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Monday 31 January 2022

Reviews: Scarlet Rebels, Mystic Circle, Kurokuma, Emerald Sun (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

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 

Saturday 29 January 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Daniel Tompkins & Novena (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Daniel Tompkins & Novena, Exchange Bristol, 26 November 2022
The first gig of 2022 is in the books (for me anyway) and all it took was jaunt out of Wales across the bridge to MoM's second home Bristol. Now to get me to travel over the bridge these days it must be something special and tonight promised to be just that.

Doors opened late, old friends and long time email acquaintances were greeted and non-alcoholic beers were drunk in Exchanges now ample covered outside area. The the music finally began so we made our way into the 'L' shaped performance area.

First on stage was Novena (8), a band who have been featured in these pages before and are a prog (obviously) metal/rock band from the south of England made up of members of No Sin Evades His Gaze, Bleeding Oath and Haken. Their style is quite a unique offering, full of dynamic range, layered acoustics, multiple vocal lines and of course lots of palm muted riffing. 

In a small space like this it meant that you didn't quite get what looks to be quite a busy performance however on this small stage they were a little static only Haken's Ross Jennings having a chance to move around, he took the lion's share of vocals, even busting out those harsh screams from the first couple of Haken records. He was aided by Harrison White who was also playing guitar and keys, as well as guitarist Dan Thornton. 

At times it was a little too much for the sound tech to take but as they melded together something clicked just in time for their cover of Billie Eilish Bury A Friend and the closing two songs which were brought together in one piece showcasing the musical dexterity of the band. Considering this was their first gig in quite some time (they have only really been around for a few years as Novena) there was a really synergy to the band that bodes well for subsequent viewings on bigger stages.

Next up in this prog/Djent two for one was the headline act. Having spent a huge amount of time and effort to even get this tour going, then catching Covid with his last day of isolation a day before the first date on the tour. There was a lot riding on these shows. Unfortunately more bad luck came the night before when vehicle issues stopped them from reaching Glasgow. So you can understand why Daniel Tompkins (8) said the he was "bricking it" about this show. 

Happily there was a healthy crowd out to watch him as he and his all star band started off the front to back play through of his most recent release Ruins. It's not often you see full time Duracell Bunny Dan in one place for more than five minutes but on this playthrough of his densely layered solo music he was one of four guitarists on stage. The other three were Tesseract bandmate Amos Williams on bass, Pete Skipper of In Colour on rhythm guitar with Tompkins and on lead guitar was Paul Ortiz aka Chimp Spanner aka one of the "second founding fathers of Djent" according to Daniel. 

Chimp Spanner has been dormant for 10 years so it was great to see him back on stage, doing what he does best and the promise of a new album. Rounding out this League Of Djentlemen was Monuments tub thumper Mike Malyan. There was a real sense of appreciation from the band that people had turned out on a Wednesday night and the tracks from Ruins work well in a live setting too. The little tour ends tonight in London, check it out if you can as you won't be disappointed!

Friday 28 January 2022

Reviews: Steve Vai, Dawn Of Solace, Celeste, The Risen Dead (Reviews By Simon Black, Paul Scoble, Zak Skane & Richard Oliver)

Steve Vai – Inviolate (Favored Nations/Mascot Label Group) [Simon Black]

It’s been a while since I’ve had much to do with Steve Vai’s output. He was a huge part of my late teens and early 20’s (a time when my musical horizons expanded to appreciate more complex instrumental guitar techniques in an almost exact ratio with the realisation that I was never going to begin to play like that myself), but I’ve really had no idea what he’s been up to since the early 90’s. But he was a significant figure up to that point and for me he had been the big reason why David Lee Roth’s first two solo albums were so damned catchy, downright good and more importantly successful (and why all of DLR’s albums since Vai’s departure have not). 

In addition there was the trippy as fuck but technically exemplary Passion & Warfare album that proved that he may not have the groovy chops of the more accessible Joe Satriani (but my word he could play without resorting to mere speed-based shredding) and his frankly bizarre addition into the tail end of Whitesnake’s most commercially successful phase (although to be frank that was an odd choice on both sides). 

Either way, everything he was involved in was turning to gold for that 10 year period when his musical work and my participation were aligned. Then the 1990’s happened and for me Vai disappeared off of the radar - although with about fifteen solo records (live and studio) released in the intervening time, he’s been far from idle (although six years have passed since the last studio one). Stylistically this record is taking a very Jazz-Fusion yet accessible approach and despite the fact that adorns the cover with a triple headed axe with more strings than I thought were physically possible straight out of his 80’s heyday, the whole thing has been recorded using a Gretsch hollow body guitar of the style favoured by 90’s Indie bands for its rich semi-acoustic feel. 

That doesn’t stop him layering incredibly well with his effect rack, but that full-bodied deep sound at the centre provides a really strong thematic baseline to the whole record, no matter in what directions the music goes. And this music is incredibly technically complex, with some frankly dizzying chord changes and progressions that would send many a shredder into a sheer panic attack. There’s always a danger with instrumental records that they can become over-wrought and self-indulgent when they are this technical, but the brilliance of this work is the fact despite that deeply technical musical architecture, the songs all remain accessible to the listener. 

After all these years and disks, Vai really knows how to keep things accessible and focussed, but with the longest track on here only just scraping over the six minute mark nothing on here outstays its welcome. Those steeped in music theory are going to nod in acknowledgement, but the rest of us can simply nod on in catchy appreciation. Musically mellifluous, this is great ambient music, yet peppered with enough moments of stunning virtuosity to force the listener to pause, swoon and replay. And just like that, I’m that kid at a gig marvelling at the skill, loving the catchiness of the melodies and wishing that I could even to begin to play like that. 9/10

Dawn Of Solace - Flames Of Perdition (Noble Demon) [Paul Scoble]

Dawn Of Solace is the side project of Tuomas Saukkonem (Before The Dawn, Wolfheart). The band came about when Saukkonem wrote far too much material for Before The Dawn’s album The Ghost, some of which had a slower tempo and darker tone than Before The Dawn’s style so Saukkonem formed Dawn Of Solace to record this material. This is how the bands first album The Darkness came about, which has a Death / Doom style of slow and very heavy with harsh vocals. After that one album Dawn Of Solace went very quiet until 2019 when he decided to bring the band back, this time with the addition of Mikko Heikkilä on clean vocals. 

This lineup has released one album; Waves in 2020, and now this follow up album. On Flames Of Perdition the style is closer to modern melodic doom, big heavy riffs, clean vocals and lots and lots of melody. There is a similarity with Swallow The Sun (although with no harsh vocals), Fires In The Distance or Chilean Band Rise To The Sky. The album opens with White Noise which is a mix of huge mid-paced riffs and slower but equally huge riffs, the slow and mid-paced parts vacillate before a great melody lead that is packed with melody and emotion comes in and drives the song to it’s conclusion. Next comes Erase; which has a verse section that is slow, heavy and brooding, before an up tempo, flowing chorus that is just huge with a great vocal melody that sticks in your head. Next up is the title track Flames Of Perdition

The track opens with Piano and clean vocals, after a few bars a strummed acoustic guitar comes in and the feel is now very sad and melancholic. A huge and heavy riff drops that is accompanied by keyboards which feels dramatic. These two sections, piano, acoustic guitar, clean vocals and huge, heavy and dramatic take turns for a while before the heavy riff dominates and takes the song to its end. Dying Light is a mix of clean acoustic guitar riffs for the verse and heavy and huge uptempo chorus. The verse is great, and the clean guitar works very well, while the chorus is driving, purposeful and full of melody. 

Event Horizon has a clean opening riff that flows nicely, before the heavy comes crashing in. The chorus is huge, emotive and has a tempo that manages to be relaxed whilst also having lots of energy and sweep. The heavy and clean duke it out for a while before the heavy and huge chorus drives the track to it’s end. Skyline is a mix of introverted piano and lush vocals, mid-paced heavy riffs and fast and driving riffs that are the fastest riffs on this album. Fast isn’t the only surprise on Skyline; the track also boasts a huge analogue synth riff that is more seventies than platform shoes, and reminds me a little of Rising era Rainbow. The song ends with one of the fastest riffs on the album. Serenity starts with a slow clean guitar riff which quickly gets much heavier, but stays slow, emotive and brooding. 

The track slowly builds in intensity, until a melody lead that is deeply melancholy is added, as this gets closer to the end another guitar is added so the melody lead is now huge, sad harmonies. A soft piano is added and this takes the song to its end. The album ends with a short guitar instrumental that is brooding, simple and direct. The copy of Flames Of Perdition I have contains 2 Bonus tracks, both of which are songs from the bands previous albums recorded with only acoustic guitar and clean vocals. The two tracks are enjoyable and well recorded. 

Flames Of Perdition is a great album. it’s full of great riffs, fantastic vocals and some really great singalong choruses. The modern doom sound is very well realised and it sits well with a lot of the other acts that are making doom a really interesting sub-genre at the moment. The thing that stands out about this album is the amount and quality of the melodies, whether vocal, guitar or keyboard this album drips with melodies that will get stuck in your head. A beautifully melodic doom album, Highly recommended. 8/10

Celeste – Assassine(s) (Nuclear Blast) [Zak Skane]

Hailing from France Celeste are a four piece band that combined elements of sludge, black metal and doom metal. Since their formation in 2005 the band have had six releases including E.P under their belts with their upcoming album this year called Assassin(s) released via Nuclear Blast. 

