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Friday 28 April 2023

Reviews: Fires In The Distance, Enforced, Elvenking, Fatuous Rump (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Bladen, Mark Young & GC)

Fires In The Distance - Air Not Meant For Us (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

One of the best albums of 2020 was a debut; Echoes From Deep November by Fires In The Distance. The album didn’t sound like a debut, it had the feel of an album that had been made by an established band, with lots of time and experience working together. The album had quite an impact as well, the deeply melodic Death/Doom had a nicely original sound and was a very well rounded album, that after multiple listens is still as powerful and affecting as the first time I heard it. To say this ratcheted up the pressure on the band to produce something truly amazing for their follow up, is an understatement. Have the band, made up of Craig Breitsprecher on bass and vocals, Jordan Rippe on drums, Yegor Savonin on guitars and synths and Kristian Grimaldi on guitars and vocals, fulfilled the almost ridiculous promise that was made by their incredibly impressive debut?

The sound on Air Not Meant For Us is broadly the same as on Echoes From Deep November, however this is not the band rehashing a successful debut, what Fires In The Distance have done with Air Not Made For Us is to perfect the style that we first heard three years ago. All the elements that made the debut awesome are here, big doomy riffs, really great harsh vocals, atmospheric keyboards, beautiful piano and all wrapped up in almost ridiculous amounts of melody and tunefulness. Whats different on this album is experience, they’ve done this before, and have that to draw on, plus they’ve had three years to work on making this as good as they can. The album is just short of an hour and is split into six long songs, ranging from six to nearly twelve minutes.

Although I’ve referred to this as a death/doom album there are places where the pacing picks up and the style is closer to melodic death metal, there is a far bit of riding the intersection between the two styles. Wisdom Of Falling Leaves is bookended by faster riffs and has a feel that is closer to melodic death metal, the middle section of the song has a much softer feel with lots of atmosphere, and some very nice piano. The other track that is a bit too fast for doom, is the final track Idiopathic Despair, which is mainly mid-paced melodic, the track does have a few interludes that are soft and minimal with piano, but they quickly drop back into a faster style. The song also has a spoken word sample that appears at the beginning and re-appears near the end.

Of the softer songs that fit into a death/doom style Crumbling Pillars Of A Tranquil Mind is very good, it’s got a fairly simple structure compared to some of the tracks on Air Not Meant For Us. The song is a mix of big doomy riffs with atmospheric keyboards and a delicate piano tune and much more minimal sections with just piano and drums. Adrift, Beneath The Listless Waves is another of the tracks closer to a doom sound, the song has a great melodic riff with guitar and piano, there are some more driving and purposeful sections, but this is mainly about the interplay between guitar and piano.

Another stand out element of this album is the guitar solos. All the songs have them and a couple of lucky songs have two or three, they are all incredibly lyrical, tuneful and just dripping with gorgeous melody. In fact just about everything on here is deeply melodic, the number and quality of all the melodies the band have used is staggering, I can’t think of another album that sounds this melodic and beautiful, where everything sounds and feels this natural and nothing is out of place.

As you might already have worked out, this album is stunning. Fires In The Distance made some big promises with their last album, they have fulfilled those promises completely. This album is extremely good, if you liked Fires In The Distance’s last album, my god you are in for a treat, if the band are new to you, then dive in, you have an amazing band to discover. Keep a place open in your top fives for the year, as this is going to be at the top of lots and lots of lists at the end of December. 9/10

Enforced - War Remains (Century Media Records) [Matt Bladen]

Richmond, Virginia band Enforced play aggressive music, as aggressive as possible, fierce and furious thrash metal, frontman Knox Colby saying that they didn't overthink anything in the making of this album. A D.I.Y ethos has always been the way Enforced handle their business, no frills, no production trickery just riffs, shouts and 32 minutes of thrash metal mayhem. This record is actually shorter than their Century Media debut Kill Grid, making it much more forceful and direct, a crossover thrash record that dives right in to the pit and starts kicking. 

This is Enforced refined, rearmed and more dangerous than before, a record honed by months/year of touring to stop you dead in your tracks and smash up your granny's front room. Politically motivated and aimed at the beating heart of corruption, as well as paying tribute to Colby's cousin who died and how he dealt with it. They fly out of the blocks with Aggressive Menace which is just that while The Quickening adds that hardcore groove while Hanged By My Hand is outright thrash as Mercy Killing Fields is wild and frenzied. Formed out of the local punk and hardcore scene Enforced is a cross over treat just don't listen to it in a crowded room. 8/10

Elvenking - Reader Of The Runes: Rapture (AFM Records) [Mark Young]

Right – Fans of pagan melodeath remain seated. Everyone else please leave the hall.

Still here? Ok, here we go.

Rapture comes in with the expected instrumental moment before launching into one of the biggest sounding power-chords ever captured on tape. I mean its colossal and took me by surprise as it flies along, powered by a sense of unbridled joy. The Hanging Tree continues with the high tempo melodic metal attack, keeping the pagan phrasing to a minimum allowing the exceptional musicians to shine. It is almost perfect music to drink strong ale to, which is something I never thought I'd type. Ever. Bride Of Night keeps on track with the major sounding melodies here, with the vocals soaring and keeping pace but never overshadowing the music. Every track tells a story and there are some cool dual guitar harmonies straight from the Iron Maiden book of dual harmonies, volume 2. There is also a touch of Queen in there too, especially on The Cursed Cavalier

However, not everything works that well, there are some death growls here and there, and it seems to jar a little. But everything has a positive spin in attack, even the slow and more earnest tracks showing a high level of skill which is just built for a foot on the monitor with the hair being shook. It makes a refreshing change to hear a band just have fun with their material and it does make you nod your head, even if you are most ardent death / black / grind / thrash metal fan. It’s infectious, it really is as they crank out some delicious hard rock riffs which breaks up any fatigue from just having speedy tracks all the way through.

I must admit that I thought I would hate this. I mean absolutely detest it but it, you know it was pretty good. What helps is the fact that they seem to be having a blast in playing these songs, and as I’ve said above you can imagine what it would be like live, with the crowd 4 or 5 beers deep getting into it. It hasn’t changed my mind on pagan metal, I must be honest, but this is a cracker, and will go a long way with fans of this genre. 7/10

Fatuous Rump - I Am At Your Disposal (Brutal Mind/Fat Tub Of Lard Records) [GC]

They say that you should never judge a book by its cover but in this case, I have because the cover of the new album from Taiwan Based Fatous Rump, I Am at Your Disposal gives you no misunderstanding as to what this is going to be, it’s the body of a dismembered woman shoved in a toilet with a gratuitous tit showing for good measure, not a great start and frankly the song titles sound like a toddler has come up with them. I Almost feel like reviewing this is pointless but, I’m here so let’s do this.

Starting off with the classic sounding The Toilet Is The Person with a sample of someone who describes how they groomed and molested a child isn’t a great start and makes me almost just not bother as there is nothing funny or edgy about this, its just fucking pathetic and it goes on for over a minute, when the music does finally kick in its exactly what you expect slam death metal full of brie brie brie vocals from Larry Wang that completely almost drown out the music and sound fucking ridiculous and I find it difficult to believe there are actually lyrics for this, when you do hear the music its all very standard slam and fine but nothing remarkable, following on with Whenever Were Opened Were Red its more of the same, minus the shit sample but this song is slightly better and has more of a groove running through the song with some nice pitch harmonics littered around the chugging riffs of Hank Peng and the slowed down sections mix in some punishing double bass drumming from Kane Chen that is actually very impressive but it always comes back to the vocals which are again nothing short of comical at times.

You Melt The Plastic In My Underwear continues with the wacky song titles and I wonder/hope that something has been lost in translation somewhere along the line, here we have the classic horror movie sample of a woman being killed, standard and then we get some very competent death metal, not exactly slam and not straight forward DM it’s a melding of both and works well even the vocals are not as annoying as previously, not saying they aren’t annoying but there the least annoying so far as they don’t completely drown out the music for once? The Airtight Bag In The Freezer follows the well-trodden path that has been walked down so far, blasting drums, scuzzy and dense riffs and comedy vocals are all there and don’t do much to convince that there will be much variety on this album but at least there is no stupid sample to ruin everything.

Its all fine but the underlying feeling that the lyrics are actually fucking terrible never leaves your mind, Blood Is Really Warm With A Lot Of Screaming is actually an ok track musically with some serious groove infused beatdowns and the drums are impressive again and you almost notice the bass of Daniel Cheng chucking in some extra body to the whole song but once again the majority of the vocals are crap, Looks Like Meat Is Back On The Menu has a sample of Piers National Fuckwit Morgan talking to some murderer about killing his sister which instantly get my back up and the song doesn’t fair very well either, boring and slow.

Being over halfway through now, if I am honest its all starting to grate on me a bit and Sometimes Bad Babies Go In Timeout doesn’t really do much to make anything any better, this is a heavily vocally lead song which as I may have alluded to previously is not a good idea at all and the slow and ponderous pace of the first half of the song does nothing to help when it does pick up its ok but nothing to get excited about, we then get to easily the worst song title of them all. This Is The Condom I Used When I Lost My Virginity which starts with another sample about some kid wanting to kill his family and again it a another slowed down tempo that dials away from the slam and is more straight forward death metal and it shows there is something there musically when they try but, it’s about late now really, No Can You Lick Them For Me and Everything Was A Messy Failure both sound exactly like everything else has sounded so far and I’m just beyond bored of it all now to be honest.

So, if you like brutal slamming death metal with no hints of subtlety that has stupid song titles and equally stupid vocals then this is 100% for you, if you like death metal that challenges and excites you when you listen to it the this is 100% not for you. Fatous Rump know their market and sound exactly like a band who have an album called I Am At Your Disposal would sound like, its not big, its not clever and unfortunately for them its just not very good either. 4/10

Thursday 27 April 2023

Reviews: Wallowing, Existentialist, Graveworm, The Medea Project (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Wallowing - Earth Reaper (Church Road Records)

If you’ve ever wanted a band to be fucking terrifying then, step through the wormhole into the galactic terror that is Wallowing. The un-named, faceless, spectral figures of Wallowing have been catching audiences in their tractor beams before ritualistically dissecting them to gain greater knowledge in how to conquer them for a while now. Their live rituals, often cloaked in darkness and scarier than a zombie Margaret Thatcher have gained them renown across the UK as being on the ‘must see’ list of anyone that likes music so heavy it’ll permanently injure you. Having seen them live it’s an audio visual feast the noisy sample driven heaviness of the music, booming from a stage often filled with smoke and lighting effects, it’s a site to be hold, but how does that translate to their recorded material? Well pretty well mainly because they rely on concept albums to tell their post-apocalyptic, sci-fi storyline, accompanying them with alt reality games, merchandise, collectors’ items etc, a clear passion for science fiction and nerd culture is what draws me to them as well as the music. 

