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Friday 30 September 2022

Reviews: Darkest Era, Defects, Lord Of Confusion, Wolf Counsel (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

Darkest Era - Wither On The Vine (Candlelight Records) [Matt Bladen]

Categorised as 'dark metal' Irish band Darkest Era return from the shadows of their homeland to greet this more terrifying world anew. Since their last album in 2014, there has been a torrent of challenges put in place with personal circumstances changing and the line up shifting, however the introspective, often maudlin world view of the band is such that these changes have inspired this new record. While previously they have dealt with more metaphorical realms lyric wise, on Wither On The Vine they have drawn from the personal here, delivering a sort of catharsis around the brooding doom mongering. 

Eight years is a long time between records but with the world going to hell in this time, the Celtic collective made their way across the sea to Chris Fielding's Foel Studios in Wales to lay down their most powerful opus to date. Building on their love of classic metal which has been heard on their previous albums as the dual harmonies of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash are brought with the more Gothic tones of bands such as In Solitude or Unto Others, on Wither On The Vine they fully embrace a 'no boundaries' idealism for recording so there's plenty of extreme metal sounds coming from doom and black metal. To my ear the influences run from The Peaceville Three, to the more blackened roster of their label Candlelight, through to the old pagan worship of Winterfylleth and Primordial, the bleakness of our natural world and our destruction of it inspiring much of the album. 

For me Wither On The Vine has the same sort of introspective defiance as a band such as Crippled Black Phoenix who also genre blend into a style you could describe as 'Dark Metal'. One Thousand Years Of Night is a bridge between the old world and the new, evoking their earlier work while daubing the canvas with these new colours, giving the jangly post-metal feel as well. Floodland goes all out to be a big atmospheric piece, the emotion soaked vocals of Krum at the most vital here, the blackgaze style of Alcest driving the track. A Path Made Of Roots, gets it's style from bands such as Grave Pleasures/Beastmilk, Gothic overtones and driving metal, though Tithonus gets into a doom groove, dialling up the emotion before those folk influences of their earlier work return on The Collapse

From here the influences become more varied, the songs each getting a life of their own but becoming part of this melancholic soundscape, which gets punctuated by glimpses of hope. The Ashen Plague goes all out against the previous incarnation with full on blastbeats from drummer Cameron Åhslund-Glass as the guitars of Ade Mulgrew and Sarah Wieghell are tremolo picked to within an inch of their lives, as if emanating from a forest in Norway. With Tragedy In Our Blood staying with the more extreme metal, evoking whispers of black metal, put with some huge grooves of Daniel O'Toole and a massive chorus hook. As the title track comes at the end of this 8-tracker, the spirits of the Old World are evoked, closing things out with a liberal helping of mysticism. Wither On The Vine, drags Darkest Era out of the shadow, back into the blinding light of scrutiny, where they shine like a beacon to anyone that has ever felt despair. 9/10

Defects - Dream Awake (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Having collectively spent years performing, writing and releasing music with previous bands, Defects are not the young upstarts they seem, tours with Maiden, Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For May Valentine have done wonders to hone their modern metal/metalcore sound to what it is on this three track debut EP, released just in time for their upcoming UK tour with Bristol's RXPTRS. Recently they also opened for In Flame on their recent tour, played Bloodstock, Download and 2000 Trees as well, so there's no shortage of buzz around this UK five piece. Dream Awake is designed to give you an introduction to what Defects do as a band. 

Kicking off with the first single Scapegoat, a blizzard of biting metalcore riffs and growled vocals that shift into angsty cleans, 3 and a half minutes of metalcore fury to get things going out a bonafide pit starter. Second single End Of Days has more of a stomping groove to it, shifting towards djent end as they clean vocals here come on the chorus, more euphoric than before, with the technical riffs driving some flowing leads as it breaks down into some Korn/Slipknot influenced electronic stings. End Of Days is very current in the modern metal sound, a real showcase for what Defects do as a band. 

Things stay up to date with the title track, which bring to mind Architects and BMTH as the electronics add a different dimension to a track that stays in the clean vocal style for most of it, even featuring a guitar solo towards the end. Dream Awake is three songs that will win over anyone that hasn't seen the band live, and hopefully will encourage them to go and see them on their October headline tour. 7/10

Lord Of Confusion - Evil Mystery (Gruesome Records) [Rich Piva]

Oh, some Portuguese stoner doom with organ and female vocals! What’s not to like about that! Lord of Confusion brings all the spooky doomy goodness on their debut album, Evil Mystery. Way more doom than stoner, and more traditional doom than anything else, this one is something my Sabbath/Candlemass/Old School Trouble fans are going to dig.

Organ makes everything better and that shines through on the doomy opening title track. The slow doom, the keys, and spooky vocals of Carlota Sousa make this one worth of any doom playlist this year. Great track. The second track Howling Void (perfect title) is a slow doomy dirge with the organ leading the way but now you get a death growl style vocal to start, but then leads to Carlota’s siren song vocals in a funeral duet that you never knew you wanted. DOOOOOOOOOOOOM. Did I mention the organ? It makes this record that could have been a run of the mill doom album into something special. A spooky (see a theme here?) interlude leads to Evil Blood which is more of the same organ led doomy goodness. 

There is nothing upbeat about this record, everything crawls along picking up all the misery and tears it can along the way. Who needs a guitar solo when you can have Carlota smashing the keys for a killer organ solo. But you still get riffs. Organs and riffs. Riffs and organs. Bring it. Witchfinder may be my Halloween soundtrack this year while the closing track Hell has a Iommi riff and is twelve minutes of perfect traditional doom.

This is doom at its finest and doomiest. I love the vocals and how this record sounds, but the organ makes this a special release and one that should be checked out by doom fans far and wide. It can drag a bit at times but give Lord Of Confusion a go if you dig all things doom, you will not be disappointed. Oh, did I mention the organ? 8/10

Wolf Counsel - Initivm (Counsel Records) [Rich Piva]

Some more Doomy goodness for Rich to review, this time the fifth full length from Zurich, Switzerland’s Wolf Counsel. These guys play some doom metal as well as anyone, and their latest album, Initivm, may be their best.

The songs on Initivm are both doomy and catchy, evident right off the bat with Healer. Trad doom fans will really dig these guys, so think Candlemass but also bands like Pentagram and Saint Vitus as jumping off points. The record is excellent produced and is the best sounding record in their discography. They took a step up with new vocalist Con Doyle who has a prototypical doom metal voice that works perfectly with Wolf Counsel’s stylings. Torchbearer is such a great track; great doom with an amazing vocal performance and a nice intro to some growls and even some chanting that is never too much and perfectly placed. One of the doom tracks of the year. 

Aeons has the shredding skills of the twin guitar attack on display and has the band firmly kneeling at the altar of Iommi and includes an ear worm chorus I find myself singing randomly. I hear some Type O influence in this track as well. Killer. The Old Ways is another stand out track with a killer solo and another amazing vocal performance. I just love Con’s voice. It’s not going to win any awards of The Voice, but it is perfect for this band. Overall, all nine tracks are worth your time and come together nicely for a cohesive slice of doom.

This one has been out for a bit in the states so I have spent some quality time with it, and you should too if you like some doom metal done right. Love the vocals, love the production and the changes in the lineup I think are the way Wolf Counsel takes it to the next level (and check out that artwork, one of my favourite covers of the year). As with many doom albums, it may take some patience and may seem to drag at times, but Initivm is the result of a maturing band with the now perfected lineup that will be a force in the doom world for years to come. 8/10

Reviews: The Loom Of Time, Confessions Of A Traitor, Raven, Scarlet Dorn (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Cook, Simon Black & Zak Skane)

The Loom Of Time - Grand False Karass (ATMF) [Paul Scoble]

The Loom Of Time are a three piece based in Australia, who have been making very interesting noises since 2015. The band is made up of Brad Delforce on bass, Steven Reid on drums and Matthew J. Ratcliffe on guitar and vocals. In the seven years the band have been together they have made one album before Grand False Karass, in 2016’s NihilReich. The Loom Of Times style is a mix of doom, black and death metal, on their first album the balance was towards the doom, however Grand False Karass seems to be skewed towards the black metal, in particular the more experimental end of the black metal spectrum, although there are lots of doom and death metal elements in the mix, as well as lots of other influences from wherever the band felt like taking them.  

The sound on Grand False Karass is fairly extreme, the guitar has an early Ulver buzzsaw feel to it, and the harsh vocals are very nasty and in a Black Metal register rather than a lower death metal voice. There are softer elements and clean Vocals (which are very good) mixed into this sound, but the more extreme sounds dominate, with the nicer material accentuating the brutality. 

The other element that has a large effect on this album, is how it is structured, and this is one of the more experimental aspects of the album. The Loom Of Time do not repeat parts or riffs, everything you hear on the album is played once and then is never heard again. I read a review of the bands first album in the preparation to writing this, and this was pointed out, so I had this on my mind as I listened to the album, and in the 15 or 20 times I listened to it I am certain that this is the case for this album as well. 

This means that the songs do not have verses or choruses, and it all feels more like a stream of conciseness, rather than a collection of songs; as if we are listening to music coming strait out of a musicians mind, as they imagine it. This is clearly very experimental, and will put some listeners off, although that might be exactly why they have done it, as a challenge to their audience. It does feel a little like the band are being deliberately difficult, and in some places it makes the songs feel disjointed. 

Most of the parts get about 15 to 20 seconds before they disappear, although some sections might get as much as minute. It’s definitely an interesting approach, which has artistic merit, I like the constantly changing, shifting nature of this as it keeps everything interesting and fresh, but I did really like some of those riffs, and would have enjoyed some of them being repeated. The track with the longest parts that feel most like a normal song is the final track The Slightest Of Deaths.  

