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Friday, 24 March 2023

Reviews: Dawn Ray'd, Acid King, Ov Sulfur, Lost Asylum (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Rich Piva, Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Dawn Ray’d - To Know The Light (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Dawn Ray’d should be well known to readers of these pages, the Liverpudlian trio have been making revolutionary music since 2015. The band is made up of Matthew B on Drums, Fabian D on Guitar, Simon B on Vocals and Violin. In the time the band have been together they have released 2 Ep’s 2015’s A Thorn, A Blight and 2021’s Wildfire, and 2 albums; their debut full length The Unlawful Assembly in 2017 and Behold Sedition Plainsong in 2019. 

Throughout the time the band have been together Britain has sunk further and further into Fascism and reactionary propaganda, and Dawn Ray’d’s anger and drive has grown with it; their last album being a piece of savage Ulver inspired Second Wave Black Metal that was filled with righteous anger and indignation, four years later and the world is in a worse state than it was in 2019 (something 2019 me would not have believed was possible, but here we are), so what have Dawn Ray’d got for us this time?

There have been some stylistic changes in the four years since Behold Sedition Plainsong, the Black Metal elements are slightly less extreme, with a more usual Guitar tone rather than the buzzsaw sound from the last album. a good example is the track The Battle Of Sudden Flame which is a short blast of simple second wave savagery, or on the song Inferno, which opens with very aggressive Blast Beats that drive the song forward. Inferno does have a second half that is infused with Folk, with great violin parts that are full of melody.

It still has that savage Second Wave feel, but Dawn Ray’d are after a different emotion with this album; there is still lots of anger, but the incandescent rage has been replaced by a feel that is more constructive. On this album there are themes that draw on mutual aid, community and solidarity, anger is great, but building supportive structures that can help people and build a movement, will ultimately change more than rage on its own.

There is a different sound to the drums as well. Although there are cymbals on To Know The Light, they are very low in the mix, to the extent that I thought initially there were no cymbals at all. The snare also sounds closer to a Tom Tom, without that sharp sound I usually associate with a snare, this gives the drumming a feel that is lower register, without much brightness, which makes the drums feel more like marching drums that you might hear at a protest march, it also reminds me of the Hippy / Folk / Protest collective Seize The Day, old radicals like me might remember them from the late nineties anti-globalisation protests, they would sing and drum as they marched with protesters.

This album also contains much more folk than either of the other albums, and it is an old style of Folk, much closer to Industrial Revolution Folk that is dark and filled with anger and pain, a folk that comes straight from William Blakes’ Dark Satanic Mills. It’s a style that would be recognised by people present at the Peterloo Massacre, The Paris Commune or even the Peasants Revolt. There is a very affecting song called Cruel Optimism which is a very simple little folk tune made up of clean Guitar and Violin that features a spoken word part talking about anger at a cruel and inhuman system, and the joy of defiance. My personal favourite of the folk tracks is Freedom In Retrograde, a beautiful, simple folk tune about the most beautiful thing in the world; Solidarity. It’s a simple song that talks about radical politics at its most basic level, the love and solidarity of communities to help each other overcome hardship, “If you still sing, then I’ll still sing”.

The final song on the album Go As Free Companions, is a great piece of Folk metal with really good violin and loads of great melodies, its a very good track to end the album that talks about mutual aid and working together to smash the system, what a great ending to a great album.

To Know The Light is a fantastic album, musically and lyrically, the album is deeply affecting, very creative and beautifully constructive. It feels like the band have taken stock of where the world is heading and this album is both a warning and a call to arms to try to change the direction our world is hurtling in. I love the musical direction the band have moved in, this album feels more rounded and more mature, and lyrically these songs have real weight and meaning. 

The time to take action is now, Dawn Ray’d are on the barricades, if we want a future that is more than poverty, drudgery and environmental apocalypse, then we need to join them. I think I’ll leave the last word to the song Freedom In Retrograde: “Though i have this creeping feeling, That the dark is closing in, I still will fight for freedom for every living thing. If you still sing, then I'll still sing”. 9/10

Acid King - Beyond Vision (Blues Funeral Recordings) [Rich Piva]

I am a big Acid King fan, but I’ve never listened to any of their output for the first time and have it blow me away on that initial listen. Everything that this legendary Bay Area band puts out is the definition of a slow burner, and their first album since 2015, Beyond Vision, is the antithesis of this. The new record is a journey into a fuzzy soundscape that (as usual) lives up to the band’s moniker.

To outline my point above, Beyond Vision starts out with the definition of a slow burn, One Light Second Away. A six-minute plus instrumental heavy/beautiful, doomy shoegaze atmospheric riff fest, which sets you up perfectly for the rest of the album. On the first few listens all I wanted the album to do is kick in, but on listen four, you start to understand the genius and the set up for the rest of the record with this track. Mind’s Eye kicks in with heavy, swirling guitars, haunting vocals and a killer riff, making this maybe the doomgaze track of the year so far. 

The production on this album is perfect, clan but not antiseptic, with an absolutely killer fuzzy guitar tone that these guys are known for. 90 Seconds is more of the same goodness, with those haunting vocals right out front, but with some serious heavy and plodding riffs to help you along. It is like if Slowdive listened to Sabbath instead of the Jesus And Mary Chain. Speaking of atmospheric slow burns, Electro Magnetic is the burn that is the least fleet of foot on Beyond Vision. Eight plus minutes of a lumbering instrumental ripper (the slowest kind of a ripper), we get the first three minutes of some of the more gentle work on the record only to be slammed into but some absolute killer guitar work but highlighted but the effort on the drums. Heavy, like soul crushing heavy. 

Next a trippy interlude leads you to the title track, which is something to behold and probably my favorite track on the record. Turn this one up and soak it all in. The sound is perfect, and you will be transformed, especially during that psych drenched solo. I really dig their instrumentals, but the band is at it’s height for me when they include the haunting, layered vocals to the killer musicianship and atmosphere. This is the prototype. Color Trails closes us out in the same way we came in, which wraps up this killer album quite nicely, and I love the heavy drums two minutes in that leads to the riff, that then incorporates all that slow a beautiful heaviness in a way only Acid King can.

Acid King fans have waited a long time for a new record, and I cannot see a way they would be disappointed with Beyond Vision. It has everything you want from a band who has been putting out killer material for multiple decades. If you are a fan, you will love this. If this is your first time, and you like atmosphere, riffs, and a beautiful heavy, you will really enjoy Beyond Vision. 9/10

Ov Sulphur - The Burden Ov Faith (Century Media) [Matt Bladen]

Ferocious blackened deathcore that is as blasphemous as a Norwegian black metal band (or a Greek one) and as destructive as a kaiju in downtown Tokyo. Ov Sulphur started their unholy crusade with their previous EP but on this debut full length, frontman Ricky Hoover can channel his distaste and historical disdain for organised religion (I, Apostate) through the most expansive music Ov Sulfur have put their name too. 

The most illuminating thing about this album is Hoover's vocals which are much varied than just your standard deathcore grunt. The fact he can compete with the likes of Alex The Terrible (Slaughter To Prevail), Taylor Barber (Left To Suffer), Kyle Medina (Bodysnatcher) and even metalcores greatest vocal export Howard Jones (Light The Torch), is what makes The Burden Ov Faith a masterclass in extreme metal vocals. To the music then as the tech death/deathcore muscle gives way to symphonic black metal, the cinematic stylings of Cradle Of Filth a particular reference, as Lindsay Schoolcraft adds haunting strings to the closing title track. Lindsay of course known for her work with Suffolk's favourite demons. 

With band members and the addition of Logan Mader on the production team, it has a serious "womp" to the production like a audio punch to the guts this bruising attack aided by the emotional, personal lyrics. More than a decade after his last album with previous band Suffokate, Hoover has taken another shot at the big time and ripped the throat out of any opposition with this record. Wearing their heart on their sleeve but carrying a bloody great axe in the other, Ov Sulfur deliver mercy and menace on this album. 9/10

Lost Asylum - Inmate 13 (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Hailing from Sussex in the UK, this Hard Rock five piece have been around for about seven years, but this is their first EP proper. The fact that the instrumental part of the band has been around for a few years shows (along with the quite varied ages of its members) as these four songs illustrate an act that has gelled its chemistry in the line-up, writes well together and knows what works.

Despite the fact that singer Ryan O'Donovan doesn’t have an instrument in front of him, his vocal melody lines still follow the rhythm melodies quite closely, which tells me that these songs were written and honed before he joined in 2019, just in time for Covid to effectively stop them dead for a few years. I suspect this will change with time, as when you’re not hampered by an axe and strap as a vocalist, your whole body becomes an instrument to work the crowds with. The melody lines naturally evolve around that with experience, with new songs benefiting from the input of what works for the frontman as much as it does everyone else, so despite the quite staccato effect the current arrangements have on the vocal delivery, I can see the potential in his performance which is powerful, soulful and with a healthy dollop of charisma, if not quite fully there yet.

The songs are down, dirty and heavy, but with enough pace to keep heads nodding throughout, and a focussed and punchy delivery and arrangement that works really well, with some clearly very strong performances from both guitars and rhythm section throughout. The only weak spot really is in the production, which feels a little too basic. The instruments have a heavy punch, but they’re a little too far back in the mix, with a quite trebly and too forward vocal overlay. The problem is not the quality of the vocal snapshot – they’re where they need to be; it’s everything else that needs presenting more. Again, this will come with experience as when you first hit a studio, the fact that you have achieved that major milestone and cut your stuff on disk tends to overwhelm bands, who naturally become more critical of their work with time and experience.

