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Monday 30 October 2023

Reviews: Pattern Seeking Animals, Sepulchral Curse, The Plague, Dokken (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Erick Willand, James Jackson & Rich Piva)

Pattern Seeking Animals - Spooky Action At A Distance (InsideOut Music) [Matt Bladen]

Formed by members of seminal American prog band Spock’s Beard; John Boegehold (keyboards and production), Ted Leonard (lead vocals and guitar), bassist Dave Meros, and drummer Jimmy Keegan have been trying to shave away said beard on their last three albums. Lyrically clever and poetic, musically dense and technically gifted, each Pattern Seeking Animals record has grown further and further away from the Spock’s Beard style of classic prog rock and become a more arty, experimental kind. 

What Awaits Me sounds akin to some Kate Bush, though something about it stresses me, while Window To The World is more 10CC than Genesis, He Once Was reminding me of The Pogues, although if they played with Robert Fripp. So a musical mish-mash that edges towards the furthest reaches of King Crimson’s discography where there’s experimentation for experimentation sake, after a few listens I felt that the album was perhaps too long, most of the songs have short run times but there’s so much happening, and varying genres that it’s hard to focus. The production of the vocals too is a little grating, a shame as I like Ted Leonard’s voice. 

Only really Underneath The Orphan Moon, Somewhere North Of Nowhere and the Yes-like Summoned From Afar, made me pay a bit more attention, maybe my love of progressive music has dampened but I just found Spooky Action At A Distance a bit too much like hard work. 6/10

Sepulchral Curse - Abhorrent Dimensions (Transcending Obscurity) [Erick Willand]

Finnish Death merchants Sepulchral Curse emerged from some dark, forgotten ancient place in that fabled country in 2014 with an EP fittingly titled A Birth In Death. This was followed in 2016 with a second EP titled At The Onset Of Extinction and then their first full length Only Ashes Remain in 2020, when they first came across my radar. In fact Only Ashes Remain made my personal top 50 that year and is a very tight album with excellent album art. Not to rest on that however this driven group dropped two more EP’s afterward, Deathbed Sessions and Howl Of The Cursed and now we’re graced with second full length Abhorrent Dimensions.

We begin with a blistering opening riff accompanied by artillery drums that harken a relentless mechanized assault, fitting as the title here is Onward The Legions. This is proper death metal, no flash, no guitar heroics, just crunchy blackened death. Serpents of Uncreation opens the ground with tornado like riffs and deep growls. The last minute or so of this track absolutely slays with this weird haunting riff that cruises the back half of this song just right with over stating itself. Without so much as a breath Among The Wretched Columns breaks open the ground where you stand and hurls your smoldering remains right in. There is little to no mercy on this track but there is good riffage. 

Graveyard Lanterns is the first track to ease you in with some intro work, taking nearly a minute to get into the song proper and it’s a slower, sludgier affair with a clear sense of mournfulness that I feel caries over well into next track, Stagnant Waters. I’m instantly impressed here, this is clearly the song that got the most love on this album as it’s the one that catches my attention every time I’ve listened for this review. A solid, well written Death Metal song, it’s just that simple.
Final two tracks seem to keep this level up and going with Burial Of Souls barring the strongest riffs so far with a great mid song interlude that just works, when it kicks back up into the last half of the song…perfect. So we go then Through Abhorrent Dimensions, a title track of sorts and I for some reason appreciate when bands drop the album title song last, I have no idea why, I just do. Here we have the culmination of the entire album into one solid song. The antagonistic drum work is at peak forward assault, the guitars are visceral, striking with efficient precision and I’m absolutely here for it.

Clearly there is much here I enjoyed, but the one thing I couldn’t shake this entire album is the production, the end mix. The vocals here feel muddy at best, and I don’t believe this is the fault of Kari Kankaanpaa, who’s vocal work from Only Ashes Remain was top shelf. The other thing I noticed are the symbols ride pretty high in the mix, not Metallica levels but enough to notice. Finally, the album art is…not ready yet. It’s a cool design but feels like an unfinished or even rushed piece of work, half a point for that then.
All total there is much here that is excellent, top level material and two tracks will land in my playlist, but production mistakes and phoned in art bring it down, 6/10

The Plague - Erosion Of The Gods (Brilliant Emperor Records) [James Jackson]

You come to expect certain things to happen when you follow a genre, a riffing style, drum patterns and vocal style, maybe it’s even in the song title and album artwork. The Plague are a five piece Death Metal band based in Sydney, Australia; ticking those genre defining traits off all one by one.

