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Thursday 29 June 2023

Reviews: Pale Wizard Records, Khanate, Divide & Dissolve, The River (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Mark Young, Joe Guatieri & Paul Scoble)

Pale Wizard Records - Budgie: Never Turn Your Back On A Friend 50 Years Later (Pale Wizard Records) [Matt Bladen]

The third 50th Anniversary from Pale Wizard Records, is the re-recording of South Wales rock legends Budgie. Following on from Alice Cooper’s Killer in 2021, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars in 2022, in 2023 they celebrate Budgie’s third studio album Never Turn Your Back On a Friend

It’s a record that will have been a bigger inspiration on the stoner/doom bands that cover the songs than the two previous efforts, meaning that the songs here are a lot closer to the originals than the stoner/doom versions of glam rock that have come on the previous two, that being said, all the bands put their own stylistic spin on the tracks they have. Arguably as influential as Cooper or Bowie their songs have been covered by Metallica (who have covered two on Garage Inc), Iron Maiden and even Van Halen. 

Recorded by the classic line up of Burke Shelley (bass/vocals), Tony Bourge (guitar) and Ray Phillips (drums), it features some of Budgie’s best known songs including In The Grip of A Tyrefitters HandParentsYou’re The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk and of course the evergreen Breadfan. The prog/blues mix coming from that early proto-metal style that inspired not only the NWOBHM but also the stoner/doom scene. 

It’s this classic that kicks off this tribute as Midlands doom rockers Alunah, kicking out that repeating shreddy riff Matt Noble and Dan Burchmore drive home how bloody awesome this song is, the percussion of Jake Mason big and boisterous. No vocalist, except perhaps Geddy Lee comes close to the nasal delivery of Burke Shelley but the closet of the lot are the wails of Sian Greenaway, unlike Metallica, they will add the psych part in the middles before that riff comes back. Probably the best version I’ve heard, Alunah smash it so no wonder it’s the first single, a perfect way to start. 

Baby Please Don’t Go has been done to death, but Budgie thought they’d give it a go on their third album so what we have is a cover of a cover as Sheffield Prog n roll band Firegarden set light to this rollicking blues standard. Then it’s You Know I’ll Always Love You, this sleazy rendition coming from The Admiral Sir Cloudseley Shovell, a band who are heavily inspired by Budgie, visually and in their music, it’s a grimy, slimy cut perfect for The Admiral to play, only adapting a little from the original as Regulus increase the volume of You’re The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk a few times, making it sound like a Sabbath song, part of me is a little sad that Wales’ The Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk didn’t leave this as their parting gift before splitting recently, but Regulus destroy with a screaming solo and some gnarly vocals. 

More of the great and the good from the underground scene as Mansfield trio Syncolima are In The Grip Of A Tyrefitter’s Hand, Stoff’s bass getting plenty of chances to show off. The dreamy Riding My Nightmare comes from Great Electric Quest a band who have been called Iron Sabbath and Candle Kyuss, their classic metal meets desert rock ethos ideal for this number again showing that the spirit of Sabbath is strong, with harmony guitars ringing out from the get go. The final album track is Parents, Sergeant Thunderhoof keeping it simple but making it very Hoof with the loud and soft changes and the threat of the original increased too. 

With Never Turn You Back On A Friend finished, we move on to the obligatory extra covers from the bands back catalogue. First Canadian rockers La Chinga play Guts from the self titled debut Budgie with some filthy rock riffs, Low Voltage make Forearm Smash from the often maligned Power Supply record, a AC/DC-like boogie as Scottish prog stoners Solar Sons Melt The Ice Away with the first track from Impeckable

Less high profile than Cooper or Bowie but more influential on the bands featured, Budgie will always be one the rock bands Wales holds dearest, and this tribute showing how far reaching their inspiration is. Another belter from Pale Wizard, can’t wait to see what 2024 brings (LOADS of amazing albums were released in 1974). 9/10

Khanate - To Be Cruel (Sacred Bones) [Mark Young]

This is an exercise in endurance.

For the unprepared, like me Khanate are like nothing I have ever heard before. Three songs, an hour running time and some paracetamol for afterwards. This is so far out of what I usually listen to, I have no idea where to begin or how to describe it. What I am conscious of is not being snarky or dismissive of this because it takes the concept of what extreme music is and feeds it into a grinder, spitting out the three tracks you have here.

Like A Poisoned Frog ushers in proceedings and takes us on this impenetrably slow trip through feedback and some of the most harrowing vocals I’ve heard. It’s the aural equivalent of the worst nightmare you could have, made real. It is deeply unsettling, and as it crawls towards the end it gets harder to listen to it. Whispers in the background, percussion that sounds as though death is calling and yet there is a rock-hard structure to it. The control displayed in committing this to tape is beyond amazing and I really don’t know if I can do this in one sitting, it’s that harsh and unforgiving.

It Wants To Fly Now wants to murder you in the most horrific fashion. Its set against some of the lowest, gnarliest tones that keeps with that almost glacial movement. The vocals here are delivered as if Alan Dubin is hanging on to his sanity for dear life and is not sure if he wants to keep holding on. His shrieks dominate, the music behind it is almost secondary and I don’t mean that with any disrespect. The impact would be less if it was any other case. But let’s be honest here, the instruments sound like they are being put through a mangle, bringing forth some unholy noise, all totally structured to sound as though its literally falling apart.

