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Friday 29 April 2022

Reviews: Notturno, Kaipa, Helms Alee, Mirror (Reviews By Paul Scoble & Matt Bladen)

Notturno - Obsessions (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Paul Scoble]

Notturno is a new project from Multi Instrumentalist Vittorio Sabelli, from Dawn Of A Dark Age and Suici.De.Pression. Vittorio is joined in this project by Vocalist Kjiel, who usually provides the vocal chords for Eyeless Sight, and guest drummer Sven. Obsessions is Notturno’s first release. Notturno’s style is broadly black metal, and specifically a mix of atmospheric and depressive black metal, that is melodic, tuneful and tends to stay on the softer side of black metal, only occasionally pushing the extremity button. 

The album is split into 3 long songs, named Fear, Darkness and Falling. Fear opens with clean guitar and keyboards, the feel is sad and melancholy, and it is soft and minimal in style. Whispered vocals are added, making this feel delicate and fragile. The track then takes a turn for the heavy and harsh, with mid-paced depressive black metal and anguished, harsh vocals. The song then goes back to the soft and melancholy style that the track opened with for a couple of minutes before the heavy and harsh returns, and this time the extreme section keeps on getting more aggressive, with a blast beat, and a very hostile snare battering the audience. The track drops back into the clean and soft section, which takes the song to its conclusion. 

Darkness is the shortest of the 3 tracks. The song opens with very slow and heavy depressive black metal in a similar vein to None, a lush keyboard line is added building the melancholy. The arrangement builds and very aggressive vocals are added, the song then drops into a Blast Beat and a tremolo picked melody lead is added and just fills the song with melody and grief. There is a short, soft and clean guitar part, before the depressive black metal builds back up for a deeply unhappy ending. Final track Falling again opens with soft, clean guitar and whispered vocals, there is a classical guitar solo that is just lovely before a very slow and heavy section with fervent vocals, that builds to melancholy depressive black metal section that is a little reminiscent of Nordicwinter, that has a huge tremolo picked melody over it. 

A blast beat is added, but that tremolo picked melody is still there. The track then has a break, and everything drops to soft keyboard swells and clean guitar, which then slowly adds more extremity as it builds back up to be driving and dramatic rhythmically. This fairly staccato part then morphs into some very pleasing atmospheric black metal that flows brilliantly. The track then stays mainly on the atmospheric/depressive black metal style with some very good melody leads and vocals that are deeply anguished and full of emotion. The song and the album comes to an end with soft, clean guitars and keyboards. Obsessions is a great first album. 

It’s quite simple when compared to a lot of black metal, but in many ways that is a strength of this album, it’s straightforward and direct, it’s trying to put across a feeling of sadness and melancholy, and does so in a very effective way. It has a sense of being a first statement of intent, this is what Notturno is, it seems to say. On subsequent releases I’ll expect more complexity, but for a first album this works very well. The album is very effective in presenting a very particular form of sadness and anguish and it does it so well; the combination of riffs and achingly melancholic and sorrowful vocals have a very powerful effect on the listener. A great first album, I’m already excited for the follow up. Highly recommended. 8/10

Kaipa - Urskog (InsideOut Records) [Matt Bladen]

Long established Swedish folk/prog rockers Kaipa come back with their 14th album, 22 years after their reformation in 2000, they still manage to effortlessly blend pastoral Swedish folk music with expressive progressive rock. Keyboardist Hans Lundin still leads the band with his virtuoso keyboard playing and compositions, layering all 6 of these sprawling prog epics with his own musical ear. Apparently Lundin was inspired by his own solo career while writing this record, taking inspiration from there while adapting some parts from those 1980's recordings to fit Urskog. The finale Bitter Setting Sun is especially potent with that 80's Yes flavour due to the use of sax and the impressive jazz drumming of Darby Todd who joins the band for his first record after spending time with Devin Townsend, Gary Moore and Martin Barre, he was recommended by long time drummer Morgan Ågren, as he couldn't participate in the recording. 

His drumming style is incredibly dexterous and versatile, giving much if this album it's jazz rhythms, linking with Jonas Reingold's impressive bass playing. The rest of the band remains the same, the fluid guitar playing of Per Nilsson providing lots of glorious clean guitar lines and campfire acoustics on The Frozen Dead Of Night, a song that joyously welcomes spring. It's got wonderful vocal harmonies from Partik Lundström, Aleena Gibson and Lundin, these return on Bitter Setting Sun which is where spring turns back into Autumn and Winter closing out this album that is almost a journey through the seasons. Kaipa are a band that are comfortably set in their style and they do this folk/jazz/prog as good as nearly anyone. Urskog is written for lazy days in the sun and chilly nights in front of the fire, a listening pleasure. 8/10

Helms Alee - Keep This Be The Way (Sargent House) [Paul Scoble]

Seattle based trio Helms Alee have been making very interesting music together since 2007. The band is made up of Ben Verellen on Vocals and Guitar, Dana James on Bass and Vocals and Hozoji Matheson-Margullis on Drums and Vocals. In the time the band have been together they have made five albums before Keep This Be The Way; debut Night Terror was released in 2008, follow up Weatherhead was released in 2011, a three years wait brought us Sleepwalking Sailors, and two years later the band released Stillicide, 2019 brought us the bands last album Noctiluca, Keep This Be The Way is Helms Alee’s sixth album. 

The interesting music in question is very difficult to categorise, it doesn’t fit into any specific genre. So, in places it’s heavy and sludgy, then minimal and broody, then dreamy pop, then alternative rock, this is a band who seem to like everything, and in some kind of amazing alchemy Helms Alee make this disparate group of styles fit together perfectly. The album opens with See Sights Smell Smells which is driving alternative rock, but with lush harmonised vocals, driving percussion and some very nice twangy guitar. Title track Keep This Be The Way, starts with minimal brooding guitar before going into a section that is a massively aggressive sludgy doom section, with deeply antagonistic chanted vocals, the song then drifts off with slow drumming and electronic noises. How Party Do You Hard is minimal and brooding, with lush, sweet vocals. Tripping Up The Stairs is sludgy and heavy with chanted, gang vocals. The song has some lovely rumbly bass, aggressive vocals and some great guitar lines. The song comes to a pounding end, with a melody guitar line just before its conclusion. 

Next we get a cover of Scott Walker’s song Big Louise. Helms Alee’s version features simple strummed guitar, electronics and a measured vocal performance, it’s a great version that makes an interesting pause in the middle of the album. Do Not Expose To The Burning Sun has a brooding introduction, the song builds to a very heavy, driving section with savage vocals, the song then slowly demolishes itself back to the brooding feel of the opening section. The Middle Half is a minute long interlude that features guitar and poppy, harmonised vocals. The Pop sensibilities are carried over onto the next track Mouth Thinker, where minimal guitar and very poppy vocals sandwich a very heavy section to make some blissful poppy Alternative Rock. Three Cheeks To The Wind vacillates between driving grungy Rock and softer, more minimal parts, it ends in a beautifully heavy way. The album comes to an end with the song Guts For Brains. Guts For Brains starts with restrained alternative rock, that has a little bit of a New Wave Feel to it, before slowly building to a big heavy section with rumbling bass, aggressive Guitar and pounding drums which brings Keep This Be The Way to an end. 

Keep This Be The Way is a mix of alternative rock, grunge, sludge, doom, pop, noise rock, new wave and electronica, which should be a mess, but isn’t. Instead of being a mess, this album is sublime. The way this album fits together and seamlessly segues from one disparate style to another is nothing short of amazing. The album is packed with great tunes and stunning harmonies that really stick in your head, and will have you humming melodies from it to distraction. I’m not sure exactly what to categorise this as other than brilliant, clearly Helms Alee have created their own genre. 9/10

Mirror - The Day Bastard Leaders Die (Cruz Del Sur Music) [Matt Bladen]

On their last two albums Cypriot heavy metal band Mirror have been adapting their sound to suit different decades, their self titled debut was full of big organs of late 70's hard rock, their second, Pyramid Of Terror was right at the beginning of the 80's where more NWOBHM influences were creeping in and now on their third album The Day Bastard Leaders Die they have fully embraced the snarling, tenacity of that NWOBHM movement, adding dabs of punk and proto-thrash in for good measure. 

What you get is a volatile, riff driven record that rages at society and politicians in particular. The guitars of Dino and Nickolas Moutafis are buzzsaw like, the analog production style of Kostas Kostopoulos giving them a little bit of fuzz. While the bass of Tas powers tracks such as Infernal Deceiver with that Steve Harris gallop. Now I will say that it's not the big stars of the NWOBHM scene that are paid homage here. Though Demon Candles does liberally borrow from Iron Maiden in the chorus. 

Now Mirror are clearly connoisseurs favouring bands such as Angel Witch, Satan and everyone favourite Danes in Mercyful Fate. The latter comparisons coming from Jimmy Mavrommatis using the highest vocals he has done on any previous record putting him in contention with King Diamond and Brian Ross, but that wide range he has shown on the last two records still gets a good outing as he shifts from those gritty lows to the ear piercing highs. 

Daniel Georgiou's propulsive percussion on Souls Of Megiddo has that sort of mid paced riff Satan do well along with lots of twin guitar harmonies, Savage Tales meanwhile changes in speed frequently with those Mercyful Fate vibes very strong. 

The Day The Bastard Leaders Die sounds like one of those long lost NWOBHM albums from a band that recorded one album, or had one song featured on a compilation and then disappeared, it feels rare and undiscovered until now. That's just a credit to Mirror that as we head towards the nadir of the NWOTHM movement, they have made an album that doesn't sound inspired by that initial new wave in the 80's but sounds like it is actually from then. 

As Mirror tend to creep forward in time with every release it'll be interesting to see whether they stick with classic metal or start to bring in glam/sleaze or even *shudders* grunge. For now though as well as being a great listen, it's the ideal album for tricking vinyl loving metal hipsters who will of course say they knew the band before they were famous, and saw them playing a pub in 1982 (Mirror formed in 2015). 9/10     

Reviews: Northlane, Udo Dirkschneider, Greyhaven, RF Force (Reviews By Zak Skane & Simon Black)

Northlane – Obsidian (Believe Records/Self Released) [Zak Skane]

All the way from Australia the five piece metalcore act Northlane have been crushing venues from small to large across the globe for the past 13 years making some serious waves since they dropped their second full length album Singularity back in 2013. With Singularity being released with their former singer Adrian Fitipaldes it gained a lot of attention from the extended range guitar “Djent” community with their unique approach to the Metalcore sound by their use ambient soundscapes to their humanitarian themed lyrics they have become one of the acts that paved the way for the new wave of bands to shape the sound of Metalcore today. It wasn’t till their 2019 release of Alien, which the band took the revolutionary responsibility to stretch the sonic boundaries that defines the Metalcore sound once again, by adding nostalgic analogue synths and sampling to make the band become of the most defining acts in modern metal. Now with their recent release, Obsidian the band have continued with their sonic legacy.

