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Wednesday 9 February 2022

Reviews: Saxon, Korn, Venom Prison, Lawnmower Deth (Reviews By Simon Black, Zak Skane, Matt Cook & Paul Scoble)

Saxon – Carpe Diem (Silver Lining Music) [Simon Black]

So the thing about Saxon, the thing that has well and truly earned them the ‘Mighty’ prefix, is that they never fail to deliver. OK, maybe that’s not quite true, in 1989 they well and truly messed up, but that’s down to major label intervention pushing them to try and sound like American radio rock just in time for the genre to die on its arse, and then promptly dropped them. The result was the frankly dire Destiny album, which is probably why the stalwarts of NWOBHM didn’t really cross my radar until I was a little older, as what I heard from that album at the age when my love of the genre of all things metal was starting to explode led me to write them off completely, although I could see that the love was there from the older members of our community.

That all changed in the early 1990’s when they played at an old theatre in my University town of Loughborough. Now Loughborough was well and truly in the boondocks back then, sandwiched as it is as a small town halfway between the venue-rich cities of Nottingham and Leicester. I went because as there wasn’t a lot that happened in the town, but it felt like that the mighty had fallen for them to be playing there at all. I could not have been more surprised. 

They played a set rich in material from their core eight album history pre Destiny and wisely not one track from that turkey was included. They were fantastic. Added to this we got treated to the full stage set of the eagle landing (it was bigger than the stage) and suddenly I understood why everyone loved them. It was full throttle unashamed and in your face Heavy Fucking Metal. From that moment to this on I have seen them every chance I can, and I have yet to be disappointed live. 

Album wise, in those intervening years Saxon have stuck to their guns with their original recorded output (although I am deliberately going to ignore last year’s Inspirations, as it was a hastily assembled lock down project of covers and really is best forgotten). They learned their lesson with style choices in 1989 though and like the many of their studio records in the intervening years, Carpe Diem with its cover evoking the classic Crusader delivers ten slabs of full-throated Traditional Metal – the kind that when done right does not age. 

Someone else seemingly immune from the years is vocalist and all round legend Biff Byford. For a man now in his seventy-first year, he has clearly gargled from the Larynx of Eternal Youth as his performance on here does not sound like the constant front man of a band who have been grinding the Wheels Of Steel since the late 1970’s. 

I think no small part of this lies with the considerable skills of producer Andy Sneap, a man who ‘gets’ the genre better than most and who really has done Saxon proud over their last few albums. Sneap is notorious for pushing bands further than they think they can go and captures the essence of Saxon live fabulously in the studio. 

But the material he has to work with here is really solid, from the opening to the closing this record gives us material that is just Saxon doing their thing. The title track followed by pile-driver Age Of Steam are familiar Saxon territory, as indeed is the whole record. But the key word here is “familiar”, not “samey” because we don’t want Saxon to go changing, and we certainly don’t want them to go stale. There’s no sign of that anytime soon. 8/10

Korn – Requiem (Loma Vista Recordings) [Zak Skane]

The godfathers of Nu-Metal and seven string riffs have returned to release their fourteenth studio album Requiem. With classic albums such as their ballsy self titled debut with iconic singles like Blind and Shoots And Ladders to the experimental sessions featured on the Path Of Totality that featured collaborations with Dub Step artist such as Skrillex producing singles like Get Up! and Narcissistic Cannibal, this band covered all your needs.

Opening up this album with Forgotten we’re introduced with the faint calm before the storm jangly guitar riff before it comes in with a wall sludgy sound hitting us like a sledgehammer like Korn does well. Jonathan Davies comes in with lyrics that put, his heart on his sleeve and make us connect to him on a personal level and grabs us to take us on the journey. 

Let The Dark Do The Rest brings back the cold dark angst that reminiscent of classic songs like Dead Bodies Everywhere and Falling Away From Me with the eerie sound effects at the start to the dark scale note choices that Munky and Head built their riffs upon. The first single of this album, Start The Healing mixes classic Nu-Metal groove with hard rock Alice in Chains inspired vocal melodies and pop styles structures and hooks. 

Lost In The Grandeur shows shows that the band still know how to push the envelope of their sound with the intro riff mixing between straight eighths and triplet eighth rhythms and their drummer Ray Luzier kicking the song off with combining 3 over 4 polyrhythm drum beats. 

