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Wednesday 6 September 2023

Reviews: Fire Down Below, Kaiju, Eclipse, We Are Sovereign (Reviews By Rich Piva, Mark Young, Matt Bladen & James Jackson)

Fire Down Below - Low Desert Surf Club (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

The Ghent, Belgium band Fire Down Below have released two pretty much perfect record in their time as a band, 2016’s Viper Vixen Goddess Saint and Hymn Of The Cosmic Man from 2018. So, it has been a very long five years that one of the more underrated bands on the Ripple Music roster has given us anything new to feast our ears upon. Well, that changes now with the third record from the band, Low Desert Surf Club, and let’s just say these guys are three for three on releasing killer, gigantic desert/stoner rock albums that incorporate all sorts of other elements, including psych, space, doom, and 70s inspired classic rock. These guys have solidified their status as one of the leading bands in worldwide scene today with Low Desert Surf Club.
If the last record was gigantic, Low Desert Surf Club is a world eater, because everything about the album is huge. The sound, the songs, even the length, as this is a three-sided vinyl effort, and I am here for it. There is a definite Kyuss/Fu Manchu vibe opening the album with first two tracks, Cocaine Hippo and California. California leans towards a band like Valley Of The Sun as well, which will make a lot of people quite pleased and is a definite candidate for a song of the year playlist. The production on Low Desert Surf Club is next level, including the amazing guitar sound and the upgraded vocals. I love the cool riffs on Airwolf, which brings more of the Kyuss vibes and has a killer groove to it, with its sweet rolling bass line. 

With a title like Low Desert Surf Club, you may have a certain expectation, and the boys deliver with Surf Queen which is a track that starts off sounding exactly like what you would expect it would when an amazing stoner rock band does a surf rock song. I hear the waves are amazing in Belgium. But the track morphs into something else halfway through, bringing you probably my favorite on the album, a VOTS-like atmospheric, heavy, and emotional jam with excellent vocals. Surf Queen is quite a ride. Speaking of rides, the beach theme continues with Dune Buggy which is a bouncy desert rock number that will be a live favorite for sure. I love the background vocals towards the end, as the mix continues to take this record to the next level. I love the transition to the next track, the slow burn/psych tinged Here Comes The Flood, which calls back to the previous track, recommending the listener to jump in that buggy and escape the rushing waters. You can hear it coming behind that rolling bass line. 

You want atmosphere, cool, because you get it with the opening of Hazy Snake, which then leads to the heaviest riff on the record, an instrumental track that allows the guitar work to shine. The Last Cowboy is an excellent way to close out Low Desert Surf Club, and absolute desert rock ripper that is catchy and will leave you out of breath from the whole experience. Did I say that The Last Cowboy was the closer? Well, how about instead the band includes a sixteen-minute masterpiece as the side three of the record in the form of Mantra (I hope the vinyl has this as a stand alone track on the vinyl).
Not that you were expecting something different from me when I review something from Ripple Music, but the new Fire Down Below record is a must hear if you dig anything in the desert/stoner rock territory. It’s hard to imagine a “next level” for a band with the first two records that they have in their discography, but taking the five years that it did has allowed the band to craft an even bigger and maybe even better record than those first two modern classics. Yup, another amazing release from Ripple music. 9/10

Kaiju - K2 (Prime Collective) [Mark Young]

Copenhagen natives Kaiju cite artists such as Spiritbox, Monuments and TesseracT as being influences on their sound, although I hear some Meshuggah in there, as well as Herod which gives you an overall flavour of where they are coming from. It wasn’t immediate for me, and I’ll be honest it took a few listens in different scenarios – working, driving to finally get onboard with it and allow me to complete the review.
Awakening Sign begins, with a twisty riff, coupled with traditional growls that are continually underpinned by stabbing chords. Vocal changes to cleans that switch to growls and its an effective tool to start off with. It has a swing to it without hitting any sort of frantic BPM. False Truth comes next, immediately bringing Zeal And Ardor to mind, with the cleans on display while the riffs continue to support, with some cracking bottom end chug. What is clear from these two songs is that they can really belt out both styles with no loss In clarity or quality or delivery. The guitars are working with some fiendish moves, and they do a sterling job of providing the metal without being one note chug-alongs. Singularity brings those head scratching motifs to play only to drop away to put the cleans front and centre. 

