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Wednesday 31 January 2024

Reviews: Big Scenic Nowhere (Review By Rich Piva)

Big Scenic Nowhere - The Waydown (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

Big Scenic Nowhere is a desert/stoner/doom/psych supergroup that includes the two hardest working men in the business today, Tony Reed (Mos Generator, Hot Spring Water, Stone Axe, lots more) and Bob Balch (Fu Manchu and a guest on pretty much every album these days) along with two members of the excellent desert/psych instrumental band Yawning Man (Gary Arce and Bill Stinson). Based on this you already know it is going to be awesome. 

Pair that with the fact that 2022’s The Long Morrow was an amazing record with one of the best songs and solos of the past decade or so (the title track) and you understand supergroup or not, Big Scenic Nowhere is not some one-off side project but one of the best bands that exist today, period. So, there is no surprise that their new album, with these guys and a bunch of super cool guest, have what is the early album of the year front runner with The Waydown. Seven flawless tracks that expands on the Yawning Man with words and double guitar action to create what will undoubtably be in discussion all year in the best of the best category. 

BSN is not here to re-tread on their past output either, throwing in some new surprises and excellent guests to elevate the record even further, including keys once again from Per Wiberg (Opeth, Spiritual Beggars), guitar work from Reeves Gabrels (Bowie, The Cure) and the original keyboard player from Hall & Oates (yes, Hall & Oates, more on this later) Eliot Lewis. Let’s start from the beginning with the title track, that picks up the sound and vibe from the last record. The amazing Yawning Man (Yawning Balch too!) instrumentation and vibe along with Tony Reed’s underrated vocals and a production sound that could be described in no other way than perfect sets the tone for the journey that The Waydown is about to take you on. Tony's layered vocals here are spot on with the music while Balch and Arce have perfect dual guitar chemistry, case in point the last two minutes of the track. Breathtaking. 

Summer Teeth continues the same floating across the desert path, but a bit more chill and psych leaning, while Reed contributes a killer bass line to the trademarked Yawning Man atmosphere, plus some of his crunch, yielding perfect results. Reed pulls out the synths and eight string bass for Surf Western, showing the complexity of playing and skill level that this group brings to the table. This leans way more on the atmosphere than the heavy at first, until the guitar kicks in and smacks you across the face with that riff. For a group of songs that were written over a period of a few years the songs play perfectly together in the sequencing of the record. 

Bleed On is the heaviest track on The Waydown, with so many riffs and another excellent vocal performance from Reed. The biggest surprise on The Waydown is the (pretty much) straightforward cover of the Hall & Oates early hit Sara Smile. This is where Mr. Lewis comes in. How cool is it to get the original keyboard player to help on the cover? I say it is straightforward, but it is musically made their own by the Yawning Man guys, but the biggest surprise is how perfectly Tony Reed pulls off his Blue-eyed soul impersonation, even the high parts. So great. On first listen I was confused, but it eventually clicks in and works perfectly amongst the rest of the songs. 

BT-OH is the most straightforward rock track on The Waydown highlighted once again by the twin guitar action and Reed’s bass while the closer, 100, is not the life altering track the finisher from the last record was, but it is more of the same excellent desert rock beauty you get from every single note of this album. It is not a surprise that I love this, but honestly, I didn’t think Big Scenic Nowhere could top The Long Marrow but somehow, they have. The playing is unmatched, the vibe is on point for what they are delivering, and the songs and the production are perfect to my ears. Album of the year front runner and a record that will be remembered for years to come. 10/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Bat Sabbath & Margarita Witch Cult (Live Review By Richard Oliver)

Bat Sabbath & Margarita Witch Cult, Fleece, Bristol, 25.01.24

Black Sabbath are a timeless band. Despite being the first fully fledged heavy metal band (a topic which is debated daily but you’re wrong the first metal band was Black Sabbath) there are bands still trying to emulate or pay homage to that sound first unleashed on an unsuspecting public in February 1970. But the fact is those songs concocted by the dream team of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward still sound just as incredible and essential today in 2024 and the demand is still there to hear these songs and worship at the altar of the mighty Sabbath.