Once the needle drops to the opening track Clarity, waves of hypnotic synths and arpeggios surround you with soothing whispers creeping in and out generating a calming vibe but trust me, don’t be fooled by the calm before the storm because the track gradually builds up to a clear reminder of what the band do best with the rip roaring passionate vocals and odd metered breakdowns. The following track Clockwork continues to the push boundaries of what we call modern metal with their dance floor arpeggiated synths and bouncy drum beats accompanied with Marcus’s elevating yet and repetitive vocals really reminisces on classic dance tracks of the 90’s but features sharp jabs of low tuned riffage making it a unique combination it’s like Faithless meets Meshuggah. 

Echochamber lyrically tackles the current climate of society isolating themselves from other view points whilst the drummer Nic Pettersen combines disco beats with modern metal chops and Carbonized sees Marcus experimenting with vocals by spitting trap bars in the intro verses followed by poetic flowing choruses. Other highlights on this album are the groove driven Plenty which mixes odd times riffs and soaring melodies and Inamorata where the band show off their musical talents with carefully placed jabs of low tuned riffage and intricate drum parts.

This is another great instalment for the band's career. The production on this sounds so fresh and three dimensional in comparison to other metalcore releases, the synths and Marcus’s melodic vocals sooth, pulsate and massage your ear drums whilst the precise stabs of low tuned riffage provide the savoury to the sweet. Another great release from the aussie five piece 10/10.

Udo Dirkschneider - My Way (Atomic Fire Records) [Simon Black]

When I saw that our esteemed editor had thrown this into my slush pile dear reader, I have to confess to no small moment of dread and panic. You see the last couple of years have seen a few misjudged lockdown projects see the light of dawn, as bands struggled with remote writing and recording and opted for filler packages to keep the marketplace warm until things recovered. That’s mean lots of remixes, compilations and live recordings, but it’s also seen a fair few covers projects. They make commercial sense, as often they include songs that the bands have peppered into their live sets, and failing that it’s a lot easier to learn a cover than to write something new, so when you can grab studio time they can be laid down superfast. The downside is they can badly misfire. Danzig’s recent tranche of Elvis covers is a classic example of why these things need to be approached with some degree of caution (a recording so ill-advised and terrible that even now I think I was being over generous giving it 1/10…). 

So I was slightly concerned that I might have to engage 80’s Kerrang! mode for this one as well, but fear not, gentle reader, I was pleasantly surprised. For a start, the choice of material, whilst clearly illustrating Udo’s roots and influences and pulling material from classic Rock, Metal and Pop material from the 60’s through to the 80’s, was also wisely chosen for how well it fits his gravelly and distinctive larynx. That said, the years have taken their toll and you can hear this at moments, but generally he’s chosen material that fits well with his range. 

Where he would naturally struggle, the re-arrangement has helped enormously – notably Queen’s We Will Rock You, which enters down-tuned full on metal territory and works exceedingly well with two guitars to boot. My one frustration is that the opening songs are the ones that work the least well, and we’re five tracks in before we get to Rainbow’s Man On The Silver Mountain – a track I thought was going to get slaughtered, but which actually he really steps up to the plate on, despite having such a widely contrasted voice to Dio’s. From then on things go from strength to strength, as material more suited to his style presents, although I was pleasantly surprised by his rendition of a balls to the wall version of the Stones Paint It Black. Other highlights include AC/DC’s TNT, Scorpions He’s A Woman, She’s A Man and a fantastic turn of Judas Priest’s classic Hell Bent For Leather.

However, there is one small elephant in the room, which takes me back to my original eyebrow raising moment of panic when this landed, which is the title track itself, because let’s face it Udo Dirkschneider is not the sort of artist you would expect to starting including Old Blue Eyes numbers in his set. For a start he holds back the Rock’N’Roll grate and does actually sing on this, but crooning this ain’t. It’s uncomfortable, but not terrible, and scores way higher than anything on the aforementioned Danzig turd. Personally it could have been really painful, but in the end is a slightly humorous coda to an album of actually well-delivered and meaty material. 7/10

Greyhaven – This Bright And Beautiful World (Rude Records) [Zak Skane]

Greyhaven are a US based post-hard core act that already have two albums under their belt Cult America and Empty Black. Before they entered the studio with Will Putney (Thy Art is Murder, Fit For an Autopsy and Knocked Loose) to record their third album This Bright And Beautiful World, they made a mission to expand their sound to explore more mainstream sounds.

Coming in hot and heavy with In A Room Where Everything Dies, the track launches an armoury of double kick drum grooves and stab chords with frantic vocal energy. Brent Mills’s vocal range on this track goes from the ravage attack of any Mathcore vocalists such as a Greg Puciato swooning into soothing melodies of Jason Butler of Letlive and Fever 333. The track produces a great example for the album embracing their old mathcore edge with the new melodic approach. Following up, is their lead radio friendly single All Candy. All Candy shows off the bands ability as songwriters with mixing groovy dynamically driven riffs, mixed with soulful melodies and hooks that are smothered in southern blues swagger. 

A Painful And Necessary Action is a straight up nostalgic Mathcore song that comes straight from the mid 2000’s, with it’s technical guitar riffs, intricate drum grooved clean breaks and the catchy chorus all mixed with southern sounding breakdowns, making any old school Every Time I Die and Miss Machine era Dillinger Escape Plan fan gleam with pride. The band get sleazy with More And More Hands with Brent turning up the grit in his melodic vocals making the band sound like a more technical version Thrice. Finally their emotionally driven closing track Ornaments From The Well takes us on a journey that consist of instrumentation swelling in from loud to quite, Brent providing us with emotional storytelling through his lyrics and ambient layers making this a strong closer for the album.

Overall this is a good but nostalgic listen, even though the band have decided to venture out and explore other styles of music on this album they still managed to keep it to their sound. Also with the band exploring new sounds they have yet to come up with anything new that puts a fresh take on the sub genre, but more reminded us on how enjoyable mathcore can be. If you are a fan of old school Every Time I Die and Dillinger Escape Plan this is suggested listen for you. 7/10.

RF Force – S/T (Black Lion Records) [Simon Black]

Hailing from Sao Paulo in Brazil, RF Force are a young band with an old heart, one that pumps pure old fashioned Heavy Metal through its chambers. When your second number is called Old School Metal, you know where they are coming from loud and clear. It’s anthemic, cheesy and bloody marvellous, and it’s far from the only track on here that shines that brightly.

There’s been a lot of this 80’s revivalism going on of late, as a sort of parallel arc to the NWOCR zeitgeist for all things early 80’s, but the results have been a bit hit and miss. In some cases it’s seen obscure also-ran acts of the time trying to revive their careers, and in many others younger pretenders mistakenly trying to recreate the sounds of old analogue without focussing enough on the song writing. RF Force very wisely let the music do all the talking and although the arrangements and style are NWOBHM through and through (with a bit of 80’s Americana thrown in for good measure, because let’s face it you can’t go far wrong bowing at the altar of Ronnie James Dio…). Either way, it works…

From a production point of view they make zero attempt to ape the sounds of days gone by. If the bands of the time were bang on happy with the material recorded on clapped out studios 40 years ago, they would not have spent the intervening decades remastering and remixing them so many times, so RF Force have opted for a fat, modern and rich sound, with perhaps just that teensy bit more magic reverb juice than is currently fashionable to create that big arena sound we all loved back then. Brazil has a fantastic and vibrant Metal scene and it’s nice to see a new band get well treated by their production team first time out, as that’s not always the case.

There’s nothing new and innovative here stylistically, but then that’s really rather the point. What is delivered is strong arrangements, confident performances, catchy numbers and a hearty and charismatic frontman in Marcelo Saracino, whose clean yet edgy voice is perfect for the genre, and has no small amount of emotive power in there. Live I am guessing they will need to expand the team a bit, given that bass and twin guitar work are being handled by the clearly talented duo of Daniel Iasbeck and Ricardo Flausino in studio, with some powerhouse drumming coming from Lucas Emidio. This is a highly impressive debut. One to watch, definitely… 8/10

Thursday 28 April 2022

Metal To The Masses 2022 Interviews: Systems Of Slaves (Heat #3 30.04.22)

Interview With System Of Slaves By Matt Bladen

MoM: Introduce yourselves/remind everyone who you guys are. Band name, members, style etc.?

System Of Slaves: We are System of Slaves, a four-piece Hybrid of Punk & Metal with a crossover appeal for all lovers of extreme music. Featuring Payney (Guitar) & Fletch (Bass) two ex-members of “In the Shit”, Chris (Drums) “Ex Stitched Up” and Keda (Vocals & mid-life discontented Rage)

MoM: How have the last year(s) been for the band? What have you been up too?

System Of Slaves: We have been very fortunate to of had a very busy past 12 months, with Chris Joining us recording and playing throughout the UK. We have been featured on several compilations albums & am excited to be releasing our debut single on Urinal Vinyl records in Q3 this year. We are about to enter the studio in March to record our debut album and much of the last year has been preparing for this whilst also building our reputation on the live scene. A highlight of 2021 was finishing the year as main support to the Exploited, and we have just returned from a short tour of the North, that was a lot of fun.

MoM: What experience have you had with Bloodstock/M2TM in the past?

System Of Slaves: Our Drummer has been attending Bloodstock since the very beginning when the festival was indoors and held in the assembly rooms so he has literally seen the festival grow every year since. He also played a metal for the masses event with his previous band “Stitched up” a few years back and really enjoyed the gig and was grateful for the exposure and the interest generated from playing.

MoM: How are you feeling entering the M2TM format back as it should be? Playing in front of a crowd again?

System Of Slaves: Metal and Punk is all about the interaction, there is no better feeling than being in a room where you all share the same interests; you may like different genres of the music but the emotions are the same, live performance cannot be substituted by any other means. As a band, we take pride in our intensity; we want the audience to not only hear us but for them to feel that they have been involved.

MoM: What would it mean to you to play Bloodstock?

System Of Slaves: It would mean a lot in terms of achievement and appreciation of what we do to be allowed the opportunity to play the biggest gathering of like-minded individuals in the UK. It would be an honour to be just a small part of the history of Bloodstock but we would not just be going there as tourists, we would intend to impress and look to grow our audience for when we would return.

MoM: Tell us two truths and one lie about the band?

Systems Of Slaves:

1.System of Slaves first live performance was at a Punk Rock wedding party.
2. System of Slaves are not quite as tall as Amon Amarth.
3. Guitarist Paul Payne plays in every band in South Wales and the South West.

MoM: Finally give us a four word rundown of what to expect?

Systems Of Slaves: Your New Favourite Band.

