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Friday 2 June 2023

Reviews: Avenged Sevenfold, Pupil Slicer, Wytch Hazel, Dog Tired (Reviews By Simon Black, Mark Young, Rich Piva & GC)

Avenged Sevenfold - Life Is But A Dream (Warner Records) [Simon Black]


You know how some of the more experimental artists in the rock and prog world can produce something so eclectic and so leftfield that it bemuses the fuck out of their fanbase, yet get away with it? Quite often it seems, if you are someone like Frank Zappa, Yes or more recently, Devin Townsend, but then these guys are so prolific, churning out a release a year or more and to a fanbase in tune with the experimental side of things, so even if it’s a bit more miss than hit, it doesn’t make a dent on their career.

Then there’s Avenged Sevenfold…

Now these guys are no stranger to experimental changes to musical direction, having moved from being one of the progenitors of metalcore to more trad Metal sounds mid-history, to the more Prog Metal direction of 2016’s The Stage, complete with the hugely theatrical live show that went with it. That said, these albums all had clear and easy stylistic pigeonholes with which to classify them, so the fact that they switched direction periodically didn’t generally slow them down much, even though their rate of production is far from prolific. It’s been seven long years between The Stage and Life Is But A Dream, and this one is not so easy to pin down into a convenient sub-genre bucket, unless of course they have inadvertently just created the entirely new sub-genre of “Bat Shit Crazy Metal”.

Now, this review had to be done in a hurry given that it landed very last minute, which is why I’m probably not going to do it enough justice. On first spin, I was totally sidestepped and astonished. This entailed a second spin, and then a third, by which time I had gone from total bemusement to serious respect.

This thing simply does not stand still stylistically, with each and every song ping-ponging around stylistically to such an extent that I would struggle to fit a lot of any of it into any kind of Metal classification. This actually is no bad thing, because in doing so and in the performances throughout what jumps out loud and clear is quite how technically proficient these musicians are. With some beautiful acoustic guitar work and pianos threading things throughout, plus some hugely 70’s Prog keyboard sounds alongside the usual ones you would expect from these chaps, the whole approach to writing seems to have been to take Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, snort something strong and then mix in a blender with Trevor Horn Tormato era Yes, along with a Spotify list of their own top tracks and see what the fuck happens.

The answer is one hell of a lot, but it takes a lot of repeated spins to really appreciate the bravery and brilliance of it, but when you do, your patience is rewarded. For an old Prog fart like me, this was so far from leftfield that it came all the way back round from the right and made me glad I stuck it out. 8/10

Pupil Slicer - Blossom (Prosthetic Records) [Mark Young]

Described as Math-core, post-metal, blackgaze and more, their second album is one of the most anticipated releases of 2023. The single tracks released so far show that they have moved light-years beyond their debut album Mirrors. One of the best things about them live is that chaos energy that they seem to live on, the performance teeters on a knife edge and I wondered if they could capture that in the studio.

The Answer is yes.

Glaring Dark Of Night gently brings the album to a start, dark, melancholic keys and then BANG they drop Momentary Actuality which comes at you like a full-on nightmare. Already, it is instant and has full on ear worm material as the singing rebounds between anguished howls and something that similar to a nursery-rhyme in delivery. Kate Davies is channelling something here from deep within. Josh Andrews is absolutely beating the shit out of his kit here. Superb.

Departure In Solitude contains some of the best riffs I’ve heard, its tight and again there are manic time changes with some excellent guitar work. Its heavy, and live, you will have no problem moving to this. It’s monstrous. Creating The Devil In Our Image allows Luke Fabian to show his bass sensibilities off in the introspective opening. This is soon replaced by SOMETHING FAST as they tear through this. It doesn’t stand still, nor does it stay in the same theme, it just moves and moves and sounds massive. That anger is on full show here

The Song At Creation’s End is our mid-point and starts with the most control/measured approach seemingly like a jam session as they work towards a resolution. Then it kicks in, Kate once more with that dual attack, back and to between the screams and a haunted clean vocal. Drumming once more is just unreal, the control on display is simply astonishing. And then they go dark. Words are spat, voice almost cracking but the music behind it is carrying it through. Ending with a catching of breath, its jaw dropping. This will be something live.

No Temple gives us more insanity and is welcome after the emotional battery that came before. Ripping through its 4-minute time they are on fire here. Terminal Lucidity is another full-on attack, full of vitriol and guitar that seems to come from every possible direction, fully anchored by drums and bass, it’s so, so heavy in its final moments. Language Of The Stars has a low-key opening, piano and spoken word, barely audible and continues along this muted path, allowing you to take a moment as Dim Morning Light with its rolling, expansive opening comes in keeping that measured tempo to it. This one is possibly the lightest track here in terms of attack, even when Kate switches gears in vocal delivery. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go as its arrangement builds and builds to its end.

And the album closes out with Blossom, which is possibly the best thing they could have ended on and to me represents an almost perfect distillation of the 9 songs that came before.

