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Saturday 20 April 2024

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

Kris Barras Band, South Of Salem & The Nocturnal Affair, KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton 13.04.24

The lure of two of the hottest UK bands together in one night was an opportunity not to be missed and at one of our favourite venues, so it was a no brainer really.

Added to the bill for this tour was The Nocturnal Affair (8) who travelled across the sea from Las Vegas to add their own brand of dark moody rock to the menu.

After a blistering drum intro, they started the set with their current single It’s No Good, a cover of the classic Depeche Mode song from the ‘90s before dipping into their debut album (Meta)morphosis with the track A Thousand Ways To Die

I was surprised at how heavy they were live, having listened to the album. You can hear the influences on the album with their slightly mournful style, from Type O Negative to Gary Numan, but live, they kick it up a notch to get the crowd going, and it was good to see a decent sized crowd supporting the first band. 

It was also a brave decision by the band to include no less than four covers in their short set of nine songs, but if you are relatively an unknown quantity to the majority of the crowd then as long as the covers are good then I’m ok with that. 

And what a mix of covers they threw in, the aforementioned Depeche Mode song, N.I.B (Black Sabbath), Hash Pip e(Weezer) and the big curveball of the pop hit What Is Love from Haddaway to end their set. The few original songs they did play were enough though to give a taster of this band who can look forward to bright (or is that dark) future.

South Of Salem (9) seem to be everywhere at the moment and have built up an adoring fan base with an extremely busy schedule on the live circuit, and in between all that touring they released their latest album Death Of The Party which got to #4 in the official rock and metal charts and received great reviews.

It’s from that album that most of tonight’s set was taken, beginning with the heavy chugging riffs and pounding drums of album opener Vultures, followed by the heavily sleaze influenced Static

The band are on a high at the moment and their energy on stage is a physical embodiment of that, they barely stop moving and singer Joey Draper knows how to play the eager audience.

This is full on rock ‘n’ roll that flies by in a blink of an eye, highlight is the glam/gothic rock Cold Day In Hell and the final song of the night Jet Black Eyes with its catchy hooks and blistering guitar solos.

South Of Salem are a band on the up and get better each time we see them, if this band were based in the USA they’d be massive by now, highly recommend you get to see them if you get the chance.

From one band on a high to another. The Kris Barras Band (9) are a band that have undergone a switch in style from an soft American bluesy outfit to a much ballsier rock outfit, but done in such a way that seems natural and part of the bands growth.

They open up with the big radio hit Who Needs Enemies from the 2022 album Death Valley Paradise, the album that really brought them to a much wider audience and the first hint of a heavier rock sound.

The set is packed full of sing-a-long songs, particularly from their latest album Halo that, as I write this, is sitting at #7 in the main UK album charts! (It got to #5 - Smash Hits Ed) The audience lap up everything, as the band dip into the last three albums but they also remember their roots as well and throw in some powerful blues tracks such as the very emotional rendition of Watching Over Me I literally had goosebumps and filled up during this song.

Kris himself is no stranger to the spotlight having had a successful career in MMA fighting, but he is well and truly in the rock spotlight now with his incredible guitar skills and powerful lyrics, that make this band much in demand, it will be interesting to see how far these guys can go, and like their touring companions, the USA beckons and could see this band become huge.

Friday 19 April 2024

Reviews: Pearl Jam, Haunted, Dool, Tomorrow's Rain (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Pearl Jam - Dark Matter (Monnkeywrench/Republic Records) [Rich Piva]

No matter what people think about the quality of the later period Pearl Jam records, a new album by the legendary band is something to celebrate. There are always a few really great songs on each of the records after the ones that people still consider classics (the stopping point for classics is debatable, anywhere from Vs to Riot Act, I am in the Yield camp personally) and usually a new record means a new tour, which is obviously where PJ excels these days. 

Album number twelve, Dark Matter, fits exactly into the discography like everything pretty much after the millennium turned; some great songs that will be excellent live, some slower songs that are mostly passes, and some unmemorable filler, with Dark Matter distributed evenly across the three categories.

Let’s start with the good. The album gets off to a ripping start with Scared Of Fear and React, Respond, two rockers that I am sure will be staples of the upcoming live setlist and beyond. Ed sounds great and the band is spot on as usual. React, Respond has a cool little guitar bass interaction thing going on making it one of the more memorable tracks on Dark Matter

I dig the funky and fun title track, continuing a trend of throwing out a unique (for them) sounding single like they did with Dance Of The Clairvoyants on the last release, Gigaton. I enjoyed Waiting For Stevie too, probably because it reminds me of something from Yield. The punk leaning little ripper Running is super fun as well.

Wreckage falls into the mostly pass on slower tracks along with the way too long Upper Hand. As for unmemorable filler? Won’t Tell I won’t really listen to again, Something Special really is not that special for me, and Got To Give doesn’t offer me a lot. I am not sure if the writing process has changed, but I feel like a lot of the not-so-great tracks sound like they were written for a late era Springsteen record but didn’t make the cut.

The closer would be the deciding factor between the great and the meh, and let’s just say I am still on the fence about the chill closer, I am leaning towards the former category. So, another mixed bag from Pearl Jam. I never do want Ed and the boys to stop though, because there are always some gems and most likely a tour every time, so Dark Matter is something to be enjoyed and celebrated for what it is. For most bands this is a six, but it’s Pearl Jam so... 7/10

Haunted - Stare At Nothing (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Italian band Haunted spooked us with their 2016 self-titled occult doom masterpiece that went way too under the radar for how hauntingly (I had to) good it is. Not much was heard from the band after that, but leave it to Ripple Music to bring us the highly anticipated second Haunted record, Stare At Nothing, which takes the band’s brand of goodness consisting of ethereal vocals, low end atmospheric doom, and heavy but understated (in the best way) Sabbath/Candlemass type riffs to the next level.

Spooky is the vibe indeed as Stare At Nothing kicks off with a ghostly Intro that slides into the first track, Catamorph, that brings a crunchy killer doom riff only to be mesmerized by Chirstina Chimirri’s beautiful vocals. The power of this band is how the heavy and light melt together, the voice and the music, just perfectly, even if the two worlds are so far apart. 

The guitar work is outstanding here. I hear a heavier Kabbalah or a less heavy Wytch (using two other amazing Ripple bands as comparisons) on a track like Garden Of Evil, which brings some psych to the occult doom party but never ignores the riff, and my oh my those vocals, this one with some excellently executed layering that makes this track just fly. 

I love how Back To The Nest glides like a ghost and how Potsherds is the example I would use if someone asked me with ethereal occult doom sounded like. Malevolent is the real highlight on an album full of them. This is epic doom; almost eight minutes of understand in the mix crunchy riffs and vocals that so perfect meld but then combine that with the tempo change and sparse guitar work in the middle and you have one of my favourite songs of the year. 

Fall Of The Seven Veils acts as a two minute interlude highlighted by that voice over an acoustic that makes you yearn for something, but you are not yet sure what, until you figure out it is the embrace of death when the riff of the title track kicks in. I mention epic doom, and if that is your thing, then the closing track will be for you as well where you get excellently executed doom that can stand up against any band doing it today.

It was eight years in the making, but Haunted’s Stare At Nothing is the perfect re-introduction to a band that was missed by so many in both meanings of the word. This is the definition of epic occult doom that has next level musicianship and a voice that will literally do what the band’s name is in the best possible way. Will be up there for the doom album of the year for sure. 9/10

Dool - The Shape Of Fluidity (Prophesy Productions) [Matt Bladen]

Dutch band Dool have received plaudits from all over the place for their previous two albums, including this humble publication. Their gothic post rock meets slow burning prog metal, tinged with a morose atmospherics has a real appeal to it, beckoning you to get involved with their esoteric, existential music. 

The Shape Of Fluidity is their third offering and it’s based around Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ idea that “everything flows, nothing stays the same” be that how we adapt to an ever changing world, political climate, environmental climate and the overall malaise that is modern life. Who do we believe? Do we rebel? Do we just embrace the status quo? 

More importantly do we let others define who we are? What we are? How we identify and define ourselves? Much of the latter comes with vocalist/guitarist Raven van Dorst’s fight to reclaim their identity as someone that is intersex, not defined by binary ideals but embracing their own path. 

The lyrical path on this album is biographical Raven documenting feelings, fears and finality in this process of finding who they are. Derived from the Dutch word for wandering, that is a very apt way of describing the soundscapes of this band. The Shape Of Fluidity, seems to be more expansive and experimental than either of the last two studio albums. 

The repeating, glistening post rock swathes on the title track are given an undercurrent of prog metal on the crushing Self Dissect toughness and art rock trappings, akin to Porcupine Tree, early Pineapple Thief or fellow Dutch band Lesoir. There’s also some doom meandering on Hermagorgon and writhing post punk with opener Venus In Flames or Evil In You to impart more musical mastery on your ears. 

The use of Raven, Nick Polak and Omar Iskandr all being guitarists, brings that widescreen guitar sound of a band such as Cult Of Luna, Radiohead or Periphery, all three also the writers on this record. Behind this tonal wall of sound is bassist JB van der Wal and new drummer Vincent Kreyder who brings jazz tendencies as well as pounding metallic fury. 

Add to this the production experience of Magnus Lindberg and Ted Jensen, the album has a clarity that allows you to pick out individual notes even when they play fully distorted heaviness. The Shape Of Fluidity sees Dool unveiling more of themselves, it’s an album that’s very personal and affecting, sound tracked by some virtuoso compositions. 9/10

Tomorrow’s Rain - Ovdan (AOP Records) [Matt Bladen]

Tomorrow's Rain bring that bleak back with their second album Ovdan. The Hebrew word for loss this album follows up Hollow with some heart-wrenching doom that draws from tragedy. The band from Tel Aviv are influenced heavily the likes of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and acts such as Swallow The Sun, Tribulation, Moonspell, having played support to a few of these at local concerts.