This second album Earth Reaper, deals with an outcast attempting to free herself from the dead planet she inhabits and find the truth behind existence, a philosophically challenging storyline that is interpreted through the cavernous riffs and haunting soundscapes of Wallowing’s music. The themes of isolation, tyranny, racism et al crossing over into the ‘real’ world (red or blue pill depending). The first 6 songs have been written to be 22 minutes long meaning they don’t lose any time by building atmosphere or background, lurching forward with heavily distorted guitars, demonic screams and layers of synthetic noises from synths and electronics, though much of the background comes from organic noise recordings, to run behind the rest of the music as unsettling sound bed. It’s a sound that is all encompassing like Carpenter’s The Thing it undulates and evolves taking many forms but always retains the horror of its creation. 

The first part is only actually three full songs as the others are small interludes to maintain the atmosphere and move the theme along, linking the tracks together so the raging Flesh And Steel can seamlessly segue into the city destroying doom of Cries Of Estima, as they crawl inhumanly towards the 22 minute title track which is all guns blazing, throwing the kitchen sink at you, as it undulates between from world ending doom, into classic metal harmonies, then back again in just the first 5 minutes alone, from here the musical journey continues dragging you along with it as the Earth Reaper claims victims and Wallowing ascend to cinematic highs. The records are only half the story with what Wallowing do but Earth Reaper is a mind flaying record that needs to be experienced at full volume. 9/10

Existentialist - The Heretic (Seek And Strike Records)

Yet more blackened deathcore, with Melancolia last week, Essex based Existentialist are the latest band to put Satan worshipping, tremolo picking, black metal with the crushing breakdowns and guttural growls of deathcore. Existentialist take things a little further than most as despite the chaingun breakdown in opener Shrouded In Darkness the rest of the song sounds like a Cradle Of Filth epic, with orchestrations and soprano vocals against black metal squawks and melodic lead guitars. 

The use of strings is magnificent, on this album even on the outright technical ragers such as The Zealot’s Demise the orchestral stabs take it from being your average deathcore beatdown to something more evil and dramatic. It gives complexity to music that is of course welcome but also needed due to the saturation of the deathcore genre. I will say that if you listen to this album a few times in a row like I did you will get battle fatigue because of the maximalist approach it takes, dialling up the synths, strings, guitars and drumming to make sure that it bombards you with intensity, because of this the middle section does sort of blend into one another even with the inclusion of Jason Evans of Ingested on Embers Upon Calvary

It’s not until the last track, The Abyssal Embrace that I once again got more of the dynamism that was in the first part of the record, the piano driven intro giving some emotion before they are unleashed again. Existentialist would make a great black metal band, but they continue to be a very good blackened deathcore mob, they are just a little too in your face for a long time, adding the deftness of the final track across the whole album would keep the power but make it a bit more pleasurable to my ears. 7/10

Graveworm - Killing Innocence (AFM Records)

After an eight year gap the inhabitants of South Tyrol, an autonomous province in Italy, Graveworm bring us their ninth studio album. They play a death/thrash mix with gothic keys and orchestrations, similar to the bands that inspired them such as Kreator and Sodom, despite being from Italy they do sound very German, with thunderous drumming and vocal growls as the riffs are fast and buzzsaw like, Wrath Of The Gods, grinding your bones with its hybrid assault. 

Even on slower tracks such as A Nameless Grave where there’s lots of piano and the death metal groove of End Of Time. It’s these other elements added to their extreme metal that will catch the ears of anyone well versed in death or thrash metal. 30 odd years since their first album Graveworm have managed to make this record sound like their earlier ones but have used modern production so it feel sharper and more potent. 

Killing Innocence will be a must for fans of the band, and its gothic death/thrash style will hopefully attract new listeners to these veterans as well. 7/10

The Medea Project – Reflections (Trepanation Recordings)

Leaning on the Lewis Carrol, Through The Looking Glass, twisted nature of reality idea, gothic doom band The Medea Project release Reflections again letting the misery wash over you like a jet black sea. Thrown into a pit of darkness and despair, this EP comes with yet more intriguing atmospheric metal that slowly burns away draped in a velvet cloak of synths while the fuzzing slow riffs of songs such as Cain, where spoken words are joined by shouted choruses and heavy doom. 

This duo thrive on invoking a certain style or journey, mashing together numerous styles like the slinky post-punk of Nightmare – The Dreamtime with the huge doom riffs on The Ghosts Of St Augustines the opener of this 5 track record, which also has a shorter radio edit later on. They have been compared a lot to Tiamat and you can hear them and the Peaceville Three as well but The Medea Project take an avant-garde stance too letting their creative vision run riot. 

The only thing I will say is that when not growling, on songs such as Warhead and Cain, the vocals sound like Chris Jericho, I’ll leave you to decide if that’s good or bad. Still it’s dark and dreary music for a dark and dreary world, these are Reflections into the other side. 6/10

Reviews: Defiled, Bell Witch, Smoulder, Spotlights (Reviews By Mark Young & Rick Eaglestone)

Defiled - The Highest Level (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

Defiled are here to offer their latest platter, announcing it as ‘straight forward bone-crushing death metal’ and it certainly is. This is 15 songs whose soul purpose is to beat you into submission with all the blast beats and growled vocals you could ever want. This is written by fans of simple, not-overly technical metal for fans who just want pure aggression in their music.

Wisely, Defiled keep their song lengths short which only reinforces the brutality as they come in as a series of short, nasty shocks. Everything is in place with a completely frenzied attack which combines elements of hardcore / punk into the death metal provided here. Its sounds well, each instrument is clear and there is a well balanced mix which manages to hark back to how death metal sounded in the 90’s which is a neat trick.

However, no matter how fast, or how brutal it sounds there has to be something in there to continually engage the listener. Being the most brutal sounding is fine but if the songs start to blur into one with no apparent differences they it starts to feel like a 43 minute journey into blast beats. As I’ve said above this might provide joy on earth to those who just want that but it didn’t say anything new to me especially considering the strength of some death metal releases in the first 3 months of 2023. To me they could have taken one or two tracks off from here and still had a solid, coherent album that would have been suitably nasty and achieve their goals.

So, to end the review let me say that if you are a fan of no-frills, absolute straight-ahead death metal that deals in velocity and brutality then this is for you. It sounds exactly as described in their online bio and they do not deviate from that path one iota. It won’t satisfy fans of progressive / technical death metal but they never claimed to do so. 7/10

Bell Witch – Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate (Profound Lore) [Rick Eaglestone]

Having made a surprise appearance at this year’s Roadburn Festival, pacific north-western doom metal monolith Bell Witch return with Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate

Coming in at 83 minutes The Clandestine Gate brings to the forefront organs and synthesisers which have been used in the bands previous releases such as Mirror Reaper but weaved within this are ethereal style twinned vocals and lingering yet crushing guitars and rolling drum patterns.

Overall, the melodic lines are harmonies more structured, and the addition of death doom style vocals sprinkled in only add to the albums appeal and from the albums title it would appear the band are not finished with the idea of a similar release appearing soon.

Initially I thought I would not get on with this as its presented but in fact it has had the opposite effect as it requires your full focus and I have spent many an evening recently shutting everything off sitting in the darkness and in that stillness enjoying the journey that this track takes you through

A singular eternal and fleeting composition. 8/10

Smoulder – Violent Creed Of Vengeance (Cruz Del Sur Music) [Rick Eaglestone]

Four years on from their spectacular debut, Smoulder return to engulf the metal flame with follow up Violent Creed Of Vengeance.

The album opens with title track Violent Creed Of Vengeance which with its thunderous combination of well-constructed riffs and consistent NWOBHM soundscapes all make an immediate impact. This is then followed by The Talisman And The Blade which launches a breakneck speed.

Switching pace Midnight In The Mirror World still manages to showcase the bands’ ability to construct an absolute masterclass in song structure as the swaying and bold nature of the track holds the listeners attention, then once again speed is on the agenda for Path Of Witchery which is easily the most intense and head banging inducing of the album.

Victims Of Fate features an incredibly special guest appearance from author of The Great Cycle the legendary Michael Moorcock, the band have professed the love for art and literature over their career so it’s wonderful to have this incorporated as it fits the albums aesthetic perfectly.

Spellforger is no doubt going to be a live favourite as once again is absolute whirlwind, not only is it my highlight track by my favourite of Sarah Ann’s vocal performance of the entire album. The album concludes with longest track of the album Dragonslayer’s Doom which feels hugely influenced by Dio and had he still been with us I would ascertain that he would have been eager to collaborate on, just the perfect choice of ending track.

The fact that two thirds of the band relocated to Finland from their native Canada cannot stop the domination of this band. I was obsessed with Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring and guess what, I am right back in that headspace and honestly if they came over the UK it would be an absolute joy. 10/10

Spotlights - Alchemy For The Dead (Ipecac Records) [Mark Young]

New York three-piece Spotlights offer their latest Doom Gaze / post metal opus Alchemy For The Dead.

Beyond The Broken Sky starts with some subtle stuff, slide guitar with vocals that seem to drift forever before it snaps out of its trance to heavy up proceedings. The vocals don’t change and if anything, work even better against the heavier backing. This is a good start and runs into The Alchemist that employs an incredibly dense bass line to do the heavy lifting. Already Spotlights have thrown open their tool chest to pick out what works best. This is controlled, with the space in sound filled with keys. 

Closing your eyes to this, you can imagine how it would look live, the lighting used as it changes its tack as it enters the final third with it gaining traction. Fuzz-soaked solo breaks, all against that mountain of a back line and then cut, it falls away to a sweet acoustic piece and I’m loving this, just the sheer amount of creativity and confidence on display. Nothing is the same except the gossamer soft vocals as they fight against whatever backing is thrown their way.

There are some call backs to Shoegaze from the late 80’s and early 90’s, in the way the songs are constructed but these are delivered in a way that makes them so much more interesting. The dynamics between soft and then incredibly heavy just rule and they are done in a way that when they land it just changes everything without loosing that songcraft on display. Four songs in and for me it is just exceptional, totally different from anything I’ve listened to in a long time. This could be due to having no frame of reference to similar bands and to the fact that I have dined on a diet of Death metal, Classic old-school thrash and 60’s music (Yes, The Beatles amongst others).

