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Tuesday 30 August 2022

Reviews: Machine Head, Glassing, Altars, Eaten By Sharks (Reviews By Simon Black, Matt Cook, Elliott Spencer & GC)

Machine Head - Of Kingdom And Crown (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

Machine Head. OK then, it’s been a while…

This is a band I have fallen in and out of love with over the years. Having been initially blown away by their Burn My Eyes debut back in the day, I found their 1997 follow up The More Things Change slightly less impressive (despite the presence of Andy Sneap on the mixing desk) and the Nu-Metal trend-chasing The Burning Red saw me off for a good few years I’m afraid to say.  I didn’t really re-engage until 2014’s Bloodstone And Diamonds, which seemed like a welcome return to form, although the (for me) new propensity for much longer and moodier songs took a bit of getting used to. (Someone who hasn't listened to The Blackening - Shock Horror Ed!!!). I missed out on Catharsis completely but given that it nearly wiped them out as a band, that’s probably just as well, and I had resigned myself to accepting that this is an act that, despite their huge success globally, probably might be a spent force.

Jump ahead then to this year’s Bloodstock if you will, where I find myself standing in an overcrowded and somewhat warm Sophie Tent waiting to find out who the mid-afternoon Saturday mystery band was. Now my old mucker Rod (bassist of the fabulous Bull Riff Stampede and Raven’s Creed) is standing with me and is still holding out for a surprise showing from Amon Amarth, but a pile of T-Shirts ready to pin on the merchandise boards has been spotted shortly before and word has spread like wildfire. Plus, everyone’s remembered that the Sophie is a tent and therefore offers at least something in the way of shade from the ridiculous 37° C heat outside. Add the “Machine Fucking Head” banner dropped on stage a good 40 minutes before the start of the set and suddenly we found ourselves unable to move and the temperature in the tent rises from high 30’s to that of a rather large pizza oven that has now moved from plain ”overcrowded” to “packed in like battery hens”.
When the band finally hit the stage, Rod and I (both a good 6’ tall) find our feet gradually leaving the floor and shoved to the side totally unable to see the stage, so rammed to the rafters is the Sophie Tent now. The last time I saw this was Suicidal Tendencies a few years previously, and that was a polite tea party in comparison. Three songs was sadly more than enough of this insane crush and we fought our way to the side, to fresh air and to a sea of people as far as the eye can see still trying to catch a glimpse of the band. There is literally no-one left in the rest of the festival site and it’s a miracle no-one was hurt.
This is a shame, because what I heard sounded way better than I expected them to…

Now Rob Flynn has a revamped line up to bed in, so the festival show made sense (despite the fact he’s on record saying he would do them again) and fans were treated to two songs from this new opus in the set with. It’s a big old record, with the version I’ve got including the taster from the Arrows In Words From The Sky EP last year (and even an acoustic version of which is included) and a run time of an hour and ten minutes. I’ve got used to the longer tracks of recent years, but actually they mix this up with shorter and punchier ones that could have come from their early 1990’s heyday.
Opening with the protracted Slaughter The Martyr, I find myself surprised at the usage of clean vocals harmonies on this well-layered introduction – a far more technical and melodic piece than one would expect to find on a Machine Head album. Once I get past the initial “What the actual fuck” moment and I get the sense that I’m going to have to go all 80’s Kerrang! Mode on this. So much so that this track gets a second spin before I engage with the rest of the record, but then I find myself appreciating it’s subtlety. There’s a few surprising and moody, almost Emo moments like this on the record, but then this is counterpointed by some rollocking belters that would have fitted well on their debut.
When it kicks in, it kicks in hard… It has power, intensity and genuine anger for the first time in a long time, rather than feeling “Metal by the numbers” as has too often been the case in recent years. These Post Thrash numbers are the highpoints for me, with the retro classic in waiting Choke On The Ashes Of Your Hate, the snarling fury of Rotten and the manic slammer Bloodshot standing head and shoulders over anything Flynn has released in recent years. And it’s a concept album to boot, which again is a twist I didn’t see coming and one which forces the listener to take their time and repeat, which this well-crafted piece of music allows you to do.

However, there is something really annoying me about the track listing… All of them are published in CAPS LOCK and utilising the Norwegian Ø instead of the conventional English vowel, so much so that I find myself pronouncing them with that mid-fronted Nordic vowel sound out loud. Even Spotify has been infected with this…. Now I know cheesy German umlauts were pretty de-rigeur in the 80’s, but this is ridiculous. I know it’s being done with all serious and an attempt to look ‘Metal’, but the net effect is not dissimilar to the møøse gag in the credits of Mønty Pythøn And The Høly Grail. It’s silly, it’s pretentiøus, it’s nøt adding anything tø prøceedings and as yøu can see sømewhat detracting frøm the what has unexpectedly turned øut tø be a bløødy gøød recørd.