That album featured guests from some of the best heavy bands around and led them just one show in Tel Aviv in 2021 right at the height of the pandemic. This new studio album though takes what they did on the debut and overloads it with grief and worry. Inspired by the near fatal heart attack that frontman Yishai Sweartz had in March 2023, this horror directing the finishing touches of Ovdan, as they looked to write a record that was different to their debut.

For one it's got more coherence to it written in just two years, there's anger, bile, introspection and colossal heaviness delivered with some well crafted death/doom. Sweartz has said that he wanted to "bring something fresh to the table with every album" so it's no surprise that alongside the death/doom, there's atmospheric textures, post metal shimmers and much more in this pot as Alex Karlinsky's varied keys gel with Yoni Biton and Raffy Mor's maudlin, crunching guitars and acoustic moments.

There's also another set of special guests with Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate), Ben Christo (Sisters Of Mercy), Andreas Vingback (Dark Funeral) alongside a host of black/death/doom artists who lend their talents to this well connected band, most helping out on vocals, adding to the cleans and growls of Sweartz. Metering these gothic death doom anthems are the rhythm section of Yaggel Cohen (bass) and Nir Nakav (drums) who shift into double kick/galloping blasts and slithering, crushing grooves with aplomb.

Ovdan is a compelling record from Tomorrow's Rain, fans of gothic death doom will find themselves in heaven. 9/10

Reviews: High On Fire, Dvne, Atrae Bilis, Maere (Reviews By Rich Piva, Matt Bladen, GC & Mark Young)

High On Fire - Cometh The Storm (MNRK Heavy) [Rich Piva]

High On Fire are one of those bands you can identify after just a couple of seconds of a song. Whether it’s Matt Pike’s guitar sound and trademark riffs or a bit of his unique sing/scream voice, you know it’s them, and you also pretty much know what you are going to get, which for this band is never a band thing, just different levels of good. 

If you are not familiar with High On Fire then I can’t help you, but I will say this is the first album in six years from the deliverers of riffs, heavy sludgy goodness, and UFO conspiracies and will in no way disappoint long time fans who have been anxiously awaiting new material from Pike and this next configuration of the band, which this time includes former Melvins and Big Business drummer Coady Willis and boy does he make a difference because the drums sound amazing on here along with everything else Cometh The Fire brings.

The riffs are all over the place on Cometh The Fire, right from the beginning on Lambsbread for example. You get a great example of the new drummer’s work on this track too. I love the second track, Burning Down, how it kind of rises up from the ashes. You immediately hear some Big Business with this track on not just the drums, so Willis is having influence on Pike for sure. HOF is at their best with their sludgy, mid-tempo tracks where the riffs and now also the drums rule all, like on Tough Guy. Obviously, the band is not afraid to rip it up too, like the breakneck tracks TrismegistusLightning Beard, and The Beating

The title track is killer too, highlighted by what would be the closest Pike comes to crooning and a great build driven by those drums and whoa when that chunky riff kicks in. You even have some Middle Eastern vibes going on (Karanlik) and the most Mastodon sounding song of their discography, Hunting Shadows. The ten-minute Darker Fleece is a strong, albeit a bit too long closer, but it still slays. If I had one gripe, I would say Cometh The Storm is a bit long at almost an hour, but hey, it’s been six years so I get it.

So, worry not High On Fire fans, if you like this band you will totally dig Cometh The Fire. Just don’t come in to it thinking Pike is going go in some crazy new direction, which is fine with me given all of the godly riffs and pummelling of the rhythm section you get for sixty straight minutes. A great late career album from a great band. 8/10

Dvne - Voidkind (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

French/Scottish act Dvne have been creating a beautiful heavy noise for over 10 years, releasing two studio albums and glut of EP’s, the founding duo of Victor Vicart (guitar/keys/vocals) and Dudley Tait (drums), play music inspired by Tool, Gojira, Cult Of Luna, Conjurer and The Ocean, post metal atmospheres with pulverising sludge grooves, progressive compositions that put hypnotic grooves against cascading riffs. 

On this third full length Dvne bring their music to a new nadir, Vicart and Tait are joined by Allan Paterson (guitar/bass), Daniel Barter (vocals), but it’s the addition of Maxime Kelle on keys and vocals that gives Voidkind a more eclectic ethereal sound that takes them further towards what Baroness do. Now expanded to a five piece, it’s their live shows that has influenced this record. Playing shows and festivals has meant that the focus was on creating tracks that were still intense technical workouts but also concise, still with long slithering epics but mostly writing music where you can play five or six songs in a set rather than say three. 

Concise but not simple, Dvne still have a knack for the slow burn, their music undulates and shifts, songs build, crescendo and then fade back out or segue into something else entirely. Victor also notes that he wanted the album to sound more like their live show so there is less overdubbing and layering, keeping it distinctly to a couple of guitars through one channel each, the rhythm section, keys and vocals, not fifty layers of everything. It means that Voidkind sounds more natural, a bit barer but it forces you to really get to the crux of Dvne as a band, that decade of maturity obvious. 

Elonora brings the Dvne sound right from the off, fluid basslines take the lead in the middle section, put between two massive slabs of stop start riffage, keys providing texture as we move into repeating arpeggios and breakdowns for Reaching For Telos as the dreamlike Reliquary takes the journey into a nightmare, the astral soundscapes inspired by the 1989 novel Hyperion by Dan Simmonds. This affinity with dark science fiction (I mean their name comes from Frank Herbert’s worm-filled epic), gives them a lot of room to play with dynamics, such as Cobalt Sun Necropolis which closes the album with some inspiration from Tool.

The production makes it sound cinematic highlighting the individual performances inside the whole song, the focus on making their music more direct while adding more ‘real’ layers with additional keys and vocal harmonies. Voidkind is the third album Dvne deserve to make, honed by their live show and at their very best. 9/10

Atrae Bilis - Aumicide (20 Buck Spin) [GC]

This week’s review from me comes from a 20 Buck Spin signing, I have the new album, Aumicide from Atrae Bilis, 20 Buck Spin usually are spot on with their bands and I’m not sure I have heard one of their releases I don’t like, so hopes are high for this one.

If the tech death and djenty instrumental intro Protoxenesis sets the mood for what we can expect for the rest of the album were in for a treat, see I don’t hate ALL intros!! Hell Simulation explodes into life with a beautiful BLERGH and then is a sharp mix of technical and angular death metal, that also has the required crunchy beatdowns included to make this a whirlwind start.

Before Salted In Stygia starts with some almost brie brie br00tal death metal vocals but manage to veer away just enough to save face, musically it’s another maelstrom of technical, jagged riffs mixed with some impressive drum work and the intertwining of almost but not quiet grind sections doubling onto more paired back and atmospheric sections is a wonderous effect. 

Inward To Abraxas is an absolute thunderfuck of a track and mixes all the best bits of death metal into one huge wall of destruction the drums pound and dismantle, the guitars slice and jab with such ferocity and savageness, you get the rich and thick basslines worked through and here we get some definite brutal death metal vocals that enhance everything and take the song to another level. 

To Snuff The Spirit Guides continues the sterling work with yet another dose of masterful and brutal death metal that while sounding chaotic and out of control also at the same time is precise and to the point and that is the magic of this album the mix of chaos and control is on point! 

Next up is the title track Aumicide which is and slow and paired back instrumental that unfortunately is a bit of a misstep in my opinion as it slows the pace of everything down completely and just seems a bit out of place here, A Kingdon Of Cortisol begins with the slowed pace of the previous track but doesn’t take long to pick the pace and violence back up, there is a more atmospheric feel to the production on this track in places. 

When they put the foot back on the ‘’fucking heavy’’ pedal its all systems go again in a quiet magnificent and delightfully savage way, Monolith Aflame begins with a doomy echoey silence that the explodes into what may be the most old school death metal feeling track on the album so far, not to say they lose any of the edge of the modern side of things it just seeps in together and sound magnificent. 

Through The Hologram’s Cervix wins the most absurd death metal song tile award on the album award and is also the shortest and therefore most grind influenced track, it’s a 2:30 mix of buzzsaw sharp riffs, battering drums and some more fantastic vocal work that turns up, puts its boot on our throat, stamps repeatedly on it and then just leaves, fantastic stuff. 

Excruciate Incarnate is left with the job of closing the album and does so in glorious fashion with one last show of everything Atrae Bilis are capable of, there’s technicality, grind influence and a healthy dose of djent all mixed together just because the can and it’s an absolute joy to listen to.

This album is a little over 40 minutes long and 35 minutes of it is as close to perfection as you can get! The inclusion of an instrumental track is frustrating, because while its decent enough it just doesn’t really fit into the whole album for me, but me having had that little moan should not in any way take anything away from this absolutely fucking phenomenal piece of death metal artistry. 

This is a truly magnificent album and dare I say it already but if this isn’t featuring on some peoples AOTY lists then I really will be shocked because I know it will be in mine! 10/10

Maere - And The Universe Keeps Silent (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Mark Young]

A debut album of death metal that takes in dissonance, doom and atmospheric motifs across its 5 songs. This is not an easy listen; It is not your straightforward blast beat-unintelligible vocals affair. This is a brutal release that doesn’t rely on standard practice. 

The use of those dissonant chord shapes and arrangements adds to a general sense of unease in place. All Those Things We’ve Never Been (The Grandeur Of Nihilism) starts us off with an arrangement that lurches from one narrative to another, guitar lines that repeat maddening lines that drop into the darkest extreme riffs.
They build their songs in a way that is reminiscent of Morbid Angel, those heavy stabs that although aren’t fast hit still hit hard, nonetheless. There is an intelligence behind them, behind the way they are deployed. This is showcased on Traumlande (Ascending The Abyss) where each member is completely locked in with each other. The guitar sound just fits the music so well, its gritty whilst possessing a clarity to it that allows you hear everything in such a defined way. When they do adopt an almost normal approach, there is still that quality to it that makes it stand-out from other acts. 

