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Monday 28 February 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Green Lung, Sigiriya, Haast, Suns Of Thunder, Lacertilia & Lowen (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Green Lung, Sigiriya, Haast, Suns Of Thunder, Lacertilia & Lowen. Clwb Ifor Bach, 27/02/22

Expectation is an odd thing, the hyperbole, the press, the word of mouth all do their bit in creating anticipation. There is of course an issue with that when you try to look at things critically. This show for instance captured the imagination, instilled excitement and was highly anticipated, due mainly to the 2 year layover due to Covid. Kudos to the Snuff Lane team for keeping the original show together across two postponements. However expectation and reality often differ and tonight was one of those that did so. Now I'll admit I fell into the trap and jumped on the hype train and this isn't a slight on any of the bands as they were all as good as each other, in fact I'm actually going to score them all the same but a combination of factors essentially meant that by the end of the evening what I wanted was the new heirs to Sabbath, but what I got was a more authentic, less schlocky Ghost.

But let's start at the beginning, with the one band that, had I not decided to give all the bands an equal score would have got the highest. London based band Lowen pretty much stole the show with their invigorating, enthralling fusion of crushing doom and Middle Eastern musical traditions. Nina Saeidi is a bewitching vocalist, who when you see her perform you realise she probably doesn't actually need the mic at all. Her vocal fills the room even if guitarist Shem Lucas is determined to destroy it along with his guitar that he abuses throughout their set. There was no chit chat, the only interaction coming from a wave of hand to beckon the crowd forward. As the set drew to a close Nina held aloft the traditional Daf drum, it caught the red light behind it and her shadow, making for a magisterial moment, reminiscent of desert sun setting. It something quite special and I hope they return to Cardiff soon for a full headline set. 

Wedged between the two London bands was a load of familiar names to anyone that has been a part of the stoner/doom scene in South Wales for a while will recognise. First on were Lacertilia who crashed into the future with ballsy riffs that makes you realise what Hawkwind would sound like if Lemmy had done different drugs. Mike and Lukas' riffs are cranked out with force, Lukas getting a few solo moments too, as the rhythm section of Ed and drummer Carl (who is the original drummer of the band) got the groove nice and fat. Up front Fry was his wild, space wizard self throwing his body around the stage as he raged. It was Lacertilia at full bore, a great return to the Clwb stage. 

Next though the pace changed a little as Suns Of Thunder came back to the Clwb stage, albeit upstairs rather than down as they were with Desert Storm. Their workmanlike hard rock was different to what had come before, Greg and Matt's vocal interplay is where this band really impress, though they also have some grit and punchy songs that made sure that they weren't the odd ones out on the night, though with so many bands playing on the show you did feel as if Suns Of Thunder may not quite be as heavy as the rest of the bands playing. Breezy riffs and a sunny punk attitude Suns Of Thunder rocked out but it was really the locals that were getting stuck in.

Following them was another band who seemed like an odd fit but then Haast have never been the easiest listening experience. Esoteric Post-metal/sludge can be a bit inaccessible unless you're a fan but Haast are very good at it, crashing riffs distortion over more distortion, they too have a double vocal style that adds depth but at their heart they are just there to make a noise, a long slow noise but an noise. For me Suns and Haast were the two bands that were a victim of circumstances a little as for those who had been there from the beginning, the energy was starting to wane, some even opting to go next door for a sit down apparently! However there was also the influx people coming to see the headliner at the normal opening time that were greeted by the two bands who they sound least like. So while they both played excellently there did seem to be a lull with only the diehards at the front getting really into it. 

Finally for the supports it was riff monsters Sigiriya  who are experienced, drilled and play that Sabbath worship we were all looking for. They are a band who have been treading the boards on the South Wales scene for a while now, yet somehow don't get the recognition they deserve. These grizzled vets if you will, show why they have supported the likes of Orange Goblin with a clutch of big riffing bangers that sit somewhere between Cluch, The Sword and Sabbath, decked out in classic metal shirts, with the exception of frontman Matt who was still repping Made Of Teeth as he was whilst performing with Suns Of Thunder. There is a old school vibe to the band that once again raised the tempo, but I couldn't help notice that there wasn't the sold out crowd promised for any of the opening acts even with Sigiriya smashing it.

A shame but then as I mentioned at the beginning expectation is an odd thing so it was as the headliners Green Lung took to the stage that the room finally fully filled out, greeting us with faces who had been seldom seen, if not at all. This influx of bodies meant that the sweat was what we were all feeling, as the organs swelled to introduce the band. It also meant that there was much more, cover your eyes if you don't like expletives, fuckery going on. One crowd surfer ejected and a few positions shifted, Green Lung were delivering their well honed, occult/folklore driven metal that stems from British history. They certainly know how to capture an audience, though they may need to work on a collective aesthetic a little. But as this is was the last show of the tour, they were determined to get the packed house moving. Musically live they did seem a little lighter than on record and perhaps a tad rawer too, not that it mattered as most of the crowd were losing their minds to every single song played. 

Therein lies the problem, for me a band like Green Lung have been set the unenviable task of being the next big thing. Raved over and worshipped at such an early phase of their career, means that they will rapidly ascend the ranks, no matter what they do. So while they are a brilliant band live, with a clear joy of playing and a setlist built around 2 solid albums. All of the acts that played deserved a piece of that recognition and I feel that they didn't perhaps get it due to the aurora surrounding the headliners. 

Though maybe it's me and if I see Green Lung again, perhaps not after spending 4 hours in a dark room, I too will embrace the rabid devotion that a lot of their fanbase have. Some great performances all round for a Sunday night rock out but this wasn't the life changing experience that is being sold. Go and see all the bands featured in this review if you can as they're all great so in conclusion the entire night receives, a solid. 8/10 

Saturday 26 February 2022

Reviews: Corpsegrinder, Tuskar, Bad Omens, Kajgūn (Reviews By Charlie Rogers & Dr Claire Hanley, Matt Bladen, Zak Skane & Rich P)

Corpsegrinder -  Corpsegrinder (Self Released) [Charlie Rogers & Dr Claire Hanley]

George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher is a man who needs no introduction. With a successful career as one of the genre’s iconic voices, spanning over three decades; he is to death metal what Andrew WK is to party metal but instead of an enthusiasm for socializing, he gets his musical jollies by crushing skulls. His debut self-titled offering comes hot on the heels of Cannibal Corpse’s 2021 release Violence Unimagined but, as a testament to the mastery of his domain, thankfully the two are noticeably distinct. 

The album wastes no time launching the listener into furious riffs, and the aforementioned trademark bark. Yet, Acid Vat offers up some unexpected slam vibes amidst the chaos, as the first taste of the myriad of influences on the record unfolds. Adopting a nightmarish swagger from the hardcore genre, some of the riffs are as thick as Corpsegrinder’s neck. That bravado continues into Bottom Dweller and All Souls Get Torn which are chock full of high energy, aggressive licks. The former features examples of pure bile and hatred in the lyrics (clearly, making an enemy out of George would be a colossal mistake), while the latter revisits the groovy slam feel and showcases a more venomous tone to the vocal performance. 

Defined By Your Demise is an equally gritty and mean track, promising all kinds of vengeance, and Vaguely Human - most closely resembling a Cannibal Corpse composition - bludgeons the senses with some seriously pounding double kicks, and more of George’s tortured screams. Nonetheless, not all the songs hit just as hard as each other, with On Wings Of Carnage being a prime example. Much darker, and more menacing, Death Is The Only Key provides the contrast to it’s fast paced predecessors; taking the tempo down a notch while still maintaining all that power. Both Devourer Of Souls and Master Of The Longest Night follow this pattern, with monstrous precision paired with skull-crushingly heavy chugs. 

An anomaly for the death metal genre, Crimson Proof opens with a guitar tone reminiscent of, dare we say it, nu-metal/metalcore. Maybe this isn’t such a surprise given the involvement of Nick and Charlie Bellmore (Kingdom of Sorrow, Phantoms). Having relative newcomers to the scene can be a gamble but seemingly they have taken to death metal like brutal ducks to shark-infested water. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, it’s a short yet sweet romp through Death Metal 101. 

But there’s beauty in the simplicity - it’s ‘meat and potatoes’ death metal executed to the highest standard. This isn’t your grandma’s ropey roast dinner, swimming in watery gravy, it’s filet mignon and triple cooked chips. When you encapsulate a genre, you're allowed to stick to a formula, but perhaps there is too much of a good thing. 9/10

Tuskar - Matriarch (Church Road Records) [Matt Bladen]

Many of us will have learnt about the life of stars and the universe while at school. We're told that space is a vacuum and there is no sound. However when a Neutron Star collapses into a galaxy eating Black Hole, I'd like to think that the noise it makes sounds like Tuskar. The Milton Keynes duo are a band that use music as a weapon, their sludge metal denser than said Black Holes atomic mass and darker too. 

Just take the opening number on their debut full length record Matriarch, the title track is brooding, slithering song that moves at glacial pace with fleeting explosions of rage to stop you becoming to comfortable. It's a lengthy opening track but then the Tuskar do well with longer run times, bringing some post-metal atmospherics to The Trees, The Trees, The Trees, another sprawling instrumental that sits between the fiesty, furious hardcore of To The Sky and the frenetic percussion of Halcyon Gilt, a song that is as insistent as it is vicious. 

Despite being only 7 tracks Matriarch hits a very impressive 45 minutes with few gaps between the songs making it feel like one extensive journey. The sludge sound is often accompanied by the shimmering atmospherics, psychedelic freak outs or doomy low ends, making it a must for fans of bands such as Neurosis, (early) Mastodon or (early) Baroness, when the key was to be as heavy as hell but also to experiment with the style itself. 

These last two influences are clear as day on the impressive Into The Sea and the closing to Grave. Though Shame brings us back down with some introspective passages that build into flashes of full rage. Matriarch is a destructive, vicious record with progressive, emotive structures too. This duo are very impressive, I said so when I saw them live, but on record they are just as ear damaging, collapsing all the light around them. 8/10 

Bad Omens – The Death Of Peace Of Mind (Sumerian Records) [Zak Skane]

With successful singles like Glass Houses, The Worst Of Me and Dethrone in which have gained over Twenty Million streams Bad Omens have returned with their fifteen-track opus. The four piece utilise spine chilling atmospheres and cinematic soundscapes with seductive and catchy vocal hooks accompanied with metalcore aggression. Due to the bands tour being cancelled because of the global pandemic vocalist Noah and guitarist Jolly were left to their own devises and armed with artistic freedom, they have wrote their latest release The Death Of Peace Of Mind

This album opens up with oceans of electronic 80’s synths and drum machines accompanied with pop sounding falsetto vocals which as a result that can sound like anything The Weeknd have produced recently, in which as a result will make any casual metal listeners head tilt with curiosity before regaining their trust with a climatic breakdown. 

