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Monday 30 January 2023

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

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