Reading this back, this sounds more negative than intended, because these really are relatively minor quibbles for an act still getting going, because the four songs here are solid, well-written and catchy and I can see them working really well live. A very promising start. 7/10

Reviews: Ne Obliviscaris, Morass Of Molasses, Meg Myers, Maze Of Sothoth (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

Ne Obliviscaris - Exul (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

Checking online, Ne Obliviscaris is a progressive metal outfit from Australia who incorporate elements of several different musical disciplines into their music. Their latest, Exul has all of these on show, and they demonstrate this with some outstanding musical proficiency. This is not traditional or paint by numbers metal by any means. 

The six tracks on here range from the epic opener, Equus which comes in at 12 minutes to album closer Anhedonia which on comparison is just over three. It’s not new to have classical / strings within progressive metal, but Ne Obliviscaris use violin as a primary weapon in their sonic assault, and it is refreshing to hear this trading blows with the guitar on an equal footing.

Equus starts us off on this journey, with the violin up at the front and it took me by surprise with clean singing that sounds as though it would not be out of place on something closer to power / traditional heavy rock with acoustic backing before operating the quiet / loud approach with death growls and double bass. It doesn’t rely on this as the heavier side takes precedence as the song breathes and runs towards its end. 

Misericorde I – As The Flesh Falls continues in this approach and as much as I found the clean sound jarring the overall display of music, ideas and riffs pull together to keep you engaged and to gloss over this. I don’t know if it is the way it has been recorded but I felt the same with In Flames last release where I thought that the clean singing just needed some grit, but this is purely personal to me. It is entirely likely that in the live setting, that required dirt could be on display.

Putting that to one side, what we have is a set of finely crafted songs that continue to inspire feelings of awe with some amazing fretwork displays that reward the listener for staying the course. Everything works, everything has a place and is only there to serve the song itself. Of course, with the majority of songs hitting 7 minutes plus you do feel that some ruthless editing of the lengths would have made this a tighter, more cohesive affair but again that is my personal opinion and fans of progressive metal will dig into this and love it. There is a lot going on here and deserves multiple listens to absorb properly.

I’ve said this earlier that it is a finely crafted album and frankly I’m astounded that given the amount of music being released that there are still bands who are able to somehow channel something that original as this with a consistent level of quality that is on display here. There have been some really strong releases so far and its only March and for me this is certainly one of them. 8/10

Morass Of Molasses – End All We Know (Ripple Music) [Matt Bladen]

Clawing their way out of the swamps of Reading, I mean it’s not bloody New Orleans, but it rains a lot. Morass Of Molasses have been churning out heavy blues for nearly a decade and this third album is the trio riding the fuzzy tidal wave of riffage towards the band they have always showed themselves to be. On the back of many great live performances especially at Bloodstock festival, their recorded output came in rapid succession each one composed of songs perfected on the road, which is their home, the dogged road dogs upping their game with each release. 

Signing to the chief label for all things fuzz Ripple Music, End All We know is the first album they have written without touring the material first say the band. This ‘remote’ working experience leading to a bigger level of experimentation than they could have thought about before. I guess it’s a case of write/record it this way and think about how to play it live at a later date! 

Strutting into view with opener The Origin Of The North, End All We Know, gets going with some mostly instrumental Sabbath/Cathedral worship as the pacey riff, slows toward the end into slow, undulating doom the vocals coming in screamed and rabid as it segues into the grooving, urgent Hellfayre, so this third full length unleashes a potent double whammy to begin and from here we delve deeper into the musical vision of the band. Sinkhole gives some hip shaking, with Bones’ baritone guitar used well, Phil Williams’ lead guitar covering the ground between the pulsating baritone and the haywire drumming of Raj Puni. 

Sinkhole’s turbulence gives way to textured, atmospheric opening to Naysayer before more lovely riffage washes over you, leading to a bluesy guitar solo towards the end. The dual vocal shouts are ideal for these riff slinging Brits, even on the more psychedelic tones of Slingshot Around The Sun, they’re replaced by a Billy Corgan sneer, again showing how much time has gone into making this record sound better than any of their previous efforts (not that they are bad). 

While the beginning of this album starts with its heaviest, primordial moments as we move towards the end, the psych and folk influences work their way into Terra Nova, I even hear some flute ala Jethro Tull or Blood Ceremony. Prima Mater continues on an ascent towards the galaxy leading to the space rock jamming of Wings Of Reverie to climb higher into cosmic realms. Sequenced perfectly, with an experimental ear, End All We Know is Morasses Of Molasses most accomplished record to date. 9/10

Meg Myers – TZIA (Sumerian Records) [Matt Bladen]

Something a little different now on Sumerian Records who snapped up alternative artist Meg Myers. Her debut album Sorry saw her skyrocket to fame playing Conan, Jimmy Fallon as well as Lollapalooza and Coachella and tours supporting MCR and Pixies. It must have been a huge amount of pressure for the then 19 year old, her fame again ramping up when her cover of Running Up That Hill hit to #1 42 weeks after its release. However Meg is now more comfortable on a label such as Sumerian where she has free reign to do as she wants, working outside of major label spotlights her last two EP’s have come through Sumerian, with TZIA being the third release for the label but the first full length.

Meg is multi-instrumentalist and uses her music as therapy and catharsis, here she adds to this meaning with a more spiritual pursuit of a higher power through meditation and the transference of energy. But it also dwells amongst the human condition using music as way to explore and heal while also empowering and liberating. A feminist, sexually liberated, album to cleanse her of trauma, PTSD and abuse, it’s the rawest record she has recorded, most of the tracks stripped back to a simple electronic beat and vocals, Meg wearing her heart and more on her sleeve to get her point across. Musically there’s the experimental density of Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel with the honesty of Fiona Apple and the attitude of PJ Harvey and Alanis Morrisette, her grunge/punk credentials creeping into the alternative pop anthems. Even on the harp-driven cover of Linkin Park’s Numb, Meg retains the frustration of the original, the stripped back composition making it more potent.

Her own music is turbulent and terrific, Ovaries Speak screaming stigma and mental health issues that face so many women, HTIS rages with Luna Shadows & Carmen Vandenberg adding their work, I just Wanna Touch Somebody has a longing to it while the title track is all about connecting to something higher than ourselves. 15 tracks long, though a few are under 3 minutes, TZIA is something of a rebirth for Meg Myers, as vital to the scene as Emma Ruth Rundle, St Vincent or those pioneering 90’s artists. This isn’t a metal album but it’s a wonderful record for music lovers. 9/10

Maze Of Sothoth - Extirpated Light (Everlasting Spew Records) [Mark Young]

Sometimes, all you want is old-school, brutality. Insane BPM’s, the deepest growls all wrapped up in a relatively short space of time. And this is what is delivered here. Make no mistake, Italian death metal mentalists Maze Of Sothoth bring brutality, intensity for your listening pleasure. It is like a sonic battering ram, with song after song just coming at you with the intent of kicking you around for 36 minutes. It is unapologetic in its approach, in just going for the throat.

These just blast from the start, with The Unspeakable just flashing past in 3 minutes and the pace just seems to get faster with Eliminate Contamination and The Revocation Dogma both showing enough technical skill to prevent you from becoming fatigued from the sheer velocity. They slow for Blood Tribute which has that Morbid Angel influence all over it until it decides to switch gears and just take off and then slow again with a blistering solo to close it out. It is just spot on and despite being the longest track here it doesn’t feel like it all. They don’t want to let up, as if adhering to the death metal commandments that start with Thou Shall Not Be Slow.

It's strange that with a release like this, that has seemingly one aim but to be as brutal and old-school as is possible (two aims?) and then achieving doesn’t leave you an awful lot to talk about. It is not a disservice to the songs at all as they are all at a consistent level of quality, in performance and arrangement and I would be complaining if they didn’t batter me all over the place. If they can repeat this live, you know for a fact you aren’t coming out of that pit without bruises and blood on you.

They know what they need to do and just do it and are damn effective at it.

Looking online, it is their second full length effort and are garnering good reviews elsewhere. You can argue that there isn’t a lot of variety in the music here, but to be fair are you looking for it? It is heads down, straight ahead death metal which comes in, slays and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

So, to recap: Blast beats – check. Double bass – check. Guttural vocals – check. Guitar solos – check. Is there progressive variety – no. Is it for those who like shouty then softly then shouty parts - no. 7/10

Thursday, 23 March 2023

Reviews: Harboured, Embryo, L'ira Del Baccano, Words That Burn (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

Harboured - Harboured (Lost Future Records) [Mark Young]

This is the self-titled debut from Harboured, with the component parts coming together from other bands. This 4-piece promise a dense mix of metal-core, black metal served up with an almost progressive feel.

First up is Anterior which builds with synths, drums and subtle chants exploding into metal bombast. Its similar in sound to maybe Rolo Tomassi but with a heavier edge as it almost sets up the following track. Impermanent Cell has that urgent pace to it as vocals are barked as drums whip up until they decide to stop almost dead and promptly put the brakes on any momentum they have built. This quiet middle section then comes back to life as expected and it is this almost reliance on quick/slow/faster song structure we have heard so many times before and I hate it. if you are going to do this, make it interesting, do something new.

Thy Own Destroyer changes tack slightly, with the softer introduction, with the drummer working hard to keep that interest going until they light the blue touch paper prior to slowing that pace. With this one, they have found their range as it combines some nifty guitar passages that keep you going with it. It rises to an anthemic end, from whispered speech to the metal-core barks that preceded it. On this they convey a ton of emotion as the guitar is synced perfectly to it. This is a great track. Atlas To Fall segues in with furious riffing, drumming again trying to fill all available space without being over the top. Again, this is a top-notch track, built with a groove that will be awesome live. This is maintained and augmented by synths which really fill their sound further.

Far Barren is the longest track here and after a slightly meandering intro, this one burns, tremolo picking, blast beats and some almighty chugs. It’s full of rage and violent intent and I love it. It’s fantastic that they have this ability to put this together in a way that is exciting for the listener. There is the slow, quiet piece but I can forgive them here as it is giving space to each instrument. This is a testament to Cierra White who pounds the absolute shit out of the kit. Everything is on fire with this one as it screeches to its end.

