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Friday 20 October 2023

Reviews: Cirith Ungol, Appalooza, Game Over, Angelus Apatrida (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, Paul Hutchings & Richard Oliver)

 Cirith Ungol - The Dark Parade (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

With the recent announcement that they will cease live activities at the end of 2024, The Dark Parade will be the last Cirith Ungol album that you will be able to see played live. So it better be good then? Of course it’s good! It’s a Cirith Ungol, the American epic metal pioneers have only five studio albums, one live album and an EP to their name (this is their sixth) but they are rightly regarded as one of the most influential acts on the trad/doom/heavy metal scene. 

Hailing from Venture California, they have always been a band who like the gloomier side of things, inspired by dark fantasy and horror, the swords and sorcery fantasy that inspired their name long distant in their lyrical content, it’s the horrors of the mundane that they are inspired by now, our own minds and psyche’s that take us down much more vivid nightmares than anything fictional. Vocalist Tim Baker is especially enamoured with Lovecraft, his knack for making the everyday genuinely chilling the major thought process behind the lyrics of this album, his screeching delivery morbid and twisted on the multi-part title track, singing like Kyle Thomas trying King Diamond, it’s now a key to the Cirith Ungol style. 

Along with Baker are guitarists Jimmy Barraza and Greg Lindstrom, who are given as much room as they need to multifaceted their lead breaks and solos, controlling the pace of the riffs as bassist Jarvis Leatherby establishes the true groove on Distant Shadows. Drummer/band founder Rob Garven is the anchor for any journeys into the black holes the band take on this record. Always in the middle of the NWOBHM and doom sound, there’s gallops on Velocity, an elongated shifting track such as Sailor On The Seas Of Fate, some Middle Eastern flourishes on Relentless and the final quartet of songs combine to make the Dark Parade saga where the world collapses around you. 

A nightmarish vision of the future that Lovecraft would have revelled in. Deeply pessimistic but prophetic, The Dark Parade is Cirith Ungol dealing with the horrors we see now in front of us, perhaps this influenced their decision to stop touring. Either way the record needs to be heard, at full volume and I have to catch them live in 2024. 9/10

Appalooza - The Shining Son (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

The Brittany, France band Appalooza and Ripple Music team up to bring you the band’s third and possibly best album, The Shining Son. Stoner grunge goodness is what you are getting with these guys, with an almost world music vibe just lying underneath. Bands such as Kyuss, AIC, Soundgarden and Red Fang are mentioned in their bio and I can get behind all of them, but the band brings their own special (French) sauce to the party to take those influences, mix them around, and create something that is unique to the listener.
The opener, Pelican, may be my favorite song by the band up till now. I love the groove and the drums that drive this track. The vocals are excellent, and the band creates their own wall of sound as there is so much going on here. That vibe or world music is present too, just like on the next track, Unbreakable. A grungy crunch and scream kick off one of the heavier tracks on The Shining Son and you can hear where the Soundgarden comparison comes from. Super catchy at times to go along with the heavy, the thing that stands out to me on these first two tracks are the drums. The sound is made fuller by the percussion. 

It sounds like the drums from Children Of The Grave constantly driving the beat, and it’s wonderful. The Kyuss/QOTSA vibes shine through on Framed, as the quirky tempo brings me right to Josh and company. You want that Alice In Chains comparison to shine through, check out the vocals on Groundhog Days, but partner it with more of that cool percussion and world beat vibes. Wasted Land is their epic track, an odyssey in eight minutes, and is placed perfectly on The Shining Son for full effect of this song. The drums, the vocals, the stoner/grunge gallop, this one has it all. 

