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Friday 28 July 2023

Reviews: Astralborne, Mutoid Man, Nuclear Power Trio, Arch Blade (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

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

Thursday 27 July 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Mondo Generator (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Mondo Generator, Heavy On The Ride & Baby Schillaci, The Bunkhouse Swansea, 25.07.23

Another trip to Swansea, this time though it was less about death and more about groove as the stoner/desert legend Nick Oliveri again rolled into The Bunkhouse. Last time he played an acoustic show this time it was full electric, opting for two local supports rather than a tour one, it was a way of giving back, something that Oliveri seems very keen to do. Before the show and between the sets he was in the smoking area with the audience happily chatting and posing for selfies, affable and just enjoying himself. I can’t see his former band mate Josh Homme doing the same, can you? He seems a really cool guy, that is until he’s on stage but we’ll get to that later.

Getting two local supports that fit the bill perfectly is a skill and luckily the IBA Events guys have it in spades, opening the evening with indie/punk attack of Baby Schillaci (7), the attitude was dripping off this relatively new but experienced band as they punched out the punk riffs. Taking songs from their recent release, it was frenzied and furious, bassist Ev’s diving at the photographers at the front with his instrument (not a euphemism), as he scrambles on the front barrier. Twin vocals came into play best with the last song Dead Wrestlers, which due the jungle beat reminded my wife of Kasabian and I’ll bow to her punk and indie knowledge on this occasion.

With such an in your face opener, you could accuse Heavy On The Ride (7) of being a bit more restrained in their stagecraft, though musically just as forceful. As their intro tape of Only Time by Enya was cut by the riff to their opening song, they stopped, a problem with the lead diagnosed, lead swapped a brief shout of “Fuck Enya” and back into the riff stoner grooves. It’s that fuzzy stoner rock of QOTSA, alt tinged garage rock of the Melvins and the psych of 70’s rock units that inspire the sound of Heavy on The Ride, with a bit of modern day weight from bands such as Mastodon and Baroness as well. Veterans of the Swansea scene the trio played to a slowly building room as more came in to witness the other side of the Oliveri coin. Having played with the man himself at that acoustic show they were a no brainier support who kept the excitement in the room.

Bolstered by many on the door sales, not bad for Tuesday in festival season, it was a pretty full room that greeted Nick Oliveri and Mondo Generator (8), the greebos of Swansea and beyond packed into The Bunkhouse for some desert rock riffs filtered through dirty punk explosions. Again a trio led by Oliveri’s fuzzy, distorted bass and raw vocal, the set comprised of older songs from the Mondo records, a brand new one, Blast Off, from their album due out later this year, plus some Kyuss and QOTSA tracks for good measure (of course the ones that Nick had a lot to do with or sang on). It meant that tracks such as 13th Floor and Fuck It were blended with Green Machine or Allen’s Wrench. That really cool guy who was outside and transformed into a wide eyed madman as he and Mondo Generator carved through their set like it was a rehearsal, the packed room greeting all the songs like they were instant classics and the band like they were locals. 

Mondo Generator are the last band to play in the current iteration of The Bunkhouse, it closes until August now for renovation work to improve the venue. I can’t think of a better band to bring down the roof than Mr Oliveri & Co.

Wednesday 26 July 2023

Reviews: James And The Cold Gun, Viral Tyrant, Vendetta, Salem Trials (Reviews By Matt Bladen, AV4APod, C Hunter & Zak Skane)

James & The Cold Gun – James & The Cold Gun (Loosegroove Records) [Matt Bladen]

There’s meteoric rises and then there’s James & The Cold Gun, having seen them supporting Therapy? at Tramshed Cardiff in March 2022, they have become something of a supernova since then culminating in this debut full length and a support slot to Pearl Jam at Hyde Park. Not bad for a band formed by two guys called James from Cardiff Wales. James Joseph (vocals/guitar) and James Biss (guitar) are the songwriting duo behind the band formed after Joseph left Holding Absence and meeting up with Biss in a Garage/rehearsal space, jamming on a love of early QOTSA and Foo Fighters, the two men wanted to make music that was simple, guitar based rock that will create a party atmosphere without the need for studio trickery or being ultra-polished. 

Music from their youth in the 90’s the unfiltered riffs of bands like QOTSA or The Manics closer to home. It’s an ethos that resulted in an EP picked up by American radio, heard by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard, who then signed them to his Loosegroove label and asked for a full length in the same D.I.Y vein as the EP. So back to the garage they went, to do it themselves, amps up to eleven, a new band around them and it was time to plug in for the band called “South Wales’ Loudest”. 

So what does the self-titled record sound like? Well with The Hives-like thrust of Chewing Glass, JATCG are definitely loud, the guitars biting as a piano is hit hard beneath the chorus layers building. Something To Say and Bittersweet both come from Songs For The Deaf-era QOTSA. From here they unleash multiple styles but never stray far from the garage rock/punk template as All The Wrong Places is punk rock pure and simple, My Silhouette giving me a some of The Wildhearts (who they have also toured with). The adrenaline coursing through every song, only giving you a chance to exhale on Grey Through The Same Lens before the volume is dialled back up on Cheating On The Sun which is very Manics due to the open chords and the huge echoed chorus. 

Professionally louche, James And The Cold Gun are the D.I.Y band who have scored some unimaginable luck, but not without putting in bags of hardwork. Music that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but will sound great pumping on your car stereo! 8/10

Viral Tyrant - Vultures Like You (Rippple Music) [Quinn Mattfeld (@AV4Apod)]

The feeling that lingered for me after each full listen-through of Viral Tyrant's debut LP Vultures Like You was predominantly one of frustration. Frustration, not because of what they do and how well they do it, but rather for the lengthy and plodding detours they take away from what is otherwise an absolute monster of a first record. I was actually sweating listening to the first three tracks and coming to the realization that I had just given Iron Buddha’s Raze // Repose a 10/10 rating mere weeks earlier and was staring down the barrel of another perfect score, effectively obliterating the facade of objectivity that I have worked periodically to achieve.

Viral Tyrant is from Portland, Oregon. I’m from Portland, Oregon! Viral Tyrant plays sludgey-thrashy-doomy-evil heavy metal. I’m sludgey-thrashy-doomy and evil! I want to love this album as much as I love the opener The Felling Of The Doom Tree, a lumbering monster that comes into a full gallop, utterly decimating the listener with pure, unadulterated chug. Even at nine-plus minutes, the first track never feels devoid of purpose and drive as the psychedelic riff of the song’s latter half grinds you into submission while Geezer-Butlerian bass runs remind you of a better time in your life. 

I want to love Vultures Like You as much as I love Beloved and Beheaded with its eviscerating one-two vocal punch before an up-tempo thrash section drives the record toward Vosturan, a track that echoes one of my favorite current metal outfits, Druids out of Iowa (where all exciting things come from). Honestly, I want to love Viral Tyrant as much as I love Druids, which is unfair, unfortunate, and almost entirely my fault.

As the record moves into Beacon Omega they are still on mostly solid ground before The Great Traverse and A Savage Ensnared put a stop to all that 10/10 nonsense by muddling and meandering for almost 16 combined minutes of spoken word intros and unnecessary sound explorations that don’t build toward anything and from which the album never recovers.

Blunt Force and Sheer Ignorance is a great closer but after the previous two tracks I’m too exhausted to love it as much as I want to. Vultures Like You is a great album that can’t sustain it’s focus for it’s full 51 minute run time, as Viral Tyrant lets a near-perfect album slip into a merely outstanding album and therefore, ultimately, a frustrating one. 8/10

Vendetta - Black As Coal (Massacre Records) [C Hunter]

German Speed Thrash Metal band Vendetta originally founded in 1984 and have toured with thrash heavyweights such as Kreator, Overkill, Exodus and Testament to name but a few. The new album Black As Coal continues the thrash tradition. And for an album created in 2023 sounds straight out of the mid to late 80s.

As a self professed lover of Thrash Metal; Black As Coal instantly feels like a handful of thrash greats were fed into the Great Beast and spaffed back out onto glorious compact audio disk. Shoot To Kill fits somewhere between Judas Priest and early Metallica. Whereas Stranglehold Of Terror starts with a riff that could be straight out of Megadeth’s first album …Perhaps with a team up with Anthrax. Some great guitar and tom based grooves from the second half of the song. No Hands But A Gun … You know, like that Guns Akimbo film staring Daniel Radcliffe if it was thrashy as fuck. Post bass solo this song will give you neck problems if you’re over the age of 33.

To continue the theme, the next song is also about guns. And this time it’s the worlds favourite killing machine - AK-47. Used in conflicts around the globe and still seems like a less controversial title than calling a song AR-15. Philosophising aside, drums and guitar discharge like machine gun fire! The lyrics end with a spoken 47-47-47-7 . Which just so happens to add to 148 … which is about the weight of a Bull Shark in kilograms. A species that doesn’t need a gun to end you, and an equally good subject matter for a thrash song… anyway.

From what I gather, the title track Black As Coal covers how deep down, we humans are innately terrible creatures and Time To Change is it’s response. Both songs feel weaker than their predecessors until the instrumental call and response section during the late midpoint of the latter. Bass licks! Death Means Relief’s early bass groove with slow complimenting guitar chugs almost lends itself to the metal of the early 90s before pulling out and splashing the thrash back into your lugholes. Imagine if Korn wrote the intro to a Testament track.

Cheap Death argues “More coal and gasoline, more jobs and luxury, mankind is relentless and stupid, will never learn, the earth is bleeding, diversity dies, dirty air you cannot breathe, under darkened skies … Eight billion people here, Eighty million more a year, We are too many, I bet - eat that”. I agree, but what do we do? Start taking the do not consume labels off of toxic paint and cleaning products? Give Bull Sharks AK-47s ? Awaiting a song about a solution on the next album.

