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Wednesday 30 November 2022

Reviews: Docker's Guild, Grimner, Steve Hill, Asa's Mezzanine (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Docker’s Guild - The Mystic Technocracy - Season 2: The Age of Entropy (Elevate Records)

Douglas R Docker returns to his main storyline with this third album The Mystic Technocracy - Season 2: The Age of Entropy. Originally forming Docker’s Guild in 2012 with The Mystic Technocracy - Season 1: The Age of Ignorance, Docker began what will hopefully be a fully-fledged ‘space opera’ consisting of 5 "seasons" and 4 "books" for a total of 9 albums. Much like Ayreon or Avantasia, Docker has many performers on these records, the debut being compared to both of these other projects for its cinematic scale and concept driven approach (it also helps that they’re proggy as hell), that has been almost entirely crowdfunded. 

The second album The Heisenberg Diaries – Book A: Sounds of Future Past is the first part of 4 transitional albums placed between the 5 main “seasons” exploring the history of one of the main characters from “The Mystic Technocracy”, it was an all-female affair and continued sci-fi themes reworked by Docker to explain the characters love of vintage sci-fi and his marriage. With this expansive background we now head back to the main story with The Mystic Technocracy - Season 2: The Age of Entropy, the continuing storyline of a “silicon-based techno-organic alien race attempting to wipe out all life on Earth through organized religion, while a tormented scientist makes his life's mission to save humanity”. 

Every single minute detail has been worked out by Docker and as such each record has its own sound, its own feel, and the guest contributors all bringing their styles to the album to propel the intensely complex narrative. Season 2 features guests such as: Helly, Anna Portalupi, Joel Hoekstra, Nita Strauss, Sascha Paeth, Amanda Somerville and Anneke Van Giersbergen (those last three having been part of many Metal Operas). It is also the inaugural step in the “Black Swan Universe” where Dockers Guild will link to The Chronomaster Project (which Docker is also part of) and The Vivaldi Metal Project to make a metal opera equivalent of the MCU. A lofty ambition but really it’s about the music and Dockers Guild are a treat for any metal opera fan also any Ghost fan as Docker’s vocals sound very similar to Mr Forge on tracks such as Lucy, though he has an adaptable style on the reggae sway of Le Chemin amongst others. 

Unlike Ayreon or Avantasia, this record/project has much more eclectic musical output, bringing in artists such as Mike Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and classic prog bands like Yes and Genesis as influences. At 17 tracks long it could be difficult to listen to it all in one go, but much like with an opera or a musical, each track defines another part of the storyline, so you need to experience it as a whole. While Lucassen and Sammet are considered the two pillars of the metal opera genre, Douglas R Docker is creating not just a musical world but an entire universe, not following any musical limits or rules. 9/10

Grimner - Urfader (Despotz Records)

Ah folk/Viking metal one of the last true hybrid genres, the Scandinavian extreme metal style meeting folk instrumentation, it’s also one of the few popular styles of metal where singing in anything but English is encouraged. Swedes Grimner have been actively laying siege to stages with their Nordic inspired metal since 2008 and with their fourth album Urfader (The Ancient Father) they emerge from the mists of the pandemic era with more battle hymns that pay tribute to their heritage and the Norse myths and legends. 

Since their previous album Grimner have gotten heavier, the use of Johan Rydberg flutes and mandolin still a key factor in their sound as are the keys of Kristoffer Kullberg but Grimner have gotten heavier with this album. Moving towards the heavier sound of melodic death metal and muscular power metal favoured by genre leaders Amon Amarth as well as the folkier realms of bands such as Falconer and Blind Guardian. Där Fröet Skall Spira (Where The Seed Shall Sprout) gives a focal point for this new heaviness as the blast beats of Henry Persson are joined by the flutes and the death metal riffs of bassist David Fransson with guitarists Ted Sjulmark and Martin Boe trading both riffs and vocals, crooning cleans and death roars the main delivery. 

Sung in Swedish, you don’t have to understand the lyrics to feel the narrative of the songs, from the crusading Västerled (Westbound), the thrashy Ulvhednars Natt (Night Of The Ulfheðinn), the outright blasting twin harmony attack of Elftevisan (Eleventh Tune) and the dramatic Tiundaland (Tiundaland), Urfader is a great Viking/folk metal album from a band you may not have been too familiar with. Certainly their best album so far, the balance between metal and folk is just right here, raise the shield wall, launch the longships and get ready for battle. 8/10

Steve Hill - Dear Illusion (No Label Records)

A mainstay of the Canadian blue scene Steve Hill celebrates his 25th year with his new record Dear Illusion. It’s an album that boosts what Hill does on an audio level, this multi-instrumentalist collaborating with drummer Wayne Proctor (Oli Brown, King King), who not only gives the rhythms but also the rich, warm production job that enhances this record. 

Hill has also made a concise effort to highlight the horn section on this record. The Devil Horns are an integral part to this album, on tracks such as rocking Don’t Let The Truth Get In The Way and the bouncy opener All About The Love. There’s been a three year wait fro this record, Hill having finished it before the pandemic hit but due to the delay, he was able to go back and make this a much bigger, bolder listening experience an album worthy of his 25th year as a recording artist. 

I have to agree as this record marries a positive attitude with lots of brilliant brass, swanky guitar solos and soulful vocals, varying the style from Texas, to New Orleans to good ol’ Mississippi swamp playing, it’s got a few similarities to Joe Bonamassa especially on She Give Lessons In Blues but Hill manages to maintain his own identity throughout Dear Illusion. 7/10

Asa's Mezzanine - When She Met Herself (AsasRecords)

Italian prog metal band Asa’s Mezzanine, release their debut album When She Met Herself. They say prog, I would also say post rock as this instrumental four piece delve into ambiance and mood, the instruments all having their own voice in substitution for the lack of a human one. This record is a concept album, dealing with the birth of contradiction and the bridge between what hear and what we imagine, the middle area between what is below and above, thus mezzanine, it’s a meditative journey thorough several planes of existence and will be joined by a novel written by Paolo Sirio as a companion piece to further the story established by the music. 

To the music and there’s plenty of it, from the jazzy moments of Lady Lilith driven by Virginia Lisi’s keys and Filippo Nassi’s drums, to the darker aspects explored on the tribal And She Met Herself, the choppy chug of guitarist Antonio Mugnaioli and bassist Lorenzo Morellini counterpointing the keys, while they add a Tool-like groove to Onibaba (Kijo). The musicianship is of a very high level, as is the scope of the ideas presented here. 

My favourite track is Amalie’s Principle which has all of the presence of a Pink Floyd instrumental such as Echoes, clocking in at 8 minutes, it ebbs and flows with a repeating guitar line that moves it between the different movements. An interesting record that perhaps needs to be digested with the accompanying book, however it’s an involving enough listen by itself. 7/10

Reviews: SpiritWorld, Leather, Black Rain, Sirrush (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

SpiritWorld - Deathwestern (Century Media)

The musical journey of Las Vegas native Stu Folsom has been a very short, shifting one, initially starting out with country/punk bands, in 2020 he formed SpiritWorld a band that takes from the country/western influence but fuses it with the metallic hardcore sound of bands such as Converge, Kvelertak and that crossover punch of Power Trip or High Command.

Their debut Pagan Rhythms grabbed the public by the throat and led to them supporting 200 Stab Wounds/Creeping Death. So now they're back, swaggering into town on their horses, clad in Black Stetsons weapons cocked to take over one again. Having signed to Century Media who re-released their debut, but the focus here is on those sophomore release Deathwestern. After the Western tone is set on Mojave Bloodlust a Morricone homage, the riffs come at you like a razor sharp Tomahawk on the grunting The Heretic Butcher, the bouncing thrash of Relic Of Damnation/ULCER or the Slayer influenced Purified In Violence/Crucified Heathen Scum

There's a riotous sound to this record which again takes no prisoners with the wild riffing and shouted vocals. This record feels more in the crossover thrash style with Moonlit Torture featuring Integrity man Dwid Hellion. For me though the best tracks are the the title track which has a brilliantly gory, video inspired by Argento and George A Romero and the closer 1000 Deaths which successfully blends the hardcore thrashing and the country picking. I'd not heard a lot by SpiritWorld before this but it looks as if we could have a "next big thing" here. 8/10

Leather – We Are The Chosen (SPV/Steamhammer)

Perhaps not as well-known as Doro or Lita Ford, Leather Leone is one of the original Queens of heavy metal inspiring band such as Benedictum, Battle Beast and Crystal Viper. Starting out her career as the vocalist of Chastain, the heavy metal group created by guitarist David T Chastain, the man who discovered Firewind’s Gus G, Leone has been on a quest to spread the gospel of metal since then. Having never strayed far from the classic/power/heavy metal sound, staying true to herself and putting message in her songwriting. 

She is probably one of the most consistent artists in the metalsphere and deserves every bit of respect owed. We Are The Chosen is her third solo album and is full of positive lyrics and epic metal arrangements such as the orchestral Hallowed Ground a song dedicated to Ronnie James Dio, a vocal influence of Leone’s grittier, powerful style. She wrote this album with guitarist Vinnie Tex and like with any previous Leather record, the spirit of heavy metal runs deep, from the thrashy Dark Days, to the darker Who Rules The World and the chugging Shadows

We Are The Chosen is more traditional metal done in the Leather Leone way, the most brazen being the modern assault of Off With Your Head or the galloping title where she accepts her place as a metal queen and takes no prisoners. More anthemic music from an underground heavy metal icon. 7/10

BlackRain – Untamed (SPV/Steamhammer)

BlackRain already have six albums under their belt and many successful tours but now French sleaze rockers BlackRain look set to take things to wider audience on their seventh full length Untamed. Teaming up with Kissin’ Dynamite man and sound engineer par excellence, Hannes Braun as the producer, the relationship forged between BlackRain and Kissin’ Dynamite over the last 10 years has borne very juicy fruit indeed. 

