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Wednesday 1 March 2023

Reviews: Naut, Heidevolk, Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows, Idolatrous (James Jackson, Mark Young, David Karpel & Zak Skane)

Naut - Hunt (Season Of Mist) [James Jackson]

Naut are vocalist/drum programmer Gavin Laubscher, guitarist Jack Welch, bassist Andi Effe and Laura Taylor on synth/keys and this year sees the release of their first full length album Hunt.
Hailing from Bristol, the band’s roots go back to 2016 and whilst their influences are quoted as classic rock and metal to me I’m getting that goth rock atmosphere.

They’re also fans of the post punk movement, though not a fan of punk itself, the move from traditional style punk to something more experimental is something I can relate to and if that’s the main inspiration coming through on the 8 tracks on offer here then I may need to delve into that genre a bit further.

But for now it’s The Sisters Of Mercy; a band that I’ve always associated with in a more goth sense and style than anything else, though I believe their music is also considered to be post punk; that come to mind as the first verse of Dissent begins and a vocal performance that screams Andrew Eldritch, that baritone, almost distant echo of a vocal style that is instantly recognisable.

The whole album is a nostalgia trip for me, taking me back to the early 90’s when I was first introduced to The Sisters Of Mercy through the compilation album A Slight Case Of Overbombing, when life wasn’t the steaming pile of bills, debt, receding hairlines and expanding waistlines that it is now.
Each track is as haunting as it is catchy and I’ve soon found myself humming along (I’ve a terrible singing voice - just ask my neighbours) as I’ve left the album on repeat.

I can’t point out any stand out tracks as they’re as equally strong as the rest though Damocles has probably caught my ear more if I’m completely honest. I can only hope that Naut go places on the back of this album, they’ve already had a good run over the few years they’ve been around, surviving the pandemic where others have unfortunately fallen. Time to get out the smoke machine, don my blackest clothes, touch up the equally black nail polish and play this loud, the whole street needs to be dancing like Wednesday Addams on Prom Night. 8/10

Heidevolk - Wederkeer (Napalm Records) [Mark Young]

Forming in 2002 and hailing from Arnhem these Dutch folk Metalists have been building and bringing more Dutch Pagan metal and here is their latest – Wederkeer. Apologies to Matt for this extremely late review, let’s get straight into it and see how it fared.

Disclaimer – Folk Metal: I know NOTHING about this genre, have not sought it out and it has never been on my bucket list of music to sit and listen to. As you know I will give anything a fair shake and I am going in extremely blind.

Did I mention they write and perform in Dutch?

Hagalaz starts with ethereal chants, the sounds of rain and a soft arrangement and then goes straight into the traditional melodic metal established by Maiden and continually aped by others and its ok. It just sidles across at a steady pace without igniting. Drink met de Goden (Walhalla) comes in with more of the same, its competent and has the classic quiet/loud/quiet sections and again its ok. Klauwen Vooruit brings more, with some neat intertwining guitar parts and bobs along but I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Each of the songs here are written, arranged, and performed in an extremely competent manner. The problem (for me, maybe not others) is that it does absolutely nothing for me and does not make me want to search out other music from them. I could be missing out, but I’ll never know. I also think that I am being ignorant of another’s language and culture, of writing and celebrating where they spring from as well using nature as a creative springboard. I can hear that it is vocally delivered in an earnest and serious manner and there are some inspired bits of music within the album and to be fair kudos to them in singing purely in Dutch.

So, to give it a score. I want to avoid being mean just because I don’t like it. Sorry but I just don’t but as I will explain there are fans of this music. Checking their socials, they have a healthy following and there is considerable expectation for this release. With this in mind, I am going to give it a rating based on: How it sounds, Is it played well? I’ve already said it takes the Iron Maiden blueprint and just gives it a European shine, but it is probably too clean for the subject matter of the songs. 6/10

Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows - Hail To The Underground (Blues Funeral Recordings) [David Karpel]

My first introduction to Melbourne, Australia’s Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows was 2021’s The Magnetic Ridge, a dense album of dusty, fuzz-drenched desert riffs that captured my imagination and demanded repeated listening. And I certainly wasn’t the only one so affected. A serious achievement for a sophomore full-length, its follow-up on Blues Funeral Recordings has been highly anticipated by fans. The good news is that despite the fact that this is an album of covers, it satisfies–at least for now–that anticipation with panache.

As a series of flash pandemic lockdowns gave rise to all kinds of opportunities for creativity two years ago, Tim Coutts-Smith, JHDC’s singer/guitarist, began “messing around with some of my favourite old songs that I felt weren't originally done justice by their recording quality." This eventually led to bringing their fans in on the project, with an invitation to suggest "any old underground songs they'd like to hear Harlon-ified." The result is a romp through a collection of covers that honours the originals either through staying mostly faithful or by giving it such treatment as to sound like a JHDC tune that maintains the overall tone of the original. 