If you’ve got the hair for it Pallbearer has riffs for the bobbers, the bangers and the windmillers.
For dear life! For Dear Life mixes it up quite a bit from the rest of the album. I’m not sure how it could make me think of both Tool and Iron Maiden at the same time but it did. Disclaimer: This song sounds neither like Tool or Maiden … actually the chorus could appear on a Maiden album. Beast In Her Eyes = Celebrity sex scandals meet punky thrash. Riff wise it’s a very fun song with plenty of changes, contains the cleanest guitar leads of the album and also chucks in some face/off battle metal style guitar harmonies.

Vendetta describe their style as rooted in Thrash and Speed Metal. The album Black As Coal definitely does as described on the tin and the smell of worn battle jackets, sweat and stale beer can almost be inhaled through the music. It’s clearly a product of a great love and respect for a very specific genre which is why perhaps it doesn’t risk straying very far from the norm. But you know what !?! If it’s not broken then why try to fix it? 7/10

Salem Trials – Nocturnal Creation (Seek And Strike) [Zak Skane]

Opening with Cenotaph we get some Djenty chuggy Thall shaped riffage before the band add some dissonant black metal evil with blast beats whilst accompanying the singer goes with his barking lows to Lorna Shore style man bear pig vocal gymnastic fries. The heavily inspired Fit FOr An Autopsy styled composition Never Ending consists of clever technical riffage and machine precision breakdowns and face tearing double kicks whilst the vocalist give us some fine death harrowing lows. 

The thunderous Nocturnal Creation draws back on the tempos to ensure that the drums and guitars gain bludgeoning impact with earth trembling double kicks and down picked guitars transcending into the ambient melancholic chords to the vocal providing Joseph Badolato (Singer of Fit For An Autopsy) harsh vocals. Their closer Immolation takes up back in time with Black metal introductions whilst also bringing to the 2000s with it technical pedal tone riffage and 90s clancking bass tones and piercing vocal highs. 

With it’s modern cutting edge riffs to it’s blackened spirit, this e.p can please both mainstream and underground metal fans with its approach to the deathcore sound. For fans of Fit For An Autopsy and Lorna Shore. 7/10

Reviews: Greta Van Fleet, Freedom Call, Velvet Viper, Jamie's Elsewhere (Reviews By Mark Young, Matt Bladen, Manos Sideris & James Jackson)

Greta Van Fleet - Starcatcher (Lava/Republic Records) [Mark Young]

Being completely honest I’d never heard anything by Greta Van Fleet, but I have heard of them, either within the music press or for in-depth reviews of the gear they use in making the records they have. One of the big things that seems to go hand in hand with them is the label of Led Zeppelin tribute / copy / whatever which is amazing considering that they themselves sometimes ‘allegedly’ approximated certain songs / themes etc from the early blues produced by America in the early part of the last century. Anyway, for one reason of another I just never got round to them, assuming that they are probably doing something right given the amount of noise directed at them.

So, in that respect Starcatcher is a good album it will continue to attract comments about it being a clone or approximation. This is to be expected given that it seems to be standard for those who have nothing nice to say about anything at all. I wish I could write songs like these and sing the way they do. 
With this in mind, let’s get the inevitable comments about Zeppelin out of the way now:

Yes, it reminds me of them, there are parts that sound like Zeppelin and the overall feel of the album comes across as though it could have been recorded in the 70’s. Reading online, it looks as though their aim was to get as close to that sound as possible and why not? It does sound great, and It also reminds me of Fleetwood Mac, Heart and of other bands from that era that could write decent songs and play them too.

Right, shall we continue? It certainly leans more to the lighter side of rock than I normally listen to, and the songs acquit themselves nicely, combining strong vocal performances and some cracking guitar playing, neat fills here and there that provide an expanse of sound without becoming a too dense experience but at the same time is layered, balanced and has some great tunes. Fate Of The Faithful has this excellent chord movement going on and just slams with enough grit to know that live, this would be something else and running through there is some storming riffs, Frozen Light is my favourite, it is just epic. 

I think what people miss is that this is album number 3 and if they were no more than a Zeppelin copy, they would be faltering by now. This is a stormer of an album, even for me. There are obvious moments that come from Mr J Page’s book of soloing but So What? The way the songs go they need that solo to pay off and this is the way in Meeting The Master. Just class. 9/10

Freedom Call - The M.E.T.A.L Fest (Steamhammer/SPV) [Matt Bladen]

If theres a band who will always make you feel joyous when their set is finished, its German power metal veterans Freedom Call. Chris Bay has led the band for a couple of decades now and they excel in the live areana so what better way to showcase this than with a new live CD/Blu-ray combo that features recordings from Metalfest in Pilsen, Czechia and their show at Regensburg Eventhall Airport, the footage and audio from both shows have been used to make this a live 'best of' where songs from their back catalogue are brought to two rabid audiences showing how excitable a Freedom Call show is no matter where they are. 

Opening with new studio song The M.E.T.A.L Fest, they start off in thekr bouncy power metal style as a tribute to heavy metal festivals welcomes those who haven't them before to Freedom Call's sound. Then its an intro and the live portion begins, you can feel the joy emanating from the speakers as Metal Is For Everyone, Power And Glory and Freedom Call are all featured sung back by the crowds at both gigs. Musically slick as hell, Bay's vocals are excellent throughout and the band are on point but the audio side can only give you so much so I suggest picking up the Blu-ray as it includes a host of other special bits like a road movie and cover of Hallelujah. Coming up to 25 years in the business Freedom Call show no sign of slowing down and The M.E.T.A.L Fest will make you want to experience them live ASAP. 7/10

Velvet Viper - Nothing Compares To Metal (Massacare Records) [Manos Sideris]

Velvet Viper’s newest addition entitled Nothing Compares To Metal is a solid Euro heavy metal outing but it has it’s contradictions. The quartet from Hamburg, Germany has had a career spanning 3 decades and is a serious exponent of the European heavy-speed metal scene. Production of this record is solid and clear through and through. Moreover it just so happens that I have a soft spot for the slightly driven P bass sound of J.H. Mollers’s bass.

The songs (all composed by Jutta and Holger) had me confused a little bit. In most of them I found good intros, nice sing-along parts, some great and catchy choruses that I found myself singing after the songs had ended, and some nice instrumental parts. 

On the downside I found most songs repetitive with unnecessary long duration. The flow of music was something that slightly eluded the band in this record. Some songs appear to be very good up to their choruses, only to find that changes that come after, would push your attention away from the track. Jutta’s voice although characteristic enough, very powerful in most choruses, seems that it could take a rest and leave the band display it’s abilities more in some parts. 

High points from this album seem to be the eponymous intro track, Urd Wardande Skula (had the band used more keyboard parts here, the song would be epic), Speak Truth To Power and Heroic Hearts. A very nice example of my earlier statement is the track. It could very well be a gem track in Dio fronted Black Sabbath album, however the song starts to drift away after the solos of the 5 minute mark.

I did not know Velvet Viper up to now and they certainly made a positive impression on me, however I did end up skipping some parts of certain tracks as I know what to expect, and as it ends up I was right. Here you won’t find cutting edge originality but you will find some solid songs with good melodic choruses, as long as you can keep your interest alive throughout the record’s less prominent and repetitive parts. 6/10

Jamie’s Elsewhere - Paradise (Sharptone Records) [James Jackson]

This five track EP from Jamie’s Elsewhere is the first I’ve heard of the band, hailing from California the band have been through numerous line up changes with, seemingly, only one original member left from their conception in 2005. Musically it has a lot going on, there’s a trace of Electronicore with samples blending Hardcore Metal guitar riffs and drum patterns, vocally the Metalcore aspects of clean verses, growled chorus lines is thrown in there too and each track is an example of this; however a lot of it is just coming across as little more than noise.

I’ve got quite into some Metalcore acts over the last few years but the ones I have liked have shown more substance to their material, whereas this just feels chaotic. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the musicianship on display here and after nearly 20 years of material there’s obviously a fan base that’s kept this band alive despite the hurdles that they’ve endured; there are some great riffs here and some solid melodies but the more Hardcore aspects for me are off putting, it’s like pineapple on a pizza* or marmite vodka, it’s good until it’s not. 4/10.

*I actually don’t mind pineapple on pizza.

Reviews: Neal Morse, The Zenith Passage, Rannoch, Nitroverts (Reviews By Manos Sideris, Mark Young, GC & James Jackson)

Neal Morse - An Evening Of Innocence & Danger: Live in Hamburg (InsideOut Music) [Manos Sideris]

If you are waiting for an objective, unbiased review, then fellas I am going to have to disappoint you this time. Having settled down as a faithful prog fan over the last decade, I find it extremely hard to be objective when I am called to deliver a review of one of the best prog albums of the last couple of years in Innocence & Danger by Neal Morse Band especially when it’s a live recording in Hamburg, Germany. An Evening Of Innocence & Danger: Live In Hamburg is a triple CD running over 2 hours in a feast for your ears and soul.

The quintet of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette, experienced and super-talented musicians all of them, plays and feels like a loaded team gunning for the ultimate trophy. Any band with members who all play and sing like this, would be a winning team. The first CD kicks off just like the record of 2021 up to the point of the track The Way It Had To Be. This Floydesque track and its outro bluesy guitar solo by Gillette perfectly display the vast soulfulness and talent of all members of NMB. 

After Simon & Garfunkel’s cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water, comes the iconic acoustic paradise Waterfall from the Grand Experiment capping off the 1st CD. CDs 2 and 3 contain only three songs, but all of them are prog epics of grand proportions. Not Afraid Pt 2 epic jam moments raise the bar while the track ebbs and flows leaving much space for all musicians to express themselves. 

