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Monday, 9 January 2023

Reviews: Polar, Ashen, Beneath My Feet, Slog (Reviews By GC & David G)

Polar - Everywhere, Everything (Arising Empire) [GC]

Hello everyone and welcome to 2023. My first review of this year is from the UK and its Polar’s new album Everywhere, Everything. I know these guys have been around for quiet a while and I caught them when they first came onto the scene and saw them live a few times but then kind of just lost them for no good reason, so lest see what they have been up to recently.

They begin this album by building the atmosphere on the opener Winds Of Change, its full of sombre reflection and a dark brooding menace mixed with a post-hardcore feel to the main bulk of the song which is a nice starting point before Burn kicks into gear in a flurry of chaotic drums and a wall of guitars that then forms into more of a metalcore sound than I was expecting but its done well enough to not be a problem and you can feel the genuine passion that is wrapped up in Polar’s music. 

Gods And Heathens then continues in the same vein and introduces a genuinely massive sing a long chorus that really hits the mark and builds towards a beautiful and jarring end section that keeps you hooked till the very last seconds, next up is title track Everywhere, Everything which starts with another haunting beginning and then introduces more of the post-hardcore feeling that echoes throughout the whole body of the song and creates the platform for this song to be totally lead forward by the vocals which really grab hold of the heart strings and push everything forward with a genuine passionate beauty that sometimes can be lacking in heavy music. 

The Greatest Sin however is a totally different beast full of big chugging riffs almost like Hatebreed have decided to try and be emotional, it again packs a real gut punch but will also see you windmilling round your house and smashing everything to pieces whilst crying, probably!? This is both beautiful and devastating in equal measures! Rush then comes with another pace change and begins with an 80’s post-punk band vibe and has some beautiful female vocals mixed into the sound to really add that texture to the whole song it continues to veer in and out of light and dark but never misses a point and is a curveball of a song but doesn’t sound out of place at all.

Dissolve Me is then back to the heavy business and it has a huge riff to kick everything off and then fury and rage runs the whole thing and is unrelenting in the pace and picks up the pace nicely before Deliverance slows the pace back down but not in a detrimental way, it’s definitely more calculated as this is another mix of furious metalcore riffs and impassioned vocals but the tempo and feel of previous raging songs seems to be slowed down to be able to deliver maximum impact and the last minute or so of it is just perfect. 

Snakes Of Eden continues in more of the same form but doesn’t dull any of the impact previously shown and carries the pace and feel along nicely until its closing time and Baptism Of Fire which is full of big vocals and beautiful soundscapes of music that enfold you and don’t every want to let you go, there’s a warmth and feeling to this song that is so refreshing and just makes you want to press repeat as soon as it’s over, a beautiful gut punch of a finish.

First album of the year and it is an absolute beauty to start off with as from the very first note all the way to that beautiful ending there wasn’t anything I didn’t like, and I can see this doing big things for Polar going forward. If you already like this band, I imagine this is nothing new for you and you will have that smug satisfaction and you will be over the moon with this record but, if you don’t already like them then this is a must listen as it will open your eyes and introduce you to some truly beautiful and devastating music. 9/10

Ashen – Ritual Of Ash (Self Released) [David G]

Providing a surprising album of modern death metal with many nods to classics, Australian four-piece Ashen start 2023 with a bang with their debut album Ritual Of Ash.

Ritual kicks things off with a film sample before kicking into a disgustingly effective groove, the menacing lurch has a fantastic fuzzed-up and dense, yet gritty sound. It leans towards more of the American school in feel through the first half before kicking into a synth-backed section the pushes on with waves of aggressively picked notes that hints more towards the Hypocrisy style.

As the album progresses, we see that style palette repeatedly being reached for, whether it be the frantic opening section of Deadsight that reminds slightly of latter-day Cannibal Corpse or the following track Harbinger that again mainly leans into the Hypocrisy approach with a slightly sentimental and melodic motif that reoccurs throughout. 

It has the potential to sound disjointed, flitting between these approaches that push an obvious melodic or groove-driven aspect up against head-smashing aggression, but Ashen feel like they mostly pull these things together in a cohesive form. There’s a nous to the songwriting package that often shows a sense of when to push forward and when to pull back and how to reintroduce motifs.

With all that said there are a few times when that doesn’t quite work, Gravemind begins by setting an atmospheric scene through heavy cymbal splashing and a pulsing alarm of a riff, but this is quickly discarded by a bit of solid, old-fashioned Swedish fuzz that eschews atmospheric feel, despite being very bloody catchy. When the pulsing approach does appear later in the track it is backed by a faster beat and lacks the same punch.

Another thing that stands out is just what effective riff-creators the band are and how they pull influences from different death metal strands to create something like Blood that has moments which more subtly stick in the mind, but also Cursed Rebirth with its nod-along stagger.

Overall Ritual Of Ash is an engaging and fun listen, there’s some moments that don’t quite work, but generally this is a fine collection of riff-oriented death metal that is vibrant and energetic. 8/10

Beneath My Feet - In Parts, Together (Noble Demon) [GC]

Second review for this week is from Beneath My Feet, they are from Sweden and combine American metal and British hardcore apparently? They claim this produces a loving, rhythmic punch to the face and that their music brings together heavy rhythm, pop influenced melodic choruses with catchy riffs that is an intense blend that has earned the band a steadily growing name within the scene? Big and bold claims from them, so lest see if they can back it up.