The final monolith to be opened, To Be Cruel closes out the third act and increases the intensity as they (I think) describe what could either be the worst trip of all time or the fatal break-down in a relationship. The delivery is being pulled, absolutely dragged from him as feedback just hangs until it stops. The middle section of this is horrific, between stretched out noise and the most haunted screams. Ever. After this middle it starts to build once more this time as they fill the air with screams, feedback and short stabs of noise that brings this one to an end.

Trying to give this a rating seems pointless. In all honesty, taking a step back and looking at it for what it is – performance art I guess, and it moves in a circle that is beyond a score out of ten. This is for those who thrive on something that is not conventional, that is not the norm and is as extreme as it gets. I had to look online for some background, and they are tagged as doom metal, as drone metal, as experimental metal. They are all these but much, much more. It’s not for me, in no way, shape or form. But this doesn’t stop me appreciating it as art. It is art. Remember; the chief enemy of art is good taste. And who is to say what is good or bad. Because I’ve NEVER heard anything like this, and I’ll know what to expect next time: 7/10

Divide And Dissolve - Systemic (Invada Records) [Joe Guatieri]

Divide And Disslove’s Systemic is a battle of supremacy between Orchestral/Classical music and Doom Metal instrumentals. The incredibly heavy guitars display shades of hell within its mid-range and low-end grumble and aggressively primal drums produce a wall of sound, metaphorically depicted by the album cover.

Track seven, Kingdom Fear stands out like a sore thumb on this project with its spoken poetry and range of instrumentation. Small splashes of piano are heard alongside focused drums and a guitar that has a very dry tone. Everything compliments each other so well and is very supportive in trying to create a vibe. The song feels natural and enveloping as if the tree that is being described by the words, is being planted and growing right in front of me. This all makes for a genuinely beautiful performance.

One of my favourites is track eight, Omnipotent. An emotionally-charged song with anxiety-inducing guitars paired with a drumbeat. By the end of the track it felt like a switch was turned off and was powering down and fading away, defeated by exhaustion.

The classical sections acted as both a palate cleanser and opposing force between gut punches of distortion. A clear example is track nine’s Desire, utilising nature beforehand to provide some hopeful breathing space. Some parts I enjoyed more than others but in all they don’t really do a lot for me.

Overall this album has a lot of good ideas but suffers from trying too many different things too soon. 7/10

The River - A Hollow Full Of Hope (Cavernous Records) [Paul Scoble]

Formed in 1999, The River are a four piece band based in London. The band have released three albums before Hollow Full Of Hope; their debut Drawing Down The Sun was released in 2006, In Situ followed in 2009, after a ten year gap 2019 brought us the bands last album Vessels Into White Tides. The River is made up of Steve Morrissey on bass, Jasan Ludwig on drums, Christian Leitch on guitars and Jenny Newton on vocals and guitars.

The River's sound has slowly morphed over the years the band have been together. Originally fairly heavy, dense doom metal on their debut, Drawing Down The Sun, moving towards a lighter sound until we reach the style presented on A Hollow Full Of Hope that is softer with a slight amount of distortion on some songs, but mainly clean guitar, strings and beautiful vocals. The River has always used impressive vocals arrangements, but on A Hollow Full Of Hope the vocals aren’t tempering heavy music, so the beauty shines through rather than being a juxtaposition to heavy riffs.

The album is split into five tracks, four main long songs and a shorter instrumental to bring the album to its close. The album opens with Fading a beautiful piece of soft acoustic guitar and staggeringly affecting vocals. The style is very soft, gentle folk or guitar based singer songwriter, with a breathtaking chorus, and lilting piano near the songs end.

Next comes Exits, the guitars have a very slight amount of distortion on them in a way that is a little reminiscent of the guitar sound on 40 Watt Sun’s Inside Room album. This slight reminiscence isn’t surprising as guitarist Christian Leitch played drums for 40 Watt Sun and Warning, however this is just a guitar tone similarity, The River have a sound that is all their own. The song has a fairly powerful opening, before going into a segment with clean guitar and very beautiful vocals. The song builds adding layered vocals and feeling bigger before the song comes to an end with gentle strummed Guitar and piano in a section that feels bathed in sunlight.

Next we get Tiny Ticking Clocks, which is a beautiful little song. Soft, clean guitar with gentle vocals, the song does build slightly with subtle drums, incredibly appealing vocal harmonies and strings. The songs chorus is minimal and arresting.

A Vignette has the slight distortion tone on the guitars, the opening is purposeful and driving, before going into a softer section that is minimal and simple. This song is all about ebb and flow, the song builds and ebbs away several times from soft and lilting to purposeful and taut, the song comes to an end in a soft and gentle way. The album ends with the instrumental Hollow, which opens in a very soft etherial way, and then builds by adding strings, and piano to create a very beautiful conclusion for the album.

A Hollow Full Of Hope is a stunning album. The doomier elements may have taken a back seat with this album, but what The River have put in its place is breathtakingly beautiful. The album is very subtle and exquisite, with vocals lines and melodies that are affecting and stay with you, for the last couple of weeks I have been humming the chorus to Fading non stop. I’m working shifts at the moment, last week I was working the early shift, leaving for work at 5 am, I listened to this album every morning. 

It was a beautiful way to slowly wake up and it totally fitted in with the clean, clear light you get just after sunrise in June. There is something so beautiful about this album that I’m not missing the heaviness of their earlier work, and sometimes you need music that soothes rather than battering you with its aggression. 9/10

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