That treatment is the consistency–the Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows sound–that ties all of these songs together. Before I listened to the album, though, the first thing I did was to make a playlist of the originals to understand why these songs fit together and, as a matter of professionalism, to know how the new versions compare or contrast to the originals. While I’m familiar with the Melvins, My Bloody Valentine, Butthole Surfers, Joy Division, and Bauhaus, I am not familiar with God, Hambone Willie Newbern, or Amon Duul II.

My Pal, by God, sounds like a gritty Velvet Underground song, which is fitting. The mix is fuller than the original, and while the vibe is faithful, this rendition has muscle and the solo comes singing over everything like lightning strung over the hills of a foundational riff. Next up, Copache, by the Melvins, stays faithful to the menacing riffs of the original, but adds a fun element of camp, with recordings of gunshots and neighing horses thrown in the mix. 

The tone established, their version of My Bloody Valentine’s You Made Me Realise shoe gazes with a Sonic Youth-like stomp and snarl that devolves into a glorious noise jam by the close. Dust Devil (Butthole Surfers), Day Of Lords (Joy Division), and Dark Entries (Bauhaus) do much of the same by rendering the originals with more power, more volume, more fuzz, and more psychedelia–in other words, Harlon-ified.

Roll & Tumble (Hambone Willie Newbern) is originally a traditional folk blues song that JHDC redo much in the way Zeppelin redid some Willie Dixon and others. It’s charged with boogie energy and, again, totally fits their oeuvre. Much the same can be said for their rendition of Eye Shaking King, a song originally performed by Amon Duul II, a wildly infectious 70s German psych band worth your time to check out. 

The JHDC interpretation is a tune with huge swaggering jams that quiet for lyrics, eventually devolving into spacey psychedelia which picks up again to kick out an appropriately bombastic, fuzztastic end. Hail to the Underground plays like a loud love letter to a cross-section of sounds that have played a part in influencing Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows. While echoes of the originals remain, the band updates them with their brand of stoner desert fuzz, and the result is a heady concoction of rock and roll glory. 8/10

Idolatrous - Sorrow On Midgard (Wormholedeath Records) [Zak Skane]

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest the battle influenced Melodic death metalers have come to side with us in battle with their arsenal of tribal inspired drumming, melodic harmonies and their spell casting of anger and sorrow through their tales of Sorrow of Midguard.

After the beautiful arrangements of the intro track cast their spell of courage through their use of moving string sections, heart beating drums and majestic piano arraignments we charge into war with their first track Predecessor. Predecessor arms us with triggered precise kicks and razor sharp tremolo picked riffs which eludes us of their emotion before the god of war Michael Priest thunders with his tales of anger and revenge delivered through rumbling growls whist a hark of angles sing their melodies of beauty and sorrow. 

The battle pauses for a while whilst the guitarist draw up to build us up with their intro riffs to lead us to into the next song/tale The Harrowing Reprisal. The pounding drums leaves us marching on with our fist pouching in the air whilst the guitars still keep grinding their tremolo riffs until the god of thunder comes rumbling in with the impressive slap bass playing. Eternal keeps our chest pounding whilst keeping the pace slow and steady whist spells of melodic riffs and soaring orchestrating whilst our god of war Michael Priest commands to keep attacking. The Wolfs Ghost brings the orchestra to the frontline casting their spell of morning and sorrow whilst the spirits of the past and the present are summoned to bring metallic grooves and breakdowns and galloping rhythms unite. 

The heart of Amon Amarth and Marcus Miller rings true with the track Asgard embracing the tribal sounding drums and the return of the god of thunder providing some earth shattering bass. The battle still continued on with the moving symphonic breaks of Prophecy and grinding emotional picking during the Sorrow Of Midgard and seeing the spirit of Amon Amarth return for the final assault in The Smoke Settles with the galloping rhythms and the descending harmonized outro. Looking back upon the Sorrow Of Midgard it was a glorious battle that was told exceptionally well by the God Of War Michael Priests’ low growled vocals. The hark of angelic choirs laced and armed with strings sections to help add a more emotional cinematic layer to the grinding guitars and pounding drums. 

The only aspects that I feel have put a curse on the album is that it is very influenced by Amon Amarths’ teachings which is good if you are a fan of the band but it really doesn’t strive for anything else also with amazing orchestration that is featured through this journey I found that the production was a bit on the dark sounding side with the guitars sounding a bit on the muddy side which masks Micheals low growls whilst the drums sound too programmed. 6/10

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