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Thursday 30 November 2023

Reviews: Hyperia, Tol Morwen, Aeolian, HumanKind (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Hyperia - The Serpent's Cycle (Self Released)

Hyperia's third album The Serpent's Cycle improves on the techincal thrash/heavy metal that was established on their 2020 debut Insanitorium and their second album Silhouetts Of Horror. Singer Marlee Ryley has been compared to Kyle Thomas but I'd also say she reminds me of Tony Foresta (on Automatic Thrash Machine), but also Holy Moses' Sabina Classen as with tracks such as Psychosomatic, where she really let's the screams go.

Hyperia play thrash that is virtuoso, melodic but also extremely aggressive, tracks such as Prophet Of Deceit are full of twin axe harmonies, shifting guitar riffs and widdly solos, it'll have you getting your air guitar out in no time, but with Spirit Bandit they have also made sure that your neck will ache for weeks. Hammering out three albums in four years is a pretty impressive feat, especially when you consider the quality of these tracks.

The playing is immense, the guitar playing is probably my favourite part of what this bands does, they swirl with complexity and savagery but the vocals are snarling, the drumming lightspeed and the groovy bass riffs are all to be commended. It's got a real feel of Sanctuary before they added the really progressive/introspective parts, the riffs shift at rapid pace on the title track as Trapped In Time puts it foot on the gas for speed metal, a few other cuts remind me of Skeletonwitch.

Rapidly attacking you from all sides The Serpent's Cycle is Hyperia consolidating their sound, the conclusion of the vision, so comfortable now with what they want to sound like they close this album with a cracking cover of Crazy On You, which ups the heaviness but doesn't sacrifice those acoustics, though Marlee is no Ann Wilson, she gives her all within her style. Still love it or loathe it, the rest of this album is ferocious thrash metal with bags of impressive playing. 8/10

Tol Morwen - Rise Of The Fury (Self Released)

Italian Viking Metal, yeah ok I'll go with it, seeing as Roman history had been taken by Ex Deo (though Tol Morwen have a go). Dealing with Emilian (Northern Italian) folklore and a passion for Norse Mythology. 

Tol Morwen embrace Yggdrasil and set sail to conquer with a new crew since their 2018 EP. Drawing heavily from Norse mythology and with a melodeath sound, all the songs here can be compared to those of Amon Amarth but with fewer jaunts in to power metal. The EP contains re-edited/remastered versions of singles that preceded the EP along with 2 unreleased songs. Berserkgang is a vicious opener that tells of the Beserker wrath, while Unchained about the giant Fenrir is almost doom at the climax. 

All the songs except one are about Viking history and stories, Fate Of The Gods is pure Scandi melodeath while the apocalyptic Ragnar chugs with those early Amon Amarth-isms. The one song not about Vikings or Norse mythology is Terror Of Rome which talks about Hannibal, the Carthaginian (modern day Tunisia) general who marched all the way to Rome over mountains replete with elephants. This is obviously much more Ex Deo in sound relying on a more aggressive style of death metal. 

Rise Of The Fury is a great Viking metal EP from these Italians, worth checking out if you want to take a trip to Valhalla. 7/10

Aeolian - Echoes Of The Future (Black Lion Records)

There can't be a massive metal scene in Mallorca can there? Well Aeolian look set to show the world that there is and that they are one of the brightest stars in it with Echoes Of The Future. It's the third part of their album trilogy that is focussed on the future and how humans have to deal with a planet that is dying, they do this through a style of metal that is intense and technical, progressive death metal that hangs it's hat on the guitars of Raúl Morán and Gabi Escalas slick guitar playing. 

While The Miracle slows with some classic metal in the mid-pace, Her Grief blasts away with Pedro Martinez double kicking the shit out of it until the emotional piano changes the shape of the song. Echoes Of The Future was mixed and mastered by the legendary Dan Swanö and shares a lot of influences with the music he helped pioneer. Acoustic guitars are used brilliantly on Like A Blackened Sun and Into The Flames adding to the melodic elements that are fused with the death metal assault. 

Chronicles Of The Fall closes out the album with chunky grooves that come from Leoben Conoy's bass while Dani Pérez doesn't vary his vocals, that harsh scream is definitive, even when put against the trombones and trumpets of the title track. Aeolian conclude their trilogy with a exemplary final chapter that will open up new fans to Mallorcan metal. 8/10

HumanKind - An End, Once And For All (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records)

HumanKind play metalcore that is as modern as it gets, electronics sprinkled behind the grooving, breakdown driven angsty metal. It’s a throwback influenced by bands such as Architects, Bring The Horizon and others, though the band are less than a year old. 

An End, Once And For All is their debut album and it was a difficult album to write, with lyrics inspired by mental health, life experiences and finding catharsis through music; Samuel (vocals), Maria (guitars), Tobias (guitars), Dominik (bass), and Marco (drums) wrote and recorded it over a year and a half, the intention being to have it as an outlet for anyone struggling themselves. 

It’s an album about empowerment, a trait so often used in metalcore where the emotional side is linked intrinsically to the heavy music. Tracks such as Shadows are more towards the emotional side as is Dead Girl Walking, however No Man’s Sky brings the punching heavy riffs. The album does linger a bit too much in the mid-pace, choruses that are big and wring out with sentiment, the synth parts bringing melodies leaving the guitars to come in for some palm muted modern chugging when a bit more muscle is needed. 

It’s slick but nothing new really, metalcore has been around for years at this point so trying to do something new is often difficult. HumanKind do their optimistic music well but without taking risks. 6/10

Reviews: Sadhus The Smoking Community, Beyond This Earth, Cargo Lift, Emperor Of Myself (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Sadhus The Smoking Community - Illegal Sludge (Ouga Booga And The Mighty Oug Records)

It's been five years since Sadhus The Smoking Community released their second album, but now they have crawled their way out of the Athenian underground again for a third album of sludge/doom. Mel O.D reminds anyone who may not know the band or forgot in the five year gap (people have short attention spans now) what STSC do. 

It's angry music served low and slow to a steady drumbeat, with distorted guitars and enraged shouts. They're clearly influenced by Sabbath (they even pinch the Iron Man riff at one point) but while Fuckin' Apes goes more towards the early blasts of Mastodon, they manage to edge more towards Sleep, Bongzilla et al with the irate and raw heaviness. 

Stavros' never sings a single clean note, choosing to go full Anselmo in Superjoint Ritual, but when he injects venom into the bluesy, shamanic repetion of Fuck Off & Die then it's worth the mountain of Strepils he probably needs after recording. Greg's drumming is spacious but hits like a blacksmiths hammer.

Nikos' bass contouring the songs pacing and giving that bubbling blues on cuts such as Eye On Man. Thomas G. chugs (Illegal Sludge), stabs (Woodman) and even brings clean reverbed wooziness to Filthy Trust with his guitar playing while Steve is their 'fifth Beatle' as a rolling engineer, whatever that means. 

Take a hit of whatever device you take your medicine from and delve into the weed induced bad trip that is Sadhus The Smoking Community's sludge smothered doom metal. 8/10

Beyond This Earth - Portraits Of The Absurd (Self Released)

Heavy, fat, grooving riffs, a stoner/biker attitude and bellowed vocals? That’s the stuff right there. If a band sounds like Orange Goblin or Fireball Ministry then there’s a pretty good chance I’ll dig it. So I dig Portraits Of The Absurd the second album from Beyond This Earth. 

The Lividia City riffers remind me of Nightstalker, and that my friends is a very good thing. Kicking off the chug with In Orbit, this second album pours petrol through the engine and ignites the record brilliantly, swaggering rock n roll riffs that move into psychedelic lead breaks/solos towards the end it’s greasy, grubby and barrel chested rock from blue collar backgrounds.

Having been around since 2013, they are honed machine 10 years later, touring all over the country like any road-dog should, I assume getting heads banging and beers drunk, the comparisons and linage of Nightstalker, Planet Of Zeus and 1000mods traceable through their previous release and this new record. 

Born from the dark belly of the blues, Beyond This Earth crank up the distortion as the woozy The Overseer and the punkish ...Of The Absurd, are propelled by Vagelis Katsampekis and Chris Adam’s guitars, Adam and bassist Valantis Dafkos keeping the rhythms muscular as Vagelis explores the space rock leads. 

Those first few Orange Goblin albums must have been played to death by the band as it’s got major Frequencies From Planet Ten vibes, The Fall Of Reason especially, Utopia though is Sabbath worship pure and simple. 

Behind the guitar trio is the tight, instant drumming of Paris Gatsios and topping things off is the gruff shouts of Akis Kosmidis, the drumming skull rattling while the vocals grizzled and gritty. Portraits Of The Absurd has won me over to Beyond This Earth a band I’d not heard of before. 

The balance between heavy rock riffs and space rock journeying is just right so I’ll be following them closely. It’s high voltage rock n roll and I like it a lot! 8/10  

Cargo Lift - When Least Expected (Self Released)

Thessaloniki based alt/prog metal band Cargo Lift's second album brings a more diverse sound than their debut. Since forming in 2016 they have been influenced by the likes of Tool, Faith No More The Ocean and many others, these influences have all been amalgamated on When Least Expected, the psychy grooves of Destroyer and the bass heavy swirls of Crawl are definitely very Tool, while Buy Me Again goes more toward bands such as Gojira. 

Since their debut they have changed a bassist/vocalist and the grungy tone of their debut have led to these heavier tunes, though a track such as Betray/Pretend is still a rock track in that post-grunge ethos but Out Of Hand towards the darker end of bands like Deftones, changing styles a few times in 6 minutes of dark dreamscapes. 

The change in personnel has been the trigger for this refocus of writing, When Least Expected louder, brasher and more progressive than what has come before, Cargo Lift embracing the more introspective outlook with the Type O Negative misery of Never Ends

Embracing a different direction while keeping true to where they came from, Cargo Lift have the goods to reach higher. 7/10

Emperor Of Myself – Vita Post Mortem (Self Released)

Vita Post Mortem is the ninth full length album from Emperor Of Myself since 2006! I suppose it’s much easier to write and record music as a duo than it is with a whole band. Even more so when that duo are brothers (though The Kinks and Oasis would disagree). 

