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Friday 29 September 2023

Reviews: Wolves In The Throne Room, The Hirsch Effekt, Annisokay, Rocky's Pride & Joy (Reviews By GC, Matt Bladen, Zak Skane & Rich Piva)

Wolves In The Throne Room - Crypt Of Ancestral Knowledge (Relapse Records) [GC]

Its not very often I choose to review the newest black metal releases for a few reasons, to start with there are people on our team who know much more about it than I do and are therefore better placed to review it, I never know if the band I am reviewing are Nazi scumbags and its always in the back of my mind when listening which is distracting and finally I have the attention span of a small child so 8 minute songs are usually off limits for me! Having said that Wolves In The Throne Room are black metal royalty and haven’t released anything poor in 20 years and as far as I know they aren’t Nazi’s so today I will take my chances!!

It all begins with the swooping, symphonic and majestic fury of Beholden To Clan which engulfs you in a dark cloud of atmospheric and epic guitars and as mentioned the keys add another huge swathe of grandeur to proceedings, the vocals also really stand out in the mix which really helps to complete the songs huge feel and the production is top notch and not one piece of the jigsaw is missing sound wise, and the mid-section of this song is filled with a haunting beauty you wouldn’t get anywhere else, stunning stuff to start with. 

Twin Mouthed Spring continues with the huge sound and is a cascading wall of brooding beauty which then throws in a majestic acoustic section which adds more drama when combined with the eerie atmospherics created and once again lets the vocals really breathe and take a front seat to really stand out and push everything forward with strength and power, W.I.T.T.R are not here to mess about or talk about Satan or burning churches, they are here to grab your attention with stories about sacred kings and Celtic mythology and trust me the way this sounds I’m listening! 

Initiates Of The White Hart takes on an altogether different direction and gone are the usual buzzsaw guitars and thunderous drums, these are replaced by more beautiful acoustics and the atmospherics now take the lead and both combine to create an enthralling industrial tinged sound where you can just close your eyes and drift away, to say that this is soul stirring would be an understatement and it gave me goosebumps from start to finish, complete perfection. 

Crown Of Stone is the final work of art on this masterpiece of an EP and once more its full of dark ambience and rich sounds that are as haunting as they are horrifying usually this sort of thing would have me throwing my arms up in the air and complaining about what a waste of time it is, not here it’s a suitably bleak but also utterly majestic end to what is easily the best EP you will hear this year. Yes, I said it.

As you may have already guessed I fucking loved this and if you don’t then you really need to sit down and have a long think about your life! There is not one part of this EP that can be criticized apart from the fact its only an EP, its everything you could want, its majestic, bleak, heavy, thoughtful, epic and many many other things. I mentioned at the start that I don’t usually review black metal releases although I have done a few in my time here and I can say now that this is easily the best one I have done so far! If this isn’t in your EP of the year type lists, I can’t help you. Utterly Breathtaking stuff. 10/10

The Hirsch Effekt - Urian (Long Branch Records) [Matt Bladen]

As the djent sound has evolved from its beginnings the use of ambiance has become paramount and on Urian by The Hirsch Effekt the usage of electronic atmospheres and whispered German makes for evocative soundscapes that split up the dense techincal metal, driven by chunky riffs and some virtuoso bass playing. 

Building on a haunting beginning Otus, brings the first instances of technical modern metal, funk-like grooves and clean vocals while 2054 adds some industrial mechincal riffing and screaming. A duality of what The Hirsch Effekt bring to the table, the ferocious heaviness moving into more other worldy textures as it breaks down into blasting speed sections. The title of this album is the name of the uninvited guest and that undesirable ominous quality is obvious as 2054 turns into the death metal brutality of the title track. 

The dystopian themes expressed in direct heaviness, where organs are used to bring extra drama, the conceptual nature of their previous album done away with meaning that these 8 tracks are more loosely connected but still feel coherent and more importantly, potent with the band cranking out their most diverse selection of songs yet. The frantic switches in tone and genre coming from the influences of mathcore and band such as Dillinger Escape Plan. Like bands such as Vola and even Opeth they use their native tongue too, the German lyrics Stegodon bringing a euphoria to the chorus. 

Nils Wittrock (vocals/guitar), Ilja John Lappin (bass/vocals) and Moritz Schmidt (drums) are all multi-instrumentalists, which is why there is such a breadth of music fetaured on Urian. Socially broad, virtuosic modern metal music that has full dynamic range. 8/10

Annisokay - Abyss Pt.1 (Arising Empire) [Zak Skane]

As soon as we descend into the opening track Into The Abyss, the track greets us with swelling atmospheric swirls, haunting pianos and cinematic drops that introduces us to complementing guitars and the bands first vocal lines which trade off from melodic choruses and throat trearing harsh vocals. Human infuses industrial pulsating chugging rhythms that have come straight of Rammstein and modern Architects play book. 

Whilst the clean vocals soar and catch us into a nostalgic trip to help us reminisce on greats like Dead by April and 30 Seconds To Mars, the guitars keep us in the present with some doom slayer riffage. Ultraviolet provided some ultra catchiness with it’s ear worming synth lines, pop charting soaring choruses whilst also featuring rap sections and venomous harsh vocals. Throne Of The Sunset brings deep naughty grooving riffs, pounding cinematic percussion, whilst Calamity channels Bad Omens vibes with its 80’s synth in fused pop and it’s face punching hardrock meets metalcore energy. This is carried on to their closing track Time, which provides us the farewell gift of pulsating synth rhythms, dance styled breakbeats and arena filled choruses. 

This EP contains all of the right ingredients that make a decent modern metal album, it’s got rip and tearing low tuned guitar chugging riffs, the industrial pulses generated by cinematic post production, throbbing synths and even transitioning harsh and vocals. Even though these elements have been mixed to perfection, but, when you compare it other bands that have perfected this style before them like Bring Me the Horizon, Bad Omens and The Word Alive this type of style does really break the mould. 6/10

Rocky's Pride and Joy - All The Colours Of Darkness (Electric Valley Records) [Rich Piva]

Traditional Australian doom. Yup, this is one of my new favorite things. My love affair started back in May of this year with the killer debut album from Melbourne’s Oceanlord. Now, after a few demos and singles, we have the debut from Adelaide’s Rocky's Pride And Joy, brought to us by the excellent Electric Valley Records. Where Oceanlord plays a traditional doom vibe, a bit cleaner and with atmosphere, Rocky's Pride And Joy brings the dirt and grime. The best word that I can come up with for eight tracks on All The Colours Of Darkness is filthy. Filthy doom, and I am here for it.

What do I mean by filthy doom? Everything from the riffs to the vocals screams unclean in the best kind of way. Take the opening Sabbath worship riff of Red Altar and partner it with those evil female vocals and you will know exactly what I am talking about. RP&J bring the riffs all day and all night, layered on top of the vocals and lyrics the conjure all type of unholy beings. Revenge is up next, with a slow, plodding pace and another filthy riff, you can see where All The Colours Of Darkness is heading. You want dirty? How about a song called So Said The Roach? Somehow the riff is grosser (in the best way) that the song’s namesake. 

Crawl brings some comparisons to The Crooked Whispers for me, without the demon from hell vocals but instead a demon succubus and her siren song. The second half of All The Colours Of Darkness is as filthy as the first, lead by the very cool Tunnel Vision and the next level evil acoustic ditty Lucifer’s LullabyYour Hell has another great doom riff and is the least filthy and catchiest song (comparably) on the record. Pure Evil closes us out and it is just that. This is the riff that nightmares make. I love the guitar tone and production on this album, it works perfectly for all the songs like it does for the closer

Australian doom is a thing, and I am all about it. Bring me more of the evil from down under. Be it the sea inspired atmospheric doom of Oceanlord or the ultimate underneath vibes of Rocky's Pride And Joy. If you like riffs, if you like occult flavored doom, if you like your metal a bit filthy, All The Colours Of Darkness is for you. 8/10

Reviews: Nervosa, FIlth Is Eternal, Stepmother, Maggot Heart (Reviews By Matt Bladen, GC, RIch Piva & Paul Scoble)

Nervosa - Jailbreak (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Right bear with me here; after the longest (so far) line up of Brazilian thrash band split in to Crypta and Nervosa. Founding guitarist Prika Amaral reformed Nervosa with their second line up recording 2021's Perpetual Chaos. However after this Nervosa had to rebuild again losing their singer, bassist and drummer but never to be stopped Amaral took up the vocals sharing guitar duties with Helena Kotina, as Hel Pyre comes in on bass and Michaela Naydenova on drums. 

With this line up in place they are ready to bring Jailbreak to the world utilising a twin guitar assault for the first time since 2011, Nervosa now sound more vicious than ever before, Prika and Helen trading buzz saw riffs, harmonised leads and wailing solos on rangers such as the title track, Ungrateful and Behind The Wall. The classic metal influence is much stronger due to the twin guitars but there's still plenty of denim clad thrash as the pace shifts between circle pitting speed or stomping grooves. Prika's vocals are ideal for their heavier thrash sound, coming from the German style of thrash of Destruction or Kreator, she can growl, making you ask the question why they needed a singer in the first place? 

Prika is joined behind the mic on Superstition Failed by Lena Scissorhands (Infected Rain), while Exodus/Slayer axeman Gary Holt brings yet more thrash guitar to When The Truth Is A Lie, which has some Sepultura percussion. Thematically the album is about taking freedom from oppression and take pride in who and what you are. It's critical of governments, society and many other blights on our society. So an upbeat message set to flesh peeling thrash metal, aggression and passion hand in hand on the ragers such as the forceful Kill Or Die or Nail The Coffin. Nervosa MK III are bringing the best material they can with their fifth album, brilliant thrash metal that doesn't get stuck in a rut but uses classic metal trappings to make Jailbreak their best album yet. 9/10

Filth Is Eternal - Find Out (MNRK Heavy) [GC]

My final review this week is from Seattle’s Filth Is Eternal and I have their new album Find Out has been described as a vigorous re-awakening of the band who have recently been building a decent reputation for themselves in the live scene. Fun fact, they used to be called Fucked And Bound which they decided was a bit much and changed to Filth Is Eternal. Anyway, let’s see what is going on with this album.

Its straight into it with Half Wrong which is scathing hardcore punk that flies by in just under 2 minutes and you already know that there is going to be no letting up on this album its going to be full throttle and angry all the way, Crawlspace has a crusty D-beat sound and brings that unmistakable 80’s sound gloriously into 2023. Magnetic Point clocks in at 70 seconds and despite its short run time has a measured but chaotic feel and doesn’t waste a second making its presence felt, Cherish throws a bit of a post punk vibe throughout the song but still has enough bite about it so it never loses any of its edge which is a decent trick to pull off! 