I mention 60’s music, specifically the period from 65 or 66 onwards where the spirit of creativity ran large, and I can trace that spirit here. You / they might not agree with that statement and that is fine. It doesn’t change how good this album is. It doesn’t change how good they are. What should matter is that you give them the attention they deserve even if you are fan of this music or not. 9/10

Reviews: Mélancolia, Void King, Mother Of Graves, Stoned Morose (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, Mark Young & GC)

Mélancolia – HissThroughRottenTeeth (Greyscale Records/Nuclear Blast Records) [Matt Bladen]

Australia seems to be a hub for deathcore at the moment. With their debut album Melbourne band Mélancolia have concocted a conceptual record that immerses you with blackened deathcore aggression as it tells the tale of a fallen deity who has been reincarnated as human, so he had the knowledge but no power. Essentially an album about futility and the pain of existence, HissThroughRottenTeeth uses synths to build atmospheres and emphisise the gothic drama of the storyline. The black metal influences heavy on the specteral backing of Horror_Ethreal where the vocals too shift between guttural roars and satanic screams, against some crushing deathcore riffs. Dread Will Follow is a bit more in the traditional deathcore style, with a bottom heavy riff and breakdowns while God Tongue is furious black metal blasting. 

Alex Hill's vocals are insane, frenzied and terrifying while the guitars of Joshua Taafe and Billy Morris guide the shifts between death, black and core, vaying the pace behind the kit is the percussive brutality of drummer Mason Page. They played their first show with Thy Art Is Murder back in January, so it's incredibly impressive just how good they are considering how long they have been a band. With the black metal elements on HissThroughRottenTeeth, Mélancolia have a crafted a debut album that sits them adjacent enough from the deathcore scene that they can avoid any preconcieved notions of the genre. Evil, evocative and explosive, Mélancolia are the latest Australian band to throw their hat in the heavy ring. 7/10

Void King - The Hidden Hymnal (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

Void King have been kicking around Indiana playing their version of stoner doom since about 2015, but now, with the release of their latest album, and the subsequent part two that is coming soon, the band have seemed to hit their stride and are putting out their best material yet. The Hidden Hymnal is six killer tracks of the heavier side of the stoner rock, with some serious doom elements, and their best songwriting to date.

As I mentioned, this is part one of two releases coming this year, and if The Hidden Hymnal is any indication of what this entire project is going to sound like we are all in for a treat. Egg Of The Sun is a great opener, leaning mostly on the doom side of things, with its plodding pace and Sabbathy riff, Void King shows they can hang with the trad doom big boys with this track. I love the vocals on this album, and this song is the perfect example as to why. The Grackle picks up the pace, with the heavy back end and double bass, it is more of a straight-ahead metal banger than anything else, until the more stoner/doom elements click in about halfway through. We find our hero dedicating himself to The Grackle, which I hope I start to understand why as part two of the series is going to be a concept album that I hope clears up some of the story line, but what a great track this is on its own. 

Engulfed In Absence is a stoner rock ripper, with some killer groove. The drums are right upfront in the mix here…maybe a bit too much for some, but for me I am good with how his record sounds. When The Pinecone Closes Up is one of the more interesting titles of the year, and more of the trad doom stylings as mentioned earlier. This reminds me of the great Wolf Counsel record from last year. Brother Tried has a great riff and am I hearing some slide guitar (bluesy doom)? I think I am, and boy does it work. This is my favorite track on the album. Drink The Light also checks that killer stoner doom box and rounds out a six out of six banger album. 

This is pretty great stoner doom, and I am really looking forward to hearing the full odyssey end to end, but for now, you get a half dozen headbanging worthy stoner doom tracks that stand alone well on their own but provides enough intrigue to keep you wanting more and looking froward to part two. Check out The Hidden Hymnal, and if you can figure out what is going on with The Grackle so far, please let me know. 8/10

Mother Of Graves - In Somber Dreams (Wise Blood Records) [Mark Young]

Death Doom is a relatively new one on me, so luckily, I have been given the chance to try out Mother Of Graves EP, which seems to have been around since 2021. Major influences are Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and there is certainly lot to like here. It’s not traditional doom in that its slower than a glacier moving there are moments of speed until songs reach their natural end which is the case with In Somber Dreams as it transforms from a slow lumber into a light speed race to the end.

Nameless Burial takes spoken word against a discordant movement until the death growls kick in, which has to be said are low and really fit the music behind providing an extra heft. There are some brilliant movements as we enter what could be labelled the chorus before it returns to the morgue type arrangement. The Urn offers a more measured approach with a clean arpeggio sequence backed by subtle keys. And then BANG! The cleans are gone with an almost black metal attack, further supported by double bass. They explore that light / dark approach throughout the remainder of the song, all while the deep growls are taking centre stage once more.

The final track, Deliverance is another monster in that they keep that consistent beat coming with a harmony counterpoint working in its favour, bringing a tension to the song. The harmony line seeks to wring an emotion before it is squashed by a change in direction. The final minute is spent recovering the momentum, with riffs that move and returns that emotional harmony to us. 

On the strength of this EP, it looks as though they have got enough within them to produce quality music and progress beyond their influences above. They are certainly unafraid to mix things up on the four songs here, and everything seems to be in synch as each of the band seem to see that whole of the song as the most important thing. 6/10

Stoned Morose - Pure Hesher Doom (Self Released) [GC]

I must start by saying that this sort of review would usually be left to some of my more knowledgeable colleagues here Musipedia Of Metal because I have said that stoner/doom is not really my thing but, reading up on these guys in the description I saw Death Metal listed as a tag so thought I would dive in and have a go!

It all starts off with (Rise) Om Phoenix that has a fairly nice and sludgy droning riff and a decent bass thud mixed in but then you notice the bass drum sounds like a wet fart and then you notice the vocals because frankly they just don’t hit very hard, I expected some sort of monstrous roar but I am presented with someone who sounds like he is struggling to breathe and this song just sort of fades away and doesn’t inspire much hope going forward, Esoterica has a standard Sabbath sounding riff and the drums have improved slightly but this guy needs to hand the mic over to someone else as he sounds like he is dying trying to get the vocals out and not even in a good way which is a shame as the general flow of the song does have a decent groove and gets the head nodding but when the vocals kick in it just ruins everything for me.

Cult Of Betrayal again has a nice slow and ominous grooving build up and chugs along nicely until once again the vocals kick in, to be fair it’s the best performance so far but honestly that isn’t saying much, maybe they should just go instrumental, because as I said the music gets you nodding along and loses you in a wall of thick fuzzy riffs, big bass lines and mesmerizing drum rhythms (yes the wet fart sound has now gone) and its all very enjoyable until the vocals show up! Very annoying.

 then picks up the pace for once but the snare now sounds akin to something off St Anger which instantly annoys me but the change in pace allows for the vocalist to try something new and add some cleanish vocals into the sound and these are probably what he should stick to, they're not great but its his strongest sound so far and then its time for closer Game Over to lurch in to view and its not slowed right down to an almost funeral doom pace and the looping guitar drone mixed with the slow and precise bass line is another nice piece of music but the slow pace makes for more horrific vocals.

You can hear every strain and effort being put in and now I just kind of feel sorry for the rest of the band because what could have been a good E.P has been reduced to a joke really and its quite frankly piss poor that they heard this and allowed it to be put out and I’m just annoyed at the whole thing now, anyway this drags on for 7 minutes and really does nothing to convince me that there is anything worth listening to in the future form this lot.

So, I learned a lesson here, stick to what you know because this has done nothing to convince me to jump into the stoner/doom/whatever it is sound and I doubt anyone would be convinced by this and by all means have a listen if you think I am being overly harsh, I doubt you will enjoy this very much. The music was fine and decent enough in places but not enough to save the whole E.P as the vocals were a joke and made this an absolute chore to listen to. 4/10

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Reviews: L.A Guns, Mecca, Smackbound, Neil Howell (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

L.A. Guns - Black Diamonds (Frontiers Music Srl) [Rich Piva]

I have been a decades-long fan of L.A. Guns starting when I first saw the video for Never Enough, which blew me away. Of course, I went back and grabbed the first album (cassette for me at the time) and I was hooked. Hollywood Vampires was the record for me that took my fandom to the next level, even though it was not as beloved by fans as much as it was for me at the time. 

The Vampires record to me was the peak of the band’s creativity and want to experiment a bit with their sound and I always craved to hear more material in that vein, given how talent Tracii and the rest of the band are. Well, here we are at album seventeen (I think this number may be debatable but let’s go with it…) and the quality of the music is right up there with much of their back catalog with the latest, Black Diamonds. There is a uniqueness to several the tracks and some different directions that make this the most exciting Guns album in a very long time, and I am totally here for it.

Kicking us off, You Betray is their best single of the past three decades by far, and to me harkens back to that Vampires sound I touched upon. A bit darker, maybe even a pseudo goth vibe lurks about, it is an absolute banger and the perfect way to bring the listener in to Black DiamondsWrong About You keeps up the quality and the darker feel for this record (it may be the production, which seems more sparce and open, which is a good thing) and is a good L.A. Guns track in 1993 or 2023. Diamonds is where we get down to real business. Every album from a band of a certain scene and time needs a killer ballad, and exhibit A is Diamonds. This would have been huge back in the day, but I am afraid some producer would have polished the shit out of it and ruined it because it is pretty perfect the way it is. 

This goes back to the production. If you read anything I write, you know I want every band to dial it back some on their production (many times dial it back a lot) but maybe Phil, Tracii, and Ace do read this blog because there is nothing too much here. There are so many bands from the late 80s early 90s scene making music today that find they need to make the slickest record of their career and most of the time it just doesn’t work. Black Diamonds is the opposite. 

Tracks like Babylon and Shame are perfect examples; classic L.A. Guns style tracks that sound organic and not lab grown. Shame is another one that could be a Vampires outtake. Shattered Glass with its call back chorus and catchy rhythm is one of my favorite tracks on the album (that solo) and Gonna Lose has some pretty sweet Zeppelin worship. There is not a ton of filler on Black Diamonds, with catchy rockers like Got It Wrong and Lowlife, the fun Crying, and the outstanding closer which reminds me of when they closed Cocked And Loaded with I Wanna Be Your Man

In a week that has a number of 80s-90s metal/rock bands releasing good to excellent albums, L.A. Guns manages to fall right into that range with Black Diamonds.  I had a lot of expectations for this record given the strength of the singles and I was not disappointed at all. It is always hit and miss with bands of a certain time releasing new music, but we have a winner here. Great songs that will translate well live, especially with the talented players in the band, I hope Tracii and crew keep this quality level going for years to come. 8/10

Mecca - Everlasting (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

The band created by Jim Peterik’s (Survivor) in-house demo singer Joe Vana. This collaboration led to Project Voyager which morphed into Mecca in 2002. After a nine year hiatus they returned in 2011 with a new album then another in 2016, Everlasting being their fourth slice of AOR/Melodic rock that comes from the world of Survivor, Toto et al, where AOR gets to be a bit harder than, but still as slick as a seal covered in crude oil. Doing away with the members who have been a part of the last two albums, Everlasting features a mainly Italian in house team from Frontiers, Alessandro Del Vecchio on keys/production, but Tommy Denander, Vivien Lalu and a few others add extra keys. Which of course is prime Toto with as many keys as possible. 