Following after is Nowhere To Go, which takes the tempo up a notch with it’s pop punk pacing and it’s post hardcore hooks that reminisces of bands that were popular of the 2011’s such as Pierce The Veil and Sleeping With Sirens. The leading single The Death Of Peace Of Mind highlights the peak of what this band is sonically capable of with the emotionally laced clean vocals that produce modern-day gothic seductive lyrics accompanied with electronic elements with modern metalcore breakdowns. 

Like A Villain ventures lyrically about coping with suicide and depression laced over the bands more metalcore arrangements with the guitars and live drums pushed more in the front of the mix instead of the electronics taking the centre point. 

Other highlights featured on this album are Just Pretend and The Grey with it’s soaring emotional choruses, the pop-core swagger of IDWT$ and rager that is Artificial Suicide with it's doom riffs and angry snarling vocals that Noah is producing. I really enjoyed listening to this album every song flowed within each other in an album context. Noah sounds hunting yet emotionally driven and Joakim and Nick’s guitars go from subtle ambient textures to a punishing blows to the ear drums as well as the experimental sounds of the synths and drum machines that were utilised through out the album. 

The few criticisms that I hold against with this album is that I find on some of the songs Noah's voice is a bit too over produced especially on songs like Concrete Jungle Take Me First and Like A Villain, as a result it takes away the character from his voice. The other criticism is that I find in the modern age of streaming and how artists are focusing more on releasing mini albums, EP’s and singles I find releasing a fifteen track album is a bit too over saturating and as a result it can lead to some of tracks to be quite forgettable. Overall if you’re a fan of bands and artists like The Weekend, Amo era Bring Me The Horizon and Issues this is straight up your street, 8/10.

Kajgūn - Daogoad (Self Released) [Rich P]

I love a good combo platter, so when I received the assignment to review Kajgūn, who describes themselves as a psychedelic jazz metal band my interest was piqued. Not so much on the second part, where they explain that the play totally improvised music. Now as someone who prefers some stability and certainty in life as well as someone who leans towards albums that have vocals, I became a bit more skeptical. Let’s see where this goes… 

To start, there is a lot going on musically. Some unique soundscapes are developed by this Hungarian three piece. Headphones would be a strong suggestion for maximum enjoyment. Winds, strings, and synths are right up front throughout the four sprawling tracks and the saxophone leads the way on the fifteen-minute jam, Dho Neyr Kouxmala with mixed results. This is some unique stuff, but you can see what they were going for with the jazz metal motif, but sometimes it is a bit much on jazz efforts. It’s obvious these guys can play for sure. The creativity is off the charts. But anyone looking for any kind of traditional song structure this album is not for you. 

Occasionally it feels like the band has thirty different random instruments spread across the room and I am picturing them running back and forth to pick the next one up, at the whim of their rapidly synapsing creative brains. If you enjoy instrumental doomy jams with instruments not normally found in something labeled “metal” then give this a try. I found it a bit repetitive and a bit too scattered, but that may have been what they were going for, and it is improv so maybe that was the goal. This may be a case of it just not being my cup of tea, but they can certainly play and are certainly creative, so if jazzy metal jam band is your thing check it out. 6/10

Friday 25 February 2022

Reviews: Shape Of Despair, Embryonic Devourment, Volcanova, Dawnrider (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Cook, Rich P & David Karpel)

Shape Of Despair - Return To The Void (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

The last few years have been very good if you are a fan of funeral doom, some exceptional huge, slow and very melancholy albums have been released by established masters of the genre. Now, those lucky funeral doom fans have something to weep over again as another funeral doom heavyweight returns with a new album. This time it’s Shape Of Despair. The band formed in Helsinki, Finland in 1998. In the twenty four years they have been making music together Shape Of Despair have made four albums before Return To The Void

The bands debut came out in the year 2000, and quickly followed it up with second album Angels Of Distress, in 2001. Shape Of Despair’s third album, Illusion’s Plaything was released in 2004, before taking a whole eleven years to release 2015’s incredibly well received comeback album Monotony Fields. After a mere seven years Shape Of Despair are back, have the band, which is made up of Tomi Ullgrén on Guitar, Janrno Salomaa on guitar and keyboards, Natalie Koskinen on vocals, Samu Ruotsalainen on drums, Sami Uuitalo on bass and Henri Koivula on vocals, kept the standard as high as they did on Monotony Fields

The album opens with the title track Return To The Void, which is a huge and deeply melancholy track. The tempo is slow and gentle, nothing jarring, big riffs from both guitar and keyboards with mournful melody leads over the top. The vocals are split between harsh vocals that are performed in a smooth non aggressive way, and beautiful clean vocals that is some places are layered, and when they are they are beautiful, ethereal and hypnotic. In a strange way I’m reminded of the band Clannad in the way these layered vocals are used, and they are just as affecting as Clannad’s choral vocals. The track stays at the same relaxed tempo throughout, the main changes are in intensity and the layering of instruments and vocals. 

Second track Dissolution is heavier and more purposeful than the the track that preceded it, until about a third of the way through when the song slows, and gets more minimal with just drums and keyboards, and those staggeringly beautiful layered vocals come in giving the track a feel that is similar to religious music, this part sounds as if it should be played in a cathedral. The heavy guitar parts and harsh vocals return for a while before a mournful melody lead brings the song to its end. Solitary Downfall opens with heavy guitar and keyboards, and a melody lead. The beautiful ethereal layered vocals return and we are back in liturgical territory again. This song is much more about the softer and other-worldly feel we glimpse on the previous song. The song has a very minimal section that is very quiet, before slowly building everything back up to the religious music feel, and then builds the heavy and harsh feel for a huge, multi layered end. 

Next song Reflexions In Slow Time, has a more open and simple arrangement. The song opens with soft, clean vocals before a minimal guitar riff and some lush harmonised guitars. The track gets a bit bigger and harsh vocals join in, before everything drops down for a minimal section that slowly builds, harsh and clean vocals are added for a very effective juxtaposition, layers are included until it is big enough to come to an end. Forfeit is a fairly soft and ethereal track in the main. It opens with heavy guitar and clean vocals, the tempo is drifting and dreamlike. Most of the rest of the track is all about soft, minimal music and beautiful layered vocals that is again reminding me of Clannad. The riffs and heaviness does return for the culmination of the song, but this is mainly about beautiful vocals and drifting, dreamlike ethereality. 

Final track The Inner Desolation is a mix of some of the heaviest material on this album and the softest, quietest sections. The riffs are huge and very heavy, with a sombre edge, and have clean and Harsh vocals bringing that very effective juxtaposition back. The song then goes into a very quiet and soft part that practically reaches silence, before the song builds back up to very purposeful and driving section. A melody lead is added, and then the layered, ethereal vocals return bringing more and more musical veneers to create a staggeringly huge and beautiful whole. The song drops into another very quiet section before ethereal vocal bring the song and the album to a very beautiful ending. Several hundred words ago I asked if Return To The Void is as high a standard as its predecessor, Monotony Fields

The answer is a very definite YES, in fact if anything this album is better! The huge and heavy music and harsh vocals mixed with the exquisite softer section with the layered ethereal vocals works so well, it gives the song a huge amount of dynamics. The difference allows the band to build to huge, mountainous guitar and keyboard riffs, and then to drop down to practically silence before slowly building back up. The tunes they play as they are creating this ebb and flow are pretty special as well, achingly melancholic and mournful, and possessed with so much beauty. 

I mentioned that some of this feels like religious music, and this album should really be played in a setting that fits in with this, I would love to see this played live in a cathedral, or church, the ambience of the setting would fit perfectly with how the music feels. Yes, it’s huge and heavy in places, but it’s also beautiful, ethereal and deeply cathartic, in fact this would be a fitting soundtrack for a funeral, an apt environment for an exceptional Funeral Doom album. 9/10              

Embryonic Devourment - Heresy Of The Highest Order (Unique Leader Records) [Matt Cook]

Eight years removed from 2014’s Reptilian Agenda, political-conspiracists-leaning technical death metal powerhouse Embryonic Devourment unleash ever more brutal music surrounded by ever-present anti-establishment filth. Two thirds of the original lineup remain - Austin Spence and Luke Boutiette - and with the addition of Donnie Small, the California trio hardly missed a beat. Heresy Of The Highest Order is bombastic and calculated. It leans more towards brutal than technical, and when they do introduce complex parts, it’s not comically overdone (I’m looking at you, Rings Of Saturn). The opening track Kathy O’Brian deals with the conspiracy theorist who alleged she was a victim of government mind control, and is chock full of different sections, riffs and parts to smash your head against a wall. 

The song begins with Cathy O’Brien (intentionally different spelling) speaking about her claims, which sets a grim-yet-enthralling tone for what’s next in store. Followed up by the titular track, a distorted and anonymous voice opens before it devolves into damn heavy and hard grunting, though it curiously ends with an extended amount of absolute silence. Whether on purpose or not, it’s not exactly something you’d want or expect. Either way, High Clearance Code Access features a smattering of technical guitar fills and It Began With Lizards shows off a ripping guitar solo that accompanies the introduction. These guys clearly know how to play, but don’t feel the need to show off or fill the time with unnecessary virtuosic playing. 

The eight tracks burst at the seams with banging riffs, chuggy rides of muck and intriguing but not overplayed sound bytes and clips to help bolster the overarching theme. Take away the government conspiracies and Embryonic Devourment still put together a monstrous effort that any fan of the genre should pound their fists to. You would never guess it’s been nearly a decade since their last full-length. 7/10

Volcanova - Cosmic Bullshit (The Sign Records) [Rich P]

If you like the desert/stoner rock, you will like this. I could stop there for my review of the new EP from Iceland’s Volcanova and most of you reading this who love the genre would go check this out. It’s kind of how we roll. While being an accurate assessment, there is a lot more going on throughout the six tracks on the wonderfully named Cosmic Bullshit. The EP kicks off with some killer riffs from the first track, Salem, and sets the stage for what you will hear throughout Cosmic Bullshit. I love the call and respond background vocals and “oohs” on this track that gives it something extra from the throngs of bands playing this style. These boys can for sure bring it musically as well with a killer solo, amazing bass work and some sweet, sweet cowbell. Gold Coast again prominently displays the musical chops of Volcanova (and more cowbell) and for some reason I am hearing hints of Fireball Ministry in this track, which is a very good thing. 

