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Tuesday 28 February 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Avatar (Live Review By Tony Gaskin)

Avatar, Veil Of Maya & Mastiff at KK'S Steel Mill, Wolverhampton 22.02.23

This evening sees us back at Wolverhampton's premier rock and metal venue, KK'S Steel Mill to bear witness to the carnival of delight's from Swedish provocateurs, Avatar. But first, the under-card, with hard hitting British outfit Mastiff (8). The moniker is well suited, as this band are a ferocious beast that rips your head off with their blend of grindcore and sludge. The first three songs come in at just around eight minutes which tells you all you need to know. Unapologetically heavy, but skilfully done. Front man Jim Hodge portrays a menacing persona, but interjects the gloom with some lighthearted banter. An excellent start to the evening.

In contrast, Veil Of Maya (6) were a lot more melodic with their melancholic metalcore. This is a professional outfit that are technically super tight and extremely good at what they do. But this is metalcore by numbers. All the clichés are there, the heavy breakdowns, the switch between vocal styles etc, and it all just seems a bit sterile for me after the smack in the face from Mastiff. I found myself listening to bits here and there but zoning out more often than not. Not a bad set but not gripping either. 

I was looking forward to the highlight of the evening though after listening to and reviewing Avatar's (10) brand new album Dance Devil Dance. This hard rocking bunch of troubadours from Sweden had previously passed me by, but when I started listening to the new album, I was keen to know and hear more, and more importantly, come and witness them perform in all their glory.

The theatrics start right from the get go, with the band appearing silhouetted behind curtains, with pulsating lights synced to the pounding drum intro. We dive straight into the new album material with the title track Dance Devil Dance being the anthemic opener for tonight's performance Eckerström materialises from behind a veil of dry ice, a manic ringmaster set to unleash a carnival of madness.

The crowd lap it up, Avatar fans are some of the most loyal and passionate of fans, they even have their own “country” with a passport - Avatar Land. This makes for a great atmosphere as they sing along to every song. But all this showmanship, pyros and flamboyancy are nothing if they’re not backed up by solid musicianship, and fortunately Avatar have that in bucket loads. Catchy choruses and hypnotic rhythm sections are combined with chunky riffs and sweeping arpeggios to create a show that keeps you transfixed from start to finish.

At the centre of it all is the devilishly wonderful Eckerström who is like the result of some mad scientists experiment that has merged the DNA of Jaz Coleman and Marilyn Manson. His energy is boundless and he delivers the songs with ease as he jumps around like a demented puppeteer

And we’re his puppets.

Surprisingly there were only four songs in the set from the new album, but the crowd aren’t worried about that when they are treated to an extensive back catalogue of favourites, especially the encore of Smells Like A Freakshow and Hail The Apocalypse

As gigs go this was one that has set the bar high for the rest of the year and I can see it being in my top 5.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Black Star Riders (Live Review By Simon Black)

Black Start Riders, Michael Monroe & Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, Tramshed Cardiff, 21.02.23

The days may be drawing slowly out by inches, but it’s still cold as a brass monkey’s frozen knackers in the queue outside Cardiff Tramshed tonight, which tells me already that we have a pretty full house already even for early birds like me who get told off by the editor for turning up late and missing the support acts. Inside however, it’s tropical, humid and positively dripping from the ceiling, although unfortunately this turns out to be a case of some beer spilt on the balcony, making for a sticky back of the neck for the rest of my evening. The headliners don’t need to, but they’ve pulled a really good package together for this evening, bring effectively the remains of Mötorhead, Hanoi Rocks and Thin Lizzy under one roof for an evening of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and it’s no surprise that even though I’m definitely quite a few decades out of spring chicken territory, that the average age may noticeable have dropped when I walked in. That’s called loyalty, and it’s hard won and well deserved.

Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons (8) start proceedings squeezed onto the front of the stage, and although a guitarist down due to illness and suffering from one of the worst sound mixes I have ever heard in this fab little venue, they still belt the evening round the lugholes magnificently and stir up the crowd a treat. Despite really not having any guitar sound to work with the band really do rip things up nicely, and with a set that’s two thirds Bastard and one third Mötorhead the crowd still have plenty of love and familiarity with the material from their two studio albums to not care too much where they came from, and local born Campbell is clearly delighted to be playing back in his birthplace (well, that’s actually Pontypridd a few miles up the road in the Valleys, but hey). Either way with a full 9 song set, the crowd are left happy.

On the surface this isn’t Michael Monroe’s (9) crowd, given that this older audience were probably none too appreciative back in the day of a band who really kick-started the 80’s incarnation of glam, but at the end of it this is still Rock ‘n’ Roll and the man is a master of that, regardless of how much blusher, bleach and backcombing goes into his look, proving that all you need is the right foundation… It is scary how unchanged physically he is by the decades. Not only does he look and dress like the 1980’s were still in full fashion disaster fur pelt, but he is as muscled, skinny and physically fit as he was thirty years ago, leaping about the stage and photo pit like a demon, and it’s that raw honesty and showmanship in the performance that turns the audience round from polite tolerance to full throated support. This despite the fact that he clearly seems to be somewhat under the weather, with a strain to his voice and a cough that he hides well into his stage towel, and I pity the crewmember who has to clear that away. 

Added to this the sound mix is still atrociously thin, and despite throwing everything into their stag presence the desk is not helping them with with neither guitar fully audible and Monroe fighting to be heard over a mike that struggles to pick him up clearly even when the band aren’t playing. But despite all that they really plough on regardless, because they have a point to make. The set list is a generous 12 songs pooled from his solo albums since 1985, the Demolition 23 one from the 90’s (which is when fellow Hanoi member Sam Yaffa came back in the loop, where he remains) and a few Hanoi favourites but the energy, pace and sheer sense of fun is what makes this an unexpected highlight of the evening. The audience may have come for who was playing either side of this Rock ‘n’ Roll sandwich, but Monroe and the band won a new respect tonight, which will no doubt lay the ground well for the Hanoi reunion allegedly on the horizon.

It’s the 10th anniversary of Black Star Riders (10) ditching the Thin Lizzy name and moving on as original recording artists in an influenced, but nuanced different direction. That’s a diversion that’s increased across their five studio albums, with the latest opus Wrong Side of Paradise moving well away from the Gaelic influenced harmonised melody lines that they were still retained in their sound initially. When I reviewed that album elsewhere, I wondered if the older Lizzy fans would feel it was a step too far, but apparently not judging by the fact it achieved a top 10 chart position in the UK and the material debuted live from it tonight here in Cardiff hit the spot as firmly in the back of the net as the older, and indeed, very much older material.

The band are welcomed hugely on stage, as much because finally there is a decent sound mix as there is about love for the headliner. The band respond in kind and proceed to rip everyone a new hole with one of the best live shows I have seen at this cracking little venue. Again, this is a really generous set list, with a total of twenty tracks over the best part of two hours, and five of those coming from the latest release. Scott Gorham may not have been involved in the recent recording cycles, but he’s here tonight and joins the band on stage a third of the way through, where he remains until the end, adding a lovely rich dimension of guitar melody with three of them at work with fluidity, power and sheer damned energy. 

I’ve seen Ricky Warwick play many times over the decades, right back to The Almighty, but for my money his performances with BSR just keep getting better and better. Tonight, he’s blisteringly tight, focused and prowling the front of the stage totally owning the audience. The Lizzy tracks are kept to a minimum, and that’s no bad thing and bizarrely the cover of the Osmonds Crazy Horses from the most recent record probably gets a bigger cheer than Jailbreak does. Added to this a couple of guest appearances from Phil Campbell (allowing Warwick to ditch the axe for a few minutes) and Michael Monroe clearly having the time of his life, and this has all the hallmarks of a candidate for gig of the year.

Monday 27 February 2023

Reviews: Ascension, Witch Ripper, Morphetik, So Long Space Girl (Reviews By Matt Bladen, AV4Apod, Mark Young & GC)

Ascension - Under The Veil Of Madness (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Now I love Dragonforce (so much so I actually auditioned to be their singer) so as soon as I pressed play on Under The Veil Of Madness I was immediately transported back to Sonic Firestorm, the album I discovered them on (and still their best IMO). Cue a huge smile, much fist in the air singalongs and finger cramp from excessive air guitar. From the high pitched vocals, to the twin guitar harmonies, classical keyboard runs that move between Bach and Nintendo rounded off with drums that hit lightspeed, it's got every single thing I like about the London 'Extreme Power Metal' proponents.

Ascension however are Scottish, that country having a pedigree in power metal bands (though lest said about cretinous Pirates the better.), this second album having been in the works for long time, as they all did there own thing, but my god it's worth the wait for a power metal fan! Tracks like Defiance, manage to shift the pace a few times, adding dynamics so you don't get complacent with the blasting, but if you like blasting, widdling and shredding so fast Sir Malcolm Campbell would get excited there's plenty of that here.

In the role of guitar heroes are Stuart Docherty and Fraser Edwards (who's solo album blew me away in 2020) and they will definitely impress anyone who loves their power metal with all the pace of a herd of gazelle, both playing off each other in a wonderfully silly tandem where the two-hand tapping and virtuoso showing off is very much welcomed. Singing the occult or fantasy based lyrics is Ricko Carnie who I'm sure hits notes only dogs can hear, he is comfortable in the true power metal singer style tries to crack the sky with his voice. But can also use the lower register for the proggy Last Winter's Night, where bassist Nick Blake gets a jazzy solo, in a change from galloping along with drummer Dick Gilchrist.

Now I made point of mentioning Dragonforce at the top of this review but as they move towards the end of the record the title track takes from the quirkiness from Helloween and Pages Of Gold has the orchestral prog of Blind Guardian, making for a power metal menagerie that covers many bases and will have any power metal fan salivating. I fell in love with this album and I can't wait to see them at the earliest point possible. AOTY contender to for me and it's only February 10/10 

Witch Ripper - The Flight After The Fall (Magnetic Eye Records) [Quinn @AV4Apod]

Until Curtis Parker’s brutally beautiful (brutiful?) sludge vocals came in around minute three of the album opener on The Flight After The Fall I thought I was listening to a different Witch Ripper. I could be forgiven. I listen to metal. A lot of terrible stuff happens to witches here. But then I had to reckon with the fact that my favourite home-town sludge band from Seattle had added a new, clean vocalist/guitarist, Chad Fox to their arsenal. I was a huge fan of Witch Ripper’s previous LP Homestead and so I found myself torn about this new direction… until about halfway through that first track. Enter The Loop is such a sublime, breathtaking song, that it doesn’t matter whether its sludge or prog, it doesn’t matter if its bluegrass-disco-funk, it’s just unequivocally brilliant music and I am sold.

