catchy and well-crafted number and one of the stand out moments on the record. 

There’s plenty of fist-pumping anthemic material on here – Jaded Lady opens like it was still 1987 and it’s infectious enough to get past the risk of the lyrics being a bit too retro, but this is a surface issue only, and when that’s your weakest track, then it gives you a sense of the overall quality here. The highlights include Light In The Dark, which is catchy as hell and anthemic to boot, with the added bonus of a guest spot from Gus G., but also sees vocalist David Reece push his style into a more varied approach which works well. Equally catchy, but a little more moody is Child Of Sorrows, but to be honest I can’t find a single track to bitch about, which is just what you need after a tough working day. 9/10

Wombbath - Agma (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Richard Oliver]

If you are a fan of Swedish death metal then no doubt Wombbath are a band well known to you but if you are just a casual listener then they are probably a band that has not fallen onto your radar despite being an established band in the Swedeath scene since 1990. The band split in 1995 but reformed in 2014 and have been active since. There is only one original member left in bassist Håkan Stuvemark but Wombbath has managed to maintain a solid lineup and have released an impressive amount of material over the last four years.

Agma is the sixth full length album from Wombbath and their second for Transcending Obscurity Records. It is a very hefty album with a running time of nearly 73 minutes and sixteen songs. It is maybe a bit overlong for a death metal album but to be fair Wombbath manage to maintain the quality from start to finish and provide enough variation in their sound to maintain interest throughout. You get gnarly filth riddled blasts of old school death metal such as The Law Of Everything, Blindly They Follow and Divine Pain to slightly slower and more atmospheric songs like The Seventh Seal, In Decay They Shall All Fester and Departure From The Light but you also get more experimental ones such as Misantropi Och Förakt, Breathe In The Flames and The Age Of Death which incorporate elements such as clean vocals, choirs and strings bringing forth a far more expansive, epic and at times melodic feel.

If you are a fan of Swedish death metal and all things HM-2 then Agma is an album that you should definitely get your ears around. Despite its seemingly excessive length this is an absolutely killer piece of death metal which mixes the violence of the genre with creepy melodies, dark atmosphere and epic stylings. It is the boldest album the band have done to date and I would say it is also the strongest since their 1993 debut Internal Caustic Torments. Being released right at the end of the year this might get overlooked by some but hopefully that won’t be the case as this is one of the strongest death metal releases of 2021. 8/10

Gore Brigade - Gore Brigade (Redefining Darkness) [Matt Cook]

With song titles such as Show Me The Gore, A Wretched Taste and The Rot Becomes You, death metallers Gore Brigade declare loud and clear their intentions. The latest self-titled EP (Redefining Darkness) is the canvas with which the band brings life to those words in only six songs (14:38 of total runtime) of scintillating, acerbic venom. Featured within are heavy quick-hitters (March Of The Gore Brigade, World Wide Death) and brutal instrumentation (A Wretched Taste). Show Me The Gore piqued my interest with its titular anthemic-yet-unfortunately-underutilized-chant that, if drawn out, would make for a killer live experience. Gore Brigade isn’t a pushover, however, because the guitars drip with thrashy intentions and the drums are consistently pulverized with putrid abandon. You wanted gore, you got it. 7/10

Flying Guillotines - Olympus (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Not Greek but German, Flying Guillotines' debut album is however heavily inspired by Greek mythology. Every song is named after a God from Greek mythology, thus why the album title is called Olympus. It's a loose concept record around each God telling their story while atop Mount Olympus. Flying Guillotines are a stoner metal band and have previously released three EP's their last two in 2018. After a long tumultuous journey they have finally finished their debut full length. 

They are now also a three piece consisting of Marcus Engel (guitar/vocals), Tamino Kirchner (drums/vocals) and Sean Elleman (bass/vocals), however they have guest appearances from guitarist Arved Wehling and Paul Graffenberger who also recorded/mixed/mastered the album. So with the loose concept surrounding it you may be thinking Flying Guillotines will head into the theatrical but they are all about heavy stoner riffs, as soon as the lilting title track sets the tone for the record you get lots of them on first song proper Zeus

Influence wise I'd say there's nods to The Sword and Mastodon on this record as the stoner riffing is often wrapped up in some prog. Hera brings some groove along with guest vocals from Alia Spaceface of Travelin' Jack, while the nastier Hades features Irish singer Sean Loftus. It's the Mastodon influence that really shines through on this record though, making for a more entertaining listen than the Atlanta bands album from earlier this year. There's a lot of groove, some great vocals and progressive tendencies on this debut, delivering a real treat to fans of stoner metal with a conceptual sound. 7/10

Monday 20 December 2021

Reviews: Solarus, Memory Garden, Serpent Lord (GR), Kemerov (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

 Solarus – A Dance With Tragedy (Self Released)

I first heard Sarah Dee’s vocals featured on numerous albums by Canadian prog/power metal band Borealis. It was enough for me to start following her own band Solarus who have had the majority of their current line up since 2018. Dee’s voice is a brilliant fit, powerful to classically soar but also with some pop flourishes to mean it’s not just an exercise in technique, but you can feel her voice deliver these lyrics. Their previous albums Reunion and Darkest Days, set them on a path of making symphonic metal music that has much stronger power metal flourishes than many of the symphonic bands. A Dance With Tragedy can be seen as both a continuation and an evolution of the Solarus style. 

The guitar playing of founding member Lucas McArthur and Troy Longe, is a bit meatier than you’d expect, while also relying on lot of  dexterous virtuosity in the solos that stand as examples of the power metal sound. New drummer Chris Demelo is the unstoppable percussion battery on songs such as Shades Of Truth while the bass of Daniel Gebzcynski sets about galloping whenever possible. Orchestral swells make tracks such as The Keeper feel more like Nightwish as Sarah really moves into the soprano range. While The Wandering gives us chugging riff for some excellent lead playing to come on the top. On the title track she is joined by Vicky Psarakis of The Agonist her growls in unison with Sarah’s excellent clean vocal. The ballad Promise Me is also a brilliant showing of Sarah’s voice feeling very much like those early Nightwish records. 

Having been built from a studio project it’s with this third record that Solarus finally feel like the band they have been striving toward being, despite losing their rhythm section just before the pandemic, they have managed to make A Dance With Tragedy an impressive record for fans of power/prog/symphonic metal. Wonderfully epic work. 9/10

Memory Garden – 1349 (No Remorse Records)
Having played numerous festivals and shows around the world, Memory Garden have been flying their Swedish doom flag since way back in 1992 during the doom metal boom years. They have previously released a myriad of records on Metal Blade Records and Vic Records but 1349 is their first offering from Athens based trad/doom label No Remorse Records. Their sixth album overall, and their first new music since 2013. 1349 is a concept album that is based around the black plague, so subtly hinting at the pandemic we are in now but from historical point of view. Because it’s conceptual the record can fully use Memory Garden’s style of powerdoom, where the slow crushing riffs are counterpointed with melodic choruses and searing leads. 

For example Rivers Run Black does this very well, piling on the slow moodiness but also having some dual leads, a trick repeated on The Flagellants where the middle section is driven by trad metal influences but the verses are throbbing bass driven doom riffs from Johan Wängdahl and Andreas Mäkelä, who play bass and rhythm/classical guitars on the record. This track, along with a few others are replete with choirs to add to the emotive vocals of founding member Stefan Berglund. Lead guitarist Simon Johansson does a stellar job here, bringing some excellent lead playing to this record even heading into some Iron Maiden/Blind Guardian realms on The Messenger where Josefin Bäck adds some haunting vocals for the first time since their 1993 demo. She isn’t the only guest as Wolf’s Niklas Stålvind appears on The Empiric, which feels a lot like Queensryche, as Göran "Freddy" Fredrikson provides Medieval instruments for a more cinematic feel. 

1349 does have a huge scope, helped by Dan Swanö’s mixing, there is more than a nod to Nightingale, possibly due to drummer/pianist Tom Björn’s involvement with that band. The penultimate offering Blood Moon is definitely one of the best feeling like My Dying Bride, 1349 comes as a powerful return from Memory Garden. 8/10

Serpent Lord (GR) – Apocrypha (From The Vaults)

Occult influenced heavy metal from Thessaloniki as Serpent Lord (GR), return with the follow up to their 2018 debut record Towards The Damned. Here they seem to have upped the histrionics of their sound moving away from the trad metal sound in to a more muscular style of progressive power metal meets thrash, favoured by Nevermore and Iced Earth, in fact former Iced Earth vocalist Stu Block lends his pipes to Divine Plane

Recorded without a drummer I believe, the record takes much faster aggressive sound to the speakers, guitarists George Terzitanos and Lazaros Bouroutzoglou laying down thrash styled riffs, that come distorted and down tuned, but also bring plenty of twin guitar harmonies. It’s underpinned by the shifting bass rhythms of Konstantinos Sotirelis, meaning that there’s plenty of the start-stop style that Nevermore do so well. The comparisons to this legendary band don’t stop here though as vocalist Marios Arikas does his best to utilize that Warrel Dane vocal range. 

