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Friday 31 March 2023

Reviews: Demonstealer, Empyre, Morrison Graves, Dead Lakes (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Bladen, Rich Piva & Mark Young)

Demonstealer - The Propaganda Machine (Black Lion Records) [Paul Scoble]

Demonstealer is the solo project and nom-de-plume of Sahil Makhija singer and guitarist with the Indian band Demonic Resurrection. The Propaganda Machine is Demonstealer’s fourth album, the first titled ….And Chaos Will Reign was released in 2008, and their last before The Propaganda Machine was released in 2018 and was called The Last Reptilian Warrior. As this is a solo project Sahil has drafted in a collection of the great, good, and ridiculously talented, from the world of extreme metal. 

There is Hannes Grossman, James Payne, Ken Bedene and Sebastian Lanser on Drums who between then drum for Alkaloid, Triptykon, Kataklysm, Aborted and Obsidious and a whole load more bands, there is Anabelle Iratni of Veile on keyboards, Dominic ‘Forest’ Lapointe, Stian Gundersen, Martino Garattoni and Kilian Duarte on bass, from bands such as First Fragment, Blood Red Throne, You Suffer, Ne Obliviscaris and Abiotic, and Alex Baillie, Dean Paul Arnold and Sanjay Kumar on lead guitar from Cognizance, Primalfrost, and Equipoise. That's one hell of a lineup, is the material on The Propaganda Machine worthy of such an illustrious group of musicians?

The music on The Propaganda Machine all fits into a broad death metal style. Some is melodic and filled with tunefulness, some is much faster and more brutal, there is thrashy death metal and a fairly technical feel throughout. The technical feel definitely comes from the lineup that Demonstealer has assembled for this album; the drumming is superb, the solos are mouth-wateringly spectacular and full of verve, energy and melody, the bass is pretty much as impressive as the guitar work and Anabelle Iratni’s keyboards keep everything nicely atmospheric, so the guests are all excelling themselves, and the material they are playing is of a similar quality as the performances.

Opening track The Fear Campaign is a good example of the basic sound; melodic death metal with lots of keyboards to create a wall of sound effect. The verse sections are very fast and battering with harsh vocals, while the chorus has clean singing that works very well, there is a social conscious feel to most of the lyrics on the album (as you can probably tell from the song and album titles). The song has a couple of very good solos and is full of a really great energy. 

The track Screams Of The Dying is probably the fastest and most brutal song on the album, its almost ridiculously fast, battering and unhinged, Sahil uses his harsh voice and a higher register Harsh voice that is closer to black metal. The song does have some softer elements in the second half, even some clean vocals, but this track is mainly brutal. Another insanely fast track is The Anti-National, which is super fast, very tight and blasting, it has a surgical precision that I really enjoyed.

The Art Of Disinformation is an interesting song, it has a dark and brooding opening, before going into a verse section that initially feels very thrashy, before dropping into some brutal blasting. The chorus has a similar battering quality, and the songs solo is incredibly tuneful and melodic. The albums title track The Propaganda Machine has a brutal and very heavy verse section and a chorus that is almost a singalong, it should feel out of place having two such disparate parts in a song, but Demonstealer have managed to pull it off without it feeling incongruous at all.

The album comes to an end with the song Crushing The Iron Fist, which manages to be blasting but still melodic, the song has a great chorus that gets stuck in your head. It’s a great song that is a fine way to end the album. The Propaganda Machine is a great album. Considering the huge number of different musicians involved the album still feels like a complete whole, nothing feels out of place. The album sounds great, and has some really good performances, but as there are so many amazingly talented guests, this album really lives or dies on the writing, which is great, full of great tunes and is very enjoyable, as is Sahil Makhija’s performances on guitar and vocals. A very good album of (mainly) melodic death metal. 7/10

Empyre - Relentless (Kscope Records) [Matt Bladen]

Well if there's a band who deserve to be signed to Kscope records it's Empyre, favouring more of an arena rock format on their debut album, before adding a some prog to their last record, the global pandemic and other issues meant that this third offering had a much longer gestation period and because of that Relentless is their most progressive, heaviest but also most introspective album yet. Now signed to the home of The Pineapple Thief amongst others, arty, experimental music is the raison d'etre of Kscope and Empyre deliver that in spades. 

Having been compared to Alter Bridge, Soundgarden and Muse when I first pressed play on Relentless I found myself making comparisons to Norwegian art rock legends Madrugada due to the lush compositions, the slow burning tracks and Henrik Steenholdt's deep, dark, rich, sonorous voice. His vocals are a bit of an enigma in the rock world much like Madrugada's Sivert Hoyem, but I would also say there's hints of Cornell/Kennedy, David Draiman and also Bruce Springsteen too. After one listen of this album I knew it was good but what distracted me from the individual songs was how well it's sequenced. 

I'm a sucker for this kind of thing and Relentless builds from the slower, sparser songs such as the choral Parasites or the orchestral beginning of Cry Wolf weaved in between the heavier moments of the album, Cry Wolf evolves into the heavy, arena rocker. The rhythm section of Steenholdt's guitars, Grant Hockley's bass and Elliot Bale's drums are all dialled up to 11 for heavy side of the record Silence Screaming) before things slow and quieten down again towards on the beautiful closer Your Whole Life Slows. The lead guitar of Did Coles sublime no matter what style he adopts, using more lead breaks and melodies than out and out solos, much like labelmates The Pineapple Thief, though on the sombre Forget Me he gets a chance spotlight. 

There's a sadness to this album that hidden behind the huge choruses and riffs, the lyrics reflective and personal but also self depreciating with a wicked grin. The title track sets you up for what is to come, it's Empyre setting out their stall as the persistent riff will have you nodding your head from the outset before they take a slightly more contemplative approach on Walking Light, which is where those Madrugada influences come out, it's definitely a radio anthem with a Foo Fighters element to it too, Hit And Run on the other hand really reminds you why they've been compared to Alter Bridge though filtered through AOR.

Relentless is the best album of Empyre's career, their move to Kscope has made them not only a fantastic arena rock band but also one that can bring prog, grunge and alt rock to their music. Empyre are imperious on this third album, rich in emotion and drama, it's listening pleasure. 9/10

Morrison Graves - Division Rising (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

I have been enjoying the Oregon band Morrison Graves debut album, Division Rising, for a few months now, so much that it was my number four album of December last year and was on my year end top 100 list.  Since that time, I have listened to Division Rising A LOT, and it has grown on me more and more to the point that if I re-did my year end list today it probably would have been in my top 25, that’s how good it is. Now the album is being re-released (I am assuming there is now label involvement but I was struggling to find details) and I am here for this. 

The band leans towards the psych side of the house, but you have hints of post punk, doom, 80s dark alt rock, and a bunch of other cool stuff all while telling a rather important and compelling story in their own words described as “…a concept album about gentrification, displacement, homelessness, and socio-economical gaps”.  See, important stuff.  But even without the deep message, this record is an excellent musical display that sounds like a lot of things but also like nothing going on today at all. 

The first time I listened to Division Rising I said in my little Twitter group that it sounded like The Doors, which is way too easy. I was countered by the all-knowing Turbo, who said in no uncertain terms that I was sorely mistaken. That was all I needed to move away from only hearing The Doors influence and the vocals that tend to lean in old Jim’s direction and even with some of the psych leanings that his band had when they were not infuriating me with a song like Touch Me. So, try to forget about The Doors on the first spin of Division Rising and immerse yourself in the psych goodness of tracks like Demolition Man and the opening track Crane Song which is very Black Angels-esque. 

Yeah he can sound like the band’s namesake (Hey, ho, the city’s on fire…) but there is so much more to this album. Listen to a track like Invincible and try to tell me it doesn’t make you float around and see all sorts of colours. Killer psych guitars open the awesome track The Tunnel and continues on the journey and struggle of the common man just trying to get by and live their life and all the pitfalls that go along with that. 

In addition to the killer modern psych you get one of the song titles of the year, And If Your Car Alarm Keeps Going Off, I'll Smash Out Your Fucking Window which is not just a great song name but a killer track as well. Bent Beyond The Break brings keys to the gathering (not a party, too chill and deep to be a party) and is definitely more towards the post punk side. There are no clunkers on Division Rising and is best listened all the way though as a full piece.

So, yeah, go listen to this record end to end because if you like the psych stuff, killer concept albums, swirly guitars, and some serious Black Angels vibes, this will knock you for a loop. Not sure what the rules are, but if this can be on my 2023 end of year list it will be, much closer to the top this year than last year. 9/10

Dead Lakes - Daydreamer (Sharp Tone Records) [Mark Young]

Daydreamer is the debut full-length release by Dead Lakes and is possibly something that I never want to expose myself too ever again. If there ever was a release which exposed the gap between the heavy music I grew up on and continue to listen to then this is it. It is likely that I should not be left anywhere near this because I have nothing good to say about it.

At all.

So, let’s get the positives out of the way. I think it’s aimed at a certain section of young society who wave their arms in the air at gigs whilst sort of swaying on the spot. It will appeal to those who like the extremely lighter side of guitar driven music. It reminds me of those stages on Pop Idol where they have the rock week, and they all pick a song to murder. I can’t fault the production, or how it sounds because there has been a lot of attention to how the album flows from one song to another. As I understand it is meant as a soundtrack to a road journey and you will hear this everywhere in summertime.
Negatives then; It is exactly like a boy band who all play their instruments. The songs just feel as though N-Synch, 5ive etc could have released. You have the strong vocals, the whispered vocals, the rap vocals (auto-tuned?) whilst a barely-there guitar follows a predictable sequence and the whole thing just screams GROWN IN A LAB. There is no heart, it comes across as sterile and I just hate it.

I feel terrible in having to write this as I am sure they are all lovely lads and there will be an audience for this, but it is not me. This is possibly one of the worst things I’ve had to sit through, and I took my kids to watch Little Mix. 4/10

Thursday 30 March 2023

Reviews: Desert Storm, Isaak, Heezer, Wasted Death (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

Desert Storm - Death Rattle (APF Records) [Matt Bladen]

After 15 years of doggedly touring and recording four piece riff masters Desert Storm are now considered to be leaders in their field. The Oxford natives are a key part of numerous APF Records signees but it's Desert Storm that is the mothership for many of these bands, becoming the keystone of the Oxford scene. Having started life as grooving stoner rock band, Desert Storm now inhabit a denser, more progressive musical space, layered with space rock textures, sludge heaviness but always enslaved by a great riff. 