One band that certainly worship at the altar are Cancer Bats who, after performing a Black Sabbath covers set at Sonisphere Festival in 2011, created an alter-ego Black Sabbath tribute act called Bat Sabbath performing shows across the globe and even recording an E.P. of Black Sabbath covers. Well the alter ego has been brought back and has embarked on a fairly extensive run of U.K. shows including a sold out stop in Bristol where this reviewer got to join the masses in worshipping the almighty Iommi riff.

Opening up the show were Birmingham stoner doom trio Margarita Witch Cult (8). These are a band whose name I have seen mentioned but had never heard up until this point. Made up of Screamin’ Scott Vincent on guitars, Jim Thing on bass and George Casual on drums, they all shared vocal duties between the three of them on a selection of fuzzed out stoner doom songs taken from their self-titled album which was released last year. 

Margarita Witch Cult don’t do anything that hasn’t been done by countless other bands but they do it incredibly well and have a bunch of really killer tunes in their arsenal with highlights being Annihilation, Death Lurks At Every Turn and The Witchfinder Comes. One thing I wasn’t expecting was a fuzzed out stoner doom rendition of the Billy Idol classic White Wedding but Margarita Witch Cult have put their own stamp on the song and it sounded fantastic. An impressive set from a band who are now very much on my radar.

And then it was time for worship. Bat Sabbath (8) walked out on stage to huge cheers and then even bigger cheers when frontman Liam Cormier walked out bedecked in a rather fetching cape and in full persona as an acolyte of the heavy metal masters and ready to judge if this was a crowd who were worthy worshippers or condemned to an existence as posers. 

I’m not the biggest fan of cover bands except when it is to a band who are no more and especially when done by an already successful recording and touring band like Cancer Bats. This was a pure love of the music and to hear those mighty Iommi riffs shaking the walls of a venue was a beautiful thing. This was not a direct imitation of Black Sabbath either with the band putting their own little spin on it being a more rough and ready rendition of Black Sabbath with Liam doing his own take on the vocals rather than trying to imitate the vocals of Ozzy. 
This was Black Sabbath (Punk Sabbath? - Ed) through a bit of a punk lens but it worked beautifully. 11 songs from the classic Ozzy era of the band such as Children Of The Grave, Iron Man, Into The Void and War Pigs were smashed through as well as a few songs which I count as personal Black Sabbath favourites such as Supernaut, N.I.B. and Symptom Of The Universe which ensured that I was involuntarily headbanging away with a massive grin on my face. I could have quite happily stood there for 4 hours watching the band smash out Black Sabbath classics but all good things had to come to an end. 

 The band left the stage but then returned for an encore in their usual causal stage wear and treated the crowd to a solitary Cancer Bats song in the form of Pneumonia Hawk. It was a fantastic evening paying tribute to the eternal legacy of one of the greatest bands of all time.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Reviews: Hiraes, Manticora, Tanin’iver (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Zak Skane & Rick Eaglestone)

Hiraes - Dormant (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Featuring members of Dawn Of Disease and Critical Mess, Hiraes are a melodeath band with a bit more aggression than many in the genre. Dormant is their second album following on from Solitary in 2021 they expand on their debut with this second album, a slicker more expressive follow up. 

Pulsing with electronics to create a dark atmosphere, the harmonic guitars are used well to give some blistering riffs and some duelling solos, the aggression and introspection a bit more pronounced than with other melodeath bands as the harsh vocals are rabid, shifting to black metal squawks along with death growls and some cleans on Undercurrent, singer Britta comes out of this record as the star attraction. It’s sonically very layered, increasing the intensity from the debut as the drumming goes full force on tracks such as About Lies, where the pace ebbs and flows. 

There’s a lot to like here, progressive enough that it never gets boring, there’s plenty of musical experimentation to underscore the brutal death metal parts, melodic guitars for the shred heads and those rage-filled vocals, wrap it all up in a Jens Bogren mix/master and it’s got the sound favoured by that legendary “Gothenburg Scene”. 

Hiraes’ second album announces their long term goal to become talked about in the same breath as bands such as Dark Tranquillity and Arch Enemy, they will not be Dormant for very long. 8/10

Manticora – Mycelium (Mighty Music) [Zak Skane]

Formed in 1997 the power metallers Manticora have had a nine album legacy which includes a critically acclaimed two-album concept that co-relates to a 334-page novel written by the band’s singer Lars F. Larsen. With their new release Mycelium the band have scaled down a bit and decided to do only a 48 minute LP.

