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Tuesday 6 June 2023

Reviews: Rival Sons, Hemplifier, Prydain, Bog Monkey (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Rival Sons - Darkfighter (Low Country Sound/Atlantic Records) [Matt Bladen]

The first part of two albums to be released in 2023, Rival Sons thankfully haven’t done a bloated mess like Use Your Illusion with their seventh (and hopefully also on their eight) album. Just shy of 40 minutes, it’s Rival Sons again digging into the heart of the blues and bringing swaggering classic rock to the masses. I assume the albums were recorded in the time of the pandemic as the lyrical content of this one deals with the pandemic and as Jay Buchanan puts it the "the cultural mitosis of isolations and the fabric of US getting looser and looser" so with the next album being Lightbringer, you can say that Darkfighter is the Ying with the Yang to come. 

That's not to say it's sad or melancholic, it's the opposite, the band wanting to encourage unification, to pull out of dark times and mass division with rock n roll, while informing the listening audience about what's happening in the world. It has stripped back, psychadelic moments such as the title track, but it's got lots of groove to it too. Perhaps the message will fall on deaf ears but it won't be for lack of trying as Darkfighter is jammed with that hip shaking Rival Sons bluster, the fuzzy, choppy guitar tone of Scott Holiday kicking out of the speakers instantly (Buchanan adding extra rhythm) from the first chords of Mirrors as the pace quickens on Nobody Wants To Die the rolling drum lines of Mike Miley designed to get you moving. 

On Horses Breath they go to the swampy Americana, this darkly gothic sound is imposed all over the record. If there has been a delay on these albums then it's deliberate as Rival Sons release albums to be played live so on the back of their tour last year and a string of dates lined up you can hear that these tunes are made for being played on stage. Even when they slow down for tracks like Bright Light and the Rapture with it's forays into the acoustic, there's a real sense of unity that comes through on the lyrics, a lot of which is as Buchanan puts it about the "preservation of joy". As the record moves along with Guillotine features a killer solo, Dave Beste's bass taking the lead while Holiday does his thing. 

Darkfighter is Rival Sons at their moodiest, it's still funky but emotions run high. 8/10

Hemplifier - The Stoner Side Of Doom (Electric Valley Records)

As the name suggests, this might be the best music to partake of certain special cigarettes that are available on a private health care system. Maltese madmen Hemplifier bring you their debut release, a 36-minute battering of slow, dense jams.

Headless Chicken (intro) starts with drums, that slowly build into a steady rhythm as bass slowly joins with guitar finally grinding slowly into Brujo, with feedback plus drums then guitar that has that incredible sweet sound to it, not full gain but volume so that clarity hits nice and square in the chest. Vocals are brief, barked stabs of something but indefinable. This should be an instrumental treatise to the smoke-a-long. It is slowing time down around me as Invocation starts with that heavier than lead build, drums keeping everything centred with a controlled pummelling of the kit. They sound so good on this without overpowering the guitar, and then we move up a gear, ever so briefly with again a quick shouted vocal then back to the sludge.

Gort (the 8ft tall humanoid robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still) at 9 minutes long is just so dragged out it's beyond its elastic moment. This is not a jam, it's a calculated and it's precise in what it wants to do. Which is to sound like Gort attacking civilisation as per his programme in the above film (Watch the Michael Rennie one, not Keanu Reeves). Weedcraft, could have been just a continuation of Gort, with just a touch of added movement. It's so heavy. When the vocal comes in, there is some magic taking place as guitar dials back to an almost clean sound that provides a massive space so when they hit go it's devastating. Snooze (outro) brings us to the end of what can only be described as a 30 plus minute battering.