It’s no wonder that Steve Lukather who appeared on the previous album had nothing but glowing words to say about Mecca. It’s hard to disagree as Joe’s vocals are superb on the emotional I Won’t Walk Away and the epic These Times Are For Heroes which has a narrative of Styx and the riffy guitars to match, speaking of guitars they drive the tough Your Walls Are Crumbling Down. Showing that Mecca just aren’t all about slick keyboards, they are still a ‘rock’ band in the melodic rock genre. With more than 20 years on the scene, Mecca could easily be Everlasting, and if they had been 30 years earlier they could have been colossal. 8/10

Smackbound – Hostage (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]
Smackbound was founded when long term special guest vocalist Netta Laurnne had been featured on numerous albums from bands such as Amorphis and Lordi, but wanted to start her own, finding some musicians in the saturated Finnish scene, they started a covers band with the intention of writing their own material too. This performance experience proved invaluable when they evolved into Smackbound and produced their debut album 20/20, the slow build of singles and unity between the members after the touring, meant 20/20 sounded like a band who had been together for decades, it got them recognised as ones to watch in the Finnish scene, Laurnne going on to do a collab album with Noora Louhimo further impressing with her vocal prowess. 

So now Smackbound are back, older, wiser and more focussed with a fresh set of expansives tracks that put a metallic edge on melodic hard rock, the dramatic The Edge closing the album with atmospherics, while the opener Reap feels like the classic styel of Within Temptation or Evanescence, Razor Sharp fast and thrashy,  then shifting to some Eurovision level choruses on Change. Netta's vocals are variable and powerful easily handling the orchestral Rodrigo and the piano led Imperfect Day and everything in between. That everything inbetween being where Smackbound's sound lays a mix of styles all done well but somewhat lacking coherence of what they want to be. However Hostage features some high quality metallic hard rock from band on an upward trajectory. 8/10   

Neil Howell - The Wasteland (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

I had not heard of Neil Howell until I grabbed the promo from the “to be reviewed” folder a few days ago and began to do some research.  The prolific solo artist from Missouri has put out a bunch of stuff over the past few years, playing all the instruments and leveraging styles all over the musical map. That about sums up his latest release, The Wasteland, which goes in several stylistic directions (sometimes in the same song) with mostly very positive results, but occasionally a little too scattered.

With The Wasteland you have a serious black metal ripper with Clairvoyant, except for the short jazz interludes. You have a bluesy stoner number with the opening track, Welcome To The Desert, which is great. You get a more metal, with clean and not so clean vocals with The Cruelest Month, as well a singer/songwriter acoustic track sandwiched in between the heavy with Handful of Dust. You get and alt rock ballad with Winter Dawn into a grunge inspired stop and start, loud quite track with Nothing (and those black metal vocals return). 

Hurry Up shows how Howell can really play his guitar and is a fast heavy thrash banger that is my favorite track on the album. Give me ten of those in that style and I will be all over it, because transitioning this track to Unreal City gives me a headache. I would have left Unreal City out and moved right into the instrumental banger Entering The Whirlpool for a much better transition and vibe, where Howell really shows off his guitar chops. But another weird transition from there to another acoustic number, With Like Patience once again has my head spinning.

Taken track by track, there are some good songs on here. But as an album, there is nothing cohesive about these songs, as they sound like ideas that were thrown together after sessions that he laid down after listening to his favorite bands on shuffle. I am not a fan of the production either, as it sounds a bit lab created, especially the drums. But Howell is certainly talented, can really play his guitar, and has some cool ideas.  I would just love to see some focus, taking the best of the ideas in a certain style and giving us something more related from track to track. Give me 8-10 Hurry Ups and see what that takes us, maybe next time. 5/10

Reviews: Robert Jon & The Wreck, Enter Shikari, Ulvedharr, Mike Tramp (Reviews By Matt Bladen, GC, James Jackson & Rich Piva)

Robert Jon & The Wreck - Live At The Ancienne Belgique (Journeyman Records) [Matt Bladen]

Released on Joe Bonamassa's Journeyman Records, Live At The Ancienne Belgique is the first concert flim/album from Southern rockers and roadhogs Robert Jon & The Wreck. A band who seem to be constantly on tour, this live album has been on the cards for a long time, the CD/DVD package capturing then during their most recent marathon slog across Europe. A triumphant celebration of their last decade as a band the setlsit spanned all their records, frontman Robert Jon Burrison leading his band of troubadours through the evolved live versions of their songs, the limits of playing on stage meaning that these songs are much heavier and tougher on this record.

The CD features a keyboard and guitar solo spot but you'll have to get the DVD to see the drum solo, thankfully the audio only portion has most of their biggest songs kicking out the jams with The Devil Is Your Only Friend as they lead the Belgian crowd through a strong middle section of Hey Hey Mama, early single Blame It On The Whiskey, the soulful duo of Oh Miss Carolina and Tired Of Drinking Alone wedged between the two solo sections. The addition of Jake Abernathie on keys brings a wider dynamic on stage especially on Shine A Light On Me Brother (one of my favourites). It's a great set from these veterans of the scene, the DVD giving you more tracks and the full visual experience of what RJ&TW do.

You'll get to see them soon enough I'm sure, as like I said they are constanly on tour but until then you can indulge in the RJ&TW experience with this excellent live recording. 8/10

Enter Shikari - A Kiss For The Whole World SO Recordings) [GC]

Enter Shikari have been around forever and until this very day I have managed to hear not one second of any of their music, I think I was always put off by the state of the fans they had, I mean they were peak emo, and I was NOT! Anyway, A Kiss For A Whole World is their seventh album and has been tagged as dance metal, so on that note let’s have a listen a see what they have to offer (Sighs heavily and presses play).

First song and title track sounds like a national anthem to begin with before some electronic beats and bouncy riffs appear from nowhere before its back to national anthem territory and its back and forth between this for most of the song and I’m not sure what this even is, like if Panic! At The Disco decided to try something ‘’heavy’’ maybe? Don’t know, I’m confused already if I am honest, (pls) Set Me On Fire has a techno/dance intro and the verse itself is a sparse and electronic before they try to produce a big singalong chorus that falls flat and again, I feel a bit confused are they trying to create a huge sound or temper it and create a sparse soundscape? Whatever they are trying to do it isn’t working so far.

It Hurts does have a bit more about it and has some nice rave beats and the whole sound of the song carries nicely throughout and offers the first actual decent bit of material so far and has an almost beatdown type of section if you can have a dance beatdown? Leap Into The Lightning is another heavily dance infused song and is actually pretty decent too, it builds and creeps up on you and before you know it the big chorus they have been searching for is here and it almost works well but I just feel there is something not quite there I expect it to explode into life but it doesn’t really and its all a bit underwhelming to be honest.

Next, it’s a bit of drum and bass in the shape of interlude Feed Your Soul and usually I’m not here for this type of stuff but it fits well here and leads nicely into Dead Wood which is stripped right back and has an orchestral back drop lead nicely by a great vocal performance that doesn’t really come to life until right at the end and when it does, its done beautifully and really pick the whole feel and energy up and is easily the best song so far. I then expect Jailbreak to continue with tis sort of uplift and it does with a nice turn of pace that has peaks and troughs that keep you interested enough throughout until the urgent and thrilling end section.

Bloodshot starts off as a full-on dance track in the vein of early Prodigy and it kind of gets a bit ruined when they change the sound and it drags its feet and doesn’t really build on the early promise Bloodshot (Coda) is another interlude and this one is pintless and adds nothing before Goldfish has another sparse and empty verse that is promising to build up to something and it keeps building and building but ultimately doesn’t produce the expected big payoff and it’s just sort of there for the sake of it.

Giant Pacific Octopus (I Don’t Know You Anymore) wins the award for stupidest song title and towards the end of the album you might expect some sort of rousing send off? You almost get it in places in the song but parts of it are just flat and boring and the mix of dynamics doesn’t work there’s then a little segue into Giant Pacific Octopus Swirling Off Into Infinity which just ends the whole thing on a sad little whimper really.

Going into this I wasn’t really expecting that much, which is handy because that is exactly what I got! There was some ok dance infused rock music and when they hit a groove they ride it fairly well but, for me the whole album was just a bit too all over the place, its fine to experiment and use different sounds but really this album does nothing for me, I am sure it won't stop Enter Shikari but it also won't convince me to listen to this again or lure me into to their back catalogue either. 5/10

Ulvedharr - Inferno XXXIII (Scarlet Records) [James Jackson]

Well this hits you straight in the face as soon as the opening riff of A Full Reload Of Fear kicks in and it doesn’t let up, Ulvedharr are described as being Death/Black Metal but there’s a very Thrash element too, some of the riffs on this song and as I listened throughout, are reminiscent of Trivium. When most Metal tracks are ramping it up to give you one last kick in the teeth, A Full Reload Of Fear takes a slower approach and devolves into an almost acoustic sound before the head nodding intro of Wasteland takes over.

One of the things that has put me off of Death and Black Metal over the years is the relentless barrage of noise that doesn’t deviate from that “hit it and hit it fast until we die” approach that is so common in both genres. Ulvedharr however seem to know that a kick in the teeth is often more effective when less expected and there are some nice variations in tempo that allow the following assault to hit even harder, Revenge Loop has a great example of this.

There’s a cracking riff in Dagon that reminds me of Fear Factory, a tight snare rattle (I don’t know the correct term) into a groove that’s blink and you miss it, which is a shame because it’s pretty good and I’d have liked to have heard it played out a bit fuller. The rest of the album is more of the same, it’s competent in its presentation; the Death and Black Metal aspects at times accentuated by the more groove led, changes in tempo that make it stand out from other albums of a similar ilk that I’ve heard recently.