Opening with Des Torrents De Coups we get introduced massive swirl of guitar chords accompanied with some tasty drum grooves before we get some blackened death metal riffs that suit the snarl that our front man is soaring over the verses. The track continues it’s blackened sonic swirling with its multiple layers dropping in and out to keep the composition interesting. 

De Tes Yeux Bleus Perles wears it’s progressive death metal Influences on it’s sleeve with it’s classy Gojira inspired chuggy intros and it’s atmospheric tremolo picked sections and the instrumental (A) which is the bands most experimental track on this album with it starting off with some swelling atmospheric synthesizers before it comes with some thick doomy riffage. 

Overall in this seven track album, the band have made a piece of work that holds it’s consistency but also allows room to breathe when it comes to experimentation and dynamics. 7/10.

The Risen Dread - Night Hag (Wormholedeath Records) [Rich Oliver]

Night Hag is the debut album of Dublin based groove metallers The Risen Dread. Following on from their 2019 E.P. Delusions, Night Hag is an 11 song concept album with the central theme of mental illness and each song focusing on an historical figure and their disorders. The music presented on Night Hag is a combination of sounds with elements of thrash metal, groove metal and metalcore with a sound very much drawn from the 90’s and early 00’s from the pummelling rhythm of Bury Me to the groove and chug of Sound Of The Unknown and the thrashy riffage of Fallen

Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser guests on single White Night whilst Brazilian composer Renato Zanuto adds his magic to the closing title track which is a departure from the rest of the album being very atmospheric and quite cinematic sounding. The musicianship throughout is excellent with some crushing riffs, ripping solos and a powerhouse rhythm section. The vocals are a bit single minded being very much in that metalcore/hardcore style which grated with me after a while. Whilst it does have a lot going for it and demonstrates plenty of potential, Night Hag is a bit of a lacklustre release. 

It’s just that little bit too long and the album has too many 90’s groove metal and 00’s metalcore trappings that just don’t sit well with my own personal tastes in metal. If you get along with those styles then there is plenty here for you to get very excited about as this album contains great musicianship and bags of talent but just was not to my taste. 6/10

Thursday 27 January 2022

Reviews: Tokyo Blade, Kandia, Chapel Floods, Perpetual (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Tokyo Blade – Fury (Dissonance Productions/Cherry Red Records)

Storming out of the pandemic with their eleventh studio record, NWOBHM survivors Tokyo Blade continue to prove why they are such an inspiration to nearly all of the NWOTHM bands that currently doing the rounds. We cover so many of them that it was only right to give the originators a spin and on this 15 track record, you can see that the flame of youthful rebellion in the early 1980’s still burns bright. While many of their contemporaries have gone on to be arena headliners, Tokyo Blade keep that D.I.Y spirit alive, despite more lineup changes than Spinal Tap, adversity and even relative obscurity, they are the true die-hard favourite. 

Fury is packed with riff after riff of biting classic metal, the guitar duo of band leader Andy Boulton and John Wiggins getting everything going on gallops like I Am Unbroken while the groovy Disposable Me is a testament to the syncopation between bassist Andy Wrighton and drummer Steve Pierce. As we journey through the 15 tracks you understand why so many bands cite them as an influence. They play a classic style of British metal that has made its way across the Atlantic and into Europe, the whole NWOBHM scene has been emulated but Tokyo Blade remain one of the originators drawing their own style from band such as Thin Lizzy (Eyes Wired Shut & Heart Of Darkness), AC/DC (Nailbomb) and of course Judas Priest (who were formed nearly a decade earlier). 

Fury is their second album for Dissonance Productions and their third since the return of original vocalist Alan Marsh whose sneering snarl is so key to those early records. This is no 80’s rehash though, Fury feels modern and heavier than ever, tracks like Cold Light Of Day moving them into Queensryche dramatics, driven by orchestral segments, big choruses and a great guitar solo section. Usually an album with 15 tracks would start to dip but Fury is paced very well, the mid-paced rockers usually followed by faster metal showcases. It keeps your attention, gets your head nodding and after a couple of listens even singing along. A great album from a British metal institution, Tokyo Blade are still as sharp as ever. 8/10 

Kandia – Quaternary (Frontiers Music Srl)

The latest acquisition by the Frontiers & Beyond initiative is Portuguese alt-metal band Kandia. Once again teaming with producer Daniel Cardoso (Anthema) as they done on their two previous albums, the duo of vocalist Nya Cruz and guitarist André Da Cruz along with drummer Eduardo and bassist Bernardo. The band have apparently tried to add to their signature modern metal sound on this Frontiers debut adding frenzied sax to Murderers, this whole record feels like bands such as In This Moment or Lacuna Coil but with more of a Pink Floyd or Tool level of experimentation. Bouncy modern metal riffs are counterpointed by proggy flourishes as the vocals shift between emotive cleans and the occasional growl. 

It’s aggressive but also melodic, unfortunately it’s also very familiar, taking cues from bands that have been the leaders in this style but there is enough of their own edge for it to still be an entertaining listen. Nya particular has a great voice similar to ITM’s Maria Brink, giving it her all on poppier numbers like The Flood, while André’s guitar playing is equally impressive on the big modern metal stompers such as Fight Or Flight as it is on more introspective songs such as Holocene. The Frontiers & Beyond initiative is there to bring somewhat unknown or young bands to a wider audience and I’m sure they will lap up Kandia’s proggy modern metal. 6/10

Chapel Floods – EP (Self Released)

The three track Demo EP, from Rotherham band Chapel Floods, is what would happen if grunge was infected by stoner/sludge, if Alice In Chains jammed with Crowbar, or Corrosion Of Conformity got heavily into Soundgarden. 

Thick syrupy riffs languish in distortion and reverb from the first chord of Time Servers and it’s off we go into the riff fuelled three track demo. We are firmly ingrained in the 90’s music scene with this offering, conceived out of jam session between Bing, Shawn and Luke, while the pandemic was hindrance they persevered, they were able to play their parts by themselves eventually adding Will and here is the result. 

Time Servers slithers and creeps, before the massive doom riffs of Thousand Year Stare bring that low end bass crunch, down tuned riffs and hypnotic vocals as it segues into Crooked Nose. The demo production, adds a rawness to the EP bolstering the punishing riffs. A heck of a start for a band who have gigs planned, try and catch them at a venue near you before they level it. 7/10

Perpetual – Backlash EP (Self Released)

Perpetual hail from Poland and play aggressive groove metal. Backlash is their second EP following one from 2018. While their line up may have changed a little the style remains bringing together bands such as The Haunted, Devildriver and many of the crossover thrash bands out there on Incapacitated. Backlash features 6 songs and is about 30 minutes long, so it’s an ideal look at what the band do. 

Tracks such as the thrashing Parallel Reality and the bouncing Fourth Dimension highlight the subtle differences in the songs on this EP drawn from a variety of influences that are present on this EP. Musically it’s a a step up from the first EP however I do find that the growled vocals are infinitely better than the shouted “regular” vocals, which sound a little too ragged to my ear. Still there’s nothing here that is bad. While it is similar to a lot out there Perpetual do it well. Let’s see what a bit more touring, playing and writing brings. 6/10

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Reviews: Wille & The Bandits, Silverlane, Agvirre, Urzah (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Wille & The Bandits - When The World Stood Still (Fat Toad Records)

Cornwall has always produced a lot of mysticism and mythos, the people are usually defiant and a little bit left of centre to the rest of the UK (though we Celts are all little like that). Music plays a part in all Celtic heritage and Cornwall is no exception, even in their rock n roll. Wille & The Bandits have been flying the flag for Kernow, roots rock for across previous albums and through shows across the world that have regularly won them the awards of best live band. 

Their last album was excellent and When The World Stood Still promises to be better, mainly due to it being bitter suite and a wee bit mystical. Recorded during the pandemic, the record sees vocalist/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Wille Edwards crafting tracks about the world wide lockdown, with live music going silent they huddled together in possibly the most iconic studio in the UK John Cornfield’s Sawmills to put down When The World Stood Still

Sawmills itself has played host to The Stones, Muse, Oasis and Robert Plant and now seems to be on its last legs, so this record stands almost as the studio’s epitaph. You can feel the magic in the production, engineering and mix etc, there’s a torrent of emotions brought through the eclectic sound of the band, from rock to Americana, funk to blues and everything in between it all has this warmth to it guided by the hand of John Cornfield, who engineered and co produced with the band. 

The crowdfunded record is a journey through various musical landscapes, Caught In The Middle featuring some big fuzzing riffs, Harry Mackaill bass throbbing on top of Tom Gilkes strutting drum beat, as well as a bit of hip hop attitude. The rhythm section throughout brings the thunder, I’m Alive feeling like a Soundgarden cut due to Wille’s husky, melodic vocal. He shows off his string bending prowess with tracks such as Without You and Solid Ground, both of which feature a slower, evocative atmosphere, built on the foundation of Matthew Gallagher’s Hammond/Fender Rhodes/Mellotron combinations and Edwards impressive guitar playing. 

