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Thursday 15 June 2023

Reviews: Netherhall, Fifth Angel, Birds Of Nazca, King Howl (Reviews By Tony Gaskin, Matt Bladen, Rich Piva & James Jackson)

Netherhall - Process (Self Released) [Tony Gaskin]

Birmingham based technical prog metal outfit Netherhall have been literally sweating blood and tears for the last five years to produce an album that they can finally reveal to the world.

It seems an age ago when we had the exciting news that the quartet were finally in the studio recording what was to be their debut full album. Under the watchful eye and expert engineering skills of Owen Davies (Loud Noise Productions) and Peter Miles (Middle Farm Studios) the Process began. From those original recording sessions in the tranquil and isolated Devonshire countryside it has been through many mixes back and forth until only now are the band completely happy with the final results and ready to share them with us.

Process is all about life and death. The fluidity of it all, the inevitability of it all and the cyclic nature of it all. We are all part of this process, birth and re-birth, as we die, so life begins elsewhere. It’s a very deep, thought provoking album that will need many listen throughs to grasp its full meaning. Although the Process began way before the pandemic, in many ways it somehow foretold what was coming, but it would not be the end.

The album opens up with Generate PT.1, a song that begins quietly, gradually increasing in volume and intensity as it builds to a roaring crescendo. A metaphor for the birth of a child perhaps? From the warmth and blissful peace of the womb to suddenly being thrust into a chaotic world. There is no respite with this album, each track melds into the next, creating an ebb and flow that is seamless and keeps you listening. The synergy between drum and bass is the powerhouse, whilst the mesmerising guitars play off both, creating a pulsating beast, especially when it gets heavy. Meanwhile the vocals soar above it all, weaving a web that brings it all together.

Highlight for me is track 4 The Needle , one of the finest pieces of music I've heard in a long time. Incredibly powerful and emotional. Throughout this album each musician is at the top of their game. An exquisitely crafted slab of technical prog that is both hauntingly beautiful but at the same time has a foreboding darkness, echoing the life and death cycle that is at the root of this monumental piece of music. I honestly don't think I'll hear a better album this year. 10/10

Fifth Angel – When Angels Kill (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Coming from Seattle before the long jumpers and sadness, Fifth Angel were a thrashy/power/neoclassical metal band who were initially signed to Sharpnel Records then Epic Records, experiencing many line up changes until they diapanded in 1990. In 2009 there was a reunion but more membership issues meant that it wasn't until 2017 they became active again releasing their third album in 2018 on Nuclear Blast. 

Delayed by the pandemic Fifth Angel's fourth album When Angels Kill is now upon us and it's a 14 (!) track concept record that the band compare to Keeper Of The Seven Keys or Operation Mindcrime. 70 minutes in length it's not something you can just play, you have to give time to it, as there's a mix of songs, intros, interludes and samples to make it cinematic, using the lyrics and themes of the last three albums to make the "soundtrack to a movie that hasn't been made yet" according to founder/drummer/producer Ken Mary who still leads the band with co-founder Ed Archer. 

Built on a dystopian sci fi storyline the music is progressive, melodic metal reminding me of Symphony X or Kamelot as the metallic riffs of Ed Archer and Ethan Brosh meet sweeping orchestrations, the voice of Steven Carlson having the gruff delivery of Russell Allen on tracks such as Resist The Tyrant and the propulsive On Wings Of Steel which has the rhythm section of Mary and John Macko (bass), upping the speed quotient here. 

With Empire Of Hate as tracks such as Seven Angels go into speed metal while Blinded And Bleeding and Five Days To Madenss bring more melodic metal, the latter some Magnum. Despite their potted history Fifth Angel are a very experienced act and that shines through on their fourth album, When Angels Kill is a lot to digest but it gives you a lot of good metal to listen to. Overlooked/forgotten veterans of the American metal scene are still in a purple patch. 8/10

Birds Of Nazca - Heliolite (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

The French two-man group Birds Of Nazca new EP, Heliolite, is a four-track heavy stoner instrumental journey that makes as much sound as two dudes can make at one time. You get some heavy psych in there with the excellent stoner riffage and next level drumming, exhibit A being the first full length track after a very brief intro track, Inti Raymi. 

The riffs are fruitful and there is a rawness to the sound that makes this very appealing to the guy who hates over bloated production. Spheniscus leans heavier psych, with the band’s sound that is more like ten guys than two and that looseness that makes their sound so appealing and unique. Gucumatz is more of the same goodness which sounds like an instrumental Them Crooked Vultures in some parts and Yawning Man in others. Ten minutes of good stuff.

The teaser that Birds Of Nazca dropped with Heliolite is a short, but enjoyable listen that nicely showcases the band’s sound and skill. I hope to hear more from the duo sooner rather than later and these three full tracks are very enjoyable instrumental stoner psych. 7/10

King Howl - Homecoming (Electric Valley Records) [James Jackson]

Well I was not expecting that; nothing gives it away, the band name, the album title, the cover artwork, absolutely nothing hints at the music contained within. And in The Rooster, first track on offer you’ve got a 50’s style Rock that wouldn’t have been massively out of place of it were on the Grease Motion Picture Soundtrack. It’s bonkers, but fun; that swing feel of early Rock N Roll with harmonica solos and slide guitar, I’m not sure what the rest of the album has to offer but bizarrely this is a great, if unexpected start. 

There’s a very Southern Rock sound to it as a whole that Blues inspired Rock that brings to mind the likes of quite obviously, or maybe just a lazy comparison on my behalf but Lynyrd Skynyrd and at times The Black Crowes. The tracks that follow lean towards that Blues inspired Rock and it isn’t until Slowly Coming Down that they let up the pace, the sixth track in the album has a more relaxed feel to it, the mind conjures images of smoky dim lit bars, wood panelled walls adorned with old signs and mood setting spotlights. 

Tempted brings back the pace as does Jupiter once the bass led intro gives way to a more raucous break, the verse returns to that bass line but the vocals hold your attention as they bounce between a whisper and an urgent yell. The last few tracks, The Great Blue Heron and Home bookend a more than entertaining cover of The Rolling Stone’s Gimme Shelter. This is an album you can put on and just simply sit back and enjoy, it’s not my usual preference but all the same, it’s a pretty good; I’ve enjoyed it. 6/10

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