Again, the background vocals play a role which brings up the fun meter for Cosmic Bullshit. Desolation has a killer opening riff and to me calls back to some of the later period COC stuff that we all know and love. End Of Time slows it down a bit to start, then let it rip after an instrumental intro, harkening back to a time where Kyuss ruled the desert (there are no deserts in Iceland, right?). Once again, these guys can rip. No Wheels opens with my beloved cowbell and continues the ripping, this time channeling Fu Manchu without ripping them off in any way. Cosmic Bullshit ends with another killer riff from my favorite track, Lost Spot, which is the perfect closer for this EP, bringing all the elements to round out this killer offering with the addition of a nice psych/spacey jam midway through. 

Look, I know, I mentioned Fireball Ministry, COC, Kyuss, Fu Manchu…how can someone who digs those bands not dig this. But don’t sleep on Volcanova as a rip off. These guys can really bring it. The killer riffs, the amazing bass work, and vocals that work perfectly for these six tracks. So, to end like I began: if you like the desert/stoner rock, you will like this. Recommended for sure. 8/10

Dawnrider - Fourth Dawn (Alma Mater) [David Karpel]

In these times, when war has broken out in Eastern Europe, it seems like darker music may provide the most accurate reflection of the international mood right now. With that in mind, Portuguese proto-metal doomers Dawnrider, down with the darkness, are back for their fourth album, appropriately titled The Fourth Dawn, mixed and mastered by the ever prolific Tony Reed (Mos Generator, Stone Axe). With Hugo “Rattlesnake” Conim on guitars, Filipe Relêgo, bass and vocals, João Ventura, drums, and Diogo Simões, keyboards, the band rips power metal riffs with smoky organ passages rooted in the heavy crunching plod and power vocals of Sabbath, Pentagram, and Candlemass. 

The classic metal cinematic dramatics are fully realized in the opening track, a spooky acoustic intro to the tenor that includes howling wolves that get the fullest attention of Finn and Logan, our goofy metalhead dogs. The tracks that follow traverse familiar ground, but this does not fail to pull you along. The gothy Peter Murphy meets Bruce Dickinson (on the low end) vocals are way up in the production, clear, powerful, often soaring. The choruses are often sudsy, with all the raising-fists-to-the-heavens feels that can be mustered out of the horrors of the world. Gleaming guitar solos appear like summer lightning displays over a dark and storm churned ocean deep into the night. Readers, this is pints-served-in- pewter-steins metal and it bangs like ghouls at the gates. 

Order Of Dawn is a mid tempo tune with driven chugga chugga chords. A minute in, Relego’s vocals take over, expansive, soaring, subsuming everything under his power. The sing along chorus is infectious and when the guitar solo cuts out, the plodding end leaves our shoulders weighted. Meanwhile, Reaching Glory starts off down tempo. But the chorus is a sweaty, fist pumping affair, and when the tempo picks up, a dirty solo leads to organs that increase the sense of the Dio-like fantastical. This sense is maintained through Unwanted Sorrows. A down tempo start emphasizes the prevailing Sabbathian gloom, but at five minutes in, the tempo picks up Uriah Heep like organs that then drop for a nice, clean solo until the song returns to the opening plod and closes. 

Relego sings of being trapped in these sorrows, of never feeling “free to get rid of them." Those Who Parted mourns ever more so in a showcase for Relego’s powerhouse vocals on top of a solid lumber through the muck of loss. The last two songs, The Final Call and Lord don’t bring any surprises after the previous offerings, but maintain an intense consistency of energy and earnestness. Lord may be the standout track, though, as the longest, where the guitars shine and the organs fill in the bottom as the bass and drums drive the song forward through the dark marshes while Relego sends his voice into the looming fog. Dawnrider have come through the night and have seen that the coming day isn’t any brighter. 7/10

Thursday 24 February 2022

Reviews: Sleepwulf, Annihilator, Bitter Branches, KYOTY (Reviews By Rich P, Matt Bladen, Zak Skane & David Karpel)

Sleepwulf - Sunbeams Curl (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich P]

“Come to realize, life will begin when Satan is king”. This is how Sleepwulf’s 2020 debut record ends and how their new album, Subeams Curl, begins. There is no debate what you are getting into subject matter wise with the (mostly) Swedish band’s second album and first on stoner/psych powerhouse Heavy Psych Sounds. Sleepwulf brings the proto for sure; 70s soaked vibes harkening back to Sabbath and the like with some killer riffs but leaning in even further into the proto side and less towards the stoner/doom. An interview I read from Psychedelic Baby magazine a band member mentioned the 70s “lost tracks” proto compilation Brown Acid Series (on Riding Easy Records) as something that the band are into, which is a perfect description for where the band lands on the musical spectrum. Throw in some more recent bands like Kadavar and Witchcraft and you start to paint a picture of what Sleepwulf is bringing to the table.

What you get from Sunbeams Curl however is in no way derivative. Sleepwulf has developed their own sound, borrowing from all their influences, and adding their own spin, to produce a killer record and a uniqueness where I could call them out with just a couple of notes of a song, like what you get with the groovy/evil Sex Magic Manifestation. Sunbeams Curl is filled with characters from evil nursery rhymes and mystic imagery as they frolic around the dark forests of Sweden. I can picture the title character in Toad Licker Mushroom Picker skulking around the trees, eyes wide, behind the killer proto soundtrack that you get throughout the eight tracks. Man Under The Mountain could be a character that wandered over from a Zeppelin outtake, with a fun guitar solo and a nice crunchy gallop. Green Man Dead, my favorite track on the record, pairs an evil riff with a groove that many of the stoner bands of today should pay attention to and incorporate into their songs. “Green Man Dead, paint the forest red…”. Try not seeing this while listening.

I love the feel of this record. I am in the dark forest, soundtracked by top notch proto/bluesy/stoner orchestra, meeting (or running from) a unique cast of characters and trying to survive on a diet of mushrooms and fear, trying to keep from selling my soul. Amazing stuff. I really dig the sound and production of this record. It’s exactly how I want songs in this genre to sound. The vocal stylings of Owen Robinson are the perfect narration for these three-minute stories. With Sunbeams Curl, Sleepwulf has released a must listen to album for anyone who is a fan of proto/70s metal, and who loves some heavy character imagery in their rock. A co-headlining tour with a band like Green Lung would be a perfect fit. My only complaint is I am left wanting more after this short eight track journey. I’m not ready to step out of the forest and back into real life by the time the last note rings out. Check it out, highly recommended and will be somewhere on my year end list for sure. 9/10

Annihilator  - Metal II (earMusic) [Matt Bladen]

Record label earMusic embark on probably their most ambitious re-release project. They are re-issuing nearly all of the Annihilator discography, under the watchful eye of Annihilator main man Jeff Waters. Starting off before the campaign itself, there's Metal II, which is a re-recorded version of the 2007 album Metal where Waters brought in guest musicians to contribute to the Canadian thrash bands legacy. On Metal II Waters has decided to re-record most of the album with only two additional musicians. Mainly as a tribute to Alexi Laiho and Eddie Van Halen as Downright Dominate still features Laiho's solo and a cover of Van Halen's Romeo's Delight.  

Metal II brings in Dave Lombardo on drums and Stu Block (ex-Iced Earth) to sing on it. Now Metal was a good album, possibly the start of Annihilator's latter career resurgence, the praise coming for the guests if course but musically too it was seen as Annihilator getting down with the modern metal scene. So Metal II has the same songs (and instrumental guests) but has been revamped a little due to the inclusion of Lombardo's experienced/explosive drumming style and the multifaceted voice of Block in place of Dave Padden. It's packed with those all so tasty Waters riffs, building multiple different styles into every song. 

The progressive style of Annihilator has always been much more appealing to me than many other thrash bands because of their eclectic style that is displayed here. From the classic metal style of Heavy Metal Maniac/Army Of One to the more dramatic Haunted and full on thrashers such as Chasing The High it's Annihilator doing what they do. In my opinion I prefer this version to the original and it serves as a tribute to two great musicians. With a re-release campaign coming soon this is great way to dive into Annihilator, if you haven't before. 7/10

Bitter Branches – Your Neighbours Are Failures (Rude Records) [Zak Skane]

Listening to this album I’ve got to complement the production on this, the fabrication on this album sounds raw and grungy like a true punk album should sound. I also got to admire the energy and the intensity that they’ve captured on to record; the vocalist sounds passionate whilst singing about the current troubles of our time gaining our attention from the first word of the opening track Along Came Bastard

The drums bark and snap at you with very strike of the stick and the guitars and bass crunch and grind producing an energetic sonic brew. Personal highlights on this album are the opening track Along Came Bastard with its gradual eruption contributed by snarling toms in the drum intro to the frontman growling about his anger about the abuse of power from authority, The quirky rhythms of The Man Who Cries generates the jarring edge that modern Punk and Hardcore that bands have took influence from, such as The Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die and the grungy slow burn of Plastic Tongues

Overall it was a decent listening experience, I liked the gritty emotion that portrayed though out the album mixed with the experimental sound textures that remind me of bands like Daughters and Swans. I will warn you if you are looking for more pop song structures from bands such as The Ramones or The Clash you going to be disappointed, 7/10

KYOTY - Isolation (Deafening Isolation) [David Karpel]

Think of this album as a gallery of modern art aimed at your gleaming metal heart. This exhibit is advertised as a look into how the pandemic affects individuals connecting despite Isolation. Ten stark, abstract paintings with bleak, mostly one word titles typed in bold, capital letters on the brief information cards posted next to the works decorate the walls. Some are larger than others, one is wall sized. The hidden dj plays a soundtrack that crushes the ephemera of post rock into crunchy sludge compositions. As you spend time standing or sitting and contemplating each work, your own experiences, beliefs, traditions, and current feelings are essential to your sense of the piece. 

Your participation, in other words, is essential to your experience of the art. Put together through the separations of coronavirus quarantines with recordings shared electronically, Isolation is a collection of post-rock instrumentals that paint soundscapes upon which we can project our own pandemic narratives. Nick Filth and Nathaniel Raymond of KYOTY incorporate sludge, industrial, and doom to create a soundtrack for the times that build images through the sensations shaped by the music. This is one of those albums you’ll want to savor with headphones and a dedicated mindset. In Quarantine, doom slams down the gates, lowers the bridge, and sets fire to the moat. The citadel of your mind simmers in claustrophobia. Closed off. But safe? Is this Poe’s Masque of the Red Death? The audio excerpt, “nobody knows that I’m in here” returns from the simmer to the declarative stomp of bleak time. 