The influences on both these songs being clearly Led Zeppelin (Without You) and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (Solid Ground). The Good Stuff is an upbeat hip shaker with some slinky slide/lap steel guitar. But they don’t stop with just this as Will We Ever is pure Delta blues, Move To Fast is stinking of funk and the title track is infused with gospel. It’s the eclectic nature of the record that keeps the attention high, you never quite know where they are going to go next but you know that it’ll be yet more rootsy, blue collar rock brimming with influences such as Cornell, Petty, Seeger, Springsteen and host of bluesmen. When The World Stood Still poses the question if things will ever be the same? Let’s hope for yes as I would love to see this record live. 9/10

Silverlane - III: Inside Internal Infinity (Drakkar Entertainment)

Formed under another name in 1995, Silverlane have existed since 2005, releasing their second full length Above The Others in 2010. The melodic power metal band then sort of went to ground. According to the PR that accompanied this record their were births, marriages and divorces but now 12 years later they return again the core membership of Tom Klossek (vocals), Uli Holzermer (lead guitar), Chris Alexander Schmitt (guitar) and Daniel Saffer (bass) return, with the addition of Basti Kirchdörfer on drums, as former drummer and band founder Simon Micheal Schmitt produces this record. 

They have also lost a keyboard player but III: Inside Internal Infinity still has plenty of synths, keys and orchestrations. So after 12 years how have Silverlane faired in their return? Well the recitation of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is an auspicious start but it builds in to I Universe a track that displays a much more muscular, modern and mature style from Silverlane. They are still melodic, the power metal is still there but this third album more often than not are in a very modern sound, Blessed sounds a bit like Metallica, Soul Of Tears is the albums big ballad and there's a lot of orchestrals on Medusa which has fantasy lyrics galore. 

I'm all for this more modern sound as it displays that Silverlane have evolved as a band over past 12 years into one that fits right into 2022. Melodic metal with a rougher edge that brings songs such as Für Immer Und Ewig, which features Patty Gurdy on co vocals, to life. Good things come to those who wait and Silverlane have the waited long enough. 7/10

Agvirre - _ _ _ _ _ _ (Through Love Rec/Surviving Sounds/Trepanation)

Well this is an angry record, a tsunami of blackened post-rock with elements of shoegaze, drone and ambient all delivered with an existentialist, nihilistic outlook. Like the debut album Silence this album handles with struggles with mental health in a wider societal context rather than through a personal lense, this includes the pandemic, lockdowns, isolation, political unrest, social division and police brutality and systematic racism, the album is claustrophobic, but also angry, grief stricken and uncompromising. 

The opening track Urtica In Glass is a 10 minute track that builds from the sample of a police incident that escalates into an armed standoff, backed by some fizzing electronics, expansive drumming augmented by trumpets, that come from brass trio The River Versus. It builds and builds, the bass from Dave pulsating as the drumming gets louder, then it explodes into frenzied wide eyed vocal screams from Frenchie who is responsible for the electronics/synths. It's a unwaveringly heavy start to the record, the vocals especially just screams, not many lyrics just impassioned screams. Drawing from the sound of bands like Ghost Bath, Alcest and Cult Of Luna, Urtica In Glass picks up speed, Richardo's guitars played with some black metal tremolos, as the atmosphere changes again to a more cathartic sung passage with impressive percussion and those wonderful trumpets. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ builds on their debut but makes leap into uncharted waters, they have tightened and build upon those foundations with something that is as impressive as it is experimental. _ _ _ _ _ _ (In Plain Sight) serves as a shoegazing interlude readying you for the third and final track on the record For El Dorado, Whenever I May Find You, it rages from the first few moments, before dropping into hammond drenched sections as the brass flares up again in the emotional post rock sections towards the end. It's an EP that marks, the deafening latest chapter in this band's impressive history, a band to put on your watchlist. 9/10  

Urzah - II (Self Released)

Bristol psychedelic sludgers sent me their debut offering back in June 2020. Their thunderous three track EP featured crushing riffs, plenty of reverb and grooves as deep as the Avon. It was grungy, dirty and hypnotic in places, perfect for those early pandemic blues. So over a year later we have their second EP, this time it's four tracks and last time I said did they expanded their style they could be real contenders. 

So how excited was I when Where Is Your Sun?/Bloodrite started the EP with some aggressive hardcore vocals and chugging riff feels a bit more like Crowbar, as they shift into a the Bloodrite section bringing more stomping riffage as it fades to silence. II sounds a lot better than the first EP, it's got a cleaner production sound to it, making a song like The Lure, which is just a shimmering clean guitar instrumental feel a bit more resonant as we are taken into the final track Shards which again feels like a groove metal track in the vein of Corrosion Of Conformity meets Pantera. 

II is the evolution of Urzah, combining what they have done with additional flavourings to broaden their sonic horizons. Watch out for Urzah at a venue near you soon. 7/10

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Reviews: Earthless, Opensight, Lalu, SOM (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Simon Black & Rich P)

Earthless - Night Paradise Of One Hundred Demons (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Like emerging from a dreamstate, the echoed clean guitars wash over you as the cymbals are deftly crash like waves on a shore. This is opening passage of Earthless latest offering Night Paradise Of One Hundred Demons, made up of just three songs the first part of the title track, is almost pastoral, bringing you into the ethereal world of Earthless, starting the record off slowly and hazily before the pace quickens a little into a percussive gallop and keening guitar, the song shifting almost into a theme from an imaginary western as Leslie West once put it. 

It's almost as if Earthless are deliberately trying to distance themselves from the previous record Black Heaven where they had shorter songs and vocals. Here the return of gargantuan instrumentals can only lauded as it's certainly Earthless' wheelhouse. A record based on a Japanese legend of a sleep demon, comprised of a 41 minute title track split into two parts and a third song that is 20 minutes in length. It's Earthless at their most experimental and downright impressive. Apparently the title track took on a life of its own in the studio each time they thought they were done with it it took on a new life and they went into another direction. 

Part 1 becomes an impressive guitar display from Isiah Mitchell, featuring lots of emotional lead playing that culminates in an almost joyous conclusion. In stark contrast Part 2 opens with a creeping, windswept introduction Mario Rubalcaba's marching drumbeat in sync with Mike Eginton's rumbling bass lines, the short touches of keys and occult soundscapes letting those nightmarish visions build. If they were one band who have turned the Covid lockdown into a positive as Isiah Mitchell moved back to San Diego so was able to get into the studio with the other two members and jam this record out. 

Part 2 of the title track is much creepier, at the beginning but towards the end it explodes into a wild guitar driven psych/doom exploration packed with riffs and solos that stay in that occult realm. The 2 part title track is magnificent kick off to the album, telling the story of the Yōkai while the third song, Death To The Red Sun is equally as epic falling into Earthless' early sound as it brilliantly harks back to their heydey of psychedelic rock jamming, the trio locking in for grooves upon tasty grooves. Night Paradise Of One Hundred Demons is glorious return to form for Earthless. 9/10

Opensight – Mondo Fiction (Self Released) [Simon Black]

OK, so this is a bit different.

Opensight are an independent act from London who’ve released a few EP’s over the last decade but have now finally got around to a debut full length album. Clearly these guys grew up in the kinds of homes where TV and movie soundtracks were a thing (guilty your honour), because this comes across as a hybrid of a soundtrack music LP from 1960’s ITC golden TV era mixed with a bit of early 70’s progressive rock and proto-metal. Once you get past the initial “what the actual fuck” moment when starting to listen this is actually quite a positive experience, because believe me in this reviewing game true originality is a rare and blessed thing. The band prefer the sub-genre cinematic metal though, which is a more grandiose and marketable way of saying the same thing.

It’s an eclectic but effective mix, not least because there’s some really skilful playing and instrumental work here and the eclectic style means that it constantly keeps you on your toes, because like any good piece with progressive elements it constantly surprises. Let’s face it, when the opening track In Here With Us includes a horns section, you know anything can and will happen. There’s touches of jazz (light ones mind) to the full blown progressive instrumentalism of longer tracks like Villain, this record does not keep stylistically still. There’s also a good use of semi-acoustic guitar arpeggios at key moments to control the pace rather than just using them as a means of gently starting a song and again these pace and time shifts do not jar but help keep the flow interesting.

Ivan David’s voice works best when trying to keep things moody and haunting, but his range adopted for the bulk of this record is a little limited. To be clear, that’s a stylistic choice in the approaches he takes, because when he does vary the tone and style a little, for example in the opening verses of Secrecy, you can hear that range is definitely there, just not always being used. If there was a little more of that variation in the vocal tones and styles to go alongside what the instrumentalists are doing then this might be rather unstoppable, as the material on this record is exceptionally well written and performed. 

