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Tuesday 31 January 2023

Reviews: Imperium Dekadenz, Dudes, Druids Of Eld, Cold Comfort (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Imperium Dekadenz - Into Sorrow Evermore (Napalm Records)

German black metallers once again from the Black Forest with some more visceral, volatile black metal that conjures foreboding atmospheres which build through tracks such as the dissonant November Monument. Inspired by the Norwegian bands from the early scene, they like their music to be a furious as possible, building a sense of dread and fear (but without the use of white supremacy), they focus more on the fall of Empires and history as their lyrical inspiration and this seventh album continues their fixation on fallen empires and downcast outlooks, the rampaging tremolo picking and blast beats as Horaz and Vespasian guide you through their tormented world. 

The long form style of many of the songs allowing the wider array of sounds to be fleshed out with desolate synths, on the title track, or the solitary piano at the beginning of Aurora before it shifts into a slow lamentation carved into an frostbitten tundra. Imperium Dekadenz try not to stick too rigidly to black metal stereotypes but they do pay homage to them a lot, thankfully there’s enough happening to stop things being to ridged and one dimensional. If you’ve liked their previous 6 releases chances are you’ll like this one, cold, discontent black metal from darkest Germany. 7/10

Dudes - Eternal Is The Fruit (Dudes Music)

Fuzzing, punchy riffs, shout choruses and lots of sneer, Eternal Is The Fruit is a heck of record for fans of bands such as The Hives, Turbonegro, Turbowolf and Foxy Shazam. Hip shaking garage rock riffs are the basis but the album ends up straddling multiple genres, from the frothing hardcore of Crimson Nectar, Horns Out is driven by some brass/synth, chuggy pop punk choruses on No Trouble with a hint of The Offspring, while Waterpark is a storming thrasher that features Gildas le Pape's (ex Satyricon/Hot Club de Norvège). 

Mind Control, their previous album, established them on the Scandi rock scene, Eternal Is The Fruit is a sweary, sweaty follow up that deals with mental health issues, a fight with seagulls, the ambrosia that is red wine and the majesty of waterslides. A multitude of lyrical inspirations wrapped up in a heart pumping listen that will bring a smile to your face. I’m not the biggest groover in the world, but I found myself bouncing in my seat when I played this record…not just once or twice… but Every. Single. Time.

I can only imagine how ferocious they are live if it’s anything like this record, they’ll be performing in the middle of the crowd while all hell breaks loose around them. If you need a little lift this week, slap on Eternal Is The Fruit, grab a (plastic) glass of wine and rock the hell out. 8/10

Druids Of Eld – A Day Of Sorrow (Self Released)

A solo project from Aussie (Melbourne) musician Matt Dodds, Druids Of Eld has been conceived as a way for him to write songs outside of the other bands he is part of (Arbrynth, live member of Be’lakor and Okera). Here it’s a more ethereal style of extreme metal, based in the blackened death/doom metal scene but drawn from folk traditions to. Ethereal chants, acoustics and low spoken vocals are as much a part of this album as the guttural growls and tremolo picking. 

Bringing to mind the works of Winterfylleth, Saor and Fen, but also a band such as Wolves In The Throne Room who Druids Of Eld reminded me a lot of. The melding of the traditional music with a more modern style means that opening track Born For The Wolves, slowly weaves its way into your head, almost feeling as if it’s an elongated intro ready to build on top of, the solitary chords that open Awakened add to it with a more traditional black metal sound, the vocals staying with death metal roars as a sense of impending doom is present. Mainly as no matter how fast the shredding or the drumming is the songs themselves are atmospheric and set at a pace that is considered and dynamic. 

With ritualistic chanting on Druids Of Eld (the song) the final two pieces are the impressive Sacrifice the most concise track here before this record ends with the title track another shorter track but one that is the most melodic. A Day Of Sorrow is a great album from this Australian one man affair with metal and folk unifying to great effect. 8/10

Cold Comfort - All Power No Sour (Self Released)

Self described as throwing psych, punk, goth, synth-pop and indie-rock into one big melting pot, All Power No Sour is the debut album from North West artist Ben Forrester aka Cold Comfort. I'll say first that this is a bloody weird record. Ben calls it noise rock and it's very noisy with twitching electronics, fuzzy guitar riffs and sneering vocals on the finale of All Change. Ben says that many of these songs come from older ideas and files, cutting and editing with samples to create this album. It's a disconcerting journey through 10 tracks that are jarring on the ears but speaks to experimental nature of this album, but there does seem to be cohesive link between all of them. 

The album sort of evolved as you listen, harsh and abrasive at the beginning, it matures and almost moves into punk/indie realms on Cheery Little Guy, then shifts into Lo-fi beats and even a spoken word piece about a paranormal experience. Fans of drone/noise general, experimental music will garner a lot from All Power No Sour, almost like it was recorded at the end of a recording session when everyone has left, this is music that has no fear and that's laudable. 6/10

Reviews: Uriah Heep, Dust Prophet, Cancervo, Azken Auzi (Reviews By Simon Black, David Karpel, Rich Piva & AV4Pod)

Uriah Heep - Chaos & Colour (Silver Lining Music) [Simon Black]

It’s always a challenge when reviewing new releases from bands that have been going longer than I’ve been alive, and not only because there aren’t that many of them left. I mean, I’m in my 50’s, and these guys had their glory days when I was a wee nipper, so actually that original fan base will be thinning too sadly (and not just in terms of hair). You know the challenge: in order to keep going, bands need to keep producing new material despite the fact that the costs of doing this are going up and the revenue to balance it in terms of unit physical sales is more or less gone.

Which means what you really need is bums on seats on the road, because that’s how you make a not so easy living now. The trouble is that fan base is rarely up to date with your latest opus, and really only there to hear you play Easy Livin’, Lady In Black and The Wizard for the umpteenth time and make them remember their youth in the 1970’s. So, I approached this with some trepidation, especially since the boss sent it over unsolicited…

It’s fair to say that not everyone who has been going this long puts all their heart and soul into keeping their output fresh and relevant all of the time. All too often these older band releases can be a pale shadow of their past, or a desperate attempt to recreate something of old by adding the dreaded number “2” into the title. Let me be clear, that categorically is not happening here today, because for their 25th studio album, the Heap have delivered an absolute blinder.

The record has had a long gestation period and has been gently brewing throughout lockdown. It feels like the band have channelled some of those years of frustration into an album that not only clearly sounds like Uriah Heap of old, but also feels like a thoroughly up to date and modern hard rock record of the highest calibre. Belting into life with Save Me Tonight, this record doesn’t pull its punches. Bands of this age often manage a couple of such belters on new releases, before running out of steam very quickly and reaching for the album filler, but again that is not happening here.

Despite the lengthy gnat’s whisker short of an hour run time, this flies by. Even the lengthy nature of many of the songs (with three of them clocking in well over seven minutes of run time apiece) doesn’t drag, because the interplay between these seasoned and virtuous players is absolutely top notch, with the kind of Progressive flourish without compromising the accessibility of the song writing is of the calibre that many in that self-indulgent genre can only listen and weep to.

That rich Hammond organ sound remains as the signature at its heart, but what I wasn’t expecting was some of the heaviest material these chaps have delivered for a long while. The thundering instrumental section on You’ll Never Be Alone is replete with the kind of double bass precision rumbling that you might expect when someone like W.A.S.P. is covering your greatest hit, whilst counterpointing that with some of the most subtle and moving piano lines a few bars later. Age has not diluted Bernie Shaw’s voice box either and he delivers a rendition that singers half his age would be proud of, supported as always by the well-crafted harmonies of the rest of the band.

I wasn’t expecting to be so positive when I found I had been sent this, but I am very grateful to our esteemed editor for knowing me better than I do myself. Precise and controlled, whilst simultaneously sounding free formed and chaotic, this is absolutely the sound of a masterclass in hard rock from a band that really know their shit. I think I’m going to be spinning this one a lot… 9/10

Dust Prophet - One Last Look Upon The Sky (Self Released) [David Karpel]

One Last Look Upon The Sky, the thunderous debut full-length from New Hamphsire’s Dust Prophet, plays like the soundtrack warning of the last days of humanity. This is intentional. According to the band, their lyrics, written by Otto Kinzel (guitar & vocals), “draw inspiration from the graphic imagery of classic literary works like the epic poem Paradise Lost, Gothic writers Flannery O’Connor, Ray Russell, & apocalyptic Biblical legends.” While Dust Prophet drops this slab of progressive, stoner doom at the beginning of a new year, their focus is the end times we’re in, the quickening decay, the last moments before the “light leaves your eyes.” 

Brash and caustic at times, gloomy and even spooky at others, their 9 dark tunes share motifs that build the overall theme of our living apocalypse. Masochism, murder, mayhem, and mysterious madmen trade places in verses sung both clear and with a blunt harshness, narratives weaved through the dynamic structures of the songs – sometimes plodding, other times soaring, and still other times psychedelic and even galactic. The opening track, A Storm In Time: Space Part I, is the first of a two-part instrumental, the second (... Part II) returning 6 tracks later. Keys, minimalist synths and guitars, familiar in both, give the sense of a tragic space opera, perhaps indicating that there is no frontier that will save us from ourselves.

When The Axe Falls follows, narrating a first person horror story based on real events about an apocalyptic ax murderer who promises the city of New Orleans that if they would play jazz all night – “I need to hear the sound I crave” – there would be no murder. Drenched in chugging fuzz, distinctive vocals, and driven by a catchy groove, this is the frontal assault that merely introduces us to Dust Prophet’s range. Dear Mrs. Budd, another blood drenched tune, is a driving, chugga-riffic ripper that incorporates clean and harsh vocals, bongos, and hypnotic psych. Song 4, a 7 and a half minute instrumental, mixes the keys up front, is driven by sludge soaked riffery, and sets down a tight metal groove. 

Meanwhile, Put To The Question demonstrates the band’s ability to sound epic at half the length of the longer songs. The High Capital narrates another epic tale beginning with a sense of romance which falls away to a ripper about revenge and rebellion with swords laying waste to “flesh and bone.” The two songs that close the album, Hourglass and Bury Me Before Noon, are just as dark and mysterious as the previous songs. Neither hide their roots in the heavy space-age prog organs of the 70s, and both deepen the gothic sense and mysterious moods to the overall feel of the album.

