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Friday 17 March 2023

Reviews: Chelsea Grin, Mystic Circle, Narnia, Beyond Extinction (Reviews By GC, Paul Scoble, Simon Black & Mark Young)

Chelsea Grin - Suffer In Heaven (ONErpm) [GC]

Hello, I’m Graham and I have a problem, I can’t stop reviewing deathcore albums. Today is the turn of Chelsea Grin and part 2 of their double album set Suffer In Heaven. The first part Suffer In Hell came out last year and was given some decent reviews on release, I didn’t hear it then and haven’t listened to it prior to this release, so not sure if that will affect the whole picture they are trying to paint but there’s not much I can do about that as right now I only have this to review, not my fault they released 2 albums??

The atmospheric and haunting intro to Leave With Us is interrupted by a wall of big double bass drums and chugga chugga riffs that then are violently interrupted by Tom Barbers black metal-esq vocals which leads nicely into some blasting drums and seriously chunky riffage courtesy of Stephen Rutishauser, it also has an unhealthy dose of beatdowns thrown into the mix for good measure and the ambient electronics that are also running through the song add a nice and unexpected depth, so it’s a good and most importantly heavy as a concrete rhino type start, continuing with the weirdly titled Orc March its very much more of the same but the black metal vocals are replaced with some incredible guttural noises this time, musically again its akin to getting jumped on by an overly enthusiastic elephant and the midway point groove/beatdown combo works so well you just sit and smile, subtlety is not a serving on this menu! 

The only type of break you ever get is from the samples and atmospherics that are mixed into most of the tracks but even these create a sense of unease that really ramps up the whole heaviness factor a good few notches. Fathomless Maw is an absolute savage of a song and has some absolutely incredible vocals that elevate the track to another level, the riffs are big and brutal and the bottom end rumble from David Flinn’s bass and Nathan Pearson’s drums is relentless but it’s really the vocals that are the start on this track, wonderfully disgusting, Soul Slave sounds like Fear Factory and Emmure mixed together and turned up to 100, it’s an absolutely exhilarating 2 minutes of pure violence and easily the best song on the album!

The Mind Of God once again builds from a sampled atmospheric opener and just bounds forward with such disregard for the listener, its full of massive riffs and some absolutely subhuman drumming tempo’s but having said that it does feel like its missing something I just don’t seem to fully embrace it like I have the rest of the album. Yhorm The Giant is another oddly titled song but that’s where the fun ends as it explodes into a thundering monster chocked full of the type of beatdowns capable of levelling a building and the harmonious mixing of guitar and black metal vocals halfway through lifts it up onto a whole new level before incinerating everything with an apocalyptic end section. 

Sing To The Grave is another 2 minute violence fest and these short songs mix everything up so well as the focus everything they have on just pure, unadulterated brutality and it pays off big time! And before I have even noticed it’s onto the last song The Path To Suffering of course it follows the well-trodden path of spooky intro sample into a wall of riffs and drums permeated with electronics and finished off with gutturals and black metal vocals together, if it aint broke don’t fix it as they say!

To be 100% honest with you I wasn’t expecting very much from this record as a lot of recent deathcore releases have been disappointing or have all just sounded the same (Distant & Suicide Silence I’m looking in your direction) but Suffer In Heaven was an absolute beauty of an album and really produced everything I want from a deathcore record, do yourself a favour and go listen to this right now, you won’t regret it! 9/10

Mystic Circle - Erzdämon (Fireflash Records) [Paul Scoble]

Mystic Circle have had a very long history, starting in 1992 the German band have had several periods of activity, a brief 2 year blast from 1992 to 93 where the band played death metal. In 1994 they reformed as a black metal band and this time they stayed together till 2008. In this part of their career they produced 7 full length albums (first being Morgenröte - Der Schrei Nach Finsternis in 1996 and the last, The Bloody Path Of God in 2006) before going on hiatus. The duo re-formed in 2021 and have produced an EP and a self titled album. The duo is made up of Aaarrrgon on Drums and Graf Von Beelzebub on vocals and bass, guitars and keyboards.
The style of music Mystic Circle play is very melodic and tuneful black metal with a few death metal elements, but it’s mainly about great tunes and up-tempo black metal. There is a similarity to acts such as Watain (Circa 2010), The Spirit, and Der Weg Einer Freiheit, but Mystic Circle definitely have their own sound.

A good example of the bands basic sound is opening track Erzdämon (Part 1), a song full of very melodic black metal, its a mid-tempo stomp that is full of great tunes, using melody leads on guitar and a fairly prominent keyboard melody to drive the song along, it’s an energetic track with a great guitar solo (lots of very good guitar solos throughout the album). The keyboards also take a prominent role on The Scarecrow where they add some nice atmosphere, but are also used in a way that sounds just like a theremin, and gives the song a definite sci-fi feel, clearly Mystic Circle are going where no black metal band have been before.
One of the things I have really enjoyed about this album is the energy and pacing, most of the songs have lots of drive and vigour, one of the best for great energy is the black thrash blast of Unholy Trinity, the song races along in a fantastic way, the kind of blast that makes you want to break into a run and punch the air, it’s an absolute riot of melody, riffing, and head-banging that should put a huge smile on the face of any metal head who hears it!

