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Tuesday 17 May 2022

Reviews: Misery Index, Malevolence, Volturian, Deepshade (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Zach Scott, Matt Cook & David Karpel)

Misery Index - Complete Control (Century Media Records) [Richard Oliver]

If you like pummelling brutality and face-ripping aggression then hopefully Misery Index are already a band that you are familiar with. If not then now is the time to remedy this and the release of the bands seventh full length album Complete Control is as good a time as any to get on board with one of the most underrated bands in death metal. Misery Index formed in 2001 in Baltimore and have been an underground force to be reckoned with fusing death metal, hardcore and grindcore together in furious style yet never quite getting the recognition or appreciation as some of their contemporaries in the 21st century U.S. death metal scene. 

I reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed their previous album - 2019’s Rituals Of Power - and new album Complete Control is equally as good albeit bringing in some different elements to their bands death/grind sound.  Album opener Administer The Dagger mixes violence and fury with a more atmospheric approach, the title track brings in more traditional metal elements as well as hefty amounts of groove whilst Infiltrator brings the bands hardcore leanings to the forefront. You do get skull fracturing blasts of death metal aggression that Misery Index are known for such as The Eaters And The Eaten, Rites Of Cruelty and Reciprocal Repulsion laying waste to all that stands in their path. 

Complete Control is another excellent effort from Misery Index in a discography that does not contain a single dud album. Misery Index remain a remarkably consistent and impressive force in death metal.  Rituals Of Power was a tough act to follow but Misery Index have very much managed to pull it off. 8/10

Malevolence – Malicious Intent (Nuclear Blast) [Zach Scott]

Malicious Intent is the sound of a band who are expanding their horizons without abandoning their roots. Hardcore, bluesy, and melodic, this album is another impressive album in the catalogue of a band that is solidly cementing themselves as heavyweights in the UK metal scene. Off the back of a tour with metalcore giants Architects and Sleep Token, Malevolence have delivered yet another crushing album of big riffs, beatdowns, and meaty hooks. If there ever was a song that summed up the adage “start as you mean to go on”, it’s album opener and title track Malicious Intent. Clocking in at just 1:40, this track is just breakdown after breakdown; serving to remind the listener that, even though they may have adopted more catchy metalcore influences, this has by no means replaced their affinity for bonebreaking hardcore. 

Continuing with heavy hardcore tunes like Life Sentence, plus some heavy Pantera influence in lead single On Broken Glass and Still Waters Run Deep, Malicious Intent does have moments where it pauses for reflection. Huge metalcore ballad Higher Place takes a break from the whirlwind of breakdowns to introduce some beautifully-written melodies and huge choruses, a sound that is later expanded on with Salvation, featuring Matt K. Heafy of metalcore juggernauts Trivium. Vocalist Alex Taylor is outspoken on the topic of men’s mental health and subjects such as suicide, gried, and depression, and the more somber and melodic moments capture the poignance of this lyrical content perfectly, while the more brutal aspects of the record capture the helpless rage many are so prone to when dealing with these issues. 

Armageddon closes the album with some homage to the mid-2000s metalcore scene, with soaring melodies and more big choruses alongside some heavy and sludgy riffing. Konan Hall and Josh Baines’ guitar work on this album is stunning, and Hall’s other role as clean vocalist brings out another dimension in the band’s music, and his voice is greatly suited to the style. A tight and heavy rhythm section is provided by Wilkie Robinson on bass and Charlie Thorpe behind the kit – every breakdown is huge thanks to the massive sonic foundation they provide, and the more melodic moments are complimented by their subtle and appropriate playing. As well as this, the clean production, handled by the band themselves and co-producer Carl Brown, captures all dimensions to these tracks brilliantly – as does the striking art by Eliran Kantor. 

It is difficult to find standout tracks in an album so full of brilliant songs, which is an excellent problem to have. It’s also somewhat difficult to find how the band could improve on the sound they’ve curated so well here - it’s such a well-thought-out album that refuses to fall into cliches that it’s difficult to find moments where it feels like it was written on autopilot, which is a very common problem with many records in modern metalcore and hardcore. Overall, an excellent album that is sure to catapult the Sheffield to the top of the UK scene, a position they’ve no doubt earned  through no small amount of hard graft over the last decade or so. 10/10

Volturian – Red Dragon (Scarlet Records) [Matt Cook]

The most thrilling aspect of watching a movie is eagerly anticipating the next development, whether it be science fiction, horror or romantic comedy. What has already been presented is exhilarating, allowing for heightened and engaging expectations for what is left to come. Red Dragon is the musical equivalent. Not to say it’s a cinematic endeavor; rather, the scenes and idiosyncrasies Volturian muster provide for an enduring and enchanting  experience, particularly owing to Federica Lanna’s magnificently versatile singing. 