The only shock track on the album is closing number, Oblivion; it’s opened by an acoustic guitar, and builds, adding a guitar solo and just when you expect the thrash of drums to drop…. It ends. Whilst this isn’t an album that I’ll play again it was refreshing to hear something that was not afraid to slow it down, that knows the importance of a different approach to the same old format. 6/10

Mike Tramp - Songs Of White Lion (Frontiers Music Srl) [Rich Piva]

Ever since hearing about Mike Tramp redoing all his White Lion classics on his new record, Songs Of White Lion, the only question in my head was: Why? Okay maybe two questions: Is this at all necessary? I’ll answer the second question first. No, this was not necessary. The answer to the first question could be many different ones, and some very cynical ones as well. But I have always loved these songs as a long-time fan, so let’s see where this takes us, shall we?

Well, this is absolutely unnecessary and of such lesser quality to the originals. I mean Little Fighter I didn’t love when it came out but grew to appreciate it. I always thought that the album Big Game lacked energy and could have been better sped up a couple of notches but now a song that needed energy before has been neutered even more. Mike’s voice is struggling, case in point Broken Heart.  Yikes. And talk about taking the energy out of a song. 

Love Don’t Come Easy is one of my all-time favorite White Lion songs, and I had to turn it off halfway through so it would not ruin my memories of when I was in my bedroom in high school blasting Mane Attraction. Classics like Wait (very bad), Tell Me, and Hungry fair no better than the others. I feel like Mike could have just re-released a redo of When The Children Cry as a single and tried to cash in that way rather than craping all over the legacy of some classic tracks and memories of fans who love these songs. I will say his band is pretty tight, but that is as much as I can say positive.

Look, I want artists to make money and cash in on their life’s work, but there must be a better way Songs Of White Lion. Mike Tramp’s effort here seems to be at Don Dokken level of apathy (I hope I am wrong and maybe his voice is just aging, but…) and this was one hundred percent unnecessary. One point for the great songs that were attempted to be reworked here and one point for the band, but minus a billion for this idea and the execution. 2/10

Tuesday 25 April 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sigiriya, Urzah, Ironbird & Goat Major (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Sigiriya, Urzah, Ironbird & Goat Major, Exchange Basement, Bristol, 22.04.23

I don't even know The Exchange had a basement, but there we go, down the narrow, low steps, avoiding concussion it was into the rectangular room for four riff wielding bands. PA's from floor to ceiling and the "stage" behind them. The basement was the venue to the brutal death metal show that was taking place in the main room, ensuring an odd mix of fans but plenty of tattoos.

It was West Wales trio Goat Major (7) that got proceedings off loudly, I immediately put in my notes that they remind me of Tom Araya fronting Sleep, as they play slow heavy doom with lots of reverb and swirling bass and occult Imagery, the vocals having the pained shouts of the Slayer frontman. They'll be hitting Cardiff with Made Of Teeth and Thunder Horse so I'll be giving them another watch very soon as their satanic ritualism and occult doom was a winner.

Next to throwdown were the Sludgy stoner riffs of Ironbird (7), their first show in 4 years these veterans play a faster stoner sound with a wink to hardcore, distorted riffs and shouted vocals. The groves were increased to the highest level with Ironbird, the guitar being so low on the mix putting a bit f downer on their show, but when you could hear the psychy riffs it was a wild groovy noise. Their frontman filled his limited space by attacking the mic with ferocity. Despite this lay off from live shows they were a well rehearsed unit who know just how to get a crowd on side. After 4 years the Ironbird was flying high in Bristol.

It was local boys Urzah (8) who garnered a full house, friends moving their way to the front of the stage as the heavy four piece cranked out their sludge to applause and shouts. Having reviewed both their recordings live they have the strongly instrumental sections of bands such as Mastodon where the crushing riffage of a dual guitar set up put to whomping bass and adaptable drumming. Long instrumental passages got heads banging as the shouting vocals interjected when needed. Live Urzah lay waste to the stage, the partisan audience lapping up every single distorted riff that blurted out of the speakers.

Thankfully most of the crowd stuck around for the headliners Sigiriya (9) who I've seen a few times and who always deliver exactly what you need. The crowd now boozier, wilder and sweatier, the West Wales rockers fed off the energy with their Sabbath worshipping riffs that bleed a bit of punk and proto-metal with Obsessed, Saint Vitus and Trouble influences of their sound. The Viking basslines of Paul Bidmead clobbering your head as Rhys David Miles' drum skill drives the groove and power.

They played a mix of songs from their most recent records, with a band new wild rager that got Matt Williams on the floor, those killer pipes of his brilliant across their other tracks such as Space Rocking Freedom Engine. The only time he's quiet when Stuart O'Hara peels off reverbed solos occasionally forgoing the riffs for some melody, on slower numbers such as final sermon Crushed By The Weight Of The Sky. This was supposed to be the last song but they were coerced into one more letting the swaggering riffs of Whiskey Song as we headed back into the rain soaked evening.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Abduction, Ofnus & SWH (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Abduction, Ofnus, SWH, Fuel Rock Club, 21.04.23

There's moments in life where you can say "I was there" Friday 21st April 2023 was one of those. A Friday night gig at Fuel Rock Club from our friends in 12AX7 Promotions, featured an opener who was something different, a headliner who are climbing the ladder rapidly and a special guest support who were playing their debut show in their home town. This latter point was why the great and the good of Cardiff's metal scene came out in their droves to support.

First to take the stage was SWH (7), a one man project playing multigenre instrumental guitar music inspired by numerous styles including synthwave, black metal and videogame music. Sam may be more known to those in attendance as a drummer but his guitar playing is more impressive than his percussive prowess. A linked set of music set to backing tracks managed to bring the punters in early to watch some serious chops. Closing the set with something atmospheric he managed to pace things well into the special guests.

Taking the biggest crowd of the night... obviously the debut (South Wales) show of South Wales supergroup Ofnus (9) was definitely that "I Was There Moment" I spoke of earlier. Comprised of current and former members of Black Pyre, Blind Divide, Democratus and Agrona, Ofnus are an atmospheric black metal band that have emerged from the studio fully formed and fighting. Their debut album is on the horizon (spoiler it's brilliant) so this set comprises of the whole album bar one song.

They dwell in darkness and melancholy, their music indulging in sadness and rage, inviting you to be a part of their introspective, evocative performance. With a fine mist covering the floor the set began with James and Alyn's tremolo guitars in melodic unison as Ethan's mind bending drumming lays down a relentless battery. It's Ethan's percussion that brings you into the world of Ofnus, that heavy grunt led by Richard's downtuned bass and Alyn's precision rhythmn playing as James' joins for the riffage until he's needed for an expressive lead break or solo which often is juxtaposed by the black metal assualt behind it.

There has been a huge amount of practice and honing of this band behind the scenes, a slow burning rise to make sure they are at the top of their game when finally launched on the public. It shows as more inquisitive punters enter the room to see just what is happening on the stage. The desperation and desolation of Ofnus' music is filtered through the incredible vocals of William who is a perfect frontman, imbuing passion into his singing; screaming and chanting like a cult leader hypnotising his flock, the between song chat kept brief and direct.

There aren't many bands who can command this size of crowd at this point of of their career (second show ever) but the steady build of their identity, huge amounts of practice and their history as part of South Wales' fantastic but underrated metal scene ensured that these dreaming men will be living out their reality as special prospect on the UK metal scene. Ones to watch is thrown around a lot but you need to watch this band sooner rather than later.

It was going to difficult for Abduction (8) to follow the home town boys however on the back of their brutal recent album Black Blood from 2022, the masked black metal destroyers set about ripping out the guts of anyone that stuck around to see them. (Which was most of the crowd to be honest). Violent and aggressive they play a more to the point black metal directed in unholy ritual by A|V who is the sole member in the studio but has gathered a live band together to sling razor sharp black metal riffs and savage beats. 

Having been on tour with fellow masked extremists Imperial Triumphant and back out with Bølzer in May/June, this headline set showed what you can expect if you head to those shows as most of the set came from their latest album with a few older tracks too. Volatile and vicious Abduction are making a name for themselves as a UK act to keep and eye on. Miss them at your peril. 

Monday 24 April 2023

Reviews: Astral Sleep, From Fall To Spring, Lucifer Star Machine, St Pierre Snake Invasion (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Zak Skane, Simon Black & James Jackson)

Astral Sleep - We Are Already Living In The End Times (Saarni Records) [Paul Scoble]

Astral Sleep are a Helsinki based five piece. The band have been making music since 2004 and in that time have released 3 albums before We Are Already Living In The End Times. Their debut album Unawakening was released in 2008, second album came four years later with Visions, and another eight later in 2020 came the bands last album, Astral Doom Musick. The band is made up of Jaakko Oksanen on Bass, Rolle Heinonen on Guitars and keyboards, Markus Heinonen on Vocals and Guitars, Jari Pyörälä on Drums and Santeri Kangasmetsä on Lead Guitars.

Astral Sleep’s style is from all across the Doom spectrum, experimenting with lots of different styles of slow and heavy. From Death / Doom to Blackened Doom, through melancholy Doom into dissonant Doom Astral Sleep seem to like all of it. The vocals are a mix of fairly idiosyncratic clean vocals and harsh vocals that are deep and dense, Markus Heinonen seems to move from one to the other with ease. The songs themselves are long, and change a lot as Astral Sleep flit from one style of Doom to another, in a way that keeps the listener on their feet.

The album opens with the title track We Are Already Living In The End Of Times, which has a nasty, Blackened feel to the beginning, with lots of dissonance and Harsh Vocals, the song then drops into a clean passage that builds to a slow doomy riff with harsh vocals, this then goes into a nasty distorted dissonance section with clean vocals, before the song takes another turn towards very melancholy riffs and vocals, and after this we get another nasty Blackened Doom section with harsh vocals which takes us to the end of the song. As you can see, the material twists and turns, in places it feels as if the song is constantly changing and evolving, and to the most part this is a really good aspect of Astral Sleeps sound.

Torment In Existence has a feel closer to Death/Doom, or in places even Sludge. The second half of the song is far more melancholy and less heavy, with Cclean vocals and a really great melody lead. The Legacies is a mix of mid-paced and driving Doom, with harsh vocals and a much softer feel that is melodic and tuneful with clean vocals, the end of the song has a slower and heavier set of riffs that are very good, with clean vocals.

Time Is has a desolate feel to the beginning, with dark and brooding Blackened Doom, the song keeps this sense for most of the song despite the riffs changing a lot. Final track Status Of The Soul is slow and feels expansive and huge, the song is quite slow and has a great melody lead over a lot of the material. The song builds impressively, not getting faster, but by increasing in intensity, and drive. Right at the end the song drops to just the guitar and chanted vocals to take the song and album to its end.