Starting with 2018's Sentinels and then becoming more pronounced on 2020's Omens the band have shifted their sound into something uniquely there own, casting off comparisons to bands such as Orange Goblin, Desert Storm now sound like Desert Storm and on Death Rattle they have again solidified their position on the UK metal hierarchy. Direct and to the point but with hidden layers that become audible with frequent plays Death Rattle is the most personal journey for the band yet but fuses this with some eclectic compositions. 

Perhaps more experimental than Omens, the break in their touring activities meant that the writing stage was both forward looking and retrospective as there's plenty of the 'new' Desert Storm but also some stompers that have been born from their early years, Matthew Ryan using both his snarling bellow and his cleaner warmer tones to great effect. The potent bottom end of Matthew Dennett (bass) and Elliot Cole (drums) untied together in groove, steering the tracks through their changes, as well as keeping things locked down tight when needed. Elliott's brother Ryan peels off the riffs, taking flight into orbit before grounding things again with lots of fuzz. 

The progressive nature of this particular beast means that nothing is off limits but they always root themselves in the stoner sound, just branching off it instead of detaching completely. As far as favourite songs go, personally I love the way Bad Trip uses repetition to hammer home it's riff, while Druid's Heath and the final part of Insomniac bring psychedelic wanderings, Melatone meanwhile has Floydian tendencies in the lead guitars. 

It's hard to imagine how Desert Storm will better this album as it's about as perfect as it gets for fans of proggy stoner metal. Death Rattle is nowhere near their last breath, it's proof that Desert Storm are still bursting with life! 9/10

Isaak - Hey (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

The Italian stoner rock band Isaak is back and is bringing the riffs and songwriting on their third album, Hey. You don’t hear a ton about these guys, but their first two records are killer and now teaming with the monster stoner label Heavy Psych Sounds it’s time for the band to take it to the next level, and Hey delivers on that. The production on Hey is excellent and perfect for the band’s riff attack, which starts off right away with the instrumental stoner kick in the head Miracle B, which is an excellent track musically but inexplicably is three minutes of the Mircale Blade infomercial over said rock. I didn’t really get the joke, but sometimes I am slow...but what is not slow is the real killer opening track.

Hey, which kicks so much ass and is one of their best songs so far in their discography. So much upbeat rock energy on the track, which then steps it up even more with the next track, OBG, which is even faster. The vocals are perfect for what the band is putting out, and OBG is the perfect example. Under all the killer stoner jams are dare I say some serious melody. Oh, and did I mention the riffs? The fuzzy guitar on OBG is outstanding as well. A killer one two punch that will stand up to any other two tracks on a record that comes out this year. 

The next track, Except, slows it down a bit, but not much, and is more grunge than stoner, and oh yeah it rules. Rotten picks the pace back up and toes the line between stoner and grunge, and reminds me a bit of a Tad track, vocals and all, which of course is a really good thing. The background vocals on Rotten really add something to the track as well. Over The Edge is another excellent riff fest, but with that upbeat stoner gallop you have some cool psych guitars swirling about. This may be lyrically my favourite track on Hey. I can’t help but hear a lot of the second or third tier Seattle bands when listening to Hey (in popularity, not in quality) and tracks like Dormouse and Taste 2.0 are perfect examples. 

Fake It Till You Make It still has killer energy, but somehow turns down the heavy but in the best possible way. I don’t want to call this their version of a pop song but maybe let’s say if they were going to have a radio hit it would be this song, but by no means does this make this track weaker than the others, it just seems to float a bit more than the others on Hey. This is a compliment. The second half of Hey is just as killer as the first, closing strongly with the energetic and catchy Sleepwalker, which somehow reminds me of Stone Temple Pilots but tuned down a view notches (again, compliment and I may be crazy here...) and Goodbyes Are Always Sad, which is pretty deep lyrically and is the most emotionally heavy track on Hey

What a killer way to close out this outstanding album. Isaak have hit a home run with Hey. End to end, this record rocks, and the fans of the stoner/heavy grunge stuff are going to eat this up. I may have even thought about a 10 here if it were not for the strange choice of openers, but regardless this will be in the upper echelon of many people’s year end list for sure. So many riffs and perfectly executed musically and production wise, this is a must hear, but play it loud and try not to break stuff. 9/10

Heezer - Sungrinder (Argonauta Records) [Rich Piva]

There is no shortage of really good to great stoner/desert/grunge bands out there today and Fins from Heezer fall into this category for sure. Their debut EP from 2021 was excellent, so anticipation was high for me for their debut full length, Sungrinder. Well, the band did not disappoint, giving us nine catchy as hell 90s leaning alt/grunge with stoner leaning tunes that will leave folks who dig that vibe wanting more. I say 90s leaning but I think I mean more like 90s worshipping. I hear hints of STP, Gruntruck, Bush, Foos, and some of the other bands of that ilk, while incorporating some of the stoner elements and even some more of the straight-ahead alt rock of that time. A perfect example of this is the song 2009, where you get a bit of all those things listed above in above tied up in a nice three minute bow. 

The opener, Fourth Line, brings that catchy I mentioned and where I got the STP comparison from. Spacegod leans a bit more on the stoner side, but the riff reminds me of something Gavin Rossdale wrote when he was still writing good stuff, partnered with some nice layer vocals and that catchiness you get throughout Sungrinder. Dream Machine is where I picked up the 90s alt rock side of things, as this could have absolutely been played on the radio in 1997 right next to a Foo Fighters song, or for those who like good but obscure stuff, this sounds like something from Liars, Inc. Sorry for the deep cut, but musically they are a nice pairing as well as with the vocal harmonies. 

Heezer gets a bit more aggressive on the definitely more stoner leaning track Sunshine, with a killer riff and some low end goodness. This may be my favourite track on the album. Red Giant also brings the riff and more of the heavy, but never without being catchy with I think is attributed to the vocal stylings and pop sensibilities Heezer brings to the party. Mother Rain sounds like a My Sisters Machine B-side (a good thing) and I would not be surprised if these guys had some Therapy? CDs in their collection listening to a track like Growing On. I The Sun has some serious STP vibes as a closer, especially the drums, harking back to the closer on Core, Where The River Goes.

So why is this not higher than an eight? To me this record is a bit too 90s, in that it is too clean production wise. I would love some more filth from the band, because when they bring the heavy I really dig it, but this is a personal preference as I think every album released could turn down the production a notch or two for the most part. Sungrinder is going to be loved by many, given fans of what I listed above are always looking for more of what they loved back in the day. Heezer is not here for a retro party; these guys have put their own spin on some classic styles and produced a real winner with Sungrinder. Good stuff for sure. 8/10

Wasted Death - The Prequel To Evil EP (APF Records) [Matt Bladen]

No press, no warning just pissed off punk metal on this surprise EP from East London ragers Wasted Death. Having been formed in lockdown by Wayne Adams (Big Lad/Petbrick), Charlie Davis (Beggar) and Tom Brewins (USA Nails) their debut was released by APF in 2021 but they have now returned with some more ultra-violent noise. 

Davis' crazed vocals and abrasive bass are joined by the blasting drums of Tom Brewins and Wayne Adams attacks his guitar like it owes him money. A bit like Motorhead jamming with Napalm Death The Prequel To Evil has a simple but brutal beauty, the three tracks mixing crossover thrash with grind and snarling punk rock. It'll make your ears bleed I'm a good way. 7/10

Reviews: Sermon, Rotten Sound, Allfather, Netherlands (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Richard Oliver, GC & Quinn @AV4APod)

Sermon - Of Golden Verse (Prosthetic Records) [Matt Bladen]

*Disclaimer that this is not the Sermon from Turkey we reviewed a few weeks ago*

Having to write this album review a second time as I deleted the earlier version like the moron that I am I've had a chance to re-listen another few times and this is definitely the best album that's been released this year.

It's seriously stunning, and my options were to leave it there with a perfect score, or to explain why. I of course chose the latter (I'm not one to shut up when I can talk about something I love), the first reason I love this album is that I hear influences from some of my favourite bands such as Opeth, Amorphis, Vola, Leprous and even Tool, evocative and introspective but also thrilling and anthemic, Of Golden Verse is bigger, bolder and braver than its 2019 predecessor in multiple ways. 

That debut was loved, their one live show appreciated but this is an album that needs to be adored. The mysterious Him is the creative force, main songwriter and pretty much everything you hear on this record, recruiting drummer James Stewart and producer Scott Atkins to round out this triumvirate, it's Him that writes and records the material then Stewart adapts and changes the drum patterns while Atkins brings a sonic sucker punch. 

Bringing in Stewart is a genius move as his drumming is phenomenal, adding a new dimension to many of these tracks, from the black metal blastbeats of closer Departure to the tribalism of the raging technical thrash of Wake The Silent, his percussion is brilliantly used on the galloping dissonance of Royal as well the getting funky on the progressive grooving of The Distance

With James behind the kit it just lifts the entire record to new level, the production work of Atkins creating a pin sharp sound that lets the instruments live a little without sacrificing intensity or the cinematic quality. Born from the discontent and anger Him felt during the last few years, his emotions poured into his songwriting which is why Of Golden Verse feels so exasperated and vexed. 

The Great Marsh sets the scene perfectly, building the bile into Royal, where Him pairs a chugging riff with some gothic synths, in the style of Tool, sneering and snorting at what the world has become, Him vocally bellowing a call to arms, using clean vocals for the majority, only roaring or growling when it's called for, but for me the clean, exasperated vocals fit the intelligent music much more. 

"The whole thing is just about abuses of power" says Him about this album, but with the use of analogies it's open to interpretation. Light The Witch perhaps more literal than most. What isn't open to interpretation though is the quality of the musicianship, a 'progressive' album where nothing is off limits. The use of synths to weave throughout the songs is seamless, they move to the front of your mind on the little interludes such as In Black or Centre, they are atmospheric and pitched to change the tone of the record. 