Another great song that wears its influences on its sleeve is the track Skinwalker, which has a real Emperor vibe. The similarity is in the keyboard use and the guitar melodies that feel straight out of Emperor’s middle period (Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, IX Equilibrium). The song is reminiscent of Emperor, but they pull it off so well it’s a really good addition to the album.
Erzdämon comes to an end with the track The Princess Of The Deadly Sins (Erzdämon Part 2), which is the slowest track on the album. The song is dark, brooding and unhurried, ritualistic and Sacerdotal. You can almost smell the incense and the disturbing Black Candles, and it’s a really atmospheric way to end the album.

Erzdämon is a great piece of melodic and tuneful black metal, Mystic Circle have shown that they can produce really engaging black metal that draws you in with great tunes and perfect tempos that fill the music with great energy, I have really enjoyed this album and found it to be very memorable, once the tunes are in your head it’s very difficult to get them out and stop humming them, it’s bordering on possession. 8/10

Narnia - Ghost Town (Narnia Songs) [Simon Black]

Narnia have been around the block a few times, and it’s refreshing to hear new music from the Swedish neo-classical/power metal influenced five-piece still sounding distinctly from the same stable as their earlier efforts in the late 90’s. Given that the founder members guitarist Carl Johan Grimmark and singer Christian Liljegren are still there, and although drummer Andreas Johansson wasn’t there from the start, he’s played on every album so it’s no wonder the core sound remains distinctively consistent. That’s really important here, as Narnia categorically don’t sound just like everyone else who in the power or neo-classical world, which is why I used the word “influenced”.
The trouble is you put those two genre labels in front of many metal fans, particularly here in the UK, and you’ve turned a lot of folks off before they’ve even given them even a chance casual listen. Particularly when you add the word “Christian” as well... Now, personally I don’t care that they have a Christian message, any more than I do when someone plays to the Satanic end of the market (because when you’re an atheist you really are impossible to offend in that regard), but as a music writer I do care if the product fails the quality tests, and fortunately Narnia hit the back of the net quite nicely in that regard.

This attitude to anything power metal inclined pisses me off no end though and the UK in particular is really bad for this. It seems without someone like Bloodstock festival patiently working a band up until they have an audience, so many Euro bands never get a look in over here (Powerwolf and Sabaton being notable examples of power bands who now have a similar stature as they do in Europe that would not have done that if Bloodstock had not broken them in first long after they were already much larger on the continent). 

To be fair to our discerning listeners though, it’s a ridiculously over-crowded pair of sub-genres with far too many homogeneous acts endlessly trooping out the same repetitive fodder, so it’s refreshing when bands like Narnia come along and bring their own distinctive sound with them. Not being an over-strained concept piece always scores points in my book, and this collection of songs has been brewing a while, and so has a nice and broad stylistic range to it, although ballads are kept to a minimum.

The technical side of things works a treat, with just enough flourish in the playing to make you notice, without sounding like everyone wants you to notice how talented they are, which in my book is a sign of greater talent than overt noodling and OTT time changes any day. The song-writing here is what really holds this together, as even with the vast majority of the tracks keeping up a good fast pace, the variety in here means that the near fifty-minute run time doesn’t feel overlong. Special nod to the anthemic Ghost Town and Hold On, but the more progressive Thief and Modern Day Pharisee are particularly strong.
With some really robust melody structures throughout, just the right amount of flourish and a sterling performance particularly from the three gentlemen I mentioned at the outset, this was a surprisingly well written, well delivered and very well rounded package, that I did not expect to like as much as I did. 8/10

Beyond Extinction: Nothing More Wretched EP (Self Released) [Mark Young]

UK based Beyond Extinction serve up a 6-track ep and is their second release ahead of a UK run this month. It’s got a quick run time of 22 minutes so I’m hoping for something fast and brutal.

Warmth of the empty light is a short introduction, whispered voices and morse code which then drops off a cliff into The Subjugator with some of the deepest growls I’ve heard. This is heavy, slow and has enough groove to keep you going with it with a monstrous riff just stamping its authority. It rocks itself away with neat trem picked part before it halts before the inevitable breakdown.

Nothing More Wretched starts with a class opening before dropping back into the groove. The riffs are so thick and gnarly they will probably cause a number of broken bones in the live setting. There is a danger that with the first two tracks sounding similar, no matter how well executed they are you hope that they will adopt a different tact with Gravedigger that picks up the pace with some double bass against some urgent guitar but then it almost stops to repeat a similar motif from before until its starts to kick off with some faster guitar that wraps around the main riff. This is really good stuff until it decides to slow down again which is starting to grind on me. There is talent here, the songs sound absolutely horrific (in an extreme way) but the reliance on a slow meter on the first three songs just sucks the energy out of it.

Then, Eyes Of God Look Down Upon Me comes in like its raging, it’s got some momentum and thankfully they keep this going to a point but then it happens once more, with the really heavy, slow bit which by now has been repeated too much. Final track, Plague Monarch comes in with a clean intro which shows they have more in their armoury than what we have heard previously. This is the best song on here by a mile, because it has a balance running through it – memorable riffs, spat vocal delivery, the expected slow breakdown that runs into a spot-on progression.

All in all, its not a bad effort at all. Others may really love this, might really love this style of extreme metal and for them it will be top class. For me, it was like there was 4 variations of the same song which I feel is not good enough when you look at some of the Brit bands currently setting fire to music in general at the moment. They have the slow groove thing down, it’s solid and like I said live it will be a different prospect all together. 6/10

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