Reviews: Watain, Poets Of The Fall, Saffire, Crossplane (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Watain - The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain (Nuclear Blast)
Even when stripped of the buckets of blood and raging infernos that make up their live show Watain still have the power to impress and terrify on record, their thrilling black metal meets prog style, evoking nightmarish visions set to ever shifting tremolo picking, blast beating and that Erik Danielsson squawking vocal. The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain is the bands seventh album, the follow up to 2018's Trident Wolf Eclipse, since then there has been controversy due to a now ex-live member, but then controversy has always followed Watain around. 

The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain has the core studio trio of Danielsson (vocals), Håkan Jonsson (drums) and Pelle Forsberg (guitar), recording along with live members Alvarao Lillo (bass), H.Erkisson (rhythm guitar) and E Forcas (drums) for the first time. This leads to the record sounding much bigger than previous outings, Watain unleashing their usual raging black metal assault with opening track Ecstasies In Night Infinite and the explosive Funeral Winter which doubles down on that traditional Watain black metal but gives everything layers allowing Jonsson to unleash much more savage, technical guitar playing than before due to the additional band members. 

However this more traditional cvlt sound the band spread their wings a little sonically, with a throbbing stomp on Leper's Grace, a nasty death metal crush on Black Cunt, while Serimosa brings a grinding ominous approach, both shifting away from just being raging extreme metal. Giving the record a bit more of a dynamic, multilayered feel, even opening it up to those that may not worship at the altar of Satanic black metal. 

The magisterial We Remain is the biggest addition to this more experimental Watain as it's a song that moves into the realms of doom and features the haunting incantations of Farida Lemouchi of Molasses and formerly from The Devil's Blood who took their name from a Watain song. It's Watain Jim... but not as we know it, the band have managed to retain all that has made them so revered in the past but manage to evolve again with their most ambitious album yet! 9/10

Poets Of The Fall - Ghostlight (Playground Music)

Dark, romanticism of H.I.M along with the symphonic, melodicism of Von Hertzen Bros. The strings and orchestrations make this record something very beautiful to listen too, used in thrilling conjunction with the rock instrumentation of guitars, bass and drums, there's a dynamism to this album that really impressed me. Also the vocals are brilliant, wide ranging and capable of of soaring highs along with fragile lows, it adds to the theatricality of Poets Of The Fall's ninth album Ghostlight. 

This cinematic quality to the Finns music will be no surprise to long time fans, but for any new people, myself included, Poets Of The Fall have a lot of experience contributing to video game soundtracks the earliest of which being Max Payne 2. So they are no strangers to melodrama and emotive arrangements, something Ghostlights is filled with, closer Beyond The Horizon for example is finale that brings the sense of pathos together with stirring instrumentals and a killer guitar solo. The record has a fair few of these adding that touch of bands such as Kamelot too as the rockier tracks are met with excellent balladry.

Now I have said in a lot of album reviews that they have too many ballads but there's just something about the way the slower more dramatic songs on this record keep your attention, almost like they do in a musical. I'd never heard anything from Poets Of The Fall before this album but I'm very impressed with Ghostlights. Well worth tracking down. 8/10

Saffire - Taming The Hurricane (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records)

After losing their previous drummer, Swedish heavy rockers Saffire have put Efraim Larsson behind the kit for this fourth record, focussing on a more elemental, raw sound, the idea being to evoke the power of their titular hurricane. How they do this is through a style of music that takes from legends like Rainbow (RJD Version) with songs such as Read Between The Lines, Triumph Of The Willing and Silver Eyes having huge organ riffs along with powerful vocals and searing lead guitars. 

There's also a lot of fellow Swedes Europe here as well especially on the title track. This is the overarching style present here but there's also touches of more modern bands such as Jorn or Shakra. Saffire having crafted their style across their previous 3 records, but on this fourth record, they seem refocused to play the best music of their career, building around their new drummer to get you singing along to the anthemic choruses and nodding to the big riffs. 

They have also tried to bring more personal lyrics to this record on Flight Of A Thousand Wings especially, though they do slip into some fantasy with Wendigo which has a bit of Sonata Arctica about it for me. Taming Of The Hurricane sees Saffire with a new man behind the drum kit, and a more direct approach to songwriting. Hard rock with a melodic metal edge Saffire have a collection of well set jewels here. 7/10

Crossplane - Fastlane (El Puerto Records)

I like Motorhead, you like Motorhead (hopefully), but Crossplane probably like Motorhead more than both of us. Theses Germans live for filthy rock n roll and the play it at the loudest volume possible. Fastlane is their fourth record and it's 11 tracks of heavy duty rock n roll similar to what Lemmy and the boys would play. Having been a band since 2009, they come with bags of experience, which you can hear in how focused the songs on this album are. They pin you to the wall, rough you up then take you out drinking all night. 

With Marcel Mönnig up front, they have a guy who vocally is a dead ringer for Mr Kilminster, a throaty, gruff shout delivering such ditties as Make Beer Not War, Rock N Roll Will Never Die and Rock Out, while slamming out the fuzzy guitar riffs along with Alex Störmer. Everything is pushed up to 11 as Andrew Barrett (bass) and Mark Brückmanm (drums) provide the thundering low end gallop. 

10 of the tracks here are there own heavy rock n rollers with one cover in the shape of The Stooges Search And Destroy which gets a meaty overhaul without straying too far from the original. Crossplane play rock n roll, unashamedly and bloody loudly. 7/10

Wednesday 27 April 2022

Metal To The Masses 2022 Interviews: Atlas//Theory (Heat #3 30.04.22)

Interview With Atlas//Theory By Matt Bladen

MoM: Introduce yourselves/remind everyone who you guys are. Band name, members, style etc?

Atlas Theory: Hey, we’re ATLAS//THEORY, a metalcore / post-hardcore 5 piece outfit from Ebbw Vale. We came together in early 2021, and released our first EP in August (which is a banger btw). Our style draws a lot from the bands that we listened to the most over the last few years so there’s a lot of BMTH, MCR, Architects and Holding Absence.

Vocals – Eve
Rhythm Guitar / Backing Vocals – Joel
Lead Guitar – Ava
Bass – Tom
Drums – Dylan

MoM: How have the last year(s) been for the band? What have you been up too?

Atlas Theory: 2021 was a weird year for us, since we started the band and released an EP before even playing a gig. Our debut EP ‘FIRST LIGHT’ came out, and we started gigging it, which has been really fucking fun. Having people already know the lyrics at our first gig was a bit mental but much appreciated

MoM: What experience have you had with Bloodstock/M2TM in the past?

Atlas Theory: Watched a couple of bands’ sets uploaded to YouTube from different years (Parkway in 2019, While She Sleeps in 2021), but none of us have ever actually been before.

MoM: How are you feeling entering the M2TM format back as it should be? Playing in front of a crowd again?

Atlas Theory: We’re super hyped for the format to be back as it should be. The crowd is the most important part of every band’s performance, so actually having people there to give energy back is a godsend. We’ve had a couple times where we had to play with no crowd, and it’s so fucking dead every time, so we’re very glad to not have to do that.

MoM: What would it mean to you to play Bloodstock?

Atlas Theory: Playing Bloodstock would be insane. The idea of going from playing shitty old songs in college that Joel wrote when he was 15; to playing our new (not terrible) stuff on stage at Bloodstock literally over the course of 18 months would be the most fucking mental thing ever. It would also be a chance for us to get out there and show what we have to a lot more people, which is everything to us.

MoM: Tell us two truths and one lie about the band?

Atlas Theory:

1. Our collective age is 102, which I think is the average age of the Slayer fanbase.
2. Our latest single “Abysswalker” is written about a character from Dark Souls.
3. Our first show was supporting a ska band.

MoM: Finally give us a four word rundown of what to expect?

Atlas Theory: Absolutely fucking disgusting breakdowns.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

Reviews: Heriot, Caliban, Dorothy, Church Of The Sea (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Heriot - Profound Morality (Church Road Records)

'Next big thing?' possibly. A vicious, visceral delight from the brightest new stars in the UK hardcore/metal scene? Most definitely. Comprised of Debbie Gough (guitar/vocals), Jake Packer (bass/vocals), Erhan Alman (guitar) and Julian Gage (drums), Heriot draw inspiration from UK bands like Svalbard (whom they recently supported) and Employed To Serve but also American acts like Nails and Code Orange. Profound Morality is a deafening, aggressive record, built around a mix of hardcore and extreme metal the dual vocals of Gough and Packer, shifting between raging screams, guttural growls and haunting croons, making for a vocal style that's as varied as their music. 

They will build the the industrial atmospheres on Mutagen and Abattoir but then will wash away any ominous, arty notions with blasts of severity such as the face melting Enter The Flesh. Having built a substantial following with their singles releases, along with the cover of Ten Tonne Hammer, Profound Morality is an EP that doesn't stick around, building layers of distortion and dissonance, that are met with sludge/hardcore brutality. Heriot's music is very multidimensional doing a lot more than the sludge/hardcore tags would do them credit. The title track a wall shakingly heavy, dirge through the mire while Coalescence is a furious, firebreather, like the rest of the record at out corrupted morals, the vast gulf between rich and poor and how many with the power cannot be trusted to do the right thing. 

Profound Morality is a extremely strong debut from Heriot, expect to hear much more from them in future as they could well be your new favourite band. 8/10  

Caliban - Dystopia (Century Media)

German metalcore stalwarts Caliban have been busy during the live hiatus. They released an album that had them re-record old songs in their native language and set to work on their 13th studio album. Dystopia. Clearly a title inspired by current events, the isolation and anxiety can be felt throughout this record, making for a dark brooding listen but one that fans will recognise as the signature Caliban style of grooving metal and hardcore aggression. There's also lots of electronics scattered throughout the record moving them into the more accepted style of metalcore. 

However for me, I did find the record to be quite one dimensional, it does what it needs to but the electronics seem a little tacked on and half way through my attention was wandering as I struggled towards the end. Despite guest contributions from members of Job For A Cowboy, Annisokay and Heaven Shall Burn, along with an idea that Caliban are somehow darker and harder edged, for me though Dystopia is just another record that sits comfortably in the metalcore mold. 6/10

Dorothy - Gifts From The Holy Ghost (Spinefarm/Roc Nation)

A hip shaking, riff slinging, whisky swigging throwback to when rock n roll was dangerous, Dorothy's new album Gifts From The Holy Ghost continues mining that rich seam of hard rock that made their hometown of L.A so famous. Their third album is built on the idea of triumph, singer Dorothy Martin in a role reversal since their previous album, using this record as an ode to healing and recovery rather than one of destruction and sadness, like so many record from the Sunset Strip are based on. Inspiration for Gifts From The Holy Ghost came from her guitar tech taking an overdose, Dorothy found herself praying to a higher power for his survival and after he made a unheard of recovery. Dorothy had a spiritual awakening due to this incident and her rehab for drug and alcohol addiction so this new outlook on life has shifted the focus to a more positive focus for this third record, just listen to the anthemic Top Of The World if you want confirmation. 

