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Thursday 31 August 2023

Reviews: Holding Absence, The Word Alive, Pleasure Forever, Owlbear (Reviews By Zak Skane & AV4APod & Matt Bladen)

Holding Absence - The Noble Art Of Self Destruction (Sharptone Records) [Alex Swift]

Womanby Street – Cardiff’s hub for independent live music – has seen many acts grace its stages on the way to further fame and renown (or on their way back down the ladder, as the case may be). If you’re looking for a Welsh act who honed their craft performing in venues like Fuel however, and have only become more impressive since, you only need to look at Holding Absence. 

Many who belong to the independent live music scene in Cardiff, feel a sense of pride in them, and rightfully so. From listening to them or watching them perform today, it’s easy to forget that Lucas Woodland started off playing drums in a punk band who specialised in silly songs, and pulling pints behind the bar at those same venues he was playing in. Even though I’ve never had a conversation with any of the members of Holding Absence personally (at least, to my knowledge), I feel immensely satisfied by their success. The vitality of small-venues, and grassroots culture is etched into their identity as a band for us, and so of course there’s a sense of delight which comes from seeing them release their third album to widespread acclaim. 

Indeed, with the band having not long ago finished touring for their brilliant 2021 record, The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, they are certainly determined to showcase the momentum they have as an act, by releasing a follow up so quickly. The fact that there has been no loss of quality on this album, shows their skill as songwriters and performers, with their mercurial blend of atmospheric ambience and visceral passion, making for a sound that is wholly theirs. 

Describing the project as a “love letter” to who they are as a band, on The Noble Art Of Self Destruction, they have crafted an expressive piece about the concept of recovery. Lead single False Dawn enraptures with wraithlike atmospherics, and a message about accepting failure. “From humble beginnings to humble ends. Turns out I don’t amount to anything. There’s a prophecy of me that’s been seen, but I just don’t believe it” Woodland sings here, giving voice to the anxieties that make us doubt ourselves. 

Appropriately then, the ebb and flow between tranquil and vicious moments like the triumphant chorus of Honey Moon or the stirring layered vocals of Death Nonetheless perfectly capture the emotional turbulence of dealing with change. Serving as a thematic sequel to their second album, this experience deals with many of the same themes of loss, and tragedy. Except, while that album was more focussed on the immediate aftermath of trauma, this feels more optimistic, charting a path to healing, and beginning to walk in that direction.

Key to giving these songs their emotional effectiveness is the combination of heartfelt vocals with immersive instrumentals, as our frontman’s cathartic singing style and tone-altering keyboard work, paired with the cascading guitar work of Scott Carey, and the impressive rhythmic alterations of Benjamin Elliot and Ashley Green, make every moment resonate. 

Pieces like A Crooked Melody and Scissors are admirable for the way they fuse mercurial synths and flowing guitars, yet are made scintillating due to the way they contrast morose and uplifting sections. Her Wings might be one of the best songs the band has ever written, even at less than three minutes, with the constant changes in tempo and cadence making for an enthralling journey through the spectrum of emotions one experiences in response to heartbreak. 

These New Dreams begins with a sombre piano, reciting the main melody before developing into an earnest ballad, while Liminal holds an intriguing set of lyrics with the words “maybe I’m stuck in the caverns of hell and the plateaus of heaven. I hang like a puppet impaled on a coil. Just waiting to find my fate”, expertly capturing the sensation of anxiety and toxic indecision.

We end on The Angel In The Marble which asks “who would have known, there’s a sacrifice for growth?” against vivid harmonies and a sense of scale that the band have perfected by this point. The question itself is one many have had to confront – sometimes growing past our failures requires trading off parts of ourselves that we don’t like or that don’t belong in our new image of ourselves. 

It’s a difficult process, yet one which we must all endure. On their third album, Holding Absence show that this kind of growth is possible, both through their deftly confessional lyricism, and their growth towards becoming a band that can effortlessly wrap personal journeys from sadness to joy into deeply emotive compositions. In that sense, while my initial interest in them may have been aided by them being rooted to a subculture that I am part of, their music transcends novelty, and boundaries. That is the reason for their success. 9/10

The Word Alive – Hard Reset (Thriller Records) [Zak Skane]

 Beginning with a surreal title, The Word Alive Is Dead, the track opens with big roomie drum sounds and the singer chanting "it ain’t the end, soon the show will begin." Whilst the singer is providing us these haunting yet optimistic passages, layers of ambient textures build up through out the track into a climatic outro. 

The following track Hard Reset provides some Slipknot styled aggression with down tuned guitar riffs, fist pumping down beats and vicious vocal passages before we get into modern soaring choruses and guitar harmonies. The romantically sadistic track Strange Love, brings us some snarling synth lines that have been ripped and torn from a Mick Gordon (modern Doom) soundtrack with bawl rumbling low tuned guitars mixed with poppy choruses. 

New Reality brings in some futuristic themed choruses and some intricately timed vocal effects to add more of a cyperpunk styled approach to the song.  The delay driven verse riffs along with poppy bass lines in Hate Me (ft. Loveless) reminisce on the That’s The Spirit era of Bring Me The Horizon, especially with the harsh vocal styles in the choruses. 

On the second half of the album the ballad Slow Burn contains late 2000s rock ballad energy with acoustic guitar passages, melodic lead guitar lines mixing with catchy mainstream rock choruses that would remind me of the band Dead by April. Fade Away (ft. Escape The Fate) returns the band back to guitar driven territory with octave effected guitar riffs, clanky bass tones, huge phat drum sounds and brief harsh vocal takes from Craig Mabbit from Escape the Fate. 

A New Empty carries on the heaviness with Djenty technical string skipping riffage and funk infused bass lines and Nocturnal Future provides classic metalcore riffs that you would hear from an All That Remains track whilst being lased with modern styled layers such delayed guitars, octave layered melodies and gothic sounding keys including 90’s sounding phased guitars.

From their optimistic opening to their soaring closer, The Word Alive still remind us that they are still one of the underrated metalcore acts of the modern era. The band still know how to go hard with songs like Hard Set, Fade Away and Nocturnal Future whist still adding new interesting layers in songs like the sexy Strange Love, the cyber punk laced New Reality and the industrial grooves of One Of Us

I found the weakest aspects of the album were guest appearances, I felt like they didn’t really add anything to the tracks due to they parts being so brief. The only that really sounded apparent to me was the Noahs contributions in One Of Us and even then, I felt like the track it self sounded like a deep cut from Bad Omen’s back catalogue. Overall a great solid listen for fans of Bad Omens, Bring Me The Horizon and Dead By April. 8/10

Pleasure Forever - The Distal EP (Sub Pop) [AV4APod]

If you're the kind of person who loves music because you love Heavy Metal, The Distal EP by Pleasure Forever might not be the Droids you're looking for. If, however, you're like me and love music and just happen to think Heavy Metal is the best delivery method for your music fix, the latest release from the San Francisco-based psychedelic rock trio just might scratch the spacey electronic itch that one develops periodically between Radiohead releases. 

Pleasure Forever's spooky, ambient, sound bed of synth and disembodied vocals are grounded by drummer David Clifford's infectious tracks that swing from funky, dance-worthy back beats to a harrowing decent, seemingly un-pleasureable forever, like on the album closer Traipsing Elegiac which feels like fighting your way through personal demons before an inevitable face-off with Gannondorf in the dungeons of Hyrule Castle.

The Distal EP begins, however, with what hip hop producers must hope to find in their stocking on Christmas: Neolithic Nonce and Sigil Pathos contain as their centerpieces simple, effective, piano melodies that only deepen upon reiteration, the later even echoing Wu Tang Clan's 1994 meditation on their more capitalistic aspirations, C.R.E.A.M. The Distal EP goes from full-on future sexy evil with To The Last Recorded Syllable Of Time (though I'm admittedly a sucker for a Macbeth misquote) into the realms of the beautiful, dark, twisted denouement on the B Side of The Terror by The Flaming Lips.

Pleasure Forever explores the seductively lethargic and deceptively upbeat on the remainder of their journey toward the end… of the album. If it's Metal you're after, you might look elsewhere, but if you're not picky about how you get your music fix, The Distal EP is as satisfying as it is unnameably unsettling. 7/10

Owlbear - Chaos To The Realm (Alone Records) [Matt Bladen]

American classic metal band Owlbear are deep in the vein of bands that play Up The Hammers festival. We're talking classic/traditional metal inspired by NWOBHM (Bastard Sons) and the American heavier sound. Owlbear is Jeff Taft formerly of Adamantis (love that band) on guitars, Leona Hayward of Project: Roenwolfe and Skelator on bass, Estee Slaughter on drums and Klaymore's Katy Scary on vocals. 

All experienced in the trad/classic metal sound, Chaos To The Realm will be an album that will get your fist pumping. Speed metal tracks such as Steel At My Side, gallop into battle with power and force as Luz The Old grooves like Grand Magus, Voyage Of The Wraith meanwhile takes a route into power/folk metal. 

Lyrically inspired by fantasy, their name comes from a Dungeons & Dragons characters so swords and sorcery is to be expected. You'll have heard it before but Owlbear do it to a high level. Adding keys to The Night Below but what they do really well is highlighted on final track Fall On Your Blade where the twin axe attack is on fire, the bass and drums are relentless and those vocals soar. 

It's the icing on a very tasty cake. Classic/power metal fans rejoice as Owlbear roll the dice and get a big hit. 8/10

Reviews: Till The Dirt, Nixil, Masheena, Hurricane (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

Till The Dirt - Outside The Spiral (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Atheist frontman Kelly Shaefer return with his new project, he set the tone of Till The Dirt with techincal death metal riffs and those phased vocals that move between screams and cleans. The band, comprised of Yoav Ruiz-Feingold (bass) Chris Martin (guitar) Daniel Martinez (guitar) and Anthony "Apollo" Medaglia (drums), employ a progressive type of death metal that keeps you guessing across 46 minutes.

This is debut gets off the ground with Staring Role which has frantic drum blasts from Anthony "Apollo" Medaglia, a machine behind the kit demolishing everything in his path as the rabid screams of Shaefer move into cleans that are more akin to a band such as Mastodon, the track evolving into some Mastodon grooves too. After this brutal with hardcore-esque rapid fire vocals as it reminds me of Voivod, although As It Seems is also similar to Canadian progthrashers. The drumming is intensely techinical throughout as the title track features the fretless bass of Steve DiGiorgio. This track and the next one Privilege both make me think of Nevermore, the latter even featuring Jeff Loomis.