Roll Critical goes back to the vicious punk you are expecting but somehow doesn’t feel as hardcore as you are wanting its more of a straightforward punk track, it is however still angry and fun, Curious Thing instantly goes back to the grimy D-beat chaos and even throws in a nice guitar solo towards the end for good measure!! Into The Curve takes us to the halfway point of this album and we haven’t even had 10 minutes of music, we don’t get much more timewise here either, just over 2 minutes but what we do get is yet another scathing and urgent punk battering. 

We then come to the single Pressure Me which throws in a murky death metal-esque sound into the mix but obviously doesn’t ever veer to far away from the punk sound that they are so good at after this comes Body Void which is a barnstormer of a song and is 100% sure to be an absolute killer in the live setting as it starts of furiously and the builds and atmosphere until the furiously chaotic ending. 

The Gate clocks in at a mighty 2:40 and is just dripping in 80’s hardcore throwback sounds and even when we get some melodic vocals the viciousness doesn’t stop it just keep layering it up and bringing it to new levels, Signal Decay has a measured and precise feel to the song which helps the whole sound expand again to show that they don’t just do angry, pissed off punk, they also do thoughtful, angry, pissed off punk its got a haunting beauty through and really has to be heard to appreciate just how good it is! All Mother goes directly back to the snotty punk that serves Filth Is Eternal so well and is a blast of a song that is here and gone in the blink of an eye and in the last verse on this song the vocals have such a venom in them you just have to sit back and take it all in and it leaves you drained. 

Last Exit is your last slice of D-beat and it’s gloriously dirty and unrelenting throughout, its then down to Loveless to finish us off and at 3:15 its somewhat of an epic that starts with a riff so filthy you feel like you need a shower after hearing it and it continues on with this slow, grinding pace all the way through the song which is a bit of a departure from the rest of the album but it’s a gloriously disgusting way to end the album. 

There was not a second wasted on this album, every note and vocal hits the mark and its full of furious anger but also underscored with fun and full throttle punk, the various styles that are sprinkled in for good measure never veer off course and always add to the sound and the way they can one minute be uncontrollably angry but the next thoughtful and melancholy is a real strength and I can only see Filth Is Eternal getting better and better as time goes on. An absolute must hear album. 9/10

Stepmother - Planet Brutalicon (Tee Pee Records) [Rich Piva]

Tee Pee Records doesn’t put out a ton of albums in a year, but when they do, they rarely, if ever, miss. So, when I see something coming out from them a vinyl pre order is imminent from this guy. This all holds true for the debut album from the Australian trio Stepmother, who call out bands like Blue Cheer, The Pink Fairies, and The Damned as reference points, so of course this is coming home to me. But does Planet Brutalicon live up to the Tee Pee standard and those classic bands they call out as influences?

The short answer is f yeah it does, as Stepmother kicks so much ass on Planet Brutalicon. You can hear the Blue Cheer/early punk influence all throughout the record, with no better example being the total ripper opener Fade Away. I would not be surprised if these guys had some Motorhead records in their collection too. The production on Planet Brutalicon is perfect for the band’s sound, case in point the next track, Settle Down, which is a proto metal/punk mash up that gets everyone up and moving and the sound produced by the band has been recorded as it should sound. The Damned influence is strong on Scream For Death, as the raw punk rock energy comes through strong. Where The Game is brings that high octane proto metal punk hybrid right into you face, all with a super catchy chorus. One Way Out slows it down just a tad, but still kicks ass, like a proto metal Ramones. 

Do You Believe takes the tempo a couple more ticks down, focusing on the proto side of the Stepmother persona. If you thought they would slow down you were wrong, as Dead And Gone sounds like The Replacements before they started making videos. You lose zero quality as the record hits the second half, with the killer guitar work on Here Comes The End, the hard rocker that reminds me of a rawer version of Junkyard. Waiting For The Axe, and Stalingrad that brings the MC5 vibes. Signed DC slows it down but blows you away when the guitar kicks in and is one of the best tracks on Planet Brutalicon, providing a nice change of pace but is not lacking the energy, just in a different way. The closer, Gusano is a surf rock style instrumental that is a pretty cool way to finish out the blast of pure energy that Planet Brutalicon is.

Tee Pee Records once again does not disappoint, as Stepmother brings it on Planet Brutalicon. This is pure rock and roll energy that dares you not to get up and move. Great stuff and a keeper for sure. We need more bands that just play kick ass rock like Stepmother brings us on Planet Brutalicon. 9/10

Maggot Heart - Hunger (Svart Records) [Paul Scoble]

Maggot Heart are a Berlin based Rock Band that was originally a solo project for Swedish guitarist and vocalist Linnéa Olsson that started in 2016. A full band was not far behind with the addition of Uno Bruniusson on drums and Olivia Airey on bass. In the seven years the band have been together they have released two EP’s City Girls and Show Them Your Teeth both released in 2017, and two albums before HungerDusk To Dusk in 2017 and Mercy Machine in 2020.
Maggot Heart play aggressive rock music, that is in places; noise rock, punk rock, alternative rock or just straight hard rock over the course of this album, changing sounds depending on the mood they want for the particular song. Maggot Heart are also joined by three guest artists; Jan Groppel on trumpet, Lars Zander on tenor saxophone and Fabian De Menou on piano.

The album starts with the track Scandinavian Hunger (which is a play on words on the Darkthrone album name Transylvanian Hunger, for those readers who are not black metal fans!). Which is a great, brooding piece of noise rock with a punky edge. The riffs are nice and spikey and the song boasts a really good driving and aggressive chorus. Next we get Nil By Mouth, another uptempo rocker that is driving and purposeful, again we get a really good chorus that sticks in your head. It’s a great song that has a pleasing noisy swagger to it.
LBD has a tight strummy guitar riff and feels a little lighter than the first two songs, something that is emphasised by the use of trumpets. The song is tightly focused, and absolutely drips with great melody. The next track Archer takes us a little further from the aggression of the first two tracks. The song has a slow and brooding opening before piano and saxophone are added making the song a big ballad that just keeps getting bigger. Eventually this has reached Bond theme proportions. The song keeps growing to a huge ending with a massive and very fervent vocal performance.
This Shadow takes us back to a taut rocker. The song boasts a tight and brooding verse section and a bigger and very dramatic chorus. The song has a great ebb and flow due to the vacillating between the two sounds, I also love the huge rumbly bass guitar! Looking Back At You is another aggressive rock track, this time with a bit of an alternative rock feel to it. There is another very effective vocals performance from Linnéa Olsson and a very good dissonant guitar solo.

Concrete Soup has a brooding and dissonant feel to it, the verse section is spikey and belligerent, but is tempered by a more flowing and melodic chorus. The album comes to an end with the song Parasite, a spikey and aggressive piece of rock, with a very antagonistic chorus and a very tightly controlled verse section. There is a brooding, dark and minimal section in the middle before the song builds back up for assertive and forceful end.
Hunger is a great album. I love the variation in the material and how, despite the different styles on offer here it always feels like a complete whole, where there are connections between all of the songs. Maggot Heart have a talent for great choruses that I have loved singing along too. There is just the right mix of aggression and warmness, hostility and beauty to make this challenging, but also deeply enjoyable and affecting. A fantastic piece of spiky rock! 8/10 

Thursday 28 September 2023

Reviews: Graveyard, Iron Altar, Lightlorn, Semprus (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Erick Willand, Jeremy Silverman & GC)

Graveyard - 6 (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Scoble]

Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, Graveyard have been making music together since 2006. In that time the band have released five albums before 6; their self titled debut arrived in 2007, followup Hisingen Blues came four years later in 2011, just one year after came album number three Lights Out, album four was Innocence And Decadence in 2015, and the last album before 6 was released in 2018 and was called Peace. Graveyard is made up of Joakim Nilsson on guitar and vocals, Jonatan Larocca-Ramm also on guitar and vocals, Truls Mörck on bass and vocals and Oskar Bergenheim on drums.

The sound on 6 is broadly similar to Graveyard's tried and tested sound, don’t worry they haven’t messed with a winning formula. The taut blues rock that sometimes drifts into psychedelic rock is still there, however I think this album has a fairly mellow feel to it. The rockers are still there, but about half of the songs have a softer and more dulcet sense that swaps driving rock for warmth and beauty.

The album opens with Godnatt, a gentle blues track with slide guitar, the vocal performance is great, very expressive and affecting, in fact the vocals throughout the album are a thing of beauty. The song does have a section near the middle that builds in intensity, but quickly returns to minimal introverted blues. Graveyard follow the mellow opener with the first taut rocker; TwiceTwice is tight as anything and has a slight Southern rock feel to it, the chorus is cracking, and singalong. The song is short, to the point and absolutely brilliant. I Follow You has a dark and brooding introduction before becoming a great piece of uptempo rock. The song has a fantastically powerful chorus, a brooding middle section before the song builds itself back to a huge, really forceful ending.

Breath In Breath Out is an interesting track. The song starts with the twangiest of twangy guitars, this is channelling Dwayne Eddy, Chris Issak and maybe a little bit of Johnny Cash, with some very good, deep vocals. Backing vocals are added that sound as if they have come from gospel or spiritual music, they are soft and smooth, Lush, Velvet Gorgeousness. The song builds slowly adding Hammond and extra layers of vocals. In the end the song feels like something to wrap yourself up in on a cold winter night, sheer bliss.

Sad Song
 is just that; a sad little song built out of Hammond, piano and clean guitar. It features a great vocal performance and is a wonderful piece of piano and Hammond led blues. Just A Drop is Driving and purposeful blues rock with great riffs. The song boasts some really great energy that keeps everything moving forward and has some great melody leads. Bright Lights has a gentle blues verse that is mellow and introverted, and also has chorus with that twangy guitar that we met on Breath In Breath Out, that is superb.

No Way Out is a blues ballad that starts soft, but builds slowly, and also features those lush backing vocals that have a gospel/spiritual feel to them. There is another really great chorus that stands out on an album of stunning choruses. The song reminds me a little of early Seventies, Mick Taylor era Rolling Stones. The song builds to a huge ending with amazing layered Vocals.

The album comes to and end with the song Rampant Fields. This track is all about ebb and flow. The song starts in a way that is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s song Albatross, with gentle strummed chord and slide guitar, the song then builds in intensity and drive, before dropping back into the gentle blues, which then builds, getting bigger and more purposeful, until once again it ebbs back to soft and beautiful blues. This happens a few times until a melody lead is added that takes the song and the album to a beautiful end.