Apocrypha (biblical books received by the early Church as part of the Greek version of the Old Testament, but not included in the Hebrew Bible – Ecumenical Ed) relies on its occult sound a lot with tracks such as Inner Darkness drenched in Gothic moodiness, while there’s still a strong classic metal vein to Humanity’s End. Improving on their debut tenfold, Serpent Lord (GR) need to now find a drummer and get out spreading their gospel. Until then though this second album will be a real winner for fans of the bands mentioned earlier in the review. 8/10

Kemerov - Anti Hero (Self Released) 

Defiantly walking the Left Hand Path, Serres, Central Macedonia, based Death N Rollers Kemerov have brought together another 39 minutes of vicious death metal that draws heavily from Entombed. This is full HM-2 nastiness, lashings of biting guitar tone, thumping grooves and gutturals, the comic style of the album cover may make you think this record will be a more melodic affair but no. Anti-Hero is pretty much anti-everything. Taking shots at religion, radicalism and the world today, these ideologies are held to account across 9 full on death n roll ragers. 

Guitarist Giorgos Lezkidis, is clearly obsessed with making his guitar sound like a bloody buzz saw, especially in the riffs, the only cleaner sounds coming from the solos on tracks such as Anti-Hero Tights among many others that get that little flash of guitars solo. The rhythm section of drummer Tasos and bassist Spiros Diamantidis are abusive to their instruments, the production making everything sound nice and raw on Nail. Rounding out this ferocious foursome is shouter Matt Karampalios, he barks and snarls like an animal.

Kemerov set a rapid, punk driven pace but when they slow down for tracks like Channeling Hatred, there is still an aggression, a torrid, bubbling aggression that infuses the doom sound of this track. It’s not long before we are brought back to blasting death n roll. The perfect record to get rid of your family at Xmas, when you’ve had enough. Be an Anti-Hero and play loud. 7/10

Friday 17 December 2021

Reviews: Phobetor, Karybdis, Devil Electric, Jackal's Backbone (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Phobetor - Through Deepest Fears And Darkest Minds (Black Jasper Records)

As the year draws to a close, there are still plenty of excellent records being released. We've come across loads of albums that just miss out on being included on AOTY lists (which is why we don't do them any more). One that may make some AOTY lists is the second album from Midlands based extreme metal group Phobetor. Following on from their 2020 debut, where Paul Scoble offered up that the band play a broad spectrum of music within the 'death metal' template, on this second full length they have moved closer towards what the idea for the band really is. Through Deepest Fears And Darkest Minds is a expansive, impressive offering that uses a blackened death metal groove as its base but fleshes things out with an experimental style. 

The band not held back by conventions or stylistic boundaries. Mixed and mastered by Krysthla's Neil Hudson, the record sounds gargantuan, retaining the industrial harshness of the guitars from their debut but increasing the scope and effect of the music, espey through headphones. With an ongoing theme of dread filled dreams and nightmare visions the angst and discomfort is palpable here, from the layered dissonant guitars to the bottom end that creeps under your skin, the record feels ominous and intimidating. One Last Breath helps you understand the Phobetor style with raging black metal that gets plenty of fret slides and groove, before it also has some doom elements to it, Screaming Silence is a bit more direct with Marc Dyos' blastbeats leading the charge as Dredgewood's bass and Ross White's guitar playing bring a thrashing. 

On the last album the vocals of Debora Conserva were singled out as being a great part of Phobetor's sound and yet again they make a mark here, rasping and raging on Your Empty Shadow while also able to move into deep grunts on Within Death's Embrace. An album with plenty of extreme metal impressiveness throughout Through Deepest Fears And Darkest Minds, adds more heaviness to your festive season. 8/10  

Karybdis - Order & Chaos EP (Self Released)

Order & Chaos EP came about when British melodeath/groove metal band were thinking about basing their next set of recordings around Gustav Holst's The Planets Suite. Now this isn't a new idea as for years Mars: Bringer Of War has been one of the most used intros in the metal sphere, most famously used by Diamond Head at the beginning of Am I Evil? So when a band have used strings and orchestrations to augment their sound for years, it seems a perfect fit that they would base their music around a classical composer. Drummer Mitch McGugan says that this time they wanted to "push the boat out" adding more orchestral elements as well as brass and choirs. 

The Moirai is a great example of this the symphonic sound cutting through the thunderously heavy and speed driven riffs, while the title track is a fully string driven piece. Mitch is responsible for the string arrangements here while production is taken by new guitarist Dave Klussmann, who is no amateur when it comes to the producer's chair. More melody comes through Maja Valles where the clean guitars sit at odds with the muted bass riffing of Jay Gladwin. It's vocalist Rich O'Connell though who makes this album, giving the most accomplished performance of his career here. Order & Chaos is the first new music from Karybdis since 2018 and it has them reaching into the next stage of their life as a band. 7/10    

Devil Electric - Godless (Kozmik Artifactz)

Aussie doom foursome Devil Electric return with yet more witchy, riffy magik. Their 2017 debut set out the store with an album that saw frontwoman Pierina O'Brien decked out like a ghostly Carmen Sandiego. It was full of occult leaning psych doom as Pierina's sublime hauntingly soulful vocals weaved spells over the throbbing voodoo rhythms of Tom Hulse (bass) and Mark van de Beek (drums) with the band is rounded out by guitarist Christos Athanasias bringing riffs and yet more riffs. On this second album he does it again, chugging on the strutting Mindset, adding those lush doom phrases on All My Friends Move Like The Night

Godless refines the sound from the previous album and EP in to a more structured occult doom rock sound, deeply owing to the occult and retro themes. Devil Electric are attempting to sound like the numerous European bands doing this sound and putting their name in the same conversation as Blues Pills, Lucifer and Blood Ceremony. We go from moodiness to wild abandon on Your Guess Is As Good As Mine while I Will Be Forgotten is crafted around fuzzy riffs and echoed vocals. There's swirling heavy doom on the title track and the last song The Cave strips things back at the beginning before launching into some more thundering doom riffs. The Antipodean mystics of Devil Electric have carved out more fully charged occult rock. 8/10

Jackals Backbone - Red Mist Descending (Self Released)

Hmm, when I'm told that a band is for fans of Arch Enemy, Nervosa and Sepultura, then I expect them to deliver expertly performed melodic death metal that has lots of technical elements and aggressive vocals. Well Beccatron certainly has that, her voice is deep gnarly and squawks over the songs. Unfortunately musically Jackals Backbone seem either to be too ambitious making for songs such as Evade The Throes which don't know what they want to be. Or you get tracks that are just basic Melodeath fodder such as Release The Kraken. The folksy feel on Desolate Embers makes for a song that comes straight out of the nu-metal era and Blackout has a decent solo section I guess. But I found this record just feeling like it promises more than it delivers, it's let down to by the muddy production. Red Mist Descending is an album that does have some ambition but at times I'm not sure whether Jackals Backbone have decided what kind of metal band they want to be. Hopefully they can build on this. 6/10

Reviews: Funeral, Ten56, Winterburn, Devil Cross (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Zak Skane, Simon Black & Richard Oliver)

Funeral - Praesentialis In Aeternum (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

If you are into doom you should be well aware of who Funeral are, the band have been incredibly important in the development of doom, in particular of funeral doom the sub-genre that carries their name. However, if you are new to the groundbreaking Norwegian band, they formed in 1991 and in the thirty years since they formed have released 5 albums before Praesentialis In Aeternum. Their debut, Tragedies was released in 1995, 6 years later in 2001 Funeral released In Fields Of Pestilent Grief. Five years after In Fields Of Pestilent Grief came From These Wounds, and two years later in 2008 they released As The Light Does The Shadow, four years later Funeral released their last album in 2012’s Oratorium. So the near decade the band have taken to produce Praesentialis In Aeternum is the longest gap between albums in the bands career.

A lot of the large gaps between albums have been attributed to Funeral’s lineup which never seems to be constant. Their lineup has changed many times, sometimes for tragic reasons as two of the bands long-term members have died. The centre of Funeral is founder and only constant member Anders Eek on drums, on Praesentialis In Aeternum Eek is joined by Erlend Nybø on guitars, Magnus Tveiten on guitars, Sindre Nedland on vocals, Rune Gandrud on bass and Andrè Aaslie on orchestration. The album also features the talents of Lars Are Nedland of Borknagar guesting on the track Ånd.

Funeral’s sound is monumentally huge funeral doom (which isn’t that surprising considering the name) with a little bit of death doom for good measure. The album also features Orchestral elements like lush strings and huge sounding brass instruments. The classical elements are sometimes featured on their own, such as at the beginning of opening track Ånd, or in most of the tracks where a short blast of horns and strings is used to punctuate some of the songs. These orchestral elements are also layered in with the heavy guitar, bass and drums, to get an effect that is huge, sweeping and deeply affecting, it’s a similar effect to the recent Triptykon Live album recorded with the Metropole Orkest. One of the most effective places this is used is on the track Erindring II - Fall.

