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Wednesday 22 March 2023

Reviews: Pop Evil, Hatesphere, Excalion, Late Night Venture (Reviews By James Jackson, GC, Richard Oliver & Mark Young)

Pop Evil - Skeletons (MNRK Heavy) [James Jackson]

A brief intro opens the new album from Pop Evil, a band who have quite often been on the distance as far as my musical horizon goes, the name and various videos have popped up over the years but I’ve never actually sat and listened to any of their material, so this is a whole new experience for me.

Paranoid (Crash & Burn) is the first of 11 tracks on Skeletons and it comes in hard, their wiki page states the band’s genre(s) as Hard Rock, Alternative Metal, Post-grunge (whatever the hell that is) and there’s definitely a sense of Metal, alternative or not, about this track, it’s got a Nu-Metal feel about it and it’s a head bobbing belter of a track.

There’s a mix of styles within the tracks as Circles and Eye Of The Storm follow and a band I’m reminded of is Lansdowne, for those that don’t listen to them - you should; they’ve a great sense of anthemic songwriting and Pop Evil have that too and as Sound Of Glory opens with it’s “stand up and fight” message to the masses, I can quite easily see how well this would play out in a live show.

Skeletons is the first of two anomalies on the album, no it’s not a bad track, it’s got a Country tinge to it, that Country Rock kind of sound that when you hear it you know what it is but aren’t sure whether you like it or not, but you do and the Kenny Rogers fan in you would be proud.

The rest of the album is full of sing along tracks, Worth It is a slower paced track full of the value of self worth, Who Will We Become and Wrong Direction pick up the pace, the latter featuring Devour The Day, Fit For A King feature on Dead Reckoning and it’s an onslaught of clean and growled vocals on top of a chugging riff that’s as heavy as it’s groove ridden.

Final track, the second anomaly, Raging Bill has to be my least favourite in all honesty, lyrically it’s a bit cliche but it’s the guest artist upon this track that ruins it for me, Zillion is as far as I can tell, a Rapper and anyone who has read my previous reviews (thank you) will know of my aversion to most things Rap based.

Altogether this is a great album, just skip the last track. 7/10.

Hatesphere - Hatred Reborn (Scarlet Records) [GC]

After a quick scan over the web, I can see that Hatred Reborn is the eleventh album from Danish thrashers Hatesphere, I mean they have been around for over 20 years but still that is a mighty output to have behind you! Let’s see if they have still got after all these years!

Skipping past intro, The Awakening and directly into first track Hatred Reborn the build-up is done expertly and what is then unleashed from the speakers shows father time has not slowed these guys down one bit! It’s a whirlwind of super sharp, staccato thrash riffs and when the vocals kick in they sound absolutely FURIOUS the pace is never too much and whips along nicely and they even manage to throw in a groove infused section that breaks everything up nicely. 

Cutthroat could be taken off any top end Megadeth album and not seem out of place and the riffs are so good they stick in your mind long after that song has finished, they stomp and smash all the way through showing they clearly know how to craft fantastic thrash anthems and once again the vocals just sound huge this is probably because its Mathias Uldall’s debut and he wants to prove a point, and he does emphatically!. 

Gravedigger seems to up the pace significantly and it wasn’t slouching previously! It’s just a full-on thrash assault with no letting up from start to finish and the closing section of this song drops in a massive groove infused riff before ending with more of the same full on thrash onslaught, breath taking stuff! 918 is the longest track, clocking in at 6 minutes which is just about the threshold for my concentration levels but, you are never likely to get bored or want to skip because the levels these guys are on is spectacular, the song interweaves the now familiar thrash with a modern metal edge that doesn’t sound forced or paint by numbers its done with conviction and thought and a lot of bands could learn from Hatesphere. 

Darkspawn dials down the tempo and rage for all of one minute before throwing some death metal infused thrash at us and it’s a mix that just hits the spot every time and once again the riffs and structures from Peter Lyse Karmark and Kasper Kirkegaard are phenomenal, I usually start to complain at this point that a lack of variety can get a bit tedious because sometimes thrash can get real boring, real quick but not here! I don’t give 2 shiny shits if it all sounds a bit samey, it’s got me hook line and sinker!

The Truest Form Of Pain starts with an acoustic intro making you think they possibly might be having a rest until the song blast forwards like a steam train and is everything you have come to expect from this record, Brand Of Sacrifice then leans directly on the groove metal part of the sound and this does slow the pace down slightly for once but doesn’t effect the power of the song and the change actually adds to the way the album flows. A Violent Compulsion is an instrumental that isn’t realty needed at all and does just sort of get in the way, wish bands wouldn’t do things like this, pointless, skip and move on! Spitting Teeth though immediately picks up where we should have left off and blasts and savages its way through you in the way we have come to know and love. 

