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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

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