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Wednesday 4 May 2022

Reviews: Tenebra, Crashdiet, Somali Yacht Club, Hellblind (Reviews By Rich P, Richard Oliver, David Karpel & Zach Scott)

Tenebra - Moongazer (New Heavy Sounds) [Rich P]

I cannot remember a time when there were so many excellent female-lead heavy rock bands out there putting out next-level quality material. Tenebra is no exception, but let’s not put them in a sub-genre; this Italian four piece kicks out some seriously heavy stoner rock jams that will stand up with much of what is put out there today no matter who is fronting the band.  On their second album, Moongazer, you get some more of the stoner rock that Tenebra delivered on their first full length while now consciously bringing in some of their 90s Seattle scene influences for an offering that stacks up against, but also differentiates, amongst their peers. 

Starting out a heavy rock album with the first track named Heavy Crusher is a ballsy move, especially if you don’t deliver. But right off the bat Tenebra smacks you in the face with the strong vocals from frontwoman Silvia and that groove you are looking for in a band like Tenebra. The soulful heaviness of Silvia’s vocals is on full display on the next track, Cracked Path. The stoner rock Laura Branigan perhaps? The band sounds great too; its raw, but not too raw. Proto sounding but not too proto sounding. Grunge influenced, but not in the way that most bands are. There is a careful balance and uniqueness to Tenebra that is on full display over the nine tracks on Moongazer. That voice, again, on the slow burner Black Lace puts Silvia out front right where she belongs, but the band brings some of the doom that we have been hearing so much out of Italy lately and highlights the playing of lead guitarist Emilio. 

Winds Of Change is another strong track that reminds me of something from the excellent Wytch record from last year (this is a major compliment). Space Child may be my favorite track on the record, bringing the strong proto metal and making sure we know they are not Sabbath rip offs with a cheeky nod to the masters of the genre and an interestingly placed saxophone freakout which startled me on first listen. The closer, Moon Maiden, brought out the 90s grunge influences and the psych side of Tenebra, literally, by bringing in Gary Lee Connor of the legendary Screaming Trees, to give his signature crunch and trippiness to this absolute ripper. Tenebra absolutely bring it with Moongazer. Vocally, musically, stylistically, and offering something just unique enough to stand out amongst the throngs of bands playing in these styles today. Great stuff that should be checked out as soon as possible. 8/10

Crashdïet - Automaton (Crusader Records) [Richard Oliver]

Crashdïet have been spearheading the glam metal revival since their formation in 2000 in Stockholm, Sweden.  A band that has overcome tragedy and adversity and released some absolutely shit kicking glammed up metal.  This continues with their sixth album Automaton which sees the band firing on all cylinders. 

The opening intro of the album harks back to the bands beginnings and samples the voice of former frontman Dave Leppard who tragically took his own life in 2006 following the release of the debut album Rest In Sleaze.  It’s a nice way of acknowledging his legacy and how he is still very much a presence in the band still to this day. This intro is followed by the first full song Together Whatever which gets the album to a blazing start full of thick riffs, big melodies and humongous hooks.  This continues with Shine On which is laden with pulsing synths whilst the galloping No Man’s Land is a pure fist pumping anthem. 

Dead Crusade ramps up the heaviness with its driving rhythm and heavy riffs whilst Powerline is a pure sleaze metal anthem with a chorus that will itself into your brain for weeks on end.  The album does lose a bit of steam towards the end closing on the obligatory ballad I Can’t Move On (Without You) but the sheer quality of the songs beforehand makes this misstep forgivable. The band are on absolute fire performance wise but special mention must go to frontman Gabriel Keyes with his phenomenal vocal performance and his second album fronting the band. 

Automaton doesn’t throw any surprises your way being another high quality Crashdïet album chock full of glam and sleaze metal anthems.  The songwriting is on form and the band is on fire. If you love that sleazy 80’s sound then this album comes highly recommended. 8/10

Somali Yacht Club - The Space (Season Of Mist) [David Karpel]

Let’s just start here: the promise of The Sea is not fulfilled in the boundlessness of The Space. As much as I may have expected from that promise the Ukrainian band Somali Yacht Club made in 2018, I could not have expected the level of growth and achievement evident here. We’ve moved beyond what could have been expected, what was promised by its excellent predecessor. This album is a triumph of confidence and wonder. The result is a collection of songs worthy of praise, perhaps even of genuflection, cultish dedication, and banners declaring the potential for AOTY. (And after many edits, I’m still not sure that’s an overstatement.) 

These tunes breathe into you, expand and collapse your sense of boundaries, and keep you following along with the song, demand your fullest attention, and open you up to unconstrained possibilities. No longer earthbound, Somali Yacht Club narrates personal perspectives shaped by this brilliant and awful age, guiding us ever inward and ever outward, echoes of reaching and returning, expanding and contracting, breathing underwater, breathing in space. Tunes are desert seared at the edges, doom glazed from afar, expansive, breathy, often stark, urgent, and shadowed, but they’re also full of passages awash in scuzzy lush shoegaze in the vein of HUM and the more psych elements of Swervedriver all slowed down with the knots brushed out. 