Other guests on this head crushing death record are John Longstreth of Origin on drums for one track and Kyle Sokol of Apeiron Bound on bass for another. There's influences of Atheist yes but with those phased vocals and the progressive elements Till The Dirt is much closer bands like Cynic, Origin and event Strapping Young Lad (Forest Of Because). An interesting record the blends extremity with experimentalism. 7/10

Nixil - From The Wound Spilled Forth Fire (Prosthetic Records) [Matt Bladen]

C (vocals), Key (drums), Aurora (bass), Alden (guitar) and Shane (guitar) make up Baltimore, Maryland black metal band Nixil who's abrasive, groove driven type of black metal influenced by bands such as Rotting Christ and Blut Aus Nord, their songs such as A Door Never Closed embrace various phases of extreme metal, shifting from raw blasting to a groovier style of repeating riffs. They deal with the "oppressive grasp of this rotting society" their ferocious, glacial music used as catharsis from the chaotic world we find ourselves in. 

Collapsing The Poles begins our journey into the extreme, ritualistic chants and incendiary riffs, it all follows on from their debut All Knots Untied, expanding their musical breadth on the shifting rhythms of In Thrall, a song that sounds like a raging inferno, as the title track rumbles, brooding in the low end, switching into blasts of aggression. The long run times are key to creating the atmosphere on this album, the ability to shift tone or speed, is helped immensely by this album being just 6 songs and 43 minutes. From The Wounds Spilled Fourth Fire is a monolith of European extreme metal from this American band. 7/10

Masheena - West Coast Hard Rock (Majestic Mountain Records) [Rich Piva]

An album called West Coast Hard Rock by a band from Norway and that calls out Kiss meets Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and David Coverdale all in their bio (none of which are West Coast Hard Rock interestingly enough) already digs a bit of a hole for itself, because to live up to that is pretty much impossible. This is what Masheena has done right off the bat with their debut record. Is the band talking about the West Coast of Norway, where some of my favorite bands come from, like Kal-El, Audrey Horne, and Sahg? Maybe, but those are also big names to throw out there too. Regardless, I think we will all agree, no matter what band names you throw in the bio, West Coast Hard Rock is a fun little stoner rock record worthy of your time, even if it sounds nothing like any of the bands I listed above.

The album opens with 1979, that has a very cool riff and a nice stoner rock gallop. It doesn’t sound like Kiss or black Sabbath, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a great song, especially with its fun background ahhs during the chorus. Fun! I dig that crazy solo too. Next up, Under The Same Sun is more grunge/AIC/Soundgarden worship than anything else, and I am here for it. There is a catchiness to this track, and I am sure it would have been a radio hit back I the day. Looks Like A Man is more later period grunge stuff, kind of a chilled out slower burn with some cool guitar work but something about the vocals and lyrics on this one is not working for me. 

Brings Me Down is some great stoner goodness, and I dig the echoes on the vocals and the super catchy bridge. More catchiness with Five Seconds Of Fame along with some more cool guitar work and riffs, especially towards the end of the track. Sun Remains is an acoustic ballad type deal, and it is fine, channeling Jar Of Flies, but not as impactful as the legendary tracks on that EP, but I can see what they were going for. Sounds more like Days Of The New than Alice In Chains really. More of the same fun grunge worship closes us out with Remember The Rain and Where Are You Now, which channels Down On The Upside era Soundgarden.

I enjoyed West Coast Hard Rock. Masheena would do themselves a favor if they laid off the name dropping, but the debut record is a fun listen for those who did the 90s grunge sound sprinkled with some nice stoner vibes and riffs. Worth checking out indeed. 7/10

Hurricane - Reconnected (Deko Entertainment) [Rich Piva]

Let’s be honest, the majority of albums that bands from the hard rock/hair metal scene of the 1980s/early 1990’s put out in the 2020s are not very good. Maybe there are a couple of good songs, or the nostalgia of hearing one of your favorite bands from back in the day putting anything new out is enough for a couple of spins. It is likely however the albums have no staying power after those first couple of listens and will remain on the shelf for the rest of their existence. 

There are notable exceptions, especially recently, with the new albums from Skid Row, Extreme, and L.A. Guns. Let’s face it, those are the exception, not the rule. Here I am though, asking the boss a month ahead of time if I can have dibs to review the new album from second tier hair band Hurricane, who I enjoyed as a youngster and still spin their debut Over The Edge every now and then to this day. Well, let’s just say this does not fall into the exception category, as Hurricane’ return, Reconnected, is one of the worst things I have heard all year.

Why, you ask? Three major reasons. First off, why in the world would you cover Under Pressure, taking both vocal parts, and pretty much making me want to crawl out of my skin the two times I felt it was my duty to listen to it. Awful. Second, the lazy re-recording of their best-known song, On To You. It is a great song, but there was zero reason to include a straight ahead, not as good cover of their own song. Never mind the fact that they plopped it in the middle of the album randomly. If you are going to do that, put it as the last track and call it On To You (2023 Version) or something like that. 

You kill the flow of your new album by including an old song right in the middle. Third, the cringiest song of 2023, the title track, which is a true abomination of epic proportions. The less said about it the better. The rest is not that much better, with cheesy (not the good kind) lyrics, weird production that sounds both polished and bad somehow at the same time, and just an uninspired effort all around. The positives, you ask? With this I struggled, but Robert Sarzo’s guitar work was good as expected, but after that not so much. Even the album cover is horrible.

Look, fans of this band may think they like this and that is fine. But to me this was not good. It is not going to stop me from asking for these albums to review moving forward hoping I get something like Extreme’s new one, but for the new Hurricane, Reconnected should have stayed apart. 2/10

Wednesday 30 August 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Mega Monsters Tour (Live Review By Jeremy Silverman)

Mega Monsters Tour - Mastodon, Gojira & Lorna Shore, BMO Pavillion, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 23.08.23

On the hottest day of year in Milwaukee, the Mega Monsters Tour came to town. In the scorching sun, Lorna Shore (7) stepped on stage. With a massive screen displaying their logo behind them, they kicked in to one of the heaviest sets I have ever seen. At this point, every single person was completely drenched in sweat as they were being obliterated by blast beasts, pig squeals, and down-tuned guitars. In their 45-minute set, Will Ramos, the vocalist, showed off a display the likes of which have rarely been seen, he effortlessly went from the lowest of low screams to highs piercing the ears. Meanwhile, the drummer Austin Archey, was absolutely throwing it down. I feel like these two completely stole the show during Lorna Shore.

Next was Gojira (9), the first of the dual headliners. They kicked it off with the classic Ocean Planet and we got a taste of what was to come. Every song got better and better. The setlist was amazing yet the musicianship was even better. The Duplantier brothers were on another level. Every instrument was perfect, the guitars had brutal tone while the drums were punchy and heavy as hell. Mario had an excellent drum solo that was not only complex and showed off his technical prowess, but also very fun for the audience. Joe sounded amazing and just like the records with his one-of-a-kind vocals becoming a very important part of their unique sound. Joe’s screams are not traditional, so they seem difficult to replicate live, but he pulls it off masterfully. They also had extremely interesting art on the screen in the background with pictures of nature and life with the lights, fire, and steam going perfectly in line with the music. 

Finally, Mastodon (9), who blew the roof off immediately. They opened with The Wolf Is Loose, which has a ripping drum fill. Brann was perfect the entire show. Not just his drumming but his vocals as well. It was interesting to see the dynamics of a band where everyone sings, but Mastodon has mastered it. All three frontmen were electric. The two guitarists on either side of the stage were note for note excellent, with each one commanding the stage in their own individual ways. Troy was a standout for me as he just looked like he was having fun. He was moving around and jamming like he was in his garage. It was just a great thing to watch as a fan because I could feel the positive energy. In comparison with Gojira, who was perfect, Mastodon was rawer and more fun. They had a whole different vibe to them which radiated fun and life. Not to say either was better, just a completely opposing show. 

Reviews: Prime Creation, Shepherds Reign, The Unity, Veritas (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

Prime Creation - Tell Freedom I Said Hello (ROAR Rock Of Angels Records) [Mark Young]

Now for a slice of Swedish modern rock. Prime Creation sit within that funny space between hard rock and metal. For me, the arrangements, singing etc position it more to the rock side than metal although they can and do employ some standard melodic metal attack in their sound, but the overall vibe is more rock. I should point out that this is in no way a slight on their sound. Taking a look at their socials, the bio kind of leaves me cold, and doesn’t really do them or their music justice really.

This is their third full length release from what I can gather online, with their formation back in 2015, so they have some experience under their respective belts. Moving onto the music itself, it’s a collection of well-built and played rock songs for those who like to hear a singer sing, complete with all the energetic solo breaks you can want. As I said above, they do throw in some Swedish melodic metal touches here and there, and they work really well. Keys, pianos are employed as necessary to fill and expand the sound, but their main attack is the twin focus of guitar and voice, which is sometimes all you want with hard(er) rock.

A great example of their abilities is showcased in the album closer, Dystopia which has that epic vibe running through it without an overlong runtime. It has everything in place – properly anthemic singing, solid riffs and foot on the monitor solo breaks so it doesn’t put a foot wrong here, and it is a cracker of a closing song. And in all honesty, the album is pretty good all the way through. There aren’t any real clunkers here but that isn’t to say that everyone hits well (at least with me). 

An instrumental opener, Tell Freedom I Said Hello starts us off with a building movement that gives way to Promised Land which is carved from the same material as the Dystopia. Coming with some neat little riffing going on and that sets the scene for the following songs to come through. The best is that they keep that energy going, Erased is a fast, fist in the air vehicle and State Dominion they drop a belting intro scream that is always welcome and should be mandatory on all hard rock releases.

I think your enjoyment will be derived from how much of a varied musical spectrum you listen to. If you like heavy rock from the 70s with Deep Purple being a good example of this, then by rights you should like this. If you only listen to one sort of heavy music, then this is most likely not for you as you will consider it to be ‘Too light’. For everyone else, give it a go because you will find lots to like here. They just need to change the bio.7/10

Shepherds Reign - Ala Mai (Golden Robot Records) [Mark Young]

Hailing from New Zealand, this five-piece is made up Pacific, Māori and Asian descent and they take these influences and weld it to a modern metal approach. Reading online, they ensure that they continually look to their culture for musical direction, and this includes the decision to sing their songs in Samoan as opposed to English. And why not? When you listen to these songs, I think you would lose something vital if they weren’t in Samoan.