The only weak song on here is a cover of the theme for Thunderball, which whilst absolutely summarising where this band are coming from does not work because the original song just simply is not strong enough in comparison to their original material. Thoroughly and unexpectedly enjoyable, which let’s face it is why I do this gig. 7/10

Lalu - Paint The Sky (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Vivien Lalu is a French keyboard player specialising in the prog genre mostly. He is the son of Noelle and Michel Lalu who were members of French 70's proggers Polène. Prior to this he has released three albums that were collaborative efforts that were more driven by cinematic progressive metal, that was heavily inspired by Dream Theater and Devin Townsend. For his debut on Frontiers he want to write an album that was very much in keeping with his 70's prog rock roots. To this he needed a vocalist with an exemplary back catalogue in the genre so Vivien approached Damian Wilson who has served time in Threshold, Headspace and Arena so is in my opinion the perfect singer for this style of 70's melodic prog that draws from Yes, Genesis and King Crimson, while also retaining that metal edge of Dream Theater and Italian band DGM. 

In fact Simone Mularoni of DGM played on the previous Lalu releases and is one of the many guests on this record. However rounding out the band here along with Wilson and Lalu are guitarist/bassist Joop Walters (previously a live second guitarist) and drummer Jelly Cardarelli. The four members here are ina brilliant unison concocting technically impressive but ultimately entertaining and accessible music. Swathes of keys and clean guitars are the order of the day as Wilson's melodic voice soars like Jon Anderson, Jelly never wobbling behind the kit as his expressive style anchors these musical flights of fancy. 

As with the previous outings there are a number of guests, as I've mentioned with Jens Johansson (Stratovarius), Alessandro Del Vecchio (every Frontiers band), Steve Walsh (Kansas), 'The Fretless Monster' Tony Franklin (The Firm, Whitesnake etc), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) and Simon Phillips (Toto) joining Mularoni on the guestlist, to all add their experience and techniques to this record. Clocking in at just over an hour, Paint The Sky is a prog rock force of nature, perfectly capturing the 70's progressive rock sound of bands like Yes with a modern flair. 8/10

SOM: The Shape Of Everything (Pelagic Records) [Rich P]

The term “Shoegaze” gets thrown around a lot these days. Seems like any band that slows it down a bit and adds lush vocals and soundscapes are lumped into the genre that was brought to us and perfected in the 90s by bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and thought by many to have started with Jesus And Mary Chain’s landmark classic Psychocandy. We have bands seemingly in every genre incorporating aspects of the underrated style, especially those black metal bad boys whose dad saw Lush on that Lollapalooza so many years ago. Then, somehow, The Deftones became the torchbearer for shoegaze, for reasons I will never fully grasp. Sure, you can hear that Chino and the boys had a few Cocteau Twins records in their collection, but nothing to me has ever screamed shoegaze on any of their albums. 

Bringing me to The Shape Of Everything by SOM, who’s promotional materials throw around terms like “For Fans of The Deftones”, which to me shortchanges what they bring to the table. SOM leans all the way into the heavy Shoegaze, with the shining and shimmering vocals, MVB guitar effects, slowed down pace on many of the eight tracks, but keep enough of the crunch to appeal to the heavy music crowd. Songs like the opening track Moment or the sprawling, lush Clocks could fit into any modern or even 90s era Shoegaze playlist. Heart Attack, my favorite track on the album, goes into full MVB mode in a really good way. You get this throughout all eight tracks of The Shape Of Everything, never really veering too far away from the original formula. 

Rather than that Deftones comparison that I think will disappoint fans looking for some more of the same, I think more of bands like Mew (if you never heard their classic And The Glass Handed Kites do yourself a favor and track it down), Spotlights (who have opened for The Deftones, so you have that…) Astronoid who incorporate shoegaze elements with some prog metal thrown in, and a top album of 2021 for me the debut from Slowshine. I enjoyed The Shape Of Everything, but the album can be a bit repetitive at times. While SOM have really focused and executed on what they do well, The Shape Of Everything suffers from some repetitiveness end to end and could use something to set them apart from the throngs of bands who are incorporating Shoegaze in their music today. SOM has given us a worthy debut that has a lot of promise of what’s to come from them as they keep the spirit of Shoegaze alive. 7/10

Monday 24 January 2022

Reviews: Kissin' Dynamite, Comeback Kid, The Ferrymen, Confess (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Matt Cook)

Kissin' Dynamite - Not The End Of The Road (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now I always thought that Kissin' Dynamite were a glam band. But on their seventh record they have wholeheartedly embraced the pumping power metal for Not The End Of The Road putting European power metal with an 80's glam metal shine. You make balk at the idea but bands such as Dragonforce have successfully brought in that 80's ethos into their music, so why not go the other way? Yeah ok it's not full pelt super shredding, but there's influences from Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and The Scorpions, especially on the swaggering What Goes Up and the tongue in cheek Yoko Ono which will be a live show killer. 

There is also however a few nods to 90's with Good Life which feels like Katrina & The Waves in their Eurovision pomp, the song itself was released as a single to raise money for a Children's cancer charity and features guest vocals from Charlotte Wessels, Alea der Bescheidene (Saltatio Mortis) and Guernica Mancini (Thundermother), while Coming Home sounds Alter Bridge at their most radio friendly. Not The End Of The Road is about as polished as your neighbours car on a Sunday morning, No One Dies Alone is a full on rocker with that chorus inciting some laughs at MoM Towers as does the thumping Voodoo Spell which kicks off sounding like The Prodigy but goes into yet more power glam. Packed with anthems Not The End Of The Road will be warmly welcomed during the summer festival season! 8/10

Comeback Kid - Heavy Steps (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Cook]

If you were itching for a by-the-book hardcore album, then you’re in luck, because that’s precisely what Comeback Kid offer with their newest full-length, Heavy Steps (Nuclear Blast). To be fair, Jeremy Hiebert and Stu Ross leave their fingerprints all over the 11 tracks, riffing hard and sneaking in guitar fills here and there. One curious decision, though, was to incessantly incorporate layered pick sliding on No Easy Way Out, which in it of itself is basically the refrain repeated over and over again, especially at the conclusion. 

Understanding it’s almost canon of the genre (for better or worse), Heavy Steps at times felt fragmented and wandering. Face The Fire especially seemed like the five-piece independently wrote their own parts and came together without any cohesion or direction. Conversely, Shadow Of Doubt is an absolute rager; Dead On The Fence is another example of the axemen putting in work; and Standstill opens with a serviceable introduction thanks to skinsman Loren Legare and adequately keeps the pace throughout. But lyrics such as “Everything relates to everything” are borderline offensive in its utter lack of creativity or thought. 

The aforementioned Face The Fire announces “We’re still playing those drums/you’ll see what happens,” as if to say, Look, we have instruments, and we promise we will break the mold…except it never materializes. Andrew Neufeld’s gravelly performance on the mic is unique in its cadence and sound, though it fails to contribute to any superlatives the record might receive. Hardcore punk is raw, edgy, in your face and take your pick with any number of other abrasive adjectives. 

But in 2022 and beyond, there needs to be more, not in the least to stand out and/or trailblaze for future bands, but also to leave people wanting more. Heavy Steps spit in the face of innovation, and two decades since the band first formed, Comeback Kid fell flat and appeared to assume fans would consume their newest music unflinchingly and without question. 6/10

The Ferrymen - One More River To Cross (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

The third album from The Ferrymen, pretty much does what the first two did. Combine melodic hard rock and symphonic/power metal into a driving style of melodic metal that comes from three extremely talented performers. The band is comprised of Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear), Ronnie Romero (Lords Of Black/Rainbow) and Mike Terrana (Rage) and with One More River To Cross they return to flex their musical muscle with track such as Bringers Of The Dark outlining what the trio do so well, a galloping drumbeat, big riffs, massive vocals and the augmentation of sweeping choirs, orchestras and keys. 

Karlsson is no stranger to this style of music having curated numerous projects for Frontiers and along with Romero and Terrana they have built up the chops to make this kind of music be as slick and impressive as it is here, rarely lacking in quality even on the ballads where Romero gives us a blast of that voice Ritchie Blackmore chose to front the legendary rock band. They are a band that have come out fully formed from the debut the quality was evident, there's been no building up the band across their releases, they grasped early on what they do as trio and have proceeded to do exactly that on every subsequent record. 

Now I scored the last two The Ferrymen albums highly, but there is a feeling of deja vu on One More River To Cross which does make you think that perhaps the project may have hit it's nadir a little. Now that's not to say it's bad, far from it, this a great melodic metal, but there's not much else. 7/10    

Confess - Revenge At All Costs (Rexius Records) [Matt Cook] 

It’s very easy to take music lightly - consuming it, writing it, performing it. But the harsh reality is not everyone has the opportunity to express themselves or even take part in creating and contributing to the scene’s landscape. Take Confess for example: Nikan Khosravi and Arash Ilkhani were quite literally sent to jail in 2015 for expressing anti-religious and anti-regime sentiments in their native country of Iran. They sought refuge and eventually found themselves in Norway, having been given asylum and (hopefully) a safe spot to continue their craft. And how fortunate for us. Revenge At All Costs (Rexius) is chock full of raging sentiments and in-your-face attitude that can only be conjured up from the depths of dissent and disenfranchisement. 

