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Thursday 26 May 2022

Reviews: Michael Schenker Group, TARLD, Besvarjelsen, Sisyphean (Reviews By Simon Black, Zak Skane, David Karpel & Zach Scott)

Michael Schenker Group – Universal (Atomic Fire Records) [Simon Black]

I’ve gone into writing before challenging Michael Schenker’s status in the hard rock world, as in general I’ve often felt his reputation to be disproportionate to his actual contribution, but he genuinely surprised and impressed me with last year’s Immortal release, which saw that reputation genuinely reinforced. Universal picks up where that record left off, with once again an ensemble approach of guest vocalists peppered throughout, but the rising Ronnie Romero (who is being kept very busy these days, and seems to crop up on one in every three records from the Frontiers stable) is the main vocalist for this release. Schenker is wise to hang on to him, as he’s liable to become the cornerstone of something bigger than MSG or Vandenburg before too long, and from then on his availability for every other Hard Rock collaboration project is liable to become limited, so enjoy the variety while you can.

Joining Romero are some other notaries, including the return of Primal Fear’s Ralf Scheepers, but things really life up a notch with the inclusion of Michael Kiske from Helloween. That said, Kiske’s contribution on the catchy A King Has Gone whilst distinctive, seems a lot more restrained than we might have expected, which is a shame, as to underuse a talent like this is a shame – especially as the track is a tribute to that and great Ronnie Dio. That said, it’s still one of the better tracks on the record, as it still tugs the heart for its lyrical content, even if the delivery doesn’t quite match. I’m slightly disappointed with this release despite the guest turns unfortunately, as it lacks the song-writing punch of its predecessor and production wise feels also a little too flat, with the guitar a little lost in the mix, apart from the admittedly fluid and enjoyable lead work from Schenker. Nevertheless, anyone who worships at the altar of MSG is unlikely to be disappointed, but you can’t score on every attempt at the goal. 7/10

Besvarjelsen - Atlas (Magnetic Eye Records) [David Karpel]

A distinctive sound is formed in the Swedish three river confluence of Greenleaf, Lowrider, and Dozer. Since their inception, Besvarjelsen hasn’t shied away from cutting their own stream out of those waters. Comprised of a couple of former members of two of those seminal groove generators and utilizing the talents of shared studio guru, Karl Daniel Lidén, the band form their own currents laced with primal guitars (Staffan Winroth and Andreas Baier) and a bass/drum combo (Johan Rockner/Eric Backwall) crushing tidal grooves that carve a tributary toward a new sea. Atlas is a masterstroke of an album coming out of this scene. Like Greenleaf’s Echoes From A Mass, a 2021 favorite, the album is accessible, full of hooks, and swells with passion. Ultimately, though, this recording distinguishes Besvarjelsen’s sound as their own. Much of that is due to Lea Amling Alazam’s vocal chops.

We kick off with a ripper, The Cardinal Ride, that includes a succinct and strikingly cynical summary of life described as “a race that no one’s going to win, a roller coaster of the 7 deadly sins” tied into a driving, addictive groove that sets the tone for what follows. In the harder rocking songs–the opener, Acheron, House Of Burning Light, Digerliden, Obscured By Darkness, and Divided Ends–Alazam affects a tone of being the knower, the voice of experience finding beauty in accepting the ugly reality of lessons learned. 

Immediately we’re reminded of Amy Winehouse in her tone, range, and depth. This is true throughout. Her phrasing and exploration of hooks and melodies also indicates 90s alt-rock influences, most especially Layne Staley. There’s something haunted in how she uses her voice for story telling that pulls and won’t let go. She needs to sing these words. She needs you to hear her even if it hurts to tell or hurts to hear. And you will oblige. This is clarified ever more so in the more soulful pieces, Clouds, Paradise, and Descent, where Alazam’s voice is our guide in the darkness, the jaded mourning of a survivor pushing onward.

Things have changed for these desert rock conjurers. Vallmo’s raw, Windhand-doom vibe in 2018 showed a lot of metal prowess and promise for a band of scene veterans and a mysterious unicorn at the mic. Vastly more psychedelic and experimental, 2019’s Frost, mastered by the wunderkind, Liden, reveled in an expansive new direction. While their previous efforts garnered some deserved attention, Besvarjelsen have stepped up to a whole nother level with Atlas. I’d venture to say they’ve leapt to a distinct pedestal. The first two hook-laden singles, Clouds and Digerliden, will tell you that much at least. The mix is fuller, deeper, and more encompassing, and the songs are downright infectious. They feel more found, the musicianship is tighter, and they now express a realized depth of emotion in songs that demand repeated listening. 

