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