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Thursday 12 October 2023

Reviews: Source, Gévaudan, Theocracy, Slowburn (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Source - Emergence (Self Released)

Emergence was proceeded by an EP some time ago which hinted at the way Source were going after their debut album. Lyrical inspiration was again taken from “the exploration of flotation tanks, philosophy, meditation, yoga, and other embodiment and mindfulness practices”, so you could call what they do “yoga metal” but you could also equally call it Tool. 

Yep Source sound like Maynard and co, with the influences of Chevelle and A Perfect Circle as well on the closing Mandala especially. Expect lots of rhythmic patterns, odd time signatures, choppy guitar riffs and plenty of bass and you’ll understand what you’re in for. Emergence is their fourth studio album and they haven’t changed the formula of what they did for their three previous records. Ben Gleason’s vocals are hypnotic, as his guitars shift between flowing cleans and stop start distorted riffs, the themes of rebirth, hope and despair and acceptance witnessed through the jazz passages on the title track and the off kilter rhythms brought on Vesica (The Path In), driven by the bass of Pascal Faurie, unfurling into a Pink Floyd-like guitar section at the end, before the huge chorus returns. 

The knack for mixing anthemic choruses with technically adept playing is a major skill Source possess, the electronic pulses behind The Impulse and Snoodle Goo are just as important as Justin Mirack’s impressive drums on percussion, with particular power on The Path, as it glues all the musical experimentation together. With the change in pace coming on the piano heavy The Betrayal, it resets the record allowing for Bitter to bring the lowest tuned riffs here but also one of the largest choruses too, you can actually feel the bass go through your bones before another soaring guitar solo comes in towards the climax. 

Emergence is an album of hallucinogenic riffs, progressive song craft but it is so much more than just a slavish copy of their obvious influences, Source’s Emergence requires your attention, so give it the time it deserves. 9/10

Gévaudan - Umbra (Meuse Music Records)

Umbra is the second full length album from Gévauden. A 43 minute conceptual piece which explores depression through the eyes of an eldritch horror inhabiting a person. Since forming in 2013 the idea of a concept record has been a strong desire, so with the pandemic etc giving them more time in the studio, the concept around Umbra was built. 

But unlike most concept albums, Umbra is one long 43 minute piece, split into musical sections within it but it plays as one long track. From brooding doom beginnings where Adam Primohamed channels his inner Peter Steele, into gothic sections spurred on by his piano/synths, the crushing basslines of Andy Salt leading the massive heavy doom metal sections, but anchoring the gothic atmospheric parts, locked in with the expressive cavernous drums sound from David Himbury. 

As the tracks shifts in tone, there are distinct parts where the story changes, so it’s not just one long tracks that is similar and would breed boredom. The tonal shifts are important as it feels more like an album than a song, the way Bruce Hamilton’s guitar goes from fuzzy riffs to soaring clean solos towards the climax is mesmerising. Umbra is an ambitious concept, lyrically, musically and in form, 43 minutes of atmospheric doom metal that will excite and enthral. 9/10

Theocracy – Mosaic (Atomic Fire Records)

Stylised as a Christian progressive/power metal band, Theocracy (the name gives it away), manage not to be too preachy in their lyrics thankfully as that is always a major turn off for me. Musically too they remind me of Dream Theater on The Greatest Hope while elsewhere they give me the rampaging sound of Tobias Sammet projects, Angra, Sonata Arctica, Symphony X or Pagan’s Mind, a lot of these comparisons are due to Matt Smith’s brilliant vocals.

Theocracy started out as a passion project for Smith their debut being just him but since the numbers have fleshed out and on this fourth album Theocracy sound as bold as they ever have. So yes they are a Christian band but a lot of their lyrics are about life and theology, only the speedy Liar, Fool Or Messiah and the near 20 minute finale of Red Sea using stories from The Bible as material explicitly. Matt Smith has focussed on how this is a dark album turning the view inwards on the current state of the world where we only see things selfishly or inwardly not looking at the bigger picture.

I think perhaps because I like the music I can forego my normal distaste for overtly religious music. Musically they have a lot of everything I like the power and prog metal used in equal measure so there’s plenty of galloping runs, time changes, huge choruses and orchestral movements too. Bombastic power metal that is driven by Smith’s passion for being a song writer and not flood the market, thus why they only have four albums in 20 years. He’s done well with Mosaic as it’s some high quality power/prog metal, cinematic and anthemic just the way I like it. 8/10

Slowburn – Fire Starter (Fighter Records)

It’s on Fighter Records, they’ve played with Grim Reaper, Tank and Praying Mantis, so the money would be on Fire Starter, the second album from Spanish band Slowburn being a NWOBHM based hard rock record. But how good is it? Well Slowburn are led by bassist Jorge Serrano, with the pandemic creating a lack of live shows and some line up changes he has come back with a propulsive record that is anchored by his galloping basslines, it’s pure Steve Harris worship with a bit of Geddy Lee too, check out that middle section of The Price Of Liberty or the bass solo in Two Years. The latter reminding me of ‘Athletic Rock’ veterans Raven.
Therein lies the intriguing part of Slowburn’s sound on Fire Starter as there’s plenty of NWOBHM but there’s also some late 70’s influence that comes from the likes of UFO, along with the Zep, though more Kingdom Come of Touch The Sky as Nowhere To Run adds some W.A.S.P. Having gone back to the last record they released, Fire Starter is more mature with a bit Van Halen’s virtuosity but also a knack for message driven rock ala Judas Priest, Last Chance a song that is all about our dwindling natural recourse and climate change.

Serrano is almost a lead bassist for this record, in unison with Miguel Coello’s guitars for the rapid fire riffs, but also the hook for Jorge Sáez’s drumming to keep the rhythms fast and tight. Rounding out the band is Guillermo Muñoz whose vocals are sky high but fit perfectly with the histrionic style of Slowburn. Don’t let the stoner band name fool you, Fire Starter ins an incendiary record with handpicked hard rock and metal influences. One to play loud! 8/10

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