Ventilate increases the sense of paranoia and fear. A struggling mechanized breathing apparatus sound starts and then serves as a foundation for the first minute and a half, a forced push into a rhythm that eventually drops the machine breathing and continues the steady, sludgy pace, painting an impatience into the forward, building motion of the song. Breathing with effort, there’s no time to vent the sense of anger and despair that comes with all of this fear, greed, and loneliness. A slowing, gasping machinery closes the song in feedback, a hammerfall drum beat, and gloom. Onus follows. A monotonous strum leads to a red light like beeping that emphasizes the sense of loneliness. Soon, passages of blast beats with ethereal guitar melodies layered over them track the nervous energy of believing yourself accountable, acting for the public good, even through the monotony and loneliness of isolation. 

Each track allows the narrative to expand, but the theme runs prevalent, so each song feels like part of a whole. Holter, named after a portable EKG, checks our pulse with a sense of collective waiting for the next beat.While Languish builds a facade of comfort that eventually destroys itself, Rift acknowledges that nothing is normal anymore. Industrial blast beats rage that this is not real life. There is a divide between how we are and how we’re supposed to be. This comes back in the final song, but before we get there we must meander in the glorious, universal questions of Faith. Respite and Memory continue to build on similar themes, slow, sludgy, heavy, pounding, and then Fog, A Future Like A Past Imagined culminates with the idea that going back to normal isn’t the goal because even that past is made up. Normal was never normal. And neither is the future. 7/10

Wednesday 23 February 2022

Reviews: Allegaeon, D'Virgilio, Morse & Jennings, Schemata Theory, Black Lakes (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Allegaeon - Damnum (Metal Blade Records)

Damnum more like Dayum! The sixth album from Colorado technical extreme metal mavericks Allegaeon, is one of those album that is both instant and needs several listens to fully appreciate. While on your first play through you'll get hooked by the incredible guitar playing of Michael Stancel and Greg Burgess, but you'll also love the ferocity of the music. But with subsequent listens the nuances such as the the extensive use of classical guitars or the bass solo in To Carry My Grief Through Torpor And Silence or the hammond organ that punctuates Of Beasts And Men and the piano runs on Blight are a few of the many elements that make Allegaeon more than JUST a metal band. 

For the past 15 years they have been forging their individual path, in technical death metal, trying not to retread any paths they have been before and on Damnum (Latin for loss) they have again, moved away from the musical styles that brought them to the dance, so as not to pigeonhole themselves or get too comfortable. This time they have made record that is a much more melodic than any previous, with more incendiary guitar playing and clean vocals, the introspective Called Home featuring nods to Opeth as the soulful clean passages morph into crushing heaviness.This fusion of influences coming from all five members being involved in the writing for the first time, which led to more conflict but ultimately has resulted in a better result as there was a much broader musical scope than before. 

The addition of new drummer Jeff Saltzman is also beneficial as he is a machine behind the kit, making for an incredible rhythm section that produce the heaviest music Allegaeon has made, the ominous finale Only Loss featuring some huge slow moving doom riffs and periods of aggressive death metal. It's not the music here that is heavy though the subject matter is emotionally weighty as called home deals with suicide, there's a lot of very personal lyrics with Riley McShane using it almost as catharsis. Damnum is the sound of a re-focussed Allegaeon, concentrating solely on their musical endeavours rather than anything else, they have produced the best album of their career. 9/10      

D'Virgilio, Morse & Jennings - Troika (InsideOut Music)

Harmonies, that's the name of the game here. Three of probably the best singers in the prog genre together in one album, leads to endless harmonies. Just from the opening Everything I Am I immediately noted down the words Crosby, Stills And Nash as Nick D'Virgilio's percussion drives this open chord acoustic first track that, has that live in the studio feel due to the opening, talk between the three men, though the album itself was recorded remotely during lockdown. These yet more CSN on the finale What You Leave Behind

Everything I Am swells into some organs from Neal Morse. Yes Neal Morse and Nick D'Virgilio are back together again, both former members (and lead singers) of Spock's Beard, returning to collaborate with Ross Jennings of Haken. Those expecting the grandiose, theatrical progressive rock of Spock's Beard, Haken or Neal Morse Band, will be surprised by how restrained this album feels in comparison. There's a mixture of that San Francisco Hippie sound and the British Canterbury scene, sort of CSN, Buffalo Springfield or The Band meets Caravan, Robert Wyatt and but of early Genesis too. But full of more contemporary nods as well. 

The album title comes from the Russian name for a vehicle drawn by three horses, so very apt considering this trio all bring their own unique voices and musicianship to the record but blend it all well. Nick and Neal using their 30 odd year relationship to fire the creative juices before bringing in Ross to be the final piece of this triumvirate. He's a perfect fit blending seamlessly with the other two men's voices while also adding the guitar playing skills he has shown with Novena and his solo album from last year. 

As I said this is a bit more stripped back than their day jobs, from the bluesy One Time Less and the country feel of A Change Is Gonna Come to The Beatlesesque Another Trip Around The Sun, which really showcases those harmonies. Troika is a wonderfully sunny album and given that I was listening to it on one of the worst days of weather of the year it really brightened up my outlook. D'Virgilio, Morse & Jennings is a bit of perfect storm of talent and musical ability, three men doing what they do best despite geographical borders. 8/10

Schemata Theory - Unity In Time (Self Released)

I haven't heard a band with this kind of politically charged post-hardcore since those glory days of bands such as Funeral For A Friend . Schemata Theory bring dual vocalled, emotional metal music that has a proggy edge and a strong ideology of global unity and triumph over adversity. Fronted by Youtuber and 'cyber philanthropist' Myles Dyer who shares vocals along with Luke Wright, the band were brought together to draw influence from the US metalcore scene as well as post hardcore acts like FFAF and even Enter Shikari, which you can hear when there's some spoken word passages in a full accent ala Rou Reynolds on Mirrors

Hailing from Reading the band is rounded out by Huw Roch and Mario Scinto on guitar with Joshua Barretto on drums. Unity In Time is their third full length and it's a emotionally charged, musically rich record produced by the expert hands of Justin Hill (SikTh). It means that one crushers such as Prism, the music can be nice and meaty but there's also some huge choruses on tracks such as Mind Eater, where those proggy riffs give way to some clean/harsh vocals. The record deals with our struggle to develop connections as a species which are still more prone to drive is apart than bring us together, fake news, ideological differences and technology are all explored as way that we as humans are constantly kept, it's also an album that deals with Myles recovery from a near fatal head injury, the single New Vision exploring this more right in the middle of the album as does Pain Unknown

Myles' explorations into how digital media is separating us from our human selves, is also a major factor in this bands lyricism. The numerous inspiring speeches out into Vantage Point hammering this point home about how we should try to be more connected as the album seems to open up into a more optimistic realms towards the second half of the album. Unity In Time is a culmination of Schemata Theory's journey to this point, producing the most accomplished record of their career. Unity In Time is inspiring, emotive and powerful, make sure you hear it. 8/10

Black Lakes – For All We’ve Left Behind (Self Released)

Produced by Cardiff based producer Romesh Dodangoda (Bring Me The Horizon/Motorhead) For All We’ve Left Behind is the new album from Chepstow based modern/alt metal troupe Black Lakes. Now I could be cynical here, extremely so, as Black Lakes have written an album that is aimed exclusively for mass appeal and for radio play. Coming from the school of bands such as Bring Me The Horizon, Linkin Park and South Wales own Bullet For My Valentine, their music is moody, melancholic but packed with anthemic, angsty choruses. 

Set against the backdrop of the pandemic, and the uncertainty/fear that is rife in the work, Black Lakes have crafted and album of modern metal anthems that will all easily be added to the playlists of Kerrang and BBC Radio 1. Just heavy enough to appease the rock/metal crowd but with the emotion on tracks such as Verity In Flames, that anyone that saw that was Ed Sheeran/BMTH collab at the Brits, would listen to even if they weren’t a rock/metal fan. For All We’ve Left Behind is a dark record, the title itself conjures images of lost loved ones and freedoms that are only now starting to return here in the post-covid era, but it also carries a sense of hope with tracks like the brooding The Divide

Much of the emotion is carried by Wil S. Preston’s excellent voice, with nods to Matt Tuck, Corey Taylor and Chester Bennington on tracks like the fist-clenching Landslide (not a Fleetwood Mac cover). The rest of the band, also display dexterity throughout, Dafydd Fuller’s drumming deft but bruising, hooking into the basslines of Lee Harris. On the six string front Scott Bradshaw and James Rowland, provide the melodic/alt metal riffs that drive songs such as Ghost Of Our Memories, which feels a little like InMe, but much of the lead guitar comes from Dylan Burris. 

It’s about the song writing though and this is where Black Lakes really display a maturity of band that have been touring and playing for years. My one criticism is that towards the end of the album the pace kind of peeters out in favour of balladry, but a song such as the title track is a surefire single. They are aiming for that oh so difficult crossover market and with For All We’ve Left Behind they have hit the nail on the head. A masterclass in creating rock/metal music for the masses, expect the Black Lakes name to be everywhere soon. 7/10

Monday 21 February 2022

Reviews: Firebreather, Bloodywood, Jonas Lindberg & The Other Side, Glasya (Reviews By David Karpel, Matt Cook, Richard Oliver & Simon Black)

Firebreather - Dwell In The Fog (RidingEasy Records) [David Karpel]

I come to Gothenburg, Sweden’s Firebreather and their new album, Dwell In The Fog, having
unfortunately missed their earlier efforts and therefore having not heard them previously at all. Hitting play, I’m clueless that I’m about to listen to an album that will no doubt be on quite a few AOTY lists. Wholly enveloping, the gargantuan sound is almost immediately reminiscent of Domkraft, label-mates Monolord, and High On Fire. Like those bands efforts, there’s so much more here than fortress-high, yards thick walls of deep toned fuzz. I know within the first half minute that I just walked into a darker place and my eyes need time to adjust. I’ve definitely missed stuff already. I’m going to have to go back… after I heed the call of curiosity and proceed all the way forward. 

Drone turns to melody turns to hooks bathed in molten swirls of blur. I can swear drummer Axel Wittbeck uses tree trunks for sticks. Percussion is pushed forward in production, which lets us feel their power and integral place in the band’s sound. Right there holding the bottom with Wittbeck is the thunking bass, handled by Nicklas Hellqvist, whose feet are grounded in magma because he plays like he’s eternally burning and enjoying every minute of it. The drums smash rhythms, the bass drives and pummels, and both buttress the raging vocals and waves of guitar melodies with space to expand. It’s important to note that Mattias Nööjd’s vocals are no mere hellish growl. His is a guttural fury expressed with proto-metal melodic instincts and the delivery of an awakening volcano. Emotive, at times despairing, and often cathartic, Nööjd’s voice is the expression of another wrathful instrument in the band’s arsenal. 