Other highlights from this album are Disconnect in which the band focus more on the melody and song structure, Penance To Sorrow and My Confession are the bands darker efforts an ode to the classic Korn sound and Worst Is On It’s Way brings back the classic sound with Jonathan Davis’s classic vocal scatting to the experimental bass lines. The only weak song on this album is Hopeless And Beaten, from the first listen the band go down a more sludgy route sounding that they have taken more influences from Crowbar and Alice in Chains instead of their classic peers such as Metallica and Faith No More. 

I also think that the songs structure is not a fluid in comparison to the other songs featured on this album. In conclusion this album is another fantastic effort from the Nu-Metal veterans. Jonathan Davis’s vocals sound more melodic than ever especially on Disconnect. The musical chemistry is still as exciting and intense since their debut with Munky and Head trading riffs and experimental leads and Ray Luzier accompanying them with tribal inspired grooves especially on the song Lost In The Grandeur. I will happily and proudly give this album full marks. 10/10.

Venom Prison - Erebos (Century Media) [Matt Cook] 

Metal tends to bring to light topics and ideas that are, well, quite metal. Take, for example, the contents found within Erebos, the fourth full-length courtesy of Venom Prison (and their second album since the pandemic started). The name itself is the personification of darkness within the realm of ancient Greek mythology. Additionally, the Greek goddess of misery, anxiety, grief and depression makes an appearance. I guess there really is a god or goddess for everything. Oh, and there are also female humanoids with snakes instead of hair. 

So let’s get started. Larissa Stupar again manages to deliver vocals that sound both chaotic and abrasive yet paced and pleasing all at the same time. Comfort Of Complicity is straight-up heavy and leans towards death or thrash, however it still reeks of structure and simplicity despite the sandpaper screaming. The harsh/clean combination in the chorus of Castigated In Steel And Concrete smashes it and there is even an effective mashup of overlapping singing on Gorgon Sisters, a technique that often ends up sounding repulsive more than anything most other occasions. Stupar saves the best for last with their most coarse delivery on album closer Technologies Of Death

How about those lyrical themes? Pain Of Oizys takes its name from the previously mentioned Greek goddess of misery, anxiety, etc. in a stout mix of soft and heavy; the mellower introduction gives a short respite before transitioning into Golden Apples Of The Hesperides. For those keeping track at home, the Hesperides are a collective bunch of nymph guardians who protect golden apples and have the backing of a dragon because of course they do. The song itself incorporates a Howitzer for drums and the furious tremolo elicits fears of the world collapsing in rapturous soloing à la Slayer. Not to be lost is also the excellent use of echo effects in the guitar intro – a rarely heard technique utilized wonderfully. The female snake-haired humanoids make their appearance on Gorgon Sisters, accompanied by a rollicking-good riff. 

Venom Prison is anything but a one-trick pony, and Veil Of Night is further evidence. It descends into a sludgier number and upon multiple listens, dips its feet into a very shallow puddle of melodicism and an impressive atmospheric tone underneath the morass. The vocals are incredibly pleasing; the riffs aren’t too overbearing; and the UK-based five piece doesn’t try to be anything they aren’t. What they are, in fact, is a collective of highly talented musicians who have a penchant for crushing melodies and badass mythological topics. Erebos is infinitely more than a hardcore-tinged death metal record. It has character, structure and the confidence of a group on the precipice of becoming the hottest metal band of the post- (I wish) pandemic age, if they haven’t done so already. 8/10

Lawnmower Deth - Blunt Cutters (Dissonance Productions/Cherry Red Records) [Paul Scoble]

Lawnmower Deth started life as a side project of Explodin’ Dr Jaggers Flymo who at the time went by the much shorter moniker of Mr Flymo. Mr Flymo recorded all instruments and did vocals for the bands debut Demo, It’s A Lot Less Bother Than A Hover. Mr Flymo then recruited a full band to record the second demo Mowdeer, and Mower Liberation Front, Lawnmower Deth’s half of a split album with Metal Duck (Metal Duck’s half was called Quack ‘Em All). 

