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Wednesday 31 August 2022

Reviews: And Now The Owls Are Smiling, D-Drive, Xenobiotic, Skypilot (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Bladen, Matt Cook & David Karpel)

And Now The Owls Are Smiling - Epitaph (Clobber Records) [Paul Scoble]

One member bands have been a part of black metal since its inception. Some of the most groundbreaking acts in the genre are the product of a single mind. Since 2016, And Now The Owls Are Smiling single band member NRE has been making deeply depressive black metal, from his base in Norfolk. In the six years since the bands inception NRE has made 3 albums before Epitaph; Desolation in 2018, The Comforting Grip Of Misery in 2019 and Dirges in 2021, with each full length having an EP between it and the next album. 

This album is very fittingly titled as this is the final album that NRE will be releasing from the And Now The Owls Are Smiling project. I’m not totally sure why NRE has felt that this is an appropriate time to bring this project to a close, I’m hoping it’s because he has dealt with the depression that inspired it, and can now lay And Now The Owls Are Smiling to rest. The style of black metal on offer on Epitaph is depressive black metal, so there aren’t many blast beats or savage and bestial riffs. 

This is all mid paced or slow, the tremolo picked riffs feel less angry and aggressive and are more hypnotic and delicate. It’s a little rough around the edges in how it sounds, but this is clearly by design, perfectly produced and sounding depressive black metal would be weird. The vocals are mainly screams or wails of anguish and pain, all violence is internalised, self loathing. 

The album also features quieter parts that are much more introverted, and meditative. On the opening track Every Day Another Piece Of Me Is Removed has a quieter section near the end of the track where everything drops down to minimal keyboards and spoken word, before the song builds itself back up for an emotional ending. There are also some parts that have a definite post black metal feel to them; still made of the elements that you would associate with black metal but handled in a slightly more contemplative way. Monochrome Visions Of What Life Used To Be has this feeling too it, there is a feel to the tremolo picked riffs that remind me of Sadness, and maybe a little of Deafheaven. 

The song feels just a little bit more infused with sunlight than the other material on Epitaph, however the vocals are still very anguished so the overall feel for this song is cathartic, and in a strange way, restful. There are also some very pleasing folk influences on this album. Winter's Elegy Part II is simple acoustic guitar and very beautiful clean vocals, the song builds a little bit in the second half of the track with added drums, bells and backing vocals, and forms a very beguiling and elegant interlude. 

One of the things that makes this album work is the quality of the deeply melancholic melodies that run through this album. Depressive black metal tends to have a strong melodic core due to those sad melodies driving the album along and giving it the cathartic, emotional depth. Without great, sad tunes this album wouldn’t work, and luckily Epitaph has them in spades, probably the strongest melodies that stay with you the longest are on the track The Is No Laughter Here, clearly no laughter, but lots of brokenhearted melodies. 

The album ends with a cover of Street Spirit by Radiohead, which might sound like a strange cover, but this is depressive black metal so it actually fits very well. The first half is simple plucked guitar and vocals, and sounds like a pretty straight cover, however the second half is done in a depressive black metal style and it fits perfectly with the melodies and tone of the original, so works very well Epitaph is a great depressive black metal album, its full of memorable tunes and beautifully melancholy melodies. 

The album is harsh, cathartic, anguished and in a strange way has some positivity to it, the positivity that comes with dealing with your demons. I’m a little sad this is the last And Now The Owls Are Smiling album as I have enjoyed it, but I’m sure NRE will find other musical outlets, and I look forward to hearing them when they do. 8/10

D_Drive - Dynamotive (Marshall Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Japanese have a real love of instrumental 'shred' artists people such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, John Pertucci and Marty Friedman are revered as Gods in the Land Of The Rising Sun so it's only right that many of their own bands utilise the eclectic musical soundscapes these artists have with virtuosity that only comes with years of practice. 