Grand False Karass feels like a constantly shifting piece of work, it’s full of transitions between different, sometimes very disparate, parts. Sometimes the transitions are smooth and feel like a natural progression, but a lot of them are abrupt and jarring, probably on purpose. Despite most of the material fitting into doom, death or black metal, the total number of different styles on this album is staggering; black metal blasting, dissonant black metal, dissonant death metal, lo-fi old school black metal, thrash, blackened thrash, Sigh style black metal, jazz, jazz with saxophone, blasting fast death metal, high speed power metal with shredding solo, Nu Metal slow chugging death/doom, expansive doom, hard rock, ambient soundscapes, industrial, harsh noise and some melodic black metal and on and on and on. The amount of styles is almost overwhelming, and it does work, but you need to have a very open mind to realise that. 

Grand False Karass is a very interesting album, in some ways it is more interesting than enjoyable. A lot of listeners will hate it, but the people who get it will love it as there really isn’t anyone else doing anything quite like this. Whether you like and appreciate this or not, there is a staggering amount of creative energy behind this, and that should be respected. If you like your Metal original, creative and experimental, you should definitely give this a listen. 7/10

Confessions Of A Traitor – Punishing Myself Before God Does (Facedown Records) [Matt Cook]

Come for the artwork, stay for the breakdowns. London-based metallic hardcore bruisers Confessions Of A Traitor pen “aggressive music for positive people,” according to their biography, and if that isn’t enough to grab your attention, take a gander at the album cover. A hypnotic blend of purples, blues and teals, it features the side profile of a female with a mermaid superimposed inside of her head. Its colour is inviting, endearing and comforting. It’s a pristine omen of things to come. 

Punishing Myself Before God Does assaults the listener with delicious breakdowns, circular-saw guitars and a flow akin to a crystal-clear river on a sun-soaked summer day. It’s everything that makes metalcore great. The bipartisan harsh-clean tête-à-tête is invigorating and instrumental in empowering the 10 songs. It’s a headbanging affair heavy on provoking the adrenal gland that also delivers overhand haymakers by way of palatable choppy guitars and melodic soloing which dances wonderfully with the grit and gruff. 

All good albums are also bolstered by sturdy lyrics. Lines like “I will rebuild my sense of self,” “I need to live / I just need to feel” and “Why am I so terrified of my own self-worth?” proves Confessions Of A Traitor are versatile and able-bodied in whatever direction they take. Even breakdowns – a technique run into the ground by certain bands who use them as a crutch – retains the overall identity and character. 

They’re woven in like a flawless pizza that still has top-quality dough and doesn’t rely solely on flashy toppings. Punishing… is an artful, exciting, exuberant 38 minutes of cream-of-the-crop metallic ecstasy. I’d be shocked if the band didn’t grow up listening to early Parkway Drive, A Day To Remember, or Miss May I. They belong in the same category as those bands while also bringing their unique flavor of, as they put it, aggressive music for positive people. 9/10

Raven - Leave ‘Em Bleeding (Steamhammer/SPV) [Simon Black]

Despite their significant contribution to the NWOBHM movement and all that followed, this Newcastle trio have never had the same level of recognition, as say fellow contemporary Northumbrians Venom achieved. They are also probably the classic example of how a major label does not guarantee success if not handled correctly, and their period on Atlantic in the early 1980’s probably did them less favours longer term than their one on Megaforce, and the reality is they rapidly found themselves leapfrogged by the Thrash metal bands they inspired with their pacey and slightly progressive take on British Metal. 

To be honest, I’ve not been aware of their output since that time, and its quite reassuring to know that brothers John and Mark Gallagher and their signature sound still remain to this day, although to be fair they have gone through an impressive number of drummers since their inception in 1974. The 1990’s and noughties weren’t kind either, but fortunately this sort of stuff is very much back in vogue, and giving many who ran the race first time round but didn’t make the bigger leagues a chance to show their wares to a more receptive audience than they would have had in the middle decades. This release is sort of helping with that, although to be honest it’s a bit of a potpourri in terms of content. 

There’s nothing new here, but we have some re-recordings of songs from the last two decades, plus some cover versions that used to be staples of their live set back in the day with a couple of live tracks thrown in for good measure. They have also pulled off the rare trick of sounding authentically retro, both in the way they have captured the sounds in the studio, the mix and the fact that the beating heart of the band is not only unchanged but still more than capable of delivery despite the passage of the years. That’s the most positive aspect here, as these guys sound as energetic, fresh and in your face as they were when I first came across Stay Hard as a spotty 15-year old in 1985. It’s that energy, which at the time was driven by cost and urgency as much as it was old kit, and Raven get that so have captured that zeitgeist with these versions of the material.

That said I am still not sure what to make of this. 

Not being familiar with their catalogue from this century, I assumed this was a batch of new material on first listen. When you approach it like that the material seems a bit erratic, with no overall consistent style and direction to the songs. When I realised that this was a re-hash, that rather changed my perspective and warmed me to it a little. That said, I’m never a great fan of re-recording for the sake of it, although there are sometime damn good reasons for it if the original material is locked up in rights hell after the original publishers folded and their assets were bought up by someone else, or because the old stuff was so poor in quality and the masters unworkable that a clean burst sometimes helps revive things, but neither of these two cases apply.

Whatever the reasons, after a couple of spins and with the benefit of understanding I’ve treated it for what it is, a condensed mechanism of catching up on what this highly influential act whilst this magpie of a journalist was distracted by lots of other shiny Metal things so far this century. The challenge is that the older songs on the other side of the millennial divide still stand proud in the memory, and I can’t help but feeling that a re-do of Crash Bang Wallop and Stay Hard would have worked way better than the less than polished live versions included here. It’s great to catch up, but a more consistent approach to the whole history and ditching the really bad live recordings would have made a bigger impression. 6/10.

Scarlet Dorn – Queen Of Broken Dreams (SPV) [Zak Skane]

Scarlet Dawn, the German Dark Rock act formed in the 2016. Throughout the six short years ,the band have made the dedication to blend symphonic elegance with emotionally driven pop structured hooks whilst ensuring that they do not fall into any genre boundaries. Prior their up and coming release Queen Of Broken Dreams, the band have shared stages with the likes of Within Temptation, Epica and Lord of the Lost gained which was gained off the back of their previous albums Lack Of Light and Blood Red Banquet.

Starting with Fallen the band really begin this album on a strong note, really harnessing the symphonic metal sound with distorted guitars pushed to the front of the mix accompanied by well orchestrated pianos and string parts. Scarlet’s lyric writing on this song is very arena rock driven with the catchy woahs in the choruses and the uplifting vocal melodies in the pre-choruses really hype the listener to get in the groove of this track. The use of dynamics were well placed with the guitars being pulled back in the verses to allow the rhythm section to carry out the song whilst saving the momentum for the heavy choruses, I can see this track going down well live. 

Other highlights on this was Born To Suffer with its boundary pushing musical choices of using electric drum beats and post hardcore sounding ambient lead lines in the intro section, and Scarlet wears her on heart her sleeve by providing moving melodies over subdued atmospheres. Queen Of Broken Dreams embraces it’s pop influences with the throbbing synths in the choruses along with the off beat drum beats backing Scarlet's diva driven lyric themes. Speaking of diva driven themes Your Highness takes this up to ten with it’s swinging blues sounding riffs pounding ground stopping drum grooves and sexy burlesque vibes. 

The combination of swinging grooves and blues scaled did make me think of bands like Marilyn Manson Golden Age Of Grotesque-era and Muses track Uprising. Along side the rockier sounding tracks the album has some great moments when it comes to showing their composition skills, for example the gothic Unstill Life shows the band pull back the orchestral elements down a notch to show off their song writing skills and producing one of the best gothic rock songs I have heard since HIM’s last release. When You See Me Again displays great uses of dynamics and orchestration with instruments pulling and out to produce this varying textures and timbres.

Overall this album was a good but not great listen, the reason for this is because personally I felt that the journey from opening to closing track felt quite slow paced, their could have been more variation of tempos and styles to keep the pacing of this album interesting. Even though the styles and the quality of orchestration it did give this album some depth but on a general listening relation ship it do it for me. 6/10.

Thursday 29 September 2022

Reviews: Rage, Sonic Flower, Blitzpøp, The Mighty Wraith (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

Rage - Spreading The Plague (Steamhammer/SPV) [Matt Bladen]

Still led by the bellowing voice and booming bass of Peavy Wagner on what is close to 40 years, German heavy metal veterans Rage return with a treat for their legions of fans as the set out on a tour with Brainstorm. 

To say thank you the band rounded out by drummer Vassilios Maniatopoulos, guitarists Stefan Weber and Jean Borman have compiled and EP of three previously unreleased songs that were written during the Resurrection Day (their previous album) sessions, there's also three bonus tracks but we'll get to those in a moment. To Live And Die is a thrashy opener with lots of vicious riffs and a big chorus while the title track is bouncy anthem built on some great drumming as they bring the aggression back for The King Has Lost His Crown for the most Rage-like song here, the guitars themselves are brilliant here. 

Three songs that could have been included on their last album easily, they are worth the price of admission but there are some bonuses; the riff heavy The Price Of War 2.0 has already been released as a single but is released for the first time on a record, A New Land is a recent track written as an unplugged version, giving another side to this German metal institution. The final here is the classic Straight To Hell from a live stream where they call out their fans, in the most direct way possible. This EP gives back to their dedicated fan base and will be snapped up on their tour I'm sure. 7/10 

Sonic Flower - Me And My Bell Bottom Blues (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

Tokyo, Japan’s Sonic Flower is the psych rock offshoot of the amazing doom band Church Of Misery.  Full disclosure, I think Sonic Flower is just as good of a psych rock band as CoM is at doom, even though the latter gets more of the praise and attention.  The latest offering coming from our friends over at Heavy Psych Sounds, Me And My Bellbottom Blues is more of the great bluesy psych rock and fuzz the band has been offering since back in the early 2000s. 