That is of course if you’re a sleaze rock fan, bands like Pretty Maids, The Poodles, Hardcore Superstar and Kissin’ Dynamite are all present in BlackRain’s style but for 10 years they have been searching for the right style of production to make their song writing sparkle and here they have found it. Shifting toward the glam/AOR sound at times, there’s a big whack of Bon Jovi to some of these numbers, polished and preening like those preeminent hair bands of the 80’s. There’s nothing new on offer, BlackRain have maintained the same line up since their formation, so what they do is write songs that sit comfortably in their sound, not that there is anything wrong with that as I’m sure their fanbase would be up in arms if they suddenly started playing death metal. 

Untamed doesn’t do that of course but there are moments when they press the genre constraints a little, revealing those AOR and glam moments I wrote about earlier, a track like Summer Rain or Demon shifts away from the cemented style, but with the great production job there’s a cohesiveness to the album that makes it a joy to listen too. The summer may be over but BlackRain have delivered a feel good record ready for your next party. Leave the hairspray at home as somethings are meant to stay Untamed. 7/10

Sirrush – Molon Labe (Non Servium Records)

A band playing, cinematic black/death metal, writes and album about the The Battle Of Thermopylae in 480BC. No it isn’t the latest Rotting Christ record but its damn close. Italians Sirrush deal with one of the most famous historical campaigns ever on their new album Molon Labe (which translates to “come and take”), focussing on the struggle of the Greek (mainly Spartan) troops against the Persians, it is a story fueled by furious vengeance and the inability to surrender until all of them were wiped out, resulting an united Hellenic force that defeated Persia at Salamis, led by Athens. 

This album tries to capture the tenacity of the Greek troops and while it’s a story told plenty of times before when it’s paired with blistering blackened death metal it gets a much more impressive. I’d say that despite being Italian Sirrush have looked to the Hellenic Black Metal scene for their inspiration, with Rotting Christ and Varathon being the two major sound-alikes, theatrical atmospherics linking the blasts of ice cold black metal and groove driven death. 

A Son Set His Father Free and With Your Shield…Or On It both heavily focus on creating and atmosphere before unleashing the ferocious percussion of Sculptor Of Flesh, while the trio of Adranor (bass), Tiyris (guitar) and Otagron (guitar) carve through intense riffage, changing the pace a little for With Your Shield, that is until the title track goes back to trve black metal. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Sirrush both imitate and flatter the Hellenic style well, point your Dory towards the enemy and advance with Molon Labe as your battle cry. 7/10

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Reviews: Nickelback, Gaupa, League Of Distortion, Doctor Doom (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

Nickelback - Get Rollin (Nickelback Records/BMG) [Matt Bladen]

Chad Kroeger, Ryan Peake, Mike Kroeger and Daniel Adair have been the metal/rock worlds whipping boys for a long time now. Is what they do serious? Is it a joke? To be honest they probably couldn't give a flying shit what people think of them as they sell tens of thousands of albums play to hundreds of thousands of people and are all millionaires having had massive chatting singles in the past, cementing their place as Canada's biggest and probably most successful musical export. 

Get Rollin' is their tenth studio album and was born out Mike Kroger's want to get heavier with their sound, recorded with no time limits in place as they have their own record labels so basically do what they want, it's been in the works since 2019 at their studio in Canada but Get Rollin' with it's very un metal album cover has finally arrived. Preceded by a cover of Charlie Daniels Band The Devil Went Down To Georgia and the first single from this record being the riffy San Quentin, perhaps doubling down on the band wanting to focus on being heavier, though I've always thought that when they want to be Nickelback are able to get some really metal grooves. 

The heavy riffs continue on Skinny Little Missy, another Nickelback trope of having a lot of innuendo, followed by a reflective, nostalgia driven ballad in Those Days. So far it's same dog, same tricks, High Time with country meets Cheech & Chong being the one song that doesn't stick to the tried and tested Nickelback formula. Despite being one of the most divisive bands in the rock world Nickelback have brought another solid album of music that isn't as heavy as you'd expect from the preamble before it. Still it'll sell shit loads and the singles will be lodged on the radio for weeks. 7/10

Gaupa - Myriad (Nuclear Blast) [Rich Piva]

We are blessed by the music gods to have such excellent stoner/doom bands with killer female vocals these days. Gaupa is another great example. I have heard some comments regarding the band that they sound like a stoner band with Bjork on vocals. This really shortchanges how excellent the band and their new album, Myriad, is. Yes, there is some truth to that comment, but the crew from Falun, Sweden brings so much more to the table with their latest offering.

The title track, Exoskeleton is an excellent blend of stoner and heavy blues vibes with some proggy bits. This is the theme throughout Myriad. Diametrical Enchantress has a killer low end and some nice riffs, and is way more on the stoner tip, reminding me of something from the killer Wytch record from last year. Moloken brings some of the psych/prog vibes as well as the vocal style that reminds us of the lead singer of the Sugarcubes, but vocalist Emma Näslund has a more soulful voice compared to the Icelandic one.

The tracks Ra and Elden are more of slow burners with more of the same excellent vocal performance that is evident thought the record. One of the song names of the year, My Sister Is A Very Angry Man, has another great riff and goes all out prog on us creating my favorite song on the record; frantic, unique, and super fun. The folky acoustic track Somnen sung in their native language is a nice lead into the killer closer, Mammon that incorporates all the goodness throughout Myriad with some especially cool guitar work.

Gaupa has gifted us with not just another female lead stoner record to throw in with the rest of them. The band brings all their bag of tricks to the table, leveraging the unique (well…except for that one) vocal stylings, their riffs, but also some psych and prog vibes to make this a fun and different offering from most of what you will hear this year. 8/10

League Of Distortion - League Of Distortion (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Formed as a union between Exit Eden's Anna Brunner and Kissin' Dynamite's Jim Müller, League Of Distortion is a chorus driven modern metal band with throbbing electronic pulses. Having formed as a way to express their frustration and fear of the pandemic, a way of channeling that through some dark music. 

This debut album is a fast paced, extremely modern style of metal, but it does seem to taking a similar route as a lot of bands, relying on electronics to create an atmosphere, tracks such as It Hurts So Good pairing those pulsating synths with some huge riffs and Brunner's gritty vocals, raw vocals. Influences of In This Moment, Stitched Up Heart and New Year's Day hang heavy, but unfortunately League Of Distortion don't add anything more than these bands have been doing for a long time now. 

From the goth creeping of I'm A Bitch, the alt country of Rebel By Choice and the slithering The Bitter End, it's all very angsty and hot right now, but as much as I can say that they are just a new addition to a very large contingent of bands that use this style but to paraphrase their song of the same name Do You Think They Fucking Care? 7/10

DoctoR DooM - A Shadow Called Danger (Black Farm Records/Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

DoctoR DooM is back after seven years with their second full length, A Shadow Called Danger. I absolutely loved their debut and thought maybe it would be a one off and disappear situation, but the French band is back and as good as ever with their latest.

DoctoR DooM are firmly rooted in the 70s proto arena, but A Shadow Called Danger has more proggy bits and is heavier than their debut. By heavy I am not talking riffs to knock your head off, but a more urgent and darker vibe. The killer opener Comeback To Yourself is some killer heavy proto, but the tempo changes and different directions bring more prog and maybe even a bit of a jazzy feel to the record. Songs like What Are They Trying To Sell and Connected By The Worst are firmly rooted in 1975 in the best kind of way. 

The former has a heavy, doomy breakdown (you may expect this more given their name, but…) that is that next level of heavy that you didn’t get from their debut while also bringing some killer keys along for the ride. The latter a proto ripper that may be my favorite track on the record. These songs and the whole record sound amazing; the production is spot on for what these guys are bringing. This album goes in many different directions, but never sounds too scattered, case in point Ride On, a slow burner with its acoustic opening and almost bluesy feel that once again is firmly rooted in 70s influence. All eight tracks on A Shadow Called Danger are keepers and flow perfectly over the entire 45 minutes that flies by on each listen.

I am so happy to have a new DoctoR DooM record, and you will be too if you dig the proto with some prog and even jazzy vibes that these guys bring. A Shadow Called Danger is a must listen for anyone who wants to hear a perfectly produced unique rock album that will be a keeper for years to come. 8/10

Reviews: Last Ten Seconds Of Life, Desecrate The Faith, Zëlot, Whirlwind (Reviews By Zak Skane, GC, Ben Baljak & Rick Eaglestone)

The Last Ten Seconds Of Life – Disquisition On An Execution (Unique Leader Records) [Zak Skane]

The Pennsylvania bruisers have returned, with not even a year since the release of their self titled album the have band come back to treat us with a four track pulverising E.P. 

With full force the opening Annihilation Phenomena starts up with chilling suspense from the greeted stab or should I sat punch chords on delivered from their baritone strung guitars accompanied with ambient clean guitar parts. The varying kick patterns builds up the intensity to lead us to our first doom-laden verse. Just like all of his previous efforts the vocalist still keeps the bar high by displaying the intensity in every word he spits out. 

With the biblical and philosophical themes in the lyrics and the crushing breakdown the makes a triumphant start to this four track effort. The many sub genres of Dreams Of Extermination swoons opens with some operatic swells before the listener get assaulted with machine gun bursts of gravity blasts and tremolo picked riffs. The groove laden guitar riffs locked in with 8th note kick patterns add some classic Pantera and southern metal vibes whilst adding some old school grindcore elements with their thunderous gravity blasts as well combining some symphonic elements with hardcore beatdowns. 

Liberation puts their hardcore grooves in the centre of the mix whilst the vocalist barks out classic death metal themed lyrics with nu metal flavour whilst tribal percussive sections are thrown in to add some extra spice. Finally Master opens up with some classic death metal aggression with low tuned tremolo riffs accompanied with grinding blast beats before the sombre angelic break provides us remorse before the brutality continues to a faded halt. 

Even though the band have abandoned the full length approach they still know how to capture their intensity in a short period of time. From embracing their classic formula on the opener Annihilation Phenomena threw to the shear brutality of Master, the band have still managed to push the boundaries of their sound by incorporating symphonic elements in Dreams Of Extermination and incorporating Sepultura inspired percussion in Liberation. Another flawless listen, shame that it didn’t last long enough 8/10.

