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Wednesday 31 May 2023

Reviews: Cry Of Dawn, House Of Shakira, Circus Of Rock, DeVicious (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Cry Of Dawn - Anthropocene (Frontiers Music Srl)

When Cry Of Dawn released their first album I instantly knew who was singing without even looking at the PR. Göran Edman has sung for Yngwie Malmsteen amongst many others but in this Frontiers collaboration he moves away from the Neo Classical style into the melodic rock/AOR, a style he is also synonymous with. Though Cry Of Dawn is much more melodic than a lot of his background. As you could hear on the debut and on this follow up, Cry Of Dawn is very much melodic rock/AOR, taking the Yacht Rock template of Toto, ideal for sunny days by the sea. 

Partnered up with guitarist/producer Tommy Denander who plays everything else on Anthroposcene, it's some slick bright American FM radio music, the vocals of Göran perfect for this punchy style of melodic rock from the driving Before You Grow Old, to swaying ballads such as Edge Of A Broken Heart it's got a lot of Toto to it with lots of keys, chunky guitars and that voice this record is AOR at its most melodic, the rock giving way to the more poptastic sounds. Cry Of Dawn is an ideal record for anyone that loves some extremely upbeat melodic rock. 7/10

House Of Shakira - XIT (Frontiers Music Srl)

Not a rock band fronted by the woman who's hips always tell the truth. House Of Shakira are a veteran Swedish hard rock band who's 10th studio album XIT sees them plugging their distinct sound once again. By distinct I mean they have a kind eclectic rock sound that steadles any genres and is quite hard to pinpoint. But they have been producing this for the best part of 20 years so on XIT they have refined to the point that it's second nature. If I were to describe it, House Of Shakira's style is kind of Def Leppard meets Asia with Phil Collins on vocals. 

Eclectic songs made with huge choruses Toxic Train is very in the realms of Genesis as the hard rock and funk fused, Your Exit brings more prog with lots of Yes-like vocal harmonies as Too Much Love comes from the more direct rock domain but elsewhere there's some influence from both Journey and Rush which is a bit of genre clash but House Of Shakira handle it all really well. I'll admit this is the first House Of Shakira album I've heard (I think) but it left an impression on me, from the virtuoso guitar playing to the great harmonies I very much enjoyed this album.

If they've been playing music this eclectic and accessible for 20 years then I have a lot of catching up to do as XIT is a HIT in my book! 8/10

Circus Of Rock - Lost Behind The Mask (Frontiers Music Srl)

Circus Of Rock is another collaborative project from the Frontiers music factory. This time it's the creation of King Company and Hevisaurus(!)  drummer Mirka Rantanen, who is now into his second go a ring master for this Circus. It takes a similar tact to the first record where there's a host of talented players and singers on each song the highest profile here being Jeff Scott Soto, Bernie Shaw, Mark Boals, David Readman and Mr Lordi himself but everyone who contributed is immensely talented and there's more than a couple of Frontiers young guns getting a bit more attention as the album opens with Girish Pradhan (Girish & The Chronicles) giving his rock n roll growl to Alive And Kickin' before JSS belts out Keep On Shining

Having these two next to each other is a genius move as the have two of the best rock voices out there. Mark Boals soars on The War Is Over while Mr Lordi scares on Nine Lives. The music is based of course in hard rock but with some added theatricality of the Avantasia or Phenomena variety, the revolving vocalists making each song unique but also slotting into the album perfectly. They are written for each voice which is why Is It Any Wonder sounds like Pink Cream 69 and Sunrise is all Uriah Heep pomp. Frontiers projects like this are always decent if a little bloated, Circus Of Rock is a bit more entertaining than most. 7/10

DeVicious - Code Red (Metalapolis Records)

DeVicious are European style melodic rock, I mean not just European, but that Scandi style that will kill at any Eurovision, the repeating refains and upbeat chorus on Are You Ready For Love, probably would have done better than both countrymen Lords Of The Land and Aussies Voyager as like most of DeVicious' music it's got the best bits of Journey, Def Leppard and bands such as Europe and H.E.A.T.

Synths and guitars in unison, the synths the main melodies while the guitars are used for rhythm and solos mainly, there's some electronic brass on Highway To The Stars, some heavier bluesing on Madhouse a song that is as dark and brooding as DeVicious get as the Europe influence is strong on Stuck In Paradise, while Raise Your Life has a symphonic metal-like chug. 

I could definitely see DeVicious holding their own at any of the AOR/Melodic Rock Fests against any of the big hitters as they've got, slickness in the songwriting/delivery, musicality from the players and choruses that are as hooky as something Delboy & Rodney would sell on Peckham Market. 

With a change behind the mic, Baol Bardot Bulsara now the singer after the departure of their previous vocalist and he let's loose here his expansive background meaning he's adaptable. Code Red is a return to form for DeVicious, after some sonic experiments on the last album and the pandemic effecting touring it, Code Red is made for arenas. 8/10

Reviews: Cloak, Def Leppard, Inherus, Demented Heart (Reviews By Erick Willand, Rich Piva, Mark Young & GC)

Cloak - Black Flame Eternal (Season Of Mist) [Erick Willand]

Cloak’s sophomore album The Burning Dawn dropped late 2019 and like so many that released albums at that time it’s impact was lessened by the world at large unexpectedly shutting down. It’s a shame really since The Burning Dawn is a solid album and although it was on the radar of critics and die hard ‘must listen to everything’ dudes like myself not being able to tour hurts these days. Like other bands stuck in this Cloak did what so many did, wrote another album.

Black Flame Eternal begins in a grandiose entrance style, drums and blasts as to herald a dark arrival. Ethereal Fire is blistering and direct without losing the band's trad metal influence, can’t help but join in with the “HAIL!” gang chorus. The song trudges a little in the back half but this takes little away. With Fury And Allegiance is Cloak flexing their speed and aggression muscles, it’s furious and Taysom’s vocals are at just the right gravel growl levels. 

This is followed by a change of pace with Shadowlands, a slower more insistent approach here with absolutely blazing guitar work. This track has ritual vibes on it, especially with the little spoken word bit. Invictus comes rolling in like an approaching storm with some howling vocals that highlight the grand sonic display. This song is a sweeping epic, there’s no other way to describe it musically, it blatantly breaks my ‘song length rule’ and I didn’t even notice. That’s good in my book.

Seven Thunders carries this urgency forward with a ferocious riffing and relentless drum assaults, I feel like a pyrotechnic display is in order for the live performance. Eye Of The Abyss has a great circling riff that carries the song through it’s gothy Dimmu Borgir inspired delivery and I’m once again given the ‘this is ritual’ vibes that bleed right into following track The Holy Dark which is clearly ritual as it happens. Fast and riff heavy with an in-your-face declaration for all things dark and esoteric, it’s intense and my fav track so far. Unfortunately this is followed by Heavenless, the shortest and clearly weakest song on the album, a weird gothic ballad of sorts that just feels so far out of place compared to the rest of the album, this is a final track placed just before that actual final track, a misstep to be sure.

Thus to the final track and the album title, Black Flame Eternal, a nearly seven minute journey in resplendent Blackened fashion that seems to distill all of the bands deep influences into a spell of driving darkness, Shagrath would be proud. Guitar heroics, thundering drums and insistent vocals are on full regalant display as this final spell brings this darkness to its final storm wracked end. I start the album over again.

Not without its faults to be sure, nearly each song on Black Flame Eternal could use a time trim, just the extra bits here or there, I’m not looking for pop song time here, but this isn’t Doom Metal either. The other quip is the placement of the song Heavenless, which just feels really out of place with the overall flow and vibe I think the band is going for. Despite this and to be fair, I wasn’t bored and I genuinely enjoyed this album and have listened to it four times now. Also the cover art is fantastic and fits well with the music, it’ll make great t-shirts. So, all tallied up Cloak and Black Flame Eternal land at 7/10

Def Leppard - Drastic Symphonies (UMR) [Rich Piva]

Look, Def Leppard was never my favorite band, even growing up during the time when they were arguably the biggest band in the world when Hysteria dropped. I have always enjoyed their early work pre-Hysteria more than any of the work after, but nothing ever really made me feel one way or another after that. I really did not like their last studio album at all, but how bad could a “hits” record redone with an orchestra be? I mean we have some of those hits that we all love on Drastic Symphonies, so what could go wrong?

Turns out, a whole lot, as this may be one of the worst things I have heard in a long time, and I reviewed the latest Monster Truck album, so this is saying a lot. Nothing has been more unnecessary except maybe the new Mike Tramp record where he does terrible, uninspired new versions of his own songs. Some of these songs sound redone, some of them sound like they took the original and added some orchestra stuff, and some of them are flat out abominations to anyone who enjoys this band in any capacity. Take the top stripper song of all time, Pour Some Sugar On Me, which they somehow turned into a dirty Disney soundtrack song and actually made me lose hope in humanity. Their new take on Animal was not that much better.

Too Late For Love was OK, and by OK it didn’t make me want to smash my head through a window. I am not sure what album When Love And Hate Collide is on, but I want nothing to do with either of the versions. Thankfully they did not ruin my favorite Def Lep song, Bringing On The Heartbreak, which is the only reason that this got rated as high as it did. Also, there are sixteen tracks on this album. Sixteen!!! One hour and twenty-two minutes of this!!! Why do you hate me, Joe Elliott!!! I am not going to cover all of them because I really hate being negative in a review, but the guys have left me no choice.

There are bands who have done this very well (Metallica), just fine (Kiss), and acceptable (Metallica again) but this is not any of those. Def Lep are milking the cash cow, which is fine, but give us something that is listenable, not something that seems like a punishment to get all the way though. I am sorry to anyone who liked this, but I have not had such a visceral reaction to any album I have listened to in a long time. You’re welcome, Mike Tramp, you are no longer my lowest rated album of 2023, but it’s still terrible. 1/10

Inherus - Beholden (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Mark Young]

Having a look online at where Inherus sit musically their members have come from various bands such as Witchkiss, Botanist, Swallow The Ocean and Lotus Thief to name but four. It’s labelled as a mix of post-metal and heavy rock that takes in black metal, doom, psyche on its musical journey.