The guitars too do this with the heaviest riffs the band have produced on propulsive tracks such as Golden, put against the traditional Porcupine Tree flourishes of the poignant Senescence which lingers in your mind due to its use of voice and restraint. The synths used well to conjure the haunting atmosphere, this blissful aura, destroyed by the heaviest track on the album Wake The Silent, which makes me think of Opeth. 

Of Golden Verse is an album that I listened to multiple times but unlike with other albums I review, these listens were simultaneous. I stopped whatever else I was doing and immersed myself in Sermons music (much to my wife's chagrin), but special releases like this don't come around very often. You NEED this album in your life. It can only be given a perfect score! So here's it is. 10/10

Rotten Sound - Apocalypse (Season Of Mist) [Richard Oliver]

Grindcore can be a very single minded genre with its sheer focus on speed, aggression and intensity.  This can both work in a bands favour and can work against them depending on the strength of the material as grind can be very repetitive. One band who (in my opinion) seem to be a step above most grindcore bands are Finnish grind bastards Rotten Sound who have been releasing some of the most impressively blistering grind since the bands formation in 1993.

The band are releasing their eighth full length album Apocalypse and it sees the band on truly ferocious form being one of the band’s shortest albums with a running time of just under 21 minutes and 18 songs. It is very much a case of quality over quantity and Apocalypse is an album that is a cutting commentary and impassioned scream over the current state of the world and humanity. It is album that does not pause for breath bristling with sheer rage and intensity from its opening to its closing moments with tunes such as Pacify, Renewables and Denialist blasting out of your speakers with the subtlety of a nuclear explosion shockwave.  

As with previous Rotten Sound albums there are also moments of death metal groove as well as crust punk amongst the grinding chaos which give a momentary reprieve from the blasting chaos whilst losing none of the intensity. The band are on fine form with Apocalypse marking the recording debut of bassist Matti Raappana who joined the band in 2021. He also provides some vocals with his vocals working as a nice accompaniment to the throat shredding screams of frontman Keijo Niinimaa.  Guitarist Mika Aalto delivers a barrage of crushing riffs with a suitably filthy guitar tone making everything sound as nasty as possible whilst drummer Sami Latva obliterates everything in his path with some truly insane blast beats.

If you have heard Rotten Sound before then you will have a good idea of what to expect with Apocalypse and it most certainly won’t disappoint, marking a welcome return for the band who last released an album in 2016. Grindcore may be restrained by its limitations and repetitiveness but when Rotten Sound make it sound as good as this then who really cares. A truly ferocious album that comes recommended if you need help waking up first thing in the morning. 8/10 

Allfather - A Violent Truth (Self Released) [GC]

It’s been a while since we had any new material from Allfather because like so many other bands before them that Covid thing took away the best part of 2 years now, after trying and slipping up, we finally have a new album A Violent Truth.

Kicking off in style we have the hardcore stomp of Poison Soil full of thunderous riffs and grooving drums and suitably angry vocals delivered with venom and spite, all spiced up with some wonderful guitar solos to really tie the song together beautifully before a slow and tension filled end section drags you kicking and screaming into Black Lungs which follows directly on with a slow and tense start before exploding into life with a savage and cutting thrashy riff that then descends into more hardcore/d-beat pounding and it has a huge mid-section riff that just takes you onto another level of enjoyment and the vocal performance on this song is just fantastically savage again. 

We then get to lead single Take Their Eyes which has a majestic and purposeful opening as if to say we are here to make a point and you WILL listen, and listen I do because this is an absolute bastard of a song! Full of furious anger filled vocals and more earworm riffs that will stick in the mind long after you have heard this song and the solos are again placed to perfection and really compliment everything and the bottom end bass and drums are the solid backbone on which such a fantastic track is built, a pure joy and bound to be a live favourite for many years to come!

A False Peace is a brief moment of calm and serenity before the blackened thrash of The Hunt Infernal  towers into life and this new variety mixes beautifully with the stompy hardcore to produce something of terrifying viciousness that grabs hold of you and continues to pound and beat you in so many different ways, the variation of styles this song offers is the beauty of it as you are never really sure what is coming next and that feeling of the unknown is just what you need because what they then give you is always just what you wanted, stunning song writing. 

Before I have even really had time to gather myself and prepare for the end section of the album, I am in fact at the last song already and Cast Off The Cross is a perfect way to end, the thrash riff/vocal centred opening leads nicely into one final dose of massive riffs and thundering rhythm that stops its pace midway through and proceeds to build towards what can only be described as a fucking beast of a solo and an epic and textured wall of sound that has been present throughout the full album but they have definitely saved the best for last as you just close your eyes and get lost in the whole wonderful noise and it’s really just the perfect way to end.

This was over way to quickly for my liking and should have had at least another 2 or 3 tracks but, what Allfather have given us on A Violent Truth is a truly wonderful display of what they are capable of and you just hear that everything on hear is full of anger and passion that is delivered masterfully. The UK has a truly magnificent metal scene at the minute and Allfather have just announced that they are here and ready to be a front runner of this current crop of marvellous talent and on this showing who would bet against them? 9/10

Netherlands – Severance (Svart Records) [Quinn Mattfeld @AV4APod]

Having never listened to Netherlands before, upon the first "OOWAT!" I was, needless to say, worried... After all, that puts me just one "AH-AH-AH!" away from a Disturbed song. I feared for the next half our of my life. 

But sometimes being a musically illiterate troglodyte pays off as Netherlands brand of infectious weirdness came as a wonderful surprise. More like the bastard child of Intronaut and Rage Against the Machine (please don’t ask about conception) Netherlands layers heavy-synth low-end riffs under Timo Ellis’ haunting falsetto with the occasional metal growl or, as in the album single Omisha, something closer to verse from a Zack de la Rocha. But Netherlands is smart enough and savvy enough not to just drop a rhyme and call it hip hop. The vocal is more like a rhythmic attack that only echoes Rage’s—well, rage, book ending a track that stomps on the fine-line between metal and hip hop in a bizarrely satisfying manner. 

Once they land on the title track to Severance, the Brooklyn-based duo’s sixth LP, we are in full metal mode: the low-end is pure brutality and Ellis’ Homme-esque falsetto that creeps onto the track with “I lost the dream / To the machine” soon falls into a doomy cadence more akin to Conan than Queens Of The Stone Age. 

Their politics float to the surface with songs like Animal Insults and Goons, a deftly worded assault on bro-culture that includes observations like, “They’ll sink the ship to not lose face / There’s no incentive to give up power / They’ll kill the world to not feel shame…” The one-two combination of the final tracks include Silencio in which Netherlands shows off the breadth of their musical talents, sounding more like MGMT than Megadeth, and Celia’s Mansion which returns us to the dissonant heaviness of a YOB or OM or some other Doomish outfit made of all caps. 

There is some filler; Glow_Stick didn’t need to be included but it does transition the album well from the meat of the B-Side to the record’s final offerings. Ultimately, Severance seems to be another good-to-great album in the burgeoning discography of Netherlands and if you can get through the occasional terror that you’re about to come down with a certain sickness… you will be mightily rewarded for your bravery. 8/10   

Wednesday 29 March 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Fury & Rites To Ruin (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Fury & Rites To Ruin, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff, 25.03.23

In a repeat of a gig from last year, Midlands based heavy rockers Fury (9) and Wales based metal band Rites To Ruin (8) again stormed the Fuel Rock Club stage. Performing to a decent crowd on a night Wales' Football team was also playing showed the draw of both bands.

With their shared history and membership there was a lot of love and camaraderie in the air as Rites To Ruin took to the stage, singer Krissie commanding the stage from moment one, her voice is extremely powerful, even audible when then power cut out towards the end of the set.

The band behind her are more cohesive and skillful each time I see them, the love of performing and teasing each other clear to all. Playing I think all tracks from their 2021 EP there was the newer song all about D&D which is currently very en vogue and we were also treated to a brand new song which bodes well for any new material.

Finishing with a flourish it was a short changeover and time for Fury to show that even the loss of their lead guitar player can't stifle them as Tom Atkinson from Manchester thrahsers was the guest guitarist for these shows until they announce their new permenant axe slinger. Tom is a great player getting several solo opportunities to display his chops..

Again taking their set mainly from The Grand Prize and Born To Sin, they did throw in a few surprises to shake things up with The Prince Of Darkness from The Lighting Dream given an outing, Nyah Ifill taking lead vocals for this track in what maybe part of future direction for the band from what I've seen. The vocals shared by Julian Jenkins and Nyah throughout, but especially on Rock Lives In My Soul.

We also got the excellent ballads Shadows And Dust and Upon A Lonesome Tide which break up the outright rocking but it's songs such as Embrace The Demons, Burnout and It's Rock N Roll that were driven by the drums of Tom (Two Speeds) Fenn and Beck Baldwin's 'Rickenbecky' bass rhythms.

At the encore it was a a surprise cover of Burning Love made famous Elvis Presley that invited some smiles, the hunk o' burning love himself JJ giving it some gusto before the now traditional set closer of Casino Soleil closed the set properly as the punters for the Saturday club night poured in.

Both bands kicked ass on this wet Saturday evening. Good luck to Rites To Ruin in this year's South Wales Metal To The Masses, if there's any justice they'll reach the final. Fury especially played one of the best sets I've seen them do, full of fun and big sing-alongs they're a band that need much more exposure and to start playing bigger rooms asap.

Reviews: August Burns Red, Shores Of Null, Cruachan, Grande Royale (Reviews By Zak Skane, Quinn @AV4APod, James Jackson & Rich Piva)

August Burns Red – Death Below (Sharptone Records) [Zak Skane]

Entering our journey we begin with the experimental intro track Premonition which introduces the listener to slide guitar lead lines, surf inspired clean sounding chords and when we get our first verses from the album that are delivered in the form of slam poetry. Jake Luhrs still performed every lyric with passion til the band tails this song with the back metal gaze.

The Cleansing greets us with Matt Greiner providing us with one of the many incredible drum fills before we get more black metal energy with my ear drums being pummelled with layered chords and blast beats before we get the classic August Burns Red technical metal core riffs from guitarists John Benjamin "JB" Brubaker and Brent Rambler along side gender bending clean sections and a key changing outro.