Desecrate The Faith - III (Comatose Music) [GC]

It’s been a while since I did a review, so obviously to break myself back in nice and easily I have chosen some ‘’brutal death metal’’ from Desecrate The Faith and their new album III, so without further ado, hear we fucking go!! You know exactly what you are going to get from this type of music, blast beats, low and filthy vocals, and barbaric guitars and that is exactly what we get.

First track Idle Creature is a bit vocal heavy and sometimes they drown out the music which is frustrating as obviously the vocals have zero budge room and never change so you kind of just loose the first song, Blood Scriptures on the other hand balances everything out nicely and you can hear the savagery behind the vocals its all very well done and y’know ‘’brutal’’ but is it enough to keep the interest for a full album? Not so sure? Its more of the same on Wretched Feast which could probably pass as a decent Cannibal Corpse tribute if you didn’t know better. 

Then Sadistic Euphoria erupts into forth and is probably the most insistent track so far and the guitar work really shines through and credit where its due, this drummer is a fucking beast, there is absolutely no let up from him and he deserves all the credit in the world for keeping this relentless pace, just wish there was some wriggle room in the vocal area as its all just so one paced and holds some of the music back from really impressing at the half way point and Slaughtered Clergy slows the pace down slightly and has a nice chug filled riff that powers the song along before it all explodes into similar territory again and continues the relentless barrage, which is all starting to get a bit samey now if I am honest but there is a nice slow almost sludgy mid-section that drops into an blackened death part which finally shines a bit of much needed variation and contrast into the whole picture!!

Butchered Earth has another slow and stalking riff to being with that then goes into and big chug filled delight of a track before once again entering the savage territory we have heard so much already but it manages to mix up the styles so its not just all the same all the time and halfway through drop in a great section the is full of violence and groove in equal measure, this is easily the best song on the album so far and you even get to hear that they have a bass player for a bit! 

Mutilation is another song of monstrous proportions that comes along at an almost grindcore like pace and ups the brutallity to a new level and stops this album all being one pace and dare I say it a bit boring so far, the last 2 track have been sorely needed! Then we get Vile Of Legion, which is straight back to where we were before, and it feels like it’s been forced rather than enjoyed, like we mixed it up a bit now you must pay for that by getting the same style of song as before! The Dead Testament & Omnes Ardeat both offer up solid and predictable brutality but by this point I have had enough of it all and I am kind of glad it’s all over

With III, Desecrate The Faith have tried their best to go above and beyond and out ‘’brutal’’ everyone else, in a way they have done a good job as the music is unrelenting and as heavy a concrete rhino BUT, it just sounds exactly like most albums in the brutal death metal genre. I mean it’s all there, the savagery and violence with a fuck the world attitude, and it’s delivered with disgusting intent but its all just too predictable and samey and is hardly likely to give the foundations of death metal a shake. 6/10

Zëlot - Supplices (Chien Noir) [Ben Baljak]

Paris-based black metal duo Zëlot release their 4-track debut EP Supplices. A project born from a shared passion for the 90s black metal scene, crafting their own blend of melancholy, hatred and cold melodies. Liquid Abyss kicks off the album with the razor sharp scream of a Parisian taking it from a horned beast  in a cold harsh woodland, as his friend captures the mutilated howl on an old battered tape recorder with dodgy electrics. Which is exactly the tone one looks for in the old school black metal sound. With Louis Lambert’s vocals as raw as the grundle of my simile. We’re off to a strong start. 

The lush sorrowful malevolent tremolo picked lyricism of the guitars perfectly hold down that darkened atmospheric feel while the drums do the relentless black metal drum thing. From the mid way point the track opens up with a more hopeful yet somehow equally depressive feel, which is complimented effortlessly as Sylvain Masure mixes up the pace of the percussion. Chrysalide - A hauntingly beautiful acoustic beginning, satisfyingly shattered when the nightmare creature bursts free from its eldritch chrysalis. Powerful and tartarean with plaintive slow sections that serve the impact of its distorted drops. 

Splintered Souls starts off like a twisted take on hardcore punk, swapping into a head rattling half time feel, returning back to speed and continues to evolve. A malefic motif spreads dissonance over a clean euphony, these are a few of my favourite things. The song culminates with manic speed and a sudden stop waging whiplash on its listener. Skogen Ende opens with a more doomy 28 Days Later vibe developing into a speedy blackened punky beat that reeks of loss and desperation. The use of a lead note, a semitone out from the key and diminished chords are my ear candy. A dramatic end to the EP. Louis Lambert and Sylvain Masure have accomplished great things with Zëlot - Supplices

The sound quality may be a little shite, but isn’t that a hallmark of the genre? It’s a pleasant change from the over polished robotic quality of a lot of modern metal albums. The songs are dark, atmospheric and a perfect accompaniment to getting lost in the woods until you reek enough to need Abbath … … where does one take Abbath ? In a Bathory …. … But it’s not the time for shit metal puns, it’s time to rate this beast. 8/10

Whirlwind - 1714 (Fighter Records) [Rick Eaglestone]

Originally meant a parallel project to Korgull The Exterminator, Whirlwind took their 80’s heavy metal fire to unveil debut album 1714. Title track 1714 serves as a brief introduction to the galloping start of The Call which shows off just how well vocalist Hector Llaurado fits this style and if you need any further evidence, I present to you my highlight track Under Siege which has undertones of Judas Priest. 

The lightning speed of Rebels Arise! spills into the riff central Torture, Knife, & Fire which also has nice chugging bass parts which is well paired with the solo laden Gallows Tithe. As the album continues with nods to the past, tracks such as Cannons Of Infuriation & The Bastard Duke (Which is a nonstop foot tapper btw) & Immortal Heroes really leans into the aesthetic of the subject matter. 

Although this has been mostly fast paced at this point it is Red September that gets the accolade of fastest, heaviest track of the album, this is complimented with the thundering drums challenger for that crown for sheer complexity with final track Echoes Of Time. Riff delivery on an anthemic scale. 7/10

Monday 28 November 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Joanne Shaw Taylor (Live Review By Duncan Everson)

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Tramshed, Cardiff 22.11.22

Following a bit of a nightmare journey to get to Cardiff in time for the opening act, I entered the Tramshed just as Jon Allen plays what turned out to be the final notes of his set. My apologies to him for not getting there on time to catch him in action, hopefully next time I’ll be better organised/luckier.

So I had arrived cold, wet and a bit pissed off (with myself), which should have set my mood perfectly for an evening of depressing blues music to help me feel sorry for myself. Well, apparently Joanne Shaw Taylor (10) didn’t get the memo, because instead what followed was nearly two hours of high quality, uplifting and dare I say it, happy modern blues, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. In fact, happy is probably the best way to describe Ms. Taylor, as I have rarely seen someone look more pleased to be onstage and playing to an audience.

I must admit to not being very familiar with JST’s material prior to the gig, having only listened to the new album a couple of times and watching a few live videos on YouTube, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the music tremendously, with the sound being top-notch all night – loud but clear enough for me to make out what was being played without being familiar with it ahead of time. What I did note was that JST’s vocals are good enough for her to be a standalone singer with a voice that is perfect for this kind of music, soulful and heartfelt, which reminded me almost of Janis Joplin at times, she really is that good. Add in the fact that she is also an excellent guitarist and the two combine to make one very talented individual.

Credit must also go to the superb backing band, each member of which played their part brilliantly to help lift the songs and added an extra piece to the overall sound which wouldn’t have been the same without their efforts. The backing vocals in particular, were very well done – understated yet adding exactly what was needed to complement the main vocals.

It must also be said that JST an absolute natural onstage, relaxed, totally at home and allowing her personality to shine through with stories and banter between songs that never outstayed their welcome or got boring. One example being that apparently her manager keeps telling her to mention the merch on sale with threats of withholding a trip to Harry Potter World if she forgets again!

But it’s the music that people are there for first and foremost and it must be said that it was excellent throughout, with no one song really standing apart from any other as it was all so good, although Watch ‘Em Burn featuring an extended solo towards the end that may have been my favourite, along with quite a few our people’s judging by the standing ovation that happened afterwards.

Following this gig, I now count myself firmly among the fans of Joanne Shaw Taylor and have bought a couple of CDs already. I must admit to also checking the tour poster to see if there were any other gigs close enough to get to. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until next time but if you get the chance and are in two minds, then definitely go – you won’t regret it.

Reviews: Borders, Leatherwolf, Eye Of Doom, Mad Symphony (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Borders - Bloom Season (Arising Empire)

Having come from the generation brought up on rap metal, a band like Borders takes me back to the time of wide jeans, wallet chains and backwards caps. But since that time "rap metal" has evolved into something else with many of the metalcore bands adopting the hip hop and grime style as much as they do alt and hardcore. 

Bands such as Hacktivist, The Five Hundred, Cane Hill and even Enter Shikari all have flown the flag for this hybrid sound and Borders look to add their name on the list of bands who epitomise the genre. Featuring guest spots from Elijah Witt of Cane Hill on heavy Godless and Dropout Kings on NWWM, this second album again blurs the genres together for a groove-laden, crushing record with rapid fire rap/grime vocals and metalcore growls. 

With lyrics about mental health, abuse, grief, and the current state of the world, Bloom Season is in your face from the ferocious Fade To Black, the djenty Suffer as I Get High has an electronic twinge as it builds into the cathartic metalcore chorus, the EDM continues on Gaslight. Bent on taking the heavy music world by storm, Bloom Season is Borders kicking down the door and taking what they are owed. 8/10

Leatherwolf - Kill The Hunted (Rock Of Angels Records)

After writing an album immensely personal Leatherwolf drummer/founder Dean Roberts was left without a singer so he reached out to Keith Adamiak to join the band along with bassist Barry Sparks (Brice Snyder live) and the patented triple axe attack of Rob Math, Luke Man and Wayne Findlay. 