At times trippy, at other times angelic. The Italian-based foursome compiled a sprawling sophomore record. In true analogous fashion, the full-length opens with Rebirth, a trippy and inquisitive montage-y affair, setting the scene. Though instead of breaking down this record track-by-track, let’s pinpoint a couple of standouts. Firstly, Stay leaves remnants of pop-punk and vibrant electronics in its wake. The vocals tower over the rhythm section before Federico Mondelli lays down a scorching guitar solo. It’s a microcosm of the adaptability of the band.

Secondly, Torn Asunder. This very well could be the strongest song on the album, though that takes nothing away from the others. Trippy, spacey and synthwave-esque, the retro-sounding composition still retains a modern and sleek aura. The omni-present bass pedal beat enhances the overall value. Burn It Up and Empty World act as vocal representations of being serenaded by a close friend as you cry into their shoulder, seeking nothing but simple comfort. Bury Me harkens back to early t.A.t.U. in its keyboard tones and noises, aided by entrancing, hooky vocals. 

Before fading to black, Red Dragon offers one last hurrah. Descent dual wields electronics and piano as a metaphorical yin and yang. Take whatever you might think you already know about symphonic metal. Whatever you end up with, this album is not. It’s infinitely more particular and calculated, which is actually extremely high praise considering the genre tends to call for complex and difficult arrangements as it is. Red Dragon is well worth the price of admission, and then some. 8/10

Deepshape - Gloaming (Self Released) [David Karpel]

Deepshade has dropped a pungent golden dab of a new EP, Gloaming, and it is potent. A power trio from Wigan, UK, David Rybka (voc/guitar), Thomas Doherty (bass), and Adam Owens (drums) conjure for themselves a unique sound with enough reference points to win over fans of Sabbathian riffs wearing the flannel of 90s rock but also cooled by the shadows of post-grunge. All this shaped by progressive curves, including ecstatic bursts of Floyd-like passages. While they–like so many great bands–are certainly the product of these seminal influences, Deepshade owns their own voice. And it’s a catchy one. 

Eat My Dust appropriately kicks off with a simple strumming that hugely expands into a chugging groove of chunky fuzzed guitars and surly horns. The bass runs like a heavy-handed boxer while the drums smash and bash tight and driving. The tune is immediately catchy and melodic, and Rybka’s voice fascinates with a restrained quality that pays off when he starts belting. There’s a jazzy passage two-thirds into the song that crescendos into a cathartic charge to the end. That leads sweetly into the chilled start of Mountain, a nine minute journey. There are peaks and valleys in this song where the guitars rage a swinging groove only to pull back to let the bass, light drums, and horns come in. The bass is slinky on the bottom, and Owens' percussion lights a path to follow. Rybka’s voice, though, mesmerizes and throughout often reminds me of Martin Garner from Vitskӓr Süden. The final jazzy breakdown allows the song to breathe into the psych space we’ve been prepped for from the start.

Life Is Beauty sounds a bit like Rush until some pedals are smashed and the chords rip ahead. That prog sound returns throughout and Rybka does some really interesting vocal things here. Four minutes in, there’s a time change that won’t break your ankles as Rybka conjures Layne Staley from the depths before getting all psychedelic again. The mix of progressive psychedelic stoner rock works so well here as Deepshade are unafraid to pull back and just as willing to shake the foundations. The Wolf has teeth and has some of the heaviest sections on the album. Much of it stands on a Stone Temple Pilots like groove, which they make their own with little effort. The shortest song and the heaviest, The Wolf is another example of Deepshade’s potential range in every song. This quality keeps us on our toes trying to expect the unexpected. 

By the time the title track plays, you might think you’re ready for anything. But Gloaming starts as a slow burner and still keeps you on the edge. Melodic harmonies accompany keys, a rolling bass line, the horns are under there, visiting, retreating, and sound effects float like dustmotes as Rybka sings. By the end of the song, Rybka let’s his voice go and it’s the closest he (and the chord progressions) come to sounding like Chris Cornell (and Soundgarden) on this album. It’s also really soulful and beautiful. The final passages allow the horns to guide us out and it works just so fine. The five songs on Gloaming lean heavier and are more experimental than Deepshade’s previous efforts. They also reveal that this is a band willing to take risks, a band with a bevy of rock styles they’re able to puzzle together into trippy jazz psych jams, emotive song writing, and captivating grooves. Looking forward to whatever they do next. 9/10

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