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Tuesday 31 May 2022

Reviews: Sergeant Thunderhoof, Dvne, Moon Tooth, Peine Kapital (Reviews By David Karpel & Matt Bladen)

Sergeant Thunderhoof - The Sceptered Veil (Pale Wizard Records) [David Karpel]

Here’s the thing I have to admit before I start: I’m already a fan. So much so that I have a Ride Of The Hoof zip-up hoodie, a Sergeant Thunderhoof logo wallet, and every release on vinyl but for 2018’s Terra Solus, the Tony Reed split, and the latest, The Sceptered Veil. Furthermore, their glorious acoustic album Delicate Sound of Thunderhoof is a household favorite and gets regular spins. All this just to say that the following is a failed attempt at appearing to strive to achieve some semblance of objectivity.

Sergeant Thunderhoof was busy in 2020. They put out a split with Tony Reed on their eclectically creative Pale Wizard label on which they covered Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting. This was a telling choice that showed singer Dan Flitcroft as resourceful with melody, tone, and power outside of the Hoof’s flavor of grungy psychedelics. The same year, Delicate Sound… was released, a collection of acoustic approaches to their songs in which Flitcroft’s voice attains a fresh, lush clarity. 

That year also saw the release of their Ripple Music Turned To Stone series split with Howling Giant, on which the two bands jammed almost 20-minute narratives, meditative takes on legendary sword makers who lived during feudal Japan. The Hoof’s offering thrilled in the darkness of its somber tale. Looked at together, these releases can be seen as the band exploring opportunities to do something out of the ordinary of their own, self-set trajectory. We now know to where those explorations have taken them thus far.

The Sceptered Veil is Sergeant Thunderhoof at their most accomplished. This is not obvious at the start, though it’s good enough. At first, You’ve Stolen The Words stomps, directly recalling the band’s roots nurtured through their catalogue–a solid confirmation of Hoof rock. A couple of minutes in, though, the vocals veer off into an oddly catchy melody. The bottom lurches onward as the guitars build walls of riffs and the drums fixate on the groove to hold it down. All the while, Flitcroft’s voice takes flight, dips down, finds melodies fit for a pop ballad in the midst of swirling guitars, synth sounds, and the slow roll of toms and the snare. At just over 8 ½ minutes, the song gives you everything you came for and much, much more. This is the perfect way to begin, because each following song will repeat the experience of confirmation and wonderful surprise.

Devil’s Daughter (related to Devil Whore?) is classic Hoof: Mark Sayer grooving Sabbathian riffs, vocals skimming the clouds, and a rumbling bottom with a low center of gravity gets held together by Jim Camp (bass) and Darren Ashman (drums). Absolute Blue follows, a song with a central melody and song structure that recalls the aforementioned Cloudbusting in its layered instrumentation dancing with the vocals like a murmuration of starlings. Foreigner is the longest song on the album at almost 11 minutes. Its driving rhythms, meandering psych jams, anger, and melancholy soon return to melody and head swaying hooks. “I’m just a foreigner wherever I go,” Flitcroft sings, and it’s that sense of fresh possibility the album maintains song to song, evidenced most especially in the dark, haunting, and plodding way the tune concludes.

Woman Call returns the Hoof to form, a nasty, bluesy rocker riding chunky bass lines that cut a lip curling snarl under arena-sized vocals. King Beyond The Gates is another mid-tempo burner with an expansive, lulling refrain. The band smokes deep into this tune, catches its breath to let the layered guitars stretch over a rhythm section in Camp and Ashman that’s as tight as they come. Show Don’t Tell, the shortest song in the collection, is a gruff groover that still makes room to surprise with harmonies and cowbells in the 80s hair-metal chorus, triumphant sonics, and a brief, jazzy psychedelic section that bursts back into the fundamental groove to conclude. 

The two last tracks, Avon and Avalon Pts. 1 & 2, are about 20 minutes taken together, and with their sense of narrative and expansive space, in their grasp of tectonic grooves and the dramatics of myth, they end the album with the sun rising again to a Hoof-marching stomp right up to the shore’s edge. As a band, everything they’ve done so far has led to this ultimate triumph. 10/10

Dvne - Cycles Of Asphodel (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

With two incredible albums behind them progressive post metal band Dvne give an online treat for anyone that has been with the band since their debut full length Asheran or its follow up Etemen Ænka. The Scottish band decided to play tracks from this second album in a live capacity adding violin and vocals from Lissa Robertson and keys from Evelyn May Hedges, to create a new twist and make for a special one off performances that was broadcast through Bandcamp with the help of producer Graeme Young. 

Weighing Of The Heart, starts off traditionally enough the all-encompassing riffs and melodies of what Dvne do so well, drawing you into their progressive, primordial soundscapes which feature melody contrasting with fury, the guitar playing of Victor Vicart and Daniel Barter, constructing heavily layered soundscapes as Dudley Tait’s expressive drumming is met by the precision bass playing of Allan Paterson, the rhythm section following a path set down by bands such as Tool. As both the studio albums are concept albums based around Frank Herbert’s Dune series, they have handpicked some of the songs that have a higher meaning than just the concept dealing with societal issues and relationships. 

