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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

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