Astralborne – Across The Aeons (Prosthetic Records) [Matt Bladen]There has been some absolutely incredible melodic death metal this year, the bar is very high for any band in the genre releasing an album. However this is Astralborne, a band who were snapped up by Prosthetic Records, the label releasing their debut album Eternity’s End in 2020, it garnered very positive feedback all round, showing exactly why the venerated metal label signed them.
So album number 2 needs to cement their place on the roster, it needs to start from the same place as their debut but make what they do bigger and better. They have to get out of the difficult second album curse and as soon as you hit play on Across The Aeons you can hear that they are not going to fall victim to it. A record that is inspired by philosophical cosmism and fantasy fiction, Across The Aeons heavily leans on the idea of ‘cosmic indifference’ that we become so self-centred that we don’t look at our planet as just a small part of huge universe, our “impermanence within a cosmic void” opting to embrace totality of all things over pessimism.
Heady lyrics and philosophical debate aside, what does Across The Aeons do musically? Well, it does most thing right, despite being just a trio of Paul Fuzinski (bass/vocals), Derik Smith (guitar) and Jayson Cessna (drums), the interstellar soundscapes they manage to create are beyond the scope of many three piece units. They strove up increase the grandiosity of this record employing the skills of cellist/composer Kakophonix while playing with the dynamics of virtuoso classical (intro Exordium) and electric guitar (death metal meets Maiden of War Vessel) playing, the intro often using both in one song as hard hitting metallic moments segue into beautiful melodic phases, the orchestration/strings swelling on tracks such as stunning instrumental Promethean Fire, right in the middle of the album and featuring Ywgor Savovin (Fires In The Distance).
It allows the band to rebuild the heavy assault established by Gemini and the epic power metal influence of December Flower which features Steve Redmond of Foretoken. After Promethean Fire, Star Of Extinction reignites both sides of the Astralborne sound, heavy as all hell but imparted with those glorious harmonised lead guitar parts as the classic metal sounds come in on the frenzied Paradigm Shift. The album sounds massive, even though small speakers, kudo to the band who recorded and produced the album leaving the mixing to Unnus Latif and the mastering to Sebastian “Seeb” Levermann (Orden Ogan), the record building to a tremendous crescendo of the 9 minute title track. Across The Aeons improves on everything the debut did well, a melodeath masterclass. 9/10
Mutoid Man - Mutants (Sargent House) [Matt Bladen]
The first album in six years from punk metal supergroup Mutoid Man comes flying out of the blocks with the abrasive shredding of Call Of The Void, Cave In vocalist/guitarist Steven Brodsky, punching out some ferocious screeching leads, simpler but just as hard hitting as his day job, his guitar playing makes for some insane noises on tracks such as Graveyard Love or the industrial grind of Unborn.
Behind him is Converge drummer Ben Koller, who knows a thing or two about melding metal and hardcore, Koller smashing his kit with rage but a focussed precision on Siphon. He’s locked in with the bass playing of newly added, High On Fire four-stringer Jeff Matz for the rumbling engine room, Matz getting some fuzziness going on the QOTSA-like Demons.
Mutants is a very apt title for this third full length album as Mutoid Man's style of music as it's a hybrid of hardcore punk, stoner metal and prog rock, full of technically gifted playing. Brodsky and Koller have been playing together for years so their bond is almost familial, the technical nuance sitting in unison with the frenetic, often short blasts of fury. With Matz now a part of the band they have added more groove since their hiatus, just check out Siren Song.
Following the intergalactic riffing of Call Of The Void comes Frozen Hearts 3 minutes of galloping punk metal, the drumming here is mesmerising as we segue into the sludgy dissonance of Broken Glass Ceiling. Three songs in and it’s clear that Mutoid Man can go anywhere musically, hooking sing along choruses to the most angular riffs around.
Closing out with Memory Hole and Setting Sun, two tracks that couldn’t be more different, it seems the six year gap has brought Mutoid Man back from the grave with a renewed vigour but the same old song and dance. If you ever thought a band such as Mastodon didn’t have enough punk rock about them then try Saint Vitus Bar’s de facto house band Mutoid Man. 9/10
Nuclear Power Trio - Wet Ass Plutonium (Metal Blade Records) [Mark Young]
Sometimes you need something that just lifts the spirits whilst not demanding too much from you. So, when you are presented with an album of instrumentals written, arranged and recorded by the power trio that is Donny Trump, Vlad Putin and Kimmy Jong and with such titles as Nyetflix And Chill you sit back and soak it all in.
And wonder what the hell you are listening to. And how they managed to find the time to get together, put differences aside and actually do it.
What you have is 9 songs that take in various topics and then poke a whole lot of fun at them. This is assumed on my part and I’m sticking with that. Each song is different from the last in that seem to have been built from a jam or line and expanded from there and the whole album is drenched in a summer vibe from the neon cover art to the white suits to the use of keys and synths that make it sound like the soundtrack to Outrun (famous arcade game in the 80’s – look it up) where you are just driving from one checkpoint to the next.
Album opener is such a track, Wet Ass Plutonium plays out like the soundtrack to classic boss fight and is great fun to drive to. Apocalypse Mao is another, and as you run through the album you pick up certain cues taken from elsewhere but it isn’t derivative of them.
It just doesn’t take itself seriously at all and I think if you are offended by this then you are an idiot. The music on show is spot on, this isn’t just a lazy thrown together piece. Each track, as I’ve said has a repeating theme but is superbly crafted, so it doesn’t become boring or repetitive.
Is it an essential purchase? Probably not but if you are a fan of instrumentals that are not po-faced and just want you to have a good time then you should check this out. You probably won’t have it on repeated listening, but when a track does come though on random or if you love building playlists for other people then pop W.A.P. on it and you will yield rich results. 7/10
Arch Blade - Kill The Witch (Rockshots Records) [Mark Young]
Debut album Kill The Witch from Arch Blade drops in to finish the month of July off on a speedy, foot on the monitor shout back to the heady days of thrash metal. Now you might think ‘come on Grandad, that was years ago’ well you would be right but considering that bands still routinely go back to the late 60’s / early 70’s for inspiration I think that argument is redundant. Arch Blade is not telling you this is a fresh reinvention of thrash, its nine well put together songs that do exactly what they need to do: Come in, thrash, and leave. It’s a speedy 41 minutes of fun that isn’t poking fun, it’s a serious endeavour.
So, knowing that, and knowing what they are about you can appreciate where they are coming from and although they do follow a certain path within the songs, as I said above, they are well done, sound good and most importantly contain a: Riffs and b: Guitar Solo’s. This is displayed on House Of Dreams, which isn’t the fastest track here and has that quiet / loud dynamic but builds into that almost demanded emotional solo and is done so well.
They all have the forward propulsion, which is necessary to keep you onboard, putting the harmonies here, high register vocals there and there is a European feel to it, Abduction kicking off in this fashion – straight forward, heads down and then into Nightbreed, both setting the scene and they keep this going right to the end.
Album closer Queen Of The Dammed has that epic, Maiden feel to it. Complete with soaring vocals and guitar lines that bomb into triplets, this has that authentic sound and build that could have come straight from the classic period and they manage to cram an awful lot into 6 minutes and is a cracking song to finish on. What you will get from this is largely dependent on what you like musically. It might not tick a box for 7 string progressives but for those looking for straight forward, meat and potatoes, fast, NWOBHM influenced thrash then this is for them.
It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, which is incredibly refreshing. They haven’t promised anything that they haven’t delivered with this album from duelling guitars to battering ram percussion its all there. And if its too simple or old hat then go and listen to something else. 7/10