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Friday 20 October 2023

Reviews: Archangel, Afterbirth, Occult Hand Order, Atlas (Reviews By Paul Scoble, Mark Young, Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Archangel - Total Dark Sublime (Scarlet Records) [Paul Scoble]

Over the years there have been several bands in the Rock and Metal sphere that have used the name ‘Archangel’, this one is a punky rock band based in Denmark, Total Dark Sublime is the bands first album. Archangel are made up of Kenneth Frandsen on bass, Søren Crawach on vocals and Janus Kragh on guitars. The band describe their music as horror rock, and have an impressive live show to go along with the music. Listening to the album it isn’t a surprise that Archangel started out life as a Misfits cover band.

The style on offer on Total Dark Sublime is punk rock but with a bit of a Metal sense to how it is produced and sounds, so metal sounding guitar, bass and drums but playing punk that is mainly a little softer than the Misfits, but definitely not pop punk (the band name isn’t a short word and some numbers so we’re safe from pop punk). The majority of the material is mid-paced punk with loads of melody, and very good vocals that again are filled with tunefulness. 

The New God opens the album and is a very good example of the style, a brisk walking pace with lots of drive and energy, there some soft sections with very fervent vocals. Take My Soul has a similar feel and a tempo that is perfect for head nodding. In my notes on this album the track Dance Demon Dance is labeled ‘party punk’, it’s a mod-paced piece of punk with fantastic chorus, one of the many brilliant choruses on this album, it is dripping with melody and has a great guitar solo and guitar harmonies near the end of the track.

Apollyon Vistas is another party punk track that is at a fast walking pace and is full of positive energy, something that flows through a lot of this album. Cast Down is a fast and short piece of punk that I thought was a little reminiscent of The Offspring, and the Title track Total Dark Sublime is a beautifully melodic piece of high energy punk.

The album does feature a couple of faster and harder tracks that are closer to Misfits more extreme material, that I find in places to also be similar to Suicidal Tendencies material that is super fast, and in some ways quite thrashy punk or hardcore. The tracks Blind Dragon and Sunslayer have a definite harder and much faster feel to the material that surrounds them. The pacing is breakneck, aggressive and nasty, but still manages to be full of melody and tunefulness.

Total Dark Sublime does also have two tracks on it that are a little bit different to the other material. Vidine and the rather strangely titled Catatonic Children are, and there is no other way to describe them, power ballads! The songs both start very softly with gently sung vocals, they both have big choruses with a little bit of distortion, and they both build slowly to epic proportions. I can’t describe them any other way, I hope the band isn’t offended by that classification. However, the really important question is: Are they good power ballads? Well, yes they are very effective power ballads, lots of melody and lots of emotion, in fact apart from the odd name Catatonic Children would probably have been a major hit if it had been released as a single in 1988.

Ok Vidine and Catatonic Children are closer to Whitesnake, than the Misfits, but they are still good songs, and I have enjoyed them.

Total Dark Sublime is a very enjoyable album full of melody, drive, great energy and loads of huge singalong punk choruses. The scope of the material stretching from power ballads through to thrashy hardcore punk is pretty wide, but the way Archangel manage to pull it off very well without anything feeling Incongruous, or out of place is very impressive. The main thing you take away from this album is the huge amount of positive energy and the melody that drips from every note of this album. 7/10

Afterbirth - In But Not Of (Willowtip Records) [Mark Young]

Formed in 1993, New York veterans are starting off in a hurry, Tightening The Screws comes in amongst a blur of drums, and some of those almost unintelligible vocal deliveries, with riffs seemingly looping back and feeding on themselves. It’s a quick, devasting opener and with barely a breath Devils With Dead Eyes picks up that pace. This is a different proposition with a mosquito like guitar line played rapid fire whilst the cacophony of drums keeps things tight. A sub Iron Maiden harmony / solo break comes in from the left, totally unexpected. The break down after this is super dense, giving way to what could be described as a cool lead before they get back to mud stomping. It’s certainly not boring. Vomit On Humanity continues the path dug out, with a little throwback to some classic death metal, but there is more going on than that. Subtle changes in timing and riff patterns are dropped in and they are quality. It mixes up speed from hyper-fast to super-dense. 

The one constant is the vocal delivery that occupies that range that I have never been able to get past and so is affecting my view on this. I just don’t like it. According to online sources, its termed ‘toilet bowl' guttural vocals (Encyclopadia Metallum I thank you). Autoerotic Amputation is a quick technical burst that blows into that super speed without losing any clarity and then Vivisected Psychopomp does the same except there is a real shift in the arrangements the hammer is replaced for parts for a cracking section which switches back to that elastic feel of chords being stretched here and there. This gives hints of what is to come as they start to play with the form. Hovering Human Head Drones kicks off, and tonally its almost like a different band as it weaves in and out, with this absolutely lush solo break, its so at odds with what they have presented so far. That isn’t to say they don’t heavy it up they do but not to any detriment to how the song plays out. Brilliant stuff and In But Not Of is next up and just takes flight. 