The sustained musical and lyrical thematic focus of Dust Prophet on One Last Look Upon The Sky is impressive. Their brand of fuzzed drenched progressive doom places them in that unique space between the awesome bands Cities Of Mars and Deserts Of Mars, which is a pretty cool place to be. On my first couple of listens, my mind did wander in and out of attention and the full viscosity of these songs requires attentive focus to really appreciate it. But they grew on me the more I listened and spent time in their dark and dynamic jams. Dust Prophet makes a unique and unconventional sound that you’d be wise to seek to experience. 8/10

Cancervo - Cancervo II (Electric Valley Records) [Rich Piva]

Time for some traditional style doom from Italy delivered to us by Cancervo. On their second album the trio goes firmly into 70s rooted, straight ahead doom that is sparce but heavy at the same time. It is kind of a minimalist doom experience, cleanly produced and very well executed and never outstays its welcome with its relatively short runtime, especially for a doom record. You get some serious Type O vibes, especially from the vocals, but more Type O if they cut out the irony, had Peter on some mood mellowing meds, and fired Josh from the band to cut out the keys before they recorded the album. So, yeah, traditional doom with booming baritone vocals. 

The opener, Arera, sets the tone immediately, with some serious Steele-esque vocals and a slow, brooding pace. The minimalist production and recording works extremely well with II, going with a less is more approach which I wish more bands would do. 70s proto doom vibes are a plenty with the creepy Herdman Of Grem and more of the same fun occult doomy goodness continues with The Cult Of Armentarga. There is a story going on II but I am not really following, but the doom is real. Overall, the six tracks are pretty similar, if not at times somewhat repetitive, which is not a bad thing if doom is your jam. Cancervo are not breaking any new ground, but if you like the traditional doom with no frill, good riffs, and perfect production then II may be something you should check out. 7/10

Azken Auzi - Azken Auzi (Argonauta Records) [AV4Pod]

For any band with a limited number of tools at their disposal (and to be clear, I think that's most bands) there is the perpetual, lurking danger of collapsing into monotony. The greater the limitation, the greater the risk, but for those bands like High On Fire who have absolutely zero access to sonic strategies like, you know, an upper register or piano, the fact that they somehow produce albums of breathtaking variety and scale, let alone an eight record discography filled with them, is something akin to a secular miracle.

And there are those musicians like Al Cisneros of OM (do I need to hear a Sleep record or do I just need sleep?) who transform monotony into meditation, distilling repetition into a kind of sublimity of which only they are capable. I wince when albums are described to me as "relentless." Typically, I assume that means 10 mid-to-up-tempo songs that I wouldn't be able to tell apart were it not for the track breaks.

On their self-titled debut record, French Sludge-Doom trio, Azken Auzi manages to deftly avoid monotony on the opening tracks with a seemingly narrow musical arsenal (No upper register. No piano.) Disgrace launches the record with an unexpected emotional roar and a gorgeous chord progression to match, while the early repetition of the title track feels like a deliberate build toward something that is about to unfurl upon the listener. Spoiler: it is.
Azken Auzi the song ends with an audio sample from the film Apocalypse Now, which is fine but they deploy another lengthy and this time unintelligible audio sample on KRLH, and again on the album closer Home, which is just the phrase “I live in a world of shit” over and over again until I start to agree with them. I think bands use these samples as an attempt to communicate meaning but all it tells me is that they didn’t want to write lyrics. Does anyone other than the artists who use track-spanning audio clips actually enjoy them because I find it to be an approach semit-frequently used and never successful.

I Hate You is one cool riff for six-plus minutes that takes 30 second a coffee break in the middle and at the end. Cool riff, but not that cool. The final three tracks are... well, “relentless.” But the outro to the closer, Home, is a breath of fresh, acoustic air that suggests Azken Auzi has more to offer its listeners than drudgery the debut’s final trilogy.

If these three Franco-sludgedoomians can pull a few different arrows from their quiver for next time, I think they show great promise for future releases. I don’t know how difficult it is for a metal vocalist to develop an upper register, but I do know it’s cheaper than a piano. 6/10

Monday 30 January 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Black Stone Cherry, The Darkness & Danko Jones (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Black Stone Cherry, The Darkness & Danko Jones, Cardiff International Arena, Cardiff, 28.01.23

Who the fuck are Danko Jones? Not my words, the legend emblazoned on the T-shirt's of Canadian opening act Danko Jones (7), named after their erstwhile frontman/guitarist who was flanked by long-term drummer and bassist, they know how to write a song, unfortunately they know how to write a song, however it is just the one song, the similarity in the riffs, vocals and lyrics, quite obvious as things worse on. It's simple but effective as they quickly win over the crowd ready for the co-headliners.

There are rockstar frontmen and then there's Justin Hawkins, the falsetto vocaled, solo playing, head standing, split jumping, jumpsuit sporting frontman of The Darkness (9) has more energy than the Duracell bunny, more sex appeal than a Tom Jones' chest hair and a voice that never seems to falter year after year. He's every inch a rock n roll frontman, playing less guitar (except for his solo spots) and prowling the stage like a Big Cat in his territory. Thankfully the musical heart of the band his brother Dan on guitar and Frankie Poullain on bass keep the songs rolling with riffs galore, aided and abetted by overall clad road crewman Softy (The Fifth Beatle) as Rufus Tiger Taylor hunkers down behind his kit steamrolling through the opening duo of Growing On Me and Black Shuck, anchoring the rest of the set as they up the speed on the thrashy Motorheart

What followed was an absolute masterclass in how to pace a rock show when so many think you have just the one album (which of course is totally wrong), with the classics from Permission To Land including course the evergreen closing duo of I Believe In A Thing Called Love and Love On The Rocks, making up the bulk of the set, The Darkness inject some modernity with recent offerings including Japanese Prisoner Of Love, Solid Gold and the monstrous Barbarian, pleasing pretty much everyone. Justin Hawkins directing the crowd in call and response, cracking wise about Radio 1 and generally being brilliant coupled with their ability to play every show like they're headlining Wembley Arena (I've not seen that much pyro in the CIA for long time), the packed house bounced along to every word partying like it was 2003!

A hell of a challenge was set down for their American brethren however Steelhouse Festival 2023 headliners Black Stone Cherry (9) are such as slick, well oiled machine (and have been since they first burst onto the scene) that it was almost impossible for them not to be able to follow the East Anglian excitement. With less showmanship than The Darkness but a bit more downhome Southern grit most of the movement was done by guitarist Ben Wells and new(ish) bassist Steve Jewell, who seemed to be in constant motion, switching sides frequently and climbing up on the drummer John-Fred Young, as were the drum techs due to the fact that he smashed his kit to pieces more than once, especially on his drum solo in the middle of Cheaper To Drink Alone

The heart of BSC though has always been Chris Robertson his lead guitars and soulful Southern holler the key parts of what they do as a band. Kicking off with Me And Mary Jane before diving headlong into Change and Blind Man it was muscular start before they started to glad the crowd into getting louder, as Wells said later they specifically asked Cardiff/Wales to be the first show so they could compare all the others against it. Thankfully the Welsh amassed choir didn't disappoint on the sing along moments such as In My Blood and Things My Father Said, Robertson's vocals sending a shiver down the spine on both these. But BSC have always been about hooks, choruses and riffs and on Cardiff we get plenty of those, new song Out Of Pocket the riffs, while White Trash Millionaire/Blame It On The Boom Boom will stay in your head for days afterwards (even my wife was singing it on the way out...as nauseam).

Consistency is the name of the game here, with both The Darkness and Black Stone Cherry having that above everything else. Having a solid opener, this was two bands on stunning form with a glut of classic anthems, get your ass to this tour.

Reviews: Steve Vai, Suasion, Sorrowful Land, Devil's Whiskey (Reviews By Simon Black, James Jackson, Paul Scoble & Rich Piva)

Steve Vai - Vai/Gash (Favoured Nations Records) [Simon Black]

There’s been a crop of legacy releases buried for decades that have seen the light of day in recent years. Part of this is down to Covid for sure, with acts unable to get into the studio then the urge to dust down old forgotten projects made sense, especially given that labels were desperate for product, but this feels subtly different not the least because Vai has waited until after the pandemic to dust this down. Let’s step back a few decades to 1994 when this was shelved…

Vai cut his teeth working with Frank Zappa, who helped hone his skill to the point where he was the logical choice of wing man for David Lee Roth launching his solo career, and in need of a guitarist with at least the same level of style and individuality as Eddie Van Halen. It worked, and DLR’s first two albums were global hits off the back off the frankly formidable playing that Vai brought to the table, to the point where it is debatable as to how much the downward spiral Roth’s career took after this was down to the departure of Vai as it was to the seismic changes in the musical landscape that the 1990’s wrought.

For a start, if you are expecting the usual off the wall technical and experimental shredder snorting Zappa wizardry that Vai is best know for, then you are going to be surprised by this. This post-DLR and pre-Whitesnake project came about from Vai’s love of a more down the road and back to basics hard rock sound from his youth. Enter Johnny “Gash” Sombrotto, a fellow hard rockin’ biker enthusiast, in who Vai found a kindred soul and a shared passion to deliver what might have been the hard rock album of the decade had it ever been released. However, Vai was also working on one of his solo albums in parallel and presumably at the behest of the label this got shelved, no doubt because Rock and Metal were facing experiential challenges at the time.

It’s a shame, as Gash is an incredibly effective and charismatic front man, who should have had a shot. This release is as much a love letter to the ill-fated Gash as it anything else. The man was probably the best example I can think of as to why motorbikes are so fucking dangerous, having been almost killed and really badly burned and scarred in one accident in the late 1970’s, before another one finally claimed his life in 1998.

Musically, if Roth had released something like this album with Vai instead of the abysmal Little Ain’t Enough, then the latter may never have left, and the former would have retained cultural relevance beyond the 1980’s. That’s because Vai/Gash is quite frankly one of the best hard rock album’s I’ve heard in a very long, long while.

Whilst many younger bands are riding the retro fad and trying to capture something long lost, here surfaces something genuinely so that quite frankly blows them out of the water. Vai is really restrained, with not even a hint of shred or OTT technical wizardry, focusing instead on well crafted and arranged rockin’ numbers. It’s not clear who else has contributed, but that really doesn’t matter because it’s Gash that steals the limelight with a soulful, gutsy and exemplar vocal range that Roth could only aspire to. 

These eight tracks (yup even the ballad at the end) flow and fly by in a brief, beautiful and effective twenty-nine minutes and absolutely leave you wanting more. 9/10

Suasion - The Infinite (Atomic Fire Records) [James Jackson]

Hailing from Liege in Belgium, Suasion formed in 2013, stylising themselves as a cinematic/metalcore/electronic/rock band. This year’s album, The Infinite, follows a collection of releases, amongst them 2019’s Stardust, their first full length studio album. From my first listen through I’m reminded of Ohio based Starset who have a very similar sound and at times style. I’ve become more of a fan of this style lately, finding myself listening to acts such as Electric Callboy (an act I caught live and can’t recommend enough), Dayseeker and Bad Omens, bands that are playing with their sound and blending genres. 