So, when it starts with a roar and a warm guitar sound that bows at the alter of the Lord Tony Iommi it’s not what I expected at all. Forgotten Kingdom is all about the riff and blackened vocals with a suitable melodic backing that is given additional weight by Beth Gladding that provides that dynamic between clean and harsh. It continually changes its approach from track to track, One More Fire concentrates on Beth’s strong vocals in its opening stages against an almost minimal backing as she tells her story in an unhurried fashion. The harsh vocals come in with a backing that matches as we switch back and forth as the two styles come together. It put together so well; everything is in synch with each other which is key here.

The Dagger continues in the same manner, with those ethereal vocals really shining here, throwing in tasteful solos as it continues on its long path. They achieve so much with the combination of these clean vocals and a simple guitar riff which builds emotion and feeling. Oh Brother adopts the same approach and again uses the top-class clean vocals as a base to build and expand the song into that otherworldly realm, this time facing attack from the death growl vocals. Final song, Lie To The Angels starts as Forgotten Kingdom did, emphasis on a more up-tempo heavy approach but with a strong vocal delivery on both sides of the coin. They lean into the darker side here without forgetting the great work they have done leading up to this.

This is going to appeal to fans of expressive longer jams with the majority of songs running at nine minutes plus. It lives up to its description of a mix of psyche/doom which will definitely resonate with those who love those genres. The album is chock full of memorable riffs and musical intent. Its handled so well that it has clearly been a labour of love for those involved. If anything, the song lengths are too much for me but that is a minor criticism and results from an ingestion of thrash metal from an early age. As I’ve said fans will love it, and those involved should feel rightfully proud of their achievement with this. 8/10

Demented Heart - Frantic Epidemic (Brutal Mind) [GC]

Not much background on Demented Heart but after a quick search I can see they are from Indonesia and are on Brutal Mind records and then my heart sinks because I recently reviewed one of their artists and didn’t like it at all! They have a couple of releases previously, hopefully my initial trepidation can be stamped out by latest offering Frantic Epidemic.

It starts exactly how I expected on album opener and title track Frantic Epidemic with some full-on brutal tech death metal but this time there is no comical song titles or stupid album artwork! While it has the tech death at heart it also manages to have a bit of an old school death metal feel from the vocals and throws in some nice solos as if to ram this home even harder and I already feel better that I did at the start! 

Severe Disease manages to inject some groove into the middle of all the death metal relentlessness and shows a clever knack of how to make what can sound all a bit one dimensional not sound so one dimensional, Incitement To Violence continues with the utterly inhumane pace that has been a theme of the album so far and while there is absolutely zero subtlety or variation on the tracks when they are done with this much conviction you just kind of have to sit back, listen and appreciate it all for what it is, which is thoroughly technically excellent death metal! 

Terror And Destruction has a phenomenal opening riff that is full of big groove infused death metal that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-90’s Florida album and the rest of the song just destroys everything it its path with a breath-taking pace and again the way the solos are incorporated to really keep everything interesting is done brilliantly. Over the halfway point now and of course Impact Of Chaos does nothing to relax the tempo or slow down the attack and keep everything flowing along at the usual breakneck speed but does manage to have some of the most groove filled sections from the whole album so far that again offers a nice juxtaposition of sounds. Abnormal Funeral begins with probably the most straight forward death metal sound of the whole album and is not all heads down full-on attack mode, it’s still fast and savage but there is a focus and determination here to make you suffer in as many different ways for as long as possible.

Social Destroying then continues with the more old school but still savagely brutal tech death onslaught and is again done with such force that you just have to sit back and enjoy, there is of course a complete lack of variation and much of the record is very similar sounding but, when its done this well it really doesn’t matter at all! Territorial Invasion relies heavily on an almost thrash riff that carries the song forward with more unrelenting speed and power but obviously never strays to far from the sound that has been the body of the album so far, but the solos midway just keep adding to the thrash vibe and it’s a real pleasure to listen to as it keeps you guessing all the way through! 

Population Decline then does what I didn’t expect and throws in an almost acoustic and mellow opening that flows directly into a slow-paced build up that then of course they cast all this aside and a cascading wall of death metal is back, and it stomps, pummels, thrashes and mixes in mid-tempo sols and continues to twist and turn all the way to the end of the track.

Got to admit, I was expecting very little from this and it produced so much! It got the death metal fan in me excited in a way that only good death metal can, it can be an exhilarating listen when done right and Demented Heart absolutely do it right on Frantic Heart they manage to mix the old and new school approach to death metal expertly and don’t need comedy song titles of stupid artwork to make you pay attention, this is an album that all death metal fans will really enjoy!! 8/10

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Reviews: Yes, Arrival Of Autumn, Vexing, A Pretext To Human Suffering (Reviews By Rich Piva, Zak Skane, Mark Young & GC)

Yes - Mirror To The Sky (InsideOut Records) [Rich Piva]

It’s 2023 and we have a new Yes album! Prog nerds of the world unite, and I mean that in the most loving way I possibly can. Yes has a rabid and technically sound fan base, so I am sure new material will me those guys very happy. As a casual fan, I have always enjoyed Yes, but never dug way deep into their discography but what I have spent a lot of time with I always enjoy and frequently pull out my Yes records to go on those epic journeys they have always been so go at giving the fans. We are up to album 23 and the band looks much different from their origins for obvious reasons, but somehow Steve Howe and the latest incarnation of the band have produced a worthy record for their late career catalog, with a couple of hiccups, but overall, some solid Yes material.

I love the opening track, Mirror To The Sky, which Is one of their best songs of the last couple of decades. Jon Davison’s voice is eerily like what you would hear on the Yes hits they play on classic rock radio. Some great bass and guitar work on this track makes it the perfect opener. This album is so cleanly produced you could eat off it, but somehow it is not too much for me when it almost always is. The opener was nice and compact at just over five minutes, but this is Yes, so buckle up for some long ones. All Connected is next and is a nice one two punch to open, with some cool harmonies and interesting time changes that you come to expect from the band.

We start to get into some grandiose territory with the next track, Luminosity. Everything sounds clean and big on Mirror To The Sky, and this track is exhibit A. Nine minutes of excellent instrumentation that could have been five, but if you are listening to this album you know what you are getting yourself into. The production again really stands out on this track with everything that is going on. Mr. Howe is a mad scientist in the studio. The song, while big, is a bit on the lite side for me. There is really zero rock crunch on Mirror To The Sky, but that is just where we are at with the band at this point. 

You almost get some rocking with Living Out The Dream which almost has a southern rock vibe to it. Nice track. The title track is a lot. Almost fourteen minutes long which some killer playing but somehow winds up sounding like a Disney soundtrack towards the end. Other standouts include Circles Of Time and Magic Potion, which are nice little Yes tunes, and by little, I mean under five minutes, with the latter having an almost jazzy feel to it.

At this point Yes fans should be happy with Mirror To The Sky. Is this something they will revisit often given there are 22 other albums out there of which 17-20 are better than this? Probably not. Is it a bit long? Of course it is, what band are we talking about again? But make no mistake, Yes is awesome, and they continue to provide their fans with new output that no one should be embarrassed about. Good stuff, especially for the rabid fans of the band. 7/10

Arrival Of Autumn - Kingdom Undone (Nuclear Blast) [Zak Skane]

Opening up this album is the classic 2000 technical metal era Scares which tears our faces off with thrashy galloping riffs, energy driven scank beats and crushing breakdowns that would please OG fans of the likes of Unearth and Sylosis. After their thrashy opening they shift their style to a more Djenty/mathy sound with tracks like Your Fiction and Ghosts which contains gut punching staccato riffs and technical grooves that would please any Periphery fan. 

Through out the album the band trades off sub gerners through track coming back to their old school thrashcore sound with songs like Hell Comes Home and One More Day which pushes the bands talents with Brutal double kicks and blast beats played at breakneck speeds whilst guitar solo soar over the top of them. Modern metal on Burn and Masters Serve takes the band into more Architects and Wage War territory with interval and jumping technical riffs and Briton Bond barked vocals. 

Overall this album takes the listener by the hand and explores the old and new sounds of metalcore, from the thrashy opener of Scares to the modern tech metal edge of Burn, the only criticism that I would point out is the transitions feel like two worlds apart. 7/10

Vexing - Grand Reproach (Ordovician Records) [Mark Young]

Grand Reproach is the latest from Vexing, a progressive sludge trio from Denver. I don’t think I’ve heard much progressive sludge so let’s go. And we are off! The Mold comes in with a tight riffing structure, moving at a pace that is leans more to hardcore territory. You can hear the progressive nature of their attack very with little twists and turns as they chase the song to the end. This would be a great song to play, so much to do within it and it’s a promising start.

Vanquishing Light keeps this up, with another densely packed song that navigates its way across different structures and melody lines that takes a heavier, faster turn and turns it on its head. It’s dark and nasty and leads us into The Invisible Hand, with feedback filled start into minimal gain riffing churning out one of the most hummable lines in recent times. What is apparent is that when they approach a chorus or break the music in that piece is so different from what the main structure starts with, and its great to hear this being executed in this way.

Shallow Breath is low, stop/start riffs and is content just to grind away at you as it takes flight. Its manic yet controlled and another example of how well they change both gears and genres within the same song. Howling is an intermission piece, of sustained keys that could be at home in any Sci-fi film, but I don’t think it serves a purpose here other than to break the album up. It does segue into Blunderbuss which changes tack slightly, the vocal delivery is different as it comes more into the death side of things. Whilst we have that change, they are still consistent with taking you on a musical trip within the song, touching on different motifs and attacks: Fast, direct, slow, one sided but all good.

Small Black Flame is a direct attack, most conventional build of the songs so far, ascending movement and an incredible solo to the end that is manic and tasteful at the same time, completely fitting in with the whole body of the song. Red Skies and its again with that almost burrowing effect guitar that just tries to split your head open like a precise drill. Its all change again as the directional switch is pulled, trampling to the natural end of the album. Its like and then nothing like the songs that came before, which is exceptional.