The main feel on the album is funeral doom, there is a crushing sadness that runs through a lot of the material, giving this the mournful feel that I usually associate with funeral doom, however there is a definite death/doom sense to some of the material; an aggressiveness and purposeful drive that is more death/doom than funeral doom. This aggressiveness is apparent on the track Her til evig tid (Ånd Epilog), and also on the song Dvelen, which has some very nastily effective death metal vocals.

One of the main things that stays with you after listening to this album are the beautifully somber and melancholy tunes and melodies. While listening to this I have found myself humming tunes from this album, a couple of listens and they’re in your head. One of the best ways Funeral do brilliantly sad melodies is with guitar harmonies, in a few places this is reminiscent of Warning (considering the ages of these bands is quite possible the lush guitar harmonies on Warnings material is very reminiscent of Funeral, whoever inspired who, the harmonies are wonderful). In some places on the album the melodies sound a lot older than on the rest of the album. The final song on the album, Samarithan feature melodies that sound fairly Baroque, closer to the kind of melodies that Medieval black metal bands are producing at the moment. It’s a little different to the rest of the album, but I found it a beautiful way to bring the album to its close.

Although all the elements of this album I have already talked about are fantastic, the thing that really stands out are the vocals. Lead singer Sindre Nedland has an amazing voice, deep, clear and sonorous, and his death vocals are good as well, but what really makes the vocals on this album stand out are the backing vocals. All through this album there is one main voice (Sindre Nedland), but backed up by layered vocals that sound close to a Male Voice Choir. When these link up the combination is so good; it feels massive, operatic and stirring. The vocals on this album are some of the best I’ve ever heard and make this already outstanding album sublime.

Praesentialis In Aeternum is a spectacular piece of doom. The album feels huge, in some ways it is huge as it comes in at an hour and twenty seven minutes long, which surprised me when I looked, as the album feels about an hour long, nothing drags, you get lost in it. Melodically this is stunning, one of the best doom albums I’ve ever heard, so many great, sad tunes, backed up by brilliant musicianship, and a great sense of dynamics. If you then add the fantastic orchestral elements and breathtaking vocals and this is easily the best doom studio album I’ve heard this year, or any other year for that matter! If you like doom, do yourself a favour and get this album. 9/10

Ten56 – Downer Part1 (Out Of Line Music) [Zak Skane]

Ten56 are a new Metal/Deathcore act hailing from France. Since the band have dropped their singles Boy and Kimo they have been featured in reaction videos from trending Youtubers like Nik Nocturnal and HardcoreKeem. This album opens with Exit Bag, just like a brick to the face the pounding guitars that are tuned to low 0C, complemented by poly rhythmic drum patterns whilst it builds up to a chunky down beaten verse in which the singer snarls his way through. Followed by some modern style rapping and some electronic elements, this band knows how to make an opening statement. 

The momentum is followed by Diazepam, which carries on the bludgeoning grooves with the drum production accenting each groove and complementing the arrangements flawlessly whilst adding some Korn styled ambient leads. I have got to complement the anxiety inducing breakdown at the end of the track, that will make the hairs of a mole rat stand on end. Sick Dog takes a more of a trip down the more Trap metal route in reference to artist like Scarelord and Ghostemane with the combinations of classic 808 sounding electric drums to the mumbled rapping to the sledgehammer riff drops. 

Boy takes the chilling aspect of the band up to ten with lyrical themes depicting murder and Kimo shows off the bands more electronic elements starting off the experimental industrial drum intro to the electronic infused verses. Sandwiched between this is a guttural infused breakdowns and eerie soundscapes that are have been pinched from a Resident Evil scene this leaves the band on cynical high note. I love the direction that this band have took their sound to, with utilising the classic elements of Nu-metal and melding it with the modern Death/metalcore and rap sound it’s like playing a well re-mastered version of your favourite video from your childhood. 

The only concern that I have for this album is the intense volume that this album is mastered, there are times where the listening can be quite fatiguing and can sometime discredit the heavy sections of their songs. 9/10.

Winterburn – Ivory Towers (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Winterburn have the virtue of being the first band I have ever reviewed originating from the United Arab Emirates, which let’s face it is not a corner of the world one would naturally associate with the rock and metal genre. I love it when this happens, because it lifts the lid on a scene that generally I know nothing about and, if I am lucky, opens the lid on a whole sub-set of new music to explore. 

One of the negatives more often than not though is the frustration of finding a band who know what they like and who can write and deliver the songs and sounds but fall foul of being based in a country where this type of music doesn’t come through the studio doors every day and consequently the production and engineering department then drop the ball because they simply don’t come from a metal (or at least hard rock) background. This just shows you how completely wrong I can be, as in this respect, Winterburn have been very well served. Listening to this I thought that this was an experienced sounding band hailing from a European base with the production sounding rich, fat, crisp and clearly delivered by someone who clearly knows what they are doing on the desk.

Winterburn in fact centers around the incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist and song writer Naser Mestarihi, who also takes up vocal duties - as well as proving himself somewhat formidable in the shredding department. In fact every department, as the only other musician involved is Suicidal Tendencies sticks man Thomas Pridgen, who as one would expect delivers a thundering performance.

Mestarihi rather blows one away, as his song-writing has a deep and broad hard rock with twinges of traditional metal vein roaring through it and both his guitar and vocal performances are top notch. It is genuinely a surprise to find that with the exception of Pridgen this is all his work, although I understand that a touring outfit has been mobilized - assuming that we ever get out of this damned pandemic. This is the kind of hard rocking groove that’s going to have a broad appeal and I truly cannot find a song on here that does not work. 

It’s mature, well written and avoids all the annoying clichés that so often plague bands from countries with small scenes in this genre. Just to prove his skills, even when he steps back from the mike (which by the way he has a great voice for with a clean, strong and broad range) things can get experimental and stay interesting – again it’s genuinely impressive that the more technical songs like Calijam are just coming from one highly skilled player and a drummer. 8/10

Devil Cross - This Mortal Coil (Fighter Records) [Richard Oliver]

This Mortal Coil is the debut album from US & Canada based band Devil Cross. Devil Cross are another addition to the new wave of traditional heavy metal movement with a sound that is heavily influenced by the NWOBHM and other old school traditional metal acts from the 1980’s. The band is a trio made up of Jo Steel (Ice War, Aphrodite, Cannibal) on vocals and bass, Brennan Whitworth (Aphrodite, Cannibal) on guitars and Trevor William Church (Beastmaker) on drums. This album offers little in the way of surprises being the denim and leather influenced, fist-pumping traditional heavy metal that so many bands are throwing back to these days. 

The band obviously know their craft as the album is chock full of heavy metal anthems such as Warrior Deep Inside, Burn The Witch and Dig Your Own Grave which demand horns are raised and fists are banged. There is also a fair chunk of punk influence especially during the speedy Crush, Kill. The band are all excellent musicians as well with plenty of killer riffs, ripping solos and galloping drums but unfortunately all these positives are offset by the absolutely dreadful vocals from Jo Steel. 

Jo tries his best but a good singer he really is not and it would have been a much better idea to hire a stronger singer for the band and let Jo stick to bass duties. Although there are points where the vocals are competent there are also points where the vocals made me wince with how out of tune they were. This Mortal Coil is a solid trad metal throwback with some great songs and excellent musicianship but just let down by some absolutely awful vocals. 6/10

Thursday 16 December 2021

Reviews: Agnes Vein, Mercury X, Sorcerer, Archives (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Agnes Vein - Deathcall (Venerate Records)

When a band cites their influences as Celtic Frost, Candlemass and Neurosis, I have to sit up and listen, luckily I have already heard recordings by Thessaloniki based band Agnes Vein so I sort of knew what to expect from them, but Deathcall typifies a long drawn out process that has led to the record. Multiple tours, records and support slots with Electric Wizard, Primordial and Rotting Christ have meant that line ups have changed and this record has taken longer than billed but Agnes Vein look set on bursting out of the Greek Underground with their angry, torrential, ear piercing fusion of black and doom metal that has an oppressive post-metal atmosphere and sludge heaviness. 

The title track drags us down into the depths of despair with the first real sludge offering. The slow build from the rhythm section of bassist Lefteris K and drummer Foivos brings us juddering towards the final eruption of Sakis Kioses' cleaner guitar finale, this shimmering, repeating guitar sound continues on the cathartic Vultures Hymn (Praise Bounteous) again a track that comes one of creeping out of your speakers, it's a got that post-black metal maniacal feel to it. Both of these tracks are heavier riffers that draw you into Agnes Vein's world of musical unease. 