On tracks such as Transformation, Black & White and Trapped, Suasion are playing metal and dance/techno to create tracks which draw you in no matter the genre; in fact Trapped is a neon glow stick and whistle away from being a techno dance floor anthem. House Of Cards, Equilibrium and Naught round out the album, continuing its genre blending; The Infinite will be an album that I’m definitely going to be playing again. 7/10.

Sorrowful Land - Faded Anchors Of The Past (Black Lion Records) [Paul Scoble]

Sorrowful Land is a project of Kharkiv based Max Molodtsov, who has a number of irons in the musical fire as he is also a prominent member of Edenian, Blassdevine, Mistyfica and Resolution. Those bands cover a spread of musical styles from gothic doom to thrash, so Max is a one man music scene. Sorrowful Land came into being in 2014, and their first album was released two years later in 2016’s Of Ruins, a year later Sorrowful Land released an EP called Where The Sullen Waters Flow, and the bands last album was called I Remember and was released in 2018. 

Max clearly has a lot of musical friends as there a several guests appearing on Faded Anchors Of The Past, Pierre Loube of the band Doomed is on As Long As We Breath, Henrik Ekholm from Within The Fall appears on Faded Anchor Of The Past and The Cold Gray Fog Of Dawn where he is joined by Stefan Nordström of Solilquium and Small Lost Moments features Kaivan Saraei and Miguel Santos of the band A Dream Of Poe.

Sorrowful Lands style is fairly classic death/doom, so slow and heavy but with a decent amount of melody. The album also has some very pleasing clean sections with clean vocals The (nearly) title track Faded Anchor Of The Past has some very good clean sections, this is probably the song with the most softer parts, it has a brooding, bleak feel to the whole song, clean and heavy alike, if anything the clean sections are more desolate than the more aggressive parts. Small Last Moments also has some very nice clean parts and the singing from guests Kaivan Saraei and Miguel Santos is superb.
Don’t think it’s all about the clean, nice bits, this album has some great heavy sections with great Harsh vocals. Opening song As Long As We Breath is full of great doomy riffs that are heavy, affecting and full of weight. The Cold Grey Fog Of Dawn is another great piece of heavy doom. The track has a tempo and pacing that has a little more drive and purposefulness once it gets going, it also has some very nice atmospheric keyboards that temper the heaviness very well.
With all that heaviness, we are defiantly going to need some melody and that is something that this album has in spades, great melody leads that go over a lot of the heavier riffs, I must admit I have found them to be eminently hummable. The song As I Behold Them Once Again has melody leads over riffs through a lot of the song, filling it with melody. Where The Sullen Water Flows is another track full of melody leads, all of an extremely high quality, and Small Lost Moments is another one with Guitar melodies throughput most of the song.
That's all really good, and this is a very good album, but I feel it could have been better. Everything on the album is fine, I have no problem with that, it’s what isn’t here that is an issue. Nearly all of the pacing and tempos are very similar, the album is lacking in dynamics as well, we get either soft and clean, or heavy and slow, nothing builds from quiet and minimal up to huge and massive proportions, there isn’t much layering of instruments, or new sounds. Every time Max had a point where the song could change to either get bigger and huger, or smaller and more subtle he chose subtle. 

I have no problem with subtle doom, but this makes the album feel a little samey as the structures feels alike. This isn’t a huge issue, this is still a very good album that is full of great riffs, tunes, and some very good performances, but if Max and Sorrowful Land want to stand out in what is a very full and (luckily for doom fans) very high quality doom scene, adding some dynamics is what is needed, at the moment this is at the same level as a lot of other bands, if Sorrowful Land can add some changes in tempo and dynamics then they will then be up with the leaders of this genre. 7/10

Devil’s Whiskey - Historias de Muerte EP (Self Released [Rich Piva]

There is a lot going on with the latest EP from Santiago De Querétaro, Mexico’s Devil’s Whiskey. Their bio calls out the influence the issues at the US/Mexico boarder has on their music, and you can feel the anger, despair, and angst across the seven tracks on the EP. Devil’s Whiskey is in no way a straight ahead stoner band; there are aspects of doom, heavy blues, and some interesting and complex directions the band goes with these tracks.

The opener, the seven minute A Ritual Of Eyes, leans more on the sludgy doom side and is heavy as hell. Right off the bat you get the vibe with no pretense; there is nothing happy about this record and the situation is bleak and needs to be addressed ASAP. I love the creepy keys thrown into the mix at strategic times. The vocals are perfect for the vibe; angst filled singing, whiskey soaked, with an incredible urgency. Midway through the track you get an out there instrumental jam that seems to not fit but somehow does, before heading back to where we came with more of the sludgy doom goodness. A lot going on here. Behind The Hills is another sludgy doom epic clocking it at over eight minutes. Doom, despair, strategically placed keys, and riffs (and maybe a tad bit long…). Another eight minutes track with Black Poison, and for an EP we are three songs at 24 minutes if anyone is counting, but this one is even more urgent and a somewhat uncomfortable listen, but not in a bad way. 

Yeah not an EP, given the fourth track, Born In The Dirt, clocks in at just over seven minutes, and hits us with an acoustic heavy blues driven offering to slow down the pace coupled with the smoothest vocals on the record with some spoken word in the background that made my head spin a bit. It may not have the crushing riffs, but it is just as heavy as the rest of Historias de Muerte. Obsidiana musically is my favorite track as I love the use of the keys and it’s mid-tempo pace. My 10th grade Spanish doesn’t help me lyrically (the first four tracks are in English), but I really dig this one. 

Just when you think an EP at over 40 minutes is going to wrap up, on track six of seven you get the eleven-minute plus track, Feretro. This is their most traditional doom track, and they do it very well. I like long tracks, but at this point when the expectation is that this an EP fatigue starts to set in which is a shame because this may be the best overall track on the record. We wrap up with 45, which is an out there, deep, and heavy acoustic spoken word type track that is a pretty cool way to close out but could have been done in two minutes instead of five.

Historias de Muerte is not for the faint of heart. You can feel the raw emotions from Devil’s Whiskey in every scream and every note. Heavy stuff and not just musically. This is definitely not an EP given the length promoting the feeling that the record drags and is too long but buckle in and be prepared to be bludgeoned from south of the boarder. 7/10

Friday 27 January 2023

Reviews: The Enigma Division, Love Gang, Serotonin Syndrome, Ashen Horde (Reviews By Simon Black, Rich Piva, David G & Erick Willand)

The Enigma Division - The Enigma Division (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Being a music writer can sometime be quite an undignified process, particularly when our esteemed leader Matt lets us know that some new material is available for review. Imagine a particularly violent, bloodily gory and brutally primitive fight scene from say, The Walking Dead, as groups of ragged hairy survivors fight it out to the death over a previously undiscovered four pack of beer in a burnt-out convenience store and you’re not far from what happens, particularly on Nuclear Blast drop days… 

OK, the battleground is our Dropbox folder, and its bitchy comments on Facebook Messenger rather than bullets, knives or teeth, but you get the drift. But then whilst everyone is fighting it out over the latest big-name release, debut stuff like this can sit there un-noticed ready for the taking. Saying that, since the only other Prog obsessive on here is our beloved leader, he knows he’s going to win in the event of a tussle, so I have bagged this one with his blessing…

And I am glad I did, because this is debut is quite frankly stunning piece of progressive modern metal from a band that up to that point I had not heard of before. It’s a new act, but the names on here are experienced hands and they’ve been building a huge amount of anticipation for quite some time, despite their debut only hitting the shelves now. I’m normally a fairly fast reviewer and writer, but this has left me without words, and took me at least four full listens before I could even begin to put my thoughts into words.

The three-piece core of this Irish band are Xerath’s guitarist Conor McGouran and drummer Ben Wanders, along with Ronan Burns, about who I can find very little information in the metal scene, but he covers the bass and keys work here, and formed the band alongside McGouran. The Enigma Division have been teasing their arrival for some time, with Covid shafting things for a while, but the fact that they’ve been booked for this year’s Bloodstock before the debut album is released tells you everything that you need to know. 

Wanders handles most of the vocal work, and to be fair I would love to see how that works live, given the brutal blast beat driven nature of his drum work alongside McGouran’s crisply effective shredding. Prog fans won’t be upset either by guest contributions from William Alex Young, Derek Sherinian and Sam Bell, plus a whole bunch of solo spots from a plethora of other players.

Musically this is top notch prog metal, with a deep vein of brutally crisp modern shred, bits of synthwave and the kind of epic feel you normally get with movie soundtracks in an IMAX. With the kind of low-end bass rumble that gets my teenage children asking me to turn the music down, the production on this record is crisp, precise and absolutely fabulous – and again the multi-talented Wanders takes the credit here. 

The songs mix it up somewhat, as you can expect from the shopping list above, but retain an energy, focus and listenability that works even for the casual listener, no matter how long and self-indulgent the run time might be. The twenty-minute album close 1977 – Ad Infinitum illustrates this clearer than anything, given that it’s completely instrumental apart from some spoken word samples from astronomer Carl Sagan. It’s ridiculously complicated, and absolutely beautiful and the best thing on here by a country mile. But then since pretty much every song knocks it out of the park, that’s a fairly meaningless comparison.

New band; old hands. Great - nay awesome result and my first perfect score of 2023. 10/10

Love Gang - Meanstreak (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

In a conversation I was having with my music loving Twitter group the Groove Council, I made the comment that if all bands dialed back their production a couple of notches the world would be a better place. I am not sure everyone agreed, but I stand by that remark. I submit exhibit A in my defense, the second album from Denver, Colorado’s Love Gang, who recorded Meanstreak in full analog to tape to capture the band in its purest form, harking back to the heyday of Blue Cheer and the MC5 and before all the big studio engineering came in to ruin some perfectly excellent rock.

This record rocks so hard, kicking you right in your analog loving teeth with the opener, Deathride and the absolute killer title track. This whole album sounds exactly how I want a record to sound. It is the most honest and pure recording I have heard in a long time. So fuzzy, amazing drum sound, and just pure energy. Bad News almost reminds me of Motorhead lyrically and musically; you can picture Lemmy singing this song and I love the guitar work and the addition of the organ at the back end of the track. It’s not quite Motorhead, but like if Motorhead started in 1969. Blinded By Fear is more heavy fuzzy goodness and could be my favorite track. Love the guitar work on this one partnered with the organ.

You know that the drummer broke a bunch of sticks and drumheads while recording Meanstreak, and it is glorious. Love the Blue Cheer worship on Shake This Feelin’ and the straight-ahead fuzzy garage rock feel of Headed Down To Mexico that has a ZZ Top riff that gallops into a late 60s inspired, organ driven ripper. What a song. Same Ol’ Blues is aptly titled, an acoustic driven blues tune with harmonica that fits perfectly on this record that leads to the amazing closer, Fly Away, which is a perfect blend of what Love Gang does best.