This album really delivers the goods when it comes to providing the thrash and power metal energy especially on song like NecropolitantsDemondayGolem Sapiens and Beast Of The Fall where the guitarists Kristian and Stefan really pulls off the wrist snapping riffs. through these songs the band also know how to add different styles of the subgenres in such modern styles such as groove metal with the with in the guitar riffs in songs like Mycelium, extreme metal and blackened metal in songs like Demonday and also adding some progressive sections in Memento

The song Angel Of The Spring adds in folk styles elements with it’s verging to beyond breaking point clean toned guitars strummed in Celtic style swinging rhythms accompanied to with waltz like pulses. The classical arrangements sound superb with the operative synths on the intro of Mycelium, the choirs in Beast Of The Fall and the piano and string arrangements in Equinox. Finally the drumming provided is ruthless as well as dynamic from his furious consistent double kick work in songs like Necropolitans to Día De Los Meurtos, the tribal styled grooves in Demonday to the soft but firm approach in Angel of the spring.

Some of the songs feel a bit too out of the singers key range where he struggles to hit the high notes in songs like NecropolitansGolem Sapiens, so I feel like it would help those notes sit better if the arrangements tuned lower, but fear not songs like Mycelium and Beast Of The Fall is where Lars’s high notes sit perfectly. I also feel like sometimes the arrangements on songs like Angel Of The Spring can over power what Lars’s vocal levels and can result in masking the detailed lyrical content.

Overall this is a great suggestion for any power metal fan, even in the stripped down 48 minute mark Lars can still reveal his tales whist the band show their full musical capabilities. 7/10

Tanin’iver - Dark Evils Desecrate (Morning Star Heresy) [Rick Eaglestone]

Steeped in ancient mythology and the embodiment of one man’s creative spirit, forged in the cold flames of tragedy, loss, and personal struggle; an outpouring of blazing hatred and rage at a world blighted by sickness, cursed by violence and intolerance, drowning in greed and ignorance. Australian entity Tanin’iver unleash their fourth album Dark Evils Desecrate. Opener Another Worlds Hell opens with a great piece of dialogue which almost serves a disclaimer of sorts which is just as well as frankly the outpouring of vulgarity is joyous, this is then followed up by the venomous Disrepair after which I feel like I need soft kitty softly sung to me. 

Another wave of barraging blast beats and bile make up the entirety of Separatist, but it is hard not to encased with all the technical elements thrown in, then creeping in with a backdrop of an ominous swirling mist is Better The Devil which has some nice galloping drum patterns and guitar tones. Freedom Is Never Free sees nice directional shift but still manages the captures the albums grim; gritty aesthetic and its placement in particular adds a good dynamic which then leads into highlight track Soul Thief has almost an industrial heartbeat to it of which its instrumental nature really capitalises on. 

The remaining trilogy sees The SeerDrowning On Dry Land and So Was Red almost go into an hellish battle within themselves for not only blackened death superiority but with the combined purpose to eviscerate and decimate the aural senses of the listener each serving as almost one track for every year since the last Tanin’iver release to remind everyone that their hammer blow precision and unwavering intensity demands to be acknowledged with a appreciation of savage consistency. A scathing, visceral outpouring. 7/10

Reviews: Caligula's Horse (Review By Matt Bladen)

Caligula's Horse - Charcoal Grace (InsideOut Music)

In several years from now Charcoal Grace will be remembered as the album upon which Australian prog maestros Caligula’s Horse came of age. Formed in 2011, each of their albums is a step forward, coming into their creative stride on Bloom (2015), then improving again through In Contact (2017) and Rise Radiant (2021), drawing critical and public acclaim.

Charcoal Grace is their sixth studio album and their fourth on InsideOut Music and it’s not conceptual but like all good prog bands there’s themes that link songs together and it even starts with a title track suite. I love the kind of music Caligula’s Horse make, it’s the same kind of emotional, post millennial wonderment band such as Haken, Leprous and Soen partake in and I can’t get enough of it. The theme of the album is catharsis, the catharsis of almost starting again after the Rise Radiant period of 2019/2020, readjusting the outlook to one of quiet hopefulness, focussed on loss and silence. Musically it’s these moments of refection, the quiet parts, the few seconds of stillness and zero noise that are the most affecting. 

