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Friday 22 September 2023

Reviews: Heart Of A Coward, Dead Feathers, KEN Mode, Imperium (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, Mark Young & Jeremy Silverman)

Heart Of A Coward - This Place Only Brings Death (Arising Empire) [Matt Bladen]

More than a decade since their debut UK stalwarts Heart Of A Coward released their debut album Hope And Hindrance, they have faced trials and tribulations, but since 2019’s The Disconnect they seem to have hit upon their most sturdy, ferocious line up yet. The experience of years of touring, and a focus on streamlining their songwriting has meant that many of their progressive leanings are shifted towards forceful grooves from the early metalcore scene. 

The counteracting vocals of Kaan Tasan and guitarist Carl Ayers are paired brilliantly for that oh so characteristic clean/harsh dynamic favoured by the likes of Architects, While She Sleeps and the American metalcore pack. This Place Only Brings Death takes a shift to a more accessible brand of music, direct riffing, big chorus hooks and heavy breakdown grooves sticking around as the proggy, self-indulgence is toned down. Not in a bad way, there is a lot of top tier playing on this record, it’s just the songs make the point they need to quickly and aggressively, crafting the tracks here for the stage, to incite their audience when they play. 

As anyone who saw them at Radar festival will attest, live HoAC are wild! They’ve made this record flow like a live show, the furious peaks of rapid riffs and neck hurting breakdowns side by side with the insular, emotive sobering moments. The twitchy electronica runs through the back of all the tracks, linking then together, though highlighted on Captor, the anthemic Surrender To Failure and punishing Hex. Christopher "Noddy" Mansbridge double kicking the shit out of his kit as Vishal "V" Khetia's concrete baselines leading the stop start Devour Me

As a rhythm section that creates a cavernous groove, Carl Ayers and Dan Thornton's guitars double down on the low end riffing for tracks such as Ghost which shows more of those Chester Bennington-like cleans though on Decay the influence comes from Deftones. This Place Only Brings Death is Heart Of A Coward returning from the pandemic with their most carefully constructed tracks yet. Modern metalcore that is honest, passionate and direct, Heart Of A Coward continue writing their legacy. 8/10

Dead Feathers - Full Circle (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Think Ripple Music only puts out heavy stoner and doom? Think again, as the awesome Dead Feathers drops their second album, Full Circle, which is more Jefferson Airplane than Black Sabbath, and whoa baby am I here for it. This is some cool late 60s inspired heavy psych rock updated for the 2020s in the most glorious fashion. This is next level, mind-bending stuff that can hang with any of the bands playing heavy psych rock today. For Full Circle to be at or surpass the greatness of their debut, All Is Lost, it would take a monumental and gigantic record, but I think Dead Feathers hit it out of the park and got there and beyond in that output we are lucky enough to receive here.

The band is highlighted by the amazing vocals of Marissa Allen, who right off the bat flexes those vocal cords on the killer opening title track. That voice and the killer playing sets the scene for what is an amazing trip. The swimming psych guitars partnered with Allen’s vocals makes Lightning a next level track that could be one of the songs of the year. Daughters is a beautiful psych slow burn once again highlighted by those amazing vocals and haunting guitar work and really kicks in with the killer jam towards the end of the song. 

The trippy interlude One Year Before The Island leads to The Swell, a seven-plus minute hypnosis session, where Allen and crew use their unique powers to suck you in and melt your brain, no substances required. Robbery is an awe inspiring, epic psych rock journey where the perfect production on Full Circle shines, while the closer, Galapagos is as beautiful as it’s islands namesake, an acoustic track where once again Allen’s voice shines and cements her as the voice of heavy psych rock.

We had to wait four years, but damn was it worth it because Dead Feathers deliver the goods, and even more. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and Full Circle did not disappoint. Dead Feathers were born late, thankfully for us, because heavy psych is done no better by any band out there today, with the evidence being Full Circle, a perfect heavy psych rock album for 2023. An album of the year contender for sure and the heavy psych album of the year hands down. 10/10

KEN Mode - Void (Artoffact Records) [Mark Young]

With an acronym for Kill Everyone Now (harking back to Black Flag and their modus operandi for total crowd annihilation) you would expect it to be utterly destructive and lay waste to all in front of it. Pitched as a companion piece to the Null album released last year the Winnipeg natives have wasted no time in getting this one out there, all while laying waste to Europe on an extensive tour.

