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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     

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