Me And My Bell Bottom Blues is an apt title for this record, as you can just picture what’s to come by that and the retro cover art that paints the perfect picture before you even hear a note. The opening track, Swinherd is a fuzzy, Grand Funk inspired trip that grabs you right off the bat. Blues guitarist and newest flower Fumiya Hattori makes an impact right off the bat on this track with some killer bluesy fuzz and some serious shredding. Love Like Rubber has a riff that reminds me of Supernaut, so the doom influence never is too far away for these guys, but it leads into some more fuzzy blues rock that will get you moving. 

There is next-level guitar work throughout this one and this is highlighted on this track. A heavier Black Crowes vibe perhaps on Black Sheep, but a way more aggressive version with outstanding results. Captain Frost is a retro ripper with a great riff and some more excellent bluesy fuzz. Sonic Flower, the closer is another standout that is a ten-minute blues rock ripper that will both leave you breathless and wanting more.

This one is a killer fuzzy seventies inspired rifftastic blues explosion. If any of those words trigger positive vibes for you, might I suggest checking out Me And My Bell Bottom Blues. Sonic Flower is hitting on all their fuzzy cylinders on this one and I highly recommend you checking it out. 8/10

Blitzpøp - MDMA (Self Relased) [Rich Piva]

Blitzpøp has some fun stuff going on in their debut release, MDMA. A super group of sorts (members of Mother’s Cake, Giant Anteater, and Vintage Caravan) their debut EP is a straightforward party rock record with elements of garage, alternative and even some heavy soul leanings which making super fun release. 

The opening title track starts out with a nice grungy crunch and the veers to sound something like a Jack White track but with female vocals and is also catchy as hell. There is 90s alternative feel to all six tracks on the EP, very evident on The Sickness Is Coming that once again has that crunchy opening with vocals that could be something on a buzz clip and even has some Blur Song 2 vibes. Martyr more 90s style goodness with an almost Tom Morello like riff associated with it. 

Pia’s voice is great, highlighted right out front on the slowed down track Spirit Of Times, which is a full on 90s female fronted alternative hit track. Cybergods has more Rage vibes in the guitar tone but ratchets up the soul vibes I mentioned earlier. Pia on full vocal display on this one too.All The Pain Is Real is reminds me of a Garbage track, keeping the 90s theme going and going in a very good direction.

This is a strong EP from these veteran musicians coming together to create something that it sounds like they had a blast making.  I hope we get more from Blitzpøp, but for now enjoy these six songs of 90s alt rock with some soul goodness. 7/10

The Mighty Wraith - Elegies (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Hailing from that metal heartland of the Black Country, The Mighty Wraith play fist in the air heavy power metal, the band all bring denim cut offs, entry of hair, dual guitar harmonies and powerful vocals. Elegies is their second album foowing their 2014 debut and a few EP's, they've been plying their trade all over the country with many UK bands and at a lot of festivals. 

If I was making a comparison of would be a band such as Iced Earth, this is because Matt Gore's vocals sound a lot like Matt Barlow's able to hit those snarling mids and those soaring highs as well, a track such as Tyrant's Demise showcases this perfectly. The duo of AZ Potter and Jamie Williams on guitar weave in and out of each other differing from the very definitive, they play rhythm, they play lead dynamic to something more fluid that comes from the NWOBHM (Purity/Deceitful Intentions), thrash (Momentum) and power metal. 

Chris Musgrove grinds in the grooves on Crossing Over with some throbbing bass work while Andrew Kirby's drumming is a powerhouse on Face On The Mirror, ideal for the more muscular metal The Mighty Wraith play. With the dramatics coming on Seasons Of Sorrow, and the opener To Fall And Rise Again, Elegies is a boisterous follow up full length from these Brits who bring a very American style of power/traditional metal. 7/10

Reviews: The Dead Daises, Robert Jon & The Wreck, Everest Queen, Mythic Sunship (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

The Dead Daises – Radiance (SPV) [Matt Bladen]

I’ve been following the career of David Lowy’s personal rock n roll project for a while now and with five studio, one live and on covers album, all with countless different members, it’s been a bit of a journey for this band. For me I’ve always been on the more negative side of the fence having seen the impossibly diva-ish behaviour during the Corabi/Mendoza era, these flowers have always left a bitter taste in my mouth. This of course means nothing as they have a voracious fan base who worships them, many essentially wanting to see this travelling showcase of some of hard rock’s best known but perhaps overlooked names. 

Now this changed in 2019 when Lowy trimmed the bands down to a practical, focused foursome recruiting ‘The Voice Of Rock’ himself Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple/Black Country Communion) on vocals and bass, rounding out the band with Lowy on rhythm guitar, long term axeman Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake/Burning Red) on lead and a returning Brian Tichy (Ozzy/Whitesnake) behind the kit. This peaked my interest as this was probably the most exciting and mature version of the band, 2021’s Holy Ground did well to rekindle the appreciation, Hughes’ voice especially a favourite of mine. 

So after the pandemic this is the lineup that set about recording Radiance and I’ve very much warmed to The Dead Daises on this record. Kicking off with the repeating riff of Face Your Fear, Radiance gets you grooving from the beginning as Hughes’ basswork and vocal sets the tone for a bit of bruiser. A mid-pace rocker that is very much in the Hughes’ wheelhouse, it’s like being welcomed by an old friend as Aldrich doesn’t take long to start firing off solos from his Les Paul. A swaggering rock n roller to get things going and the warm glow of experience doesn’t diminish from here. Not Human and the title track, which come later, get heavier shifting to the sound of the Iommi’s Fused record, (Tichy making his mark), I’m in love with that album so for me this is highlight. 

The highlights don’t stop there though much like with Holy Ground, The Dead Daises finally feel like they’re a complete unit, the way the rhythm section is locked down playing classy but hard hitting rock, allowing Doug to peel off leads at will and that full throated delivery from Glenn gets the space it deserves. More swagger comes on Hypnotise Yourself, the choppy Shine On and melodic Born To Fly both a big rock tracks as Kiss The Sun is brooding, this starts off a couple of heavy numbers as the bluesy grooves of Courageous into the low slung march of Cascade. Radiance is a fine example of what rock can be, sleeker, slicker and better than ever! Consider me a convert. 8/10   

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Wreckage Vol. 2 (KTBA Records) [Matt Bladen]

Robert Jon Burrison (lead vocals, guitar), Andrew Espantman (drums), Steve Maggiora (keyboards), Henry James (lead guitar), and Warren Murrel (bass) make up good ole Southern Boys Robert Jon & The Wreck. Wreckage Vol.2 is their second collection of songs that are in some way different. Wreckage Vol. 1 was all B-Sides, but Vol. 2 goes further with in-studio and live performances recorded between; 2020 - 2022. The first two songs come from a show in Belgium where they're playing their latest singles at full bore with some Southern swagger, a band back playing live ready to melt some faces, they’re a joyous twosome to start off this collection. 

The next two were recorded in 2020 just before the pandemic and consist of one of their oldest songs Rescue Train along with a version of The Weight by The Band, which I believe has to be covered by every Southern/Americana band at some point during their career. It’s a fine version imbuing the soul of the original but so many have covered this now that it’s entered the realms of Ghost Riders In The Sky. The instrumental Cannonball also comes from that session and makes you realise why it’s such a live staple. The middle three tracks are all from the legendary Sunset Sound Studios and features two new songs in the form of Old Hotel Room and Dark Roses along with a firm favourite in On The Run

Both Old Hotel Room and Dark Roses were written earlier but never recorded so both are debut here to great effect, the latter one of the tender moments in the RJTW catalogue. Finally the last two were part of a livestream event during the pandemic Something To Remember Me By a big ballsy rocker and Witchcraft a sprawling Gov’t Mule-like instrumental jam. All in all this variation in the tracks make for a good experience, Wreckage Vol. 2 is a fan serving release, a gift for the completest and the collectors but it’s a strong collection of tunes worth of a spin. 7/10

Everest Queen - Murmurations (Trepanation Recordings) [Rich Piva]

Everest Queen brings the sludge on their second full length, Murmurations. The Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England trio have been around for about ten years and Mumerations marks that upcoming landmark with some heavy as hell sludgy doom. Everything on Mumerations moves slowly, like it is wading though some cold and foggy bog in their home country. This is some bare bones heavy sludge, and right off the bat you feel this with Sunken Thorn which at first drags you though the bog until you are bludgeoned by the drums and the sudden pick up in tempo, but once you are sufficiently unconscious the monster slows down again to bring your carcass back to its cave. You must be OK with some growly/screamy vocals, think a bit of Eyehategod vibes. 

Sunken Thorn is ten minutes long, but it is broken up into segments where the last two minutes creates the most melodic the band has ever been (until the last track), for about one of those minutes, until the beatings continue. Of Treachery And Shadows is more pummelling, with a sludgy gallop, like you are being dragged by horses across the English countryside. Dare I say I hear some Bathory influence in this track, but a much better produced and vocals even more like a wolf growling at you. The title track is really a three-minute bass driven interlude that leads you to Dormant River, which is ten-minute slow burn with some synths. Super cool vibe with this track, almost trippy but still with those sludgy/scream/growl vocals. 

At the six-minute or so mark they start to tun up to volume, and that voice get super upfront and in your face. I love the churning guitar work on this track. It takes a bit of an effort, but it is worth it.  Divergence is another slow burner to start until that painfully urgent voice takes over and even without knowing what he is saying you feel like life as you know it is slowly being sucked out of you. Heavy with a capital H. The Burial is a fitting finale, with some clean, chant like vocals that gives you some serious end of days vibes but also is the most accessible track on the album (until the screams kick in). I dig the funeral dirge feel of this one and is a perfect way to put this record in the ground. 

This is quite the heavy trip. You must be patient as you may feel it drags at times, and must be OK with the vocals, which I know for some may be a challenge.  But the lite into heavy back to lite into rip your head off journey is worth your time if you dig the sludgy stuff, and if you do Everest Queen is worth the effort for sure. 7/10

Mythic Sunship - Light/Flux (Tee Pee Records) [Rich Piva]

Denmark’s Mythic Sunship specialize in free form psychedelic instrumental rock with some jazzy leanings and have been mastering their craft over five records since around 2010.  On their sixth album, Light/Flux, the band continues their trippy ways with more of the same mind-bending jams. 
These guys know how to play their instruments for sure, but you must be in the right mindset to truly get the most out of Light/Flux, and that mindset may need to include some mind-altering substances for full appreciation. 