Its surprising that it is not just complete assault and battery, its not just hammer after hammer, its full of push and pull moments, that confound and wrong foot you.

The Shrike smashes things off with a propulsive battering, straight into that aural fist to the face that I’d been promised. Its not all attack by guitar, vocalist Jesse Matthewson provides a lot of the heavy lifting as the music drops in and out. One thing is constant is that furious beating of his kit, keeping it all tightly wrapped to avoid possible implosion whilst Painless is more of a traditional hardcore via Black Flag via SST records punch up. Bass, drums just keep this shifting forward at pace allowing the guitar in when it suits. From this, you get that sweaty attack of a live gig, of the audience just going nuts. Fabulous stuff.

These Wires brings another facet to the sound, piano refrain plays off against percussion, ahead of the louder, dynamic coming in. It’s a brave decision to drop a 7-minute song in at track 3, but then the feeling you get is that they don’t care either way. Its their art, have it. It’s the sound of a relationship breaking, of mental health straining set within a super solid arrangement as emotions are spewed forth, over stabbing guitars and that rumbling bass / drums that work to keep everything together and it closes out beautifully with that piano hitting.

We’re Small Enough brings us back onto a more direct, almost funk path with an instrumental that does enough to keep you engaged and sets up I Cannot, feedback and dense opening moments that lean over to discord and some bottom end chug. Once again, the vocal delivery is straining, brimming with intent and violent action as multiple instruments face off, saxophones and guitars plucking notes before imploding at the songs end.

A Reluctance Of Being prefers a slow, controlled approach as it makes it way through a repeated phrase “I’m never going to be Ok” before energising itself to move out of the almost stasis it found itself in. At this point, Jesse now takes centre-stage, barking his despair with dark, almost depressive sounds filling that space. It’s the sound of a break-down, of loss as feelings churn and spiral away out of control, further emphasised by sax building to a climax of anti-noise.

He Was A Good Man, He Was A Taxpayer comes and goes without really leaving a mark before last song Not Today, Old Friend starts up with a focused, melancholic arrangement and spoken word with an arrangement that changes up through several subtle gears, keeping it within a softer realm. Bringing in the sax just adds to that easy feel as it meanders to its end.

It certainly is a difficult listen as it doesn’t seem to follow a linear path in terms of how the music is arranged and performed. They don’t apply the same rules from song to song, keeping you on your toes. Live, this would be an interesting experience to see how they would deploy the songs and how they would evolve in that live setting. What is apparent is that they have a focused mind, and a direction in which they want to follow, and the songs that come are honest and completely authentic to who they are. They are not for everyone and that is great in itself. 7/10

Imperium - When Kings Meet (Self Released) [Jeremy Silverman]

Very few bands are willing to start as strong as British band Imperium do on this kickass EP. This is perfect for any and all metal fans with something everyone can appreciate. With dynamic and fast riffs over steady yet complex drum parts, the musical aspect of the band is shown off expertly.

The standout on this EP would have to be the guitar and bass work. Most bands crank out riffs like no one’s business, but little have actual coherent and powerful riffs like the ones Imperium created. There are multiple traditional riffs sprinkled into the creative space such as the simple 8th note chug over a skank beat. However, the blend of old and new is seamless similarly to the classic Death song Without Judgement.

There are a few different vibes I would categorize this album into. While the vocals are clean, they are punky giving them a raw edge over stereotypical heavy metal, however the music can be lent to almost any genre of metal successfully. It is a high compliment to the guitarists in this band to create such immaculate and open music. 

I would say that they lean more towards the classic thrash sound like Kreator to have a fast pace and hardcore sound, and with vocals 100% British, they have some Sex Pistols in there as well. A flawless blend of multiple genres to create something fresh and unique. 8/10

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