Originally a one man project of Dimitris Polizos, his brother Alex joined as a full time member after programming the drums originally. So with Alex on drums/bass and vocals, while also producing/mixing/mastering, Dimitris takes guitars and vocals, the band playing atmospheric black metal that has had them compared to Ewigkeit, a comparison I can hear when they experiment with gothic textures and shift into post-black realms too. 

After eight albums you may think the well has run dry, and with a track like And Night Falls and The Wait, that would be true, it’s simple and not particularly interesting, but at other points Emperor Of Myself shake things up enough to make your ears prick up. It’s decent but doesn’t make me that excited, still there’s obviously enough love for the duo to keep releasing music so good on them. 6/10

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Reviews: Laang 冷, Void Below, The Last Eon, A Hill To Die Upon (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Laang 冷 - Riluo (Talheim Records) [Matt Bladen]

There are bands who sing about dying and then there's Laang 冷 vocalist/guitarist Haitao Yang, who after a carkacking gone wrong was shot in the head and declared medically dead, he experienced hallucinations of the other side and had to deal with the post-traumatic stress of the incident, the result of which came more inspiration for Laang 冷 which translates to cold. The music is catharsism for Yang, joining him is bassist Willy "Krieg" Tai, while Zak King provides the session drums, for this thrid studio album.

They blend Chinese Taoism with Indian Buddhism combining them with indigenous cultures and black metal that is not always what you expect it. Reminding me of Chthonic, but also Blackbraid, where extreme metal meets traditional music and the more Avant Garde side. Sung in Mandarin Chinese, using swelling orchestations and instruments native to China such as the erhu and guzhenh they provide a soundscape to the Riluo (sunset) as Yang says goodbye to the man he once was.

Through black metal (Yequ 夜曲), indigenous instrumentation (Honghai 紅海) and metalcore angst in the vocals (Gui Xiang 歸鄉).Laang 冷 continue to write their story as a band with this impressive third album. 8/10

Void Below - World Undone (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Four songs, 30 minutes, lets go!! Whitehaven’s Void Below present their new EP for your consumption. Heavy on the Lovecraft influence which gives them an incredibly deep well to draw lyrical inspiration from, they promise a dense mix of OSDM and Doom which sounds as brutal as can be. And what follows is pretty cool, Eldritch Incarnate begins with the expected atmospheric combined with spoken word introduction and brings with it a satisfying mix of doom and death metal. It has that movement to it that keeps you onboard and has some epic riff moments that build into a crescendo that is well built and well presented. 

Pillars Ov Pestilence opts for that promised OSDM approach but again filtered through that doom lens. This one absolutely reeks of the early 90’s in terms of its feel, taking influences and spinning it to suit their needs. Its pitched perfectly and stacked against Eldritch Incarnate offers a neat one-two punch that shows they are comfortable with both genres. Beyond The Black Mire, holy smokes is a sludgy, speed infused number that makes light of its run time. On this one they take the exceptional work on Pillars and then raise their game again. It has one of the gnarliest, teeth being ground down guitar tones going and some whammy bar abuse which is always acceptable. EP Closer World Undone is just a monster of a thing, imagine one of Lovecraft’s creatures made flesh and laying waste to all in its path. It doesn’t stay still bouncing between Doom to Death as they see fit, throwing solos in just for fun and its ace. Absolutely love it.

What I love about it is how clear it sounds, everything is right up and, in your face, from the guttural roars to the guitars, all of which are sat perfectly together. One of the things they get right is making these long songs stay interesting, they have put a lot into each of the songs here, imbuing them with an individuality so not only do they continually move forward each song lives by itself. It’s actually difficult to pick one song over the others as a standout because of the quality displayed here so I’ll go with Beyond The Black Mire. Fans of Doom / OSDM will lap this up and if there is an EP of the year list then it should be on it. 8/10

The Last Eon - Infernal Fractality (Soulseller Records) [Matt Bladen]

I haven't heard something this unrelentingly heavy since the final Strapping Young Lad album. This Norwegian band have put out a debut album that is unbelievable in it's technicality. Founded by Ødemark, Infernal Fractality is a psychadelic, extra-terrestrial trip though punishing extreme metal, he is inspired by mind altering trips, Luciferian ideals and the need to push boundaries. 

Consider the boundaries pushed with this record, black metal is the root here, wizardry that is brought by nordic winds, frostbitten and hyper aggressive, with influences of Emperor on The Black Legion or Immortal on Asthetamine, though on the latter only when the dubstep subsides. The fusion between extreme metal and electonic music bringing the industrial punishment of Godflesh. The Birth Of No-One mixes both well with the repeating throb of Fear Factory, swelling with an undercurrent of pulsating synths. 

Ødemark brings in drummer Jarle Byberg, his unhuman playing perfect for the maelstrom that is Kosmicalypse or DMT - Infernal Fractality. Starting out with 300 tracks, things have been whittled down into the cinematic soundscape you hear on this record. For some it maybe too much in terms of just how heavy and battering it can be, but if you love SYL or Mesuggah, you'll love The Last Eon. 7/10

A Hill To Die Upon - The Black Nativity (Rottweiler Records) [Mark Young]

After a six-year break, A Hill To Die Upon return with The Black Nativity and have decided to do something a little different. A collection of classic Christian hymns, given a blackened make-over with some special guests (Nile, Extol amongst others) helping things along. It’s not a joke album, each of the songs is approached in a serious manner and given a treatment that gives them a whole new lease of life.

Hymn To Marduk (ft Karl Sanders) opens with a dusty, almost old west feel with loping drums and a guitar sound straight from the 50’s rockabilly era. It’s that unmistakable near-clean tone with a lush solo and it completely wrong footed me. In there are some quasi-middle eastern strings that betray a darker image to follow. It’s a prime opener and they do it again with an almost hard rock riff that anchors the Black Metal stomp along Venivenimmanvel.

Imagine Back In Black AC/DC with the blackest vocals added to it. It’s mad and could be one of the most original things I’ve heard this year. And then it gets weird. We Three Kings is given the metallic once over, played completely straight. And I mean completely straight. The Christmas Carol favourite is transformed, comprising some of the deepest growls, double bass and that Viking metal type of riffing that really fits.

The folk influence on these songs really shines through, a great example of this is on What Child Is This as it switches over to a clean vocal and you start to hear these in a completely new light. Left-Handed Wizard (My Eyes Look West) is surprisingly heartfelt in how it is presented, treated with a suitable reverence and is a stand-out here. That isn’t to say it’s a blast from start to finish, and I guess your enjoyment of this will depend on a few things. One of them being if you have kids and have been to carol services with their school then like me you will still bear the scars of Little Donkey.

What is apparent is how serious they have approached it. It isn’t just a walloping blast-beat Trem picked furious thing, although they throw some quicker ones in there such as Entre Le Beouf (a French Carol), given a punky spin whilst Auld Lang Syne is full of atmosphere and gently plucked strings. It’s the way they have been placed together that gives the album real sense of variety as no two songs sound the same. It’s this attention to detail that allows the songs to land so well and continue to confound you at every turn. Sacred Harp 133 is a barnstormer, absolutely brilliant.

As I said, it’s not all stormers. Minuit Chretien with its gramophone aesthetic and chanteuse style vocals could have been left as a bonus track but to be fair it is left to the end to close out the album. In terms of what it is, it isn’t a joke album. In their hands each of the songs take on new life and you will never be able to listen to them the same way again. 7/10

Reviews: Celeste, The Dialectic, Ex Everything, Call Me Amour (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Celeste - Epilogue(s) (Nuclear Blast Records)

Following their 2022 album Assassine(s) French avant-garde act Celeste release a three track EP of bonus tracks recorded during the sessions for the last album. The band play a type of extreme metal that melts together like a Raclette over toasted bread, they share vivid soundscapes like fellow French bands Alcest as well as Regardes Les Homme Tombre, post metal dissonance and atmospheric lingering combined with blistering black metal.

Plisse Les Yeux Jusqu'au Sang indulges heavily in the latter, Antoine Royer's sublime drumming a highlight as are Johan Girardeau's savage vocals. He locks in with Royer as the concrete bottom end for the band, low end frequencies that take the lead rhythms when Guillaume Rieth and Sébastien Ducotte, share the tremolo picking leads. Having already released 6 albums and one EP previously, Celeste are veterans to the game.

However they can still suprise you with a track such as With Idle Hands which features, haunting Chino-esque (Deftones) vocals, by Tim from US shoegaze band Grivo, which is why the Deftones comparison. It's also got English lyrics/title which is a rarity in the work of Celeste. If this is pointer to their next album then it should be interesting, if not it's a neat bonus for any fans of the band. Epilogue(s) is an EP with three off cuts that deserve to be heard. 7/10

The Dialectic - Crawl To The Throne (Seek and Strike Records)

The NWOAHM is alive and well with The Dialectic and theor new EP Crawl To The Throne. Those clean guitars on Obey, will bring you into the sounds of Lamb Of God, Devildriver et al, the melodic intros and solos so often paired with the thunderous metalcore breakdowns and groove metal riffs, Murder Machine especially. The Texan band also do this, clean guitars are used to lighten up these crushing moments where The Dialectic lean on their other influence which is the ultra-heavy, ultra-modern sounds of deathcore (they are on Seek & Strike).

Electronic twitches are used beneath the sledgehammer beatdowns, influenced by Whitechapel and Fit For An Autopsy. They also manage to add some of the more blackened tones on Harvest The Young which reminds me of Black Dahlia Murder, due to the speed, turmoil and twin axe harmonies. It's on the title track that The Dialectic slow the pace but keep the aggression, showing another part of themselves through the sludge landslide and those fretslides.

