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Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Reviews: Sammy Hagar And The Circle, Strigoi, Eternal Helcaraxe, One Minus Hope (Reviews By Rich Piva, David G, Paul Scoble & Matt Cook)

Sammy Hagar And The Circle - Crazy Times (UMC) [Rich Piva]

Sammy Hagar waited until he is 74 to deliver the most mature and introspective album of his career with his latest outing with his buddies The Circle. Crazy Times has Sammy looking inward as well as touching upon the state of the world today in a way he rarely does in his songwriting and musical output. His songs about women and tequila worship have moved towards the working man, ageing, and mortality, and it looks great on him. Produced by Dave Cobb who has worked with some of the ‘It” country artists like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, Crazy Times gives Sammy a bit of a twang, but also a focus on just straight ahead rocking, no gimmicks needed. Sammy’s voice has moved to being a bit gravellier, and it works for him on Crazy Times

Right off the bat you get a deep acoustic introspective introduction to what’s to come with The Beginning Of The End, which lays the groundwork for the rest of the record and is two minutes of Sammy looking at all the crazy shit he has been a part of. The next track, Slow Drain is a gritty rocker with some heaviness to it and some very topical subject matter and some cool Sammy screeching.  Jason Bonham’s signature drum sound and Michael Anthony’s patented background vocals are evident throughout Crazy Times, but you get the best of all of it on Slow Drain, which may be Sammy’s best solo track in a very long time. 

Feed Your Head is another great track, another rocker, an ode to the working man and their plight in the world today. Lots of Anthony backing vocals on this one, so if you miss that in your life this one is for you. I love the title track with its funky little riff and almost revival feel to it and once again hitting on the mortality and state of the world subjects). You Get What You Pay For is some classic Sammy solo stuff and works perfectly within this record. It’s not all serious stuff, as Funky Feng Shui keeps it fun and lite, with a trademark Sammy scream and some funkiness as mentioned in the title. Fun. 

There are a couple tracks that are misses for me. I don’t think the Elvis Costello cover of Pump It Up was (or is ever) necessary and a couple of the tracks veer too close to modern country for me (see Be Still and Father Time). This was a pleasant surprise.  I did not thing I would enjoy this as much as I did. It is nice to see a rocker in his seventies finally not signing only about partying. The mature Sammy works for me, and this is worth checking out if you dig the man’s body of work. 7/10

Strigoi – Viscera (Season Of Mist) [David G]

Side project of Paradise Lost’s Gregor Mackintosh, Strigoi return with their second album Viscera via Season of Mist records. The first album was a rather nasty piece of work in the best sense, vitriolic and abrasive with a bit of the wild on top. Viscera follows on in some ways but feels a more complicated release, and one that brings about a more complicated response.

United In Viscera is an unsettling start, moving along with slow menace it combines some of the best elements that the band has to offer. A crusty-edged, thick guitar tone dominates the landscape as the parts stagger along, this is soon flavoured by Mackintosh’s immediately identifiable unfurling lead style. The drum tone vaguely industrialised with a hollow snapping snare it lurches in rhythmic unison. Mackintosh also provides fittingly repugnant vocals, croaking and diseased, entirely in keeping with the backing. By the time the track hits the martial industrial section there’s a hypnotic power to the approach.

It's somewhat disappointing that the next track King Of All Terror eschews this approach and after a spirited black metal intro we’re slapped about by a truncated Stockholm-styled chainsaw riff. Even when the pace flounders and we’re left hanging in the resonance as the song staggers from note to note there’s still that sense that the moment has been lost.

There’s a lot to like here in individual displays and moments, but maybe that’s where the ambivalence comes in. There are elements that, in their own right, capture a feeling or style effectively, but when it comes to the larger picture don’t sit as comfortably next to each other. Napalm Frost is impatient, a brash punk outburst that charges with that same sense of righteous anger. A Begotten Son chills, a rather effective take on Norwegian Black Metal it recreates that nihilistic despair and anguish credibly. On their own, these are songs that at least are interesting, if not compelling, but the shift between styles is so on the nose and lacking cohesion that it is hard to ever settle into any mood.

I can’t let this rambling pass without mentioning Iron Lung, the album’s final track, near eight minutes in length it’s a bizarre closer that equally displays a lack of cohesive identity but manages to unsettle in its way. Beginning with a harsh buzzing we soon find a sludgy bass and those sickening growls start to lead the way before all of a sudden we’re treated to what sounds like a guitar melody in reverse with notes out of sequence. It’s utterly macabre and eventually breaks apart into splintering chords in jarring fashion. There’s something in the stark and disjointed changes of this individual song that works where the stark and disjointed changes of the wider album don’t.