Obituary are one of the few death metal bands that I’ll happily listen to mainly due to their ability to maintain that heaviness whilst not needing to blast beat their way through each song, one of the issues I have with Death Metal is that so many bands I’ve heard dial it up and leave it there, seemingly unnerved by the possibility of slowing down.

The Plague however have done that on a few of the tracks here, not quite as sludgy as Obituary but it’s not pedal to the metal all the way, which in my opinion is a great way to write, I’ve always felt that a change in tempo adds emphasis to the next, slow it down to build it back up, I’ve felt that way in regards to vocals too, quite the fan of metalcore for its vocal delivery of clean and growled vocals.
Whilst there are no clean vocals here, there is a slight variation on the standard theme with the use of more black metal style screams, which do add a bit of variety to the genre standard used throughout the album.
There are no surprises here however, nothing that separates this album from any other of its style; Death Metal in my experience seems to be a genre afraid of change, few bands willing to veer away from the traditional style, admittedly my knowledge may be lacking in these waters and I’m more than happy to be proven wrong.
For now though, this album is what it is, for those who are fans of OSDM. 5/10

Dokken - Heaven Comes Down (Silver Lining Music) [Rich Piva]

I have mentioned Don Dokken in a negative light in four or five of my reviews, in many of these cases unsolicited, mostly because of the utter apathy that he has exhibited over the past number of years on all those YouTube videos with him at best basically just mailing it in and at worst showing distain that he still must get on stage and sing for you people. 

So, before I review the new Dokken record, Heaven Comes Down, I must be fair and say that I absolutely love the first four albums to the point I know all the words to them front and back. I think this is why I am so bitter at what Dokken has become, which to me is just a way for Don to get a quick money grab at the expense of his fans. I want to like new Dokken material, but every time I get sucked in to thinking maybe this is the time where he begins to care again, I get burned by a trash record. So where do we fall with album 12 from Dokken? It is not good.

Dokken was so great on their first albums because they were such an amazing band with killer chemistry and freaking George Lynch. Geroge has been gone for a long time now, but you cannot blame Jon Levin because he is the lone highlight of Heaven Comes Down. Levin playing is strong and he captures that Dokken sound very well. I really don’t have much good to say after that. Don sounds like he is either gasping for air when he sings (I have heard he has had some health issues) or just walked into the studio half awake, read the words on the screen, and did his best Don Dokken imitation. 

The first two singles that were released ahead of time, Fugitive and Gypsy, did nothing to get me excited for Heaven Comes Down, as the songs are unmemorable except for Levin’s playing, the lyrics are borderline awful, and the vocals are next level terrible. Is It Me Or Is It You is up next, and Don it is you. Super cheesy lyrics and lazy rhymes drags down Levin’s great work. The vocals are getting worse as the album goes on, as if they were all recorded in a day and Don is getting less and less interested. The guitar work is great, but the production has it all the way up front, with the rhythm section way in the back, creating a strange listening experience. 

Just Like A Rose is like a dollar store version of So Many Tears. The less said about the ballad I’ll Never Give Up (an unfortunate title for this record) the better, as it seems like they are leveraging weird shadows of old songs as the ghost of Alone Again is haunting this track, but it is no where near that level of quality. Saving Grace would be a good song if it was an instrumental. Over The Mountain tries to rock but it is dragged down by terrible lyrics and singing, while the next two, I Remember and Lost In You, are more bad ballad attempts that we didn’t need. The acoustic Santa Fe may be the best track on Heaven Comes Down, as it feels like the most real song lyrically and shows a little bit of a pulse.
I unfairly had this review written in my head before I heard the record, but unfortunately Heaven Comes Down met my really, really low expectations. I wish I could say that Don approached this record with excitement and poured his heart into it, but I can find no indication that this is the case. Maybe it is time that he changed his mind and reversed his message on track five that he will never give up. I am not sure how other Dokken fans are hanging in here, but as one of them I can’t help but to be super disappointed once again. The score here is simply for the guitar work from Levin, as the rest of Heaven Comes Down is an uninspired, phoned it, cringy facsimile of what Dokken used to be. I can’t wait for the tour videos. 2/10

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