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Friday 15 July 2022

Reviews: Shinedown, Mantar, Sweet Freedom, Xaon (Reviews By Finn O'Dell, Matt Cook, Matt Bladen & Richard Oliver)

Shinedown - Planet Zero (Atlantic Records) [Finn O'Dell]

Delays. Something way too common anymore. This album was supposed to be released earlier this year, but there is a vinyl shortage so they waited to drop it until it would be available in all formats. Well worth the wait, they give us 20 songs clocking just under 49 minutes (7 of them are under a minute - intro & interludes) that make a dystopian concept album. The album flows quite naturally from the heavy No Sleep Tonight and the title track before slowing things down with Dysfunctional You. Dead Don't Die has that solid rhythm Shinedown is known for, as does America Burning. A Symptom Of Being Human slows things down with a beautiful ballad. The next song, Hope, is a catchy one that reminds me a little of Alter Bridge. 

Things ramp back up with Clueless And Dramatic. Sure Is Fun has a weird pop type vibe to it. Daylight delivers another ballad. The next two tunes, The Saints Of Violence And Innuendo and Army Of The Unappreciated, bring back the fist pumping rock before the album wraps up with a quirky pop tune, What You Wanted. I have been a fan of these guys since the beginning and I can confidently say they haven't lost any ground. You get it all here: thunderous stadium rock, soothing ballads and odd pop jams. Though the overall lyrical message is a warning of sorts concerning various social trends, it is delivered over some fun music. 9/10

Mantar – Pain Is Forever And This Is The End (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Cook]

Mantar isn’t for everyone.

Upon first listen, Hanno Klänhardt’s vocals are…unique. A gruff combination of crusty hardcore and sitting-on-the-electric-chair-waiting-for-death black metal, it’s assuredly an acquired taste. But that description might bury the lead, because Pain Is Forever And This Is The End goes further than laying down raw, messy vocals. Klänhardt (who also tackles guitar) and Erinc Sakarya (drums) tag-team in an unanticipated groovy display of oddly catchy hooks. Hang ‘Em Low (So The Rats Can Get ‘Em) is a sludgy earworm. 

Piss Ritual is another example of Klänhardt’s bombastic and sturdy delivery. It took a few playthroughs to allow for Pain… to settle and materialize, not the fault of Mantar. What at first seemed like an album destined for the bottom of the barrel of illustrious releases 2022 has already witnessed, this collection of putrid grime forms an identity that started to grow on me as I was listening.

Maybe it’s the unorthodox singing paired with the easy-to-latch-on-to refrains found nestled within the 10 tracks. Maybe it’s the instrumentation that bolsters the tracks with confident precision, allowing the songs to fester and metastasize into the filthy animal that comes to life over the 42 minutes of run time. 

Either way, in an age of ever-increasing attempts at standing out from the abundance of extreme metal acts, Mantar’s fifth album isn’t something that can be understood in a single spin. Really, that’s the way it should be. Great movies aren’t watched only once. Not to mention the German duo has been churning out records every two years, undoubtedly satisfying the big wigs at Metal Blade.

So take a chance on Pain Is Forever And This Is The End. Don’t let opener Egoisto dissuade you from venturing further. Klänhardt is abrasive and labored. But in this day and age, who the fuck isn’t?7/10

Sweet Freedom - Sweet Freedom According To Jörgen Schelander (Melodic Passion Records) [Matt Bladen]

Jörgen Schelander is something of a polymath, a multi-instrumentalist and session keyboardist, having played with House Of Shakira, Misth, Astrakhan (a band I only recently discovered and loved ever since) along with many others. He founded Sweet Freedom as a way of playing live, recording this album along with Håkan Nilsson (guitar), Håkan Rangemo (drums), Jan Lund (bass) and singer Stefan Nykvist, each man having spent time in various bands, the most recent for the latter being on the great  Sarayasign record which scored well in these pages. The instrumentalists, with the exception of Schelander play in tribute band, Deepest Purple which is probably why Waysted Time sounds the way it does, full of Purpleisms as Jörgen gets his chance to go full Jon Lord.

While Good Life also has touches of Purple but with some jazzier refrains too. I mean really the whole album has Deep Purple connotations in the music, but also some Rainbow (both Dio and post-Dio) on Istanbul, some Journey-like AOR on Honor Thy Name while I Am Alive is where the album slows, the band all showing their theatrical roots. The final song Rest In Peace has a real Led Zeppelin vibe to it, the Middle Eastern feel a continuous part of the track. Sweet Freedom has shades of many other bands, sort of like a thrilling musical jukebox that takes the form of some of the best 70's rock bands. Spend time with it and you'll discover a very entertaining rock album from a set of experienced musicians. 8/10  

Xaon - The Lethean (Self Released) [Richard Oliver]

A band that is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the symphonic extreme metal genre is Xaon. The band formed in Switzerland in 2014 but came to my attention with their second album Solipsis which was released in 2019 which mixed death metal and melodic death metal with luscious and epic symphonic arrangements.

2022 sees the release of their third album The Lethean and it definitely sees Xaon go for broke as everything sounds bigger, vaster, heavier and far more grandiose. The symphonic arrangements have been stepped up massively and sound absolutely glorious and wholly cinematic whilst the death metal parts are far more aggressive and furious though there is still an inclusion of melody especially in some clean vocal parts which are prevalent in songs such as The Hunt, If I Had Wings and In Pyrrhic Seas. You get the aggression ramped up in songs such as A Golden Silence, And Yet I Smile and Wayward Son but all the songs generally hit that sweet spot between aggression and epicness meaning you want to bang your head but your hairs are standing on end.

Frontman Rob Carson has a versatile voice effortlessly switching between a harsh vocal style (which is reminiscent of Bjorn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork) and fantastic melodic clean singing. The rest of the band put in phenomenal performances from the crushing riffwork and soaring leads of guitarists Eerik Maurage and Klin HC (who are both recent additions to the band) and the pummelling rhythm section of bassist Laure Begue and drummer Julien Racine.

The Lethean is easily the finest thing that Xaon have released to date. The band have taken the sound they nailed on the Solipsis album and just taken it to the next level. Everything just sounds refined and absolutely huge and if the band carry on with this trajectory then they should be at the same level as some of the big names in symphonic extreme metal such as Septicflesh, Dimmu Borgir and Fleshgod Apocalypse. If you like music that is equally cinematic and crushingly heavy then this album comes extremely recommended. 9/10

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