The Darkness Is Your Mother is an example of this approach as they batter you with riffs that seem to stretch out, then falling away leaving the drumming alone to continue pushing forward until they come together once more. It is intelligent brutality, a deft touch instead of a sledgehammer approach and it is fantastic.
Closing track Think Of Me As Fire is excellent, it builds upon what has come before with those melodic lines offset against the double bass, the trem picked guitar coming in as a transition to another atmospheric passage where two riff lines face off until they disappear into feedback. The chords are jarring, the speed is there, and the rhythm is off kilter but together it all works.

There are reviews online already, some that are making this one of the albums of the decade, others one of the albums of 2024. The latter is probably closer to the mark, if you imagine trying to place this alongside what we have seen so far, I cannot think of anyone else who sounds like they do. I said earlier that the music reminds me of Morbid Angel, in the way that they used to put differing melody lines together and they way that they would drop their riffs but that is where the similarities end. 

Their music is unique to them, its approach and execution makes them stand apart from the extreme crowd. It won’t be for everyone, in that there are no clean / dirt switch vocals going on nor constant guitar and drums battering forward at 240bpm. They have a vision of what their art should be, and they have the confidence and the talent to stick with it. When you are looking for originality in an ever-growing pool of sound-a-likes this is who you should be listening to. 9/10

Thursday 18 April 2024

Reviews: UFO, My Dying Bride, Necrot, Sunface (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, James Jackson, Matt Bladen & Rich Piva)

UFO - Covenant & Sharks (Cherry Red Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Mention UFO and thoughts usually focus on their seventies catalogue. Unsurprisingly really, given that throughout their career it was tracks from albums such as Lights Out, Force It, Phenomenon and No Heavy Pettin’ that formed the bulk of their live sets. However, dig deeper into the band’s 22 albums which span their 50 years together, and you’ll find many gems buried deeply and tucked away.

Having disbanded for several years in the late eighties, 1991 saw vocalist Phil Mogg put another version of the band together, before managing to reunite what to most is the classic UFO line-up of Mogg, Pete Way, Michael Schenker, Paul Raymond, and Andy Parker. Their 1995 album Walk On Water is well worth a listen, particularly for Schenker’s guitar work and Mogg’s lyrical prowess.

Having walked out on the band during their US tour to promote Walk On Water, Schenker returned to join UFO for their 2000 album Covenant. Mogg, Way, and Raymond were joined by Aynsley Dunbar on drums for the album, Parker having decided to leave (he was to return in 2005 until the end of the band in 2022). 

Covenant is packed full of solid UFO songs, with their trademark melodies blended with the classic hard rock style that has always stood UFO apart from many of their peers. Dunbar links in well with Way, whilst Raymond’s subtle keyboards add layers to the songs. It’s a fine performance from Mogg throughout, his clipped yet emotive style working well with the songs. Alongside Mogg, it’s another masterclass from Schenker who sounds in great form.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Covenant is a vastly underrated UFO album. It’s consistent from start to finish, from the bluesy smooch of Love Is Forever, via the stomping rock of In the Middle Of Madness, with some of Schenker’s most relaxed playing, through to the up-tempo The World And His Dog, which has shades of seventies Scorpions in its style and riffs. The songs are cleverly constructed, the right blend of melody and hard-edged rock, and all involved seem on great form.

Two years later and we see Raymond no longer with the band. It’s Schenker’s last dalliance with UFO, but he, alongside Mogg, Way and Dunbar ensure it’s a fine finish. Sharks is the 16th studio album and kicks off with the slightly left of field Outlaw Man, which sees Schenker’s playing expansive and riddled with gorgeous flashes of colour. It’s followed by the defiant Quicksilver Rider which bears all the hallmarks of traditional UFO, before the emotion of Serenity with another great Schenker riff kicks in.

Sharks may not be quite as appealing as Covenant, but it certainly has its moments. It is again well crafted, with Schenker showing several flashes of his brilliance whilst Mogg once again brings all his quality to the show. The tracks bear a similar consistency to Covenant, with tracks such as Perfect View, Shadow Dancer and Crossing Over all high quality and written in the classic UFO vein. Both albums demonstrate why UFO are still so highly revered and why their music remains timeless.

The third disc in this Cherry Red set sees the combination of live recordings from the Walk On Water Tour from 1995. Recorded at Blind Melons, Buffalo, NY, USA on September 11th, 1995, the classic line-up prove my earlier point with several classics including Mother Mary, Love To Love and the usual epic Rock Bottom. We also get three tracks from Walk On Water, which stand up well amongst the epic songs that surround them. In terms of live performances, there is little to compare with the classic Strangers In The Night of course, but live UFO with Schenker’s magnificent guitar work is always a joy to listen to.

Two underrated albums and a blistering burst of live music, what’s not to like? 9/10

My Dying Bride - A Mortal Binding (Nuclear Blast) [James Jackson]

As a fan of My Dying Bride since their Turn Loose The Swans album released in 1993, I’ve followed the band’s journey somewhat sporadically as my tastes in music changed through the years, whatever the flavour of the month however, I’d always held those early albums dear and frequently return to them.

One of the things I have absolutely loved MDB for is their solemn melodies, the contrast between the more Death Metal inspired riffs and the drawn out Doom, often accompanied by female vocals, piano and violin, an instrument most capable of portraying sorrow.

A Mortal Binding is the band’s 15th album, its release preceded by two singles, the nautically inspired Thornwyck Hymn and The 2nd Of Three Bells, A Tale Of Life And Death. Aaron Stainthorpe’s vocals on this album seem to lean more towards the Death Metal style; though it’s my least favourite style, the contrast within the songs where those vocals are often varied between clean and emotive, growled and fervent, is played out to great effect.

The poetic storytelling as evident as ever, break neck time changes steer the course between Doom laden riffs and Death Metal influences for on each of the songs listed upon the album, My Dying Bride deftly show what makes them a force to be reckoned with, what makes them as relevant now as they’ve always been in the genre that they helped shape and define.

An absolute must have album for any self respecting Doom Metal fan. 10/10

Necrot - Lifeless Birth (Tankcrimes) [Matt Bladen]

One thing you an say about Necrot is that they have riffs, bloody thousands of them, a smorgasbord of flaying death metal that are inserted into every song until they're fit to bursting. Lifeless Birth is the Oakland trio's third album and while it doesn't reinvent their sound dramatically, it does keep their penchant for riff packing and tightens their assault up. This is the type of death metal that evolved out of the Bay Area thrash scene, keeping the melodies but getting darker in the vocals and the subject matter.

The title track here is very much in the thrash vein but as that fades, Superior unleashes a death metal assault that grinds away with some percussive blasts from drummer Chad Gailey. Necrot are a trio but their sound is massive, Chad Gailey's drums are intense and technical, coupling with Luca Indrio's bass, on stompers such as Drill The Skull, Indrio's vocals on this track are visceral and menacing too. The third slice of this pie is guitarist Sonny Reinhardt who shreds up a storm when needed but is also quite content to just riff away on Winds Of Hell and Dead Memories.

Lifeless Birth is more US death/thrash to break your speakers with as Necrot show that they can keep their sound fresh without too much deviation. 8/10

Sunface - Cloud Castles (Apollon Records) [Rich Piva]

The Norwegian band Sunface is one I was not familiar with before I moved their first album in eight years, Cloud Castles, into my “to review” folder. Back in 2016 the band released Observatory which created quite the buzz in the stoner/psych community. Cloud Castles continues the vision of Observatory, but is way more psych than stoner and way more tribal shoegaze than anything else, as the beats and the slow burn fuzz is what rules the day on this one.

Atmosphere and swirling guitars are what drives Cloud Castles. A song like Tall Tress has more to do with My Bloody Valentine than “name your stoner rock band”. This is some fuzzy, chill goodness driven by procession and it is pretty great. The opening title track sounds like Sympathy For The Devil for about ten seconds until it sounds like a shoegaze version of Pearl Jam’s WMA. Both of those songs are drum forward, which is exactly what we are getting here. The cool thing is you are getting some cool stoner riffs on top of the fuzzy atmosphere too. 

The same goes for tracks like New Natures and Thunder Era. I have to believe that these guys have a lot of 90s bands in their collection, as Second Voyage musically sounds like a track from the second Porno for Pyros album covered by the Jesus and Mary Chain. Dig that fuzzy solo. I really love the tracks Priest Of The Rays too it all of it’s fuzzy funkiness and the epic slow burn closer …Through The Snow And Beyond The Fertile Land that shows the band’s willingness to lean on the guitar to pair it with the percussion for beautiful results.

If I had one complaint, the album is a bit one note and can drag a bit, so maybe the interludes/instrumentals could have been left out, but overall Cloud Castles is an excellent return to form for Sunface. Let’s hope the band doesn’t wait another eight years for some more shoegaze stoner goodness, because this is a genre I am here for. 8/10

Reviews: Lie Heavy, Ixion, White Dog, Sarcasm (Reviews By Rich Piva, James Jackson, Matt Bladen & Zak Skane)

Lie Heavy - Burn To The Moon (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

Lie Heavy is a perfect name for Karl Agell of Corrosion Of Conformity fame’s new band, which incorporates all the best parts of stoner, doom, and kick ass heavy rock, even with some bluesy leanings. You can hear some of his old band, for which he sang lead vocals on their break out record, Blind, but in no way is Lie Heavy or their debut album, Burn To The Moon, some kind of COC imitator because the twelve tracks stand firmly on their own, not matter where the singer came from. Karl is the known name here, but the band is filled with killer veteran musicians from the Raleigh scene that totally bring it to this album. I have had this album since last year when it was self-released, but now we are getting the full Heavy Psych Sounds treatment and it is so well deserved because Burn To The Moon is just awesome.