Samoa O La’u Fesili starts us off, with group singing of a traditional Samoan song that fades into a Aiga, with a shouted battle cry into what reminds me of a Gojira type phrasing before the chorus comes in with what should be the crowds to sing back live. What is strange is that it’s not as heavy as I expected, it leans more into that sort of funk-metal side of things…

Le Manu on the other hand comes in with more of a traditional metal flavour, vocal stomping over everything without losing any of the heavy attack, with solo breaks that work really well and support the whole arrangement. Nafanua opens up with a faster tempo, settling in for a riff that builds the groundwork for some impressive singing. Ua Masaa follows the pattern that has been established with the previous, a riff pattern that repeats through a number of bars before kicking in properly. This has a cool wah running in it and has more of a swing to give it a bit of heft but I’m finding that the arrangements so far have been quite similar in terms of how they attack. Ua Masaa has more going on in its sound, but not enough to really grab you.

Ala Mai brings more of the Polynesian influence with a tribal drum pattern starting us off as it kicks off into tight riff, vocals front and centre as they navigate through the title track and it is a cracker, with them finding that balance that the others required. The World Bleeds is delivered in English in the opening sections, and the arrangement behind it seems to be more on that front foot, suitably impressive solo breaks and double bass the order of the day and you think yes, here we go and then they drop into a melancholic affair that just sucked all the energy built from those two songs. I’m sorry but I FF through Cold Summers Night. Sorry.

Finally gets them back on track, but its structure is similar to the earlier half, its difference is the delivery in English. Its simply ok, which I abhor saying. Never Forgotten goes down the piano route, mixing it up between Samoan and English plodding along until the guitars kick in (as expected) to close out with solo breaks and I’m finding that any of the earlier promise is dissipating. Atali’I has a decent riff and build with the vocal attack here occupying a much better space in terms of powering the song along. This should have been presented earlier in the listing because it is a cracker, and my favourite along with Samoa Mo Samoa, with its air-raid siren and spidery riff is also a strong track that evokes an army marching into battle, such is the swing of it. They close out with Mo’omo’ogo Sa Molia, in much the same way they came in.

This is very much a mixed bag in terms of the songs presented. I love the singing in Samoan, I think it lends itself very well to aggressive music and allows them to really go to town in terms of using their culture to write effective songs. The downside is that the structure of the songs are very much in the same arrangement, as well as they feel overlong in some circumstances. The quasi-ballad Cold Summers Night doesn’t fit, and I flat out hated it. There are great songs in here, they maybe just needed a little trimming in length so that they hit harder. The overall sound too just needed to be bigger. I expected it to come in and crush all the way through but it didn’t, but that’s more on me. All in all a 6/10

The Unity - The Hellish Joyride (Steamhammer / SPV) [Matt Bladen]

The Unity have been plying the world with German power/heavy metal for a few years, three studio albums in a row and a live album behind them, The Hellish Joyride is their fourth studio release and it continues with their transition in to something much more melodic. Obviously the comparison is always to Helloween or Gamma Ray as Henjo Richter (guitar) and Michael Ehré (drums) are both Gamma Ray members. The Unity are a bit more towards Pink Bubbles Go Ape or Chameleon than the full on speed metal fests of Keeper Of The Seven Keys, broadening the sound from the power/speed of the Gamma Ray records too. It’s a bit like those latter Edguy records, speaking of Edguy, their former bassman Tobias ‘Eggi’ Exxel joins for this album. 

They have tried to be diverse but it feels as if they have tried to move towards the AOR a bit too much as a lot of an album called The Hellish Joyride sounds more like a trip through the tunnel of love. Something Good is saccharine garbage, Golden Sun is far too sweet. Lots of the tracks using orchestrations or Purple/Rainbow style organ heavy rock on Stay The Fool, Only The Good Die Young and Never Surrender, when they do go full speed metal like on Saints And Sinners, I’m much more invested. Unfortunately they are few and far between, leaving you with a record that sounds more like Europe than anyone else. Trying to be too much for too many, The Hellish Joyride loses its way. 6/10

Veritas – Silent Script (Sliptrick Records) [Matt Bladen]

Following a critically acclaimed EP from 2019 and a debut full length in 2020 Veritas return with their second full length Silent Script. Formed in 2012 by guitarist Greg Wenk, he recruited Geno Alberico on bass, Denny Anthony on vocals and prog/power legend Mark Zonder on drums. Having had years to cultivate the EP and the debut, I was interested to see how they would go about following up with this sophomore record. Well Silent Script feels long, it’s not, for a prog album it’s only 48 minutes or so but it feels longer, this could be because of the amount of things they have stuffed into the record or that a lot of this album drags. 

Major comparisons to Queensryche are abound, especially in the vocals but on Buried it sounds like those last few Ryche record with Geoff Tate where it was prog for prog-sake. Veritas follows very familiar ground, sometimes too simplistic, others far too much going on, trying hard to be many things to many people, but kind of sitting in the middle ground of not inspiring much in me at all. Yeah they’re all good instrumentalists, Zonder even gets a drum solo at one point.

And that’s part of the problem, with like 3 or 4 minute songs, a track such as More Than I Can Say is just boring, sitting towards a much weaker second half. Silent Script was hard work and compared to the other prog metal releases this week just wasn’t even close. 5/10

The View From ArcTanGent: Day 4 (Live Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen)

ArcTangent Festival Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen

Day 4: Saturday 19.08.23

Ben - Towel or not, I’m having a shower! Hot water and substituting body wash for Colgate 2in1 icy blast toothpaste and mouthwash is an experience reserved for kings let me tell you! Putting original source tingly mint and tea tree to shame, ones nether regions have never felt so fresh. Highly recommended 10/10. The beer holder on the camping chair is now delegated to pot noodle holder and life is good.

Ben - Domkraft (7) Melodious sludge metal that ticks the perceived requirement for playing at Arctangent; a colourful drummer. It’s impossible not to bang your head or sway your hair. Regrettably the band seem less interested in their own music than the crowd and appear to be superglued to the spot. Strong in riff and groove but lacking in stage presence. If you go to Elysium in Swansea when a band is playing, you should be able to find a band of a similar genre who will actually give you a show. Perhaps they were hungover. 

I leave the Bixler Stage and walk into the Yohkai stage to find Standards (7) A two piece math-rock band engaging the audience by making us vote on our favourite fruit. When I later looked them up I found out that this wasn’t a random bit and the band describe their melodies as “fruity” and guitarist Marcos Mean has an album called Fruit Island. Having never heard of this band before I was surprised by some real musical mastery. Vocally they’re not my thing at all, but the technique, skill and presence are all very satisfying things. 

Plenty of engagement and the audience love it! Giving back equal amounts of excitement and energy. Summer funk vibes and comedic quips by the singer make for a positive experience. A great pallet cleanser considering a lot of bands at arctangent focus more on brutality and darkness. Standard honestly let us know they’re living their dream and loving life. Some more string acrobatics and I’m satisfied.

Now to walk into another tent to be shouted at in the face. But first, over to Fried Guys for some dirty stodge in the form of chips topped with cheese topped with cajun chicken. Perhaps a little pricey for the portion size but that’s to be expected with festival food. It filled a hole and now I can differentiate between the noises coming from my stomach and the noises coming from one of the stages.

Maria - The K (6) Straight in they start the set sprinting with great raw quality. Screeching vocals with undertones that at times drop into a Metallica-esque vox but only momentarily The music has a fizzy quality. They have a 90s alternative rock element to them with a bit of a pop-punk cherry on top. They put effort into the performance. Although their music is not for me it is simple yet doesn’t lack colour or zeal. I think they are on the better side of average regarding songwriting. But maybe I’ve been so spoiled with the insanely high calibre of bands/ music at this festival. Later in the set they bring forward a little Slint, Shellac influence. But unfortunately, I’ve heard it all before.

Maria - Rollo Tomassi (7) Missed the first half due to overlaps with another band. Walked over to hear delicate piano and tonally beautiful and delicate vox. These are soon interrupted by satanic screams as the music kicks in with sounds similar to the shrieks of Danny Filth. Back and forth between sickly sweet toned vocals a little too sugary for my savoury tastes. However, the songwriting is beautifully dynamic and the energy is undeniable. It’s hard to get a visual on the band as the tent is packed inside and a mass has formed outside. The gratitude expressed by the band is lush. Some of the songs have the goth, metal horror element . Again … C.O.F spring to mind. I find them a little dated but also very “now”. So I suppose it’s nothing original or really new but nonetheless their talent is indisputable . Regardless of the grand stage setting , sound and lighting. I found them underwhelming

Ben - Deafheaven (7) Shoegazey post rock with black metal drumming and vocals. It’s a construct few have dared to mix. San Francisco’s “blackgaze” inventors mess with muscle memory leaving the body in a state of stasis as it decides whether to lay back and enjoy the sooth or headbang. Somebody is blowing bubbles and the crowd smell like patchouli. The senses welcome the confusion. The music is moving, but in which direction I do not know. The beauty and danger of taking the picturesque scenic route with a poor sense of direction. 

The band are playing their second album 2013s universally critically acclaimed Sunbather in it’s entirety. I’d imagine for longtime fans of the band this would be the equivalent of Mastodon touring Leviathan again … A man can dream. It’s a groundbreaking album that can’t be pigeon holed by vocals due to it’s more extreme metal influences riding the more cinematic soundscape waves of bands like Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky dynamics. The performance is met by a stream of technical difficulties as this singers mic pops, cuts in and out. George Clark continues to perform giving it plenty of gusto but now the screams are dead silent. This doesn’t prevent the fans from continuing to crowd surf to the now instrumental version of the set. Once the mic issue has been solved a loud cheer brings band and fan together.

Personally I think the more segue like songs drawl on a bit too long. The sound mix isn’t the best for the main tent this time around. Some really nice haunting yet catchy motifs mid set and some classic post rock make for a relaxing interval but the drums and bass feel too loud in the mix. Not much more to say; Dreamy post rock + black metal. Regardless of the sound troubles the artists are inventive enough to pull off a great show. The indulgently long segues ruin the flow for me personally and I notice I’m not the only person deciding to leave the tent during these sections.

