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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

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