6 is a stunning album, it might not be full of tight rockers, but the mellow blues, gospel/spiritual and softer material more than makes up for it. The straight rock track are great and of the high standard you would expect from Graveyard, but the softer material makes the album soar. The way all of these songs have wormed their way onto my consciousness is amazing, I cannot stop humming all the tunes, or singing the choruses under my breath. An absolutely brilliant piece of blues rock, wrapped up in beauty and luxurious lushness. 9/10

Iron Altar - Promethean (Trepanation Recordings) [Erick Willand]
Formed in Scotland's Edinburgh in 2016 Iron Altar have perfected a unique form of Sludge/metalcore as they have traversed over Ireland and the UK. This led to 2018s full length release Pillars Of Blood, some more touring and then the world shut down for a bit as we all know. Fast forward to glorious 2023 and Iron Altar returns with a second full length, Promethean.
Oddly enough track 1 is The End, which I take as an inside joke maybe. After some slow guitar intro stuff singer Andrew Callis greets you with an absolutely cavernous bellow and instantly grabs attention. The riffs are crunchy and the howls have just enough echo and a droning sway sets in, then boom! At about the 2 minute 50 mark it blasts off, mmm…tasty. The Hunted follows and does not disappoint, aggressive with a mean vocal approach that you feel it deep.
Iron Altar have seemingly perfected a sludgy aggression that feels familiar yet is unique to them. The rolling crunchy riffs carry you along on tracks like Mortality with it’s sly little Slayer nod and the Doomy intro to Path To Empyrean that opens up to speed and blasts only to shift again back to that characteristic sway. Megalith is a clean, tight 4 minutes and my personal fav track here and will be going right into the playlist. Cataclysmic Imprint swings through with equal intensity and shorter time stamp.
That goes right out the window with the next track, Miasmic Intuition. At just over 7 minutes this opus is a bit rambling, but it’s good rambling, like that good part of a road trip when you just zone out and drive. This is the doomy side of Iron Altar and although this track could use a trim I’m not lost on it but lost in it, and that’s a good thing.
Last two tracks are misplaced and should clearly be swapped around. Shanidar is a slow short instrumental that absolutely should have been the album closer, I feel that in my bones. Last track then ends up being Primal Rites and although this is a tight groove laden song it should have fallen in with Megalith and Cataclysmic Imprint. It’s the biggest fault of this album, pacing. 

The first half is packed with 5 minute long bangers that almost feel like a different album. Then two shorter bangers, noticeably shorter, then…random. For me it’s enough to notice but not enough to damn the whole album, annoying as it is. There are moments of crunchy grooviness laced with just the right aggression that hit just the right points and got my attention. The production is tight and the vocal delivery is tops. I’ll give a point for cover art as well, a very interesting piece that I believe is not AI, so that’s good.
If I could rearrange the songs for a better flow this score would be higher but over all. 6/10

Lightlorn - At One With The Stars (Black Lion Records) [Jeremy Silverman]

Looking at this album cover, you would have no idea what is to come. Lightlorn’s debut album, At One With The Stars, is a cosmic black metal tour de force. With only two members, this band may seem like an unlikely powerhouse, yet they immediately prove that they are going to be huge.
Combining two of my favorite things, sci-fi/space, and black metal, Lightlorn utilized themes of something greater, something beyond to convey a sense of dread yet mysticism. Each song transcends the traditions of black metal, literally and figuratively, as they have sprawling waves of ethereal and calming music smack dab in the middle of an extremely heavy song. 

The lyrical themes of the stars and outer space make for an interesting trip through the cosmos with a kickass soundtrack. If I could simplify this album into one sentence, it would be “It is like lifting off into space, where the serenity of nothingness is intertwined with nightmares.” 8/10

Semprus - A Fractured Reality EP (Self Released) [GC]

It’s been a while since I have reviewed anything, so naturally I am easing myself in with something nice, easy and relaxing, its then new EP A Fractured Reality from Surry based tech-death band Semprus who according to their PR ‘’thrive on crafting music that is challenging, unique, and above all, deeply engrossing’’ time to see if that is a correct statement or not.

Opener Cursed starts off well enough with some impressive drum work from Harry Cook and then explodes into life with some nice blastbeats that unfortunately completely drown out any guitars but when the song forms into a more straightforward deathcore rhythm everything is as you would expect really, it doesn’t really challenge you or do much to make you sit up and pay attention, all the parts are done well enough but it just lacks something to take it to the next level.

Genetic Misery then slows the pace down but in doing so creates a new problem, everything now sounds out of time and messy, its like they all recorded in sperate rooms and didn’t tell each other what they were going to play, it does kind of sync up midway through but again doesn’t really grab my attention and just sort of slowly limps along towards the end. Hatred is next up and it begins with a really cheesy sample which almost makes me now bother but I am glad I do as they seem to have finally hit their peak here, its full of big chugging riffs and another decent drum turn and the vocals really hit home and there is no attempt at slowing down or subtlety its just a full on heads down battering and its needed because it breathes life into what has so far been a very average EP.

Identity Crisis then begins with a slow thoughtful guitar section that mixes in with some good heavy parts to create a new layer and introduce some genuine intrigue as they then weave in and out of this style for the most part of the song to show that they can actually write layered material and it not fall flat on it face like previous attempts have but with a run time of 6:24 it does go on a bit to long and feels bit tedious towards then end. Insanity has the job of closing this mixed bag of an EP and does so in a bit of a meh fashion, there’s nothing specifically wrong with the song its just a bit of a mess and tries to mix everything they have to offer and just makes what has been recorded sound too busy and weird.

After sitting and re-listening to make sure I wasn’t being overly harsh on Semprus, I still stand by what has been said above. I think the whole thing is just a bit of a mess, there are some good bits that I like but there are also some bits that I just wanted to not hear again and that’s what frustrates me the most I think, there’s just no consistency and they try to do too much in not very much time, on an album I think there is plenty of room to try new thing and mix it up but on an EP I don’t. I am sure in the future they will find their feet and style but here it feels like they are still trying. 5/10

Reviews: KK's Priest, Obsidian Tide, Disguised Malignance, TheFalls (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

KK's Priest - The Sinner Rides Again (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Sinner Rides again follows very quickly on the heels of 2021's Sermon Of The Sinner and it sees KK's Priest doing what they do best, play music that is Judas Priest, but under a different name. With the Flying V of ex-Priest axeman KK Downing still carving out those riffs made of British Steel and ex-Priest vocalist Tim 'Ripper' Owens Screaming For Vengeance, KK's Priest are a band who take the idea of being Defenders Of The Faith seriously, rather than just falling back on being covers act they are actively writing new material.

This second album doesn't vary too much from the first luckily it still sounds like 'classic' Priest rather than the two albums they made with The Ripper, The Sinner Rides again features a twin axe attack from Downing and A.J Mills, while the bottom end of Tony Newton (bass) and Sean Elg (drums) are retained from debut. As a Point Of Entry, Sons Of The Sentinel carries with it an orchestral swell then some speed metal thrust, the dive bomb guitars and shredding a powerful opener. Because of Ripper's vocals, KK's version of Priest leans more on the thrash/speed/power metal style Priest inspired, the mixing and mastering of Jacob Hansen giving it a modern sheen. 

From here it's a Sin After Sin as Strike Of The Viper adds a chug, while Reap The Whirlwind is a heavy metal Killing Machine, from those 80's glory days, the riffs coming in fast leading to trade off solos. One More Shot Of Glory goes fully into the power metal mold ready to Ram It Down your throat with some brilliant drumming. You can't really say too much negative about this album, yeah it sounds like Judas Priest but that is sort of the point, it shares DNA so it will inevitably share musical similarities too. It would be stupid if it didn't. The debut was good and The Sinner Rides Again keeps them in a purple patch. 

From the fist pumping Painkillers such as Hymn 66 and the riffy title track and the ominous Keeper Of The Graves which harks back to the 70's and even a bit of fellow Midlander's Black Sabbath. This second album is more classic heavy metal from KK's Priest, a Turbo charged record that closes out proudly with Pledge Your Souls and Wash Away Your Sins, classic heavy metal from one of the original Metal Gods. 8/10

Obsidian Tide – The Grand Crescendo (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Imagine if the trio of Rush played the music of Opeth and came from Israel, that’s the concept behind Obsidian Tide. Now on their third full length album, The Grand Crescendo is an hour long progressive metal opus where, virtuoso playing meets eclectic song writing, the extreme and non-extreme styles of metal music blended brilliantly, track by track, unfolding into a opus of epic proportions. 

Formed back in 2012, the core trio of Oz Avneya (guitar/clean vocals), Erez Nadler (drums/percussion/programming) and Shachar Bieber (bass/harsh vocals) are still the driving force behind this magnificent musical machine. Like the previous album Pillars Of Creation, The Grand Crescendo features some guests with Danielle Sassi (Yossi Sassi & The Oriental Rock Orchestra) returns with both flute and ney to give it the Middle Eastern flavour of Orphaned Land, Subterranean Masquerade, Myrath and the Oriental Rock Orchestra while Nimrod Adar adds some excellent contrabass (double bass) to the albums heaviest moment The Undying Flame, and Roy Chen adds additional blast beats to the finale. 

The Grand Crescendo builds on what Pillars Of Creation offered with a broader scope, taking their cues from modern day Opeth on The Invasion Of Paradise, where the jazz influence is clear, haunting melodies and a slow build, the post rock ambiance shifting to heavier riffs and growled vocals, as the guitar solos linger heading back to jazz strength. It’s very impressive musically, but never suffers from being inaccessible, even with extended run times (most are over 8 minutes), and the wealth of musical endeavour keeps you listening. 

Halo Crvsher takes a darker turn as the crunchy guitars and Steven Wilson-like introspection is bolstered by that excellent flute and the sparse drumming. The Grand Crescendo is an album, designed to be listened too from start to finish, there’s no chopping and changing here, a full 62 minutes of music to lose yourself in, the inauspicious beginnings of Clandestine Calamities and Beyond, building into the frankly epic duo of the doom metal meets classical, guitar driven The Undying Flame and the 13 minute marathon of The Field of Reeds: Part I - Far from the Sun, Part II - The Riverbed, Part III - Paradise Of Deceit)

Tthe albums focal point coming in like a mixture of Jethro Tull and Camel albeit if they evolved into crushing death metal, before falling back into acoustics (so Opeth), leading into the outro of sorts Miracles (The Field Of Reeds Part IV)The Grand Crescendo, sets Obsidian Tide up as one of the big hitters in the progressive metal world, as bands like Opeth continue to ride into another decade, Obsidian Tide and a few others make their mark as the heirs to that throne. 9/10

Disguised Malignance - Entering The Gateways (Prosthetic Records) [Mark Young]

Is there such a thing as ‘Meat and Potatoes’ death metal? There should be, reserved for those bands who just serve up hearty comfort music that doesn’t try to be anything else, but a blast beat laden, guttural, double-bass massacre. Can I just say now that I mean no disrespect at all. Sometimes you just want to press play and succumb to wave after wave of brutality.
Described as unearthly death metal, these Helsinki natives have got this just about right with a debut album via Prosthetic records that shows that they have got the right stuff.

