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Wednesday 31 August 2022

Reviews: Miss May I, Pineid, Phantom Spell, Mad Max (Reviews By Matt Cook, Rich Piva, Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Miss May I – Curse Of Existence (Sharptone Records) [Matt Cook]

If you haven’t been privy to the bustling “posi-core” scene, allow me to quickly introduce you to this marvellously rugged subgenre. The likes of The Ghost Inside and Beartooth especially have made a name for themselves by combining hardcore/metalcore elements with inspiring, uplifting and motivational songwriting. 

Think Dark Horse and In Between, to name a few (also of note is the horrifying accident The Ghost Inside were involved in that almost spelled the end for the band but also gave us the monumental album, The Aftermath). Miss May I have also started to carve their legacy into the above mentioned subgenre, albeit after having already carved a legacy of catchy, hard-hitting metalcore in the process. They’re anything but new to the scene, and their latest foray, Curse Of Existence, further solidifies their standing which really didn’t require any further evidence to begin with. With song titles such as Bleed Together, Hollow Vessel and A Smile That Does Not Exist, this is undoubtedly an album with a bend-but-don’t-break message to convey. 

The refrain for A Smile That Does Not Exist eloquently suggests ‘It’s always in your head / but it’s only in your head.’ Which is to say, while you may feel like you can never escape the demons only you can feel or hear, if you’re able to escape the dark recesses of your brain, there is a light to be enjoyed. Unconquered is an anthem for the people who feel like their backs are firmly pressed against the wall thanks to life’s stresses, but who aren’t quite yet ready to call it quits. ‘Maybe I’m the only one who can save me.” It’s saddening but true: the only person who can fully take control of the chaos is you, but there is an opportunity for you to take that control and regain homeostasis. It’s true that not everything is sunshine and rainbows.

Hollowed Vessel declares “This is not a life / it’s a fight to survive.” Quite relatable, no? Yes, Curse Of Existence does feature clean choruses, strong breakdowns and Levi Benton’s trademark rasp. But the real catch for this record is the affirmations found buried within the melancholic morass. It’s something everyone needs to be reminded of in everyday life, but especially in the shithole climate that is 2022. 8/10

Pineid - Blue Doom (Sympatry Records) [Rich Piva]

Pineid is a new musical effort out of Los Angeles from some veteran players who have come together to create some psych/prog/post rock goodness that goes in all sorts of directions throughout the nine tracks on their debut album, Blue Doom. A couple of these guys have Zappa related experience, and you can hear where that comes through for sure, but you also get a lot of prog bits, with “King Crimson” getting thrown around in their press bio. I get it, but I also hear elements of the more proggy/spacey Voidvoid stuff, and even some 90s noise/post rock influence from a band like The Jesus Lizard. 

Sounds like a lot, and it is, in a very good way. Oh, and also it’s a concept album. Don’t let any of this chase you away because it is too much, there is a ton of great stuff going on here. The first thing I noticed is how well this record is produced. It sounds amazing. The second thing I noticed is that these guys can all really play, all next level musicians. Some standout tracks include The Tick, which sounds like some later career Melvins had a baby that came out of the womb with Brain Salad Surgery in their little hands and wearing a Tool shirt. 

Let that sink in for a bit. Everything To Now is Pineid putting their foot down on the prog petal to the floor, channelling elements of several the leaders of that genre, new and old. The bass work shines here, as it does throughout all Blue Doom. The Gift is like if The Jesus Lizard was a Yes cover band. Good, weird, and excellently executed stuff. Blue Doom is a grower, so have patience with this first effort from Pineid. Let all nine tracks marinate a bit. Let them take you on the 60-minute trip with no inhibitions. Don’t let works like “Prog”, “Zappa”, or “Concept album” freak you out. Yes, there is a lot going on here, but never is this un-listenable or so proggy pretentious that you want to escape to something way simpler. It’s a challenge in the best sort of way an album can be.  Check it out. 8/10

Phantom Spell - Immortal's Requiem (Wizard Tower Records) [Matt Bladen]

The creation of Kyle McNeill from London trad metal and Seven Sisters. Phantom Spell is Kyle indulging in his first love of prog rock. As a tribute to the "dorkiness and grandeur" Immortal's Requiem is influenced by bands such as Kansas and Yes when Double Gatefold LP's were a thing, often decked in fantastical Roger Dean artwork. McNeill wanted to capture the imagination and cinematic feel of those records and after the first listen I agreed that he most certainly does. 