Ben - IGORRR (10) Brain child of polymath Gautier Serre and named after his childhood pet gerbil. IGORRR combine black metal, baroque music, trip hop, chiptune, breakcore, opera, dub, polka, traditional metal, cinematic scores and sometimes chickens (to name but a few) into the avant-garde sound that’s probably best described as simply IGORRR style. The stark contrast of Marthe Alexandra’s mezzo-soprano operatics as she dances and headbangs in a flowing red dress and JB Le Bails harsh screams as he stands in all black, death staring into the audience is an experience in itself. Martyn Clements aggressively attacks the black metal guitar sections with hair in full swing, Sylvain Bouvier manages to keep up with the ridiculous programmed blast beats whilst Gautier conducts the organised chaos from behind the decks occasionally picking up a guitar himself. 

I’m not sure where the bassist is and it would be nice to see Patrick the chicken preform, but I’d imagine pulling off the logistics of a live chicken on stage would be an absolute nightmare. Downgrade Desert and Cheval will always be highlights for myself and the light show is exquisite. Big up to the security team who had to deal with wave after wave of eager crowd surfers. At one point I’m sure they had to catch five at once and somehow a woman with green hair managed to pass over my head twice in about thirty seconds. I later found out that someone’s sons standing at the front side counted 61 crowd surfers. Now there’s some figures that aren’t usually available. I was surprised not to hear Very Noise but as the audience were already contorting as erratically as the lump of animated meat in the music video it’s probably for the best as it could very well have brought the tent down.

Ben - Devin Townsend (10) having last seen Heavy Devy when he was sporting a magnificent skullet whilst supporting Arch Enemy with Strapping Young Lad in 2005 (possibly more recently but Hellfest does bad things to one’s memory) it was about time I caught him properly. Naturally the tent is packed fifteen minutes before the set even starts. The stage is littered in plushy octopuses…octopi or octopodes (octopuses - Greek Ed) if you want to be pedantic and plectrums are being thrown into an excited crowd like candy. Score ! Also bagged an empath pick *smiles in smug. 

Devin has flown in from Canada for this one-off headlining show, bringing with him Mike Keneally (who’s worked from Zapper to Dethklok ), versatile drummer Darby Todd and bassist James Leach. For a self proclaimed socially awkward person Devin has bags of charisma! Such a humorous bloke, who after all these years still clearly loves what doing, and it’s contagious! My cheeks genuinely hurt from grinning throughout. 

The set is split into three parts; Part one - familiar Devin stuff. Part two he announces that he expects to lose between 30-50% of the audience for his weird experimental musical theatre phase and that we should just pretend we’re enjoying ourselves. And part three - “Some heavy shit, because, uh, that’s what I promised” which includes Strapping Young Lads Aftermath. Balloons are everywhere and Devin even collects some of them continuing through one of the song now holding a newly acquired blow up unicorn under his arm whilst sporting a chuffed child like grin ( Devin and the Unicorn).

Introducing the theremin with the line “We used to have giant monsters and video screens. Now I have a 400 dollar machine that goes ‘woooo!’’ . The machine is then used to prompt audience. When the machine goes “woooo” the assembly go “woooo”. Give a madman full control of a crowd and you’re left with comedic genius. Half of the set is played in an audience members rainbow tux because … why not. And the engagement with singing along, waving arms and lighters is just a warming experience and a great way to end the festival on such a high note. of course then an encore is demanded and the band return with Strapping Young Lads Love? It’s probably all the energy in the room but to me, as a showman Devin could be the Freddie Mercury of “Lower Mid Tier Prog Metal”.

Everyone I asked whilst here said that ArcTanGent was their favourite UK festival, be it to play in or to watch bands and after being here it’s not hard to see why. This is definitely the place to discover new music, and the amount of skill on display is inspiring. Seamlessly/ meticulously planned and organised. Each band seemed to somehow start their sets to the minute. And the staff, crew and punters were all so relaxed, friendly, considerate and just enjoying themselves. Great vibes

Thank you ArcTanGent!

And see you next year!

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Reviews: Nordicwinter, Knife, AAWKS/AIWASS, Death Wheelers (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Matt Bladen, Joe Guatieri & Ben Price)

Nordicwinter - This Mournful Dawn (Naturmacht Records) [Paul Scoble]

Nordicwinter is a one man band project from Evillair also of Autumn’s Tomb, Graven Dusk, and Sinistral Doom. Evillair has been making music as Nordicwinter since 2006, he is based in Quebec, Canada. In the time Nordicwinter has been making music Evilair has released six albums before This Mournful Dawn, the first being Threnody in 2007, and the last being Beneath The Fleeting Light in 2022. Nordicwinter’s style sits nicely between atmospheric and depressive black metal with also a touch of melancholy doom. I should state at this point that I have several of Nordicwinters earlier albums and consider this to be one of the best depressive black metal acts currently active (although I’ll put aside my fandom, and will try to be objective).
The album opens with Enshrouded By Winter which opens with soft acoustic guitar before a mid-paced blast and tremolo picked riff crash in, the feel is a little atmospheric and a little depressive, with a sad melody. Harsh vocals are added, the vocals are harsh all the way through the album, they are also fairly low in the mix giving them an etherial quality that works perfectly with the material. The song then takes a turn towards the slower and doomier feel, with a drifting tempo, to which a melody lead is added, this is now breathtakingly beautiful and very sad. The song then takes another turn to blasting fast black metal with a much more aggressive feel to it, with a nasty battering snare. The song has a short acoustic interlude before more aggressive blasting. Enshrouded By Winter comes to an end with mid-paced depressive black metal with a great melody.
The next track Deaths Pale Touch has a much more depressive feel to it, the pacing is slower and there are definitely doom influences, one of the main sections of the song, shortly after the songs depressive black metal opening, features a tolling bell and for some reason that just screams doom to me. The song has a short acoustic section before the doomy depressive black metal returns and slowly increases in intensity and tautness until a beautiful melody lead takes the song to its end.
As Twilight Fades takes the album in the opposite direction to the song that preceded it, as it takes us into more aggressive atmospheric black metal. The battering snare is back and although there are slower and softer sections, some with lush tremolo picked melodies and a soft and beautiful piano interlude, the more aggressive feel never seems to be that far away, in fact the slower and softer parts feel as if they are only there to make the more aggressive elements feel harsher.
Autumn's Last Mournful Whisper is the last long song on the album. The song is another track full of slower depressive black metal and melancholy doom. It features some great melody leads over those doomy depressive riffs, which are very affecting. The intensity builds slowly over the course of the song, at times it feels quite dramatic. The song comes to and end with heavy riffs and a mournful melody that is beautiful and heartbreaking. The song is almost desolately sad and melancholy, but also feels very cathartic; perfect depressive black metal.
The album comes to a close with My Lament a soft and beautiful piano instrumental, an arresting and affecting way to end a great album. This Mournful Dawn is another superb album from Nordicwinter, it is every bit as good as the other albums I have, and this on the very top tear of depressive black metal at the moment. The level of emotion, sadness and grief that is contained in This Mournful Dawn is amazing, but Evilair also manages to make all of this mournfulness feel cathartic, and that is why it works so well. Another triumph for Nordicwinter. 9/10

Knife – Heaven Into Dust (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

After their self titled 2021 debut, German blackened thrash punks, Knife were snapped up by Napalm Records and now the German foursome have released their second full length called Heaven Into Dust. Though signed with Napalm, this record is straight out of the Brian Slagel curated Metal Massacre collections in the 80’s. Sharpened riffs, aggressive drumming and snarled vocals make up the bulk of this 35 minute exercise in viciousness. 

Building on an church organ opening, a snippet of something spooky plays and we’re bombarded by the raw, evil speed metal, that is heavily influenced by bands such as Venom who used the NWOBHM to spearhead thrash. The production means that it sounds authentic to those tape trading days as the drumming of Ferli Coltello coming in with tinny, trebly blasts and dull thudding on the title track, the bass of Gypsy Danger is fuzzing and distorted (Night Vision), the guitars from Laz Cultro biting in the riffs but reverbed and layered in the incendiary solo sections such as on Black Oath And Spells which wear those trad metal influences proudly. 

The squawk of Vince Nihil may take a little getting used to for some but you can imagine him just screaming down the mic nose to nose with anyone in the front row as the band carve things up behind him. There are dynamics here though it’s not all about pure aggression. With Torches They March has a denim and leather chug, the grooving thrash of The Arson Alchemist is classic Metal Militia, as is the closer No Gods In The Dark which brings the rage of punk rock too. 

Never mind heaven, Knife are liable to grind your speakers into dust. Bullet belts at the ready and stretch yourself out Knife want pits and blood, and that’s what they’ll get with this new album. 8/10
AAWKS/AIWASS - The Eastern Scrolls (Black Throne Records) [Joe Guatieri]

Canadian Stoner Rock battles head-to-head with Texas Doom Metal as Aawks and Aiwass collaborate to bring together a split album containing two mammoth tracks which both stand at over 10 minutes in length.

Aawks kicks us off first with 1831. A cryptically titled piece which provides the listener with a bumpy ride. The bass and guitars attack the song in such a way that envelop, blending them together to bring powerful forces of heavy fuzz and feedback. Burning the feeling of radiation poisoning into every crevice until the damage dissipates over time, leaving a silent crater of hope where hell once reigned supreme. 

The atmosphere feels weightless compared to the crushing sensation of the past as a soft psychedelic section plays you off into outer space. The drums don’t shine as much as I want them to here, feeling more supportive than impactful. However, the vocals fit perfectly within the atmosphere that this song generates. This track reminds of the likes of English doom metal bands like Electric Wizard and Orange Goblin, combined with the waviness of Bongzilla.

A mysterious alien-like outro then goes into the watery passages of Aiwass’ The Unholy Books, a song that has moments of heavy guitar bliss but unfortunately meanders a lot to get there. The guitar reminds me a lot of Josh Homme in Kyuss, sounding so oddball and doing things that you wouldn’t expect. Unfortunately, the other elements of the song don’t stick out to me, finding the vocals and other instruments to be quite one-note and unadventurous.