The opening doom-stoner prog-sludge of Kiss Of Your Blade exemplifies the aggressive, chanting, melodic, grooving tones that carry through the rest of the songs, this one driven relentlessly by the sledgehammer drums and tectonic bass lines. Next, Dwell In The Fog starts clean with guitar and bass following a line right into a wall of storms with subtle changes built layer upon layer. Mourning vocals come in low with a blues delivery until Nööjd lets loose, his call a climb up a craggy mountain into relentless storm clouds. This brings us to the masterful Weather The Storm. A quiet start until the churn of a pugnacious, stomping groove drives forward with thunderous drum rolls and howling war cry yawps. Then the riff changes gear to build an entrancing guitar solo girded by the rhythmic pile driving drums and the titanic bass. When the chorus comes, triumphant, shredding chords progress and fray and rise and finally break off into a clean-strummed almost ethereal close. 

The powerful Sorrow continues to amplify these themes with some more riffian psychedelics and The Creed follows with an almost elusive Wo Fat boogie smothered in controlled chaos on top of 2 tons of Iommi blues. Opening with a light march, the final song, Spirit’s Flown, flowers into the apotheosis of all of the best elements of the previous songs. After a welcomed soft start, the instruments plow forward like war machines and Nööjd chants his unique melodies as the guitars flow bright and hot as lava. Sorrowful, wrathful, or hopeful, each song is immensely percussive, droning, and layered with melody. Psychedelic sections open more portals into further emotional realms brought back to molten earth with Nööjd’s melodic growls. Dwell In The Fog is a tremendous album that expands the genre ever more so to include seemingly disparate metal elements into a delicious aural experience. 10/10

Bloodywood - Rakshak (Self Released) [Matt Cook]

Coming from someone who is solidly averse to Nu-Metal as a genre, Bloodywood served up one of the more exciting and unique albums I’ve heard in some time, regardless of label. Rakshak – the self-released effort – is the brainchild of Karan Katiyar, who took care of both the composition and production. It could have been the ever-present wind flute, the hard-to-shake sheer catchiness throughout or the fact that WWE and UFC are both name-dropped in the same line. To keep it real: this was a lot of fun. Seriously, how can you not enjoy the lyric “Hitler thought he was the shit / but in the end he gon’ lose”? 

From the start, Aaj is guided by a lightning fast keyboard as if it were written for a Legends of Zelda speedrun. Chakh Le is as hooky as they come, and the trio from India wonderfully create southeast Asian melodies. Jee Veery brings the massive vocals thanks to Jayant Bhadula. The rap-hardcore vocal dynamic knocks it out of the park. Not in the least because on Gaddaar, Raoul Kerr enthuses “None of that fake shit WWE/Cause you know we keep it real like the UFC.” For a genre that has never effectively kept my attention, Rakshak stands as the catalyst for change. 

The chemistry between vocalists; the precision and seamless flow of the rap sections; and the inherent folk metal aided by the Dhol, Tumbi and many other Indian instruments makes for a rollicking good time. Obviously, Bloodywood are the outlier in this genre, both because of from which they hail and the instruments they introduce. But that’s what makes them so great: they do what they want, how they want it. And I am thoroughly grateful for that, and thrilled for what the future holds. 8/10

Jonas Lindberg & The Other Side - Miles From Nowhere (InsideOut Music) [Richard Oliver]

Miles From Nowhere is the second full album from Swedish multi-instrumentalist Jonas Lindberg and his Jonas Lindberg & The Other Side progressive rock project. Forming in 2012, the project has maintained a stable line up which has carried over from the previous album Pathfinder as well as featuring a number of special guests. The music on Miles From Nowhere is very in a classic melodic progressive rock style but is a tour de force in both musicianship and songwriting. The album is made up of seven tracks which range from fairly compact 5-6 minute songs to 25 minute prog epics. 

There is plenty going on throughout the album and the longer songs are the most effective with plenty of shifts and ebbs helping maintain my interest throughout the songs length. Some of the shorter songs are vastly enjoyable as well such as the straightforward pop rock of Little Man and the jaunty Why I’m Here. The epics were the clear highlights for me such as the gorgeous folk-leaning Summer Queen, the guitar driven Oceans Of Time and the monolithic title track which at over 25 minutes is the band throwing everything in their arsenal at you whilst at the same time putting together an incredible well crafted piece of music. 

The album contains a large number of vocalists and musicians with vocal duties shared out between Jonas Sundqvist and Jenny Storm with backing vocals provided by Jonas Lindberg himself. Amongst the countless musicians appearing on the album you get Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings & Transatlantic) guesting some guitar work on the title track as well as Jonas Lindberg’s brother Joel Lindberg providing lead guitars on Why I’m Here. Although a lot of progressive rock of this scale and magnitude can end up being a bit bloated, that is certainly not the case with Miles From Nowhere

The musicianship and songwriting skills involved really carry these songs and ensure even the most gigantic of songs are afforded material that keeps them interesting throughout. This is definitely a must-hear album for prog fans. 8/10

Glasya – Attarghan (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

This Portuguese six piece are the second record of music influenced by 60’s and 70’s movie soundtracks that I have come across in as many weeks, so clearly this is something of a movement at the moment. This one clearly is looking to the likes of Ben Hur for tonal influence, but despite this Cinematic concept this actually sounds first and foremost like a Symphonic Metal release, with a good dollop of Power Metal concept album lore for good measure. 

Unlike others in the genre, this means that the soundtrack feel comes from a number of spoken word elements threaded throughout the piece, rather than just the usual cheesy introduction - but boy, we do get that as well, with one uncredited member of the band taking on chunks of the story throughout in the titular character using a voice that deserves the nickname ‘Deep Throat’. That means little story fillers not only mixed into the tracks, but within songs themselves – a bit like Queen using snippets of dialogue from the Flash Gordon movie in their soundtrack album. This actually really helps the storytelling aspect enormously, which depending on the vocal style deployed can be a challenge for the more casual listener on many concept records. 

Most arc-based albums require either a diligent analysis of the lyric sheet or many listens to start to unpeel the conceptual onion, but this approach means you get the story on the first pass. It’s a highly effective technique, and if I think about it, arguably the most successful Metal concept album I have ever come across – Queensrÿche’s seminal Operation: Mindcrime does exactly the same thing. The story is about the trials and tribulations of a Persian General who switches sides to defend the people invaded by the early Persians. 

Where it struggles is in length, which at nearly an hour and ten minutes of run time requires a lot of investment and focus no matter how much they try and support the listener narratively, which in this day and age is a big ask. In Glasya’s favour though is a rich and layered grasp of musical abilities. Many Symphonic acts walk a fine line between the repetitive and the overly technical, but that’s not happening here. Instead we get songs that stand distinctly from each other and pretty much a good song-writing backbone throughout. 

Vocalist Eduarda Soeiro’s Operatic Soprano style, which could give Floor Jansen a run for her money is an absolute asset and fits the tone of the piece well and with other male members of the band providing a range of supporting vocal styles it gives the piece the depth, range and epic quality that the piece deserves. It’s not the most fascinating of stories, but the fact that it can be so easily followed is a big tick for me. Perhaps a little too long in duration, but nonetheless a masterclass in how to focus on getting a story across in a market drowning in concept albums. 7/10

Saturday 19 February 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Desert Storm, Suns Of Thunder & Made Of Teeth (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Desert Storm, Suns Of Thunder and Made Of Teeth, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff 17/02/22

Riffs. There you go, that's basically the only word you need to describe this trio of bands that descended upon Clwb Ifor Bach on the eve of Storm Eunice. With the collective presence keeping on eye on the weather, the other was firmly fixated on the bands that were ready to play. Unfortunately due to travel issues, openers Zinc Bukowski weren't able to play so with a 10pm finish on the horizon, those of us that were huddled in the downstairs room of Clwb readied ourselves for the evening.

Made Of Teeth (8) were the now defacto openers, having recently signed to APF records (the headliners too are on the label) the four piece noisemongers, selected the entire audience as their next arse to kick. Featuring all four members on vocals (well shouting) Made Of Teeth were probably the most aggressive band of the night imbuing their sludgy riffs with punk attitude, ripping through their songs with a furious energy that even incited some circle pits (of like 4 people but still impressive). Showing why they have been signed to APF, their nasty noise set the tone for the evening.

Next up were Swansea stoner/surf rockers Suns Of Thunder (8) who dialed down the intensity a bit but upped the groove with some woozy riffage and desert rock moments. It allowed the crowd to get into the right state of mind for the evening, a counterpoint to Made Of Teeth but without lacking any of that vital muscular heaviness, just delivered a little differently. Some of the elder statesmen of the Welsh stoner scene it was again an impressive display full of Sky Valley grooving, that got the heads banging in unison. You know Suns Of Thunder will deliver any time they play so it's always a joy to see.

Finally then was Oxford progressive stoner/groove metal masters Desert Storm (8), a band who are celebrating 15 years in the business kicking out the jams across the country with their Southern styled, sludgy metal that sits comfortably in Orange Goblin, Clutch, Corrosion Of Conformity and Alabama Thunderpussy mold. Preferring to crank out their louder tracks rather than their more ethereal offerings, with a mere 45 minutes to get it done, their storm was raging from the first moment. It was pumping, powerful and gained many well deserved cheers when they stopped. 

Taking their set from their 15 year history and 6 albums, this four piece of; Matthew Dennet (bass), Matt Ryan (vocals) along with brothers Ryan (guitar) and Elliot Cole (drums) rocked Clwb Ifor Bach on this Welsh date. Catch them if you can as you won't be disappointed!

Friday 18 February 2022

Reviews: Star One, Absolva, Degreed, Girish And The Chronicles (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Star One - Revel In Time (InsideOut)

Out of all of the Arjen Anthony Lucassen's projects my favourite is Star One. This is because I'm a huge sci-fi fan so having a set of albums that feature the same high level of guest performances he has on all of his projects, but with songs that are all based around sci-fi movies and TV shows. What Star One has always done as well is concentrated on the guest vocalists, all of whom are picked to tell the stories properly, the musical backing full of 70's prog influences and also lots of metallic toughness too making it more streamlined and heavier than the previous grandiose Ayreon record. 