I say patented as Leatherwolf were doing the triple axe attack long before Maiden did it, the depth of the guitar playing shown on Medusa where the trio all get a shot at showing off, the same can be said on The Henchman. Leatherwolf sound as if they are revitalised on what is their first album since 2007. The vocals of Keith are perfect for the classic metal sound of this American metal institution, he snarls on the title track but then croons on Only The Wicked

Findlay and Sparks bring their experience with Michael Schenker Group to make sure that there's a focus on great songwriting and not just showing off with the guitar playing. Though there is a lot of that Joel Hoekstra bringing more axe slinging on The Henchman, mixed by Randy Burns who produced their debut EP and mastered by Tom Baker, Kill The Hunted brings back the name Leatherwolf to an audience that may not be familiar with them. 7/10

Eye Of Doom - The Sapient (Self Released)

Is there such thing as Astral Doom? Well if there is then Eye Of Doom sum up the description with their new release, 47 minutes of fuzzy progressive stoner doom, it crawls out of a black hole the same way as bands such as Electric Wizard, Sleep, and Dr Colossus (without the Simpsons lyrics) do as waves of psychedelia are folded over the slumbering heavy grooves. They are a noisy trio that are baptised by fuzz, as space rock and desert rock collide on Return To Descension, but with reverbed Ozzy vocals and plenty of Sabbath worshiping riff.  

They still come from a sound inspired by the Godfathers of doom but things don't stay there though as the title track and Eyes Of Doom Pt. 2 bring the woozy style of Hawkwind to let the ship lift off. soar into untold realms. They land at the end of the universe as the riffs reverberate into the vast emptiness of the vacuum of space. The Sapient is one of the best doom albums I've heard this year, I can't go into too much detail about it as it's a riff driven trip into worlds as yet undiscovered, set the controls to the heart of the sun and turn up the volume. 9/10 

Mad Symphony - Blood 2 Dust (Self Released)

M'colleague recommended that these guys should get a review from us here at MoM Towers and being a lover of new music I dutifully pressed play on this Canadian bands second release. Now I was told that there was a lot of Rush in their sound, however the title track has the funk rock sound of Extreme playing with Def Leppard, not that there's anything wrong with that but it's not Rush. Things get a bit more proggy on I Can't Remember Your Name especially in the keys where there's sounds of Signals-era Rush but those backing vocals and sultry guitar is very Sheffield 1982 rather than Canada of the same year. 

I'd call Mad Symphony a melodic rock band, carrying that swagger of the Sunset Strip with the theatrics of Alice Cooper on Reality Check as Judgement Day is Bon Jovi when he forgets he's from New Jersey and plays Southern rock, I also hear some Motley Crue too. The melodic rock/AOR sound overriding anything else right up until Truth In Shadows the last song here. 

Now I'm never one to cause a fuss but unfortunately my colleague is dead wrong, there are few links to Canada's favourite trio on Blood 2 Dust, I'd say they have more in common with their second favourite trio Triumph, slick, melodic rock with big choruses and bluesy beginnings. 7/10

Friday 25 November 2022

Reviews: Black Lava, Circles, (EchO), Black Paisley (Reviews By Paul Scoble & Matt Bladen)

Black Lava - Soul Furnace (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Soul Furnace is the debut album by Australian band Black Lava. The band features Dan Presland on drums and Ben Boyle on guitar, Dan and Ben are both members of Vipassi and A Million Dead Birds Laughing, they are joined in Black Lava by vocalist Rob Watkins and bassist Tim Anderson. Black Lava’s sound is a mix of OSDM and OSBM, with the balance probably being on the side of the death metal, so blackened OSDM. The bands style is also bolstered by a healthy dose of hardcore, if death metal and black metal wasn’t enough nastiness for you. 

The album has 9 tracks, a slow and very heavy intro track and eight full songs, none of the songs are very long as the album as a whole comes in at 34 minutes, however with the style of music Black Lava play, 34 minutes is fine. The album turns up, kicks you in the bollocks, and runs away laughing, which is exactly what blackened old school death metal should do. 

A lot of the material is mid-paced, such as the song Aurora, which has a tempo that stomps along with a hardcore edge to it, and lots of dissonance, there is a slower part to the song, but this is mainly up-tempo, driving and purposeful. Things do get nice and fast on Northern Dawn which features fast and flowing death metal riffing, which in places has a great old school D-Beat pacing to it, as well as some very impressive blast beats. The song does have a slow, heavy and very intense section at the end that feels relentless and reminds me a little of British band Leeched. 

Another song with slow and heavy parts is Baptised In Ash which is a mix of very slow, heavy and intense riffs, which have a hardcore feel to them, despite the slow tempo, and fast OSDM riffs, which again have that delicious D-Beat pacing. One place where the black metal sound comes to the fore is the track Eye Of The Moon, which has a section in the middle with fast, flowing black metal riffing, this section is surrounded choppy death metal riffs, but the black metal section feel very energised and stand out in a very pleasing way. 

The album comes to an end with one of the most interesting tracks, the title track Soul Furnace. Soul Furnace is mid-paced, brooding and dramatic, it feels expansive and huge in places, and builds in intensity as the song progresses, and is a great way to bring the album to it’s close. Soul Furnace is a great blast of savage extreme metal. It is impressive that this is a debut, as it feels like something made by a much more experienced band. It’s simple and direct, and is incredibly intense and impassioned. It is a short album, but packs such a punch that you don’t need more than 34 minutes. 

An absolute blast of old school fun and games, in some strange ways it feels like an enjoyable head injury, and I’m going to end the review there, before anyone asks me to explain that analogy. 8/10 

Circles - The Stories We Are Afraid Of Vol. 1 (Wild Thing Records) [Matt Bladen]

Aussie Djentlemen return with their anticipated new EP The Stories We Are Afraid Of Vol. 1, as the title shows this is the first part of a two part EP, both a follow up to their 2018 record The Last One. That album really put Circles on the modern metalcore/alt metal map so after a bit of an enforced break, they worked on these EP's which bring yet more grooving tech metal, hooky choruses, huge breakdowns and a flair for the progressive. 

Dealing with existentialism there is an overriding concept access this EP as they deliver these tracks with the experience they have been garnering since their formation in 2010. In that time they have released numerous albums since then and toured the world alongside some of the bands that they are influenced by such as Periphery and The Dillinger Escape Plan while they also have soundscapes like fellow Aussies Twelve Foot Ninjas and Karnivool. 

The open bass of Drew Patton leading the grooves of Echo, which features lots of glitching electronics as we shift into the huge breakdown riffs from Ted Furuhashi and Ben Rechter, the electronics underlying the riffs, David Hunter's drums broad and boisterous on Dig. The Stories We Are Afraid Of Vol. 1 is a more refined Circles, they have built on the more melodic reaches of their sound with this EP, the clean vocals of Ben Rechter used much more Drew Patton's screams, the finale of Reckoning having both voices climaxing in a musical purification of emotion. 

On Wonder too the EP opens with some alt metal sounds as the riffs are used to just pull you into the chant along chorus. Long awaited and well worth it, I hope Vol 2 offers something similar as Circles impress on their return. 8/10

(EchO) - Witnesses (Black Lion Records) [Paul Scoble]

(EchO) have been making huge music since 2007, the four piece features Mauro Ragnoli on guitar, Simone Saccheri on guitar and keyboards, Agostino Bellini on bass and Fabio Urietti on vocals. The band are joined on Witnesses by guests; Francesco Bassi on Drums, Heike Langhans (REMINA and Ex-Draconian) on additional vocals, Alexander Högbom also provides some additional vocals and Don Zaros does keyboards on 4 tracks. 

(EchO) have released 3 albums before Witnesses. Their debut Devoid Of Illusions was released in 2011, five years later they released Head First Into Shadows and the 2019 saw them release Below The Cover Of Clouds. (EchO)’s style is atmospheric doom, so huge and heavy, but with a certain amount of tempering from softer and less aggressive elements, on Witnesses this softer side has a distinct post rock feel to it.

Opening (ok it’s not the opening track, there is a short intro, but the first proper song) track Laudanum is a good example of the bands style. The song opens with big powerful doom that is very heavy and has harsh vocals on it, then a new riff with a melody lead comes in, this huge melody then powers the rest of the song, not in a dissimilar way to how death/doom bands use melody. The melody assuages the huge heaviness and brings softer elements into the music. Another good example is the track Wanderer, which uses very minimal sections that are quiet, but also feel brooding and suspenseful as a juxtaposition to the huge and heavy doom, which has a slightly more relaxed tempo than on a lot of the material that surrounds it. 

My Covenant features some very good minimal post rock parts and the amazing vocals of Heike Langhans. The song opens with Heike’s beautiful vocals which take us into a section that slowly builds from very small beginnings. Vocal harmonies are added and this is really graceful and affecting, the song then takes a turn towards heavy riffs and harsh vocals, the song then returns to the delicate post rock with beautiful vocals. These two sections, one minimal and beautiful and one hard and heavy swap once more before the song comes to an end with heavy riffs and clean vocals. The song is all about dynamics and ebb and flow, building and diminishing. 

The post rock takes a more central role on the albums final song, Saturated, which is a mix of clean and soft post rock and a heavier style that feels to me a little like post black metal, in that this is heavy, but has an uplifting sense to it, in some way like Sunbather by Deafheaven, or Italian Band Falaise, there aren’t blast beats or tremolo picked riffs, but the feeling is very post black metal. As with most of the songs on Witnesses the two different sounds vacillate, but on Saturated it feels more relaxed; the different sections drift one way and then drift back, in a very pleasing way that fits with how the parts make you feel, and is a very uplifting and almost blissful way to end the album. 

Witnesses is a very good album, great doom riffs with extremely well done melodies and some very effective minimal post rock. A lot of this album is about how the songs build and collapse, (EchO) are masters of musical dynamics, and musical construction. The album is great structurally, but you will also find it’s melodies are very memorable and will have you humming them to distraction. A huge doom album tempered by great tunes, minimal post rock and some exquisite beauty, who could want more than that? 8/10   

Black Paisley - Human Nature (Black Paisley AB) [Matt Bladen]

Taking their name from Ritchie Sambora's signature Fender guitar and opening their new album Human Nature with a song that sounds a lot like Runaway, Swedish rocker Black Paisley are very much fans of melodic rock. Released on their own label, I have to admit it's probably not long until they are picked up by Frontiers, AOR Heaven or even Earache as all three labels would have a massive interest in the classic meets modern rocking of these NWOCR newcomers. 