Overall, whilst the two songs feel connected, they are separated in their quality. The total package just lacks the spark where I want it to be. 6/10

The Death Wheelers - Chaos And The Art Of Motorcycle Madness (RidingEasy Records) [Ben Price]

Stoner Rock - one of the most primally satisfying subgenres out there. Take your guitar, apply an unholy amount of fuzz, walk back and forth down the minor pentatonic scale, stomp like you’re a caveman who has just been introduced to the futuristic concept of a pair of Doc Martens, and you will guaranteed have legions of drooling plaid wearers (myself included) banging their heads ‘till kingdom come. This is exactly what Canadian instrumental rockers The Death Wheelers have done on their new record Chaos And The Art Of Motorcycle Madness. The guitars are fuzzier than your new pet malamute and pack more beef than a cattle ranch, the riffs are bluesy and filthy, the drums are piledriving in their groove. So far, so good, for Plaid Nation.

Unfortunately, this is about where the good news stops with this record. While the band have nailed the stoner rock format and clearly are proficient players, the lack of a throaty vocalist a-la John Garcia or Chris Cornell leaves tracks like Les Mufflers Du Mal and Lucifer’s Bend feeling, at best, meandering or, at worst, monotonous. Worse still, with the choice of song titles and samples scattered throughout the record, it feels like the band are trying to tap into a ‘Satan, Motorcycles and Drugs’ aesthetic that feels, well, a bit tired at this point.

Plaid Nation need not fear, however, as it’s not all doom and gloom. As I said before, the band are clearly competent musicians, which shines through particularly on the slide guitar-laced Ride Into Röt. Elsewhere, the heavier moments on the album, such as the cacophonous end to Open Road X Open Casket and the fearsome blast beats found on Cycling For Satan Part II, showcase a band who are well versed in kicking things into high gear. Even better is the filthy funk romp of the bongo-touting Sissy Bar Strut (Nymphony 69), which even the most miserly of listeners are defied not to groove along to.

This is not a bad album by any means, but I fear the lack of focus and structure that a vocalist might lend may well mean that it will be an album quickly forgotten. All in all, it pushes enough of the right buttons to rip off whatever it is you’re wearing on your torso and clamber back into your plaid shirt, if only for a little while. 5/10

The View From ArcTanGent: Day 3 (Live Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen)

ArcTangent Festival Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen

Day 3: Friday 18.08.23

Ben - I awake unreasonably early, and my body wouldn’t allow me back to sleep. This had nothing to do with the event as the campsite is unusually quiet, bar some distant sheep ( pun intended). Being in close proximity to a hot shower could be a godsend. As the wise Towelie once said “Don’t forget to bring a towel”… I had forgotten to bring a towel. On with the stove! A can of Bromwell’s Chilli con carne in a wrap was about as sludgy as PIGS, PIGS, PIGS, PIGS, PIGS, PIGS, PIGS. But today was about MUD, MUD, MUD, MUD, MUD, MUD, MUD (please read in the voice of Garth Marenghi). I guess I’ll take a walk in the drizzle while the majority of the festival sleep. It really is a beautiful location.

Side note* A vendor is blasting Pantera. Personally I’ve always loved their riffs. But in contrast to what is coming from the stages here, the Cowboys From Hell are starting to sound like mild elevator music.

Maria - Spurv (8) An unexpected review. I was instantly drawn to the soundcheck then came back after accidentally passing. Stunning post rock with use of keyboard. Sounds very pretty, beautiful, emotive and heavy. They remind me of Red Sparrows. The use of stings in the backing track in no way chokes the live feel by the overall band. The use of trombone is a bit different and adds a war like drama at intervals. The use of orchestral sounds builds quite a different effect to that of typical post rock. Sparkling glockenspiels, violins taking the lead in breaks. An epic, cinematic panoramic sound. Three guitars adds to the massive epic builds and then we lose the trombone for an impressive four guitars on stage. The delicate beginnings of the next song is reminiscent of Explosions In The Sky. 

Euphoric, comforting lullaby-esque gently and sensitively builds. Despite five guitars on stage (including bass) it does not crowd the music. It has wide open sensual breathing space. Slide guitars now add somatic effect. Tremolo picked harmonies between two guitars is impressive with delay set perfectly which is not easy to achieve. Drums are war like in the background building slowly to an emotive crescendo. Although very close in sound and effect to Explosions In The Sky they have a sound that sets them apart through use of synths, raw orchestral sounds, samples and of course the trombone guy. A soundscape more akin to Red Sparrows on the next song. Desolate and apocalyptic with drama added once more by the trombone. An immersive performance breaks into headbanging, an almost heavy interval but doesn’t quite break from the gentle bubble they’ve created. 

They’re new album is out on the 22nd of September. The last song of what feels like too short a set as it was so enjoyable is approached with perfect attack, into beautiful mode changes beneath driving drums. Stunning use of different sounds , layered in a non competitive way that compliments the sounds wholly. I’d have liked to see these later in the evening. The song picks up to a heavy as fuck build that starts the audience appreciatively clapping along. Amazing band! Shifting beautifully through Arabic style into a traditional 1,2,1,2 marching , head nod provoking crescendo ! Got my knees bending and body swaying in time. I Felt very touched as they lined up for a bow and the audience raised their hands to clap in the air. Perfect.

Ben - Mother Vulture (10) Playing at their home turf (or close enough) Bristol, Uk’s “Feral blues-punk outfit” start with a medley of Beethoven’s moonlight sonata into 2001’s Still Dre knocking everyone off guard as they swing into their upbeat noise. Impressive vocal range, an all white suit aesthetic and throwing themselves around the stage and off the amps like hyperactive teenagers on a sugar binge. I sit back and decide to learn what it is to perform whilst Maria takes control of the pen.

Maria - Energy of a bunch of coked up angry piranhas! The vocals are kind of glam rock which is refreshingly different in a festival like this. They sound like a good version of Motley Crue. The range on the singer’s voice is incredible, hitting very high notes. Climbing on the amps and jumping off like rock stars sadly don’t seem to do anymore. Visually the best performance so far. They look amazing which accentuates movement.

Ben - You can tell the band are having so much fun on stage . It makes you want to dance … I don’t dance… but I’m going to dance. It’s great that they’re aware enough to make a joke and apologise to the audience for only playing in 4/4.

Maria - All vocals and harmonies are on point. Vox hit unusual heights that are so impressive. Real rock and roll ! I couldn’t help but dance . Looking at the audience, everyone had a smile. Invigorating , moving as they play like it’s the last gig before they die. Wow, wow, wow! Although not my regular cup of tea they impressed me immensely .

Ben - It’s not even 4pm and my body is failing me. Time for a bourbon. The chill out space of the backstage bar looks absolutely fantastic. Sitting on a bail of hay, whisky in hand. ArcTanGent really knows how to perk you back up.

Maria speaks with Matt (Bass) from Svalbard - Svalbard have been touring with Russian Circles and Cult of Luna and have a new album coming out on October 27th which you can pre order on Nuclear Blast and Bandcamp. They have an upcoming headline Euro tour including UK gigs in Leeds and London with lots lined up for the future. The band brings an eclectic mix of different influences from each member. Their new single How To Swim Down has just been released so check it out. As this was an accidental chat rather than an interview, Matt states his respect for Serena Cherry when it comes to what the songs are about , as the lyrics are her experience and her art. A lovely humble and friendly guy and a nice surprise encounter whilst chilling with drinks. Matt states ArcTanGent as his favourite UK festival and the mighty Hellfest as favourite EU. We can not at this point disagree.

Ben - HAAL (6) considering the large amount of electronic rigs and synthesisers I was hoping for something a little “IGORRR light” although that would be a lot to ask for. Sadly I struggled to get into their vibe, mainly due to the fact that the artists themselves looked bored. Spoken vocals came across with the conviction of a sloth with a concussion ( which sometimes works). Some clever offbeat groove and diminished stabs attract my attention briefly but the set seemed to finish before it had a chance to really start.

Big up to food vendor Bangin’ Burritos. Your Burritos are indeed Bangin’!

Maria - Swans (10) Stunning lighting sets the stage. A buzz is in the air with crowd anticipation. A mature looking band start with a warm up drone , viking-esque whilst stinking distortion builds. Michael Gira’s voice is used like an instrument with more ethereal build up. A dirty Ebow is used and harmony takes over. They know exactly what they’re doing. Teasing and teasing with more builds layer by layer of guitar without drums . Texture and tone drive forward the long intro. This is foreplay. Cymbals come in building…. Sexual discordant undertones that float in and resolve beautifully. Art accents cut through the overdriven guitars - shaping and sculpting the most exciting build up I’ve ever heard live. 

This is a band that is comfortable with what they do. Masters in charge. Switching from keys onto bass, now two basses, indulgent because they can. The front man conducts the band as if they are an orchestra. The setup sound is very reminiscent of The Velvet Underground. Lou Reed-esque vocals with minimalist space created for elevation of sed vocals. Impactful when it all kicks in and then dissolves back creating so much space it becomes hypnotic. No typical song structure , it’s almost a stream of consciousness. 

Ben - Someone went into the desert and did DMT with a shaman.Involuntarily closes eyes and sways like a hippy in the wind. Convinced this is part of a hypnosis cult initiation and I’m ready to drink all the Kool-aid.

Maria - ART! This band demonstrate music as an art form. Static lighting aids the stillness and an almost spiritual lulling which is then destroyed by filth as it all kicks in for a couple of bars before returning to intense suspension. A transcendent experience for even those of us who are not on mood enhancing substances. Avant-guard as fuck. Brutal! True craftsmanship as if the set were narrated by an ancient story teller. Genius! It doesn’t seem to have backing tracks or clicks. It goes where it wants. 

Like a musical with vocals of a satanic sermon and a hint of Nick Cave. A story book where visual illustrations are replaced by music. This is the closest I’ve ever had to a religious experience. Subtle uses of every instrument inducing indoctrination to a great new find. Then whistling becomes the main instrument because …. Why the hell not. Another highlight for me, causing a sacrifice of beer money to purchase their newest vinyl signed by the orchestrator of this new experience. Nice guy… wears a white cowboy hat…

Ben - Death Goals (7) Arriving ten minutes late due to chatting with a charming Irishman, we’re met by a crazed front man in a granny dress orchestrating a circle pit. They say that they are a hardcore band that love people. My eardrums may say otherwise but as a two piece undoubtedly sound loud and impressive . It’s not regular to hear a modern rendition of the old hard punk that influenced the likes of Slayer. I’m not a huge fan. However, the contrast of aggression in a floral frock is an admirable thing.