Right off the bat you get sweet stoner grooves and killer riffs from the opener, Nothing To Steal. Karl sounds great and the production on the record is right where it should be. The guitar work is top notch and the rhythm section is placed perfectly in the mix. More riffs coming right at you with the nice and chunky In The Shadow that has a catchy melody and killer vocals from the man. Epic stoner doom is what you get with the title track that includes quite the doomy riff and a slow burn that will grab you. Drag The World is quite the surprise track. It sounds like Life Of Agony is some parts and is actually kind of poppy. Also, I love it. This is a testament to Karl’s range as a singer. 

The Long March is more doomy goodness while Unbeliever goes in a more stoner blues direction with killer results. I love when bands have a song named after the band. The songs almost never let me down, and Lie Heavy is no different, but I’ll be damned if I don’t hear The Who lurking amongst the stoner riffs. The band is not afraid to pick up the pace and rip it up too, case in point, When The Universe Cries. I love the variation on Burn To The Moon. How about that groove on Chunkadelic? So great. How about some punk rock complete with whoa whoas and hardcore like background vocals on Diabolik? The appropriately titled End The World closes on the most bluesy track of them all and arguably the best vocal performance on an album full of them.

Lie Heavy’s debut is just excellent, to the point where soon we should stop saying Karl Agell, former lead singer of COC, to Karl Agell, singer in Lie Heavy, because Burn To The Moon is how he makes his new mark on stoner and heavy rock. The record is killer end to end, with all sorts or cool twists and turns, amazing musicianship, and a perfect vocal performance from a heavy music legend. 9/10

Ixion - Extinction (Finisterian Dead End) [James Jackson]

Never has a song entitled The Withering Of The Flesh started off sounding so completely opposite to any image those words could convey, for a haunting melody plays out over an atmospheric background, guitars and drums pick up the rhythm and a very ethereal vocal line joins in, capturing the essence of this Atmospheric Doom album.

In Fear Of Machines is an absolute hybrid of a song, an almost Folk Metal tone blends with parts reminiscent of the Symphonic/Industrial sounds of Samael, this blends seamlessly into the following track The Weight Of Ignorance, a track which has multi layers of vocals offering an experience which is as unsettling as it is captivating. A Chimeric Dream Pt 1 is both Tiamat and Anathema, these comparisons only cementing the affinity I’m feeling with this EP.

Afterlife closes the album, taking the melodies of A Chimeric Dream and embellishing it further with piano, church bells, ethereal clean vocals and growls that are far more complimentary than they have a right to be. This five track EP is the first in a trilogy of sorts, compiling into one album, I’m certain that this is the first time that I’ve heard of the band but it will certainly not be the last. I’m eager to hear what this France based Atmospheric Doom Metal duo has to offer next. 9/10.

White Dog - Double Dog Dare (Rise Above Records) [Matt Bladen]

Following their 2020 self titled debut, Austin based Southern heavy rockers bring us Double Dog Dare another slew of Southern hard rock which is inspired by The Allman Brothers (F.D.I.C), Molly Hatchet, Stevie Ray Vaughan (The Last 'Damn' Song) and on Holy Smokes, Humble Pie, alongside soundscapes on the fringes of the Southern rock sound. The authentic production sound is all warm honeyed tones, celebrating this fusion of blues, gospel, jazz and Americana, as it should sound. It does make Double Dog Dare have the feel of a Southern rock mix tape, but one where the bands are all absolutely killer.

One minute they're in Georgia, with Carl Amoss and Clemente De Hoyous giving some twin harmonies, then it's off to Alabama, then Kentucky, then back home in Texas, every track different from tne last, the drawl of Jake LaTouf replacing previous singer Joe Sterling, bringing some wildness to the rockers but also using a tracks such as the psychadelic Frozen Shadows to show his range, new boy Oscar Favian's keys giving it desert rock meets The Moody Blues vibes, similarly on Preludes otherworldliness.

Recorded in eight days, the jam ethos of Gov't Mule an inspiration to the recording process, Lady Of Mars' jazz rhythm section from drummer John Amoss and bassist Rex Pape is out of the Warren Haynes songbook. Double Dog Dare takes what White Dog did with their debut album and improves upon every aspect. Fuzzy Southern rock magic from the Lone Star State. 9/10

Sarcasm - Mourninghoul (Hammerheart Records) [Zak Skane]

The opening track As Northen Gates Open slams us straight into a wall of chaotic sound that consists of skank and blast beats that are provided with machine precision by Jasper Ojala. The guitars provided by Peter and Anders go from cynical harmonies, sleazy thrashing riffs and classical acoustic guitar sections. The vocals that Heval is producing still sounds just as chilling as his early efforts with his death like snarl casting a blackened imagery to the listener. 

Life Like Sleep still brings in the relentless blast beats along with some chuggy, squealing riffs which lead to doomy closures. The gothic Memories of Souls We Mourn brings in haunting choirs, along with bludgeoning pedal tone riffages, along with some chanting choruses sung along to plodding tempos. To close the first part of the album Dying Embers Of Solitude brings in some tribal tom driven drum grooves, 6/8 riffs and soaring melodic lead sections. 

To open up the second part of the album Jespers drum fill introduces us to A Liquid Dream In A Paradigm Stream that takes us into sludgy territory with bowl rumbling riffs arranged with gothic doom inspired tempos. In this track we also hear the band incorporate additional elements into their sound, such as swelling padded synths sounds and female choirs. No Solace From Above brings in some melancholic My Dying Bride inspirations with piano melodies, moving orchestras that pull on heart strings and twinkling acoustic guitar sections that appear in saddened layers of thick distorted guitars, mournful sounding leads and plodding tempos. 

Absence Of Reality brings this album to a closer by returning back to form with it’s thrashy energy, blackened death metal guitar riffs and melancholic harmonies. Mourninghoul brings the continuation of the bands classic sound with songs like As Northen Gates Open and Life Like Sleep still bringing in there classic take Death Metal with Heval Bozarslan snarls still sounding as frosty as ever, the guitars still bringing heavy walls of tremolo picked riffs and melancholic harmonies. The album also shows the development of their more gothic inspired directions such as No Solace From Above with it’s My Dying Brides guitar tones, dark sounding orchestrations and saddened leads. 7/10

Wednesday 17 April 2024

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blind Guardian (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Blind Guardian & The Night Eternal, The Academy, Manchester, 13.04.24

Heading up to Manchester for a gig from South Wales could bee seen as a bit of a mammoth task but when that bands are one of the best epic metal bands to come out of Germany and this is only one of three UK shows they are playing it was well worth doing.

A two band show is something of a gift, especially after a long trip, but what it really does is give the support band a chance to play a longer set and show the crowd what they do. The support band in question are classic metal troop The Night Eternal (8) also from Germany they play some muscular old school heavy metal inspired by witchcraft and the occult, drawing musical comparisons to Mercyful Fate, Angel Witch, In Solitude, Portrait and even ol' Mr Danzig (in his solo guise). 

Bags of energy and commitment to giving a good show won over the crowd, including this jaded hack, as for my sins I'd not heard much from the band before. Fists in the air, playing songs from their two albums at full throttle it was fast, furious and a little theatrical.

Though nothing compares to Hansi Kürsch's theatricality as a frontman, whether it's leading the chants, getting hands in the air he has the crowd in the palm of his hand, gently ribbing or humorously praising the audience to participate more, it's more vaudeville than power metal but perfect for the bombastic show you always get with legends Blind Guardian (10).

Just three UK dates in support of their latest album The God Machine, any show that opens with my favourite song Imaginations From The Other Side will score highly. Chills down my spine already it was a warm welcome and Blood Of The Elves into Nightfall as the LOTR inspiration loomed large as it always does with Blind Guardian. 

The founding trio of Hansi and guitarists André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen prowl the stage in every song, peeling off the songs that they are the creative forces behind. Behind the core trio is fourth 'official' member Frederik Ehmke behind the kit, plus live members Johan Van Stratum on bass and Kenneth Berger on keys (who is the unsung hero on the more recent tracks).

After the epic Nightfall one of two from Nightfall In Middle Earth, it was another classic the rampaging The Script For My Requiem as the heaviness increased for Violent Shadows and the folksy Skalds And Shadows brought some tracks from the often overlooked A Twist In The Myth, the other track from here was This Will Never End came next as Deliver Us From Evil closed out the songs from The God Machine.

It was time to grab the tissues though as the mood turned, Manchester Academy shifting into one big karaoke session for The Bards Song - In The Forest, the Manchester audience singing long after it had finished and then bursting into emotional applause. This gratitude was reciprocated with the full bore speed metal of Majesty and the main set closer Traveller In Time.

I would have happily had that but the obligatory encore came and as they returned to the stage it was the 9 minute Sacred Worlds which though fairly recent has become a staple, started off this last few songs. The last trio of songs though brought about the biggest smiles by far, Bright Eyes displaying those note perfect Hansi vocals while it was sing along time again to Valhalla, the shouts of "deliverance" reverberating around The Academy. 

Regretfully it was time to go home and Blind Guardian brought things to a close this incredible show with Mirror Mirror, gaining love from every single person in the room. Some things are inevitable; death, taxes and Blind Guardian leaving you with a smile on your face! The Bard's of Manchester (and Wales) salute you!

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Reviews: Manic Eden, Balance Of Power, Heavy Temple, Red Mesa (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Manic Eden - Manic Eden: 30th Anniversary Remaster (Music Theories Recordings) [Rich Piva]

When David Coverdale put Whitesnake on ice for a bit in the early 90s, the musical backbone the band, Adrian Vandenberg, Rudy Sarzo, and Tommy Aldridge did not want to sit still and rest on their Whitesnake laurels, so instead they formed the one of and pretty much lost over the decades project Manic Eden, that is becoming found again in the form of a 30th anniversary repress/remaster.

This album, while excellent, was met with a resounding level of indifference, as this type of rock was just not the thing in 1994. But how could something with those guys involved not be great?
Well, the answer is it is great no matter how ignored at was at the time, which makes this repress essential, given how this form of heavy rock with blues influence is really back and stronger than ever.

