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 

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