Clear vocals ride the light currents of a middle range. Headphones offer a fully saturated sound that expose, too, the emotively suspenseful use of the between notes, the spaces and pauses. Melodies stretch for light years. Riffs drench the soundscapes like starlight over a barren dwarf planet. We’re not landing there anyway. Sonically, we’re not landing at all. Lyrically, the personal becomes universal, and the band bends time with long emotional notes, giving that conversation, that relationship between band and listener, room in the music. In Silver, we’re floating in a liquid space “so cold I can’t describe,” but the main riff is warmth defined, so we’re left with a sense of having found comfort and even triumph in discomfort of feeling itself, which is better than being unable to feel at all. This is not comfortably numb. As out there as they take us, SYC grounds us in real emotions. The space in which we travel, then, is not just out there. It’s in here, too. Ever inward, ever outward. 

The nine minutes of Pulsar emphasize the idea, with lost love and a broken relationship providing the lyrical pain and confusion over slithery bass grooves and steady percussion. Just as the guitars reach for climax, they fall away for melodic vocals, a breakaway psychedelic jam. Melody returns to us only to venture into a dizzying repetition that again builds on driving chords, ethereal synths, and dynamic drumming. Obscurum is coated in fuzz and while here the shoegazer references are strong, so are the melodic pop instincts of ELO barely hidden under the space guitars and layered jams. Echo Of Direction, meanwhile, treads cavernous harmonics over a steady groove acting as a foundation to a mesmerizing exploration of chugging afterburner riffs. Everything then strips away, leaving the bass, keys, distant guitar notes, cymbal taps, until the kick drum starts up and we’re back on track, chugging onward, ethereal vocals reluctant, giving in to the loss of direction. 

Gold is the shortest song on the album, the last third of which turns into a gorgeously meandering melody. This is followed by the final and longest song, Momentum, which sways, stomps, mourns, floats, and soars for over 12 minutes to an emotionally climactic end that leaves me breathless. I can’t recommend this one enough. 10/10

Hellblind – A Plague On All Your Houses EP (Revenger Records) [Zach Scott]

In an era of metalcore that is now fairly removed from its origins in hardcore and 90s groove metal, the supergroup of Hellblind (composed of members of Romeo Must Die, Stampin’ Ground, This Is Menace, Pitchshifter, and Outside The Coma) brings it back to roots with this brief but vicious EP. Where many modern bands go for ambient and electronic influence, Hellblind opts for hardcore riffing and groove, and it serves as a great reminder of how the style originated. The abrasive production style of Scott Adkins (Grindstone Studios) serves the songs well, making this a raw and violent listen.

This EP starts straight off the bat with some groovy downtuned riffage in Evil Eye, with Adam Frakes Sime’s vocals sounding like a mixture of Phil Anselmo and Kublai Khan’s Matt Honeycutt. His hardcore style of vocal delivery is greatly complimented by the guitar work and use of gang vocals again, a rare thing to hear in modern metalcore. The frenetic energy of the first track leads into the Sepultura-esque intro of If You’re Going Through Hell, which contains some classic metalcore verses reminiscent of early bands like Killswitch Engage and Parkway Drive. Again, this track is interspersed with slower, heavier sections creating contrast within. Then we get to the release’s single, Hitched. This song noticeably contains more ambient guitar work and some big chorus sections, but it isn’t without its heavier and faster parts too – however, this song was very clearly written as a single, and as a result loses some of the momentum built by the previous tracks.

The rest of the EP is more groove-laden, with some more influence from early metalcore bands, particularly the thrash-influenced style of As I Lay Dying, as well as some more big choruses and breakdowns. The final breakdown of Soul Assassin, which serves as the overall close, is as heavy as the EP gets – it serves as an excellent way for this release to finish, with unapologetic groove. While this set of tracks is undoubtedly energetic, there is a tendency for the songs to feel like they are trying to do too much within each track. The choice to have such contrast in tempo within each track doesn’t quite give some of the riffs enough time to really dig in and stick in the listeners’ heads. As well as this, in some parts the ferocity of the guitar work can feel a bit forced – such as in the single Hitched - almost as if it’s a measured level of rawness, which again takes away from the overall hardcore-influenced feel of the EP.

Despite this, the EP is undoubtedly well-written, well-produced, and above all, heavy. The level of musicianship and writing skill in this group is high, and it is apparent in the clear conscious choice to stray from the stereotypes of both modern and classic metalcore, choosing instead to invoke the feel of the early 2000s, without falling into the same pitfalls that led to the genre’s derision by many of the metal community. 7/10

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