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Thursday 12 October 2023

Reviews: Amorphis, Mondo Generator, Oni, Beastwars (Reviews By James Jackson, Joe Guatieri, Matt Bladen & Paul Scoble)

Amorphis - Queen Of Time: Live At Tavastia 2021 (Atomic Fire Records) [James Jackson]

First and foremost are two things, the first being that although the name Amorphis is quite familiar, I can’t honestly recall ever listening to them; secondly this is a live album and I have a general dislike of live albums, I’d rather be there and I’ve always struggled to make out the music against the background, so give me a ticket or the studio material over a live album any day. 

What I’ve had to do here is compare this album to its 2018 studio sister, primarily to acquaint myself to Amorphis and their material and as a comparison between the two. So, Amorphis; it’s almost easier to list the styles of music they don’t play as opposed to that they do, as during their 30 year reign as one of Finland’s most influential bands they’ve gone from death metal to death/doom to melodic death metal  with folk and prog influences thrown into the mix.
So to the live album, upon first listen, it’s not really giving me (and I hate myself for saying this) the ick. The comparison between live and studio versions of Queen Of Time is minimal, there’s no sound loss, no muddying of quality as the roar of the audience captured upon the wind dominates the microphones nor is there the atmospheric tension of an indoor arena as noise from band and fans clash and bounce off of the walls.

It’s a damn near studio clear recording, so what gives, how is this “live” recording so crystal clear; the answer - Covid, that ugly beast had a huge hand in this album’s conception as Amorphis played to an empty hall. Recorded and cut for Blu - ray, CD and vinyl versions of the album, this seems to have been set up like any other gig, just minus the crowd. And it’s of great quality, it doesn’t sound as though the absence of a horde of fans has in anyway hindered the band’s performance, you always hear of performers of many different styles describing the feeling of putting out their best and getting that energy back from the audience, so to set up as a live show but to not have that experience must’ve felt quite odd; it doesn’t feel like a Live album in the traditional sense, so just listening to the material is it any good ?
Yes, is the simple answer, it’s a showcase of Tomi Joutsen’s talent and range, he’s a vocalist very much in command of his art, his use of clean and growled vocals emphasise the instrumental work surrounding him. Musically as I said, there’s a bit of everything in there, the death metal working alongside the more folk elements as though those two seemingly unrelated things were always meant to be together. I’m going to be giving Amorphis more of a listen after this, there’s so much going on within the tracks I’ve listened to that I’m sure I’ve missed a lot. 7/10.

Mondo Generator - We Stand Against You (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Joe Guatieri]

Mondo Generator leaves the desert yet again to bring the people their latest album, We Stand Against You, since the double pre-pandemic bullet that was both Fuck It and the previously unreleased Shooter’s Bible - two consistent outings.

Mike, Michael and Nick offer a tight nine-song record, bursting out the gates with Blast Off. A standoffish noise intro that explodes into a frenzied countdown featuring Nick’s classic enraged vocals. The back-and-forth nature of this track remains engaging, including chaotic psychedelic shredding from Mike and Michael causing carnage on his snare drum as if it’s about to break and blast off into orbit.

Conspiracy earns the honour of my favourite track, combining the danceable groove with truly jaw-dropping performances. Michael sounds like an octopus on the drums, every hit filled with unbelievable power and precision aided by the production. The guitar and bass can’t be ignored either as they feel as one in their syncopated movement which provides me with strong industrial metal vibes. The song then takes a much-needed moment to breath at 1:44 as a washed-out chorus guitar takes charge, sounding like you’re floating past dangerous asteroids in space before blasting off into battle again. It ends with a bang as the chorus guitar then battles with a strained guitar that sounds damaged by the environment surrounding it, feeling like it’s gasping for air and choking itself to death.

I Want Out takes the reward for being the heaviest song, where the bass benefits from being as loud as the guitar. Nick’s vocals sound alien-like, swimming around and engulfed by its own mystery. Sparse guitar noises sound like scraping handcuffs against prison bars, with the proverbial prisoner eventually breaking free with a blood-curdling shriek as it runs off into the distance.

Overall, this record keeps a foot in two worlds. Nick’s past work with Kyuss and Queens Of The Stone Age will give those fans something to hold onto with a song like One Two Three Four. However, For A Day hints at new things coming into the fray, fading in and out using synthesizers. They could have pushed the experimentation even further and made something wholly new altogether. Either way, We Stand Against You is another welcome addition to Mondo Generator’s discography and an exciting insight towards future pieces. 8/10

Oni – The Silver Line (Ironshore Records) [Matt Bladen]

Jake Oni has a knack for surrounding himself with the right people, for this third album he’s brought on Josh Gilbert (Spiritbox) and Joe McQueen (Light The Torch, Bad Wolves) to produce, mix and master this record. As a result it sound massive, extremely modern and catchy as all hell, with the heavy riffs, joined by electronic undercurrents and the towering choruses that highlight Jake’s excellent vocals. 