I don’t know where the sludge part comes from, it’s likely that I am wrongly assuming that ‘sludge’ should sound like that aural equivalent of a thick, dense guitar sound that is capable of splitting the earth’s crust or that it moves at a pace similar to that of a sloth with nowhere to go. That is not the case here, they are heavy without ridiculous tunings, or 18 string guitars and it moves, it really does and live I think it would take on another identity, stomping the crowd into bits. 7/10

A Pretext To Human Suffering - Endless Cycle Of Suffering (Realtiy Fade Records) [GC]

After reading the press release for the debut album from A Pretext To Human Suffering, apparently I can hope to hear some technical and brutal death metal that promises ‘’superb levels of sheer musicality and skill, with the dedication to supreme heaviness which brings to life of the band’s horrifying, incisive vision and is the imaginative accomplishment of the song writing that results is an utterly magnificent album’’ big words for a debut and of course its time for me to see if they can back all this up.

Starting with the 5 second intro Indoctrination its falls onto Endless Cycle Of Suffering to kick things off properly and it kind of does and doesn’t really? It sort of lumbers along for the first minute or so not doing very much and when it does all explode into life it’s all a bit of a blur, it’s a shame the drums on this track are programmed because if this was a human I would be blown away! The rest is all very proficient tech death, but it just feels like its missing something to really kick it on, Architect Of Reality does fare slightly better as it doesn’t meander at all it just dives directly into the pummelling and ramps up the pace sufficiently to make you pay attention and has some really decent breakdowns included. 

Then on Hollow Sanctuary the pace begins in a more slowed down fashion but, this time its adding to everything and that mixes well with the breakneck speed of the faster parts and there is even a healthy dose of atmospherics thrown into towards the end to add more depth and texture to the song which is a wise move, Formless Collective is another short, sharp shock type song that just explodes out of the speakers and the savages you all the way through.

Void then sort of suffers a mid-album slump, it’s just a bit meh? It all begins with low-down chug chug riffs that don’t really do much and when it does kick in it all just seems slightly aimless and doesn’t seem to go anywhere? Toxic Dreams is an atmospheric interlude that doesn’t really do very much to pick up the flow or pace and just gets in the way before Shadow Of Time bundles into the mix there’s some a nice mix of different guitar work here with squeaky pitch harmonics, mixed into the dense riffs and a solo thrown in for good measure, which is probably helpful as it makes what could have been a boring song, not so boring.

It’s now that I feel that they are losing some rhythm and flow but, Paradox does succeed in picking the pace back up and is probably the style they do best which is a full on tech death onslaught with no subtlety or mood setting just full on attack mode and they picked the right time for it here! Clandestine is more of the same and the pace even seems to be upped another notch and even the slowed down chug of the verse doesn’t take anything away from the brutal nature of this song just when it was all seeming to get slightly aimless, they have picked it right back up! Cult_ure then once again drops the pace down to a more mid-tempo stomp and probably has a more deathcore nature to the whole track and it’s a decent way to finish the album off.

Did they back up the hype from the press release? Not really for me, I must be honest and admit I didn’t really connect with this album, there were some good parts and some not so good parts, but I just couldn’t find that thing that really made me connect to what was on offer? As a debut I can say that it’s a job well done but in future I think they would need to offer more for me to really think they can push onto the next level. 6/10

Reviews: Metal Church, Blind River, Oceanlord, Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Metal Church - Congregation Of Annihilation (Rat Pak Records) [Rich Piva]

Some bands in their fifth decade will chill a bit. Maybe release their “Stones Influenced” record and rest on their old school thrash laurels. Not Metal Church, who are back with their thrashiest record in years, Congregation Of Annihilation. This is the first record after the passing of former lead vocalist Mike Howe and the first with new singer, Marc Lopes, who has a bit of a higher screech than I am used to with The Church, but it works with the total aggression that comes out of record number thirteen from a band who has been to hell and back lately, potentially having Congregation Of Annihilation as a type of scream therapy for the band.

Right off the bit these guys are ripping with the opener, Another Judgement Day. You get some serious screams from Lopes, and I am getting not just old school MC vibes but am I hearing some Testament too? I love the dual guitar attack and the right up in the front drums. The vocals take a while to get used to, but once you settle in you see the vision here. You get even more thrashier on the title track, which is a flat-out banger. Lopes fits in nicely with the vibe on this record for sure. Anyone up for a MC/Overkill tour because this track literally screams yes. 

The foot is never taken of the petal with killer thrash like Pick A God And Pray, Children Of The Lie, and Making Monsters. Me The Nothing is heavy in other ways, even if it is the slowest burner on here, and to me is the most old school like Metal Church track on Congregation Of Annihilation. All in all, eleven (if you count the bonus tracks) thrash rippers that never hint at this legendary metal band slowing down any time soon, even with the tragedy that they have endured.

Overkill, and now Metal Church has revived my hope for how bands I loved as a kid can keep killing it in 2023. Congregation Of Annihilation is a testament to a band who has lived though the loss of their singer and come back strong, battling the sadness to unleash a monster of pent-up rage that we have not heard from them in a long time. Great stuff from a band who has no right sounding a fresh and heavy as they do on Congregation Of Annihilation at this point in their discography. 8/10

Blind River - Bones For The Skeleton Thief (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Blind River have a stock-in-trade of gigantic rhythms and ball breaking blues rocking, a style they've been deafening audiences up and down the country with since 2017. Formed with a shared love of touring an very much a live act the band is made up of members of some of the UK's best riff slingers, Blind River features former members of Godsized, Pig Iron, and many more well respected UK bands also well as vocalsist Harry Armstrong now being the bassist in UK veterans Orange Goblin.

These road dogs write their music in green rooms and work out the tracks on stage, perfecting the songs in front of audiences until they go into the studio to record the fully formed cuts. It's worked on their two previous records and it works again on the brilliantly titled Bones For The Skeleton Thief. Proudly recorded with "No click track. No auto-tune. No edits" it was recorded straight to tape to encapsulate the sound of Blind River perfectly, recorded differently, I might add to their last two albums but Bones For... feels more fired up, rawer and bit more pissed off than they did previously.

I've always considered Blind River to be the UK's answer to Clutch, with the no-frills dive bar sound of many of their former bands (a few of which are my favourites). They easily merge stoner riffs, southern rock grooves and punk wildness. Their debut album was fast and furious heavy blues rock, Made Of Dirt the second album brought more variation as they continue to broaden their style on this third release. The 10 tracks (all their albums are 10 tracks) comes out of the stalls swinging fists on Punkstarter, with the brawl begun, the groove is established on Second Hand Soul, riff monsters Chris Charles and Dan Edwards playing it low and slower, before Andrew Esson's percussive blast carries the slithering Snake Oil.

Just three tracks and Blind River are almost screaming "We're back baby!" Out Of Time slowing to the throb of Will Hughes' bass, Harry letting his gritty blues howl do the work, though he's more restrained but equally powerful on the beginning of Skeleton Thief. The dynamics have always been a part of Blind River's music, that's why I mention Clutch as their music your head banging and fist pounding, touching the inner caveman on tracks like Mind Blown but it's also got a cleveness, the work of skilled musicians who have thought about the compositions and the lyrics, with tracks like Passing By.

As they have plenty more shows lined up, and a tour in November with Sasquatch, Blind River 4 may not be that far away, still, Bones For The Skeleton Thief continues the bands rise as one of the most respected and bloody entertaining bands in the UK scene. 9/10

Oceanlord - Kingdom Cold (Magnetic Eye Records) [Rich Piva]

Australian doom baby!!! Oceanlord has dropped their debut of slow burning doom goodness on us from down under, shaking the streets as their release their mythical sea creature, in this case six killer tracks of traditional and not so traditional doom, upon the masses. This is heavy, fuzzy, doom with cool vocals, and a kind of constant buzz across all the tracks. This must be from the deep parts of the Australian Ocean because Kingdom Cold lives up to its chilly name.

That is the vibe right off the bat with the opener Kingdom, a slow, plodding track with an excellent guitar tone and the aforementioned excellent vocals. The pace does not pick up with the next track, 2340, but why would you want it to with doom this good? I get some serious Trouble vibes with this one, especially in the chorus. There is such a cool darkness to Kingdom Cold that is hard to put into words without listening. The album can be listened to by individual tracks, but to me this record seems like a natural continuation from song to song, case in point the move to the next track, Siren, with more doomy goodness, and an urgency to the lyrics and vocals keeps that cold wind blowing along the coast that is this record. 

Is this a concept album? Because it could be with the overarching vibe and themes that continue throughout the forty-two minutes of Kingdom Cold, as the creepy Isle Of The Dead continues but turns up the cold factor even further. This eight-minute epic is my favorite amongst an album where all the tracks are top notch. The fact that the record is six tracks and forty-two minutes is the perfect length as too much more you may feel that it is dragging a bit, but you get none of that in its given configuration. So Cold is just that just, keeping up the theme, and reminds us that these guys wrote and recorded this record during the very strict lockdown in Australia. Come Home is an excellent closer, with a psych guitar opening and not altering the mood of this record in any way, which is a really good thing.

Kingdom Cold is an excellent debut record, positioning Oceanlord as part of the future of doom for years to come. These guys seem to have a natural feel for the genre and take pieces of what everyone loves about doom and melding it into their own dark, cold, and gloomy offering. Great stuff, and I look forward to what is next from the cold depths of the land down under. 8/10

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton - Death Wish Blues (Rounder Records) [Matt Bladen]

There's a certain sound to this album, I was trying to put my finger on it. Fuzzier and dirtier than Samantha Fish's last release, this is renegade sounding album fusing blues with outlaw country but there's something else? It's in the buzzing guitar tone or the reverb vocals, like garage rock meets hillbilly attitude. Then I looked at the credits and it said production by Jon Spencer, the penny dropped and it all made sense. He of the self named Blues Explosion is synonymous with the 'sound' of this record, the musical traits I've mentioned earlier, his music has always been experimental and boundary breaking.