More surprising: there are enough mainstream pop elements shaping the album that many of these songs could be smash hits on the famed 120 Minutes way back when or on college radio today. These are memorable tunes. The band is energized, electrified even at their most soulful, and altogether better than ever with Alazam’s vocals way up front in the mix. She sounds hella more confident here, her powers on full display. This album is startlingly good, a killer piece of soulful desert grooved rock and roll artistry at its finest. 10/10

TARLD – Trapped (Bloodblast) [Zak Skane]

Formed in 2005 from Lyon, TARLD (The Amsterdam Red Light District) formed with the passion and influences of bands like The Refused in mind. Since the bands formation they have released three LPs Dear Dairy, Gone For A While and Saphere Aude and have made appearances on festivals lineups like Hellfest and Resurrection festival, they have also made an appearance on French National Television. Now after a few years the bands have came back with their fourth album Trapped.

Kicking off with Threatened Generation introducing us to the bands experimental sound, the song builds up with kid group chants that reminisce on the 2000’s when Marilyn Manson made it popular with his song Mobscene before we are greeted with the many riffs that this band executes well. When the band kicks off with some groovy Wes Borland style nu-metal riffage provided by Mixime Comby it gets my head bobbing especially with it’s accompanied by some groovy drumming from Julien Chanel. Good Intentions which features Drew York carries the Nu Metal momentum forward with some bouncy riffs but mixing it up with some clean sung vocals provided by Elio Sxone. 

Drew York still sounds as ferocious as ever, even when it comes to delivering lyrics that have a positive message to it. Not the Only One turns up the tempo showing off the bands classic hardcore roots, continued with Happy Endings that mixes with some metalcore influences due to importing double kick grooves and some djent style guitar playing. Born To Be Great takes the band down the mainstream post hardcore root by backing off with harsh vocals and replacing it with melody and vocal hooks, same goes with Not So Innocent with the band featuring some classic energetic leadlines that would please any old school pop punk fan, especially if they listen to the Offspring and Meloncollin. Other highlights on this album are the bass driven Freedom Is A Movement and the groovy riffage of Trapped and the energetic No Place Like Home.

Overall I really enjoyed this album, it has everything you want from a hardcore LP, It’s energic, heavy and most importantly catchy. The production on this is stellar, Guitars sound full, balanced but still pulverises the listener, Julien’s drums parts keep you moving and head bobbing and Elio’s vocal takes sound passionate and well performed. The only flaw…if you call it flaw is there style is quite copied and pasted straight out of While She Sleeps song book personally speaking if they kept to the Nu-Metal sound like they did with their opener Threatened Generation they would have had something sounding more unique. 8/10.

Sisyphean – Colours Of Faith (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Zach Scott]

Thick textures and soaring melodies intertwine in this effort from Sisyphean, a black metal band hailing from Vilnius, Lithuania. Formerly on the German Drakkar roster, but now a Transcending Obscurity Records artist, Colours Of Faith is their second full-length, after 2017’s Illusions Of Eternity, and steps up the music in terms of musicianship, production, and songwriting skill.

Where their previous work chose dissonance and chaos, Colours Of Faith opts for a much more melodic and atmospheric approach to black metal while still remaining true to the dissonance inherent to the style. Haunting lead work peppers the album, such as in the single Hearts Of Mercury and Exiles. There is also influence from the crust punk-influenced 90s output of bands like Darkthrone, showcased in the groovier and more riff-centric songs such as Open Wounds and Sovereigns Of Livid Hope, although again these are still distinctly rooted in the chaotic black metal style; that is, tremolo picking, blast beats, and screeches galore. The riffs are good, the leads are great, and Dainius’ vocals are a bit more interesting than your typical black metal howl, and the clean interludes add a level of atmosphere and dynamics to maintain interest. Additional elements such as the orchestral synths in Exiles also serve to diversify the record’s timbre, although perhaps used too sparingly to have as great an impact as it could’ve done. Despite this, it is still largely an interesting and diverse work of black metal.

However, a trap many atmospheric-influenced projects are prone to falling victim to is that of over-engineering a song. Several of these songs drag on for a good two minutes longer than they need to, and would greatly benefit from some trimming of the fat. There’s no doubt that Sisyphean can write long songs well – the epic ten-minute closer Conqueror strangely doesn’t feel as long as some of the other tracks, and ends the album on a strong note – but they don’t necessarily show that to the best of their abilities here. As well as this, the electronic intro Before The Light and interlude track The Descent feel out of place and don’t gel well with the overall sound, and seem as if they were an afterthought in an otherwise stylistically cohesive album.

Overall, Colours Of Faith is a strong work in the field of black metal with its sprawling textures and oppressive riffing, but the pitfalls that many bands of the same style fall into unfortunately prevents this from becoming a jaw-dropping release. 8/10

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