The Kansas influences are writ large as are some nod to Styx as well, Dawn Of Mind starts things off in a grandiose way, Gothic choirs, galloping twin axe harmonies (from his day job), twisting basslines and more Mellotron than is legally allowed. The thrusting riff shifts into a more spacial wonderment as McNeill displays his guitar prowess in the final solo section as the main part reappears. On the instrumental Black Spire Curse he really doubles down on his musical dexterity and guitar playing. Dawn Of Mind alone gets you in the right mindset for what's to come. Heavy influence but made with originality. 

Seven Sided Mirror for example brings some jaunty Yes pace switching with some fantastical Rushims in the lyrics. Nevermind Metallica this is what Eddie Munson's Hellfire Club would be listening to. The NWOBHM gallops are strewn throughout the prog exploration but not detrimental as you'd assume if Maiden had their time again, they'd pretty want to sound like this, a dual axe attack with plenty of keys. What's very impressive as the entire album was played and recorded by Kyle in isolation during the pandemic, so much of the album has a deeper meaning than just the fantasy lyrics as Kyle himself puts it: "At the core of these songs are insecurities and emotions we'll all encounter in our time. 

Even if you're an immortal wizard". With time to spend languishing over this record this Immortal Wizard has opened up the gates to a new sonic landscape one I hope will be in unison with his current band for more music. 8/10

Mad Max - Wings Of Time (ROAR Rock Of Angels Records) [Simon Black] 

There’s an ongoing trend of 80’s Retro which is now starting to wear more than a bit thin. The output of this tends to fall into the category of either bands who didn’t quite get out there back in the day finally getting the chance before it’s too late, too much younger acts trying to ape the style or sound. And it really annoys me when they try and fake old analogue equipment and techniques, because there’s a reason that the bands who were there originally have long since remastered and remixed their 80’s back catalogue. The bands who were there and successful back then not only want to distance themselves from the crap recordings of yesteryear, but also have stylistically long since evolved and moved on to save the intervening decades. This makes Mad Max a bit of an oddity, because after forty years and fifteen albums of continuous work and they still seem to sound exactly the same…

The sound is fat 80’s USA Radio Rock/AOR, and very lavishly and richly produced it is too, and I was quite surprised to discover that the band actually hail from Germany not the States. Now the positive aspect of this is that it rather kicks the arse out of the two categories of retro wannabees I mentioned earlier, because they have at least had the honesty to stick to their guns despite the change in fashions. There’s no attempt to ape analogue, and wisely the band opt for a top notch and polished production feel, keeping the 80’s vibe for the overall style and the, err, lyrics…

The downside is that although the relative merits of either 80’s style or studio techniques can fuel many a light night conversation with a few ales, the reality is that the cringeworthy cheesy lyrics that were the norm back then really should stay in the past. This hits you like a large and slightly wet live salmon on track one, with Too Hot To Handle, which quite frankly is more than a little embarrassing and A Woman Like That is no better, despite the rich sound and strong vocal performance of Julian Rolinger. Fortunately these lyrical faux pas are not dominant, but just a little glaring when they splatter the first three tracks so emphatically.

However, when the dreaded power ballad presents, it’s actually Rolinger’s voice, for once showing a rawer and rougher edge on Heroes Never Die - the slowest song on here, that saves this track from what is usually an inevitable low on any AOR record. Actually it’s head and shoulders the strongest track on this release by a country mile. To be fair most of the music works fine for the genre, and even ventures into a little power metal territory with Stormchild Rising, which would not have sounded out of place on a Helloween B-Side back in the day. But there lies the challenge. Although competent and well-produced, this isn’t exciting, interesting or strong enough to rise above the melee, which is probably why I’ve never come across them before.

Polished, but a little dull nonetheless. 5/10

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