If your cargo shorts and trucker cap are on hand then get ready to slam dance to Crawl To The Throne as this EP is cut from a few different cloths. 7/10

Ex Everything - Slow Change Will Pull Us Apart (Neurot Recordings)

Post-hardcore noise from the Bay Area as Ex Everything bring their aggressive riffage and impassioned rawness on their debut album Slow Change Will Pull Us Apart. With a line up that comea from some of the most frenzied bands around, Ex Everything step up all of their other bands volatility with this unhinged, abrasive metal record with bass of Ben Throne fuzzes like an electrical current, an anchor for the math/noisecore changes in direction that this album, throbbing on Exiting The Vampire building tension and threat.

Andre Sanabria's vocals having a hint of a serial killer switching from ferocious screams to disconcerting cleans on tracks such as A Sermon In Praise Of Corruption. Inspired by the continual change of the Bay Area for the worst, the constant renewal for profit and the gentrification that has meant those from lower incomes are now forced to leave.

No wonder then that the band sound pissed off, Jon Howell's angular guitar playing twitching with the precision of a mine, always just in the edge of going off the rails on Slow Cancellation Of The Future while the punishing drum beats of Dan Sneddon are intimidating from the outset. Hoping to inspire some community action and inspiration to change things for the better, Ex Everything provide a call to arms for their home town with this tumultuous debut. 7/10

Call Me Amour - Revolution (Circular Wave Records)

Revolution is the debut EP from electronically tinged post grunge/alt rock band Call Me Amour. Having toured with Pop Evil recently, all the members of the band have had success in previous acts but due to politics, money etc those bands all broke up, leaving just the friendship between the members of this band. After touring with New Years Day and touring the UK during the pandemic they set got together in the Isle Of Man to record this debut EP. 

Inspired by emotions and the love of performing and music itself, these are the first six songs to introduce anyone who hasn't seen the band to what they do. My initial go to when I first listened was that Revolution sounds a lot like a latter period Linkin Park record. The throbbing electronics behind big open chords, while the acoustic and electronic drums provide union. Though it's the vocals of Harry Radford (ex Yashin) that really makes me think of the much missed Nu-Metal pioneers on IMFKD and Girl On The Wall. He has a set of pipes that convey fragility and catharsis. There's also a massive amount of Asking Alexandria on Blackout and Drop The Knife

Pulsating NIN-like synths, alt metal riffs and massive choruses, there's a lot to like and much much more to love in the future of Call Me Amour. 7/10

Monday 27 November 2023

Reviews: Underdark, Black Pyre, Future Static, March To Die (Reviews By Mark Young, Matt Bladen, Zak Skane & Richard Oliver)

Underdark - Managed Decline (Church Road Records) [Mark Young]

The second full-length release from Nottingham’s Underdark has been on a lot of peoples can’t wait lists for a while, and early feedback has been nothing but positive. What this release does is that it underlines the quality of music being produced in this country and that even into late November there are albums of this quality coming out. It is a sight to behold.
Starting with The Past We Inherit, The Future We Build that has gradually swelling brass that gives way to Managed Decline I, a near ten-minute opus that takes black metal and gives it a grime-filled run-through. Balancing speed and melody, its simply breath taking in its approach as there is riff after riff and it just motors, never standing still but isn’t complicated. If you asked me what modern Black Metal should sound like, I’d say this. I think it is the perfect introduction to anyone wanting to be exposed to this genre of music. There are moments of dark beauty amongst the agony present, it’s absolutely fantastic and has just leaped into my songs of the year list.
And they are just getting warmed up. With titles that suggest an approach grounded in real-life, especially if you consider how certain communities have been consistently failed by the government in the last 40 years or so, the actual music they conjure up sounds like classic Black Metal. Harmony parts, blast beats, and tortured vocals are the order of the day. You can comfortably hold this up against any other Black Metal released this year, each of the songs just comes in and do their job of sonic battery. 

It isn’t song after song of 100-mph guitar and drums, nor is it a struggle to hear what’s going on. It is simply a collection of songs that should be considered a future classic. Matrimony, for example, has this riff that comes in around the 2-minute mark and is just supreme. The following slowing down is equal to that and just shows how controlled they are, and how confident they are in the material they are writing. Raised For A World That No Longer Exists brings a gentle reset to proceedings.

Atmospheric, understated and sets up Enterprise to come in to batter you some more. Its arrangement is sublime, as is album closer Managed Decline II. They manage to take that balanced display and just amp it up with a closing song that is urgent, direct and has moments of beauty within the darkened shell that you have to hear. This is just fantastic stuff. All of it. 10/10

Black Pyre - Fall Of The Northern Kingdom (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

What was an unholy triumvirate, is now a lone pagan imbued by Celtic history and reborn with help from former companions. Welsh black metal act Black Pyre went on a hiatus from performing live due to line up changes, life changes and the formation of Ofnus where two of the members now reside permanently. But Asbjorn Daemonium de Noctis (William Takashi Philpot) would not let the band die totally.

Between 2020 and 2023, he was compiling inspiration, music, lyrics and all manner of other things to revive Black Pyre as a (for now) studio only project that is just him. True drummer Ethan Reed Spargo brought lyrics to Withering Winter and Olly Parker adds additional guitars but everything else on this third Black Pyre release is from Asbjorn; guitars, bass, drums, synths, sampling, lyrics, arrangements, recording, mixing, mastering, and artwork.

A mighty feat but one that retains the same impressive style that Black Pyre always had on record (and grew into live). With lyrical inspiration drawn from the Celtic history of Britain, it focuses on The Book Of Aneurin (not the NHS guy) as well as texts such as Y Gododdin and Arthurian Legend too. This use of folklore and myth with atmospheric, evocative and raw black metal brings in similarities to Winterfylleth, Fen, Saor and the countless Scandi bands that tell tales of the old (well the ones that don't
use it as an allegory for white supremacy).

Opening with a song called Pale Orchid and it not being an Opeth cover is good move in anyone's book, though it carries the same dramatic twist as the Swedes, building from acoustics into the main body of the song, the production is thin, authentic to those black metal forebears, it means that you have to turn it up to hear everything that is going on but Fall Of The Northern Kingdom is a dense record, packed with impressive musicianship and vocals from Asbjorn.

Withering Winter blasts away with Nordic iciness, making it the most straightforward black metal song here. Castell Caeredin brings the folk metal bounce as the title track again comes back to frosty epic black metal as does the frantic Moonlit Aether, which is augmented by choral backing vocals and some proggy time shifts. Rivers Of Tears And Blood takes a more melodic tone with lots of solo guitar.

As the album makes progress Far Away Into The Sky is brooding and bruising, brushing the realms of doom with its drumming and bassline. The Pale is a bit of progressive gothic black/death metal to close out the new songs with some epic muscle. The final two on the album though are a grimy demo called Malleus Maleficaeum and a new re-worked version of Winter Solstice from the debut album of the same name. The bonuses are both welcome, especially Winter Solstice as it shows how the track has evolved.

If Black Pyre remains studio only then it's a fitting tribute to Asbjorn's level of musicianship and commitment to the band. 8/10

Future Static – Liminality (Wild Thing Records) [Zak Skane]

Through out this debut release the five piece Australian modern metalcore act have clearly shown that they can hold up with the greats. For instance their opening track Chemical Lobotomy leads us into familiar nostalgic The Amity Affliction style territory with it’s use of melodic dissonant chords up tempo beats and smooth transitions into breakdowns, but tracks like Icarus show the band can mix things up from the Underoath influenced post hardcore drum chops and energetic strummed extended chords to shifting into black metal influenced blast beats and tremolo picking. And The Walls That Were Built brings in trance styled beats, hypnotic guitar tapped melodies which are locked in with pop punk melodies and Will I mixes slam poetry styled poetry with emotionally laced choruses. 

If this sounds like this band strays too much in the experimental zone, then fear not because this band have straight up modern day metalcore bangers on this release. For example Venenosa brings in some modern bouncy Lamb Of God riffs laced with some modern Spirtbox vibes with it’s quirky note bending and ambient layers. The good ol’ digitech Whammy pedals are laced within caffeine delivered with energy on Roach Queen and Iliad brings in some classic thrash delivery with it’s aggressive Slipknot styled fast paced riffs and beats whilst also throwing a classic sounding Slayer solo for good measure and spicing it up with some deathcore style breakdowns. Through out the album the vocalist can go from soaring clean sung melodies to high falsettos on their opening track Chemical Lobotomy to beast mode harsh vocals in Iliad and we can’t forget the amazingly arranged vocal harmonies in in the breakdown (of all places) in The Hourglass

Future Static are a band that can cross over every sound of the modern subgenre with absolute perfection. From the post hardcore sound of Chemical Lobotomy and Icarus to the balls to the wall aggression of Lliad to electronic experimentation of And The Walls That Were Built and Will I. Future Static have released an album that have sky rocketed the bar for any other band that challenge to remake the same sonic approach. For fans of Underoath, Holding Absence and The Amity Affliction. 10/10

March To Die - Tears Of The Gorgon (No Remorse Records) [Richard Oliver]

A veritable supergroup made up of members of bands such as Mirror, Friends Of Hell and Solitary Sabred, March To Die are unleashing their debut album Tears Of The Gorgon and it is an absolute treat for all fans of true epic heavy metal.

Tears Of The Gorgon is pure fist-pumping heavy metal with tales of battle and glory evoking the spirit of bands such as Manowar, Hammerheart-era Bathory and with a touch of epic doom bringing to mind bands such as Candlemass. The songs range from the sweepingly epic such as Son Of The Old Gods and the doomy title track to pounding and galloping metal anthems such as Helmetsmasher and Decapitation.