Ben - Heilung (9) Experimental folk band from Denmark, Norway and Germany. Heilung describe their music as “Amplified history from early medieval Europe”. Although based on an era long ago I believe that some of Heilungs success is a representation of how Viking mythology has become more mainstream than Horror. Although a completely different genre, the theatrics remind me of an updated early Cradle Of Filth ( I know right… what the hell is he talking about). No electronic instruments to be found. The percussion beats with flaming sticks and everyone has the horn… scrap that …the bone… scrap that, antlers. 

Semi nude choreography entices the crowd to move with and remember the old gods and goddesses. It’s easy to see the appeal. A phantasmagorical reenactment of the rituals of times looked back on in romantic fashion. The stage show is fantastic! A percussive and chant driven trance inducing solute to pagan practice, worship of the natural world and primal passion. In fact there is a strong possibility that I may somehow be pregnant now. The rituals are met by the loudest cheers of the festival so far. The smell of sage overpowers the smell of weed as the mock ceremony continues. Throat singing and spoken words are driven by the bashing of spear and shield.

The rhythms are mighty but may be lost on some if not for the aesthetic and routine. Although no interaction with the audience other than a subtle whispered thank you as the show finishes, you can see by how the onlookers move that they want to get involved. The set ends with the tribe blessing us… perhaps we’ll all now meet again in Valhalla. As a visual spectacle and all round experience, Heilung are recommended.

Taking a brief visit to the VIP area after hours was both a brilliant and terrible idea. As we were roped into shenanigans by excited and friendly crew, bands and punters alike till the early hours. Scuttling away like crabs in the darkness, although now nearing 4am the camp isn’t as quiet as last night due to some loud extracurricular activities coming from the artist camp area. maybe around 110 bpm, going into an offbeat prog section, some final blast beats and then a slowing breakdown. This festival is having an effect on people. If the culprits are reading this then good for you.

Monday 28 August 2023

The View From ArcTanGent: Day 1 & 2 (Live Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen)

ArcTangent Festival Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen

Day 1: Wednesday 16.08.23

Ben - The days leading up to the festival had been unusually busy. It’s because of this that the majority of the day revolved around “getting one’s shit together”. Almost all camping essentials were in check and a quick supply run was in order. The usuals stuff, but most importantly some tuna. As one can not deal with the disapproving glare of their cats after leaving them for four days. With all that done, we were betrayed by a late postal delivery. Missing bands such as Five The Herophant, Hippotraktor, Pupil Slicer and not having the time to make Conjurer (all bands I’d recommend by the way). 

Day one had been missed, in order to simulate the festival experience a can of cider was placed on the hob and set to morning after festival tent temperature ( just above body temperature about 38-40 degrees centigrade). ArcTanGent’s official playlist on bad phone speakers, warm beer and a key of ammonia to simulate that rich musky portaloo smell, I’d tricked my brain into thinking that tonight wasn’t a complete failure and headed to bed. Perhaps this story isn’t entirely true, It’s certainly not that interesting. Coverage of the actual festival starts at day two.

Day 2: Thursday 17.08.23

ArcTanGent is deep in the countryside and the satnav cuts out during the more scenic areas approaching the location. Luckily, charmingly English road names such as Ewe street , Ubley Drove, Hemingways Mordor and Quimford on the Wibble are an entertaining distraction from being lost (two of these may be fibs).

The site itself is much more relaxed than previous experiences with festivals and the crew are extremely friendly and helpful. With the modern wonders of pop up tents big enough to fit a double mattress + room for extras It’s time to take a look at the main attractions.

5 stages are surrounded by a wide array of food and supply vendors, taps for free water, an adequate amount of toilets, bars, merch stands and a team of dedicated litter handlers that manage to keep the site the cleanest festival I have been to. But it’s not just the team responsible that keep ArcTanGent looking good. The regular ArcTanGent punter has an eclectic taste and perhaps this is a trait of maturity. As festival goers seem free from drama and make use of the many “General Waste” bins in the area. 

Perhaps they are allured to the General Waste signs as it could easily be the name of one of the many artists playing over the weekend. Either way, the immediate feel and look is impressive. I’d like to add that I mean maturity in the best possible way here. These people are still having fun. And over the course of the experience, we ran into many interesting and eccentric characters; including, a man dressed in gold with a cane giving out gold biscuits, someone dressed as a crow giving out magical coins, two people in competition over who could create the most interesting shaman stick (wine glass penis stick, my vote goes to you whoever you are) and a crowd surfing sonic the hedgehog who flew over my head a number of times and who I heard also gave out chaos emeralds among hundreds of other happy and colourful (although still mainly dressed in black) nerds, pagans and music lovers.

One of the main benefits of such a niche experimental line up compared to a more mainstream festival is that you’re never in danger of having your ears invaded by overplayed nausea or anything heavily derivative of popular tosh. I had also noticed that the unique roster attracts solo visitors from all over the world. Imagine coming to Bristol from Mexico City because you heard that Brutus, PETBRICK, Pupil Slicer and General Waste would be in the same place at once. It’s just a bloody beautiful thing.

Maria - Parachute For Gordo (8) starts with a Cocteau Twins style riffs into Minus The Bear kick in. Explosions style tremolo picking as it builds quickly creating a happy yet dissonant mid alt 80s style track which is fucking gorgeous. Minimalist breakdowns with grooving syncopated off beats and tight bass and drums. Stunning dreamlike changes into a groovy up beat build up and a great sound from the desk. As the dreamscape guitar takes over for a reverb heavy outro Laura Lee cleverly takes the opportunity to tune the guitar without infringing on the flow. John Harvey (Bass/vocals) cheerfully informs us that Dr Lee has PHD in post rock. My stomach tumbles as if I was on a beautiful rollercoaster at points. Oof! And it goes there! Heavier Mogwai type builds and parts reminiscent of Red Sparrows. I’m a fan! 

The band love that they’re here and the appreciation extends from group to audience. The tones are driven constantly by colourful drums and stunningly pronounced bass. Wonky craziness takes over into resolutions of droney release. Lots of dynamic and even when unpredictable, dirty knee butting heavy noise takes over it’s still articulate in every way. Guitar tones are on point. The energy emanates from this band who started humbly and unassuming take on almost Sonic Youth energy build ups. The progressions are magnificently emotive with driven grooves positive all the way yet with melancholy undertones. How this sound can come from three people is incredible. Backing tracks have become commonplace in modern performances but I can’t be sure. I’m not keen on the “sha la la” moment but maybe I missed the point. The irony serves well here if intended. 

The last song is a bittersweet farewell after a gorgeous journey. The drummer is so colourful and the bassist so inventive and great at taking the lead with conversation at points. But the guitar . Oh the guitar ! So intricate! All amazing. If you guys read this you have the heart of a new fan . I’d also like to do a shout out to the sound engineers! The clarity was spot on! Absolutely nailed it! James from Peak Hire Rickie on lights and Jack on Monitors. Dream team.

Ben - Empire State Bastard (8) The Immediate feeling is that of a colossal Minotaur stampede with the screaming vocals of a heavily injured boar … in heat. Power! Power as fuck! Those drums! those screams! And then they amp up the groove. This is what Satan’s hernia sounds like. When they’re fast, I’d like you to imagine what radioactive wasps would do with distortion. When they’re slow, take a hit of the forbidden time altering bong. Hardcore, post death, grind doom could be a description, although the band simply list themselves as metal. Quite a distance from the singer’s other band “Big imagination for feeling young ‘cos life yearns real optimism” otherwise known as Biffy Clyro. I have a jumping spider on my leg and it appears to be loving it. Either that or the small arachnid is being involuntarily thrown around by the vibrations of the bass… which is certainly a possibility.

Maria - Brutus (10) The Belgian rock trio from Leuven stand out with their Bjork like soaring vocals and are just passionate as fuck! Genuinely spine tingling. The tent is impossible to get into. All musicians are on point with tremolo picking and the music is emotionally devastating . The star of the show is obviously singer/ drummer Stefanie Mannaerts. The music is delivered with 10/10 enthusiasm to an equally enthusiastic crowd. Their sound is heartbreaking and they should have been a MainStage act .Energy and songwriting delivery is heightened. These are going to be the next big thing surly! The crowd and I are equally in love. Driving beats. magic! outstanding! Phenomenal! And captivated everyone.

Simple yet effective breakdowns and structures facilitate the haunting voice.You feel you’re hanging off a cliff edge and everything is on the line. Urgency, almost apocalyptic. Emotional implosion. Dreamy/ sustain / compression on guitar and reverb create atmosphere with sprinklings of chime tree. Fast paced urgency interluded by intimate slow ethereal settings created by the music.Voice and instrumental interruptions snap you violently with a raw quality from soothing intervals. Samples set a somatic scene before It is gutterally sliced through with burgeoning heaviness. Guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden loves a guitar change ( this is the third in what seems like one song) and now he’s playing a distorted twelve string. 

Brutus defiantly shout don’t fucking mess with the delicacy, It will bite like a kitten bearing its stomach, An invitation to get bitten. Screams are akin to those of the furies in the inferno. Sincere in their deliverance. This band does not contrive its own brilliance. Mind-blowing! I gave up writing half-way through as I just want to watch and listen. The crowd are enraptured, as am I. It is so fucking real. No posturing, just delivering it with pure authenticity. You’d have to be dead inside not to feel and respond to a call like this. No guitar solos. She is the centre of it all and perfectly placed.

Ben - Russian Circles (9) Their set starts like a dream. The stage fills with smoke as the crowd starts to chant . An ethereal intro is met by a loud celebration as the band steps to the stage. 1,2,3 chug! This is a band that knows how to build and build and build … fake out and then build some more. Their popularity makes it no surprise that this is a masterclass in post rock intros. In a more standard structure singing may have started decades ago. But this is premium instrumental heaviness. Drums drive with subtle winks from the strings before the bass kicks in with utter filth! Not aggressive filth though. Dissonant and desolate filth like the life of a past successful genius passing before his eyes as he lays dying in a piss soaked graffitied alleyway with a needle in his arm . 