But then, Another Piece Of Meat is a bit of a weird one, it’s got a stop start dynamic and is littered with pitch harmonics and the way the vocals are done is just plain odd, it sounds like a 2003 nu-metal band cast off and I do not like it one bit! Its good it has taken this long to find a major fault, but this song leaves a horrible taste in the mouth! Shame as its the last actual song of the album and it’s a bit of a disappointing way to end. We then get a live rendition of The Fallen Shall Rise In A River Of Blood from an album released in 2005 and I don’t really see the point in this? It’s a decent enough track but why is it on here??

It all started so fucking well and continued right up until the last part of the album with some questionable choices. I shouldn’t really let the last 2 songs and a couple of instrumentals take away from my enjoyment of this fantastic album and it doesn’t, it just annoys me that they could have probably just put one more song on and probably got a perfect score as it really was that good but, little things like that make the difference I’m afraid. Having said that, I loved the vast majority of this album and wont slag it off, it comes highly recommended for fans of the death/thrash genres and is full of absolute dynamite tracks, this is 100% worth your time. 9/10

Excalion - Once Upon A Time (Scarlet Records) [Richard Oliver]

Once Upon A Time is the sixth album by Finnish power metal band Excalion and sees the band going from strength to strength building upon the impressive Emotions album they released back in 2019. Once Upon A Time sees the bands songwriting skills hit new heights and Excalion have produced an impressive and varied album.

Excalion’s style of power metal is built around melody more than anything else with the melodies provided through a combination of guitars, keyboards and the powerhouse vocals of frontman Marcus Lång who, on his third album with the band, gives his best performance to date. Whilst the sound is very melody and keyboard driven, the guitars still pack a punch when needed and whilst the riffs aren’t particularly dynamic they add a good bit of crunch when needed. 

The songs are a varied bunch with energetic and fast-paced power metal bangers such as ResolutionI Am I and Band Of Brothers which bristle with energy and have some of the biggest and catchiest choruses of the album. There are some more mid-paced but no less anthemic songs such as Words Cannot Heal and Amuse Me whilst When A Moment Turns Into A Lifetime and Eternals are firmly in ballad territory but still retain a good deal of power and metal crunch.

If you are a fan of power and melodic metal then you can really do no wrong by giving Once Upon A Time a listen. It is chock full of powerful, catchy and memorable songs and has fantastic performances throughout with excellent guitar work from Aleksi Hirvonen, excellent and varied keyboard work from original member Jarmo Myllyvirta and a commanding vocal performance from frontman Marcus Lång who has a style similar to Marco Hietala (ex-Nightwish, Tarot). If you are already a fan of Excalion and have enjoyed the last couple of releases then Once Upon A Time will not disappoint and is easily one of the strongest albums in their discography. 8/10

Late Night Venture - V Bones Of The Extinct (Trepanation Recordings/Vinyltroll Records) [Mark Young]

Late Night Venture have been releasing their distinct take on Post-metal, Doom and Psychedelic since 2009 and looking online, their history goes further back to 2005 where they were formed from the ashes of the Flying Virgins. I struggle with certain label tags such as Post-metal which is probably due to my age but if a band comes across with Doom and Psych as such tags, I have a fair idea of what they are going to sound like and although I don’t mind it, it is not my go to for audio relaxation.

Hostile Nature starts off proceedings with a dense chord pattern with screamed vocals over the top. What begins as just ok moves into a bigger space, as background noise joins a more urgent riff which is then culled for an almost whispered vocal part. The intertwining background noise gives way to an anthemic breakdown, delivered at mid-tempo. Considering that the opener is 7 minutes plus, they have managed to make it interesting and emotionally engaging. This is not one riff repeated ad nauseum it is a story, and It certainly sets a high bar to start with.

Mammut picks up the baton and walks quickly with it, tempos are similar but there is a lot going on here, the arrangement on this as well as the first track are excellent with the ambient noise in the background, not overused but just enough to then bring in the next sequence with subtle differences in speed and texture. One issue is the slow for the quiet guitar section, which if overused becomes an almost expected crutch. Here they take that motif as use it as the foundation to bring this to an end with a solo break that is unconventional and completely in keeping with the music preceding it.

Reappear switches vocal approach, with an almost Nick Cage delivery which makes way for the music to come through and build to an expected crescendo, which is probably the lightest song here. Hate Speech comes in with some monolithic riffing as if to underpin the message of the song. The vocal delivery is the same, as the lyrics are almost eviscerated before dropping back to let it all breathe. For me, this would be one of the stand-out tracks live.

Armed Warrior amps up the Psychedelia, whilst there is a guitar line that would not be too far removed from some of the early films of John Carpenter which really lifted this song. It’s a soundtrack in need of a film that really starts to motor towards its end.

Speaking of ends, Prognosis Negative brings us to an incredibly satisfying end. It’s a great book end, full of crashing drums, screams and then it is done. I may have mentioned before that I’m really fond of slower music, but I can appreciate where a band have gone in and put together something that deserves a wider audience. This is one of those.

Live this would be an experience, with the six tracks here all displaying a craftmanship and thought that makes it unmissable for fans of this genre. Despite some of the song lengths there is no fat anywhere which makes it more remarkable considering there are no technical displays or fretwork fireworks. Everything matches, but it is far from boring or one note. 8/10

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