Manowar are a massive influence and this can clearly be heard in not only the songwriting but in the vocal delivery from frontman Alex Danazoglou who channels his inner Eric Adams admirably. The guitar work from both him and Nikolas Sprits Moutafis is excellent with killer riffs and splendid solos. The rhythm section of bassist Anastasios ‘Tas’ Danazoglou and drummer Hugo Enrique Olivos really show their chops with Tas being the primary songwriter for the band. With all the experience and other bands the members are involved in, their musicianship and heavy metal chops really shine through on this album,

March To Die is an excellent debut album which, due to the various band members experience in Mirror, Friends Of Hell, Electric Wizard and Solitary Sabred amongst others, sounds extremely accomplished for a debut album. It is a suitably raw production and mastering which is fitting for the old school metal style on this album. Whilst Tears Of The Gorgon does not offer anything new to the world of metal, it is a classy homage to the epic heavy metal of old and is an excellent listen which demands fists are pumped, heads are banged and beers are drunk. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Uli Jon Roth (Review By Debby Myatt)

Uli Jon Roth, KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton, 21.11.23

We’re back at the excellent KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton tonight for what was to be a night of musical virtuosity from one of the often overlooked guitar geniuses of our age. Uli Jon Roth (10) is probably best known for his tenure with Scorpions back in the ‘70s but he has far more in his repertoire than that. The German maestro has taken his band on the road to celebrate a life in music, spanning his many decades of making music by his rules. 

When not out playing shows he lives a reclusive and quiet life here in the UK, a small village on the Welsh Borders is where he calls home now and gives him the solitude to create his music and his signature Sky guitars. 

He strolls out onto stage, a quiet gentle man with a soft smile, looking every part the reclusive hippy who is in his happy space. What then transpires for the next 2 hours or so at times brings this writer to tears with a display of such beauty and brilliance. And it’s not just Roth, the band he has built around him are some of the best musicians I’ve seen in a long time, David Klosinski on guitar, Nikolas Turmann on bass and vocals, and what vocals they were, incredible range and power. On drums was a local lad from just up the road in Walsall, Richard Kirk, a real powerhouse and on keyboards was Uli’s daughter Akasha Dawn. 

The set was split into two parts, the first having a more classical mood to it and included the song Don’t Tell The Wind, a song written by Uli’s brother Zeno who passed away a few years ago. The big screen projected an image of Zeno throughout the song, a beautiful track that elicited the first lot of tears. 

We didn’t have to wait long for the tears to flow again when they performed the haunting opus, Enola Gay - Hiroshima Today? Turman stepped forward and without accompaniment sang the intro, this was one of those goosebump moments, the crowd was silent and in awe of this sublime vocalist. The song continued with Roth’s incredible display of guitar wizardry with powerful images displayed on the big screen. It gives me goosebumps just writing about it, a moment that will stay with me for a long time. 

The second half of the set was more rocky, with a number of early Scorpions songs with  The Sails Of Charonbeing yet another highlight. For an encore we were treated to a stunning rendition of All Along The Watchtower, then to further cement his reputation, Uli had to quickly jump onto Klosinski’s pedal board and amp as his stopped working, but it didn’t faze him too much and finished the set off with a classic Scorpions track Yellow Raven 

Tonight we were in the presence of rock royalty and this easily takes over from the Glenn Hughes and Avatar gigs to be my favourite gig of the year!

Thursday 23 November 2023

Reviews: Master's Call, Fawn Limbs & Nadja, Burden Of Grief, Coven Of Japan (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Joe Guatieri, Mark Young & Paul Hutchings)

Master's Call - A Journey For The Damned (Fireflash Records) [Matt Bladen]

Having released a debut EP in 2019, Master's Call kicked down the door of blackened death metal gatekeeping, announcing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. From here's there was critical acclaim and many high profile shows. During the pandemic the line up changed a few times, but they are focussed and back with this killer debut full length. 

The major change is vocally where guitarist John Wilcox has stepped up after losing three singers in total, he swaps his six strings for the mic, still playing the guitars on the album with co-founder Dave Powell but with new guitarist Bear now taking up the role of axeman. 

As with the EP Master's Call bring a harmonious style of music that puts classic metal together with black and death idolising and inspired by Immortal, Morbid Angel, Emperor and Slayer along with fellow Black country bands Priest and Sabbath, these coming from the driving grooves of Lewis Chrimes (bass) and James Williams (drums), biting guitars riffs and melodic sections straddling the extreme and the classic.

Lyrically inspired by atrocities and the dark turbulence of life, A Journey For The Damned is a dark, violent album that will appeal to fans of the bands I mentioned earlier. All Hope In Fire begins this ritual with explosive blasts and thrashy riffs, the production of Kristian "Kohle" Bonifer making it vicious and needle sharp as they shift between the faster passages and the grinding doominess. Beyond The Gates brings black metal fury as Dimmu Borgir/Behemoth stand as the influences in the sound shifts and swirling riffs. 

So far Master's Call improve on their EP with more progressive flourishes in their songwriting. The Serpent's Rise and the dual harmonies in Blood On The Altar are killer, Celtic Frost and Immortal thrown together. I have to praise John for stepping up as vocalist as he does a great job despite not having the role before, his croaky DM shout fits the grimy music. 

As they pass through the closing trio of Damnation's Black Winds, Into The Abyss Once More and the 7 minute Pathways which closes out this excellent, extreme experience. Master's Call triumph with their debut full length. 8/10

Fawn Limbs & Nadja - Vestigial Spectral (Wolves And Vibrancy) [Joe Guatieri]

What happens when harsh noise act Fawn Limbs meets Canadian Drone Metal band Nadja? Vestigial Spectra takes a variety of different extreme metal subgenres and combines it with noise music making for a car crash of a record of a record in the best, most brutal way. Warning! Parental guidance is advised.

Cascading Entropy is an entry that is genuinely terrifying to me. It feels like you’re in a Clockwork Orange with your eyes being forcibly pulled back as you witness distressful footage that no human should ever see. Bordering on doom metal, especially within the low-end as powerful shots of bass hit you in your chest.

The following track Redshifted is the exact opposite of meditation. It’s so painful with its pulsating synths of different sizes whilst the background is polluted by painful screams of anguish throughout. The ending of the song is the complete opposite to the start of it and stands as one of the very few moments of calmness on this album as two creepy vocalists intertwine with each other in the distance. It evokes the image of two undertakers coming in to remove a lifeless body whilst they sing hymns of prayer.

Track six, Distilled In Observance is my favourite song on the record. The unforgiving nature of Vestigial Spectra is dialed up to a level on here that I didn’t think was possible as every single instrument, vocals and noise is beyond deafening in its intent. It is a step beyond industrial metal as things might have a pulse but the timing, especially within the drums feels impossible for any human being to be able to muster. This track is an achievement in intensity.

Overall, this record isn’t for the faint of heart; it will certainly not be to everyone’s tastes. However, Vestigial Spectra is the most unique experience of the year, simultaneously pushing the boundaries of metal and noise music whilst building to a perfect creation. It’s a nightmare of an art piece in a gallery of its own design. 10/10

Burden Of Grief - Destination Dystopia (Massacre Records) [Mark Young]

And now for some melodic death metal, courtesy of Burden of Grief. Noted as pioneers of melodic thrash / death metal and hailing from Germany, it is a band I’ve never come across before and as such I’m excited to give them a go.

World Under Attack kicks us off with a building introduction – chiming guitars, marching drums and soon we are into a Gothenburg style of riffology. Its ripping along nicely, vocals are barked so there is clarity there which is missing in other bands. It lays down a marker for the album as a whole and is a promising start. 

This would surely open their live shows with A Daydream Of Sorrow being next. A solid pummelling affair which really showcases their craft with the chorus and the arrangement underneath it. These two would surely get the crowd moving, with a cracking solo break – excellent stuff.

And to be honest what comes after is more of the same, each of the songs has different proportions of certain genres I.e., Exposed To The Dark has more of a death metal tint to the melodic whilst Destination Dystopia has more of that rot n roll going on. Each of the songs are well done and follow a certain blueprint that students of the genre will recognise. 

Fevered Dreams showcases some fiendish drumming and has that rolling thump-thump riffing that is like a hammer on stone. Its frenetic stuff and it maintains that level of quality that World Under Attack stamped on proceedings at the start. 

The Devils Bride has one of those dizzying guitar lines that would be royal to play. It goes for a more controlled, swing style that allows them to breathe (it’s still fast so no worries there) and its now a favourite of mine along with the triplet-tastic Mass Murder Society that has one of those storming chord patterns in the chorus that is mint.

The closing track, My Suicide does use that slow intro once more but is a beefy, mid-tempo stomper that keeps you engaged to the end. It’s a great closing piece and they have done themselves proud.

My initial worry is when bands use a label such as ‘pioneers of’ it’s sort of cringe. On Volume 8 – The Threat Is Real, Anthrax used Pioneers of Aggression within the PR / magazine adverts at that time. I’m a massive fan (still am) but I hated it. I never thought of them like that. Slayer, Yes. Megadeth, possibly but certainly more than Anthrax and I think here its apparent that they do the melodic stuff very well, it’s just that At The Gates did it better, and was doing it as these came into life. 

That’s probably doing Burden Of Grief an injustice, but I can only be honest. What you have here is a very solid album, which is well built and represents a high watermark in how to do melodic metal and fans of it should be extremely happy with it. 8/10

Coven Japan – Earthlings (No Remorse Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Listening to the opening track on the debut album by Coven Japan, and one could be transported back to 1980, the UK, and the arrival of Iron Maiden as part of the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. That is, until the vocals kick in and then its confusion galore. Welcome to Coven Japan, a four-piece from Tokyo, inspired so much by the NWOBHM movement that they can’t stop playing in that style.

Over 42 minutes the quartet gallop through songs in a style influenced by Maiden, Priest, Angelwitch, Tytan, Satan, Mercyful Fate and Helloween (circa Walls of Jericho). There’s certainly some competent playing on offer here, whilst the vocals of singer Tara are an acquired taste. Perfunctory in many ways, they add a unique flavour to the band’s approach, even more so with the band’s decision to sing the choruses in English!

If you like the NWOBHM style then tracks such as Land Of The Rising Sun, Return Of The Souls with its Thin Lizzy dual guitar tracking, and the central pillar, To Sanctuary – March Of The Voiceless, all get you tapping the feet and nodding along. It’s not brilliant by any means, and the singing is probably the weakest part, for some of Akihiro Ito’s guitar work is on a par with most. 

However, there are a few weaker songs contained within the album. The intro vocals to Night Flyer are ropey, and the song doesn’t get that much better, plodding along, highlighting the Tara’s slight problems with remaining in tune throughout the track. The title track is clearly the big piece, and it draws deeply from Iron Maiden over the six-minutes. 