So it's only right that he's behind the chair for this collaboration between two artists from similar mindsets but alternate musical backgrounds. Both forging their musical relationship in Kansas City; Samantha Fish is one of the most red hot blues players on the scene, she's got the chops, the skills and the attitude while Jesse Dayton has played with Cash and Jennings while also punched out four chords with punk band X.

Both players wanted to push the boundaries of their respective styles while merging them and creating something different. Lustful, sardonic, dark music, that can be called alt-blues but I'd say it's rebel music, songs for lovers, thieves, drunks and killers. Biting guitar tones using the unpublished dark side of rock n roll, it's the motorcycle crash epics Jim Steinman loved with the murder ballads of Nick Cave, Fish and Dayton trading off on vocals and guitar, Fish bringing the Cigar Box twang as Dayton has a Baritone thump, the idea was to keep it blues based but without the fear of being traditional.

Recorded in just 10 days, Death Wish Blues sounds frenzied and frenetic, a band featuring Kendall Wind (bass), Mickey Finn (keys), Aaron Johnston (drums) augment the duo who often feel like they're sparring with each other on Riders, the shuffling Lover On The Side and Dangerous People. The swaggering Deathwish is 2 and a half minutes of bad ideas and blossoming lust on top of filthy blues, the funky Down In The Mud sees Dayton take vocals for a bit of Americana, both of them changing between taking lead vocals on the tracks where they don't duet.

Elsewhere in the album; Settle For Less is some prime Fish blues rocking, things get slower and soulful on No Apology while for me Rippin’ And Runnin’ is one of the best songs here a moody cut from the deep blues, while the fun Supadupabad is full Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the left/right divide in the production. Death Wish Blues is a collab that shines a light on both artists telling anyone that listens to it, that this blues...beyond. 8/10

Sunday 28 May 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Celebrate This Place (Live Review By Alex Swift)

Celebrate This Place – Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, Dream Wife, Los Bitchos, The Bug Club, Cola & Lambrini Girls Tramshed, 20.05.23.

Independent live music festivals are rapidly becoming a staple of Cardiff’s culture, as venues come together in celebration of the community space that they provide. Aptly then, the title of the latest event to add its name to the roster of festivals that music lovers like me can’t help but buy tickets for, is called Celebrate This Place. A two-day occurrence, the first night took place in Clwb Ifor Bach and, from what I hear, was focussed on promoting the finest acts in the UK’s underground electronic, gothic, and ambient scenes, as artists like Acid Klaus and COFFIN featured. More intriguing to me though, is the second day, as the Tramshed hosts a number of acts spanning hardcore punk, to indie to psychedelia. In that sense, the weirdness defining this festival is still present today, but with a lot more distortion.

I arrive in time to see the end of Lambrini Girls (8) set – their frantic and vicious style of hardcore is influenced deeply by the Riot Grrrl aesthetic yet is one the Brighton trio make fully their own. Every aspect of their performance bristles with a kind of righteous, indignant anarcho-feminist fury, that lends power and authenticity to the deeply tongue-in-cheek songs. In the final moments of their time on stage they spell out their philosophy in no uncertain terms, bidding audience members to call out their friends and family over casual sexism and homophobia, acknowledging that those conversations are awkward but making clear it’s the only way we achieve lasting change.

Cola (7) are the next band to take the stage. Featuring band members previously of the Montreal quartet Ought, they continue on the moody, retro-infused indie path of their previous band, with quietly simmering melodies and sombre yet effective minimalism. There is little crowd interaction during their set, but each of the band members plays with a sense of preciseness that speaks to years of experience in making this kind of music. There’s a slow arrival of crowd members during their set, adding to the lively atmosphere in the venue.

The Bug Club (9) are one of the most renowned acts on the Cardiff independent circuit at this point. There are many people, including my group of friends, who are here to see them, and understandably so. Their music is brilliantly joyful, swaying between moments of subdued indie, and occasionally exploding into something altogether more vibrant. There’s a sense of excitement in the room during their performance as for the first time in the day there are lots of people singing together and dancing along. Even for someone like me who’s not as familiar with this band’s music as many here, this is a show that lends optimism and enthusiasm to the day.

By this point, The Tramshed is bursting with life – every act from here on out is guaranteed a lively and captive audience. It stands to reason then that the next band should be one of the most exciting and technically impressive acts of the day. It’s incredibly hard to describe what Los Bitchos (10) do without oversimplifying their sound. Almost entirely instrumental, the sound they command bears the technical intricacy of prog, the diverse sound palate of flamenco or Caribbean music, and the unhinged energy of punk rock. It’s incredibly danceable music, yet many here are anchored to the spot, deeply impressed with the cleverness on display. This is the sort of band I come to live music festivals to discover – ones which seem to be reimaging established styles, in a way that’s intriguing and unique.

Winning my personal award for stage presence tonight is Dream Wife (10). Bringing a ferocious energy to every second, they have the crowd in the palm of their hand from start to finish. During the intense anti-misogyny anthem of Leech, the crowd chant the refrain of “just have some fucking empathy” back at the band in unison. Meanwhile, songs like Orbit and Let’s Make Out stack tension before exploding into moments of pure viciousness, as the crowd react with the most vigour and dynamism seen yet. The show is also replete with powerful social-justice messaging that only adds to the infectiously empowering nature of the set. All the acts on today are so skilled and intriguing in their own ways that its hard to pick a favourite but if I had to choose a best act of the day, these reign supreme.

Finally, its time for the main act. I confess to a friend before their set that Psychedelic Porn Crumpets (9) name alone was a large part of what made me want to buy tickets to this gig. I am, however, pleased to report that the band utterly live up to awesome weirdness promised by their title. There’s not much time made for crowd interaction. However, with only one hour to impress, the band seem more than happy to let the music make an impact on its own. Indeed, that’s exactly what happens – as the Australian musicians charge through anthems like Hymn For A Droid and Found God In A Tomato, circle pits seem to engulf the crowd during the entirety of the set. Meanwhile, the musicianship the band demonstrate summons a sensation of journeying through a world that is wild and unfamiliar. That’s the magic of this music – you can dance and go crazy to its tempo or stand back lose yourself in its cerebral and immersive melodies.

Days like this demonstrate beautifully why our venues are worth celebrating. Both Clwb Ifor Bach and Tramshed have been placed under threat of closure in the past, and many spaces have not been so fortunate in evading such threats. Still, for those of us who value live music, hopefully we will get many more opportunities to celebrate these places in future!

Friday 26 May 2023

Reviews: Phoxjaw, Turned To Stone, Reasons Behind, The Mon (Reviews By Mark Young, David Karpel, Simon Black & Rich Piva)

Phoxjaw - Notverynicecream (Hassle Records) [Mark Young]

Right, so I’ll be honest I have absolutely no idea how to describe this music, it sounds like nothing I’ve ever listened to before. Its not conventional in any way and I can say without fear of contradiction there is nothing like it in my music collection. I think it is an indication of just how healthy, diverse and incredible the music scene is in the UK at the moment. It’s just breath-taking.

The following 12 songs go everywhere in their quest to bring you the most dizzying album they could. Evermore is all noses, impassioned singing and electronica that could be found at home at any dance night. This is not just thrown together its incredibly thought out and blows into Apples with a fantastic 1234 rising riff with what will be probably the most shout along song this summer. Its not heavy metal in that those born before 2003 will get first time. Icecreamwitch is more similar to early 80’s indie but through that modern filter. Again, on the second time of listening it just hits. There is a ton of stuff going on in it, does it want you to dance? To head bang? Do it all. There are no limits or restraints here.

Each song is crafted so differently than the one before it, it is going to be an experience to watch them perform this live. Sungazer is one that has that infectious, ear worm effect that mixes so many different threads together that it shouldn’t work but does. There is an overriding sense of fun, of pure joy that seeps out from each song, thesaddestsong ever has hints of The Killers with its vocal delivery and is another stormer with a repeating keyboard line and rising backing vocals that is pure class.

I’m going to state it now that I’ll not review another album like this, that offers such a range of approaches and that mines so many different types of music. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this album contains, with each subsequent listen you become aware of little things and ideas that you missed on the first pass. Knives represents another change in tack as it drops a heavy riff bomb that comes from nowhere with an almost nightmarish backing that feels like it is being stretched to breaking point.

Last track, Serpentsdripfromtheskies combines that 80’s indie with a modern sound with another catchy ear worm that fights with dark riffing for supremacy. I would suggest that you, dear reader should go out and give them a listen. I know of no one else who sounds like this. Go into this with a closed mind and you will get nothing from it, and you will hate it. Embrace this for what it is, a monumental collection of songs that will grab you from the start and not let go. They are touring the UK soon so now is the best time to catch them before they explode. 10/10

Turned To Stoned - Chapter 8: The Wake (Ripple Music) [David Karpel]

Turned To Stone Chapter 8: The Wake is the latest in Ripple’s brilliant split series gathering pairs of bands blasting righteous sounds from the underground. The label continues to bring the heavy, splitting this one between two awesome bands whose bottom loaded, desert doom riffs compliment each other’s for a consistent but no less crushing listen. High Desert Queen’s debut, Secrets Of The Black Moon, released on Ripple mid-fall of ‘21, was a certified house-on-fire ripper that garnered well deserved praise. Meanwhile, Blue Heron’s Ephemeral, released a year ago, shifted another artery through the heart of the heavy desert rock highway. Honestly, a split with these two bands had to be obvious.

High Desert Queen takes Side A with three tracks that fit perfectly with the heavy melodic songs offered previously on their aforementioned debut. The crunching opening chords of Black Moon, the steady thrum of the bass, and sludged momentum of the drums are familiar and welcome. HDQ are just so damn good at what they do, by which I don’t only mean Ryan Garney’s powerfully emotive vocals, or the gargantuan riffs of Rusty Miller, or his daughter Morgan Miller’s bass anchoring every riff and melody along with Phil Hook cracking boulders behind the kit.