Gates Of Nihil has that class start, all deep growls, lower end riffing that carries this along as a brutal statement of intent. It has all the core ingredients required to make you want to listen to more. I know that we have had a great year for bands coming in and taking that old school ethic and making it their own. It’s the same here as they tear into Confined, with that blast beat explosion into controlled fury.

Unearthly Extinction keeps to that path going for the throat with a direct approach. No technical passages or crazy time signatures, it just comes in, hammers you and then onto the next one. The Fading Path Of Existence is another prime example of this, constant attack, always moving, definitely heavy.
Malignant Visions brings a touch of melody into the opening moments that are replaced with a heavy slow down to emphasise the faster music to come. This one has a great dynamic to it and acts as a superb link to Remnants Of Serenity which just has a frantic start, and they maintain that pace right through. This one seems to motor in a way the others don’t possibly because it’s less dependent on blasts and more chugging / trem picking. The end solo break is a great way to finish off. Next comes one of the highlights, Disengagement Into Eternity where they bring some atmosphere into a melodic break down. 

This is done incredibly well, and it stands out because of it. The final act builds on it with a nice nod to early Death. It’s an absolute stormer and for me an early indication of what these are capable of. The song length of 7 minutes doesn’t feel like it as they don’t allow it to settle one bit. Fantastic stuff and then we have the curtain closer, Beyond (Entering The Gateways) which comes in bringing a stomping riff that evokes Morbid Angel (this is fabulous by the way) in terms of that brutality. They somehow up that ante by picking up the pace with some tight riffing whilst getting some melodeath in there.
I’m all for that straightforward death metal, sometimes they can get carried away with concentrating on isolating one facet without considering the song as a whole. Here, they have got what is required from the past without staying locked to it. The downside to this is the fact that they don’t vary too much from one to the next, but they have enough in them to be good songs and anyway this would change what they are and who they are trying to be. They have the approach just right; songs are long enough to register without repeating themselves and each one does what is required. It won’t set the world on fire but for being their debut release it is a strong foundation from which to kick on from. It is Death Metal, its well written and the attack never stops. 7/10

TheFalls - Reflection///Void (Convulse Recordings/Braak Records) [Mark Young]

This has come out of nowhere and landed firmly in the Holy Cow category of releases for 2023. The Norwegian 4piece mix so many ideas into each of the songs here, its difficult to get a handle on it first time round. But stay with it and you will be rewarded by a release that manages to go from Sludge to Hardcore and seemingly all points in between.
Starting off with Patterns Emerge (I) it comes in with a grandiose riff build that displays their Mathcore roots it just twists and turns into the clean spectrum and back into that sludge-tinged attack and back once more. It’s a blast and just a hint of what they have in store. They have more going on in one song than some bands have in an entire album. Stripped back almost 90’s college rock into that Mastodon style with Patterns Emerge (II) picking up the thread and running with it. 

This one explores that softer dynamic with a cracking arrangement that drops heavy bombs but only has a reset before that beautiful passage starts once more. Like I said in the opening piece, there is a ton of stuff present including some down and dirty riffing complete with some of the most anguished growls I’ve heard in some time. Riffs sound as they have been sped up / slowed down and it’s just fantastic.

Nadir (I) employs a darker turn, throwing in some class heavy metal shapes and its own softer side. This has a haunting melodic side that just shows that they can literally do anything and make it sound good and true to themselves. There is a constant avalanche of new ideas that you are desperately trying to get a hold off and it is so difficult because you are swamped with them. The thing is that this isn’t a ‘throw everything at the listener and see what keeps’ this is just the concentrated output of genius level musicians, focused into a laser beam of total audio quality. 

The segue from Nadir (I) to (II) is just excellent and so quick as it then burns into (III) which brings the melody and the noise in equally amazing levels. I think the decision to make these separate was inspired. You can listen in one hit or appreciate them out of way they are delivered here. Both work and there is no point me telling you about the clean here or the dark there. Instead, just accept that this is one of the releases of 2023 across any genre.
And that’s without mentioning the final two tracks.
Seconds, weighs in at 8 minutes and is an often-mesmeric journey into their math / post-metal / prog world that they occupy. It also feels as though this is from a different period in the band’s life, I could be wrong but thinking back to the period it was recorded in between 2019 and 2023 this sits slightly differently from the Patterns Emerge / Nadir. It seems to coalesce everything they know how to write into one track with no drop in the incredibly high bar they have set themselves with the other songs on here.
Album closer, The Hardest Part Is Over really goes for you and is just brimming with anger and urgent need to express itself. Breakdowns, super low ends coupled with a tightened to breaking point rhythm that opens itself to a lighter solo break, all gentle chords and singing (think later Opeth) that just powers this home.
Closing this review out, I would say that Reflections///Void should be heralded as a classic. Its just full of amazingly strong riffs, arrangements, the lot. This should be gratefully received by lovers of Mathcore. It should be adored by lovers of progressive extreme metal. Its not for everyone, of course. Some will be of the mindset that it’s not for them, that they prefer a more straight forward approach. Well, you won’t know if you don’t try it. And you should try it. 10/10

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Reviews: Code Orange, Explosions In The Sky, I Am Low, Svartkonst (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Maria Owen, Rich Piva & James Jackson)

Code Orange – The Above (Blue Grape Music) [Matt Bladen]

Having been given several ‘next big thing’ tags Code Orange release their new album The Above, drawing on their amalgamation of sounds and forward thinking attitude this Pittsburgh 6 piece have progressed from hardcore punk, through metalcore into a much more well-rounded, progressive leaning band that pairs building levelling heaviness with, on this fifth album notions of grunge, trip-hop and hip-hop to make a sound that will “wash over you” as Jami Morgan (vocals) puts it.

He and Eric Balderose (vocals/keys/programming/guitars) produced the record bringing in the legendary Steve Albini to engineer, it’s the inclusion of Albini that brings that grunge/alt rock influence as he is one of the most celebrated producers/engineers, his work with Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey and Husker Du amongst many, many (over a thousand) others, his rebellious ethos perfect match for Code Orange and their wall of guitar noise, something Albini has long been the main exponent of.

Recorded for the first time in the same room to catch the vibe they wanted The Above is a record that will become a turning point in the Code Orange history, their maturity and focus on achieving a certain goal is admirable. Building from that repeating drum pattern on Never Far Apart, Morgan and Reba Meyers trade off vocals, the creepy, beginnings reminding me of Smashing Pumpkins as the abrasive guitars of Meyers and Dominic Landolina, frothing and building until they finally get to be unleashed on the woozy Theatre Of Cruelty, the buzzing and twitching of the electronics invading the verses, goes a bit Deftones, as the chorus breaks out into the more familiar heavy sound.

The dissonance returns for Take Shape has Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, his voice here and the next track The Mask Of Sanity Slips come through like a mix of NIN and Alice In Chains. I’m all here for it as that era of grunge/alt has always been a go to for me, unflinching and unfussed about being popular, it’s music for the outsider, this ethos coming through on The Above. The guitar sound is rough and raw, so it’s for the keyboards and programming to fill the spaces I between, Joe Goldman’s bass often directing the heaviness but on Mirror, where there’s PJ Harvey and Alanis Morrissette, his bass is intricate. Max Portnoy commanding the kit with dexterity on A Drone Opting Out Of The Hive where the Slipknot level of extreme percussion is used on a stop-start track, driven by breakbeat.

The Above is 14 tracks but the album is only just over 50 minutes, you get a wide breadth of music sequenced, produced, engineered and performed to be taken in one sitting, the thematic and musical links creating a bridge between the past and the future. Intense and visceral, Code Orange have made cross generational record where Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z will all find something to latch on to! (Sorry Boomers). 9/10

Explosions In The Sky - End (Temporary Evidence Limited) [Maria Owen]

Ok, so one of my favourite bands have just released a new album. I can't be bothered to waffle so I'll just jump straight in.

The album's introduction track; Ten Billion People, starts with an uncharacteristic upbeat build up with layered droning crunchy guitars that break into a more military drum led section that settles the track back into musical territory more emotive and typical of this band. It plods along pleasantly creating lots of headroom for the multiple layers of guitar at work subtly in the back ground, setting the tone ready for track 2, Moving On, this track is again surprisingly upbeat and has quite a 90s alternative rock vibe going on before once again pulling everything back to an atmospheric minimal state before kicking in with another military style drum build up. This song offers up some dynamics that I expect will be stunning live.

This flows beautifully into the next track Loved Ones starts with some gorgeous and strange effected guitars that are picked with a beautiful discordance, before a simple acoustic piano takes over. This band once again prove that they are masters of simplicity. The build ups once again beautiful and more hopeful sounding than on previous albums. So far it's like happy post rock by numbers.

Peace Or Quiet starts with a more pentatonic quality very akin to their sister band, Mogwai, in all it's mellow splendour. The delicate and warming tones and textures are subtle and somatic. It's so relaxing that I feel as though I'm being gently rocked to sleep. Of course they interrupt this state by smashing some drums and guitar stabs in the mix; steering the track in a new direction that feels like a modern Baba O Reilly, and that I have to start running over fields being a teenage waster that doesn't give a shit. Nice.

All Mountains starts with a suspended intro that bursts into a restrained but beautiful, almost math rock section that doesn't lose it's sense of wonder as new instrumental parts are added bar by bar, twisting and turning in it's mini labyrinth of surprises. Absolutely stunning sections cascade from one to the other, oscillating between its highs and lows aided by always colourful and fuzzy drumming and alternate picking displaying beautiful reverbs and delays galore. This track really brings it up with a heavier build of tremolo strumming, weaving up a frenzy before letting the track end without dragging it out for the sake of self felatio. Always a band that know how to keep it classy.

Returning to a melancholic sound, much more typical of EITS, The Fight instills in me that familiar desolate feeling of despair. Straightforward in its approach it juxtaposes more minor chords against the protruding upbeat sections to create a bit of an emotional struggle. It's all so sad and bittersweet. The songs fades out and is taken over by a solo piano as the album slides into it's final track It's Never Going To Stop; that just hits where it hurts then tries to sooth my now inconsolable heart with beautiful upbeat bass and guitars that contradict the heavy and depressing moments that interject throughout this piece. It is the perfect example of tension and release within this mini odyssey that finishes the album perfectly.

Although more upbeat than their previous albums, End reveals itself to be another gentle, creeper that will drill itself into your soul and then will haunt you for eternity. Pioneers in post rock, Explosions In The Sky have once again produced an album that stands shoulder to shoulder with their previous albums and although formulaic in some ways it is quite refreshing in its treatment of more cheerful feels. A consistent band that don't churn out any old shit just because it't been a while, Explosions In The Sky evidently, meticulously put a lot of thought and heart into each and every note and beat.