Now this is very modern, radio friendly rock, aimed at the American audience mainly, as co-writers come in the shape of Keith Wallen, Jason Hook, Scott Stevens, Phil X, Trevor Lukather, Joel Hamilton, while the revered Chris Lord Alge gives this record it's big production value. If I was to make comparisons, I would say that there's a massive nod to the work of Sixx A.M, Halestorm, Shinedown align with the bluesy swagger of Buckcherry on Hurricane. Most of the album is brimming with confidence, it's upbeat modern rock, the unifying call of Black Sheep but of course there's a couple of ballads, the biggest being Close To Me Always. With a new focus to her life, the musical side of Dorothy, remains similar to what has come before but with the mission to unite anyone who feels lost or isolated together, Gifts From The Holy Ghost proves rock n roll is the answer. 7/10

Church Of The Sea - Odalisque (Self Released)

Formed in Athens in 2017 Irini (vocals), Vangelis (guitar) and Alex (synth/samples) Church Of The Sea have now released their debut album, three years after their first EP. Church Of The Sea play a style of dark, introspective, doom music that sets glacial electronics against distorted heaviness as haunting ethereal vocals float over the top conveying every nuance if emotion contained in these songs. 

With some excellent engineering/production/mixing from Alex Bolpasis and mastering from Nick Townsend Odalisque is a record that brings influence from bands such as Alcest, Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle where they skillfully mix doom metal, shoegaze, noise and electronic industrial textures, it's those textures that set this record apart from others, taking from the field recording artists as well, they add odd samples such as broken piano strings or a bow of a violin on a cymbal. At only 6 tracks, you may expect long, labyrinthine tracks but much of this record is concise, based around building atmosphere rather than trying to take things into long winded exploration. 

The title track for instance has a throbbing drumbeat that anchors a mystical rhythm flavoured by Balkan/Middle Eastern influences. The album apparently an ode to unfulfilled desire, wrong choices and self fulfilling prophecies, it feels dark and mysterious with the industrial rumble of Mirror feeling desolate and inhuman. Overall if you think that Tori Amos fronting Nine Inch Nails sounds like a great idea, which I do, then you'll love Church Of The Sea, like I do. 8/10

Metal To The Masses 2022 Interviews: Excursia (Heat #3 30.04.22)

Interview With Excursia By Matt Bladen

MoM: Introduce yourselves/remind everyone who you guys are. Band name, members, style etc?

Excursia: We’re Excursia, a 4 piece metal band from all over the South Wales area, but originating in Caerphilly. Our current lineup consists of A’Dan Shide on vocals/rhythm guitars, Sam Hill on lead guitar, Scott Price on bass/backing vocals and Dylan Jarvis on drums. We draw influence from a range of different bands and artists, so to narrow us down to one sub genre or sound isn’t exactly simple. Above all, we’re a band that aims to deliver a high quality energetic live show in whatever way possible, as there is no better way to experience music but in person.

MoM: How have the last year(s) been for the band? What have you been up too?

Excursia: We’ve had a couple lineup changes here and there but if anything it’s only made us a better band, we’re now tighter as a unit than we’ve ever been and are exploring more with our songwriting. We’ve been hard at work writing a bunch of new material and have big plans for the near future that are slowly coming together, despite setbacks like Covid and lockdowns. We’re sure you’ll be seeing our name around a lot more in months to come.

MoM: What experience have you had with Bloodstock/M2TM in the past?

Excursia: We’ve played Cardiff’s branch of M2TM twice, however have never made it to a final, so this year we’re looking to give it our all and show Cardiff what we’re really made of. Outside of Cardiff, we reached the final of Bristol’s M2TM (such as it was), however due to Covid we were unable to perform for it, had to rely on an old video, and unfortunately did not gain a place at Bloodstock that year.

MoM: How are you feeling entering the M2TM format back as it should be? Playing in front of a crowd again?

Excursia: To put it simply; very excited. M2TM atmosphere has always been thrilling and they have always been some of our most fun gigs, winning or losing. It’s a place where competitiveness could be present, but isn’t. Everyone has a good time and there’s always a mosh pit or 20.

MoM: What would it mean to you to play Bloodstock?

Excursia: It’s hard to put into words what kind of feeling it would be to play a fest like Bloodstock, but I’m sure most bands/artists would agree it would be a dream come true. It would be an experience we’d definitely never forget (and probably never shut up about either).

MoM: Tell us two truths and one lie about the band?


1. Stuart Cable (Stereophonics) was our drummers uncle
2.We play smooth jazz parts in our music
3. Benji Webb (Skindred) once came to see us play

MoM: Finally give us a four word rundown of what to expect?

Excursia: In the words of Stefan Burnett “Chaos In The Brain”

Reviews: Static Abyss, Skull Fist, BBF, Brown Acid (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich P)

Static Abyss - Labyrinth Of Veins (Peaceville Records) [Matt Bladen]

What happens when two members of Autopsy get together for another project? Well things get properly nasty. The debut record from Static Abyss, features 10 slices of crushing death metal, wrapped in the rumbling throb of doom. Full of eerie atmosphere and an overwhelming sense of dread, as well as a huge amount of nasty riffage, Labyrinth Of Veins is a debut album that makes a statement. Static Abyss are a duo comprised of Greg Wilkinson (guitars/bass) & Chris Reifert (drums/vocals), the duo making sure that Labyrinth Of Veins is an assault to the senses, brutally heavy at times, the razor sharp frenzy of Autopsy very identifiable but also but also having ominous breaks in the brutality, which somehow are more unnerving than the death metal savagery. 

The band wants their music to “explore the echoes of insanity manifested through human existence" so this constant shifting in the style is very welcome to put across this psychological torment. Dealing with this sort of inspiration it's only the more gnarly sound of death that will often be able to convey these ideas. It's not 'death metal goes prog' the record is more like Grindcore and the more extreme forms of death metal with the dissonance of Anaal Nathrakh, tracks switching from a blasting pace into a slow dirge, within the confines of a few minutes, a nod to the old school style but also the outliers of the death genre. It's a trick often repeated but always appreciated especially when it drives home that idea of insanity on Nothing Left To Rot which crawls along with steady, unwavering grind before moving into some bouncy crossover death riffage. 

You Are What You Kill is a track that has grindcore viciousness, stuffed into 2 minutes, more violence comes on Jawbone Ritual and Contort Until Death. Labyrinth of Veins' is a record that leaves nothing unsaid, death metal in its rawest, primordial form, the simplicity of there only being two members, aiding the feel of this record. Wilkinson and Reifert have created one of the most unrefined, primitive death metal albums of the year. 7/10       

Skull Fist - Paid In Full (Atomic Fire Records) [Matt Bladen]

Toronto based classic metallers Skull Fist, led by Zach Slaughter, return with yet more guitar shredding and classic metal sounds on their fourth album Paid In Full. Born out of the hardships caused by "shitty business partners", broken necks and living life to the excess, Paid In Full is probably the best realised of Zach Slaughter's vision for the band. The chequered past of Skull Fist's history would be enough to destroy most bands but it seems to have refocused Zach to concentrate his hellraising into a more mature Skull Fist, though he would say that it's still just him doing what he does. Recorded at Vespa Studios near Toronto, Paid In Full didn't really capture my attention as instantly, as much as some of the previous records, but with repeated listens it unveils nuance and texture not heard before. 

Just check out the acoustic opening to Blackout which provides some atmosphere before unleashing a speed metal attack. However a track such as For The Last Time brings a more melodic edge to the Skull Fist sound, as Zach shreds and wails backed by Casey Guest (bass) and JJ Tartagaila (drums), Warrior Of The North has the big Grand Magus chants, Long Live The Fist is a proper NWOTHM bouncer, Zach shredding as wild as possible as Madman is probably the most dramatic song Skull Fist have ever produced. A fair few years in the making Paid In Full shows Skull Fist as a more well rounded unit. With Atomic Fire Records behind them now a hopefully Skull Fist can push aside the negativity in their past for a brighter future. 7/10

BBF - I Will Be Found (Argonauta Records) [Rich P]

I’m always down when a band describes themselves as “traditional psych” or “retro-rock”. This is how the Italian trio BBF describe themselves, and now they have unleashed their third and latest mind-bending offering on the excellent Argonauta Records, I Will Be Found. Color me intrigued, let’s see what the guys have to offer to alter our consciousness.

The psych is strong with BBF, and you get that vibe throughout the six tracks of I Will Be Found. The opener, Freedom, kicks us off with a chill acoustic vibe that leads to what we are waiting for, some of that kick ass retro psych rock, with swirling, frantic guitars you would expect from these guys. Cosmic Surgery brings whispered vocals into some heavy jams which is a theme throughout this album; soft into loud and back again. Rise leans more towards the “soft” and unfortunately makes the album drag a bit in the middle until those psych guitars kick in, which is what I think the trio does best. I would love to see a more straight-ahead heavy rock record where they put their foot on the gas the entire album and see what comes of that.  

Like a whole album in the style of the next track, T-Rex. Frantic and off balance in the best way, this is my favorite track on the record, leveraging those often mention guitars and some very cool vocals that enhance this trip. You have the slow part in the middle, but it works a lot better with the spaced-out opening. The new JIRM record would be a nice companion piece to I Will Be Found. We drag a bit towards the end, with a long psych out jam and nine-minute acoustic piece that are well executed but doesn’t offer too much different than the first few tracks.

This was an enjoyable listen, but I am not sure how many times I will come back to it.  BFF know how to bring what they are delivering, but the similar song structures throughout make this album a bit too predictable, which is not what I am always looking for from a band like this. That being said, these guys can really play, and T-Rex is a track I would put on any modern psych playlist.  Check it out for yourselves and let me know if I am missing something. 7/10

Various Artists - Brown Acid: The Fourteenth Trip (Riding Easy Records) [Rich P]

I love the Brown Acid series that has been curated by the great Riding Easy Records. If you are not familiar with the set the basic concept is that Lance Barresi, owner of L.A.-based Permanent Records, searches the far corners of the US in dusty record store bins, garages, attics, and confirms musical urban myths to bring us lost and the most underground of underground songs from long forgotten bands that in some cases may have only release one song on a promo single. These songs come together to populate the now fourteen volumes of some of the best 60s and 70s proto metal and psych rock that you have never heard before.  I love the concept and have yet to be disappointed by any of the previous thirteen trips. Let’s see where trip fourteen brings us. 