Caught in a hurricane is first up and unfortunately it doesn’t back up the hype it’s all played and produced well enough, and the melody is there for sure but it is just so pedestrian and run of the mill it doesn’t inspire or bond with me like I was expecting but there are still another TWELVE tracks to listen to so who knows I could be judging this way to early? 

Dig My Grave is thankfully a much better track, and it is pretty decent full of punchy riffs and battering drums and it doesn’t rely on the sing/shout method and is just a full-on anger fest which is much better and does relieve me a bit! BUT Our Worlds Collide then seems to fall directly back into the cut/paste nature of heard it all before metalcore and combines the good cop/bad cop vocals straight back into things, but it just doesn’t hit hard enough to make its point. 

Dead Equal is then at it again and now adding effects onto the vocals and it just really annoys me if I am honest as there is no variation on offer and it’s all just too safe and plain to make me pay attention, One More Time then adds some much needed pace and swag to the record and seems to mix what is needed in here, genuine anger and savage guitar attacks and most importantly the mix of vocals is gone which shows that they are not always needed as when they want to they can rage hard and the soft vocals always seem to just disappoint and don’t add much?! 

Sink To The Bottom or Swim For The Shore then proceeds to shut me up completely and adds the singing vocals in to spectacular effect, this song is what a record like this should sound like, the riffs are jagged and savage, drums unrelenting and punishing and the vocals grab you and envelope you and it makes for a truly fantastic listen! FINALLY! Best track on the album hands down.

Is This Really You? is a bit too Nu-Metaly for my liking its sounds like it could have been lifted directly from any Roadrunner album circa 2003-2004 which I guess isn’t the worst thing in the world but in 2023 we don’t need songs like this and again the vocals just get on my nerves! Far From Home slows everything down and is a full of nice melodies and builds a song with some genuine feeling and beauty, and you notice that separately they can do all the things needed to create a great song but when they mix it all together it generally seems to get lost and not work, it’s all very frustrating. 

The Uprising then finally absolutely fucking nails it! The mix here is spot on with big choruses mixing expertly into the furious vocal delivery and throw in some lovely chug filled breakdowns and it really is a relief and also new best song on the album!! 

Final official closing track (there are 3 bonus tracks to listen to yet) Departure unfortunately isn’t much to write home about, its fine in a lighter in the air sort of way but they should have ended this a song earlier to go out on an unexpected high! Unfortunately, all 3 ‘’bonus tracks’’ Roads, Vindicta & Lost Sailors Graves are rubbish and should have been left on the cutting room as they all offer nothing and just remind you of some of the godawful tracks from the start of this marathon of an album.

Ultimately this album should have been shorter as 13 tracks was too much and meant that the quality varied wildly, I enjoyed some of it and hated some of it with there not being any middle ground for me, a really frustrating listen. 6/10

Slog – Divination (Morbid And Miserable Records) [David G]

Slog has various definitions, but this one from Mirriam-Webster seems most apt: “A prolonged arduous task or effort”. Slog is also an American duo (Nicholas Turner and Jared Moran) and this, their second album, is hard work.

Playing some mixture of early-style death metal, perhaps indebted to Autopsy’s drawn-out gurgling, and a painstaking doomy atmosphere this is most definitely not an easy listen. Opener Illuminated Expansion is perhaps a good indicator of one side of that equation which Slog present. Beginning with a couple of minutes of stark, echoing guitar picking, that drags bass notes in its footsteps. 

The lack of polish or refinement is clear to hear with the string ringing and the layering of an extra guitar part coming in to partially blot out the part that is already in progress, both becoming one within the mix in an entirely awkward fashion. There’s a pretty discomforting atmosphere already in place by the time the string scrape introduces the distorted and resonant power chords and hollowed out, flat snare beat. From here it’s a funeral procession slowly lumbering along without grace, where even the false hope of crescendo building serves only to reiterate the torturous march.

Synthesis Sequencer shows the more aggressive side of the duo, more in that classic death metal mode opening with the awkward blastbeat and the increasingly out of control thrashes of guitar. It is all topped off by the guttural vocal wrenching of Jared Moran, completely unintelligible and serving mostly to provide that extra sonic layer of vulgarity. The track shows also more dynamic range, the solo section having a nice cut and thrust feel, before an echoing clean section leads into the slow fade out.

I would point to closer, Eucharistic Purification, as a particular highlight from the album, buried under the stuttering rhythm there is a faint echoing guitar that adds a sense off decaying majesty, this continues on under the slow, poignant groove that soon comes in. Here we see Slog at what appears their most constructive, despite the rasping throat-clearing that occurs just after half way through in the middle of a slow guitar waltz. 

A truly impressive rain of guitar distortion builds up underneath a confused solo that doubles back on itself, a blastbeat then ensues with the most effective and cavernous-sounding death metal thrust of the album. The track then closes on an echoing, icy section that seems to nod ever so slightly in the direction of Immortal.

With Divination Slog have created something that is a hard listen, there’s a cold feeling that persists through the tracks, whether it be in the regimented chugging on Theurgy Equinox or the discordant crawl of Bequested Endowment. The curious thing is I’m not sure how much I actually enjoy what the duo are doing and whether this is an album I would return to in full by choice, but I do find myself appreciating what I’ve heard. 

Divination is messy, it is ugly and it creates quite a grim and hostile environment, it does this so effectively that I’m not sure it being enjoyed is of real concern. In a general sense I’m conscious of the fact that I’m constantly referring to the feel and struggling to describe the feel of the music I hear, and this is an album that certainly feeds that tendency. Its rough-hewn nature lends it a feel that is worth experiencing, even if it doesn’t allow it to be loved. 7/10

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