Though perhaps not that new as this is their fourth studio album but this one was mixed by Mike Fraser (AC/DC, The Cult, Aerosmith & Metallica) and mastered by Ryan Smith (AC/DC, Adele & Ozzy) both of whom are rock n roll royalty. They give this record a classiness of American rock band which will get Black Paisley in front of a bigger audience. 

Ultimately though it's about the songs and Black Paisley definitely have songs, the title track with a little bit of Thunder, Promises and Don't Call Me A Liar having that Whitesnake groove; Stefan Blomqvist doing a great David Coverdale impression, though his normal voice is very adaptable sounding extremely American on the Americana infused Mojo, to me he sounds a lot like Black Stone Cherry's Chris Robertson, just listen to Hard Times and disagree, there's also another singer he's close too but I can t quite out my finger on it, listen to Crazy and let me know. 

Blomqvist's rhythmn guitar links with Jan Emanuelsson's bass and Robert Karazsi's drums so Franco Santunione can play some flowing leads ala Ritchie Sambora. On Human Nature Black Paisley have aimed at the big boys and managed to pull off a blinder, keep a close eye on these Swedes as you'll be hearing them on a rock radio station near you soon. 7/10

Thursday 24 November 2022

Reviews: Elder, High Command, Virtual Symmetry, The Riven (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Elder - Innate Passage (Stickman Records)
Six full albums into their career and the mostly Berlin based progressive, psychedelic doom band are still in a league of their own. Heavy as anything you want in the doom sphere but with plenty of ethereal, astral journeys to shift the tone and pace their songs, keeping you enthralled even when they play elongated instrumental sections, Elder are a band who have built themselves a loyal fanbase, through numerous albums, EP's and collaborative efforts such as their Eldovar project with Berlin psych stoners Kadavar. 

Elder are still led by founding member Nick DiSalvo's soulful vocals and intricate lead guitar playing he locks in with Mike Risberg who also fleshes out the melodies with some keys/synths, they Gilmour/Wright/White in this foursome, the guitars in harmonic union as the synths are understated but don't let you forget they are there becoming integral to transitions and tonal shifts. 

Their 2020 album Omens brought some more classic rock and prog influence to their music, evolving from their fuzzing doom beginnings into a more versatile and agreeable listen to those who don't necessarily like crushing doom riffs. With Innate Passage this sonic journey continues comprehensively adapting Elder's sound for good. Jack Donovan's hypnotic bass is underlined by 'new' drummer Georg Edert who features on his second Elder record, this bottom end shepherds you into through the audio journey that is an Elder album. They are one of the best bands in their genre pool, however I'd have to admit they are also in a school of one, their experimental and impressive music an outstanding specimen spanning multiple genres but amalgamating into their songwriting. 

DiSalvo has been working his way to this album for 15 years, so Innate Passage can be listened to as the culmination of their career so far. Every musical twist and turn they have made on the five sprawling songs that feature on Innate Passage, has been diligently scrutinised and distilled to give the ultimate Elder record. Catharsis starts the album well the repeating, throbbing riff and spectral flights combing for some classic Elder brilliance. DiSalvo and guest Behrang Alavi (a first on an Elder album) in some great interplay. 

Undulating and vivid there's flashes of bands like Yes on Catharsis as we shift into the colourful Endless Return which has some Pink Floyd and Baroness themes the fluidity of the guitar playing a real treat as some mellotron unnerving beneath the riffs before the soaring solo section comes in. Just two tracks in and Elder already prove that they are in a league all of their own, in terms of composition and performance. More mellotron flows beneath the shimmering cleans of Coalescence, ambient and jazzy, it's an intriguing third song that has that arty approach of Porcupine Tree and Opeth, moving into the forceful Merged In Dreams - Ne Plus Ultra, a driving rocker with lots of twin guitar harmonies like a progressive Thin Lizzy. 

Closing with the beautiful The Purpose, Innate Passage defines Elder's legacy so far, they are not the band from their debut album, they are older, wiser and dare I say more gentrified, emerging from the well of fuzz and slow, heavy riffs into a band who are aiming to be the next Pink Floyd or King Crimson, musical mavens that let the music do the work and gain followers like the Pied Piper. Innate Passage will become a fixed point in your mind after a few listening, the latest episode in this bands story. 10/10 

High Command - Eclipse Of The Dual Moons (Southern Lord)

Eclipse Of The Dual Moons, sees High Command a trad/thrash/crossover band inspired by the writing of Robert E. Howard, Michel Moorcock and Jack Vance return with their swords drawn in the air, ready for battle once again. With so many thrash/crossover bands focusing on partying, the occult and feelings etc to have one that just plays songs about barbarians, fantasy battles and epic storytelling, the band inspired by Ennio Morricone as much as they are Metallica on this second record. While they retain the Bay Area sound, the nods to traditional metal bands such as Dio, the NWOBHM and the extreme styles of Venom or Celtic Frost are more fully explored on Eclipse Of The Dual Moons

Having garnered critical acclaim on their 2019 debut, they spread their wings a bit more with this follow up writing more songs about their fantasy world of Secartha, they are the narrators of this world, telling tales of battles on the thrashy Siege Warfare, while conjuring a full cinematic experience on the final progressive track Spires Of Secrtha, which has spoken word intro and a swelling orchestral outro. This final track is more ambitious than anything they've attempted before but the ambition can be heard throughout the album even on the grinding thrash of the title track the drumming is explorative. 

The imposing Hammers Of Cold Sorcery they start out with melody and then kick into more familiar thrash roots. Like their debut full length Eclipse Of The Dual Moons is a brilliant metal record from a band that are becoming one of my favourites. 9/10

Virtual Symmetry - Virtual Symmetry (Sensory)

Released after their triumphant tour with Evergrey, this is the fourth album from Swiss/Italian prog/power metal band Virtual Symmetry. The self titled record is founding guitarist Valerio Æsir Villa spreading his wings with his band that features vocalist Marco Pastorino, keyboardist Marco “Mark” Bravi, bassist Alessandro Poppale, and drummer Alfonso Mocerino. 

Here they raise their game and move into the upper echelons of prog/power metal pack. On the back of 2020's Exoverse, which features numerous guests from the big boys of prog metal, Virtual Symmetry stake their claim to being just as good as any of the musicians they had there. This self titled album is a dynamic, technically impressive and wonderfully emotional record, with influences of Evergrey, Seventh Wonder, Circus Maximus and others. 

The way they merge long instrumental sections with hook-driven choruses and a ear for melody, there's so much too love here it's hard to pick out individual moments. However starting things off with a 20 minute song is a big gamble but Virtual Symmetry have the chops to immediately draw you in as the guitars and keys in glorious unison, the rhythms shifting multiple times through the three parts to bring a cinematic feel. 

The rest of the songs all give you facets of just how good Virtual Symmetry are as a band, from the introspective Insomnia, to the more power metal sound of The Paradise Of Lies, Virtual Symmetry is an album that cherry picks from their last three records to give you the best experience possible, neo-classical progressive power metal that is virtuoso one minute and straightforward the next. 

With a track like Come Alive or Fantasie Di Verita, Virtual Symmetry take aim at the style of Dream Theater and nail it perfectly, the song sounding as if it could have come off an early DT record. Virtual Symmetry is one of the best prog/power albums of the year no question, simply stunning. 9/10

The Riven - Peace and Conflict (The Sign Records)

Featuring singer Totta Ekebergh, guitarists Arnau Diaz and Joakim Sandegård, bass player Max Ternebring and drummer Jussi Kalla, The Riven originally formed in London but recorded this second album in Spain. The debut came in 2019, the band bringing together multiple genres, meshing classic 70's rock with NWOBHM, psych and blues, since then they added a second guitarist to bring a bolder sound on this follow up. 

With an extra guitarist it means they can use that tried and tested twin guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash, on driving opener On Time, the pulsating bass leading into some trade offs/solos in the middle section. It feels really old school like it should only released on vinyl but that's sort of the point isn't it. From On Time we go into The Taker a bouncy classic rocker, the more psychedelic style of their debut album and EP, perhaps lessened a little letting the NWOBHM take hold. 

However the title track feels otherworldly, with the intergalactic throb of Hawkwind, the epic Sorceress Of The Sky following the acoustic intro of La Puerta Del Tiempo. After the soaring epic sound of Sorceress Of The Sky, the bubbling, doom grooves of On Top Of Evil adds a dose of Sabbath, the stop and then speed up from the Iommi spellbook. 

At just nine tracks Peace And Conflict is very retro sounding record, on a track like the rocking Fly Free or the fireside wonderment of Sundown, The Riven display abundant talent on this second album, I loved their debut and rightly so I love this album too. Do yourself a favour and enter the world of The Riven. 9/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: A.A. Williams & Karin Park (Live Review By Steve Walsh)

A.A. Williams/Karin Park – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 13.11.22

Think its worth addressing the elephant if the room at the start. It can only be a very good thing indeed that this gig, and indeed the tour it is the beginning of, features two women with such singular voices, pursuing their own very distinct artistic paths. The one, already two decades into a career, confidently deconstructing her past to form a new voice for the future; the other quietly building a presence and reputation over the last three years for music that fuses power and grandeur with sensuality and fragility in a balancing act that few artists manage to pull off.

Karin Park’s (7) latest album, Private Collection, is mainly a selection of songs from her past albums that have been reworked to fit a more stripped back, minimalist style that relies almost wholly on synthesizers and electronics. The new approach transfers well to a live setting as the impossibly tall and elegant Park, hemmed in by a wedge of keyboards and effects boxes and with nothing more than three large spherical lamps on stands as stage adornment, delivers a short set that throws the spotlight emphatically on her songs and her remarkable voice. Fortunately both can easily stand the exposure. 

