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Friday 4 November 2022

Review: Devin Townsend, The Pretty Reckless, Vitskar Suden, Ingested (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Dean Palmer, David Karpel & Dr Claire Hanley/Charlie Rogers)

Devin Townsend - Lightwork (Inside Out Music) [Richard Oliver]

When it comes to a new Devin Townsend album you never quite know what you are going to get. The man has dabbled in so many different sounds across his vast discography that you feel he could go in any direction. Over the past few years we have had the everything thrown at you all at once approach of Empath, the ambient Guitar Improvisation lockdown releases and the sound collages of Snuggles and The Puzzle. So the big question is where is Devin going to take us next?

Lightwork is an album which Devin describes as ‘a bridge between two continents’ and is based around Devin’s own experiences and self-exploration from the events over the last few years not only from what has been happening in the world but also what Devin has been through in his own personal life. It also sees Devin working with a producer (his good friend GGGarth Richardson) during the creative process and whilst a difficult process the results definitely speak for themselves.

So here is the big question answered - what does Lightwork sound like? Well it sounds absolutely like Devin but in a far more relaxed and introspective light. There is very little in the way of big heavy guitars, the vocals are almost entirely clean and it is an album big on poppy hooks and melodies. Songs such as Lightworker and Call Of The Void are massive songs with hooks big enough to gouge deep into your flesh and they are simply wonderful. Classic catchy Devin songwriting which is remarkably uplifting and life affirming but Lightwork does have a few tricks up its sleeve. 

Heartbreaker contains a lot of complex twists and turns and doesn’t follow a straightforward linear songwriting path and is ultimately very Devin. Dimensions is one of the most interesting songs on the album with its heavy industrial sound and is one of the few songs on the album with a more intensive and darker feel about it featuring the sole use of Devin’s harsh vocals and it is damn good. Celestial Signals is a definite highlight with the big melodies and huge hooks emphasised with a big symphonic sound. So in summary Lightwork is a mix of sounds though on the whole this is a very relaxed album and definitely one of Devin’s ‘nice’ albums.

Although Lightwork feels like a more stripped back and relaxed Devin album it is definitely not the case as each consecutive listen unlocks little niggles and nuances that were missed the first time round. Lightwork like all good Devin is as equally accessible as it is complex. After last year's very polarising The Puzzle and Snuggles albums this is an album that will definitely go down well with the Devin fan base. There are plenty of tunes which are going to become guaranteed live favourites. It is not my favourite Devin album personally as I would have liked a bit more menace and craziness but there is no denying that Lightwork is another excellent album in the Devy discography. 8/10

The Pretty Reckless – Other Worlds (Century Media Records) [Dean Palmer]

The Pretty Reckless are a band whom had an instant “in” to the music world from the celebrity-status of their singer who (at least in my opinion) have had to work twice as hard since just to prove themselves to a musical community which has portions that will scoff in every way with arms folded waiting to be impressed, particularly when there’s somebody who has come from the ‘other side’ of the musical/celebrity world – as Taylor Momsen has very much done.

This resistance took a step towards acceptance in 2021 with the release of their, truly magnificent, Death By Rock N Roll album – a release that showed a songwriting maturity and musical craftsmanship that truly excelled and, at least in this listeners’ opinion, should have taken the band into the arenas and out of the Academy-sized venues (sadly this does not seem to have happened yet as they hit the road on a mid-sized venue tour very soon).

To go alongside the tour the band are releasing Other Worlds – an album of mostly low-key reworkings of their own tracks, a few covers and one lovely batch of fizzy goodness in Love Loud – an often live-performed Soundgarden cover in tribute to the great Chris Cornell, who also features as his solo track The Keeper is covered in a very stripped back, almost haunting fashion. The album also has a fine splattering of guest musicians as Alain Johannes, Mike Garson and Matt Cameron jump on board to really add a little bit of magic to selected tracks – it is clear the The Pretty Reckless want to be taken seriously and additions of musicians such this can only serve to increase their legitimacy.

Covers-aside, stripped down versions of their own songs 25, Got So High, Harley Darling and in particular Death By Rock N Roll itself truly do shine on this record – a record which will probably be considered a footnote in their rise to the top by most casual observers, but I truly could see it being an absolute favourite of the dedicated fanbase. Very, very much worth a listen (late at night in low-lights would be my preferred time to spin this one – if you have good company then all the better) as this truly is a lovely piece of stripped down rock-n-roll, which clearly is not truly dead yet.  8/10 

Vitskar Suden - The Faceless King (Ripple Music) [David Karpel]

The Faceless King rules – I desperately wanted to just write that, give a score (see below), and expect you to trust me on this one basic truth: The Faceless King rules. Go back to those times you listened to and became obsessed with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon or Rush’s 2112. I'd add to those: being mind-blown over Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son or Queensryche’s Mindcrime. Was it King Crimson for you? KISS? Genesis? Sit down with that moment now. Go back there and look at your face all shiny with acne and wonderment. Now, listen here and know this: The Faceless King is that kind of special record that you’ll always treasure, that you’ll return to regularly forevermore. It’s an album you’ll want to tell everyone about. I can’t stress this enough. 