I also mean they write great, memorable songs with intriguing lyrics, catchy choruses, electrifying guitar lines you can’t help but sing along with, and infectious melodies. Drift Into The Sun slows it down and gets quiet a bit for a brief, psych infused desert ballad. Hearing Garney harmonize some (with Miller?) gives us another dimension of HDQ’s breadth. Roll The Dice closes the side with a stomping mid-tempo rocker that feels like it could have been the B-side to their single off of Secrets, The Mountain Vs The Quake. While these tracks don’t sound much different than what was offered on their debut, they’re all great additions to the HDQ songbook, which we can only hope continues to expand.

Side B gives us three tracks from Albuquerque, New Mexico’s desert pirates Blue Heron. Bringing a fuzzy, Kyuss-like heat, the band grooves gargantuan riffage. Singer Jadd Shickler switches up from a higher pitch melodic yearning to an emotive growling low end, giving the singing a dynamic quality that keeps things interesting. This is especially true in a song like Able Baker, the first cut, where the opening words set the scene: “Underneath the green atomic skies tonight…” In all three tracks, bass player Steve Schmidlapp sets up a rolling foundation punctuated by the powerful drumming of Ricardo Sanchez. Meanwhile, the guitar prowess of Mike Chavez is evident in the massive riffs, the dark tones, and his more melodic lines that shine in through the fuzz. 

Day Of The Comet shows the band keeping the mid-tempo pace aggressive with Chavez given space to create psych elements underneath the controlled chaos of a landslide that is the combination of Schmidlapp and Sanchez. Like HDQ’s offering on Side A, Blue Heron’s third track, Superposition picks up the pace just a bit, but still sways easy even as the bass and drums pummel. Also like HDQ’s offerings, these three Blue Heron tracks don’t differ from what they did on Ephemeral, which is not a knock at all. No one who digs that album, including myself, could possibly complain.

While neither Side A or B provide much evidence that either of these bands are pushing new directions or new avenues of possibility on this release (despite HDQ’s shift to first gear in Drift Into The Sun), both sides do provide fans with fresh reminders of why they’re deserving of much more attention and repeated listening. As an introduction to two of the best new stoner desert doom bands actually from the desert, this split is the perfect entry. It’s also a great record for fans wanting more from these two. Play it loud for best results! 9/10

Reasons Behind - Architecture Of An Ego (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

One thing about Metal, is it’s never short of a new sub-genre or two. Now I’m old enough to remember ‘Heavy Metal’ splintering into Glam and Thrash in the 80’s and when one of those branches experimented with ‘Rap Metal’ for a laugh and inadvertently created a new branch and leading to Nu-Metal a whole bunch of that generation spent a decade not buying records in disgust. It has got a little silly these days, with more sub-genres than an overactive petri dish demonstrating mitosis in the four decades since, and with the overall style clearly not going anywhere soon I can see this continuing as long as people can get creative, so it’s with some trepidation that I approach my first Electro Dance Metal album. 

This album explodes in a suitably forthright manner from the get-go, and despite the fact that I know that playing this live without just pressing ‘play’ on a click track is going to be a challenge, one can’t fault the energy, precision and punch that this record brings from once you get past the inevitable Synth programmed intro. It’s hard and heavy, but keeps the Dance vibe which means it’s an even compromise between catchy as, and heavy as fuck.

Elisa Bonafe’s vocals feel more like the approach you would expect from a Symphonic act, and the obvious point of diversion here from all things traditionally Dance is that these are full sung vocal lines without an obvious sampler, autotune or harmoniser in earshot, which is a damn good thing and means (click track notwithstanding) that this would actually probably work in a live setting. Gabriele Sapori has about three hats in the studio here covering guitars, programming and keys, but his six string work catches the ear, was surprisingly good and with a nicely progressive technical bit of shredding creeping in from time to time to retain the metal credibility.

The songs as I said remain catchy throughout, although mainly at the same tempo but it’s when the guest vocalist start dueting with Bonafe that things really step up a level and stop sounding too samey. I didn’t expect to find this at all up my street, which proves occasionally it is best to just shut up and listen. 7/10

The Mon - Eye (Supernatural Cat Records) [Rich Piva]

The Mon is the electronic/ambient/minimalist side project of Urlo of the psych/sludge/post metal power trio Ufomammut. His second album under this moniker, The Eye, is nothing like Ufomammut, so if that is what you were expecting going in, you may want to reset your expectations. The Eye is a more minimalist beeps and blips ambient record rather than anything rock related. Kudos to Urlo for doing something different and having a passion project, but for a guy who is here more for guitar driven heavy stuff, this one was tough for me. 

The Eye is a minimalist electronic ambient album that creates a certain dank atmosphere. The soundscapes are pretty bleak, so if you are looking for a pick me up record this is not it. The opener, The Sun, is minimal key work with Urlo’s haunting vocals and a sinister synth noise floating around the back. It’s a spooky tune, and this is pretty much what you get throughout The Eye. Some minimalist strumming and layered vocals (he had a bunch of his friends from other like mined bands like Neurosis and The Otolith guest on here) create another dank and drab atmosphere on The Secret, which again is pretty cool. But the whole album of this style is a bit much for me and really dampens my mood, which may be what he was going for. 

I mean there is a song called The Manure Of Our Remains so…I think you know just from that what you will be getting yourself into. If this was the 80s and you really wanted to be goth the kids would have dropped The Cure records and brought in some real feelings and sadness like on The Eye. But for me, even the 38-minute run time was long, especially with The Manure, where there are periods where all you here is pretty much nothing.

The Eye was not for me, but I am sure that there is an audience for The Mon as a soundtrack to despair, a walk-up track for pain, or a theme song for sadness. It’s just not something that I would ever really want to listen to again no matter how well done it is. 5/10

Reviews: Immortal, Elegant Weapons, Vomitory, Ǥứŕū (Reviews By Erick Willand, Simon Black, Richard Oliver & Paul Scoble)

Immortal - War Against All (Nuclear Blast Records) [Erick Willand]

I’m confident that if you’re reading this you know who Immortal is but for the fresh minds that might stumble on this writing in the future a brief history may be in order. The black metal band known as Immortal hails from cold Norway and was summoned forth in the ancient times of the early 90’s. Originally formed by Abbath and Demonaz and later joined by Horgh this blizzard obsessed trio made several now legendary albums from Battles In The North, and Blizzard Beasts To At The Heart Of Winter and Sons Of Northern Darkness. However internal strife led to Abbath leaving for a solo career, followed by legal battles over the name and now, fast forward a bit, Demonaz is the sole official member of Immortal (the “there can be only” jokes should be epic) and is here to declare War Against All.

And this war wastes no time and gives no quarter, an absolute riff assault blizzard from the very first second you hit play. Bold to start right off with the title track, maybe but it doesn’t matter as half your face is frozen off before you know what’s happening. You get no mercy from the icy blasts however as Thunders Of Darkness mauls the rest of you over with vicious speed and ice wall solid drumming. Wargod sets a more galloping pace to start and carries more atmosphere on its approach, could have used a trim however as it feels just that one minute too long…

No Sun once again storm blasts you right out of the gate before settling into the song's proper battering pace, classic Immortal vibes here and Demonaz’s vocals are positively vile. Somehow pulling even more riffs from the frozen winds of Blashyrkh. Immortal delivers the best track so far, Return To Cold is, in my humble opinion, a perfect Immortal song. This will be a crowd favorite if Demonaz puts a touring band together.

The last three songs hold to this trend as Demonaz achieves pure frozen wizardry first with Nordlandihr, a 7:13 epic with a solo guitar opening that for some reason brings KISS to mind but in a good way. This song is a journey and feels that way from beginning to end and gets a rare pass from me on the whole “song length when not doom” thing. Immortal is a shorter, tighter and faster song that feels..urgent but still grand and atmospheric, it’s as good as Return To Cold

Final track is Blashyrkh My Throne, a rolling epic that although is a good track, fails to to really end the album on a huge bang. It’s good, but with a time trim and a bit more…added epic, I guess, this would be a better track. There are tons of riffs in the cold, cold north and Demonaz now commands them all. The cover art is classic Immortal and the production is crisp and, one more, … cold. In the end I think this trip to fabled frozen Blashyrkh stands at a chilly … 7/10

Elegant Weapons - Horns For A Halo (Nuclear Blast) [Simon Black]

Now, Supergroups are nothing new. In fact, I generally get half a dozen releases of such an ilk across my desk a month, because experienced musicians stuck in limbo between the album cycles of larger bands in particular can be really frustrating when you just want to keep writing and playing. Then there’s a whole circuit of players who seem to do nothing other than flit between such projects at a formidable rate. There’s whole record labels set up to cater to these largely studio project releases (hello, Frontiers Records s.r.l) and sometimes they take on a life of their own and outperform the bands that spawned them (wotcha, Avantasia). Time will tell with Elegant Weapons, which is definitely mixing with both of those source elements.

Although niche labels like Frontiers tend to take one or two names and fill the other sixty per cent of the slots with session guys, this bunch have proper pedigree, which is probably why we’re talking Nuclear Blast here. Comprising of Richie Faulkner on the six strings (Judas Priest), Ronnie Romero on vocals (Rainbow, Vandenburg and about a third of Frontiers’ output), Dave Rimmer on the four strings (Uriah Heap) and Christopher Williams on the skins and tubs (Accept) you really do have a proper Supergroup in the component mix alone here.

Romero is a hugely experienced player who can pitch his style to almost any project, but at the end of the day he also has one of the most soulful and gutsy voices on the melodic metal/hard rock circuit and this time he really feels like he’s pulling out the stops, with an effortlessly souring and rich presence that weaves beautifully with the other players. Faulkner is for most of us used to being half of a twin guitar unit, but with Priest’s parts often weaved between the two players, he’s more than capable of handling all the demands on the axe himself, and actually weaves beautifully with Rimmer as they hand off riff lines and flourishes effortlessly, and without compromising the integrity of the rhythm section.