Its full of epic movements that are just excellent, absolutely excellent. All the parts work so well,
and it moves in a way that once they come back with the heavy once more it just slots in. Like the track before it, its quality stuff. Angels Feast On Flies moves, it just hits so well. That change that has manifested in the two tracks before is all over this. Its not so much how its played, its more of the feeling behind it. Its still rapid, but now there is keys in there, all of it coming together in a wonderful noise. Their technical side is just a level above, for me because of the actual emotion behind it as opposed to being able to play a flurry of notes.
Time Enough Tomorrow takes on a more sorrowful start and is their version of an easy listening journey where one can imagine a trip of many steps is being undertaken. A darkness comes over, expressed by keys / synths that swell and expand into...nothingness. Death Invents Itself has one of the best drummed starts I’ve heard this year, vital, like an octopus is behind the kit (step forward and take a bow, Keith Harris) there is a corking guitar line that exploits that ascending feeling, giving you no warning as Succumb To Life starts the countdown to the album end. 

This takes that exceptional work done in Death Invents... and takes it forward, all pounding drums and echoes. The main riff is storming, it’s the sort of thing that gets you into playing the guitar in the first place. Just royal and is a fitting end to an exemplary display of music. 

They are certainly progressive, definitely technical and possessed of old school brutality this is one of those rare things, it’s a collection where they haven’t been content to plough down a particular path. The way those later songs open up, they are just excellent. The balance is bang on,.they don’t just add heavy or soft or subtle without it meaning something to them. This brings me to the one thing I don’t like. That vocal style. Just don’t like it and its difficult to get past it. You are no doubt reading this like ‘WHAT?!’youjust said it was excellent. I did, and with that in mind so I don’t further embarrass myself. 8/10

Occult Hand Order - Silence By The Raging Sea (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

Slow burn heavy psych stoner/doom is the calling of Lyon, France’s Occult Hand Order, and they do it well. Silence By The Raging Sea is the third release from the trio who have stayed true to their style where everything takes its time. Nothing is rushed and nothing is hurried, though occasionally you want to have the band just let it go and rock out with some tempo. But there will be to rippers here, and for the right mood and headspace this works very well.

Sink is the perfect microcosm of what you are getting on all six of the tracks on Silence By The Raging Sea. Slow burning riffs, a heaviness that is not just from the music but from the overall vibe, and some killer heavy psych guitar work, with an almost gentle vocal style. Sailors brings more of the same goodness, with some crunchy riffs and plodding doom pace. Vocally we are getting significantly less gentle, adding to the heavy of Sailors

The guitar work stands out once again here as it does all over Silence By The Raging Sea. The vibe is basically the title character on that mentioned sea, and you can feel it like you are experiencing it on this track, and rough seas are ahead for the foreseeable future. Pyre may be the heaviest riff on the album, and it is an angry one at that. This is a ten-plus minute epic psych doom trip with heavy as hell riffs and haunting, echoey vocals that is probably two to three minutes too long. 

This is the only concern with Silence By The Raging Sea. The songs can drag a bit. Some editing may have helped to keep the impression of the album dragging in places. Fever is up next, and you get hit with an almost church vibe until that towering riff comes in to blow your ship to smithereens. This is some doomy psych as the vocal go from gentle to scary leading up to the next track, Tidal Waves

I am sure there is a story on Silence By The Raging Sea but even after a bunch of listens I have no idea what it is, but I can picture a lone sailor in distress with no hope for rescue through the album, this is expressed in this track. The atmosphere and almost shoegaze feel of this one acts as the last gasp dreaming of surviving this not survivable conundrum the sailor find himself in. Golden Bones is the eleven minute closer and by now you are fatigued. It is a strong closer but could have been a couple minutes shorter.

Like Sonic Moon on their great record from this year, Occult Hand Order plays their psych/stoner doom slow and steady, which cool, but you keep wanting them to let it rip at some point. Unlike Sonic MoonSilence By The Raging Sea tends to drag in parts and each song could have been a few minutes shorter, making the fifty-minute run time seem about ten minutes more. but overall, this is some really good doom that you just need to be in the right mood and headspace to really enjoy. 7/10

Atlas - Built To Last (Metalapolis Records) [Matt Bladen]

Founded by keyboardist James Thorley in 2017, Atlas have been pretty industrious releasing two previous albums since then. Built To Last is their third record and again Built To Last is a loving homage to the melodic rock of the 80's but rooted in the modern revival, combining AOR, prog and even metal in parts. 

The keys of Thorley permeate every moment of this album whether it's against the metallic riffing of Howie Little on muscular opener All Or Nothing, the polished Another Heartbreak or the big swathes of synth on You're Not Alone, Thronley comes through as the main instrument. Though Little gets a lot of riffage on Unfamiliar Love, where Ryan Biggs' drumming melds electronic with analogue. 

Bury A Lie adds the progressive flourishes of Dream Theater as Chris Redfearn's bass is the undercurrent to the twisting rhythms. The album features a three part suite to really hammer home their prog credentials but it's the songwriting really that does that as bands such as Pagan's Mind, Craig Wells' vocals high and mighty like Nils K Rue, though I will say they do take a bit of getting used to. 

With an album that features tracks that straddle prog/melodic rock, Tears similar to Follow You Follow Me as One More Night goes into Toto or Saga, Built To Last shows that Atlas are just that. A band with complex but anthemic songs that come of age on this third album. 8/10

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