As a set of songs there’s plenty to commend here, it’s a vulgar collection of tracks that wallow, shriek and rage in their chosen approach of the moment. As a whole release Viscera is frustrating to try and grab hold of; I’ve wrestled with the sense that something doesn’t quite click for a while now and maybe that’s because I want something from it that it cannot, or will not, give. I wanted Viscera to take me into it’s fucked up world of bile and vulgarity, but instead it only wanted to give me a window seat that had just enough protective glass to maintain a safe distance. 6/10

Eternal Helcaraxe - Drown In Ashes (Naturmacht Productions) [Paul Scoble]

Based in Ireland, Eternal Helcaraxe have been making music together since 2003. In their near 20 year career the band have released 2 full length albums before Drown In Ashes; Against All Odds in 2012, and In Times Of Desperation in 2017. The band is made up of Tyrith on drums, Praetorian on guitar, keyboards and vocals, and Maulgrim on guitar and vocals. Eternal Helcaraxe play a style of black metal that is fairly orthodox, but does also have some very interesting additions to keep everything feeling fresh.

Drown In Ashes is full of really great black metal that could be described as orthodox, but also as atmospheric black metal. Some of the tremolo picked riffs are quite melancholy so some parts feel quite depressive black metal as well. So, it’s fast, tight, sometimes sad but full of melody, drive, savagery and it all sounds great. The guitar and bass tones are very good, the drumming is excellent, the vocals are extremely nasty and best of all the mix is great, everything is at the right level with no individual instruments overwhelming any of the others.

The song structures are fairly simple, but in many ways this allows the listener to enjoy the riffs that are full of melody and energy. The title track Drowned In Ash (ok it’s not exactly the title track, but it’s close) is a great example of the style, the song opens with fast and frenetic black metal that is full of inertia and vigour, some more melancholic elements are added, so the song takes on a slight depressive feel, maybe a little like Canadian DBM band Nordicwinter, before the song slows down and we get a clean strummed guitar riff that slowly builds until it is an expansive and huge feeling at which point we get chanted vocals that take the song to it’s end in a beautifully memorable way.

Another really interesting song is the track Ice Cold Winds which opens with very fast blasting black metal that is wonderfully swift and savage. The song then takes a turn that I was not expecting; The blast beats continue but at a slower pace and the tremolo picked riffs take on a style that is much more post black metal in sound, in fact, I find it quite reminiscent of Deafheaven. These riffs feel warmer than the other riffs (I realise that that is quite ironic considering the name of the track). The song has a soft interlude in the middle made up of soft keyboards, before the lush post black metal style returns and with the addition of chanted backing vocals takes the song to its end.

All the tracks are of a similar quality; Cease is nasty and riffy and reminds me a little of British black metal band Skaldic Curse. In Dark Woods And Dreams is super fast, blasting black metal initially before getting very slow and heavy in the second half, and ending with minimal keyboard ambience. Withered Strands Of Existence has a lovely piano opening, before being all about taut, blasting black metal. Where Dead Things Roam Free is full of fast, blasting riffs, has a great melody lead and has some really good clean vocals nearer the end, every track is great.

Drown In Ashes is a superb album. It’s one of those albums where it’s quite difficult to say exactly why it’s so good; there isn’t any one specific quality that I can point to. This is an album where everything works very well, everything is very high quality, the songwriting is stunning, the individual performances are great, the album sounds fantastic. You can tell the band have been together for nearly 20 years, they have obviously got very good at what they do in that time. Fantastic piece of black metal full of tunefulness, ferocity, drive and depth, highly recommended. 8/10

One Minus Hope – Heavy Is The Red Sky (Self Released) [Matt Cook]

Instead of me painting a picture of One Minus Hope allow me to do so using their own words.

Emerging only in 2021, the quartet are “middle-aged blokes playing heavy metal and having a good time. No egos and no bullshit. Heavily influenced by the 90’s metal and rock scene…the golden era of music! Our aim is to create heavy music that will kick your face off.

“We also enjoy wearing hats.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Heavy Is The Red Sky is the band’s first display of what to expect. And what to expect is a painless, edible slab of that very hard rock and metal the band alluded to in their bio. Burden Of Existence houses a metal riff that so eloquently mimics 2009-era Killswitch Engage. This Great Divide utilises a verse and vocal cadence akin to Pantera. And opener Battles sounds strikingly like the vocal delivery of Wednesday 13.

Musically, the rhythm section here is nothing short of strong and likeable. The guitar fills are adept, dancing, girthy and athletic, and are helped along by scintillating production and mixing. The Death Of Me is a journey of a song, compositionally; a bass-driven clean and mellow bridge devolves into a Matt Pollock scream which contributes to the band’s hopes of kicking your face off.

For fans of sledgehammer-force drumming (and really, if you aren’t, why do you listen to this stuff?), Tom Walker has you covered with Torn Apart.

It all culminates into a more-than-serviceable debut. One Minus Hope’s influences are cut and dry, even without them explicitly naming them. Heavy Is The Red Sky is neither drab nor drivel; there is not a dull moment to be found. 7/10

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