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Sunday 6 February 2022

Reviews Nordic Giants, Mass Worship, Obsidian Sea, Kraemer (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Matt Cook, Rich P & Simon Black)

Nordic Giants - Symbiosis (Self Released) [Richard Oliver]

Nordic Giants are a band that I have heard nothing but universal praise for but it has taken me until now to actually take the time to check them out with the release of their second full-length album Symbiosis. The band are an anonymous duo based in the U.K. with the stage names of Loki and Raka and have gained a tremendous reputation for their unique cinematic post-rock but also the spectacle of their live shows. Symbiosis is an experience of an album. This is not just to be played in the background but a musical experience that demands your full attention. The cinematic descriptor for the band is certainly appropriate as it comes across as a luscious and layered soundtrack with the visuals being whatever is conjured up by your mind at the time of listening. 

There are a myriad of different instruments used in the music from piano, guitars, vintage analogue synths to such varied instruments as Tibetan bowls and a Carnyx horn. The majority of the compositions on the album are instrumental but two have guest vocalists with Alex Hedley adding emotive vocals to Faceless whilst Freyja adds her ethereal voice to Spheres. The music on Symbiosis is varied to say the least with delicate yet atmospheric songs such as Hjem and Spires Of Ascendancy mixing with more powerful and dramatic pieces such as Philosophy Of Mind and Convergence

Music that demands patience and repeated listens is generally the most rewarding and Nordic Giants certainly fall into that category as Symbiosis is an album that peels away its layers with every subsequent listen. There is a lot going on not just musically but emotionally with the varying feelings and moods that the music evokes. If you have the time and patience to dedicate to this album then I cannot recommend it enough, An absolutely captivating listen. 9/10

Mass Worship - Portal Tombs (Century Media) [Matt Cook]

It’s not an easy task in 2022 to conjure images that can still creep out metalheads, given the plethora of gore-filled Slam or puke-fest Grindcore that riddles streaming services across the internet.
Extreme metallers Mass Worship bring to life the spine-chilling imagery of a literal hill of disintegrated humans: “Ruins of man/Crumpled to stone/Buried and gone/Under dunes of done.” Alright then. The aforementioned Dunes Of Bone is but a mere taste of what is to come within the confines of Portal Tombs, the Scandinavians’ sophomoric album. 

Empyrean Halls slips into a brooding Blackgaze behemoth thanks in part to Claes Nordin’s vocal delivery, aided by the metronomic drums from Fred Forsberg. Guitarist Gustav Eriksson uses Revel In Fear as a platform on which to show off his disgusting thrashing ability, relentlessly finger-tapping and pirouetting solo skills. The droning doom comes on Deliverance, which sees a lengthy intro descend into utter harshness. Nordin sounds pained and implements a ferocious kill-or-be-killed style. Eriksson concludes proceedings strongly with a solid riff that forms. 

Yet a large portion of the nine tracks seems to have an overabundance of intermittent soft and/or acoustic sections. Much of the 38-plus minutes feels like it drones off into space - pun certainly intended. It’s hard to find many defining or distinguishable parts aside from what’s already been gleaned. It is by no means a flop or a showing of ineptitude; rather, what I enjoy from Portal Tombs is the range of singing styles and the exceptional instrumentation. But overall, it left me desiring more extreme metal and less of the slowed-down quasi-breaks. Just when Mass Worship seemed to be gaining speed or momentum, they would take their foot off the gas. 7/10

Obsidian Sea - Pathos (Ripple Music) [Rich P]

Full disclosure: The Bulgarian Doom scene is not one I am intimately familiar with. I have, however, been a fan of the leaders of said scene, Obsidian Sea, ever since I happened upon their 2019 full length, Strangers, delivered to us from the lead purveyor of stoner/doom, Ripple Music. Obsidian Sea, while given the doom label, brought their own take on what can be the “Same old, same old” for many of the Candlemass/Sabbath worshipers churning out their records today. Strangers took doom to some new places, so I was excited when the preorder for their fourth album, Pathos, was announced. 

Pathos builds on Strangers and expands even further on their brand of harmony filled doom, while never straying too far from the melancholy we all love within the genre, but exploring new tempos, instrumentation, and a sense of dare I say hope in the seven tracks making up the album. Pathos kicks off with the up tempo Lament The Death Of Wonder, a track that brings the proto heaviness, with some great doomy/psych breakdowns that any discerning fan is expecting, with some amazing harmonies sadly missing from most of the genre today. I love the vocals on this record, with the opener being a perfect example of why. The Long Drowning feels exactly like that (in a good way), slowing down and putting you behind the eyes of the sailor lost at sea, with soaring vocals that bring you right into the narrative. 

Sisters is a standout track for me, showcasing the tightness of the band, with harmonized vocals right off the bat and Iommi-esque riffage throughout. The track should be on any doom playlist immediately. The Revenants slows it down but never lays off the heavy, with more classic riffs and more traditional doom feel, and it is pulled off perfectly. I Love The Woods is what can only be described as beautiful doom, while the final track, The Meaning Of Shadows, closes out with some spooky guitar work, changing tempos, and an epic closing three minutes which may be my favorite moment on Pathos, bring it home strong and leaving me wanting more. 

There are a lot of doom bands out there, but bands like Obsidian Sea and the excellent 2021 release by Restless Spirit are taking the genre to the next level. I don’t throw around these terms lightly, but we may have a modern-day doom classic on our hands with Pathos. It has everything, the musicianship, the writing, the excellent harmonized vocals, the storytelling, and the raw emotion that you can truly feel from these seven tracks that never stay too long and leave you wondering what’s next. Go listen to this one. 9/10

Kraemer - All The Way (Frontiers Music Srl) [Simon Black]

Kraemer is new project from Simulcrum vocalist Eric Kraemer and is a classic Frontiers collaboration with the usual cast of session players that adorn many of their projects. It’s very much in the Melodic Metal / Hard Rock / AOR vein, although we do get a few touches of the more Progressive threaded throughout, as is more Eric Kraemer’s normal style on Simulcrum’s output. This plays in the project’s favour actually, as so many of these Frontiers records end up being a bit by the numbers to the point when it becomes a challenge to differentiate between them, not helped by the fact that in so many cases they are sharing musicians and / or producers with at least half of the label’s output. That said, it’s worth wading through the lot, because occasionally you get something worthwhile, although sadly this one lacks the strength of identity to stand well on its own.

There’s elements that are annoying me – the 90’s keyboard driven melody lines that probably ought to be paying Gary Hughes royalties can get wearing, but it’s the little progressive flourishes peppered in there that stop this from being repetitive. Kraemer’s voice is a big factor here though – I’ve not heard his work before, but he’s got a strong and clear voice that certainly holds the attention even when the overall song arrangements fall flat, which they sometimes do. Ballad How Can I Survive is one of the highlights, purely because his voice gets to take centre stage, even if the arrangement is lacking in originality.  To be honest a more focussed six track EP and some selective editing would have been a real help here, as some of the filler tracks on here aren’t doing anyone any favours, but when it works it works well – it’s just sadly that’s not often enough. 4/10

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