Jim Grey’s aching, longing, shrill vocal soars with regret but resolution, breaking right at the top of the register with a needed fragility. It’s full of discovery, of ones place in the world, the juxtaposition of quietness and loudness as ambient, atmospheric introspection is countered by bold, brash, musical extroversion. Charcoal Grace opens with The World Breathes With Me, ten minutes of dazzling musical shape shifting, Josh Griffin’s drumming setting out the intention of the track and the record with some technically gifted drumming ready to couple with the palm muted chugging grooves of bassist Dale Prinsse, his partnership with guitarist Jim Grey in parallel, but when Jim sets off on the melodic solos and lead breaks its Dale that keeps the momentum of the track, adding his own flourishes to keep the ears excited on some of the longer tracks. 

I mentioned about Caligula’s Horse being part of the same scene as bands above, on the choppy djentisms of Golem but on Charcoal Grace I can hear some influences from foundations of prog metal such as Porcupine Tree and the post-Train Of Thought era Dream Theater. Much of the latter two come on the 4-part title track suite, though Vigil takes the throbbing repetition of Tool as a base note, though it’s more Tool by Torchlight as it stretches into the dynamic and euphoric Give Me Hell. This is conceptual but of course links in with the wider themes on the album. These four songs form the heart of the album, each stylistically different but forming a coherent narrative with the instrumentals and the lyrics. 

After the suite settles you in to the idea that anything can happen they completely level you with Sails, a beautiful song which has Pink Floyd levels of melodic fervour, the record closing out with the special Mute where those Toolisms happen again. There will be lots of AOTY talk this year, many saying it can’t be in January, well currently my album of 2024 is Charcoal Grace and it may stay that way for a while to come. 

Caligula’s Horse are Imperators of the prog world on this sixth album. 10/10

Monday 29 January 2024

Reviews: The Gems, Any Given Day, Show N Tell, Savaged (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Gems - Phoenix (Napalm Records)

A new record from three ex-members of Thundermother was always going to feature a lot of hard rocking but Phoenix their debut album The Gems features a LOT of hard rocking. Like 16 tracks including and intro, two interludes and an acoustic version, it's certainly a piece of work but is it substance over style? The Gems are made up of vocalist Guernica Mancini, drummer Emlee Johansson and guitarist/bassist Mona “Demona” Lindgren, after the various issues with their previous band they have locked down as a riff slinging trio that's got the AC/DC swagger on Domino, the big joyous choruses on Queens and take no prisoners rock n roll on the rumbling Silver Tongue

Guernica Mancini's vocals are rough and bluesy, they are used brilliantly on this rootsy rock n roll but shine on ballad Ease Your Pain and on Send Me To The Wolves as well. Mona "Demona" Lindgren's riff generalship is superior, grooving basslines and thick riffs that get the head nodding, using solos when required but not reliant totally on them. The idea here is to get you moving and Lindgren's collaboration with Emlee Johansson's percussion shows why they were such a good fit in their previous act, a track such as Running injecting pace. The solo guitar is joined by violinist Maria Jern on the interlude Maria's Song but we're only halfway through! 

It's the length that's the problem I think, when you're playing a style that is so known, i.e. AC/DC-like pub rock, brevity is king, 16 tracks is about 6 too many, do a 10 track hit and run and leave the others for an EP later in the year or early next year when you're promoting a tour. Still the quality is high, it's just the quantity. 7/10

Any Given Day - Limitless (Arising Empire)

Germans Any Given Day, turn their caps around and get ready to bring big beefy beats to a stage near you. As soon as their new album Limitless got going I thought I was listening to Killswitch Engage with Howard Jones. In the PR it says the embody the American Dream and they do so by sounding as American as possible. After this introduction they resort to macho groove metal, flashes of Trivium yes but Bad Wolves, Parkway Drive and Five Finger Death Punch too unfortunately. 