I'm very much looking forward to hearing this live in November when they play at Troxy in London. 8/10

I Am Low - Uma (Majestic Mountain Records) [Rich Piva]

The Swedish band I Am Low play fuzzy stoner grunge and are influenced by who you would think they would be when you see some of those words. What band do you hear a lot these days when describing bands who describe themselves as grunge? Well, Alice In Chains of course, and I Am Low come right from the House of Jerry and Layne for sure. They are in no way a direct rip off; however, you can hear the influence but never where it is too much. I Am Low just leverages what we all love about AIC and incorporates that into Uma, their debut full length and follow up to their introductory EP, Illusions.

One thing about Uma that is different than what you heard from especially their early Alice stuff is that Uma just sounds cleaner. You feel kind of dirty (pun intended) when you listen to those first AIC albums, I Am Low just seems a bit cleaner. It may be the production, which is clean but not too clean (bordering on but I am cool with it), but the grime you get from Facelift is missing here. Which is fine when you have a catchy, 90s alt rock radio hit like Gunman opening the album. Gunman is more STP than AIC, with a groove that reminds me of Crackerman from the first STP record. 

Dead Space slow burns in with those AIC style vocals and here is where the worship begins, and I am here for it. The vocals on this track are great but try not to think of Layne and Jerry harmonizing when you listen. Ruins is a quick two-minute ripper that has 90s alt rock all over it, leading into Wake that comes at you with a heavy riff, driving bass line, and vocals spookily reminiscent of the band I have mentioned a few times already. I like the weird guitar effect about halfway through. Other standout tracks include Pigs, which has a riff that reminds me of Sunczar and a bridge that screams Jerry and Layne and Release, the closer (not sure any grunge album should close with a song called Release given there is already a perfect example of this), that is super catchy and the most unique track on all or Uma, reminding me of the Backwater version of the Meat Puppets.

This is going to come off sounding like an insult, but I Am Low sounds like an Alice In Chains-lite. I mean this with only Peace and Love, as the band does the AIC thing very well, albeit just not as big and gross as those guys perfected. That is not to say Uma is not a great listen, because it is. The AIC lite thing is just a reference point. There will be a lot of people who really dig Uma, me being one of them, but to ignore the influence would not be right here. I Am Low have given us a nice batch of tracks leveraging their love for 90s grunge and put their spin on it. I am fine with this and will always be fine with this. Just don’t expect anything earth shatteringly unique, just what is considered well done grunge in 2023. 7/10

Svartkonst - May The Night Fall (Trust No One Recordings) [James Jackson]

Citing themselves, or at least by the bio that comes with this pack, as blackened death metal, Sweden’s Svartkonst release their third album to date this year and upon a first listen I will admit I was a little bit sceptical, for my journey into black metal was short lived and finally settled, to this day, within the realms of the more symphonic, gothic elements portrayed by the likes of Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. The only other blackened death metal act I’ve actually listened to was Behemoth and whilst I was quite the fan of 2014’s The Satanist, I must admit that that’s probably when I last listened to them. 

So diving into May The Night Fall I wasn’t overly sure what I was getting myself into, though ultimately it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had feared. It’s an album of two parts, not conceptually or as in the good old days of cassette but those death and black influences and aspirations are almost divided into tracks, as if a conscious decision was made to alternate between the two genres track by track, opening track Haunt Me has the feel of early Samael, their early 90’s work and their album Ceremony Of Opposites in particular, there’s a groove and head nodding rhythm to it but the heaviness is still there. 

Such is the case for Straight To The Grave and Crooked Horns, tracks three and six respectively, similarly I’m reminded of Entombed and their Wolverine Blues album, again early 90’s death metal that was dabbling in something more than their peers at the time. Then there are tracks like Breath Of Satan and Endless Dark which are unashamedly black metal through and through, offering blast beats and frenetic guitar lines. Curiously there are two instrumental tracks upon this album and I was quite intrigued by the last of the two, the gorgeously entitled Crown Of Dead Flowers, it has a strong doom metal vibe to it, that unfortunately doesn’t lead into a similarly influenced track but at just over two minutes long it was quite interesting. 

Whilst the likelihood of me listening to this album again are minimal, it’s not bad at all, certainly something worth considering if you like your black metal with a dash of death. 5/10

Reviews: Tides Of Sulfur, Of Virtue, Terra Builder, Z-Machine (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Danika Ulrich)

Tides Of Sulfur – Apathy Chasm (APF Records) [Matt Bladen]

South Wales most aggressive, unflinching, righteous band return with their new full length Apathy Chasm. Released again on the magnet for all things heavy APF Tides Of Sulfur deliver more audio battery where the most extreme fringes of music are brought together in a cacophony of ear piercing feedback and headache inducing distortion. 

The trio of Chris (bass/vocals) Snake (guitar/vocals) and Tom (drums), have be sniping at injustice, the lurch to the right on the previous records, and they do so here measuring that with lyrics about depression, existential dread and the search for meaning in a relentlessly cruel world. The music then has to be more cruel, louder, more dissonant than the influences they have lyrically, their use of grind, sludge and blackened death is the audio equivalent of a buzzsaw on a concrete block. 

The biting riffs of Anthony "Snake" O'Shea, harsh and noisy, the idea of 'clean' guitars almost abhorrent, though there a flashes of melody beneath the wall of noise. Chris Bull's anguished screams are shouts into the unforgiving void as they explore their own Apathy Chasm from their experiences of the last four years. Chris' bass reverberates with low frequency fuzz, it's filthy and aggressive in unison with Tom Lee's cripplingly loud cannon fire drumming.

With Anxiety Veteran they set the tone of bleak, dissonance, the sludge crawl of Ruined following things up as if drawn from the bowels of the underworld, the gears shifting to the hardcore rage of Downhill. The heaviness of Summer Of Snakes is beyond compared as the ferocity of Blame Thrower eviscerates everything in its path. Another slab of South Wales nastiness, abetted by APF Records, they may as well moves down this way as it seems our green peaks and valleys are gray and threatening. 9/10

Of Virtue - Omen (Arising Empire) [Danika Ulrich]

No band is more aware of the necessity of growth and development to adapt and survive than Of Virtue. Evolution of sound and progression is a constant to make it in the modern metalcore scene. Metalcore can take many different forms and Of Virtue like to focus on the melodic side. As a matter of fact, they occasionally border on pop music.

The albums opening track, Hypocrite, reminds me of classic nu metal with a touch of synths added to their brand of sound. Sober is a metalcore ballad, if that's even a thing. It is a wonder to behold. The shortest track but it also happens to be one of the strongest. A.N.X.I.E.T.Y. is a fierce song that is possibly the album's most angry track. 

However, even amid the chaos there are instances of calm brought on by bursts of melody. In True Colors, the vocals are primarily tortured and pained as the pace picks up. One of the albums catchier songs is Sinner. It leans more toward pop but the powerful riffs negate that. Cannibals is a memorable track with a chorus that will undoubtedly stick in my head. It has some of the stand out riffs of the album.

Melodic components serve to stir up the aggression that comes naturally with the style of music. In addition to metalcore there are ambient elements, clean and fuzzy vocals, memorable choruses and industrial style riffs are mixed in. The album has a core oozing with sullen guitars and an affinity for multidimensional vocals. The band combines an expansive taste for the melodic, memorable, and beautiful. 

In order to produce music that is absolutely their own, Of Virtue clearly drew inspiration from several genres and styles. As a result, they have established a diverse and captivating album. 9/10.

Terra Builder - Solar Temple (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Danika Ulrich]

The death grind onslaught of Terra Builder is aggressive and catchy. They are also being creative with it by adding black metal and sludge influences. Albums like this are hard to come by when you consider its their debut.

The opening track End Of Orbit is immediately impactful with a deathly barrage. The music is unrelentingly savage. The violent chugs of Interplanetary Portal ripped through my ears. Abyss borders on atmospheric black metal in spite of the fact their main objective seems to be dissonant destruction.

Death grind groups frequently suffer from being frustratingly one dimensional however, Terra Builder are prepared to advance the genre. Solar Temple has been created to serve as a monument to creativity, variety, and most importantly the unrestrained, instinctual violence needed to achieve it. 

The albums atmosphere is viscerally enticing, contagious, and frightful. The group has an intriguing death grind sound that leans more toward the dark side than extreme brutality.

They have some heavy riffs that kind of resemble sludgy doom with a touch of death metal. Along with the ominous tone of the song structures, the vocals and guitar soloing are two features that distinguish this band. A fearsome blaze rages inside Solar Temple. Every chord is filled with unrepentant animosity. 

The German quintet starts out strong on their debut album.This album was made to tear the listener apart. 8/10.

Z Machine – Merging Worlds (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Rob Harrison is a former member of South Wales psych proggers Attercorpus (who actually only released their debut, twice, after they split up), he's a saxophone player and flautist, on new band Z-Machine he joins with guitarists Owen Rosser and Gareth Piper from death metal band Extinction for some instrumental jazz fusion/prog that owes inflyence to King Crimson, Gong, Ozric Tentacles and to really throw it back Brand X or Frank Zappa. 

No vocals are no problem as it's Harrison's sax and flute that take that lead role, the guitars intertwining, cleaner and more fluid that on the two axe men's last band. They recruited Kristian Reese on bass, a gifted bass player is the cornerstone of any prog outfit, as is a killer drummer that role filled by Lester Greenhalgh who has the jazz chops needed to play the off kilter rhythms needed for this crossover style. 

Written over three years, their tracks have been honed at festivals such as Glastonbury Psychefest, Kozfest and others, the experimental nature of jazz fusion meaning that I assume these 'final' versions that feature here will evolve much more when played live. So what is Merging World like? Well if you like any of the bands I've mentioned then you'll be in your elements as the little interludes, split up the proper tracks such as Bonus ErputusMyrtle The Turtle and Joining The Q, to pick a few. 

Each song brings something new, keeping a familiarity in sound but not always in style. Throwing back to a niche style thats on the cusp of the rocksphere, Z Machine are happenin' man. 8/10

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Reviews: Death Dealer Union, Kal-El, 10% Reptile, By Fire & Sword (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

Death Dealer Union - Initiation (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Death Dealer Union are not an offshoot of power metal supergroup Death Dealer, they were formed by CC McKenna (drums), Doug Weiand (lead guitar) who quickly brought in Lena Scissorhands from modern metal act Infected Rain on vocals to lead their occult leaning heavy metal alchemy. 

