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Wednesday 17 August 2022

Reviews: Black Lab, Hollywood Undead, Puzzle Tree, Buried Under Sky (Reviews By Quinn Mattfeld & Matt Bladen)

Blacklab – In A Bizarre Dream (New Heavy Sounds) [Quinn Mattfeld]

Blacklab might be too cool for me. For the duration of their new album In A Bizarre Dream, I found myself thinking, "I really should've worn all black to listen to this. Blacklab wears all black. Blacklab’s really cool." The band describes themselves as a "dark witch Doom duo from Osaka, Japan" and they have the sound to match it. Vocals range from spooky-smooth crooning to demonic screams and guitar tones so thick and malevolent I fear it may be leaking radium through my speakers... Which wouldn't stop me from hanging out with them socially if they ever wanted to- no worries either way though! 

One half Black Sabbath, one half Stereolab, their third full length album opens with Cold Rain and right away, you know Blacklab are not fucking around. Vocalist/Guitarist Yuko Morino lays into a slow scream on the first verse before sliding effortlessly into clean vocals; a unique blend of elements with echoes of Dorthia Cotrell, Carina Round and the occasional wink to Nico. By the time Chia Shiraishi's drums come crushing down on the track, it's too late, you're already an ingredient in whatever they've got in the cauldron. Don't despair, the culmination of the song is coming, and it's worth being slowly boiled alive for... 

The album continues with two singles: Abyss Woods, another brutal vocal by Morino, bookended by a heavy STP-style riff and Dark Clouds demonstrating Blacklab's Punk bonafides with an up-tempo drum track and thrashy chords as Morino sways between 90s altera-snarl and a scream that borders on Black Metal vocals. Evil 1, my favorite track on the record, comes in like blackhole sludge and goes out like an early System Of A Down tune while Evil 2 builds a slow, bluesy riff into relentless, Stygian waves of sound... Do you think Blacklab would be my friends on Facebook? No, they are way too cool for Facebook. Stupid question. Don't tell them I asked. 

Crows, Sparrows And Cats flattens their sound a bit but Lost follows and carries us through to the title track, an ambient bed of noise under descending guitar strings that could give the Manson Family nightmares. In A Bizarre Dream and the two songs that conclude the album, Monochrome Rainbow and Collapse, transmute this record into something else entirely. I don't want to describe it, I just want you to listen to it because it's my favorite sequence on the record. Can I have two favorites? Can someone ask Blacklab if that’s cool? Just in case they want to text me about it or whatever. 

Blacklab stick the landing here like Kerri Strug engulfed in flame. They have woven a mosaic of styles and influences into a monolith of woeful and insidious doom. Would that I could dance with them around it in fealty to our mutual Dark Lord. Not that I'm asking for an invitation but I'll be here if one comes... sitting by the phone, staring at the Mailbox, listening to Blacklab. 9/10

Hollywood Undead - Hotel Kalifornia (Sony BMG) [Matt Bladen]

Hollywood Undead's newest album Hotel Kalifornia deals with the wealth divide in their native city of Los Angeles. The disparity between rich and poor in that city seems much more obvious than in many other cities in the world. From the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the notorious Skid Row, growing up the band members seemed to be destined for a life of crime/behind bars. 

However they have worked their asses off to become one of the most successful 21st Century band with massive plaudits and kudos coming their way from all sides. They have also managed to give back to their neighbourhood by running a cannabis business that employs ex-convicts. So a stand up bunch of dudes that play a very eclectic style of music that brings in rap, electronics and metal, but if I was to make a snap conclusion of say Hotel Kalifornia is Linkin Park writing a musical like Hamilton. 

Track such as Hourglass is exactly what have brought Hollywood Undead to the dance for their previous six albums, thick riffs, rap/angsty clean vocals and huge choruses, Alone At The Top yet again full of angst, a powerful ballad that has a lot more emotion than much of their early career which I'll admit was a little throwaway, Dangerous does go back to that though like a Latino Limp Bizkit. Ruin My Life is an EDM club banger that rallies against the whole club scene in general. Go To War meanwhile is a clarion call against injustice. 