Final track, The View has an almost melancholic feel to it as there is a slow build with soft chants underpinning it as that gives over blast beats and pummelling guitars and then it is all over. So, for a first release it is a strong effort from them. I said that the slow break in Impermanent Cell was something that I am (personally sick of) but other than that they don’t put a foot wrong. It is an almost fully formed monster and the triple threat of Thy Own Destroyer, Atlas To Fall and Far Barren are three of the best songs I’ve heard within this genre. Live they will be unstoppable, and it points to an incredibly bright future for them. 7/10
Embryo - A Vivid Shade On Misery (Rockshots Records) [Mark Young]

For this, their 5th album they enlisted the considerable talents George Kollias to keep the beat, and he brings that certain something to elevate the band around him and as you might expect they come out blasting with pride and waste no time in announcing that this a straight up attack, with all the necessary armoury you want – growls, double bass, and guitar battering. This is just continued into Highest Fame, which has enough twists and turns to keep it from just being another speed fest. Background keys play counter with an almost familiar passage that reminds me of 80s sci-fi (V, for those interested). So far this is good stuff with each of the tracks pitched with just the right run length to avoid repetition and fatigue.

The Seed Of Lividity has that classic gallop riff running through it and is just pure class. There are moments of melody here and these are welcomed to keep it fresh. MMDC slows down a touch whilst there are some drum acrobatics going on. It sounds like despite the song titles, there is an element of ‘Lets have some fun with this, let’s make this the best we can’ and its clear from first listen that they want you to join in. Guitar/drums are in total sync, lead breaks fit the songs without being overblown and are just well measured. Medusa comes across like classic melo-death from Sweden with that just above mid-tempo pace that allows the drums to fly as it starts to take off during the middle before throttling back and jumping into Vanitas which has a similar pace and structure, which is fine as it sets up Concrete Visionary to close us out at a great speed.

What I love about it is that it is unashamed death metal that sounds like it is straight from Scandinavia, these guys are from Italy and with this they are more than holding their own against bands from that part of Europe. It sounds as it should, with each instrument balanced and present. If having George K on drums is a temporary thing, then they will need a similar level of talent to keep them going when performing live. The whole album has that urgent energy which is just perfect. Any negatives are that its doesn’t offer anything new (for me) in terms of melodic death metal, but it comes out as fresh in that there is no slow third track which has been a staple on music I’ve heard recently. They have set out to kick you about for a while and succeeded. 7/10

L'ira Del Baccano - Cosmic Evoked Potentials (Subsound Records)

In these often turbulent times, there's periods where an album such as Cosmic Evoked Potentials really hits home. Billed as doomdelic instrumental space prog rock, this Italian band are a spaceship to far out galaxys many lightyears from here. Sabbath jamming with Hawkwind on the drugs provided by the The Grateful Dead and visuals from pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd.

Existential, extraterrestrial journey through the cyclic nature of existence, recorded in an old mansion as live as possible Cosmic Evoked Potentials is a jam session committed to reaching into the astral plane. Luca Primo's bass and Sandro Salvi's drums are the driving force to songs from The Strange Dream Of My Old Sun to Eclipse Omega as the jazz inflections are met with doom metal power. 

The guitars of Alessandro Santori and Roberto Malerba atmospheric, reverbed and echoed, the synths/keys as well needed to really express the mood on these instrumental explorations. If bands like Astra, Diagonal or Caravan and of course Soft Machine tickle your third eye then these Italians are a psych doom rock delight. 7/10

Words That Burn - Cut Throat Culture (Blood Blast Distribution/Believe Digital)

It's been done by hundreds of bands before them but there's something about the melodic metalcore assault of Words That Burn that endear me to them. 

Inspired by bands such as Parkway Drive and Architects but still holding on to the heft of those bands early years, this Irish band utilise the quiet/loud dynamics, an alt-metal groove and lots of fizzing electronics (The Cavalry Ain't Coming). Produced by Josh Schroeder who has tackled Lorna Shore and King 810, Cut Throat Culture rages against despair and crisis, the blood curdling screams and fast, chunky riffs, frothing with anger as they move into breakdowns that'll make you want to smash your possessions. 

However Words That Burn can also do the otherside, clean reverb guitars, crooning vocals and plenty of melodic choruses that will have you singing along. A track such as Sirens has a radio friendly thump to it, while the melodic sound comes through well on the choral backed You're On Your Own. Shifting away from just the metalcore of yore, like so many bands, Words That Burn are preparing themselves for the future. 7/10

Reviews: Ihsahn, Fatal Embrace, The Rhubarb, Xalpen (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Ihsahn - Fascination Street Sessions EP (Candlelight Records) [Matt Bladen]

Emperor mainman and musical prodigy Ihsahn has been preferring EP’s to full length albums for a while now and his latest Fascination Street is another selection of new tracks plus a cover version, Ihsahn collaborating with highly touted producer/engineer Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios. 

The EP is part of his and Jens's involvement in the URM Academy’s educational program focusing on music production. Having these two teaching almost guarantees a pass right? Anyway to the EP itself and of course the production is perfect, Ihsahn, drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen and keyboardist Øystein Aadland playing in a collaborative manner that has led to clean vocals from Aadland and the addition of Katatonia man Jonas Renske’s baritone on Dom Andra a cover of Swedish band KENT, the brooding H-era Marillion style great for Renske’s voice. Ihsahn fulfilling a Swedish fantasy as all the stars aligned for this cover. 

Opening with The Observer, Aadland’s vocals bringing the warmth of Mikael Akerfeldt, the use of flutes also nodding to the Swedish natives. Bogren of course knows how to produce this kind of thing having helmed multiple Opeth albums. So it’s pretty close to the Opeth playbook but serves as a great opener to this Swedish fantasy project, the keys used much more than on previous Ihsahn recordings. Everything was videoed by the URM team, the production process using analogue equipment for the natural sound you have here. Contorted Moments is almost hard rock, Ihsahn’s squawk evolving into the cleans for the chorus, packing more Opeth/Swano-isms into 3 minutes. 

Whether this is one off, or an amuse bouche for what to expect on his next full length, Ihsahn seemingly can turn his hand to any style and make it his own. 8/10

Fatal Embrace - Manifestum Infernalis (Black Lion Records) [Mark Young]

Checking online for background on Fatal Embrace, melodic death metal and blackened death metal seemed to be the main genres for which they have been known for. Haling from Varberg in Sweden, they were originally active between 1992 to 1998 and returned in 2016. Like a lot of bands, Covid, world unrest would put delays their way in getting this album recorded and ultimately released as you hear it today.

Black metal, depending on who you speak to and indeed which phase you listen to means that certain elements such as speed and levels of production are more prized than texture, atmosphere if you will. So, with that in mind Fatal Embrace has produced an album that is chock full of melody, of rich texture and an overall ideal that shows they are not just speed demons.

Each of the songs seems as though it has been built from a central idea, be it a guitar part or a vocal phrase which means all of the songs are similar but in no way the same. There are slow parts where piano fills the space, others where screeched vocals cut through with the drums ever present in keeping everything together. I don’t pretend to know the history of the band and I certainly don’t want insult any fans out there by cribbing from online sources, but I suggest that we have missed out on their being only two released full-length albums from them.

There is a constant funereal tone to proceedings, supported by the vocal attack and your standard rapid guitar attack. As I said earlier, it isn’t all blast beats and furious riffs, there are a number of mid-pace songs which are almost sat in gothic territory (Death Goth?) but each of them is so well put together they do echo classic Black Metal but are unique to themselves. Sometimes you find that bands may use a particular motif as a crutch to mask poor or worse lazy arrangements. Fatal Embrace are not guilty of that by any stretch.

Black Metal in general is not my jam, at the same time I can appreciate where there is a mastery of a form involved, and for me that is here. If I was to criticise then it would be a lack of bottom end / chugging riffs, but I guess that was never the intent in the first place. Fans of atmospheric metal should get onto this, because it should appeal to a broad spectrum of metal lovers 7/10

The Rhubarb - Symptom Of Failure (Milky Bomb Records) [Matt Bladen]

Glasgow foursome The Rhubarb don't crumble on this debut album. With that terrible joke out of the way I can tell you that they flourish and thrive with a heady concoction of distortion ravaged stoner doom riffs, psychedelic wandering and dual vocals that merge droning lows and spectral highs. Musically similar to bands such as Black Moth, Alunah and MWWB, Symptom Of Failure is downbeat doom metal that persistently furrows the brow and bangs the head with tracks such as Trip To The South and The Brines Effect where the relentless throb of Sleep builds the hypnotic style while on I Wanna Play A Game has the aggressive groove of High On Fire. 

If their debut EP, Black Sun, was a toe dip into The Rhubarb and their style of mind melting stoner doom, then Symptom Of Failure is a plunge into the deep end of an obsidian black pool without really knowing what's at the bottom. I Can't Roll is the albums middle section where the oppressive guitars and drums punish you into a woozy state of being; Hannah White's ghostly vocals and swirling basslines throbbing like a stubbed toe, the bottom end deep and cavernous as the drums of Jack Donnelly have a strength but also a dexterity. On a song such as the haunting Mother's Ruin, Michael McConville's guitars are strum like they're in a dark lullaby, the distortion coming in just as Seán Maguire begins to croon, Hannah in unison for that brilliant duality. 

If I have a suggestion about this album it's listen to it on headphones as you can feel that sense of claustrophobia and breathlessness much stronger when it's injected right into your ears, the cries of "One Last Thing" on Mother's Ruin lingering with you long after the needle leaves the wax. An incredible debut from these Scottish, masters of misery, no symptoms of failure to be heard here just plenty of success. 9/10

Xalpen - The Curse of Kwányep (Black Lodge Records) [Mark Young]

Xalpen in their bio note that on this, their latest release they are unleashing raw Black Metal whilst staying true to their devotion to all things black. For me, raw indicates that it is going to be stripped back and harkens to perhaps earlier phases of Black Metal where attitude and embracing of that scene took precedence over ability.