Beyond The Years clocking over 34 minutes of music, rush you into an epic journey of sounds, styles and a colorful flow that would take me over a paragraph to describe. During this track all band members are being presented by Neal Morse and are given their time in the spotlight. And as if all the above were not enough, CD 3 comes roaring with a medley of tracks from the Similitude Of A Dream album running at over 29 minutes, called The Great Similitude Medley bringing you all the finest moments from the one of progressive rock’s pinnacle albums of the previous decade.

An Evening Of Innocence & Danger: Live In Hamburg is definitely one of the best live moments in progressive rock history and I sure feel a little bit jealous for not being able to watch it live myself. After the completion of the record I was feeling elated but at the same time a little sad that it ended. Surely was I glad to experience it though. 10/10

(Told you I wouldn’t be objective!)

The Zenith Passage - Datalysium (Metal Blade Records) [Mark Young]

Bit late to the party with my review for this and have seen positive stuff about it from those with similar interests online, this is the second full length release from the Tech outfit and from the ending notes of the opener The Axiom Of Error segueing into Algorithmic Salvation you know you are listening to something that has that ‘thing’ about it, that grabs you and makes you have to listen to the full album in one hit.

The first two tracks are full of that technical complexity and brutality which is expected and then it starts to kick in with their unique take. Lexicontagion that has this soft, ethereal feel that is soon booted to make way for some almost maddening riffing which is carried over into Synaptic Depravation. Its stop/start, control / uncontrol, riffs that disappear into swells of synths that come back, and It absolutely shouldn’t work but it does. It takes a dive into Blade Runner territory with the closing moments and somehow it just fits.

If you imagine that was act 1, or side A then the remaining keep this incredibly high bar in place.

Divinertia II has some rapid fire drum / guitar as well as some frankly insane melody lines that just seem to be plucked out of the air, complex and labyrinth in build but gets the most from just giving us that manic trem moments which is as low brow as you could want but adds that dynamic to it and to be honest you could probably write an in-depth essay on each song there is that much going on. The two end songs, Automated Twilight and Datalysium both weigh in with a 7minute run time. Automated Twilight is where they really go for broke, mixing in the keys, epic chords and for me a nod to Muse. It’s not riffmania or drums at a complex time signature or with 300 bpm its just CLASS. I can’t put a finger on it except to say you listen to it and see what you take from it.

Album closer is Datalysium and is one of the finest endings you can ever hope to hear. If the overall theme running through the album is one of space, of the power cosmic and that is my own take then this absolutely nails it. Synths swell and support, the cleans come in with the growls and it manages to refrain from just going straight to lift off with some restrained moments of dexterity that are fast without being delivered in a blur of notes. It balances that heavy attack with the epic wondrous moments so well with drums and guitar in perfect synch. Wonderful, heady stuff.

It’s so tight in some sections it could crack at any second and in just the first four songs you have been taken to a new state of how technical complexity can still move you on an emotional level as opposed to being wowed by how good they are with their respective instruments. This is extremely important because without that soul, it loses its meaning and you are left with a collection of stunning virtuosity that is just that, a showcase for skills. The remaining songs come in and just underline how good it is, how good they are and incredibly its another for the AOTY lists. 9/10

Rannoch - Conflagrations (Willowtip Records) [GC]

This week’s review is a UK based tech-death offering from Rannoch they have a few releases behind them and are about to release new album Conflagrations. Previous albums have been received well by the UK press and it’s been a few years since they released anything cos of you know that pandemic thing, so let’s see if the time away has been good for them.

Degenerate Era starts off with a subdued guitar that then leads into some nice double bass drumming that sweeps in and out of some nice atmospherics but its all that little bit to subtle and at 2:52 is a bit of a long and drawn-out intro and isn’t the best start, then we have the 8:22 behemoth that is Prism Black which bounds into view and is much more of what you would expect with staccato riffing and thunderous double bass drums clashing and creating a huge wall of dissonant noise that while certainly isn’t re-inventing the wheel, has just enough to keep you interested for its mammoth duration as it twists and turns even offering a sweeping melodic part and it always manages to sound fresh and invigorating, Threads then sounds like Fear Factory at the peak of their powers which of course is a massive compliment and that of course means this is a wall to wall avalanche of technical riffs and pounding double bass. 

Next up is title track Conflagrations and once again it clocks in at over 8 minutes as with the first track it builds from a subtle and moody guitar intro and takes almost 3 minutes before we get into the main part of the song which is full of a darkness that has not been present so far and it kind of pays off because it shows another side to their sound and shows its not all just tech riffs and double bass savagery, I mean, obviously that is there but this is a more measured approach to the sound but, I’m just not sure about the vocals in places if I am honest and the run time is just way too long for what the song actually achieves. 

Daguerreotype then harks back to the more familiar attack pattern and shakes everything back up again and there is absolutely no subtlety on offer here, its just a blunt force boot to the skull and probably a wise choice after the last tracks slower pace, Earth-Recycle then really lets everything down because at 3:28 of echoey silence it does precisely fuck all, it’s just such a pointless thing to include and it baffles me as to why people bother with this sort of thing? It doesn’t show talent or compliment anything, it just stunts the flow of the album. 

Directly after this closing track Threnody To A Dying Star is SIXTEEN MINUTES AND FIFTY-SIX SECONDS LONG!!!!! I mean fucking hell man, come on do me a favor here lads! As most of the longer tracks here it begins with a melodic part that is actually done very well and shows off some more decent guitar work and the cleaner vocals mix well and compliment the somber tone, when it does kick into life at almost 5 minutes in, the pace doesn’t really pick up that much and is sort of mid-paced and I’m starting to almost give up because not much is happening and there is still 11 minutes left, and unfortunately it does just keep on going FOREVER at this mid-paced plod and never actually picks up the pace and ends the album on a complete low and really deflates me.

To be brutally honest I’m not sure what the aim was with Conflagrations sure its decent in places and has some very proficient musicianship and the guitars and drums are brilliant in places, but they always seem to get that bit to involved in some musical wankery that’s not needed and they tend to bloat out tracks that don’t need bloating. It was really good in places but also really frustrating in places and I wouldn’t want to go back and listen to it again as its just too drawn out for me which is a shame as I can hear the talent is there but for me, they just try to hard and it relegates what could be a great album to just and good album. 6/10

Nitroverts - Endogenous (Fixt) [James Jackson]

Endogenous in biological terms is the growing or originating from within an organism, in Sociological terms, confined within a group or society; apt given the current state of the world, it’s impact on the individual, our own physical and mental processes that we endeavour to control or hide.
Starting Point is the first track on the album from Electro Metal act Nitroverts; it’s a fusion of samples and Nu Metal style groove and aggression that easily hooks you in; vocally there’s a mix of clean and growled vocals, the latter used as emphasis, an added layer rather than a constant theme.

The consecutive tracks What’s Going On, Alienated and Control all follow the same path and I’m reminded of acts from Nu Metal’s heyday Adema and Spineshank, particularly the latter with their Electro/Industrial edge, it’s upon the track Hit The Brakes that the Nu Metal influences bleed through in such a way that the opening riff sounds quite similar to Don’t Stay by Linkin Park, not necessarily a bad thing to wear your heart on your sleeve.

There’s a skippable instrumental track before Helladrenaline and Not A Monster offer huge slabs of groove and dance like drum beats, Where I Belong is another track that holds Linkin Park similarities for me (maybe it’s just that title) but it’s a head bobbing track with a hugely catchy chorus with soaring vocals.

Break The System brings the album to a close and is the most melodic and stripped back track upon the album, the samples and guitars are as prominent as they’ve been throughout but the feel of the song is more intimate.

I’ll be giving this one more air time. 7/10

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Reviews: Randy & The Goats, Fraction, Scream Maker, Edge Of Paradise (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Randy & The Goats - On The Lam (RidingEasy Records) [Rich Piva]

The very cool RidingEasy Records has graced us with 16 editions of the always awesome Brown Acid Series which brings tons of lost proto metal gems that may never have seen the light of day again without their intervention.  Next, the very cool (up to this point two) Scrap Metal collections which does the same but for more 80s metal/trash lost nuggets. 

Now, as an extension of these two series, we have full album Holy Grail re-releases, which takes some obscure full albums that have been sought after by collectors for years and gives them the full repress/rerelease treatment. I love this idea and given their track record RidingEasy is up for the task.  I have two of these grail releases, starting with the lost NYC late 70s early 80s scene album On The Lam from Randy & The Goats.

On The Lam dropped originally in 1981 and has been mostly out of print for most of the time after its release. This is all about New York City at its grossest and dirtiest, as you can hear the filthy streets of the city throughout all the tracks on the album. Randy Wood (an alias) was the brainchild behind On The Lam, playing most of the instruments and writing all the material, which focused on the City and the subsequent surroundings at the time. You hear all sorts of influences here, from Lou Reed just after leaving the Velvets, Television, the punk stuff happening locally, and even Bob Dylan, especially in the vocals. Songs like Media-lzed sounds like a much angrier Modern Lovers song.  

NY Survivor is prime 1970s Lou Reed both vocally and musically, I hear Sweet Jane (the slow version) A LOT in this song. Nausea #2 is like Bob Dylan backed by Television with some cool psych-tinged guitars. Good stuff. I hear early Talking Heads all over songs like We Came Away and a song right out of the NYC Punk scene at the time with Call Me Yesterday. All the 16 tracks from On The Lam are a fun and worthy listen, but it is a lot for one sitting. I split it up between the original album and the extra tracks for a more ingestible listen.

I am all in for what RidingEasy is going to bring to light with their new series. If Randy & The Goats is any indication of what we will see moving forward, then this is going to be a very successful endeavor. So, get in your time machine, bring your mace, try not to get mugged, and enjoy the post Velvets Lou worship that is On The Lam. 8/10

Fraction - Moon Blood (RidingEasy Records) [Rich Piva]

The second of my reviews of the Riding Easy Records Holy Grail releases is from Fraction. Moon Blood is an apparently very sought-after one-off record from 1971 that incorporates hard rock/psych/punk/proto and apparently Christian vibes (though I got none of that) through the original five tracks and now three additional bonus tracks that are being brought to light by RidingEasy. The L.A. based band would fit perfectly in the Brown Acid Series, so I have high hopes for this “lost” album that is now being brought to the light.

