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Thursday 14 July 2022

Reviews: Fellowship, Lucid Grave, Quiet Confusion, Birth (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

Fellowship - The Saberlight Chronicles (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

Fellowship are one of those bands, one of those bands that you listen too when things seem a little to overwhelming, if the black dog is sneaking up on you, or your having a bad day. Trust me when I say listening to the debut album from Fellowship will immediately put a smile on your face. Fellowship play a majestic, cinematic, conceptual style of power metal long heard in the albums of band such as Rhapsody, Twilight Force et al but also classic power metal acts such as Helloween. 

High energy rhythms, soaring vocal lines and plenty of tasty guitar playing Fellowship are definitely a band who have consumed all of the best parts of of the power/symphonic metal genre creating a smile inducing, sing along style of music where you can't help but grin like an idiot throughout. Fellowship's high concept release The Saberlight Chronicles, is based in mythical fantasy story line, but grounded in reality though tackling mental health by telling tales of self worth/self discovery and a quest for courage. When you put these uplifting lyrics against some Disney-esque music you get the real Magic Kingdom right here. 

Swelling orchestrals get Until The Fires Die going, the dual guitar harmony bounce, very Helloween, you'll know what I mean when you hear it. The Saint Beyond The River meanwhile takes from another set of Germans, Blind Guardian as folk sounds give it a warmth. Fellowship are incredibly faithful to the Euro-power metal sound, so it may be surprise that they come from Essex, but Christ if I didn't know this, I'd assume it was the new record from Serenity or Sonata Arctica mainly due to the vocals of Matthew Corry which are in that Georg Neuhauser/Tony Kakko sweet spot. As both of these singers are favourites of mine, I was pretty impressed upon hearing it. When there's that emotional power on tracks such as the galloping Glory Days I'm brought back to my first listen of Ecliptica and how I was smiling from ear to ear before liberally throwing my first into the air! 

The rest of the Fellowship band members impress as well with Callum Tuffen's drumming going full pelt throughout though he also has moments where he doesn't need to gallop like a run away horse giving a mid pace bounce to Still Enough and slowing right down on The Hours Of Wintertime. Guitarists Sam Browne and Brad Wosko in beautiful harmony with their guitar playing sweeping, diving, duelling and blasting away, Oak And Ash having the propulsion and explosiveness of a Dragonforce and Sonata Arctica of course. 

Elsewhere the euphoric Glint, anthemic Hearts Upon The Hill both have brilliant solos but it's not the exception to the rule at all as much of this record is built around brilliant guitar playing, those and of course those stirring symphony elements that look large on the piano laced ballad Silhouette and the closing epic Avalon which rounds out things in with a crescendo straight from a Tolkien epic. The Saberlight Chronicles may be my power metal album of the year. Roll on Power Metal Quest Fest! 9/10

Lucid Grave - Cosmic Mountain (Electric Valley Records) [Rich Piva]

There are some cases where there is something about a band or album that will decide someone’s opinion on them right off the bat, fair or not. Many times, the vocals can be that one thing. Denmark’s Lucid Grave is a prime example of this. I know the vocals on this record are going to divide people into two distinct groups with not much middle ground. It’s a shame for the folks who join team negative here, but I totally get it. There is some good psych doom happening on their debut album, Cosmic Mountain, but you must be able to get past the unique wails and just give yourself to Lucid Grave to get the full effect. 

The opening title track is a ten-minute slow, fuzzy doom slow burner with those wails in full effect. Lucid Grave’s promo material mention stoner rock and psych vibes but to me they are way more of a traditional doom band then anything else. The title track musically is Sabbath worship combined with those vocals. At times vocalist Malene sounds like she is absolutely agony which can be a bit off putting. Almost a doomy, high pitched yodeling at times. Old Spirit picks up the pace with some of that stoner vibe that was called out earlier; there is a definite fuzz to this track and if there is a ripper on Cosmic Mountain it is this one. But those vocals can once again be a challenge, especially mid-way though the track. I’m Still High brings us back to the slow burn traditional doom, but this song is where the vocals really will divide the listener. 