Starting with off-beat, discordant introduction it blasts into Chenke, which at first suggests traditional stab at Black Metal. Everything is there but doesn’t feel raw, but this could be down to interpretation by me. This doesn’t last as they change up rhythm before putting their foot down in mixture of Morbid Angel and Vader. Kolpewsh continues with that mid-pace pummeling to then change gears once more, throwing some great breaks in to it. So far this is pretty good stuff, it flows and shows that there is a confidence in their abilities as musicians.

Title track, The Curse of Kwányep starts with a ponderous, slow burn feel that builds into full on audio mayhem then slows down to meander through to the expected lift off again. This I felt sucked the energy out of this, which was a shame as had they avoided that slow section it would have just flown.

Regrouping with The Beast From The East they are soon on stable ground, just grinding out a constant attack before Kash Wayeweìn Qer ups the ante and continues with the fast attack which is just unrelenting and gives the album a shake-up which was definitely needed. Daughters Of The Nightside darkens the tone and sounds more urgent because of this shift but adopts that constant tempo present elsewhere and you feel that it should be faster than it is.

Moon-Woman ends the album with an 8-minute romp that serves to close proceedings although it is followed by an instrumental Hain Koijn Harsho which meanders through a softly whispered vocal track and a repeating guitar line which in all honesty could have been removed. Moon-Woman does the trick in bringing all the threads together and is probably my stand-out track on here as it weaves its way from heads down trem picking to almost traditional heavy metal riffing and shows that they have got the tools to make a truly great album.

The problem I have is that adopting a certain pace for each song leads to them slightly losing their effect as they can bleed into another. Technically it is proficient and sounds great, but it is a little bit flat in some spots where they let the momentum drop. There is actually nothing wrong here, it’s got everything you want in Black Metal, and they attack with gusto. Fans of this genre will certainly dig the songs here, for me it lacked a certain something to raise it from good to truly great listening. 6/10

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Reviews: Hanoi Rocks, Gideon, Ignominy, Bad Bones (Reviews By David Karpel, Zak Skane, Erick Willand & James Jackson)

Hanoi Rocks - Oriental Beat (Svart Records) [David Karpel]

Sleaze royalty, purveyors of flashy, glam-punk fashion and street stained, Decline of Western Civilization Part II rock & roll excessiveness, Hanoi Rocks deserve a revisit. While it’s fun to recognize them as a key influence to a bunch of American bands who borrowed from their looks, sounds, and antics, a new listen reminds us that the variety of styles in these songs are rooted in the band’s own musical context, including such diverse bands as New York Dolls, the Clash, Cheap Trick, and The Police. 

They remain one of those bands that if you missed them way back when, their relevance persists to such an extent that it may be your music-loving duty to give an attentive listen to their remixed and remastered, consequential 1982 album Oriental Beat. The band hated the original production value, even though the album and subsequent tour were a turning point for them, solidifying them as rising rock stars, and they took part in the production of this 40th Anniversary reissue. The new version does an excellent job of bringing the right elements forward, giving us a better sense of Michael Monroe’s sensuous vocals, and of Sami Yaffa’s foundational bass playing, not to mention the clarity given to the guitars, drums, and other elements. 

If you’re already a fan, the reshuffling of a few songs might bug you, at first. It made no difference to me. The title song opens the album with a scratchy, punchy beat. A scream imitated by so many androgynous, hair-sprayed lead singers follows until the song breaks into a fat-tired punk rock rager that manages melody and catchiness with ease until a break for an all too brief and swanky sax solo, after which the band returns to stomp that punchy beat right to the end.

Drums open Motorvatin’, Yaffa’s bass rolls in, and then Monroe’s voice, dripping with that knowing attitude, becomes the pull. It’s a debauched rock & roll anthem sweetened with harmonies that add to the infectiousness. No Law Or Order incorporates that punk-reggae sound Hanoi Rocks adapts with panache, the new mix providing a much better listen than the original, too, the bass warmer, the guitars so much more crisp. Teenangels Outsiders bursts with that energetic “wild and free, yeah, yeah, yeah” chorus and back up singing that makes it a pretty perfect, straight up rock song, including that awesome sax again. 

When Sweet Home Suburbia shuffle-beats through the speakers, my already attentive senses are spiked with renewed interest. This is my favorite moment on the album because it defies all my previous notions of the band and because it’s just a fantastic, sleazy rock song to get up and dance to. Much of what I liked about early Chili Peppers is here, that funk driven rock, the swing, the dirty concrete-born scrapes and bruises. MC Baby brings that punk rock energy back with a hoppin’ beat, guitar licks, harmonies, and Monroe’s vocals twisting everything into submission. 

Don’t Follow Me gets more breezy, ever more sweet, and the new production gives each instrument, including Monroe’s voice and sax, their due. Visitor continues the mid pace of the Don’t Follow Me, but has an almost disco-goth mood with a chorus that will hook you without mercy. Lightnin’ Bar Blues is a fun cover song, and Devil Woman is a hair-slicked boulevard cruiser of a song that incorporates harmonica and bluesy heartbreak. The album closes on the appropriate piano ballad, Fallen Star, that showcases how Monroe’s talents can conjure Bowie as much as anyone else, while also foreshadowing the many imitators that would follow. 8/10

Gideon – More Power, More Pain (Rude Records/Equal Vision Records) [Zak Skane]

This album comes to a swinging start with their opening track Back 2 Basics. From just a quick flick of a drum fill we are pummeled by classic hard core styled chugging rhythms mixed with modern flavour from the screeching of Digitech Whammys and the tight percussive rhythms from the guitars and the slapping attack of the kick drum. The drum performance gives this track a push and pull feeling, which really makes this performance, sound live and organic. Damned If I Do shows the guitars taking a step back whilst delving into bowl rumbling low tuning to allow the talents of Jake Smelley drum skills to shine through with every tasty drum lick flavouring this track with attitude and swagger whilst keeping the listener interested through the track. 

I Will Carry You will sends the listener into consistent curve balls with it’s haunting slide guitar intros, melodic hardcore choruses and classic metallic hardcore verses. Listening through the lyrical content on this song you can feel the passion seeping more than ever through every lyric that Daniel McWhorter barks out. Midnight Blue brings in some nu metal swagger with it’s bouncy energy, bass driven verses with rap swaggered vocals. 

From the eerie sounding voice soundscapes to the bludgeoning blows of the guitars ganging up with the drummers pounding rhythms combined with catchy vocal hooks and their climatic apocalyptic ending More Power More Pain stands out as one of the most punishingly heavy songs on the album. Another highlight on this album is the nu metal energy of Take Off which band incorporate classic hip hop inspired break beats bouncy tempos and 2000’s inspired choruses.

From start to end this album packs so much attitude and flavour from the opening punches of Back 2 Basics to the melodic passages from tracks like Midnight Blue and I Will Carry You to the punishing tracks like More Power More Pain and Too Much Is Never Enough this is an album you can put on your angry playlist, if you are specifically craving some hard core aggression. 9/10.

Ignominy - Imminent Collapse (Transcending Obscurity) [Erick Willand]

Ignominy hails from Quebec in the wonderfully frozen northern realms of fabled Canada and has only an EP, Fear The Living from 2019 proceeding this full length. I remember their single from last year and I'm totally ready for this blast of cold dissonance.

I dig when a song or album opens with weird little details like this, the sound of someone plugging their guitar in before the song proper starts, it’s the little things. Frantic Appeasement starts this way and slides quickly into a sort of false grinding start before finally, at 2:03 and well past the song's midpoint we get the real meat via some very solid blasting and some harsh as a winter wind vocals. Track ends with a guitar peel that bleeds cleanly into track two, Defaulting Genetics and I instantly feel the difference here, no opening song shenanigans this time it’s right into the frozen crevasse. The drum work here by M. Lazure is fierce and feels like the fabric that ties this together and keeps it from flying off completely unhinged. This is a good moment to mention that including the lyrics with the press kit is always a really good idea. 

Reminiscence Of Hatred was released late 22 as a single and ended up in my playlist after the third listen. Easily the most, and I hate to say it, ‘accessible’ song on the album it has a straightforward approach both musically and vocally, it does however burn a bit of time coming in at a hefty 5 minutes and 56 seconds. It is very tight with some downright frightening guitar sounds and conveys a clear sense of aggression. This is followed immediately by a 49 second ambient piece called Premonition Of A Dead End that has a creepy machine vibe and is placed in exactly the right spot on the album. It also bleeds right into the opening seconds of Nightmare Bacteria for an interesting effect of almost tying the three pieces together in an eerie way that just works. Again I feel like I have to mention the drumming as the high point here, it’s tight and holds this speedy juggernaut together despite the 6:09 run time.

Visceral starts slow and purposeful, building on a solid almost distant riff that becomes a ruthless buzzsaw and the angriest vocals yet. It’s a looser song then the previous and seems to suffer for it, meandering back and forth in speed and general ‘feel’. Prelude Vers L’angoisse is another machine noise ambient ‘interlude’ that does come off a bit weird, and that becomes Visuals. The last track of the album and one of the longest at 6:18 seconds and like previous tracks starts off slowly and builds into a solid wall of dissonant aggression. Then at the 4:03 mark comes a low growling roar and the proceedings shift for a moment before re-blasting comes. Everything is in place here and works, and the ending second is …abrupt in that you’ve just hit a wall at 90 mph kind of way.

Imminent Collapse is a strong album there is no denying that, Defaulting Genetics and Nightmare Bacteria are both very solid songs. The atmosphere throughout works so well based entirely on the band's use of the space between the songs and a few well placed ‘interludes’ that tie the whole together. Having said that, a few of these tracks could have used a trim, by the end even my attention was flagging and that's a bad sign.

