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Monday 9 May 2022

Reviews: Jungle Rot, Ecstatic Vision, Sacred Son, Strange Horizon (Reviews By Matt Cook & Rich P)

Jungle Rot – A Call To Arms (Unique Leader) [Matt Cook]

Thirty years from its inception and Jungle Rot lives on with its brand of thrashy Death Metal and throaty, guttural vocals. A Call To Arms is less a game-changer and another notch on the bullet belt of the Wisconsin-based behemoths. Stripped of experimentation or exploration, the record is a straightforward, in-your-face onslaught. And really, if you choose to listen to thrashy death metal, what else were you expecting? I think it’s safe to say Jungle Rot aren’t going to unleash a surprise ambient release in the same vein as Blood Incantation. 

The title track is pronounced and emphatic, with Dave Matrise’s metalized marble mouth vocals reigning supreme. But don’t get it twisted: as rotten as the songs are, there is an equal amount of groove and headbangers. Asymmetric Warfare’ has a chuggy riff and sputtering double-bass pedal; Death Squad is politically charged; and the frenetic drumming on Genocidal Imperium complements the oppressive lyric “How much are we supposed to take?” As mentioned, there is no shortage of toe-tapping death metal within, and that alone is enough to hold my attention. 

But A Call To Arms isn’t cookie-cutter fluff. The songwriting is basic yet morose. Population Suicide, for example, declares ‘Father versus son / brother versus brother’ and ‘bone-chilling, senseless killing never stops.” Following up is Total Extinction, which desperately asks, “Do you believe we can be saved?” I can see why some might write this album off as a milquetoast release. Firstly, not every band or album has to change the very foundations of the scene. Secondly, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. There is enough heavy riffing and unrelenting drumming to satisfy even the most timid of fans. Besides, Jungle Rot has been doing this since I was born. Who am I to tell them what to do? 7/10

Ecstatic Vision - Elusive Mojo (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich P]

The latest record from self-described Troglodyte rock band Ecstatic Vision can be properly described with one word: Freakout. That is what I think of every time I (digitally) spin the Philadelphia quartet’s fourth full length, Elusive Mojo, coming at you from the perfect label for them, Heavy Psych Sounds. It’s a frantic, sonic blast of heavy psych rock that grabs you and shakes you vigorously over the seven tracks on their latest offering. Try to sit still while listening to this one, you will fail miserably in the best possible way. 

Another great adjective for these guys is frantic, which is what you get right from the get-go on the opening one-minute stage setter March Of The Troglodytes right into the ripper of a title track. A heavy psych freakout for sure, with tripped out, swirling guitars and a MC5 swagger you get throughout the seven tracks. Their bio calls out Hawkwind, but Hawkwind was tame compared to these Philly psych warriors. The well-placed saxophone makes this trip even more of a freak out in the best possible way. The guitar sound produced on Elusive Mojo is excellent, and is very evident on Times Up, another mind-bending trip ripper that makes me want for a Lords of Altamont/Ecstatic Vision double bill. I can hear the Hawkwind influence for sure here, but everything is just sped up and turned up to eleven. You get more of the freak out sax to accompany the absolute shredding from singer/guitarist Doug Sabolik. 

The Kenzo Shake does just that. A groovy little number that keeps up the tempo and once again displays the shredding talents of Sabolik. The Stooges vibes are strong on this track, and I love the addition of the organ here. Top notch stuff. Venom keeps the Stooges vibes going, with those heavy psych riffs and some Iggy swagger that is an amazing frenzy of sound. The Comedown is just that; a slow, heavy burner that lets you catch your breath a bit and highlights once again the shredding of Mr. Sabolik. Given what you got on the five previous tracks you know this is leading to an absolute ripper, and that is exactly what you get with the final track, Deathwish 1970. A pedal to the metal psych freakout led by that frantic sax and which will leave you bent over grasping for breath and still wanting more at the same time. 