As usual, this rocks. I love hearing stuff that is so vintage that I have never heard before. The fact that these comps keep churning out at this level of quality speaks to how dedicated Mr. Barresi is to unearthing these lost gems.  Highlights include the opening track by The Legends, Fever Games. They reference Hendrix in the lyrics so that should give you an idea what you are getting with this ripper. Mijal & White bring you I’ve Been You producing the perfect 70s proto/psych sound with some harmony and excellent guitar tone that makes me feel warm inside and that has influenced all the fuzzy bands that we love today.  

The track Henry Can’t Drive brings some serious bluesy Cream vibes courtesy of the band Liquid Blue who I would love to hear more from. That is part of the fun of these comps; the historical details in the liner notes and the research after to see what else you can find out about these bands. The MC5 vibes are strong with Trolly Co and their ripper Signs. Play It Cool is my favorite track, brought to you by Transfer, which is the perfect track to highlight what these comps are all about. Appletree’s track You’re Not The only Girl could be on Hotter Than Hell, which from me is about as high of a compliment you can get. 

Basically anyone who loves the proto/psych stuff of the late 60s and 70s needs to dive deep into all of Brown Acid Trips, with fourteen being no exception. Discovering these 50 plus year old gems for the first time is so much fun, and never just a one-time spin. I go back to these comps on the regular, so it’s not just a gimmick to get people to buy pretty vinyl. These comps are a piece of our musical history and should be taken as a lesson in how we got to where we are today in the metal/stoner/fuzz/psych genre today.  Highly recommend this and all the other thirteen trips. 8/10

Monday 25 April 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Joe Bonamassa (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Joe Bonamassa, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, 22/04/22

With a 6:30 doors and a 8pm (sharp) start time, it was no wonder why we weren't faced with a queue on our 7:30 arrival. There was no support act either despite lots of noise being made in the audience. As we were shown to our tightly packed, some may say cramped, row three from the front, with all the rest of press/photographers. The lights went down, the photographs raised their cameras, some in the dedicated spot, others disregarding these rules, and the band took to the stage as the Blues Titan himself Joe Bonamassa (9) strode to the front in his trademark 'uniform' of a formal blue suit and collar shirt, his first of many classic guitars (from his Nerdville collection) strapped around his shoulder. 

Opening with Evil Mama from Redemption, we kicked off a set mainly drawn from the three most recent offerings, interspersed with some oldies. Joe was on fire both with his six string, shifting guitars again for the atmospheric Dust Bowl, backed by the behatted Josh Smith on six strings who fleshed out the big guitar sound with more than just rhythm playing, gaining a solo in Evil Mama and Lonely Boy. This is first time I've seen an additional guitarist on stage with Joe but it meant that track such as Love Ain't A Love Song were much more well rounded and dare I say heavier due to this addition. Love Ain't A Love Song saw Joe switch to the Stevie Ray Vaughan special, ideal for this scuttlebuttlin' tracks that brought back the momentum and led beautifully into Midnight Blue a cover and homage to one of the best to ever do it, Gary Moore (which obviously had a Gold Top Gibson).

From here things got more bluesy and explorative with The Heart That Never Waits and I Didn’t Think She Would Do It both having those drawn out solo sections that the fans in attendance had paid a lot of money to see, driven by the rhythm section of Steve Mackey (bass) and Greg Morrow (drums), both of whom have a high lists of artists they have work with, show their professionalism and experience by knowing every single little fill, dynamic change or shift, letting Bonamassa play, augmented by Smith and the veritable Reese Wynans on keys/organs as they all get to show off their leads. 

When it was loud it was very loud but when it was quiet, like it was during acoustic blaster Woke Up Dreaming, you could hear a pin drop. The longest flight of fancy on the whole show is noted Joey Bones instrumental Django that was followed by deep cut Pain And Sorrow. With all of the playing members getting chance to show their mettle it was an anchor point to the show and led to the introductions and Joe extolling the virtues of Wagamama (get him a sponsorship). After the intros we had a return to the bluesy rock with A Conversation With Alice and Lonely Boy, the main set finishing with big hitter Ballad Of John Henry which moved from Zeppelin to Pink Floyd's Great Gig In The Sky, backing vocalist Jade Macrae getting a solo moment to shine having given the additional vocals along with Dani De Andrea all evening, for that soulful authenticity, fleshing out Joe's lead vocal. 

All the of the band were incredibly tight and experienced, throughout the night an Bonamassa again proved why he's the top blues rock player in the world. Closing out the night with Sloe Gin, which gained the biggest applause of the night and got the crowd on their feet and singing along (the magic of Tim Curry, Bob Ezrin and Michael Kamen folks!) Always worth watching on stage as his songs tend to take on a life of their own when played live. Bonamassa is seen as the top of the pile when it comes to the modern day bluesmen and with this show he nailed that point home across an hour and a bit.

Reviews: Fortune, Semblant, First Signal, Poison Rose (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Fortune - Level Ground (Frontiers Music Srl)

Having release what many believe is the best AOR album of that era, with their Camel/MCA debut (which is technically their second album!) brothers Richard and Mick Fortunes' band, then took a lengthy hiatus releasing their comeback album II in 2019, along with a live album in 2020, a few short years later Level Ground is released as only their third studio album but one that encapsulates the AOR sound perfectly. Richard (lead guitar) and Mick (drums) are not the only siblings in the AOR style as both the Nelson Twins (Nelson) and the Porcaro brothers (Toto) are also key members of the genre. In fact Toto's keyboardist plays piano and keys on the track I Will Hold You Up, though Bob Emmett supplies the keys elsewhere. 

There is a course some sort of unwritten synergy between any band that features siblings and you can hear that on Level Ground. Be warned this is about as radio friendly as if gets so if the sounds of Night Ranger, Journey, Styx and even Asia are not your bag you may want to sidestep this record however if your music taste ends as grunge appears then you'll love the slick melodies, anthemic choruses and a progressive tinge as well. A track such as Judgement Day does this very well, the repeating synth line and bouncy riff that's topped with melodic lead guitar flourishes, it's all very Journey, Ricky Rat's bass keeping that beat with Mick as Larry Greene, the other member of the band from the original line up alongside the brothers, gives a great vocal performance. 

Level Ground brings a classic style of AOR that could easily feature in Stranger Things or any number of 80's set shows. Its 2022 but for 46 minutes pretend its 1988. 8/10

Semblant - Vermillion Eclipse (Frontiers Music Srl) 

Vermillion Eclipse is the second Frontiers Music release (fourth overall) from Brazilian symphonic/melodic/death metal band. Their first on the label was Obscura but due to the pandemic they were unable to tour the album as much as they had wanted to, so they used the time spent in lockdown to write this album, inspired by the collective events such as losing family to Covid, having children and a general need to record music and bring some hope to their fans, they focussed all their energy on making this album a true representation of what Semblant want to achieve as a band. 

From Enrage to Day One Oblivion it seems Semblant have discovered another gear, seamlessly incorporating the huge orchestrals of bands such as Nightwish, with the dual female clean/male harsh of bands like Epica or After Forever and the melodic death metal assault of them as well. Vermillion Eclipse is a blistering, heavy enough for those that like a bit of bite to their metal but with enough melody that it has a much broader appeal. Formed by vocalist Sergio Mazul and keyboardist J. Augusto, Semblant was created to blend the heavy and not so heavy elements, adding death metal, power metal and even some electronics into their sound for a dark amalgamation. 

Sergio's bark and deep cleans are paired with Mizuho Lin's soaring cleans, giving tracks such as Purified a feel of Italian band Lacuna Coil as the voices each take a lead and combine well. The rest of the band are rounded out by Juliano Ribeiro (guitar), Welyntom "Thor" Sikora (drums), and Johann Piper (bass) all adding savagery and skill to this record, which improves upon their last in a number of ways, but mainly they write songs that are now, more suited to a broader audience than what they have written before. This is noticeable shift towards a more well rounded approach, just check out The Human Eclipse, while also retaining their early style. With the world now freeing up, they can bring these songs (and the ones from their previous records), to crowds around the globe, watch out for Semblant performing near you, as they do this symphonic metal style very well. 8/10   

First Signal - Closer To The Edge (Frontiers Music Srl)

No it's not Harry Hess (Harem Scarem) and Daniel Flores (Murder Of My Sweet), covering Yes (though that would be interesting), Closer To The Edge only shares a title with the English prog rockers. Musically this fourth entry into the First Signal catalogue retains the melodic rock vibe of the three previous records, the excellent vocals of Harry Hess still lead First Signal, but this is the third record with Flores after the collaboration started initially between Hess and Dennis Ward as Harem Scarem (Hess' main band) were on hiatus. Since then Harem Scarem have returned but there's still a lot of similarities between them and First Signal, though much more likeness to the first two Scarem records. 

Flores does his usual trick of handling drums and production as Andi Kravljaca and Jonny Trobro provide the guitar and bass respectively  while there's a lot of guests contributing to the songwriting; Pete Alpenborg (Arctic Rain), Guillermo Del Medio (Inner Stream), Alessandro Del Vecchio, Kristian Fyhr (Seventh Crystal), Herman Nori all bringing songs for those soulful vocals of Hess to belt out from the fist clenching anthems like I Don't Want To Feel The Night Is Over and Irreplaceable to the rockier offerings such as Don't Look Away and Don't Let It End along with mega ballads like One More Time and Angel With A Rose. Another collection of melodic rock/AOR tracks ideal for Canadian singer Harry Hess to perform well. Once again the First Signal project gets your attention. 7/10

Poison Rose - Little Bang Theory (Frontiers Music Srl)

One of Italy's and Frontiers' best kept secrets vocalist Marco Sivo has contributed songs and backing vocals to label projects like Gioeli-Castronovo, Lovekillers feat. Tony Harnell, and Sweet Oblivion feat. Geoff Tate, Hell In The Club and Secret Sphere. So much like Jeff Scott Soto he has now stepped up to the lead vocalist role on his own band spurred on by the recommendation of Frontiers producer/keyboardist/bassist Alessandro Del Vecchio. Del Vecchio plays keys/bass here but Sivo has gone into his contact list for the remaining band members calling on drummer Edo Sala (Sunstorm, Lovekillers) along with guitarists Aldo Lonobile (Secret Sphere, Edge Of Forever) and Andrea Seveso (Robin McAuley, Jorn), to round out Poison Rose. 