And finally album art…or rather lack thereof as I have no idea what’s going on here, it’s some kind of gray smudge…and for some reason the cool black and white rotting zombie head is on the back of the CD but all over the merch. Speaking of merch, these guys did go all out, they even have Ignominy coffee mugs available. As cool as that is and all things considered though I have to give this cold slab a 7/10.

Bad Bones - Hasta El Final! (Rockshots Records) [James Jackson]

Oh dear……

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: I’m not good at advice.. can I interest you in a sarcastic comment ? And if I were to be stood in front of these guys live then I’d be turning towards the bar and asking for anything from the top shelf.

Bad Bones are a Hard Rock act, hailing I believe from Italy and have a Motörhead kind of raucous Rock element to them, there’s a segment in the track Rattlesnake that sounds almost, that’s almost Maiden-esque, it’s brief but there and whilst it could have showed some promise, it’s so short lived that it’s never going to redeem anything.

I’ll be up front here, say it like it is, call a spade a spade etc.. I’m not a fan.

I just don’t get that angsty, booze fuelled jock rock vibe (I used a “cool” term). It all just sounds like it’s trying way too hard to be hard, like the guy you worked with, the one that had been there done that, read the book, wore the shirt only to find out that he’s at home, alone (unless you count the three cats) watching reruns of Coronation Street from 1983.

First impressions count, yet another saying and in most cases it’s completely true, since starting these reviews I’ve wondered how many times I need to listen to an album in order to review it, to honestly review it that is but what if I can’t bring myself to listen to it more than once, what if one song is three songs too many? I literally can’t listen to anymore of this album, I’m not finding anything that I can enjoy within the first two tracks so spending any more time on it would be a complete waste of time.

I’m certain that if you’re a fan of this band then you’ll be excited to know that they’ve a new album out, probably drooling at the thought but it’s sure as hell not for me and this is a first I believe but my score for this is the lowest I’ve ever given. 0/10

Reviews: Pop Evil, Hatesphere, Excalion, Late Night Venture (Reviews By James Jackson, GC, Richard Oliver & Mark Young)

Pop Evil - Skeletons (MNRK Heavy) [James Jackson]

A brief intro opens the new album from Pop Evil, a band who have quite often been on the distance as far as my musical horizon goes, the name and various videos have popped up over the years but I’ve never actually sat and listened to any of their material, so this is a whole new experience for me.

Paranoid (Crash & Burn) is the first of 11 tracks on Skeletons and it comes in hard, their wiki page states the band’s genre(s) as Hard Rock, Alternative Metal, Post-grunge (whatever the hell that is) and there’s definitely a sense of Metal, alternative or not, about this track, it’s got a Nu-Metal feel about it and it’s a head bobbing belter of a track.

There’s a mix of styles within the tracks as Circles and Eye Of The Storm follow and a band I’m reminded of is Lansdowne, for those that don’t listen to them - you should; they’ve a great sense of anthemic songwriting and Pop Evil have that too and as Sound Of Glory opens with it’s “stand up and fight” message to the masses, I can quite easily see how well this would play out in a live show.

Skeletons is the first of two anomalies on the album, no it’s not a bad track, it’s got a Country tinge to it, that Country Rock kind of sound that when you hear it you know what it is but aren’t sure whether you like it or not, but you do and the Kenny Rogers fan in you would be proud.

The rest of the album is full of sing along tracks, Worth It is a slower paced track full of the value of self worth, Who Will We Become and Wrong Direction pick up the pace, the latter featuring Devour The Day, Fit For A King feature on Dead Reckoning and it’s an onslaught of clean and growled vocals on top of a chugging riff that’s as heavy as it’s groove ridden.

Final track, the second anomaly, Raging Bill has to be my least favourite in all honesty, lyrically it’s a bit cliche but it’s the guest artist upon this track that ruins it for me, Zillion is as far as I can tell, a Rapper and anyone who has read my previous reviews (thank you) will know of my aversion to most things Rap based.

Altogether this is a great album, just skip the last track. 7/10.

Hatesphere - Hatred Reborn (Scarlet Records) [GC]

After a quick scan over the web, I can see that Hatred Reborn is the eleventh album from Danish thrashers Hatesphere, I mean they have been around for over 20 years but still that is a mighty output to have behind you! Let’s see if they have still got after all these years!

Skipping past intro, The Awakening and directly into first track Hatred Reborn the build-up is done expertly and what is then unleashed from the speakers shows father time has not slowed these guys down one bit! It’s a whirlwind of super sharp, staccato thrash riffs and when the vocals kick in they sound absolutely FURIOUS the pace is never too much and whips along nicely and they even manage to throw in a groove infused section that breaks everything up nicely. 

Cutthroat could be taken off any top end Megadeth album and not seem out of place and the riffs are so good they stick in your mind long after that song has finished, they stomp and smash all the way through showing they clearly know how to craft fantastic thrash anthems and once again the vocals just sound huge this is probably because its Mathias Uldall’s debut and he wants to prove a point, and he does emphatically!. 

Gravedigger seems to up the pace significantly and it wasn’t slouching previously! It’s just a full-on thrash assault with no letting up from start to finish and the closing section of this song drops in a massive groove infused riff before ending with more of the same full on thrash onslaught, breath taking stuff! 918 is the longest track, clocking in at 6 minutes which is just about the threshold for my concentration levels but, you are never likely to get bored or want to skip because the levels these guys are on is spectacular, the song interweaves the now familiar thrash with a modern metal edge that doesn’t sound forced or paint by numbers its done with conviction and thought and a lot of bands could learn from Hatesphere. 

Darkspawn dials down the tempo and rage for all of one minute before throwing some death metal infused thrash at us and it’s a mix that just hits the spot every time and once again the riffs and structures from Peter Lyse Karmark and Kasper Kirkegaard are phenomenal, I usually start to complain at this point that a lack of variety can get a bit tedious because sometimes thrash can get real boring, real quick but not here! I don’t give 2 shiny shits if it all sounds a bit samey, it’s got me hook line and sinker!

The Truest Form Of Pain starts with an acoustic intro making you think they possibly might be having a rest until the song blast forwards like a steam train and is everything you have come to expect from this record, Brand Of Sacrifice then leans directly on the groove metal part of the sound and this does slow the pace down slightly for once but doesn’t effect the power of the song and the change actually adds to the way the album flows. A Violent Compulsion is an instrumental that isn’t realty needed at all and does just sort of get in the way, wish bands wouldn’t do things like this, pointless, skip and move on! Spitting Teeth though immediately picks up where we should have left off and blasts and savages its way through you in the way we have come to know and love. 

But then, Another Piece Of Meat is a bit of a weird one, it’s got a stop start dynamic and is littered with pitch harmonics and the way the vocals are done is just plain odd, it sounds like a 2003 nu-metal band cast off and I do not like it one bit! Its good it has taken this long to find a major fault, but this song leaves a horrible taste in the mouth! Shame as its the last actual song of the album and it’s a bit of a disappointing way to end. We then get a live rendition of The Fallen Shall Rise In A River Of Blood from an album released in 2005 and I don’t really see the point in this? It’s a decent enough track but why is it on here??

It all started so fucking well and continued right up until the last part of the album with some questionable choices. I shouldn’t really let the last 2 songs and a couple of instrumentals take away from my enjoyment of this fantastic album and it doesn’t, it just annoys me that they could have probably just put one more song on and probably got a perfect score as it really was that good but, little things like that make the difference I’m afraid. Having said that, I loved the vast majority of this album and wont slag it off, it comes highly recommended for fans of the death/thrash genres and is full of absolute dynamite tracks, this is 100% worth your time. 9/10

Excalion - Once Upon A Time (Scarlet Records) [Richard Oliver]

Once Upon A Time is the sixth album by Finnish power metal band Excalion and sees the band going from strength to strength building upon the impressive Emotions album they released back in 2019. Once Upon A Time sees the bands songwriting skills hit new heights and Excalion have produced an impressive and varied album.

Excalion’s style of power metal is built around melody more than anything else with the melodies provided through a combination of guitars, keyboards and the powerhouse vocals of frontman Marcus Lång who, on his third album with the band, gives his best performance to date. Whilst the sound is very melody and keyboard driven, the guitars still pack a punch when needed and whilst the riffs aren’t particularly dynamic they add a good bit of crunch when needed. 

The songs are a varied bunch with energetic and fast-paced power metal bangers such as ResolutionI Am I and Band Of Brothers which bristle with energy and have some of the biggest and catchiest choruses of the album. There are some more mid-paced but no less anthemic songs such as Words Cannot Heal and Amuse Me whilst When A Moment Turns Into A Lifetime and Eternals are firmly in ballad territory but still retain a good deal of power and metal crunch.

If you are a fan of power and melodic metal then you can really do no wrong by giving Once Upon A Time a listen. It is chock full of powerful, catchy and memorable songs and has fantastic performances throughout with excellent guitar work from Aleksi Hirvonen, excellent and varied keyboard work from original member Jarmo Myllyvirta and a commanding vocal performance from frontman Marcus Lång who has a style similar to Marco Hietala (ex-Nightwish, Tarot). If you are already a fan of Excalion and have enjoyed the last couple of releases then Once Upon A Time will not disappoint and is easily one of the strongest albums in their discography. 8/10

Late Night Venture - V Bones Of The Extinct (Trepanation Recordings/Vinyltroll Records) [Mark Young]

Late Night Venture have been releasing their distinct take on Post-metal, Doom and Psychedelic since 2009 and looking online, their history goes further back to 2005 where they were formed from the ashes of the Flying Virgins. I struggle with certain label tags such as Post-metal which is probably due to my age but if a band comes across with Doom and Psych as such tags, I have a fair idea of what they are going to sound like and although I don’t mind it, it is not my go to for audio relaxation.

