Scarlet Rebels - See Through Blue (Earache Records)
Originally formed in Llanelli under the name V0id the trio of Wayne Doyle (vocals/guitar), his brother Gary Doyle (drums) and Wayne 'Pricey' Esmonde (bass) released three albums but then the trio were joined by Chris Jones (lead guitar) and nephew of Pete, Josh Townsend also on guitar so this led to the name change into Scarlet Rebels (drawn from the Llanelli Scarlets rugby team).
Having already released their debut record Show Your Colours
, this second offering has been picked up by Earache Records, now THE destination for hard rock bands like Rival Sons and The Temperance Movement.
It's a more mature, tougher edged record that is extremely politically motivated. The cover depicts are not so benevolent dictator at the lectern with his shadow spilling out into a crucifixion pose and devil horns. The entire record is a damning indictment of the Conservative government we've had in London during the pandemic. The lies, the sleaze and the general unfeeling nature towards the working class and how that affects the collective mental health are dealt with here.
Really only a band from Wales or Scotland could be so hostile due their countries history with the party. This anger is drawn through rebellious classic rock tones, unlike the often political hardcore bands, there's not a sense of sharpness or outright violence here more a chance to sing along and fight back. Though the message is often the same. Wayne Doyle's lyrics take cues from such blue collar heroes as Springsteen, Petty while the music is a mix of hard rockers such as G'N'R and the more alternative side of the Foo Fighters.
This mix of political lyricism and anthemic catchy hard rock is well done, you can hear the anger here and some may be put off wanting instead generic lyrics. The band don't really care if you agree with them though. Their album launch, which was going to take place on a boat, was cancelled as the Conservative supporting boat hire company saw the album cover. So this has changed onto several acoustic shows and sponsored bike ride across Wales with all money raised going to the Trussell Trust.
Debasing this album for it's politics would be missing the point, some of the most well known songs have a point to the lyrics, so the title track here along with Storm
are all following in the shadow of Born In The U.S.A
which is both anthemic and politically engaging. The band say being from Llanelli and staying in Llanelli rather than moving to the big city, has given them their own outlook on life, and you can hear that Welsh fire etched into the hard rock anthems and the poetry in the ballads like These Days
A giant leap forward from their debut as Scarlet Rebels, they have built on the foundation of that album and reinforced it with a human touch (to coin a phrase from The Boss). This is more than hard rock, it's a statement of our current climate, needless to say things have gotten worse since the album was recorded so maybe it's the touchpaper we need. Big ballads, riff filled rock and a finger on the button, Scarlet Rebels urge you to See Through Blue
and discover the alternative on this album! 8/10
Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle (Atomic Fire Records)
The repeating chant of “Hail Satan” during orchestral Darkness In Flames is enough to let you know what Mystic Circle play music about. This bunch of proud heathens are defiant in their worship of Lucifer, meaning that he makes up most of the lyrical inspiration behind this record. For those truly versed in cvlt, the fact that Mystic Circle are releasing an album at all will be source of corpse painted joy as in 2007 they ceased to be after years of being maligned as ‘posers’ changing their sound to whatever style of extreme metal was in vogue. Now of course this is all from the large amount of gatekeeping that exists in black metal.
I think Mystic Circle’s style of music is a great way indulge in your extreme tastes, without having the level of inaccessibility that often exists in the black metal world. The band were gaining more heat than both Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, in their early days and as such probably burnt out, however the German act have returned from the fires of hell (and possibly obscurity) to renew their pact with the devil and deliver yet more melodic/symphonic black/death metal, that still borrows heavily from both Dimmu and Cradle.
Just a two piece of Beelzebub (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards) and A. Blackwar (vocals, guitars, drums, keyboards), they conjure the dark spirits for the eighth time rapidly shifting their focus between all-consuming black metal and skull splitting death metal. The band say that this record is essentially the follow up to their 1999 album Infernal Satanic Verses (the last album to feature both Beelzebub and A. Blackwar) and even begins how that record ends to almost retconning anything after 1999.
It kicks off on blistering form with Gothic choirs and bell tolls between the frenzied riffing and bloodcurdling shouts/grunts. Before those COF influences loom on Seven Headed Dragon. There’s trade offs between black and death metal as tracks such as Hell Demons Rising has a feel of Kreator and they even throw in a cover of Possessed’s Death Metal to really hark back to their death metal roots. With a storied, often potted history behind them, it seems like Mystic Circle have re-established their bond with the dark lord and are ready to display it to the world once again. 8/10
Kurokuma - Born Of Obsidian (Self Released)
The trio of Jacob Mazlum (guitar/vocals), Joe Allen (drums) and George Ionita (bass), came together as Kurokuma in 2013, they have released three EP's and two Splits since 2013, but Born Of Obsidian is their debut full length.
Well I say full length but the album is only 5 tracks long but they are elongated,, crushing, psychedelic sludge cuts, that Kurokuma have been shaping over nearly a decade. Recorded with Sanford Parker (who flew to the Uk during the pandemic) at Narcissus Studio, it's the culmination of a long, storied career that has seen this Sheffield trio shun being trapped in the traditional sludge/doom sound adding world music, latin, jazz, kraut rock and electronica.
This doesn't mean that they have forgotten about those roots though, the band have been at the apex of heavy for a long time, so when you hear the pained screams and repeating ear bleeding doom riffs you know that they haven't gone soft. The record is built on Mesoamerican civilisations, imbuing their mysterious, often bloody and gruesome history with their tremor creating musical style. If it's at all possible Sacrifice To Huitzilopochtli is heavier again, with touches of hardcore, it's filthy and furious, the anger seeping out of every pore here.
However the following track Jaguar is where Kurokuma, flex their experimental muscles with some Latin rhythms infecting huge sludge passages, the entire song, built around the unstoppable cowbell from Joe Allen, as George Ionita's earthquaking bass riffs are the major rhythmic force along with the percussion. Jacob Mazlum, unleashes psychedelic guitar soloing, to expand the mind right the way until the close. This psychedelic wooziness follows through onto Ololiuqui, the kind of song a band with their own brand of cannabis seed would produce.
Kurokuma close out Under The Fifth Sun a slow building journey into the upper reaches of of our atmosphere. Like an acid trip in a Latin restaurant Born Of Obsidian is musically dense, ear bending extremity. It may have taken nearly 10 years but Kurokuma's debut full length has been worth the wait. 8/10
Emerald Sun - Kingdom Of Gods (El Puerto Records)
Emerald Sun are something of a genre leader in the Greek power metal scene. They have been bringing the full pelt gallops and fantasy lyricism from Thessaloniki since 1999. Their last release was 2018's Under The Curse Of Silence but since then there has been a couple of changes in the line up, as Nick Kaklanis gets behind the drum set, as they welcome back Teo Savage on guitar. Savage played on the Emerald Sun's first three albums so this is a welcome return as he a founding member of the band, giving back a bit of legitimacy.
Fotis Toumanidis still provides that fist pumping drive on the theatrical title track, as Pavlos Georgiadis links up with Savage in the six stringing speedsters like Gaia and the melodic twin harmonies of The Hunter. Emerald Sun play power metal strongly in the Teutonic vein bands such as Helloween, Primal Fear and even Blind Guardian, due to the extensive use of orchestrations and keys. However while Stelios Tsakirdis doesn't quite have the same range as Kiske, Scheepers or Kursch, his voice handles the material with the right amount of histrionics, though his lower register feels a lot more powerful especially on closer Where Warriors Belong.
Almost a totally different band since their first album, Emerald Sun is a name that seems to never die. Like all good power metal, they still have their swords drawn to the heavens ready to take on everyone. 7/10