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Wednesday 14 December 2022

Reviews: Avandra, Ripper, Thy Listless Heart, Mother Vulture (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Avandra - Prodigal (Layered Reality Productions)

I gave Avandra's previous album a very good 9/10, so with my love of prog, would their new record score just as high. Well Prodigal keeps the level of talent at a high, with the non-linear songwriting and use of electronics/synths given by Silent Skies man Vikram Shankar as a special guest to flesh out their prog metal credentials. I compared Skylighting to Haken, Karnivool and Octavarium-era Dream Theater and these comparisons stick on Prodigal as an Eisenhower speech, bleeds into the grinding riff of Codename: Pharoah, the lyrics about the nature of war, reflected in the music, which has the single determination of a tank plowing through a battleground. Christian Ayala and Luis Javier Rivera are the guitar duo of the record, downtuning where needed for maximum effect but also utilising repeating clean guitars and fluid leads. 

Ayala also brings some additional synths and also great vocals which sound a little like one Mr Dave Grohl, a little rough but still passionate, he even continues to use harsh vocals on The Downpour which is the first track of the conceptual theme running through this record it "explores the meaning of 'home' and the freedom to attain your own destiny." The record based around this idea, the lyrics telling the story of the protagonist introduced on the propulsive The Downpour, a track where bassist José Miguel Vázquez (Chemie) and drummer Adrián Arroyo both are the key feature, as the time signatures chop and change. It's the story line that drives this record, the idea of how a person deals with isolation and betrayal, especially by the military complex that are a part of, is dealt with well, the broad cinematic brush strokes of the music creating a masterful listen. 

With the brooding beginning of A Trace Of Home, it soon flourishes into some more Opeth-like sounds the growls against the heavy prog riffing, David Fremberg of Andromeda adding his vocals. Bringing poignancy with the synths, but muscles and technical know how (listen to that solo on In Memoriam) with their prog metal heaviness, Avandra may be a band that fly a little under the radar for most, but they are worth your time if experienced, dexterous, heavy prog metal is up your street. 9/10

Ripper - Return To Death Row (Self Released)

The vocalist Tim 'Ripper' Owens, is often the butt of many heavy metal jokes however when you weigh it up he has had a stellar career, having been in Judas Priest and Iced Earth (can we mention them anymore?), he is also a member of The Three Tremors with Sean Peck and Harry Conklin as well as being one of the 'go to' heavy metal screamers for plenty of bands. 

For me though it's his solo/self named bands that are often his best work, Beyond Fear especially I consider to be much better than any of his records with Priest and it's in that heavy speed/thrash style the Ripper returns to on the debut release from Ripper, his new solo project. Produced by Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta along with drummer Nick Bellimore, Return To Death Row reminds you of how good Ripper is at this sort of high octane heavy metal. Much like Jasta did with Dee Snider's last solo record; it brings the metal in droves, both Nick and guitarist brother Charlie play with Snider in his band are also in Ripper, the band rounded out by bassist Chris Taylor. 

At 22 minutes this EP gives you exactly what you want, the full force blast of Die While We're Alive getting the heartbeat elevated before 'that' scream hits and lingers with Rippers trademark power. From here he snarls and shrieks through another 6 songs that are either the face melting thrash of The Night (Take It Back) or the swaggering classic metal of Silent Cage. It's Ripper performing classic Ripper the influence of Jasta as important here as it was with Dee Snider, augmented by a top notch band, Return To Death Row is brimming with electricity. 8/10

Thy Listless Heart - Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return (Hammerheart Records)

At this time of supposed comfort and joy, Simon Bibby is not the guy you'd want to invite to your staff Xmas party. However with the current cost of living crisis, energy crisis and everything else that will make this a very long, cold, bleak winter, his band Thy Listless Heart, is ideal audio accompaniment to these long, dark, cold nights (so long as there aren't electric blackouts). 

Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return, is the debut album from Thy Listless Heart, the band in name only as it is just Bibby that performs here. I have to say at this juncture that he has an immense talent, crafting these atmospheric, esoteric, yearning, mournful doom songs that take aim at your heart and pierce it songs such as When The Spirit Departs The Body, the hymnal organs, deft drumming, orchestral swells and folk instruments put in mind if the most cinematic parts of The Wall, with the doom trappings of Cathedral, My Dying Bride and early Anathema. 

It's all very different to Bibby's former life as an thrash metal musician. A track such as the lilting, folksy Aefnian as far away from thrash as a band can get, the traditional instrumentation coming from bands such as Primordial, The Search For Meaning too is a heart breaker that is a stunning closer, Simon's vocals extremely powerful on this closing track, as they are throughout, both his bellowing cleans and guttural growls impress. 

The hairs stood up on my neck when I heard The Search For Meaning, build and build into a 14 minute masterpiece. Much like Pantheist who I saw recently, Thy Listless Heart, bring a high level of emotion with sorrowful doom, that often doesn't even need a trench digging riff to create a mood, see the opening moments of The Precipice though of course they are a pretty innate part of doom so there's a lot of them. One of the doom metal albums of the year, I'm gutted I overlooked it back in November as this will be my festive soundtrack for sure. 10/10

Mother Vulture - Mother Knows Best (Lockdown Records)

A band that are always incendiary live, it was only a matter of time that they put their music down on record for the masses to consume. Having been taking the UK stages by storm, Mother Vulture are one of the most positively touted live acts around, having played Bloodstock amongst others, all while still being disgustingly young and very talented. I approached this record with trepidation as, very often a band who are so mind blowingly good on a stage often don't quite have the same hit on record. Two examples that come to mind are The Graveltones and Vintage Trouble, bands that absolutely kill it when in front of baying audience but their recorded material falls a little flat. 

Perhaps it's feeding off the energy of the crowd or the reciprocity of appreciation but so many times I've gone to listen to an album of a shit hot live band it's is been a little bit disappointing. So on to the debut album from these blues-punk upstarts it's obvious they can still draw you in with sense of danger and flickering flame of mischief that infuses their, short shocks of punchy rock n roll (no songs go past the four minute mark), it's fuzzy, frantic and designed to get you moving, the vocals especially good. 

However there does seem to be a lack of significant hooks, something that isn't always obvious live due to the performance/movement/interaction but when all of that is stripped away, the songs just sort of start, rock out then stop with not a lot of, 'oof' moments and not a huge amount of variation either. I assume this was a lockdown driven decision to put all their live cuts on a disc (digital file?), so as a way to prepare yourself with knowledge of the band I can't fault them as it will get them to places they have yet to play. However if you really want to see what Mother Vulture can do, go and see them live! 6/10

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