You get all sorts of cool influences on Moon Blood, including some serious Doors vibes on the opening track, Sanc-Divided, especially the more chill Morrison led tracks, but vocalist Jim Beach is way gruffer in his delivery than Mr. Morrison was. I love the simple yet very cool sounding solo in this one.  Moon Blood sounds like it is from 1971 in all the best ways. Come Out Of Her Now is more of a psych freak out, albeit a chill one, with a simple bass line leading the way over Beach’s powerful, scratchy vocals with a nice floating guitar solo. The promo material says all these songs were done in one take, which if true is very cool, but you do get the improvisational vibes from these guys. There is nothing perfect on Moon Blood, and that makes it even better. 

Eye Of The Hurricane is their best track. Nine minutes of proto psych goodness, with those vocals right up front and driven by the fuzzy guitar work of one Don Swanson. Sons Come To Birth has Beach almost crooning and reminds a bit of Crimson And Clover for some reason, until Swanson’s guitar takes over in glorious fashion. The final track from the original release, This Bird (Sky High) is a proto/psych blues rocker with more of those Doors vibes, and I am digging every minute of it, even if I am not the biggest Doors fan. The bonus tracks are not as good as the tracks on the original release, but it is still cool to hear some of Fraction’s other ideas, especially Intercessor’s Blues, which is like a Doors/Yardbirds mashup which rocks a bit more than the tracks that made the original release.

All in all, if you dig the fuzzy/psych/proto early 70s stuff this will be right up your alley. Fraction’s moment of glory needs to be readily available for us folks who gobble up these kind of old but new to me gems. Check out Blood Moon and whatever else RidingEasy throws are way as part of the Holy Grail series. 8/10

Scream Maker – Land Of Fire (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Scream Maker, not to be associated with ScreamMachine, are a Polish classic metal band who are now on their fourth record Land Of Fire. Popular in China and with a wealth of experience, they play slick heavy metal that is born from NWOBHM and from early thrash, heavily influenced by Dio, who they pay tribute to every year with a special memorial gig. Signing to Frontiers in 2020, the label re-released their third album BloodKing, with Land Of Fire the first album they have recorded for the label specifically. 

Written on the back of another Dio tribute tour, the influence of Dio can be heard on Can’t Stop The Rain, Everybody Needs Illusions and Dark Side Of Mine, though vocalist Sebastian Stodolak is no RJD. Still he’s a good singer fronting a very talented band that meld together well, the bags of experience making these songs get your head banging. Zombies is a weak spot but it’s followed by the speed metal of A Nail In The Head bringing the tempo back up, The Rider and Way To The Moon keeping it full speed ahead. 

I’ll admit I much prefer it when Scream Maker stay at full throttle, their mid paced gallops are good but they excel with the thrashier style. Heavy metal like this has been done many time but Scream Maker know what works, it’s just personal taste that I like it a bit faster. 7/10

Edge Of Paradise – Hologram (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

The fifth album from Edge Of Paradise will definitely appeal to fans of New Years Day, In This Moment, The Pretty Reckless and Stitched Up Heart, electronic symphonies and industrial metal riffs are what they do best, calling out to the American radio metal crowd. The higher pitched vocals of Margarita Monet sound like early Maria Brink but without the screams or the angsty delivery of Haley Williams of Paramore, while the music treads a boards between Rob Zombie and Papa Roach. 

They’ve got hooks and choruses, but I can’t help but think what sort of audience there is for this music now. From the “grr I’m angry” of This Is Personal, through the breathy Don’t Give Up On Me, into the pop punch of Unbeatable and the heavy electronics of Basilisk, nothing really hooked me, or stopped me thinking about In This Moment, who are band that do it miles better. Maybe there’s an audience for this. It’s not me. 5/10

Reviews: The Devil's Trade, Ashley Sherlock, Degreed, James Robledo (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

The Devil’s Trade - Videkek Vannak Idebenn (Season Of Mist) [Rich Piva]

The Devil’s Trade is a one-man dark folk/ambient spooky project from Hungarian artist David Mako and Videkek Vannak Idebenn is his fourth album under this moniker. This is some heady stuff, sung mostly in Hungarian and reminds me if the Cocteau Twins spent a couple of years in a dark forest listening to metal, worshiping the dark lord, and replaced their singers with a dude with a gigantic voice.

For the most part I have no idea what he is singing about, but the vibes musically are enough alone to know this is some dark and heavy stuff. Flashing Through The Lack Of Light is my favorite track, and by title alone you have an idea of what you are getting here. The title track has a dark folk but almost Middle Eastern vibe to it, and when it kicks in look out. This record is heavy, but not in the metal sense, more in the overall atmosphere that is generated from these eight tracks, and those vocals. Clear Like The Wind is some serious spooky folk music, while Liminal flirts with later period Paradise Lost, but with obviously different vocal stylings. 

In the right mood and frame of mind, Videkek Vannak Idebenn is going to scratch that dark folk itch for people. It is a bit long, and it not the easiest listen, but if you dig this kind of vibe and are looking for a way to pair your despair musically, check out the new one from The Devil’s Trade. 7/10

Ashley Sherlock - Just A Name (Ruf Records) [Rich Piva]

Ashley Sherlock and his band play a more straight-ahead roots rock, than say blues or hard rock, more John Mayer than Stevie Ray Vaughn. Now I threw a couple of talent dudes in that sentence, and Sherlock can play for sure, but while there is a lot of good on Just A Name, there is something missing for me as well.

The opener, Trouble, is his finest moment on Just A Name, hitting on that blues tag as well as highlighting his excellent guitar work and vocals that fit great for what he is putting out there. The problem is after Trouble there is not a lot that stuck with me.  Most of Just A Name is overproduced which is a major issue for me, and the songs were just not that memorable, and not the bluesy which is a let down when you are going in thinking you are about to sit down at a bar in Nashville and see some dude play slide with a beer bottle for two hours straight. 

This may be my fault going in with those expectations. I will say that Sherlock sounds more like he is from Nashville than from his native UK. Take the track Empty Street. It is more Americana than blues, but I get what he was going for here.  For my tastes, I would love to see Sherlock let lose and get down and dirty, because you can hear he has it in him to just go off, but he seems way too reserved with his song writing, playing and production to really understand what he can do.

I can’t help but wonder what Ashley Sherlock could do if he took the guardrails off.  I see what he was going for here, but Just A Name, for me, is too produced and too neutered to have any impact.  His skill is evident, but let’s do a full album of songs like Trouble and see what it gets him. For now, this one is a pass for my tastes. 5/10

Degreed – Public Address (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Hear that? The buzzing pressing of keys, the clean rock guitars, drums that are there to get your fist pumping, American as Apple Pie isn’t it? No, wrong, if it was from the last 20 years or so it’s probably Swedish (also Apple Pie is probably German). 

The Swedes and the Scandi’s in general have made melodic rock/AOR their thing now since the early 2000’s bands like H.E.A.T, Eclipse et al have been serving up lots of warm melodic rocking that harks back to the 80’s America, with Degreed having been part of this scene since 2005. Since then they have been critically acclaimed, with their blues based but poppy, their slick melodic rocking, exactly what you want, it’s almost modern-retro with influences from the past but brought bang up to date, as their new album shows straight from the off. 

Following their 2022 album Are You Ready, this seventh album has them at their most bombastic but also their most diverse. Are You Ready was a bit darker and simpler with more of focus on rocking but Public Address has them returning to big melodic rock anthems which have been their bread and butter, but obviously using their experience to make them really shine. Big Plans and No One rocks, but This Is Love, Free Again and many others are properly synthtastic, so there’s a balance though the lighter tracks are more numerous. Public Address is a summer album, perfect for long afternoons and at festivals. 7/10

James Robledo – Broken Soul (Frontiers Msuci Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Sinner’s Blood frontman James Robledo, returns to Frontiers with his second solo album, the band comprised of fellow Sinner Nasson (also of Chaos Magic) on guitar, with drummer Jacopo Martignoni and producer/bassist/keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio as well. Del Vecchio produces with his big, boisterous style making the songs bounce out of your speakers. 

The compositions are xacross the melodic rock sound with lots of guitar solos and crunchy riffing, but they really aren’t the point. Broken Soul is a way to showcase Robledo’s talent as a singer, his soulful, husky throat up there with the Coverdale/Jorn Lande/Myles Kennedy style of bluesy singers. Having made his name in the Chilean music scene, his first foray into the wider world was with The Voice Chile, before signing with Frontiers as a part of the more metallic Sinner’s Blood. This album brought him new fans and the attention of the world at large, with a couple of features on the many multi singer records the label produces, recently joining all star project Demon’s Down. 

His first solo album Wanted Man had De Vecchio writing songs in a different style to Sinner’s Blood in order to have Robledo’s other talents displayed. Again on Broken Soul, there’s a mixture of styles from the Bon Jovi Western flavour to Fire, the electronics of Over/My Own Hope, the shreddy sound of Dead City Lights or the heaviness (think Alter Bridge) of the title track, each one having Robledo as the star and giving you more evidence that he could be the next big vocalist to come out of this label, like Jorn or Ronnie Romero before him. 8/10

Monday 24 July 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Mithras (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Mithras, Absolution, Rend Them Asunder & Deliberate Miscarriage, Hangar 18, Swansea, 22.07.23

Being a promoter in this day and age is a tough business, lack of presales due to covid hangovers, bands pulling out last minute, and the overall cost of touring shooting through the roof, it can be difficult to get bands playing in your local area, then even harder to have people come and see them.