The stage is set as Based On A True Story features news clips reporting the aforementioned arrests. Unfilial Son is a forearm shiver of heavy-as-hell hardcore and punk. At first listen, Slipknot appears to be a significant influence on the groove/thrash metallers. Megalodon and I Speak Hate…are straight-up headbangers. The riffs come alive in extremely tight and clean bursts (Phoenix Rises, Hegemony, You Can’t Tame The Beast). The vocals provide a raspy, aggressive tool in which to be guided throughout the album. The seven-year absence from Confess’s last full-length only allowed the group to amp up the intensity and hatred, not that they need much more motivation or inspiration. 

Revenge sternly lifts a middle finger firmly against the notion of being targeted and imprisoned in the name of metal. The band’s bravery and courage works in tandem with their scintillating songwriting and vitriolic vocals. When threatened by their own government, Confess found freedom elsewhere all in the name of being able to release their art and music, and rightfully so. Even in the modern era, metal is threatened. Let this be a reminder that it will never die, and this ferocious foursome is fronting the charge. 8/10

Saturday 22 January 2022

Reviews: Abyssus, Dark Legion, Blind Sun, Dysnerved (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Abyssus - Death Revival (Transcending Obscurity Records)

There's death metal and then there's proper freaking death metal, Abyssus' are in the latter category. Coming from those early days when thrash gained a pair of balls and everything got a lot more aggressive, Abyssus' sound is drawn from bands like Obituary, Bolt Thrower and even Slayer. Full of rapid pace, razor sharp, thrash metal riffs but cut with technical precision, outright brutality and guttural growled vocals, Death Revival is Abyssus reclaiming their position at the nadir of the Greek death scene. 

Despite this being only their second full length album, they are no slouches having released an EP or Split record pretty much every year since their debut Into The Abyss in 2015, and in fact even before that as well. So with this much experience behind them you would expect Death Revival to rip your face off, and it does from the snarling opening moments until the crushing, doom laden, disgusting finale of When Wolves Are Out To Hunt each song bludgeoning you with destructive, formidable death metal. The Beast Within is possibly the heaviest offering at track four with a dirty groove and crushing riffs.  

Genocide offers a brief slow down with the intro of traditional Greek music, but mostly this album refines what they set out to achieve on Into The Abyss, increasing the extremity while still retaining those thrash sounds that permeate through Metal Of Death and the raging The Ten Commandments. This Athenian five piece have unleashed one of the toughest death metal records of the year so far. Crank it loud! 8/10   

Dark Legion - God Of Harvest (Elevate Records)

Formed by Evil King guitarist Spiros Rizos Dark Legion, Elevate Records delivers the debut album from Dark Legion a band who are 3/4's Greek as Rizos' plays all the guitars with drummer Theoharis Theoharakis and bassist Aristofanis Tzaerlis making up the rhythm section. God Of Harvest is the debut record from Dark Legion and it was styled after the European progressive metal acts with particular reference to bands like Evergrey and Queensryche. Songs such as Inner Fire feeling like those mid-paced dramatic days of Empire

For this kind of music you need a decent vocalist, so Spiros managed to find Argentinian vocalist Walter Osedin to fill the role of Geoff Tate and he handles things admirably his soaring voice, he brings passion and poise to album midpoint ballad 1000 Miles but also has the melodic delivery of Timo Kotipelto when they ramp up the speed when the record moves into Neo-classical realms on Reign Of Chaos and The Dragon's Saga as we go into the style of bands such as Stratovarius, Rizos' displaying his tasty guitar chops. God Of Harvest is a decent debut from Dark Legion, there's nothing here to set the world alight but there's 10 tracks of melodic metal with some virtuoso playing and influences from some of the biggest in the genre. 7/10

Blind Sun – Under Them Stones (Self Released)

You always know that Greek stoner metal will deliver and Under Them Stones, the debut album from Athenian (I think) stoners Blind Sun certainly delivers if you like feast of crunchy riffs, fuzz bass lines and some gritty vocals. There is very little info about the band available so I have no idea who is in the band but they seem to be a five piece previously called Supersonic Fox. Still that really doesn’t matter as the music here speaks louder than any PR or Biography. Under Them Stones is oozing with swaggering stoner metal, that often manoeuvres into doom on the slow burning Stoned Goddess

The throbbing Ghosts Of Revolutions Past features that magical instrument, the cowbell before moving into the heavily psych sounding I Am. Their singer is a perfect fit, her vocals feel soulful and born from the blues, while the rhythm section do more than just keep the beat, the bass especially is rampant throughout with little flourishes and breaks. Of course there are riffs and glorious air guitar baiting, solos from the guitar duo. Cranking this record up will do wonders for your day, as it’s a listening pleasure! Another fine addition to the Greek stoner scene. 8/10

Dysnerved - Man In The Middle (Self Released)

Thessaloniki based Avant Garde style of music that takes from black/death and post metal, they sound as if they have influences from Alcest, Ulcerate and countrymen Hail Spirit Noir. It's been a long time coming having been recorded between 2018-2020, but this debut record has emerged from the darkness with 8 tracks of atmospheric extreme metal that shifts its focus between long repeating single chord pieces such as the opening to Daily Routine Of A Hollow Mind and frenzied snarling extreme metal ferocity on Apophenia

As the band class themselves as Avant Garde there's a huge amount of experimentation within the songs, drummer Alekos stradies the pace, unleashing violence but also deftness. Kostas' bass growls and grooves on Us, adding a tumultuous uneasiness. While Simos' guitar playing is eclectic, ranging from djent palm muting, black metal tremolo picking and crushing doom. 

The three instrumental members of the band make it feel as if it's been recorded against all odds, over a long period of time, the album feels like that, lots of different sounds brought together depending on shifting moods. The constant being Manos' aggressive vocal style, he has a raw, throat shredding execution that is beguiling and terrifying. An interesting record that blends multiple disciplines into slice of extremity. 7/10    

Friday 21 January 2022

Reviews: 40 Watt Sun, Great American Ghost, Verikalpa (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Zak Skane & Richard Oliver)

40 Watt Sun - Perfect Light (Cappio Records) [Paul Scoble]

40 Watt Sun is the project that Warning main man Patrick Walker went on to after the demise of the worlds most melancholy band. Formed in 2009, 40 Watt Sun released their first album, The Inside Room in 2011. The album still has a huge, sad doom sound, that was similar to Warning, but had a softer, more rounded sound, the melancholy woeful feel was still there, but there was some positivity in the lyrics. Five years later 40 Watt Sun released their second album with Wider Than The Sky, and this time there was a sizeable move away from heavy metal, to a sound that was based around a clean guitar, singer songwriter sound. Again the album had an overall feeling sadness and melancholy.

Perfect Light has been made in a different way to 40 Watt Sun’s other albums. The bands two previous albums were made with a band lineup; on Perfect Light, Patrick has worked with guest musicians to write and record. Some of the songs are just guitar and vocals and were recorded by Patrick Walker alone, but on others there were collaborations with Andrew Prestidge and Roland Scriver (The Osiris Club), Ajit Gill (Vertaal), Lorraine Rath (Amber Asylum/Worm Ouroboros), and pianist/composer Chris Redman. As a result this album has more variation to 40 Watt Sun’s other albums, a little bit more light and shade. 

As with the last 40 Watt Sun album Wider Than The Sky there is no metal on this album, the closest is a couple of places where there are guitar parts with a small amount of distortion, but it’s more a warm overdrive rather than a heavy distortion. The main style is centred around Walkers acoustic guitar with a little piano and fairly minimalist drums and bass, there are elements of folk (although definitely not jigs), 70’s Singer Songwriter, and maybe a little subtle country. I have seen the style on this album described as ‘Chamber Folk’ which fits quite nicely.

The album opens with Reveal, which features a gentle finger picking acoustic guitar and vocals that are just as gentle. The vocals become a little more fervent, and the music a little bit more purposeful for a chorus that also features backing vocals. The songs final part has a repeated line of “I’m strong enough to lift you up”, which signals a positivity that feels like a new addition to 40 Watt Sun’s palette.

Behind My Eyes continues the gentle finger picking style of guitar, this time with minimalist percussion, the chorus is louder and has more drive to it. In the second half of the song a piano is added, which felt a little bit country in style and helps to build the track as reaches its end. Overall the music and lyrics feel contented, which builds on the positivity of the previous track.

Third song Until sounds and feels most like the style on 40 Watt Sun’s last album, Wider Than The Sky. The guitar is strummed and feels taut, Walker’s voice has a little more angst than on the previous 2 songs. The song boasts a fairly big and passionate chorus, a melody lead with some warm overdrive on it, and that one and only overdriven riff that takes the song to its end. Next comes Colours, which is very soft, classical style guitar, matched with soft vocals in a way that reminds me of some of Leonard Cohen. The second half of the song has an instrumental classical guitar part that is just exquisite.

The Spaces In Between has a simple Acoustic Guitar riff, gentle, lilting vocals and some really beautiful piano parts, the song has a meditative feels to it that is drifting and dreamlike. Raise Me Up has a sense that is a little bit more pensive and introverted. The song features fairly minimal guitar, bass and drums, it’s slow and feels more depressive than the rest of the album. As the track develops it gets more purposeful and resolute, the drums come to the fore and drive it forward. Nearer the end the lyrics feels more positive, so the track starts talking about pain and ends feeling as if that pain has been dealt with, giving the song a very cathartic feel. 

