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Sunday 12 March 2023

Reviews: Sortilège, Dream Upon Tombs, Plague Bearer, Flesh Mechanics (Reviews By Simon Black, Rick Eaglestone, Erick Willand & Matt Bladen)

Sortilège – Apocalypso (Season Of Mist) [Simon Black]

Sortilège are not an act I had heard of before. Originally active in Paris in the early 80’s, and having done some respectable local support work for various giants of the NWOBHM movement, and the band carved themselves a niche over there before disappearing from view after three albums in the mid 80’s. They were something of a cult France only affair that had huge influence, was remembered fondly but that never broke out internationally (much like Hell did over here in the UK). After that nada, nothing, zip until 2019 when they reassembled for a one-off performance at the Keep It True festival in 2019. 

That’s a long time to keep a rusty hatchet around but looks like this gave the impetus to finally bury it and move forwards. To a point… Obviously Covid slowed that process down but finally almost thirty years later and we have something new to listen to. That said, apart from vocalist Zouille Augustin, no-one else from the original line up survives, and the musicians surrounding him were assembled from scratch in 2021. According to the Encyclopedia Metallum, the status of the band is currently ‘disputed’, so perhaps that old rusty hatchet ain’t quite so buried yet…

Not being familiar with the older material (whether you consider them to be the same act or not), I can only judge by what I hear today, and that I must say is rather impressive. You can tell the roots come from traditional old school heavy metal, but the sound is very much influenced by a lot of more modern metal tropes in terms of arrangement and sound, but it’s broader than that and branches stylistically well. I’ve always considered French to be a fantastic language to set music to, as it’s fluid and emphatic style supports the emotive musical framework the artists are endeavouring to communicate so much better than English, whether you understand it or not. Added to this Augustin is a pretty damn good singer, with a broad octaval range, huge amounts of power, some gutsy edge and a bucket load of charisma.

The song arrangements are particularly effective, with a hell of a lot of variety going on in here rather than sticking rigidly to a particular framework, but with a consistently deep and heavy undercarriage that relentlessly drives everything forward with consistency regardless on whether individual tracks stary from trad metal into power, symphonic or groove territory. The musician here work together very well and fluidly as a cohesive whole, but Augustin is front and centre in the mix, and that’s no bad thing because he holds that front spot so very well. A new band with an old name, or the next step – you decide, I just like it for what it is – a forty-five minutes slab of well-crafted, engaging and addictive modern metal. 8/10

Dream Upon Tombs – Palaces Of Dust (Sleeping Church Records) [Rick Eaglestone]

Let’s be honest here, we’ve all checked out albums based on their cover and when you couple this with the knowledge that not only is this a debut but also has involvement from the legendary Dan Swano, it certainly makes you want to investigate further. This is very much the case with Australia’s Dream Upon Tombs first release Palaces Of Dust.

For the most part the albums opener The Call has a slow menacing presence but embedded within this are shards of fury that balance out well into follow up Hollows Eve and my highlight track of the album Ghost Of Dawn which has some wonderful guitar parts with a frostbitten vocal delivery.

The album then takes a melancholic dive with short piano laden Twilight, A Silent Funeral which breaks the album nicely and although On The Shores Of The Brave is in keeping with previous track I would’ve liked to have had something more maniacal to really showcase the previous track emotion and then Carrion Dreams fires through the speakers and my brief gripe is quashed.

My favourite riff of the album has to be the opener to Twins Of Evil then the familiar piano parts return for another short interlude with The Absent Quest which has a tinge of Cradle Of Filth’s One Final Graven Kiss to it before the album concludes the unrelenting Of The Mist.

A Very Promising Debut. 7/10

Plague Bearer - Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation (Nameless Grave Records) [Erick Willand]

A side project of a few members of Drawn and Quartered, Kelly Kuciemba and Herb Burke with the express goal of being more primitive and evil. After several demos and some time collecting vile riffs they enlisted the vocal skills of Nihilist (of Vetus Obscurum) and created Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation.

And this primordial slab wastes not one second getting right to the sonic bludgeoning with unholy black Satanic War metal kicking things off bluntly and efficiently with a hook riff and clean yet cave brutal production. Wins for my favorite song title this year so far. The title track is next, Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation and it does just as promised. The angry ghost vocals on this track make it stand out giving it a haunting quality that comes through stronger with headphones on. Defiled By Sodomy is a short blasphemous blast of thrashy in your face blackened metal that gives me Carpathian Forest vibes.

Decapitated Angels rips in after with the catchiest riff and clearest vocals yet and I’m caught, I listened to it twice back to back. At a lean 2 minutes and 42 seconds it’s perfect, the last part of the song is just blasted aggression and it’s fantastic. This aggression will stand and carry right into Anti-Christian Inquisition with the blasphemous glory of blazing riffs and artillery like drumming. Under One Sign is a galloping anthem with a hook heavy riff that will live in your head afterward for days or possibly years. It gives me power metal gone slumming vibes in all the right ways.

Rise Of The Goat brings back the visceral anger of the first two tracks and ups the time and evil atmosphere with a creepy helicopter like riff and relentless drum attacks. Not to mention the face ripping solo sweeps that peel face meat away like a peek inside the Ark. Churches Are In Flames is just as harsh and blasphemous with a simpler, more relentless approach. A decent song but it lacks some of the earlier flare.

However if that track lacked something it was given over to In Satan’s Name, Plague Bearer’s grand anthem to the horned one storms into your ears with the same speed and relentless delivery but it’s clear this song is different, there’s a riff over the attack and the vocals feel urgent. Combined with the mechanized drum assault and flashing solo work I actually don’t notice at first it’s a full 6 minutes and 11 seconds long. I listen again to make sure and get the same result. The last track is Cristbane and starts off with a straight up 80’s riff and that vibe sticks with the whole song. It’s blackened-death-roll or something I don’t know, it’s a stand out track and placed right at the end.

This is blackened death metal at it’s finest, fun songs, top tier production keeping it clear yet still retaining that primordial cave vibe makes this album stand out. The Thomas Westphal cover art depicting a boat made of bone on a lava river, a pile of ripe corpses on the shore. Extra art point for the fact that Satan in the background, looks like he's about to throw a stick of dynamite. A few more songs like Decapitated Angels and Anti-Christian Inquisition would have made this a stronger album, all combined I give Summoning Apocalyptic Devastation 8/10        

Flesh Mechanics - Infrastructure/A Little Piece (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Grym frontman and all round musical auteur Vikki Van Zant has become rebuilt and reborn with new project Flesh Mechanics. A double A-Side that serves as precursor to an EP release later this year. Flesh Mechanics is industrial music with a real gothic tone, Infrastructure having that sexy synth twitch of Depeche Mode or Gary Numan, the guitar riff very early Rammstein. The Neue Deutsch Harte inspiring this song for definite, Van Zant's vocals having a Mike Patton-like sneer to them so it's like Faith No More attempting Rammstein and pulling it off, the special guest solos from Ben Baljak closing it out. His guitar pyrotechnics also feature on the heavier A Little Piece which has the percussive drive of Rob/White Zombie, the throbbing repeating drumbeat leads into a massive sing along chorus that begs to be sung back at full volume. A tasty morsel that hints at good things coming from Van Zant and Flesh Mechanics. 7/10

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