So when Cosmic Sea Bookings announced their debut gig at Hangar 18, the South Wales metal scene had a little trepidation but were determined to support this new venture. Although they didnt make it easy for themselves; securing a headliner who have only played one show since Damnation 2016, and then stacking the rest of the show with OSDM veterans, Scottish maniacs and a local opener playing their first live gig it was a ln impressive feat that deserved a big crowd.

Thankfully the audience was a decent size, but perhaps the room itself made it seem a bit more sparse than it was (especially due to metal fans never wanting to come to the front unless specifically told).

With everyone in and the rain lashing outside the venue South Wales trio Deliberate Miscarriage (8) took to the stage for their debut show. This three-piece play brutal death metal with gnarly lyrics about Splattered Toddlers, being Gutted With A Butter Knife, Intestines In The Midguards and Fowl So Foul.

It was Charlie who growled these horrific images, leading with some techincal bass playing and swinging a mass of hair (most of which he ate) while Adam peeled off distorted riffs in deep concentration (opting to remember the set rather than just return to the root note as promised to me earlier) and Sam tried to emualte Lyn Jeffs who played drums on the album, but seeing as he's a machine did a great job.

Obviously having the crowd onside due to the local connection they were able to warm the crowd well, impressing on their first show.

Next though Glaswegians Rend Them Asunder (7) broke out into some snorting, aggressive, Buckfast fuelled brutal death metal, well that is until the drummer realised he hadn't put up any cymbals up halfway through the first song.

So they stopped apologised, got the cymbals and started again. Juddering the momentum but getting it going again with the restart. A monsterous vocalist snarling and prowling the stage as the band laid down flesh ripping heavy death metal. Inciting pits, these Scots were unhinged after the 8 hour journey to South Wales, the crowd duly obliged, a few kicking the crap out of each other for the rest of the set.

Haunted by a couple of techincal issues throughout, something they apparently always get at their shows, it was fun if a little disjointed but must have been worth the trip for the band and the fans, they also seemed to sell a load of merch on the night. In a sweat drenched room Rend Them Asunder are probably a more potent force.

Next up were Birmingham veterans Absolution (8), employing a groovy OSDM sound that is favoured by fellow Midlanders Bolt Thrower and Benediction. Absolution exclusively write songs about serial killers and exclusively wear camo shorts. They are also the only death metal band I've ever seen use a Gibson SG.

Enough of that though as this five piece are hard hitting, the lyrical content not for the feint if hard as they lay down a thick, tasty riffs that have you bobbing along as if songs about Rillington Place and Burke & Hare were the norm. Little interactions with crowd explained the themes of the songs but mostly it was business as usual for Absoution as they came as masters of their craft.

Speaking of masters, the headliners were truly something special. Using a unique mix of psychadelic wanderings, technically gifted musicianship and extreme metal, Mithras (9) are a trip way out into the furthest reaches of the death metal cosmos.

Just a trio they're sound is expansive and involving, their drummer has a electronic drumset meaning that he, bassist and guitarist can adapt their sound to whatever otherworldly frequencies they want. Impressive on record, their sound is perfectly recreated when playing live.

Band founder Leon Macey easily switches between double tapping and shredding, the use of pedals expanding the soundscapes , while bass player Vic Lochab falls on the line between intricate and heavy, gargantuan grooves and moments of bliss conjured while Ben White goes from expressive percussion to unstoppable speed in an instant.

Perhaps not as immediate as any of the supports, there was a lot to take in with Mithras, but when it clicked, you get transported into the futuristic and forward thinking extreme metal atmospheres of this band.

Releasing their most recent album in 2016, it's surely time for more material, as well as some more gigs on the back of this performance. Cosmic Sea Bookings took a punt on this show and it did a lot to bring back the extreme metal scene in Swansea. Hopefully there is more to come from them.

Reviews: Midnight Realm, Ageless Summoning, Phoenix Lake, Chapel Floods (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Midnight Realm – Engineering The Apocalypse (Self Released)

A concept record based around the psyche of a character called ‘The Architect’, the theme to this debut album by British metal mob has a bit of Nostradamus meets The Umbrella Academy about it. It’s told through the medium of melodeath/metalcore/modern heavy metal that features impassioned scream/clean vocals, thrashy riffs, pit inducing drum patterns and a few choice breakdowns. Though to win over a wider crowd they use strings and synths along with classic metal styling to give their sound a wider palate to work from. Similar to Architects or Sylosis or even American’s like Trivium, Midnight Realm manage to pinpoint what makes this music great but expand upon it at the same time.

Part of that is the musicianship, the rhythm section of Patrick Deans (drums) and new boy Chris Diboll (bass) laying down a crushing, rampaging foundation for these songs ready for shreddy, thrashy, biting guitars from Daniel Russell and Kirk Hepburn, though the solos are provided by Benjamin Ellis of Scar Symmetry and Alex Bailie from Cognizance. With such a powerful, experienced set of compositions, they begin by battering you as soon as I, The Architect gets going at lightspeed, Kirk Hepburn’s growls and roars ripping your head off from the first moment, the orchestrations nuanced in the background to increase the audio effect. Kudos to Owain Willams’ mixing/mastering to make it all sound huge. On The Rebuild, a reimagined take on their 2015 single, they have Sarah Dee of Solarus duet with Kirk for more emotional bite, though his vocals are brilliant by themselves both harsh and clean as the classic metal twin harmonies come in on Kings Will Crawl

For me though it’s the final twosome of The Oncoming Storm and Polemos that exhibit how good Midnight Realm are, the former has a slow steady build with lots of piano-led introspection, shifting between clean emotional bits and heavy aggression, before the latter is an 8 minute heavy prog metal track with long steamrolling breakdown outro. Engineering The Apocalypse has had a long gestation period but it has arrived a definitive statement from Midnight Realm. Hopefully they make their way down from Newcastle to play it live. 9/10

Ageless Summoning - Corrupting The Entempled Plane (Dark Descent Records)

Death metal from Scotland inspired by Morbid Angel, Immolation and the Eldritch Horrors of H.P Lovecraft? Count me in! Corrupting The Entempled Plane is the debut full length from Ageless Summoning, who take from the “Steve Tucker era Morbid Angel” where the technicality is met with sheer brute force. Brilliantly bludgeoning with tracks such as Epoch Of Souls creating gloomy atmospheres of warped hellscapes, guitars from Gregg Cowell and Rory Strachan, dive bomb and swirl in a hypnotic menagerie of noise, while the blast beating of Hamish MacKintosh is unrelenting. 

They are a band who welcome and strive for the slower, more punishing side of death metal, Among The Worms crawling from the dirt with sludgy distortion from Derek Wright’s bass; as Incarcerate Nothingness uses repetition brilliantly to bring forcefulness before shifting into more squealing, frenzied solos. Ageless Summoning features members from bands such as Of Spire & Throne, Haar, Úir, Scordatura, and Abyssal, so they are old hands at making horrible noises. So together they unleash tracks such as the furious Towards The Fractal Absolute, the pace notably quicker than the songs before it, though with Ali Lander’s vocals never seem to move away from bowel churning no matter the speed of the songs. 

On a record where there is so much brutality, it’s easy to forget the virtuosity of the band, but it’s there in the progressive playing that drives songs like Retribution Eternal. Paying homage to the American masters in their own way Ageless Summoning explore horros from beyond the stars with their debut album. 8/10
Phoenix Lake – Beyond The Flames (Self Released)

Beyond The Flames, is according to the band is a “prelude to the first album”, so what do Phoenix Lake bring to the table? Well if you were listening to Faithless, you would be thinking why BFMV have changed their singer as this is radio-friendly modern metal/metalcore, but a track such as Come Alive has a wealth of symphonic metal behind it, with Lacuna Coil coming to mind. The focus of the band is vocalist Lana Phillis, she has a ‘rock’ voice rather than the more classically trained singers around, so it they can be a bit more creative with their songwriting. 

Allowing tracks such as Reflections to be heavy but with melodies too and empowering lyrics. This idea of self-improvement and reflection is used throughout the EP, Saviour about being helpless and lost but believing in yourself to pull through. Written mostly before the pandemic, it means that Phoenix Lake were able to rework and rerecord these tracks to make them sound as widescreen as they do here. Beyond The Flames is Phoenix Lake moving away from their former life as Descending Angels and into a new existence, one that is armed with some very modern sounding metal music. 7/10

Chapel Floods – Chapel Floods EP (Self Released)

After multiple failed starts, guitarists, vocalists and drummers Rotherham band Chapel Floods have finally returned with a new(ish) EP. Locked in as a trio now, the sludge band follow up their 2020 demo by re-recording 2 songs from that demo along with 2 new tracks kicking off their next batch of recordings. Recorded live/mixed and mastered in their studio, it kicks off with the sludgy Grief Mason, where the raging screams shift into crooning cleans, turning into WAH which is psychedelic grumbling and dissonance. Time Servers goes into doom as echoed guitar cleans, broad drumming and more despondent vocals are the order of the day. This second EP finishes with the throbbing stoner/sludge of Crooked Noose and reframes Chapel Floods for their next chapter. 7/10

Friday 21 July 2023

Reviews: Voivod, Mizmor, Oxbow, Inhuman Condition (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Joe Guatieri, Mark Young & Richard Oliver)

Voivod - Morgöth Tales (Century Media Records) [Paul Scoble]

Regular readers of these pages should be familiar with Voivod, the band have been making extremely interesting Metal since 1981 with an original lineup of Denis ‘Snake’ Bélanger on Vocals, Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour on Guitar, Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Thériault on Bass and Michel ‘Away’Langevin on Drums. Voivod were originally considered part of the early thrash movement, releasing their first album War And Pain in 1984, however, despite being really fast they used chords, keys and scales that other bands did not use, or even knew existed, so sounded fairly different to the rest of the thrash scene.