Thirdly on this album, we get Sovereign Star which is a lumbering slab of classic doom metal which amps up the psych towards the climax. You can really hear the Candlemass influence on Sovereign Star while They Who Neared The Portal is reminiscent of Tom G. Warrior and Celtic Frost, Sakis' vocals changing from a Satanic growl to a harrowing howl across the 7 minute run time. At this point we are being brought towards the final two songs on the record, up first is Rara Null a grinding death metal thumper with doom influences that bangs through your speakers like a lead hammer. Much like the rest of this album Agnes Vein show they are masters of song construction, the build and release on offer here, means that Deathcall is one you will want to answer! 9/10  

Mercury X - Imprisoned (Frontiers Music Srl)

Mercury X formed in 2013 but they take their sound from 80's progressive metal, full of European power metal influences. Retaining the founding membership of guitarist/lead vocalist/violinist Martin Björklund, bassist Alfonso Flores, guitarist Jonas Vedin, and drummer/lead vocalist Denis Diaz, Imprisoned came about when the band members started writing the 20 minute title track, their intention was to release it as an EP but they are a prog band so, they couldn't stop there though, as with all prog bands the inspiration and musical dexterity just manifested itself in to four additional songs which make for a 50 odd minute album of five tracks. 

Until The Break Of Day is our first foray into the major label debut from Mercury X and it begins with heavy riffs, orchestral swells and classical flourishes. If bands like Dream Theater, Symphony X, Queensryche and even fellow Swedes Pain Of Salvation. Built around an anthemic chorus the song switches between slower versus and anthemic choruses throughout very much making for a punchy opening number. 

Second we get The Light In Your Eyes which brings jazzier, proggier timing along with galloping power metal as Lonely ups the AOR melodies of bands like Circus Maximus. Of course the real centerpiece of the record is the 20 minute title track but the rest of the album doesn't on anyway feel tacked on. It's Mercury X giving us a strong overview of what they do as a band and if you're a lover of classic prog metal then Imprisoned will be playing all through your festive season. 7/10

Sorcerer - Reverence (Metal Blade Records)

For a lot of bands during the pandemic, the covers record is quite an easy way of releasing material that doesn't have to be written from scratch, rehearsed, changed etc. These songs already exist so bands just have to learn them and add their own style to them. Following on from their last album in 2020, Swedish doom band Sorcerer have recently released this four track EP that features covers from four of rock/metals most recognisable bands. There is of course some Sabbath, but not the Sabbath you'd expect as they play When Death Calls from The Headless Cross, a record I consider to be one of the best post Ozzy, Sabbath records. 

The Ozman does cometh on Waiting For Darkness where the drama of the track is brought through, though vocalist Anders Enberg. He is a much better vocalist than Osbourne though. He shows this throughout the record as he is able to emultes singers such as Dio and Biff Byford on Gates Of Babylon and Crusader which are the other two songs on this EP. Sorcerer have very much added their own sound to these classics, but they never stray to far. Not often a covers EP gets a high score here but Sorcerer are great band and the bands they are covering are probably their biggest influences. 8/10

Archives - Decay (Self Released)

We used to have a guy here who would take nearly all of the metalcore, unfortunately that didn't work out for many reasons so we have to now share out these bands between all of us here at MoM. Now metalcore is not usually my bag, but when checking out some of these metalcore bands, there have been a few that have impressed. With that in mind I fired up the debut full length from Norn Iron heavies Archives who seem to play a style that is bang up to date. Adam Holland and lead guitarist Stewart Ferguson provide that dual vocal metalcore sound, Holland with the snarls and growls while Ferguson provides the cleans as well as melodic lead guitars. 

The band state influences such as Parkway Drive and Architects, with both of these bands looming large over the album; the cleaner, melodic choruses of the title track or the quieter parts of Unity, are often a side to the thunderously heavy grooves from Samuel Irwin (rhythm guitar), Paul Douglas (bass) and drummer Daryl Montgomery on tracks like Blueprints and Parmaviolence where the riffs are nastier. Archives are another addition to the burgeoning British metalcore scene. 7/10  

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Reviews: Pyrexia, Atlas, Rising Insane, Final Coil (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Matt Cook)

Pyrexia - Gravitas Maximus (Unique Leader Records) [Matt Bladen]

Having been something I've been dealing with recently due to Covid, I understand how horrible pyrexia (abnormal elevation of body temperature) can be, however this Pyrexia make horrible music, a brutal death metal sound that they have been championing since 1990. Continually associated with and compared to fellow New Yorkers Suffocation, Pyrexia have had ups and downs like any bands but have been steadily releasing records under the Unique Leader banner since 2007. Gravitas Maximus is their fourth on the label (their sixth in total) and it's 24 minute headbanger that will certainly to appeal to anyone that loves their death metal, fast, furious and ferocious. 

Chris Basile continues to lead the band forward in their third decade his savage guitar playing coming in unison with Danny Trapani. The duo make for a surprisingly technical sound, where the short run times back in tonnes of shifts, bassist Shaun Kennedy adding the low gut punches. Check out how often Apostles To The Grave changes in just 2:52. This pace could not be even imagined without the astounding full force drumming style of John Glassbrenner, who must have fucked his ankles with some of these double kicks. Grinding grooves such as The Day The Earth Shook (Survival Of The Fittest) and Rule Of 2 and outright flesh rippers such as the Pawn To King and the title track, will still bring comparisons to Suffocation but with the band going full force and vocalist Jim Beach, grunting down the mic, you get nearly 25 minutes of brutal death metal which is no bad thing. 8/10  

Atlas - Ukko (Long Branch Records) [Matt Bladen]

Finland is so often associated with black and power metal, but on their second full length offering Finns Atlas are continuing their own unique style of music they dub Northcore. Based in modern metalcore but with all manner of additions Ukko is a record that had me pricking up my ears despite metalcore not always being my number one listening choice. Inspired by Finnish folk music and poetry, the record explores death, healing rebirth and faith using a technically proficient style of metal that brings fantastic eardrum rattling percussion, broad soundscapes, expressive roared vocals and thundering heavy riffs. There are also acoustic segues in Susi and on the fireside balladry of Lehto. Waves of atmospherics on the title track and smaller interludes such as Joki that lead into the breakdown driven numbers like the extremely heavy Uhri or the more melodic final number Pohjannaula where there is a feeling of bands such as Monuments or Architects, adding dreamy cleans and fluid solos. With lyrics in both Finnish and English Atlas offer something a little unique with their brand of 'Northcore'. Worth experiencing at least once. 7/10 

Rising Insane - Afterglow (Long Branch Records) [Matt Cook]

Formulaic oftentimes comes off as a slight or a knock against a creator in all different disciplines. In the case of Rising Insane, it's more of a tip of the hat, especially because the German five-piece infused recent release, Afterglow, with a throaty dose of by-the-book metalcore. Frontman Aaron Steineker knows his way around both early 2000s pop punk and 2010s hardcore punk with notes being hit with both abrasive ferocity and pleasant tonality. In shades of 'PMA'-core progenitors The Ghost Inside, Rising Insane make certain to include positive, encouraging and raw lyrics, much to the delight of a 2021's ear. 8/10

Final Coil - Somnambulant II (Wormholedeath Records) [Matt Cook]

The biggest problem I had with Final Coil’s Somnambulant II was the cantankerous way in which the vocals seemed to ineffectively overlap. It consistently felt like Phil Stiles and Richard Awdry were competing with one another for airtime, never achieving the intended harmonic balance and summoning a maelstrom of noise. An additional ailment reared its ugly head in the form of programmed drums. Not something entirely unheard of, on this album it severely damaged the overall quality. Not only did it come off as belonging on a more synthwave/electronic-style album, but it also opened the door for a cacophony of industrial- and miscellaneous-themed percussion and sound effects that did much more bad than good. 5/10

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Reviews: Eldovar, Ross Jennings, Opera Diabolicus, Blind Summit (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Elder/Kadavar - Eldovar: A Story Of Darkness & Light (Robotor Records)

Germans Kadavar and Americans Elder have forged their own separate, psychedelic paths throughout their careers, the former establishing themselves as one the top bands in the European retro scene, the latter meanwhile creating themselves a niche as a band who stand above so many others with their windscreen atmospheric sound. When Elder moved to Germany it was probably a given that there would be some collaboration between the bands. 

Due to lockdown this has finally come to fruition, creating Eldovar: A Story Of Darkness & Light. And plenty of darkness and light there is, Raspletin for example explores the instrumental, intergalactic soundscapes of Elder in full flight while Blood Moon Knight feels as if it could be Pink Floyd from Atom Heart Mother as the ringing psych explorations change into stoner riffing. Kicking off with 9 minutes of wonderment called From Deep Within, the collaboration pays dividends right from the first few minutes as the repeating arpeggios and proto-metal segue into the ethereal Elder sound. A counterpoint to this is In The Way and El Matador both of which are more introspective numbers that sit along with the interlude Rebirth Of The Twins as the mid-part of this expansive, expressive record. 