Opener Traces Of Me (the only new composition on the album) is simpler arrangement than the album version but is a good showcase for Park’s unconventional melodic structures. The set includes most of the standout songs from the album: Opium is narcotically erotic; Bending Albert’s Law plays with the idea of amending the laws of time and space to restore an absent lover to your side, or to resurrect a dead loved one to ease a yawning absence, however briefly; the teasingly autobiographical Blue Roses, with which Park accompanies herself on a genuine, 100-year-old Swedish organ. The pulsing electronica of Tokyo By Night almost runs away from Park as she briefly loses track of the button and box pushing sequence. The set is far too short.

A.A. Williams (8) and band take the cramped stage without any ceremony and launch into the sweeping opening fanfare of Hollow Heart, also the opening track from latest album As The Moon Rests. The song alternates between quiet passages that frame Williams’s fragile but rich melodies and lyrics, and reprises of the opening theme. In truth this sets the pattern for most of the songs in the set, which are mostly drawn from the new album, and given the uniformly languid pace of the music, it could be said that the songs lack dynamism and don’t have much in the way of nervous tension. But, once you’ve keyed into the warm enveloping noise the band create its hard not to be buoyed up by its sensuous caress. 

The downside of this is that while the live versions of the songs are much noisier than the recorded versions, Williams’s voice often gets lost in the maelstrom of guitars and effects. In this context, its worth pointing out that drummer Wayne Proctor makes a significant contribution to the dynamism and drama of the songs. While the guitars and voices wail away, Proctor’s deceptively simple style punctuates and propels the songs to sometimes devastating effect, the extended coda of Pristine being a prime example. 

The set concludes with the majestically, achingly epic title track of the new album, destined to become a set staple no doubt, and Melt from Williams’s 2020 debut album which has more or less become her signature tune. The heavy reliance on the new album for the songs in this set suggests Williams is keen not to rest on her laurels and keep moving forward. This can only be a good thing. 

Reviews: Souldrainer, Dysgnostic, Digir Gidim, Astrosaur (Richard Oliver, Matt Cook, Paul Scoble & Ben Baljak)

Souldrainer - Departure (Black Lion Records) [Richard Oliver] 

Departure is the new album from Swedish symphonic death metallers Souldrainer. Not a band I have heard before but they have been going since 1999 and Departure is the fourth full length album from the band. The band have stated that Departure is a journey through your own dark fantasy where anything is possible and we have made sure that every song will leave you with darkness, hopelessness, emptiness, anger, and despair.

On the musical front, Departure is very much on the melodic side of death metal and the symphonic elements are provided by atmospheric angel choirs and string ensembles mixed in with that wondrous Swedish melodic death metal goodness. When all these elements are used together it is very effective indeed such as on a song  like Weaver Of Mortal Dreams and the melodic elements really come to the fore in Rats Of The International Race, One Last Shot and album closer End Of The World. Quite a lot of the album is at a steady pace though there are a handful of occasions where the songs ramp up the speed such as Paint The World In Lies which rips ahead. The musicianship is top tier with some absolutely fantastic guitar work throughout.

I’m quite the sucker for Swedish melodic death metal and Departure is a great album which showcases a lot of the elements I love in the genre. It is catchy, heavy, melodic and atmospheric all in the space of one album. Souldrainer do wear their influences a bit too blatantly on their sleeves with the music sounding very reminiscent of Hypocrisy and especially the latter day albums by the band. Even though there is a good degree of unoriginality in this album it is still bloody good and I can’t argue with bands wanting to sound like Hypocrisy. If you are a fan of melodic death metal then Souldrainer are well worth a listen. 8/10

Dysgnostic - Scar Echoes (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Matt Cook]

Rebranded from the ashes of the now-defunct Defilementory, the Danish three-piece Dysgnostic have found stability and direction with their Transcending Obscurity debut full-length, Scar Echoes, a deliberate 44-minute slog. Five of the eight tracks exceed the six-minute mark, and all the while, the tracks meander from pummelling spite to bubbling-to-the-surface-but-never-breaching teases. The death metal is delivered as an ever-present entity over the record. 

The titular opening track is indicative of what’s to come because its lumbering pace and brooding, droning guitar notes permeate at every corner. Even songs that hit the ground running eventually combine to form a labouring composition. Nothing’s Embrace supplies a doomy dirge section with effective drum-guitar interplay, which makes for a serviceable death-doom performance. 

Oceans Of Grey is Thomas Fischer at his most acerbic, belching out delectable harsh vocals that slap the listener back to reality that this is in fact a death metal record. But even with Dysgnostic strays from that modus operandi, they thrive. Beneath Abyssal Plains starts fuzzy and morose, devolving into the musical equivalent of pulling teeth or performing a lobotomy, painstakingly working to not royally fuck things up. 

Even with Silvery Tongues coming out the gates swinging, the track never wanders too far from the crawling tempo that is the skeleton of Scar Echoes. The rhythm section doesn’t abandon the dense, thumping elements that make the genre great. Instead, it’s the band’s ability to dangle the carrot in front of your face while also assuring you that in the end, it’ll all be worth it.

By now, it should be evident what to expect from a Transcending Obscurity signee. Dysgnostic straddle the constantly thinning line between technical death metal and a more subdued death-doom entity. 7/10

Digir Gidim - The Celestial Macrocosmic Scale And The Shimmering Path Of The Supreme Regulator (Aeternitas Tenebrarum Musicae Fundamentum) [Paul Scoble] 

Digir Gidim have been making deeply ritualistic black metal since 2014. The duo made up of Utanapištim Ziusudra on all instruments and composition, and Lalartu on Vocals and Lyricism. In the eight years the band have been together Digir Gidim have released one album before The Celestial Macrocosmic Scale And The Shimmering Path Of The Supreme Regulator, in 2017’s I Thought There Was The Sun Awaiting My Awakening

Clearly lovers of black metal and very long album titles, Digir Gidim have tempered their discordant, occult and ritualistic black metal with influences from ancient Indo-Sumerian music. Those influences come across in the melodic aspects of the album, because despite featuring some very extreme black metal and lots of nasty discordant elements, this album is full of great tunes. 

The album is split into 4 songs called I, II, III, IV all around the 11 to 12 minute mark. First track I, is a mix of fairly dramatic black metal that feels quite epic (epic black metal is the style originated by Summoning, and perfected by Caladan Brood) in style; mid paced with lots of melody in the tremolo picked riffs. This is mixed with slow and heavy sections, at one point what sounds like a Hammond organ is added to make a sound that in my notes I described as psychedelic epic black metal. It’s a great track, there is a small amount of high speed, savage blasting, which as the next track shows, is just a taste of what is to come. 

II opens with savagely fast blast beats with nasty discordant riffs over the top, the riffs feel very aggressive as do the vocals, which are excellent throughout this album. The second half of the song slows down to a mid pace, and we are back in epic black metal with Indo-Sumerian influences. Some of the Epic material feels huge (which is appropriate) and in one section features clean vocals and chanting. The song gets more and more expansive as it goes along until it is wider than the sky for the finish. 

III has an opening that reminds me of In The Nightside Eclipse era Emperor; the riffs and keyboard swells work together in the same way. The track then takes on a slightly punky tempo, this is accelerated into a blast beat that has a riff with a fairly hardcore feel to it, the centre of the song is fast and full of inertia and energy and leads us to a massively melodic final section of the song. The final part of the song is full of tremolo picked riffs that are beautifully tuneful and melodious. Whether its a fast, slow, or mid-paced riff this section drips tune-fullness and melody in a really pleasing way. 

The album comes to an end with IV. This track has some slow bits, but is mainly a high speed blast of nasty discordant blasting and unhinged vocals. The blast beats are almost ridiculously fast, and the riffs, in some places layered riffs, are nasty and inharmonious. After three tracks that are packed with melody, it’s a bit of a surprise to get so much savage, unpleasant discordance. However, this viciousness has been hinted at throughout the album, and it feels right that the album ends in such a ferocious and malign way. 

The Celestial Macrocosmic Scale And The Shimmering Path Of The Supreme Regulator, is a cracking album, it manages to touch base with a lot of different feelings and styles. The melodic elements are fantastic, and after a few listens really worm their way into your conciseness, and the more extreme parts are suitably savage, dissonant and malicious. It took a couple of listens for me to really get into this album, there is a lot going on and it takes a little while to really get it, so if you don’t click with it immediately don’t worry, just give it a few more listens and it will reveal itself to you, and when it does, what it reveals is fantastic. 8/10 

Astrosaur - Portals (Pelagic Records) [Ben Baljak]

Astrosaur are a three piece band from Oslo, Norway. They have a mysterious lack of information about themselves online, as their bio simply reads; instrumental rock from Oslo… Cheers Astrosaur. To attempt to elaborate on Instrumental Rock; their style spans over or is at least reminiscent of post-rock/metal, doom, prog with essence of jazz and black metal to name but a few.

The band have just released their third album - Portals. It opens with the creative and alluringly named Opening. Opening opens … as if it were recorded by the band’s doppelgängers at the black loge in the surrounding forests of Twin Peaks. Reverse delay pulling the listener into the beautifully desolate world of post rock and followed up with the droney tremolo of a darkened Mogwai.

Black Hole Earth kicks off with the fictitious unholy collaboration of Lemmy and Mick Gordon and I bloody love it! Dropping into a haunting John Murphy film score and rising with an impressive, engaging and lengthy build up until I’m crushed with twisted beauty once again. The Deluge floods the senses with another fantastic atmospheric. An almost doom passed with flourishes and fills from drummer Jonatan Eikum that torrent and cascade impressively through the heavy foundations held together by guitarist Erik Krakenes and bassist Steinar Glas.

Reptile Empire is an entirely different beast! The catchy running rhythms of the heavier side of Queens Of The Stone Age with the technicalities and clever use of open strings and picked discordant dissonant chords of Mastodon.

