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Friday 20 May 2022

Reviews: Evergrey, Church Of The Cosmic Skull, Skills, The Big Deal (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Evergrey - A Heartless Portrait [The Orphean Testament] (Napalm Records)

The band Tom S. Englund has fronted since their inception returns with the latest opus in their extensive catalogue. Following on from their strong return to form in the shape of 2021's Escape Of The Phoenix, though really since 2014's Hymns For The Broken, Evergrey have been on a run of incredible music. A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) continues this streak with the emotional, progressive, melodic metal the band are now the standard bearers for. 

Gloriously dense instrumentals, that are packed with heavier riffs than many of their contemporaries, are paired with those aching vocals from Englund. Add to this their deft use of orchestral swathes and piercing electronics and it makes a track such as Ominous linger in the mind after it sends a chill down your spine, the guitar solo on this song is spellbinding. Call Out The Dark however, is both the longest and most affecting song here, with that repeating synth line hooking you in. Evergrey have always been a band that can live comfortably in skull splitting heaviness while also delving into the melancholic, resonant side of music, Reawakening doing both again having a lot of synths through it. Englund's candour, tone and soulfulness all part of Evergrey's unique soundscapes. With The Orphean Testament blasting out as one of the heaviest tracks on the record, it's Wildfires that is sure to move even a heart of stone in with its delicate balladry. 

As an additional treat for those that have followed the band for a long time both the atmospheric Midwinter Calls, taken from audience recordings on their Swedish tour and the percussive, forceful opener Save Us feature recordings from the fans throughout the world, though when the longing calls of "Save Us" from Englund, does give you a chill. These touches make A Heartless Portrait a very cinematic listen from the first few moments, as with every Evergrey record, it needs repeated plays to really get to grips with however as you discover something new every time, the mastery of Evergrey is is in plain view. Strike up another victory for these Swedish innovators with A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament). 9/10

Church Of The Cosmic Skull - There Is No Time (Kozmik Artifactz)

Nottingham's premier exponents of "hallucinatory nature of reality", the white clad church of psychedelic, pop, prog rockers return with their fourth exploration into realms beyond the rainbow. Led by Brother Bill Fisher, this band have been arriving their own niche in the UK rock scene for a long while now and people are starting to notice them both here and across the pond where they have already been accused of being a cult (so that means they've made it right?) 

There Is No Time as I've said is their fourth album and it gets going with the chorus of Row Row Row Your Boat played plaintively on the piano by Brother Michael, before those Hammond organs ramp up for the inaugural few bars of Seven Rays Of Colour, Brother Bill, cranks up the riffs in unison with Brother Joseph's electric viola as the track shifts between loud and quiet, but what pervades throughout this track and is one of the main elements of the COTCS sound, is the vocal harmonies as all the members provide vocals, making things almost choral. Sister Joanne and Sister Caroline bewitching us on the poppy Pleading With The Cosmic Mother a track with a searing solo from Brother Bill, though one that is built around Brother Laurence and Brother Sam's, drums and bass. 

These two also have a part to play on the swirling, psych jazz of One More Step, their pop sounds of band such as The Beatles are joined by early prog/psych bands such as Syd fronted Floyd and classic Hawkwind on Valleys And Hills Part II - Pure Illumination, though Valleys And Hills Part I - Peel Away The Layers features a Hammond riff nicked from Deep Purple's Speed King. As we continue on this journey through the magical world of COTCS, there's yet more viola and organ on the rocking gospel/folk/funk of Now's The Time, a song that brings us out of the two song suite well leading the listener towards the final two tracks of the record. 

Queen-like pomp and circumstance is brought to Last Words Of A Dying God, showing Muse a thing or two in the process as the album ends with the what is the most dramatic song on the album, We Lost It Somewhere a fittingly dark, jangly closer which is in debt to both Jethro Tull and Peter Gabriel. The fourth visit to Church Of The Crystal Skull's sect is yet another out of body experience that you just need to close your eyes and let the Seven Objects guide you on your way.  9/10 

Skills - Different Worlds (Frontiers Music Srl)

Another week, another Frontiers supergroup. This one features Electric Mob screamer Renan Zonta, Night Ranger six stringer Brad Gillis, Mr Big/Sons Of  Apollo/Winery Dogs four stringer Billy Sheehan and Giant drummer David Huff, so there's plenty of Skills on display here as the word virtuoso can be associated all involved. Sounding like a mix of all of the bands these guys are part of, Different Worlds is brimming with 80's hard rock hooks, yes there's also some parts that are modern but mostly we're in the realms of Mr Big, Night Ranger and Van Hagar, mainly as Renan has voice similar to the Red Rocker, the whiskey soaked lows and powerful highs, it means that a song like Show Me The Way is full Sammy Hagar. 

The idea around this supergroup was to put Zonta with some of the biggest names of that 80's melodic rock era, to balance the old and new. With some soaring ballads such as Just When I Need You and the lighters aloft Don't Break My Heart Again put with rockers such as Escape Machine, which has a touch of Chickenfoot and the melodic rocking of  Hearts Of Stone. With songs written by Alessandro Del Vecchio, Renan Zonta, Martin Jepsen Andersen, Pete Alpenborg, and Gui Oliver, Different Worlds sits both in the past and the future, a must listen for anyone that loves that 80's hard rock sound. 7/10  

The Big Deal - First Bite (Frontiers Music Srl)

The aptly named First Bite is the debut album from Serbian band The Big Deal. Now if you've wanted to know what The Butcher Babies playing 80's Heart would sound like, then wonder no more dear reader as The Big Deal have you covered. Comprised of dual vocalists Ana Nikolic and Nevena Brankovic, who also plays the keys, with her husband Srdjan playing guitar, it's these three that are the main writers, setting down some demos and some covers of Nightwish, Europe and ABBA. Before bringing in drummer Marko Milojevic and Alessandro Del Vecchio (of course) on bass to complete the final recordings for this debut record. 

Now they are experienced musicians, Srdjan and Marko especially have played in numerous bands so from a technical standpoint First Bite has a lot of virtuosity to it, 11 tracks pumped full of fast burning melodic rock, the guitars and keys in perfect unison, playing off each other well. The rhythm section too brings a thrust to Never Say Never but it's the vocals that this album is built around, both Ana and Nevena's voices suited to each other the one more melodic and lighter, the other deeper and rougher. As I Need You Here Tonight and Rebel Lady takes us to the 80's. 

Sensational is rich in neoclassical keys, as is In The Dead Of The Night. Now there isn't anything on First Bite that's liable to change the world, but this debut album, starts The Big Deal out on the right path. 7/10 

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