I've mentioned before that these bands do little for me and no matter how good vocalist Dennis Diehl is, and he is, the music leaves me cold. Big chorus, solo, breakdown, rinse, repeat. It's very American, emotion and angst brought to the ear with grooving, crushing modern metal, fit for stomping. This will do really well, I'm sure there will be lots of writers praising it but it really doesn't tickle my taste buds. 6/10

Show N Tell - The Ritual Has Begun (No Remorse Records)

American speed metal inspired by Dokken, W.A.S.P and more modern bands such as Skull Fist, The Ritual Has Begun aims squarely at the NWOTHM revival that is still going strong over 10 years after it's inception in the late 2000's. Formed in 2019 by guitarist/singer Dave Rodriguez, this debut album builds on their demo with some high voltage, high speed trad metal, worked over with sleaze and stinging, analogue sounding production, all ready to be released by seminal metal label No Remorse Records. 

Show N Tell don't hold their cards to their chest as they have King Diamond-like vocals are stuck over the proto-thrash and Maiden riffs, maybe their influences should also include Mercyful Fate as a lot of this record sounds like The Danes. The Ritual Has Begun sounds exactly as you'd expect it too. Nine tracks of galloping pace, guitar solos, production and song writing out of the 80's. Show N Tell, are a throwback yes but only to a sound that was perfected just over a decade ago. It's almost like a homage to a homage but good enough for a few spins. 6/10 

Savaged - Night Stealer (No Remorse Records)

Another throwback, another NWOTHM band, formed even later than Show N Tell. Savaged come from Barcelona and emerged in 2021, playing Headbangers Open Air in 2023 with only two singles to their name. Night Stealer is their debut and firmly plants them in the second level of NWOBHM worship, less Maiden and Priest, more Tokyo Blade, Satan and Angel Witch, on the progressive Tons Of Leather for instance has varying riffs and tonnes of prog.

Knights Of Metal is borderline power metal while Elm Street revs up the strutting street metal ala Ratt. Influenced heavily by the 80's metal world, as you'd expect, Night Stealer perhaps has more variation than some of their No Remorse buddies, but again though it's music that will be enjoyed by fans of the style. A bit more diverse but still some retro flavoured trad metal. 6/10

Reviews: Mega Colossus, Greengoat, Command, Byron (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, Paul Hutchings & James Jackson)

Mega Colossus - Showdown (Cruz Del Sur Music) [Matt Bladen]

The heart of Raleigh, North Carolina is beating with the sound of melodic metal if Bill Fischer has anything to do with it. The guitarist/vocalist of Mega Colossus wants to make sure that their second album Showdown, improves upon their previous record Riptime, making the songs bigger, bolder and braver than ever before. Or so they say anyway. Showdown has some excellent melodic metal on it born from the influence of Riot or Manilla Road but mainly from the European styles of melodic/power metal. 

Known previously as Colossus, Fischer and vocalist Sean Buchanan released a record and two EP's but then found another band of the same name, changing there's to Mega Colossus, releasing two more albums and an EP. So then Showdown is their fourth album and it's a celebration of everything good about heavy metal. Screaming twin harmonies from Fischer and Chris Millard on opener the Indiana Jones inspired Fortune And Glory, but their partnership is brilliant on every track here as the songs jump between speed metal, NWOBHM (title track) and European power metal, Outrun Infinity feeling like DragonForce, the vocals of Buchanan joyously similar to Marc Hudson of DragonForce. 

Doza Mendoza's drums are rapid fire throughout but they add some groove to Grab The Sun when he slows down, and links with the big basslines of Anthony Micale. I've mentioned that there's a lot of influences from the metal sphere but a song such as Warden Of The Wicked Road draws from Styx with the dramatic, theatrical melodic prog, drawing no complaints from me as I love Styx. 20 years of performing I'm only just now hearing Mega Colossus, I feel like I've let myself down as Showdown is a great melodic metal album. 8/10 

Greengoat - A.I. (Argonauta Records) [Rich Piva]

You could either say a concept album about A.I. is either timely, given the world we are living in now, or a bit too heavy handed, given how overwhelmed we are with the topic on the news, at work, on social media, etc. One thing is for sure though, if you are Spain’s Greengoat putting out said album it is all good either way, because their album about A.I. kicks all sorts of robot ass. Their first full length, aptly titled A.I., is some killer stoner/grunge with some elements of sludge that comes together to create what will be one of the best debut full lengths of the year.