Exhibit A, Aurora, is a nice chill spacey psych trip with some killer guitar work and some sax at the tail end to accompany you while landing on an unexplored planet. Blood Moon sounds as much as a song called Blood Moon could without any lyrics. You get the vision as the drums start you off and the guitar and sax accompany you while gazing at the sky. 

The chill vibe continues seamlessly into the next track with Equinox, but gradually picks up the pace until you are in a full sprint trying to get back to your ship on time. This is the most space rock jam on the record, Hawkwind fans will dig this one for sure. Decomposition is a of bit of a long one, maybe a bit to long, and tends to drag a bit, some of the free form would have been more effective if it was toned down a bit, but these guys are not about short and concise compositions, which is part of the charm of Mythic Sunship. 

My favourite track is Tempest; I love to build and the urgency to it. It’s a nice juxtaposition to the rest of the more chill vibes on Light/Flux. And dig that crazy sax. This is the track where they just said screw it, let’s go crazy for six minutes, which is why the closer, First Frost is such an effective closing track as it brings back the chill factor but with just enough psych shredding to leave you feeling nice and toasty. 

I usually prefer vocals, but I dig the trippiness that Mythic Sunship brings to the party. With the right people and party favours, this doomy, jazz, free form trip delivered by Mythic Sunship is worth your time. While it drags in some parts, Light/Flux is an enjoyable mind-bending free form trip. 7/10

Wednesday 28 September 2022

Reviews: Terra Atlantica, Band Of Spice, Spellbook, Stormland (Reviews: Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, Ben Baljak & Richard Oliver)

Terra Atlantica - Beyond The Borders (Pride & Joy Music) [Matt Bladen]

Yes! Yes! And yet more Yes! In a year that's given us some top quality melodic power metal, most recently Stratovarius, Germans Terra Atlantica have set sail to glory with their third full length album Beyond The Borders. It's a concept album set in the year 1848, 20 years after their previous album The Age Of Steam, most of the record takes place at sea with plenty of steampunk, and swashbuckling elements. As The British Empire have been defeated, the fight for power is on, driven by neo-classical, symphonic metal that takes the style of Serenity who do historical fantasy very well. 

Beyond The Borders is pitched as musical journey so the first track is an instrumental overture that features all of the elements of what's to come, big orchestral swells and piano are prominent on this record, sitting alongside the guitars and vocals, Alex Hunzinger is the man behind them and they get a life of their own on the more epic encounters, taking things from being impressive to downright magisterial. Tristan Harders' vocals are spot on to tell these tales, joined by Khatarina Stahl, Anders Sköld, Joan Pabon and Hunzinger for a more rounded, theatrical vocal performance. 

He is also half of the guitar duo with David Wieczorek, who takes the leads and adds a 'Spinal Tap' moment to The Great Escape as it has Mozart's Piano Sonata No 11 In A (Alle Turca) in the middle of it. The guitar playing is fantastic here, right across the board it's hard to find fault, the same can be said about the propulsive, dexterous bass playing of Julian Prüfer which gets this engine moving from the opening salvo of The Scarlet Banners aided by the piston powered drumming from Nico Hauschildt. They make a remarkably potent rhythm section, adept to the storming power metal numbers and the slower more emotive balladry. 

The Scarlet Banners is a progressive opener shifting styles a few times as we set scene for war, the dramatic Far From Alive fuses symphonic metal with some Gilbert & Sullivan nautical adventuring, shifting into the galloping title track and the folksy Sun Of Pontevedra which gives some massive Blind Guardian sound before we go back to musical territory on the duet ballad Just One Look which edges into Disney, but that's not a bad thing at all. With the schmaltz out of the way we get back to blazing Teutonic metal on Hellfire, the blasting drums relentless here as the war gets tasty. A brief rest bite comes with the jaunty Pirate Bay which owes as much to Helloween as it does to the countless Pirate Metal bands, even giving us a bit of sax appeal and privateer jazz. 

The final two tracks though with the classical influence reminds me heavily of Trans Siberian Orchestra, a band I love with every fibre of my being. In fact listening to Beyond The Borders I'm reminded of my love for bands such as TSO, Savatage and Avantasia as well as Serenity and Kamelot. It'll will certainly be on my album of the year list! 10/10

Band Of Spice - How We Play The Game (Scarlet Records) [Rich Piva]

Band Of Spice is the aptly named musical adventure by the stoner rock legend Spice, former front man of the incredible Spiritual Beggars and some other very cool groups. Band Of Spice is a nice continuation of what Spice was a part of in the Beggars which hold some serious love amongst people who know what’s good. BoS to me is a bit more melodic, but only a bit. Spice’s songs still have the bite, both musically and lyrically, that you are looking for in his output. How We Play The Game is the fifth album from BoS, and it keeps of the quality of the rest of their discography, keeping up that consistency and bringing more of what his people want from a project that involves Spice, but this time with even more thrash influence.

The vocals are one of Spice’s telltale traits, and they are on full display on How We Play The Game, including right off the bat with the ripper opening track, Gone Insane. Killer riffs with those powerfully delivered vocals and deep lyrics, it is all you want in a Band Of Spice song. You will also get some more grunge leanings on How We Play The Game, including in the opener. Cowbell greats us on Demonized, and you get another ripper, with some serious classic metal vibes especially with the killer guitar work. This may be the best sounding BoS record as the production is spot on. My Game is another killer track, that leans way more 90s style thrash then stoner rock. There is a certain gallop to this track that reminds me of 90s Testament.
Am I nuts? I am sure someone will tell me if I am. Spice does not mess around with long jams or wanking, so a song like Below The Sun comes in for under three minutes, rips your head off and leaves you all bloody, giving him the space he asks for and clearly communicating his disdain for all humans. What more can the listener ask for? Control is full on thrash, executed perfectly, which you don’t get a lot of these days. Descending opens with some Sabbath worship and is the doomiest track on How We Play The Game by far, slowing it down and with Spice using his indoor voice, which is pretty damn cool. That flows right into the fastest song on the record, Offside, which again is full on thrash and will make you want to circle pit in your living room. The closer, A Song For You is the most introspective song on How We Play The Game adding a more melodic feel with some heartfelt lyrics pared with a killer riff.

If you like your stoner rock a bit thrashy, then How We Play The Game is for you. Fans of Band Of Spice and Spice’s previous work will not be disappointed, dare I say they will be delighted with their fifth full length. If you are not familiar with Spice’s work go check out Spiritual Beggars but make sure you come back to this one too. 8/10

Spellbook - Deadly Charms (Cruz Del Sur Music) [Ben Baljak]

Spellbook are a 70s rock inspired band hail…… you know what, this is only my second review but I want it known that I will never use the term hailing from. It’s that overused line found in almost every self written bio and I just won’t be doing it. With that out of the way, Spellbook formed in York, Pennsylvania in 2007 under the name Witch Hazel. If you asked them what genre they class themselves as, they’d tell you; doom rock, occult rock, proto metal…We just call it Rock n Roll! which may not be technically correct, but it sounds cool. It’s also akin to Lemmy Kilmister when he said we are Motorhead and we play Rock and Roll and who’d argue with him. 

Deadly Charms is the band’s second full length album with proper label support and features nine tracks of nostalgic 70s groove, well, eight, one of them is an intro. The album starts with the short instrumental 1928 that soon evolves into an almost John Carpenter-esque early slasher score. My knowledge of the year 1928 isn’t too great, but I’m pretty certain it’s the first time Mickey Mouse scarred our screens. Harrowing stuff. 

Next up, Rehmeyer’s Hollow. Straight off the bat this is the bastard love child of Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath, and I say off the Bat with pun intended as Nate Tyson channels the Prince Of Darkness so well you can be sure that those furry flying mammals are staying well away from any Spellbook show out of fear of death. At the midpoint the song drops into an eerie summoning vibe until bringing forth the Wah demon. Goddess is classic heavy rock, you don’t know if you should be driving bikes, drinking beer or both simultaneously. What I do know is if this were written and published in the 70s we’d all be singing along to the chorus at festivals and there’s no reason that shouldn’t be happening now. 

Pandemonium kicks off as if it’s about to go stadium rock with it’s galloping bass from Seibert Lowe Jnr and high pitched guitar squeals before subverting expectation into a groove laden Sabbath like. Christopher Walken would be proud! this song contains more cowbell than a percussionists dairy farm! For track five we have Her Spectral Armies. The guitarists harmonising, panned hard left and right with a tasty fat bass line riding up the middle, saucy. The song then unfolds into a more ballad-like number. A requirement you don’t find as often in more modern sounding records. 

The Witch Of Ridley Creek. I’m sucked in! Sitting cross legged in my kegs fist pumping the air chanting along to the chorus. THE WITCH OF RIDLEY CRAAAAYYYYYAAAAYYYAAAKKKEEE! Classic and classy guitar stops, catchy chorus, punchy ending. My only issue with the song being that it could have gone on for a bit longer.THE WITCH OF RIDLEY CRAAAAYYYYYAAAAYYYAAAKKKEEE!!

I’m not sure what it is about Deadly Charms but it feels like a penultimate song of a set, you know, before the inevitable fake out plus encore. It’s a fun track. The actual penultimate song starts with some heavy wonk between the guitars and bass, I love a good wonky riff which I wish they stuck with it a little longer. The rest feels quite Deep Purple with some AC/DC party vibe drum beats from drummer Nick Zinn. Out of nowhere, a change in pace and vibe. The darker side of Blue Oyster Cult meets Sabbath until they hit the gas again culminating in a shred off between guitarists Les Yarde and Patrick Benton. Out For Blood ends the album with a change of tone. 