The addition of Little Caesar vocalist Ron Young’s soulful voice was perfect for this project, with songs like When The Hammer Comes Down that has some AC/DC vibes to it and the opener Can You Feel It that has a killer Vandenberg bluesy riff. Gimme A Shot and Pushing Me are excellent hard rock tracks that have no business being forgotten.

The entire record is expertly played (of course) and it is a really fun listen for folks who dig the players but did not realize this record even existed. Yeah, a couple of the mandatory ballads I can take or leave, but overall, there is not a real stinker on the record.

If you dig any of the bands these guys are a part of then you should enjoy Manic Eden. The remaster sounds excellent and the packaging makes this whole offering a must have for fans of the players involved. This record was just born too late or it would be in the same discussion of all of the hard rock with a bluesy slant that sold million of copies just a few years before. Don’t miss out on Manic Eden this time around. 8/10

Balance Of Power – Fresh From The Abyss (Massacre Records) [Matt Bladen]

Balance Of Power have been in the UK rock/metal scene since the 90’s but 20 years since their last album they return with a revamped line up and a new record their sixth studio release. Starting out as mote of an AOR band they quickly evolved into a progressive metal band. Their hiatus came after multiple line up changes and moving on to other projects, but founding members Tony Ritchie (bass) and Lionel Hicks (drums) continued to write, this album written before, during and after the pandemic.

They wanted an organic approach to what is a dark record where they stay proggy but streamline their music a bit more with melodies and shorted runtimes for a more anthemic sound, leaning back on their earlier sound but also the likes of Queensryche, Threshold and Pyramaze). The recruitment of Hazel Jade as a singer is a masterstroke as her husky, soulful vocal fits the heavier moments such as Rage Of Ages and Monster, making it a perfect fit for a band who share their sound with acts that have a lower register singer such as Symphony X. 

Alongside Jade, two new guitarists Chris Masimore and Stoney Wagner lay down the riffs on this album but have been replaced by Chris Young and Adam Wardle going forward. As I said there’s prog metal and melodic rock on this album, the production from Hicks and Toby Jepson making sure that it stays true to the Balance Of Power sound of yore as mixer Sam Low/remixer Mike Plotnikoff have made sure that the founder members rhythm section can be heard. 

The keys/synths are used deftly, underscoring the guitars, the songs dealing with existentialist ideas on living and dying with personal reflection, the musical queues coming from the bands I’ve already mentioned, though Deadlands has a similarity to Sabbath’s Neon Knights, with more than a few Dio touches that come on Fresh From The Abyss. Balance Of Power have been revived and for the better, let’s hope another album doesn’t take 20 years! 8/10

Heavy Temple - Garden Of Heathens (Majestic Mountain Records) [Matt Bladen]

The trio of High Priestess Nighthawk (vocals/bass), Lord Paisley (guitar) and Baron Lycan (drums), returns with another visit to their Heavy Temple. Following up their debut album Lupi Amoris, the Philly based band have expanded their minds and embraced a heavier, more natural direction in their sound. Major support slots to The Obsessed and Howling Giant, along with relentless touring has made this trio a well-oiled desert psych, stoner doom machine owing as much for The Beatles as they do Black Sabbath, putting cosmic exploration along with terrestrial, organic riffage.

Its driving stoner rock, heavied up with doom fuzz and brief salutations to psychedelic dreamscapes, and also some cello from John Forrestal on the trippy title track, making for an audio journey bound to appeal to riff worshippers. The lyrics drawn from an uneasy feeling with the state of things, doubts creep in from below happy veneers, they're personal and as such are delivered with the right amount of venom and trepidation, through wailing, wide eyed vocals. 

Sabbath worship bleeds into AIC thrum on the first track Extreme Indifference To Life, while Hiareth charges ahead with garage rock directness, it’s Divine Indiscretion that offers the influences of Fu Manchu that seem to be associated with Heavy Temple. Lord Paisley’s guitar work is drenched in feedback and fuzz as the occult vibes on House Of Warship loom large, Baron Lycan’s drums unfolding into a double kick as the bass of the High Priestess rudder this haunted vessel, keeping it steady on Snake Oil (and Other Remedies) which bleeds gothic Type O Negative meets Candlemass energy. 

There’s a lot of noise here for a three piece, a much more diverse set of songs than their debut but with that energy and passion that made it great, occult tinged, stoner and doom influences with added angular alt metal of Smashing Pumpkins et al on Jesus Wept and a classic/thrash metal assault on Psychomanteum, there’s a real breadth to this record. In this temple selling is allowed, so long as they’re riffs! 9/10

Red Mesa - Partial Distortions (Desert Records) [Rich Piva]

Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Red Mesa are back with a new record, Partial Distortions, and are they bringing the heavy on this one. When I think of Red Mesa, I think desert for many reasons, including the record label they are on (and own), Desert Records, where they are from, and where musically they have always leaned. On Partial Distortions, you get way more of a doom in the desert feel, with six, heavy, labouring (in a good way) tracks that try to bury you in the sand rather than drive you across the dunes to a freak out party.

Two of the three opening tracks of the record, Óðr and Dying In The Cold Sun are heavy, slower atmospheric doom with both clean and growling vocals that just pummel you but still remain beautiful at the same time, which is quite the feat. The fuzzy heaviness of the band is something to behold on these two tracks. The Assertion is just next level awesome from the band. This may be my favourite Red Mesa track so far, with elements of doom, psych, and desert all throw into one heavy mix. Were the lyrics influenced by the Barry Manilow song? Do you think the guys in Red Mesa know the song I am referencing? Either way this one is killer. 

You get a bit more straight-ahead stoner/desert rock (I said a bit more, not a lot) with 12 Volt Shaman, that also has elements of sludge to it, but when the psych swirling guitars kick in you can’t help to be transformed to the deserts of New Mexico. Desert March opens up exactly how you would think it would sound given the title but then you get the riffs and you know that this instrumental fits perfectly into the mix of Partial Distortions, especially as it seamlessly leads us into Witching Hour, a complex, desert doom combo that is heavy, sometimes sludgy, and all the time killer.

The new Red Mesa album is the most complex and complete recording of the band’s great career. Partial Distortions is next level stuff from an already great band that should expect big things in 2024 on the back of this release. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: 1000mods (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

1000mods, Pale Bastard, E11even, The Bunkhouse, Swansea, 11.04.24
Despite m'colleague Mr Piva stealing all the stoner, this is the scene I was brought up in. Give me some fat riffs, fat blunts and grooves for days and I'm a happy boy. Especially if those bands are from the legendary Swansea stoner scene or the reversed Greek stoner scene. Getting to see both in one night was a real treat as two home grown riff machines came out to The Bunkhouse in Swansea to support some Greek scene veterans.

Kicking things off were E11VEN (8) a band I'd not seen but, Hail Satan do they make and impression. Playing wild, raucous and slightly glammy stoner riffs, there's and air of danger and menace to their show as if Motley Crue did mushrooms instead of heroin. Their frontman is absolutely wild, scary and maybe having a few screws loose he's the focal point of a well drilled stoner rock machine. I mean how can you not like them they have a s song called Shit Disco which is a a bit shit but disco but its not shit it's bloody good and they cover The Prodigy's Omen with a dash of Salt N Pepa's Push It as a final track.

Upping the noise and the intensity are the hardcore tinged sludge noises of Pale Bastard (7), not often you see a member of a stoner band in a Darkthrone shirt but Pale Bastards angrier, nastier, shoutier style is befitting these threads. Things got faster and thrashier while they were on stage, these Pale Bastards bringing noises that are closer to the extreme fringes of metal music and if I'm honest closer to the origins of the Swansea greebo scene. They shifted into elongated psych grooves as the set progressed with Miserable Git the closer tumbling like and earthquake to send these bastards off into the damp Swansea evening with a snapped guitar string but a recovery that kicked them back into the finale.

Greek stoner kings 1000mods (10) playing a UK tour is a rarity, them playing South Wales is as rare as hens teeth so kudos to The Bunkhouse for booking them and additional congratulations to the crowd for turning out on a Thursday evening. Taking a set that was mainly from their two most recognisable albums Repeated Exposure To... and Super Van Vacation and their latest effort Youth Of Dissent, we got only one from Vultures but that meant that it had an old school feel allowing a lot of us who had never seen the band to hear those classic riffs on stage for the first time. 

Purveyors of some low slung riffs, in the case of the bassist/singer Dani, Peter Hook level low, bringing grooves fatter than kokoretsi. The use of both of Giannis and Giorgos' guitars bring a cavernous bottom end and some dreamy psychedelic melodies, as they both shift between rhythm and lead. For me though it's their drummer Labros who mesmerising, doing so much on the drum fills of Road To Burn, with such a stripped back kit. 

Low got the crowd bouncing but not for the first time while Warped has the fuzz of Motorhead's Orgasmatron. The closing strains of Super Van Vacation saw them go into interstellar overdrive as both guitarists used their pedalboards as feedback loops, it was a sight and sound to behold. The clarity was perfect, as it so often is in The Bunkhouse, allowing the band to sound huge on a small stage. I've seen loads of stoner/psych etc etc gigs but few bands have left me speechless the way 1000mods did. No chat, no bullshit, no encore, just riffs. The way it should be, Bravo!

Reviews: Benighted, Vulture, Nocturna, Harvestman (Reviews By GC, Matt Bladen, James Jackson & Paul Scoble)

Benighted - Ekbom (Season Of Mist) [GC]

Having formed all the way back in 1998 when the world was overtaken by Nu-Metal, France’s Benighted had other ideas and decided they were going to mix grindcore with brutal death metal and it’s obviously been a roaring success as Ekbom is their 10th album.