This one is going to be in heavy rotation for a long time. If I need to ratchet up the pure energy, it’s going to be with Meanstreak. I need to figure out how to see Love Gang live because if what I am hearing recorded directly to analog is any indication they will blow me away. Excellent album with staying power and one I would not be surprised is on the top end of my list by the time 2023 wraps up. 9/10

Serotonin Syndrome – Seed Of Mankind (Self Released) [David G]

Finnish five-piece Serotonin Syndrome release this, their third album. Over the five tracks it shows the derivation of a style from the post-metal/hardcore scene in conjunction with segments that hark to later black metal in the moments of their uglier, depressive aesthetic. Seemingly motivated by frustration and anger at human behaviour it is in itself a frustrating listen.

Among Others opens the album, and standing at over eight minutes long it is not easily digestible. The opening drawl has a thick, sludgy feel but plays with a spectral motif that could be slightly influenced by the melancholic dark metal of the likes of Katatonia. As this section dies away the ugly aggression rears its head, thumping away with that nihilistic pulse that feels all too familiar. The track plays with these kinds of approaches before entering a lengthy lead section that slowly strips away excess unless the bass guitar and drums gently patter along under a warm guitar noodle. It’s a moody track that doesn’t quite hit the mark, and at times the throaty rasping yelps feel a bit detrimental.

The Pitiful One, just a shade over five minutes feels perhaps more to the point, with none of the meandering clean sections. Driven by an interesting guitar part that ascends and descends like a craggy rock line, it reminds me that this music always becomes so much more powerful when it taps into that elemental feel; Serotonin Syndrome seem more at home in the earthy aspect. Later in the track when they really embrace the black metal hysteria it feels like a bit of a shock, moving into this tenebrous approach from something so grounded. I’m not sure it necessarily works in the context, even if it is pulled off with authenticity.

The title track, again over eight minutes, feels like more of your classic post metal, with first half kicked along by a clockwork riff that ticks along in a way reminiscent of Isis. It’s at this point, when most of the distortion is pulled back, that you hear how shallow the drum sound is, and it’s here that this most affects the approach the band is going for where the added flavour could be enriching. The second half of the track winds along through another clean section before building to powerful conclusion accentuated by the howling vocals that this time sway along in unison to the music (though the cymbal splashing sound becomes a mere hiss).

Dot Marks The Spot opens in now familiar style but after a couple of minutes breaks down into an ominous muted riff, the atmosphere of which is undone by the vocals croaking pathetically (check out the hilarious ghostly wail later in the track), this approach is repeated and is certainly no better the second time around. What’s frustrating is what awaits on the far side of these sections, a swirling well of guitar that creates a tempestuous storm at sea. From here the track just kind of continues on but I keep thinking about what just happened and how something so visceral, so evocative, just appeared out of nowhere, then disappeared almost as quickly.

Final track The End, again over eight minutes, builds from a melancholy piano part, layering on drums, bass and eventually guitar until distortion thrusts its head out. Perhaps the most Pelican of approaches, though with a more downbeat mood. That is until the final thrust of the track when for the first time all album there’s a rocking drive to the tempo that seems incongruous given the 34 minutes that preceded it. The whole song feels like a shift, more overtly constructed and controlled than the other four tracks, it works in a way even if it is a bit of an outlier.

There are moments where Serotonin Syndrome strike upon something elemental that fundamentally works and there are weird little side steps along the way that are likely to pull the listener out of those moments. Then there are some minor quibbles with the sound of the album that don’t quite put the music in the best light, and I find myself with a meh-to-urgh response to the vocals. It’s interesting what the band are trying to do, it just doesn’t always work. 6/10

Ashen Horde - Antimony (Transcending Obscurity) [Erick Willand]

Ashen Horde spawned into existence in 2013 and have been steadily spreading dreadful clouds of progressive black/death metal since with a string of singles including 2015’s vicious Feral, a ripping little beast befitting its title, and three previous full-lengths, the last one being 2019 Fallen Cathedrals, a stand out in the growing progressive black/death sub-genre boasting a memorable vocal assault and wonderfully bleak shadowy cover art.
Now in 2023 Ashen Horde return with a follow-up interestingly titled Antimony. As one would expect the opening track here, called Summoning is a classic solo guitar intro track that fills out about halfway and then leads right into the first proper track, The Throes Of Agony. This song wastes all of 3 seconds with a bit of guitar fiddling before kicking you down some stone cellar stairs in a vicious vocal punch and swirling guitar darkness. The opening lyrics inter-spaced with sinister whispered passages is a nice atmospheric touch. A solid track that suffers only from its ponderous 6 minute and 55 second length…5 seconds shy of a full 7 minutes and this is not a doom band.

The Consort is track 3 and starts with some weird guitar plucking that should have been left on the cutting floor, to be fair this song redeems itself quickly with a driving riff and clear vocal delivery with a stand out chorus section that I do find satisfying. The Barrister starts off much better and continues the group vocal attack to good if somewhat grandiose effect. The Physician is clearly a more urgent track with a catchy riff and plenty of blasting but very little to hang on to. The Courtesan follows in the path and is saved by some interesting time changes and insistent guitar peels I actually dig, despite a small nu-metal flavoured interlude that just feels out of place. I'm getting tired though...
The DiscipleThe Neophyte, and Animus Nocendi all fall into the same fate to be honest, just too long. Through this entire album there are some very good elements, fantastic vocals, solid drumming and top tier guitar work. However if I’ve ever heard an album that suffered from chronic song bloat this is it. Each one of these songs ruins itself on the insistence of dragging itself past the 4 minute mark, with most tracks crashing over the 5 minute mark. Some bands can pull this off and I’m afraid that Ashen Horde just isn’t one of them, each one of these songs would have been made better by trimming minutes off. 

It’s just too much and in the end it cost this clearly talented band a more solid and, more importantly, more memorable album. So, coupled with cover art which is either AI generated art or just lazy painting and I can’t honestly tell, I’m giving Antimony from Ashen Horde a 5/10

Thursday 26 January 2023

Reviews: Bizarrekult, Molten Gold, Deiquisitor, Tribunal (Reviews By Mark Yong & Matt Bladen)

Bizarrekult - Den Tapte Krigen (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

Post black metal goodness from Season Of Mist!!

My experience with black metal hasn’t always been positive and certainly in the early 90s there seemed to be a self-built wall around certain bands and perhaps their ideologies. The harsher and more impenetrable the music the more authentic these bands were. A lot of my metal friends were not into it, openly dismissive of it in the ways that only metal heads can be so when this landed in my in-box, I really didn’t know what to expect.

I didn’t think I’d like it and was under the impression that it would be like the audio equivalent of a black and white film.

Bizarrekult have been in existence since 2006 but have only really started to shift gears recently and with that they have released Den Tapte Krigen, which is as good as anything I’ve heard in a while. The songs are not short by any means, but they don’t drag. They seemed to be perfectly balanced, either with the typical BM vocal style (there’s no getting away from that) or with the softer more melodic parts. Each song is different even though it contains the same component parts, but they never feel forced or shoehorned in for effect.

It isn’t harsh or full of over-the-top tempos. Guitars, drums are all present and correct including your double-bass and blast-beats just in case you were worried. Looking at the band bio it seems to be the brainchild of Roman V who provides vocals and writes/arranges the music with everything stemming from him. It is a real statement of intent and deserves to be heard.

Based on this I really need to pay more attention to this style of music; it passed the car test which is always a good sign!!! 8/10

Molten Gold - Futures Past (Silver Stream Records/Kozmik Artifactz) [Matt Bladen]

Poetic lyricism, burly vocals, plenty of organs, heavy blues and psychedelic machinations throughout? Must be a Jethro Tull record! But actually no, it isn't. Futures Past is the debut full length album from Oslo band Molten Gold, despite Rebirth starting with a syncopated riff to Wolfmother's Joker & The Thief, it changes tact quite quickly leaving the rest of the album to being a delicious psych blues rock treat that will have your beard growing and your cheesecloth out of the wardrobe. 

Leading the charge on all of these songs are the organs of Anders N. Pedersen, his ivory tinkling obligatory to the Molten Gold sound from the huge rock riff fest's such as Sons Of The Morning Star or the funk driven Bleeding Over where Jørn Helge ‘Angel Eyes’ B. Dahl gets to kick out some "wakka wakka" guitar riffs before they both get some time to show off in the solo sections. Because of the sprinkle of prog there's lots of shifting in Socorro where the drums of Matteo Fiore and Tron Ingar Morstad's bass are the focus, as they are on the gospel meets NWOBHM influenced Kneel And Pray

The final piece of this complex collaboration are the vocals of Abraxas which are often bellowed but feature enough soul to make tracks such as Silverback brim with quality. Futures Past took me by surprise and continued to do so even after a few plays, if you like your rock with a lot of psych and blues then you'll want to hear it! 8/10

Deiquisitor – Apotheosis 2023 (Extremely Rotten Productions and Night Shroud Records) [Mark Young]

The problem with being of a certain vintage is that you become a bit jaded or possibly stale to new music being released. It might be that you have heard it before or that you maybe expect a lot from bands because of a high-water mark set previously. Sometimes it is difficult to listen and review because you find fault unnecessarily and this is the predicament I’m in with Apotheosis. Deiquisitor are a three piece from Denmark, and this is their 4th release. I confess that I had never heard of them before but the good thing about reviewing music for fun is that you will get exposed to bands or even genres you have never heard of.

They are death metal to the core, the trademark growls, fizzing guitars, muted production, and propelling blast beats are all on display here. Each of the of 9 tracks presented are of a good standard but there isn’t a stand-out track amongst them. The biggest gripe I have is that I don’t get a sense of urgency from the songs. The blast beats are there and in fact the drummer is for me the star here even in the slower parts, but the guitars don’t sound right with them. You expect the guitar to be this monstrous sound that batters you but it's thin and it’s a shame.

The last two songs Atomic Assassins and Praise The Lord do bring a touch of vitality as they close out proceedings but overall, the album just rolls on by. Its not a new thing that some studio work won’t actually capture what the band sounds live, early Biohazard as an example but on stage they are a force of nature. This could be the case with Deiquisitor and I would love to see them live because you do get that feeling that it would be a great experience. Apotheosis is termed as being the highest point in development of something or the elevation of someone to divine status. Unfortunately, in this case it is neither. 6/10

Tribunal - The Weight Of Remembrance (20 Buck Spin) [Matt Bladen]

The things you find in the underground are often the most impressive. For instance coming off the always eclectic and forward thinking 20 Buck Spin label is the debut from Vancouver, BC, gothic doom act Tribunal. Expect maudlin compositions, plenty of tolling bells, introspective lyrics and fuzz driven riffs, but what you don't expect is that at their core Tribunal are a duo of Etienne Finn who provides the guitar and I believe the growled vocals while Soren Mourne plays the cello, bass and gives the mournful cleans. 