From 70s rock to the pop/goth intros of a 90s teen slasher movie set at some obnoxious American High School. Complete with exaggerated lyrical vibratos straight from the Stevie Nicks school of channelling a goat strapped to an industrial washing machine, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Love you Stevie. And jovial sounding guitar harmonies. All in all, Deadly Charms is a fun album. It’s nostalgic yet new. Which is absolutely great for anybody stuck in their ways wondering why music doesn’t sound like it used to. If you’re this way inclined, get out, go to some gigs, bands are still making the music you love, bands like Spellbook. The guitars are choppy and lack the overproduced robotic sounds of a modern metal album, which is bloody great because you can actually tell the musicians are enjoying themselves. 

As far as the bear scale of heaviness goes, I recently gave a death metal band seven so we can’t be giving a proto metal band more. However, they were grizzly bears and for this band I will be using black bears which are considerably lighter but also black so pretty metal. And on the approved scale of heaviness; Deadly Charms clocks in at its heaviest at the weight of 7 black bears. It may not be overly original or complex but this is a band that I’d like to have a beer with and possibly engage in some occult shenanigans.

Stormland - The Human Cost (Self Released) [Richard Oliver]

The Human Cost is the second album from Canadian one-man death metal project Stormland. This is the project of Justin Pierrot who handles vocals, guitars and programming and is also the sole writer of all music and lyrics.

Stormland perform a style of death metal with a more technical and progressive leaning with influence especially from the djent genre with those very downtuned guitar riffs being a prominent component of the sound on the album. Unfortunately the reliance on downtuned grooves means that the guitar riffs on this album are generally forgettable and at times they are a bit all over the place resulting in a lack of cohesion. There are some weird time signatures which generally isn’t a bad thing but here it all sounds very thrown together rather than there being a flow throughout the songs. One of the exceptions and most effective songs is Lethal Ballet which has more of a melodic death metal sound but this is the best out of a bad bunch of songs..

The Human Cost is unfortunately a poor album. It is very sloppily done with a poor production and mix and it just sounds rushed and unfinished. The drum programming sounds out of sync with the rest of the music at times and some of the riffs are very sloppy. It comes across as a very rough demo rather than a fully recorded album. Unfortunately this is one that is best avoided. 3/10

Reviews: Battlesword, Escuela Grind, Silent Lie, Lybica (Reviews By Ben Baljak, Matt Cook, Elliott Spencer & Matt Bladen)

Battlesword - Towards The Unknown (MDD Records) [Ben Baljak]

If you’re unfamiliar with Battlesword you may be expecting power metal, themes of dragons, maidens and a good slug of mead whilst considering the name. However, this is not the case. Battlesword are a long-running melodic death metal band from Germany with 23 years of experience under their wallet-chain laden leather belts. The band have in their discography two demo albums and have just released their fourth full length mix of brutality and melody. Towards The Unknown

The album starts by ticking off the usual boxes with Departure, a short soundscape of natural sounds. As cliché as distant cracking thunder over lapping waves may be, it is always a welcome accompaniment in my mind, and then we metal. The classic pedal tone riffs of melodic death metal are plenty. Tight thunderous drums and relatively crushing rhythms are complimented by the lyrical motifs of the lead guitar. On the approved scale of death metal vocals, Axel Muller sits midway between the razor sharp need for a lozenge and an armoured boar being sodomised by a flaming halibut. The regular pace then changes slightly with track 5. 

The Shores Of I sets a slower heavier tone than its predecessors, before opening back up into a more melodious dramatic piece reminiscent of the earlier days of Arch Enemy. This is contrasted by turning up the heavy-o-meter once again and being punched in the face by the Hound Of Hades. The intro is a slight departure from the menu of the Melo Death formula, delving into the realms of mid to late 90s American Metal so much so that you can almost hear Robb Flynn. The song returns to said menu before using a modulation of the opening riff to really kick the shit out of you. You’ve got to love those drop tuned chromatic breaks! It then wraps up with the band realising that they called themselves Battlesword and goes out with a galloping Steve Harris rhythm. 

Backstabber is the culmination of the album. Fast and aggressive this song illustrates a beautiful balance between speed and melody, showing off the drummer and ending with an arpeggio based guitar solo. Towards The Unknown is a solid, straight forward melodic death metal album, it is not bad by any means but also sticks very closely to a tried and tested comfort zone with little room for experimentation. Despite sticking to heritage in the riffs department, The three remastered tracks that follow on from the seven new compositions give testament to the advancements in production. On the approved heaviness index, at its heaviest this album just about clocks in at the weight of 7 bears. 

Overall it’s a very traditional sound and lovers of the genre should have no problem getting into it. 7 new songs , heavy as 7 bears , this album deserves a solid 7/10

Escuela Grind – Memory Theater (MNRK Heavy) [Matt Cook]

With artwork that resembles a page straight out of an “I Spy” hardcover book, grindcore enthusiasts Escuela Grind appropriately compiled nine songs of erratic, off-the-wall insanity in the form of their sophomoric effort, Memory Theater. One of the most endearing aspects of said grindcore is the prevalence of a vocalist that shrieks, screeches and shouts like their life is literally on the line. Katerina Economou has no problem fitting that bill. Their bitter, scratchy vocals indubitably set the tone for a 22-minute joyride through static hell. 

There is a formulaic albeit still unpredictable approach to Faulty Blueprints which gallops its way into a suitable imitation of the running of the bulls. The Massachusetts-based fourpiece doesn’t shy away from intensity while also managing to insert some groovy lines. All Is Forgiven features a pit-clearing-approved pre-outro bridge. Additionally, Forced Collective Introspection devolves into an unmitigated frenzy. Par for the course, essentially. Though it shies away from the kind of Grindcore that includes burly, what-the-hell-is-going-on vocal antics, Memory Theater retains its chaotic sensibilities that flirt with a rigid structure as much as it spits in the face of conformity. 

Cliffhanger is noteworthy in that it does away with preconceived notions and instead of dealing with a lingering plot that is just about to be revealed, the cliffhanger in this case is a person: “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge. The latest instalment courtesy of Escuela Grind could be chalked up as an acidic brand of hardcore. But the cantankerous energy has all the makings of a grindcore record, what with its coarse, caustic aura. 7/10

SilentLie - Equilibrium (Rockshots Records) [Elliott Spencer]

There’s no doubt that SilentLie bring a level of precision and focus to their brand of goth-rock, but it’s arguably the simplicity and strictness of their songwriting that holds them back on Equilibrium. Despite the moody riffs and kitschy church organ melodies on Divided, this opening track suffers from dramatic Siouxsie Sioux-esque vocals that swamp the instrumental in the mix and a last-minute key change that never reaches the heights of something like Ghost’s Dance Macabre

That being said, the brief flashes of a Black Sabbath groove on Something To Remember and a somewhat The Cramps influence on here provide something of a standout. Ultimately, SilentLie suffer from a lack of identity that can make them stand out amongst their peers. The album is perfectly pleasant to listen to while it’s on but the almost-catchy choruses and one-paced riffing lack enough character to truly stick. 5/10

Lybica - Lybica (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

Formed by Killswitch Engage drummer Justin Foley in the doldrums of doing nothing in Quarantine. Lybica are an instrumental band that comes from numerous demos Foley had in his studio, songs that didn't really fit in with Killswitch, but were more atmospheric taking from various genres but with the same kind of style of bands such as Cult Of Luna, Mogwai and even Mono. 

So he searched South Florida for musicians to help him, Justin playing guitar for this record but gaining another drummer in Doug French who plays bass here and Joey Johnson who is a guitar player, playing guitar. So the songs were written back and forth between the three, two men out of their comfort zones playing instruments they didn't usually. As the album progressed they realised they are a cat people this naming the project after and African wild cat. Once all their parts were complete they brought in Chris Lane behind the kit to round them out as a four-piece. 

Musically there's plenty to like here, lots of slow burning intros that open into wide-screen atmospherics on Voltaic, big riffs and drumbeats on songs such as Resonance, reverbed grooves on Palatial, the usual things but they push the envelope a little with some punkier tones on Oktavist. A diverse listen if not one we've heard before. Still for a lockdown project this will go far to show Justin Foley as not just a metalcore drummer. 7/10

Tuesday 27 September 2022

The Spotlight: Interview With Voyager (Interview By Matt Bladen)

Interview with Alex Canion (bass) of Voyager by Matt Bladen

MoM: For those that may not know you, give us a little insight into Voyager the band?

Alex: Well, we're five individuals that have a varied taste in music but we unite over our love for metal, grooves and general silliness. We're the metal gatekeeper's guilty pleasure. Your parents will probably not mind our music either haha.

MoM: How does it feel to be back on tour playing in Europe/UK?

Alex: Honestly, it's been amazing. The crowds have been so good, the touring life has been treating us well. Four Stroke Baron and Vola are beautiful people to be around, and we're all getting along like a house on fire. It's truly been a pleasure, because it's not easy getting over here to do all this.

MoM: What have you been up to as a band since the world went crazy in 2020?

Alex: Well, actually quite a lot! We came in second place (winner of the public vote, though!) at the Eurovision Australia Decides song contest, which was a huge moment in our career. We recorded two live stream concerts, one's available on our Youtube channel, the other we've just released on Blu Ray and Vinyl. Throw in some video clips, an Australian tour and now this Europe/UK run and it appears we've actually been quite busy!

MoM: Linked to the previous question. How was the Eurovision selection process for you? Did you enjoy it? Would you try and enter again?

Alex: For me it will always hold a special place in my heart. We entered our song "Dreamer" which when we play now, takes me right back to when we were filming it live on TV and the 3 thousand people in attendance. It was wild. We learned a lot - like, the importance of vocal warm ups haha. We'd definitely be keen to enter again some day, but for us it's really about having the right song to rally us and our fans. As far as I see it, Voyager does not need something like Eurovision to define us; so it's liberating to be able to do things like that for fun and for our own growth as a band.

MoM: We've heard rumours of a new album in the works, is this true?

Alex: Absolutely! It's finished and in my own humble opinion, it's awesome. So different to anything we've done previously, from a compositional and production point of view.

