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Thursday 5 October 2023

Reviews: Svalbard, Prong, Blame Zeus, Xorsist (Reviews By Mark Young, Rich Piva, Matt Bladen & Jeremy Silverman)

Svalbard - The Weight Of The Mask (Nuclear Blast) [Mark Young]

October continues to throw some absolute belters out and it’s only the first week. Returning with their latest full-length release since 2020’s When I Die, Will I Get Better, Svalbard drop a strong contender for everyone’s Album of the Year Lists with The Weight Of The Mask which takes everything you loved about them and just amplifies it a thousand-fold. It just sounds so good and now their recorded voice matches their live one. It’s a full-on blast from start to finish.

There’s no change in the anger or emotion as Serena Cherry tears through opener Faking It with barely a pause for breath. The melodies are there, all present and correct and its heavy as you like. If you thought she was pissed the last time round, be prepared as she is on fire.

Eternal Spirits is in that similar mould but is more immediate. Drummer Mark Lilley is knocking hell out of the skins as the cleans are brought it forth with an ethereal touch and these are sounding amazing, with a confidence shining through. Bottom end supplied by Liam Phelan and Matt Francis (guitar and bass) completes the expansive sound and we are two down in what seems like a blur. Defiance has this absolute earworm of a melody, and you will be humming it for days and here we get those lush cleans which work so well and will be a treat when you catch them live later this year because you absolutely should.

November is an almost whispered, haunting tale, which gradually builds to allow some furious guitar work and again exceptional drum work which underpins everything here. The change in attack is seamless to continue pull you along with it, cramming so much into runtime until bang and it's done.

Lights Out continues to mine that seam of quality they have unearthed, bombing through to a dead stop that shows their understanding of balance is firmly in place. The guttural roars are deeper this time round, there is so much power within it which I think was missing earlier and is now properly harnessed and captured here. In full pelt, it’s like a hurricane… How To Swim Down changes things up, softly struck strings with gently building harmony and it’s a thing of beauty. On this one they have built a classic, certainly, for me it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in any genre for ages. It all fits so well together and is a standout. As you might have guessed they don’t drop the ball for the final act. 

Be My Tomb is back to the barking, full-on attack from earlier and ushers in the final one-two of Pillar In The Sand and To Wilt Beneath The Weight. The former has that wonderful guitar pattern that is expansive as it is stripped back, played with an emotional heft as those gorgeous cleans carry it through. As the song kicks in it continues on that path to a deserved end. The latter is just what you want from an album closer. It is a full on tear up with some storming melody parts in it and should become a live classic for them. It’s these moments that for me show they have leaped far beyond their previous work, there is simply not a poor song amongst them. 

It’s the album of their careers and one that should reinforce their position as one of the leading musical lights within the UK metal scene and should feel blessed that we have them. 10/10

Prong - State Of Emergency (Steamhammer/SPV) [Rich Piva]

We are so lucky to have new Prong material in 2023. Tommy Victor is so underrated and if it was not for him and for Prong, we would not have what we know as groove metal today, Pantera included. This may be a stretch, but I believe this wholeheartedly. Tommy and the boys (the most recent ones at least) are back for album number 13, State Of Emergency, which somehow is as heavy or heavier than anything the band has ever done. This may be the best Prong record since Rude Awakening and nothing could make me happier.

The later material has been good, but uneven, where State Of Emergency is solid from end to end. I would compare this material more to the Beg To Differ era than the more industrial influenced albums of the mid 90s, and that is a wonderful thing. The album kicks us off with one of the opening tracks of the year, the absolute ripper, The Descent. This is some serious heavy stuff, and the band Tommy surrounded himself with is top notch. Check out the riff during the breakdown and tell me it doesn’t sound like something from Prong circa 1991. 

Speaking of early 90s Prong, the title track has the same vibes with that killer signature Victor riff. The addition of drummer Griffin McCarthy makes Prong even heavier, and his work on the title track is the perfect example. Breaking Point doesn’t take the foot off the gas, and you just know when you are listening to Prong. Three songs in and the quality of this late career album is right up there with the new Overkill from earlier this year. Nothing is overdone on State Of Emergency, as we get three-minute blasts of metal, like the straightforward thrash of Non-Existence, and the groove metal of Light Turns Black. Tommy never veers too far away from those NYHC roots, and you can hear it in a track like Who Told Me

More groove metal goodness smacks you with Obeisance, while Disconnected is the most melodic and catchy track on State Of EmergencyCompliant could be a top track on any era of the band as it incorporates all the stuff you have liked about the band over the years. I knew what I was getting just by the title with Back (NYC), and absolute hardcore ripper ode to the city he loves, and it is perfect. Did we need to close out the album with a cover of Rush’s Working Man? Probably not, but it’s a solid, straightforward but heavier version of the classic song that is at least placed correctly at the end of the album so the original material can flow as it should without interruption.

I could ask for nothing more from a Prong album released in 2023. Tommy is in top form. The riffs and sound are classic, trademarked Prong, the band he fills out the trio with are next level players, and the songs are there. State Of Emergency shows that Prong is still a force to be reckoned with in the metal scene today and will be for even more years to come. 8/10

Blame Zeus - Laudanum (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

The fourth album from Portuguese alt metal band Blame Zeus doesn't do anything their previous records haven't. That's not a criticism though as Laudanum still contains enough gothic-tinged alt metal that fans of Lacuna Coil, Skunk Anansie, Stone Sour and Breaking Benjamin can all enjoy. There's been a big gap between releases but Laudanum's concept goes some way to explain that as it's a an album that is driven lyrically by vocalist Sandra Oliveira's personal battle with depression and anxiety, from the initial trauma, to the chemical help and then finally the realisation and recovery, it's close to the bone for anyone who has suffered the same. 

Influencing the music to create a diverse amount of songs that are dark, edgy, introspective and finally cathartic. Joining Oliveira are the cascading, chugging, harmonic guitar duo of Paulo Silva and Tiago Lascasas as Bruno Branco locks in the low end and Ricardo Silveira adds the percussive drive. With 10 years of existence and some line up changes Laudanum is Blame Zeus at their most vital, the choppy groove driven alt metal, paved by a layer of blues rock and 90's grunge. A fourth album that aches with raw emotion and carries it with masterful musicianship, Blame Zeus deserve their plaudits and a wider recognition outside of Portugal. 8/10

Xorsist - At The Somber Steps To Serenity (Prosthetic Records) [Jeremy Silverman]

You cannot play this album quietly. Xorsist does something here that is just magnificent. This was brutal on all levels, and I loved every second. My first thought, after turning up my speakers, was that the lead vocals sound just like prime Ihsahn, which is the best compliment I can offer.

There is also a second vocalist who has this low growl that is just badass. My favorite moments in this album are when they both sing to make a brutal back and forth of highs and lows. The tone of this album is a thing of beauty. The guitars are so heavy it just feels like you’re at the bottom of the ocean and the drums are pounding your ears like waves. Even with these both being excellent, my favorite was the bass.

Many bands have the bass remain under the radar, but Xorsist pushes it right to the front. This made the mix sound dense as well as making the songs seem fuller. At The Somber Steps To Serenity is a blast of an album and an excellent death metal album in general. 9/10

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