Greengoat is a guitar and drums duo, but for only two of them they certainly sound huge. This is heavy and crunchy, with exhibit A in this trial for humanity being The Seed, which just rips. Who needs bass when you have that filthy guitar tone and killer drum work. A nice stoner riff kicks off the title track, and I love how guitarist/vocalist Ivan Flores plays off himself with the guitar parts. Great stuff. Human has more of that filthy tone and incorporates some heavy psych into Ivan’s playing for next level results and man do I dig that solo. 

Awake doesn’t let up on any of this goodness, being the crunchiest and grungiest track on A.I. and the drum work by Ruth Moya stands out here as well. The next two tracks, Naraka I and II pack quite a one two punch, with the slow and sludgy first part (the symbols on this track sound like they were recorded in a walk-in freezer, and somehow this is a complement) and part two with a psych distortion on the guitar and a chug that makes the Naraka suite my favourite part of the record. That riff on Burn The End will melt your face, what a way to close out the story.
Yeah, this is a concept album, but what the story is I have no idea because all I can pay attention to are the filthy riffs and tone, outstanding drum work, and overall killer stoner/grunge/sludge odyssey that Greengoat brings on A.I. The best debut full length of this early 2024 and will hang all year with any other debuts that drop in the next 12 months. 9/10

Command - Resver (Jawbreaker Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Originally called Commando who formed in 2016, their sole output was 2020’s EP Rites Of Damnation. Until now. Resver (which means hallucination or delusion in ancient French) is therefore their debut album, and it’s a raw affair.
Distinctive in black metal style, it’s old school in production values and in creation, with the band stating that they have crafted a ‘complete record rather than assembling individual songs’. It’s evident from the flow of the album that this target has been achieved, for although it’s not a long record, it does sit together well. Lyrically it can be a challenge to get past the frenzied howls and shrieks, but they do delve deep into the occult, with a conceptual theme linking each song.
Preferring to keep all the tracks short, the longest being The Presence at 4:49, Command draw deep on their country’s heritage. It’s nothing new, with originality shown the door early on. Closing track Solitude for example, is a ragged track, with the musicianship loose and the overall feel very much DIY. But that’s very much what Command have decided to embark on in terms of sound, so it would be uber critical to be too negative here.
Resver isn’t going to win any prizes, it won’t make many top tens, but for those who want their black metal in an unassuming, raw, and old school focus, this may be something well worth a listen. Tracks like Twisted Mind drip with atmosphere and energy, whilst the likes of Cold Below draw more from traditional heavy metal as well as the early Nordic legends. 

Ultimately, one can only applaud their efforts, and whilst this doesn’t really excite me, I can certainly engage with their ethos. 6/10

Byron - Chapter 2: The Lotus Covenant (The Goatmancer) [James Jackson]

If you type the word Byron into your search engine of choice you’ll be greeted with the image of Lord Byron, the scandalous English poet whose promiscuous lifestyle shocked the nation and inspired Cradle Of Filth’s The Byronic Man from 2006’s Thornography. Try and find a band under the same name and a torrent of artists, from many different genres will appear.

The bio that comes attached to the album is of scant help; after leaving Finnish heavy metal band Church Of Void, drummer Johannes Lahti formed Byron, from the seems of things this band may have started off as more of a solo project with Lahti performing pretty much everything, releasing The Omega Evangelion in 2020. Fast forward to this year’s Chapter 2: The Lotus Covenant, a slab of classic Heavy Metal dipping its toes into the murky depths of Doom and taking its inspiration from, according to that bio, Stephen King’s Pet Semetary, not the book or original film but more specifically, the recent remake.

After Overture, the obligatory instrumental intro track plays out, The Lotus Covenant begins, vocalist Johanna Etelakari, who performed with Lahti in an act called Neon Angel, greets us strongly but I soon feel like she gets lost in the mix, the instrumentation seemingly far more important than anything she has to say.

A 60/70’s keyboard sound underscores the majority of Resignation, an understandable inclusion for a band that takes inspiration from classic rock, again those vocals feel secondary to the instrumental elements of the track, seeming to concentrate more upon the musicianship than the lyrical content. There’s quite the Folksy sound and feel to The Sword Of The Apostle and initially Johanna is in a stronger position vocally, the intro and first verse are quite stripped back, acoustic guitar and bass notes accompany her storytelling, the song picks up offering a Southern Rock accent to the groove that makes up the bulk of the 7 minute long track. 