MoM: As an Australian band, what countries in the world do you love playing in?

Alex: We've been so fortunate to play in some amazing countries over the years. Europe is beautiful, especially venues in The Netherlands which are world class thanks to being subsidised by the government. I think a standout show for me was one we played in Mexico City. The fans there made us feel so loved and appreciated, I'll never forget it.

MoM: I saw that you are doing #VoyagerTries videos about the weird and wonderful food you've had on tour. What's been the weirdest and what's been the best so far?

Alex: I'm not sure to be honest - it seems we just like trying random deserts or caffeinated drinks haha. I wish I'd filmed it for the segment, but we had brioche aux pralines in Lyon yesterday. Yuuuum!

MoM: Finally tell us 2 x lies and 1 x truth about anyone in the band

Alex: Haha ok sure. Our lead singer is an award-winning Lawyer. Ashley (our drummer) was born in The Netherlands. Our guitarist Simone is an avid birdwatcher.

Reviews: Sonata Arctica, Iron Savior, Strangle Wire, Aviana (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Cook)

Sonata Arctica - Acoustic Adventures - Volume Two (Atomic Fire Records) [Simon Black]

This second half of Sonata Arctica’s ongoing experiment in revamping their back catalogue from power metal to folk crossover continues. Never afraid to experiment in times when your plans for world musical domination haven’t been screwed up by the plague, the band have picked up where they left off with February’s Volume One. Once again, I am impressed with the quality of the material and the way it accentuates the song writing, which might work brilliantly in the power metal world (go see them live if you don’t believe me), but transposes equally well to the way more acoustic-orientated sounds on display here. 

Given Tony Kakko natural vocal timbre (which lends itself well to the more folk sounding material we heard on Volume One), this record also continues the musical mash up in these reworkings of their classic material. Opening with one of their best-known tracks I Have A Right, this feel more like the kind of radio-friendly soft-rock piano led power ballads that would probably send them straight to the top of the trendier end of the chart spectrum if they made this move more permanent. Black Sheep takes things in in an almost Latin direction and all directions from there on throughout the rest of the disk, but with perhaps slightly less of an overall folk feel than Volume One had. 

But I guess that’s the point of the whole exercise – that this is powerful and well-written material that works well adjusted for any genre you care to mention, although my personal soft spot lies with closer Victoria’s Secret, because vocals and a single acoustic guitar accompaniment remains an impactful sound that few can master, but Sonata Arctica manage effortlessly here. This material works well overall, but I can’t help feeling that this should have been released once as a double CD edition, rather than splitting it into two separate Volumes, because the trouble is when you have done it once, the sense of novelty and innovation experienced first time round doesn’t reappear, despite the quality of the material. 

That said, this is something special, and feels like this band have, like many others, finally closed the door on the chaos that Covid caused. 7/10

Iron Savior - Reforged Ironbound Vol. 2 (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Iron Saviour’s early back catalogue is one of those musical ‘rare as rocking horse droppings’ scenarios sadly. Although they’ve been at it a long time and are still churning out high calibre new material, their original run of five albums from 1996 onwards on the now legendary (but sadly defunct) German Noise International label have disappeared into rights ownership hell. For those not familiar with the problem, Noise folded at the turn of the millennium, with their back catalogue being snapped up by Sanctuary music… who in turn folded in 2007! The current owner of the archive is BMG, who for a long while have shown very little interest in the material which is locked away somewhere inaccessible, although some items are slowly starting to see the light of day via that channel who have released a few tentative compilations from Kreator, Voivod, Running Wild and Grave Digger. 

For the majority of bands with material stuck in this limbo, unless they have the deep pockets of say a Helloween or a Kreator, this is likely to continue to be the status quo. There is a light at the end of the tunnel however, in that thanks to the way the industry splits copyright into recording and music publishing as separate legal entities (which is how cover versions are legally possible), the band were able to re-record their own material completely and avoid the rights issue around the original recordings (which kids is why you should never put all your eggs into one basket and keep the contracts separate separate). And so they have, of which this is the second bite of the cherry. 

A bloody expensive cherry at that, but an almighty “Fuck you” to the big boys of the industry nonetheless. The first batch of these got the revamp treatment back in 2017, and this completes the set. Now, because re-recording and releasing your own back catalogue has other subtle complications legally, in that they cannot re-create the exact running order of the original five albums either, all the songs have been split across the two releases five years apart. 

There’s a slight challenge with this for the listener, as those early albums formed an incredibly epic rambling story arc about a self-aware gigantic spaceship with a human brain built by the ancient Atlanteans as a defence against the rest of the world (known as The Alliance), which then takes Umbridge to modern day mankind which it perceives as Atlantis’ destroyer. With five album’s worth, there’s one hell of a lot of weaving and storytelling in here, all of which is completely lost on the listener when the concept albums have been spliced into two separate multi-disk releases and the track order thrown into the musical equivalent of a lottery ball machine. 

Musically though this is power metal of the highest order, and quite rightly too since Kai Hanson was a part of the original run of three albums. Although he’s long since moved on, his mark is there in tracks like Starborn and Deadly Sleep and Piet Sielck and Joachim “Piesel” Küstner do a great job of homaging his distinctive style in these new recordings. The other massive advantage (other than just being able to hear this material at all) is that full advantage of modern production quality and techniques means this makes the material sound simultaneously of this age and of that of its original time, as former anarchist turned Noise label owner Karl-Ulrich Walterbach was notorious for not spending money on production if it could possibly be avoided, which proves that the reason people’s politics move from the left to the right as they age is really usually all about the money. 

Despite the challenges in following the story, plus the fact that I only have half of the set here, this all works remarkably well, because the quality of the song-writing is so strong here. That said, with 23 tracks and two hours of material, it can get a bit samey, given the material was originally written to be ingested in 40 minute chunks. Nevertheless, a highly enjoyable chance to enjoy a long-lost set of classics. 8/10

Strangle Wire – Shaped By Human Frailty (Grindscene Records) [Matt Cook]

Contrary to popular belief, Strangle Wire is not in fact what you call your old, wired iPod headphones after they’ve become tangled underneath your sweatshirt as you walk alone aimlessly, slowly threatening to cut off your air supply. Nor is it the jumbled misery that is your PS2 controller after using it for about a half a second before it shrinks down to about three inches of slack (am I showing my age too much?). 

Strangle Wire are instead a grueling Irish death metal act which clawed out of whatever filthy pit it was festering in. Alas, Shaped By Human Frailty is the foursome’s first foray into the combative, reckless scene. There is a clear method underneath the madness, as well as a plethora of superlatives and adjectives in which to foist upon the band’s output. Chunky, blunt-force, bludgeoning. It’s all present in the 35-minute record (the title track is especially tight and delectable). Unfortunately, as quickly as Strangle Wire revs up its engine, the nucleus of the album sputters and jolts before ultimately coming to an anticlimactic stop. The drums – laid down by the one and only John – are pounded, belted and massacred. Though that is to be expected, which soon becomes Shaped By Human Frailty’s death knell. 

The nine songs – try as they might – suffer from a sense of stagnation before everything is said and done. As a death metal album, it’s more than serviceable; however, there’s already an abundance of that as it is. I desperately wanted to see this album as something more than blast beats and growling. But the more I paid attention, the less engaged I felt. After a while, it became clear that Strangle Wire, at least initially, are perfectly content blending into the crowd rather than attempting to free themselves from the shackles of blandness. 6/10

Aviana – Corporation (Arising Empire) [Matt Cook]

Here we go again with another instalment of “this music isn’t for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not good, however since I am reviewing it, from my perspective, I don’t like it as much as others might.” Swedish metalcore four piece Aviana were a tad bit trigger happy with the electronics in the recording studio while putting together their latest release, Corporation. Fun fact, though: each song title’s first letter spells out the name of the record. So that’s pretty cool. As for the good, Joel Holmqvist is a man possessed, displaying a robust vocal range that is at times gravelled clean and harshly hateful. Rage features a venomous breakdown/beatdown that’s tangibly threatening: “Oh god I’m drowning!” 

Additionally, Paradox features Marcus Vik and utterly titanic vocals that effectively contrasts groovy lines laid down by the rhythm section of Marcus Heffler (guitar), Sebastian Colque (bass) and Niclas Bergstrom (drums). The clean/harsh interplay on Oblivion works well and sets the stage for a destructive, blunt breakdown. But then there’s Obsession. Despite Holmqvist’s Grade-A performance on the mic, the extemporaneous electronic sounds are superfluous at best and damaging at worst. There is obvious ability amongst the foursome, so it’s puzzling why they would feel the need to insert such a dominating amount of extracurricular, artificial sounds. 

This leads me back to the intro, because as an avid fan of metalcore (especially the early-to-mid 2000s), I always enjoyed the raw, pugilistic screams and the clean-as-a-whistle sung choruses. Formulaic though it was, it worked well considering I still harbour fond memories of that era. So if an abundance of electronics showered atop your music is how you like it, Aviana will likely appease you. But if I have any say in it (which I do, for some reason), the added noises detract from what by itself would have been a rather solid album. 6/10

Monday 26 September 2022

Reviews: House Of Lords, Fans Of The Dark, The 69 Eyes, Trauma (Reviews By Matt Bladen & David G)

House Of Lords - Saints & Sinners (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Saints & Sinners is the 11th album from melodic rock veterans House Of Lords. Led by singer/producer/guitarist James Christian since their inception there have been many twists and turns in the road but for the last 19 years they have doing what they do best; arena rock with a strong melodic edge and huge chorus hooks. Similar stylistically and vocally to the more successful Def Leppard, who are clearly an influence on this album. Saints & Sinners is 11 slices of what House Of Lords do best, soaring vocals from Christian, tinkling keys/pulsing synths from Mark Mangold on House Of The Lord and Take It All

These two are the creative force behind the album writing, recording and producing it, so they mastermind tracks such as the thrilling Road Warrior and Mistress Of The Dark, Jimi Bell's guitars and Johan Koleberg's drum rounding out the band. The are however one or two moments that confuse, Avalanche for example is VERY similar to Christina Perry's Jar Of Hearts, which doesn't make the song any worse but I found it really distracting, Angels Fallen is the biggest Def Leppard moment as Razzle Dazzle has a touch to Zep to it. Harking back to their 1989 debut Saints & Sinners is more melodic rock mastery from this American institution. 8/10

Fans Of The Dark - Suburbia (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Sweden's Fans Of The Dark follow up their 2021 debut with this "sequel" to their debut record. In the review for that I made mention of Dokken, Living Color and that the band had a distinct progness due to their sprawling style. Drummer Freddie Allen wanted to make a record that brought all the best parts of 70's & 80's rock music focusing on VHS horror films, teen culture, and the innate weirdness of the suburbs. Again he has superstar vocalist Alex Falk, guitarist Oscar Bromvall and bassist Rikard Gramfors for some retro rocking that's 8 tracks, two 8 minutes plus epics and influences from the Sunset Strip, the NWOBHM and all that came between. 