Although this is a very good album there are a few issues. The clean vocals I have already described as idiosyncratic, I do not have a problem with, however in two or three places the vocals drop out of tune, its only in a few places but when it happens it is jarring and stops you from getting lost in the album. idiosincratyic vocals are fine, out of tune vocals are not. The other issue is the nature of the material changing a lot, in most of the album this is a great way to keep us interested, but in some places the changes happen too fast, and the songs loose coherence. There were also a few riffs I really liked that were there for 4 or 8 bars and then disappeared, several times I thought “Bring that riff back, I was enjoying it”.

We Are Already Living in The End Of Times, is a great album with a couple of issues. It’s a shame the issues were there as this is a really good album, and the issues are quite small. Most of this album is really well written, and played with great riffs, melodies and a great dark, dismal and melancholic feel. A very enjoyable piece of doom for those with an open mind. 7/10

From Fall To Spring – RISE (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

Starting with some cinematic bass swells and the radio tuning in to gather our attention before the vocalist starts spitting bars in the verses before we start going in I Prevail styled mainstream sounding clean vocals in the choruses. The combination the original instrumentation and the unique sounding samples along side a slick the band providing a great introduction. Black Hearted beings with chimey glockenspiel sounds, the vocals comes back again with Eminem fury whilst being backed with some double kick and chugging pattern synchronised grooves whilst powerful chorus lines air out the wrong doers. 

Draw The Line ventures into old school Linkin Park with bouncy guitars, nostalgic DJ scratching whilst adding some Chester Bennington-styled melodies and harsh vocals. SuperNova carries on the Linkin Park momentum but with throbbing moog synths and Polyphia sounding solos. The moving yet uplifting choruses of Rise embraces Bring Me the Horizon samples and melancholic string sections leaves the listener moves but yet empowered. The band takes a right turn from their rap metal direction to go in a more modern pop punk sound with Barriers. If you let Machine Gun Kellys and Mod Sun latest efforts this song for you. Beastmode does exactly what is says on the tin with the return of the salt themed bars that are being spat whilst low tuned guitars are backing the aggression stomping rhythms and djenty breakdowns, whilst the nostalgic DJ scratching makes a return leaving this song the most heaviest in the collection. 

The band leave us on a more poppier note with The Curses which consists of classic chart topping chord sequences whilst containing Issues influenced groove and swaggered phrased lyrics. Listening to this album gives me nostalgic vibes but in way that reminds me of the 2008 Myspace days when even though there was a formula to metal/deathcore, the bands still manage to inject some individuality into their sound. From the kitchen sink delivery of Br4inFck, the aggressive delivery of Beastmode to pop influenced Barriers and The Curses, this release will keep you interested. For Fans of Issues, Linkin Park and We Came As Romans. 8/10

Lucifer Star Machine - Satanic Age (The Sign Records) [Simon Black]

I got to review this Hamburg based Punk ‘n’ Roll five piece’s previous album just as lockdown was starting to bite, which must have been a real kicker in the teeth with the band at the time on a new label and only having recently relocate from London to Germany. My review wasn’t a kicker, as I absolutely loved it, and its been one I’ve come back to in the intervening years, so I was rather delighted when this fifth opus from the band crossed my desk.

Once again, the band’s slightly edgier and more musically experimental take on Punk snorting Rock ‘N’ Roll in an honourable nod to both Motorhead but with the US melodies you might expect from The Misfits with a nice modern presentation works an absolute trick. This comes from a slightly darker place tonally than The Devil’s Breath, but then written as it was during the period of history we have all just shared that’s really no surprise, and to be honest there’s enough straight ahead Punk boogie in tracks like I Wanted Everything to stop this from feeling depressing, and the balance of light and dark is just right. The danger of music with such strong classic Rock and Punk influences is that it’s easy to sound dated, but there’s a thoroughly modern edge to this that’s going to tick boxes with young Metalheads, and to be fair there’s some damn fine bands of a similar age and appeal looking back at these old influences and realising why old farts like me go on about them so much.

Now normally this sort of style is all about the ‘wham-bang-thankyou-ma’am/sir/insert pronoun of choice here’ and out of here in short order, and let’s face it the modern youth’s inability to focus on anything longer than a few minutes doesn’t help. Although the songs mostly clock in under four minutes, there’s a lot of them, but Lucifer Star Machine manage to keep the pace going nicely of the forty-eight minutes they have to work with, which means there’s room for a little bit more musical flow, and some of the more traditional metal style harmonisation and lead/rhythm interplay on guitars on tracks like Censhorshipped than you would expect. Being able to flex genres whilst still keeping the feet where their influences speak from works well in this context, and its why this album works so well, because it doesn’t either shoot its load too soon or get boring. Definitely a strong follow-up, and this time hopefully we will get to see them on the road. 8/10

The St Pierre Snake Invasion - Galore (Church Road Records) [James Jackson]

Normally I’d like to listen to an album a few times in order for me to review it as fully and as honestly as I possibly can; sometimes once is more than enough for me to garner an opinion; when I started doing this I kind of swore to myself that I’d try to be as constructive as I could be in my critique but that’s not always easy, to the point - this is my opinion and should just be taken as such.

I’m going to begin with the positive feedback first as quite often it’s easier to flog the negative than it is to find and give praise.

Midas, second track on Galore, which sports a beautiful pink album cover for this, their third album; is a good song, it’s catchy with a vocal theme that has hints of Trent Reznor and that’s not where the NIN comparison ends for me on this track; this isn’t Industrial but there’s a sense and style to this track that does remind me of NIN; piano parts lay an eerie melody over a hypnotic drum beat and a fuzzy, subtle bass/guitar sound; it’s a great hook and a really well written track.

The St Pierre Snake Invasion are from Bristol, a five piece whose sound has Punk roots and in Alt Rock and that name is just great, I’d love to know where the inspiration for that came from. Unfortunately for me, that’s it. I’m not into it, there are some rather obscure and bizarre guitar riffs, offbeat drumming and time signatures that in all of my years have never been able to get into; there’s obviously an audience for this, the band have been around quite some time and aren’t the only ones playing this kind of music but I just can’t get into it.

And it’s a shame as I really did enjoy that one track, just a shame that I couldn’t find more to like; maybe there were more songs of a similar ilk on the album but of those I heard and honestly endured I can only say that I enjoyed the one. I’ve no doubt that somewhere this review may be completely off kilter for someone but for me it’s a no. 3/10.

Reviews: Angus McSix, Ivan Neville, Saint Deamon, Magnus Rosén Band (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Angus McSix – Angus McSix And The Sword Of Power (Napalm Records)

Dying as a martyr and hero against evil, Angus McFife was cast into the Realm Of Martyrs, many were unsure what the next chapter would be. Equally Thomas Winkler left previous band Gloryhammer due to the Scooby Doo-like twist of them revealing themselves to be evil all along, but never fear as he and the character have been reborn as Angus McSix.

It’s great to hear his voice again as he was the focal point of that previous band, but with a hopefully better supporting cast this conceptual power metal can continue under this new guise. Inspired by Masters Of The Universe and Arthurian Legend, the rebirth of Prince Angus comes when his home is in danger again, but with his hammer of glory gone he sets out to the depths of hell to take Sixcaliber, the sword of power, there by becoming Angus McSix, opening a gateway to new evil Archdemon Seebulon, (Sebastian "Seeb" Levermann of Orden Ogan). So the story has begun again, this the origin record that brings in new characters (musicians) and lots more power metal silliness.

Unlike Gloryhammer, there’s a bit more variety musically the influence of Levermann obvious to anyone that knows Orden Ogan; the backing choirs especially prominent on Sixcaliber and Ride To Hell. Overall it’s a bit meatier in the riffs, with more soloing and less outright double kick blasting, utilising Winklers vocals for big sing along choruses. Still things are humorous with Pegasus, Time-Travel, a Laser-Shooting Dinosaur, and an influence of videogames. If you loved the tales of Angus McFife then Angus McSix is, in the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, “one louder”. 8/10

Ivan Neville – Touch My Soul (The Funk garage/Mascot Label Group)

You’ve got to be confident in your abilities as a performer to cover Talking Heads, especially when you turn This Must Be The Place into a brass laden, funk song that stays true to the original but also sets out to improve it. But of course Ivan Neville is confident in his abilities, few people can release their first solo album in almost 20 years and get Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Trombone Shorty, Doyle Bramhal II and a glittering cast of musicans to guest on it. If you know anything about roots music in America you’ll recognise the name Ivan Neville, he has his own band, called Dumpstaphunk, has played with The Stones and Don Henley, and is part of the Neville dynasty. 

His uncles Art, Charles and Cyril were collectively known as The Neville Brothers, a seminal band who blended funk, soul and R&B while Art and Cyril also members of funk legends The Meters band who imbued the musical spirit of New Orleans. Ivan’s father Aaron was a balladeer and stylist, so a rich musical history runs through his blood. As does the love of New Orleans and the sound of Louisiana. On this solo album Greatest Place On Earth is his hip shaking, hollering tribute to the carnival atmosphere of ‘The Big Easy’, the attitude of this album to make you feel better, get you smiling and dancing to the rhythms of Dance Music Love and Hey (All Together), which features Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt and more on vocals. 

The ballads such as Touch My Soul and Blessed are hair raising, the latter using electronic drums, that were inspired by Sly & The Family Stone, Neville confirming they were a big influence on his songwriting. With his family linage, his history, his day job and his background as part of the fertile NOLA scene, Ivan Neville is a veteran with a fire that still burns strongly. 8/10

Saint Deamon – League Of The Serpent (AFM Records)

I’ve been a fan of Swedish power metal band Saint Deamon since their 2008 debut album, so after two records and no sign of them I sort of gave up that they were ever coming back, another quality band lost to the mist of popularity and changing times. 

However in 2019 they made their comeback with Ghost, the core line up of vocalist Jan-Thore Grefstad, guitarist Toya Johansson and bass player Nobby Noberg still intact. The old spark was still there and Ghost impressed, thankfully though they have managed to stick around a bit longer and record this fourth album. League Of The Serpent features new drummer Alfred Fridhagen but the songwriting is still the same high quality melodic power metal that first drew me to In Shadows Lost From The Brave back in 2008. 

With a lot of experience but you’d assume still a lot to prove due to a 10 year layoff, League Of The Serpent is about establishing Saint Deamon for who they are, rather than reminding the metal public who they are. Songs such as Lord Of The Night have a renewed vigour to them, the use of keys restrained but effective as A Lie To Be Undone is inspired by both prog rock and AOR, weaving in and out of emotional chorus hooks, acoustic guitar passages and euphoric riffing. It’s one of my favourites on the record but it’s a tough choice as this fourth album feels like their debut. 