We go from here to space rock of Raspletin, which I mentioned earlier, as the record pretty much climaxes with penultimate track Blood Moon Night, which is 11 minutes of brilliance both bands, like two brightly burning comets colliding in wonderful unison. 9/10

Ross Jennings - A Shadow Of My Future Self (Graphite Records)

Haken and Novena frontman Ross Jennings is never one to rest on his laurels. As well as singing/songwriting for both bands mentioned, along with a new project that also features Nick Di'Virgilio and Neal Morse. He has also done numerous guest vocals for other bands, including Ayreon. However he has never released a solo record until now. A Shadow Of My Future Self is his debut solo record and it of course sees Jennings utilising his incredibly versatile, melodic vocal style brilliantly but rather than just it being a 'singers' album, there is a keen understanding of musicanship, shown in the past through his writing with Haken, but here the songs delve into numerous genres, but never feeling forced or odd. 

When the cheesy 80's area rock on tracks like Rocket Science are counterpointed with bluesier tones from Young At Heart or the propulsive prog of The Apologist. Jennings presents us with an album that has been sculpted perfectly to show a different side to this man who is intrinsically linked with prog and metal. On this much more rock based effort Jennings not only sings (of course) but plays all of the guitar as well, with the exception of lap steel. He's a great guitar player too, not overly flashy but with enough layering between acoustic and electric for lush melodies Year feeling emotive with the repeating riff, Feelings for example is great use of both vocals and guitars working together for a huge anthemic sound. While Third Degree is more stripped back with a luscious strings, coming through the background. 

It's not just Jennings though as he has Nathan Navarro on bass, Simen Sandnes on drums and Vikram Shankar on piano/keys, as well as lap steel, sax (Grounded), brass and flute for a wide, cinematic feel. The overall sound I get with A Shadow Of My Future Self is a sterling amalgamation of Yes, Radiohead, Coldplay and also a myriad of singer songwriters. Outside of the Haken mothership Jennings shows why he is so vital to that band on A Shadow Of My Future Self. 8/10

Opera Diabolicus - Death On A Pale Horse (Season Of Mist)

Essentially a two piece of David Grimoire (guitar, keys) and Adrian de Crow (bass), their previous album was released in 2012 so there has been a long gap between the releases, however using the time given to them by the pandemic, the duo have settled down to record their sophomore record. They aren't alone either as this record features vocals from Mats Leven (Skyblood, Trans Siberian Orchestra & ex-Candlemass), drums (and vocals on one track) from Snowy Shaw (ex-King Diamond/ex-Mercyful Fate) in every song along with some other special guests brought in to make this a massive horror-themed, metal concept record.

The major influence here is King Diamond/Mercyful Fate, Mats Leven's voice as expressive and wide as the King himself, especially on the dramatic Second Coming which features some guest guitar solos from Andy La Rocque (King Diamond) and Michael Denner (ex-Mercyful Fate/King Diamond). It's the first fully cinematic sounding number on this record bolstered by Madeleine Liljestam's (Eleine) soaring vocals. Being a concept record it's overblown and often favours the more theatrical elements to musical technicality. A case in point is Siren's Call which maintains a slow, methodical pace that gets your head nodding but doesn't keep the attention too well.

The problem is that since Opera Diabolicus's previous albums, bands such as Ghost and Hell have risen to a higher level with this kind of music, it does feel that no matter how hard they try Opera Diabolicus may not ever step out of the shadow of a band such as Therion who have been performing music of this grandeur since the 90's. About halfway through I sort of lost interest in Death On A Pale Horse, you might not but for me it was a bit too ambitious for what it actually delivered. 5/10

Blind Summit – Hell And Heresy (Self Released)

Manchester modern technical metal band Blind Summit, unleash their latest EP Hell And Heresy. It is the final part of their EP campaign and they have amped up the progressive and djent influences for this one, determined to make a lasting impression on the UK metal scene. This seven track offering gets things started with War Born, a track built around palm muted guitar and bass riffs, atmospheric synths sitting just behind the emotive vocals of Alexandra ‘Ali’ Angelini. The synths are key to the atmospheric soundscapes on this record, tracks such as Heresy serve as little interludes to keep the flow going shifting into songs such as the beginning of Like Water (based on the Bruce Lee quote). 

Like Water is probably one of the strongest numbers on the EP, a brilliant fusion of chunky riffs, haunting dreamscapes and angsty vocals that all leads towards a colossal breakdown before the last chorus. Like Water is almost the opening for the more progressive second part of the album, the structure and feel of the songs changing to one that is more introspective but also more aggressive when the polyrhythms are brought out. The theme of this EP is everyday slavery, due to struggles and hardships all of us face, the lyrics a kind of catharsis for Ali, set against the duality of the band’s music. I’ve Been To Hell And Here Is Worse being particularly poignant. 

The band refer to this as a new beginning and the latter part of this EP displays a real evolution from just Djent adding post-rock instrumentals, industrial throbs and even a bit of radio baiting on final track Pontos. It’s hard these days to be described as having afresh sound, but Blind Summit sound fresh, and hungry. Let’s hope they stay that way on a future full length. 7/10

Monday 13 December 2021

Reviews: Aquilus, Dark Sky Burial, Smith/Kotzen, Cutterred Flesh (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Richard Oliver, Alexander Hay & Zak Skane)

Aquilus - Bellum I (Blood Music) [Paul Scoble]

Aquilus clearly like to take their time making music, it seems the bands only member, Waldorf does not like being rushed. Waldorf started making music under the Aquilus moniker in 2004, he released the bands first material in demo form in 2005 and then again in 2006. A year later Waldorf released the bands first EP in 2007’s Arbor, Aquilus’s first album came 4 years later in 2011 with the release of Griseus. The Aquilus camp has been quiet since then, and many had thought that Waldorf had finished releasing music under the Aquilus name, until a few months ago when it was announced that a new album, Bellum I, was to be released a decade after the band's first album. 

Waldorf takes care of the Vocals, guitar, bass drums and keyboards on Bellum I, but Aquitus’s sound mixes Metal and in some places Black Metal with lots of Classical and Folk influences, so Waldorf has some help from some very talented friends. Extra percussion was supplied by Zebadee Scott, Violins by Hayley Anderson and Troy Schafer, Operatic Vocals by Sasha Chaply and the wonderfully titled Fipple Flutes by Sara Orania.

The album is bookended by two instrumentals; The Night Winds Of Avila and Empyreal Nightsky, both of which feature florid, romantic piano. The outro, Empyreal Nightsky is softer and quieter with a lot of atmospheric keyboard swells, The Night Winds Of Avila is a more dramatic affair, which in places is quite reminiscent of silent era film music, it paints pictures in your mind of moustache twirling bad guys tying heroines to train lines. Most of rest of the material on the album is a mix of atmospheric metal, black metal, classical and folk. Into Wooded Hollows is dramatic keyboard heavy mid-paced black metal, with softer piano led interludes. The song mixes black metal riffs and guitar melodies with lush strings giving the song a sweeping, expansive quality that is quite similar to Skyforest, a band who were probably inspired by Aquilus’s older work. 

The Silent Passing is, counter intuitively probably the most extreme and aggressive song on Bellum I. It’s driving and purposeful, mixing fast blasting lack metal with slow and very heavy doomy riffs. A couple of track on Bellum I are very reminiscent of the material on Emperor’s 1998 album Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. Eternal Unrest and in particular Lucille's Gate use keyboards in a very similar way to how Emperor knit the keyboard and guitar riffs together. Lucille’s Gate has a similar feel to The Loss And Curse Of Reverence.

Bellum I is a great album, filled with sweeping romantic piano, huge expansive black metal and so many great tunes and melodies. The album does have a fair number of piano led interludes that break up the flow of the heavier material, but overall this a very enjoyable album filled with dramatic sturm and drang, an interesting mix of different styles that takes the listener on a great journey. 7/10

Dark Sky Burial - Omnis Cum In Tenebris Praesertim Vita Laboret (Extrinsic Recordings) [Richard Oliver]

Omnis Cum In Tenebris Praesertim Vita Laboret is the fourth album by Dark Sky Burial which is one of the many musical outlets for the legendary Shane Embury (Napalm Death, Lock Up, Brujeria, Venomous Concept amongst countless others). It is the fourth and final album in a quadrilogy of releases which started with De Omnibus Dubitandum Est in April 2020. The album title translates to “Life Is One Long Struggle In The Dark” and these four albums have been very much moulded by Shane’s own struggles over the past two years. Musically this is far removed from the main bands that Shane is involved in (you won’t find a trace of extreme metal, hardcore punk or grindcore here) being a mix of dark ambient soundscapes, industrial noise and electronica. I’ll fully admit that this music is way out of my comfort zone and not something I would generally listen to but my opinion was if this has come from the mind of Shane Embury then it has to be worth checking out. 