This resulted in singles and then the pandemic stalled things, however now with Hunter Havokk (rhythm and lead guitars) and Jonny Heinz (bass) as part of the band, Valentin Voluta behind the desk they give us their album Initiation. Vangelis must have influenced the title track, the multiple layers of electronics that's drives into The Vow Of Silence where the poppy rocking is joined by symphonic metal and Lena's diverse vocals. 

If I were to make a comparison I'd say they sound a lot like In This Moment, vocally especially, along with a power metal flair of Amaranthe. From hear they take journey's through modern metal, 80's metal, prog metal and even some huge theatrical elements on the final track Beyond Heaven. Lots of variation in what kinds of metal they play, different enough from Lena's day job to feel new, the electronics and guitars working well, but it's nothing you won't have heard before. 

12 tracks over 54 minutes is about right but a few of the songs last a little too long, for what is a decent metal album, that I suggest you check out but it's an Initiation and rather masterclass. 6/10

Kal-El - Moon People EP (Majestic Mountain Records) [Rich Piva]

I am not breaking any news here when I say that the Norwegian stoner/doom band Kal-El rules. They are one of my favorite bands out there in any genre and any new material is always a treat, especially when the songs are as good as what is on their new two-song teaser EP, Moon People. Now don’t get me wrong, of course I want a new full length, but I will take what I can get, and if what I can get is this quality, then bring me like 20 more two song EPs because these songs are killer.

Both of the two tracks on Moon People could have been on one of their classic full lengths like Dark Majesty from 2021 and my favorite album from the band Astrodoomeda. You don’t get the feeling that these tracks were just left over from some recording session. The title track is classic, trademarked Kal-El, from the unique and killer vocals, to the totally tuned down everything, to the never too fast or too slow pace, to the amazing guitar work (dig that two part solo!!!), and don’t forget the overt catchiness of everything they do, Moon People is another Kal-El classic tune for their someday best of collection that will come on some kind of really cool swirl/splatter vinyl. The B-side, Universe, is no slouch either, with a nice faster paced opening led by some killer drum work, an excellent riff, more of those great vocals, and whoa that riff breakdown at about the 2:20 mark that leads to the chorus. Just amazing stuff.

Two songs are not enough, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I am going to just play the crap out of the Moon People EP until we get a new full length. Yes, it is a tease, but it is a tease of the highest quality by one of the top five bands playing this style today. Go get these two amazing tracks. 9/10

10% Reptile - Holographic Fuzz (Playgroundz Records) [Rich Piva]

I don’t think grunge ever went away, but it just seems more and more prevalent in 2023, case in point the new album from 10% Reptile. These guys play fuzzy stoner grunge, which is a sentence I have written a lot this year. The New York band are not here to piggyback on your 90s heroes, as they have their own spin and own sound on the genre(s), creating a sound both familiar and unique to them on their new release Holographic Fuzz. A quick five songs and seventeen minutes of their take on post grunge, there is not a stinker in the bunch, even if the bunch is small in both song volume and length.

I love the opener, City And The Furnace, with its unique guitar sound, almost reminding me of Mudhoney which of course is a great thing. But a more melodic Mudhoney, which strong vocals which are even stronger layered. Catchy, fuzzy, and grungy. A nice stoner riff opens Unfamiliar Hazard, a groovy little tune that reminds me a bit of Raging Slab. The layered vocals work very well on this and all the tracks on Holographic Fuzz. I am also getting a grimier version of Days Of The New vibe on this one as well. More cool riffing with The Last Patrician, which sounds like The Cult/Jerry Cantrell mashup. Don’t Let A Good Thing Go To Waste has serious STP vibes and keeps that groove thing going. Another killer riff introduces us to Nothing’s What It Seems To Be, which is the angriest of the five tracks, and could fit nicely between I Hate You by My Sister’s Machine and Machine Screw by Gruntruck on a 90s mixtape.

This was fun, and I can see myself going back to Holographic Fuzz for a quick listen many times for the foreseeable future. 10% Reptile scratches a lot of 90s itches for me without ever being too formulaic. They get it and do just enough to make what they are doing so different than all the other fuzzy stoner grunge bands out their today. I just wish this was longer. 8/10

By Fire & Sword - Glory (No Remorse Records)

Seeming as if they may be the heavier brothers to bands like Stryper or Wytchazel, By Fire & Sword utilise Christian dogma in the same way that Church Of The Cosmic Skull do, or the way Ghost invert it. Tongues planted in cheeks, the over the top sermons from The Honourable Reverend Tim Tom Jones, right out of hell fire and brimstone Ol' Jim used to give in Jonestown. 

His voice deliver their message loud and clear as Brother Jeffrey supplies the riffs on guitar and bass. With influences from NWOBHM, BOC and even the doom of Candlemass. Leave A Little Room is the welcoming sermon where the Reverend wants his holy spirit to "pierce your frigid heart, again and again". With that established we go from Iron Maiden, to Judas Priest, though those gallops still firmly locked in Fear And Trembling, the gospel call backs coming from guest synth player Jeff Black and Isiah Fletcher the pace behind the kit. On The Feast there's organs from Anthony Parry, me song it goes very Ghost as does The Conduit

With the killer melodic vocals, the NWOBHM styled riffs, classic rock keys/organs and the spiritual themes treated with a wry smile. Glory, Love And Life to you from By Fire & Sword. 7/10

Reviews: Hexvessel, Brian Setzer, Grymheart, Helve (Reviews By Rick Eaglestone, Matt Bladen, James Jackson & Jeremy Silverman)

Hexvessel - Polar Veil (Svart Records) [Rick Eaglestone]

Finland’s Hexvessel return with their sixth album, Polar Veil

Opener The Tundra Is Awake serves a great reintroduction with its hedonistic blend of splitting genres before Older Than The Gods sweeps in with it deliriously intoxicating soundscapes and features guest vocals from Bolzer’s Okoi Thierry Jones. Follow up Listen To The River is woefully down tempo and poetic and features Chelsea Wolfe adding a great depth and dynamic which is then complimented by “Cabin In Montana” which has some nice atmospheric black metal guitar parts.

Highlight track Eternal Meadow is delivered at a frenzied pace with a combination of vocals and spoken word entwining throughout, Crepuscular Creatures has some wonderfully echoing gothic undertones and really showcases the musicianship and encapsulates the overall aesthetic wonderfully. Ring is completely mesmerizing and doom laden which matching dual vocals really catches the atmosphere and although other videos have been the released, the one for this is certainly the most cinematic.

Polar Veil concludes on a maniacal scale as Homeward Polar Spirit stitches together creativity and chaos whilst throwing out one last occult fuelled creation into the ears and hearts of the listener. A cold natured visualization. 7/10

Brian Setzer - The Devil Always Collects (Surfdig Records) [Matt Bladen]

Sans Orchestra, Cat free and ripping out Echoplexed Gretsch rockabilly riffs. Brian Setzer goes back to his roots with The Devil Always Collects, firing off hip shaking old school rock n roll, it's meaner and leaner thanks Gotta Have Rumble, lyrics based around relationships and love, either warranted or unwarranted. Setzer's searing twangy guitar is out against chugging train rhythms, focussing this album around the idea of trio (which he will take on tour), Setzer's return from a long break with renewed vigour heard all over this album.

What rockabilly got to do with a rock/metal blog I hear you cry!? Well Setzer was a friend of Lemmy and formed HeadCat with him so Setzer very much deserves to be included in this blog. This album shows that in droves as it really rocks, the guitar work is really good. The only small issue I have is that when Setzer songs on the numbers such as the spooky The Living Dead and Girl On The Billboard, he's sound alike Weird Al and then I just couldn't unhear it. But that's a personal thing, if you want a throwback party record, then The Devil Always Collects will be a regular play. 7/10

Grymheart - Hellish Hunt (Scarlet Records) [James Jackson]

 According to the iTunes classification of Grymheart they’re a death/black band yet upon first listen, there’s much more of a power metal feel to it, vocally it’s more in keeping with Black Metal, that “screech” that is intrinsically sown into the black metal genre but musically, this is far more symphonic and polished, certainly not recorded in a Norwegian forest on a rusty tin can. 

A very “Folksy” intro opens this album from the Hungarian band which segues into the first song, Hellbent Horde is a frenetically paced track which doesn’t let up, it’s a power metal song through and through, symphonic elements accompanying catchy melodies played out on guitar; Ignis Fatuus or Will-o-the-wisp in English, opens with a similar “Folk” inspired theme that kicked off the album and it’s an underlying theme that runs throughout the album, blending in with and most likely inspiring the more melodic elements within each song. 

To Die By The Succubus, My Hellish Hunt, Army From The Graves, all song titles which give you more than enough of a hint that those not too indecipherable death metal vocals tell tales of witches, demons and armies of the undead and such dark creatures. Such themes can at times, feel somewhat comical and “cheesy” but whether it’s the moredeath metal style of the vocals which mask the lyrics or the ability to write a song about demons and soul sucking witches without it sounding like a joke. 

As a genre I’m not a massive fan of power metal, I can take or leave it as there are elements of it that just trigger me in a negative light although I have become partial to Powerwolf over the last few years; but that said there’s plenty to enjoy on this album, musically it ticks enough boxes to keep me interested. 6/10

Helve - To Be Forgotten (Rip Records) [Jeremy Silverman]

To Be Forgotten was interesting to say the least. With only 4 songs one may be inclined to think this is an EP, however with each song being immensely long, it is clear why this a full length.
My first thoughts were that there is a huge juxtaposition between the music and the vocals. After listening to the entire album, I felt as if the music itself was quite relaxing while the vocals were the direct opposite. On one hand, the guitars’ tone is what made this album seem to calm, the clean tone was full and ethereal while the distortion added a layer of gooey fuzz overtop. On the other hand, the vocals were unequivocally brutal. It was a testament to the vocalist for evoking such raw and powerful emotion over something that may seem sedate.
I enjoyed most the interactions between the serene and the harsh. Helve gave this album something that I had not heard a ton of… life. It is clear that this album has had thought put into it, the sounds made were exact even if they were harsh and raw. Strong 7/10.

Monday 25 September 2023

Reviews: Yawning Man, Apostolica, Never Obey Again, Starbenders (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Yawning Man - Pot Head: 2023 Remaster (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Ripple Music is doing God’s work in giving us the first ever repressing and remastering of instrumental desert rock legends Yawning Man’s debut EP, Pot Head. Originally released in 2005 after the band had been jamming together for around twenty years, Pot Head set the stage for what the standard is for instrumental desert rock today.

There is not much I can say about Pot Head that has not already been documented, but what I can say is that the remastering sounds amazing, especially on vinyl, which I was lucky enough to receive a few days early. It is subtle, but you can tell if you listen side by side. Updated in the best ways possible. Digital Smoke Signals sounds as great as ever, being one of my favorite Yawning Man tracks in their discography, it has only gained with the remaster. The layout and art are updated too, all increasing the awesomeness of this release. I love that Todd worked directly with the band on this, getting their input two decades later, on how they would have improved certain aspects of an already classic release.