Taken from a Blade Runner quote, this album does not feature the four core singers featured on the first two albums (though they all appear here), are now expanded to 11 singers, a different one on each track, although this goes to an additional 9 singers on disc 2 which features the same songs but with the 'guide' singers. The core line of musicians is Lucassen on guitars/bass/keys/vocals, Ed Warby on drums, Erik Van Ittersum on Solina Strings with Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen taking backing vocals. There's guests in the instrumental realms too as Michael Romeo, Steve Vai, Bumblefoot and others all give guitar solos as names like Jens Johansson bring keyboard solos. 

So again a lot of music, each track having a new singer and a different instrumental player to give the story a new edge, once again the singer picked for the track, and while I miss the four-way interplay between Floor Jansen, Russell Allen, Dan Swanö and Damien Wilson, the 11 songs here are all worthy inclusion in the Star One canon. The pulsing Fate Of Man (Terminator) gets us going with Unleash The Archers' Brittany Slayes on vocals, it's a big ballsy start to this time travel themed opus. Next is 28 Days (Till The End Of Time) (Donnie Darko), a much progger with Russell Allen on vocals. From here there's a track based on Primer, with Ross Jennings behind the mic. 

While Back From The Past has the incredible Jeff Scott Soto giving it that feeling of 1985, Revel In Time has the Crobot frontman regaling us with the tale of those Wyld Stallyns first Excellent Adventure, Dan Swanö provides the quirkiness on Today Is Yesterday (Groundhog Day), while Roy Khan gives his distinct timbre to the epic Lost Children Of The Universe (Interstellar). Again Star One proves itself to be the jewel in Arjen Lucassen's musical crown, unlike any of the other projects but with a lot of those distinct elements that makes anything he creates unique. Revel In Time is another brilliant addition to the Star One project, they're still my favorite Lucassen records and this one could be the best of the bunch. 9/10 

Absolva – Fire In The Sky (Rocksector Records)

So the sixth album from Absolva, (their third as a four piece), see them retaining everything that is good about the band, without really pushing too far for innovation. Though this isn't a negative. From the post Fury UK days as a trio, then through the return of frontman/guitarist Chris Appleton’s brother Luke on rhythm guitar, Absolva have been a band you can always bet on to bring some tough, melodic classic metal. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews you’ll know that they also double as Blaze Bayley’s band so of course there are a lot of nods to Maiden (though few to Wolfsbane). 

Fire In The Sky, begins with Demon Tormentor, a track that you could just hear Blaze giving it to the beans to, this is no slight to Chris as a singer, in fact he possess quite a unique voice that has always drawn me to Absolva as a band, but what I mean it, there’s that dramatic, shouting repeat chorus that Blaze has always been so good at. A credit then to the bands song writing skill in both bands. It sets a tone as we get brought into Burn Inside which is a bit more percussive and galloping Martin McNee’s drums and Kyle Schramm’s bass work giving it propulsion into yet another huge chorus. As normal Chris’ guitar solos are sublime but the harmonising with his brother brings depth. 

Addiction has a hard rock swagger, though it’s a bit throwaway, while What Does God Know is a standard metal ballad. Absolva are at their best when playing big riffs so things get back on track with the chunky Stand Your Ground and the explosive title track which has a touch of 80’s sleaze metal to it. Looking at what I said at the beginning of this review, I've sort of landed myself in it a little as on their sixth record Absolva do push things within the metal genre a little, but what makes Absolva great is their consistency as a traditional metal machine. Turn it up and throw the horns! 8/10 
Degreed - Are You Ready (Frontiers Music Srl)

Swedish band degreed are now on their sixth album and if you've heard any of their previous five albums, then Are You Ready won't surprise you at all. Now there is something comforting about a band who always take the same route that they always have. Iron Maiden for example, on the other hand if you’ve listened to any other degreed, album why you should listen to this one? It's melodic rock as they've always done but I suppose this record is probably a bit more focussed than before, trying to recapture the sound of their early albums while also forging ahead towards their 20th year. 

Are You Ready features pumping rhythms, tinkling ivories/waves of synths and clean guitar lines, giving you exactly what you want from Swedish melodic rock topped with Robin Eriksson's soulful vocals. I will say that Are You Ready is really modern sounding, something degreed have always strived for, Radio showing this perfectly feeling like a cast iron Eurovision hit, part-Bon Jovi, part-Europe, the opener too Into The Fire, could have easily come off a symphonic metal act like Dynazty. 

It's followed by Burned which has that definitive 80's feel, featuring lots of sexy lead guitars. Higher though goes full Def Leppard, Falling Down feels poppy while Lost In Paradise has driving riff and lots of synth work. Are You Ready sees degreed bringing yet more modern influences to their melodic, slightly progressive sound and being all the better for it. Yeah we’ve been here before but it’s a destination that is always fun to revisit. 7/10

Girish And The Chronicles – Hail To The Heroes (Frontiers Music Srl)

India has rapidly become one of the most fertile breeding grounds for rock and heavy metal, now I will say much of that comes from the more extreme end of the spectrum but Girish Pradhan (vocals/rhythm guitar) and his brother Yogesh (bass/keys/producer) together with Suraj Tikhatri (lead guitars) and Nagen Mongrati (drums), are firmly rooted in the hard rock sound. With one or two NWOBHM flourishes thrown in, I’m Not The Devil, a case in point. Mostly though Girish And The Chronicles play Sunset Strip hard rock that reminds me of bands like Skid Row and Winger, punchy riffs, big choruses, whiskey soaked vocals and a tonne of attitude. 

No wonder then that they have been picked up by Frontiers on their third album as, there is an entire fan base outside their native country that will lap this record up. The members of the band all have a glut of experience playing with some big names, so they are certainly no amateurs, having already released two records, but Hail To Heroes is clearly the band taking their song writing to a much wider audience and as such they have really stepped things up. There’s a swagger to Love’s Damnation, some saccharine to Lover’s Train, a rawness to Rock N Roll Jack and the title track is a big arena anthem. It’s all very well done, never straying too far into pastiche. A big, ballsy rock album from India that will appeal to fans of Reckless Love, Crazy Lixx, Skid Row & Ratt. 8/10

Thursday 17 February 2022

Reviews: Zeal & Ardor, Fostermother, Slash, Holy Witch (Reviews By Matt Cook, Rich P, Simon Black & David Karpel)

Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor (MKVA) [Matt Cook]

Avant-garde by its very nature encourages experimentation and embraces the odd, the unique and the untapped. Essentially, it’s a label for artists who wince at the very idea of a label. So when I was bombarded with tantalizing black metal, swept off my feet by hints of gospel and inundated with a healthy dose of metalcore riffs, the very idea of avant-garde was instantly understood, loud and clear. Zeal & Ardor encapsulates all the above (and much more) in the Swiss-based group’s third release, Zeal & Ardor, which contains 14 tracks of calculated chaos and structured simplicity. 

Erase, I Caught You and Emersion feature wailing howls (courtesy of mastermind Manuel Gagneux) and crushing instrumentals straight from the forests of Norway circa 1992. His vocal range and opposing deliveries truly shine, most clearly on Erase thanks to inhumane shrieking: “We’re the only ones left alive!” Bow is a straight shooter surrounded by an omnipresent stomp-clap beat, heartfelt singing and toe-tapping greatness. Further pushing the envelope, Church Burns sounds like it has a place on Hell On Wheels while the episode fades to black. The sheer juxtaposition created from the contrasting clean and punishing singing is simply marvelous. 

Need more proof? Death To The Holy kicks off with a Hip-Hop feel and call-and-response, but then a pummeling breakdown beats Gagneux senseless until his harsh vocals are once again forced out. The interplay flows as naturally as a stream. For those who might need a break from the pit, Golden Liar acts as a (brief) intermission. Slow and steady, the drums still boom, and the guitars remain intricate and well-placed. The attractiveness of avant-garde is the innate “expect the unexpected” mentality. It’s something that could easily sound jumbled and thrown together. Three albums in, though, and Zeal & Ardor clearly have their sound, and the water-meets-oil mechanics makes for a remarkable piece of work. 8/10     

Fostermother - The Ocean (Ripple Music) [Rich P]

In 2020 the then duo Fostermother unleashed their self-titled debut and it hit me hard. The Texas boys
fresh take on psych doom was heavy and fuzzy in all the right places, never sounding derivative and
always leaving you wanting more. I came to the album late, which led me to a vinyl search that came up empty for me, except for some inflated Discogs listings, which prompted me to start to Twitter stalk the band to re-release their debut, maybe even on my favorite label for all things stoner/doom, Ripple Music. 

The two just seemed like a perfect match, plus I really wanted the debut on some of the sweet splatter vinyl that Ripple produces. I assumed my Twitter ranting to the band about my love for the debut and me seemingly trying to guide their career would get me nothing but blocked, but lo and behold the announcement came that the now trio had signed to Ripple and would be releasing their new album, The Ocean. Pre Order button smashed and my inflated sense of self worth at an all-time high (obviously I had nothing to do with this…), I waited with much anticipation for the release date. Wel it is upon us, and Fostermother have released a masterpiece. 

The Ocean is nine tracks of doom perfection. This album slowly rumbles through your living room, taking out everything in its wake, leaving a fuzzy glow on the remnants of what is left behind, and imprinting a lasting impression of what just punched you in the gut. You can feel the fuzz coming through the speakers, with tuned way down guitars that are both harsh and beautiful at the same time. The songs are dark, but not in a funeral dirge way, more of a lingering sense of urgent despair lurking. Like when you know that black cloud is heading your way and can strike at any time. The Ocean makes me feel, a lot. 

The Ocean’s opener, Sunday, starts with a quiet crawl, before jumping from behind the corner to try to crush you under its weight. Slow, fuzzy, psych doom is what you get throughout the nine tracks, and Sunday sets the stage. The second track, Seasons, then lumbers in to shake the ground you stand on and is a standout on an album filled with standouts. The bass laid out by Stephen Griffin shakes you to the core on Seasons and all over the entirety of The Ocean. Hedonist, maybe my favorite track, slows it way down to start, but then crunches you while singer/guitarist Travis Weatherred informs you that there is “No Forgiveness left for anyone…”, and you know he is telling the truth. Dark Desires brings some psych elements to the doom fuzziness, with killer riffs brought to you by Mr. Weatherred. Unholiest Of Days sounds like it could have been on Sabotage, bringing the Sabbath worship without ever sounding like they are kneeling at the altar or Iommi a little too much. 