This album very much sounds like it could be a soundtrack to a movie whilst in reality it is the soundtrack to Shane’s own mental state and his stress with dealing with events in his own personal life. You get pieces which are barren, atmospheric and bleak such as Necromanteion and Nekyia as well as more electronica inspired ones such as the glitchy Mind Rat and the pounding industrial of Flesh Altar. The highlight is album closer The Heart Warrior which whilst still retaining its moments of dread feels like a far more positive piece of music in comparison to what has come before it. Whilst this is not the style of music I’m used to or most suited to, I can’t deny that this is an enjoyable album. Being drawn to dark sounds, the atmosphere alone had my rapt attention and this is eight songs of bleak yet cinematic electronic music. Perfectly suited for a dreary winters day and just shows that no matter what style of music he composes and performs, Shane Embury is just another class of musician. 7/10

Smith/Kotzen – Better Days EP (BMG) [Alexander Hay]

Side Projects: Who, at one point or another, has not wanted to spread their wings, reach for the sky and fly to pastures new? Cliches aside, this also overlooks the fact that humans can't fly. But some of them can play guitar, like Iron Maiden ledge Adrian Smith, who's decided to give this side project lark a go with Richie Kotzen, formerly of Poison, Mr Big and so on. Their new EP, Better Days, follows on from their full length from earlier this year, with four tracks and a heavy AOR/blues vibe. Look at them, on the record's cover, leaning with their guitars on a blue vintage muscle car. It just SCREAMS synergy. What results is pleasant, competent and full of hard work. Solos, chords and riffs are dealt with the sort of intricacy you normally get with anally retentive Swiss watch makers. And they work together well, sharing the mic when they're not throttling their guitars like unwanted turkeys.

Quite how two guitarists, a rather temperamental and territorial breed, seem to go so well together is a mystery, but it works. Still, even after a few listens, the overall vibe is inoffensive and mild, the kind of hard rock that gets played on Radio 2 on Saturday nights. Too heavy and old school for the norms, too tuneful and well mannered for the spikies, it feels more like a really skilled jam session we've just barged into. Even the guest appearance by Mike Portnoy (once of Dream Theater) seems a bit casual or ad hoc, like that time Marilyn turned up at the Live Aid recording, and wouldn't go unless they let him sing something. It is, then, what it is, which is OK. 6/10

Cutterred Flesh – Sharing Is Caring (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Zak Skane]

Hailing from the Czech Republic utilising mood changes, moving tempo changes and deprive lyrics, Cutterred Flesh have given birth to their album Sharing Is Caring. This album comes straight in with a melodic riff layered with an up tempo beat, at first glaze it sounds like something that a melodic hardcore band like Counterparts would do but with more cynical tones. After a few seconds it builds up into this chaotic drop with the layers of guitar riffs complementing them each other like a two-headed dragon. Jiri’s vocals sound dark and beastly whilst cutting through apocalyptic arrangement. The track swings from chaotic atmospheric waltz to chunky grooves effortlessly with the electronic breaks, it does give this bands sound a unique twist. 

Black Aurora brings those dark sounds from the opening track and turning it up to ten with the eerie lullaby intro to the demonic sounding leads. The drums performed with razor sharp precision helps to cut through the mix of chonky guitars. Where the Flash Stinks provides some gothic melancholy vibes with it’s clean ambient guitar intros and their slow burning choruses reminiscing on bands like Insomnium and Paradise Lost. Good Boy and The Mystery Of The Black Hen shows the bands more brutal death metal side with the guitar tone sounding like a chainsaw cutting through a thick steak, especially when those guitars are locked in with the drums it just bludgeons you to death. Amused By The Tenacity Of A Dying Whore and Knife Is Not The Enemy shows the bands more technical death metal side with taking inspiration from bands like Death and Nile mixed in with Slam bands like Ingested and Spite. 

Overall this was a great listen, the guitars sound huge, the drums sounded like a machine gunner with anger issues and the vocals sounded beastly. The band have captured all sides of the death metal spectrum really well, the only thing I would say is that they could of incorporated more of the elements from their opening song Vibrio Vulnificus which incorporates to the electronic and melodic elements a bit more of the songs to sculpt a more unique sound. 7/10.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Reviews: Deliberate Miscarriage, Imperialist, Abscession, Genocide Pact (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Deliberate Miscarriage - Mortuary Melodies (Self Released)

Yeah, I know. That name right? But hey it's gruesome death metal, calling your band the Fluff Kittens doesn't really work (though I'd pay to see it). Hailing from South Wales Deliberate Miscarriage are a two piece consisting of vocalist/bassist Charlie Rogers (ex-Sodomized Cadaver) and guitarist Adam Duffield (Blind Divide). They are joined on this record by special guest drummer Lynn Jeffs of Ingested, making for a nasty, unholy trio ready to unleash their gore soaked death. Consisting of all of the songs from their previous EP's, as well as 7 additional slabs of death and along with a Pestilence cover. 

This is 14 tracks of vicious, flesh peeling death, with a sick sense of humour and a style that will appeal to fans of Cannibal Corpse and the Almighty Benton himself. Mortuary Melodies is the debut full length and while the demos set out their stall as a blasting, gnarly death metal band, it's the production of Nico Beninato (Ingested, Unbounded Terror) that really breathes new life into these songs. We dive straight into the pools of entrails with Splattered Toddlers the riffage meaty and persistent, before it shifts after the first verse, highlighting the technicality of the band. Yes friends behind this gore soaked facade, beats the heart of a technical death metal band. Just check out the nifty basswork at the back of on Fowl So Foul. Or the numerous times things go off in another direction riff-wise all the while the band maintaining their lust for horrific lyrical content delivered with a knowing smile.   

Speaking of lyrics it is also great to hear the vocals, so many death bands rely solely on just incomprehensible grunting, here you can hear every gruesome word that is being growled at you. Bringing in Lynn behind the kit also reaps massive rewards, as he's a beast, adding his volatile yet focussed style, to make these songs much more impressive than on the Demo EPs. With some hefty grooves on Gutted With A Butter Knife (which sounds painful), and Masochistic Masturbation (which also sounds painful). There's also some outright aggression in the form of Sodium Laureth Sulfate Asphyxiation and Intestines In The Mudguards amongst many other blood splattered treats. Playing death metal at its most horrific, brutal but also strangely accessible too. Deliberate Miscarriage have carved out an album that would soundtrack a Jeffrey Dahmer dinner party. 8/10

Imperialist - Zenith (Transcending Obscurity Records)

Are we alone in the universe? It's an age old question but one that may never be answered. However if Cali band Imperialist have anything to do with it, they will make sure that any aliens that visit us will love extreme metal. Following up their excellent 2018 release Cipher the proponents of sci-fi black metal Imperialist come back with their second full length album. Owing their style to Dissection, Vector and Immortal, Imperialist play a rampaging, thrashy style of black metal that brings some more progressive leanings too, the songs becoming longer and more expressive as riff upon riff are built up on songs such as He Who Mastered Shapes and Majesty Of The Void where the extended runtimes are used to fully explore the science fiction based lyrical content, adding cinematic vistas to the already harsh black metal soundscapes. 

The excellent lead guitar interplay between Sergio Soto and Bryant Quinones gives this record it's precision riffage, focussed and lethal throughout, as Sergio also squawks and screams about the mysteries of the universe. Not to be outplayed drummer Rod Quinones provides explosive percussion battery as Joshua Alvarez's bass cuts through the more expressive leads with full on lightspeed gallops. While Cipher was the band establishing their sound, Zenith is Imperialist, legitimizing it with a type of mechanised musical muscle that shines through on tracks such as Terminal Odyssey. If we aren't alone in the universe then Imperialist are determined to wake up any life on other planets with Zenith no matter if they are hostile or not. 8/10

Abscession - Rot Of Ages (Transcending Obscurity Records)

Whenever you need your death metal fix Transcending Obscurity Records will have you covered. This time they are giving us some grinding HM-2 Swedeath from Abscession. Rat King Crawl is this trio's second album their first coming in 2015. On this follow up they have created a record that viciously attacks from the opening distorted grind of Rat King Crawl to the all out death assault of Prometheus Unbound, it's paced like a treadmill that has lost it's mind, only the final synth heavy instrumental Età Della Putrefazione moving away from the blistering old school death metal. Skaldir handles all of the guitars/bass and keys on the record, so it's him that drives the majority of this record with Markus Porsklev attacking his kick drums like it's an enemy. 

They make the record the abrasive piece of work it is changes between crusty speed riffs on the title track and When The Guillotine Falls are balanced by the groovier Rains Of Death and Dead Man's Hate which is has that chugging melodeath style. Rounding out the band is vocalist Thomas Clifford who growls and roars like and uncaged beast, but barks out the lyrics in such a way that you can understand every word. Rot Of Ages skillfully balances Swedish death metal with the more aggressive style of other European death metal, crank the volume and bang your head. 7/10

Genocide Pact - S/T (Relapse Records)

Genocide Pact is death metal with a purpose. Angered and outraged by the state of the world these Washington DC natives have compacted their rage at the world at large into another record of nihilistic, savage death metal. Having been on many people's "One To Watch" list for a while now this self titled sophomore full length is guaranteed to bring them to your attention. Having toured with bands like Gatecreeper, Power Trip and Toxic Holocaust you can sort of get a feel for what kind of DM Genocide Pact play. There's no Swedeath, or technical influences neither are there any horror or sci-fi themes, this is raw, rabid death/crossover. 