It was a time when anything fast was called thrash, but anyone with ears could tell that Voivod were different. As it turned out, Voivod had invented progressive metal, and have spent the nearly 40 years since their forming being one of the most creative metal bands around, and always pushing boundaries. Voivod’s back catalogue of 16 studio albums, one live album and lots of splits, Ep’s and singles is one of the most varied and innovative on the whole metal world.

I should admit at this point that I have been a Voivod fan for many years; I loved them them when I was 14 listening to albums whilst lying on my bed, looking at Away’s cool artwork and reading the lyrics, and I still love them at 50, so I doubt this will be very objective.

To celebrate 40 years of being amazing, Voivod have recorded a ‘sort of’ best of album. The band have re-recorded a selection of songs from their back catalogue, some well known, some much more obscure. For good measure they have also been joined by Jason Newsted on the track Rebel Robot, originally on the album Voivod (2003), and Erik Forrest guests on the track Rise which was originally on the album Phobos (1997). The lineup that recorded this album is the current one that also recorded The Wake and Synchro Anarchy album; Snake on vocals, Away on drums, Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain on guitars and Dominic ‘Rocky’ Laroche on bass. The album has a sound that is similar to those last two album, so this sounds fantastic, really well produced and engineered, and the mix is pretty much perfect.

The album opens with Condemned To The Gallows, which was originally on the Metal Massacre V compilation (1984), a blast of punky proto-thrash that is filled with energy and drive. Next comes Thrashing Rage originally from Rrrröööaaarrr (1986) which is a taut and driving burst of inertia and youthful exuberance.

Next comes one of Voivod’s most important songs Killing Technology from Killing Technology (1987) fast jazz metal that is breathtakingly original and ground breaking, it still feels fresh and would be considered an amazing piece of progressive metal if it was released today. My favourite song from when I was 14 is next; Macrosolutions To Megaproblems from Dimension Hatröss (1988) Love this song, in particular love the chorus, it’s still a live favourite and no wonder as it is a great song.

The next track is Pre-Ignition from Nothingface (1989), which is taut progressive metal, with lashings of melody and a slight industrial feel. The next two track highlights how diverse and groundbreaking Voivod are. First we get Nuage Fractal originally from Angel Rat (1991) which has a minimal and subtle feel to it, and in 2023 this would probably be described as post rock, which just shows how ahead of their time the band were. The next track is Fix My Heart from The Outer Limits (1993) which is fairly keyboard heavy for Voivod, and has a feel that is far more alternative rock or noise rock than any kind of metal, the song is driving and purposeful, and in some places could even be described as ‘Poppy’.

Rise Rrom Phobos (1997) is dark and brooding, heavy and aggressive, it’s tight as anything, dissonant in places and features some very nasty vocals. Last of the Re-recorded material, Rebel Robot from Voivod (2003) is slower and measured, whilst feeling quite alternative and interesting.

The album comes to an end with the new title track, Morgöth Tales which has spikey riffs and smooth harmonies, it’s always interesting as it seems to change constantly. The song also features a really great guitar solo. It’s a brilliantly creative song that is full of energy and verve, and is a great way to end this album.

I have loved listening to Morgöth Tales. It’s a fantastic celebration of Voivods history, whilst also showing that Voivod are one of the most creative and vital bands in heavy metal, or any other form of music for that matter. The new versions are great and have obviously been created with a sense of care for their legacy, and to give their fans something special (as a fan of Voivod, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate their legacy). If you have never listened to Voivod before then this would be a great introduction, if you are already a fan, then jump in, you are in for a treat! 9/10

Mizmor - Prosaic (Profond Lore) [Joe Guatieri]

I enjoy black metal but I’m pretty new to it. Having listened to early Mayhem and Darktrone’s 90s material, I thought that I would be suitably prepared for Mizmor’s new album Prosaic. God, I was wrong!

Immediately I was faced with the opener, Only An Expanse. A track that is over fourteen minutes long, something that I’ve never encountered in this genre before. It started for the first four minutes in familiar territory for this sphere, fast guitars, blood-curdling vocals, and drums that sound like falling down the stairss, all wrapped up in the warmth of lo-fi production. Several changes occur over this piece, never staying in the same place for too long. 

My favorite section happens between nine minutes in, going just over eleven minutes, where the bass finally takes center stage as it growls from the distorted abyss and a lead guitar plays and sounds painful within its nature. The outro fascinates me too, going from intense riffing that slows right down into a meditative crawl. What comes out of it is this clean guitar which stands alone and sounds very distant as if it's floating off into space.

The slow pacing continues into the next track, No Place To Arrive. Another sprawling effort which made my whole body tense up; there’s even an acoustic section reminiscent of Opeth six minutes in. A much needed break from the horrors that came before it and then pushing you back into despair.

Each song here is like a planet within a solar system, they are so gargantuan in their length and they have their own gravitational pull which is represented in the different types of feelings that arise for me across this record. For example, the acoustic ending of the track Anything But, feels like a slow walk through fog. Comparing that to the last track Acceptance that has shades of doom metal, which feels like crawling away from hell itself after a volcano has erupted. Overall, this album is just as rewarding as it is long, always exploring undiscovered territory. I give Prosaic an 8/10

Oxbow - Loves Holiday (Ipecac Records) [Mark Young]

Oxbow have consistently varied their approach to music and its creation to encompass different genres, often within the same song. Going into this one it is amazing that it is almost like a welcome from an old friend, its incredibly accessible from the start whilst having that stand-out feel to it. Some have labelled them Avant-garde, I’m not completely sure but they do have a latter-day blues approach to them

Dead Ahead’s vocal delivery seems to be out of phase with the music behind it, delivered almost as a street poem that segues into a more straightforward style and then folds back on itself, all the while being propelled forward. It reminds me of Dr. Feelgood in some respects, constantly marching forward as Icy White and Crystalline continues in the same vein without a feeling of repetition. The vocals have that grit and weariness to them that suggests that they have seen a lot, and not all of it was good.

Lovely Murk slows down, keys that swell in the background with that pained vocal once more that dominates as its joined by backing voices that combine with a melodic passage and it is a thing of beauty. It seems effortless on their part in that they take a simple idea and then just build upon it so it is just right. 1000 Hours takes that backing and expands it on here with an almost moaned delivery again with a slow, measured attack, simple arpeggios that combine with that backing whilst percussion quietly drives us forward through a day of complete pain.

All Gone is dominated by piano and that backing once more and here they lean into the blues and is a stand-out for me as is The Night The Room Started Burning which has more of a rockier feel to it, but as with the others Eugene Robinsons voice takes centre stage, completely unique to these ears and provides the emotional heft the lyrics demand.

All of which takes us to the final act – the last three tracks Million Dollar Weekend, The Second Talk and Gunwale. Million Dollar Weekend continues with that melancholic build, whilst The Second Talk stabs with urgent screams and slide guitar with Eugene’s voice once again cutting through everything, elevating what would be simple parts into something else just through the beauty and power on display and Gunwale provides that fitting end piece, with those backing voices once again on point, this time with a more unashamed guitar that drops in and out to its mournful end.

This is not an album for thrash / speed / death / grind lovers, it’s a controlled journey that is unhurried, and unrestrained by traditional measures and is the result of a bands that has been around for awhile, who know who they are and what they are. 7/10

Inhuman Condition - Panic Prayer E.P. (Listenable Records) [Richard Oliver]

Panic Prayer is the new E.P. from Florida death metallers Inhuman Condition who are a three piece made up of ex-members of Massacre. The three band members - Jeramie Kling on vocals and drums, Taylor Norderg on guitars and Terry Butler on bass - are seasoned guys within the Florida scene performing in other notable bands such as Deicide, The Absence and Obituary.

This E.P. is a bit of an odds and sods release with three brand new songs, a cover song and four live performances of songs from the bands two albums. The live recordings are very raw and low quality almost sounding bootleg quality though the band does sound tight and furious in their performances. The cover song chosen is Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult and whilst a fantastic song, it really does not want or need a death metal treatment. The three new songs are solid old school Florida death metal much in the style of the material released on Rat°God and Fearsick having that punishing groove and thrashy riffing style with the crunchy Final Credits being the highlight of the E.P.

Panic Prayer is a very mixed bag. The new material is definitely the best thing about the E.P. but the rest of the material is completely throwaway or just plain bad. E.P.’s like this are really only for the die hard fans and collectors and whilst there is some decent material on offer this is a very unnecessary release. 5/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Glenn Hughes (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Glenn Hughes & Dead Sea Skulls, Tramshed Cardiff, 19.07.23

Cardiff’s Tramshed on a Tuesday night saw a sneak peek at a tour that will be playing more venues towards the end of the year. But with a festival headline set at Maid Of Stone coming up at the end of the week, Cardiff and Norwich (A-Ha!) were chosen as the two dates to kick off “The Voice Of Rock’” first jaunt to the UK this year.

First though it was the Dead Sea Skulls (6) that had the unenviable job of warming up a room full of hardcore Deep Purple fans with their lively garage/punk/rock. A trio where Ash is both drummer and frontman (as well as trumpet player), it was a quite an odd thing to see a drum set at the front of the stage. The Walsall band were probably not really what the crowd wanted sound wise in the lead up to what would be a set of long drawn out rock epics but you can’t fault the band for trying to encourage the participation and interaction even if you could see the frustration on their faces towards the end. For me it didn’t help that most of their songs are quite similar and that their “party vibe” was rather wasted on a dull Tuesday in Cardiff. In the throes of their big city home on a raucous, alcohol-fuelled Friday night I’m sure the band go down like a house on fire however it was more home-made submarine in Cardiff.