Now, I have said it before and will say it again I LOVE death metal BUT also feel that ‘’brutal’’ death metal is so hit and miss that I cannot stand most of it, as many of my reviews will attest to! However, everything deserves a chance to prove me wrong and this is Benighted’s turn.

Prodome is an intro so doesn’t really offer much in the way of preparation for Scars which comes blasting out of the blocks and it’s a savage mix of grindcore and black metal and unlike most BDM bands you can actually make out what is being played and the mix is spot on and they even manage to add a slow an atmospheric section towards the end that fleshes the song out and adds more depth.

I will say though the brie brie vocals are still a bit annoying, Morgue is more scathing and vicious grinding blackened death metal that also manages to also add in some deathcore sounds with the beatdowns sprinkled violently throughout the song.

Le Vice Des Entrailles probably means something horrific when translated because translated into music form it’s a brutal slab of solid blackened deathcore that’s hits all the right levels of nastiness required. Nothing Left To Fear thunders forward and even when it does ease up slightly on the pace it then descends into absolute chaos again and the groove sections mixed with more unnecessarily heavy beatdowns are wonderful!

Ekbom is a towering monster of a tune that starts off with a slow and unusually sedated start before breaking into an all-out assault on the senses mixing in the grinding drums with some more paired back sections and the guitars throw all sorts of different styles in here and while this could usually go tits up it all mixes so well here.

Metastasis is another whirlwind of speeding drums and razors sharp riffs and although it all sounds technically excellent, I just struggle to enjoy this track as much as I feel I should. A Reason For Treason has a more refined groove in the song and it’s also probably the most deathcore song on the whole album and probably suffers slightly for this as it sounds a bit more basic than a lot of the other songs.

Fame Of The Grotesque then proceeds to blow away the cobwebs of the previous 2 tracks that made me feel a bit like they had lost their rhythm, here were get back to the usual excellently executed blasting blackened death metal that has served so well on most of this album so far.

It comes as relief as I was thinking they had used up all their A material and things were fading away, the opening riff on Scapegoat veers dangerously close to that dreaded Nu-Metal-esque metalcore core sound that is around at the moment but just manages to steer it away and save face, the song itself is a short, sharp kick in the face and there is a very decent brie section in here that actually adds to the song for once!

Flesh Against Flesh is another song that I can’t really grasp, it’s full of thundering drums and cutting guitars but I feel there have been better tracks on the album than this one and because of that it just doesn’t stick in my mind so much? Mother Earth, Mother Whore takes over a minute and a half to kick in and when it does, we get one last furious blast of the type of grinding blackened death metal that made so much of this album a pleasure to listen to.

After listening to this album, I feel it could probably do with a bit of streamlining and focus in places because when they want to they can create absolute world class brutality but sometimes it gets a bit muddled and lost with all the different ideas, however this overall was a really good album and finally is a brutal death metal album I don’t hate! Overall: 8/10

Vulture – Sentinels (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

For all the love for the NWOBHM, much of the focus moved away from the UK as the Yanks began to adapt it into something faster and more vicious, thrash, and speed metal as it evolved into death/black metal as it reached out to Europe. The initial sounds of bands such as Priest and Maiden, taken at light speed with a more punk focus. So too the same thing has happened with bands who have come out of the NWOTHM scene.

On Vulture’s fourth album Sentinels, they give us 11 thrash metal bangers from right at the beginning of that Bay Area sound. With the title track Sentinels (Heavier Than Time) they manage to also pay homage to Priest with that Screaming For Vengeance/Defenders Of The Faith echoed chug in the guitars, but the double shot of the openers Screams From The Abattoir and Unhallowed And Forgotten, the blistering sounds of Slayer and Exodus are obvious, the screeching vocals augmented by gang choruses, dive bomb guitar soloing and a breathless pace.

Their last album leaned a little too into melodic sing alongs, this one puts the gas pedal down again, the harmonies of Transylvania merging Maiden with Helstar (remember Helstar?), as Draw Your Blades goes into the screeching speed metal of Mercyful Fate as does Oathbreaker, while Death Row features the vocals and constant riff changes of Annihilator.

It’s fast and filthy, inspired by horror movies and has Screamer embracing classic thrash/speed metal with both hands. 8/10

Nocturna - Of Sorcery And Darkness (Scarlet Records) [James Jackson]

From the opening refrain of Burn The Witch with its use of choirs, double bass drums and melodic lead guitar, the band aren’t holding back, the Symphonic and Power Metal influences coming through.
The Symphonic elements are most prominent in the band through the two female vocalists, Grace Darling and Rehn Stillnight who formed the band in Italy, 2021.

Vocally there’s a contrast between the two artists, one is more classically trained by the seems of things, reminding me very much of former Nightwish vocalist Tarja, the other slightly grittier at times, though not quite as distinctive as a Male/Female duet, the two styles are complimentary and work well, adding further flair to the mix.
Musically it feels more in common with Power Metal bands like Powerwolf than it does Nightwish but that line between the two genres often feels blurred as bands push boundaries and experiment with sounds and styles. Definitely one that I’ll be listening to in more depth, as well as their previous album Daughters Of The Night. 8/10.

Harvestman – Triptych: Part One (Neurot) [Paul Scoble]

Harvestman is a side project of Steve Von Till Guitarist and Singer in Neurosis (although I feel the less said about Neurosis the better), and as a solo singer songwriter. The Harvestman project has been in existence since 2005, releasing four albums since it’s inception, the first being Lashing The Rye in 2005, and the last being Trinity released in 2020. Harvestman has used a lot of Folk influences, and has mixed them with electronica, Triptych: Part One is mainly electronics with very minimal Folk, with a style that looks towards Dub and Drone.

Opening track Psilosynth is a Dub track, a slow pulsing Bass line runs throughout the song, backed up by simple echoed percussion, and electronica. The track does have a clean and again echoed Guitar line, but Psilosynth is mainly about the pulsing Dub. Give Your Heart To The Hawk is a minimal track of gentle Bass and Guitar with a spoken word sample that runs throughout the track. It has a meditative quality that I enjoyed.

Coma is a minimal Drone track. There is a long build up to fairly slight Drone, with the occasional electronic buzz or burr. Next comes a remix of the opening track Psilosynth (Harvest Dub), which is a Dub mix of the Dub track from the beginning of the album. It is fairly similar but with the bassline being higher in the mix and the percussion having more of an electronic and echoey feel to it and being louder. I’m not sure if we really needed another version of this track, it is a bit different, but not enough for it to feel like anything other than a repetition.

How To Purify Mercury is another Droney piece of electronica with a pulsing bassline. The track builds as it goes, with extra tones added. Nocturnal Field Song is a minimal Drone / Ambient track with occasional percussion and tones, but not much else. The album comes to an end with another Drone track; Mare And Foal. Mare And Foal is slightly brighter and more ethereal than the track that preceded it, and has a more positive feel to it.

Triptych: Part One is an interesting album, of Dub, electronica and Drone. I’m not sure that the two mixes of Psilosynth are needed, it’s interesting to hear an alternative, but I don’t think they are different enough for it to be worth it, it feels more like padding. The Drone material is interesting, and, due to the short lengths of the Drone tracks I found them to more palatable that a lot of Drone that I’ve heard before, but I also feel like I need more music in my music. I’d expect Steve Von Till obsessives will lap this up, and someone who was more of a Drone and Dub fan would probably get more out of this than I have, for me this is more interesting than enjoyable. 6/10

Monday 15 April 2024

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

Esoterica & Scarlett Riot, The Asylum, Birmingham 11.04.24

It’s early doors at The Asylum, for as I walk in at just gone half past Seven, opening act Skarlett Riot (10) are already in full swing. I know absolutely nothing about the band, a search online post gig gives me a few answers, the band are from Scunthorpe, fall into the Alt Metal/Melodic Metalcore genre and have a blend of female/male vocals. 

Lead vocalist Chloe Drinkwater holds the audience captive and leads us through tracks from their back catalogue and recent release Lullaby. A promising start to the evening, they leave the stage, expressing their gratitude to us for our attendance and the offer to meet them at the merch booth.

I last saw Esoterica (10) supporting Lord of the Lost, the third attempt at getting to see them live, the moment that this headline tour was announced, I had to buy tickets. Breaking The Unknown from 2020’s In Dreams album opens the show to rapturous applause from eager fans that have ventured into Birmingham on a Thursday night. The setlist consists of a mixture of songs from the bands albums, a few new tracks are thrown in to great effect, Tobias Keast a captivating frontman, whose barefoot antics raise a smile from guitarist Laura Conway.

In Dreams is a great song on a great album, but live this song takes on a whole new level as Tobias invites a woman, previously sat in the wings, to take centre stage, as she does so, the song begins and Tobias takes to the audience, greeting fans, his vocal performance unhindered by the hugs and photo ops, while up on stage surrounded by the rest of the band, the lyrics are being interpreted by the aforementioned woman - through sign language.

Balloons fall from the rafters and confetti cannons are used, adding a playful touch to the atmosphere, the obligatory encore is played out, the band leave the stage to further applause, leaving Tobias standing alone and with an open heart, thanking us for our support.

A great performance from both bands, a few surprises and yes, I made the most of that photo op and bought the T shirt; Esoterica have fulfilled and exceeded my expectations, but have also got me thinking - can I make it to Bristol on Tuesday to catch them again?

Reviews: Furze, About Us, King Zebra, Ivory Tower (Reviews By Patches & Matt Bladen)

Furze - Caw Entrance (Devoted Art Propaganda) [Patches]

Psych Black Metal from Norway! Furze’s trebly acoustic intro paints a picture of the awful fuzzy production of a tape player resting against an uncleaned festering sheep’s skull. Which is precisely what we want in our black metal! The intro, simply called intro actually reminds me of a bit of Acid Bath. Remember them? Foresee His Infernal Rights starts with a surprisingly wonky circusy blues full of punky mischief and more treble. 