What all that waffle means is, this feels like a proper band with a common goal, not a prefabricated concept project and consequently it has my attention from the opening bars - and totally so. The song writing too can’t be faulted, with the songs sticking to traditional hard rock territory, but with enough of a metal twinge to keep the harder side of the respective fanbases happy. There’s also a belting version of UFO’s Lights Out, which tells you exactly where this project is coming from stylistically and lots of nods to classic rock and metal acts from the 70’s and early 80’s NWOBHM era, and to be honest I can’t fault that, being of that generation and this project proves that this style of music ain’t going anywhere.

It’s straight down the line, played with aplomb from four guys who really know they’re chops, and I can’t stop listening to it… 10/10

Vomitory - All Heads Are Gonna Roll [Richard Oliver]

After a twelve year break, the Swedish masters of gore splattered and blood soaked death metal are back with a new album. Vomitory have been reformed since 2018 but it has taken until now for the time to be right to unleash their ninth album All Heads Are Gonna Roll. It has been a cause of debate amongst the band whether or not to release new material but once they got together they realised they had some good stuff up their sleeves and have taken their time to craft an album that is another rotting and festering jewel in their crown.

If you have heard Vomitory before then All Heads Are Gonna Roll won’t offer much in the way of surprise being the same bludgeoning death metal machine that the band have been since day one with nine songs of relentless and fast-paced death metal fury but the songs on All Heads Are Gonna Roll are a catchy bunch. Songs such as Ode To The Meat Saw and Dead Man Stalking draw in some influences from d-beat which sit nicely alongside blast-beat filled tunes of pure carnage such as The Deepest Tomb and Disciples Of The Damned. Vomitory’s death metal sound mixes the best elements of the Swedish and US styles and sounds old school as hell and of course utterly fantastic if you like death metal the old way.

A twelve year break between albums has the band sounding invigorated not only in their songwriting but their performances have a fire and intensity to them with special mention going to drummer Tobias Gustafsson who is an absolute machine. All Heads Are Gonna Roll doesn’t reinvent the wheel for Vomitory or for the death metal genre in general but it is a classic case of the band doing what works for them to their full strength and abilities. It is a glorious piece of old school death metal which will have any self respecting old school death metal maniac in a neck brace after listening. 8/10

Ǥứŕū - Nova Lux (Sleeping Church) [Paul Scoble]

Hailing from France, Ǥứŕū are a new band featuring members of the French black metal underground. The band formed and released their first EP in 2020, 3 years later they are back with their debut album. The five piece is made up of Jerry on vocals, Anne-Laure on bass, Rudy on guitars, Simon on guitars and Quentin on drums. The style that Ǥứŕū play is a mix of black metal and doom, it’s (mainly) slow and very nasty with the occasional blast beat, is it doomy black metal? Is it blackened doom? Let’s find out.

The style is probably weighted on the black metal side, with a reasonable amount of blasting and dissonance, and a certain amount of pagan style riffing. The slower material does have a doomy quality, but also reminds me of slower black and pagan metal, there is a similarity to acts like Primordial, Horn, Naglfar, or Urfaust. The vocals also have a black metal feel, mostly harsh but with a very fervent clean vocal that feels very black metal to me. So, it’s mainly black metal with little tastes of doom to add some atmosphere and heaviness. 

The album is split into four long songs, all just under ten minutes. The first song is In The Crimson Smoke, which starts with dissonant chords before a blast beat drops in on us and is covered by riffy black metal and harsh vocals. This then goes into a slow section with lots of dissonance and harsh vocals, this then slows down even further for a monumentally huge and heavy section with great impassioned clean vocals. The song then blasts us back to the nasty pagan riffy black metal savagery for a while before the slow and dissonant returns for one last slithering appearance. The song then goes to its end with fast blasting and fervent clean vocals.

Next song Pilgrim On The Path Of Tears is an interesting song, probably the slowest and doomyest track on the album. The song opens with dissonant guitar and whispered vocals, this then goes into a slow and very heavy riff that is like a herd of elephants stamping you to death. After the insanely heavy riffs the song goes into some very nasty tremolo picked riffs that stay slow with harsh vocals, the tempo is interesting as well; it has a bit of a swing to it, and even a feeling of relaxed calm which is an interesting counter point to the riffs that are over the tempo. The ultra slow returns just before the tempo changes for a mid paced stomp with some nasty harsh vocals, after which the song disintegrates, unable to hold itself together any more. 

Third track Bathed In Sunlight, begins with tremolo picked riffs and clean, chanted and in places bellowed vocals, these huge and passionate vocals are carried over into a section with slow and dramatic dissonant riffs, this section expands by layering riffs, this then increases in intensity keeping the slow tempo the same. The really heavy riff and chanting returns to take the song to its end.
The albums final track is the title track Nova Lux. Which opens with tremolo picked black metal riffs and harsh vocals, the song then turns towards dramatic and rhythmic chanting over a very heavy riff, the music speeds up with some riffy pagan black metal that has the same fervent emotionally charged clean vocal, which runs throughout the song. 

This very fervent vocal, sometimes chanted, is very effective and feels similar to some of Ihsahn’s vocals with Emperor, I’m thinking in particular of mid-period Emperor, maybe something like The Loss And Curse Of Reverence, it adds massively to the album, and makes it stand out in the Black Metal scene. As the song progresses we get more blast beats, more pagan riffing, some slow and very heavy riffs and a really good guitar solo, all featuring the excellent, passionate Vocals.

Nova Lux is a great piece of black/doom/pagan metal. The album is full of savagery, dissonance, extreme heaviness and some very effective and impassioned vocals. You can tell that these people have lots of experience between them, as this album has clearly been made by skilled musicians. The passion the album contains is great, it’s in every note, drum beat or vocal line, it draws you in to the album and is very affecting. A superbly heavy and savage album, highly recommended. 8/10

Thursday 25 May 2023

Reviews: Godsticks, Sweat, JAAW, Phlebotomized (Reviews By Matt Bladen, David Karpel, Rich Piva & Mark Young)

Godsticks - This Is What A Winner Looks Likes (Kscope) [Matt Bladen]

With their excellent last record Inescapable delivered in 2020, the pandemic era had a different effect on Godsticks founder Darran Charles than it did on a lot of bands, he was at a creative low when it came to making new music, not even thinking about a new record until late 2021 when they were able to perform live again. 

This is what makes Godsticks a band that are different to many of their prog contemporary's, they thrive in the live scene, thei music is written to be performed not for long form double LP vinyl with intricate changes and long instrumental sections. Having been more focussed and to the point than many others, the South Wales band are no slouches when it comes to technicality, their music more towards that of The Pineapple Their, Riverside, Leprous or Tool, the rhythmic power of Eliminate And Repeat, giving you a deep set furrow for the melodies to grow on top of. 

With the productivity brought back, they started to experiment with electronics on Silent Saw and the pulsating Don't Say A Word To Me. They also continued to make use of the collaborative working style they started on the last record. This Is What A Winner Looks Like has numerous musical and lyrical inspirations from the dissonance of life to the Chartist Rebellion of 4th November at 1839 at The Westgate Hotel Newport. The latter features on the impressive title track which was written by Darran Charles with a drum pattern to physically harm the drummer Tom (sadist much?). 

This sixth album from this talented band was recorded at Rockfield Studios so it's organic and natural sounding, these songs ooze with talent and skill, the grooving bottom ends, anchoring some very heavy riffs on tracks such as Mayhem before evolving into melodic lead guitars and solos. Charles' excellent vocals too having the sound of Cornell to them (which I've probably mentioned before). Another top shelf release from Godsticks who continue to be one of the most inventive, musically dense bands in South Wales. 9/10

Sweat - Who Do They Think They Are? (Tee Pee Records) [David Karpel]

Brooklyn’s Tee Pee Records’ timely release of Limousine Beach’s self-titled debut album just over a year ago gave us the soundtrack of summer ‘22. The songs were infectiously catchy and the retro-riffing vibes were loads of fun. And now as spring tiptoes into the warmer months, Tee Pee has gone and done it again, releasing the debut album from bell-bottom rockers Sweat, Who Do They Think They Are? – the record of summer 2023.

Swiss-American Sue Pedrazzi (vocalist/organist) relocated to Pittsburgh from Basel and subsequently partnered with Richard Stanley (Rich the Band), Dan Hernandez (Limousine Beach [!!!], Cruces) and Kayla Schureman (Century III) to form Sweat. And we’re all the better for it because theirs are the vintage era songs we didn’t know we were missing. Pedrazzi’s vocals fall somewhere between Heart’s Wilson sisters and Quarterflash’s Rindy Ross – sweet, soulful, and weighted with emotive power. Musically, the band fuses 70s organ driven rock, the anthemic yawp of The Who, a dollop of folksy bildungsroman, a disco ball, shag carpets, swirls of matte brown, orange, green, and yellow on the walls, and a few lava lamps and dark secrets too.

The minute long Lament starts sweet with a melodic guitar picking, soft toms, and harmonies until Pedrazzi comes in narrating the pains of a 19 year old “trapped in herself and her fever dreams,” remembering, envying her friends running in the night. Emotions swell with the toms right into the next cut, Errors, which kicks off with time on the high-hat and the organ finding a riff. Guitars strum in with Townshend arm swings and the rhythm picks up. 

As soon as Pedrazzi starts singing you already know you're in for a youthful anthem of self-discovery confirmed by the chorus confessing, “the error of my ways were clouding all my days.” Swinging, soulful, jazzy, and downright sexy, Convenient Bird is an awesome, almost schlocky song of romantic, fleeting love. Singing lines like “you’re my religion, baby, on a lonely night in June” and “you’re my superstition, honey, your beautiful lies, they sound so true, could it be you need somebody to love,” Pedrazzi plays the part with a confident panache, throwing in a laugh for good measure before the dirty solo that climbs clean to pave the way for her to soar again.