Vitskar Suden’s follow up to 2020’s independently released and ridiculously inspired, self-titled debut not only fulfills the promise of that album, but also surpasses expectations. A fully realized concept album, The Faceless King musically narrates the dark-fantasy origin story of its antihero title character. It’s important to note that it’s the music on The Faceless King that shapes the narrative as much as, if not more so, than the lyrics. While Martin Garner (Bass/vocals) acts as a kind of scope of old, he and the band musically create a feeling which may be the closest I’ve ever come to synesthesia. TJ Webber (guitar) and Julian Goldberger (guitar/synths) paint a dark, expansive atmosphere with ambient layers upon layers of awesome spaced out riffs and subtle notes and soaring notes played independently or with wild abandon. 

There are moments when the guitars are absent in a fully engaged silence, leaving the synths, bass, and percussion to open our mind’s eye to their otherworldly vision. Psychedelic, mysterious, evoking depths, shadow, danger, smoky revelations, and clearings in mist. Christopher Martin (drums) is in top form here as well, giving the narrative its topography, marking the map’s roads, forests, fortresses, and the world’s very edges, but also its boundless, heavy shadows. 

Let’s take a moment to get a feel for the power of Garner’s voice. In each song, he’s so emotive his voice reflects the feelings of wonder, fear, hope, and despair underlying the described action, the violence, the gore, and all of the weirdness. Sometimes soaring, sometimes compellingly deep; wailing hope scaling walls or evoking the boundless depths of the sea; on the low end to mid, Garner’s singing is always visceral and essential to the lyricism and poetry of the narrative. It must be said too that as commanding, as clear and entrancing as his voice is, so is his bass playing, the driving force, you’ll discover, the foundation to really everything on The Faceless King. This is not the kind of album this reviewer believes should be broken down track by track. My only criticism is that it’s not long enough. 

This is amazing, doomy, album rock, a dark prog concept album that is so good it makes me giddy to share the news. Put on the headphones and have the appropriate accouterments. If you’re lucky, you pre-ordered the limited edition, 24-page custom RPG module written by the band and illustrated by David Paul Seymour. Either way, let the music play and let the mind’s eye experience the spooky world of The Faceless King. I haven’t stopped listening to it since getting a hold of it and right here I’ll venture to say the following: while this may be the best year for music in a series of a few incredible years of music, The Faceless King is my 2022 AOTY. 10/10

Ingested - Ashes Lie Still (Metal Blade Records) [Dr Claire Hanley & Charlie Rogers]

Being long time fans of Ingested, we were hyped to hear the band were releasing new material, hot on the heels of their 2020 masterpiece Where Only Gods May Tread. Suffice to say, their seventh studio album had a high bar to reach. Sadly, this time they’ve fallen short.

The title track opens the record in classic fashion, with punchy drums and aggressive riffs aplenty. It’s clear from the get-go, however, that Ingested are more heavily leaning on their deathcore influences. Notably, the use of ambient pads to create ethereal passages that wouldn’t be out of place on a Lorna Shore album, and clean female vocals that wail away against choppy stop-start rhythms. From this point on though, it all becomes very generic - Shadows In Time, You’ll Never Learn, and Tides Of Glass all blur into one. A mid-paced chugfest laced with Lyn’s signature double kicks, and a sprinkling of quintessential Ingested licks. In stark contrast to previous releases, the songs are one dimensional and lack identity, with few stand out hooks.

From Hollow Words initially picks up the pace with more energy than the previous tracks combined, alongside the iconic vocals of Aborted’s Sven de Caluw√©. But as quickly as the vibe arrives, it evaporates, leaving in its wake the same malaise. And if you told 2010 Charlie that Ingested and Trivium would collaborate on a track, he’d have lost his mind. Yet the 2022 result is lacklustre and grating. Matt Heafy’s strained vocals on All I’ve Lost added an unwelcome sourness to the dreary music it’s paired with. By the time With Broken Wings comes around, it’s clear there are recycled rhythms, reused melody, and even a repurposed Phil Collins lyric.

This review has been incredibly difficult to write and may come across as particularly harsh, but it’s because we know how good Ingested can be. There are some highlights to be had, such as the groove in Echoes Of Hate, the solo from Tides Of Glass, and the production is solid with all elements at the perfect level. Alas, Ashes Lie Still isn’t a notable addition to their esteemed back catalogue. 5/10

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