Any band that wants to expand their sound runs a number of risks in doing so. Not only do they need to incorporate a whole series of new tools, but also learn how to use the old tools that got them to where they are in a new way that doesn’t make them seem vestigial or like an afterthought. The one-two punch of Fox’s clean, soaring vocals, that echoes Brann Dailor of late Mastodon (or as Brent Hinds once put it “That Whitney Houston voice”) and Parker’s brutiful low-end growl feels like a natural extension of somewhere Witch Ripper always wanted to go. Nowhere is the combination more effective than on Icarus Equation the emotional peak of the record before a near-17 minute closer Everlasting In Retrograde takes the album out on a haunting, atmospheric note. Witch Ripper has faced the risks inherit in expanding their sound head-on and leapt light years beyond them.

The second track, Madness and Ritual Solitude deserves credit as my sleeper favourite for driving chaotically but purposefully toward the album’s B-Side. The only place the record falters is the chorus of The Obsidian Forge where Fox’s repetitive vocal melody compromises an otherwise great song. So, it’s not all glowing descriptions and cosmic roses but when I try to summarise what Witch Ripper has managed to achieve in expanding their sound so successfully, there is really only one word that comes to mind… brutiful. 9/10

Morphetik - Proclamation Of War (Witches Brew) [Mark Young]

Swedish old-school violent raw thrash! Depending on which school you went to will alter how you perceive that statement. Its trotted out so often that it’s used just as another tag line. That is not the case here. Formed by members of Nazghor and Necrobeast to provide an alternative to death and black metal that Sweden is known for. Citing influences that run to South America and Europe instead of the traditional American bands it gives them a more unique approach with obviously taking ingredients from their day jobs.

Its certainly raw and with 10 songs in 26 minutes you get an idea of just how keen they are to reinforce their point. They are in a hurry here and the songs themselves could have been at home in the golden period from 85 to 89. Each of the songs just riff out and because of their length there is no chance of you getting fatigue from listening to repeated musical passages.
Given its length it’s incredibly difficult to provide a review where you can dive into it and talk on the themes and topics but when you have a song that is called Death From Above you know what you are getting. You are getting riffs, you are getting fast BPM’s, you are getting solos and madman drumming. They keep this up all the way through without being just one note and boring and when you consider that they wanted to give you a raw experience they have succeeded.
It’s not deep, it’s not complicated, and it answers their objectives in delivering an absolute kick ass album for those who feel that music generally peaked in the mid to late 80’s. There is a feeling that you wonder just how deep the creative well is when regarding thrash metal but that is a problem for the next release. I’m not sure if this is a creative side-project for them or is the main output now but for it’s a good start for them to build upon.

Going back to the bio, you can take from it that the live is where they want to unleash these songs in the proper environment where you can get the proper experience that might be lacking on the release. My score is based on the fact that they have succeeded in providing a raw thrash experience and that it absolutely rips from start to finish. The problem is that you will have heard this before but if you can ignore that then it’s a little cracker. 6/10

So Long, Space Girl - Your Heroes Are All Dead (Self Released) [GC]

This week I am moving slightly out of my comfort zone and taking on some pop-punk, now I don’t mind some pop-punk but I wouldn’t say its something I listen to regularly and if I do its usually US bands as they just seem to do it better, but this week I have UK based So Long, Space Girl and their new release Your Heroes Are All Dead. It’s a drab Monday so not sure how this will turn out, but this sort of music is meant to be bright, happy and bouncy so maybe it will cheer me up.

The first thing I notice on title track and opener Your Heroes Are All Dead, is that it sounds flat and uninspiring, the music itself is what you would expect bouncy guitars and the bass is just high enough in the mix to not get lost but the drums just sound they are made out of cardboard and the vocals just drag along and are monotone and boring, Spineless takes a more relaxed feel and starts off slow and uses a quiet/loud dynamic to try and make things interesting, it doesn’t and the lyrics are shite and unfortunately they are mixed so high they become the songs main focal point and it suffers horrendously for this.

Peaches And Cream again falls flat on its arse and just sounds empty and lacks the energy needed to propel anything forward and the vocalist sounds like he can’t be arsed all the way through this song, I can imagine how boring it would be to see them live, anyway I Hate You But I Hate Myself More is yet more of the same drab uninspired noise and now it’s not really punk at all its more alt-rock than anything else, ultimately nothing stands out here or makes you really want to keep listening, the music is boring and the vocals are tedious and like a 13 year old wrote them in a bad mood, Reasons attempts to throw in some urgency and just grates because the vocalist is doing some type of shitty Brian Molko impression and its almost too funny to deal with until I remember I am meant to be reviewing this steaming pile of shit!

I am at the halfway point now and Turn It Off unfortunately isn’t an instruction, it’s another horrible and painstaking listen and the Placebo worship gets worse on this song, someone must have told him once he sounds kind of like Brian and he has taken it and ran with it, someone now needs to tell him to fucking well stop it! Like A Bomb is so bland its painful, there is no personality or feeling to anything on offer here and it’s a real chore to listen to, the same however doesn’t apply to Rust it does finally show some balls and the melodies and music mix together nicely and does feel more like the pop-punk that I was meant to be getting and is actually a half decent song but feels like it’s all a little too late really!

Tonight is and absolute crime of a song and makes me want to be sick, it’s a piano led ballad and it’s just so self-pitying and pathetic, I hate this album and this song in particular, do yourself a favour and skip this track. Pull The Trigger tries to recapture the pop-punk ship again and is alright but there just not enough to keep my attention, The Great Undying is 6:33 of torture, not one song on this album should be this long! FINALLY, A Long Way To RunA Longer Way To Climb is here to close the song and it does so on a completely predictable and uninspiring alt-rockesque note.

I HATED this album, I was expecting bouncy feel good pop-punk and I got an alt-rock Placebo worship tribute band and yes, I also hate Placebo. This was an album full of boring, life sapping and tedious songs that should not be listened to anyone, at any time, ever! The only reason it didn’t get a zero was that a couple of songs were just ok to listen to. If you know what is good for you avoid this album, because you will regret it if you don’t. 1/10

Reviews: Siena Root, Pierce The Veil, Grandma's Ashes, Eloyse (Reviews By Rich Piva & James Jackson)

Siena Root - Revelation (Atomic Fire Records) [Rich Piva]

Stockholm, Sweden’s retro rockers Siena Root bring both their 70s rock and folk sides to their latest album, Revelation. This is truly a time machine record, as you could have told me that this had been recorded in 1970 and I would have been none the wiser. You get all sorts of fun retro stuff on this album, including a ton of sitar, which is cool and all, but like this record, it can be a bit much. Revelation is a tale of two halves of an album; the first bursting with energy and interesting elements, the second a bit of a slog in seventies nostalgia and some tracks that drag way longer than they should.

Let’s start with the good, that when it is good is excellent. Coincidence & Fate is an amazing opening track, killer proto with that amazing voice of Zubaida Solid. Think Graveyard, Brimstone Coven, etc. just with excellent female vocals. If the whole record was proto-typed based on this song, we would really have a winner on our hands. Ditto for the tracks Professional Procrastinator and No Peace, which highlight the heavy 70s rock stylings of the band and have Solid’s voice the star of the show. Think Ruby The Hatchet without the fuzz and reverb, a cleaner production. Fighting Gravity is another killer track in the same vein as the first three songs on Revelation

You get some of the more folkier Tull action on Winter Solstice, which is a fun little jaunt through a snowy Nordic forest, but that jaunt seems to extend though the next few songs, which is where that drag I mentioned starts to rear its head. We get a lot of flute and a lot of sitar, which in the grand scheme of things I totally dig, but the pace of the record takes a decline and my overall enjoyment with it. Maybe a reshuffling of the tracks or some editing may have made this record flow a bit better and eliminate the drag I am feeling. But when Sienna Root is on, they are way on.

Overall, Revelation is a mixed bag, but the good outweighs the bad when looking at the record in its totality. A new Siena Root is always welcomed but focus on the first few tracks to see the true genius of this band. Revelation is worth a listen, if only for the first six or so tracks. 7/10

Pierce The Veil - The Jaws Of Life (Fearless Records) [James Jackson]

Pop punk has never been a genre that I’ve explored, I’ve little love for Punk full stop and that influence on anything is lost on me; so to have the latest offering from American Pop Punk act Pierce The Veil was like a dream come true - if that dream was the one where you’re running naked through a crowd of clowns in Freddie Kruger costumes.

The first track, Death Of An Executioner is quite catchy but that’s about as good as it gets and the follow up track Pass The Nirvana, which does remind me of something Cobain and Co have done but I was never a fan of Nirvana either so I feel, well.. nothing; allegedly there’s a message of hope for the younger generation post Covid, as the story is for those that didn’t get to go to prom, amongst other, hopefully more important, things.

One of the reasons I don’t like this genre is the perpetual cycle of grown men trying to sound like they’re still 16 and not the wrong side of 40.. and yes, I do listen to and enjoy Steel Panther’s music, but that’s juvenile for comedic effect this is just obnoxious stroppy adolescence coming from someone who really ought to know better.

I have to skip forward, leaving any thoughts of prom dates gone awry to the boy band territory of Even When I’m Not With You, I’ve an ex wife and three daughters who have thoroughly ruined any chance of pleasure to be taken from the musical offerings of boy bands, neither of them can hold a tune which only makes a bad song worse; allegedly the track is a song about connection, of being “there” despite the distance between two loved ones, there area million tracks stating the opposite - it’s another skip.

I move swiftly through Emergency Contact and Flawless Execution to the title track, hoping that this will redeem the album and give me a hint as to how this band has managed to stay relevant or at least around for nearly two decades; it’s track 6 of 12 for those that care and the answer is no, The Jaws Of Life are dead.

I’m throwing in the towel and giving up and I’ve sat through some of the recent MCU releases which have been terrible, yes Thor: Love & Thunder I’m looking at you alongside countless school plays with a loving smile upon my face every time one of my delightful offspring has looked my way, I’m saying I’m not a quitter by nature but enough is enough.

It’s not for me and I can’t remain neutral or fake a positive review so I’m leaving this to the fans, to those that like middle aged men singing about tween issues, to those that enjoy their Pop mixed with a little Punk. It’s a solid 2/10

Grandma’s Ashes - This Too Shall Pass (Nice Prod) [Rich Piva]

Back at the beginning of 2021 the Paris, France trio Grandma’s Ashes released a killer EP that showed a ton of promise and ripped out four killer grungy/stoner jams that finished near the top of my EP list for 2021. The ladies are now back with their debut full length, This Too Shall Pass, which is a much grander, progressive offering than their debut EP and shows the band really growing it what they are delivering musically. This is pretty far off from their debut EP, but after a couple listens you can start to see how this is an excellent step forward for the band.