Hostile Nature starts off proceedings with a dense chord pattern with screamed vocals over the top. What begins as just ok moves into a bigger space, as background noise joins a more urgent riff which is then culled for an almost whispered vocal part. The intertwining background noise gives way to an anthemic breakdown, delivered at mid-tempo. Considering that the opener is 7 minutes plus, they have managed to make it interesting and emotionally engaging. This is not one riff repeated ad nauseum it is a story, and It certainly sets a high bar to start with.

Mammut picks up the baton and walks quickly with it, tempos are similar but there is a lot going on here, the arrangement on this as well as the first track are excellent with the ambient noise in the background, not overused but just enough to then bring in the next sequence with subtle differences in speed and texture. One issue is the slow for the quiet guitar section, which if overused becomes an almost expected crutch. Here they take that motif as use it as the foundation to bring this to an end with a solo break that is unconventional and completely in keeping with the music preceding it.

Reappear switches vocal approach, with an almost Nick Cage delivery which makes way for the music to come through and build to an expected crescendo, which is probably the lightest song here. Hate Speech comes in with some monolithic riffing as if to underpin the message of the song. The vocal delivery is the same, as the lyrics are almost eviscerated before dropping back to let it all breathe. For me, this would be one of the stand-out tracks live.

Armed Warrior amps up the Psychedelia, whilst there is a guitar line that would not be too far removed from some of the early films of John Carpenter which really lifted this song. It’s a soundtrack in need of a film that really starts to motor towards its end.

Speaking of ends, Prognosis Negative brings us to an incredibly satisfying end. It’s a great book end, full of crashing drums, screams and then it is done. I may have mentioned before that I’m really fond of slower music, but I can appreciate where a band have gone in and put together something that deserves a wider audience. This is one of those.

Live this would be an experience, with the six tracks here all displaying a craftmanship and thought that makes it unmissable for fans of this genre. Despite some of the song lengths there is no fat anywhere which makes it more remarkable considering there are no technical displays or fretwork fireworks. Everything matches, but it is far from boring or one note. 8/10

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

Reviews Phantom Elite, Cross Country Driver, Stormwarning, Transworld Identity (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Phantom Elite – Blue Blood (Frontiers Music Srl)

Another week another set of Frontiers Music Srl releases. Yet again another walk on the melodic side but through the medium of symphonic metal this time. Phantom Elite have released two previous full length albums but their beginnings are in Sanders Gommans (After Forever) HDK project many moons ago. Gommans still languishes behind the producer’s desk and ramps up the cinematic, but the core trio of guitarist/bassist Max Van Esch, who also arranges the synths and electronics, drummer Joeri Warmerdam and vocalist Marina La Torraca (Exit Eden/Avantasia), are the writers and creative force for this third album as they were on the two previous records. 

Sat firmly in the modern style of metal, Phantom Elite use synths and electronics very well, the drums are huge and deafening, boosted by the electronic percussion, giving a throb to Inner Beast, but the progressive sound they also cultivate, means Birdcage is a ballad where they can display their introspective moment, Laid With Vines too is beautiful in it's longing and building atmosphere. While on the other side Apex is a EDM 'banger' and Skin Of My Teeth is the heaviest outing. Blue Blood is an album that has been performed by a talented musicians though it's not as tenacious as it could be, with a lot of focus on slower songs. 7/10

Cross Country Driver – The New Truth (Frontiers Music Srl)

Take one member of Riverdogs, Rob Lamothe (vocals/guitar), one member of Fighting Friday, James Harper (guitar) and one member of Logan Staats Band, Zander Lamothe (drums) and you get Cross Country Driver. If any of those bands mean nothing too you essentially get three, long time, veteran musicians in the studio together with Grammy winning producer Nick Brophy, let them loose with free reign and an address book of some of their high profile buddies and you get The New Truth. A rocking, classic sounding affair drawing on the blues and Americana, as well as a whole host of eras of rock music, though it's the late 80's and early 90's that they stick to mostly the decade where Rob made his bones. 

The guests are from numerous genres but includes Mike Mangini (Dream Theater), Greg Chaisson (Badlands), dUg Pinnick (King's X), Rhonda Smith (Jeff Beck), Jimmy Wallace (The Wallflowers), KFigg (Extreme) and Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard/Last In Line). A Man With No Direction has the funk of Kings X, guided by dUg Pinnick as it touches on Extreme, Rio Tulerosa too features Pinnick and Mike Mangini behind the kit on a track that's very Mr Big, and it's with those two references that you get the influences of Cross Country Driver. An honest, blue collar rock album, but doesn't do as much as perhaps it should. 6/10

Stormwarning - Stormwarning (Frontiers Music Srl)

Yet another band guided by the production team of Sergio Mazul (Semblant) and Marcelo Gelbcke (Landfall) who oversaw the Icon Of Sin album. Stormwarning is a project from Argentinian vocalist Santiago Ramonda who has been writing and performing since 2007, but he then decided on vocals as his primary outlet. Vocally he has a set of pipes such as Joe Lynn Turner, whom he's covered in the past. Ramonda is joined by Marcelo Gelbcke playing most of the instruments adding Felipe Souzza on drums, the music on this record in the AOR/melodic rock tone of Joe Lynn Turner/Firestorm, House Of Lords and Axel Rudi Pell. 

The opener Eye Of The Storm, is Down To Earth Rainbow as Marcelo manages to do a bit of Blackmore soloing, from here the Question Of Time is the first ballad of the album but it’s followed by the choppy riffs of Neon Skies and Way Of The Warrior. At 11 tracks long Stormwarning is a melodic rock record that punches above its weight and another great addition to the melodic rock sphere from South America. 7/10

Transworld Identity - Seven Worlds (Frontiers Music Srl)

I’ll just get this out of the way now, Livin’ On The Run is a dead ringer for Ghost’s Dance Macabre, but that’s only a minor criticism of what is otherwise a good melodic rock album. This Finnish/English band started out as a covers act and the influences of big names is evident across the record, but Transworld Identity’s (bit of a mouthful) debut album is all originals, singer Mila Bosa backed by quite an experienced selection of musicians from the Finnish rock scene, Michael Monroe/Hanoi Rocks being the reoccurring names. Seven Worlds though is quite modern hard rock with some melodic metal added to make it a wider sound. 

The title track, Time, Starchild and few others have a storytelling, fantastical lyrics that remind me of Magnum and Gary Hughes Ten, the acoustics used to join the electric guitars for some folk whimsy but also blues backing and lots of synths for drama although In For The Long Haul uses them like an 80’s pop track, in fact it’s Nena meets hard rock. Mila’s vocals are great, the songs are pretty good too, especially for a debut, and where they go from here though is a guess as there’s quite a bit of variation to this record so I’ll be interested to see if they go towards the pop route of or the proggier conceptual one. 7/10

Reviews: Triumpher, Riffobia, Beyond Perception, Green Yeti (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Triumpher - Storming The Walls (Floga Records)

I expected epic heavy metal, I got epic heavy metal, bassist/vocalist/main songwriter Mars Triumph is the unholy union of Joey DeMaio and Eric Adams in one body, playing each note like a black arrow into the heart of false metal and using his voices to sing of victories won and battles yet to come.

Yep Athenians Triumpher sound like Manowar. As close to Manowar as you'd care to want to get to, the machismo oozing off every single note played here the blood of their enemies sliding down the sword from the swelling orchestral and guitar spiral that kicks off galloping rager The Thunderer,  to the dark clouds gathering for the epic title track, all keys and synths by producer George Emmanuel to add cinematics.

It's hard to believe at times this is a debut album, the songs are well composed and anthemic True Metal with NWOBHM, Power Metal along with Thrash too, choruses that demand shouting in unison, riffs to bang your head to and as much muscle as Pyrros Dimas. The difference between Triumpher and Manowar being that the Greeks use two guitarists but they still play on ten throughout.

Apostolos Papadimitriou and Christopher Tsakiropoulos are the guitarists wielding their axe to cause devastation and like a clarion call towards the battles continued on this record, shifting between solos and rampaging riffs at will, especially on the dive bombing thrash of I Wake The Dragon, the artillery barrage coming from drummer John "Maelstrom" Votsis on Mediterranean Warfare.

Usually I'd rag on a band for being so closer musically to another, they do also have some Mercyful Fate influences on The Tomb as well. I was just having too much fun listening to Storming The Walls. 8/10

Riffobia - Riffobia (Floga Records)

Shredding like it's 1985, Trikala based thrash band Riffobia come back with their self titled third album, their first since 2016. If you like your thrash metal that's on the side of evil, with dark atmospheres and a hearty salute to anti-commercialism, anti-religion, horror and the occult then Riffobia will be have you turning up the volume.

Opening intro The Divine Infinity and closing track Soul Collector both cast those black magic spells of Slayer on Seasons Of The Abyss with the exploding dive bomb solos Slayer and evil intentions that were always trademark's of the legendary band.

Riffobia with their name may perhaps give the impression of being a beer swilling sloppy thrash band but their music is quite technical, huge influences from Kreator in the vocals and the songwriting, they've even got a song called God Of Hate. A good thrash metal album will rally against the ills of society and cause a riot, Riffobia do just that with this self titled record. 8/10

Beyond Perception - Guile EP (Self Released)

The new EP from Beyond Perception is a 20 odd minutes of heavy groove metal that will be loved by fans of Pantera, Prong and Crowbar as hardcore, thrash and groove are pushed through your speakers in the angriest way possible, given a Southern sludge metal style too. Having been delving into heavy riding groove since 2004, Guile is their first music from the Greek band since their last studio album in 2017. 