Wounded has a Spoonman vibe, a bit funky, crunchy, and with plenty of cowbell, it also gives me a Pearl Jam W.M.A. vibe. Sunburn is another sweet grungy jam, as the rhythm section really drives Appalooza. I love all the unique instrumentation on this one. The closer is an interesting choice, as Killing Maria is a sparce, slow burn that reminds me of closing Nevermind with Something In The Way. It is a fuller song that that, but that is what comes to my mind first.
Album three may be Appalooza’s best. I love the fullness of the sound, the drums, the killer vocals and harmonies, the world music vibes, and the step up in the songwriting from the band. Another amazing release from Ripple music, as The Shining Son does just that. 8/10

Game Over – Hellframes (Scarlet Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Thrash in unadulterated form is a simple thing. Italians Game Over know this and over the past 15 years have consistently followed the blueprint. Solid, reliable thrash metal which echoes those early days when the genre was a feisty, boisterous youngster, all spit and muscle, high energy, and attitude.

We’ve covered most of their releases here at MoM towers, but it’s been six years since Claiming Supremacy was released, and as a result, the band has faded a little from the memory. The pleasing thing to report is that the line-up remains intact, at last according to the Metal Archives, and the band have continued where they left off.

Hellframes is Game Over’s most mature work to date. The playing is assured, composed and as always, the frantic elements that comprise decent thrash are present in spades. There is some variation. Count Your Breaths echoes Metallica circa 1990, a lower vocal range, slower pace, and some fine guitar work that bookends the track. Atonement sits mid-album, a two-minute instrumental, in classic thrash metal style, which provides the bridge into the second half of the release.

It's side B that offers the most interesting tracks. The six-minute Deliver Us and the epic title track that closes the album are both standout songs. The former has a manic gallop which shows the band’s roots, with the gang chants, and some decent chugging riffs, whilst the latter is a brooding beast that drips with atmosphere. Hellframes is a welcome return for a band who I must admit, had slipped from vision. 7/10

Angelus Apatrida - Aftermath (Century Media) [Richard Oliver]

Angelus Apatrida are a band that have been forging away at their thrash metal craft for 23 years and finally over the last few years their stature has been growing in metal circles ably aided by a signing to Century Media Records. This attention is well deserved as Angelus Apatrida are a force to be reckoned with in the world of thrash metal and with their eighth album “Aftermath” the band shows no signs of running out of steam or indeed inspiration as Aftermath deftly manages to balance the bands signature thrash metal attack with some experimentation in sound.

Angelus Apatrida have been a band who have always managed to balance the ferocious and melodic elements of their sound with neither elements overshadowing the other. The band have always had a keen ear for hooks as well ensuring that their music is a riotous lesson in violence which sticks in the mind afterwards and has a melodic edge. Aftermath is very much this trademark Angelus Apatrida style but this time round the riffs are a bit chunkier sounding with a bit more of a hardcore influence at times and the melodic elements are pushed to the fore at times as well with some stealthily placed clean vocal choruses. 

Songs such as ColdFire Eyes and the epic To Whom It May Concern are hook driven monsters with the aforementioned melodic vocals but they equally rip our face off with pure thrashing ferocity showing that Angelus Apatrida are damn good songwriters in being able to balance out these elements. The hardcore influences come to the fore in Snob with features Jamey Jasta on guest vocals and he is one of a number of guest artists who appear throughout the album with Todd La Torre lending his power metal vocals to album closer Vultures And Butterflies. Less successful is the appearance of Spanish rapper Sho-Hai whose guest spit on What Kills Us All sounds very shoehorned in and doesn’t fit in with the song at all.

To the thrash metal purists some of the elements on Aftermath might rub them up the wrong way as this is an album that sounds equally contemporary as it does old school but the more open minded metalhead this album offers lots and delivers. The songs on Aftermath will appeal equally to fans of bands such as Trivium and Machine Head as it will to fans of Exodus and Testament. Fantastic musicianship, killer songwriting, savage thrash riffs and finger bleeding solos ensure that Aftermath is one of the strongest thrash releases of 2023 and another killer entry in the Angelus Apatrida discography. 8/10

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