It’s not very good; in fact, it’s probably the worst song on the album, although one can see where they were going with it. It’s rescued by the upturn in tempo and fiery guitar work that explodes into life after about four-minutes. This is welcome, for the proceeding few minutes are rather painful.

It’s an album worth a listen, just for novelty value of a Japanese band playing what is most definitely NWOBHM style heavy metal. Apart from that, it’s unlikely you’ll be rushing out to pick up a copy for any other reason. 5/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sisters Of Mercy (Live Review By James Jackson)

Sisters of Mercy, KK’s Steel Mill, 16th November 2023. 

KK’s Steel Mill is packed, they’ve opened up the area revealing a much larger space than I’m used to seeing, there’s a bar area, a disabled seating area and even a cloak room. It’s huge and the throng of people wearing eyeliner, spikes and various black leather and accessories prove that Goth is very much alive and thriving.

The opening act are The Virginmarys (7), a duo from Macclesfield, who approached the stage rather unceremoniously, the music being piped through the venue’s PA, still being played as they casually walked on; there’s is a blend of Grunge and Punk and it hits hard, drummer Danny Dolan is a powerhouse behind the kit, within the first few beats he’d broken a stick and honestly it’s a surprise it was the only one, the beats were relentless whilst frontman Ally Dickaty played guitar, a huge wall of sound from only two musicians. 

Ally’s crowd interaction was minimalistic, a curt thank you as a response to the rapturous applause to each song was all we were greeted with, he held a kind of cocksure attitude, chewing gum throughout the set. It’s not until their penultimate song that he truly addressed the audience, humble and sincere, he thanked us and the headliners for taking them out on tour and providing them with the opportunity they were given. Before the last song, Ally shouts “Thanks, see you soon”, they play the track and as unceremoniously as they walked on, they were gone again.

I’ve listened to The Sisters Of Mercy (9), irregularly since being introduced to them in my early teens and when I saw that the band were coming to KK’s I had to go, I’ve a list of acts I’d like to see live and I can now tick Sisters off of that list. As I said before, the venue has opened its doors and pushed back its dividing walls to accommodate the mass of fans that have turned out for this event, I’ve seen bands that have released new material at KK’s and they’ve not filled the place like this, so for a band who hasn’t released anything new since the mid 90’s this is testament to the influence and lasting legacy that Andrew Eldritch and company have had on the Goth scene. Andrew Eldritch and Doktor Avalanche, minded by Chris Catalyst, are joined on stage by multi instrumentalist Kai from Esprit D’Air and session guitarist Ben Christo, it’s easier to list bands that Christo hasn’t worked with than those he has and he’s definitely a great presence upon the stage.

The setlist consists of very familiar songs, taken from a back catalogue that’s over 30 years old, opening with Doctor Jeep and Detonation Boulevard, Andrew Eldritch stays in the shadows, for a front man he is a bit of an enigma, most Rock and Metal frontmen I’ve seen dominate the stage, by being centre stage, by purposefully making themselves larger than life, that’s the point - Eldritch seems to do the complete opposite, performing from the shadows, but what else would an idol of his Goth status do ?

A few unreleased songs fill the list, familiar to probably only a few diehard fans, the absence of the crowd singing along making these tracks standout for the wrong reasons, however the likes of Dominion/Mother Russia and More easily bringing the audience back on track. It’s the encore that really brings the hits to the fore with Lucretia My Reflection, Temple Of Love and finally This Corrosion. I’d have loved to have heard No Time To Cry and Walk Away, two of my favourite Sisters Of Mercy songs but you can’t win them all, for a band I’ve wanted to see for years, I’m leaving a happy man.

Reviews: Beyond Grace, Secret Rule, Temple Of Scorn, Convocation (Reviews By Mark Young, Matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings & James Jackson)

Beyond Grace - Welcome To The New Dark Ages EP 1 (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Nottingham. Robin Hood. Brian Clough and now Beyond Grace who should now be top of your list of bands to listen to. They present this, EP 1 in a three-part series that will be collected as a physical album – Welcome To The New Dark Ages. With a recorded output that started in 2016, signing with Prosthetic Records back in 2021. Of the EP itself, three are original compositions and the 4th is a Peter Gabriel cover.

The Burning Season, all jangling lines and spidery riffs. It’s one of the most brutal vocals ever committed, it’s up in the mix and in your face. It switches into a clean, almost church like delivery and hits hard with the guitars behind it. The band feature Tim Yearsley as guitar/vocals, Andy Walmsley on vocals, who also plays live bass, but Charlie Rogers of Deliberate Miscarriage and this very publication played bass here. The sound is vital and has that heavy but clear quality to it. 

As openers go, it’s a belter and Buyers Remorse comes flying in, all blast beats and an arrangement that has guitars coming at you from all angles. The drumming is super tight, and synched to the hilt, absolutely royal (take a bow Ed Gorrod). They don’t rely on the death vocals and switch in the cleans once more, but the delivery is like a warning of impending doom. 

Misinfodemic is a stormer. Condensing a furious metal attack into three minutes 50 and is one of the best things you will hear this year. They take extreme metal and mould it into what they want it to be, and just ticks all the boxes you would ever want. This has to cause utter carnage live. Excellent stuff, just excellent.

Now, Peter Gabriel. I know him from Sledgehammer, the video and song that was everywhere in the mid-80s. I know he was in Genesis and that is the sum total of my knowledge. With that in mind, their cover of Here Comes The Flood Is fine, they give it a death metal makeover that comes in after a low-key start. It has solo’s, double bass but given the quality of their own songs I would have liked to have had another one of theirs.

Overall, it’s just royal. I mean it’s just really, really good. They have got to be one of the bands that gets on people’s radar and soon, the quality of their tracks here are amongst some of the best I’ve heard this year and I’m looking forward to the second release. 8/10

Secret Rule - Uninverse (Lucky Bob Records/SPV) [Matt Bladen]

Formed in 2014 by lead vocalist Angela Di Vincenzo and guitarist/producer Andy Menario, Secret Rule have been wielding the same kind of magic that fellow Italians Lacuna Coil have been conjuring since the late 90's. Fusing hevy riffs with big choruses, Secret Rule are now on their ninth studio release, which is a feat in itself but with Uninverse it's business as usual for the band. 

The guitars/keys/electronics of Andy Menario make up the majority of the Secret Rule soundscapes, Angela Di Vincenzo's impressive voice soaring over the top. Nick Pedron (bass) and Sebastiano Dolzani (drums) adding chunky grooves with a modern metal sheen. Nick is a new member of the band and adds and extra energy to the music, giving the opening song a bit of a Depeche Mode vocal along with his heavy bass work, repeated on the swaggering Time Zero

The Secret Rule sound is heavily orchestrated, using layers of strings and cinematics on top of the chuggy riffs. Tracks such as Shards Of Time are the louder heavier style, while IAm is from the dramatic Within Temptation style of electronic rock. The title track is a huge ballad where the vocals really are at their best. 

Uninverse continues the path Secret Rule have been treading on their previous eight releases, adding a new wrinkle with their bass players additional voice. 7/10

Temple Of Scorn – Funeral Altar Epiphanies (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul Hutchings]

This is the debut album from Danish Death Metaller Temple Of Scorn. A band I know little about, it provides a combination of the old school style with crushing slabs of slower, downtuned semi-doom. 

Most notable amongst the band’s line-up is Flemming Lund, member of The Arcane Order and Volbeat live guitarist. Baest guitarist Svend Karlsson, a veteran at 29 it seems, is also here. It’s an experienced line-up, drawing the musicians from other bands including Horned Almighty.

It’s a heady brew of intoxicating riffs, spiralling compositions which leave no room for compromise. The sledgehammer assault of twin guitars and horrifically growled vocals works well on songs such as Begotten By The Envenomed and the bruising Portals To Dystopia.

Temple Of Scorn can slow it down, as the harrowing title track shows. Despite the high intensity blast beats and walls of riffs, the song has a crushingly slow vibe, punishingly heavy as it crawls to its finale.

There’s not much else to say. It’s a solid, bruising death metal record which will no doubt appeal to those whose musical tastes sit in this genre. It’s well produced, well performed, and overall, a decent listen if you like this approach. 7/10

Convocation - No Dawn For The Caliginous Night (Everlasting Spew Records) [James Jackson]

Convocation are a Death/Doom metal duo from Helsinki Finland; starting as a more traditional death metal project the sound has far more in common with doom metal, the usage of keys and synths lending the raw guitar and growled vocals a wider sound, enhancing it with deeper, more melodic tones.

Opening this album is Graveless Yet Dead, a gargantuan song weighing in at a little over nine minutes long, a church organ leading the charge over guttural vocals and funereal guitar riff, a violin joined by an angelic choir steals the show and I am in my comfort zone, its dark and melancholic, this is a great start.

Atychiphobia is the fear of failure, I don’t know which sounds more poetic, whilst I’ve not got a lyric sheet in front of me and those gutteral vocals, which honestly I’ve a love/hate relationship with, aren’t giving much away that sense of (fear of) failure is easily conjured within the melodies, which feel full of despair.

One of the things I’ve loved about the Doom genre since first discovering My Dying Bride’s Turn Loose The Swans in the early 90’s is the emotional roller coaster (I know how cliche that sounds) that the tracks can take you on, there’s something about the melodies and how they play with and against the background of slow yet heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums; often those melodic notes are played through keys or violin, adding an interesting layer to the song.

Between Aether And Land is an instrumental piece and at six minutes long, the shortest track upon the album. Lepers And Derelicts opens with an eerie synth led sound and it’s an epic track at eleven minutes long, though in true doom fashion, that eerie intro lasted for at least two minutes, it’s another dirge full of stripped down bridges that allow a moment’s respite from the bleak landscape they’re painting.