The title track lumbers in the best way. This is not “a fun day at the beach” song for sure. It is heavy, heavy, making you feel that you are a drift on the sea with no land in site and the sharks circling and the boat (or your speakers) literally shaking, until the weather clears a bit in the middle and some sun starts peaking though, only to have that hope crushed by the killer heavy riff. Redeemer is the most up-tempo track on The Ocean, showing that Fostermother is not a one-trick doom pony, again leading the way with the killer riff but also some harmonies on the vocals that adds just a little something else to an already killer track. 

Solitude brings this epic home and sums up The Ocean perfectly, with its crushing pace, killer riffs, thundering bass, but a quiet middle that makes the final crunch of destruction even more impactful. Fostermother have created an absolute classic with The Ocean. It has everything you want in a doom record and so much more. There is no way to listen to the album without literally feeling it for the entirety of the nine tracks. The riffs, the pace, the thundering heaviness, and the “it” factor that Fostermother has is next level stuff. 

Last year, almost to the day, I found my album of the year with the Jakethehawk release. This year, I may have found 2022’s number one with The Ocean. Amazing stuff, a must listen for anyone who loves heavy music, a pretty much perfect release. Now about that rerelease of the debut… 10/10

Slash – 4 (Gibson Records) [Simon Black]

When I first came across this incarnation of Slash’s solo project (and let’s face it, there have been a few over the years since Guns ’N’ Roses first started to falter in the early 90’s) it was with the top notch 2010 release simply called Slash. There were a number of hard hitting points with this record. First off, although Myles Kennedy was a key vocal contributor, the axe-man had also assembled an impressive array of additional guest vocalists to take a turn on individual tracks. What was more important for me though was the overall consistently high quality of the song writing displayed there. It was a fat, loud and buoyant record that revitalised Slash’s career. 

The fact that he crystallised the live and future recording version around Kennedy was not an issue for me either, given that when I saw them live at the short lived High Voltage a year later he proved to be more than capable of turning in a creditable performance on the old G’N’R material as well as the new stuff. They followed that up with Apocalyptic Love in 2012 and it seemed like a match made in rock’n’roll heaven, which happily cranked its way through the decade. But then the impossible happened. Guns ‘N’ Roses reformed and having toured the world as their own tribute act for a few years, the news surfaced that there was a new studio album to come. So the fact that this record is here for me to review in the first place is something of a surprise, I have to say I was quite looking forward to reviewing this one. 

Which is why I am left feeling slightly frustrated… OK, so the positives first. There’s a loose, rough and ready feel to this disk that evokes the feeling of a live recording – almost as if we were actually listening to the demos recorded as live in the bands’ rehearsal space. That adds a huge amount of authenticity to the sound, as this feels (more so than some of the recordings in the back catalogue) like a real living breathing and interacting rock’n’roll band. Added to which I cannot fault the performances of any of the musicians here. Vocally Kennedy is on top of his game and Slash absolutely delivers his trademark sound with a mix that absolutely keeps things feeling ‘back to basics’ throughout. What it’s lacking is the strength of songwriting that made this series of albums so damned refreshing in the first place. 

Previous albums have had a lot of wallop with their individual tracks and yes, although there are the inevitable fillers mixed in there, there were always enough well-crafted hard hitters to carry the pace overall. This time round the fillers not only predominate, but they’re also front loaded and it’s not until I am almost at the point of giving up that some more catchy and hook-laden material kicks in. When you are at song eight of ten (April Fool) before you get something interesting, then that tells me that something odd is going on here. To be fair, the last two tracks keep this late building momentum, but it all feels like a case of too little, too late. This album has so much going right that this is down-right infuriating. It sounds so rough and genuine, but it just hasn’t got the song chops to make this memorable. 

Given Slash’s ability to hang a song on a damn fine riff and let the rest of the band build out from there, and when you know that the contributors absolutely know their shit, I have to question whether this is actually material built on the best riffs to start with. Have these been siphoned off for the new G’N’R project? Time alone will tell, but this album sounds like a contractual obligation rather than a project based on the hunger and need to deliver the goods. 5/10

Holy Witch - Valley Of The Vapours (Self Released) [David Karpel]

Valley Of The Vapors opens Holy Witch’s album Levitating with retro organs, loads of psychedelic fuzz, and lumbering creepy vibes. As a fan of Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats, I’m immediately interested in seeing if they’ll go somewhere different with this particular black light and spider web energy. When the vocals kick in, clean, high pitched, melodic, I’m suspicious that Holy Witch isn’t staking a claim on any new territory, which isn’t really a bad thing. Mid-song the pace picks up a bit, the guitars crunch, and I find my head nodding along. But not for long, as the tune returns to a slow crawl and the organ underneath punctuates the slithery progression, atmospheric, wavy, and so very psychedelic. 

Ripper starts at a quicker mid-tempo pace and feels more like the second movement to Valley of Vapors rather than its own song, especially when that tempo slows. That consistency is representative of all the tracks here. After the spooky instrumental Levitating (and an instrumental is an interesting choice for a title song), Nightcrawler blasts out of the speakers and again forces the Uncle Acid comparisons. It’s a rocker that’ll blow out the flambeaus mounted on the walls, but we know these tunnels well. We’re not afraid. And maybe that’s the issue here. By the time the organ kicks in and dispels any hope of a Sabbathian riff rescue, Evil Woman proceeds to tread the familiar ground. And then Death Machines drops like a purple square of Floyd on the tip of the tongue. 

The longest song on the album at five and a half minutes, it’s the standout performance here. The fuzz is shaved down a bit and some of the fog clears, but the psychedelia stretches out to span great dreamy breaths of clean space. The final two songs, Widow and Mystic Shjip, are representative of the sameness mentioned, though there are some wicked bee swarm guitar noises shaped into a strangely energized melody in Mystic Shjip. The 60s garage rock nostalgia is complete throughout with what sounds like a Farfisa organ, perhaps some older, dusty amps, and the Norman Greenbaum Spirit In The Sky rhythm guitar work. 

Add to that the spooky lyrics, and you’ve got the whole garage psych witch music package renamed and rewrapped with a pentagram stamp. Or something. Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats songs bang because of extremes. Tremendous volume, seemingly impenetrable scuzzy fuzz that works like a green mist and blankets everything with mystery and suspense, and lyrics that go far into the dark side and explore all the possibilities. Holy Witch dig that debauched genre, and do a decent job in Levitating of making a space for themselves to grow there. 5/10

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Reviews: Matt Pike, Immolation, Nightrage, Author & Punisher (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Matt Pike - Pike Vs The Automaton (MNRK Heavy)

If you don't know Matt Pike, then you don't know what riffage is. There I said it, disagree if you want, but I know I'm right. The man spearheaded the entire stoner/doom/sludge scene with two seminal bands in Sleep and High On Fire, but after all this time the riff lord himself has finally released a solo record. Wrapped in some fantasy art of a ancient king on his throne who looks like he's had just about enough, it could be a metaphor from the whole album as Pike worked against a global pandemic, wildfires and political riots, with drummer Jon Reid (Lord Dying) and producer Billy Anderson (Holy Mountain/Surrounded By Thieves). 

Using this album almost a cathartic release, it is, of course jammed with more riffs than some bands will play in their entire career, however Pike has knowingly tried to avoid the sound of his other two bands by making what essentially is a heavy psychedelic rock record, imagine Lemmy if Lemmy continued in Hawkwind but added the Motorhead snarl and you'll paint yourself, a biker jacket clad, moustache spouting, picture of what Pike Vs The Automaton is like. Filled with fuck you attitude of a band just starting out Pike and Reid, just started jamming in Pike's garage, bashing out tracks that drew inspiration from bands like Sabbath, Kiss, ZZ Top and Michael Schenker, but also D-beat, punk and Americana on Land which has a Mastodon's Brent Hinds playing a sweet solo and Steve McPeeks on double bass. 

If this sounds weird believe me, fans of High On Fire and Sleep will instantly recognise it as Matt Pike song, the riffs distorted and greasy but as I said there's more nods to psychedelia than on any other Pike project. Hinds isn't the only guest on the record, High On Fire bassman Jeff Matz adds low end fuzz, Chad Hartgrave (HOF/Sleep guitar engineer) brings his expertise, there's also Alyssa Maucere-Pike (Lord Dying / Grigax), Josh Greene (El Cerdo) and Todd Burdette (Tragedy) all adding to the record.   

Immolation – Acts Of God (Nuclear Blast)

Albums like Acts Of God should come with a health warning, the New York death metal vets 11th studio release is bound to do as much damage to your body as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, but it’s probably a hell of lot more enjoyable. Five years have passed since their last album, but there’s been no major style change, this is brutal, heavy death metal 101, born from the NY death scene and refined into a bone breaking metal machine. Still languishing in the darkness and hopelessness of life, Acts Of God isn’t a joy bringer, there’s no upbeat phases or melo-death lead breaks, although there is plenty of technical soloing, check out that final section of When Halos Burn for some moments of explosively. 

Nope Immolation linger in the darkness and their music reflects that. Comprised of Ross Dolan (bass/vocals), Robert Vigna/Alex Bouks (guitar), Steve Shalaty (drums), Immolation set about creating this ominous atmosphere from An Act Of God and maintain an unnerving style through this record 15(!) tracks. Possibly about 5 too many but hey, it’s been five years maybe they have been very creative, so I’m sure fans will want as many tracks as possible. Every song is driven by an artillery barrage of drumming, concussive basslines and gutter dredging vocal grunts. The guitars shifting from skin shredding riffs to rapid fire blasts of solo histrionics. 

There are plenty of songs that fit with those evil-sounding Immolation hallmarks such as the shifting paths of The Age Of No Light, the brutal Noose Of Thrones, the outright violence of Overtures Of The Wicked and the brooding Incineration Process. It’s Immolation doing what they have done for many years, which is not a negative. Politically/ideologically influenced and still pissed off with religion and the world at large. Acts Of God is Immolation flashing their weaponry and reminding you how dangerous they still are. 7/10

Nightrage - Abyss Rising (Despotz Records)

Greek/Swedish melodeath band Nightrage, are one of those bands that sit comfortably in both the Greek and Swedish metal scenes, playing the Gothenburg sound invented by At The Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquility, band leader Marios Iliopoulos still carves out those biting melodeath riffs alongside Magnus Söderman, easily switching between thrashy blitzes and fluid lead breaks on this, the bands ninth studio record. Abyss Rising is the final part to the trilogy started on 2017's The Venomous, inspired by Dante's Inferno and the concept of creating your own hell, by destroying what is around you. 