If you have not heard Pot Head before, you no longer have an excuse, because Ripple has done you the service of making this available to the masses again. Buy this, put it on your turntable, plop on those headphones, and be ready to be amazed. 8/10

Apostolica - Animae Haeretica (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

Easiest review I've done all year! Do you like Powerwolf? Great! You'll like Apostolica. It's actually scary how close they sound to the Lycanthropic power metal crew. The gruff vocals, the Teutonic power metal chug, the occult imagery/lyrics and symphonic/orchestrated sections. 

Animae Haeretica is their second album that draws inspiration from the Apostolics (a Christian sect founded in Northern Italy during the late 13th century by Gherardo Segarelli), like the mystery's surrounding the Illuminati, the Apostolics make for some great storytelling due to their unorthodox beliefs (A protest against the invasion of the Church, who branded them Heretics). 

The music has triumphal moments such as Tomorrow Belongs To Me, along with full on power metal riffers like Rasputin and Fire, that Germanic sound of thrashy power metal coming through in the biting guitars and rough vocals, while the scope is broadened with ecclesiastical chanting and haunting church organs. To be honest Animae Haeretica is a decent album, if you like Powerwolf but it’s been done to death. 6/10

Never Obey Again – The End Of An Era (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

Looks like I’m going 2 for 2 on Scarlet Record releases this week. Never Obey Again are a modern metal band from Italy, bringing chuggy djent riffs, electronics and nu/alt metal influences that aspire to be Spiritbox, Linkin Park, Evanescence and fellow Italians Lacuna Coil but rather come off as a bit of a pastiche. 

Now the performances are great and singer Carolina has a great emotional vocal delivery, perfect for the feminist, defiant lyrics of Toxic Feelings and Take Care Of You, a band with a message brought to the listener with hooky choruses and big riffs, but Never Obey Again don’t really stand out from a very saturated style, tracks such as Stronger making me think of a Eurovision ‘rock’ number. 

Of course if the lyrics resonate with you then you’ll disagree and really get into the record however from a strictly musical view these Italians are trading very well traversed water. They also close the album with a cover of Zombie from The Cranberries, its average at best and we don’t need another cover of this song (Breed 77 already did the best version). 

The End Of An Era, is just the start for Never Obey Again, so there’s plenty of potential. 6/10

Starbenders - Take Back The Night (Sumerian Records) [Rich Piva]

Starbenders are a very slick self-described “glam rock” band out of Atlanta, Georgia who play big, arena rock anthem type stuff that sound like if the understudy of the understudy of the understudy to Pat Benatar was fronting a Frontiers Music backed band. Their third (!) album, Take Back The Night, is more overproduced, generic hard rock that sounds like it was built in a lab, with some nice guitar work but with at best generally unmemorable and at worst nausea inducing songs in a world where there could be million other bands who do and/or could sound just like them. I don’t want to visit that world.

All you need to hear are the first couple of tracks to know this will not stick with you, but at least the solo on the song Sex is nice. Body Talk is cringy and We’re Not OK sounds like a terrible soundtrack song that plays during a c-movie sex scene. Yikes, I really started to turn on this album by the time Cherry Wine came on, and the rest is a hard pass. I tried, but yeah, I am not feeling this at all. Oh, don’t get me started on the cover of Alice Cooper’s classic, Poison. There ought to be a law against such atrocities. I would be issuing the warrant as we speak. I am not sure who the target audience for Take Back The Night is, but it is certainly not me or anyone else who I care about.

Well, if you can’t say anything nice… I keep taking glam rock albums from the folder, and each one of them have been different and my expectations have been quite wrong. I want Bowie glam, not what this is, whatever it is…and whatever this is I want no part of. This may have been one or two points higher if not for the utter murdering of a classic Alice Cooper song, which to me is an unforgivable act. 1/10

Reviews: Paul Rodgers, Bruce Soord, Guilt Trip, Anima Hereticae (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Danika Ulrich)

Paul Rodgers - Midnight Rose (Sun Records)

If you don't know the name Paul Rodgers then you don't know rock music. The founding member of both Free and Bad Company as well as the singer who reactivated Queen (as Queen + Paul Rodgers) in the 2000's before they settled on Adam Lambert as vocalist, if there's a blueprint for blues rock singer it's the leather lunged, soulful delivery of Paul Rodgers.

Midnight Rose is special for anyone that's a fan as it's his first solo album of all new material in 25 years, released on the legendary Sun Records (Elvis Presley), produced by Paul's wife Cynthia and Bob Rock, these eight tracks are perfectly formed to remind you of how good Rodgers is not just as a singer, his voice doesn't seem to age! But also his skill as a songwriter/musician, having written everything here with the exception of Living It Up which was co-written by bassist Todd Ronning, and drummer Rick Fedyk.

Midnight Rose starts off with the bluesy strut of Coming Home (great sax) while Photo Shooter moves more towards pop rock, perhaps the follow up to C-lebrity recorded with Queen. It's typical Paul Rodgers fayre but great to hear him letting loose again.

The first slow number being the country/Americana of the title track, the rock coming back on Living It Up which is a biographical track about him moving from Middlesbrough to America (via Canada) where he resides now and how the blues is his biggest inspiration. The hooks are big and the choruses easy to repeat but instrumentally these eight tracks are all quite concentrated with different layers.

The Paul Simon approach of Dance In The Sun is welcome after Living It Up, Classical/Spanish guitar playing, hand claps and great vibes, it's corny but enjoyable. Highway Robber brings a bit of that Free magic. Organist Chris Gestrin working his magic over the soulful R&B of Take Love while Ray Roper and Keith Scott absolutely slay on the guitars whether on the acoustics, on which most of this album is built or when they get to show off a bit on the first two tracks.

Does it have the next All Right Now, Wishing Well, Can't Get Enough or I Feel Like Making Love? No but the lineage if these tracks can be found here. More importantly the evergreen voice that brought them to life is still as potent and powerful as it was all those years ago. At a time where a lot of the big rock vocalists are mellowing or changing their tact, least said about Rod Stewart the better, Paul Rodgers is still creating music that is as authentic to who he is as a performer. 8/10

Bruce Soord - Luminescence (Kscope)

Bruce Soord is a polymath, singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist, band leader of The Pineapple Thief, having made his name with said band a few years ago he released his debut solo album, fast forward and Luminescence is now his third solo offering. His solo albums have always been less heavy than the prog rock mastery of The Pineapple Thief, often favouring layered acoustics and repeating electronics to create ambiance rather than just being direct and riffy. 

Soord was inspired by Charles Duvelle, using field recordings like on Nestle In or Rushing, to mold the sound of this album, in an attempt to find peace and serenity Luminescence was written on the road and at Soords home studio with Andrew Skeet who is the musical producer of The Divine Comedy and an orchestrator. The acoustic guitar sits at the heart of all things Luminescence, tracks such as Olomouc hang on the intricate acoustic guitar but beautiful strings make it come alive, Lie Flat meanwhile has some electronic percussion to drive it along as So Simple is just that Soord's fragile vocal and a single instrument, Dear Life the first single encapsulates the ethos of the album, musical density paired with introspection and calmness. 

Soord has crafted an album that is designed to bring serenity, beautifully composed record where the sequencing is king, a long musical thread that links the songs together, carrying you away to this world of calm. With so much loud, riffy, aggressive music around, diving into an album such as Luminescence occasionally realigns your brain that music can be quiet, deft and spine tingling. 8/10

Guilt Trip - Severance (MLVLTD MUSIC) [Danika Ulrich]

Manchester’s hardcore 4 piece Guilt Trip are back with their first release since signing to Malevolence owned MLVLTD MUSIC. With this release it is clear Guilt Trip are ready to break into larger audiences after devoting several years honing their craft in the underground hardcore scene. Many bands recently have ferociously stomped out of the UK's underground from all over and pushed their way to the top of the international scene. Guilt Trip is one of these groups leading the charge with this brand of UK hardcore that is fresh, extremely aggressive, and relentless. Severance, their sophomore album, is a ruthlessly brutal piece of work filled with thrashing breakdowns and some unexpected delights.

Overall, it is ferociously brutal and sharp. Even though the band have broadened their sound, they haven't forgotten their roots. This is prominent in tracks Tearing Your Life Away, Sanctified, Eyes Wide Shut, and Hell Will Replace The Rain. The sound changes in Broken Wings, where they add cleaner guitars and vocals. This gives the album an emotive evolution that is then developed more in the closing song, Dusk. This soft, heartfelt track reveals a side of Guilt Trip that we haven't previously seen. It's a fascinating way to wrap up such an aggressive album.

Severance sounds much more punchy and precise thanks to the band's evolution of sound to incorporate melody and more dynamic riffs as well as higher quality production. It appears that Guilt Trip have borrowed techniques from Malevolence, particularly in the albums second half, which features emotionally loaded melodies and clean vocals. The majority of this album radiates an unrestrained rage. As they move through the metal, hardcore, and thrash spectrum, Guilt Trip do not hold back in releasing a barrage of intense aggression. Throughout the course of this album, each riff and breakdown annihilated my ears. The tension and momentum that are steadily built up in Guilt Trip are then released in incredibly satisfying breakdowns or bursts of groove-heavy riffs. 10/10

Anima Hereticae - Descended From The Mountains (Inverse Records) [Danika Ulrich]

Finnish blackened death metal three piece, Anima Hereticae, have released their debut album and I’m ready to be engulfed by the foreboding and sinister soundscapes. A blend of Scandinavian melodic metal, death metal, and black metal aspects makes up the band's distinctive sound. Even though their music is referred to as blackened death, Anima Hereticae combine the best of Scandinavian melodic death metal into their arsenal. This masterful blending of genres produces an album that is at once aggressive but when necessary, held back and calming.

The band unleashes into Two Wolves which unquestionably the album's best track. It features an impressive vocal performance paired with frantic but melodic riffs. Track 3, the albums single Kraken, perfectly encapsulates Anima Hereticae’s dexterity of blackened death metal. Fusing scorching riffs, fearsome vocals and thundering drums to produce an incredibly hypnotic and atmospheric song. The vocals are the focal point for me on this album with such a wide range. The vocals in Kalman Väki range from black metal growls to the occasional clean. This distinguishes the song and creates an album with real substance and atmosphere.