Orginally from Canada but now based in The Cayman Islands, Jake has been the sole creative vision from it’s inception, forming it as the band he wanted to see mixing groove heavy prog metal with melodic metalcore. It’s from these beginnings that he took on the collaborative nature of the album, bringing in musicians to fill out the ‘band’ part. Now an actual live band too, they’ve toured all over the world to much kudos. This experience shines on The Silver Line, while his last album was an exorcism of his personal demons, which resulted in a hard rock record, The Silver Line marries those newfound chops with some heavy metal battery. 

The twitching Silence In A Room Of Lies features YouTuber Jared Dimes, then we have the thumping Cyanide, the angst of Spark featuring pop punk star Sueco, the brutal The Dread which has Justin Hill from Sikth and the tech feast of Armageddon featuring Michael Lessard of The Contortionist. Jake showing his diversity as songwriter and again that ability to bring in high level musicians to collaborate with him. As well as those mentioned Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Silence appears on Underneath My Skin while my favourite track is Aura which has Josh Gilbert’s Spiritbox basslines and guest vocals from the mighty Howard Jones (Light The Torch). The Silver Line continues Jake Oni’s personal musical odyssey, of technically impressive catharsis and impassioned lyrics. 8/10

Beastwars - Tyranny Of Distance (Self Reelased) [Paul Scoble]

Beastwars have been making music together since 2007. The band, based in Wellington New Zealand, have released four full length albums before Tyranny Of Distance the first being a self titled debut in 2011, and the last being IV in 2019. The band is made up of James Woods on bass, Nathan Hickey on drums, Clayton Anderson on guitars and Matt Hyde on vocals.
I must admit I have made a bit of an error with this album. For most of the time I have been listening to this album I thought it was a normal original album of solid, but in places fairly dreary doom/sludge. However after about two weeks of listening to it a couple of times a day I realised one of the songs, We Light Fire felt quite familiar, so off I went to see if it was a cover version, and it turns out it was, We Light Fire was originally recorded by Julia Deans in 2018. So, I then had a look on the bands Bandcamp page to see if they had written anything about why they chose the song and discovered that ALL the tracks were cover versions. (Probably my fault for not sending PR Info - Idiot Ed)

On my copy the MP3’s just have the song titles, but on Bandcamp the files also have the original artist listed as well, there was no press release with the copy of the album I got, so this was the first I was aware that this was a cover album. On closer inspection I discovered that all of the cover versions were of fairly obscure bands from New Zealand, so this is a collection of colonial covers, maybe the proceeds are going to pay reparations. At one point before I realised this was a covers album, I was listening to this thinking “these songs sound like they were all written by different people” and it turned out I was right!

Some of the covers work very well; the opening track Identity originally recorded by The Gordons in 1984, is nice aggressive sludge with some electronic elements that is driving and purposeful. There is also the cover of the Snapper song Emmanuelle which is uptempo alt metal with great vocals and really good energy. Looking For The Sun originally recorded by Children’s Hour is a great piece of mid-paced noise rock, the chorus is great and works really well, this is a fairly straight cover as the original was a post punk track from 1983, they haven’t messed about with the song and this is a great cover.
The band have done well with the covers that are from genres a bit further from sludgy doom; the song High And Lonely which was originally recorded by Nadia Red as a folk track takes on a new form as a dark and brooding, bass led piece of dramatic rock music.
Not all of this works in my opinion, the song Waves originally by Superette in 1996 is dark, slow doom with a melodic chorus, however it does have the tendency to be a little dreary. The Marlon Williams song Dark Child is bass heavy alt rock, but again the song sags in places with the same slightly dreary or boring feel, as does the track that tipped me off that this was a covers album; Julia Deans song We Light Fire.
To be honest, one of the faults with this album is me. As I didn’t know any of these tracks before hearing them here, I am missing the context of this album. One of the main joys of metal covers is hearing a song in a different context, the knowledge of the original feeds into your appreciation and understanding of a bands cover of someone else's song. If I had known these tracks before hearing them in this context it might have altered how I reacted to them, all the tracks that I found a little dreary were originally much softer, folky songs that have changed a lot to become the dark and brooding pieces of rock and metal that you find here, a major change like that changes the context a lot, and that was completely lost on me, someone who knew the songs better might have appreciated the treatment that Beastwars have given these songs, in many ways this my loss, not Beastwars.
I’m going to give this album seven out of ten, as that is where it sits with me, if you have the correct context for this album then that score might very well be higher, but what I will say is that this album features some very interesting song choices that have been given very creative re-workings, and for that the band should be lauded. 7/10

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