The first single, Jane, maintains The Who crunch, mid-tempo rhythms, and features Pedrazzi’s vocal prowess ever more so. The album is full of gems like this, driven, earnest, “born with a rifle in her hands.” Listen closely to Ice-Cream Man and what at first sounds like an exercise in pure schmaltz is actually a pretty dark song about an unrequited crush. Paradise hits like Errors and Jane with catchy melodies and driving chords while the verses acknowledge the growth that comes from realizing “who needs paradise when feeling alive is enough.” 

Somewhere between Heart and Fleetwood Mac, Dark Horses (White Lies) starts like a ballad, but the drums tell of something more. The guitars lead to nananas, but then the organs barge in and the rhythm and the volume pick up a bit. As a song, Running Around wears beaded headbands and fringes, rocks an awesome solo, and gets my head nodding until the song closes with chimes. Acoustic guitars open up the folksy My Side Of The Mountain. Flutes and an aura in the tones give the song a Moody Blues like psychedelic vibe, until the two minute mark, when an Alex Lifeson-esque guitar breaks in and changes the tempo and weight until the end dives into a soulful prog rock revelry.

Who Do They Think They Are? is such a gift and a wonderful surprise. Deceptively light and airy, the songs go deep into the trials, tribulations, and travails of the formative years familiar to most of us. The music recalls a treasured era of creativity in songwriting, and in their revisiting the band refreshes the potential for these styles to continue to move us – physically and emotionally. Sensitive to pop structures and song lengths, songs still manage to feel epic in scope. And yet, when the album was done, I felt bereft. I needed more, and so I started it again. I have a feeling that will happen quite a bit this summer. 10/10

JAAW - Supercluster (Svart Records) [Rich Piva]

JAAW is Andy Cairns from Therapy? reliving the very, very early days when the band teetered on being a straight up industrial menace, which is how I was introduced to them with the Caucasian Psychosis CD I mentioned in my Therapy? review for their excellent new album. JAAW is Andy with some guys from other like minded heavy bands getting their Godflesh on and making so heavy, dissonant industrial noise rock, and doing it very well. This is not an easy listen, and it is not supposed to be. Supercluster reminds me of songs found on the legendary Chicago industrial label Wax Trax’s box set (the less dance forward tracks) that I wore out in the late 90s of their late 80s and early 90s output. 

Just listen to Bring Home The Motherlode, Barry and tell me it would not fit next to a track from Coil, Foetus, or even the Uncle Al/ Ian MacKaye project Pailhead, which is all excellent stuff. The opening track Thoughts And Prayers (Mean Nothing) is an absolute ripper that reminds me of early Therapy? stuff I mentioned above and maybe a bit like Prick. We go full on early RevCo with Reality Crash and I am here for it. Or maybe Filth Pig era Ministry. Either way I am in. Rot is right there in the slow burn industrial lane, channel the aforementioned Godflesh. Speaking of Godflesh, check out Total Protonic Reversal, it also has the dissonance of the second Prick album when he decided to no longer try to have any hits. 

Hellbent On Happiness is the album ripper that shows up for two minutes, kicks your ass, and leaves as fast as it came. The Dead Drop is breathtaking. I love the lead up to the unfiltered vocals and the driving beat. Supercluster even has the best cover of Bjork’s Army Of Me since Helmet did it on some save the ocean compilation back in the 90s. So yeah, Andy is having quite the 2023 with the killer new Therapy? record and now the excellent offering from JAAW. I hope Supercluster is not just a one off because these guys have something going here with JAAW. 8/10

Phlebotomized - Clouds Of Confusion (Hammerheart Records) [Mark Young]

Netherlands veterans return with Clouds Of Confusion, their latest collection of progressive death metal. It promises to be both melodic and brutal, which can sometimes be a hinderance depending on how balanced the attack is.

Fans should not be disappointed here as they certainly succeed in providing an album’s worth of music that is balanced, neither leaning too far in one direction. When its melodic, it is subtle and there is a sense that they don’t want to overuse those ideas. When they ramp up the brutality, for example on Desolate Wasteland changes that approach slightly, with a slightly lower end riffy motif going on, guitars and keys now offering their melodic parts together that runs straight into (short song) Destined To Be Killed which starts at a rate of knots, up-tempo and in your face. 

It’s razor sharp, blast beat fest that shows their brutal credentials under the spotlight. Similarly, Pillar Of Fire keeps that tempo in place but with less manic drumming and more keys. Again, they have got it synched and the piano parts work really well within the context of the song. There are some great moments here and they cram a lot in its six minutes and with Desolate Wasteland are highlights for me.

Bury My Heart (Reprise) is another highlight for me, as it spends the first half with an instrumental battering and if anything, adding death vocals to it may have taken something away from it. No matter, as they drop a mental solo in there which is short but very sweet.

Musically, it is an impressive collection of songs from a band that are no strangers to providing emotionally driven and progressive sounds. The use of harmony in their guitars in brilliant as well as the metal riffs which as I’ve said are razor sharp. Its sounds great, contains some excellent arrangements that fans of this part of the metal tree will lose their minds over. Also, they manage to avoid repeating themselves which is massive for me as it keeps me engaged. 

Heavy when it needs to be, melodic when it wants to be, and Phlebotomized should be rightfully proud of their achievements here. 7/10

Reviews: Sleep Token, ScreaMachine, Sweet & Lynch, Radien (Reviews By Matt Bladen, C Hunter, Rich Piva & James Jackson)

Sleep Token - Take Me Back To Eden (Spinefarm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Having never spoken to the press, never played a show that didn't sell out and writing music that lingers on the fringes between metal and pop, incorporating alt rock, electonica and infusing everything they do with sometimes heart ripping emotion. Over their last two albums they've developed a cult-like following with fans pledging to Worship at their church, leading to sold out shows all over the country. 

This year they headline Radar Festival which I'm sure will be an experience but what is this third chapter in their recorded catalogue. Part three of their initial album trilogy Take Me Back To Eden is the coming part of a long journey and as such has a duality too it as well with single Vore featuring the heaviest moments of this album while track such as Aqua Regis stir emotions that will make grown men weep. That fact that both of these follow each other is a testament to the musical pallette they paint. Though after Vore, there's Ascensionism which is...devestating, utterly devestating, a simple piano and the voice, which moves into a a hip hop inspired section, built around a drum pattern that crahses into heaviness as the piano returns at the end.

Now I had to approach this album with caution lest I be accused of bandwagon jumping so with this in my mind it was pressing play on Chokehold, it buzzes with electronic pulses, the vocals of Vessel building from the stripped back beginning into some heavy patches, The Summoning upping the heavy as Vessel not only has one of the best vocals around, he shows his virtuosity on all the instruments as II hits hard behind the drums. Take Me Back To Eden (the title track) indulges the bands penchant for the longer song while they add the some poppy grooves on Granite which has the aggression increasing until Vore. The lightness shines back on Are You Really Okay? through The Apparition and DYWTYLM (more electronic percussion). The record ends with the glorious Euclid, putting this era of the band to bed with beauty and hope. Sleep Token have the world at their feet and can go anywhere so their fourth chapter could be their most intersting yet. 8/10

ScreaMachine - Church Of The Scream (Frontiers Music Srl) [C Hunter]

ScreaMachine scream their love for traditional legendary 80s metal bands with their new studio album Church Of The Scream. Can this Italian quintet outscream the screams of screamers past? Armed with nothing but headphones and some rum and raisin ice-cream I intend to find out. 

Track one and album single The Crimson Legacy highlights their inspirations such as Judas Priest for the most part with a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place during a Rocky montage. Title track Church Of The Scream takes a more Megadeth / early Metallica approach to riffs. A flavour which also comes through during Edoardo Taddei’s screaming guitar solo. Night Asylum … with modern production plus the influences of old, whether this comment be seen as insult or compliment is up to you … Ghost vibes … maybe even Lordi. It’s extra strong cheese, maybe not quite casu marzu, but potent enough for me to be able to taste it through the headphones. 

Revenge Walker walks a fine line between modern hard rock riffage and the theatrical feel of acts such as Alice Cooper. Valerio “The Brave” Caeicchino really works the pipes here, almost approaching scream machine Rob Halford. Met (H) Aldone is a more straightforward thrashier track with some brutal arpeggio exercises for good measure. Flag Of Damnation has some great guitar and vocal harmonies with a much darker chorus to the previous numbers and some tasty bass runs from sub screamer Francesco Bucci. Occam’s Failure sounds like it was written for fans of Iron Maiden and shred guitarists. The lead taking clear influence from the likes of Randy Rhoads and Jason Becker. Very Iron Maiden key charge towards the end. Who doesn’t appreciate Maiden though right? 

Pest Case Scenario screams early Metallica from the get go … or Megadeth , but it’s hard to tell with those early albums. The song moves away from metal bands beginning with M as it goes on with some more Halford-esque scre….. propulsions of sound from one’s face hole. The penultimate Deflagrater starts with a groove bass line and makes fine use of chromatic chugging riffs, war chants and my favourite guitar work on the album. The beginning of the end starts with the pounding battle drums of The Epic Of Defeat.

Tricks pulled from the book of Epic include the church bell, halftime change of feel, choir sounds and more musical acrobatics. I believe it may actually be illegal to use the word epic in a song name and not include at least four church bells and ScreaMachine have used thirteen by the time the first minute has closed of this seven minute song. Church Of Scream is a competent work of appreciation and nostalgia for the greats as each musician brings the impressive demonstration of knowledge and skill of their respective genre and influences. The problem with love letters though, is that they will always struggle to be original. ScreaMachine have shown tremendous ability here. However, very little felt like I hadn’t heard it many times before. 

By this point I will have used the word scream fourteen times ( That’s one more time than the amount of church bells in the first minute of The Epic Of Defeat). A hard album to give a rating to, ability alone could be looking at a 10, but as few of the songs really captivated me and I can’t think of a fair way to score the album I shall take the number of shriek synonyms and divide them by two 7/10

Sweet & Lynch - Heart & Sacrifice (Frontiers Music Srl) [Rich Piva]

Anyone who was around at the time where the rock was as big as the hair knows who Michael Sweet and George Lynch are and how successful, and let’s be honest, great they were with their respective bands. Stryper and Dokken were 80s metal hit machines and between Sweet’s powerful voice that spoke right to Jesus and Lynch’s muscular shredding these guys were at the top of the lists in their skillset compared to the rest of the crop of dudes doing it back then. Frontiers now brings you the third (?!) album from their partnership, Heart & Sacrifice. Can we combine two 80s stars to make something interesting in 2023? 