This is not for fans of uber quick, techy prog thrash metal. This is for those who love sludge / doom / boiling the piss out of their speedier neighbours. Each song is just so dense they are like the sonic equivalent of a collection of black holes. This is audio endurance for me as I sit here waiting for it to blow up which it eventually does. I'm sure that those who prefer this subset of metal will love this, it feels like it Is super-sludge and I'm not being snarky here. It's not for the faint hearted or for those who love the genres listed earlier. There is a master plan here and they follow it to the T. 7/10

Prydain - The Gates Of Aramore (Limb Music)

If it’s on Limb Music it’s probably going to be Prog/Power/NeoClassical/Shred nonsense that will inevitably make me grin like an idiot. A lot of my favourite prog/power band have been signed to this label (I’m man Heaven’s Gate are the best German power metal band – Prove me wrong) so I try to keep up with it as much as I can. 

The latest release from the label is The Gates Of Aramore by Prydain, essentially the side/solo project of Sonic Prophecy founder/guitarist Austin Dixon, this is a conceptual power metal album that Austin says is inspired by bands such as Avantasia, Hammerfall, Stratovarius, Edguy, Blind Guardian a few who wouldn’t exist without Heaven’s Gate! I’ll shut up now), he’s been working on it for a while and now it finally sees the light of day. He’s not alone though as joining him on guitars is Bob Katsionis who also produced and mixed the album, the recruitment drive ending with Jonah Weingarten (Pyramaze) on keys/orchestrations and Mike Livas (Silent Winter) on vocals. 

As the kids these days say, this record fucks! With galloping rhythms and vocals that will annoy your dog, the swords and sorcery title tracks blends into the swashbuckling Sail The Seas with ease, trading one kind of adventure for another, the versatility of Livas on display as (I think) he plays two characters on Way Of The Forest using a different vocal for each, though what really astounded me is Austin’s understanding and deference to European power metal with tracks such as Ancient Whispers, he’s got the right speed, the right bombast, while Kingdom Fury is the sort of cinematic epic that Blind Guardian are inclined to produce. 

With most of the songs linked by intro’s outros, the conceptual aspect, I believe it's based on The Chronicles Of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander is done brilliantly, as are the songs. For fans of European power metal The Gates Of Aramore is just an excellent record to listen too. 8/10
Bog Monkey - Hollow (Self Released)

Hollow is the debut album from Bog Monkey, an Atlantan three-piece who have been mangling ears since 2020. It is available for streaming / download from the 2nd of June and reading their bio, it suggests that fans of Tuskar and The Melvins will be into their music so heading into this I am quietly happy.

My word, opener Crow rumbles from the off and just grooves. It has that super sweet tone to it and is immediately accessible. It’s a heavy but not oppressive and it wants you to get up and move to it. Facemint has more of that low end rumble and some cracking riffs going on that remind of early QOTSA with an underlying sense of fun running through things with some 60’s phase / psych effects in there as this instrumental just stomps on through. There is a ton of riffs in this, great stuff!

Slither shows some more of the Alt influences with an eastern tinge punk riff, almost like Dick Dale / Surf guitar instrumentals of the 60’s. Its fabulous and completely unexpected. The deep dive into the slower, sludge moment shines here as a counter to the almost happy music they dropped at the start. Tunnel comes in as proper sludge / doom, riffs are monolithic, the drums are manic, and it is impossible not to nod your head to this.

Trip, more maniac drumming, absolutely pelting the kit here as the guitar and bass navigate their way on a journey, twisting and turning in complete synch. One thing this shows is that they so much more than sludge or doom than the name suggests – SOMETHING HERE as this track ends with the aural equivalent of a car crash. Blister is full on rock, having that rush rush movement before it drops off in its pace as the song makes its way to the end

Soma closes us out with some excellent guitar kicking it off. Drums are still doing their thing which is being everywhere at the same time. The opening riff builds from an almost clean tone into that sweet sound that stops and then they boot off into a full-on ripper that shows some great skill, its some top stuff. And then, they put those brakes on and slow it down without going into super dark territory. What follows is what they used to call ‘Bliss outs’ in the olden days as they have a controlled jam to finish the song off.

There is some great stuff on here, it certainly sits within the same grounds as the bands they mention, without sounding too much like them. It will be good to see where they go next and how they can develop without losing that sense of fun. 7/10

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