They are the broken, black heart of this band with guest musicians on drums, piano and vocals, they also have a live band featuring a drummer, guitarist and keyboard player so they can perform live shows. Stylistically similar to My Dying Bride, Draconian and Swallow The Sun, this is sweeping, evocative gothic doom where the dual vocal style compliments each other and the songs have impressive run times to build atmosphere and mystery against some spacious guitar riffs. 

The use of cello is inspired, to really crank up the emotion in tracks such as Of Creeping Moss And Crumbled Stone as the heaviness increased for Apathy's Keep and A World Beyond Shadow. Sinister, gothic and apocalyptic, retreat to the chapel of solace, light a candle and welcome the cold embrace of Tribunal's debut album. 7/10

Reviews: Sabaton, Torso, Grief Symposium, Aiming For Enrike (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Sabaton - Heroes Of The Great War (Nuclear Blast)

Those heavy metal history buffs Sabaton return with the second part of their Echoes Of The Great War trilogy of EP’s following up last years Weapons Of The Modern Age with Heroes Of The Great War. The previous part focused on the scientific advancements that took place during WWI, most of which were used to make barbaric weaponry, it was a more serious affair, due to many of these advancements part of the huge death toll present in The Great War. This EP however is called Heroes Of The Great War and focuses on the most outlandish, fantastic and unbelievable acts of heroism during this period of conflict. 

Again the majority of these 6 tracks come from the Swedes three previous albums along with one new song. Last Dying Breath is the earliest, the punchy thrasher coming from 2016’s Last Stand about the defence of Serbia. The galloping triple team of A Ghost In The TrenchesSeven Pillars Of Wisdom and 82nd All The Way come from 2019’s The Great War, with the adventures of Canadian sniper, T.E Lawrence (Lawrence Of Arabia) and Sergeant from Tennessee who captured 132 Germans. Its very action packed you can almost picture Dirk Bogarde, Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Kirk Douglas, Peter O’Toole or Gary Cooper down and dirty in the trenches. 

It doesn’t end there though as the story of Milunka Savić gets it’s due with Lady Of The Dark and Sir Adrian Carton De Wiar known as The Unkillable Soldier, both coming from 2022’s The War To End All Wars. It’s a lot more upbeat than the previous EP, full of bluster on balls, the one new song fully committed to the ethos of the EP. Called First Soldier, it’s packed with triumphal keys and explains what a complete badass Albert Severin Roche a man too short for the army but eventually became known as the hero of France due to his unquenchable thirst for war. By the end of the war he had been wounded 9 times and had captured over 1,180 prisoners! 

Like I said with the last EP, history nerds like me will love this EP compiling some of the best bits of their last few albums. I wait for their next one and their tour in anticipation. 8/10

Torso - A Crash Course In Terror (APF Records)

Emerging from the fetid carcass of APF- signed horror metallers Possessor, comes Torso, something of a sequel, something of a remake, it's Evil Dead II in band form. Graham Bywater, frontman, guitarist, evil genius, returns not more than a year after burying Possessor with a leaner, meaner, unit, in fact it is just the torso (plus arms, legs and head) of Bywater that makes up the music on A Crash Course In Terror, producer Wayne Adams bringing eerie keys on a couple of tracks. 

Inspired as usual by the gore-soaked, unsettling flicks of Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Michele Soavi, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava, obsessed with Drive-In B-Movies and low budget shocks Bywater channels this into the Torso project recording it in just 16 hours, the main vein being proggy, sludge grunge punk, riffs that seem to be gurgling and threatening, drenched in fuzz and harshness on Sinking Spell but also packing some schlocky rock melodies at the close.of Circuit Breaker Breaker. Meanwhile the vocals shift from shouted to spectral, often a slicker chorus coming when you're deep in the doldrums of grunting riffage. 

Much like his previous band it's cut to pieces with snippets, samples from movies, expertly woven into the songs themselves. Along with this there's a focus on making industrial atmospheres on Pranks, that are there to support the concept of this being the soundtrack to, or the audio version of a Grindhouse cinema, where the film is patched, broken and beaten, often cobbled together to make it play on projector. A Crash Course In Terror feels retro, produced hastily, its satisfyingly lo-fi, aimed at vinyl, yes, but more likely cassette, the kind of album that was traded but not bought. Bywater has risen from his grave with more audio nastiness, Torso are an unstoppable force as foretold on Precious Blood "You can't kill me I'm already dead". 9/10

Grief Symposium - ...In The Absence Of Light (Church Road Records)


1. a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject.

2. a drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet (and notable as the title of a work by Plato)

Either of these options would be a harrowing experience if they featured as much torment as Grief Symposium, ooze out of their debut album ...In Absence Of Light. Cited as death/doom, it is so much more than that, it's a primitive, primordial, and supernatural album that draws from Candlemass, My Dying Bride and also Celtic Frost, but smashes them all together with a slab of monolithic metal that will punish your ears, but equally lead off on a journey of floating atmospherics that weave a gothic spell. At times an uncomfortable listen but a beguiling one, the melancholic pessimism that permeates through what the band "horrible music." 

Horrible it may be but it's also brilliant, from the tolling of a bell that welcomes Among Dead Gods, that initial pulverising riff of lja's 7-String, adapts itself into some battering death metal, bjm's drumming and csm's bass, blasting in full death metal destruction before they slow into something a bit more melodic, the voice of sjt splitting between whispered machinations and aggressive growls. The growls at their most vicious on the brutal Temple Of Decay, following this though is where Grief Symposium allow their more creative approach take the wheel as the cinematics of mpr are met with spoken word samples as we are brought into the progressive shifts of In The Shadow Of The Sleeping Monarch, Cecilia Adelaide's vocals beautifully used at the end.

...In The Absence Of Light is a personal album, the band having to look internally to discuss how the smallest decisions can effect you, they repent for these transgressions on the violent Veil Of Transformation, Descent In To Pandemonium, taking you deeper down the rabbit hole with raging prog death metal interspersed with more ethereal tones, Esoteric Mirrors meanwhile brings punishing sludge power as the final part shifts into a more upbeat mellifluous section. Closing with the 13 minute industrial throb of The Amber Kiss Of The Sun, ...In Absence Of Light is an album unlike anything I've heard for long time, an exploratory study in the mind through the medium of difficult, multi genre music, each listen revealing more each time you hear it. 9/10

Aiming For Enrike - Empty Airports (Jansen Records)

We are a rock and metal blog but occasionally we do branch out into other genres a little. With the ever increasing use of electronics in metal music many electronic artists cross over to reach rock and metal fans. I'll admit many of these are in the firmly ensconced in the synthwave genre, however Aiming For Enrike take their atmospheric approach from the realms of post-rock and ambient scenes, the duo having had a very productive few years with their debut album Music For Working Out and playing all around the world with a more riotous, louder sound. 

Here they have adapted their approach towards the electronic/post-rock/ambient style in an attempt to reflect the silence of the world during the pandemic, especially in network hubs like airports where the stillness was eerie, thousands of jets grounded and terminals free of human life. The album title is also a nod to Brian Eno's Music For Airports, the Oslo duo owing a debt to the pioneer of electronic music. Simen Følstad Nilsen provides guitars, effects and synths while Tobias Ørnes Andersen brings drums and synths, their musical dexterity mesmerising as these long form, flowing tracks bring waves of intrigue that will delight not only electronic music connoisseurs but also anyone that has an interest in post-rock or esoteric prog. 

The notes around this record mention 80's King Crimson on Feel No Threat/Absent Lovers and that's spot on, but elsewhere there's plenty of instrumental jams, such as The Castle which has the darkness of a John Carpenter soundtrack or the overall minimalists approach of Steve Reich. Songs that have been crafted into this album that is distinct in it's vision and a must for those who lose themselves in electronic soundscapes. 7/10

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Reviews: King Kraken, Heavy Blanket, Nemesism, Ablaze My Sorrow (Reviews By Ben Baljak, David Karpel, GC & Richard Oliver)

King Kraken - MCLXXX (Self Released) [Ben Baljak]

King Kraken are a 5 piece Heavy Rock band from South Wales, UK. It’s safe to say that as a resident of the area and follower of the local Metal scene; Since their inception in September 2018, it has been impossible not to notice this gigantic regal cephalic growing over the valleys and the hills. Their presence has already gained much traction. And in the wake of their debut feature length album MCLXXX, It’s certain that King Kraken will have their many appendages far and wide.

Karl Meyers takes the lead, opening the album with a deep rumbling bass line until the riff kicks in like Zakk Wylde playing for Mastodon. This is Devil’s Night. Mark Donoghue’s vocals hit hard! Heavy almost BLS style with a strong attention to hooks. A good grooving break into a classy guitar solo from lead guitarist Adam Healey adds to the flavour. Fire it up! Fire it up!

Bastard Liar juggles thrash and groove, imagine if Slayer were a stoner band … yeah, nothing like that, but it’s a fun thought. The song ins and outs between time and feel held together beautifully by Richard Mears' triumphant skin thumping. If you don’t rattle your head to the half time chorus or ending riff then I’m assuming you somehow lack a neck.

Green Terror’s opening riff reminds me of the intro to celebrity deathmatch, so it’s fitting that they decided to film the video in a wrestling ring. It’s that 90s masculine sound of fighting and drinking beer. Which begs the question; how many cans could a King Kraken crack if a King Kraken could crack cans? I’d imagine it’s quite a few.

Veins is a simpler beast yet still a powerful driving force. Great construction and perfect for bouncing and singing along to at a show, with an instrumental section at the end that’s just waiting for a circle pit. I don’t want to use the word groove anymore, but it’s hard not to, it’s what Pete Rose writes, and Haddonfield 78 is another testament to the groove. Great lead licks from Adam with quite a Satriani approach, one doth enjoy.

Man Made Monster; groove like init butt. That slower section in the middle! uses buono hand gesture. Walls Of Jericho is another heavy hard rock bucket of whomp, with vocal melodies suited to singing along and riffs that looks up synonyms for grooves … trench …. yeah…riffs that trench. Proctors Ledge is a bluesy respite. Stoner, Black Sabbath-esque motifs are what this song is all about with the addition of some impressive fret wankery from Adam.

The last two tracks Chaos Engine and Castle Of Bones are re-releases from their Chaos Engine EP. What is interesting here, is seeing how Kraken have managed to make their music more technical without losing any of the catchy phrasing or hooks from their earlier works. It’s all evolution. And with the addition of pro producer Romesh Dodangoda, these songs sound huge.