It was now time for what everyone had come for the main event, promising a nine song hour and 30 minute set, the band consisting of Soren Andersen (guitar), Ash Sheehan (drums) and Bob Fridzema (keyboards) took to the stage before the man himself Glenn Hughes (8) arrived with his bass guitar strapped to him and they plunged into Stormbringer, that voice still in fine fettle as he drove the fuzzy rhythm of this Deep Purple classic. With a set featuring most of 1974’s Burn, there was time for two from Stormbringer and two from Come Taste The Band as well as Mk II song in Highway Star. With the majority of Burn being played they didn’t shift too much into the soul and funk explorations that came on the other two records that featured Hughes but Gettin’ Tighter and You Keep Moving Me still have that hip shaking groove to them as the soul credentials of Hughes are as strong as his rock ones. 

Glenn told us of how the Cardiff date came about, but couldn’t too much talking as there was a lot to get through, the bulk of that being the gargantuan version of Mistreated where guitarist Soren Anderson was fully entrenched into Ritchie Blackmore mode. There was of course lots of soloing going on from Bob Fridzema’s keys, to Ash Sheehan (who pulled a double shift with Dead Sea Skulls) getting a solo, as Glenn gave some bass leads. Mistreated is still a stunner, though the inclusion of Highway Star wasn’t needed when there’s a more tracks on Burn/Stormbringer/Come Taste The Band that could have fit in better, still on the climax of Burn (the song) the Tramshed was pumping as this legend of British hard rock closed the set with love for his band and the crowd. As a sneak peek for what is to come towards the end of the year it was very impressive.

Glenn Hughes Performs Classic Deep Purple Live - Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the album BURN' October 2023 UK Tour runs from October 10 – 29th with special guests The Damn Truth. Tickets available from - https://www.thegigcartel.com/Artists-profiles/Glenn-Hughes.htm

Thursday 20 July 2023

Reviews: Saint Agnes, Cadaver, Thunder Horse, Somnuri (Reviews By Mark Young, Matt Bladen, AV4A Pod & Joe Guatieri)

Saint Agnes - Bloodsuckers (Spinefarm) [Mark Young]

Latest release from London four-piece Saint Agnes, fronted by vocal A-bomb Kitty A. Austen and is a focused, aggressive album that swims within a number of different genres in order to give you 11 tracks that vary in approach, and also in effectiveness.

So here we go: the opening three tracks are just royal. They come in and just stomp over you and are so well put together you know that live they are going to decimate. 

Bloodsuckers has that swagger to it, with Kitty A. Austen spitting over the top channelling a NIN tinge (thinking the Broken EP era) this is designed to whip that crowd into a frenzy and just tears through it’s track time. Animal has a filthy feel arrangement that morphs into a solid slab of metal, rising up into a spot on break down, this is a fantastic opening one-two that makes good on their promise of taking from a lot of different genres and being able to use the best without sounding forced or redundant. I Mean Nothing To You...starts off with "I GOT NO MORE FUCKS TO GIVE" and bang we are in a tightly wrapped ball of fury that doesn’t forget you need a chorus that we can sing along too, and this one nails it. 

Once we get past these, the album drops off ever so slightly with a lag in the energy which starts with Outsider which just comes across as a little flat after the 1,2,3 combination they just landed. It doesn’t ignite in the same way. This Is Not The End takes us on a softer journey, with an almost solo opening with Kittie's super strong vocals set against a muted piano, and this is bringing in some more of that NIN influence which has to be said is quite pronounced here and elsewhere on this album.

Follow You get’s us back to the heavy, as does I Am which has that same, quick-fire attack but is almost too similar to the one before and come across as filler. They arrest this slide with At War With Myself provides an aural tapestry for a declining mental health that is incredibly well done and hits hard before making way for Middle Finger that manages to squeeze so much out of a simple riff pattern and this one bounces, really bounces and is another example of taking the best from your influences and making them unique.

Body Bag (feat. Mimi Barks) is short blast of screamy goodness and then Forever And Ever, final track has that soft vs loud dynamic, both in Kittie’s delivery and the arrangement and is a stirring climax to a good album. 

And with that, there is some top stuff on here. The use of NIN collaborator Sean Beavan places a certain stamp on proceedings, and it sounds great but sometimes that does come across as too much rather than allowing their own vision and identity to cut through. As I’ve mentioned, when it rips it absolutely rips but that drop off in energy in the middle does hurt the flow. It’s possible that just tweaking that running order slightly would arrest it, but that is purely personal on my part. 7/10

Cadaver - The Age Of The Offended (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Norwegian death metal doesn't come much better than Cadaver. Still led by founding member Anders Odden (vocals/guitars), the percussion is human drum machine Dirk Verbeuren. The Age Of The Offended also has original bassist Eilert Solstad coming back with the bottom end as TNT guitarist Ronni Le Tekrø brings his shred metal history to the guitar playing. Though originally was only brought in as a guest for Cadaver's version of TNT's Deadly Metal features on this album.

Cadaver are a band that are technically gifted and Christ do they show it with this new record, 30 years into their career and still totally uncompromising, their death metal is totally unique compared to their contemporaries, with the psychadelic meandering of Scum Of The Earth is counteracted by schizophrenic riffs and solos.

Since their 2020 album Odden has battled cancer and won so approaches this album with anger and the renewed focus. He and Dirk laid down the album in a fast time, exploring new dimensions to their already established sound. Even by their own standards The Age Of The Offended is very experimental from the intro of Sycophants Swing, we dive into Postapocalyptic Grinding as if Slayer played with Mr Bungle, then there's prog black metal on the title track Anders' where he laments today's attitudes. (He's quite old school in the way he thinks).

The Sicker, The Better busts out with groteque death metal, Death Revealed feeling almost Scandinavian with the stabs of clean guitars, while The Shrink is knuckle dragging industrial cloaked in death metal trappings and The Drowning Man is gutter dwelling doom. If you're not familar with Cadaver then this experimentation could be a little jarring but with 30 years in a league of their own, it's either love it or leave it. 7/10

Thunder Horse - After The Fall (Ripple Music) [Quinn Mattfeld @AV4Apod]

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to review the new Thunder Horse record. I also have to admit that it's because I didn't love their previous album Chosen One. And finally, I have to admit that I don't remember why.

So, I decided to go into Thunder Horses' third LP without revisiting their previous record and hopefully, an unbiased set of ears. On the first and title track, After The Fall it really paid off. You might say 'I backed the right pony'... Thunder Horse? Horse? Pony?

After The Fall kicks off it's eponymous mother-record with such superb doominess upon frontman Stephen Bishop's muted, opening wail, "Down and out again…" and an absolutely killer riff on an album filled with killer riffs that I was struggling to imagine what possibly could have caused me to balk at this band in 2021.

I had to shake off the second half of that lyric, "No one to call…" which just feels a bit junior high to me but the rest of the song is a more-than-worthy opening / title track.

New Normal
 is a defiant, "We're Not Gonna Take It" through the prism of Doom that phrases the title in such a way that puts the stress on the second syllable, making "normal" rhyme with "Al." Like, someone for whom you might act as a bodyguard, or have as a long-lost pal. They repeat the phrasing on the word "shaDOW" which only makes a bad choice into an intentionally bad choice.

But nothing strikes me as terribly unforgivable until we get to Inner Demon in which each chorus ends with the phrase, "It's time to get fucked up" but not in a way I think Thunder Horse is intending. There are great examples of songs that dealt with addiction like 20/20 Tunnel Vision by Graveyard or Demon Alcohol by Ozzy Osbourne but this one lands like an unironic party song written by Dwight Yokam's band in Sling Blade.

And then it hits me. The reason I didn't listen to the previous Thunder Horse record: the lyrics. There are plenty of examples of odd moments here and there on After The Fall but Inner Demon is an entire track-full of them. "One is too many but one hundred's not enough." One hundred? Again, it sounds like the way a child might conceive of an alcoholic. It's a bizarre and not exactly poetic exaggeration that ends up as a silly take on a serious topic.

The album finishes strong, especially on the closer Requiem where Thunder Horse prove that they can write good lyrics and just too often decide not to. So take it with one hundred grains of salt but After The Fall reminds me of why Thunder Horse feels more like a band cosplaying Doom than delivering it in earnest. 6/10

Somnuri - Desiderium (MNRK Heavy) [Joe Guatieri]

The new Somnuri album Desiderium presents a journey through the eyes of Sludge Metal, working their way into new distortion-soaked destinations.

The first song, Death Is The New Beginning, feels like a warning within its intensity. The snare roll in this track really defines this as it feels overpowering almost to a headache-inducing degree. Destroying everything in its path and literally draining out the mix. The guitars therefore feel like the real opposing force as they try to cut through the track with their gigantic sound in an attempt to overcome the rhythmic rapids. Taking all sorts of twists and turns within its playing in an attempt to avoid certain death. This song is a real headfuck.

Track Two, Paramnesia takes the title for the best song on the album. I am in love with the weird, mid-paced grooves going here, it feels like they are playing catch up with themselves. Definitely lovingly inspired by the likes of the Melvins. It portrays the classic punk attitude of playing for your own entertainment and not giving a fuck about what other people think. Somnuri uses strange song dynamics and pushes them in a way that provides intrigue and memorability which leaves you only wanting more.
Track Seven, Desiderium, is the longest song here at over 5 minutes yet it doesn’t feel like it at all. The instrumental continues to push boundaries and is executed in a really fascinating way that feels forever changing. One of the few drawbacks is that the lead guitars feel a bit muffled at times. It happens in a way that I find to be very restrained, keeping them from their full potential.

