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Wednesday 6 December 2023

Reviews: Various Artists, Aggression, Helfró, Living Links (Reviews By Rich Piva, Paul Hutchings, Matt Bladen & James Jackson)

Various Artists - Burn On The Bayou: A Heavy Tribute To Credence Clearwater Revival (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Credence Clearwater Revival were and still are the best American band of all time. I could listen to an argument on Aerosmith (Grand Funk Railroad? - Ed), but you would have to have me forget about the past 40 years to get me to even consider it as a possibility. CCR had a run of six albums from 1968-1970 that will never be passed as it relates to the quality of output in such a short span of time. 

In short CCR rules, and when I heard that the best label in heavy rock, Ripple Music, was doing a tribute album I am pretty sure you knew what my reaction was. Little did I know it was a triple album with consisting of 32 tracks from the best in the stoner/doom/psych/proto community doing up their favorite Fogerty jam. Some of my favorite bands doing the best songs from the best American band of all time? Of course, this is amazing and something that fans of both CCR and heavy rock of today should be all over.

There is not enough space to cover all 32 tracks though they all bring something to Burn On The Bayou, but let’s focus on my favorites. My number one must be Tony Reed and his Southern Rock offshoot Hot Spring Water absolutely crushing Born On The Bayou trailed closely by the amazing version of Heard It Through The Grapevine brought to us by KIND who heavy up the already perfect song. Cortez doomy take on Gloomy is something to behold as is the version of Bad Moon Rising by High Priestess who made it their own in a way only that band could. 

Horseburner are becoming the stoner/sludge kings of covers, first on the Soundgarden tribute and now with Hideaway. The back-to-back punch of Fuzz Evil and La Chinga doing Down On The Corner and Sweet Hitchhiker, which may be the best match on the whole set is one of my top highlights while one of my favorite bands of today, Salem’s Bend, proto metal up Walk On Water. Thunder Horse bring the Texas Doom to Louisiana with their cover of Graveyard Train while Bone Church start straight ahead but then take us on a trip with their version of Fortunate Son

Other tracks by Curse The Son (Effigy), Jakethehawk (with killer banjo on Lodi), Stubb (Green River), and Kabbalah (a very Kabbalah version of Sailor’s Lament) are just more examples of excellent cover versions done up heavy with a new spin on old classics. I am sure there will be some that are not for everybody, but the ratio of amazing to meh is off the charts, even with 32 tracks to pick from.

Yeah, it is pretty predictable that I love this, but what is there not to love? Ripple Music and the bands that are on the label or adjacent to Ripple rule, and CCR is one of the greatest bands to ever exist. Take that with amazing packaging of the set and bands that are not afraid to make these classic their own and you have one of the best tribute albums I have heard in a very, very long time. Amazing stuff, and let’s hope this is not the last in a tribute series from Ripple Music. 9/10

Aggression – Frozen Aggressors (Massacre Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I've never come across Canadian thrash merchants Aggression before, so it was something of a surprise to read that the band’s history dates to the mid-eighties when they were known as Asylum. Having made a couple of comebacks, they refocused in 2014 and have been reasonably active with Frozen Aggressors their fourth full-length since then. Founder member Dennis ‘Sasquatch’ Barthe, who has been on vocal duty since 2020 but was guitarist with the band since their early days, is joined by bassist Kyle Hagen, drummer Ryan Idris and guitarist Dave Watson.

It's simple what Aggression do. They rip the skin off the face with their pummelling thrash which includes elements of hardcore and crossover and all comes at you at 110mph. It’s full throttle and comes at you with barely a warning. The driving riffs and snarling, gravelly vocals of Barthe work excellently together, a ferocious combination that leaves you in a spin from the opening bass lines of C.H.U.D Invasion. It’s insanely bruising at times, with tracks like Satanic Cult Gangbang, Crib Of Thorns and Holidays In Sodom leaving little to the imagination.

Whilst there is an inevitable and necessary rawness to the songs, the band are tight and well named. It’s almost feral in nature, visceral in delivery but also well played with an element of controlled chaos. It’s a surprise to arrive at the epic finale, the nine-minute Hyperspectral Winter Incursions and find Aggression embarking on a progressively crafted epic that builds into a raging, driving powerhouse of a song. It’s got a relentless eighties chug to the riff but an expansiveness that flicks from Agent Steel’s complexity to the more in your face style of Slayer, Exodus, and the like. It’s predictable that Aggression will be overlooked in the end of year lists, such is the timing of this release. However, it’s an album that any fan of the unrelenting aural assault of thrash metal should really give a listen. 8/10

Helfró – Tálgröf (Season Of Mist Underground Activists) [Matt Bladen]

It’s always interesting why there aren’t more black metal acts from Iceland, it’s probably the bleakest of all of the Scandinavian countries, as well as being the most isolated, two factors that inspire the music of Ragnar Sverrisson (drums/vocals) and Simon Thorolfsson (guitars/bass/vocals)the duo that make up Helfró. 

Their 2020 self-titled debut album set the tone for their glacial, naturalistic style of extreme metal that merges frenzied black and grooving death metal, from the explosive Þögnin Ytra, Kyrrðin Innra to the grinding Fláráð Fræði, the band merge black and death skilfully, increasing the cinematics of this album with strings/horns arrangements on Guðlegt Réttlæti before the blastbeats recommence. 

The death metal influences stand up stronger here than on the debut, but there’s still lots of torrid, frosty tremolo picking but a song such as Traðkandi Blómin í Eigin Hjartagarði is a death metal feast for the ears, slowing into some chugging breaks behind the blast beats. Obviously as the titles probably give away, Tálgröf is in their native language, but that doesn’t really matter as you can feel the potency of their music no matter what language you speak. 

35 minutes of extremity, born from the untameable Icelandic tundra, Helfró carve their own path like a musical glacier through an ice field. 8/10

Living Links - Gathering The Forces (RidingEasy Records) [James Jackson]

A reissue of an album originally released in the mid to late 80’s, Gathering The Forces was the only album to be released by husband and wife duo Living Links. I’m at a bit of a loss as to why the album has been re-released, as an act they only ever released this album and a few singles, though they seemed to have garnered some recognition, by the time the album was released the band and the scene they followed had all but disappeared.

As far as the album goes it’s an amalgamation of almost every contemporary band that you can think of from the era. There are tracks that sound very much like Blondie, For The Paramecium for example, the female vocals of Margie VanBrackle making that similarity even more obvious. I’m Awake When I Should Be Asleep has some of the oddest lyrics I’ve heard for a while and has a very rich Funk feel to the track while Hans VanBrackle sings about cookies, milk and aspirin.

There’s quite the Reggae styling within the track Manger, such is the spread of influences within this 13 track re-release. The perpetual genre hoping makes for an interesting if not somewhat unique album, but it all amounts to a very dated album. Lyrically some of it is a bit too far out there and neither Margie or Hans are particularly good vocalists in my opinion, the music does have some catchy moments when the genre of choice fits my particular tastes.

Gathering The Forces
isn’t a particularly good or bad album but it’s certainly something I’ll not be listening to again. 4/10

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