There's a lot going on over the course of these 14 tracks but this album needs a long runtime as it's conceptual making the most of it with as many different styles as possible. Hollywood Undead have matured from their frat boy metal roots, with Hotel Kalifornia their most personal record yet, but it is an acquired taste still. 6/10

Puzzle Tree - Every Broken Floor (Self Released)

A progressive/alt rock band from South Wales, Puzzle Tree's debut album has been a while in the making but it has finally arrived. Each of the band members has had to contend with a lot of hardships in the run up to this record but they have managed to complete an accomplished debut album. Every Broken Floor gets its grooves going with Embers, a chugging slow burner which feels like Alter Bridge, the guitars of both Matt John and Matthew Alexander Powell having that unmistakable Creed/Alter Bridge harmonic style. 

It's also the first expose we have to Rachel Thomas' excellent vocals, she soars above the melody heaviness with a powerful, emotional sound that's got some touches of Amy Lee and Ann Wilson. Matthew Alexander Powell coming in on vocal harmonies with his lower, but still emotive vocal I'm a great unions with Thomas'. Oceans comes next continuing the 2000's metal vibe, with a screaming solo, fuzzy riffs and steady groove from drummer Rhys Jones and bassist Jamie Roberts. The Burning Lands brings down the noise a little with a lot of acoustics but a big riffing chorus and scintillating solo, as Sometimes is the first proper ballad, which you can see garnering lighters in the venue they play in and really emphasises how good Rachel's vocals are. 

Every Broken Floor boasts a stellar production job from Matthew Alexander Powell and Lee Howells, Howells also mixed the record, giving it life and all the performances growing room. On a song such as Hollow this room is very obvious as the quieter moments are just as effective as the louder ones, as we get a bit proggier with the Soundgarden sounding Migrations, a trippy number that again features the dual vocals brilliantly. It's on the choruses that Puzzle Tree are in their element, for all the complicated compositions they write, and there are plenty, they have a real knack for a hook meaning that there's more layers to this than a particularly large onion as on the first listen you'll be drawn in by the choruses or the radio friendly tracks such as All In The Eyes, which I can just hear Scott Stapp belting out. 

Subsequently though you'll hear all the clever stuff such as the proggy flourishes on Fearless, or the atmospheric Delusions. Every Broken Floor stands apart from many debut albums as one with a lot talent behind it. Progressively-minded, grungy hard rock jam packed with hooks. 9/10

Buried Under Sky – Darkest Corners (Self Released) [Quinn Mattfeld]

Buried Under Sky admits to being “…four middle-aged guys with day jobs, making the metal they want to hear.” That’s about the most endearing sentence I’ve ever read in any promotional band material. So, any criticism I may have of Buried Under Sky and the music they choose to make ought to be understood within a purely philosophical context: the band is perfectly happy with the album they have produced, their target audience loves the record because their target audience is Buried Under Sky.

Darkest Corners is a more than solid offering for those who like their metal mixed with melody and a healthy dose of riffs to punctuate the beauty with brutality. The record opens with Extinguishing The Stars a contemplation of the changing seasons injected with a sense of cosmic doom. It’s a strong start for the band and even though it’s not necessarily my cup of hydrochloric acid, it’s really great! …until we get to the metal vocals. The band seems torn between two styles of metal vocal, ranging from a fuller, more aggressive, forward placement of a progy Beard-Metal growl like on the first chorus of the title song to a more hollow, wraith-like Post-Black Metal sound on almost every other track which doesn't serve the album well.

A good metal vocal is like the Giant Squid of the Deep Ocean: they're elusive, rare, and will semi-frequently kill young sperm whales that stray too far from a parent. I'd love to say "Why don't they just do what Scott Kelly does?!" but despite what people outside the genre think they understand about metal and its vocal spectrum; what Scott Kelly does is nearly inhuman. Aside from the physical difficulty, what makes a great metal vocal is authenticity. Scott Kelly sounds like a human producing a sound that matches the grand emotional scale of the music, Buried Under Sky's metal vocals feel a bit forced and more often than not at stylistic odds with their own melody. 

Nowhere is this more conspicuous than on the soaring ballad, Ghosts Of May where the unclean singing is a grating imposition on an otherwise gorgeous track. The sound works better on To Walk Upon Disintegration and the album closer We Eat Our Own, but the vacuous vocals are an unfortunate choice on an album I wanted to like as much as Buried Under Sky does.  7/10

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