So what do Poison Rose sound like? Well Little Bang Theory comes from the same style as Edguy, Freedom Call and Royal Hunt, bouncy melodic metal as the riffy songs add parts of power metal and AOR. A supremely talented band deliver these songs, written by Sivo and some great guest writers, with experience, setting the table for the centerpiece of Marco Sivo's powerful vocals that remind me of Tobias Sammet of Edguy/Avantasia. Adept at both ballads like Eternally Wild And Free and rockers like Your Eyes Again as a track such as Devil (Knock On My Door) combines both those riffs and melodies. As a vehicle for Marco Sivo as a vocalist, Little Bang Theory is a great way of introducing himself to a wider audience, though this is no vanity project as Poison Rose are a legitimate melodic metal band. 7/10   

Friday 22 April 2022

Reviews: Credic, Viande, Turned To Stone, Aerodyne (Reviews By Matt Cook, Richard Oliver, Rich P & Matt Bladen)

Credic – Vermillion Oceans (Black Lion Records) [Matt Cook]

Credic doesn’t do anything halfway. Their sophomore album Vermillion Oceans is pummeling, but more intriguing, the songs are complex, particular and downright large. It’s melodic death metal that is calculated, and the German five-piece pulls no punches. Rightfully so, the titular track is heavy, groovy and melodic – all in one. The album opens with Tides Disharmonized, which begins weighty before falling into beautifully subtle melodicism. Waldemar Janzen works the electronics in a way that isn’t too overbearing; rather, the music seeps into the crevices of the compositions (Autumn’s Spring). It really is striking since the genre oftentimes can feel encumbered with bands that rely too heavily on the melodic aspect. 

The Path at certain parts has the feel of something that was written for a deathcore album, showcasing Credic’s versatility. It’s also rife with pleasing atmospherics, rippling guitars, merciless drums. Interhuman Gravity will for certain open the pit. Furthermore, the 10 tracks have identity, character and a true independent feel. Oh, and compounding the band’s layered talent musically, they also recorded, produced and created the album artwork on their own. The group actually formed way back in 2005, but have since only released two albums. Their patience has paid off in dividends. Stefan Scheu’s vocals are caustic and tough, precise and seasoned. 

Andreas Steinle and Oliver Ecke guide the album with crisp guitar work, seamlessly complementing each other and reinforcing Credic’s melodic agenda (Darkened Fields is especially a showcase of guitars and melodic ambiances that coexist as naturally as humanity and water.) The previously mentioned Autumn’s Spring stands out not only for the superb keyboards, but the amalgamation of that and Scheu’s menacing vocals (and the ever-pleasing technique of opening and closing with the same melody). It’s difficult – and moot – to try and pinpoint the strongest song on Vermillion Oceans. Instead, it’s best to sit back and simply enjoy the ride. Lord knows Credic put in the time and effort, and it’s felt from start to finish. 8/10

Viande - L'abime dévore les âmes (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Richard Oliver]

L'abime dévore les âmes is the debut album from French dark death metal band Viande. Forming in 2013 the band have a demo and an E.P. to their name but L'abime dévore les âmes sees them going into full length territory and releasing their debut album through the ever dependable Transcending Obscurity Records. Viande seem to have an aim to make the most unpleasant sounding death metal possible. Taking cues from the cavernous suffocating sound pioneered by bands such as Incantation and adding in elements from doom and sludge metal as well as dark ambient soundscapes, Viande have created an album that is wholly dark and atmospheric as well as barbarically heavy and bludgeoning.

Songs such as Les dents du gouffre, Le souffle des os and Langues de brume are crushing and suffocating pieces of death metal that take the genre to its horrifying extremes. Whilst this crushing and cavernous sound is impressive in just how nasty it sounds it means it is also rather repetitive and a lot of these songs are quite indistinguishable from each other. Although repetitive, Viande have a decent debut album here. It takes death metal to its primitive and atmospheric extremes and is certainly not an album for the faint hearted. If you are drawn to the sounds of Incantation, Dead Congregation and Portal then this is definitely an album worth checking out. 7/10

Saturna/Electric Monolith - Turned To Stone Chapter 4: Higher Selves (Ripple Music) [Rich P]

My obsession for all things Ripple Music is no secret. No, I am not on Todd’s payroll (if anything I send my direct deposit to his account on payday), but he and I must have some serious taste synergy considering everything the label puts out is something I really dig, obsess over, or scream from the Twitter rooftops about. Pre orders are always purchased minutes after they drop, and I always look forward to the split collaborations that introduce me to new bands that may have gone under the radar for me. I love the Turned To Stone split series, so when Volume 4: Higher Selves was announced I: first gave them my money and second grabbed all I could of the bands on the split, Saturna and Electric Monolith, both from Barcelona, Spain. What I heard from their earlier work made me even more excited for this release and I am not disappointed.

Saturna kicks us off with four kick ass 70’s southern infused rock tracks that are a bit less on the heavy stoner side of the Ripple roster and more on the hard rock side. Even those these guys are from Barcelona you would think there were from Jacksonville. I hear some Skynyrd throughout and maybe even some Allmans in the second track, Following The Sun (even the title sounds like an Allmans track). There is a more chill vibe to the Saturna side, and it’s great. The third track Drowning could be a 90s rock radio hit (compliment) and has some grungy tones to it. Don’t Run heads right back to their Jacksonville by way of Spain roots and has Simple Man vibes that you won’t be able to shake when you hear it. Great stuff from Saturna who deliver a strong and stylistically unexpected (for Ripple) side A of the split.

Electric Monolith’s sound is a bit more indicative of what you are used to with Ripple bands, bringing some of the stoner/heavy psych/70s proto sounds that we all know and love. The proto riffage starts immediately with By My Side, reminding me of Buffalo by way of Sabbath with some killer Iommi inspired guitar work. Hold Me Again pops right out of the time machine and gives you more of that 70s proto that you crave and that they have perfected. I love the production on their five tracks. The track So Lonely Dying is their Planet Caravan and leads right into the killer finale, where Electric Monolith may have given me a song of the year candidate in Nightmares, which has a killer riff, is catchy as hell, and reminds me of another one of my favorite Ripple bands, Salem’s Bend. A total ripper and if you hear one track on this album this is it.

Another amazing release from Ripple, and two more bands to discover and obsess over. This is some top-notch stuff and should be checked out for sure. The only issue I have is I am left wanting more from both bands. Hoping for some full lengths soon. Highly recommended. 9/10

Aerodyne - Last Days Of Sodom (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Matt Bladen]

Aerodyne have lost a bass player since the release of their last album Damnation in 2019, but they have also been through a torrid time collectively as well so as the title alludes to Last Days Of Sodom is about destruction, desolation and the world as we know it being on its last legs. They have channelled their nihilism, anger and apathy into the heaviest work they have produced yet. These Swedes have made an album that reminds me of bands such as Dynazty, Fozzy and the now defunct Taking Dawn, it's got a lot of infectious energy but wrapped up in darkness and despair.

Last Days Of Sodom is a record that has rebellious hard rock/trad metal at it's core but at times borders on thrash metal, the impressive Whirlwind Of Fire and the blasting title track both really grabbing you by the jowls and shaking you around, with touches of early Metallica. However Endgame has a bouncier chorus you'd expect from a band that kicked off their career as a hard rock outfit. I wasn't sure what to expect when I pressed play on this record, however Last Days Of Sodom, and Aerodyne as a band, really impressed me as this album will hopefully see them reach a bigger audience, which they so richly deserve. 8/10  

Reviews: Leader Of Down, Decasia, Theigns & Thralls, Colours Of One (Reviews By Simon Black, Rich P, Matt Cook & David Karpel)

Leader Of Down - The Screwtape Letters (Cleopatra Records) [Simon Black]

If you’ve been to one of Phil Campbell’s Bastard Sons headline shows, you may well have come across Leader Of Down, who although Wurzel is no longer with us have carried on and let’s face it, as a touring package it’s a great way of letting other Motörhead fans know that the band exists. Musically this is straight up pacey hard rock of the old school though, and that means broad appeal for a style that never goes away, and when done well reinforces the genre for the next generation. This is one such album…

What I didn’t expect is for this to be a conceptual piece loosely based on a C.S. Lewis book, as that sort of literary influence stuff is normally the stock in trade of the power metal end of the spectrum. It’s an odd piece of a book, written apologetically on behalf of Christianity and dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien, involving written to and fro correspondence between a demon known as Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, to try and influence his victim away from Christianity in the face of the onslaught the second World War had on faith in general. Given what’s happening in Eastern Europe right now it’s thematically quite appropriate. It will probably turn up in a Ghost song somewhere along the line, but Leader Of Down got there first.

The music’s completely at odds with the concept though. The explosive frenetic Cat’s Eye Night kicks things off nicely, leaving no doubt where the act are coming from musically and anyone who grew up loving this sort of 70’s back to basics rock ‘n’ roll is going to find this fitting the glove nicely. The tempo is upbeat and bristling with energetic, and not downbeat at all regardless of the thematic source. There’s loads of full on riffage – nothing fancy or overtly technical, just catchy and blues-based melody lines, with simple yet effective solos and a hugely powerful and charismatic vocalist in the form of Matt Baker, a straight ahead rockin’ man in the Bon Scott mold. Wurzel may no longer be with us, but his disciple Alex Ward plays homage whilst keeping his own style intact.

This album is an absolute banger from start to finish and doesn’t waste your time with slowing the pace down, or drowning you with an unnecessary power ballad just straight ahead, catchy and hugely infectious rock ‘n’ roll baby. 8/10

Decasia - An Endless Feast For Hyenas (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich P]

Ready for some French psych/stoner/prog/Krautrock goodness? Well look no further than Decasia’s debut full length An Endless Feast For Hyenas. After very promising EP offerings in 2016 and 2017, Decasia took their time to deliver what is a strong heavy psych rock record that is complex and filled with skillful playing over the ten tracks and 46 minutes of An Endless Feast For Hyenas

Opening with Ilion, you can tell we are about to go on a heavy trip. Ilion sets the tone nicely with an absolute ripper to start us off. The guitar work is excellent which is a trend throughout the record. Hrosshvelli’s Ode is the first single off the record and it continues that heavy psych journey and leans more to the stoner rock side of things with the rolling bass line and some nice use of some quiet loud quiet structure that rips your head off during the heavy parts. I really dig singer/guitarist Heavy Seas (great name) vocals to go along with his excellent guitar work.  You get another absolute ripper with Cloud Sultan. 

These songs are heavy psych rockers that also manage to be extremely catchy, with the choruses sticking with you throughout the day. Cloud Sultan being a perfect example of such an ear worm, even if I have no idea what they are singing during certain parts. Override may be my favorite track on the record, bringing some stoner/space vibes and once again highlights the manic riffing from Heavy Seas. Another stand out track is Skeleton Void which brings the full-on Krautrock but with their heavy psych twist, and they do it very well, like everything else on An Endless Feast For Hyenas. I could probably throw out some bands that influence Decasia, but you are better off just checking this one out so see how Heavy Seas and the boys put their unique twist on all the genres I personally love. It’s a trip worth taking a revisiting often. Highly recommended. 8/10

Theigns & Thralls – Theigns & Thralls (Rockshots Records) [Matt Cook]

Folk Metal doesn’t nearly receive as much adoration as it deserves. Maybe it’s written off because of the unconventional instruments (hurdy-gurdy, accordion, bagpipes, etc.) or the idea that the word “folk” by nature turns people’s 21st-century ears off. That’s a real shame, because the sub-genre is chock full of magnificent work that stretches the boundaries of metal and creates massive tales of both reality and fantasy. Theigns & Thralls are here to ensure Folk Metal creeps evermore into the modern zeitgeist. 