A very Iron Maiden inspired riff opens the track, Sometimes Dead Is Better, finally that nod to Pet Semetary that we were promised, as an ode to King’s material it doesn’t quite hit the spot as much as other tracks inspired by the same theme, interestingly and also annoyingly there’s a synth led refrain that winds its way through the song but only really becomes prominent within the last section as everything else fades out, which feels wasted.

I’ve only three tracks left of Byron’s Chapter 2 and The Golden Galley is next, another track that holds a more Folk feel to it and yet again the vocals are more prominent, acoustic guitar and piano parts make up the composition, there’s a violin section, various percussion instruments fill the rhythm section and of all the tracks so far it’s my favourite, it reminds me of something that Nightwish have done during their Annette Olsson years.

A male spoken word piece opens Return To Celephais, inspired by a H.P Lovecraft story, Lovecraft being an inspiration for the bands previous album, the song is little over 3 minutes and apart from that spoken word, which is a tad difficult to understand at times, an instrumental piece.

Finally onto The X, back to the galloping riffs of NWOBHM, lead guitar solos dominate the midsection and probably has one of the most hummable vocal lines on the album.

And so it’s done, those classic rock and metal influences of the 70’s and 80’s are in abundance throughout the album, the lyrical content is as fantasy based as anything you’d find in bands of a similar ilk and if it wasn’t for that feeling at times of the mix being slightly instrumental heavy then those lyrical themes would be clearer, disappointingly was the lack of doom metal, but maybe that was due to my own expectations of what doom sounds and feels like. 

While I’m not a huge fan of folk music, it’s those songs I found more appealing in comparison to the rest; ultimately it’s an album and band of which I’d never heard before and though I know I’ll not listen to it again, it wasn’t a completely painful experience. 5/10

Friday 26 January 2024

Reviews: Exocrine, Heave Blood & Die, The Survival Code, Boarhammer (Reviews By Mark Young, Rich Piva, Matt Bladen & Paul Scoble)

Exocrine - Legend (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

Well, this is quite the thing. There is Death Metal. There is Technical Death Metal. And then there is Exocrine, bringing their brand of lunacy and guitar wizardry with Legend which is sure to captivate and terrify in equal measure. Bear in mind, that I’d hadn’t heard any of their material up until this album and frankly its astounding.

I think we should set the scene out first. Fans of sludge, doom or that has any sort of ‘gaze associated with it should steer clear. This is a machine, precision built to offer songs that have BPMs off the known scale.

The use of an introduction / instrumental to open albums has become almost a common feature in the music I have reviewed recently. This is no different, with Presage starting us off. Now, its ok but doesn’t reflect what is to follow with the noodle scrambler that is Legend. I mean this is fast, with a technical prowess linked with song craft. And then there’s the trumpet that comes in around 1.20. Its blistering but somehow you can hear everything with the speed they are executing here. When they slow down its briefly to throw in the expected solo breaks which fit the song.

I don’t actually know how people can play like this, there is God-Tier drumming on this, it is just amazing. Some of the passages are jaw-dropping and rip along so quickly you have to go back and listen again just to get a grip on it. Life, motors along with those mazy side-ways riffs but they don’t forget they have got to have a song behind it, or it becomes meaningless. Eidolon has this riff in it that sounds like it is burrowing into rock, with a solo break that is just gorgeous whilst the drums go batshit. Theo Gendron is the name, remember that.

The Art Of War is, well it’s like the metal version of incoming fire from an enemy camp. They can do crushingly heavy when required, providing that necessary balance to avoid listener fatigue. Dust In The Naught changes it up too, bringing in deft touches of melody in its opening moments before the oncoming sonic battery. Warlock is a straight-up neck snapper, wisely they drop the tempo within the arrangement to throw in some prime riff building before launching for the skies once more.

Dragon has this wonderful descending line that shows off that melody once more, leading into more super-speed madness. It slaps. Just like The Oath that follows it, opening with electronica that adds a science-fiction feel to it whilst bringing some brutality to proceedings. That synth piece is key here, allowing them to breathe and expanding the sonics accordingly. This is continued in the epic By The Light Of The Pyre with a string opening which makes the following maelstrom so much more satisfying. With this one, there is a riff moment that absolutely top class, it’s a simple repeated guitar line that is just excellent. The bonus track, Cryogenisation, has a Japanese Anime swing within it and maintains that level of craft shown elsewhere.