MCLXXX if you didn’t know, are the Roman numerals for 1180, the year which saw the supposed first sighting of the kraken. It’s also a damn good album. Heavy as 10 bears riding an atom bomb but with catchy patterns and vocals melodies that make it accessible to a wider audience. A recipe that could make Heisenberg blush. With Pete's stylised trenchy approach to riffage and Mark’s gruff powerful vocals partnered with the heavy energetic accompaniments, it’s easy to see why they’re being compared to the likes of other furrow heavy big hitters such as Clutch. This is a band that could explode at any minute, so I hope you all like calamari, because that’s what you’re getting! IX/X 9/10

Heavy Blanket - Moon Is (Outer Battery Records) [David Karpel]

I’m not a huge fan of instrumental albums in general, though I've appreciated a few in the rock and post-rock and metal genres. I don’t seek them out, though, and I don’t get overly excited when they’re released. I’ve also reviewed one or two good ones that don’t ever show up on my year-end lists, and in fact I’ve passed over reviewing quite a few others. Heavy Blanket is different. J Mascis and crew – Pete Cougar and Johnny Pancake – are back after almost 10 years since their previous self-titled release. 

If you’re already a fan and follower of Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. and his other sundry projects, this is something you’ve probably been waiting for and I expect your wallet is probably already lighter from the pre-order. Never been an alt-rock, Dinosaur Jr. fan? I’m still going to recommend this one for those of you on the stoner rock and proto-metal spectrum, as well as for all lovers of awesome, gritty, idiosyncratic guitar jams.

Danny, the first song and single, lays down the foundation in the opening riffs. This is a breathy psych-rock jammer with a good sense of the late 60s. Santana comes to mind. While not necessarily Latin, the rhythm swings on a lilting melody girded by layered guitars and bass. Meanwhile, the deceptively loose drumming leaves room for jazzy riffing. True of every track to follow, this is a song, not simply a wandering, showy piece of music. The solo work here and throughout the album sings, and one does not have to be a guitar aficionado to absolutely love and appreciate what J Mascis is doing.

Crushed has a fuzzified proto metal feel to it. It’s quirky and has an uplifting riff with a positive, headbanging vibe helped along by the lead guitar acting as lead singer. Two and a half minutes in, the breakdown offers us a soaring solo that slows things down for almost two minutes of guitar glory before returning to the opening riff and gallops to the end. Next, the opening bass lines over a slow and steady beat give the title track, Moon Is, a melancholy feel. Like the two openers, a memorable riff and catchy rhythm keeps us on solid ground while the lead guitar – alone this time – soars, dives, and wanders.

At a bit over 8 minutes, String Along is the longest track, a thoughtful walk through a dreamy park. Jammy from the start, a distinct chord on the keys punches in under the percussion. Saturated with solo work, melodic pieces weave in like chorus singers. The title is appropriate because eventually I’m asking where’s the build? Is there one? Does it matter? Do I need that on this stroll? There’s an ebb and flow to the jamming, the various guitar sounds working together as if to light a path and perhaps slight, hilly changes, but will there be a skyscraping solo that works at tones above, that feels built up to, some breaking point, climax, a flaming flying guitar explosion? Just barely. And it doesn’t matter. I’m here for the ride. 

When the drums start to give heavier attention to the toms almost 7 minutes in, that’s the signal for the final movement as the guitars play out until they fade, leaving the keys to punctuate the end like an ellipses. It’s a good segway to Eyevoid, a more traditional, proto-stoner rock groove that’s also the shortest track on the album. The closer, Say It To You, is a slowed down piece with incoherent, wordless singing or humming or mumbling. There’s an inherent sadness to the playing here, the inability of the words to communicate doubly ironic for the loudness of that guitar up front, strings bent and caressed into song. 

As an album, Moon Is is a testament to that idea that as a form of communication, music is often deeper, and certainly more universal, than words. 8/10

Nemesism - Nemesism (Self Released) [GC]

I said that this year I would do my upmost to try and review some more unfamiliar styles of music to me, yet here I am again reviewing more brutal death metal in the shape of the new EP from Nemesism, so new year, same me! We begin with the first 30 or so seconds or so lulling us into a false sense of security before all hell is unleashed upon the ears with opener Mindful Abomination which has some devastating drum work from Michael Fitzgerald as he sprinkles in blast beats that then combines with crushing and crisp guitar shaped brutality from Randall Thompson intertwining with some intricate yet not subtle bass work form Bruno Macias Quezada and the vocals from Andrew LeMastro are just plain filthy in the best possible way! 

These guys are not here to mess about! Absolved In The Abyss is then another full on attack stuffed to the brim with guttural vocals but it introduces a more slowed down pace, musically it’s still painting from the same shades as before which is violent blood red and the torture doesn’t let up from the start to the end but there’s just something more measured going on here, ambient noise is of course anything but what the title says and once again manages to slow the tempo slightly but this really gives the musicians chance to once again show they are very capable of producing the goods and they then choose to destroy you with some absolutely slamming death metal that isn’t just brutal it’s also technical, adventurous and most importantly interesting as sometimes bands like this can get real boring, real quick but not here! 

Terminal Spreading Depolarization is then back-to-back to what would be more expected just full-on savage death metal insanity, but they manage to throw a nice groove midway through before layering the levels and mixing it all up expertly before its then onto last track Delusion Of Morality to finish everything off and they have probably saved the best for last as this is an absolute facemelter of a song! There is not an ounce of subtlety on show here and once again the musicians are really given license to show all their skills and demonstrate just how exhilarating death metal really can be when it’s done right! 

I was gutted that this was only an EP as they were really starting to piece everything together and then it was all over way too soon for my liking and that’s why it didn’t score a little higher! What is clear to see here is that there is some real talent on show here and from what I have heard, future releases really could be untouchable, this is an absolute storming start, and I can’t wait to hear what comes next! You should make it your business to listen to this band! 8/10

Ablaze My Sorrow - The Loss Of All Hope (Black Lion Records) [Richard Oliver]

When it comes to the Swedish melodic death metal scene one band that is criminally overlooked are Ablaze My Sorrow. Formed in 1993, the band had a run of fantastic albums before calling it a day in 2006. After a period of hibernation the band returned in 2013 and have since released a subsequent two albums and 2023 sees the band release four new songs on their new EP titled The Loss Of All Hope.

Being stalwarts of the Swedish melodeath scene, Ablaze My Sorrow know exactly how this genre should sound and whilst they don’t push any boundaries this EP is a satisfying and comforting listen for any melodic death metal fan. The key elements are all in place - catchy melodies, thrashy rhythms, harsh vocals (plus a handful of well placed cleans) and excellent guitar playing. Being only made up of four songs this EP keeps things short and sweet with the earworm melodies of Boundless and the frantic pace of Rotten To The Core being two of the standouts here.

The Loss Of All Hope is a short EP of melodeath goodness but manages to pack a lot into these songs and it should tick the boxes for a lot of fans of the genre. This EP demonstrates well that melodic death metal still has plenty going for it in 2023 and whilst by no means a groundbreaking release this is a very solid and enjoyable release. Ablaze My Sorrow have always been overlooked but this EP demonstrates that they remain a force to be reckoned with in the melodeath genre. 8/10 

Tuesday 24 January 2023

Reviews: Big City, Heroes & Monsters, Issa, TEN (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Big City - Sunwind Sails (Frontiers Music Srl)

Norway's melodic hard rockers Big City return on Frontiers with Sunwind Sails, another record that sits itself between rock and metal with as much owing to Journey (Diamond In The Rough) as it is to Kamelot (After The Raid) or their countrymen Pagan's Mind. Their 2021 album Testify X featured Jørgen Bergersen behind the mic for the first time and he again is the key part of this record, his great vocal style evident on the soaring 80's tinged Now, his voice the ideal foil for Daniel Olaisen, the guitarist and songwriter of the group who comes from a prog metal background, (explaining why Silver Line feels like prog meta). 

Switching between virtuoso neoclassicism to acoustics as Olaisen's rhythms joins Frank Ørland on lead guitar and bassist Miguel Pereira and drummer Frank Nordeng Røe bring the shifting time signatures to Sons Of Desire. If I could settle it with one bands I'd say that Big City sound a lot like Europe, but pre-Final Countdown a track such as I'm Somebody, which could have come off Wings Of Tomorrow. Anthemic melodic rock with love of 80's and prog metal, Big City's third album could be their best yet. 8/10

Heroes & Monsters - Heroes & Monsters (Frontiers Music Srl)

Comprised of Todd Kerns who is the bassist/vocalist for Slash Feat Myles Kennedy & The Co-Conspirators, Stef Burns a guitarist who has played with Y&T and Alice Cooper, recording albums with both and Will Hunt who is the drummer for Evanescence, Heroes & Monsters are a hard rocking power trio, with a wealth of experience behind them. 

A collaborative effort, this debut spans a wide selection of styles, from the glammy Let's Ride It, to the Zeppelin-like Locked & Loaded they understand the classic side of the rock sphere but also the more modern approach with tracks such as Angels Never Sleep and the bouncing I Knew You Were The Devil, in the modern radio rock resume. 

These three friends lock in well for 39 minutes of music that you can hear the inspiration in but is all original, packed with hooky choruses and rock n roll attitude, Kerns' vocals for me a bit of revelation too. Expect this to be played to death on rock radio, which is the whole point of the endeavour, no longer sidemen/band members, this is a trio of experienced players in somewhat of session supergroup. 7/10

Issa - Lights Of Japan (Frontiers Music Srl)

Issa's seventh solo album opens with keyboard riff similar to the one that was featured on Bon Jovi's Runaway, but in that one minute you get what Lights Of Japan is about. Driving 80's style hard rock with Issa's powerful vocals at the forefront, Michele Guaitoli's production doing its job admirably to fill your speakers full of big rock anthems that are very much stuck in the decade of big hair and bigger shoulder pads. Guaitoli plays guitar and bass on the album as well as some songwriting however most of the songs here are written by James and Tom Martin of Vega. 

James is Issa's husband and he also plays keys as the rest of the band are Italian session men Marco Pastorino (who's on every bloody album nowadays) with rhythm guitar and Marco Andeetto behind the drums. Musically it doesn't move much from that sound established by the first song but it's all very slick I suppose the major selling point are Issa's vocals along with the guest guitar solos from Robby Luckets, Michele Guaitoli and John Mitchell. I can't say much more about this record other than it being full of slick melodic rock. 7/10

TEN - Something Wicked This Way Comes (Frontiers Music Srl)

TEN have been around for a bloody long time now but Gary Hughes is nothing if not prolific. Something Wicked This Way Comes was recorded at the same time as 2022's Here Be Monsters so the band stays the same as it did on the last album. Dan Rosingana and Steve Grocott in great guitar unison, merging with the keys of Darrel Treece-Birch as bassist Steve McKenna and drummer Markus Kullman hold down the groove. Produced by Hughes and mixed/mastered by Dennis Ward, songs such as Parabellum stand out as some of the most politically aware to date.

