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Tuesday 5 December 2023

Reviews: Devin Townsend, Plini, Swansong, Skiltron (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Devin Townsend – Infinity: 25th Anniversary Edition (InsideOut Music) 

As he works on the next chapter of his innovative musical career, something that will take two whole years to complete, the illustrious Devin Townsend has remastered his landmark solo record Infinity for its 25th Anniversary, Inside Out releasing it as special edition version including the full album and a second disc of demos. 

Townsend reflects that Infinity was his first time engineering and mixing an album, and though now it sounds perhaps amateurish in comparison to latter releases, it’s a significant step towards the artist we now know. It was a turbulent time creatively and personally for Townsend so Infinity holds a lot of resonance with him (many of the songs are still played in his live sets), revisiting it must have been both joyful and difficult but Towsend has made the package worth it with the remastered album, bonus tracks, demos and even a present day recreation of the cover *shudder*. 

It’s a labour of love but if you were around at the time you can rediscover how good the record is and if you weren’t you can almost hear the genesis of Devin as a solo artist. From the epic hard rock of Christeen, the vaudeville of Bad Devil, the chug of War, all the trademark fractured genre bending is there, the instruments layered and composed in a way to make it unlike not only Townsend's beginnings in SYL but also anything else around at that time, firmly putting him in a category of one. The audio has been mastered for vinyl so it feels organic but also still as that wall of sound dynamic. 

If you’ve listened to the album you’ll know what to expect so really the bonus tracks are what will win you over, all seven of them coming from the Christeen EP, they are available for the first time on vinyl and give you demo and acoustic versions, something Devin has continued to do with his releases, giving a glimpse into the creative process. A neat package if you’re a fan but only adds a little to the original, Townsend’s rabid fanbase will lap this up but if you’re not familiar as much with his pre DTP work then I suggest listening to see where the beginning lie. 8/10

Plini – Mirage (Self Released)

With a fresh new set of compositions, delivered through his signature Strandberg guitar, signature amp software and all the other endorsements this Aussie virtuoso has, Plini returns with his new EP Mirage

Five tracks of guitar playing that pushes the boundaries of the instrument to their limit, reaching new levels of melody, technicality and composition, blurring genre boundaries with instrumental mastery, master being the optimal word as Plini teaches masterclasses all over the world, at some of the biggest music colleges. 

Whether it’s the laid back sunshine of The Red Fox, the repeating jazz grooves of Five Days Of Rain, the synthy strains of Still Life which features Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders. Or the videogame influenced Aqua Vista and the closing fire that burns from Ember, Mirage is more of Plini’s incredible virtuosity, showing why he is so revered in guitar circles, but never just relying on one style to impress, complexity and congeniality in one. If you’ve never experienced Plini before, Mirage is a brilliant access point into his music. Prepare to be stunned. 9/10

Swansong – Awakening (Noble Demon)

A band formed in 2020? Album called Awakening? Must be a debut? Yep it’s the debut from Finnish melodic death metal act Swansong, who come out of the Suomi woodlands with a raging style of melodic death metal that comes from Dark Tranquillity and Arch Enemy, the death growls of Jemiina absolutely terrifying as the harmonic guitars of Topi Pitkänen and Tuomas Leskinen remind me of the Amott brothers on Blood Widow or Furiosa

Swansong bring some trad metal on Become, acoustic lilting on Frost Of Winter, folk/power both there and on Maiden Of Death, it’s old school for those in camo shorts but with parts that will appeal to a broader audience too. Swashbuckling rhythms from Jimi Myöhänen (drums) on One With The Waves as Lauri Huovinen’s bass keeps the pace moving on the shredfest that is Fight Or Die. Scandi melodeath with a little more, this won’t be the last you hear of Swansong, but they may need to do more next time. 6/10

Skiltron – Bruadarach (Trollzorn Records)

If there’s ever a sound to divide a listening audience its bagpipes, straight out of the gate with Triumph & Devotion, Skiltron hit you with bagpipes, using them as a key feature to their Celtic folk/power metal sound. Despite being formed in Argentina and now residing in Norway, but with members from all over the place, Skiltron attempt to sound as Scottish as they can with their sixth album Bruadarach

Now you get out of this what you want, it’s simplistic power metal that feels like full throttle or nothing at all, the vocals are decent enough and it’s polished to within an inch of its life but unless you can get past the extensive use of highland pipes then you’ll be screaming for it to stop. When put in occasionally they can carry power and mysticism but when it’s; Every. Single. Song, things get quite draining and very fast. 

Folk metal can be hit or miss but unless you’re a lover of Highland Pipes, there are plenty of others you can delve into. 4/10

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