The band quickly scored a record deal with Earache, and released their first album, Ooh Crikey …. It’s Lawnmower Deth in 1990. The album was packed with silly songs about Vampiric Snooker Player (Spook Perv Happening In the Snooker Hall), Arthurian Legends (Lancer With Your Zanzer), Work Stress (Judgment Day, Assume The Position), and Billy Milano (F.A.T. Fascist And Tubby), silly lyrics backed up by Lawnmower Deth’s competent cross-over Thrash. The band built up a decent following due to how much fun they were live, the band started doing Christmas Gigs at The Astoria in London, which became legendary gigs. 

I was a big fan at the time, I have vivid memories of driving around rural East Sussex, in my mate Steve’s Vauxhall Astra (Steve was the first of us to hit seventeen so he was the first of my friends to have a car), singing along to Sheep Dip or Cob-Woman Of Death Meets Mr Smelly Mop at the top of our voices, and upsetting the upper middle class burghers of Ashburnham or Winchelsea. After Ooh Crikey…. came Return Of The Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns in 1992. Musically Return… was more complex and better played than Ooh Crikey…. it was also probably a little less funny. 

Funny is a difficult thing to pull off; it’s not always easy to know what other people will find funny, humour is probably the most subjective artistic thing to attempt. As far as my sense of humour is concerned the lyrics on Return….. feel a little bit more forced than the previous album, but that's just my sense of humour, another listener might see it the other way round, funny can be a very difficult mistress. Two years after Return... Lawnmower Deth released their third album Billy. Billy is a very melodic and tune filled piece of Pop Punk. I genuinely enjoyed Billy, it’s not thrash, or any kind of metal, but it was full of energy, fun tunes great choruses. The album was also not going out of its way to be funny or wacky, so combined with the change in musical direction, the album was a failure for fans and critics alike, and the band split. I have always thought that Billy was a little ahead of its time, by the late nineties its brand of Pop Punk would have fitted in very well with the wave of Pop Punk that hit around that time. 

Fast Forward to 2008 and the band reformed to support Bullet For My Valentine, a few other gigs follow, and after that a series of appearances at Bloodstock (where I saw them, headlining the Sophie stage in 2011), reminded lots of middle aged people, how much fun Lawnmower Deth were live (even if going nuts up the front does wreck your back). After a few years of festival appearances and live gigs, talk of a new album became inevitable. I must admit I was a little nervous of having all of my fond memories of Lawnmower Deth smashed by the band bringing out new material that was crap, or worse, unfunny. 

However, my nervousness was unfounded, as Blunt Cutters is pretty good. Firstly, this is the first Lawnmower Deth album in twenty eight years, which is a lot of time to practice, so this is the most musically accomplished album the band have made, and is also the best produced, in fact this all sounds fantastic, tight fast riffs, blasting drums and cracking vocals give this a far better sound than any comedy record has a right to have. As you’d expect most of the tracks are very short, and to the point, five of the songs are under a minute and only eight break the two minute barrier, this is fast crossover thrash that does not mess about, most of the songs turn up, kick you in the teeth, and run away immediately, giggling. 

The album features one track that is bordering on Death Metal (old school, obvs.), Deth! Maim! Kill! is a blast of a song that has a definite death metal feel, it reminds me a little of Welsh Death Metal Legends Desecration’s song Aim, Fire, Kill! There are short and funny tracks like Swarfega or Space Herpes that come from the same place as classic tracks like Icky Fickie, Weebles Wobble But The Don’t Fall Down, or Egg Sandwich. Beautiful little bits of surreal comedy, that are part Motorhead, part Bertolt Brecht, and part Jasper Carrot. The album also features a couple of fairly complex songs that, for Lawnmower Death, are bordering on epics. 

The tracks Raise Your Snails and Agency Of C.O.B. are proper songs that have a certain amount of complexity and genuine musical talent, something the band should be rightly proud of. Blunt Cutters is a lot of fun. Lawnmower Deth are now properly competent musicians who have made an album that works on a musical level and doesn’t need the comedy to justify the release of the album. However, I have laughed at several tracks on this album so I think they still have the ability to be funny; will you find this album funny? Well that's up to you, I’m not responsible for your sense of humour. They don’t have the youthful exuberance they had back in the early nineties, but they do seem to have replaced it with a crusty, grizzled, curmudgeonly exuberance that seems to be just as good! 7/10    

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