Their self-titled debut sees seasoned veterans of the scene crafting 11 glorious tracks of eclectic compositions and entertaining feelings. Spearheaded by vocalist and songwriter Kevin Ridley (Skyclad), 25 – yes, 25 – bandmates and guests contribute for a colossal undertaking. John Ryan takes care of violin and cello; Dave Briggs oversees guitars and whistles; Arjon Valk wields the bass; and drummer Mike Verhof rounds out the group. With resumes featuring Cruachan and Waylander, this is a talented bunch on quite the journey. In true Folk Metal fashion, you can find drinking songs (Strive, Today We Get To Play) and a bevy of beautiful bagpipes (Procession, Life Will Out, Flora Robb, Drinking). 

Ridley’s stunning singing truly makes for an exciting and amusing album. The titular track is hooky and smooth; the closer Not Thru The Woods Yet is a true bopper. It’d be so unfortunately simple to imagine this work being swept under the rug in favor of more popular genres and releases. To that I say poppycock, because Theigns & Thralls deserves its rightful place in discussion with any other prodigious album that’s come out in the last calendar year. Think of Braveheart a thousand years later or the Dropkick Murphys (but actually true folk music. Sorry, lads). There is no doubt I will be spinning this album for many months to come. Each song is more exhilarating than the last. So grab a stein, find a friend and let’s drink and share tales of valor until the sun comes up. 9/10

Colours Of One - Vessels (Self Released) [David Karpel]

Michael Simmonds-Dickens (vocals, guitar), Lewis Morgan (bass), Miff Tuck (guitar), and Paul Jones (drums) form the Welsh rock band Colours Of One. Emotional, super melodic, and chock-full of radio ready hooks, their debut album Vessels shows them to be a polished band with chops who are rooted in an emo pop punk sound that populated the indie bins in the mid-90s with glimmery bands like Promise Ring and Jimmy Eat World and the radio rock of the aughts. Crater’s Lip and Eden come out wearing those indie college emo-punk roots like a new hairdo. 

Meanwhile, songs like Nail In The Cause, Bones Of Hope, Stay Awake, and Things That Have Learned To Walk also evoke the big breath, electrified versions of Mumford & Sons. Personal lyrics about struggles or social perspectives feed the sense of drama in their emotive delivery. While this isn’t my cup of tea, their skills at lustrous songwriting are undeniable. I’m sure there are still radio stations that will play these songs, and surely there’s a fanbase out there for them. If you like easy-listening rock that’s skillfully put together, full of head swaying hooks and melodies, crisply produced, and, well, generally harmless, you may find you’re part of that fanbase. 6/10

Thursday 21 April 2022

Reviews: Wardruna, Urferd, Voldt, Nazareth (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Cook, Zak Skane & Matt Bladen)

Wardruna - Kvitravn - First Flight Of The White Raven (Norse Music/Sony Music/Music For The Nations) [Paul Scoble]

Folk has always been a genre with a certain amount of bleed through to Rock and Heavy Metal, probably only second to Blues in its inspiration for the slightly more rugged genres. Many bands have used folk for the musical influence, but also in the lyrical and sociological influence, cross overs such as Folk Metal really aren’t much of a surprise. Most Metal fans are open to a bit of Folk, but over the last few years one Folk band in particular seems to have been adopted by the Metal scene as ‘Metals Favourite Folk Band’, that band is of course, Wardruna.

The reason Wardruna have become Metal’s Folk Band is due to the fact that the bands main man and founder Einar Selvik, was the Drummer in infamous Norwegian Black Metal band Gorgoroth, and it’s initial lineup also featured former Gorgoroth, Trelldom, and God Seed lead singer Gaahl. This was way back in 2003, the band is now made up of Einar Selvik on Vocals, Taglharpa, Kravik-lyre, and Bukkehorn, Lindy-Fay Hella on Vocals, Arne Sandvoll on Percussion and Backing Vocals, Eilif Gundersen on Bukkehorn, Lur, Flute and Backing Vocals, H.C. Dalgaard on Drums, Percussion and Backing Vocals, and John Stenersen on Moraharpa.

In the time that has elapsed since the bands inception they have made 5 albums. Firstly there was a trilogy of albums called Runaljod; Gap Var Ginnunga in 2009, Yggdrasil in 2013 and the final part of the trilogy; Ragnarok in 2016. The band then made the album Skald in 2018, and then the studio portion of this album Kvitravn, in January 2021. This album is a new version of Kvitravn, containing the 11 studio tracks from the original album, and also includes a live set by the band that was recorded without an audience during lockdown, the live set was entitled First Flight Of The White Raven as it was the first live outing of some of the material from the Kvitravn album.

The material on Kvitravn is most similar to the material on the Runaljod trilogy, a mix of ancient musical and percussive instruments, with great vocals that are often layered to create a huge choral effect. A lot of the songs start slow and sombre, but build in tempo and arrangement, so a song that starts minimal and dour, can build to something fast, driving and exuberant. A good example of this is the track Fylgjutal, which starts with melancholy horns, strings and builds throughout, until it becomes an uptempo, driving piece with a great head nodding tempo, until near the end the song breaks back down until we return to the slow and soft feel it had at the start. Synkverv has a similar build up and break back down again structure, opening with plucked strings and choral voices, the song builds by adding multiple layers of instruments and voices until the song slowly returns to plucked strings and vocals.

Skugge is a great song, which opens in a very slow and sombre way with chanting voices, the song slowly increases in tempo, a big bass drum is added and starts to drive the song forward, in many ways this fast driving folk with a big bass drum is closer to a piece of dance music, than anything rock or metal, in fact back in my clubbing days I would have loved to have danced to this. The arrangement get bigger with added vocal lines, until it reaches a crescendo, at which point everything fades. I can’t talk write about Wardruna without mentioning Lindy-Fay Hella, whose voice is so distinctive and who uses it to great effect on this album. The song Viseveiding opens with her mesmerising vocals in a very affecting way, the track is uptempo and full of strummed strings, whistles and huge vocal harmonies, and is a stand out track on the album.

The studio portion of this album is excellent, great songs, brilliantly realised; however the studio part of this album has been out for over a year, the new part of this album is the First Flight Of The White Raven live set. First Flight Of The White Raven was recorded on the 26th of March 2021, without an audience due to a pandemic lockdown. This lack of an audience means that this feels different to a live recording with an audience, instead of crowd noise and cheering at the end of each track, instead there is, not silence, but the near silence of people being quiet, you can hear very faint voices and a certain amount of room ambience. This isn’t worse than crowd noise, it’s different but a feel that suits the kind of thing that Wardruna do. The softer and more dour material is given a feeling of reverence and solemnity, and when things pick up tempo and get a little bit more noisy it feels like an explosion of energy and drive. The set features four tracks from the Kvitravn album (Kvitravn, Skugge, Grá, and Vindavlarljod), all these tracks are great, but Skugge is particularly good. The material from the rest of the bands career comes across very well as well.

Solringen works very well live, with wonderful interplay of voices and some beautiful energy. Bjarkan is another track where the voices are stunning and beautiful, sounds absolutely amazing. Raido has a very delicate intro before slowly building to an energy packed song, full of layered vocals, Lindy-Fay Hella excels herself on this track. Isa is beautiful and subtle, then it’s uptempo and driving, before drifting off in a meditative way. UruR is hypnotic and meditative, and in this context it also feels sacerdotal. Rotlaust Tre Fell sounds great, I must admit this is one of my favourite Wardruna songs, and it soars on this recording. Initially brooding and dark, the song builds to an uptempo, energy soaked folk rave, that is packed with inertia.

The album and live set come to an end with Helvegen, which in this recording sounds so good; the solemnity of the setting works so well with this song, it’s beautifully melancholy and is deeply affecting, a perfect way to end this album. Kvitravn is a great album, a really good addition to Wardruna’s discography. The addition of the First Flight Of The White Raven live set makes this a stunning package of studio and live album. If you have already bought the original Kvitravn album, I’d say it is worth getting this version as well ,as the live album really adds to the original studio recording, highly recommended. 9/10

Urferd – Resan (Black Lodge Recordings) [Matt Cook]

There is the established genre of Folk Metal. And then there’s Norse Ambient Metal. In 8 tracks, Urferd transported me to the high hills of Scotland; exiled me to the Norwegian wilderness; and supplanted me into the unforgiving deserts of the Middle East. Resan can hardly be described as an album. This isn’t music – it’s art, crafted by an expert in mythology, science fiction novels and three-plus-hour epic films. 

The brainchild behind this project, founded in 2020, is Daniel Beckman, who has also plied his trade with the likes of Twilight Force and Ages. Before even listening, the artwork appropriately features a puny figure dwarfed by a mist-covered landscape shrouded in uncertainty. A foreshadowing of how the vocals – the voice – takes a back seat, only compounding the ambience. There is subtle chanting here and there, but almost always as an afterthought. Resan is elegant, inquisitive (Strovtag), spectral and glistening (Hymn), percussively breezy and rhythmic (Envig). Each entry is inexplicably simplistic, yet monumental. 

The tracks progress and build, allowing time to imagine the fantastical scene that’s about to be revealed. Strovtag develops into perfect montage music for an epic battle; Envig’s introduction reeks of impending danger. The closer Dvala is the only composition that prominently features singing. This is not Folk Metal. There is a strong emphasis on the ambient aspect. It’s not full-throttle, high-powered music, nor is it dull or elevator music used to whittle away the time. Each song tells a massive story in such a short amount of time. To label Resan as such would be like calling Stephen Hawking a thinker or Stephen King a writer. Urferd released to the masses a saga worthy of fitting into a class of its own. 9/10

Voldt – Vandalism (Blood Blast Distribution) [Zak Skane]

Going into this album it was on Headless Haunting Hound I instantly loved the powerful clean vocals that Al Shirazi, bellowing out like he was Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Warrel Dane’s (Nevermore) love child. Another element that caught my attention straight away was the unique spanky, bright guitar tone. 

On it’s own it sounds quite brittle but with the thick deep bass tone complementing the bright snappiness it leads to a good marriage. Killing At The Speed Of Light provides some tight technical progressive riffs with some black metal inspired blast beats. Love the classic metal chanting in the choruses and the gridding bass tone making that rhythm section extra punchy. Groovy riffs and consistent double kick drum beats coming from Monsters Of The Sea. Servant demonstrates how this band can perfectly balance extreme metal elements of blast beats and tremolo picked guitar part with power metal vocals and melodies. 