I found myself captivated by their eerie melodies and unrelenting aggression. There is a chillingly gothic aura throughout the album. Magnificent soundscapes brimming with atmosphere abruptly give way to the stereotypical sound of Scandinavian metal. Descended From The Mountains is a perfect debut album. The band is entirely unknown but are rushing into territories where their genres elite exist. Anima Hereticae appeared out of nowhere armed with an assault of obscene death metal. 8/10

Friday 22 September 2023

A View From Beyond The Void: Cosmic Void Festival Day 3 (Live Review By Alyn Hunter & Natalie King)

Cosmic Void Festival Day 3, Camden, Sunday 17.09.23

Not that rain matters too much when bouncing back and fore between indoor venues, but it was certainly on the horizon today. We arrived in time to see a healthy queue growing outside the Underworld in anticipation of Blood Countess (8) who would be opening up the procedings as the UK representation in the Underworld. 

Coming out of the blocks absolutely raging, The Countess and her cohort delivered a savaging 40-minute spectacle, although unfortunately from our position in the crowd which was rapidly growing the mix was lead guitar unfriendly in particular, which meant we got a specific battering from the drums, vocals and bass, and some of the intricacies of guitarist Steve's lead-work was sadly difficult to find. That said however, when it did eek through the bombardment of blasts and kicks and Nina's fierce screams, it added the extra nuance and necessary dimension to the onslaught. Really solid 2nd wave-esque black metal to blow off the morning (or early afternoon as it was) cobwebs and hopefully will catch them again with a slightly more forgiving sound (we could've moved, but ultimately we wanted to be in the crowd and supportive!).

Over to the Ballroom which was not yet open, and instead had another biblical queue outside in the rain which quickly started pelting down. The same door/first band problems as the day prior had returned so we waited it out until the queue died down and then headed in to catch Austrians Anomalie (9) who were a thrilling spectacle. A UK debut for the epic post-Black band and they fully grasped the opportunity, and this was honestly one of the finds of the festival for us resulting in two CD's and a tshirt bought immediately afterward (whilst also glancing longingly at the extensive and exceptionally colourful Cult Of Fire merch offering). Another band that we'll be spinning a lot in future, taking a lot from doom and more modern interpretations of the genre, leaning heavily on the melody and grandiose sections that brought real goosebumps to the arms - somebody please bring these back, we'll be there.

Danish Angstskrig (7) came in as last minute replacements for the Greek band Gentihaa, and this was another change of pace for the weekend in general. Having been kept busy at the merch stand in the Ballroom acquiring Anomalie merch, we missed the first half, however Angstskrig treated us to a more upbeat blend with plenty of punk and some stoner-esque vibes piercing through. It also provided us with a hilarious moment that somewhat typifies a stereotype of some Black Metal fans where the vocalist declared that 'Sunday is funday, so we're going to play a fun one', followed swiftly by a punter nearby loudly declaring that humour doesn't belong in Black Metal as he made his exit. OK buddy. 

Black morph masks were donned a la Mgla, Groza, Uada etc, but almost tongue in cheek with their delivery, the Danes were hard not to enjoy from their sheer delight at being able to perform for their first time in the UK.

Mixed feelings became of us for Ved Buens Ende (7) in the Ballroom. Musically brilliant and bordering on genius, with very DSO-style dissonance interwoven between jarring time signature changes and impressive key-switches that lurched frequently, however the vocal delivery was always going to be marmite and it wasn't necessarily for us. The avant-garde Norweigans were another on a long list of historically important contributors to the genre present at the festival and initially high on the must see list, but reality was that eventually hunger came calling and that superceded any desire to continue to be challenged by their complexity. 

In some ways, quite a little gutted as would've wanted to have seen more from a band making their first UK performance since 1995, but in retrospect felt that this band would've suited a more intimate setting, and with their very niche sound this was always a particular performance that meant that if you weren't feeling it, you'd struggle to engage.

Another of the South American contingent Sol Sistere (8) had made their way over from Chile for this UK debut. Their craft isn't anything out of the ordinary or pioneering, slotting neatly into the modern atmospheric Black metal styling, but when that's the case in a quickly becoming over-crowded and popular sub-genre, it has to be delivered well. A large crowd lapped up the fact that this was exactly what happened as they shifted between blistering blast-filled sections into moving and emotive acoustic passages effortlessly with rapturous applause between every offering. CD bought, bearing in mind the distance it may be a while until they return, but a fantastic example of the talent coming in from further afield.

Where to begin for the band that probably drew the biggest crowd of the weekend? Cult Of Fire (10), was the vocalist making cereal? Are those guitarists SITTING? ON GIANT HOODED PYTHONS? MASKS? GIANT HORNS? Oh my. When the Ballroom has a legitimate use for its stage curtains opening and closing at the bookends of a set, you know that the stage-show is going to be just as important as the music, and this was probably the most intricate performance we've seen in a long while, even knowing that this wasn't even their "final form" due to stage size limitations (and presumably a ban on anything that emitted smoke like incense), no detail was second nor space was spared from the performance that probably used the bulk of the dry ice supplies of the weekend. 

Cult Of Fire are one of the few bands who can legitimately use the word Ritual when describing their forays and not have any questions asked as they theme their output around Hindu deities, but more importantly they deliver a mesmerising and complete show that veers between intense blast-beat laden black metal, occult serene passages, and magic(k)al and captivating lead melodies at a moments notice. In some ways, they made Batushka feel a bit ASDA-price. Judging by the crowd which was rammed throughout, probably the most anticipated set of the weekend for many, with just cause. A truly special booking and complete performance, and maybe should've headlined Saturday... just saying.

Given the enormous task of having to follow that, Helleruin (7), one of the few corpsepaint and spikes-clad bands of the day still manages to play to a packed and attentive Underworld. In total honesty, having just witnessed such a complete performance it felt difficult giving full attention and shifting down a gear to the more primitive catalogue of blasts, spikes and tremolo-barbed rage provided by the Dutchmen, but the one-man-band turned live act did a solid job of giving the show his fans craved even if not boundary-breaking. Definitely an act we'd catch again, just preferably not after having to spend time collecting our jaws from the floor. We might even have missed the disco-beat and cowbell moment from Riddles In Devil's Tongue if it was performed... so ultimately we're not doing them any justice here.

Back to Norway's prolific Keep Of Kalessin (8) and their self-styled blend of epic extreme metal at the Ballroom. Unfortunately, the Norweigans had to cancel their last scheduled tour back in 2022 due to poor sales across the board, although whether this was purely down to the post-Covid effect though or some unworkable logistics/legitimately low demand is a debatable topic for another time. Picking up acclaimed YouTube drummer Wanja 'Nechtan' Groger was a stroke of genius though as he slotted in perfectly with their often immensely demanding drum parts and handled them seemingly effortlessly. 

London was promptly taken on a tour of the discography, punctuated with a lot of between-song narration by an exceptionally cheery Obsidian C who was happy to play the showman and talk the talk, tracks were performed from all eras of their anthology with the recurring theme being blistering speed and unrelenting bombast. The crowd had noticeably thinned compared to Cult Of Fire, but this was ultimately epic extreme metal performed exceptionally, although clearly got the best of a few, or some who just wished to pile into Sinmara early. Perhaps a stark reminder that very few bands have the privilege of living off legacy alone, but it was good to see the former Eurovision entrants (honestly I cannot even imagine...) finally get their time back on these shores after so long.

With that, it was time to be absolutely crushed by Sinmara (9), the second of the two Icelandic bands ready to bludgeon a heaving underworld. Shades Of Akhlys from last year arose with the Underworld having a queue to get in. Dissonant and brooding tones and cavernous vocals captivated the heaving crowd, with menacing cuts from their eponymous record 'Hvísl Stjarnann' forming a good portion of the set. Bathed in dark red light with minimal fanfare, this by contrast to the comparatively flambuoyant Keep Of Kalessin was an ominous and evil performance that reached into truly dense and sinister territory through their intricate riffing and harrowing songwriting. 

Icelandic Black Metal is held in rightly high regard at the moment for their unique interpretations of the genre genetics, and for good reason as Sinmara gave an absolute masterclass in how to be wowed by complexity whilst simultaneously melted by the sheer density of their sound. It's a rare treat to have two of the leading visionaries make their way over to demonstrate their prowess, so here's another call to get these rebooked these for a UK tour and bring Abduction along for the ride, that's a perfect match made in hell right there.

Somewhat exhausted after a weekend of largely special sets pulling us from venue to venue, we ventured back to the Ballroom to find Borknagar (10) who were the billed Saturday headliner, though not the final band playing. Having a number of attempts at bringing them over scuppered for various reasons such as the ill-fated Manorfest, the capable hands of Cult Of Parthenope were able to finally deliver on bringing the enigmatic Norweigans over for the first time in 25 years, and this was a performance befitting a headliner without much pomp or self-indulgence. 

Magnificent duopoly between vocalists ICS Vortex (renowned for his time with Dimmu of course and his impressive vocal gymnastics) and Lazare who was also handling keyboards, the Ballroom was treated to singalong material from start to finish giving the festival a real closer with all the relevant showmanship. Having been punished with blast-beats and razor-sharp riffs most of the weekend, there was something palpably warming watching a room of engrossed metalheads with weary necks singing along to Voices that resonated long after they had finished. Performing cuts from across their extensive history and closing with the anthem Winter Thrice, Borknagar treated Camden to a well overdue performance with the sole downside that due to the scheduling limitations of the Ballroom and their curfew that it couldn't have gone on longer.

As we were getting through the day, and our legs were starting to fail, Germans Desaster (9) weren't necessarily seeming like the most enticing option in prolonging the suffering of the cartilege in our aching knees, but damn we were glad we put the effort in at the end. The Underworld filled out one final time for the German Black/Thrash outfit who would be closing out the festival in a post-headline performance that felt like it took very little effort from them to easily draw out whatever intensity remained from the remaining fans who went absolutely apeshit. 

There's something incredibly endearing when you see a band with years behind them still having such a great time on stage and engaging with the audience, and arguably no crowd did it better this weekend than Desaster showing the virtue of experience, with one guitarist leaning over into the front row at every opportunity, high-fiving all outstretched reaching arms and having the time of his life. How do you not get behind a band that have that much fun and also deliver such a energised and consummate rampage? Desaster left an indelible impression as the perfect party-band closer in a genius move from the organisers, and one of the sets of the weekend that'll remain a lasting highlight for those in attendance.

Overall, Cosmic Void has delivered the goods once again. It's a festival that has barely put a foot wrong in the short time that it has existed, and has quickly become a must-attend feature of our year for their uncanny knack of attracting the new, the established, and the surprising UK debuts and exclusives for us to fill our boots with (and empty our wallets to) over a weekend. It goes without question that we'll be back next year, and there is a tempered excitement already over who they'll be surprising us with next time. Overall festival rating? Easily a 9, this is a true gem that only loses out a little on some of the logistical and expense fronts. Dang London, yo expensive.