So it's the band returning with a renewed passion captured by Fotis Bernardo. A track such as Spare Chains is the exemplar of how Beyond Perception do business as swaggering riffs unfold in to technical leads, the EP closing with the heaviest track Shellshock Blues the haunting vocals of Chrysa Tsaltampasi weaving in an out of the crushing sludge. Most definitely back in business, Beyond Perception sling riffs like a group of fisherman sling nets and they land every time. 7/10

Green Yeti - Necropolitain (Self Released)

Athenian trio Dani Avramidis (bass), Michael Andresakis (guitar/vocals) and Giannis Koutroumpis (drums), are the noise behind Greek band Green Yeti. Necropolitain is their third album and if I could describe their music it would be woozy psychedelia meets mind melting stoner doom, captivating you with desert rock exploration and the heavy slow builds of bands such as Sleep or Bongzilla. 

The riffs insistent but never overwhelming, just laying down a steady groove, building into scaling solos, alongside the repeating grumbling rhythm section as the vocals growl, snarl and sneer when needed. Distortion and reverb abound from this trio as the run times get longer when we head towards the final song, the distorted and fuzzy One More Bite. Dirgy, stoner doom, that keeps consistent pace and power but bubbles with anger. Necropolitain is a riff-filled expedition through desert, stoner doom from the mists of the Aegean. 8/10 

Monday, 20 March 2023

Reviews: Robert Jon & The Wreck, Ingraves, For The Fallen Dreams, Theory Of A Deadman (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Zak Skane, James Jackson & GC)

Robert Jon & The Wreck - One Of A Kind (Journeyman Records) [Matt Bladen]

Released as part of Joe Bonamassa and Ray Weisman's new endeavour Journeyman Records, it was produced by award winning producer Don Was and legendary producer Dave Cobb. It's Cobb who adds the rootsy, classic sound to the title track, twin guitar harmonies, vocal harmonies and swirling organs set to a bluesy beat.

This EP is supposed to be the first of many from Robert Jon & The Wreck where they weren't bound by release schedules and could work with various producers to try their hand at styles that are not always in their remit. Almost like a jam/experimental arrangement where they have complete freedom. The country rock Pain No More gets it going with Blackberry Smoke swagger, while Who Can You Love shows their tender side, dialling up those lush arrangements of The Eagles pre-Hotel California, it's with closer Come At Me that we have the rollicking rock n roll return.

Four individual cuts giving different aspects of the bands style, in this format though they can do whatever they want musically and crucially will always have some new music to play on their relentless tour schedule without having to stop and record a full album or retread over old ground every time. It's a risky strategy but with a band as good as this and support from Bonamassa/Weisman it's hard to see how it can fail. 8/10

Ingraves – Human Abyss (Self Released) [Zak Skane]

Ingraves are a new band that have formed in the summer of 2018 and started gigging in the following year. Since their formation and their time on the road the band have accumulated a five track e.p that descends the listener into the raw emotions of anger and sadness.

The journey of angst and resentment begins with swells dissonant guitars and static and glitching effects before the bawl rumbling breakdowns come in reminiscing me of the 2010’s. Williams vents about the philosophical side of human idealisation through his mid harsh growls. The track arrangements transcend from the brutality of Emmure to the melodic tenacity of Korn. 

Stress Depress Repeat channels some serious 2000 nu metal crossover energy with William challenging some Mark Hunter old Chimera venom, whilst the Byran and Matts guitar riffs are delivered with sledgehammer brutality accompanied with Adams drum parts which sway from head banging up tempos to throwing down beats. Wake Up takes the tempo down a notch to allow some eerie soundscapes whilst containing some classic Hatebreed inspired group chants. 

Self Medicated takes the band down a dark path with it’s lyrical themes of toxic forms of self medicating whilst the instrumentation tears the listeners world around them by arming themselves with cold atmospheric tones and skull crushing breakdowns. Isolated ends with album on a venous climax with swings grooves, deathcore inspired riffs and Mathews cried of isolation. 

Reflecting back on this EP it has great potential, the venom spiting out of Williams vocals are fatal, the crushing wall of and the moving atmospheres from the guitar team of Brian, Matt and Jamie along with pounding rhythms of (insert name) are tied together in a well produced bow. 

Songs like the old-souled Stress Depress Repeat and Self Medicate really show the bands potential instrumentally. The only down side I find with this album is that the message of their lyrics could be delivered with more nuance instead of it being too on the nose, I have heard plenty of this delivery from this type of metalcore in 2013. 6/10

For The Fallen Dreams - For The Fallen Dreams (Arising Empire) [James Jackson]

The band, For The Fallen Dreams, have been around for a decade or so and seem to have had a revolving door when it comes to band members; the current incarnation holds only one member that has been with the band since it’s conception, multi instrumentalist Jim Hocking, the rest of the band having been members on and off; as this is my first time listening to them I don’t know whether this heavy rotation has helped or hindered them along the way. Current vocalist Chad Ruhlig performs that clean/unclean style that has become synonymous with the metalcore genre, that the band play within.

Their self titled, seventh album kicks of with Reanimate, a blistering intro leads into an angst ridden track, sitting somewhere between Metalcore and NuMetal it’s got a groove to it that alongside clean/growled vocals really kick the album off to a great start. What If follows next and it poses the question: what if we completely f..k up and start with the most cringe inducing Rap I’ve heard since Roland Rat. If the Rap sections of this track were left on the cutting room floor then this would have been another great track - I am all of a sudden wary of what is going to come next. Last One Out goes some way towards redeeming the album from its previous sins but I’m only three songs in and once bitten, twice shy. 

Waiting for the next big disappointment, I tentatively work my way through the rest of the album. Without You follows and if there has to be a “ballad” on the album then this is the closest thing to it, it’s not a bad track but Testify, track 5 upon the album has more of that Rap that I’ve enjoyed so much and I’m moving on to Searching and after 6 tracks, I’ve decided enough is enough. When For The Fallen Dreams get it right, when the riffs are heavy but full of groove, the drums on point and the vocals aren’t rapping then, for me, they’re solid, the Metalcore side to this album is pretty good but those ill advised ventures into crossing over and incorporating Rap into the mix, just don’t work for me and let it downs.

Genre blending needs to feel effortless and symbiotic, to be fluid and complimentary of each separate genre working as a whole, countless bands have done it to great effect, for me this album and this band aren’t good examples of that. 4/10

Theory Of A Deadman - Dinosaur (Roadrunner Records) [GC]

Disclaimer: I hate radio friendly arena rock and always have since the day my mate made me listen to Nickelback insisting, they were actually quite heavy, his view of course was completely incorrect, and it has scarred me for life, so having said that I have absolutely no idea why I picked the new Theory of a Deadman to review but, here we are! T.O.A.D.M are about to release album, number 8 upon us and it’s called Dinosaur.

First track Dinosaur actually opens up with a fairly decent riff and has a nice catchy hook to it but then the vocals start and although they are not bad to melodically it’s the actual words that are being sung; they are fucking side splittingly bad! I can’t believe nobody flagged this up!? Medusa continues on with the awful lyrics and this time the delivery matches the cringe factor and that they lead the song so heavily just makes this an absolute shit show of a song, trying to mute the noise of the vocals and pay attention to the music doesn’t help either as its just so bland and one paced its insulting usually filler track are towards the end of an album surely not track 2? 

Sick honestly might be one of the worst songs I have ever heard in my 41 years of being on this planet and I reviewed So Long, Space Girl recently its an attempt to create an up lifting and bouncy song but it falls flat on its arse and is a joke of a song, SKIP.THIS.SONG. Two Of Us (Stuck) is a play on the Bill Withers classic and of course that is where any comparison ends as it is, not surprisingly complete fucking garbage and frankly embarrassing how they though this would be a good idea I will never know?! These are grown men making these choices. Fucking Dickheads. 

Ambulance then actually shocks me and begins in a half decent way, until Captain Shit Vocals opens his mouth, seriously this guy is a wanker, decent riff in the song though, so there’s that little bonus at least? Sideways is the predictable piano led balled type song that bands like this thrive off and honestly, listening to it made me feel sick, its so limp & weak, it just offers nothing and at this point this album is just an embarrassment, how have this bunch of wankers lasted this long and had so many albums?? Shocking.

Get In Line sounds more like Nickelback than Nickelback does but it manages to be a watered down version and because of this just drifts around trying to get your attention before you just get bored and pray for it to be over when it thankfully does end Head In The Clouds then bores you to tears with vomit inducing saccharine and earnest “I’m so sensitive” lyrics that seem to completely clash with the “I’m a fuckin’ badass” vibes they have been pushing for the vast majority of this heaping turd of an album. 

Hearts Too Wild has a straight up country feel and sounds like fucking Lonestar and because of that it just sits directly out of sync with everything else and makes zero sense to include it, although I will say it’s probably the best song on the whole album and that’s because it doesn’t sound like the rest of it, still shit though! 

Thankfully, Summer Song is the last song and it’s another attempt a sing a long in an arena song and it will come as absolutely no shock to anyone that is another steaming turd of a song! There really aren’t enough words to describe how much I hated this album, it started bad, got worse and carried on getting worse on every song! 

The lyrical content is embarrassing and he should really have look at himself and ask some serious questions, the music was timid, weak and offered absolutely nothing bar a couple of riffs that lasted about 30 seconds and that is the only reason this didn’t get a big fat zero. 

Now pay attention to this finishing statement as it might be the best advice I have ever given out, ahem, clears throat: AVOID THIS PIECE OF SHIT ALBUM AT ALL COSTS. 1/10

Friday, 17 March 2023

Reviews: Chelsea Grin, Mystic Circle, Narnia, Beyond Extinction (Reviews By GC, Paul Scoble, Simon Black & Mark Young)

Chelsea Grin - Suffer In Heaven (ONErpm) [GC]

Hello, I’m Graham and I have a problem, I can’t stop reviewing deathcore albums. Today is the turn of Chelsea Grin and part 2 of their double album set Suffer In Heaven. The first part Suffer In Hell came out last year and was given some decent reviews on release, I didn’t hear it then and haven’t listened to it prior to this release, so not sure if that will affect the whole picture they are trying to paint but there’s not much I can do about that as right now I only have this to review, not my fault they released 2 albums??

