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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

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