It's a homage to the 80's kicking off with Night Of The Living Dead, making the first moments of this record very close to fellow Swedes Ghost as the creeping, choppy riff leads to the huge chorus. A tribute to the 1980 George A. Romero classic it opens this second record up well, reminding the listener of Fans Of The Dark's first record while adding a darker tone to this follow up. The Pirates Of Maine is the first longer song, a swashbuckling tale of adventure that keeps alive the influence of 80's movies, though they especially focus on fantasy and horror, with Fright Night and Sick! Sick! Sick! in the horror realm as Fantasia and The Goblin King (Labyrinth) from those fantasy realms. 

Essentially it's an album about escapism, drawn from the way the members did so in the 80's, the lyrics inspired by movies the music inspired by some of the biggest bands of the era. If you're a fan of bands such as Ghost, Blue Oyster Cult, Unto Others and Volbeat then you'll enjoy this second album from Fans Of The Dark. 7/10

The 69 Eyes – Drive EP (Atomic Fire Records) [David G]

Finland’s The 69 Eyes have been plying their trade since 1989, and largely painted with a goth rock brush during that time. It is therefore somewhat surprising that this EP displays a greater affinity with 80’s rock. Sure, vocalist Jyrki 69 sounds just like Andrew Eldritch with that deep croon and the verses of these songs are ably carried by deep, rich basslines, but it mostly feels remarkably… upbeat?

Title track Drive has a slick echoing guitar intro, and sliding chord flavourings as it rattles along, it’s a passable melodic rock number, and ultimately somewhat inane. Call Me Snake has a slightly more ominous tone as the bass really sets things on edge, though I was laughing heartily when I realised it was a paean to the hero of Escape From New York. It’s a curious track for sure with the “na na na na na Nineteen Ninety Seven” stuttering and a series of slashing chords, and really this is the highlight of the EP.

Then we have California, something seemingly devised solely to insult your ears, this is truly a ridiculous load of tosh harking back to an era of radio rock best forgotten. With a hi-hat driven chorus and the most mind-numbingly banal lyrics you’re likely to hear this year, it poses the question: can something be both inoffensive and offensive? I think if that is possible California nails it. The physical release comes with a live rendition of a song called Two Horns Up, this is a bit more what I expected, a chugging rhythm and a slightly harder sound but also somewhat trite.

It’s fair to say this is a very lightweight release, being not much more than a novelty. Not a great sampler for the band, it leaves a rather shallow impression. 4/10

Trauma – Awakening (Massacre Records) [David G]

Trauma, one of the early San Franciscan speed/thrash bands, had an early four year burst in the 80’s before disappearing. Like countless other bands over the years Trauma reformed on the strength of cult reputation and eventually became an ongoing concern. It’s curious to see the fates of these bands reforming as you’d expect not all would be able to thrive, but based on the strength of this album Trauma are certainly doing alright.

Initially there’s a sense of that strong thrash history, which Walk Away channels through the snarled vocals of Brian Allen and the fast-paced bursts of bass drums, but soon you’re treated to a rather catchy chord progression in the chorus and clean/growled vocal dynamic that sounds like it owes a little to metalcore. It would be easy to throw out the term “progressive” as if that means something, but really there’s a melodic sensibility to the songs on offer that is quite enjoyable.

One of the highlights of the album Death Of The Angel gallops along in a slightly unbalanced fashion that, and it’s that off-kilter approach that really sells it, giving this an insistent and undeniable feel. It’s hard not to love the pacing offered by Kris Gustofson here, driving things along with briskness and punchiness, he allows the drama to unfurl as the guitar harmonies snake and Allen alternates between his hoarse growls and Halfordian wails. Equally taken am I with The River Red, which incorporates a slightly less-refined, but very capable Nevermore-ish vibe, and Maiden-esque vocal melodies. Also worthy of special mention is Death Machine the album closer that delivers the starkest, but also most mature attack; formed from quite disparate parts it comes together in a very satisfying manner.

It's not all as impressive, sadly Meat tries to introduce more groove and menace to the party in an unsuccessful manner. It’s clear to see what the intention is, and the diversity in the material is certainly one of the album’s strong points, but here there’s a slightly cringe-worthy nature to the delivery that baffles rather than unsettles. Then there is Voodoo, verging on the adolescent lyrically but throwing in a rather joyous groove that just about distracts.

Awakening is largely fun album that has an instant presence through its pacing and hooks but has enough depth for the roots to grow. Awkward moments aside there’s a lot to like here and an engaging dynamic approach; enough to hope that Trauma hang around for a while longer. 7/10

Reviews: The Rasmus, Troy Redfern, Ginevra, Barrel (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Rasmus - Rise (Playground Music)

The Rasmus, remember The Rasmus, having conquered the UK and seemingly the world with their 2003 hit In The Shadows, and from there I'm not sure, as the first time I'd heard their name in a long time was when they were chosen to represent Finland in the Eurovision Song Contest 2022. The song they entered with, Jezebel, is every bit as catchy as their mega-hit, though a co-write from Desmond Child helps on that score, as I was singing for days afterwards. The song had the same effect when it came to review this album, it was Jezebel that remained lodged in my brain, but I must say most of Rise, The Rasmus' TENTH studio album is just as catchy, filled with pop hooks, electronic flourishes and a base in goth rock, the rejuvenated line up of the band have recaptured the elements that drove a million teenage girls crazy. (Though the abs of steel on frontman Lauri Ylönen help). 

Lauri has doubled down on his songwriting, reminding anyone like me that forgot about the band that he's a talented songwriter and that underneath their pop rock sheen, the lyrics carry a lot of darkness and depth to them. With Desmond Child co-writing four of the tracks here it's his history of hits with Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss, Alice Cooper, that pays dividends on Rise, a record with a distinctly 80's flavour too it. It's a triumph over hardships as all the band live in separate countries, so collaborating was hard, add to that their guitarist leaving, things were starting to go badly for Finland's second most played artist. But Lauri states that what saved them was a nucleus for an idea that turned into Jezebel, after composing it with Child, the creative juices started flowing, Ylönen determined to get Jezebel to Eurovision, he recruited new guitarist Emilia 'Emppu' Suhonen to join him, bassist Eero Heinonen and drummer Aki Hakala, for this reinvigorated The Rasmus line up. 

They knuckled down and punched out the 10 tracks on this record all of which are arena ready. From the positive message of Live And Never Die, through the rocky title track, to the moody Be Somebody and the ballad Odyssey, Rise has a myriad of sounds to it, the synths working well to add atmosphere but more than that as the odd stabs on Fireflies or the eerie D'n'B swathes on Evil add more layers. I hadn't kept up with that The Rasmus had been doing since 2003 but when Lauri Ylönen says this is the most accomplished record they have produced I'm inclined to agree as Rise is some prime pop rocking. 8/10

Troy Redfern - The Wings Of Salvation (RED7 Records)

The Wings Of Salvation is Troy Redfern's latest offering and it's probably his most ambitious. When you consider that Redfern has released 6 albums in under two years that's quite a feat, but here the noted slide guitarist has shown off his songwriting skills, proving he's more than just a virtuoso player. Produced by Dave Marks, recorded at Two Wolves and Dulcitone, mixed by Jo Webb at XXX Studios and mastered by Sean Magee at the legendary Abby Road Studios, The Wings Of Salvation is a classic rock album, like the ones Redfern grew up listening too, written in under five weeks, the brevity of the composition is too it's benefit as he's tried to pack as many punches into the record as possible, focusing on short catchy tracks that highlight his fretboard fireworks and gruff vocals. 

This old school ethos translates to the production too as they wanted to capture the vibe in the studio making it sound retro but also bang up to date. Recorded mainly with one guitar and one amp, he gets a steady sound throughout, huge tone that really sells the Americana infused blues rock style of this record. With Redfern on guitars and vocals, producer Dave Marks handles the bass, keys, banjo etc as Paul Stewart was brought in behind the kit, a tight three piece unit, who sound huge to the production skill and the quality of the players. 

With the big opener Gasoline pressing the accelerator, Sweet Carolina gets the groove going with a stomp of The Stones or The Crowes, from here we get the smoky Come On while Navajo is the soundtrack to a forgotten Western. Redfern's slide guitar playing is brilliant across the album but there's much wider musical exhibition on this record with the contributions of Marks and Stewart boosting the quality of the songwriting. A song like the mystical Dark Religion feels like the troubadour sound of Tom Waits as Profane is a wild voodoo rocker meanwhile the final song is the gospel 'stomp/clap' of Heart & Soul. All of these ideas coming together to create the best Troy Redfern album so far, with so much creativity though, I'm sure we'll be seeing another soon enough. 8/10

Ginevra - We Belong To The Stars (Frontiers Music Srl)

I misread the band name at first thinking it was Ginerva, expecting a concept record about the Roman (Greek) deity whacked out on Bombay Sapphire but not Ginerva are a new melodic metal band from Frontiers featuring Magnus Karlsson (The Ferryman/Primal Fear) on guitar, Jimmy Jay (H.E.A.T) on bass, Magnus Ulfstedt (ex-Eclipse/Nordic Union) on drums and Seventh Crustal vocalist Kristian Fyhr who is the genus of the band, writing songs different from his day job the band was built around him recruiting Alessandro Del Vecchio on keys/production as well. Ginevra is heavier than Fhyr's day job so adding Karlsson is an inspired touch as his riffs drive the record forward. 