Frontman/guitarist Tim Mullany locks in with guitarist Demir Soyer for the ferocious riffs that are strewn across this 8 track record. Led To Extinction gets us going with something direct and violent, bringing groove from the outset. The bottom end of bassist Mike Nolan and drummer Connor Donegan, vicious enough to keep things sounding nice and unpolished. The problem is this is about where it stays musically too, sitting too comfortably in the thrash/death quagmire to really try and spread it's wings at all. I'm sure there will publications that will sing the praises of this record but for me there are a multitude of bands doing it as well. 6/10

Wednesday 8 December 2021

Reviews: Volbeat, In Mourning, The Browning, High Fighter (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Matt Cook)

Volbeat - Servant Of The Mind (Universal Music Group) [Matt Bladen]

On their eighth album, Danish band Volbeat have opened up their style a bit more than they ever have previously. If you e listened to the band before then their style of metal meets rockabilly will be familiar to you, on some previous efforts they have adopted some heavier sounds in order to win over more of the metal crowd but on Servant Of The Mind, Michael Poulson settled down and wrote this album in 3 months by himself making for a more retrospective offering, bringing in that bouncy sound of their first few records albeit with lyrics that become a bit deeper. 

Step Into The Light for example has echoed, surf rock flavour, Wait A Minute Girl meanwhile is classic Volbeat, as is Shotgun Blues. That's not to say this record is a rehash of previous albums, Becoming goes full on thrash Poulson and Rob Caggiano unleashing some ferocious riffs, Caggiano also gets a chance to pay homage to Metallica on Say No More and Lasse's Birgitta bringing some tasty solos and lead work. Where it's heavy, it's a mass of grunting riffs and wild solos. Where it's melodic there are big choruses built for Poulson's distinctive voice and those rockabilly throwbacks. 

They do shift things around a little with, adding some doom to Sacred Stones, the addition of Stine Bramsen from Alphabeat on duet Dagen Før, it's telling really that the one guest on this record is from the pop sphere rather than the metal one as, like I've said Servant Of Mind feels more like the earlier Volbeat records where melody was balanced well with the heavier metal styles. After having a couple of albums that seemed to be striving for something different Servant Of Mind is Volbeat falling back into their comfort zone however like a pair of old slippers it feels good. 7/10

In Mourning - The Bleeding Veil (Dalapop) [Matt Cook]

Tobias Netzell has an exceptional vocal range, and they let it be known loud and clear. Swedish progressive/melodic death metal outfit In Mourning demonstrated the ability of Netzell’s singing, growling and wailing, on the latest release, The Bleeding Veil (Dalapop). Netzell masters a groovy vocal line to open Sovereign, but sprinkled into that and the likes of At The Behest Of Night, Solitude And Silence and Thornwalker, is beautiful clean singing that at times forces the listener to remember this is in fact a death metal album. 

Bjorn Pettersson and Tim Nedergard equally shine with their luscious melodies (Sovereign, Lights On The Mire) and galloping riffs (Solitude And Silence). Most impressive is the ability for In Mourning to so fluidly segway from hard and heavy to more mellow and softer at the drop of a dime. The pacing is spot-on and allows for a wider listening audience to be reached. The highlight of the album, personally, was on the aforementioned Solitude, where Netzell growls over the slower lead guitar, creating an agonizingly attractive atmosphere. 8/10

The Browning - End Of Existence (Spinefarm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Unfortunately not a metal band dedicated to every Northerners condiment of choice, gravy. The Browning are a Kansas City based collective that is essentially the vision of Jonny McBee, blending EDM, industrial and deathcore. Now I'm not particularly enamoured with either of those genres but on End Of Existence I have to commend Bobby as the record was written, played and recorded by him alone in the midst of the pandemic having built a house for his wife and child, he focussed on making this album the most 'true' version of The Browning sound. 

The electronic elements are very well done throughout never too intrusive ,but making tracks such as Torment sound like Fear Factory, Destroyer more NiN while Chaos Reigns has some huge metalcore breakdowns as does the thumping No Man Can Become A God, while Death Wrap has some crazy synths throughout. This record isn't going to win me over to deathcore but it's an impressive feat of nothing else. 6/10

High Fighter - Live At WDR Rockpalast (Argonauta Records) [Matt Cook]

It’s no secret 2020 was the scourge of our lifetimes, filled with complete uncertainty and adapting. High Fighter channeled this energy and used their time to create one of the more unique experiences to come out of this (hopefully-soon-ending) pandemic. Live At WDR Rockpalast (Argonauta Records) is eight songs recorded in August 2020 in front of no crowd and it took place at the Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord in Germany, an industrial setting and an iconic location for live music in the country, albeit on a much stranger scale. It being the sludge metal band’s first ever live release makes it even more special. 

The production quality is mint; the drums and guitars sound as clean and tight as could be; and Mona Miluski’s vocals echo throughout in a scintillating delivery, making it literally sound like you were at a concert arena. Miluski’s abrasive, rough-around-the-edges howls add to the collective spirit of the album, and is equally a commentary on the last two or so years. Their anguish and distress easily fit into most of our collective psyches. The one take aspect gives further credibility to the band as a whole. Here’s to hoping High Fighter can get back on the road sooner rather than later, and perform in front of live fans, because from the sounds of it, they are a sight to be seen. 7/10

Friday 3 December 2021

Reviews: So Hideous, Nightshade, Weedpecker, Under The Church (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Paul Scoble, Rich P & Matt Bladen)

So Hideous - None But A Pure Heart Can Sing (Silent Pendulum Records) [Richard Oliver]

One thing I keep stating is that black metal is at its most interesting when it escapes the confines of the genre or ‘trve black metal’ and explores different sounds. Post-black metal is a genre that revels in experimentation and So Hideous are a prime example of a band from this subgenre pushing black metal to its experimental limits and mixing in a multitude of elements from outside of the genre. None But A Pure Heart Can Sing is the third album from the New York post-black metal band and it is a sonic tour de force combining black metal fury with cinematic post-metal with the inclusion of a string section, a horn section and Afrobeat percussion. It sounds like a head fuck of a combination and at times it is but it is also absolutely glorious.

None But A Pure Heart Can Sing is a compact album with five songs spread out over 32 minutes but there is so much jam packed into those 32 minutes that it seems like a far longer album than it actually is. The five songs themselves are all unique to themselves from the opening maelstrom of guitars and strings that is Souvenir (Echo) which is equally dissonant as it is epic. The Emerald Pearl mixes elements of a spaghetti western soundtrack with post-metal aesthetics and fantastic use of the horn section which is followed by the wonderful Intermezzo which has a vast post-rock feel to it with gorgeous melodies before it switches to gentle shoegaze like guitars, piano and strings and provides us with some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful music on the album. The longest song on the album Motorik Visage is probably the most ambitious with a mix of furious post-black metal and classically influenced sequences with greater prevalence on the luscious string section whilst still managing to remain heavy as hell with a suitably unhinged vocal performance from frontman Christopher Cruz.

I absolutely love it when metal gets out of its comfort zone and leaps forth into the realms of creativity and experimentation and So Hideous are a band that have absolutely blown me away with this album. It’s not really a fitting band name as this album is far from hideous it is absolutely stunning. A blinding mix of the furious, the cinematic and the experimental. It is one of those rare albums that I wish was a bit longer. 9/10

Nightshade - Sounds Of Dark Matter (My Kingdom Music) [Paul Scoble]

Nightshade are in the second part of their career. The first part lasted from 1998 to 2005 and produced one album in 2001’s Nebula Trance. The band, who are based in Lausanne, Switzerland, features two members; Tom on Guitar, Bass and Programming and Dave on Vocals. The pair decided they had unfinished business and reformed in 2020, Sounds Of Dark Matter is the first album that Nightshade have released since reforming. 

Nightshade’s sound is firmly rooted in Industrial, the fact that the band were first active in the late nineties and early two-thousands isn’t that surprising as some of the material does have the feel of that era of Industrial, but it’s not as simple as that. With the bands reformation they have added the ‘Blackened’ prefix to the Industrial label, something that wouldn’t have been used on their first time round as the term ‘Blackened’ was better known in association with eggs, rather than with music. Sounds Of Dark Matter does have a Blackened edge to it, you can hear this in the music on at least two different tracks, and the harsh vocals that are used throughout this album could have come from a Black Metal album, nice and nasty. The track New Era, probably has the most obviously Blackened material on it as there are industrial sounding blast beat on it, the rest of the track features chanting (so black metal), and some very effective electronics that flow nicely with the Guitar riffs and in some places it reminds me of Black Metal/Psy-Trance lunatics Mesarthim. 