What we have here is a band that has made on the best UK extreme metal albums of all time. It is absolutely killer and is only their second full length album. There are a ton of UK bands all wanting you attention, these have to be one of them 10/10

Wytch Hazel - IV: Sacrament (Bad Omen Records) [Rich Piva]

Wytch Hazel is an anomaly in the world of metal. Is there a band that is so overtly Christian that is more beloved by the metal community? Look, we all know that Papa from Ghost is not sacrificing goats to the Dark Lord, but these guys really do go to a lot of church (even though they claim to not be a Christian band, but come on…), which seems counter to so many of the people I interact with in the scene. But let’s face it, musically these guys rip, playing their NWOBHM/70s/Proto style pretty much perfectly and always manage to be super catchy too, which is why I think people who are neutral to anti-religion can still dig what these guys are giving us. All of this continues nicely on their fourth full length, aptly titled IV: Sacrament, which is ten excellent tracks of more of what we have come to expect from Wytch Hazel.

The Fire’s Control starts us off with their twin guitar attack and their excellent sound which to me is one of the best parts of this band. Their albums are expertly produced for their style and songs. Some Thin Lizzy love happening here and throughout IV. I have been listening to a ton of Blue Oyster Cult lately, and I think these guys have too. More twin guitars lead us with Angel Of Light, which is a bouncy little NWOBHM number and maybe a bit too preachy, but still killer, which is the paradox of this band. A bit of early Maiden love on the next track, Time And Doubt, which may be my favorite track on IVStrong Heart is perfect proto and is catchy as a Sunday acoustic mass. There is not a weak track on the album, with tracks like A Thousand Years and the early Priest like (Judas I mean) Endless Battle being standouts. We could probably tighten IV up a bit by leaving off a couple of acoustic interludes, but this is nitpicking.

This would be the closing for any Wytch Hazel review I would do unless they went all Against The Law Stryper on us. If you can get past the overtly Christian lyrics and you dig the NWOBHM, 70s stylings that they deliver, then you are going to really enjoy IV: Sacrament. The overall sound of the band, the excellent twin guitar work, and the catchy, bouncy proto of Wytch Hazel always delivers, and IV is no exception. 8/10 

Dog Tired - The Red Verse (Self Released) [GC]

Having been around for more than 20 years and during that time releasing 4 albums Dog Tired are back with new release The Red Verse I am not familiar with their back catalogue so have no real idea what this will sound like or what to judge it against but let’s see what they have to offer!

Building in from an atmospheric opening Fracture then viciously explodes into life with some thunderous rhythm from the drums of Keith Blaikie and the big bass of Barry Buchanan that clash with sword sharp riffs that then give way to an almighty groove before all hell is unleashed again for the verse and the changing styles and chaotic feel are an absolute joy and when the midway groove section comes back but longer it is superb before closing out with more chaos! Eyes Of The Divine has a savage almost death metal beginning but before long they manage to unleash another absolute monster of a riff that twists in and out of the death metal influences throughout to beautiful effect. 

Of Severed Gods thunders forward with all the subtlety of a rhino on speed and has an undeniable thrash influence injected all the way through but what you always pick up on are Luke James’s guitar work as the riffs are always so thick and dense but never lack any edge at all! The Wall is a glorious full throttle, balls to the wall heavy metal stomper and sorry but, if this song doesn’t make you move or feel something I think you might be clinically dead inside and Chris Thompson sounds glorious on vocal duty here also! 

Mars floats in on a suitably spacey beginning that is then rudely interrupted by stabbing and urgent almost robotic Fear Factory type riffs that also manage to have an atmosphere around them that mesh with more pounding drums and soaring vocals and the customary mid-section huge riff is there and yes, it’s as huge as you want to imagine! Not sure why they decided to include Relic on here if I am honest, its 4 minutes long and 3 minutes of it is just an acoustic guitar run through then a random big riff tacked on at the end? Bit pointless to me really and doesn’t really offer much? Shame.

It Awaits wastes no time in waking you back up and is full of more of the all too familiar bruising metal that leans just enough on thrash and death but also evokes a stoner vibe so as not to not make you think this can be pigeon holed as just one thing because it is many different beasts all combined, Godless Carrion Pit begins with a section full of big thundering riffs that mix with another relentless and powerful drum performance and the whole song reminds me of early era Mastodon and that is no bad thing. 

Then we get to my most disappointing part of the album the 8-minute instrumental Pillars Of Phobos as it just completely stops everything in its tracks and breaks up the whole momentum that has been built it’s just a bit of a watered down version of what has already been on offer and to have 2 instrumentals that combine to over 13 minutes on the album but offer nothing to the whole sound is a bit of a waste of album minutes if you ask me!? 

Anyway, after that annoyance its onto The Red Verse to close the album off and it does so with a monstrous, drone filled beast of a song the riff is so heavy it makes me feel like I can smash a wall down with my forehead, it twists and contorts beautifully for 8 minutes of pure unadulterated death/doom that leaves you almost shell shocked and after a misplaced instrumental is a masterstroke to end on a massive high!

As I mentioned I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Red Verse but I enjoyed the vast majority of what I did get, its gloriously heavy and the groove they manage to create is truly magnificent, for a band that has been around 20 years I am shocked they aren’t bigger because they deserve to be heard far and wide by many people because the talent is there and if you like music with big riffs, heavy drums and big bass rhythm and an angry man shouting then there is no reason you won’t like this! 8/10

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