An interesting mix of psychedelic tremolo picked highs and doomy lows play off like somebody released a psychedelically doped up squad of wasps into a Black Sabbath practice room. The unrecognisable crackly snarls of death vocals has so much reverb on it I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they were recorded in an old well, because fuck lyrics right?!? Double bass, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, ting and sudden stop to rupture your insides. The song doesn’t feel like 7 minutes at all. Fast, entertaining and unapologetically filthy. One doth approve.

Post Mortem Trippin’ , what does that even mean ? It’s so fucking messy and chaotic it sounds like Daron Malakian from System being forced to play for his life after being dosed up on both tranquillisers and amphetamines whilst having his legs eaten by piranhas. I Think I heard the word “strangle”. Imagine if the Primus’ Tommy The Cat was sung in Black Metal voice. An old horror synth and crunchy groove riff combination is bloody great. Back to the book of Sabbath but this time accompanied with a creepy music box as that demon’s bark continues to echo from the old well. Another surprise to find that all that excitement was over 10 minutes long.

W.I.R.E sounds like a botched abortion of the early days of hardcore punk inspired black metal. But the abortion survived and now eats tourists in the Norwegian forests occasionally catching the eye of and inspiring the Death Metal bands who walk the woods looking for album cover locations. A delightful barrage of pure brutality.

You Shall Prevail has those wasps from earlier on a comedown with a much sludgier vibe. The singer now speaking like a member of the B-52s as overdriven minor chords colour a more depressing post rock vibe. Perceptible lyrics include “Fuckers giving birth”, aye, I agree. Absolutely mad time signature changes just bring a big old smile to my face. It’s no longer common to be surprised by new music and Furze … I thank you. There are some really tasty riffs in this deranged cacophonous blackened symphony.
Avail The Autocrat Of Evil’s riff is a playful surf rock meets stoner. Whilst the vocals over the doom section sound like an unholy combination of those mentioned above (Ozzy, Claypool and Fred Schneider) with occasional call backs from that well. Unfortunately, at four and a half minutes, this song finishes too early damn it. Long song at the end or quiet outro is the typical formula, but for someone who is always pulling bands up for being too formulaic I think I should let this one go before hypocrite be thy name.

Furze - Caw Entrance is absolutely batshit from start to finish. The production may be terrible and the playing a little messy yet this somehow feels intentional. Whether intentional or not, the compositions are intense and diverse and for some reason I can’t explain, this has been the most entertaining album I’ve reviewed this year. Straight from Satan’s experimental narcotic phase, this pandemonium of Psych/bedlam of Black Metal is a beguiling blend of bizarre that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. 10/10

About Us – Take A Piece (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

There seems to be a glut of bands emerging from India, many of them in the glam/melodic/hard rock vein, see Girish & The Chronicles, and Fifth Note, with special attention given to bands from the Nagaland region. About Us is the latest and their second album Take A Piece comes again on Frontiers Music, the label they signed with to release their debut, on this follow up they manage to up the ante with their songwriting. 

On just the first two tracks you have the boisterous melodic rock of Come To You but with Endure they really get heavy with screamed verses and sung choruses, bordering on metalcore. If it does anything it shows how good singer Sochan Kikon is, versatile vocals means they can take genre risks like this without them feeling out of place. 

In fact there seems to be a real shift into the sounds of Atreyu or BFMV where thrash/metalcore riffs come at you with pace and aggression, augmented by synths into huge melodic hooks that also add some Symphony X to tracks such as Legion

Don’t panic though rock fans they still have melodic rock trappings on EVH, which of course features two hand tapping, as does closer FortitudeTake A Piece skilfully melds melodic rock accessibility with some heavier elements and while the shouted vocals may throw off fans expecting normal Frontiers AOR/Melodic rock About Us add them seamlessly. 7/10

King Zebra – Between The Shadows (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Swiss band King Zebra are a new band with veteran experience. Fronted by ex-China singer Eric St. Michaels, they have previously been on Golden Robot Record but have now found a home on Frontiers. Between The Shadows is only their third album, but there’s no new band jitters, the melodic rock here is slick, mature and has been honed over years of performing. 

With the bass heavy bounce of Children Of The Night, the percussive Out In The Wild and the dramatic Cyanide, they show themselves as loving tribute to the likes of Poison or Motley Crue, sleaze, glam and hair metal brought together for piston pumping rock n roll. 

Will you have heard the likes of Wicked or Love Lines from Def Leppard before? Do you need ballad like With You Forever? Or is Restless Revolution trying too hard to be modern? Well yes all of the above but there’s no denying that King Zebra write songs that are very catchy and performed very well. 

Is it near a pastiche sometimes? Yes but it’s done with reverence and experience, than flagrant copying. Between The Shadows begins their Frontiers career well. 7/10

Ivory Tower - Heavy Rain (Massacre Records) [Patches]

Heavy Rain opens with Black Rain. Like an updated Iron Maiden with poppier hooks (Power Metal).
Good galloping energy (Power Metal) Ripping guitar solos (Power Metal) the first track certainly takes from the appendix of the book of Power Metal. I never know how to conduct myself properly in these instances. Is it a positive that the song stuck so closely to the Power Metal Recipe? Or does this suggest that said recipe is for some kind of Power Metal stock? 

Holy War is a much heavier number from the get go. Chugs, synth and some fantastic vocal vibrato that makes you want to pull your arm in front of your face while slowly clenching your fist. Ending with a dramatic YYYEEEEAAAHHHHH always brings a smile to my face. A far superior song to its prior.

The immediate groove of Never fits somewhere between Stoner and Nu Metal! And demands a swinging motion from the neck up. Once again the vocals are rather hooky. Although not overly dynamic, Never is certainly a headbanger. 

The Destination leads with cheesy 80s B-movie synth melodies that replace the genre’s horse with a frantically peddled BMX. Mixing it up with a surprising proggy twist before cycling back on track is a valuable detour. A fruitful endeavour that throws the premature stock comment in my face and says; Ivory Tower are not a one trick pony/horse/BMX!

60 seconds mixes It up once again with some thrash vibes and more head rattling grooves whilst maintaining the driving Power Metal vocals. An all round great track! Title track Heavy Rain sticks with the darker chord progressions and more aggressive approach. The call and response vocal line perfect for a live setting. In general I find title tracks tend to play it safe and because of this are usually a bit of a disappointment. 

Thankfully this band has written a title track deserving of its position. Monster feel like an appropriate time to mention that Thorsten Thrunke is a beast of a drummer. Unusual for Power Metal but in my guitar snobbery opinion I’d say that the weakest element is the guitar solos. This is only because the genre is teaming with tremendous players, making it harder to stand out. Monster shows off some beautiful motifs between shredding.

Voices keeps up the momentum yet fumbles In running time not being diverse enough to justify being the longest song on the album. Wrapping up with The Tear Francis Soto utilises vocal melodies that harmonise with the chorus riff in a gorgeously haunting way. 

Sven Boge whips out his impressive lick library with some of the best guitar work on the release. From neoclassical arpeggios, diminished runs and harmonies with keys player Frank Fasold that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dethklok album. A punchy finish is a satisfying conclusion as Ivory Tower end on a high note.

With an uninterrupted percussive flow, proficient riffs and a singer that somehow reminded me of Bruce Dickinson, Dio, Devin Townsend and Sting, Heavy Rain is a fine addition to the PM roster. Regardless of some of the songs overstaying their welcome a little and Black Rain being a poor choice of opener, the album is solid. Making me say “Power Metal” a total of eight times (Not including that last one) Ivory Tower - Heavy Rain is an armour wearing thunder horse riding a skull encrusted BMX right into a big fat 8/10

Thursday 11 April 2024

Reviews: The Lunar Effect, Gun, Elk Witch, Attacker (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

 The Lunar Effect - Sounds Of Blue And Green (Svart Records) [Rich Piva]

It is fitting that I write a review for a band called The Lunar Effect on the day eclipse mania is hitting here in the US. Not just for their name, but for how much my love of their new record, Sounds Of Blue And Green has eclipsed my expectations for how much I would enjoy the London band’s second album. For those unacquainted with the band, they play a heavy and fuzzy stoner heavy blues mix with some elements of psych thrown in.  Sounds like a pretty good mix of stuff, right? Well, let me tell you, it is all that and more because Sounds Of Blue And Green blocks out more than the sun, try the whole universe.

What some heavy bluesy riffs and fuzzy stoner nicely blended for your heavy enjoyment? Cool, because that’s what you get with the opener, The Ocean Queen. How about some serious Zeppelin vibes, but fuzzier? Flower For Teeth is for you then.  How about we slow it down and go with more proto/psych/heavy blues vibes with Colour My World. Damn, I love when this one kicks in. The vocals are top notch on Sounds Of Blue And Green, with this one being a great example. We double down on the slowed down heavy blues vibe with the next one, In Grey

The addition of piano on Middle Of The End makes this track sound like a close cousin of one of my favourite songs ever, Edge Of The World, by Faith No More, but this one veers more towards fuzzy blues riffs then the 90’s alt weirdness and creepy old man propositioning vibes of the FNM song, and it is so great. The Lunar Effect excels when they are going all heavy London blues on us, like on Pulling Daises where the quiet, loud, quiet is used to perfection and more Zeppelin vibes start to shine through. This song is so killer. 

Same with I Can’t Say, which when it gets all fuzzy and heavy during the chorus you so gat when these guys are bringing.  I am all for bringing the piano back, and that is just what they do with what could be considered the ballad on Fear Before The Fall, which is heavy in a totally different way and fits so perfectly on the album. It’s like a perfect 70s hard rock hit but only now.  The closer has similar vibes, reminding me of a fuzzier, dark, and rainier UK version of the Skynyrd hit A Simple Man.