The atmospheric and haunting intro to Leave With Us is interrupted by a wall of big double bass drums and chugga chugga riffs that then are violently interrupted by Tom Barbers black metal-esq vocals which leads nicely into some blasting drums and seriously chunky riffage courtesy of Stephen Rutishauser, it also has an unhealthy dose of beatdowns thrown into the mix for good measure and the ambient electronics that are also running through the song add a nice and unexpected depth, so it’s a good and most importantly heavy as a concrete rhino type start, continuing with the weirdly titled Orc March its very much more of the same but the black metal vocals are replaced with some incredible guttural noises this time, musically again its akin to getting jumped on by an overly enthusiastic elephant and the midway point groove/beatdown combo works so well you just sit and smile, subtlety is not a serving on this menu! 

The only type of break you ever get is from the samples and atmospherics that are mixed into most of the tracks but even these create a sense of unease that really ramps up the whole heaviness factor a good few notches. Fathomless Maw is an absolute savage of a song and has some absolutely incredible vocals that elevate the track to another level, the riffs are big and brutal and the bottom end rumble from David Flinn’s bass and Nathan Pearson’s drums is relentless but it’s really the vocals that are the start on this track, wonderfully disgusting, Soul Slave sounds like Fear Factory and Emmure mixed together and turned up to 100, it’s an absolutely exhilarating 2 minutes of pure violence and easily the best song on the album!

The Mind Of God once again builds from a sampled atmospheric opener and just bounds forward with such disregard for the listener, its full of massive riffs and some absolutely subhuman drumming tempo’s but having said that it does feel like its missing something I just don’t seem to fully embrace it like I have the rest of the album. Yhorm The Giant is another oddly titled song but that’s where the fun ends as it explodes into a thundering monster chocked full of the type of beatdowns capable of levelling a building and the harmonious mixing of guitar and black metal vocals halfway through lifts it up onto a whole new level before incinerating everything with an apocalyptic end section. 

Sing To The Grave is another 2 minute violence fest and these short songs mix everything up so well as the focus everything they have on just pure, unadulterated brutality and it pays off big time! And before I have even noticed it’s onto the last song The Path To Suffering of course it follows the well-trodden path of spooky intro sample into a wall of riffs and drums permeated with electronics and finished off with gutturals and black metal vocals together, if it aint broke don’t fix it as they say!

To be 100% honest with you I wasn’t expecting very much from this record as a lot of recent deathcore releases have been disappointing or have all just sounded the same (Distant & Suicide Silence I’m looking in your direction) but Suffer In Heaven was an absolute beauty of an album and really produced everything I want from a deathcore record, do yourself a favour and go listen to this right now, you won’t regret it! 9/10

Mystic Circle - Erzdämon (Fireflash Records) [Paul Scoble]

Mystic Circle have had a very long history, starting in 1992 the German band have had several periods of activity, a brief 2 year blast from 1992 to 93 where the band played death metal. In 1994 they reformed as a black metal band and this time they stayed together till 2008. In this part of their career they produced 7 full length albums (first being Morgenröte - Der Schrei Nach Finsternis in 1996 and the last, The Bloody Path Of God in 2006) before going on hiatus. The duo re-formed in 2021 and have produced an EP and a self titled album. The duo is made up of Aaarrrgon on Drums and Graf Von Beelzebub on vocals and bass, guitars and keyboards.
The style of music Mystic Circle play is very melodic and tuneful black metal with a few death metal elements, but it’s mainly about great tunes and up-tempo black metal. There is a similarity to acts such as Watain (Circa 2010), The Spirit, and Der Weg Einer Freiheit, but Mystic Circle definitely have their own sound.

A good example of the bands basic sound is opening track Erzdämon (Part 1), a song full of very melodic black metal, its a mid-tempo stomp that is full of great tunes, using melody leads on guitar and a fairly prominent keyboard melody to drive the song along, it’s an energetic track with a great guitar solo (lots of very good guitar solos throughout the album). The keyboards also take a prominent role on The Scarecrow where they add some nice atmosphere, but are also used in a way that sounds just like a theremin, and gives the song a definite sci-fi feel, clearly Mystic Circle are going where no black metal band have been before.
One of the things I have really enjoyed about this album is the energy and pacing, most of the songs have lots of drive and vigour, one of the best for great energy is the black thrash blast of Unholy Trinity, the song races along in a fantastic way, the kind of blast that makes you want to break into a run and punch the air, it’s an absolute riot of melody, riffing, and head-banging that should put a huge smile on the face of any metal head who hears it!

Another great song that wears its influences on its sleeve is the track Skinwalker, which has a real Emperor vibe. The similarity is in the keyboard use and the guitar melodies that feel straight out of Emperor’s middle period (Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, IX Equilibrium). The song is reminiscent of Emperor, but they pull it off so well it’s a really good addition to the album.
Erzdämon comes to an end with the track The Princess Of The Deadly Sins (Erzdämon Part 2), which is the slowest track on the album. The song is dark, brooding and unhurried, ritualistic and Sacerdotal. You can almost smell the incense and the disturbing Black Candles, and it’s a really atmospheric way to end the album.

Erzdämon is a great piece of melodic and tuneful black metal, Mystic Circle have shown that they can produce really engaging black metal that draws you in with great tunes and perfect tempos that fill the music with great energy, I have really enjoyed this album and found it to be very memorable, once the tunes are in your head it’s very difficult to get them out and stop humming them, it’s bordering on possession. 8/10

Narnia - Ghost Town (Narnia Songs) [Simon Black]

Narnia have been around the block a few times, and it’s refreshing to hear new music from the Swedish neo-classical/power metal influenced five-piece still sounding distinctly from the same stable as their earlier efforts in the late 90’s. Given that the founder members guitarist Carl Johan Grimmark and singer Christian Liljegren are still there, and although drummer Andreas Johansson wasn’t there from the start, he’s played on every album so it’s no wonder the core sound remains distinctively consistent. That’s really important here, as Narnia categorically don’t sound just like everyone else who in the power or neo-classical world, which is why I used the word “influenced”.
The trouble is you put those two genre labels in front of many metal fans, particularly here in the UK, and you’ve turned a lot of folks off before they’ve even given them even a chance casual listen. Particularly when you add the word “Christian” as well... Now, personally I don’t care that they have a Christian message, any more than I do when someone plays to the Satanic end of the market (because when you’re an atheist you really are impossible to offend in that regard), but as a music writer I do care if the product fails the quality tests, and fortunately Narnia hit the back of the net quite nicely in that regard.

This attitude to anything power metal inclined pisses me off no end though and the UK in particular is really bad for this. It seems without someone like Bloodstock festival patiently working a band up until they have an audience, so many Euro bands never get a look in over here (Powerwolf and Sabaton being notable examples of power bands who now have a similar stature as they do in Europe that would not have done that if Bloodstock had not broken them in first long after they were already much larger on the continent). 

To be fair to our discerning listeners though, it’s a ridiculously over-crowded pair of sub-genres with far too many homogeneous acts endlessly trooping out the same repetitive fodder, so it’s refreshing when bands like Narnia come along and bring their own distinctive sound with them. Not being an over-strained concept piece always scores points in my book, and this collection of songs has been brewing a while, and so has a nice and broad stylistic range to it, although ballads are kept to a minimum.

The technical side of things works a treat, with just enough flourish in the playing to make you notice, without sounding like everyone wants you to notice how talented they are, which in my book is a sign of greater talent than overt noodling and OTT time changes any day. The song-writing here is what really holds this together, as even with the vast majority of the tracks keeping up a good fast pace, the variety in here means that the near fifty-minute run time doesn’t feel overlong. Special nod to the anthemic Ghost Town and Hold On, but the more progressive Thief and Modern Day Pharisee are particularly strong.
With some really robust melody structures throughout, just the right amount of flourish and a sterling performance particularly from the three gentlemen I mentioned at the outset, this was a surprisingly well written, well delivered and very well rounded package, that I did not expect to like as much as I did. 8/10

Beyond Extinction: Nothing More Wretched EP (Self Released) [Mark Young]

UK based Beyond Extinction serve up a 6-track ep and is their second release ahead of a UK run this month. It’s got a quick run time of 22 minutes so I’m hoping for something fast and brutal.

Warmth of the empty light is a short introduction, whispered voices and morse code which then drops off a cliff into The Subjugator with some of the deepest growls I’ve heard. This is heavy, slow and has enough groove to keep you going with it with a monstrous riff just stamping its authority. It rocks itself away with neat trem picked part before it halts before the inevitable breakdown.

Nothing More Wretched starts with a class opening before dropping back into the groove. The riffs are so thick and gnarly they will probably cause a number of broken bones in the live setting. There is a danger that with the first two tracks sounding similar, no matter how well executed they are you hope that they will adopt a different tact with Gravedigger that picks up the pace with some double bass against some urgent guitar but then it almost stops to repeat a similar motif from before until its starts to kick off with some faster guitar that wraps around the main riff. This is really good stuff until it decides to slow down again which is starting to grind on me. There is talent here, the songs sound absolutely horrific (in an extreme way) but the reliance on a slow meter on the first three songs just sucks the energy out of it.

Then, Eyes Of God Look Down Upon Me comes in like its raging, it’s got some momentum and thankfully they keep this going to a point but then it happens once more, with the really heavy, slow bit which by now has been repeated too much. Final track, Plague Monarch comes in with a clean intro which shows they have more in their armoury than what we have heard previously. This is the best song on here by a mile, because it has a balance running through it – memorable riffs, spat vocal delivery, the expected slow breakdown that runs into a spot-on progression.

All in all, its not a bad effort at all. Others may really love this, might really love this style of extreme metal and for them it will be top class. For me, it was like there was 4 variations of the same song which I feel is not good enough when you look at some of the Brit bands currently setting fire to music in general at the moment. They have the slow groove thing down, it’s solid and like I said live it will be a different prospect all together. 6/10