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Friday 2 December 2022

Reviews: Obvurt, Isafjørd, Amberian Dawn, Veilburner (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Obvurt – Triumph Beyond Adversity (Unique Leader Records)

Canadians Obvurt have faced more adversity in their inception than many bands do in their career. Only forming in 2020, they released an EP, The Beginning in 2021 which showed the direction they were heading, fiercely technical death metal that is inspired by Immolation, Morbid Angel and Cattle Decapitation. 

The guitar playing of Philippe Drouin shows he’s a true virtuoso, it’s also one part of an inspiring story. Having served time in Unbreakable Hatred, Obvurt is essentially his solo project and chance for him to prove himself as a guitar player. In 2016 a car accident left him unable to play the instrument he had been practicing for 15 years, however Phillippe re-learned to play left handed under the tutelage of Michael Angelo Batio (now in Manowar). To me that is astounding and a testament to the fortitude of Drouin and his love of music. With the EP establishing them, this full length is Obvurt, which includes bassist Alexandre Chouinard and drummer Charleli Arsenault-Tremblay is them building on the EP and stretching out the technical death metal assault for 8 tracks of bludgeoning, mind melting, fretboard breaking intensity. 

With occasional dips into melody such as the jazz break in Invisible Enemy where the blastbeats just keep coming even when it's just a solitary clean guitar before the death growls and distortion is ramped up again, or of course the frequent neo-classical guitar lines on Renverser L'adversité that quicken the pace again. With lyrics surrounding the pandemic and the state of the world Triumph Beyond Adversity is a blazing tech death record that carves through the 8 tracks with ease, rarely letting you gain breath. 8/10

Isafjørd – Hjartastjak (Svart Records)

The Icelandic music scene is incredibly incestuous, countless bands and few people means that there is lots of crossover. The Reykjavik scene being especially dense, it meant that Isafjørd founders Aðalbjörn Addi Tryggvason and Ragnar Zolberg met each other when Ragnar was playing live session bass with Addi's main project Sólstafir. The two struck a friendship and this has resulted in this collaboration, Isafjørd translates to fjord of ice and was named after the two where both of their father's came from, this link between the two men bringing the nostalgic, ethereal, soundscapes if this record alive. 

Unlike their dayjobs this record is arty, haunting, Icelandic pop with post rock shimmers and the infectious/yet maudlin hooks of Björk or Sigur Rós, they call it landscape music but this record is the sort of soundtrack to sweeping pan shots of large glacial vistas and frozen tundra. There's an aching and a longing eeked out in the vocals and the dynamic shifts between quiet introspection and loud catharsis, both men providing all the instrumentation and vocals, though it's the natural chemistry between the two that brings this album together. Two musically akin souls expressing themselves through a medium that both of them understand intimately. 

Heavily orchestrated with strings and synths across the entire album, for that wide-screen scope. The guitars are reverbed to feel like U2 on Falin Skemmd as a propulsive/repeating drum beat keeps the energy. This pulsing, percussive heartbeat continues, leveling off into the dreamy Mín Svarta Hlið and the moody title track. Both men lived in Norway and speak Norwegian, with the Nordic influence of a band such as Madrugada on the title track and the introspective beauty of Heiðin, there's also the lustful darkness of a band such as Crippled Black Phoenix on Fjord Of Hope

Everything about this record appeals to me, the connectivity and wonderment that sits at the heart of each of these songs, touches your soul, the heaviness not always coming from distorted riffs or blast beats but from the wistful milieu they conjure on the 8 tracks. As the nights get longer and colder, light a fire, wrap yourself in your favourite blanket and indulge in Hjartastjak. A charming, heartfelt album that bewitched me from the opening moments until the fading final ones. 9/10

Amberian Dawn – Take A Chance: A Metal Tribute To ABBA (Napalm Records)

Having recently married a Greek woman, the amount of ABBA talk that has surrounded me has been mind-numbing. Because of Mamma Mia and its sequel, ABBA are now fully linked to any sort of Greek nuptials, so when this album dropped in my inbox I did have to check to see if it wasn’t one of my colleagues making a joke. 

However this is no joke, Finnish symphonic power metal band, performed a cover of Lay All Your Love On Me on their previous album Looking For You, and in that review I said it was one of the best parts of that album. Obviously the band agree as they have now become a fully fledged ABBA-metal band performing songs from the Swedish powerhouse in their own symphonic style. Now this isn’t new as plenty of bands have covered ABBA; Ghost, Helloween, Yngwie Malmsteen and even Fozzy but none have gone so far as to perform an entire album of ABBA covers! What I will say about this record is that it’s not ABBA Gold, as there is Super Trouper, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, Mamma Mia, SOS, The Day Before You Came and Lay All Your Love On Me (again) but the rest of the album are perhaps lesser known ABBA songs that means the band can play around a little more with them. That’s Me which is the only song featured here from their seminal Arrival is a spiraling rocker for example, as Under Attack gets a strutting rock sound. 

With the classic triumvirate of Super Trouper, Gimme… and SOS you can hear that Amberian Dawn have tried to keep things authentic with the analogue keyboards/synths that ABBA would have used all over the songs but there’s also some distorted riffs and double kick drums. For me there’s a similarity to projects such as The Northern Kings or Exit Eden where the covers are metalized but retain the pomp and with ABBA danceability of the originals, a track such as The Day Before You Came given a 80’s synthy power ballad overhaul. Capri’s vocals are layered so she can capture both Agnetha and Anni-Frid, on Angeleyes and Mamma Mia especially. 

It’s ABBA, its symphonic metal, if you don’t like either of these things then I’d suggest you stay away, however if you’re a metalhead and want an album you can play for your Mum and your Gran at Xmas, instead of your preferred choice of Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, then Take A Chance on Amberian Dawn. 7/10

Veilburner - VLBRNR (Transcending Obscurity Records)

The duo of Mephisto Deleterio (music/production) and Chrisom Infernium (vocals/lyrics/visual art) have navigated the avant garde nature of Veilburner for five previous albums now. All released within the space of 8 years, the duo’s nightmarish, conceptual, universe allows them to explore the furthest reaches of extreme music pushing boundaries that take them from death, to black, to industrial metal with classical instrumentation and plenty of effects and general weirdness. 

On this sixth iteration, I will warn you that the listening doesn’t get any easier, imagine Strapping Young Lad with the attitude of Mr Bungle and you’ll be nearer to what Veilburner as band sound like. The intense technicality of the playing, set in song forms that are often disconcerting and menacing. On the first two tracks alone VI (Vulgar Incantations) brings some punishing tech metal grooves as Envexomous Hex is intergalactic black metal, both different but somehow in keeping with the Veilburner aesthetic, even Unorthodoxagon which sounds like Primus, fits for some weird reason. 

With concept that has been influence by theological, science fiction and occult sources, they almost have free reign to experiment as much or as little as they like, preferring the former to the latter, packing multiple genre shifts and soundscapes into the 10 song album, a track like Lo! Heirs To The Serpent a serious mind fuck as thrash shifts to atmospheric black metal, the frantic changes unsettling but fascinating. There is a feeling that the previous five albums have culminated together on this one, every genre leap, every progressive flourish, coming together in one place, to delight, confuse and batter you. 

VLBRNR is not your average record from not your average band, it may throw some when it closes with a long slow industrial thump from the back of death metal battery but approach with an open mind and you’ll get a lot out of it. 7/10

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