Procession rounds off the album and it’s as if Convocation set themselves the challenge of making each song, that instrumental piece aside, longer and more dreary than the last. My only criticism for this is a lack of clean male vocals, to just add some contrast to the gutteral vocals used throughout but that’s it, that’s my only issue with this one, it pretty much plays out like you’d expect with an album title that summons images of dark and endless night and it’s an impressive performance.

Convocation have another two albums/EP’s and I am keen to hear more, for you can never have too much of a doom inspired thing. 8/10

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Reviews: HELGA, Wet Cactus, Sadism, Bloodphemy (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, Mark Young & Paul Scoble)

HELGA - Wrapped In Mist (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

Folk and metal are so intrinsically linked to each other that many bands lend both styles together in their music. It's even more present in the progressive metal genre with bands such as Cellar Darling, Enisferum and Wilderun. The first band also being in pop sensibilities and choral music that is used so well by bands such as Myrkur and even Blackmore's Night. 

It's the latter two that new Swedish group Helga are more akin with blending prog metal, traditional folk music and choral/pop music. It's the woodlands and forests of Sweden that's Helga wandered as a kid, singing folk songs throughout her adolescence before moving to the UK (York to be specific). 

Combining these two backgrounds Helga has released two solo EP's with a previous record label but this is her first on Season Of Mist with the Cai (guitar), Cameron (guitar) and Ryan (bass) of People As Places As People, multi instrumentalist Sami Javed (drums) and producer Luiz Felipe along with her to create HELGA the band not the solo outfit. 

There's lots to unwrap on this album; richly textured with layers and genres, the folky tribalism from the drumming and additional percussion on Wrapped In Mist, the moody Skogen Mumlar and the lyrical Vast And Wild are counterpointed with the dark brooding atmospheres of tracks such as the slow burning post rock of Burden and the extreme metal-like Farväl, the use of Swedish and English language adding a otherworldliness to the HELGA. 

Utilising many guests to add strings, such as double bass, cello, violin as well as piano and their producer provides additional guitars/keys/arrangements and some lilting acoustic guitar. If more metal bands were inspired by Enya, then there would be more HELGA'S, for them at least this hasn't happened, making this record in a similar vein to Myrkur, Heiling and a few others. Captivating and evocative. 8/10

Wet Cactus - Magma Tres (Electric Valley Records) [Rich Piva]

Wet Cactus is a stoner/psych band from Spain who are releasing a new record on the very cool Electric Valley Records that we should all be excited for, because Magma Tres rocks. This is the second full length from the band and is their best output so far. The four piece incorporate 90s alt/grunge into their rock and do it as well as any band doing it today.

.he album is broken up into four parts, with an instrumental interlude separating each, which is a pretty cool idea. Songs like Profound Dream and Barren Landscape are riff machines that sound like they could have come out of Seattle instead of Spain. I hear some Fire Down Below vibes from these guys and I am happy to hear that. I love how the band rips it up on Mirage towards the end of the slow burner start. 

My Gaze Is Fixed Ahead is a killer desert rock shredder that kicks all sorts of ass and is the best track on Magma Tres. Million Tears is not too behind from a quality standpoint, and I love the bit of funkiness and unique rhythms that are incorporated into this stoner ripper. Dig the Alice style guitars towards the end of the song too. 

More stoner goodness in the form of Self Bitten Snake, as this one is super hyper with a cool tempo change. The one-two punch closer of Hell Dweller and especially Solar Prominence continue the stoner goodness until the final instrumental interlude takes us home. Solar Prominence specifically brings some great psych guitar work.

Overall, the crunchy riffs, different tempos, and excellent guitar work make Magma Tres a very intriguing release in the stoner/desert rock genre making Wet Cactus a force to be reckoned with. They bring the rock and would sound excellent on a double bill with Fire Down Below. Another quality release from Electric Valley Records. 8/10

Sadism - Obscurans (Hammerheart Records) [Mark Young]

South American OSDM from Chile!!

Straight for the throat with Exsanguination, Sadism put the foot to the throat and don’t let it up until the last song finishes. This is OSDM of one a pure nature. And their nature is to go full tilt on everything – drums, vocals that come across like Corspegrinder, song titles that come straight from early 90’s its everything that fans of that era would want. And that is possibly why it didn’t completely hit with me. There is nothing wrong with the songs themselves, they are all fast, violent, heavy coming in, scorching the ground and then on the next one. 

Diabolution has a hint of early Sepultura to it, which is always good and Lower Astral Entities is a frenzied beast, perfectly good in approach but they don’t offer me anything else. It’s a possible taste thing, more likely an age thing especially if you remember this from the era its sprung from. 

With the extreme metal I’ve heard this year it’s just a bit flat. Not lifeless, or if it a half-hearted attempt at new material, there is certainly nothing wrong in the application it’s just that by the time you get half-way through you realise that the aggressive slabs of speedy death metal is all you are going to get (I cannot believe I just wrote that). 

Even with more recent bands such as Celestial Sanctuary who wear their influences on their battle vests, they manage to do something different with it. Maybe it’s how they write; I don’t know but the music is not connecting with me. And I hate that it doesn’t because its fast, its heavy its everything that I like in metal.

What I will say is this. It achieves its aims of giving you OSDM brutality. It’s packed with riffs and everything is attacked in a vibrant way. Its just doesn’t connect with me and I cannot find anything to say other than its ok. And I am gutted. 6/10

Bloodphemy - Dawn Of Malevolence (Non Serviam Records) [Paul Scoble]

Bloodphemy have had two distinct eras to their career. The band were active from the year 2000 to 2002, during which they released one album entitled Section 8 in 2002. Thirteen years later in 2015, Drummer Edwin Nederkoorn returned with a new lineup, which now includes; Michel Alderliefsten on Guitars, Olivier Van Der Kruijf on Vocals, Robin Zwiep on Bass, and Bart Van Wallenberg on Guitars. In the time the Dutch band have been reformed they have released three albums before Dawn Of Malevolence; Bloodline in 2017, In Cold Blood in 2019 and the last album came in 2021 and was called Blood Sacrifice.
The style on offer on Dawn Of Malevolence in Old School Death Metal, a style rooted in the late eighties and early nineties. The opening track Convoluted Reality gives us a good example of the bands sound; it starts with blast beats and fast riffs that are very dense, a huge rumbly Bass sound and very nasty Harsh Vocals (which stay Harsh throughout the album, although the style of Harshness varies), the song then takes a turn towards some very slow and very heavy riffs, before the song drops us into savage Blasts again. The song mixes the super fast with the super heavy for a while, adds both a Bass solo and a Guitar solo, and finally ends on a Blast Beat.

Metamorphic Disposition and Sanity Obfuscation are both great songs that have a cool D-Beat feel to them. The songs are both full of energy and verve, and gallop along at a great pace, Metamorphic Disposition really does not mess about, it absolutely batters the listener into submission, Sanity Obfuscation is a little bit more melodic with a couple of melody leads, but both of these song will leave you with a feeling of being assaulted by a D-Beat.
Dawn Of Malevolence isn’t all about fast and battering, the song Incarcerated Recollections has a nice line in relentless Mid-paces riffs and some very good melody leads. The song does have a couple of faster parts but is mostly mid-paced and melodic. Title track Dawn Of Malevolence has a blasting fast, and very distinctive chorus, and a much slower and much heavier verse section, the verse is heavy, but also has a very pleasing melodic sense to it.
As I mentioned earlier the style of harsh vocals does change on the album, I was mainly talking about the track Crimson Redemption. The first part of the song is fast and relentless Death Metal with maybe a little bit of grind in it, however in the later parts of the song the style changes, it slows down and becomes more dissonant, and the Vocals take on a higher pitch register, much closer to Black Metal, in fact these sections reminded me of British Black Metal band Skaldic Curse. It’s an interesting stylistic choice that works well and reminds me that early Death and Black Metal crossed over a lot in the formative years of the two different genres.
If I was going to criticise Dawn Of Malevolence, it would be the length of the some of the songs, as some songs feel a little overlong. Several of the tracks could do with being a little shorter, I wouldn’t want to lose any of the riffs, but on some songs there is too much repetition of some sections, if these repetitions were removed then the album would feel less bloated. Old School Death Metal tends to work best with short punchy tracks, six minutes plus is a little too long, a small amount of trimming would make the album much tauter and less flabby.
Having said that, Dawn Of Malevolence is a great, and very enjoyable piece of Old School Death Metal, it’s full of great riffs, battering Blast Beats, thunderous Bass and viscous Vocals. This is just an edit away from being a classic, as it is, it’s a very good Old School Death Metal album. 7/10

Tuesday 21 November 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Cavalera (Live Review By Debby Myatt)

Cavalera, Incite & Recall The Remains, KK'S Steel Mill, Wolverhampton, 09.11.23

First up tonight we have local(ish) boys, Recall The Remains (8). After Bloodstock, this is probably their biggest gig to date and further highlights their progression. Frontman Jacob has a massive presence and he makes maximum use of this big stage, he genuinely looks at home up there. Although they are down a guitarist for this evening, this doesn't let them be held back as they unleash their hi energy style of metalcore on the early crowd who are appreciative to this young band and give them a warm reception. 

The mix of clean and harsh vocals has been a trade mark sound of these guys and it’s now slick and well balanced. I did feel they lacked that extra depth the second guitarist on stage gives them but it was still a confident performance and hopefully the first of many on this bigger stage. Keep an eye out for Recall The Remains, promoters across the country are keen to book them. Next gig will be at Subside in Birmingham for a Sophie Lancaster fundraise put on by the guys at Chronicles of Podcast.

I always try to find something positive to say about a band I watch live. These musicians devote a lot of time, energy and money into their craft, so it’s only fair we give them an unbiased and fair review. Saying that, after the initial burst of thrashened hardcore blasts from Incite (6), I unfortunately lost interest as each song muddily merged into the next. 

The rhythm section were the positive for me with some good heavy blast beats and pulsating bass, but the guitar sound was off (I could be wrong but I think they are without their regular ax man on this tour) and I could see they seemed to be having a few technical difficulties, so maybe an off night there. As for frontman Richie Cavalera, I quickly got bored of his constant talk in between songs which I felt contributed to the disjointed feel to the whole set.