Altogether, this record has its fair share of hypnotic highs and gut-wrenching lows. The clean vocals can either act as a nice addition or an unnecessary feature. The bass, whilst it performs its primary function well, lacks the oomph and doesn’t stick out in the way that I would want it too. Despite this, Desiderium is an example of consistency and forward-thinking ideas within Sludge Metal. 8/10

Reviews: Blackscape, The Parallax Method, Inhumed, Esprit D ’Air (Reviews By C Hunter, Zak Skane, Evil Spider & Mark Young)

Blackscape - Suffocated By The Sun (Massacre Records) [C Hunter]

Suffocated By The Sun is the debut album by Swedish trio Blackscape. Before even taking a listen, I spent some time admiring the album art. A Giger-esque decomposing, oppressive spinal penis monster with teeth. If the image is anything to go by, I’m primed and ready for a violent assault of thrashy delights. Waste Of Humanity gives us a surprisingly major spacious Vai like guitar … for a full10 seconds… which I’d expect is to catch us off guard to make that metal punch in the face that much more effective! Ooof! The Melodic Thrash Death is strong. The off beat breakdown followed by canorous lead, an early indication that Blackscape are not fucking around.

Bow To Me succeeds in sounding both catchy and evil. Thomas Ohissons tasteful fills during breaks are highlights for me. They then switch it up to major for Tage Anderssons impressive axe work. Eugene’s trick bag was emptied a long time ago and has since been added to. The title track Suffocated By The Sun is full of stinking heavy technical riffage accompanied by melodious malevolence and melancholic harmonious motifs. The lead refrains from the typical mindless shredding you find in a lot of thrash, adding depth and dynamic to the song ( widdlers, noodlers and fret wankers; TAKE NOTE.)

Enslaved’s atmospheric start is a brief respite from the aggression … until it’s not. Slower more emotional sections followed by proggy grove riffs are a much better example of how to pull off contrast than the usual boyband verses growl found in metalcore. Nailed To The Cross also has a progressive groove to it, blended with crunchy crushing diminished Womp! My hair swings against its will. An affliction usually attributed to too many beers the night before. But today I am in good health, and the uncontrollable nodding can only be accredited to the groove.

First In Line is a headbanger! Lamb Of God with John Petrucci on lead. The discordant picked desolate guitars playing whilst the drums and singer Lawrence Mackroy continue the aggression is quite beautiful in an I’ve accepted my fate sort of way. Colonized By The Dark - an intense battering riff .. until the chorus … which is just not for me, in-fact I mentioned how they avoided the cliche contrast during the song Enslaved. Points for diversifying styles but you’ll have to give them straight back because I’m a grumpy shite when I’m accosted with a certain level of sweeter vocals during a brutal song. It feels like Adam Sandler just walked into Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse during Willem Dafoe’s monologue scene. Rant over, many people seem to enjoy it. But I’m doing the review so a perfect score has been denied.

Purified Disease is excellent deathy licks, there’s a dark desperate sadness to music. The Black metal influences are prevalent. Probably one of my favourite songs on the album. Did I catch a Marty Friedman influence in Tage’s break ? What self respecting metal guitarist doesn’t owe some of their lick library to that man … I know I do. Great song! Stained By Sin has pedal tone… meet chugs. Another headbanger. With powerful hard rock vocals from Lawrence. The singing in this one really works for me and sounds a bit like Johnathan Davis doing a Micheal Bolton impersonation… which is just grand. I’m fed up complimenting Tage by this point, so please fill in the blanks …..

The Blackscape (CD Bonus Track) takes a very different feel. 80s goth synth followed by a very positive guitar celebration over jazzy drums. This one sounds straight out of a guitar virtuoso’s solo album. And why not shove it at the end of an aggressive metal album ? There are no rules! Two points for innovative fret molesting. Minus one point for taking me to a happy place when I was expecting to end on a big angry sad note .

Blackscape's Suffocated By The Sun is a fantastic blend of thrash metal and death metal! I’m a little disappointed that every album I’ve reviewed In the last few months has been brilliant. If I don’t get rid of this pent up anger sooner I may have to piss in a drinking fountain or worse … and those actions would be on you. Considering Blackscape are currently quite a small band, It’s mind boggling that Tage Andersson is one of the best lead players of this genre that I’ve heard in a long time (and I’m a bit of a shred nerd).

Check them out ! This is a band that really deserves a bigger fan base! Heavy as twelve polar bears in osmium chainmail and as technical as the plot of a fictional movie written by the collaboration of David Lynch and Chuck Palahniuk about an inter-dimensional pangolin stuck in the bathroom walls of a troubled Jockey. 8/10

The Parallax Method - Folie à Trois (Self Released) [Zak Skane]

As soon as the needle drops on this albums opening track We've Learned Nothing we’re greeted by the eastern melodies smothered in hypnotic rhythms. The guitar ascending and descending from mystical sounding arpeggios whilst also packing unique alien sounding effects are accompanied by polyrhythmic accented beats. The miss leading title of The Pope's Personal Saxophonist brings in fun major scaled video game sounding jingles that you would get from your favourite nostalgic video game of choice such as Crash Bandicoot especially when the funky auto wah bass comes in. 

Don’t get fooled by the name but Daniel’s Bed In A Field packs some serious nostalgic Dream Theater vibes with it’s exotic chord stabs and expressive lead lines, whilst the bassist channels his inner John Myung (bassist of Dream Theatre) by following the technical guitar lines whereas the drummer channels his best Mike Portnoy chops. The 80s/90s vibes continues with Cheeky Charlie's Porky Pokers with it’s funky sections mixed in with some Stevie Vai swagger whilst D-Ron's Country Assault does exactly what it says in the tin and opens up the second part of the album with some up beat country licks. Under The Stinging Tree Of Death comes in as the heaviest track on the album with it’s fuzzy punchy riffs and edgy double kick grooves. 

Other highlights on the album are Under The Stinging Tree Of Death (which should get a compliment for the song title itself) which brings back the Dream Theater vibes with a modern twist of metallic breakdowns and extra layers of instruments and the closing track Lava Palaver channels the greatest peers of instrumental and lead guitar game with it’s Polyphia inspired sexy beats and vocalised leads to its exotic Santana Latin inspired grooves. 

From the hypnotic grooves and melodies of We've Learned Nothing, to the fun upbeat tunes of The Pope's Personal Saxophonist to the sexy closer of Lava Palaver this band have showed us all the colours on their pallets whilst also pleasing our peers. Ideal for technical music connoisseurs and for people that are studying. 7/10.

Inhumed - Feasted Upon Like Carrion (Self Released) [Evil Spider]

This week I have been checking out Feasted Upon Like Carrion - the latest EP from Canada's Melodic Death Metal 5 piece, Inhumed

The EP starts with instrumental intro The Ascent, that had me intrigued from the off as to the direction it would take, however, at 2.5 minutes long (on an ep with a run time of just under 22 mins) I feel like it takes too long for things to really get moving, but these guys go for it once they do.

Fed To The Skies and A Defiance Of Faith kick things into a higher gear with riffs that carry the swagger of Nocturnal era Black Dahlia Murder, even if the lead playing is a bit messy at times. Vengeance Of A God King keeps the energy levels high and feels like a more accomplished track, with the guitars working well together to give a more complete sound. Unfortunately, the closing track, Exhibitions Of Beauty, meanders along at a mid-tempo pace and fades into a strange violin outro which left me feeling a bit deflated.

All-in-all, a decent offering; pretty strong vocals throughout and some nice ideas. Sadly though, the strange decisions at either end of the ep really do hinder the listening experience for me. 5/10

Esprit D ’Air - Oceans (Starstorm Records) [Mark Young]

DIY Japanese rock/metal, ok I’m game.

Brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and producer, Kai, Esprit D ‘Air is the latest release that blends metal, rock, electronic and probably all points in between. Kai notes that classic bands such as Anthrax, WASP and Judas Priest are among those who are favourites, the sound presented does not always reflect them. 

Reading the online bio, and looking at reviews of previous material I’m not sure what I’m going to hear so opening with an instrumental (Into The Oceans) that could be taken from any sci-film or series  is a suitable start as it drops straight with Tsunami, a high energy attack that twins a repeating keyboard refrain against pummelling drums and guitar. So far, so good with Leviathan following up with that same pattern of build – keys, double bass drums and riffs. Vocal wise its delivered clean, with Kai singing in a style that fits in well with the music behind it. Everything is crisp, heavy when required but two songs in there is a nagging suspicion that this will be the template moving forward. 

And so, it goes – Ocean’s Call is up-tempo, and has that J-Pop motif all over it. It’s built for a climatic scene with those ascending chords and that constant melody in the background. There is nothing wrong with it, its just that having three songs that although are different are in fact so similar in arrangement it saps you a tad.

Then, The Abyss comes in and smacks you around the head with some death growls and top aggressive singing and suddenly all bets are off. This is more like it; twinning Kai’s and Ryo Kinoshita clean / dark singing raises it up even if the arrangement is still the same as the preceding tracks. Dead Zone (ft. Ben Christo) goes for a Linkin Park make-over, mournful piano and heart-felt vocals and it just sucks all the energy built up in an instant. Next.

Nebulae, channels Leviathan, again possessing all of the main ingredients but without the required seasoning. Amethyst is next, and I find myself losing interest in keeping going because: A – its technically good B – Sounds good C – they all sound too similar and this is repeated on Souhou Raia, Sazanami, Guiding Light, Calling You right to the end they are all too familiar.

The similarity in attack does it in which is a shame because it needs that element of dirt to really give it life. It is entirely possible that I’ve missed the point of it, or maybe I’m coming at it from the wrong angle but once you have heard the first three songs you will continue to hear those themes all the way through it. I should temper this by the fact they are well built, recorded and the instrumental tracks show some real beauty there its just that its too safe. The reason we love metal is that it is supposed to be rough, even those bands who place technical ability above being able to write songs. We love Slayer because they were nasty, its why we constantly moan about Metallica. 

Here, The Abyss absolutely stands head and shoulders above every song, and I hate having to say that because I try to find something good in everything. I didn’t set out to not like it, but I also expected it to be better in terms of not using the same approach for every song, so it sounds like it came via a process – Keys here, guitar there etc etc. 5/10