First off, This Too Shall Pass is a gigantic sounding record. The production is excellent; not too much where it is too polished but just enough to ensure the enormity of the songs shine through. Right off the bat you get this with the first full track, Cold Touch. This song sounds so much bigger than all the previous output and has a heavy prog sound with just some hints of old-world folk lurking behind it. I love the layered vocals and the overall sound of the track.

On Aside it seems as if the trio is channelling early Genesis before the heavy kicks in, because Grandma’s Ashes is not giving up the rock for the sake of their proggier direction. Love this track. For a trio this band has such a huge sound, and the track Borderlands is a perfect example of this. You get some more of that folky undertone, but this song is a epic musical journey across old world Europe with more of the excellent heavy prog/stoner vibes, cool tempo changes, and killer vocals.

While there is a bit of a drag midway through, this record is overall excellent with twelve killer tracks, highlighted by my favourite, Caffeine (which I thought was going to be a Faith No More cover) which is the doomiest track the band has ever done and brings the heavy but also the light in the most complex and to me most memorable and enjoyable track on the record.

It took the fourth listen for This Too Shall Pass to click for me, but when it did it did hard. I was expecting more of the straight-ahead stoner/grunge of the EP, but what we got is so much more and Grandma’s Ashes debut record is better for it. Check this out for sure. 8/10

Elyose - Deviante (Self Released) [James Jackson]

Much to my own personal disappointment, I am not multilingual, having recently reviewed Swedish band Fredlos, I’m now presented with Elyose; a French band fronted by vocalist and driving force, Justine Daae. Seemingly a solo project of Justine’s with guest musicians; her bio describes the band as Industrial/Symphonic Metal and at times her vocals do have that ethereal quality found in acts like Epica and Nightwish.

Personally I find many similarities between Elyose and Italian Gothic Metal act Lacuna Coil, both musically, given Lacuna Coil’s recent move towards a more downtuned Nu Metal style and also vocally. This is their/her fourth album and whilst each track is strong enough in its own right, personally I’m not hit with anything that particularly stands out and makes me want to put it on repeat until the neighbours start banging the walls. To me there’s quite a Metalcore edge to the music, perhaps more in line with those acts that incorporate more Electronic elements to the songwriting; for that Industrial tag conjures up acts that are more Techno/Dance based for me and that’s not what I’m hearing here.

About halfway through the album and honestly I’m struggling; whilst each track has moments of something special; the hint of that promised Symphonic Metal, they soon slip into Metalcore mediocrity and any interest piqued is waned. I don’t want to judge this harshly as the songs aren’t bad, it’s just that there isn’t enough of a spark to keep me interested. So I’m sorry or “Je suis vraiment desole”. Which I hope they say in France. 5/10

Friday 24 February 2023

Reviews: Transatlantic, Host, Stöner, King Abyss (Reviews By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Transatlantic - The Final Flight Live At L'Olympia (Inside Out Records) [Simon Black]

Although the first recognised ‘Supergroup’ in music was probably either British Rock act Cream or US Folk-Rock act Crosby, Stills & Nash, Progressive bands have really made the concept their own. Special mention should also probably go to the grand-daddies of them all, Yes, but they and their numerous incarnations, reformations and in-between coagulations probably deserve a sub-genre category all of their own.

It’s a difficult term to accurately nail down a firm definition of, given that it’s applied to everything from projects assembled from members of established acts either or past or present, as side projects when parent acts are resting, as artificial potpourri’s from Italian Hard Rock labels or as pretty much a full-time career if you are Neil Morse and Mike Portnoy, currently making a living out of running about six of them in parallel.

They really do churn out a lot of content together – The Neal Morse band, Flying Colours, Yellow Matter Custard and Transatlantic, which was when the two first started working as a team. You can argue if you like which of the two is the winner of this unofficial prolificity tournament, although with at least six other Supergroup projects still on the go outside of the ones listed above you might think Portnoy deserves the gong, but then never forget that Morse has his own festival - Morsefest. 

So there… You get the idea – they’re busy chaps, but for my money Transatlantic hold a bit more weight by virtue that they bring Marillion’s Pete Trewevas and The Flower Kings’ Roine Scott, thereby for me hitting the definition of a Supergroup as a long-lived recording and touring outfit, and the one incarnation that I would put myself out for and go and watch live.

Touring being the name of the game today, with this monstrous three disk effort clocking in only ten minutes short of three hours also being something of an endurance test. It was recorded on the final night of the European tour leg of 2021’s The Absolute Universe, a release with at least three different versions of in existence already now having a fourth.

The longer 90-minute incarnation of the album is the backbone of the piece, but there’s also a hell of a lot more crammed in, with truncated extended medley versions of whole previous albums truncated into 30-minute blocks and a few other standalone favourites besides, making this good value for money if a little heavy to wade through for the poor reviewer.

There is a full Blu-Ray version as well, which I suspect will be the better format to appreciate the material by, given that this recording is not high on crowd engagement, with audience sounds being down in the mix and therefore loosing some of that crucial atmosphere, but the clips that have surfaced online indicate that this was there aplenty, so for my money would be the ideal format.

What it is, as is always the case when musos of this calibre get together is a cracking example of modern prog rock from the top end of the league. Lengthy it may be, challenging to get through when you have a publishing deadline to meet and want to give it enough spins to appreciate to the fullest extent for sure, but a delight to listen to, nonetheless.

That said, the compressed medleys of previous albums actually work better for my money, as they’re absolutely the best way to consume the highlights of the studio release in a format that still works live, but to be fair those three hours don’t drag too much overall, and the flow and chemistry between these absolute masters of their game remains a joy to listen to from start to finish. Long may it continue. 8/10

Host – IX (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

The seventh studio album from Paradise Lost has proven to be a watershed moment of divisiveness for the veteran purveyors of (mostly) sublime gothic metal from God’s own Country of Yorkshire. Released in 1999, it saw the peak of their dalliance with a more 80’s Electronica vibe, that earned them the nickname “Depeche Lost” around that time. As often is the case when large groups of people react negatively en masse online, it is usually at the expense of a few basic facts and some much-needed context, because this album was far from some strange moment of aberrance for an act who let’s face it, are as Metal as fuck when they want to be.

Let’s start with the concept of ‘gothic metal’ itself. The whole goth scene of the late 70’s into the 80’s (and by that I mean as espoused by the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Killing Joke, Joy Division, Bauhaus, and the Cure) owed way more to the post-punk than rock, in turn inspiring both the popyer New Wave movement of the early 80’s, and it’s slightly heavier incarnation of 80’s doomier and gloomier sounding goth rock like The Mission, The Sisters Of Mercy or Ghost Dance. It’s only when they came along and brought with them the start of a defined anti-fashion look and sub-culture in its own right that the Venn diagram of crossover between goth and metal had a chance to flourish.

Goth metal took the goth rock moodiness, down tuned the fuck out of it and blasted itself loud and proud with some overdriven guitar and relentless drumming and in the case of Paradise Lost in their early days, an extreme metal vocal technique. The whole movement really started in Yorkshire, which also spawned Anathema and My Dying Bride around the Peaceville label in the early 1990’s, but the point I am slowly coming to is that all the historical genre influences of the previous two decades were all in that melting pot of influences that created both the gothic metal movement, and specifically what Nick Holmes and Gregor Macintosh fed into Paradise Lost in the first place.

I would argue that if you listen to the way that they construct their songs, guitar lines, chord progressions, lyrics and arrangements that this was the case from the get-go right up to today. The only things that they have flexed with extensively over the decades is the amount of distortion used on the guitars, the vocal style of Nick Holmes (ranging as it does to full on death gargle to New Wave clean and every shade in between and back again over the years) and the relative contribution of the keyboards and where they sit in the mix. If you don’t believe me, track down a live recording of a song from that contentious period and watch them play it in a more metal style, and what you get is something that could have come from any other period of their existence.

For every fan that resents the three or so albums when they experimented with a lighter overall sound, there are those that love it, and personally I far prefer it when the vocal style is less death metal for the plain and simple reason that I like to actually listen to lyrics and Holmes actually has a pretty damn good voice. With PL now firmly back with their heavier roots, there’s a void where the material from the turn of the millennium can sit, because although you can play those songs with Metal tropes and make it work, it doesn’t always go back the other way quite so well.

So here we are in 2023 with the pair sipping back into their own and Paradise Lost’s history with a spin-off project named after that album that everyone claims to hate (whether they have actually listened to it or the ones either side of it or not), but which musically is more directly attributable to early goth and new wave electronica than PL ever were during their experimental phase of 20 odd years ago. It started as a lockdown project to keep Macintosh sane, but given their shared history and strength of songwriting partnership, Holmes got looped in. 

On the surface it’s influenced by the album that spawned the name, but Host the album is the result of five people working together and this is just Holmes and Macintosh, with the latter presumably programming and playing everything from scratch. Consequently, it’s more 80’s electronica and new wave than anything from their main band, but that’s no bad thing as it proves that despite the backlash the pair could have done much more with the format given time and a bit of support. With Paradise Lost firmly back in heavier gargly territory and Host now signed as an act in their own right by Nuclear Blast, I think we can expect more experimentation to come from these two.

Musically the songs benefit from an extra 20 years of song-writing experience and recording technology, but you can still tell that it’s the same pair under the hood despite the overall restrained sound, and when the sound rocks out that little bit, more such as Hiding From Tomorrow or closer I Ran, then the signature writing style that underpins everything they touch comes to the fore. It’s not the longest piece of work at forty-two minutes, but I am more than happy that this project can co-exist side by side with the current Paradise Lost approach. Rather than take the best of both worlds, they’ve split them in two, but since both approaches have their fans, there’s plenty of room in the marketplace. 8/10

Stöner - Boogie To Baja (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Matt Bladen]

Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are probably best known as two of the four founders of desert rock originators Kyuss, after Kyuss returned into the the haze of Sky Valley, the members have all been very busy with several other projects, a lot of which are very incestuous with the four members all jamming with each other under the overarching banner of psych/stoner/desert rock. 

The more straight laced stoner of...well Stöner are a power trio with Bjork and Oliveri joining drummer Ryan Güt (who is in Bjork's solo band), they have released two previous studio albums and live release, their latest offering is this EP entitled Boogie To Baja, and it focuses on the early days of what the stoner scene would emerge from with nods to New York and San Francisco scenes, Boogie To Baja is inspired by The Ramones, Blue Cheer, The Stooges and MC5. The sort of EP that brings groovy, psychedelic meanderings as well as punchy punk rock, it's a trio who lock in tight, their interplay having been perfected on the live stage. 