On one had the emotion and pain in her voice is so evident, you can feel the pain. On the other hand, someone overhearing me playing this said it sounded like “Dory talking to the whale in Finding Nemo”. That pretty much sums up the two sides of Cosmic Mountain. Good stoner doom with some really polarising vocals sums up Lucid Grave’s debut nicely. You will know right off the bat if her voice is for you. If it is, check out Cosmic Mountain in full because Lucid Grave know how to bring the fuzzy doom. It was just a bit too much for me. 6/10

Quiet Confusion - Magella (Go Down Records) [Rich Piva]

Quiet Confusion have been around for a while but have managed to allude me up until their latest and fourth full length release, Magella. I did go back and review some of their back catalog to properly prepare for this review, so I know a bit of what I am getting myself into. The Italian stoner/fuzz band have gone through several lineup changes since their start in 2009 but based on my research this lineup has the band sounding as strong as ever, maybe even taking a step forward with their latest release.

What you get with Quiet Confusion, especially with Magella, is some serious Queens Of The Stone Age worship, especially the more chill QOTSA tracks that sound like Masters Of Reality songs. The Chris Goss vibes are strong with this one. Think The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret by QOTSA over the eight tracks. Luckly for Quiet Confusion that is a classic track. Songs like Plastic Man and Lady In Blue could be B-sides from Rated R. The opening track could be on any of the later period Masters Of Reality records. Fuzzy catchy stoner jams with a bit of funkiness to them. Wastin’ Time has a bit of a Stone Temple Pilots feel to it, if STP included cool psych solos in their songs. Sweet Noise is more of a straight-ahead stoner jam, sprinkled with those QTSA/MOR vibes (especially the guitar work towards the end of the track), and done very well.

Behind The Sun brings more of that stoner funk I mentioned earlier, think Danko Jones type stuff with a crunch. Droppers sounds like a song off Welcome To The Western Lodge (if you have not heard that, please check it out) and the slow burner is probably my favorite track on the record. Quiet Confusion have leveraged some of their influences to give us a nice collection of eight stoner jams that if you are a QOTSA or MOR fan you will really dig. I am not sure how memorable this will be by the time the year ends, but for this this was an enjoyable listen for what it is. 7/10

Birth - Born (Bad Omen Records) [Matt Bladen]

Birth's demo EP, also called Birth, laid down what the band was all about. 3 tracks of progressive rock heavily inspired by the late 60's early 70's sound of progressive rock inspired by both the Canterbury and San Diego scene. Formed by Astra members Conor Riley (keyboards/acoustic guitar/vocals and Brian Ellis (lead guitar/keyboards), they set out to explore new horizons, keeping the music similar but with another crew in which to do some cosmic wandering. They came across kindred spirits Trevor Mast (bass) and Paul Marrone (drums), both from Psicomagia, while Marrone does play on Born he has been replaced by Thomas DiBenedetto. 

All three demo tracks appear here though Cosmic Wind is now called Cosmic Tears and even though the demos were brilliant the fully realised versions are much more kaleidoscopic than the demos, multi-tracked and warmly produced Born is a record layered with gorgeous analogue Hammond organs/Mellotrons/Modular synths, fluid space rock guitar lines and jazz rock inflected rhythms that create sprawling musical movements. 

An instrumental title track is our welcome to Born, bringing all the retro progressive rock wildness The Weirding established while they were Astra. Brimming with pastoral progressive rock, the tone is set from the off as Descending Us returns with a bigger scope than on the demo but still has an organ riff half inched from Deep Purple's Child In Time. We go into the Floydian realms on the opening to For Yesterday, yes all the tracks link into one another like all those gapless playback classics from the era. For Yesterday shifts towards the more wider reaches of prog rock, the PR that accompanies it mentioning Aphrodite's Child, the synths on For Yesterday evoking Vangelis. As with so much prog rock there is dystopian, retro futurism to the lyrical content of this record, drawing inspiration from many post-apocalyptic novels, though Connor being a scientist is well aware that much of these books stray closer to fact than the fiction they used to. 

But Birth look for hope in impermanence crafting songs that may dwell on dark themes but will always try to find the positive and let the light in. As Born continues to impress at every turn Cosmic Tears has a lot of brooding Mellotron and more emotive guitar soloing picked from the the King Crimson school of songwriting (a trick also picked up by Steven Wilson which is why Cosmic Tears sounds a lot like Wilson/Porcupine Tree), Another Time on the other hand is packed with jazz flourishes of Van Der Graaf Generator and also folk influences that remind me of Jethro Tull. Undeniably retro, but not a rehash or a pastiche, Born pays respect to the time when prog ruled the world so grow that hair and those beards out, then dive in headfirst to the blissed out world of Birth. 9/10

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