It's an all Swedish affair for the band and the music is particularly Nordic sounding in the same style as H.E.A.T and Eclipse, guitar focused melodic hard rock that edges on the 'rockier' side. Fyhr's voice is excellent, clear, powerful and richly melodic he's a star for sure so with his songwriting talent and this band behind him, I can't help but think it was a match made in heaven, or at least the Frontiers head office. Tracks such as Unbreakable, My Rock N Roll and Masquerade, which features Chez Kane, all are a testament to the talents of all the musicians here. We Belong To The Stars is nearly 48 minutes of anthemic Nordic heavy rock from this exciting new project. 7/10

Barrel - Bullet With Your Name (Self Released)

Finnish metal band Barrel, meld old and new school influences, with thrash metal riffing and heavy power metal vocals coming together. Bullet With Your Name is their debut EP and despite not having much of a presence online (their Facebook is quite barren) they've let the music do the talking in regards to what they are about as a band. 

This three tracker has some melodic anthemic riffs and some guts the title track making me think of Mercyful Fate with Valtteri's vocals in that high Diamond register, but I'd say that the band owe much more the Teutonic metal scene than anywhere else, with bands such as Brainstorm, Grave Digger and Mystic Prophecy. Adonai Elohim speeds things up with crunchy speed metal, that switches into some grooving on the chorus but the German sound is maintained, even as the time signatures shift within the 5 minute run time. 

Barrel are new to the scene but I bet money that the band members are all quite experienced as they know how to craft a song. This debut closes with the 8 minute Dying Star where they flex their prog credentials and explore wider musical realms than before, slowing things down in the middle with some saxophone. All in all Bullet With Your Name displays the talent behind this band, if they stick to the more progressive sound they will go far in my opinion. 7/10

Friday 23 September 2022

Reviews: Freedom Hawk, Wolfheart, Kings Of Mercia, Ars Onica (Reviews By Rich Piva, D Gilmore, Matt Bladen & Paul Scoble)

Freedom Hawk - Take All You Can (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Virginia Beach's Freedom Hawk is a much-loved band in the circles where they run. A new Freedom Hawk record is a celebrated event, but with their release of Take All You Can, the band may have given us their masterpiece amongst and already excellent catalog of killer records. With Take All You Can, Freedom Hawk perfects the proto metal/Seventies hard rock stylings that so many bands are looking to borrow from and/or emulate today. From the guitar work, the production, the vocals, the keys, and everything else about this record, we have an alignment of the desert stars that has resulted in rock and roll perfection. 

The opener Age Of The Idiot sets the tone. What a track. The guitar work and tone on this song is just awesome, never mind how catchy it is. We All Need Rock N’ Roll is proto perfection. Thin Lizzy, NWOBHM, and any other great 70s band all wrapped into a six-minute package (with cowbell). The twin guitar work is on full display here. Seize The Day has guitarist and vocalist T.R. Morton going full Ozzy on us, but almost if Ozzy sang for Deep Purple, and it is a beautiful thing. Never To Return has some serious (very) early Maiden vibes but a more blues, more 70s US rock type version. I am not sure if that makes sense to you, but it does to me which is not the best look in a review for others, but what can you do. Skies So Blue is catchy bluesy perfection and the closing track, Desert Song, introduces keys to Take All You Can, and it may be the best closer I have heard all year. 

September has been completely on fire with some absolute killer releases, but the Freedom Hawk album has outshined them all. With Take All You Can, Freedom Hawk have concocted the perfect formula that so many bands have been trying to create, leveraging all the great bands and influences before them. This is the best of what any of the proto, heavy blues rock, or stoner bands out there today have delivered, this is rock and roll perfect, and we all need rock and roll. 10/10

Wolfheart – King Of The North (Napalm Rcords) [D. Gilmore]

Sounding like the lovechild of Dimmu Borgir and Blind Guardian these Finnish metallers tread an interesting path on record number six, King Of The North. Opener Skyforger kicks in with a beautiful piano melody which gives way too an overstated guitar line and subtle use of a choir until finally opening the flood gates with galloping drums and some very harsh, black metal vocals. This morphs into clean singing and a soaring chorus, a trend that continues for the rest of the record. The guitar work is simply awesome on KOTN with some epic solos that bring to mind the feeling of standing on a frozen mountain top in Nordic blizzard. 

The interplay between the guitars and keyboards deserves special mention. Both players form a sonic duality that plays off one another perfectly. Killswitch Engage frontman Jessie Leech guests on track Ancestor. His vocals fit very well within Wolfhearts established framework and lend an extra layer to this song. Elsewhere Nile’s axe welder Karl Sanders exhibits his talents to the track Cold Flame which is a real high point on this record. 

Overall King Of The North is an accomplished and polished melodic death metal album with a healthy dose of black metal sprinkled in for good measure. For fans of Dimmu Borgir, Power wolf and Satyricon. 8/10

Kings Of Mercia - Kings Of Mercia (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

Kings Of Mercia features a founding member of Fates Warning, a founding member of Armored Saint and a founding member of FM. So you'd expect it to be full of experience if nothing else. I'm also keenly aware that one of these things is not the same but Fates Warning guitarist Jim Matheos wanted to write music that was heavy and dynamic, but not especially progressive, he also wanted to focus on hooks, writing songs that were more in the hard rock sound. 

Because of this he recruited FM frontman Steve Overland to provide the vocals, on the urging of music journalists Jeff Wagner and Dave Ling who suggested that the bluesy vocals of Englishman Overland would suit this bands style. Despite writing in separate countries they clicked musically, Jim writing the music, the band rounded out by Armored Saint/Fates Warning bassist Joey Vera, for a it of familiarity and legendary session man Simon Phillips on drums for additional talented playing. Steve wrote the lyrics his storytelling working wonders on the semi-acoustic ballad Too Far Gone which along with Humankind, the first track they played together, give you a strong idea of what they do as a band. 

Matheos' riffs are direct and dirty, favouring distortion and fuzz on tracks such as Liberate Me. The rhythm section of Vera and Phillips is powerful and pumping like a locomotive engine, but can also be dexterous and restrained. As usual Overland's vocals are brilliant, he has such a soulful, bluesy set of lungs that he can make anything sound good. While many who love the AOR of FM will find it a bit heavy, though not Everyday Angels is a track that fans of heavier side of metal will love. 

There will be the prog metal of Fates Warning that will perhaps find it a bit too straightforward, though Your Life sounds like Evergrey. But much like Matheos' bandmates Ray Alder and Mark Zonder did with A-Z, this is hard rock as a way to do something different creatively. Kings Of Mercia pays off as a band/album concept with 10 sleek rock tracks from a well oiled machine. 8/10

Ars Onirica - II Lost (Ardua Music) [Paul Scoble]

Ars Onirica are an Italian death/doom band. The band originally formed in 2003 with a full band lineup, which split fairly soon without releasing any material. However, in 2018 Ars Onirica restarted as a solo project of founder member, and multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Sforza, who is also a member of the bands Internoir and Veil Of Conspiracy. As its name suggests II Lost is Ars Onirica’s second album following 3 years after the debut album I Cold. The style is broadly death/doom of the Nineties variety with clear influences from Paradise Lost and Katatonia, but also has more contemporary influences from the dark metal, black metal and post black metal scenes. The songs themselves contain two main sounds; one of huge, driving doom with harsh vocals. The other style is softer and less aggressive, with smooth, soft clean vocals which have an ethereal, otherworldly feel. 

Both styles have very tuneful melody leads playing over the riffs, whether they are the harsh or soft, in a similar way to a lot of the death/doom bands already mentioned, in particular this reminded me of Gregor Mackintosh’s guitar work with Paradise Lost. This melody guitar is also used very effectively to fuse together some of the different sounding sections. Probably the best example of this is the song My Heart…. Your Tomb, where slow and very heavy sections with nasty vocals nestles with the lush softer, ethereal parts in a way that works very well, none of the transitions are abrupt or jarring, the different sections flow into each other in a very pleasing way. Part of this is due to how each of the different parts feel, this is a song (and album) that is filled with sadness, regret and melancholy, which is imbued into each note or chord giving the whole a feeling of completeness. 

There are elements of Ars Onirica’s sound that strays outside the doom template. There are several places where I can hear influences from the black metal or post black metal scenes. On the track Daydream the first half is heavy Doom, but after a short quiet section the song drops into a blast beat and tremolo picked riff and suddenly this sounds like modern black metal or post black metal. To my ears this sounds a little bit like Violet Cold, and a lot like ColdWorld the excellent German post black metal band. There are other black metal elements at the end of the track Forever And A Day, where there is a part that includes blasting, tremolo picked riffs and a harsh voice that is pushed in more of a black metal direction. II Lost comes to an end with the song On The Wall, which is a huge, sombre monster of a song. It is full of very tuneful melody leads, and builds in intensity and drive as the song moves along. The song is full of mournful energy, but at the end it becomes softer and seems to find a resolution, before fading out. 

II Lost is a great piece of doom. It’s affecting and filled with emotion, the juxtaposition between the Heavier parts with the harsh vocals, and the softer sections with the softer, more ethereal feel makes this album feel very cathartic. Every harsh section is immediately tempered by softer parts so the more extreme elements don’t overwhelm the songs, and the sweet ethereal parts never dominate, this is a very well balanced album. The little tastes of modern black metal make this feel up to date and adds some extra textures so the album never feels stale or repetitive. I have really enjoyed listening to this album, and I advise you to give it a listen as well, you won’t be disappointed! 8/10