After a reinterpretation of their Stöner Theme (Baja Version), City Kids starts the boogie properly with some breezy Grateful Dead jams as the bad trip of Night Tripper Vs No Brainer encroaches on your conciseness with it's slow, blissful fuzz. As It Ain't Free blasts with snotty CBGB fodder, the EP ends with the instrumental title track which lets it's freak flag fly. More than a stopgap Boogie To Baja is a groovy little number from this highly acclaimed trio. 7/10 

King Abyss - Snake Oil (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

King Abyss, have a lot right with them, however this debut album does a few things that mean the listening experience is not as good as I'd hoped. Lyrically Snake Oil is driven by the injustice and how we are manipulated  by corporations and the government. It's brimming with bile and aggression, which unfortunately adds to it's downfall a little.

Musically pitched between Megadeth and modern acts such as Sylosis, the riffs are born out of thrash with some groove metal on songs like Fear The Dead or Eyes Always Watching, the lead guitar playing stand out with a lot of Mustaine/Friedman solo sections. That's about where I run out of positives I'm afraid, the songs have some dynamism, with acoustics employed across the record but vocally it's as one dimensional as it's just the same growls over and over again, the only time it shifts is when there's some clean vocals but they're not that great either.

Snake Oil is also an album that attempts to emulate some of the best and brightest but don't quite hit that sweet spot. For example the final instrumental Nibiru wants to be Orion but never becomes anything than a slow dirge with a few shifts. Maybe it is just me but King Abyss are a band who don't do much for me at all. 5/10

Reviews: Insomnium, Eulogy, BIG|BRAVE, Dark Embrace (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Simon Black, Mark Young & Paul Scoble)

Insomnium - Anno 1696 (Century Media Records) [Richard Oliver]

It is safe to say that no-one does melancholy like the Finnish and when it comes to dark and melancholic metal that Finland has more bands in that style than most other countries. One of the finest bands to embody that sound and to also come from Finland are melodic death metallers Insomnium who have been releasing their gloomy take on melodeath since 1997.

Anno 1696 is the ninth album from the band and continues a seemingly unbreakable run of insanely strong material from the band with Anno 1696 being up there with some of the best material from the band. Much like 2016’s lauded Winter’s Gate album, Anno 1696 is a concept album with influence drawn from the Aino Kallas' 1928 novel ‘Sudenmorsian (The Wolf's Bride)’. The album's concept is even brought to fruition in the form of a short story penned by frontman Niilo Sevänen which accompanies the album. 

Musically Anno 1696 sees Insomnium firing on all cylinders with some of the most atmospheric and melodic yet charged and ferocious material the band has released to date as well as being some of the finest. The album is well rounded with a lot of the key factors in what makes Insomnium such a compelling act spread across eight songs. The band’s sorrowful yet charged style comes to the fore in the stunning Lilian which is a song that had every hair on my body standing on end whilst the 8 minute epic Starless Paths had a similar effect encapsulating everything that I love about this band in a singular song. 

Insomnium, like a lot of Finnish metal bands, has always taken influence from their native folk music and we really see this influence brought to the forefront in the form of a gorgeous acoustic song The Unrest. Anno 1696 also features some guest musicians with Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ appearing on the wonderfully atmospheric White Christ. We also get Johanna Kurkela of Auri appearing on the albums finest moment which is the stunning Godforsaken - an absolutely stunning piece which has some of the most beautiful melodies of the entire album and utilises Johanna’s beautiful ethereal voice to jaw-dropping effect.

Insomnium are a band that have maintained a ridiculous amount of high quality from their first album to present day and there is not a weak moment in their discography though it is commendable that 26 years into their career that they have released what could easily be their finest album to date in Anno 1696. I mean it has some stiff competition in albums such as Above The Weeping World, Across The Dark and Heart Like A Grave but Anno 1696 feels like the band most accomplished work thus far and songs such as Lilian, Starless Paths and Godforsaken are the finest the band has written. 

It’s a bold statement to make early on in the year but Insomnium may have given us the best album of 2023. It takes what has made Insomnium one of the most beloved bands in the melodic death metal subgenre up to another level. A must hear album. 10/10

Eulogy – Rebirth (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Down here in South Wales it feels like there is a real hotbed of new talent right now (despite the real challenge of availability of small grass roots venues in the Cardiff area). It was not always thus, but right now there’s a whole bunch of acts who’ve dragged themselves up by the bootstraps from the starting blocks and started to make a wider impact.

A huge part of this has been the robust way the local Metal 2 The Masses competitions have been handled down here, with Eulogy being one of the acts who have worked through that process and although they didn’t ultimately win 2022’s round, they have not let them hold them down. I always say to bands who do get that coveted slot at Catton Park “don’t let this be as far as you get”, as the competition should be a springboard on a tough gruelling journey, although for many it becomes the finish line and Eulogy have this down pat. Keep Calm And Carry On indeed…

We also seem to have a renaissance going on with more traditional metal and hard rock influenced style, which let’s face it never goes away or evolves too far from its roots and can cross the generational divide better than many a passing sub-genre fad that this old fart of a hack has seen in my half century plus, and with other local rising stars like King Kraken making waves, there’s plenty of room for other solid acts, and Eulogy fit that brief like a hand in a studded leather glove.

Musically this band pull their influences from older classic tropes, but they’ve got a nice modern metal edge to them to go with it and manage a strong and distinctive sound all of their own. I love the deeply heavy crunch that goes with everything they deliver, and it’s always a promising sign when the low end is down and dirty enough to rattle the windows in my office and start the teenagers shouting at me to turn things down.

This is well-phrased riffage of the highest order, and it drives each and every track through like a relentless steamroller, regardless of the tempo of the individual song, although the slower elements are as ruthless and powerful as the faster ones. Neil Thomas takes bass and vocal duties, so is absolutely at the centre of this merciless rhythm but avoids the trap many bass/vocalists fall into of synchronising the melody lines. He also has a really strong and charismatic voice, which can scale well whilst retaining a strong and gutsy rock n roll edge.

The songs themselves are really strongly well written and arranged, leading you in and addictivley dragging you into their thrall, and the nine songs on here do not hold one minute of unnecessary padding between them, honed as they are from the band’s history to date. With a rich fat production sound and an impeccable standard of delivery, this feel like a band destined for much bigger things. Keep Calm, Carry On and Turn It Up Really Damned Loud, because this is a highlight of the month so far. 9/10

BIG|BRAVE - Nature Morte (Southern Lord Records) [Mark Young]

Forming in 2012, Montreal natives BIG|BRAVE started writing experimental music that fell into a softer and subtle approach that fulfilled their initial approach of ambient and minimalist music. This changed following a switch from acoustic to electric guitar which has brought them to the album you have today.

Nature Morte is their latest release which delivers a slab of metallic folk which is extremely heavy, underpinned by Robin Wattie’s vocals. From the outset this is a difficult ride, as the heavy work here is done with the singing with the background space filled by guitars, drums but Robin’s voice just absolutely dominates it. It sounds like it is being literally dragged from her in a violent act of aggression and then in others its soft, anchored by ethereal background.

Nature Morte
can be translated as meaning ‘a still life’ in which It is an image depicting inanimate objects and consulting their socials the literal translation they use is ‘dead nature’ which makes complete sense when placed against the music on offer here.

This music is so far out of my wheelhouse I can only review it on what feelings I get immediately from listening to it and it reminds me of late 80’s and early 90’s Jesus And The Mary chain amongst others and each song has a direction and a story within it. The arrangements are sparse with just enough movement to carry the song along with equal measures that are quiet and loud with the only constant that the vocals are launched at you in such a way that they slice through everything else and are in your face.

Everything here is honest, its stark and the effect is that none of these songs were built to pander to anyone or what they think heavy music should be. It’s heavy even in the soft parts because these generate such an atmosphere of oppression and tension you welcome when the heavy parts kick in. It will welcome repeat listening because I don’t believe you will get everything from it in one sitting with It with you certainly finding more within the soundscapes they have created here. 7/10

Dark Embrace - Dark Heavy Metal (Massacre Records) [Paul Scoble]

Spanish band Dark Embrace have been making music since the year 2000. During the bands 23 year career the lineup has changed many times, but main man Oscar Rilo remains the constant centre of all things Dark Embrace, at different times playing different combinations of instruments depending on how full a lineup he had. On Dark Heavy Metal he is joined by Mou Trashno on guitars, also Markos Villar on guitars, Kike Vilar - bass and former Mercyful Fate, King Diamond and Dream Evil drummer Snowy Shaw, with Oscar taking just the lead singer role, as he has a full band on this album. Dark Embrace are also joined by Antti Wirman  (of King Company and Warmen) playing a Guitar solo on the track Endless Months and Jari Pailamo (of King Company and Daimonic) plays keyboards on This Is The Rain.

In Dark Embraces 23 history the band have released two and a bit albums, First album The Rebirth Of Darkness in 2006, and eleven years later in 2017 they released The Call Of The Wolves, and 5 years later The Call Of The Wolves (Re-Howled) a re-recording of their 2017 album was released, making the ‘and a bit’ of their two and a bit albums. 

During their career Dark Embrace has segued from playing a style they described as gothic doom, to a style of symphonic/death metal, in many ways Dark Heavy Metal comes in somewhere in between the two styles. Lead singer Oscar Rilo sings in 3 different ways on Dark Heavy Metal, he has a harsh voice that is low and guttural, a Harsh voice that is in a higher register and is quite shrill, and a very good clean singing voice. Personally I don’t like the higher register harsh voice, it’s too screeching for me, however vocals are always contentious so you might like the higher voice and think I’m an idiot, the lower harsh voice and Oscars clean singing voice are excellent, and fit really well with the music. 

The album opens with the title track Dark Heavy Metal, which is in a similar style to Children Of Bodom’s take on melodeath, it’s full of energy, drive and loads of melody with an excellent guitar solo. Never Seen The Sun is a mix of the melodic death metal style we encountered on the first track and a slower style that is closer to power metal. Oscar uses his clean voice to great effect and added keyboards help keep it atmospheric. The track that follows, Personal Hell, has a similar style and structure, another great solo and some really good galloping horse riffs. 

Endless Months has a mid-paced tempo, clean vocals, yet another great solo and tunes that feel fairly Baroque in style, kind of classic power metal, in some ways the melodic elements also give a slight folky sense to the song as well, which is helped by having some gang vocals in the chorus. Next comes Metal Is Religion, which, as you would expect with a title like that, is an up-tempo, driving, fist pumping blast of awesome heavy metal, the chorus is very good and has some great chanting on it. 