One such band are D_Drive, signed to Marshall Records, Dynamotive (their second on the label) has been hailed as their 'very own G3 show' (a rolling tour featuring a trio of incredible guitarists playing to packed houses of shred nerds). It's got a lot of inspiration from these guitar god's Vai and Satch in particular as the tracks shift between hard rock, jazz, funk, pop, prog and metal, with influences as broad as Squid Game, 9/11, the pandemic, plum tree and Marshall Records founder Jon Ellery. Comprised of the guitar duo Yuki and Seiji who weave a rich tapestry of guitar impressiveness as the rhythm section of Toshi on bass and Chiiko on drums bring the pace and power. Do they need a singer? No not really the guitar here is the lead instrument, the melodic part of the record in what would usually be verses and choruses, the bass and drums bringing the riffs. 

From the speeding Red Light, Green Light, to the shimmering Begin Again, the bouncy Get Away and the doomy Be Yourself and Breakout all give you an idea of the different sides of D_Drive, personally I'd say that that the majority of the songs here owe more to artists such as Paul Gilbert who blends many different genres in his music a poppy track such as Thumbs Up or the ballad U_Me which also has a romantic prog edge the prog returning on Breakout before the shred comes back. Dynamotive is a great shred album from some seriously talented musicians, if you're a fan of guitar instrumental music then you should definitely get it into D_Drive. 7/10

Xenobiotic – Hate Monolith (Unique Leader) [Matt Cook]

Avid fans of technical death metal, if you haven’t already, familiarise yourself with Unique Leader Records, because they have been churning out crushingly complex releases as of late: Exocrine, Carrion Vael and Soreption are but a taste of the successful albums to have seen the light of day since the beginning of summer. Xenobiotic needed only five songs on their EP Hate Monolith to solidify their acceptance into that discussion. 

The Aussie foursome hit the ground moshing and never look back. TJ Sinclair has a command of the microphone that is cataclysmic, bristled and reptilian in nature (not the conspiracy theory kind). His output on Autophagia is life-or-death harsh and is quickly followed by The Wretched Strive, where Sinclair’s growls conjure images of those industrial crushers that make mincemeat out of propane tanks and the like. It could stand as the soundtrack for my next (read: first) Crossfit session. The blasty uppercuts and proficient soloing found on Pathos has the potential to alter Magnetic North. And fittingly, EP closer Sever The Ties declares “I’m your fucking worst nightmare!” 

Contained in a short 22 minutes, Hate Monolith loudly inserts itself into the already overcrowded top of the Unique Leader catalogue, as well as the enticing tech-death scene. Xenobiotic – which loosely translates to strange lifeform – harnesses the power of an Unidentified Fucking Onslaught to rain death and destruction onto unsuspecting victims. 8/10

Skypilot - Simple Beasts (The Distortion project and Code 7 Distribution) [David Karpel]

If it’s going to be deemed worthy, a band’s groove has to grab you, it’s got to take you by your nape with an impatience demanding the catharsis of stomping and potentially concussive headbanging. The bottom has to be hella-solid and well-attended to in the mix as well. On Simple Beasts, UK’s Skypilot achieves this, steadily cranking out eight well-crafted, big shouldered, groove-heavy rock songs that deserve your attention. These songs are built to be addictive and they’ll get you moving. I mean, you’re dead if they don’t. Seriously, this is solid stuff coming from a band that’s released four EP’s and one full length in the last 20 years together, and has a road resume of a hard-working band.

Simple Beasts sees Skypilot at their most developed so far. While the sound of the songs on this album is rooted in the swirling crunch of COC and Clutch,, other influences–like Tool and the Deftones–find their way in when they stretch their wings. This blend gives Skypilot an interesting palette from which to choose colours and paint. Despite this, there often a feeling that there’s a particular formula they follow: tunes build on, yes, a solid groove, the vocals are clean and high pitched, emotional, just angsty enough to make you curious, and melodic enough to be catchy. The mix rightly gives the bass its deserved space, and the driving percussion punches the sway right into your gut. 

Solid, though similar. Still, while the variety is slight, the songs are persuasive enough for it not to matter too much. Also, in addition to throwing down solid hooks, the band often breathes huge jammy breaths that lend a touch of progressive psych to the otherwise mostly grungy stoner swing of these songs. Simple Beasts should be Skypilot’s breakout album. Give this one a go. 7/10

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