The band themselves confirming everything here was written and recorded fresh, with orchestrations dense on the classic power metal sounding Gates Of Paradise, Raise Hell at the heavier end, while the opener At Break Of Dawn is swashbuckling nautical metal, and there’s one or two slower ballad moments to add difference. The band have called this a ‘greatest hits’ and that rings true as League Of The Serpent is Saint Deamon at their best. 9/10

Magnus Rosén Band – It’s Time To Rock The World Again (X World / Sound Pollution)

Covers albums… They can usually either incite excitement or contempt, most the latter but few the former, when new material is mixed with covers then you have to separate both and analyse them differently. So to the new album from the former Hammerfall bassist Magnus Rosén, he has formed Magnus Rosén Band, finding a glut of famous voices including Tony Martin, Chitral Somapala plus lots of musicians from around the world to add their talents. 

The original songs are probably the best here, though you can hear the influences as The World And Times sounding like the funk rock Extreme, Glitter And Blood like Scorpions. With Circus they move into pop rocker while Terminator is a bass instrumental workout ala Primus. Paperplane is a nostalgic throwback while Sign Of The Times is funkier and Dressed To Kill sounding like Kiss, probably deliberately. 

Then we get to the covers and they aren’t really needed, Something (The Beatles), Street Fighting Man (Rolling Stones), The Winner Takes It All (ABBA) and Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers) are all pretty perfunctory, while including a version of Hearts On Fire by his former band seems almost rude (especially when you didn’t write it). Was impressed by this record, not really, the covers are all a bit easy and obvious, and the originals are good but could do with perhaps being an EP by themselves. 5/10

Friday 21 April 2023

Reviews: Dawn Of Ouroboros, Trading Aces, Wolfnaut, Birdflesh (Reviews By Mark Young & Rich Piva)

Dawn Of Ouroboros - Velvet Incandescence (Prosthetic Records) [Mark Young]

Dawn Of Ouroboros bring their latest that melds melodic death and progressive metal together. It’s pretty good stuff, with spoken passages backed up with some tasty melody that is on point all the way through. One thing they don’t forget is to make sure there is enough heavy on display, nor do they rely on just one speed, as we will see later in the review.

Castigation kicks off proceedings with a spoke part with an almost familiar guitar behind it, reminding me possibly of a film or game. This is swiftly kicked over as they come in and stamp their sound, taking in melodic/black metal to the full. This is a great start. Cephalopodic Void rips, with some of the deepest growls recorded against a straight-ahead palm-muted riff that becomes a different song as the mood lightens up as we then fall back into the growls. It shows that they are not afraid to change things up and as I type this, I appreciate that this switch is not new, but here it sounds fresh, heavy, and modern without straying too far from the heavy foundation.

Healing Grounds has an almost love song start to it, with those bright, happy chords shining and a measured arrangement in the background. Of course, this doesn’t last too long before we are back onto more comfortable footing and take up the black metal stance with that massive sense of melody running along the blast beats. Iron Whispers continues the attack, with some nifty guitar without moving away from its heavier than lead foundation. What these two tracks show is that they are not afraid of using similar approaches and they really complement each other. Lead breaks are tastefully done, full of emotion as opposed to technical wizardry and we finish with clean singing that really fits in with the overall song structure instead of it feeling tacked on. 

Levitating Pacifics is the longest track here and has a sort of slow and steady feel in its opening minutes. Again, it takes the softer moments from before to set us on a journey with them. That is until the required explosive music returns with guitars taking an almost back seat to the drum parts on this. Simple melodies throughout that serve the song so well as the structure changes slightly to allow for the cleaner vocals to come in as it gains a sense of urgency and then takes off to allow for the leads to come in.

Next up is Rise From Disillusion which takes no time in achieving desired lift off. It doesn’t lose sight of the impressive work that has come before and keeps the momentum going. Even as the pace slackens off Chelsea Murphy doesn’t lessen her grip on the song, absolutely going for it with a constant throat ripping performance until we reach a natural break, allowing her to show her power with her clean vocals. This will be epic live, with the live crowd getting onto it as the song has just about everything you want in an anthem. Testudines takes us back to more traditional settings and is a good thing too. This one just stomps about, even with the cleans coming in. It is fast and direct and is probably the most furious track here. Despite the speed the melody is still on display which is just fantastic.

This is boding well for the last song, Velvet Moon which brings a mix of piano and shards of guitar that lead us into their most simple arrangement, or so it seems before they bring out the big melodic guns. Its big on the emotional aspect as each of the differing passages have that about them to act as a counterpoint to the vocals here. Some of the progressions have that classic feel to it but through an extreme filter. Top level stuff.

This is one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve heard in a while, there is a sense of joy running through it at the thought of the members putting this together. Its definately one of my albums of the year so far. 8/10

Trading Aces - Rock n' Roll Homicide (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Not content with signing and releasing albums from the best bands in stoner and doom, Todd from Ripple Music goes out and gets the best sleaze rock record that has been released in a long time with the debut album from metal supergroup Trading Aces. Members of Warrior Soul, Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, and The City Kids come together to create Rock n' Roll Homicide, which is exactly what you think it is going to be in the best way possible. There is not enough good sleaze rock out there, but these guys are out to change that. What started as a one-off, couple of songs thing turned into twelve tracks of gross rock and roll that makes you feel dirty just listening to it in the best possible way.

Yeah, this is some serious time machine stuff back to the day when bands like Hanoi Rocks and Faster Pussycat were spreading their diseases to anyone that came within 100 feet, but this is a necessary look back and one that will be beloved by the folks who were there for it. A track with a title and sound like Destination Insane could have been a big hit on the Strip back in the day and works just fine for those looking to scratch that itch today too. If you like Junkyard, then you will love the track Ain’t It A Bitch, with its attitude and cowbell, it is the perfect microcosm for what Rock n' Roll Homicide brings to the party. Beautiful Sunday reminds me a bit of Enuff Z Nuff, mostly because of the almost Beatles-esque vocals, swirling in the background guitars, and catchy as hell melody, just not as clean or fluorescent as EzN. My favorite track on a stacked album. 

Tracks like Hello Hangover and F.A.B. gives off some Four Horsemen vibes which is a good thing for those who may not know. Axl himself would be proud of his legacy with a song like California Schemin’ (pre-Illusion, when they were still street rats). Is Circus Of Power still together? Well, if not they are in spirit with a track like Hey Geraldine, You Can’t Stop Me Now. Am I crazy to think Napalm Bombs sounds like post makeup Kiss if they kept more of their balls? While not sleaze rock, the boys chose to cover a track from the king of slime, Frank Zappa, with their excellent and perfectly fitting cover of the killer track Dirty Love. Hanoi Rocks were legends and super influential, but I always wanted them to rock a bit harder. Now we can imagine what that would have sounded like with the track Social Disease. In A Simple Rhyme closes out the record perfectly, a sorted story of love, loss, and growth that so many of the bands of that era did so well.

Yeah, this is not the typical Ripple release, but once I read Todd (Ripple’s main man) mention that he heard criticism that a lot of the Ripple bands sound a like (I would feverously debate this point but that is for a different review). This sounds like no other Ripple band unless Todd put out the Sea Hags follow up without telling us. We needed a new champion of sleaze rock, and now we have it with Trading Aces. 9/10

Wolfnaut - Return Of The Asteroid (Ripple Music) [RIch Piva]

Wolfnaut have been around for four decades now, starting as a band in 1998 and giving their fans killer desert stoner rock with hits of doom and classic metal on and off for all these years. The Elverum, Norway, band have been very active in the past few years, with the excellent album III and now their new one on the best label in rock, Ripple Music. Return Of The Asteroid is Wofnaut’s fourth proper album and is right up there with their best work. You get nine tracks of no b.s. heavy stoner rock with elements of many other elements that fit nicely with the formula of the band.

Brother Of The Badlands is a great opener, heavy on the back end and perfectly displays the desert rock stylings of the band. My Orbit Is Mine is more of the same goodness Wolfnaut have been giving us, especially recently, led by the killer riffs and excellent vocals of Kjetil Sæter. We get the more doom side of the band with The Mighty Pawns and the excellent sung line “What The Hell Was I to Do?” which resonates across the five-plus minute track, that have way through starts to kick a whole ton of ass. Great stuff. Crash Yer Asteroid is a burner and my favorite track on the album, with riffs and energy leading the way. Arrows is the most chill track on Return Of The Asteroid, a retrospective look back at life that is a nice change of pace to the driving rock on the rest of the album and leads nicely into the Kyuss inspired ripper G.T.R

Something More Than Night gives me Valley Of The Sun vibes and wouldn’t that be quite to double bill. The twin guitar action on this track harkens to Thin Lizzy or even Maiden. Crates Of Doom is perfectly titled, bringing their Sabbath worship to Return Of The Asteroid and it is executed perfectly, but with some unique vocals and killer build up. Wolfnaut’s Lament is now their signature epic track; ten plus minutes of everything these guys are know for and do well, a perfect way to end this album. Heavy riffs, lumbering doomy goodness into that killer stoner/desert high energy, even with a “here we go now…” from Sæter.

Ripple does it again, partnering with all the best killer bands of the stoner/doom genre, both new and old, with Wolfnaut kind of falling into both. The band’s renaissance in the last couple of years is on full display here with Returnn Of The Asteroid being on par with the other excellent bands that are doing this so well today. Another amazing Ripple release. 8/10

Birdflesh - Sickness In The North (Everlasting Spew Records) [Mark Young]

With a tongue that could be argued as being firmly in their cheek, Birdflesh offer their latest platter, Sickness In The North for your delight and delectation. A quick scan through some of the song titles points to a range of subjects, with nothing off the menu for consideration. These consist of 23 songs, all fairly short and delivered rapid style with one smack after another.

Is it any good? Well, this will depend on a few key factors the main one being if it’s meant to be funny and looking at an online description it is termed as ‘wacky lyrics and a funny atmosphere’ so in terms of that it didn’t hit home with me. This is possibly an age thing on my behalf, and that it is aimed at those younger than me. It definitely points to some not-so-subtle ribbing of death metal which is always welcome given that some bands take themselves so seriously.

So how does it sound?