With the guest appearance of Killswitch Engage's Jesse Leech in Ancestry, the lyrical themes delve into the themes of grieving and loss. Jesse’s and Jake lyrical trade off on this album is really treat that us metal heads never though we deserved. The swinging rhythms of Tightrope keep the heads bobbing with it’s swinging grooves, Jason Richarson's guest lead performance glides through the track at break neck speeds implicating everything tapping legato in one fell swoop.

One of my personal highlights is their experimental piece Fools Gold In A Bear Trap with it’s hauntingly chilling guitars accompanied by experimental snare rolls, and grinding bass lines before we are shrouded by shoe gazed guitar layers blast beats before it transcends back into swinging metalcore assault with Backfire. The guitar riffs ascend like the stairway to heaven and descend like the highway to hell, the thunderous brutality of breakdown match Jake's demonic range perfectly make this track a complete nuclear assault.

Other highlights on this album are Dark Divide which channels their Gojira influences with it’s heavy aggressive chugging, pick scraping and razor sharp harmonics alongside eastern sound samples and droning choirs. The catchy yet dark brutality of Deadbolt will keep the choruses haunting you for days, the space, stoner rock inspired introduction to the layered lead lines of The Abyss.

The closing track Reckoning takes us back to classic August Burns Red with Matt drum wizardry and classic crushing breakdowns whilst delivering modern edge with djenty percussive picking from John Benjamin "JB" Brubaker, and Brent Rambler and the Dark glass crushing bass tone from Dustin Davidson.

August Burns Red have always had a consistent discography stemming from their cult release Messengers in 2007. From the start to finish the band still deliver their brand of technical/progressive metalcore. From the classic trading guitar lines on songs like Ancestry, Backfire, Tightrope and the crushing brutal riffs of Deadbolt to the genre bending moments of the slide guitars of Promotion, the surf sounding guitars of Fools Gold In A Bear Trap and the stoner rock introduction on The Abyss leave listeners on their seat.

This is August Burns Red still doing to what they do best, which is delivering their A game and melting minds. 10/10

Shores Of Null – The Loss Of Beauty (Spikerot Records) [Quinn Mattfeld @AV4APod]

One of the things I frequently insist on to people that I don’t know in the grocery store, is that one ought to be able to differentiate between music that is their “favorite” and music that they think is the “best.” The first is subjective and the second is objective. For example, Abbey Road is my favourite Beatles album, but their best is likely Revolver or Sgt. Pepper. So, I put my obnoxious musical proclivities to the test and gave myself a challenge in reviewing an album that lives outside of my own personal tastes.

Shores Of Null is a melodic doom band which is different than the doom I typically prefer, as the emotional core of the music is right up on the surface of its sound. That’s not to say that it’s superficial, but rather, melodic doom is making no attempt to conceal the emotional impetus for the music they make. The sorrow, beauty, joy, and heartbreak are all immediately present to the listener and it seems on their latest record, The Loss Of Beauty, the Rome-based quintet have mastered their methods… maybe a little too well.

The opening track, Destination Woe feels like an unhinged flood gate of feeling and the album only soars upward from there, reaching something of an emotional apex on the gorgeous and deeply moving The Last Flower. It is entirely possible that becoming burnt out on the sheer amount of feeling that comes through the record is more of a ‘me’ problem, than it is a Shores Of Null problem. 

Objectively, though (best not favourite) the album starts to feel a bit homogeneous at this point and I find myself wishing that they could find another way to elevate the intensity of their songs than soaring operatic vocals over the doom-version of a blast beat. 

Moments certainly stand out like the chorus of Nothing Left To Burn and My Darkest Years, both highlights and examples of this particular strain of metal’s undeniable virtues but I did have to check the track listing as the album transitions into Old Scars because upon each and every listen, I was certain the band just injected a two-second pause into a single song.

The Loss Of Beauty is occasionally too monotonous for my tastes but then, that may have more to do with my taste than it does with what is an expertly executed record by a band that knows exactly who their audience is… or ought to be. 8/10

Cruachan - The Living And The Dead (Despotz Records) [James Jackson]

I quite liked the idea of this, Celtic Folk Metal has a certain ring to it, I’ve recently been listening to a few Folk Metal bands and whilst it’s easy to discern the folk elements the metal aspect hasn’t been as obvious; perhaps it’s more about attitude and aesthetic as it is the more traditional sound we associate with Metal.

That’s not the case with The Living And The Dead, opening track The Living is a wall of guitar, drums and a violin which takes the lead in this full on instrumental piece. Following that is The Queen, and it’s a galloping riff that opens this track, that quickly evolves into the metal equivalent of a bard regaling the unwashed masses before a roaring fire, it’s not my cup of tea in all honesty especially when a black metal style vocal kicks in. I like black metal, though my tastes veer towards the more symphonic rather than the raw, cult material but there’s a time and a place for that kind of vocal style and I don’t particularly think it’s here.

The Hawthorn opens to a very folksy fiddle/violin led melody complete with acoustic guitar and whistling, this is Folk music, if you were to imagine what it’d sound like then this, complete with the vocalists Irish twang, is it; this is the soundtrack to a Tolkien inspired buddy movie, well up until the “Metal” hits and that acoustic melody is ramped up to 11 and the vocals get serious. The next track is called The Harvest and whilst I’ve seen blood soaked movies with similar titles, this is literally about the toils and tools of Harvest.

Lyrically it reminds me of school assembly, musically it’s doing what it says on the tin: it’s Folk AND it’s metal.There are moments within the album, the metal ones then, that are pretty solid, these guys have been around for quite awhile but it’s a hard sell, to combine something so quaint, something that conjures up images of maypole dancing, school assemblies and tins of fruit - why did we take tins of fruit into school for Harvest - and to successfully combine it with a very traditional example of heavy metal riffs and vocal lines.

There is a cracking bass line in The Ghost, I’m learning to play so a bass lead will always win my heart but generally this is a pass for me, I don’t mind the Folk music but in moderation, if I was sipping a Guinness in the Emerald Isle then I’d be in my element but I’m not quite sure of the melding of genre here. If anything I was quite enjoying The Crow, seventh track upon the album UNTIL the Metal came in. Think it’s time to dig out those Corrs albums. 5/10

Grande Royale - Welcome To Grime Town (The Sign Records) [Rich Piva]

Grande Royale is a band that has escaped me up until this point. I grabbed the promo out of curiosity on the initial description, and it turns out I have been missing some serious rock and roll fun all of these years. The Swedish band play a blend of energetic straight-ahead rock with some garage, punk, blues, glam, and classic rock influences. Nothing too flashy or unique to see here…but what the band produces on their sixth (!) album, Welcome To Grime Town, is fun, catchy, well executed, if not terribly memorable and not going to break down any musical barriers, but you will certainly get you and move around when the record is blasting out of your speakers.

You get the energetic blues punk of Status Doom. The sing along, straight ahead rocker Tell Me. Some 70s inspired rock with Run Officer Run. A song that reminds me of Hanoi Rocks in Freak Parade. The production sounds good but is a bit clean for me and the musicianship is fine for what this is. If this is your sort of thing you will dig all twelve tracks on Welcome To Grime Town, where the band leverages several different genres and influences but never stray to far from that formula, where if you dig it, your will listen to this party album on repeat. If you are looking for something more cerebral, I would head towards some kind of Post-Something band because this is not that, in the best possible way.

A fun rock and roll party that keeps the theme of this Grande Royale going over the six records in their catalog. Nothing new, but if you are in the mood for an upbeat, danceable rock and roll record check out Welcome To Grime Town. 7/10

Tuesday 28 March 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Haken & Between The Buried And Me (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Haken, Between The Buried And Me & Cryptodira, SWX, Bristol, 23.03.23

A wonderful prog smorgasbord of a gig that had been touring Europe under the name Island In Limbo finally hit the UK at SWX in Bristol. I'm a little in love with this venue and I love watching prog metal bands there so to see these three acts pumping through this clubs great sound system was much more appealing than watching Blackie Lawless in the awful O2 Academy across the city.

First up were New York progressive death/post metal band Cryptodira (7) who open the show up with aggression taking most of their five song set from their 2020 album The Angel Of History, the roared vocals and death metal stylings made sure they were the heaviest band on the bill, playing to a smaller crowd due to how early they started. Long, sprawling songs that drew the crowd in with their set as a aperitif to the main course.

That main course was essentially a co-headline set from two of the prog worlds most important bands, first out were North Carolina's purveyors of the weird and wonderful Between The Buried And Me (8) riding high on their last studio release and sequel to their seminal Colors, most of the set was drawn from Colors II including the incredible The Future Is Behind Us which is one of my favourite tracks on the record.

Vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Rogers is a dynamo on stage conducting this avant-garde cacophony of noise with his scintillating synth playing and varied vocals that soar high one minute and growl low the next, Dan Briggs adding more synth along with bass that locks in with drummer Blake Richardson.

The guitar duo of Paul Waggoner (lead) and Dustie Waring (rhythm) bring shifting riffs and solos that switch at seemingly random through the jazz, death metal, hardcore, prog rock that makes up BTBAM's DNA. The only thing I find with the band is that live their songs all filter into one another, which I suppose is part of their allure as a band, the connectivity in their music, but it makes it a little harder to decipher of you're not a super fan.

Closing out their show with Voice Of Trespass BTBAM were greeted by a now almost full venue who had just witnessed one of the most inventive bands in their genre.

With the lights dark and the time almost near Baha Men's Who Let The Dogs Out? Blasted out of the P.A much to the amusement of the corwd who sang it back heartily. After getting almost the entire song the backdrop was projected and it was time for the UK part of this Island In Limbo tour the ever impressive Haken (9).

Getting heavy from the first minutes Prosthetic and Invasion from Virus (an album they did not get much of a chance to tour) got things going as the Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths' muscular, groovy riffs stirred a positive reaction from the crowd. The whole band decked out in Hawaiian shirts linking to themes behind their new album Fauna. Fauna is probably the bands grooviest record yet tracks such as Alphabet Of Me were designed to get you to shake your hips and shake they did. Well the people in front of me anyway.