Eternal Return. Our mandatory long song for the progressive and instrumental album inclined. Astrosaur manage to keep it interesting for the full twenty three and a half minute duration! A feat few can attest to. A cosmic journey both ominous and bewitching. From the fifteen minute mark is pure joy for me; as I find myself pulling the rare contorted oval mouthed grimace reserved for musicians applauding the disgustingly brilliant riffs of other musicians.

To put it bluntly; Portals is simply fucking brilliant! The slower paced heavy stuff feels like head banging music for the intoxicated immobilised, the softer stuff for the explorers over vast decaying landscapes and the faster stuff a treat for anybody who appreciates the complexities of heavy prog or those who just want to move to the groove. Luckily for me, I have recently injured my foot and just been prescribed strong painkillers so this album was a remarkable experience. Disclaimer - I’m not condoning drug use and I’m sure this album would be great regardless.

Throughout the review, many bands and composers have been mentioned that certain sections reminded me of; I want it to be clear that Astrosaur are not derivative of these bands and are their own beast. It was just the best way that I could explain what was being done. Although that killer riff near the fifteen minute mark of Eternal Return would sit well in Mastodon’s Leviathan, which just so happens to be a personal favourite.

Portals is an impressive array of twisted ambience, crushing riffs and eldritch intricacy that belongs on the playlist of any self-respecting instrumental post rock/metal connoisseur. 9/10

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Reviews: Arc Of Life, Enemy Eyes, Autograph, Rising Steel (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Arc Of Life - Don't Look Down (Frontiers Music Srl)

If you hadn't heard Arc Of Life's debut album or didn't know anything about them you'd be able to guess what they play purely by the membership. Featuring two official members of Yes in vocalist Jon Davidson and bassist/vocalist Billy Sherwood, along with Yes live drummer (also member of Asia Featuring John Payne/Dukes Of The Orient/GPS) Jay Schellen, former Yes guitar collaborator Jimmy Haun (Air Supply/Circa) and prog rock keyboard player extraordinary Dave Kerzner (Sound Of Contact), it's a pretty safe bet that Don't Look Down is going to be bursting with melodic prog rock. 

What's also as obvious as corruption in FIFA is that Yes is going to be a pretty big influence, however it's not the only influence luckily as there are so many offshoots of that band that sound the same, it would be redundant to start another. That being said the crux of this sophomore album, like the debut before it is taken from Yes and Asia, the AOR roots of their label Frontiers showing through as Kerzner's kaleidoscopic synth playing easily blends with Haun’s fluid guitar lines and Sherwood’s lead bass, which like in Yes is high in the mix, giving the groove to the sweet melodies. 

At just 6 tracks long, closing with the 17 minute Arc Of Life, the grandiose sound of the debut has been adapted here to add some more technicality and experimental. Still with Schellen’s expansive drum work and Davidson’s falsetto vocals, if you don’t like Yes you won’t like Don’t Look Down, it’s that simple. Luckily I do like Yes and their offshoots so Arc Of Life appeal to my ears. 8/10

Enemy Eyes – History’s Hands (Frontiers Music Srl)

At this point in his career Johnny Gioeli can pretty much do what he wants. He found success with 80's melodic rockers Hardline before joining guitarist Axel Rudi Pell as singer, before reactivating Hardline, who are also on Frontiers. As well as this he is also the singer of Crush 40 a band massive in Japan due to their contributions to the Sonic soundtracks. 

He has somewhat of a Midas touch when it comes to bands and projects so for his 100th release he wanted to do something that was very personal to him. Enemy Eyes is a band where Gioeli can merge his passion for European metal combining acts he grew up with like Dio, Rainbow, Maiden etc with his background of hard rock bands such as Hardline, who's debut album famously featured Neal Schon of Journey, thankfully Gioeli has yet to be sued! This vision means that History's Hands is a record that encapsulates everything Gioeli has been a part of over 99 previous records and 30+ years in the game. 

The focal point are those rough and soulful pipes of Gioeli but the band behind him aren't amateurs in fact keyboardist/bassist/producer/songwriter Alessandro Del Vecchio (yep him again), is the key musical figure on these melodic metal outings with Marcos Rodrigues on guitar and Fabio Alessandrini on drums Enemy Eyes strives to be different from his other bands and manages to convince due to the strength of the songwriting and performances. 

The title track is heavy, while Peace And Glory is speedy, it's tracks such as Preying On Your Weakness and What You Say both have lots of symphonic sections, What I Believe the albums one major ballad. Johnny Gioeli has done what he set out to on History's Hands, melodic metal at it's slickest. 8/10

Autograph - Beyond (Frontiers Music Srl)

"Turn up...the radio!" If like me you played a lot of video games in your youth then you will have definitely heard Autograph's big 80's hit while cruising the streets of Vice City. A staple of American radio rock in the 80's Autograph were disbanded by 1989, retrospectively gaining respect as the band that featured Steve Lynch the innovator of the two-handed tapping technique popularised by Eddie Van Halen. 

Lumped in with other "one hit wonders" Autograph had a decent catalogue of music in their 80's heyday and also since 2011 when Lynch and co-founding member Randy Rand met up and decided to get the band back together. What came next was singer Simon Daniels and drummer Marc Wieland this version of the band having recorded another two records before Beyond

In Jan 2022 they signed to Frontiers this album already underway with completion in April, however a few days after Rand passed away, his instructions were to release the album no matter what do in November 2022 Beyond is the last recorded work of Randy Rand and it's an archetypal example of the heavier, bluesier band Autograph have been since 2011. 

Now featuring House Of Lords man Jimi Bell on guitar, it looks as if Autograph will continue and good thing too as Beyond is a record that is packed with glam/melodic rock that will hopefully bring them a younger, newer audience. Turn up your radio and play it loud. 7/10

Rising Steel – Beyond The Gates Of Hell (Frontiers Music Srl)
French metal firebrands Rising Steel return with their third album Beyond The Gates Of Hell. Now with that title it’s either fist pumping classic metal or black metal, turns out that it’s the former as this French band play a trad metal that takes as much from the Teutonic scene as it does the thrash style. 

Imagine Accept jamming with Mercyful Fate in the Bay Area circa 1983 and you’ll be on the right track. Emmanuelson’s histrionic vocals are styled like King Diamond or Warrel Dane while every tracks features some crunchy, distorted riffs and lots of twin axe attack. Beyond The Gates Of Hell is their second album on Frontiers and it continues their exposure to a wider audience, with another 40 or so minutes of rampaging heavy metal.

Tracks such as From Darkness shredding away at speed as Life Awaits brings a bit of gloom as Death Of A Vampire and Infinite Pain adds some of the horror themes of American’s Helstar along with some Nevermore dramatism. Much like fellow Grenoble band Nightmare, Rising Steel have brought the NWOBHM style some thrash/speed metal aggression, and on Beyond The Gates Of Hell they are guaranteed to wins new fans. 7/10

Reviews: Deaf Radio, Doomocracy, The WaterStriders, Stelios Ventas (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Deaf Radio - Arsenal Of Hope (Self Released)

Athenians Deaf Radio are shapeshifters, over the course of three albums their sound has changed, while maintaining their core sound established on first album Alarm (2017). Their critically acclaimed debut put them down as one of the most exciting bands to come out of the Greek scene in years. With plenty of touring and high profile supports under their belts second album Modern Panic (2019) was even more acclaimed, taking this alt rock band to higher reaches, their sound evolving there. But on this 3rd album they take their music to another level again adding electronic music pluses, hip shaking dance thumps, gothic darkness with alt rock riffs and big hooks. 

Crystal Fears and Havoc are great example of doing all of this as the electronic backbeat is met with fuzzy rock guitars, Havoc especially takes 80's synthwave and pairs it with gothy 80's post punk. The album was written during lockdown and the band credit this to their new experimental sound, the excessive amount of digital reliance now, inspiring the use of the electronic elements. In This War takes from Depeche Mode, while Bermondsly is very English, putting the twee lyrics of Syd Barrett with a repeating indie guitar line. 

Openers Lisbon Hills and Supersonic are thumping synth rockers that sell the genre shift well, the album unfurling into a set of twitching, fuzzing electronic rockers. Still one of the names to watch on the Greek scene Deaf Radio's third album rips up any preconceived notion and refocuses them. 8/10 

Doomocracy – Unorthodox (No Remorse Records)

Unorthodox is the third album by Cretan doom band Doomocracy (as if the name of the band didn't give away the genre). Having formed in 2011, this is their first album since 2017 released through seminal Greek metal label No Remorse Records. Their third album overall Unorthodox give you more of their atmospheric, progressive doom metal, in the style of Atlantean Kodex, Solstice or While Heaven Wept. They marry cinematic orchestral flourishes with more traditional doom riffs. 

Michael Stavrakakis' vocals are brilliant soaring high in the classic metal style, a perfect fit for epic doom. Doomocracy's music here feels as if it's been worked on, tested and teased to bring the best sound they can, with chorals on Prelude To The Apocalypse just as important as the riffs of guitarists Angelos Tzanis and Harry Dokos. The symphonic parts of this album come from long time guest keyboard player Miguel Robania, broadening the sound of this record. For me though this album belongs to Michael and drummer Minas Vasilakis who is brilliant behind the kit, his marching percussion on the progressive Novum Dogma and more direct Eternally Lost the only track he doesn't appear on being Hidden Gospel which features a spoken word passage and Sakis Bandis of Hail Spirit Noir on piano. 

It leads into The Spiritualist which is one of the best tracks here, Manolis Schizakis' grinding bass the hook for the trad metal grooves, as the two guitarists duel with their leads and solos. It's on Catharsis where they don't get to show off as that pleasure is given to Mercyful Fate/King Diamond guitarist Mike Wead. Dealing with religious dogma, death though on 14th October 1582 they don't talk about the phenomenon of the lost 10 days as it's an intro to the blasphemous title track. Coming just a week before new Candlemass, Doomocracy lay down a challenge to the grand masters to try and beat this absolutely excellent doom metal album. 9/10

The WaterStriders - My Name Is EXPECTATION (Old Habits Label)

I'm not sure what to make of this, I knew Brit Pop had a wide reach but for some reason I didn't expect that Post-Punk, Modern Mod, Cool Britannia sound to be adopted by a Greek band. Although bands like The Smiths, Joy Division, Placebo and especially James are all huge there, to have a Greek band playing this style of music took me by surprise. However this is what Athens band The WaterStriders play a very distinct style of post-punk, mod style indie rock n roll with touches of American alt rock/grunge. 