Next comes the track Life And Legacy which is fast melodeath with lots of keyboards that really add to the song, vast amounts of energy and (yet again) a really good sing along chorus. Dark Heavy Metal throws us a bit of a curve ball. This Is The Rain is a ballad that is based around a piano riff. The song is very emotive, partly due to that great piano riff and partly due to the vocal performance. The song does get a little heavier for the guitar solo, but returns to a softer sound afterwards. 

Time Is Telling is a short instrumental before the final track, Bitter End MMXXII. Bitter End MMXXII is a big and very heavy track with lots of keyboards that has an epic feel to it. The song is melodic and tuneful, but always very heavy, we get our last excellent guitar solo and it feels like a very big and powerful way to end the album. 

I must admit I had some issues with this album when I first listened to it; I wasn’t sure about the higher register harsh vocals, and the ‘Dark Metal’ tag is something I have known as a small, not very well known Black Metal sub-genre, so I was expecting some kind of depressive black metal. The album confused me. However, I don’t think any album I’ve listened to has won me over as much as Dark heavy metal. After a couple of days I started humming tunes, then I started singing along with the (excellent) choruses, and pretty soon I couldn’t wait to listen to it. 

It turns out this is a great album full of amazing tunes, great riffs, awesome solos, sublime choruses and (Mostly) great vocals, I am very happy to report I got it totally wrong, it’s fantastic. 8/10

Thursday 23 February 2023

Reviews: The Giant's Fall, Drunk MF's, Mr Trickster (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Giant's Fall - The Giants Fall (FYC Records)

An instrumental album, that serves as a soundtrack to a story that you have to create in your own mind as you listen. The Giant's Fall is an album from Mikebass (ex-Lucky Funeral, Bone to Rust) who recorded the album by himself in Crete to bring together a record of mostly instrumental, drone/doom with a huge psychedelic edge that means that these offerings are elongated numbers that rely on atmosphere and emotion rather than focused songwriting, these songs given time to build and swell with doom and stoner influences looming large. 

Based on the giant Talos from Greek mythology it's conceptual and impressive the songs evolving as you listen to them as the ominous Dark Inside leads into the bass heavy The End Of Talos, the sludge synths of the title track featuring an MLK's "Radical Revolution Of Values" speech over the top of the music. An audio journey open to interpretation  climaxing with Hades Calling an outro that has a finality to it. An intriguing debut that will draw you in to make of it what you will. 7/10

Drunk Motherfuckers - Dead End EP (FYC Records)

Dead End is the first electric EP from Nikolaos Spanakis' (Dødsferd) Southern/stoner riff rock band Drunk Motherfuckers. Released through his own Fuck Your Creation Records Label, Dead End is a short intro to what Drunk MF's are capable of with Nick (as Father W.) taking just the vocals, which are totally different to his primal shrieks in his primary band. 

Drunk MF's debut moves into the stoner scene well, four tracks of psychy, heavy rocking, with a soupiness of grunge. The guitars of Andrew and Wee locking in with the drums of Mavrikos Skarakis for some Clutch/Monster Magnet grooves on Hating Myself, while Seven Livers Wish is slower and languishes in the desert rock sound of Kyuss. These four tracks prove once again Nick is more than a single genre performer, Drunk MF's my favourite of his projects so far. 8/10

Drunk Motherfuckers - The Drunk Sessions (FYC Records)

The Drunk Sessions is the second record from Drunk MF'S and it features the self released Drunk & Wasted acoustic EP from 2009 along with one new track that has so far been unreleased. Starting with the Drunk & Wasted and it's a more laidback sound than their riffy EP, the candlelight burning as Father W. weaves his alcoholic poetry Begrimer and The Great Wise S. the guitarists here. If you remember those MTV Unplugged albums then this will have that feel, their own songs dark, moody and driven by alcohol and regret, the overarching influence being Alice In Chains. 

No wonder then why they cover Would as the closer to this 2009 recording. The additional track So Fucking Drunk features Manos G. on everything except acoustic guitar and vocals and it's an ode to being wasted, recorded while both men were totally wasted. Essentially a prequel to the Dead End EP, this is what Drunk MF'S was born out of and even in the acoustic format you know you're on to a winner. 7/10

Mr Trickster - Teach Me How The Real World Isn't (Self Released)

Proggy, grungy and with alt rock edginess, Greeks Mr Trickster want to be Faith No More, like they'd love nothing more than to be Faith No More. One listen to Land Of Tomorrow and you''l have to agree, it's a little like listening to one of those 100's of bands that a group like Faith No More would spawn, although 30 years later. 

Using progressive/jazz time signatures, Mr Trickster's music is more than your standard alt rock fayre but I can's shake the Faith No More comparisons and if ever there was band you are almost impossible to truly emulate it's one that comes from the brain of Mike Patton, that said final song River makes me think of Muse. I'm not saying Teach Me How The Real World Isn't a good EP, but it's just so similar to FNM that I found it difficult to think about anything other than, i wanted to listen to FNM. 6/10

Reviews: All My Shadows, Robin McAuley, First Signal, Creye (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

All My Shadows - Eerie Monsters (Frontiers Music Srl)

All My Shadows is the new project from Vanden Plas guitarist Stephan Lill and vocalist Andy Kuntz, Lill is longest serving member of Vanden Plas but also has a background in theatre/rock operas, which he has leaned on in this project, utilising Kuntz expansive vocals for a style that obviously has similarities to Vanden Plas of course but is quite a different beast. 

Lill says that he was inspired by the likes of Whitesnake, Ozzy and Dokken with this album, I'd also say there's a bit of Alice Cooper too but the Prince Of Darkness is probably the biggest influence on tracks such as Silent Waters, with the proggy moments obviously coming from Vanden Plas and also Queensryche. Heavily orchestrated with warm, rich production, there's a pervading darkness to this record which is deliberate, making it a fusion of 80's anthemic songwriting and modern rock muscle, the ballad Farewell a real 80's moment. Lill's guitar playing understated but explosive when needed, the rest of the band being Stephen's brother Andreas on drums, Franky R on bass and Markus Teske giving some great keys and the retro futurist production. 

They bring some punch to A Boy Without A Name, a carnival/Alice Cooper atmosphere to Syrens as Lifeforms and Wolverinized really leans on Queensryche for it's style. With all the musicians create these heavy rock tracks Kuntz vocals are pitched perfectly to handle it all. Fans of Vanden Plas will discover much to like hear but there's no required reading before you listen as it's a record that stand on it's own merit. 8/10

Robin McAuley - Alive (Frontiers Music Srl)

Anyone who can work that closely with Michael Schenker back in the day (well post MSG) and still be alive deserves all the kudos they can get. This is where the 70 year old Irish rock veteran singer Robin McAuley came to peoples attention back in the mid 80's, though he was also a member of Grand Prix, The McAuley in McAuley-Schenker Group he is still a part of the Schneker Experience performing with Schenker Fest as well and also is the voice of Frontiers signed group Black Swan.

On this second solo album he has tried to make it more rock oriented than the last one, and the riffy title track certainly lifts up your hopes that this could have quite tough edge to it. Now in Black Swan he has something of a mini supergroup but here it's the same Frontiers house team led by Alessandro Del Vecchio on keys/bass/production, that appeared on his last solo album. The remaining members of the band Italian session men who are crafting McAuley and Del Vecchio's writing into fully formed songs. Clearly inspired by the hard rock of Black Swan, Alive manages to keep that spirit of 80's rock n roll that Black Swan did with McAuley's aged, gruff vocal pitched well, never really having to venture too far outside of what is comfortable for him. 

Still Alive and kicking Robin McAuley is cranking up the volume on this second solo record, if you liked the Black Swan albums he appeared on then Alive is very much in the same spirit. 7/10

First Signal - Face Your Fears (Frontiers Music Srl)

Harry Hess of Harem Scarem has been fronting First Signal since 2010 and they have four records before this. Does this fifth do anything different to the rest of their discography? The short answer is no, but that's not a bad thing, Hess' vocal is the perfect foil for the melodic rock noise First Signal make. 

He has a soulful, emotive singing style with a bit of grit to it as well and on Face Your Fears he collaborates with producer/guitarist/vocalist Michele Guaitoli, who produces and plays bass/guitars, taking over from Dennis Ward and Daniel Flores before him, you can change the right hand man but as Zeppelin once put it "the song remains the same" and all writing is done to appease long time fans of First Signal and of course Harem Scarem who's hiatus this band was created to address. 

With Guaitoli taking over from Flores, you may think that he'd put his own spin on things but no First Signal stick to their established sound of slick numbers like Always Be There and driving rockers like Dominoes which lets Marco Pastorino let loose a little although within the AOR/melodic rock framework that First Signal exist within. If you liked the previous four albums you'll like Face Your Fear, if not then there's no big seismic shift in what they do, classy melodic rock with a great vocalist at the helm. 7/10

Creye - III: Weightless (Frontiers Music Srl)

Obviously this is the third album from Swedish band Creye, and it's the next part of their evolution as a band, following on from II, they have refined things a little more and found that they are now as potent and enjoyable as the also well refined sugar. Though on the back of that analogy Creye are not sickly in anyway, they are modern melodic rock band with a vocalist who sits in the Myles Kennedy school of passionate vocals, though moody opener Glorious doesn't really give you as good of an example as it could. 

It's about atmosphere building, the electronic beats used in Air reminding me of The Weeknd as the repeating synths of One Step Closer, backing up their position as a Scandi melodic rock band, as many of their compatriots use this synth heavy sound, but Creye are no way retro, like so many bands in the melodic rock arena. Their sound is bang up to date with a defined pop influence on tracks such as The Game, they don't forgo the rock, just let the distorted guitars, twin guitar attack for extra power and bouncy synths merge. 

If Journey didn't try to recreate Escape with every record, they could be writing stuff like Creye does, a thrilling fusion of new and old that will get broad acceptance with melodic rock fans. Stay tuned as this Swedish band have all the potential to be massive. 8/10

Reviews: Pelegrin, Oceanhoarse, Distant, Half Me (Reviews By Quinn AV4Apod, Simon Black, GC & Zak Skane)

Pelegrin - Ways Of Avicenna (Self Released) [Quinn Mattfeld/AV4Apod]

Doom is perhaps the most misleading name in the over-long and ever-growing list of metal subgenres. If one were to listen to Pelegrin’s second album Ways Of Avicenna knowing nothing about the history or development of the subgenre, they might be justifiably confused as to what exactly this music has to do with the more light-averse aspects of human fate. But then, a moment that occurs exactly three minutes and thirty-three seconds into the second track where the band descends into a riff so quintessentially doomy that Tony Iommi and Leif Edling would fight to the death for custodial rights.