Connor Green and Raymond Hearne give the rhythm section that can be loud and explosive one minute then full of funk grooves the next as euphoric Falling Back To Earth was the first true showcase of Ross Jennings' amazing vocals (as it nearly always is).

Using Taurus from the new album to link into the keyboard heavy The Endless Knot from Affinity, was a brilliant way to re-introduce original keyboard player Peter Jones to the band. I mentioned in the album review he has his own style and this much more obvious when they play live, tweaking the solos of his predecessor to make them his own.

After The Endless Knot was the Phil Collins inspired Lovebite, a zombie love song that uses the Easy Lover riff to underpin all the prog going on, this led to Carousel which ended the first part of the evening. The encore was the five part, 16 minute Messiah Complex Suite from Virus, this tour being the first time it was played live and it kept the crowd enthralled for it's sprawling length.

With the close of Part V it was time to end, a huge applause for this well drilled, entertaining act who bring the party to prog with every gig. I can't wait to see them at Radar Festival again later this year, as on the evidence of this Bristol show they are currently on fire.

Reviews: Babymetal, John Diva & The Rockets Of Love, Spectral Lore, Mace 'n' Chain (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Babymetal - The Other One (Cooking Vinyl)

I'll admit I've struggled with Babymetal in the past, their mix of ultra Kawaii J-Pop with heavy metal was a little jarring, but they seem to have become a phenomenon who are very Marmite to many metal fans.

After 10 years they started to record their latest album The Other One, inspired by a concept based on the Metalverse, a virtual world that has inspired this new album. Essentially carrying on their theme from the last album. Each track is based on 10 separate parallel worlds and it is a great excuse for the band to stretch their creative muscles and reinvent the band a little into more accessible genres that include symphonic metal, djent and others, their J-Pop trappings still there but the songs here are more mature utilising a lot more in the lyrics while the music is a bit easier to digest for me anyway.

As the time counts down on first track Metal Kingdom, we go into some dramatic symphonic metal, a slower more epic sound than before, it's a great way start the record as the song is very much in the modern symphonic metal style, leading to the heavier and EDM driven Divine Attack, Mirror Mirror having all the sounds of djent and blastbeat driven thrash too that carry though on the grooving Maya. Across The Other Side Babymetal display a style that is far removed from their debut album, evoking all facets of metal (and Russian pop on Believing) but continuing to be to be an enigma all of their own.

Well that is unless you follow the Japanese metal scene closely. Soon to be on tour with Sabaton Babymetal are a live spectacle that are now maturing on their albums. 8/10

John Diva & The Rockets Of Love - The Big Easy (SPV/Steamhammer)

Do you like Def Leppard, Cinderella, Ratt and even Motley Crue? Well then have I got an album for you! John Diva is the Spandex clad, bleach blonde vocalist for his celebration of hair metal, glam metal and the debauchery of the Sunset Strip.

Following up from their second album American Amadeus, The Big Easy is a breezy, sunny rock album that builds on big choruses, strutting guitar riffs, steeped in melody it's the state of California distilled into one album, perfect for those long lazy nights of friends and frolics. Liberal lyrics that welcome everyone, this isn't the Steel Panther's misogyny, anyone can party with John Diva and it's an album made for partying.

Structured to fit as a complete album rather than individual songs it should be listened to as a full album, from the intro California Rhapsody to the closing moments of Wild At Heart, The Big Easy will have you smiling like it's 1980-something. There's a lot to like on this record, especially if you've still got your hair intact to swish along to anthemic tracks such as Runaway Train and Back In The Days. Unlike Steel Panther and their parody bullshit, The Big Easy is a loving tribute to a bygone era and much better because of it. 7/10

Spectral Lore - 11 Days (I, Voidhanger/Throne Records)

In attempt to preceed their as yet unreleased album, Greek ambient/atmospheric black metal band Spectral Lore release a four track EP entitled 11 Days. The brainchild of Multi-Instrumentalist Ayloss, this 44 minute EP is based on the refugees that travel the Mediterranean sea to find safety in Europe. Proceeds of the digital and physical additions will go to give aid to refugees.

A thematic journey through this dangerous route the two metal and two ambient tracks are only a glimpse into the arduous, dangerous route taken by these people often fleeing war in their own country. For the first time a Spectral Lore album features memebers of other bands providing vocals help on the tracks for a collaborative effort that rallies against the way many of these refugees have been treated by various governments.

Starting off with Moloch, the cascading drums and guitars building the first moments of this near 12 minute opener, it's got that Spectral Lore sound nailed to the post and if you know anything by the band this is what you'd be expecting the EP to start with. Roared vocals and an ominous atmosphere, it keeps it's claustrophobic edge through Fortitude/Sunrise which is like a John Carpenter/Vangelis composition brimming with synths, the black metal blasting coming back on Adro Onzi, a rawrer affair than Moloch it sets you up for the final electronic track Tremor/Kalunga Line.

11 Days is a harrowing EP which benefits a good cause, full of angry music. 8/10

Mace 'n' Chain – Among Ancient Pillars (No Remorse Records)

Released through Greek classic metal label No Remorse Records, Mace ‘n’ Chain is a one man project from Sweden with all music and lyrics by David Nilsson, he also plays all the bass, guitars (except the solos) and sings all the songs too.

For the solos he’s got a load of special guests from the Swedish metal scene to lend their axe slinging, with a keyboard solo on Upon The Anvil Formed. This along with the lack of a drummer (I can’t find a name so I assume it’s a computer) would make me think Mace ‘n’ Chain is just a studio project for now. However it’s a pretty complete studio project that draws on swords and sorcery for its NWOTHM inspired sound, songs of battle and victory are put to riffy speed metal (By The Pearl Of Thunder) and 80’s style gallops (Labyrinthian Black).

Vocally David sounds like Unto Other’s howling frontman, so that could be a deal breaker for a few, though I love the vocals as it feels as raw as the rest of the album. Among The Ancient Ruins really feels like a lost cassette from the 80’s, pitched not to be too adventurous but with a lot of macho battle metal to get your head banging it’s another quality pick from No Remorse Records. 7/10

Monday 27 March 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: W.A.S.P & South Of Salem (Live Review By Tony Gaskin)

W.A.S.P. & South Of Salem, KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton 18.03.23

It’s the long awaited return of Blackie Lawless to these shores this evening with their own inimitable brand of glam metal. A sold out show and a packed room full of 2000+ adoring W.A.S.P. fans buzzing with excitement.

First up though are South Of Salem (8), a five piece hard rocking outfit from the south coast of England. Straight from the get go, they explode onto stage like a bunch of demonic Duracell Bunnies. They barely pause for breath as they delight us with a fast paced set of gothic glam rock.

The kick off with Let Us Prey and The Hate In Me - the opening two tracks from their latest album The Sinner Takes It All taking us through their nightmare vision of the world. I first saw them last year on a small stage in Birmingham and you could feel the pent up energy in their performance then, but unrestricted by a smaller stage they let loose with all their energy and exuberance, they do need to work out their onstage choreography though, with all that adrenaline pumping there were times when it got a bit chaotic on stage.

That’s something that comes with experience and I’m sure by the end of this tour they’ll be dancing around on stage with more fluidity. Multi talented front man Joey Draper (author and horror movie aficionado ) looks at ease though, confident and connecting with the crowd. All in all, a great way to start the night. If you missed this tour, then South Of Salem have a very busy schedule ahead. No rest for them as they head out on the road again next month as support to Wednesday 13 and a whole load of festivals lined up. Go check them out

Onto tonight's headliners, W.A.S.P. (9) and the rescheduled 40th anniversary tour. There was talk about how Blackie’s religious beliefs would affect this tour, with many of those early songs having controversial lyrics and subject matter. Blackie laid those concerns to rest though when he stated that although his beliefs and philosophies these days are completely different, he is comfortable with playing these songs for his fans as they are a part of the history of the band.

So with that, we were treated to a short but sweet set of early W.A.S.P. classics. Kicking off in their traditional way with On Your Knees as part of an opening medley of songs which included The Flame, The Torture Never Stops and Inside The Electric Circus.

Blackie was on fine form, and they’d even bought out the iconic mic stand Elvis. It was definitely a night for the fans, Love Machine, Wild Child, The Idol - all greeted with cheers of rapturous joy. The band were loving it as much as the crowd, Doug Blair and Mike Duda would give those youngsters in South Of Salem a run for their money as they constantly swapped sides.

The anticipation of the crowd was palpable though as the set closed with Blind In Texas, and the screens lit up with dialogue and video footage from the 80’s hearings in the USA about their lyrics and its claimed negative effect on the kids of America. Everyone in the room knew what was coming.

The band returned to the stage and completed their set with the crowd pleasing Animal which ran into a cover of The Who’s The Real Me giving Blackie a chance to indulge in a bass solo before closing out the night with I Wanna Be Somebody, a suitable end to a night celebrating the career of a much loved band

Friday 24 March 2023

Reviews: Dawn Ray'd, Acid King, Ov Sulfur, Lost Asylum (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Rich Piva, Matt Bladen & Simon Black)

Dawn Ray’d - To Know The Light (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Dawn Ray’d should be well known to readers of these pages, the Liverpudlian trio have been making revolutionary music since 2015. The band is made up of Matthew B on Drums, Fabian D on Guitar, Simon B on Vocals and Violin. In the time the band have been together they have released 2 Ep’s 2015’s A Thorn, A Blight and 2021’s Wildfire, and 2 albums; their debut full length The Unlawful Assembly in 2017 and Behold Sedition Plainsong in 2019. 

Throughout the time the band have been together Britain has sunk further and further into Fascism and reactionary propaganda, and Dawn Ray’d’s anger and drive has grown with it; their last album being a piece of savage Ulver inspired Second Wave Black Metal that was filled with righteous anger and indignation, four years later and the world is in a worse state than it was in 2019 (something 2019 me would not have believed was possible, but here we are), so what have Dawn Ray’d got for us this time?