Other highlights on this album are the great vocals melodies that are provided on Shame Or Glory the thrashy energy accompanied with well orchestrated female backing vocals of Teaching and the amazing musician ship that takes us off on a musical journey that consists of operatic vocals, bass solos and surf-rock sounding tremolo picking on The Great Command

Overall I really enjoyed listening to this album. The bright spiky yet crunchy guitar tone filled out with the beep, punchy, grinding bass tone really creates a good marriage whilst producing a unique sound for themselves. My concerns lay on the vocal production, even though the vocals were very well performed and powerful they could of done with some extra layer to make the arrangements sound more dimensional. When it came to the lyrics I felt that they could of done with more hooks to keep the listener entertained whilst making the songs more memorable. 9/10

Nazareth – Surviving The Law (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

There are very few bands that manage to consistently exist and release records from more than 50 years. One of those bands are Scottish rock n rollers Nazareth, who in their 54th year have released their 25th studio album Surviving The Law. It’s the second record without founding vocalist Dan McCafferty who stepped down in 2014 making way for Carl Sentence with his blessing to continue the band. Sentence made his debut on 2018’s Tattooed On My Brain and while he hasn’t got that rawness of McCafferty he brought a new lease of life to the band on that record which continues on Surviving The Law

As founding member Pete Agnew (bass), leads the way, flanked by drummer Lee Agnew and guitarist Jimmy Murrison, Nazareth still a hard rocking band drawing on blues tradition for some punchy ‘pub rock’, I mean the album has a track called Ciggies & Booze. Co-written by all the band members, you can hear that it was composed in lockdown as most of the tracks are about getting out and getting back to normality. Let The Whiskey Flow especially is a big proponent of this. Musically they have a couple of more modern influences along with the melodic rock flourishes that suit Sentence’s voice. Sinner goes all Deep Purple, while Mind Bomb has that classic Nazareth punch. 

As does Waiting For The World To End, a song about our current state of affairs. They don’t lose that bluesy feel though on Better Leave It Out and You Made Me which reminded me of Eric Clapton. Surviving The Law, is a decent rock album, especially when you consider how long Nazareth have been doing this, but it’s far too long and doesn’t quite grab you like their previous record. 7/10

Wednesday 20 April 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Igorr (Live Review By Dr Claire Hanley)

Igorrr, The Fleece, Bristol, 14.04.22

There are times when you know a gig is going to be an experience from the moment you enter the venue. This was one of those nights. It was completely packed having been a sold-out show since it was originally meant to go ahead last December, and I can’t even recall the last time I’d seen The Fleece so full. It’s also not often you’re greeted with such an eclectic crowd of people at the same event (think dreadlocks and day glow lycra meets death metal t-shirts) but this is Igorrr (9) we’re talking about. 

Laughing in the face of normalcy is what they do best; taking great pleasure in merging blast beats with baroque and breakcore influences. Despite our combined fondness for their unique brand of musical creativity, there’s still a distinct sense of anticipation. Having each element align in a live setting, and translate to the stage, is a very different beast to making a killer album, and this palpable nervous energy fills the room as the crowd awaits the headline act.

Opening with Paranoid Bulldozer Italiano and Spaghetti Forever, any such concerns are set aside. The energy on record is amplified on stage and is more than enough to fill the venue. Crowd-pleasers Nervous Waltz and Camel Dancefloor get literally everyone moving, and Parpaing provokes the first of many mosh pits. The theatrics and interplay between the vocalists, guitarist, drummer, and Gautier Serre himself is utterly captivating. The act’s unparalleled intensity is particularly prominent during Tout Petit Moineau and Pavor Nocturnus (relatively subdued glitch-laden tracks featuring simplistic sting and guitar sections) that showcase the passion behind this delightfully confusing aural experience. 

The operatic vocal gymnastics, transitions from soaring highs to screams of anguish, contrast spectacularly with the low-end growls and the barrage of double-kicks. Himalaya Massive Ritual rounds off the main setlist, representing a solid chunk of their discography, before the band come back strong – accordions blazing - with Cheval, then go straight into Apopathodiaphulatophobie, which completely switches up the atmosphere. Wrapping up the encore with Very Noise, sends everyone into a frenzy, and ends the perfect evening of exquisite nonsense.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

Reviews: Stone Broken, Audrey Horne, Monuments, Huntsmen (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Stone Broken - Revelation (Spinefarm Records)

The British version of Shinedown? Theory Of Deadman? Nickelback? Perhaps all of the above? Emphatically yes. Stone Broken come of age on Revelation, their third studio album. Teaming up with producer and former SikTh guitarist Dan Weller who has produced some of the best British bands around and as such is high demand. Immediately they began to collaborate in the middle of the pandemic the band holed up in their native Walsall and Weller in London. Perhaps because of this distance and the pandemic, it's made them reevaluate Stone Broken as a band, rebuilding their sound from the bottom up, incorporating lots of the oh-so-popular electronic elements. 

It's something vocalist/guitarist Rich Moss and drummer/vocalist Robyn Haydock have been wanting to try for a while, so without the pressure of touring, they had the chance to experiment more on Revelation. A track such as Make It Out Alive sounds so much different to any of their earlier music, that you may think it's a different band, brimming with twitching electronics on top of the standard rock instrumentation, it's delivered as if they've always been doing this, So Damn Easy also brings a new moodier style driven by Kieron Conroy's flittering bass.  

However it's not a wholesale change as Me Without You and Stronger are soaring, saccharine ballads that will appeal to anyone who has been following them since the first record. As does the percussive chant of The Devil You Know. On the other hand I for one welcome the change, the heavy parts seem to be heavier, lead guitarist Chris Davis getting to show off throughout along with cranking up the volume on the riffs with Rich Moss. Speaking of Moss, he gives another stellar vocal performance, though on Revelation Robyn adds more vocals than before again adding another layer to the 'new' Stone Broken. Definitely a Revelation, this third album will be where Stone Broken go stratospheric. 8/10

Audrey Horne - Devil's Bell (Napalm Records)

Ah Audrey Horne, there's a name that conjures good memories, not just of late nights spent watching Twin Peaks, but also they are a band myself and one of the former writers on this blog, held in very high regard and would always get quite excited about a new release from. Now in their 20th year as a band, the Norwegian metal machine are still firing on all cylinders, despite being on their seventh studio album, which comes four years after their last. If you've not heard anything by the band before, you're in for treat as Audrey Horne are basically a bunch of extreme metal musicians playing occult/fantasy themed, classic heavy metal that brings rock n roll riffs from the late 70's/early 80's. 

Check out that staccato riffs coming from axemen Ice Dale (Enslaved) and Thomas Tofthagen (ex-Sahg) on Break Out, that evolve into some harmony soloing straight out of the Dio and Ozzy solo records, Dale getting to be the guitar hero here, more so than he does with Enslaved. The himages to the best in business keep coming as Return To Grave Valley feels like an Iron Maiden instrumental. Driven by the rhythm section of Espen Lien (bass) and drummer Kjetil Greve (drums), the gallops moving into a steady chug as the solos again melt your mind. As with all the previous Audrey Horne records frontman Toschie is in full flight, his vocals bristling with energy and power, and while Tobias Forge has been singing in a similar way for a while, Toschie was there first. 

In fact if you stripped away the pageantry of Ghost and had them revert to their first couple of records, rather than the synth heavy poppier sound they have now, you would hear a lot of similarities with Audrey Horne. Danse Macabre and the title track especially skillfully blend the directness of NWOBHM with the heavy rocking of bands such as Blue Oyster Cult, for a record that has no duds. Closing out in fine style with the moody and atmospheric From Darkness. I'm glad that Audrey Horne haven't done the same as Ghost and had the temptation to shift to poppier style. They have resolutely stuck to the style that has kept them in business for 20 years (pretty long for a side project), the sound of their collectie childhoods, battle jacket clad, traditional heavy metal, that gets your fist raised in the air. Toll the Devils' Bell for Audrey Horne have returned! 9/10 

Monuments - In Stasis (Century Media Records)

In Stasis wasn't meant to be an album with a conceptual nature to it but as British Prog Metal giants Monuments wrote it, a theme began to develop. As referenced by the title the overarching theme on this record is one of being stuck, trapped in the middle of things with no clear way to proceed. It's something the band and of course much of the world have felt over the last few years. The feeling of being unable to do anything about the situation you're in while the world keeps throwing more issues at you. Monuments have said that this record is "a culmination of our greatest triumphs and deepest struggles" and from listening to it there is really emotional depth in the soaring choruses and electronic atmospherics but also the crushing djent riffing. 

There's the core Monuments sound on this record, as they still fall into that djent category, though there's a lot more to it now than palm muted guitars and breakdown grooves, as the style has evolved with Monuments being one of the leaders, the waves of synths make for a more rounded experience while the duality in the vocals is better than ever, the clean vocals here being a bit more prevalent than usual. The album also features additions of former member Neema Askari (Form Subtract, ex Fellsilent), Periphery's Spencer Sotelo and Mick Gordon (DOOM) who all bring their vision to the tracks they feature on. 

In Stasis features some excellent music on it tracks such as the Opiate (not a Tool cover) which switches between melodic and anthemic to dark and heavy, Arch Essence is a moodier piece built around a pulsing baseline, while False Providence is a euphoric epic and The Cimmerian closing out the record with a more optimistic mindset. In Stasis is a masterwork of modern progressive metal, a standout in the Monuments discography. 9/10

Huntsmen - The Dying Pines (Prosthetic Records)

Huntsmen released their excellent album Mandala Of Fear two years ago and with little time to tour it they retreated back to their studios and a bit of a hiatus. However with an invitation to play Roadburn 2022, they collaborated on creating music for this three track EP which features two originals and a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover. 

They have dug deep into their Americana roots for this record with only the heavyweight Let The Buried Lie Forgotten, clocking in at nearly 8 minutes, carrying those gargantuan riffs. This is a monster of a track that will reassure anyone who may be thrown by the fully acoustic nature of the title track. It's bookended by two folksy, acoustic efforts the first being the title track and the second CSNY's Carry On. These are both ideal for lots of acoustic layering and vocal harmonies, four of the band members contribute vocals though the interplay between lead vocalists Aimee Bueno and Chris Kang is impressive on Carry On especially, a track that escalates into Mastodon-esque dooming from the humble traditional beginning. 

Bueno gets to show off on the title track, which is an inauspicious start but welcomes you back into the evocative, downbeat world of Huntsmen. The Dying Pines is introspective but that's who Huntsmen are as a band their full lengths draw heavily from narrative concepts about a post apocalyptic world and existentialism and this translates through to this EP as well, even though the two originals aren't connected to the full lengths. Let The Buried Lie Forgotten is worth the price of admission alone, with their UK dates on the horizon, The Dying Pines is a way of Huntsmen reminding you of who they are. 8/10