Pelegrin lives in the demilitarized zone between doom metal and psych rock with bands like Elder, Kadavar, or Obsidian Sea. It’s a crowded corner of independent music and the bar for entry is very high but Pelegrin is a legitimate contender. They possess not only the musical virtuosity to write and sustain seven-plus minute tracks like the epic album closer, Forsaken Lands but the creativity and passion to elevate good songs into great ones as they do consistently on this record, including at the tail end of the opener, Madrassa, the album-standout and aforementioned Thunderstorms, and the centerpiece of the B-Side Mystical Appear (Sorry, Tony… Leif wins that one outright as the song drops heavily into its final two minutes).

The only weak point in Pelegrin’s auditory arsenal might be the near-sterility of lead singer Francois Roze’s vocals. There is no doubt, he won me over some where near the end of the first track, but there are those occasions where his voice is almost too beautiful and he sometimes benefits from sitting lower in his register (where his voice doesn’t sit as well) or adding low-end harmonies to a second track.

Irrespective of those small and possibly unique-to-me-and-only-me criticisms, Way Of Avicenna is the gorgeous, inspiring, and joyous experience that all great Doom can be.

Re-read that last sentence. See? If it weren’t for metal, those words would make absolutely no sense. 9/10

Oceanhoarse - Heads Will Roll (Noble Demon) [Simon Black]

I was quite impressed by Oceanhoarse’s debut Dead Reckoning a couple of years ago, and it’s interesting to see how their sound has developed now that the band has had a chance to actually get out on the road and tour the material. The answer is a lot. Whereas that debut had one foot firmly in the traditional metal camp, the balance has shifted to the more modern sounds that it was counterbalancing with first time round, with a healthy dollop of groove and some reliable hard rock ethos for good measure. Once I had got over the shock of that, it gave me a chance to appreciate it for what it is, which is the natural evolution as they say thank you to their influences but leave them a bit more in the background.

It’s also a much rougher and unpolished sounding record, which lends the whole thing a huge amount of energy. To be fair that was there in part first time round, but this feels more edgy, dangerous and consequently more fluid and honest-sounding. That said Joonas Kosonen’s voice is predominantly more consistently clean sounding than last time, which I think is a wise choice, because when you can sing that well, why waste time adding more extreme elements?

The raw, almost live demo feel of some of this works really well freed from some of the more precise delivery of the past. That said, there is some blisteringly tight delivery hidden underneath this superficially loose feel, with a rhythm section that you could use to calibrate an atomic clock and some brutally proficient shredding from sole guitarist Ben Varon who proves that sometime all the complex interplay and harmonies in the world don’t measure up to one really talented guitarist taking the limelight. 

Overall this flows slightly less well than its predecessor, which was difficult to put down, and maybe could have done with a bit of culling to tighten the album up, but as sophomore’s go it’s a creditable attempt that shifts the band’s sound along a notch and still leaves you wanting more. 7/10

Distant - Heritage (Century Media Records) [GC]

Here I am again and try as I might I always seem to choose deathcore albums to review, try something new I think and then I do the complete opposite and fall back on what I know, so with that in mind here is the latest album from Dutch deathcore mob Distant, Heritage and while it isn’t their first album, it is their first for new label Century Media, stepping into the big leagues here! Time to see what this lot are all about!

Acid Rain is an electronic, synth filled, ambient opener, it’s probably been made very clear from previous reviews that I have a well known hatred for instrumentals, interludes and pointless noise filling tracks so this isn’t the best way to start but, hey on we go regardless, first track proper is Paradigm Shift and it gives you exactly what you would expect big bruising beatdown chugga chugga riffs, mixed with plenty of atmospherics which seems to be the thing to do in deathcore at the minute, and honestly its starting to grate on me as it all sounds so overproduced and takes away the rawness needed to really punish the listener, its all done nicely enough but that’s the issue here, I don’t want nice I want savage rawness and punishing brutality, sigh! 

Born Of Blood doesn’t do much to convince me either, its very paint by numbers, I mean sure it’s got all the hallmarks of a decent track but it just lacks the necessary edge for it to really kick on, you can tell they have made the most of the Century Media production funds that much is for sure, The Grief Manifest does fare better as it feels they have simplified that song structure and also the production feels as if it has been drawn back and it lets some of the viciousness need finally shine through and Alan Grnja’s vocals finally shine here and show what they are capable of when the keep it simple!! 

The good run continues into Exofilth which is full of huge riffs that create a depth that has been lacking previously and the heaviness begins to take its grip and it has some decent little solos thrown if for good measure, things are looking up! That is until we get to the mammoth 7-minute Argent Justice which has guest vocals from almost every deathcore vocalist you could list, which instantly makes the song feel disjointed as there’s just too many different noises going on and because you are trying to figure out just who is singing you miss most of the music which actually ends up being dragged out and repetitive so that every vocalist in history can have a go on the track, and to be honest at the 5 minute mark I’m just bored and frustrated and the last minute of this song is pointless and should have been scrapped, it’s so boring!.

Over halfway in now and it’s been a mixed bag so far! The Gnostic, however, hits me right in the place it needs to! Its fast, heavy, full of rage and anger, they slow the pace midway, but it doesn’t take anything away form the track at all because the closing section is stuffed to the brim with guitar squeals, guttural vocals and horrible beatdowns, THIS is what I want from Distant! Best track on the album hands down!! The relentless savageness continues directly into A Sentence To Suffer which with its blasbeats and atmospherics intertwining nicely are actually complimenting each other instead of fighting for attention and the guitars are punishing and have the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the chest, beautifully done. 

Human Scum slows everything down and is heavy on the atmospherics again until it kicks in after about a minute and all subtlety is shown the door in favour of more big groove infused beatdowns and an almost grinding death metal pace that shows a complete disregard for the listeners well-being and I love it! Heritage features man on the moment Will Ramos and as he is the only guest his vocals shine as opposed to getting lost in a dick measuring contest on this black metal infused beatdown and it’s worth noting again that the synths and atmospherics actually elevate everything to another level as opposed to sounding pointlessly added at the last minute.

Unfortunately, the run is abruptly ended with Orphan Of Blight which starts of like a power metal song and proceeds to just sound messy and hashed together and frustratingly feels like it was just all thrown together at the last minute to add some padding to the run time and the last section just drags along and its all so disappointing, definitely skip this song if you’re going to listen! So the last track is Plaguebreeder which creeps into being and is full of slow, precise and stabbing riffs before unloading the final beatdowns of the albums, its all done at a more measured pace but doesn’t affect the power of the song as a whole, and then that’s it, all over.

This was probably one of the most frustrating albums I have ever reviewed and the length of this fucking review tells that story. When it was good it was a pleasure to listen to and took my breath away but when it was bad it was a fucking chore and I wanted to give up at times!! I do however believe there is more good than bad on this album and there may have been a lot of pressure riding on the fact it’s their first release on a ‘’big label’’. They will probably release better albums in the future, but for now I can only review the frustrating album in front of me. 6/10

Half Me – Soma (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

The brutality begins with Wraith when swells of pitch shifted guitar riffs whilst the tension builds up when the smooth delivery of half time grooves and snarling lyrics enter the mix before it gets halted for some thrashy riffs and good nuclear assault of blast beats. The clean choruses are there…but are followed by some punishing breakdowns. Trauma Culture shows us how groovy this band can go with it’s right hand guitar pumping purring riffs accompanied with it’s snappy Stratocaster like tone. With the punchy down beat rhythms, clanky guitar tones and snarling choruses, this track will make any slipknot fan happy. 

Distort begins with this sub bass driven electronic drum beat with is then layered throughout the song shining a new fresh tint of paint on the bands sound, especially when it is paired with some jolty messhugah styled rhythms. Magma Hour brings out the rage from the vocalist going all out from harsh mid to punishing guttural lows in a heart beat whist throwing in some clean choruses over balls to the wall arrangements from the guitars and drums making it sound like a revamped lotus eater song. 

The venom continues with the rapid pace lyrics and punishing breakdowns of Ex Negativo and the extreme but yet experimental track Proxy with the track going from intense blast beat sections to vocal coder sung bridges. The final song in the track listing Half Me brings out the songwriter side of the band which features moving passages of synths and string sound to play on the listeners heart strings, whilst utilising soaring choruses and utilizing blast beats for added suspense.

I feel what this band can do on this album can be either really good or very average, for example the meaty breakdowns and baritone tuned riffs in songs like Trauma Culture, Distort and Ex Negativo are ear punishingly good, same goes for harsh vocals. What I feel the band fall short on is the clean sung vocal passages, especially on songs like their opening track Wraith where I felt it just forces in to make the song have some commercial value just for the sake of it. 

Where as the clean sections featured on their closing track Half Me I found that the lyrics in those sections just lazy. How many songs you heard that had the soaring chorus singing the lines something like “please stay with me” in some anthemic fashion? Overall I still found this album a decent listen 7/10.

Wednesday 22 February 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Gojira (Live Review By Alex Swift)

Gojira, Cardiff International Arena, Cardiff, 17.02.23

Gojira are back in Cardiff! The first time I saw the band was in an unlikely support slot for Alter Bridge. I remember being incredibly impressed by their whiplash riffs, and deeply complex style of extreme metal. Although, I can’t say that I truly grasped what I was hearing first time. From their playing style to the transitions in their songs, they tread their own path and dare listeners to meet them on their own terms. 

However, since that day I’ve grown to revel in the viciousness of more extreme forms of metal, Gojira’s particularly as I loved the combination of progressive ideas, with the throttling intensity that you expect from the genre. So, when I was offered the chance to see them again at the last minute, I snapped up the opportunity incredibly quickly and got to Cardiff in just enough time to get down the front of the International Arena to witness Gojira’s entire set!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been at the front at a Gojira concert but its not like anything I’ve ever experienced. From the moment the countdown clock, projected on to a tall curtain ended, started a non-stop assault on the senses. I was thrown in every direction by the sheer movement of the crowd as a united force and enraptured by the volume and extremity of the music that I also experienced reverberating through my body! 

Asked by the editor of this blog if in experiencing the show I felt every organ in my body shift to the left, I noted that I had. Regardless, I loved every minute of this, which is a shock to me, as I can’t help thinking of the younger me who would have been incredibly freaked out. I’d like to think its brutal music that allowed me to overcome my fear of these sorts of environments, allowing me to experience this concert in the way that I did.