Obviously there are a lot more positive images this could have invoked, but I’m still sore. I got here later than anticipated and am now on can 5. Showcasing the importance of clever guitar tones and full control of sound , pulses and waves move like a paint brush with special attention to colours, stroke and contrast. To be this heavy, beautiful and saddening is a thing few achieve. Paradoxically it could be said that its genius lies within its simplicity. Turning tone into texture with ease , drums are prominent in the mix to an almost tribal degree. Another shout out to the sound guys. An impressive and exciting first live viewing for myself. 

Did I mention how tasteful the drumming was? Gestures fingers. Bueno! Crescendo for days bruv! As they slow down for another psychedelic pummelling a man hiccuping and gazing into the ether illustrate how this music would probably be listened to.

Maria - PIGS X7 (7) Brutal, unapologetic energy blasting from the outset. An insane performance. Dirty , dirty, dirty! Can’t get near the tent due to the band’s apparent popularity. Slow, durgy, heavy! The front man moves as if he’s from another dimension. His enthusiasm is shared by all band members and audience alike. FAT AS 7 PIGS!

Ben - Converge (9) The thrashier and showier of today’s entries. During the opening track the guitarist almost threw his axe through the top of the tent and vocalist Jacob Bannon swings his microphone around like bigfoot doing the windmill. Intense and classic enough to appease your general metalhead and inventive/ experimental enough to headline at ArcTanGent. Neck breaking breakdowns and a drummer with a fill setting of 96%. This band produce something absolutely stinking, a fitting description considering bass player Nate Newton almost manages to hit the brown note of myth and legend, displacing the audience’s internal organs with a violent impact of sludge. If you’re into no holds barred heavy then go see Converge. 

Heavier than Godzilla’s left testicle and tighter than Prince Andrew’s sweat glands, Converge are built to shatter and impress. There’s a possibility that some of the animal tranquillisers from the farm have seeped into the drinking water here as this band would be perfect for a wall of death or circle pit. Arctangent appears to be a more mellow beast in crowd interaction, yet hosts some of the heaviest bands music has to offer. The experimental noisecore/ post-hardcore takes a break for some earth shattering bassy doom accompanied by paradiddle percussion that should be studied by any drummer looking to try a similar style.

Friday 25 August 2023

Reviews: Alice Cooper, Asphodelus, Sherinian/Phillips, SinHeresy (Reviews By Simon Black, Paul Scoble, Manos Sideris & Matt Bladen)

Alice Cooper – Road (earMusic) [Simon Black]

What comes around, goes around…

When I was young spotty youth, I first became aware of Alice when he reinvented himself for the mid-80’s and very quickly realised that the material from the early 70’s was many orders of magnitude greater than the Constrictor and Raise Your Fist And Yell albums that were doing the rounds at the time. That’s also probably my first experience of how hard it is for artists to keep going consistently over the decades, and how live shows are consequently all about the back catalogue with as many recent tracks as they can get away with to compensate. I’ve always enjoyed Alice’s shows and I’ve dipped in and out of albums over the years, but like most I’ve struggled to be moved by many with the exception of The Last Temptation and the bubble-gum Hair Metal anthemic Trash, because if nothing else, it was good to dance to.

So, all these decades later, Road really does feel like a back to the roots release. It owes far more to the legacy of the original Alice Cooper Band days, and like Black Sabbath’s final studio effort 13 tries to encapsulate the 70’s vibe, sound and arrangements of the material that works best from Love It To Death to Billion Dollar Babies, but with the humour and staginess of the nadir that is Welcome To My Nightmare. So, way more har rock than metal, but with enough touches of heaviness given that the line-up is the long-standing touring line up with some nice guest spots from the likes of Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine / Audioslave), Wayne Kramer (MC5), Keith Nelson (Buckcherry) and 80’s era muscled former axeman Kane Roberts, so a nice nod to the period I came on board too.

Many albums in the intervening decades have had more filler than banger, but this one is remarkably consistent, and consistently good. It has probably the most cohesive well-structured feel since Nightmare, and certainly owes tonally much to that beast of a record without trying to be a shallow commercial Part 2 (which tried and failed back in 2011). The songs are mostly Alice tipping his top hat to his fans, with material that expands the Alice character’s mythology and nostalgically nods to their nomadic touring existence, but there’s enough shock rock in there to keep things humorous. Alice, in his publicity for this release, has been quite open about making a real effort to writing an album that the fans wanted to hear, rather than what a label thinks that they need to hear, and in that regard it scores firmly in the back of the net. To the point where for the first time in a long time, I have an Alice Cooper album that I can enjoy listening to end to end and time after time, and that, in the legend’s sixth decade of writing and recording albums, is no mean feat. Bang on, Mr Furnier, bang on. 10/10

Asphodelus - Sculpting From Time (Hammerheart Records) [Paul Scoble]

Finish doomsters Asphodelus have been making music together since 2012, when they were called Cemetery Fog. The band changed their name to Asphodelus in 2016. In the time the band have been together they have made one album before Sculpting From Time in 2019’s Stygian Dreams. Asphodelus is made up of Jari Filppu on bass, guitars and vocals, Jussi Väyrynen on guitars, Joonas Rantala on guitars and Ilkka Narinen on drums.

The style on offer on Sculpting From Time is fairly traditional death/doom, so Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride or possibly Swallow The Sun is the right kind of ballpark, although Asphodelus definitely have their own distinctive sound.

The album opens with the track Waterside, which begins with a huge, mid-paced doom riff, with a melancholy melody lead over the top. The melody is very distinctive and returns several times during the song. Waterside has a great driving chorus and a verse section that is dramatic, but also fairly stripped down and minimal, the vocal are harsh throughout the song, and are very effective. The track comes to an end with a very soft section featuring a mournful piano. Next come the song Fallen Dreamer. The song mixes sections that are driving and uptempo, with a powerful riff and memorable melody lead, with much more soft and subtle sections featuring clean guitar and clean vocals. The song has a very good atmospheric section with keyboards shortly before the end of the song, before a faster and melodic section take the song to its end.

Life Painted Vermilion is big and dramatic death/doom, with huge melodies. The standout part of this song is the exquisite layered melodies, using beautiful  guitar harmonies that are very affecting, the song is heavy and dramatic in places, but what you take away are those lush harmonies. Having to follow those harmonies is the track Monuments Of Deception. Monuments Of Deception is big, slow and heavy. The song is full of melody, with a very heavy verse section and a big slow chorus that is heavy but also packed full of melody.

World Of Hollow has the same big riff, melody lead that is central to Asphodelus’s style, but on World Of Hollow the feeling is a little more introspective, the big riffs are there, but tempered by atmospheric keyboards and sections with clean guitar, there are clean vocals as well as harsh, some piano and the song is all about slow building of intensity. In the second half of the song the pace quickens, and there is a guitar solo before the song builds to being big and very heavy by the end. While all of this building is going on the song is intertwined with very strong and affecting melodies.

Where Sirens Wept is a more strait forward song, big riffs, big melodies and a stomping mid-paced tempo.

The next track The Moon In Pisces is a short track that acts as an intro to the final, title track. It features clean guitar, beautiful female vocals and spoken word. Title track (nearly) Sculpting The Time is one of the longest tracks on the album, it opens with a big slow melancholic riff, before a more driving and purposeful riff comes in and a melody starts to build. The song then goes into a much more aggressive section (for this album). The song then takes a turn away from driving and aggression, and towards softer and more mournful material, initially with clean guitar, but then building in intensity. The sadness of this song is palpable, as the song builds and the vocals become more fervent. The song then slows, and becomes more atmospheric, before a big, slow and mournful ending.

Sculpting From Time is a cracking piece of traditional death/doom, it’s full of heavy riffs and incredibly sad and mournful melodies. The songs are all very written and played, they feel as if the band have spent a lot of time on them as they are all very well rounded and considered. The melody leads in particular are very strong and have definitely been stuck in my head while I’ve been listening to it. I love the way this album feels cathartic, a sure sign of a great melancholy album. If you need a bit more sad in your life, then this could be an album you’d appreciate, highly recommended. 8/10

Sherinian/Phillips - Sherinian/Phillips Live (InsideOut Records) [Manos Sideris]

Famous keyboardist Derek Sherinian’s (ex Dream Theater, Black Country Communion, Sons of Apollo and many others) collaboration with drum veteran Simon Phillips (eMolecule/Sound Of Contact, ex Toto and many others) brings about the Sherinian/Phillips group which in August 25th released their live album Sherinian/Phillips Live, recorded at The Grape in Ventura, California on August 2022. 

This is actually a continuation of Derek Sherinian’s solo career which began in 1999 with the Planet X record, and spans through the 00’s, 10’s and 20’s with nine studio albums. Simon Phillips has participated in 7 of these 9 albums so far while in the last three of them he also has composer and producer credits. The group is now renamed as Sherinian/Phillips. In all of these albums a wide variety of successful virtuoso musicians display their abilities (Virgil Donati, Tony Franklin, Steve Lukather, Al Di Meola, Allan Holdsworth and many others). For this live album, the axemen in support of the main duo are Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal with his twin-headed guitar and acclaimed session veteran Ric Fierabraci in the bass.

This instrumental super group is a great representative of the fusion jazz-rock genre, however even though myself I am a fan of that music and Derek Sherinian is one of my favorite musicians, I confess that I never had heard his solo music up to now. Of course, after hearing him play in other projects I kind of knew what to expect. Most songs on his solo career are his, with small contributions from other participants. In this live album most songs are from his two previous albums, Phoenix and Vortex with only a few coming from earlier musical times (Inertia and Mythology). Eleven songs in a running time of about 55 minutes, in which Sherinian and Bumblefoot mostly trade off key melodies and solo sections as they are supposed to do in a project like this, while most tracks follow the typical jazz fusion form of melody-solo-bridge etc with most solos being lengthy in certain popular modal harmonic environments of this genre. 

Vortex off of the homonymous album kicks off the performance with its Deep Purply feel. Bumblefoot and Sherinian give off Blackmore and Lord vibes while the rhythm section holds down the fort tight and when given the chance they shine on their own in tracks like Barnacus, which is a drum solo track that rushes you onto Seven Seas, a nice groovy track in 7/4 in which Fierabraci displays his soloing abilities in the middle section. Ascension is an atmospheric journey into Bumblefoot’s guitar vocabulary through soulful phrases with a pinch of shredding here and there, accompanied by Sherinian’s spacious sounds. To be honest I never paid too much attention to how the crowd takes in the performance, but it is as silent as one would expect (putting aside the gaps between the songs that is), when you are in awe of such performances. 