The one and only time I was due to see the classic Sepultura line-up was at Monsters Of Rock 1996, the year Max had to leave because of the death of his stepson. Alas, not long after Max left and went on his own path. So to see Max and Igor back with a tour celebrating Bestial Devastation and Morbid Visions was something we weren’t going to miss!

Kicking off with those earliest of recordings, Bestial Devastation and Antichrist and we’re instantly taken back to a time when death metal and thrash were still in their infancy and to hear a band outside of the more well known US exponents and especially from an unknown South American band was intriguing. 

That first EP was quite basic, raw and naive but it caught the ear of metal fans outside of Brazil, so they were then able to release a full album, Morbid Devastation which kept to their more death metal style but you could see the development of a more thrash orientated sound. This release was well received and thus the legacy of Sepultura was born.

Max hasn’t lost any of his passion or fire and these re-worked and re-recorded songs under the Cavalera (9) banner sound fresh and fierce, each song was greeted with a huge cheer and the circle pit didn’t stop all night. Necromancer was brutal in it’s delivery, Morbid Visions, Crucifixion and Empire Of The Damned stood out as the highlights of a set that was relentless.

Finishing with some later crowd favourites was the icing on the cake with Escape To The Void and of course we had to have Refuse/Resist in there as well. But it was to their first big “hit” that we ended the set. If Refuse/Resist was the icing, then Troops Of Doom was the massive candle on top of that cake.

We’re being treated to a lot of anniversary and nostalgia tours at the moment, thankful that we grew up in that eighties and nineties era that saw metal explode into a whole array of styles and gave birth to some iconic bands and albums. It’s a great time to be middle aged and nostalgic!

Reviews: Alchemy Of Flesh, The Mosaic Window, Signum Regis, Solothurn (Reviews By Erick Willand, Paul Scoble, Matt Bladen & James Jackson)

Alchemy Of Flesh - By Will Alone (Redefining Darkness Records) [Erick Willand]

One man Death Metal wrecking machine Alchemy Of Flesh burst onto the scene in 2021 like an explosive elixir with Ageless Abominations, a tight well produced slab of refined base metals seemingly mined from the deep, dark swamps of Florida. Not content to rest on a job well done however, master Alchemist Tim Rowland returned to his hidden lab to bend science with magic and produce his newest creation, By Will Alone. So I’m going to take a swig and see if this is the elixir of immortality.
Not a second spared here as first track Meteor Hammer lights up as soon as you drop the beaker on the flame. This heady mixture of swampy vibes and tight riff elements complement each other for pure heated aggression. It’s an effective mix but of course the creator is never satisfied and thus the next concoction, The Godhead Of Self erupts riff first into sonic reality via precise measurements of esoteric elements and marshal drum work.

With the elements in place now comes perfection of ancient and practiced laboratory techniques for further transmutations to commence. Other Eden blazes hot like audio napalm while Earth Dragon Totality adds just the right amount of crunch to the mix and stirs it all together for a potent blend that feels like a vitality elixir. Working now on further brews for various vibes Rowland then adds stretched out Morbid riffs to Labyrinthine Fortress giving it a distinct sludgy undertone that makes it stand out among his other potions.
An Erratic Existence breaks the mold being the only song to breach the 5 minute mark but does so with purpose and riffs and stand out vocals. It’s a bold combination of Death Metal with just small dashes of Thrash of the later, more grandiose variety, not the pizza party kind. It’s complex, a top shelf potent mix that slings a noted hint of Incantation-isms at just the right levels. However, it feels like this should have been the last song on the album.

There are three more strange potions, like an Alchemist trying to use up all of his ingredients before being discovered. Unmaker is the answer to the large batch song before it by ripping face at a tight 2 minutes 16. Immuration gallops from the lab on rollercoaster riffs and grand vocals in equal measure while the final potion of the collection, Origin Of Suffering is a relentless last push for the Secret Of The Stone.
Master Alchemist Tim Rowland, and I checked, the dude did everything on this album but the artwork and photo, so the term master is earned here. By Will Alone is tight, proficient Death Metal in that Morbid Angel branch of esoteric audio elixir brewing. This one dude managed to distill all of the proper ingredients into a collection of tracks that any Death Metal dude is going to dig. The epic fight scene depicted on the cover by artist Mario Lopez, whose fame is growing with every album cover he does, is perfect t-shirt art.

Anyway, time to test my own transmutation mix for growing my hair back, wish me luck, By Will Alone creates gold at 8/10

The Mosaic Window - Plight Of Acceptance (Willowtip Records) [Paul Scoble]

The Mosaic Window is a one man Project of Los Angelis based Andrew Steven Brown. Andrew handles all instruments and Vocals on this project that has been going since 2021. Plight Of Acceptance is The Mosaic Window’s first full length album, it is the bands second release coming two years after an Ep called Hollow.
The Mosaic Window play a very melodic style of Black Metal, there are influences from Atmospheric Black Metal, Melodic Black Metal, Depressive Black Metal and clearly a healthy dose of Doom due to the inclusion of a fair amount of slow and very heavy material.
The album opens with Comatic Burial, which mixes blasting fast Black Metal that is full of melody, and slow and very heavy sections that have a Blackened Doom feel. The song features tremolo picked riffs that are dripping with tunefulness, which, in some ways reminds me of the band Mare Cognitum.

Next comes The Haunting That Follows which is faster than the song that preceded it, it’s still full of melody, but the pace if much more rapid. The song has a soft and clean section that comes directly before a rather more nasty section that helps to accentuate both the softer and nastier sections. The Haunting That Follows also features chanted Vocals that work very well.
Next we get the shortest song on the album Demon, which mixes heavy and aggressive riffs that have a bit more of a Death Metal feel to them with simple blasting Black Metal, the two feels swap places for a while and we also get a guitar solo, all in three and a half minutes.
Furnace is probably my favourite track on the album. On Furnace, The Mosaic Window mix in Brass instruments and some Jazz on the verse sections, in a way that is reminiscent of Imperial Triumphant. The verse has some chaotic elements that work very well. The chorus is much less chaotic with a distinctive tune and vocals, the interplay between the two is great and forms a very effective juxtaposition.
Next song is Spiritual Intoxication another song just over the three and a half minute mark. Spiritual Intoxication mixes very fast blasting black metal with much slower and much heavier parts. The song is still full of melody, as it seems The Mosaic Window are incapable of writing material without really great melodies! 

Nails Of Holy Origin is mainly fast and savage, but with the occasional slow and heavy part. The faster sections feature lots of melody so we get material that is aggressive and blasting, but still has huge melodies, and gives the listener a feeling of extremity and melodiousness. There is a slower section that is expansive with a big melody, but the main this you will take away from this song is fast, savage and melodic.

The album comes to an end with the song Consumed By A Thought, the longest song on the album. The song is just as full of melody as the rest of the album, but it feels more melancholic than on the rest of the album. The pacing is slower than on the other tracks; there are blasting fast parts, but the mid-paced and slow makes up most of the song. This slower pacing and more melancholic feel gives the song a depressive Black Metal feel that works very well as the final track of the album.

Plight Of Acceptance is a great piece of melodic Black Metal. The album is drenched in melody, that fills the album with emotion. The great tunes work their way into your head, and will have you humming them to distraction. This is all doubly impressive as this is a one man project, and a debut album. This bodes very well for whatever Andrew Steven Brown does next, this album is extremely enjoyable and affecting, what comes next will probably be amazing! 8/10

Signum Regis - Undivided (Ulterium Records) [Matt Bladen]

There's a long an potted history from melodic power metal band Signum Regis as there is with most power metal bands. Having been around since 2007, this current line up with Jota Fortino on the mic since 2019, they have released a studio album, an EP and a Live album. 

Undivided is their seventh studio album and is their first with an outside producer, choosing the masterful touch of Jacob Hansen to make this album really jump out of the speakers. It's bombastic power metal that draws from all of their previous sounds, from the more melodic reaches of Interpreter Of Dreams to the neoclassical shredding of Ministry Of Truth and the anthemic classic metal of Daniel's Prophecy

Like Theocracy, Christianity makes up their lyrical content but it's not that overt if you don't like that sort of thing. The music more than makes up for it with the songwriting and performance's, Jota Fortino imbibing the songs with a grit and power vocally, while Filip Koluš' guitars and Ján Tupý's keys interplay well. 

Speaking of the guitars there's special guest solos of Jimi Cimbala and Daniel J. Fries (Affector) on a number of the tracks too. With melodic power metal that has been refined for a number of years, Signum Regis deliver yet another fine album. 7/10

Solothurn - Servitude (Self Released) [James Jackson]

Solothurn are from Northern Ireland, more specifically Belfast. The five piece play a blend of Grunge, citing Alice In Chains as an influence, Stoner Rock and Nu Metal and earlier this year Simon Beggs, former guitarist with Mondo Generator joined the ranks. 

Opening track Sentience Fades is definitely channeling that Grunge style, vocally it has a feel of Pearl Jam to it - I can’t really make out what’s being said. The bio states that EP explores themes of failing governments, societal decay, a reflection of a crumbling and ruinous inner city Belfast.

I can’t comment on that as I’ve never been to Belfast and I’m struggling to make out some of the vocals due to the style, I’ve always believed that music should be used as a form of communication as well as entertainment, what better way to put across your message than with a punchy, catchy song. 

Whilst the song is well crafted, I’m failing to find that sense of despair in the lyrics, I catch snippets, like having a conversation in a crowded room. Perhaps the second song, the bluntly entitled War will come across more succinctly.
No, is the answer to this; it’s a bit more upbeat than its predecessor and shorter, again musically it’s got a good feel to it, some bass led riffs acting as bridges break the song up, adding emphasis when the band all pull together. So last song, In Servitude, more of the same, Grunge’s angst with more than competent playing. 

I was never a fan of the Grunge era, whether Nirvana were the best band at the time or Pearl Jam had the better riffs, or did Alice In Chains top them all really wasn’t on my radar, so as much as I would like to be enthused by this album, it’s going to be a middling score for me, it’s neither good nor particularly bad, it just is. 5/10.