There's of course similarities to their last album due to them being recorded together, both taking a darker style but with that melodic rock background where TEN come from. Cinematics, theatricality and orchestral parts are all augmented by Ward who helps to pick out every instrument, there's also  some great backing harmonies that are always a highlight of Hughes and TEN's music. Constantly linked to bands such as Magnum, Giant and even Whitesnake, TEN have never been a band in vogue but they have gathered a very dedicated following due to them consistently strong albums throughout the years. Something Wicked This Way Comes continues that trend of latter period classics that Magnum also have been giving us. 8/10

Reviews: Slegest, Ahab, Tidal Wave, Gypsy Chief Goliath & End Of Age (Reviews By Paul Scoble & Rich Piva)

Slegest - Avstand (Dark Essence Records) [Paul Scoble]

Slegest was formed in 2010 by ex-Vried guitarist Stig Ese, who is also joined by Håvard Ese on bass, Sven Roger on guitar and Anders Christian on drums. The band is based in Norway and has released 3 albums and an EP before Avstand; the self titled EP was released in 2012, first full album, Leydom in 2013, second album Vidsyn was released in 2016 and the bands previous release was called Introvert and was released in 2018. So after a four year wait Slegest are back, has the wait been worth it?

Well, the short answer to the question is Yes, it has been worth it. Here's the long answer:

Slegest’s style is made up from several different elements, first is black metal in a fairly Pagan style, the album is full of great riffs that remind me a little of early Kampfar, and the sound has a definite blackened edge to it. However, this is more simple and direct than a lot of black metal, and the tempos feel more like punk or hardcore, they are driving uptempo stomps that are filled with energy and verve. 

All the riffs feel tight and energised, whilst also having huge amounts of melody, I have found pretty much all of the material on Avstand to be very memorable and very hummable, it’s like they go straight to the part of you that wants to have a great time, I found it went strait from my ears to my dancing feet (I always made sure to be wearing my dancing feet when listening to this album, rather than my sitting, walking or scarpering from the Rozzers feet). There's also a couple of curve balls, but we’ll deal with them when we get there.

Opener Innsikt is taut black/pagan riffs in a driving tempo that will have you instantly nodding your head, it has loads of energy and a nice melodic solo. Evigheit På Evigheit is at a similar pace to the song that preceded it, some of the riffs have a little bit of a Motörhead vibe to it, which if you consider the elements that make this up, makes sense. 

Forløysning og Rus is tight and controlled, it’s still full of energy, but in more of a measured and insistent way. Vinterkristus is the fastest song on the album, this style pushed to greater speed becomes a superb piece of black thrash, absolutely savage, and extremely rapid. 

Next we get one of the curve balls, Gåte is slower, in a very controlled and measured way. It reminds me of mid-eighties power metal, a little like Dio, a little like Judas Priest, but a lot like Balls To The Wall-era Accept, a walking pace stomp that is very enjoyable. 

In the second half of the song it changes a lot when a Saxophone comes in and the tempo changes, now this is reminiscent of Peaches En Regalia by Frank Zappa and the song drifts to its end. However, we get a final curve ball just before the end when the song goes into a set of twelve bar riffs that are very similar to the chorus of Status Quo’s song Whatever You Want, which is very interesting due to the final track on the album.

Er Det Deg Livet is initially darker than a lot of the material on Avstand, with a brooding quality to it, then in the second half the band release the tension with a much more melodic section with a melody lead. Til Det Største Som Finst is melodic with a tempo that swings and boogies, it’s loads of fun and has a melodic instrumental section in the second half of the song. 

The last song which I alluded to earlier is a cover version of Status Quo’s song Oh Baby, taken from the 1972 album Piledriver. The cover is very close to the original, and proves that The Quo were an awesome rock band who made really great albums. The Slegest version is a great slab of uptempo hard rock that would definitely have me putting my dancing feet on. 

Avstand is a stunning album. It’s full of infectious riffs that are effervescent and addictive, it’s bristling with energy and drive, it sparks and crackles with vitality, vim and vigour. An absolutely brilliant mix of black metal, punk, thrash and hard rock, it’s the first really great album I have heard in 2023, I’d advise anyone reading this to search it out, you won’t be disappointed. 9/10

Ahab - The Coral Tombs (Napalm Records) [Paul Scoble]

Anyone with passing interest in doom metal will already be aware of Ahab. The band formed in 2004, in Heidelberg, Germany, and is made up of Daniel Droste on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Cornelius Althammer on drums, Stephan Wandernoth on bass and Christian Hector on guitar. In their time together Ahab have released 4 albums before The Coral Tombs; they released their debut album The Call Of The Wretched Sea in 2006, three years later they released The Divinity Of Oceans, 2012 brought us The Giant and in 2015 Ahab released their critically acclaimed album The Boats Of Glen Carrig. The Coral Tombs is Ahab’s 5th studio album.

As you have probably already realised Ahab are obsessed with the Sea, they have even created their own sub-genre of Nautik Doom for themselves and all the other seafaring doom bands. Ahab take lyrical inspiration from Nautical literature, and The Coral Tombs is no different, this time they have also ventured into Science Fiction as well, as this album is based on the adventures of Professor Arronax from Jules Verne’s masterpiece 20000 Leagues Under The Sea (Arronax and his crew attempt to discover the enormous sea creature that has been destroying ships, only to find a metallic monster, The Nautilus and her Creator Captain Nemo). So on this album Ahab have moved from being Mariners, and have descended under the oceans waves to become Sub-Mariners.

Musically this is mainly funeral doom; huge, slow and heavy with softer, clean sections. The album features both harsh and clean vocals by Daniel Droste, the harsh voice is guttural and very low, and is a great juxtaposition to Droste’s clean voice which is pure and crystal clear, and one of the best things about this album. Not to say the the performances of the other members aren’t important; the vocals couldn’t have been this affecting without near perfect accompanying music. The album also features two guest appearances that bookend the album; Chris Noir of Ultha is featured on the opening track, and Greg Chandler of Esoteric appears on the final song.

The album is full of melancholy, a fairly common Ahab trait, but it is also feels disturbing and disorienting, as if you were trying to understand an environment that is totally alien to you.

The album opens with Prof. Arronax' Descent Into The Vast Oceans which begins with a savage, dissonant blast of black metal with Chris Noir of Ultha, before we get a a much softer section and our first taste of Droste’s fantastic clean vocals. The song gets heavier and more mournful as it progresses, but is always tempered by the vocals. There is also a very pleasing lyrical melody lead that also helps us deal with all the sadness. Next come the song Colossus Of The Liquid Graves, which features heavy and dramatic riffs with harsh vocals that jostle with really great expansive riffs with soaring clean vocals, in a way that works very well.

Next we get Mobilis In Mobili which opens with huge and very heavy riffs with harsh vocals that drive the song forward and feels very purposeful. There is a break for quiet, clean brooding riffs to unsettle us and make us feel unsafe, before the huge and heavy returns for a very heavy end. The Sea As A Desert features a relentless clean riff that builds to become a relentless heavy riff with harsh vocals, after a short time the vocals switch to absolutely beautiful clean vocals, there is a component of how this is sung that remind me of religious music, as if this part should be sung in a cathedral.

The nearly title track A Coral Tomb is mainly soft and melancholy with beautiful vocals that are mournful, contemplative and introspective. The music does build towards the end of the song, but this is mainly beautiful and affecting. Ægri Somnia is a mix of very slow, sad and very heavy riffs with harsh vocals and sorrowful guitar harmonies with breathtaking vocals that I find quite reminiscent of Warning’s album Watching From A Distance, and if that isn’t a huge compliment I don’t know what is.

The final track on the album is The Mælstrom. The Mælstrom is initially huge, expansive and despondent with fantastic clean vocals. After this the song drops into a tighter and heavier section feathering Greg Chandler of Esoteric’s very distinctive bellow. These two sections swap places another time before we descend into a very dissonant end for the song and the album.

The Coral Tombs is a stunning album. It’s sad, disturbing, affecting and very beautiful. I would personally put this at the top of Ahab’s discography, and considering how good Ahab’s other albums are that is really saying something. The quality of the writing and performances is nothing short of superb, the album is long and involving and does take a few listens to really hit you, but when it does this album soars. One of the best pieces of funeral doom I have ever heard, and the best Nautik Doom album as well. 9/10

Tidal Wave - The Lord Knows (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

It’s amazing how similar the tastes are between this writer and head honcho of Ripple Music, Todd Severin. I am not just saying this because I seem to love every Ripple release with an almost concerning passion. Two bands who have records coming out this quarter on Ripple, Tidal Wave and Hail The Void, both have albums that are two of my favorites over the past five years pre-Ripple connection, and now both are set to release album of the year candidates in back-to-back months for my favorite label.

Coincidence? Let’s focus on the absolute ripper from Sundsvall, Sweden’s Tidal Wave, who follow up their delicious last offering Blueberry Muffin with the possibly even better sophomore album, The Lord Knows. Top tier fuzzy stoner rock that is produced perfectly and just rocks your socks off end to end. These guys have the riffs and have the songs to bring us the first album of the year candidate for 2023.

The opening track, The Lizard King, has all I mentioned above and is catchy as hell to boot. I love the crunchiness and the gallop to this track. I have heard mixed comments on the vocals on this record, but I love them, especially when singer Alexander Sundqvist rears back and goes for it like he does on The Lizard King. End Of The Line will invoke Kyuss vibes which is obviously never a bad thing, and I love a song that starts out telling me how bad I fucked up. This stoner rock ripper has an edge and an attitude that will have this as one of their highlights of their live show. 

The weed worship tracks on stoner albums can be a bit tiresome (I know, I know), but Marijuana Trench is so much more than that. Another high-octane ripper with a killer and catchy breakdown and some doomy bits that makes this maybe my favorite track on the record. We go full on evil with the Sabbath worship of Pentagram, which is exactly what you would think a song called Pentagram would be if done by Tidal Wave. Welcome to the circle of Satan indeed. Robbero Bobbero is another catchy and killer stoner jam that had been released as a single a couple years ago and is a welcomed addition to the eight tracks on The Lord Knows. I may have mentioned it before, but Tidal Wave is so damn catchy without losing any of their energy. 