It's the kind of dirty, working class music The Arctic Monkeys made before they went into the realms of Bury Bacharach. My Name Is EXPECTATION is their debut album, they only formed in 2020, and it opens with House Of God which feels like The Cure, the stilted British accent delivery and the fuzzy, distorted guitars all very Robert Smith. From here Love Is A Friend brings a bit of sway, with each track I'm astounded by Manos' vocals as he has nailed that British indie delivery that's sort of Cambridge meets Essex, (you know a bit Bowie) musically too they have that indie style but with less jangly guitars and some more grit. 

It's power pop with a garage rock head, Can I Settle For A Night having a strong message, as Calm Me Crazy is a bouncy rocker and Punisher feels darker than the rest of the album, as the indie comes back on Like An Empty Train. My Name Is EXPECTATION is an album that lives up to it's expectation but for a naturalised Brit like me it was odd to hear a band from another country nail this style, especially the vocals. The Wavestriders play an indie festival at Temple Live Stage in December along with more dates scheduled, so there is definitely an audience for Anglo/Greek Indie rock. 7/10

Stelios Ventas - Badass (Self Released)

Greek guitar ace Stelios Ventas has been slinging his six string since he was 14, the Athens based guitarists having played with numerous bands set out to hone his craft by studying music theory leading to a solo career that saw him release his debut album in 2016. 

Badass is his third release, his second full length, and it's a record with some swaggering American hard rock Stelios handles guitar, vocals and drum programming, now he is a significantly better guitarist than he is singer as witnessed by Promiseland and that soulful guitar solo on The Devil Inside You

The better vocalist here is Yiannis Goudoulas who sings and wrote Love but the album is a showcase for Stelios' guitar prowess as Sotiris Pirounias bass brings rhythm to the country picking Lost On Me as Time Will Be Friend makes me feel like Dire Straits. In a world of guitarists Ventas takes a laidback approach but never really gets the flame burning too bright. 5/10

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Reviews: Xentrix, Powerwolf, The Blackwater Fever, Crypt Rot (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Xentrix - Seven Words (Listenable Records) [Simon Black]

Xentrix are one of those bands whose timing was just that little bit too late first-time around. They had always been grouped in the ‘Big 4’ of UK Thrash and achieved much in the early days, although I am yet to find a consistent opinion as to who the other three might have been (although personally I will go with Sabbat, Onslaught and Acid Reign). 

Their debut Shattered Existence did well and got them a tour supporting Sabbat, but sadly by the time they got to third album Kin in 1994, the movement had pretty much shot its load over here with grunge and the lemming like behaviour of the labels delivering the killing blow. It wasn’t helped by an exceedingly questionable move to something more akin to power metal for that release, but either way apart from an attempt to reboot the line-up that really felt like it was the end of Xentrix’s story until quite recently.

Finally getting going again about ten years ago with three quarters of the original line-up was almost a non-event too, and it wasn’t until founding vocalist/guitarist Chris Astley moved on again in 2017 that the new incarnation of Xentrix really takes off, as up to that point there had not been any new material released since 1996. Enter Jay Walsh of Bull-Riff Stampede fame, whose arrival seemed to be a catalyst for forward motion and we’re now on our second studio release with this line-up.

With new pretenders like Nottingham’s fabulous Incinery breathing down their necks, it was clearly not going to be enough to just re-tread old ground and although the cover is pure late 80’s cartoon Thrash, the music is not. It’s a brutal bruiser of premium British Thrash of the highest order. The tone and energy come right from the past, but with maestro Andy Sneap in the production chair this record has all the zeitgeist of days gone by whilst being bang up to date in terms of richness and depth of sound.

Walsh spits and fires his vocal lines like he’s seriously pissed off and the whole album rides that wave of controlled, brutal aggression from start to finish. Even when the pace alters slightly mid-way with the semi-acoustic opening of Everybody Loves You When Your’re Dead, a song that looses briefly the frenetic pace of delivery with a snarling controlled, yet relentless delivery and suddenly I’m feeling thirty years younger. Tonally this feels closest to arguably their greatest hit first time round To Whose Advantage, but it not only sounds better, but the crafting and care of the arrangements work so much better than that old material whilst still having a clear line of progression from their roots.

Brutal, precise, beautifully crafted and powerful as fuck, this is how British Thrash sounds when it’s absolutely at its best and I cannot fault a single song on here. 9/10

Powerwolf - Missa Cantorem II (Napalm Records) [Simon Black]

You know what, I love a bit of Powerwolf. 

The seemingly unstoppable Germans have gone from strength to strength for the best part of two decades and are probably at the point of being one of the major players in the power metal scene. They may be a little behind the curve when it comes to the USA, but certainly in Europe they’re a categorical arena level act, with festival headline slots under their belt and have got there through admirable hard work and spot-on focused delivery. 

They’ve done this by simply getting better and better with each album cycle, with each release shifting the bench mark a little higher than what’s gone before, which is probably why so little old material ever makes into onto their live sets. 

This release is slightly different though, being the second of the Mass Singer series. It’s basically Powerwolf songs with guest singers à la Avantasia. The first one drew from material from across their entire back catalogue, with a fresh set of instrumental recordings to cover the varying ages of the originals but with an impressive array of contemporaries standing in for Attila Dorn. 

It was an interesting experiment and, in some cases, arguably an improvement on the originals (see Demons Are A Girl's Best Friend with Alissa White-Gluz), but with that first one only getting an airing as a bonus CD on certain versions of last year’s fantastic Call Of The Wild, nobody really got to hear it. This time it’s a release in its own right, following the same concept, but instead this is an alternative version of Call Of The Wild, with the entire album being fronted by the guest stars. 

Fundamentally I have two major issues with this release. 

The first is that without Attila Dorn’s ridiculously over the top baritone vocals, all of the tracks on here are vastly diminished and just come across as sounding like standard cookie-cutter Euro power metal, of which, let’s face it, there’s far too much out there. Powerwolf, Sabaton and Blind Guardian stand above all the madding crowd because they sound distinct from the rest of the pack and each other, but this distinctiveness is completely wiped out by this approach here, despite being quite successful first time around.

The second is that the choice of guests is slightly more obscure in the main. There’s some big hitters, but half the tracks are covered by guests I have never heard of and had to dig around and find. Where the hitters are in evidence, they don’t quite … er, hit. I have huge respect for Nils Molin (Dynazty), Jonne Järvelä (Korplikani), Tommy Johannson (Sabaton/Majestica) and most especially Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian/Demons & Wizards), yet none of them cuts the mustard here as Atilla stand-in’s or adds to their own story, because they are trying to sing in a song cut for such a unique and distinct vocalist. And I guess that’s the big positive take away here, as it makes it clear quite how fantastic and unique Dorn actually is, that the array of big players above can’t hold a candle to him on these songs.

The end result though is that this just ends up just sounding like Powerwolf Karaoke. If it had been tucked in as a bonus second disk on the next record, or better still as a standalone two disk set with the barely heard original then it might have worked better. As a standalone official release though, it’s just plain disappointing… 5/10

The Blackwater Fever - Temptator! (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Aussie garage rockers The Blackwater Fever owe as much to Queens Of The Stone Age as they do to All Then Witches, The Graveltones, The Record Company and Royal Blood. The trio comprised of the Shane Hicks (vocal/guitar), Trevor Gee (drums) and Sean Thomas (keys/bass/vocals) play a psychedelically tinged style of fuzzing garage rock that is brooding, hypnotic, atmospheric and at points downright filthy on The Boogie Woo

Along with all the previously mentioned bands I'd say they also have the poetic darkness of Nick Cave of he played garage rock music, a lot of this album being similar to Mr Cave's many Murder Ballads, with songs such as The Hurt and Ode To Ol' John Doe having that dark romanticism of Mr Cave, Hicks using a low vocal on the latter. 

Though the propulsive Everything Always brings back those QOTSA vibes as The Slew is a shifting rocker that's also take from the latter desert rock scene. Temptator! is a record that is jammed with some me grooving alt rock, fuzzy garage riffs and bags of experience, six albums in and The Blackwater Fever still have a hell of a groove on. 7/10

Crypt Rot - An Ancient Summoning (Dry Cough Records/Brutal Mind) [Matt Bladen]

With a 3 track EP behind them released on FHED, now Dry Cough Records have been tasked with releasing the cassette version debut full length of Welsh brutalists Crypt Rot. Indonesian label Brutal Mind will handle the CD, but whichever format you get, An Ancient Summoning still sounds like someone recorded a drain cleaning truck and set it to blast beats. 

Despite being a full length it's not much over 30 minutes, but any more that that any your brains will be leaking out of you skull, such is the crushing heaviness of this band. The blast beats never stop, Justin Wallisch constantly pounding your ear drums, while the vicious, entrails draped riffs from Tom Hughes grind you into dust, capped off with the guttural vocals of Kyle Shaun Thomas coming from the lowest bowels of hell. Thomas gets some help from Fulci's Fiore Stravino, Carnifloor's Floor Van Kuijk and Larry Wang of Gorepot all bringing their own extreme vocal slaughter as Ryan Willis of fellow horror metal band Seven Doors gives solo to Diabolically Reborn

Immediate aggression comes on The Work Of The Worms, but from there the record doesn't relent, the title track shifting pace from sludgy moments to blasts of outright insanity all while marbles are gargled. You've got to be a real fan of this style of extreme metal as it's not an easy access point, case in point the slithering One Thousand Serpents Tongues which has lead guitars akin to Nile and even Deicide. South Wales has a very vibrant extreme metal scene and Crypt Rot pull themselves out of the gutter to add the disgusting filth to the pile. 7/10