There are few moments I can point to and identify as my favourite moments of the night, yet that’s only because the concert as a whole was so impressive. Moments like the performances of L’Enfant Sauvage, The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe and Flying Whales – the later of which saw the audience chanting “Whales” in the same way a rugby crowd would chant “Wales” - were awe-inspiring in their multi-layered nature, as despite the gut-wrenching elements of this concert, moments like this emanated beauty and power, leaving the audience enthralled. 

 The ability of Gojira to imbue their music with real emotion sets them apart from other metal bands. The band's music has a purpose, as seen by singer Joe Duplantier's fervent vocals, which he performs with a heartfelt intensity. Because of this, their live performances develop into much more than simply a showcase of their musical prowess; they also serve as an outlet for the band's enthusiasm and a call to action for their fans. This is notably clear during the enormous sing-along song The Chant and even the fist-pumping moment of Our Time Is Now, which receives a great reception, despite just being released a few months prior.

Visually, the show is spellbinding. I’ve already mentioned the curtain fall trick that I’ve seen done at many different concerts, yet is no less visually striking, put to music. The prominent use of water vapour cannons accentuates the most powerful moments in the show , with giant white plumes over the audience heads. Meanwhile, the screen behind the band projects all number of surreal and elusive images, one of the most impressive moments being the short animated sci-fi film accompanying Another World being one of the most creative uses of visuals I’ve seen in a show. 

“We found a new planet, just for the four of us to live on” our frontman says at one point, gesturing to his bandmates, adding “but we came back especially for tonight”, eliciting cheers from the crowd. It’s worth pointing out though that Gojira do not need any of this – they are great enough performers that they could play a show on the strength of the music alone. The fact that they give the audience a show alongside that, shows their commitment to their craft!

Many have mused that Gojira’s progression in the size of venues they’re playing is a sign that they’re the next metal acts to headline festivals and perform in sold out stadiums when idols like Metallica and Maiden retire. However, even if the band continue to enjoy a large cult following, then those who do see them will know them as one of the greatest live acts on the circuit! 10/10

Reviews: Omega Infinty, To The Grave, Ontborg, Festerdecay (Reviews By Mark Young & GC)

Omega Infinity - The Anticurrent (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

Omega Infinity comprises Tentakel P from Todtgelichter and Xen from Ne Obliviscaris and they have come together to release what I believe is their second album via Season of Mist and it is a strong, vital effort from the them with some great guest spots too,

Drawing from the wellspring that is Phase 1 black metal for this, the second release from the two-piece Omega Infinity is surprisingly melodic and thought out and it has to be said that I couldn’t hear the link between these and say Hellhammer or Venom. I guess its in the attitude of how they play and the themes they write about as opposed to how it sounds. 

There is a great cover of Emperor included as a bonus track which just rips. It’s not brutality for brutalities sake as they navigate their way through the seven original tracks on here taking that influence and adding their own stamp to it with keys, ambient background noise and better production.

Vocally, it’s a really strong effort that doesn’t just rely on shrieks, there are some deep growling going on and fits each song. The songs where they have guest vocalists in each song where nothing is added unless it fits and makes the song stronger. Each song is separate from the one before in terms of the music within but continues to follow the concept of development that is the backbone of this album.

It’s not just a normal Black Metal release, it takes influence from early band but somehow applies a third wave filter that suggests that their ambitions go beyond that style. However, what is stopping me from giving this a higher mark is the length of the seventh track which given its twists and turns is just too long.

Overall, Its heavy, its fast, its brutal and its great. 8/10

To The Grave - Directors Cut (Unique Leader) [GC]

I didn’t get any sort of press pack for this album, (My Bad - Ed) so after a quick check online I can see that To The Grave have been around since 2010 and had a handful of releases, of which I have heard none! They are described as deathcore which is a genre that can be two things completely awesome or total dogshit, time to find out where these lads fit into it!

I almost skipped opener Warning Shot as I (wrongly) believed it would be some pointless intro track, IT IS NOT! To my joy it is actually a minute of brutal beatdown riffs, devastating drums and scattergun lyrics that mix so many styles together I don’t know what has hit me!! What a fucking start that was!! Red Dot Sight bulldozes its way through your skull next and again is full of big fat chuggy riffs and beatdowns galore and the drumming is a thing of beauty, there is not on ounce of subtlety on offer here and neither should there be as to water this type of anger down would be a crime, to try and compare it for a reference, I get a mix of Thy Art Is Murder & Emmure which is not a bad thing!

Full Sequence starts of with a squeaky, djenty string bending riff and again gets straight into the brutality courtesy of some unhinged vocals and destructive drum work, everything is turned up to maximum violence and doesn’t relent from start to finish, then B.D.T.S almost threatens to slow down the barrage as it begins with a moody spoken word intro but, before long explodes into life and I can imagine that this song live is going to be destroying venues far and wide very soon. 

Protest Sever has a big bouncy riff as the main weapon of attack and has atmospherics running through to add another layer to the pummelling and create an almost uneasy feeling while listening and the midpoint beatdown of this track to the end of the song is a work of art, hang it in the Louvre as they say! Manhunt does nothing to slow down the pace and the vocals on offer here just continue to impress and get better and better, a truly remarkable performance!

At the halfway point, I think I have only one criticism so far, if you were to pick this up for the first time and not be too familiar with deathcore you might get a bit overwhelmed and not really get it, because as much as I love this type of music it is getting slightly repetitive. Just as I say that next track Found Footage starts out as an eerie spoken track, morphs into a slow burning monster and then sprawls into a beautiful droning beast of a song and to be honest it’s kind of a relief that they are trying something slightly different but, then Axe Of Kindness is also a more straight forward death metal song and obviously does have their style all the way through it but does offer that bit more substance and variation and again the end section is just a thing of beauty! 

Reversing The Bear Trap is decent enough but just feels a bit, meh? Just didn’t really like it, seems like it might have just been an afterthought and added at last minute, Shame. Cut Off The Head is then just a straight up monster and back to what they do best big chugging riffs, bowel shaking drums and disgusting lyrics, one of the highlights of the whole album for me! Then its onto Die, Rise to close the album and unfortunately at 8:30 seconds it is far too long and although they do mix everything into one sprawling track that encompasses all they have to offer, it loses me halfway through which is a shame to end that way.

Having gone in completely blind, I was pleasantly surprised with what I heard. Sure there is not a whole ton a variety and if you want to get lost in an album this isn’t the one, this is a brutal and uncompromising fuck you , if you don’t like it I am sure To The Grave will not give on single solitary fuck and that the beauty of what is on offer here, its violent, its angry, its belligerent and most of all its fucking ace to listen too. 8/10

Ontborg - Following The Steps Of Damnation (Black Lion) [Mark Young]

Wasting no time with acoustic introductions or discordant keyboards, Ontborg kick off with the steady and dependable HM2 tone that fans of early 90s Swedish death metal will love. The one thing about these guys is that they are as far removed from Sweden as I am, hailing from Italy and I had absolutely no idea until I read about them online. The fact that they are Italian and have managed to get that Swedish sound captured is one of the great things about Ontborg.

This is their second album, having signed with Black Lion in 2022 and is one of my favourites for 2023 which considering we are only in February is remarkable. Its just pure metal, and KNOWS it is metal. It doesn’t try to reinvent the genre it just wants to show you what they can do, and it does. 

None of the songs sound contrived or by the numbers but what you do find is that even with the best exponents of Swedish melodeath and to an extent the HM2 sound, some of the tracks can lose their individuality and it is no exception here. To the North slows things down to give us a probably the most epic track here and you can imagine that live this would be an absolute stormer.

The ten tracks here show that Ontborg have done some great work, it’s not flashy or full of solos or keyboards it is just here is some heavy metal, no frills, just fast, heavy, and well executed. It could have benefited from maybe keeping the song length shorter but that is a minor quibble on my part. One thing that this album does well is the ability to make you nod your head at your desk which is always a good thing. 

They have taken not just the sound and made each song memorable; they have somehow channelled a Scandinavian feel which brings old school and new phase death metal together. 7/10

Festerdecay - Reality Rotten To The Core (Everlasting Spew Records) [GC]

As soon as you see the cover of Reality Rotten To The Core you know EXACTLY what this is going to be, basically its Symphonies Of Sickness by Carcass but in 2023. Festerdecay are from Japan and have the aim to revive goregrind, they do say imitation is the best form of flattery after all.

Starting on a wave of feedback Rotten Fester Decay then introduces the scuzzy, lo-fi, dirty riffs we heard back in 1989 and is a slow and sludgy beginning until the last minute or so that slightly picks up the pace and leads directly into Hash The Tongue which is exactly what you expect it to sound like, its fast and the riffs are again sczuzzy and the vocals sound like they have been recorded in a puddle.

Fall In Grind flows from this and slows down a bit and leads with a bass intro that sounds like it could actually be the guitars again such is the way with goregrind but when the guitars do kick in the riff is actually pretty solid and packs a decent rhythm to get to paying attention and when it kicks off the main part of the song actually ties everything together pretty well. 

Disintegration of Organs keeps on with the slowed down intro and the vocals actually stand out well here finally finding a way to shine through the muddy sound, it stays slow before blasting on from midway until the end and it’s good to also note the riffs really stand out here, Aborticide starts off with a completely unnecessary sample of a baby crying, so you know? You get that it’s violent and gory! The song itself is decent enough and grinds away nicely.

Stench Of Decay lumbers forward at 3:38 it is something of an epic, its all starts off well enough and the guitars cut and vocals slice through nicely before it all sloooooooooowssss down and we get the first proper introduction to the bass rumble that has clearly been there but struggles to compete but here it finally shines before a wail of the guitar smashes everything back together for one last hurrah and the riff at the end also shows that there is more here than you might expect, its crisp and bouncy and a real winner. Psychopharmacist is a full-on grind assault for 20 seconds before fading back in with a probably not needed ending? 

From The Dark Tomb is practically in instrumental for most of its 2:45 running time and shows they can introduce some death metal into the mix before they throw some grind in at the end for good measure. Exposing the Skin Tissue is another all out grind blast, with a great buzzsaw riff shinning and the vocals taking on a Spazz style vibe midway through which also moulds that part of the song into an old school hardcore track which made me smile. 

Carcasses Revenge is a big, brutish, swaggering monster that weaves death metal into grind and keeps a solid pace with both, probably one of, if not the best song on the album, and so next its Cryptic Wounds which is a blur of guitar wails, scuzzy riffs, muddy vocals and pounding drums, before criminally we finally get the first sub minute track of this grindcore album Liquidized Gallbladder and it’s a beauty, bass intro, smash into the verse, guitar wails, done! This album needed more of this! 