I’m not sure if it’s because A Thousand Miles is talking about places that Patrick loves, or if it’s the finger picking style of guitar, but I found this track reminiscent of Ralph McTell’s song Streets Of London. The song has minimal drumming and has a lilting, drifting quality that is ephemeral and delicate. This is another track that has a feeling of contentment, a musical equivalent of a warm summer evening.

The album comes to an end with Closure, which is a simple song with softly strummed guitar and vocals that are at the fore, with lyrics that are positive. The music is gentle, lilting and exquisite, the perfect end to a near perfect album. Perfect Light is a stunning album. For an artist like Patrick Walker, who has such a reputation for producing sad and melancholy music, to produce something that comes across as being so filled with positivity and fulfilment feels as if he is escaping his reputation. Don’t get me wrong, this has it’s moments of down, Raise Me Up being a case in point, but it feels as if he has come to some sort of resolution, this is the happiness that comes from dealing with pain, it’s the happiness that comes from overcoming adversity. 

Maybe I’m reading too much into the final track being called Closure, but I can’t get away from how this album makes me feel. In the notes I made whilst listening to this album I found a line that that said, “Watching From A Distance (Warning’s perfect masterpiece of sadness and despair) feels like being Heartbroken, Perfect Light feels like being in love”, and I think I’ll end this review with that thought; if Patrick Walker made a soundtrack for your misery with Watching From A Distance, he’s just made an album for you to listen to when you have healed and are in love again. 9/10   

Great American Ghost – Torture World (MNRK Heavy) [Zak Skane]

Boston based hardcore act Great American Ghost have teamed forces with the well established metal producer Will Putney which has famously done with Thy Art Is Murder, Knocked Loose and A Day to Remember to produce a collection songs that cover themes like sexual abuse, corruption and addiction laced with bludgeoning riffs. With the experimental opening of Kingmaker, the band utilise Slipknot inspired percussive samples sandwiched between chunky double kicked drum grooves complemented with razor sharp guitar riffs courtesy of Davier Perez and Kikos Gasparrini. 

The vocalist Ethan Harrison passionately shouting about false leadership and abuse of power ensures the band make a promising first impression that still keeps their love of hardcore on their sleeve. Torture World combines classic beatdowns with anthemic choruses followed by machine gun precise breakdowns that you will find any Meshuggah or Fear Factory song. Womb combines death/thrash metal inspired riffs with some hardcore attitude which will please fans of Knocked Loose and Malevolence especially with the soaring solo that is featured in this track. Finally their explosive delivery of Death Forgives No One combines the groove of modern deathcore acts such as a Spite and Fit For An Autopsy and with the finesse of Nu-metal creativity. 

If I could describe the album in one word I would call it fierce. Davier’s machine gun precision drumming is a great marriage with the razor sharp accuracy of Nikos guitar riffs whilst laying a perfect base for Ethans vocals. I admire the production that Will Putney has put to the bands songs he has done a really good job of capturing the bands attitude to audio form. The only criticisms that I have is the band could of gone more experimental with their sound like they did with their opening track Kingmaker. However they have delivered a slab of modern heaviness. 8/10

Verikalpa - Tunturihauta (Scarlet Records) [Richard Oliver] 

Tunturihauta is the third album from Finnish folk metaller Verikalpa. A band self-described as “Finnish folk metal crazy drunken warriors” it is very clear from the outset that this band veers more towards the party side of the folk metal genre rather than the black metal or epic and atmospheric sides though it is definitely wrong to write these off as a Korpiklaani or Trollfest clone as Verikalpa have a few tricks up their sleeves. Verikalpa have a sound that is more in keeping with bands like Finntroll in that it is full throttle folk metal with high amounts of speed and energy, bouncy folk melodies, throat shredding vocals and forays into extreme metal territory. 

Album opener Verikauhu sets the tone with its barrage of blast-beats and violence mixing with the jaunty folk melodies. Talven Varjot is much the same but with a darker and more menacing tone whilst Raivokansa is far more melodic and rousing and the title track is a slower and moodier song. Despite the limitations of folk metal Verikalpa have managed to produce quite a varied album. Tunturihauta won’t sway the opinions of those who dislike folk metal but if this sort of thing is your bag then this album is recommended. It is frantic and fun and whilst rather silly (like a lot of folk metal) this band proves they have metal chops as well. 8/10

Thursday 20 January 2022

Reviews: Ashes Of Ares, Nocturna, Diamond Dogs, Planeswalker (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Ashes Of Ares - Emperors And Fools (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Matt Bladen]

Despite this only being their third album, Emperors And Fools has a lot of experience behind it, the core duo of Freddie Vidales and Matt Barlow have been a part of Ashes Of Ares for nine years but of course they have been in the music business for many years previously both previously as part of Iced Earth. it seems there is very little chance of either going back to that band (or that band existing again) so fans of Barlow's voice and Freddie's playing will have to make do with Ashes Of Ares. I say make do, but Ashes Of Ares have been slowly gaining momentum with every release, coming from what was quite a simplistic, generic debut, their previous full length and EP have seen them become a more well rounded, expansive musical force. 

Still firmly rooted in American power metal, the symphonic elements are utilized on cinematic intro track A City In Decay , before first track proper is the riffy I Am The Night driven by the scratchy thrash of Vidales' guitar/bass playing, he's a riff machine playing both instruments with ferocious precision and technical prowess. Van Williams returns as the drummer for the record but there are couple of guests brought in as well Pyramaze's Jonah Weingarten adding keys to the intro. Wiley Arnett (Sacred Reich) and Charlie Mark add solos to The Iron Throne. The final epic song Monsters Lament has a solo from Bill Hudson, keys from Brian Trainor and guest vocals from Tim 'Ripper' Owens (a bonus treat for Iced Earth fans. 

Once again Emperors And Fools refines and enhances the Ashes Of Ares sound again, bringing it close to those early Barlow fronted Iced Earth albums, mainly of course due to his always incredible vocals (often imitated, never bettered) but they also add their own style rather than slavishly copying. Primed is a rampaging offering followed by the equally aggressive Where God Fears To Go as the acoustic guitar laced title track slows the record ready for the power and speed to return again, though a track such as What Tomorrow Will Bring is an ideal example of what Ashes Of Ares do incredibly consistently. Chest beating heavy metal from stand out musicians, power/prog/thrash all together in one record. Play Emperors And Fools loud and proud! 8/10

Nocturna - Daughters Of The Night (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

This Gothic/Symphonic Supergroup is a side project for Frozen Crown’s Federico Mondelli. Whereas that act reigned back their Symphonic tendencies for last year’s Winterbane release in favour of more Power tropes, he’s more than compensated for it here. In this case we have not just one, but two rather powerful clean voices from Grace Darkling and Operatic soprano Rehn Stillnight.

The Frozen Crown resemblance remains strong though, perhaps not surprisingly given Mondelli’s distinctive playing style, but the interplay between the two singers is generally what’s keeping your attention throughout. Despite the overt Symphonic tendencies, this album remains fairly up tempo throughout, with some blisteringly heavy delivery from the rhythm section that are a bit more frenetic than is usual for the genre, which adds to an overall sense of fun, with the Gothic elements coming more from the overall mood and the fairly basic keyboard melodies. That’s a roundabout way of saying is that it does not get boring after three songs, which can happen a lot when your tempo stays downbeat and moody for too many tracks on the trot.

Neither does it outstay its welcome, with ten tracks (two of which being instrumental intros and bridges) and most songs around the four limit mark, this is a record focused on punchy delivery first and foremost. That focus on robust song-writing and structure is a massive asset, and the instrumentals all really happen in the background, allowing the vocals to steal your attention, as I suspect this whole project was crafted to achieve. The Symphonic cliché of the twenty minute epic finale is mercifully avoided, although closer The Trickster does stand out for having the best use of harmonic interplay between the two frontwomen.

Having not one but two female voices is certainly unusual and with one taking the full on Operatic melodies with a more Power Metal counterpoint from the other makes for some interesting sounds and some damned fine harmonies, although perhaps a more gruff and edgy contrast along the lines of a Doro or a Noora Louhimo style of delivery might have been interesting, even if only used occasionally. That said, I’m somewhat positive about this and would be interested to see if this becomes a full on living and breathing live act, rather than just a one-off lockdown studio project, because it would be a shame if this band did not get the opportunity to flex their muscles in the flesh. 7/10

Diamond Dogs - Slap Bang Blue Rendezvous (Wild Kingdom Records) [Matt Bladen]

Most long running bands have their fair share of drama, for many it can lend to the end of the band but some embrace it, adapting it into their music. Diamond Dogs do this; naming themselves after a David Bowie record you sort of know what style of music this Swedish band play. Having been treading the boards across the world since 1991, they have been bringing their 70's British R&B sound to the masses since then. They have also played in bands and artists such as Johnny Thunders, Ian Hunter, Electric Boys, Glenn Hughes, Michael Schenker, Glen Matlock and UK Subs. So very experienced but as I mentioned earlier they have had numerous deaths, members leaving and the band have also disbanded before coming back together in 2019. 