The Lunar Effect is a million times more interesting than the actual solar eclipse, and will have way more staying power and overall impact, as Sounds Of Blue And Green is a serious top 20 AOTY contender and will be shining bright a lot longer than the flash in the pan event happening today. Check this one out as soon as you possibly can. 9/10

Gun – Hombres (Cooking Vinyl) [Matt Bladen]

Gun 2.0 has existed longer than their original 90’s incarnation ever did. Able to weather the turbulent storms of the 90’s rock scene gave them the experience and confidence to grab the new decade by the balls and have at it again. With former bassist Dante on vocals and his brother Giuliano on guitar, the brothers Gizzi surrounded themselves with top notch musicians and hit the stages. 

They gained a new rabid following from the Planet Rock faithful and many others as both rock n roll survivors and a band always looking to go forward. Creating music to be played live, where they are in their natural habitat, there have been a slew of albums since their reformation in 2008 reformation and their newest is Hombres, the record that they say was needed to “save the band”.

It’s their post pandemic comeback, a band with itchy feet and live for the stage having to stay home must be hard, but after their last album The Carlton Songs featured cathartic acoustic reworking of classics, Hombres is them embracing electric guitars and rock n roll again. Has it worked? Well sort of, it’s the first album since coming back in 2008 that sounds like “old” Gun, which is radio friendly rock with pop sheen to it. Traversing the void between blue collar Americana/Country/Gospel  on You Are What I Need, a song that sounds like The Flaming Lips and some slithering rock n roll on Boys Don’t Cry

There’s the Gun boy swagger of Never Enough, the bass-driven dark attitude of Lucky Guy and of course, ballads such as Falling and A Shift In Time, the former being the weakest track on the album for me. Eclectic song writing but all made for the stage and that’s the key point to any Gun album review, you could go on all day about the records and debate the pros and cons, they are there to bring new songs to their live set.

I’m sure fans will lap it up, some of the songs here have the potential to be stage favourites for a long time, but I just don’t find it as engaging as some of their previous post-reformation albums. 6/10

Elk Witch - Azimuth (Majestic Mountain Records) [Rich Piva]

The Pacific Northwest is once again a hotbed for heavy rock. My current album of the year is from Kitsa, hailing from Washington state, and now another serious contender for that spot comes to us from the mountains of Medford, Oregon in the form of the second album from Elk Witch, Azimuth. I loved Elk Witch’s first album and Azimuth is even better as the band refines their heavy and fuzzy take on stoner rock and takes it to the next level.

This album has riffs coming out of every cave and mountain hideaway, case in point the opener, Dead Silence. This album is very riff driven. The vocals are there but act more as a second fiddle to the heavy ass riffing that all these songs bring. There is something wonderfully messy about Elk Witch. The title track sounds like it was done in one take in the best possible way. The trio’s fuzz quotient is off the charts too, with a guitar tone that is just about perfect. 

An instrumental interlude brings us to Empyrean, that has another sweet and chunky riff and some nice work on the skins. I love this song, especially as the pace gets to a nice gallop. There is something inherently psych about Elk Witch that is not so obvious on the surface, but listening to this track you certainly feel it. A second (and heavy) instrumental interlude leads us from the Vortex To Universe 25 that has an almost early Metallica in the garage feel (maybe I am nuts but that is what I keep hearing) until the slower, chunky break that keeps the fuzzy stoner vibes alive. 

The aptly named Space Drift is the most chill and psych sound on Azimuth and fits perfectly as a come down from all the heavy, but still continues to bring the riffs. The heaviest riff of them all comes on Ghosts Of The Lupatia which is also the most epic track on Azimuth. I love how they just start jamming at the end of the track. If this is a concept record, the closer Goddess Of Winter could not be a more fitting closer.

So, we have now established that Elk Witch rules and are one of my favourite bands out there today. Check out Azimuth if you love non-pretentious, fuzzy, chunky, stoner rock with psych leanings and garage band ethos. I love this album and you will too. 9/10

Attacker - The God Particle (Cruz Del Sur Music)

I could have sworn that Attacker were German when I played their first album in eight years. Celebrating 40 years with The God Particle, they have a Teutonic sound similar to fellow veterans Accept. Their singer even has the same rough sneer as Udo but it’s band founder and drummer Mike Sabatini that keeps this band going after so long. 

If like me you don’t know who they are then here’s a little history; formed in the mid 80’s releasing two albums, they had a hiatus in the 90’s and reformed in 2001, releasing three albums in the 2000’s and have released two albums since 2013 this being their eighth overall and I bet if you compared those record with this one you’d hear that Attacker have a definitive style and stick to it. It’s meaty classic metal, leather studs and biting thrash riffs, though the lyrics are conceptually about the Large Hadron Collider and CERN and the supposed Satanic ritual that was done at the site. 

So it’s a bit silly and doesn’t change anything Attacker have been known for in the last 40 years, but you know what? They obviously have a following and they play metal that gets the heart pumping so why try to reinvent when you can just refine what you do with experience? 6/10

Reviews: Khirki, Hardraw, Spider Kickers, Saturday Night Satan (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Khirki – Κυκεώνας (Venerate Industries)

After I compared Κτηνωδία, the debut album from Athenian rockers Khirki, to the likes of Baroness and Mastodon. I was anticipating their sophomore to be just as good and bloody hell it was worth the wait. Since 2021 and 2024, they have discovered that melody is a good thing, adapting the sludgy aggression into groovy 70’s rocking on the brilliant Pumping The Vein, the trio channelling legendary bands such as Budgie, UFO, Lizzy and Wishbone Ash. 

These classic rock trappings creeping into the continual heavy blues style of Baroness or Mastodon, particularly on tracks such as The Watchers Of Enoch, which builds on a big bass boost from Orestes Katsaros or the blasting Heart Of The Sea hooked on Dimos Ioannou’s, proggy riffs, guitars effects and often move into a nifty solos and heavy stoner/sludge grooves. 

His vocals too are impassioned and muscular. Finishing out this heavy hitting trio is drummer Orestes Mavros, whose use of traditional percussion is masterful, sitting behind the kit as a technical powerhouse on Hekate. Κυκεώνας is an Ancient Greek psychoactive drink, so there’s lots of psychedelic meandering throughout the album as the lyrical inspiration is sorceress Circe from Homer’s Odyssey. 

Khirki allow these lyrical inspirations to inform a broader soundscape, shifting them more towards the likes of Villagers Of Ioannina City, the Greek folk touches perfectly suited to Συμπληγάδες (Colleagues/Comrades) as Your Majesty puts acoustic country picking with NWOBHM gallops into more traditional instrumentation, Father Wind is a sailors lament as part of an album that heavily pays homage to the sea through vivid lyricism and shifting tides of riffs. 

With producer Theodore Zefkilis (Rotting Christ/Planet of Zeus) behind this cavernous production sound, Khirki score big with Κυκεώνας, it’s a fantastic record that has so many facets to it. Mastodon haven’t released anything this good in years! 9/10

Hardraw - Abyss Of Mankind (Pitch Black Records)

Based in Cyprus and featuring Jimmy Mavrommatis (Mirror) on vocals, Nikolas “Sprits” Moutafis (Solitary Sabred, March To Die, Friends Of Hell) and Andreas Kyriacou (Receiver) on guitars, Adamos Adamou on bass and Vangelis Moutafis on drums, Hardraw are a classic/heavy metal band releasing Abyss Of Mankind. 

Despite being over 10 years old as a group this is only their second studio record, featuring an updated line up from their first album they owe a debt to the likes of Manilla Road, Riot, Jag Panzer and the 'epic metal' scene they come from. The final track, The Riddle Disciples is actually a tribute to Mark "The Shark" Shelton of Manilla Road and features Gianni Nepi (Dark Quarterer) and Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin (Jag Panzer), but the rest of the album carries the spirit of epic metal bands I mentioned above.

Hunter X Hunted has the bassy gallop of Maiden, as does Crime Reborn, the production making the bass stand out against the twin axe harmonies and Jimmy’s dramatic vocals. It’s resolutely stuck in that 80’s metal sound from the production to the riffs, its NWOBHM and speed metal across eight songs, so die-hard fans of leather and steel will lap it up. 8/10

Spider Kickers – Necrosupper (Sleaszy Rider Records)

Spider Kickers are “legends” in the Greek thrash/death scene. Now I don’t whether that means revered or long tenured, they have been around since 1986! But I do know it’s been five years since their last album and Necrosupper again brings old school thrash alongside death and black metal similar in so many ways to German legends Kreator and the whole Teutonic scene which leaned more into the extreme than the Americans but also abnds such as Pestilence and Morbid Angel. 

From the battering stomp of As The Blood Descends, through the blistering blackened death of Disturbing The Gods and the high speed assault of Cast In Hell, the drums don’t often move slower than full on blasts (maybe on Delirium Tremens) and the guitars rip, shred and tear their way through the tracks with intensity as the growls emanate bowels of hell. 

A veteran thrash/death band with shifting riffs, dive bomb solos and evil intentions, Spider Kickers don’t reinvent anything but look to kick your ass as much as they do our arachnid friends. 7/10

Saturday Night Satan - All Things Black (Made Of Stone Recordings)

The world of occult doom metal is quite large now, many of the bands feature vocal chanteuses weaving mystical lyricism over classic Sabbath-like riffs, organs bubbling in the background as we also get Coven, Pentagram and BOC from the musical offerings. 

The latest band to add to this every growing list is the excellently names Saturday Night Satan, formed by Jim Kotsis (bass/guitars/backing vocals) of Black Soul Horde and Kate Soulthorn on vocals. Originally studio only they are now also a live band and they fit comfortably into the Lucifer, Blood Ceremony mould, the latter coming on Of Love And The Void which features flute from Joel Sempere as Andrea Marras takes things cosmic with Theremin on Witches’ Dance

SNS draw from 70’s proto metal (Lurking In The Shadows), 80’s post punk and 90’s rock (Devil In Disguise) to the Ghost-like worship of All Things Black. Basically if it’s dark and macabre the band will write about it and the songs all have driving grooves ready for goth discos. 7/10