Well, I have listened to this four times now and the only song that is remotely memorable to me is the opener title track. The drums are well done on top of Lynch’s always great guitar work and Sweet’s souring vocals. It’s a banger for sure, especially given what year it is, but after that there is not a song that sticks out to me. Lynch is great, if a bit muted on this album, I would loke to see him just take over the album and have the guitar right in your face. I feel like Sweet’s vocals are more the main attraction, and this to me is a mistake. It’s not that his voice has aged poorly, it’s the opposite. He can belt it out. It is just a lot. Lynch’s solo on Miracle is pretty great and Give Up The Night is a good song too. But truly there is nothing that makes me want to go back to this or that makes me think this was not a built in a lab. 

You can’t just throw two musicians together and hope for the best. Maybe that is not what they did here, but it sounds like it to me, even after three albums. Sweet & Lynch are talented guys who can still go, but Heart & Sacrifice really doesn’t leave any impression on me other than some strong Lynch playing and a whole bunch of Michael Sweet. A whole bunch. A whole, whole bunch. 5/10

Radien - Unissa Palaneet (Svart Records) [James Jackson]

Instrumental opener Myrskyn silma is an eerie affair allowing a glimpse at the doom laden metal that Finland based Radien are projecting. What follows next for me is an example of how you can take a step too far in the wrong direction, I’ve been listening to the same few Doom/Death Metal bands for nearly 30 years and have loved how acts like My Dying Bride for example have taken two seemingly unrelated genres and blended them together, especially on their earlier albums.

Seinaman Takana opens with a great riff, it’s Doom, slow and nodding, before giving way to yet another good riff that’s just lost beneath a muddy sound and shouted vocals that whilst low in the mix are just clear enough to cut through the mirk and immediately turn me off. I’m new to Sludge Metal, just when you think you’ve heard a bit of everything someone pops up with a new sub genre, inspired by classic genres but with a twist.

Nakija has three minutes of instrumental music before those same shouted vocals come crashing in and ruin what had been quite good, it’s a shame because the music to these songs is as Doom like as I could ever hope for but the vocal style is unimaginative. The rest of the album is more of the same, where I’m sure this is how it was intended to be, I feel a better, cleaner production would enhance the sound quality as there are some great pieces lost behind that muddy sound, add in some variety to the vocals that would inspire that funereal feeling and this would be a great addition to any metal collection. 5/10

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Revies: Alcatrazz, Omnerod, Unmaker, Sunbeam Overdrive (Reviews By Rich Piva, Matt Bladen, Mark Young & James Jackson)

Alcatrazz - Take No Prisoners (Silver Lining Music) [Rich Piva]

Alcatrazz has been on a little roll since 2021’s album and since the band fractured into two Alcatrazz's with original singer Gram Bonnet creating his version of the band on one side and the band that produced this album that contains original members Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea and since the V album has had the awesome Doogie Jones on vocals. Yes, this is the Alcatrazz that had Vai and Malmsteen in it (Joe Stump plays guitar now, some shoes to fill, huh?) back in the day and had a couple classic releases. Got all that? Now that all of that is out of the way, the new record, Take No Prisoners, absolutely rips. This is an excellent straight ahead metal record led by Joes excellent vocals that as the boss of this site says, makes any band better, and boy is he right.

This record rocks you from go, kicking off with Little Viper that has some nice shredding and Doogie’s voice right up front where it should be. The album sounds good, if maybe a tad overproduced for my taste, but there are no sins with how this album was produced overall. The drum work is great and the vocals, of course, are excellent. I would not mind seeing an East Coast West Coast bill with these guys opening for the also ageless Overkill. Different band but I am getting similar vibes in that they both have something to prove at this point in their careers. Don’t Get Mad is more melodic and more on the 80s lyric side of the house, but nothing too cheese that you cringe. I like the keys on this one and Stump delivers a strong solo. Battlelines is some driving heavy rock and may have a message for that other version of the band disguised as a history lesson. Great layered vocals and heavy and catchy at the same time. The keys are subtle but appreciated in the mix. 

Doogie rules the next track, the slowed down Strangers, where he absolutely kills it. This could have been a lull on the record, but it is anything but given how he handles it, oh the middle part where the pace picks up with its Maiden vibes is pretty sweet too. More Maiden-eque (Think Seventh Son era) work is happening with Gates Of Delivery and I am here for it. Stump really brings his A Game on Take No Prisoners. Having a song named after your band at this point in your career is a boss move, and Alcatrazz delivers. Maybe my favorite track on the record and how about a keyboard solo! The back quarter of the album is solid too, with more Maiden meets Purple vibes with a track like Power In Numbers, and the kick ass closer that lives up to its name, Bring On The Rawk.
To recap, this version of Alcatrazz rules. Doogie’s vocals take this record to the next level. The band seems full of energy and anything but a nostalgia act. Take No Prisoners has the songs, the playing, and the balls that are missing from many bands out there today. Could this album have been two songs less to make it a bit more digestible in one listen? Maybe, but you could debate it either way. These guys are old school as hell but rip it up just the same. This reminds me of how the band Satan came back after forever and is somehow way better than before. I am not saying Take No Prisoners is better than the two 80s classics, but this record, in 2023, stands against just about any metal record I have heard so far. Excellent stuff from the version of Alcatrazz that I will remain interested in. 8/10

Omnerod - The Amensal Rise (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Belgians Omnerod's third album The Amensal Rise is instantly reminiscent of Devy when he was Heavy. They themselves have said BTBAM, Opeth, Leprous, Gojira and SYL as influences all of which are featured here. Modern prog metal with odd signatures and crushing grooves is the name of the game and ideal listen if you like to bang your head to angular riffs. Erupting with some Hans Zimmer like dynamic "womps" Sunday Heat is a slow burning start as the band ramp up the heaviness trading off with more ghostly melodies as second song Satellites progresses. 

And on it goes, the band switching between brain crushing heaviness, quirky synth driven moments and emotional melodies. The problem I have with it, is that it's too much, the experimental sound is fine but a lot of ths songs don't feel cohesive, just a fusion of virtuoso sounds put together, though Spore is quite good. If bands such as Meshuggah are your thing then you'll love this album but I couldn't quite get into it. 

While I understand the talent I just found my attention wandering a little, even with just 7 tracks (though they're quite long!). Still there'll be a big quantity people that love it. 6/10

Unmaker - Limb From Limb (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Naming your album Limb From Limb will effectively set the scene for the aural carnage that is about to descend, and Unmaker start this off with To War, an angry statement of intent that tells you about who they are and what they are trying to do. This is classic thrash updated and filtered through a European lens. There are hints of Corpsegrinder’s solo album here and some frankly insane pinched harmonics as the song lays waste through its 5-minute run time. The breakdown is spot on with the vocal / guitar face off and absolutely necessary solo left until the final moments for maximum effect. Solid start!!!

Drop Dead slows with that restrained headbang tempo that allows it to build and move gears. This one has that controlled riffing, with its neck stretched tightly. The solo again is what you would expect on any classic thrash album and ushers in the change in pace that gives this the ending it deserves. The title track avoids the slow third song syndrome and just motors along, again with that fine balance of brutality and dexterity and they bring in some Lamb Of God phrasing to mix up the attack on track 4 Control and to be fair its as good as anything they have done in a while (heresy yes, yes) and has a fair bit of groove to it which just adds to the overall sound. 

And then Point Break comes in. It is an instrumental that shows off the prowess of the band but just saps that momentum built with the preceding songs. Rise tries to shake us up and is sat in that more NWOAM genre than the modern thrash and it shows. Its perfectly fine but is missing something that the earlier songs had. Fake Disciple brings us back on track with that combination thrash / groove movement to it. Again, this should be massive live especially with the solo break as it is exceptional. Breathe is the last track and they go out with a strong one and is a great album closer that should be used a ‘what is modern thrash’ example. 

I’ve got to say the whole thing sounds great, its heavy and has that clarity to allow you to hear everything. There is a hunger on display, and you get the feeling that these songs will increase in speed once they are brought out into the live environment. Any criticism I have is with that instrumental, it really affects the flow and like I said sapped the momentum built up which the album struggled to recover from. In their defence the final two songs go some way to addressing this and overall, it is a solid, modern take on thrash metal. 6/10

Sunbeam Overdrive - Diama (Tentacles Industries/Season Of Mis) [James Jackson]

Something about the word Overdrive that reminds me not of BTO but instead it’s the 90’s sketch show, Harry Enfield’s Television Programme featuring Harry and Paul Whitehouse as DJ’s for the fictional radio station FAB FM; they’d play You Aint Seen Nothing Yet in every episode with the push of a lever.
Sunbeam Overdrive however play a blend of styles under the rather umbrella like term of Prog; throw enough guitar virtuoso ramblings and some odd time changed into the mix and you can potentially call it whatever the hell you want. 

One of the things I find interesting about this album is that there are some great riffs on display but for every time I feel connected to the music something comes along and ruins it; I’m all for solos, I like a good guitar solo, but this kind of guitar wankery is just not my thing. I like to hear layers within the music, one of my favourite styles is that of the likes of Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, not the screaming Black Metal but the Symphonic Gothic elements to how they sound. I find the layers of the traditional sound of guitar, bass and drums mixed with keys and choral harmonies makes the music feel whole, really turned it up to 11. 

Oh and I love a good violin piece mixed with that sound too, here however there’s too much going on and not enough to actually make me want to listen to it. A lot of it sounds disconnected where it ought to feel whole, a sum of its parts but maybe that’s just me. It’s been a struggle to be honest and, I think I’ve said this before, life’s too short to be forcing yourself to listen to an album that’s doing nothing for you. 3/10