So what of Slap Bang Blue Rendezvous, well this eleventh studio record once again, has a big whack of glam, some hip shaking rhythm & blues and the cocky punk swagger of the The Quireboys or The Hellacopters. If you enjoy any of the bands mentioned throughout this synopsis then you'll enjoy Diamond Dogs, for me though 24 tracks was probably too many, I'm unsure why this wasn't two seperate albums or even a bonus disc rather than one long record. Still decent if you're a fan, for me though there was too much quantity over quality. 6/10  

Planeswalker – Tales Of Magic (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, Power Metal acts do love their concept albums. So endemic is the proliferation of these, that it’s sometimes quite refreshing when bands opt not to do one. Indeed of that vast number of albums that do the magical, mythical and science fiction stories tend to dominate, with myths, movies and books supplying the greatest percentage of the source texts - so I guess this one is fairly unique in my experience being the first one I have come across with a story borrowed from a game (in this case Magic – The Gathering). 

Now, I know bugger all about this game (as indeed most of the source material in the many of these records that cross my desk each year), so for me what’s more important is how good at communicating a story a band are with some decent tunes and performance. The danger is that the musicians get too wrapped up in the details of a plot and miss the accessibility of the story, which to be honest should be a secondary reward for the repeated listener rather than an entry criteria. That’s why a band focussing on good, accessible and well written songs in to the story over time, giving the listener added layers to enjoy with every repeat listen.

And this is where this record falls slightly flat. 

Which is a shame, because with Jason Ashcraft and Michael Sozos reunited from Helion Prime for this project I was hoping for something with that accessible punch. Now to be clear, the performances on here are top notch, but for most of it’s run the album isn’t reaching out and demanding your attention through well-crafted songs. It misses those kind of everyman songs that could be played independently of the concept record until you get to the end and this is rubbed in your faces with a spot on cover of Kiss’s A Million To One, which suddenly bucks the trend and supplies that anthemic, catchy and thoroughly enjoyable piece of music that’s going to work fantastically well live that we’ve been missing up to this point. 

It’s inclusion on a concept album about an RPG shows that all in all this is a project with a bit more structure and direction needed in future. Perhaps I’m being unfair, given that there’s a lot of projects out there assembled remotely without the benefit of road testing with a live crowd, but compare this cover track to the rest of the album and the contrast is blatant. If they had balanced this a bit more, then this would be getting a lot more enthusiasm from me. 5/10

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Reviews: Tony Martin, Eliminator, Darkness Divine, The Bad Electric (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Tony Martin - Thorns (Battlegod Productions/Dark Star Records)

If you don't know who Tony Martin is then stop reading immediately and educate yourself. Now if you do (or you've come back from reading) then you'll know he is the second longest serving vocalist of Black Sabbath, fronting the band when it basically became a Tony Iommi solo project. He was also the singer on the best album not to feature Ozzy or RJD, Headless Cross and it seems as if Martin is trying to return to those days again on his third solo album. 

Thorns comes two previous solo records an numerous vocal slots with other bands such as The Cage, Phenomena and most recently Magnum offshoot Kingdom Of Madness. So there is quite a body of work behind Martin away from the Sabbath mothership but he will probably be forever associated with the Birmingham originators of heavy metal. In two words, I can describe what Thorns sounds like, Black Sabbath, I mean it is always going to sound like Black Sabbath but Thorns strays more into the style adopted since the Dio years rather than the early Ozzy albums. 

Opener As The World Burns feels very Dio-esque with the bouncing riffs of Scott McClellan (who co-wrote the record with Martin) underpinned by Venom sticksman Danny Needham who is more Cozy Powell than Bill Ward, despite his day job. The record features two bassists, I assume sharing the low frequency duties, one being session four stringer Greg Smith and the other is ex-Hammerfall man Magnus Rosén. They take the position of Geezer's thundering rhythms, getting to show off a bit with slap playing on Black Widow Angel as Scott McClellan plays riffs that are part-Iommi, part-Zakk Wylde. 

As with a lot of Martin's career there is theatricality to his performance, Book Of Shadows adding a choir to make things more dramatic, it is a song that slows the pace of the album but does show that Martin still has a brilliant set of pipes at 64 years old as does the Crying Wolf which features some acoustic layers to it. We jump back into the heavy rock style with No Shame At All which is in the vibe of Evil Woman, but it's on the psychedelic, doomy sounds of Nowhere To Fly that will get the pulses of Sabbath lovers racing (or as much as they can for a doom fan) as will punching Run Like The Devil.

Closing out with the title track where Martin duets with Pamela Moore (of Operation:Mindcrime fame) and there is a Queensryche sound to this final number. Thorns is a great slab of heavy metal that will appease any fans of Black Sabbath/Dio. With the current Ozzy tour being continually postponed and Sabbath now just a memory I'd love to see Tony Martin touring this record soon! 9/10       

Eliminator - Ancient Light (Dissonance Records)

Don't confuse them with the multitude of bands with the same name from the USA, this Eliminator come from Lancaster and play NWOTHM, which of course used to be called NWOBHM. They released an album in 2018 called Last Horison which was well received but Ancient Light is a record that will see them take their place in the upper echelon of the NWOTHM style. 

Produced by the amazing Chris Fielding at Foel Studios in Wales, he gives the album the same treatment he has to bands such as Conan and Alunah, making it feel like an old analogue recorded release but also sound huge particularly the bottom end of Jamie Brandon (bass) and Dave Steen (drums). They drive the rampaging gallops of opening number Arrival and rarely take their foot off the gas as this 10 tracker explodes out of your speakers. 

Packed with a few nifty bass rundowns and the driving drums Ancient Light of course has plenty of twin axe harmonies from Jack MacMichael and Matt Thomas, they play off each other with skill and technical ability duelling in not only the solos but throughout the riffs too as there's a flourish here and a arpeggio there to move things out of what can sometimes be quite a well worn style. 

Having toured with bands such as Toledo Steel and Midnight Force, their experience is on show here, joining them to claw back the NWOTHM from North America to it's spiritual home. The title track adds a little goth flavour while anthemic Goddess Of Light gets you fist pumping. Vocalist Danny Foster giving you a taste of his impressive vocal, scaling the highest highs but with that gritty low as well and everything in between. 

You can feel all of the NWOBHM bands from the past coming through Eliminator's music but they stay very much in their own version of where those bands like Maiden, Priest etc have led. Ancient Light is a brilliant heavy metal album fusing, faster speed metal offerings with some more anthemic tracks such as Mercy and the longer Foreverless. Watch out for Eliminator as 2022 will be their year! 9/10  

Darkness Divine – Departure (Self Released)

Based in Glasgow Darkness Divine are a five piece that play a classic/thrashy metal with a modern edge. They released their debut EP Prelude in 2018 but have been working hard to get their full length together, obviously against the current adversity that all bands face. However finally they have gotten around to unleashing this debut out and it’s packed full of muscular heavy metal. The band cite their style as ferocity and elegance, with a mixture of both the power/symphonic and melodeath styles colliding with some classic/thrash metal riffage. 

Tracks like Handful Of Minutes have a heaviness of the latter featuring thrashy riffs and growls however This Is War moves towards the other end of the spectrum ringing out with emotion, as does proper lighters in the air ballad Halo. Luckily for the band they have a brilliant singer in the shape of Toni Benedetti-Martin who has a powerful vocal, that isn’t operatic, but carries emotion well and can get gritty and rough when needed. The record actually reminds me a lot of bands such as In This Moment, Avenged Sevenfold, Devilskin and even Triaxis/Rites To Ruin. 

For me the band work best when they are kicking out the riffs Dave Fulton and Stewart MacGillvray attacking on Throne and Mirror as Stewart brings some slinky leads to tracks such as 15 Seconds or Everflow. These heavier songs go full bore and while the slower tracks are great when bassist Gary McNeill and drummer John Martin drive something, like Nocturnal Poetry at full blast, it gets your head banging. After what apparently was a long wait, Departure emerges as great debut album from this modern heavy metal crew. 7/10

The Bad Electric - The Bad Electric (Self Released)

Swansea band The Bad Electric feature some noted names in the Swansea music scene but here they perform under the pseudonyms of Karl Dandleton (guitar/synth/vocals),Willie Dustice (guitar/vocals), Todd Bonzales (bass/vocals) and Bobson Dugnutt on drums. Decked out in orange cagoules they slam through five songs of "Robo Punk", which seems to riotous riffs, gang choruses and tongue in cheek/acerbic lyrics. Tracks like the fuzzy Double Science, the laid back psych vibes of Banana Peel or the punchy Drink To Get Through It are all done with the right amount of punk energy, pop sensibilities but also some nods to the members psych/stoner and doom 'day jobs'. It's a rocking EP that never pulls punches the best track on the whole thing being Mental Paul (and who doesn't know a mental Paul?) as it's a punky shout along that is a indicative of The Bad Electric's ethos. A cracking little EP from The Bad Electric announcing their intentions. 8/10

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Reviews: Fit For An Autopsy, Battle Beast, Tribute To Blue Öyster Cult, Maule (Reviews By Zak Skane, Simon Black, Rich P & Matt Bladen)

Battle Beast - Circus Of Doom (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

Battle Beast are one of those acts that in the past I have to confess to snobbishly raising an eyebrow at without ever having had the decency of giving them a proper listening to first, because let’s face it as power metal band names go it’s a pretty cheesy one and yes, it did put me off. The problem is the genre is so chock full of repetitive albums, endless dull concept records, consistent quality yes, but little to differentiate one band from another in the large majority of cases – and in this game I get a lot of these records across my desk. 

