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Tuesday, 31 January 2023

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

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