To me, this is a band starting to hit it’s peak. I heard flashes of greatness in their previous material, but Ecstatic Vision are hitting all the right notes on Elusive Mojo. The swagger, the frenzy, the amazing guitar work, and the absolute freakout vibe makes this a must listen. Highly recommended and will be on my year end list for sure. 9/10

Sacred Son – The Foul Deth Of Engelond (Self Released) [Matt Cook]

Lyrical themes based around historical events is a sure-fire way to win me over, especially when the topic is both new to the landscape of metal and new to me. The cherry on top? A revolution.
Sacred Son take it upon themselves while chronicling the 1381 Peasant’s Revolt, a largely unheard of moment in historical time (at least from the perspective of an American, albeit a history nerd at that). Rumblings of said revolt materialized in the dark, dismal aftermath of the Black Death as political tensions metastasized.

The Foul Deth Of Engelond is the English Black Metal/Ambient four-piece’s fourth album since 2017, an alarmingly appealing rate of productivity. What’s also alarming is the way in which Sacred Son opens this record. Pestilence features ship bells and seagulls, signifying the arrival of the Black Death to an unsuspecting population about to be ravaged. The instrumentals are foreboding, the percussion superb.

The titular track sees Dane Cross – founder, bassist, vocalist and synth man - eerily whispering while horses gallop in the background on cobblestone, already trying to escape the carnage that has descended. It all comes to a head with Le Blakheth. Piercing, inaudible shrieking and wailing gives way to whispering, off-putting lyrics that is either foreshadowing the coming destruction or revealing the peasants’ plot. The song develops from warning to macabre acceptance. The revolt had been growing, but ultimately it was quashed.

The Foul Deth Of Engelond incorporates powerful, compelling lyrical content and with the aid of vocals and instrumentation, the record encapsulates the plight of the peasants and the obvious apocalyptic arrival of the plague that will ravage three out of every four European citizen unfortunate enough to be caught in its wake.The foggy production and droning guitars adds to the depressing affair. Five songs of intense dread and unsuspecting annihilation rain hellfire and famine upon the population. It will take years for the region to recover its numbers. 8/10

Strange Horizon - Beyond The Strange Horizon (Apollon Records) [Rich P]

I love the doom metal. I seem to have built a reputation as a doom first guy. I get it, and I tend to live up to that moniker. But this has led me to be a bit pickier with the doom I spend my time with and recommend. On the surface the Norwegian trio Strange Horizon should be right up my alley, as their promo mentions “Sabbath Worship” and calls out such classic doom bands like Saint Vitus and Count Raven. This all sounds good on the surface, bit there is something from their debut, Beyond The Strange Horizon, that is just not hitting it for me. Let’s dive in a bit and find out why. 

Musically, Strange Horizon plays the doom, but the teeth of what they are delivering seems to be missing. I think the production does them no justice. It seems hollow, like the crunch has been surgically removed from the riffs. The guitar seems to be way down in the mix and the bass turned way up. The bigger problem are the vocals, which are not doing anything for me. All of this is very evident immediately from the start of the first track, Tower Of Stone. I can’t tell if there is a backup singer singing along with the lead or if the vocals are layered, but either way it is not working for me. The guitar seems like a second thought, with the bass drowning it out, even during that nice solo. A bit of the crunch comes out in the next track, Fake Templar, but it is still missing something to make them truly heavy. 

The bass once again is leading the way, but not because the player is more skilled or is the highlight of the band, it just seems to be mixed poorly. You can tell they can play, and they have several the elements, that if built upon and mixed differently, may produce different results. They Never Knew is probably my favorite track; an up-tempo later era Sabbath style gallop that shows the promise the band has but again is hampered by the production and vocals. An unfortunate recurring trend throughout the eight tracks. I wanted to like this, and there are moments that make you think these guys will be able to bring some doom goodness at some point. 

Hopefully the quality of the production and vocals will improve over their career. They have some work to do and hopefully they can work out the kinks and show a big step forward on their next one. But for now. 6/10

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