There have been some stylistic changes in the four years since Behold Sedition Plainsong, the Black Metal elements are slightly less extreme, with a more usual Guitar tone rather than the buzzsaw sound from the last album. a good example is the track The Battle Of Sudden Flame which is a short blast of simple second wave savagery, or on the song Inferno, which opens with very aggressive Blast Beats that drive the song forward. Inferno does have a second half that is infused with Folk, with great violin parts that are full of melody.

It still has that savage Second Wave feel, but Dawn Ray’d are after a different emotion with this album; there is still lots of anger, but the incandescent rage has been replaced by a feel that is more constructive. On this album there are themes that draw on mutual aid, community and solidarity, anger is great, but building supportive structures that can help people and build a movement, will ultimately change more than rage on its own.

There is a different sound to the drums as well. Although there are cymbals on To Know The Light, they are very low in the mix, to the extent that I thought initially there were no cymbals at all. The snare also sounds closer to a Tom Tom, without that sharp sound I usually associate with a snare, this gives the drumming a feel that is lower register, without much brightness, which makes the drums feel more like marching drums that you might hear at a protest march, it also reminds me of the Hippy / Folk / Protest collective Seize The Day, old radicals like me might remember them from the late nineties anti-globalisation protests, they would sing and drum as they marched with protesters.

This album also contains much more folk than either of the other albums, and it is an old style of Folk, much closer to Industrial Revolution Folk that is dark and filled with anger and pain, a folk that comes straight from William Blakes’ Dark Satanic Mills. It’s a style that would be recognised by people present at the Peterloo Massacre, The Paris Commune or even the Peasants Revolt. There is a very affecting song called Cruel Optimism which is a very simple little folk tune made up of clean Guitar and Violin that features a spoken word part talking about anger at a cruel and inhuman system, and the joy of defiance. My personal favourite of the folk tracks is Freedom In Retrograde, a beautiful, simple folk tune about the most beautiful thing in the world; Solidarity. It’s a simple song that talks about radical politics at its most basic level, the love and solidarity of communities to help each other overcome hardship, “If you still sing, then I’ll still sing”.

The final song on the album Go As Free Companions, is a great piece of Folk metal with really good violin and loads of great melodies, its a very good track to end the album that talks about mutual aid and working together to smash the system, what a great ending to a great album.

To Know The Light is a fantastic album, musically and lyrically, the album is deeply affecting, very creative and beautifully constructive. It feels like the band have taken stock of where the world is heading and this album is both a warning and a call to arms to try to change the direction our world is hurtling in. I love the musical direction the band have moved in, this album feels more rounded and more mature, and lyrically these songs have real weight and meaning. 

The time to take action is now, Dawn Ray’d are on the barricades, if we want a future that is more than poverty, drudgery and environmental apocalypse, then we need to join them. I think I’ll leave the last word to the song Freedom In Retrograde: “Though i have this creeping feeling, That the dark is closing in, I still will fight for freedom for every living thing. If you still sing, then I'll still sing”. 9/10

Acid King - Beyond Vision (Blues Funeral Recordings) [Rich Piva]

I am a big Acid King fan, but I’ve never listened to any of their output for the first time and have it blow me away on that initial listen. Everything that this legendary Bay Area band puts out is the definition of a slow burner, and their first album since 2015, Beyond Vision, is the antithesis of this. The new record is a journey into a fuzzy soundscape that (as usual) lives up to the band’s moniker.

To outline my point above, Beyond Vision starts out with the definition of a slow burn, One Light Second Away. A six-minute plus instrumental heavy/beautiful, doomy shoegaze atmospheric riff fest, which sets you up perfectly for the rest of the album. On the first few listens all I wanted the album to do is kick in, but on listen four, you start to understand the genius and the set up for the rest of the record with this track. Mind’s Eye kicks in with heavy, swirling guitars, haunting vocals and a killer riff, making this maybe the doomgaze track of the year so far. 

The production on this album is perfect, clan but not antiseptic, with an absolutely killer fuzzy guitar tone that these guys are known for. 90 Seconds is more of the same goodness, with those haunting vocals right out front, but with some serious heavy and plodding riffs to help you along. It is like if Slowdive listened to Sabbath instead of the Jesus And Mary Chain. Speaking of atmospheric slow burns, Electro Magnetic is the burn that is the least fleet of foot on Beyond Vision. Eight plus minutes of a lumbering instrumental ripper (the slowest kind of a ripper), we get the first three minutes of some of the more gentle work on the record only to be slammed into but some absolute killer guitar work but highlighted but the effort on the drums. Heavy, like soul crushing heavy. 

Next a trippy interlude leads you to the title track, which is something to behold and probably my favorite track on the record. Turn this one up and soak it all in. The sound is perfect, and you will be transformed, especially during that psych drenched solo. I really dig their instrumentals, but the band is at it’s height for me when they include the haunting, layered vocals to the killer musicianship and atmosphere. This is the prototype. Color Trails closes us out in the same way we came in, which wraps up this killer album quite nicely, and I love the heavy drums two minutes in that leads to the riff, that then incorporates all that slow a beautiful heaviness in a way only Acid King can.

Acid King fans have waited a long time for a new record, and I cannot see a way they would be disappointed with Beyond Vision. It has everything you want from a band who has been putting out killer material for multiple decades. If you are a fan, you will love this. If this is your first time, and you like atmosphere, riffs, and a beautiful heavy, you will really enjoy Beyond Vision. 9/10

Ov Sulphur - The Burden Ov Faith (Century Media) [Matt Bladen]

Ferocious blackened deathcore that is as blasphemous as a Norwegian black metal band (or a Greek one) and as destructive as a kaiju in downtown Tokyo. Ov Sulphur started their unholy crusade with their previous EP but on this debut full length, frontman Ricky Hoover can channel his distaste and historical disdain for organised religion (I, Apostate) through the most expansive music Ov Sulfur have put their name too. 

The most illuminating thing about this album is Hoover's vocals which are much varied than just your standard deathcore grunt. The fact he can compete with the likes of Alex The Terrible (Slaughter To Prevail), Taylor Barber (Left To Suffer), Kyle Medina (Bodysnatcher) and even metalcores greatest vocal export Howard Jones (Light The Torch), is what makes The Burden Ov Faith a masterclass in extreme metal vocals. To the music then as the tech death/deathcore muscle gives way to symphonic black metal, the cinematic stylings of Cradle Of Filth a particular reference, as Lindsay Schoolcraft adds haunting strings to the closing title track. Lindsay of course known for her work with Suffolk's favourite demons. 

With band members and the addition of Logan Mader on the production team, it has a serious "womp" to the production like a audio punch to the guts this bruising attack aided by the emotional, personal lyrics. More than a decade after his last album with previous band Suffokate, Hoover has taken another shot at the big time and ripped the throat out of any opposition with this record. Wearing their heart on their sleeve but carrying a bloody great axe in the other, Ov Sulfur deliver mercy and menace on this album. 9/10

Lost Asylum - Inmate 13 (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Hailing from Sussex in the UK, this Hard Rock five piece have been around for about seven years, but this is their first EP proper. The fact that the instrumental part of the band has been around for a few years shows (along with the quite varied ages of its members) as these four songs illustrate an act that has gelled its chemistry in the line-up, writes well together and knows what works.

Despite the fact that singer Ryan O'Donovan doesn’t have an instrument in front of him, his vocal melody lines still follow the rhythm melodies quite closely, which tells me that these songs were written and honed before he joined in 2019, just in time for Covid to effectively stop them dead for a few years. I suspect this will change with time, as when you’re not hampered by an axe and strap as a vocalist, your whole body becomes an instrument to work the crowds with. The melody lines naturally evolve around that with experience, with new songs benefiting from the input of what works for the frontman as much as it does everyone else, so despite the quite staccato effect the current arrangements have on the vocal delivery, I can see the potential in his performance which is powerful, soulful and with a healthy dollop of charisma, if not quite fully there yet.

The songs are down, dirty and heavy, but with enough pace to keep heads nodding throughout, and a focussed and punchy delivery and arrangement that works really well, with some clearly very strong performances from both guitars and rhythm section throughout. The only weak spot really is in the production, which feels a little too basic. The instruments have a heavy punch, but they’re a little too far back in the mix, with a quite trebly and too forward vocal overlay. The problem is not the quality of the vocal snapshot – they’re where they need to be; it’s everything else that needs presenting more. Again, this will come with experience as when you first hit a studio, the fact that you have achieved that major milestone and cut your stuff on disk tends to overwhelm bands, who naturally become more critical of their work with time and experience.

Reading this back, this sounds more negative than intended, because these really are relatively minor quibbles for an act still getting going, because the four songs here are solid, well-written and catchy and I can see them working really well live. A very promising start. 7/10

Reviews: Ne Obliviscaris, Morass Of Molasses, Meg Myers, Maze Of Sothoth (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

Ne Obliviscaris - Exul (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

Checking online, Ne Obliviscaris is a progressive metal outfit from Australia who incorporate elements of several different musical disciplines into their music. Their latest, Exul has all of these on show, and they demonstrate this with some outstanding musical proficiency. This is not traditional or paint by numbers metal by any means. 

The six tracks on here range from the epic opener, Equus which comes in at 12 minutes to album closer Anhedonia which on comparison is just over three. It’s not new to have classical / strings within progressive metal, but Ne Obliviscaris use violin as a primary weapon in their sonic assault, and it is refreshing to hear this trading blows with the guitar on an equal footing.

Equus starts us off on this journey, with the violin up at the front and it took me by surprise with clean singing that sounds as though it would not be out of place on something closer to power / traditional heavy rock with acoustic backing before operating the quiet / loud approach with death growls and double bass. It doesn’t rely on this as the heavier side takes precedence as the song breathes and runs towards its end. 

Misericorde I – As The Flesh Falls continues in this approach and as much as I found the clean sound jarring the overall display of music, ideas and riffs pull together to keep you engaged and to gloss over this. I don’t know if it is the way it has been recorded but I felt the same with In Flames last release where I thought that the clean singing just needed some grit, but this is purely personal to me. It is entirely likely that in the live setting, that required dirt could be on display.