The material that doesn’t feel that Blackened is similar to early 2000’s Industrial (for obvious reasons), there are parts that are reminiscent of Rammstein, there are some parts that are quite Strapping Young Lad/Early Devin Townsend, and a lot of originality as well. The beats are mid-paced with lots of energy, and the electronic parts are handled very well, particularly on the tracks where the distorted guitar takes a back seat, Zero Matter Gravity for example has mix of harsh and nasty guitar led industrial and minimal electro pop that, despite the disparate nature of the structure, works very well because the transitions between the different sounding parts are handled very well. Final track A Call From Distant Skies is another interesting track, that is dramatic and measured, there is the feel of a soundtrack, when the basic sound grows to huge proportions. The track has a slow and mellow piano part before the dramatic electronica drives the song to a quiet end. Sounds Of Dark Matter is a very good piece of Industrial Metal. The material is rooted in the early 2000’s but with the addition of blackened elements and a lot of nuance the band have brought everything up to date to be a really good contemporary Industrial album. 7/10

Weedpecker - IV: The Stream Of Forgotten Thoughts (Stickman Records) [Rich P]

Weedpecker is back after multiple lineup changes with a huge step forward from their back catalog with IV: The Stream Of Forgotten Thoughts. A band named Weedpecker can sometimes do themselves an injustice with the assumption that they are just a bong-hitting obsessed stoner band with not much more to offer. This could be no further from the truth. The album is a complex, psych/stoner mind-bending journey that shows the band’s maturity and growth, and it delivers on all fronts. The band leans in heavy on the psych with this one, and the result may be one of the best albums of 2021. The record opens strong with No Heartbeat Collective which is a nice hint of what is to come throughout the album: heavy, driving rock with those psych overtones that take this record to the next level. It’s a ripper of an opening track and the perfect way to start the journey. 

You get a bit of everything with IV: driving, heavy stoner rock with Fire Far Away. Some trippy psych (with a bit of soulful sax!) on The Trip Treatment. Some heavy stoner jamming on what may be my favorite track, Big Brain Monsters. The closer, Symbiotic Nova, wraps it all up nicely with all the best elements we heard through the 40 plus minutes prior. Overall, this record was a huge surprise for me. The level of growth from this band was unexpected and they may have found the formula to make the leap to the next level with this lineup. IV is a perfect blend heavy and psychedelic rock that never overdoes it on either side and never outstays its welcome with too long songs or needless psych noodling. Weedpecker will absolutely have a place towards the top of my album of the year list. This is a must listen. 9/10

Under The Church - Total Burial EP (Pulverised Records) [Matt Bladen]

The second EP from International death metal collective Under The Church, is their first new music since their 2017 album Supernatural Punishment. It's five tracks of raw, brutal, gore soaked death metal. The production on this record makes it sound as if it was featured on underground tape trade. Fuzzing bass, drums with too much treble and guitars that are distorted to the point of feeling a little muddy. Total Burial EP doesn't hang around to much, starting brutal and staying brutal, even the solos peeling off your flesh, songs like Just Another Death feeling like Slayer and Entombed, that influence coming through as well on grinding opener Day Of Reckoning. With members from Sweden and Iceland, it's no wonder there's a big whack of Swedeath on this EP. Grimy and goulish Total Burial EP keeps Under The Church in the death metal mix. 6/10

Reviews: Unanimated, Wolftooth, Doodswens, Smoking Martha (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Unanimated – Victory In Blood (Century Media Records)

Having been heavily influenced by Dismember, Swedish melodeath crew Unanimated released their seminal albums in 1993, 1995 and 2009 respectively, between 1996 and 2007 the band spilt up and since the release of their 2009 effort In The Light Of Darkness they have acquired two ‘new’ members Anders Schultz (drums) and Jonas Deroueche (guitars), joining with founding members Richard Cabeza(bass) and Jojje Bohlin (guitar) and longtime vocalist Micke Broberg. Signing to Century Media in 2018 their Annhilation In Blood EP, showed what they still capable of but it probably didn’t prepare you for what is the most vicious, aggressive album in their career. 

Perhaps 30 years in the business and having to record in a pandemic took their toll on the band but the melodic sound from their past only lingers here, the acoustic driven middle of XIII or any of the clean interludes that break up the violence. Mostly it’s full bore ravenous death metal paying deference to Lucifer in all his forms. From a band who have always dealt with the more macabre side of life, Victory In Blood studiously walks the left hand path, perhaps alienating some but surely welcoming their fan base deeper into the collective mind-set of the band. Despite the evocative blood red cover of the record inside you will find a coldness one that does draw from acts such as Dismembers but also Celtic Frost on the fiercely in-your face songs such as Sceptre Of Vengeance and the title track. 

The only song that alludes heavily to their previous records is final song The Poetry Of The Scared Earth, which is fully melodeath in its pace shifts, usage of lead guitars and anthemic chug. It blends in well though with the bands more focused, volatile style that they have adopted on their fourth release. With the promise of more albums on Century Media, it will be interesting to see what route the band take next, as they have reached the point where any risks they take will inevitably be accepted with black wings and open arms. 8/10

Wolftooth – Blood & Iron (Napalm Records)

The Midwest of America, is fertile ground for riff hungry proto-metal bands and Wolftooth are no exception to that rule. Busting out of Richmond, Indiana, this heavy doom rocking foursome are now on their third full length after two well received previous albums. Wolftooth haven’t deviated much from what made those records a bloody good listen, keeping the twin axe harmonies, marching riffage and fantasy lyrics. Blood & Iron is another chapter of Wolftooth’s anthemic metal power taking inspiration from bands such as The Sword, Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road especially in the guitar and vocal departments, the latter also sees Ozzy being brought to mind. 

Opening track, the nautical Ahab has more than a nod to classic Sabbath phrasing, Winter White is built around some joyous twin harmonies and plentiful solos, set to a persistent rhythm. Track such as this are set against the pacier proto-thrash offerings like Broken Sword, making for a diverse listening experience that does settle into one solitary groove as they meld American and European influences, even bringing in a touch of the Middle East on Hellespont. The fantasy lyrics mean that they can explore unknown realms with the music, but it never feels forced or silly, so many metal bands are influenced by writers such as Michael Moorcock that in the trad-metal scene it’s almost stupid not to write tracks about epic battles or fantasy. 

Comprised of Terry McDaniel on bass and Johnny Harrod on drums in the driving backroom, with Chris Sullivan and Jeff Cole on guitars, Wolftooth’s third album is their first for Napalm and with the label backing them we could be seeing the emergence of the next great trad-American metal band. Hold your swords up high and rejoice in Wolftooth’s battle hymns. 8/10

Doodswens – Lichtvrees (Svart Records)

Meaning “Fear Of Light” Lichtvrees is the debut album from Dutch black metal band Doodswens (Death Wish), and as the title suggests it’s a bleak offering of nihilistic, savagery that comes from the raw underground scene of the early 90’s. If you are in anyway familiar with the early Scandinavian bands of the black metal scene you’ll be able to pick up the influences that are rife on this Dutch duo’s debut. Screamed exclusively in Dutch this duo of Fraukje van Burg (vocals/guitar) and Inge van der Zon (drums) have captured a foreboding sense of gloom and doom on this record, it shifts between flurries of outright aggression and long introspective instrumental phrases, the two of them in perfect unison with harrowing efforts such as Eindzicht

Citing human conditions such as depression and negative thoughts as their inspiration, the album is one that as the title suggest lets no light in. Joy is non-existent throughout, the songs here are glacial slabs of Scandi misery wrapped up in downbeat atmospherics, and the flashes of speed on Het Zwartewaterland used to jump from one brooding segment to another, the record fleshed out with shorter passages that include spoken word and intense workouts. As the cold started to creep in this past week, Lichtvrees became a much more pertinent album, played with a conviction and passion, this bleak conceptual piece is obsessed with finding enlightenment about what it all means, good or bad, something that is all the more involving in the long dark, winter months. A focussed debut that establishes Doodswens as a band to keep an eye out for. 8/10

Smoking Martha: Universe (Xelon Entertainment)

Kicking off with a riff that channels AC/DC through the lenses of No Doubt, Good Girls is a punchy opener to the second album from Brisbane alt rockers Smoking Martha. As Tasha D shouts “Let’s drink the Kool Aid” you get a feeling that Smoking Martha are a band who are begging for a party after what they say are “two shoulder surgeries and a pandemic”. Tasha D’s vocals are attitude filled concoction of Gwen Stefani and Taylor Momsen, breathy and defiant, her delivery is passionate as the band behind her play an exciting style of music that cherry-picks from various styles of rock but injects melody and hooks into every single one.

The instrumental trio of Mick Broome (guitar), Matty Mulheran (bass) and Jordy Poynter (drums) provide the musical backing, for all the style changes that are featured on Universe. Whether on anthemic semi-ballads such as Wonderful Happiness, the smoky blues of Intermission or the country shuffle of Neon Lights, Smoking Martha are a band with eclectic influences which has in turn made their second album a much more mature musical offering. Their radio-baiting singles and musical dexterity reminds me of Kiwi band Devilskin, and while Smoking Martha aren’t quite as heavy as their Antipodean compatriots, (though It’s A Lie is an outright rocker), they have knack of crafting sing-alongs full of a crunchy riffs and huge choruses. Universe will make people pay attention to Smoking Martha for sure. A recorded glimpse into what should be a heck of a live show. Jump on the bandwagon now to avoid missing out. 7/10