Nøw excuse me whilst I gø and fix my keybøard settings…

A fiery halfway house between the punchy Post-Thrash of Burn My Eyes and the maudlin melancholic epic of Bloodstone & Diamonds, this new incarnation of Machine Head is rather growing on me. It’s an absolute return to form, for sure. 9/10

Glassing – Dire And Sulk (Medication Time & Brutal Panda Records) [Matt Cook]

In a mere nine minutes, Glassing pummel the foundations of post-metal by dabbling in noise rock, shoegaze and relentless, blackened sludgey mire. The Austin-based outfit – Cory Brim (guitar), Dustin Coffman (vocals, bass) and Scott Osment (drums) – don’t need longer than that to prove their propensity for terrifying, distressful compositions on their EP Dire And Sulk. Dire’ is biting, sharp and repugnant. 

Coffman must have recorded the track while simultaneously jamming a crowbar down his gullet because some of the noises he lands are completely outrageous. Not to mention Brim’s instruments of distress that aid in the antsy feeling that hovers over the EP. The riffs are dense, concentrated, sturdy. Following the same tried-and-true method Sulk features new-to-the-band Osment’s stampeding, bursting drums, aided by sandblasting screams in the beginning that eventually turn to lower, domineering growls. The trio achieves quite a bit in the brief tastes the release has to offer: seismic instrumentations; horrifying notes achieved via strings instead of artificial sounds; and a vocal range that balances chaotically terse and broodingly doomed elements.
To write Dire And Sulk off as a lazy endeavour is entirely rubbish. Nowadays, what is achieved in a full-length can equally be attained in a concise manner. And though there are only a pair of songs, Glassing hit a bevy of notable marks. 7/10

Altars – Ascetic Reflection (Everlasting Spew Records) [Elliott Spencer]

Somehow it’s no surprise that Altars hail from Australia. Not only does Ascetic Reflection’s album cover depict a pastoral landscape swathed in light but the music here plays like the death metal equivalent of heatstroke. The high-frequency dissonance displayed is skin-shedding; the guttural vocals and blastbeats are situated like a deep and burrowing pain. It’s not so much oppressive in the vain of a band like Portal though, it’s something more malignant and anxiety-ridden like the warped melodies of Gorguts. 

Luminous Jar is menacing, its twisting passages sound like the song itself is on the run from a pack of savage animals before finally succumbing to the elements. It’s a fairly effective yet straightforward sonic landscape that Altars are able to conjure but it’s on the longer Black Light Upon Us and Inauspicious Prayer where Altars truly shine. Layers of dissonant noise, ritualistic percussion, and doomy repetition ring the tension to the point where these songs could fall apart at any moment but never do. 

Altars forego the swampy trappings of this sort of death metal and the often unnecessary technical indulgence that comes with it by cutting straight to the core and allowing a few carefully chosen elements to the do the work of too many. Ascetic Reflection is something of a comeback album for Altars since their 2013 debut and it’s one that hopefully suggests the band will be lurking around for more time to come. 8/10}

Eaten By Sharks - Eradication (Self Released) [GC]

I need to be honest here and say, I’m not sure if Eaten By Sharks are meant to be taken seriously or not? And after having a quick search up on them I see they are classing themselves a ‘aquatic brutality’ this does not get off to the best start? But never judge a book by its cover or a band by their description, I guess? It doesn’t bode well when album opener Shallow Water starts off with a death metal cry of ‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water’ which is of course the tag line from Jaws 2, I just begin to think, oh here we go? LOL lads etc etc but, to be 100% fair to Eaten By Sharks what comes next is pure class!

It’s just a gleeful big thick chunky death metal riff fest, with some tech death sections and Messhugah style riff patterns all thrown together by the impressive duo of Chris Chaperon & Dan Okowinsky and its all held together by an outstanding rhythm section of Tyler Abrams on bass and the impressive Justin Whitehead pounding the drums and they are all lead by the dexterous vocals of Matt Sherriff. Moving on next track Dead Weight is an absolute killer, in places the switch between styles is fantastic and keeps you pinned down until the next wave of viciousness smacks you about, and the end of the song just makes you make THAT face when you hear something filthy, you know what face I mean! 

The pace is upped on Kill And Consume and is full on heads down brutal death metal assault that at one point throws in some atmospheric mids before resuming the brutality, Same Face, Different Mask opens on an almost Fear Factory style tempo before resuming with some glorious the tech-death guitar work and then proceeds to thrown in beatdowns and mix it all together and at one point it veers dangerously close to Ten Ton Hammer by Machine Head but stays true to the formula and becomes the best song on the album so far and an absolute glorious song! 

Next up is Depth Charge and it feels exactly like a bomb has gone off and has you running for cover from some of the utterly ridiculously heavy guitar work and another brilliant vocal delivery, we are then greeted by the sinister intent of Apex Predator which lurches into view with its sights set on kill this is and it does exactly what it aims to do with more technical excellence and yet another outstanding vocal showing. It is then down to Megalodon to bring this unexpected beauty of an album to a close and as before it doesn’t stray too far from the brutal tech-death mould and there is no reason for it to as it has worked for the previous 6 tracks perfectly well!!

Hands up, I was completely wrong about Eaten By Sharks, this is a quality release, and I will definitely keep an eye out for them in the future and can’t wait to hear more form them and as this is only their first full album release there is room for them to get even better and expand on the promise shown here, this comes recommended highly!! 8/10

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