Putting that to one side, what we have is a set of finely crafted songs that continue to inspire feelings of awe with some amazing fretwork displays that reward the listener for staying the course. Everything works, everything has a place and is only there to serve the song itself. Of course, with the majority of songs hitting 7 minutes plus you do feel that some ruthless editing of the lengths would have made this a tighter, more cohesive affair but again that is my personal opinion and fans of progressive metal will dig into this and love it. There is a lot going on here and deserves multiple listens to absorb properly.

I’ve said this earlier that it is a finely crafted album and frankly I’m astounded that given the amount of music being released that there are still bands who are able to somehow channel something that original as this with a consistent level of quality that is on display here. There have been some really strong releases so far and its only March and for me this is certainly one of them. 8/10

Morass Of Molasses – End All We Know (Ripple Music) [Matt Bladen]

Clawing their way out of the swamps of Reading, I mean it’s not bloody New Orleans, but it rains a lot. Morass Of Molasses have been churning out heavy blues for nearly a decade and this third album is the trio riding the fuzzy tidal wave of riffage towards the band they have always showed themselves to be. On the back of many great live performances especially at Bloodstock festival, their recorded output came in rapid succession each one composed of songs perfected on the road, which is their home, the dogged road dogs upping their game with each release. 

Signing to the chief label for all things fuzz Ripple Music, End All We know is the first album they have written without touring the material first say the band. This ‘remote’ working experience leading to a bigger level of experimentation than they could have thought about before. I guess it’s a case of write/record it this way and think about how to play it live at a later date! 

Strutting into view with opener The Origin Of The North, End All We Know, gets going with some mostly instrumental Sabbath/Cathedral worship as the pacey riff, slows toward the end into slow, undulating doom the vocals coming in screamed and rabid as it segues into the grooving, urgent Hellfayre, so this third full length unleashes a potent double whammy to begin and from here we delve deeper into the musical vision of the band. Sinkhole gives some hip shaking, with Bones’ baritone guitar used well, Phil Williams’ lead guitar covering the ground between the pulsating baritone and the haywire drumming of Raj Puni. 

Sinkhole’s turbulence gives way to textured, atmospheric opening to Naysayer before more lovely riffage washes over you, leading to a bluesy guitar solo towards the end. The dual vocal shouts are ideal for these riff slinging Brits, even on the more psychedelic tones of Slingshot Around The Sun, they’re replaced by a Billy Corgan sneer, again showing how much time has gone into making this record sound better than any of their previous efforts (not that they are bad). 

While the beginning of this album starts with its heaviest, primordial moments as we move towards the end, the psych and folk influences work their way into Terra Nova, I even hear some flute ala Jethro Tull or Blood Ceremony. Prima Mater continues on an ascent towards the galaxy leading to the space rock jamming of Wings Of Reverie to climb higher into cosmic realms. Sequenced perfectly, with an experimental ear, End All We Know is Morasses Of Molasses most accomplished record to date. 9/10

Meg Myers – TZIA (Sumerian Records) [Matt Bladen]

Something a little different now on Sumerian Records who snapped up alternative artist Meg Myers. Her debut album Sorry saw her skyrocket to fame playing Conan, Jimmy Fallon as well as Lollapalooza and Coachella and tours supporting MCR and Pixies. It must have been a huge amount of pressure for the then 19 year old, her fame again ramping up when her cover of Running Up That Hill hit to #1 42 weeks after its release. However Meg is now more comfortable on a label such as Sumerian where she has free reign to do as she wants, working outside of major label spotlights her last two EP’s have come through Sumerian, with TZIA being the third release for the label but the first full length.

Meg is multi-instrumentalist and uses her music as therapy and catharsis, here she adds to this meaning with a more spiritual pursuit of a higher power through meditation and the transference of energy. But it also dwells amongst the human condition using music as way to explore and heal while also empowering and liberating. A feminist, sexually liberated, album to cleanse her of trauma, PTSD and abuse, it’s the rawest record she has recorded, most of the tracks stripped back to a simple electronic beat and vocals, Meg wearing her heart and more on her sleeve to get her point across. Musically there’s the experimental density of Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel with the honesty of Fiona Apple and the attitude of PJ Harvey and Alanis Morrisette, her grunge/punk credentials creeping into the alternative pop anthems. Even on the harp-driven cover of Linkin Park’s Numb, Meg retains the frustration of the original, the stripped back composition making it more potent.

Her own music is turbulent and terrific, Ovaries Speak screaming stigma and mental health issues that face so many women, HTIS rages with Luna Shadows & Carmen Vandenberg adding their work, I just Wanna Touch Somebody has a longing to it while the title track is all about connecting to something higher than ourselves. 15 tracks long, though a few are under 3 minutes, TZIA is something of a rebirth for Meg Myers, as vital to the scene as Emma Ruth Rundle, St Vincent or those pioneering 90’s artists. This isn’t a metal album but it’s a wonderful record for music lovers. 9/10

Maze Of Sothoth - Extirpated Light (Everlasting Spew Records) [Mark Young]

Sometimes, all you want is old-school, brutality. Insane BPM’s, the deepest growls all wrapped up in a relatively short space of time. And this is what is delivered here. Make no mistake, Italian death metal mentalists Maze Of Sothoth bring brutality, intensity for your listening pleasure. It is like a sonic battering ram, with song after song just coming at you with the intent of kicking you around for 36 minutes. It is unapologetic in its approach, in just going for the throat.

These just blast from the start, with The Unspeakable just flashing past in 3 minutes and the pace just seems to get faster with Eliminate Contamination and The Revocation Dogma both showing enough technical skill to prevent you from becoming fatigued from the sheer velocity. They slow for Blood Tribute which has that Morbid Angel influence all over it until it decides to switch gears and just take off and then slow again with a blistering solo to close it out. It is just spot on and despite being the longest track here it doesn’t feel like it all. They don’t want to let up, as if adhering to the death metal commandments that start with Thou Shall Not Be Slow.

It's strange that with a release like this, that has seemingly one aim but to be as brutal and old-school as is possible (two aims?) and then achieving doesn’t leave you an awful lot to talk about. It is not a disservice to the songs at all as they are all at a consistent level of quality, in performance and arrangement and I would be complaining if they didn’t batter me all over the place. If they can repeat this live, you know for a fact you aren’t coming out of that pit without bruises and blood on you.

They know what they need to do and just do it and are damn effective at it.

Looking online, it is their second full length effort and are garnering good reviews elsewhere. You can argue that there isn’t a lot of variety in the music here, but to be fair are you looking for it? It is heads down, straight ahead death metal which comes in, slays and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

So, to recap: Blast beats – check. Double bass – check. Guttural vocals – check. Guitar solos – check. Is there progressive variety – no. Is it for those who like shouty then softly then shouty parts - no. 7/10

Thursday 23 March 2023

Reviews: Harboured, Embryo, L'ira Del Baccano, Words That Burn (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

Harboured - Harboured (Lost Future Records) [Mark Young]

This is the self-titled debut from Harboured, with the component parts coming together from other bands. This 4-piece promise a dense mix of metal-core, black metal served up with an almost progressive feel.

First up is Anterior which builds with synths, drums and subtle chants exploding into metal bombast. Its similar in sound to maybe Rolo Tomassi but with a heavier edge as it almost sets up the following track. Impermanent Cell has that urgent pace to it as vocals are barked as drums whip up until they decide to stop almost dead and promptly put the brakes on any momentum they have built. This quiet middle section then comes back to life as expected and it is this almost reliance on quick/slow/faster song structure we have heard so many times before and I hate it. if you are going to do this, make it interesting, do something new.

Thy Own Destroyer changes tack slightly, with the softer introduction, with the drummer working hard to keep that interest going until they light the blue touch paper prior to slowing that pace. With this one, they have found their range as it combines some nifty guitar passages that keep you going with it. It rises to an anthemic end, from whispered speech to the metal-core barks that preceded it. On this they convey a ton of emotion as the guitar is synced perfectly to it. This is a great track. Atlas To Fall segues in with furious riffing, drumming again trying to fill all available space without being over the top. Again, this is a top-notch track, built with a groove that will be awesome live. This is maintained and augmented by synths which really fill their sound further.

Far Barren is the longest track here and after a slightly meandering intro, this one burns, tremolo picking, blast beats and some almighty chugs. It’s full of rage and violent intent and I love it. It’s fantastic that they have this ability to put this together in a way that is exciting for the listener. There is the slow, quiet piece but I can forgive them here as it is giving space to each instrument. This is a testament to Cierra White who pounds the absolute shit out of the kit. Everything is on fire with this one as it screeches to its end.

Final track, The View has an almost melancholic feel to it as there is a slow build with soft chants underpinning it as that gives over blast beats and pummelling guitars and then it is all over. So, for a first release it is a strong effort from them. I said that the slow break in Impermanent Cell was something that I am (personally sick of) but other than that they don’t put a foot wrong. It is an almost fully formed monster and the triple threat of Thy Own Destroyer, Atlas To Fall and Far Barren are three of the best songs I’ve heard within this genre. Live they will be unstoppable, and it points to an incredibly bright future for them. 7/10
Embryo - A Vivid Shade On Misery (Rockshots Records) [Mark Young]

For this, their 5th album they enlisted the considerable talents George Kollias to keep the beat, and he brings that certain something to elevate the band around him and as you might expect they come out blasting with pride and waste no time in announcing that this a straight up attack, with all the necessary armoury you want – growls, double bass, and guitar battering. This is just continued into Highest Fame, which has enough twists and turns to keep it from just being another speed fest. Background keys play counter with an almost familiar passage that reminds me of 80s sci-fi (V, for those interested). So far this is good stuff with each of the tracks pitched with just the right run length to avoid repetition and fatigue.

The Seed Of Lividity has that classic gallop riff running through it and is just pure class. There are moments of melody here and these are welcomed to keep it fresh. MMDC slows down a touch whilst there are some drum acrobatics going on. It sounds like despite the song titles, there is an element of ‘Lets have some fun with this, let’s make this the best we can’ and its clear from first listen that they want you to join in. Guitar/drums are in total sync, lead breaks fit the songs without being overblown and are just well measured. Medusa comes across like classic melo-death from Sweden with that just above mid-tempo pace that allows the drums to fly as it starts to take off during the middle before throttling back and jumping into Vanitas which has a similar pace and structure, which is fine as it sets up Concrete Visionary to close us out at a great speed.