Abyss Rising is just as brutal, powerful and blistering as any of their record but decisively continues the run of form they have been on since The Venomous. Over the 13 tracks, mixed/mastered by Fredrik Nordstrom, Nightrage meld their heavy and melodic elements perfectly, that guitar duo in perfect unison throughout, though tracks like Nauseating Oblivion, those ringing lead intros on Dance Of Cerberus or Falsifying Life and instrumental The Divergent all display those melodic flourishes well. 

The bottom end power of bassist Francisco Escalona, giving chugging grooves on the bouncy Swallow Me and anthemic Falsifying Life while drummer Dino George Stamoglou can blitz a kit on thumpers like False Godsand thrashers like the title track, however he lends a progressive power to 9th Circle Of Hell and the dramatic Shadows Embrace Me. The unflinching heaviness and melodies never counteract each other, there is a unison here that Nightrage have worked hard at perfecting. Vocally too Ronnie Nyman is excellent with a very clear harsh bark. Climaxing their trilogy Nightrage have ended this trio of album on a high with Abyss Rising, melodeath how it should be done. 8/10 

Author & Punisher - Krüller (Relapse Records)

In the world of electronic music there have always been bands who have been drawn to the darker side and been pioneers in their own right, artists such as OMD, Gary Numan and Kraftwerk have given way to Depeche Mode, Laibach and Nine Inch Nails, each revamp of electronic music coming from a deeper darker place. Much of this can be attributed to the improvement behind the technology, in a genre that is so reliant on how good synths, keys, computer algorithms are at the time of recording, if you have any kind of edge you will always deliver something a bit unique. The masters of this tend to be the ones that take risks, from Peter Gabriel's pioneering use of the Fairlight Synthesiser on Shock The Monkey, or the twisted genre bending of Trent Reznor throughout his career, how you use your tools is key. 

Author & Punisher is a band that knows how to use tools, the former mechanical engineer, stopped his day job to take a more creative approach to work and the Boston man named Tristan Shone became a innovative electronic music pioneer. His background in mechanical engineering has informed his musical career, refining, reformatting and redesigning how certain machines work to make records that are build around a doom/extreme metal ethos but without the use of many traditional instruments. His innovation and refinement has even led to the launch of his own gear company should anyone want to attempt introspective, musical punishment themselves. 

Thumping, robotic percussion on tracks such as Misery, are used to track grinding, artificial stomps, full of pulsing beats, driving oscillation and this time a lot of focus on vocals. Drenched in processing the haunting vocals are used to draw you into music that is by its nature, robotic and inhuman. There's touches of Trent Reznor but also Burton C Bell, Shone even giving Portishead's Glory Box a Deftones style makeover. There has been a glut of bands that deal with industrial music and lately lots of acts that play 80's inspired synthwave. All the while Shone has been creating his rise of the machines for 10 years, this has resulted in him supporting Tool on tour, no wonder then why Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey appear on Krüller, his co-producer Jason Begin in his Vytear guise adds some deafening dupstep to Blacksmith

As someone who has been involved with both engineering and sound design, Krüller made me sit up an pay attention. So often industrial music passes me by but the sheer inventiveness of creating what is in essence doom/post-metal with electronics, for me makes this possibly one of the albums of the year. If Deftones, jamming Nine Inch Nails covers in that factory at the end of Terminator 2 while on mescaline sound like your bag then on an 8 song, 53 minute opus, Tristan Shone's vision creates a Deus Ex Machina. Worship accordingly! 9/10

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Reviews: Hangman's Chair, Pyrrhic Salvation, Veonity, City Of Lights (Reviews By Rich P, Charlie Rogers, Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Hangman’s Chair - A Loner (Nuclear Blast) [Rich P]

Hangman’s Chair have been a long-time purveyor of the “doom” that many of you know and love. I have seen comparisons to Type O Negative and Paradise Lost thrown around a lot when talking about the French band, which was pretty accurate (if not a bit lazy) for their first five albums, with each release producing more and more than your boilerplate doom offerings from record to record. Album number six, A Loner, brings a new element to Hangman’s Chair, where more shoegaze, atmospheric, post rock vibes start to shine through, combining with their expertise of doom to bring an exciting offering, which is saying something six records into their career.

An Ode To Breakdown is a strong opener, with soaring, harmonic vocals, and a sense of melancholy you get throughout A Loner (go figure with that title). The second track Cold & Distant is just that, while recalling the 2020 classic release, Inlet by Hum. I hear a lot of a band like Hum throughout this record, which is a REALLY good thing. Who Wants To Die Old does recall to that Paradise Lost comparison and adds those soaring vocals, which is a strong point overall on A Loner

The title track, and my favorite on the album, is more of an upbeat track musically to start, but here comes a Type O type slowdown in the middle, combined with those excellent vocals again makes this a standout of the nine tracks on the record. Again, think more atmospheric post rock than doom, but excellent, nonetheless. I always want a strong closer on an emotional album like A Loner, and A Thousand Miles Away brings just that. Almost ten minutes of melancholy with the shoegaze-y guitar parts and those layered harmonies that make the vocals the strongest part of the album.

While just a casual fan of the band before, A Loner has prompted me to go back and revisit the Hangman’s Chair discography in more detail. You can get bogged down with all of bands bringing the doom these days, but you can hear on A Loner that Hangman’s Chair is not your run of the mill tuned down Type O or PL clone. While A Loner does drag a bit in the middle, musically and vocally this record soars, and is recommended for anyone who wants to bring some heavy melancholy into their lives. Good Stuff. 8/10

Pyrrhic Salvation - Manifestum I (Self Released) [Charlie Rogers]

6 years after releasing their demo, Virginia’s Pyrrhic Salvation come forth with their first almost-full-length release. I say almost-full-length because at 5 tracks and at 28 minutes long, Manifestum I exists in the undefined zone between an EP and an album. This seems apt given the chaotic and mysterious nature of the music, which blends elements of tech death and grindcore together to form a strange, almost Lovecraftian sound - the more you try to analyze it, the less you understand. 

Moving from razor sharp riffing into more open passages, into discordant and messy sections, then being grabbed by otherworldly moments of groove that hook you in before the melodies fall apart again, leaving you confused and lost in the nebula of non-connected notes. 

There’s a lot going on, and I’m not entirely sure it all works. The guitar tone can get rather nasally at times, with some of the frantic lead passages meandering away like the insane ramblings of a sentient table saw. The drums have a very live and human feel to them, with some moments where you truly question whether they’re there to keep time or just add an oppressive hammering noise. Vocally, the textures fit the madness perfectly, with phrases teetering on the edge of insanity blending extremely well with the maelstrom conjured by the instrumentation. 

I just wish the bass tone had more than just lows to it, as in its current form you miss out on some of the upper delights that using a fretless can bring to a record. Booming out at the bottom of the sound wall seems like a waste of what sounds like some quite tasty playing. Overall the production has a DIY vibe to it, with parts that feel like an attempt to polish was made, but an overall grimeyness to the sound that fits the madness of the music. 

Not a game changer of a record, but certainly seeds of something new in here. It’ll be interesting to see what Pyrrhic Salvation do next, but if you’re pressed for time and the idea of tech death meets grindcore doesn’t appeal to you, don’t feel bad about skipping this. 5/10

Veonity - Elements Of Power (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

I first came across Veonity with the release of their Sorrows album back in 2020, and at the time remember being struck how for a power metal album they had with a timely sense of delivery, landed an unusually dark and moody album than you might have expected. This, their fifth studio offering, is in the much more traditional territory that you would expect from Northern Euro Power acts, with a much more up tempo feel, keyset and beat – plus of course the obligatory concept story. In some ways that’s a shame, as the darker feel last time out was one of the things that made the release stand out, as well as giving reign for vocalist and guitarist Anders Sköld to really push his performance beyond the norms. 

This time round he’s no less impressive, but with upbeat melody and a lot more pace being the order of the day, this really feels like a four piece at work in the arrangements, rather than the feeling that there was one extra member last time round. There’s always a risk this may happen when you are doubling up an instrument and vocals in a high tempo situation, with the end result being that the vocal melodies are following the chord melody lines really closely. Musically these guys remain tight as you like, with some really well delivered bits of blistering technical brilliance that raise the eyebrows when you least expected it, and the album also manages a strong stand out anthemic Power, floor-filler for the festival circuit in Curse Of The Barren Plains, which although clichéd as fuck has a really catchy melody line and keyboard riff. 

That said, when things get the most complex is also when they get to be the most noteworthy – Blood Of The Beast, being the stand out example of this. Mood wise it would have fitted well on the previous outing – it’s darker and moodier and the arrangements flex a little and once again allow Sköld to dominate vocally, even though the overall feeling is of a more accessible song. Last time round the album worked because it wasn’t doing the same old things so many power metal records do. To be honest, I’m not going to get dragged into the ins and outs of the concept’s story – frankly, the music needs to stand on its own first and foremost. This time round they are following those standard Power tropes somewhat, but fortunately because the execution remains flawless, they pull it off, although perhaps not quite as memorably as last time round. 7/10

City Of Lights - Before The Sun Sets (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

I wasn't sure what to expect with this record, another Frontiers collab, another melodic rock band, ho hum. However dear reader I was wrong as Before The Sun Sets is a premier example of how to do melodic rock well. British songwriter/guitarist Neil Austin and Greek vocalist Manos Fatsis are the two men that City Of Lights is built around and they are the real driving force, Austin's songwriting inspired by the current crop of European AOR bands and those 80's legends. 

Recruiting Fatsis on vocals has proved to be an inspired choice as he possess' one of those ideal melodic rock vocals. Gritty, passionate and melodic, he handles rockers and ballads with ease giving his all to both as Austin cranks out some slick guitar riffs and programs the lush walls of synth. With songs in the works Austin recruited the sibling rhythm section of Degreed, Robin and Mats Eriksson, on bass/drums respectively, to give that authentic melodic rock heartbeat. 

At its heart Before The Sun Sets blends the style of new school bands such as Degreed/Creye with the older sound cultivated by Journey and Bad English. The final title track especially could have come off any Journey album you'd care to mention, a chest beating ballad that never is too saccharine. To flesh out the tracks here Nathan Doyle, Daniel Johansson (Degreed), Christoffer Borg (Taste/ex-Art Nation), and Mike Kyriakou all add guitar solos, Mikael Blanc (Degreed) also has a nifty key solo. 

Rockers such as Racing On The Redline, Giving Me Back Heart and Midnight Club are balanced with more mid-paced anthems like Put Your Heart On The LineEmilySnake Eyes (which half inches both a deep Purple and Gary Moore riff)  and of course big ballads such as Joanna and Dying Light. With massive production and backing choirs Before The Sun Sets is a slice of melodic rock, that impresses throughout. 8/10