After the break of Ascension, The Phoenix comes rushing out of the gate with guitar, keys and bass trading off solos in the intro of this fast paced boogie masterpiece that in some parts reminisces of Metropolis’s Pt. 1 fast paced second half. After the band’s introduction the night is drawing to its conclusion, unfortunately too soon to my liking, with the largest track of the night that is Aurora Australis off of the Vortex album as well, and it is a nice way to send the crowd home happy after this 11-minute epic.

My conclusion here is that I definitely need to hear more of Sherinian’s solo records of course. Other than that, the band here is really well synced; their chemistry is good at all times be it organized passages they play or jamming sections. I would appreciate a few more jamming parts from these world class musicians however, as this genre favors them. Nevertheless, the songs are highlighted by the performances really well. I had a very good time listening to this record and of course I recommend it to everyone, but please Derek, for the love of god my good man, next time play a few more songs! 9/10

SinHeresy – Event Horizon (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

Thankfully not a concept record based on the disturbing sci-fi horror starring Sam Neil and Lawrence Fishburne, Event Horizon is the latest album from Italian symphonic metal band SinHeresy and for all the talk of it being a unique sound…it’s not, this is dual vocal modern symphonic metal where the likes of Evanescence/Within Temptation get some metalcore growls and cleans. 

Now both Cecilia Petrini and Stefano Sain can sing, the mix of male/female cleans along with growls are good as both Brighter Days and Castaways show. The playing is perfectly functional but that’s all it is, functional. A hundred bands have done this, some worse of course but a lot better and more successfully. I’m not taking anything away from this fourth album at all as I quite like the metalcore undertones on it a little Red Hand Denial or Stitched Up Heart on (R)evolution but like I said there’s a whole glut of bands that you could listen to doing the same. 

For fans it’s another great record, for anyone who hasn’t heard the band it’s probably the best example of what they want to do so far, but there’s no reinvention of anything that was popular about 20 years ago. 6/10

Reviews: Incantation, Exmortus, Vandenberg, GraveRipper (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Mark Young, Rich Piva, & Richard Oliver)

Incantation – Unholy Deification (Relapse Records) [Matt Bladen]

Along with fellow founders of the NY death metal scene; Suffocation, Mortician and Immolation, Incantation have been dwelling in the subterranean terror of hardened, pissed off death metal for many years now. On their 13th album Unholy Deification they again rise from the New York sewers with more punishing groove driven death, where blast beats and tremolo picking Offerings (The Swarm) are counteracted by crushing glacial doom, Convulse (Words Of Power) and vocals dragged from the very deepest point of the Hudson. 

As the blistering Chalice (Vessel Consaguineous) is followed by the sludgy Homunculus (Spirit Made Flesh), you are once again clawed at from the shadows to join with Incantation once again and worship the occult. Bassist Chuck Sherwood, is an avid reader and occult logician so he wanted to make the auspicious 13th record a concept album that deals with evolution through enlightenment, where a mortal can become a deity, inspired by rage and an unwillingness to compromise, Unholy Deification is a lot to take in with one listen as it does it’s best to batter you.

This thematic style of record means that the veterans can perhaps play around a little more with their established musical sound, bringing in black metal dissonance to the album, in some of the background atmospherics, Megaron (Sunken Chamber) for example reminds me of Celtic Frost. In the music too, there’s influence from other extreme metal genres, founding member/guitarist John McEntee and guitarists Luke Shively unleashing ferocious riffs, divebombs, tremolo picking and lead melodies without really breaking a sweat, the changes directed by Chuck Sherwood and drummer Kyle Severn. 

Of course being around for a long time means that you can easily call on friends to bring their own style to the record and Unholy Deification features Jeff Beccera (Possessed), Henry Veggian (ex-Revenant), and Dan Vadim Von (Morbid Angel) to join in the death metal frenzy. Incantation always do death metal with a side order of fear, Unholy Deification praises the occult with mechanical tenacity. 8/10

Exmortus - Necrophony (Nuclear Blast Records) [Mark Young]

Necrophony is the 6th album, their first in 4 years and can be approached in a number of ways. By now, you should know that their well of inspiration is located firmly within the fantastique, in the classics of horror fiction which is welded to a neo-classical musical attack. So, possibly certain genre bases may discount this as non-worthy of their time. This is fine, those who appreciate a healthy dose of Iron Maiden and some absolutely fiendish fretboard skills that present another side of the technical coin will love it. I certainly did.
So, now that you are with us, let’s go.

What we have is 59 minutes of the finest Sword and Sorcery meeting Bram Stoker meeting Lovecraft meeting Tolkien meeting Werewolves and it is fucking brilliant. No dodgy politics, no messages of any sort, just straight-ahead full tilt metal. It’s the perfect palate cleanser to listen to as they just want you to rock out with them, that’s it. Like most, they suffered from a halting of the arts, of performing during the pandemic and they used this time to reset their approach and the result is this rascal.
You can argue that the song names and content is hokey, but you would be a dick for doing so. Masquerade kicks us off with a grand opening instrumental that just sets the scene for what is to follow, with a theme that you would find at a society ball that’s straight into the Mask Of Red Death (if you haven’t, check out Vincent Price’s film) which is all furious riffs and double bass and is exactly what I wanted to hear. Oathbreaker takes the baton and flies with it with a storming main riff and some top-class solo’s that are completely over the top.
I could go through each song to try and describe them in a different way, but that would be missing the point. You should take this album as a whole because they manage to squeeze so many solos in, each is highlight in its own right. Each song is arranged so well that they just fly, slow, fast doesn’t matter as each has their own path and are executed brilliantly.
They know what they are, and what they aren’t. They know how to write and know what they want to write about, and it shows. This is uplifting in places because the music makes it so, and because they want to make music that way.They expect you to come to their shows and listen to their music leaving any baggage at the door and just forgetting what ails you for an hour or so. Will it convert fans from those who love edgy, modern metal? No idea but flavours of the month come and go but I will always go out of my way to hear music played to this level. It might be an age thing (probably it is) but if you like Iron Maiden then you will dig this. Just approach it with a view to having fun and not being a dick. 8/10

Vandenberg - Sin (Mascot Records) [Rich Piva]

Adrian Vandenberg is by all accounts an incredible guitarist, best known for (by me at least) being in the most successful version of Whitesnake, you know, the 1987 self-titled one. The guy brought next level musicianship to Whitesnake which was more of a bluesy, hard rock bar band more than anything else pre lineup changes. 

Full disclosure, I am minimizing Whitesnake pre-Adrian, and I also prefer that version of Whitesnake but that is a discussion for another time. Vandenberg had his own band prior to joining Coverdale and crew, named after himself that played some solid 80s hard rock /metal that was fashionable at the time and had some minor hits in the US and bigger success in Europe. After leaving Whitesnale for good in the late 90s Adrian did a lot of his solo stuff but brought back Vandenberg as a real entity in 2020 for a run with some original members. That album was fine, but then after a falling out with said originals he is now back with a new crew and has released Sin, the fifth official longer player from the band, and it sounds pretty much like you would expect.

My wife came in the room while I was listening to Sin and said, “listening to Whitesnake, huh?”. This pretty much sums up the review. By extension, listening to Whitesnake also means you are listening to Zeppelin worship, which solidifies exactly what to expect from Sin. Take the title track, which shares a bit too much from Kashmir, but that solo is killer. But who doesn’t borrow from Zeppelin? (Kingdome Come anyone?) Also, who better to borrow from if you are Adrian Vandenberg? Thunder And Lightning is the song that elicited the Whitesnake comment, and not just musically, because new singer, Mats Leven, sounds eerily like Coverdale. Don’t sleep on Mats, dude sung for Candlemass for two EPs, so, much respect. 

Walking On Water has the trademark Vandenberg guitar that could have been pulled from the 1987 sessions and is one of those not quite ballads but not quite rockers that Whitesnake perfected in the late 80s. Adrian is in top form on tracks like House Of Fire and Burning Skies, which if you asked me which band wrote songs named with those titles my first guess would have been Whitesnake, and yeah, it sounds like Whitesnake too, which makes me start to think he had way more influence on those big hits than just about anyone else. Out Of The Shadows closes us out with some very serious ‘87 Snake vibes, but more Still Of The Night than Here I Go Again.

It's a good thing I like Whitesnake, because by extension I enjoy Sin. Vandenberg, both the man and the band, are in top form here. Don’t expect anything earth shatteringly new or unique, but if you like hard rock heavily influenced by Zeppelin and Whitesnake or just enjoy Adrian’s work overall, this is worth your time to check out. Baby You’ve Changed sounds a bit too much like Is This Love for my comfort level. 7/10

GraveRipper - Seasons Dreaming Death (Wise Blood Records) [Richard Oliver]

Although the current blackened speed/thrash metal scene is becoming rapidly crowded, nearly all the bands within said scene that I have heard are absolutely brilliant. Although wholly unoriginal sounding, this caustic throwback to rapid fire 80’s metal sounds mixed with blackened leanings and throat shredding vocals is a feast of riffs and there is now another band ready to make their stamp with their debut album Seasons Dreaming Death and that is Indianapolis based four-piece GraveRipper.

Although this isn’t the first release by the band - with two E.P.’s and a split already under their collective belts - this is their first full length release and it definitely sees the band step up their game both in terms of songwriting, production and sheer fucking ferocity. This is one album that just does not stop for breath during its near 34 minute run time with ten songs of flesh shredding carnage mixing old school thrash with elements of cold menacing black metal and blistering death metal. Songs such as Influx Of Fear and Divine Incantations are about as subtle and gentle as putting bricks in your washing machine and putting it on the fastest spin cycle although there are some brief moments of melody such as during Premeditated and the stunning lead guitar solo in Into The Grave. The black metal elements come to the fore in the vicious title track and the punishing And I Curse Reality with lashings of tremolo riffing bringing forth that cold sound.

GraveRipper have a beast of a debut album with Seasons Dreaming Death. It is excellently performed and written and also boasts a stunning production and mix meaning these songs sound massively ferocious. Whilst you won’t hear anything new or original here what you will hear is some gloriously vicious blackened thrash metal and as I’ll keeping harping until my dying day if it sounds great then bollocks to originality. Give me riffs, riffs and even more riffs and on this GraveRipper deliver in bucketfuls. 8/10