What I love about it is that it is unashamed death metal that sounds like it is straight from Scandinavia, these guys are from Italy and with this they are more than holding their own against bands from that part of Europe. It sounds as it should, with each instrument balanced and present. If having George K on drums is a temporary thing, then they will need a similar level of talent to keep them going when performing live. The whole album has that urgent energy which is just perfect. Any negatives are that its doesn’t offer anything new (for me) in terms of melodic death metal, but it comes out as fresh in that there is no slow third track which has been a staple on music I’ve heard recently. They have set out to kick you about for a while and succeeded. 7/10

L'ira Del Baccano - Cosmic Evoked Potentials (Subsound Records)

In these often turbulent times, there's periods where an album such as Cosmic Evoked Potentials really hits home. Billed as doomdelic instrumental space prog rock, this Italian band are a spaceship to far out galaxys many lightyears from here. Sabbath jamming with Hawkwind on the drugs provided by the The Grateful Dead and visuals from pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd.

Existential, extraterrestrial journey through the cyclic nature of existence, recorded in an old mansion as live as possible Cosmic Evoked Potentials is a jam session committed to reaching into the astral plane. Luca Primo's bass and Sandro Salvi's drums are the driving force to songs from The Strange Dream Of My Old Sun to Eclipse Omega as the jazz inflections are met with doom metal power. 

The guitars of Alessandro Santori and Roberto Malerba atmospheric, reverbed and echoed, the synths/keys as well needed to really express the mood on these instrumental explorations. If bands like Astra, Diagonal or Caravan and of course Soft Machine tickle your third eye then these Italians are a psych doom rock delight. 7/10

Words That Burn - Cut Throat Culture (Blood Blast Distribution/Believe Digital)

It's been done by hundreds of bands before them but there's something about the melodic metalcore assault of Words That Burn that endear me to them. 

Inspired by bands such as Parkway Drive and Architects but still holding on to the heft of those bands early years, this Irish band utilise the quiet/loud dynamics, an alt-metal groove and lots of fizzing electronics (The Cavalry Ain't Coming). Produced by Josh Schroeder who has tackled Lorna Shore and King 810, Cut Throat Culture rages against despair and crisis, the blood curdling screams and fast, chunky riffs, frothing with anger as they move into breakdowns that'll make you want to smash your possessions. 

However Words That Burn can also do the otherside, clean reverb guitars, crooning vocals and plenty of melodic choruses that will have you singing along. A track such as Sirens has a radio friendly thump to it, while the melodic sound comes through well on the choral backed You're On Your Own. Shifting away from just the metalcore of yore, like so many bands, Words That Burn are preparing themselves for the future. 7/10

Reviews: Ihsahn, Fatal Embrace, The Rhubarb, Xalpen (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Ihsahn - Fascination Street Sessions EP (Candlelight Records) [Matt Bladen]

Emperor mainman and musical prodigy Ihsahn has been preferring EP’s to full length albums for a while now and his latest Fascination Street is another selection of new tracks plus a cover version, Ihsahn collaborating with highly touted producer/engineer Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios. 

The EP is part of his and Jens's involvement in the URM Academy’s educational program focusing on music production. Having these two teaching almost guarantees a pass right? Anyway to the EP itself and of course the production is perfect, Ihsahn, drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen and keyboardist Øystein Aadland playing in a collaborative manner that has led to clean vocals from Aadland and the addition of Katatonia man Jonas Renske’s baritone on Dom Andra a cover of Swedish band KENT, the brooding H-era Marillion style great for Renske’s voice. Ihsahn fulfilling a Swedish fantasy as all the stars aligned for this cover. 

Opening with The Observer, Aadland’s vocals bringing the warmth of Mikael Akerfeldt, the use of flutes also nodding to the Swedish natives. Bogren of course knows how to produce this kind of thing having helmed multiple Opeth albums. So it’s pretty close to the Opeth playbook but serves as a great opener to this Swedish fantasy project, the keys used much more than on previous Ihsahn recordings. Everything was videoed by the URM team, the production process using analogue equipment for the natural sound you have here. Contorted Moments is almost hard rock, Ihsahn’s squawk evolving into the cleans for the chorus, packing more Opeth/Swano-isms into 3 minutes. 

Whether this is one off, or an amuse bouche for what to expect on his next full length, Ihsahn seemingly can turn his hand to any style and make it his own. 8/10

Fatal Embrace - Manifestum Infernalis (Black Lion Records) [Mark Young]

Checking online for background on Fatal Embrace, melodic death metal and blackened death metal seemed to be the main genres for which they have been known for. Haling from Varberg in Sweden, they were originally active between 1992 to 1998 and returned in 2016. Like a lot of bands, Covid, world unrest would put delays their way in getting this album recorded and ultimately released as you hear it today.

Black metal, depending on who you speak to and indeed which phase you listen to means that certain elements such as speed and levels of production are more prized than texture, atmosphere if you will. So, with that in mind Fatal Embrace has produced an album that is chock full of melody, of rich texture and an overall ideal that shows they are not just speed demons.

Each of the songs seems as though it has been built from a central idea, be it a guitar part or a vocal phrase which means all of the songs are similar but in no way the same. There are slow parts where piano fills the space, others where screeched vocals cut through with the drums ever present in keeping everything together. I don’t pretend to know the history of the band and I certainly don’t want insult any fans out there by cribbing from online sources, but I suggest that we have missed out on their being only two released full-length albums from them.

There is a constant funereal tone to proceedings, supported by the vocal attack and your standard rapid guitar attack. As I said earlier, it isn’t all blast beats and furious riffs, there are a number of mid-pace songs which are almost sat in gothic territory (Death Goth?) but each of them is so well put together they do echo classic Black Metal but are unique to themselves. Sometimes you find that bands may use a particular motif as a crutch to mask poor or worse lazy arrangements. Fatal Embrace are not guilty of that by any stretch.

Black Metal in general is not my jam, at the same time I can appreciate where there is a mastery of a form involved, and for me that is here. If I was to criticise then it would be a lack of bottom end / chugging riffs, but I guess that was never the intent in the first place. Fans of atmospheric metal should get onto this, because it should appeal to a broad spectrum of metal lovers 7/10

The Rhubarb - Symptom Of Failure (Milky Bomb Records) [Matt Bladen]

Glasgow foursome The Rhubarb don't crumble on this debut album. With that terrible joke out of the way I can tell you that they flourish and thrive with a heady concoction of distortion ravaged stoner doom riffs, psychedelic wandering and dual vocals that merge droning lows and spectral highs. Musically similar to bands such as Black Moth, Alunah and MWWB, Symptom Of Failure is downbeat doom metal that persistently furrows the brow and bangs the head with tracks such as Trip To The South and The Brines Effect where the relentless throb of Sleep builds the hypnotic style while on I Wanna Play A Game has the aggressive groove of High On Fire. 

If their debut EP, Black Sun, was a toe dip into The Rhubarb and their style of mind melting stoner doom, then Symptom Of Failure is a plunge into the deep end of an obsidian black pool without really knowing what's at the bottom. I Can't Roll is the albums middle section where the oppressive guitars and drums punish you into a woozy state of being; Hannah White's ghostly vocals and swirling basslines throbbing like a stubbed toe, the bottom end deep and cavernous as the drums of Jack Donnelly have a strength but also a dexterity. On a song such as the haunting Mother's Ruin, Michael McConville's guitars are strum like they're in a dark lullaby, the distortion coming in just as Seán Maguire begins to croon, Hannah in unison for that brilliant duality. 

If I have a suggestion about this album it's listen to it on headphones as you can feel that sense of claustrophobia and breathlessness much stronger when it's injected right into your ears, the cries of "One Last Thing" on Mother's Ruin lingering with you long after the needle leaves the wax. An incredible debut from these Scottish, masters of misery, no symptoms of failure to be heard here just plenty of success. 9/10

Xalpen - The Curse of Kwányep (Black Lodge Records) [Mark Young]

Xalpen in their bio note that on this, their latest release they are unleashing raw Black Metal whilst staying true to their devotion to all things black. For me, raw indicates that it is going to be stripped back and harkens to perhaps earlier phases of Black Metal where attitude and embracing of that scene took precedence over ability.

Starting with off-beat, discordant introduction it blasts into Chenke, which at first suggests traditional stab at Black Metal. Everything is there but doesn’t feel raw, but this could be down to interpretation by me. This doesn’t last as they change up rhythm before putting their foot down in mixture of Morbid Angel and Vader. Kolpewsh continues with that mid-pace pummeling to then change gears once more, throwing some great breaks in to it. So far this is pretty good stuff, it flows and shows that there is a confidence in their abilities as musicians.

Title track, The Curse of Kwányep starts with a ponderous, slow burn feel that builds into full on audio mayhem then slows down to meander through to the expected lift off again. This I felt sucked the energy out of this, which was a shame as had they avoided that slow section it would have just flown.

Regrouping with The Beast From The East they are soon on stable ground, just grinding out a constant attack before Kash Wayeweìn Qer ups the ante and continues with the fast attack which is just unrelenting and gives the album a shake-up which was definitely needed. Daughters Of The Nightside darkens the tone and sounds more urgent because of this shift but adopts that constant tempo present elsewhere and you feel that it should be faster than it is.

Moon-Woman ends the album with an 8-minute romp that serves to close proceedings although it is followed by an instrumental Hain Koijn Harsho which meanders through a softly whispered vocal track and a repeating guitar line which in all honesty could have been removed. Moon-Woman does the trick in bringing all the threads together and is probably my stand-out track on here as it weaves its way from heads down trem picking to almost traditional heavy metal riffing and shows that they have got the tools to make a truly great album.

The problem I have is that adopting a certain pace for each song leads to them slightly losing their effect as they can bleed into another. Technically it is proficient and sounds great, but it is a little bit flat in some spots where they let the momentum drop. There is actually nothing wrong here, it’s got everything you want in Black Metal, and they attack with gusto. Fans of this genre will certainly dig the songs here, for me it lacked a certain something to raise it from good to truly great listening. 6/10