Monday 20 November 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Deathstars (Live Review By James Jackson)

Deathstars, Priest, Liv Sin - Rebellion, Manchester. 09.11.23

I’ve been to Rebellion a few times now and tonight it’s playing host to Deathstars on the Everything Destroys You tour, support on this leg of the tour comes from Priest and Liv Sin. 

With all good intentions I downloaded an album or two by Liv Sin (8) but as is often the way I just never really got around to listening to it in depth, banners featuring the artwork for this years album Kali Yuga adorn either side of the stage, vocalist Liv Jagrell using as much of the stage and the floor to entertain us; musically there’s a very classic Heavy Metal style to it mixed in with heavier, almost Metalcore moments, it’s a short set of songs, approximately half an hour, which in my mind wasn’t at all long enough and I’ve promised myself to give those albums another chance.

If you mention Priest (9) in the Metal community you’ll most likely get the response Judas or KK’s ?
Well the answer here is actually an Electronic outfit that consists of ex members of Ghost, donning masks (again) and playing sample laden cyberpunk, synth pop. I can’t remember exactly how or when I discovered this act but their albums and EP’s are on pretty heavy rotation, so the chance to see them live was too good an opportunity to miss. The three piece have hidden identities and alternate names, it’s a gimmick but all in the name of entertainment and it’s a fun show, full of terrible dancing, a few bad jokes and a keytar solo or two, something I’ve never seen but is reminiscent of the 70/80’s era that a lot of Priest’s material sounds like, they garnered a great reaction from the crowd as most of them danced away like they were at a high school dance. Great set.

If it hadn’t of been for reviewing Deathstars (9) new album back in May I wouldn’t have been here tonight, on the back of that review I bought tickets as soon as I saw that they were coming to the UK; but in all honesty, despite having their back catalogue on repeat at the time, I’ve barely listened to any of it since, so like a school boy on the night before a big exam I’ve been cramming the Deathstars album Everything Destroys You over the last few days, hoping that I’ll recognise something. It felt like both the band and the audience took awhile to warm up, despite the fact that I’m sure the majority of us were there to see Deathstars, perhaps it was the rather obvious difference between the dance like pop of Priest and the goth industrial metal of Deathstars that just took a bit of a readjustment, but after a few songs in the balance was restored and all was well in Manchester. 

The songs tonight were a mix of old and new, some I recognised and sang out of tune to and others I could only provide applause as enthusiastically as I could possibly get, whilst my recognition of the songs being performed was minimal the onstage performance was captivating enough to remedy that slight injustice; bassist Jonas “Skinny Disco” Kangur and guitarist Eric “Cat Casino” Backman both stood out for different reasons, all playing to the audience and their art, however it was vocalist Andreas “Whiplasher Bernadotte” Bergh who stood out and for the wrong reason, you often look at the frontman whilst watching a live band, that’s his job but here there it was different, here it was for what felt like an unhealthy obsession with his own genitals and a penchant for pointing them out, whilst this was new to me it may well be a staple of the Deathstars live show but it felt a bit too creepy for my liking. 

Despite that rather odd behaviour, this was indeed a great experience, even a few technical difficulties couldn’t dampen the band’s enthusiasm and it was all taken in good spirits, the songs were as expected, performed with vigour and the crowd were lapping it up, what more could you possibly want.
In an altogether unrelated matter, I swear that My Dying Bride vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe walked past and was stood near the bar, if it wasn’t him and just a doppelgänger then no great loss, if it was then I missed a great opportunity to meet one of my all time favourite vocalists.

Reviews: Foetal Juice, Mayfire, Draconicon, Care Of Night (Reviews By Charlie Rogers, Matt Bladen, Zak Skane & Kira Hughes)

Foetal Juice - Grotesque (Gorehouse Productions) [Charlie Rogers]

A band’s third record is often overlooked when fans weigh up the sum total of releases. Some will decry anything after the band’s initial terribly recorded demos as selling out, and others may only ever listen to a band via a compilation or “best of”. 

However, always ones to buck any trends thrust upon them, Manchester’s Foetal Juice have put together their strongest release so far. Building upon the momentum they jimmied up after 2020’s Gluttony, Grotesque is a smasher of heads, ears, teeth, and whatever else you have. 11 no-nonsense tracks of pure punishing death metal, blast beats and cavernous gutturals aplenty. Thankfully, there’s no samples or over the top guitar wankery in sight to distract you from the total carnage.

The album takes no prisoners and gives 0 fucks, delivering hard hitting riffs, insanely catchy groove, and no track overstaying it’s welcome. Lyrical themes vary within the realms of disgust, such as taking inspiration from the idea of two unappealing people getting it on, to drinking the fluids that seep out from decaying corpses, to straight up misanthropic violence. All burped up from savage frontman Derek Carley, who’s monstrous lows, shrill highs, and barking mid vocals blend together to conjure forth these sickening visions to torment your dreams. 

Ryan Whittaker’s guitar riffs bounce back and forth between sawwing discordant tremolo and frantic hooks that stick in your head. Lewis Bridges’ bass is given its own space to either back up the guitars’ madness, or ping around with really interesting counter melodies. Rob Harris’ relentless hammering on the drums ties it all together with furious energy, effortlessly encouraging you to bang your head along with the maelstrom of blastbeats and wild cymbal hits. 

The mix is perfect too, with each instrument holding its own with absolute clarity - big points to the engineer here for allowing Lewis’ fantastic basslines space to breathe. Afterall, what’s the point in having interesting parts on a record when you can’t hear them?

Grotesque is a stonker of a record, completely worth your time and a strong contender for album of the year. Foetal Juice have made a rod for their own back now, having to try and top this with their next record, which I already look forward to. For now, another few listens to Grotesque will more than tide me over. 10/10

Mayfire - Cloudscapes & Silhouettes (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Matt Bladen]

Cinematic music always has a bit of hold on me, so a band such as Mayfield will always make me want to listen to them. On their latest album Cloudscapes & Silhouettes the have created an audio/visual world that is driven around a massive concept, musically inspired by Evergrey, Leprous, Tesseract and even bands such as 30 Seconds To Mars, combined with a love of filmmaking post-apocalyptic sci-fi especially, visually using the metaverse and VR to make accompanying visuals for this album. 

The album features Baard Kolstad of Leprous on Shadows, doubling down on the influences I referenced earlier. The Fall sets the scene with a bubbling orchestral backing, swelling against the introductory spoken word, the first glimpses of melodic, introspective guitars (Evergrey) leading into first song proper City Of Ruins which adds a little System Of A Down in the pulsating synths against the lead guitars of Rex, then the chugging guitar of Locke and bass of Aiden again remind me of Tom S Englund's band of not so merry men. 

Eros' drumming extremely dexterous on the title track. For me though all modern prog like this needs a great vocalist and in MJX Mayfire have a brilliant one. He carries the right amount of angst and power on Thicker Than Water adding some more aggressive notes on the grooving riffers such as A Sense Of Purpose. I found myself extremely impressed with this debut album from Mayfire. The exact kind of modern prog I like, filled with emotion and thematic changes, taking a more emotional rout with tracks such as Fearless. For fans of Evergrey, Leprous and Tesseract, Cloudscapes & Silhouettes is a superior debut. 9/10

Draconicon – Pestilence (Inner Wound Recordings) [Zak Skane]

With it only being their second album into their career, but also being their debut release on their new record label Inner Wound Recordings the band have done a lot of growing since then. For example on this release the band has collaborated with Francesco Ferrini of Fleshgod Apocalypse to provide a hand with the symphonic arrangements... and boy this has made a massive staple into their sound. 

For example the many orchestral elements on this album such as the Tim Burtonesque elements of the opening track Twisted Reflection and Circus Of The Dead have gothic sounding cellos and percussion combined with swooning melody lines from woodwind instruments and pulsing string arrangements. 

Drowned has epic cinematic moments with it’s booming percussion and eastern sounding choirs, which could sit perfectly in an Assassins Creed game and the moving piano and string sections of Under The Weight Of Your Sins will make you shed a tear. 

If you think this is going to be an orchestral heavy album, fear not because guitarist Alex and Grym will provide some serious guitar work on songs such as the harmonised tremolo picked melodies of Thorns, the sweep picking of Pestilence and the Dream Theater inspired chops of Slumber Paralysis. There is some serious drum work on songs like Pestilence and Theatre Of Sorrow

Finally we can’t talk about this album if don’t address the amazing vocal efforts of Arkanfel. From open track Twisted Reflections where the tales were sung with powerful cleans combined with harsh vocals to being emotionally moved by the sweet melodies of Under The Weight Of Your Sins. You can easily hold Arkanfel up with the greats. 

Pestilence ticks all the right boxes for it being a worthy modern power metal album. Epic cinematic orchestras, check. Virtuoso level musician ship from the guitars rhythms sections, Check. Finally powerhouse level vocals, fucking check. This band has all the tools to flawlessly win over the power metal tribe. 7/10

Care Of Night – Reconnected (Frontiers Music Srl) [Kira Hughes]

The latest release Reconnected from the Swedish AOR / Melodic rock band Care Of Night, the album holds 11 tracks that will blow you away!

Immediately grabbing your attention Street Runner tells us a story alongside a bouncy bass and energetic guitar, which make this a great track to rock out and dance around too! The entirety of Reconnected gives us classic 80’s rock nostalgia using melodic tones, super catchy hooks, bold drums, and impactful guitar solos alongside phenomenal vocals. 

The vocals are outstanding as they emphasise the emotion within each song incredibly, with songs such as Half Of My Heart. This track really stood out to me as a fan of Whitesnake and TOTO. 

The intro to the penultimate track Stay With Me instantly reminds me of Cutting Crew (I Just) Died In Your Arms; with the use of a light-hearted keyboard, while the rest of the band hit heavy with classic 80’s tones, especially during the guitar solo! 

The last track You’ve Been Right Here All Along is heart throbbing! A powerful, passionate and personal ballad, a love letter to hold on to until the next album.

I truly enjoyed every single track and recommend it to all! 10/10