Well, it’s grindcore with thrash elements and has a production to suit. Its fast, nasty, and as I’ve said earlier the songs just race past so in that respect, they achieve the core requirement in not staying too long before any possible repetition could kick in. Despite appearances to the contrary, they know how to play, its fast and aggressive with some excellent riffing on here and approach it with the due reverence required to ensure that the musical product is a good as it can be. There have been some bands in the past who have equated jokey material with sloppy performances, but this is not the case here at all. The lyrics may be poking fun, but the music is dead on. 6/10

Reviews: Predatory Void, Margarita Witch Cult, Oath Of Cranes, Grand Design (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Rich Piva, Richard Oliver & GC)

Predatory Void - Seven Keys To The Discomfort Of Being (Century Media) [Paul Scoble]

Predatory Void are a five piece based in Ghent, Flanders. The band is made up of five members of already established bands such as Amenra, Carnation, Oathbreaker, Cobra The Impaler and Cross Bridge. Other than the two singles so far released from the album Seven Keys To The Discomfort Of Being is the bands first release. Predatory Void is made up of Tim De Gieter on Bass, Vincent Verstrepen On Drums, Lennart Bossu on Guitars, Thijs de Cloedt on Guitars and Lina R On Vocals.

Predatory Voids style is a mix of Blackened Doom and Blackened Sludge, with a little bit of Grindcore added for good effect. The Blackened Doom side of the album is fairly extreme, closer to bands like Mizmor or Yith, although Predatory Void have definitely created their own sound with this album. The songs tend to change tempo and style quite a lot, most of the songs twist and turn with harsh transitions to keep the audience on their toes.

The album opens with Grovel a mix of big heavy Blackened Doom, blast beats that have a definite Grindcore feel to them, and a slow, toxic sludge style that is relentlessly aggressive. The song does have one short part with softer guitar and clean vocals, but this is all about blasting and slow aggression. Next comes (struggling..) which opens with slow and belligerent Blackened Doom, which drops into a blast beat, this quickly descends into dissonant Doom with clean vocals making an interesting juxtaposition between the sweet vocals and dissonance. The blasting and the sweet dissonance swap places a couple of times before the song goes into a very intense ending.

Endless Return To The Kingdom Of Sleep is a very busy song. It opens with a clean brooding riff and clean vocals before a huge and aggressive riff comes crashing in with Harsh Vocals, the clean Brooding riff reappears briefly before the song drops into alternating blast beats and very heavy Blackened Doom riff, the two styles take turns to kick your head in for a while before a clean ending. Seeds of Frustration is the only simple song on the album. It’s a blooding song that is mainly clean vocals and guitar. The song is dark, but very beautiful.

The Well Within is the shortest song on the album, a mix of slow and dissonant, again with sweet clean vocals, and blasting Black metal with very nasty harsh vocals. Next we get a very interesting song, Shedding Weathered Skin. Shedding Weathered Skin is big slow and very Heavy, in fact in my notes for this song I describe it as VVVVV Heavy. The song is crushingly weighty and has a tempo that stays the same, the song builds by becoming more and more intense and vehement as the song progresses. This gives the song a huge feeling of pressure, extreme weight and oppression, like being slowly kicked to death in a diving bell at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Seven Keys To The Discomfort Of Being comes to an end with the song Funerary Vision, the longest song on the album. Funerary Vision has a more expansive feel than the other material on the album. Most of the really aggressive elements are saved for the second half of the song, where we get several blast beat sections, a more minimal dissonant part, and some slow sludgy nastiness, the song comes to an end quietly with clean vocals, a great way to end the song and the album.

Seven Keys To The Discomfort Of Being, is a great album, it’s incredibly intense, breathtakingly savage and in places surprisingly beautiful. For a debut this is almost ridiculously accomplished, but then this band is new, but the members are not new to making music, they have a huge amount of accumulated experience. There must be something in the water in Ghent, the last time members of bands based in Ghent got together to form a side project we got Wiegedood, and they are one of the best Black Metal bands currently active; Seven Keys To The Discomfort Of Being has every bit as much promise as Wiegedood’s debut, so this bodes well for Predatory Void’s future. if you like incredibly intense extreme metal then this album is essential. 9/10

Margarita Witch Cult - Margarita Witch Cult (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

Margarita Witch Cult are a new band from Birmingham, UK who are lucky and awesome enough to have their debut record released on the powerhouse label Heavy Psych Sounds, and oh boy is it excellent. MWC plays a blend of stoner, proto, psych, and doom with excellent results, combining Sabbath worship with more of your modern stoner, with bands like Green Lung, Early Moods, and Hazemaze coming to mind as reference points. But the power trio takes off those elements and influences and makes them their own, offering up one of the most exciting debut albums of the year.

The opening track, Diabolical Influence, is the perfect way to kick this off, with some serious proto vibes and killer riff.  MWC is catchy as hell too, with this chorus stuck in my head throughout any given day. The Witchfinder Comes is what made me think of Green Lung, that occult stoner doom that they have perfected is on full display here. Be My Witch is my favorite track on the record, with its catchy melody, and cool riff, this sounds like something that could be on a Brown Acid comp and fit in perfectly. Annihilation opens like a Motorhead track, this is their ripper, but instead of a deep bark you get that cool, clean but fuzzy, higher pitched layered vocals that make MWC sound unique. These guys never stop bringing the riffs, with tracks like Theme From Cyclops and Aradia that show off their impressive guitar styling. More Green Lung comparisons are inevitable with Lord Of The Flies, which is some serious Sabbath worshiping doomy stoner rock. The closer, Sacrifice is the band showing their ultra evil side accompanied by more killer riffing. Great stuff.

Along with Ripple Music, Heavy Psych Sounds have their figure on the pulse of the stoner/domo/proto scene, rarely missing with any of their releases. Taking a chance on a debut album with Margarita Witch Cult is a gamble for HPS that has paid off big time.  This record is right in the wheelhouse of anyone who digs these styles and will for sure be on a whole bunch of year end lists.  If you like the bands I mention above then this is a must listen for you. One of the debuts of the year for sure. 9/10 

Oath Of Cranes - The Unsung Mantras (Klang Machine Records) [Richard Oliver]

Oath Of Cranes is an experimental doom metal band from Zürich, Switzerland which was formed a few years ago by former Celtic Frost drummer Franco Sesa to fulfil Franco’s vision of combining metal music with his passion for traditional eastern mantra chants and shamanic music. After several line up changes, years of experimenting and searching for the right way to represent this music the end result is the debut album from the band The Unsung Mantras.

The Unsung Mantras is a hefty double album with a running time of just over an hour and 47 minutes with a good chunk of the songs on the album being around the 8-10 minute mark with some exceeding that. The music offered up is a mix of doom and sludge metal with dark ambient and dissonant noise sounds with a heavy use of samples as well as chants and instruments from traditional shamanic heritage. These elements all help build and maintain the atmosphere that Franco has strived to achieve with this album but it does mean that the album and many of the songs are excessively long but without the strength of material to justify the length. 

There are exceptions throughout with the first half of the album providing Ahamkara (Who’s That Ugly Face In The Mirror) which is one of the shorter songs and mixes mantra chants with some filthy doom riffing whilst Puja (Celebrate The Negation Of Hope) has a more progressive and expansive feel to it as well as an effective use of chants and horns adding to the atmosphere.  On the second half we have the mournful tones of Tamas (Obfuscation Of The Third Eye) which is a far more sombre song and probably my favourite on the album whilst Maya Pt. 2 (To Cultivate Your Disillusions) is a caustic piece of crushing sludge metal.

There are lots of ideas at work on The Unsung Mantras and there are moments on the album I really enjoyed whilst there were also times where I was bored to tears. Quite simply the album is way too long and drawn out for its own good but those moments where the album peaks are vastly enjoyable with the peak of quality seeming to be at the midpoint of the album. This is definitely an experimental and ambitious metal album and props to the band for trying something different but on the whole it doesn’t quite work. The atmosphere and mood is there for the whole album but it just isn’t terribly interesting and there are many songs which should have been cut right down. 6/10

Grand Design - Rawk (GMR Music) [GC]

Normally I try and review the more extreme side of the releases we get sent as that is what I know best and feel most comfortable giving my opinion on, however this week there isn’t any of that available, so I have just picked something completely randomly and just hoped for the best?

I instantly regretted my decision. I should have known that an album called Rawk would be a total shit show. I almost missed most of the opener Tuff It Out because I was on the floor in fits of laughter, I just can’t believe this sort of 80’s hair metal throw back is still in demand in 2023 but it must be if there are still bands releasing it? Anyway, this song is shit so let’s move on very quickly to God Bless Rawk ‘n’ Roll which sound like Boston have tried to cover a subpar Bon Jovi track and it sounds just as horrible as you can imagine but the worst thing of all of it is this guy’s vocals there fucking hilarious and sound like they have been fed through a helium filter, truly horrific stuff! 

Love Or A Fantasy is more of the same watered down 80’s hair metal but with a more ballad feel to it and although the guitarists clearly have some talent which shows in the solos, I just can’t help but think even if they released this in the peak of the 80’s they would still have been laughed off stage. Your Luv Is Driving Me Crazy is probably in contention for top 10 worst songs I have ever heard in my life and I don’t have the words to describe just how bad it is, I would say listen to it for yourself but I wouldn’t want you to put yourself through the punishment, total dogshit. 

Desperate Heart is another painful and depressing ballad that just makes you want to smash you face against a brink wall to make it stop again you feel sorry for the guys on guitars because they show more skills on the solos than the rest of the band put together following on from that disaster we have the next insult in the shape of Dangerous Attraction which if you put another vocalist on it might sound one step above terrible but they cant so its sounds like yet another terrible 80’s pukefest.

I am somehow now past the hallway point and not sure how I have made it this far? But we soldier on, and I am now confronted with We Were Born To Rawk ‘n’ Roll that actually starts off with the best riff on the album so far and isn’t a bad song as such but then Captain Helium opens his mouth and it instantly becomes hilarious, piss poor lyrics are certainly his forte and these are some of his best so far! Anyway, this got so bad I skipped midway as I couldn’t take it anymore. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I now get the almost 6 minute long Carry On My Wind what the fuck does that even mean? 

Anyway, there is a guest vocalist on this track, don’t care who it is but if he was the main vocalist this album might not be as shit, but he isn’t so it is! Give it All Up For Luv once again sounds a rejected Bon Jovi song and now I must admit I really have had enough, I sort of skip in and out of last 2 tracks Get Out & In The H.E.A.T Of The Night and they of course sound exactly like everything else that I have heard and offer absolutely nothing and aren’t about to save this absolute tragedy of an album.

This is easily the closest I have come to giving an album a zero, there have been times before that one song saved an album but on this there is not one song that stands out as a saving grace the only reason for an actual score is I can tell there is talent in the guitarists and they deserve so much more than this and I genuinely feel sorry for them as this is a fucking embarrassment of an album and the fact that labels still release this sort of garbage and there are people who still listen to it actually makes my head hurt. Let me be perfectly clear here: AVOID AT ALL COSTS. 1/10