This one I’m not fond of, mainly it has something in it that reminds me of those rock songs from the 80’s that I hated. I just can’t warm to it. End Of Day rights that wrong, with a lead heavy intro, synchronised double bass and guitar and hits like you wouldn’t believe. Arrangement wise, it’s not too different from Singularity, especially during the clean moments like I said, it hits differently. Sue me.
Now my favourite one-two, You Will Dissolve and Golden Leafs. Both represent a top-drawer arrangement and understanding of what makes an exceptional song. You Will Dissolve has this climbing refrain in the vocals that is mint. Its cut short to drive straight into Golden Leafs which just highlight the quality. It’s an absolute belter, rage and fury straight at you, even when they deploy the cleans once more and its maintained right through. Love it.
Mirage represents the creative high point as it explores a softer side which no less interesting than those that have preceded it. When the expected heavy comes in, it is like a controlled demolition. Completely focused and so tight, it constricts as it winds its way to the end and shows another facet of the band.
Chains heralds the final act, with some maths for you to get your head around, even in the clean chorus there is still constant movement happening, with the heavy riffs building in the background and dual vocals that drag you forward once more. 

They take the brakes off to go for it in the final minutes and it’s a welcome thing, fingers burning up the fretboard which is fantastic. Hypothermia though, feels as though its rehashed some of the earlier ideas which takes me out of the song, leaving New Beginning to decide the final score. Similar to Mirage, it has that soft start that leaves me waiting for the heaviness to come in. And it does, but in a sort of classic rock sort of way. It’s the way its built and in terms of delivery its fine but I expected an absolutely screamer to close this album out.
And there we have it, it’s a collection of good songs on the whole. The standouts really cook, but there feels like there is just too much of a similar nature on display. There is a feeling to the album that harks back to the classic rock of the 80’s to these ears that jars with the modern, progressive music that accompanies it. It might just be me though. Moving beyond that, what they do have is undeniable talent for writing songs, this much is true.

I’m not completely sure about in all honesty. There feels as though there is something slightly off, possibly in my approach to it. 7/10

Eclipse - Megalomanium (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Having toured all over the world on the back of their last album Wired, Eclipse wanted to get back to their rock n roll roots, having spent most of their careers (10 years) as one of the leaders of the Scandi melodic/AOR, Megalomanium is a tongue-in-cheek title that alludes to their way of expanding their sound on this album. Bringing new fans they may have got on their tours into the Eclipse family by writing songs that perhaps don't stick to their blueprint they are also paying homage to their interests. 

Over the last 10 years they've been building up this fanbase so this new album is there to appease both old an new. Opening with The Hardest Part Is Losing You, a track that along with Got It bring the bombast of bands such as My Chemical Romance, Panic At The Disco! as well Queen and The Darkness, it's a new string to their bow and will sever them well on a live stage. The Queen influences come on Anthem too, a track that nods to some modern country too the voice of Erik MÃ¥rtensson perfect for this broader selection of songs, from the gothy Children Of The Night, the punchy melodic rock of I Don't Get It and the more classic strains of Hearts Collide, he's the key to Eclipse's quality. 

A direct shot at the big time Megalomanium is Eclipse consolidating their position and showing the band they want to be going forward. 7/10

We Are Sovereign - Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone (Self Released) [James Jackson] 

With their debut album, East Midland’s based We Are Sovereign are aiming to encourage people to stand up for who they want to be, a message it would seem is very close to the heart of the band. Each track has a two titles for example the opening song: Keep Going (Survival), it would seem that We Are Sovereign mean business with their intention of making music with a message, in case you didn’t get the message - they’ve put it into brackets for you, neat and easy. 

Theirs is a blend of Synth and Metal, Electro Metal or just Metal these days as that experimental phase of using more Electronic synths in our beloved genre has grown into something quite common place, not restricted to the likes of Industrial acts or a slight veering of the path for an act, for them to return back to a more traditional form of Metal. And it works pretty well, the aforementioned opening track is instrumental but blends sampled vocals and a very Techno style lead, with a nice heavy chugging riff, it works and works well leading into Don’t You Dare Quit (Resilience) and there’s a dual vocal approach to it; one of those vocal tracks is ok, it’s clean and the message that the band are trying to convey is crystal clear in its intended tone. 

The other vocal offering is a screamed accompaniment that in all honesty I could have done without; as I’ve gotten older, vocals have become a huge factor in how quickly I’ll turn a song off, in some (very rare) instances I’ve overcome that urge but that’s always been because the music itself has been so damn good, so vibrant that I’ve taught myself to ignore the negative effects of a poorly imagined vocal and enjoyed the music. 

However this is not going to be the case, yes the instrumental arrangements across the whole album are pretty damn solid, the blend of heavy guitar riffs and a solid rhythm section with the samples and the synth sound is on point but those vocals are just too much and no more so than on These 4 Walls (Torment) as it’s ballad like in it’s composition, the clean vocals and piano, overlaid with a emotive guitar melody and then those damn screeching vocals kick in. 

It’s a shame, but this is obviously just my opinion, wind back on those screaming vocals and find a more fitting way of portraying your message. JJ 4/10.

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