By Order Of The King is more of a stoner slow burn to start with those killer vocals showing off (also the drum sound on this track and all the record is great) and a killer solo as the track heats up while Purple Bird brings the doomy, riffy goodness. Thorsakir is a perfect closer that dooms it up a bit while invoking something from the early Danzig records. Tidal Wave have our first album of the year contender, and it is only the middle of January. All eight songs on The Lord Knows are killer; energetic, catchy, expertly executed, and sound amazing. This is a must listen if you like this stuff or just like anything that rocks. It doesn’t have the delicious title of their debut record, but it is even more tasty. 9/10

Gypsy Chief Goliath & End Of Age - Turned To Stone Volume 7 (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

I am always here for another addition to the awesome Ripple Music Turned To Stone series, this time with Volume 7 we have two bands that were new to me but I have now become very familiar with, as it usually works with this collection. For the latest we have Canadian stoner rockers Gypsy Chief Goliath and a new band out of Pennsylvania, End Of Age, who both contribute five absolute rippers that quench the thirst of the heavy rock lovers we all are but leaving you wanting more, creating a nice pregame beverage before a new full length. 

Let’s start with the Gypsy Chief Goliath contributions, which upon first listen prompted me to check out all of their stuff, including the amazing Masters Of Space And Time that everyone reading this should check out immediately. The five tracks offered here are not your standard straight ahead proto or stoner rock. GCG doesn’t really sound like anyone but borrows from a lot if that makes sense. There is a lot going on their side, from the time changes to the killer doomy riff, to the unique vocals, and this is just on the first full track, Demons Suffer

High Priest sees a bit more straight ahead proto with more conventional singing and a bit more chill than their other material, but it works very well. The track Solar Love reminds me at times of the excellent Canadian band The Tea Party (maybe it’s the vocals, someone tell me if I am nuts) and it may be my favourite track out of their five, especially the tail end of the song, but its another one that goes a lot of places in almost seven minutes. The three full tracks and two instrumental interludes are nice additions to the GCG lore and should create some new fans that will seek out the rest of their killer stuff.

End Of Age are a new band with the main man from the band Black Cowgirl (excellent) are more on the proto side of things, but they also have some 90s worship lurking about in their five tracks. Listen to Want To Go and tell me that this could not have been on rock radio in the mid-90s. I love the guitar sound on this and their other four tracks. Yelling Tree has more of that 90s feel, but it’s not all the way 90s. You hear some NWOBHM influence here, some 70s UK hard rock stuff going on too (think Slade, or again maybe I am nuts) to create a catchy and downright surprising addition to the split. 

Cat’s Blood has a great riff and is more along a straight ahead 70’s metal path and is catchy as hell where Dormant Hibernation is a killer instrumental track those shows of the band’s musical chops. The creepy Aestivation is a cool way to wrap up to leave us waiting for that debut full length. I feel like a broken record, but this is another amazing split from Ripple, who, as I mentioned before, is THE Stoner/Proto/Doom matchmaker. 

Todd has such a great ear to be able to pair two bands that somehow create a cohesive full length listening experience while allowing these great songs to get out there for more of the masses to discover how excellent these bands are. Great stuff as usual and I can’t wait for what’s in store for Volume 8. 8/10

Monday 23 January 2023

Reviews: Katatonia, Twilight Force, Celestial Wizard, Leaflet (Reviews By Dr Claire Hanley, David G, Rick Eaglestone & Mark Young)

Katatonia - Sky Void Of Stars (Napalm Records) [Dr Claire Hanley]

Unlucky for some but not for lovers of all things doom and gloom, Katatonia return with their 13th full length record. Cultivating their sound over three decades, the band have developed a winning formula for atmospheric anthems. Always at the intersection between light and dark, the Swedish 5-piece arguably hold the monopoly on melancholy, and Sky Void Of Stars is no exception.

Dynamic, jazz-laden drum patterns and asynchronous timings automatically grip the listener in Austerity. Switching between upbeat sections to those laced with anguish, it’s a real identity crisis of a track (in the best way), featuring some killer Opeth-esque Watershed era guitar riffs. Colossal Shade offers up more of a straightforward marching rhythm, punctuated by expertly positioned guitar accents, and Opaline possesses an exquisite goosebumps-generating rise and fall that sends the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. Transcending further into the light, Birds is an epic track with some serious momentum, seemingly raising spirits before plummeting back into the murky depths with Drab Moon and its hauntingly hopeless vocals.

As much as I enjoyed the earlier tracks, with their emphasis on the energetic, the mid-section of the record is where the magic is. Beautifully bleak, the purveyors of pessimism have done it again. The sheer weight of tracks Author Impermanence, and Sclera leave you exhausted and filled with the futility of being. Spine-tinglingly sorrowful solos, dramatic delays, and harsh drum accents add to the perceived levels of discomfort, such that you feel the energy is being leeched from you with each passing note. It’s a truly visceral experience that few bands manage to master.

Alas, what felt like a gradual descent into the dark is almost too rapidly reversed with Atrium, which is somewhat of a vibe killer. Despite meshing with the opening tracks, it stands in stark contrast to its immediate predecessors, and I personally could have wallowed for a lot longer. Although the ominous, moody atmosphere is somewhat restored during No Beacon To Illuminate Our Fall and Absconder (Mediabook Bonus Track), by this point the ambience had sustained irreversible damage.

In isolation, Sky Void Of Stars is an impressive record and undoubtedly well worth a listen. However, as an avid Katatonia fan, you can’t help but compare it to what has gone before. While there are some stand-out tracks, it feels less coherent than their previous albums and with such a strong discography under their belts I’m not entirely convinced it’s a noteworthy addition. 7/10

Twilight Force – At The Heart Of Wintervale (Nuclear Blast) [David G]

Symphonic power metal with heavy classical influences, virtuoso performances and high-pitched wailing vocals. How about lyrics focused on a fantastical concept devised by the band? The odd ten-minute epic sprinkled in amongst shorter, punchy sing-alongs that are no less cinematic? Hammy narration and voice acting? You’d naturally be forgiven for thinking I was talking about Rhapsody/Rhapsody Of Fire/Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody/Rhapsody found in a dumpster by someone that heard their lonely cries. I know this sounds awfully mocking, but Twilight Force really do a fabulous update of classic Rhapsody.

This, the fourth album from the Swedish group, really gets at what made that original burst of symphonic power metal so delightful, the full bombast and earnestness that brings a stupid grin to your face. Twilight Force kicks things of style, the band’s own Emerald Sword, a four-minute gallop bursting with vocal melodies, orchestral flourishes and top solo wankery. As an opening salvo and, more bravely, an eponymous titled track it serves as a fabulous mission statement.

The title track follows, a less frenetic but no less enjoyable track opening with baroque pomposity as bass drums underscore the guitar rhythm and string section, before bursting into a soaring lead. The track is driven along by sharp shards of precise riffing and flavoured with choral outbursts. At one point I found myself laughing because of just how much I was enjoying myself.

Highlands Of The Elder Dragon is the first of two ten-minute tracks, beginning with a creepy uncle narrating the story before launching into that sturdy gallop again. Delivering one of the more controlled vocal performances of the album, here we see more reaching for the middle registers and as a result adding to the dramatic aura. The track flows through atmospheric keyboard sections, slower grandiose orchestral sections and of course bombastic riff-o-rama. It maybe isn’t entirely seamless but it hardly feels its length. In fact the album, much like prime Rhapsody, manages to pack a lot into its compact 45 minutes and do so with an appreciation for flow and variety that retains freshness throughout.

I could continue to pick highlights because there is so much fun to be had, and very few duff sections (Dragonborn with plays with the Oompa Loompa side of baroque twittering and at times the singing gets a little uncomfortable; even the chorus feels a little too twee). The rather terrible dialogue in The Last Crystal Bearer adds to goofy the charm of the second ten-minute epic, throwing out RPG synth soundtrack styles amongst its power metal excess.

Maybe I’m affected by my nostalgia; At The Heart Of Wintervale takes me back over 20 years to a time when my life was dominated by Computer RPGs, the likes of Blind Guardian, Kamelot and Rhapsody, and a smattering of Terry Brooks novels. Twilight Force so joyously play with the ludicrousness of the fantasy sphere, and stack their songs so full of excess and memorable hooks that they’ve made a thoroughly enjoyable, high fantasy, audio adventure. 9/10

Celestial Wizard – Winds Of The Cosmos (Scarlet Records) [Rick Eaglestone]

Denver’s Celestial Wizard mix Fantasy and Fire with latest release Winds Of The Cosmos.

The opening track to this album could not have been better picked for the aesthetic – Andromeda has an 8-bit intro that launches into some great solo’s and it largely instrumental, this is followed by Revenant which has some wonderfully mixed vocal styles with a NWOBHM heartbeat.

Easily highlight track has to be Ice Realm as I have already hit repeat about 5 times already, it’s also worth noting that the accompanying music video is also worthy of your attention. Flooding in full of 80’s soundscapes is Powerthrone and if that wasn’t enough the organ intro and subsequent riffs that are loaded in Eternal Scourge have me in raptures with this trio which has been easily my favourite part of the album so far. 

Not missing a beat is the wonderfully galloping Steel Chrysalis which lyrically is fabulous and really encompasses Celestial Wizard, Undead Renegade is also a welcome addition and has some great elements. The album concludes with duo of Cyberhawk which is embedded with some varied and ear catching soundscapes, before the final send off being the title track Winds Of The Cosmos which is science fiction personified.

Loaded with nostalgic fury. 8/10

Leaflet - Something Beyond (Rockshot Records) [Mark Young]

Hailing from Finland this their second release from the 4-piece following their debut in 2017, Outta Door. Like pretty much everyone else Covid put a dent in their efforts to build upon their first release but they continued to work and have managed to get back in the studio to put together Something Beyond, released by Rockshots. There are several notable Finnish bands that cover a wide range within guitar driven music, Children Of Bodom, Lordi and Hanoi Rocks and it is the latter band that they seem to be closer to. 

Kicking off with Gonna Do It which is their up-tempo statement of intent which wears their 80’s influence quite proudly. Certainly the vocals reminds of Bon Jovi but with a heavier approach that makes it that little bit different. The style of music delivered would not be out of place in that decade which in many ways makes it seem out of time. In the interests of clarity, I was never a fan of ‘Hard Rock’ as played by Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and the like as it just never appealed to me. 

Each of the songs presented are delivered well and to a high standard of musicianship and production but don’t remain in the memory for long after the album finishes. There is a structure to each so it seems there was a defined method used such as loud one, quiet one, Loud then quiet then loud which is fine but it doesn’t scream rock. 

Again I’m not trying to be dismissive or snarky just for the sake of it as it will appeal to those who like Alter Bridge or Shinedown i.e. clean, earnest vocals and heavy-ish guitars but it feels like it is the musical equivalent of paint by numbers. It’s inoffensive and any of the songs on here would fit on a ‘This Is Rock’ type of collection 6/10