Scum’s Karma again falls back on the tried and tested lo-fi death metal meets grindcore scuzz fest. Then we get the most ‘’swallowed a medical textbook’’ track of all Reconstruction Of Malignant Miasma which is the longest track on the whole album and it’s a doozy! Big death metal riffs to start off with, more of the low-end bass rumble permeates throughout and the hardcore vocals take the lead and it’s a delight, the groove and flow continues all the way through until the end grind section which is just utter chaos and the perfect way to finish.

I really tried my best all the way through this review not to mention the C word BUT, as good as this is, I feel they sound EXACTLY like Carcass did 34 years ago which isn’t a crime but that was edgy and groundbreaking THEN, not now! While Reality Rotten To The Core is fun to listen to it, I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s been done before and doesn’t need to be rehashed. Try something new and you will be rewarded, copy something and you will be derided. Sorry boys, it was a brave and fun try but just not original enough for me to really love it. 6/10

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Reviews: Hellripper, Sarcoptes, Märvel, Mortalus (Reviews By Mark Young)

Hellripper - Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (Peaceville Records)

Black Metal looks to be forming the lion share of reviews for me in the early part of 2023 and it is something to behold. One-man black/thrash metal juggernaut Hellripper (AKA James McBain) announces itself with an early contender for the album of the year lists.

It’s that good.

Bit of background on Hellripper: Active since 2014, they have released several EP’s that were positively received, and they continued in this vein whilst building a live line up that could deliver this music to a wider audience. This is the third album which takes influence from Scottish folklore and history and is released via Peaceville Records, and it is surely to be featured on several ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year.

The Nuckelavee comes straight out of the gate with a statement of intent. It takes from the very root of black metal and just gives it the right spit and thrash with some epic solos that come across like Dave Mustaine in 86. It mixes tempo changes and riff changes without sounding tacked on or they have been written for effect. I, The Deceiver is again, full of fiendishly fast guitar work with some discordant effects going on then back onto the incendiary riffage normally associated with this genre.

Warlocks Grim And Withered Hags, starts with an almost gentle introduction straight into what will be a live classic. It has a feel to it that seems to be associated exclusively with these shores. Closer in approach to Iron Maiden (down at the back) in how an epic song should be built. Epic early solo with a motoring backing and then back into the song proper. This is precision built by someone who is has a clear vision of what he should sound like. Back on the bullet train, with Goat Vomit Nightmare, this rips like early Megadeth in its structure but with an incredibly dark tone and it is absolutely furious.

The Cursed Carrion Crown has THAT scream, oh my god just comes in and the song just takes off. This is just rapid fire but doesn’t lose any clarity. The slower section is still quick fingered and the accompanying solo under and around it is just excellent and then it enters blast beat time. The Hissing Marshes is where McBain is digging deep into his riff bag here, with nods to Metallica and Motorhead but with that black metal filter well and truly applied. Its laser focused on what made each of those and others mentioned unique and then amplified it a 1000-fold.

Poison Womb (The Curse Of The Witch) just continues the incredibly high standard of the songs before it and there is nothing, I can add to it. Somehow the riffs keep coming here on the final song; Mester Stoor Worm and it’s a battle between this and the title track as to what is my standout. I think this just edges it as it takes a dive into Opeth country complete with guttural roar and melodic guitar before coming back into the traditional vocal delivery. Its just excellent and really words do not do this justice at all.

From start to finish it is full of absolute classic takes on this phase of black metal but with a unique spin on it that comes from a strong vision of where he is from. Each of the songs has been crafted to the nth degree and they feel as though he has studied the best that this genre has to offer and said: I can do better. It is an absolute stormer of the highest order. It’s my first 10 score and I never thought that a black metal album would be the one that attained it.

Can I just repeat myself here and say: Please go and get this album in whatever media you like, tape, vinyl whatever. Support it in any way you can because Hellripper are going to be massive. 10/10

Sarcoptes - Prayers To Oblivion (Transcending Obscurity Records)

And I thought that California was the sunshine state? Coming in with their first full length effort, Sacramento natives decide to bring us some dark subject matter.

Coming in at 50 minutes for 5 songs, is this too a big ask to maintain interest? Here the answer is yes, just about. Bearing in mind I am not a fan of overly long songs just for the sake of it but here they manage get over that hill with the first track, The Trenches. With lyrical themes that touch on war, it becomes apparent that they are charting a dead path from WW1 to the 70’s battle fields and the subject matter is serious as its delivery.

Checking online, Sarcoptes are described as black metal but with an American slant which I took as being the faster end of Thrash and this is the case with each of the songs betraying a nod to both genres and taking what are the best bits of each one. Everything is in place and is done as though they are playing out of their skin. Keyboards are used just to add colour when it is needed, and the guitar is clear and crisp with drums prominent in the mix which I think is a massive plus because without that propelling force they wouldn’t hit the same.

The Trenches starts with the sound of a whistle being blown and then the audio equivalent of military bombardment starts. And for the next 14 minutes we are battered as if we are going over the top ourselves. Its fast and then goes faster. Constant blast beats and a wall of noise keeps this going with some absolute frenetic riffing. They don’t make it complicated or too technical, they just make it, so it is memorable and brutal. It just doesn’t stop. Ever.

Spanish Flu, the shortest track here but possesses a real swing to it as it navigates its way through an audio nightmare of just how bad the Spanish flu was. The music fits the narrative. There are some nods back to very early Slayer but played faster. There, I said it. Dead Silence is another long song which just starts fast and then stays there. There are some classic ascending moments and then just straight ahead thrash but without sounding tired or old hat. Keys are again employed sparingly but with a gothic, almost church like sound to them. And then they almost stop to thrown in some proper old school guitar wrangling to then bring the song in to an atmospheric end.

Tet comes next and is taken from the Tet Offensive of 1968 which occurred during the Vietnam war. And it belts out of the traps like a coordinated military offensive where you don’t know what it is happening all around you. This sounds closest to classic thrash, and it reminds me of Silent Scream in terms of the arrangement but just twice as long and just flies past.

Massacre At My Lai, the final track just eases you into battle with a slower progression and nifty pinched harmonics. It then starts to take up a steady tempo as it describes one of the worse atrocities committed during the Vietnam War. I understand that you are not here for a history lesson, nor am I here to give one but this song manages to describe the events in a way that should make you think. It’s a sustained attack that is just one of the best things I’ve heard in a while. 8/10

Märvel - Double Decade (The Sign Records)

This I did not expect. Double Decade is a compilation spanning the last twenty by this Swedish power trio with nine full length albums under their belt. Their online presence calls them the ‘Barons of High Energy Rock N’ Roll’ and that is what this is. It is unashamedly rooted in the hard rock of the 70s but with hints of glam (the heavy bits not the velvet or make-up) which makes each song and its relative influences as something you have heard before. This is in no way a disservice to them as the songs are fresh and possess that quality that makes you want to dance. If you had these booked at your wedding it would be an absolute riot.

Going back to the songs I don’t how much of each album is represented here but what it is an excellent jumping on point for new listeners especially for fans of Hendrix, Cream, Sweet, Deep Purple, The Faces, Thin Lizzy and possibly the Red-Hot Chilli Peppers which really seeps out in this collection. Each one is crafted well and keeps to a general rock blueprint, steady away drums and solo’s that fit each song and are not an exercise in excellence. There are slow ones, fast ones, and in-between ones as you might want from this style of music. It’s delivered in a way that shows they love this music and the fact they can celebrate their influences and what’s more they are spot on. There is also a hint of punk in there which again adds to the heady mix of genres on offer here. Look out for the Iron Maiden bit in Goddess On The Loose

You can’t but start smiling whilst listening because it is fun collection of songs that just want you to move. On record its good, I bet live it’s something else that would be an excellent night out especially as they keep their identities secret. Its rare for me to really dig on modern rock, I guess it’s because the bands mentioned earlier did it better than everybody else. There are exceptions in the music I listen when it isn’t thrash, death etc and I guess its because those artists somehow say something different, or they represent a period in your life, so you listen to it to maybe take you off somewhere for a while. Märvel are not ripping off these bands, its written through a very focused filter although Son Of A Gypsy has 70’s KISS written all over it.

So, to recap it is a fun collection of songs that sole intent is for you to dance. It is not an artistic statement; it is just rock. Love it. Especially the song Motherfucker. I was going to score it a 7 but then I heard Motherfucker so it’s getting an 8/10

Mortalus - We Are Human (Self Released)

Hello from Little Rock, Arkansas! Home of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Judge Reinhold and Mortalus. We are Human is their second release and are a three-piece who wear their badges of heavy metal on their sleeves. Their socials note that they are power and thrash metal so let’s see what we have.

Can I point out that power metal is not my bag?


Of the songs here only half of them hit the target, at least in my opinion. I’ll get into that later but offer the following as my justification. And obviously this is my opinion because I’m sure that somewhere someone will love this.

Battle Born has some good riffing with some decent progressions, and the singing has got that Priest edge to it but there is something not quite happening here. Not sure if it’s the drums that are sort of lost here but it affects just how the song should flow and its jarring. Not all the way through but just at certain times. The FiXX suffers in the same way to the first song it has got some good stuff happening and it's ok but doesn’t really shine.

Fearless is again another track where there is an interesting riff kicking us off and then we are into mid-tempo, foot on the monitor metal which is fine except it just seems to be missing something that would give it that push it requires to take it to make it standout. Intended Victim starts to chug, great bass introduction leading us into a great tune with a good hook and vocal line. This seems more like it, double bass, galloping riff and a cool breakdown. Better. Dearest FriEND though is a slow instrumental which doesn’t really go anywhere and slows any momentum built up.

Blood Red Sunset starts like mid 80's Ozzy and continues the good work from Intended Victim, with some impressive vocals that should have been the hallmark of this album which is followed by We Are Human which kicks off with ripping triplets and strong vocals. There is some great guitar on here and it’s a shame that we didn’t see more of it earlier. Then is that what I think it is? Yes, it is. It’s the cover that you didn’t know you needed. I hate Kenny Loggins. So if you are going to cover Danger Zone you must own, it and vocally she just about does it, but the drums seem to get lost again.

On their website a lot is made of vocalist Michelle Gann being a Cat 5 Hurricane when singing and playing guitar, but it doesn’t seem to be captured here. It might be the songs or the production but with power metal I imagined that there would be a lot more of the higher register soaring stuff happening. She is supported well enough with bass and drums, none of which are below par or out of context for each of the songs presented here, it’s just that they don’t go for the throat from the onset. You want it to absolute rip from the start to grab and engage.

It feels as though this could have been an EP instead, especially with the better material starting half-way through. The latter tracks are so much better than the ones that start and they really build upon each other as though they had been written with each other in mind. Had there been more like them then it would have got a higher score 5/10