The additional keys/vocals and strings are there from Weighing Of The Heart and make an impact on all four tracks. Omega Severer especially using space and quiet effectively at the beginning for Lissa’s vocals to bring a hit of emotion before the atmospheric number starts properly, with an echoed guitar and some synths creating almost a segue into Asphodel, building into the final song Satutya which is a defining moment of this live set, a colossal 9 minute closer that shows not only the technical ability but their ear for fluid melodies and rhythms. Having seen Dvne live, moments like this give you a small glimpse of the band live, with some added elements to make it an experience. 8/10

Moon Tooth - Phototroph (Pure Noise Records) [David Karpel]

Moon Tooth’s Phototroph is an inspired collection of 11 grippingly soulful metal songs. The band, together since 2012, play emotional progressive post-hardcore stoner grooves with the kind of soft/hard approach of Coheed And Cambria combined with the hope, melody, and harmonies of the ever-underrated King’s X. Moon Tooth’s 2019 album Crux made waves in the scene, scoring them tours with Clutch, King Crimson, and Lamb Of God–a good sampling of their appeal across metal and rock genres. 

Meanwhile, a furious faith in purpose, nicked and scarred, drives much of the lyrical content. Often refreshingly hopeful and allegorical, the lyrics are a pleasure to dig into as John Carbone belts them out with Nick Lee (guitar) playing manic leads, Vin Romanele (bass) holding the bottom with the steadiness and agility of a log runner, and drummer Ray Marte’s playful stick work dancing around steady grooves and break neck blast beats. Graced with tremendous riffs and hooks, these songs are revelatory, lyrically deep, and emotionally intense.

I Revere deceptively begins like a bittersweet ballad until a pedal gets smashed and the guitars rip away with the precision driven drums. Sincerity burns throughout, giving depth and credence to even the most saccharine pop-like verses declaring eternal hopes: “Cause my heart’s still beating/ So I won’t stop believing/I’m loud cause I’m here/ I revere.” Back Burner gets bluesy and crunchier. While Deathwish Blues utilizes grinding post-hardcore riffing for a heartbreak song, The I That Never Dies responds with a persistent marriage of groove and melody that matches its resilient lyrical tone. Alpha Howl starts with a charging wall of grindcore riffs that break down for a melodic section where Carbone is such a delight to hear. 

The guitar solo is a perfect 80s power metal piece of greased lightning while the bass and drums here build a foundation for Carbone to fully express the heart of the song. This is true throughout, though it’s in Alpha Howl that we hear so much of the variety of this range in one song. The power of his vocals shall not be underestimated. O My Isle touches with its nostalgia for the sand and sun of a place that will always be home. Or is it about some other kind of island? Singing “Hear, my shores/This proclamation/Now I leave to you/My deeds, I leave this to you/Every glorious occasion/Where I learned how to be free/My hallelujahs/I leave them to you/ O my Isle,” Carbone lends allegorical power to the imagery.

While blast beats come in to O My Isle, they are a feature of The Conduit, a catchy af piece that captures how form and theme collaborate to give meaning to the whole. Industrial-like staccato beats rage electric as Carbone sings at full-power a Frankenstein-like narrative. Some of his vocals here are given a robotic effect, while some of the drumming here reminds me of Genghis Tron’s title track off their last magnificent album, Dream Weapon

Nymphaeaceae is the story of a flowering set to quick grooving tectonic riffs, harmonies, and a catchy chorus, while Grip On The Ridge slows down to a grungy plod and fully returns to the theme of persisting through struggle because “Oh, hard winds will blow/ But we cannot desist.” Carry Me Home has a subversive funk under the metal and melody as Carbone sings about opening to love despite the risks. The final track, Phototroph, appropriately uses light as a symbol for a kind of salvation, fully restoring the theme of hope that survives every twist and turn of the album. “All we who venture,” Carbone sings, “Abandon what's known.” The album ends where you should start when the needle drops: open hearted. 10/10

Peine Kapital – Infraordo (Sludgelord Records) [Matt Bladen]

I’m not sure what pain French band were going through when they recorded Infraordo, but this is the musical equivalent of being an honest person in the UK cabinet, one long tortuous crusade towards nothing. Infraordo is a sludge/doom record that moves a glacial pace, relying heavily on solitary, repeated, heavily distorted riffs and anguished vocals. 

If you were looking for an in to get you interested into sludge/doom, this record would not be it, these French heavies play to the more accomplished, seasoned, misery. One who can stroke their beard and pontificate about the futility of life all while having their eardrums pierced with audio intensity. The drumming is sparse, there’s plenty of feedback, and those drawn out abrasive riffs are designed to keep you in suspense for when something changes, which it does. 

The violent cascades of Infraordo lead into the deafening noise of Thanatocratie, the album is dissonant and volatile, as Fracturer is the kind of song most non-metal listener’s thing metal sounds like. It’s captivating in a horrible way but not for newbies. 6/10

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