That opinion changed when I saw Battle Beast in the flesh at Bloodstock a few years ago, leaving the Sophie Lancaster tent mightily impressed and suitably admonished. I’ve not got around to looking back at their catalogue though yet for shame, although in my defence when you review a few hundred records a year you don’t get a lot of time for historical research unless you’ve got an interview coming up. So I really am sitting down to this band afresh with this, their sixth full length studio album. 

The first thing that grabs you when you see them live is the full throttled delivery of singer Noora Louhimo, whose range, performance, presence and sheer gravitas always grabs you by the hair and bangs your head pretty damn hard until you get it. This record pulls exactly the same trick and her incredibly powerful vocals are strong, loud and crucial to the idiosyncratic sound that this band achieve – as well as going a long way to making them distinctive from the bulk of the power metal pack. 

Musically, there’s a lot of melodic power tropes in here yes, but this feels a slightly more edgy and brutal sounding piece than many of their cookie-cutter contemporaries despite the full on orchestration layers being built up here, that certainly on the opener sound like there was a lot more going into that recording than just a few well-crafted keyboards voices. Then there’s the highly catchy and accessible song structures and melodies, which pull the not inconsiderable feat of sounding commercially accessible whilst not relinquishing any credibility or heaviness. This jumps out from the second track Wings Of Light, but there’s plenty of other instances peppered in here.

For me what makes the album work is the distinctive house sound from the vocals and clear musical instrumental signatures that create ten distinctive but clearly differentiated songs that give you a new twist and direction each and every time. Best of all they do this without resorting to a lame overwrought concept - OK there’s a loose thematic one, but the concept album really is dead and gone for me in power metal circles, because I think we all need a break from them. 

This band are pumping some serious iron here and if, like me, you are coming to them for the first time on disk, then I really can’t recommend this highly enough as a great place to start. 9/10

Fit For An Autopsy – Oh What The Future Holds (Nuclear Blast) [Zak Skane]

Fit For An Autopsy have been one of the most talked about bands in the deathcore community since they have released their debut album, The Process Of Human Extermination. The bands main founder Will Punty has been big part of shaping the sound of modern metal with working with established bands in genre such as Thy Art Is Murder, Knocked Loose and The Amity Affliction. With six releases including an EP under their belt, the band has released their seventh album Oh What The Future Holds

To start this journey off we have the title track, Oh What The Future Holds which begins with some cinematic piano and clean guitars till it builds up to the first of many heavy sections on this album, Joseph coming in venting and questioning about the future of the human existence. Pandora takes this rollercoaster up a notch by showing us classic death metal riffage mixed in with some chanty choruses and soaring solos. The first single Far From Heaven allows us to witness the band exploring more experimental/technical territory with Patrick, Tim and Will utilising some tasty legato string skipping over Joseans tom tom drum grooves before it hits us with some polyrhythmic brutality. Two Towers is another one of the bands experimental efforts, with atmospheric guitars and ambient-layered vocals. 

Two Towers is also a moment in the bands in which they are stretching the boundaries of their songwriting skills by depicting a story in their lyrics. What I can get from the lyrics, is that it's a song about two entities that doomed to be separated till for eternity. A Higher Level Of Hate takes influences from Gojira with their tribal percussive intro before going into most string bending of grooves to Collateral Damage giving us some classic deathcore vibes with some chuggy riffs over some classic blasts beats. Collateral Damage also gives us some of the most searing solos that this band offers, and Savages brings the most tasty riffs that this album offers as well some of the most catchiest choruses. 

The closing track The Man That I Was Not shows off the bands musician ship to its fullest with Josean providing some Latin drum patterns over some jazzy chords that Patrick, Tim and Will are jamming over. In some cases it gives off a more post-hardcore sound that you would get from a band like Letlive or Dillinger Escape Plan. Following the clam before the storm Joseph and crew lead us into a heavier territory emotionally and dynamically, taking a groovier route before taking us to a sludgy climatic ending. 

In conclusion, I am going out on a limb and state that this is one of the best metal albums of 2022. I got to give credit to Will Putney’s production skills on this one by capturing the emotional experimental ore of this LP. He’s done a really good job capturing the dynamic range of Josean Orta’s drum performances all the way from the hell bent blast beats of Pandora to the Jazz/Latin inspired drum beats of The Man That I Was Not, those performances were captured flawlessly whilst keeping the overall drum sound natural in comparison to other modern metal productions. 

The guitar tones sound thick and juicy as always, but also leaves enough room to keep it dynamic on the ambient/experimental moments like the intro section of Far From Heaven and Two Towers. Joseph Badoleto’s lyrics still carry the poetic nuance from his previous efforts with the band but vocally starting to expand his range by doing other vocal styles like the melancholic melodies in Two Towers

This is the most mature release from the band to date and I would put this alongside other releases like Machine Heads The Blackening and Mastodon's Crack The Sky. 10/10.  

Various Artists - Döminance and Submissiön: A Tribute to Blue Öyster Cult (Ripple Music) [Rich P]

I am admittedly late to the Blue Öyster Cult party. Only recently have I realized the brilliance of the band and the influence they have had on the music that I love. Sure, we all know the three or so hits they play on classic rock radio, but their catalog is filled with their own brand of brilliant and unique occult rock that should not be overlooked. So, when I heard that Ripple Music (based on the idea from the late Steve Hanford whose work was completed by Ian Watts of Ape Machine) was releasing a BÖC tribute record I knew this would be a must listen. 

Tributes can be tricky, but the team nailed it with the bands that were invited and thirteen tracks selected. You get the optimal amount of hits and some cool deep cuts that will keep the BÖC fanatics happy. You get some ripper straight head covers and some bands making a classic their own, with end-to-end excellent results. Some stand out more traditional interpretations of the classics include the absolute on fire version of Transmaniacon MC by Tony Reed that takes the classic and makes it even more of a ripper, which is saying something. 

Great Electric Quest’s version of Flaming Telepaths and the Ape Machine take on Veteran Of The Psychic Wars are both true to the originals but perfectly executed to include what makes those two bands special. The War Cloud version of Stairway To The Stars is unmistakably War Cloud but teaming them with that song and Janiece Gonzalez’s vocals is the perfect tribute album formula. 

Some of the more unique interpretations make for some of the best moments on Döminance And Submissiön. Spindrift’s take on Don’t Fear The Reaper manages to make an already creepy song even more creepy (with zero cowbell) incorporating a more spacey and trippy feel to the universally know hit. Howling Giant partnering with Fu Manchu’s guitar hero Bob Balch resulted in a perfect formula for their version of the other gigantic hit, Godzilla, producing in a much more fuzzy, doomy, desert rock version which worked perfectly. Year Of The Cobra delivered my favorite track on the album, taking on the underrated BÖC track Fireworks, with Amy Tung’s haunting vocals and a slowed down tempo for a perfect combination of staying true to the original and making the track their own. 

Ripple Music has done it again. Not only do they have the best roster in rock, the output for projects like Döminance And Submissiön is second to none. This will be a treat for any BÖC fanatic or a starting off point for newbies that will be diving into their vast discography soon enough. 9/10

Maule – Maule (Gates Of Hell Records) [Matt Bladen]

Other than the Brits, who of course invented it, Canadians seem to be the second biggest producers of NWOBHM inspired music in the world. There literally hundreds of bands that play the rough and ready style of heavy metal invented by bands such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Saxon. Evolving throughout the years, it drew from punk to become speed metal influencing thrash, death and black metal. 

Now yes there are plenty of European bands that have spearheaded the NWOTHM as it is now called but I always find the Canadians stills have that underground D.I.Y spirit that made the original NWOBHM so vital to metal music. I mean Canada also has a pedigree of bands such as Exciter, Razor and Anvil, who are influential in their own way, leading to more recent additions such as Cauldron, Striker and Skull Fist. 

You can now add to this list Maule who bring guitars as spiky as their belts and bright white hi-tops, the uniform of the NWOTHM. Their self-titled debut record is exactly the kind of album you want from this style, jammed to the gunnels with frantic, biting riffs, vocals that are delivered quickly and loudly, so as not to get in the way of more riffs/solos and production that feels like a cassette from the glory days. 

Comprised of Bones on bass, Eddie Riumin on drums, lead guitarist Danny Gottardo and Jakob Weel on vocals/rhythm guitar this four piece don’t hang around, slicing through the 9 songs here as if they were butter on Canadian bacon, going all guns blazing from Evil Eye to We Ride. Strap yourselves in as Maule deliver NWOTHM with passion and precision. 8/10