I’ve said this before that the danger with technical metal is that the virtuosity can some overshadow and, in some cases, hide the fact that the songs are nothing more than vehicles for the band members to show off their skills. I don’t get that from this. What I get is that they have a model in mind of what they should sound like, and in order to achieve it they equally have to play out of their skins on each song they write. It can be tiring to be continually pelted with songs built this way, but I imagine if that this is your jam, then it is something that you are already fully prepared for. 

I haven’t heard enough of this genre to say if this is the pinnacle of its form, and to say that it is would be stupid on my part. But it feels as though it should be. It should be talked about for the herculean effort expended by them, their ability to imbue the songs with both feeling, melody, and of course sheer off-the-scale speeds. There will be some who will dismiss it as just a speed fest with no actual body or substance. Well, they are wrong. These are not just a bag of thrown-together riffs and ideas. It's cohesive in each song no matter how fast they go. I would say that the later tracks where they add more pronounced synths and strings to them, well they go just that little bit better.

Is this one of the first essential albums of 2024? Possibly. Is it worth your time? Definitely. 9/10

Heave Blood & Die - Burnout Codes (Fysisk Format Records) [Rich Piva]

I am not sure I have reviewed anything labelled as “Post Punk” for the blog before, but I am starting out in excellent form as I cannot stop listening to the new album from Heave Blood & Die, their third full length titled Burnout Codes

This is some dark and heavy stuff, dedicated to their bass player who committed suicide between the making of and release of the new album. Burnout Codes is dark yet catchy, heavy yet light, and sounds like nothing I have been listening to over the last few years but the album I have listened to the most in 2024.

This is Post Punk as I would describe the genre, but Burnout Codes also has some doom, shoegaze, and even industrial elements to the eight tracks on the album. The ever-present synths drive the record, partnered perfectly with the chant like, layered vocals and wall of sound guitars. The first band that comes to my mind when I listen to this album is Prick, combined with some of the pop sensibilities of Japandroids. 

No matter who they sound like, this album kicks so much ass. From the Joy Division-esque Stress City with its synth riffs, to the killer opener Dog Days, to the 80s leaning Mjelle, to the frantic Things That Hurt with its Viet Cong vibes, this is perfect Post Punk in 2024 while borrowing from all the bands through the decades that played in this style. How about some Killing Joke vibes from Heatwave 3000? Amazing stuff.
I could have easily dismissed Heave Blood & Die as one of those grotesque (in the best sort of ways, of course) death metal bands, but this could not be further from what Burnout Codes brings here. This is a frantic thirty minutes of Post Punk perfection to break up my days usually filled with doomy riffs and stoner grooves. The early surprise of the year for me as Burnout Codes will stick in heavy rotation for me for a long, long time. 9/10

The Survival Code - Whispers Of Woe (Good Deed Music Ltd) [Matt Bladen]

This is some pretty modern rocking from The Survival Code, the London rock band play music that is reminiscent of Biffy Clyro, Muse and InMe, crashing drumbeats, large open riffs and proggy changes in rhythm are all there from the anthemic opener The Heart Will Bleed, this duo much more layered in their delivery than many of the standard guitar/drums two pieces in the rock scene, though obviously there’s links to The Royal Blood, The White Stripes and The Virginmary’s. The Survival Code in the studio though is just Gary McGuinness, he’s the creative force between the album writing everything, playing everything and providing the unique vocal style too. Live he’s joined by Simon Hartop behind the kit and the album is given its audio punch given by Matt Hyde’s production and engineering. 

The theme that runs through this debut album is what it’s like to be human and navigate the digital age, with particular focus on what it’s like to be a musician when only streams and social media seem to matter. The band have had their fair share of tribulations and seen the darkest side of the music industry but they have also seen success that so often escapes independent bands. The reason for their success is clear with this radio baiting hard rock which draws inspiration from many bands, like Digging Your Own Grave which borders on Foo Fighters/Weezer territory, whereas others go more into the mainstream bent of Fall Out Boy. 

It’s very populist alt rock but that’s no bad thing, in a world where artists have to scramble for every like and stream, pitching your music to the masses is a good way to go. The Survival Code have given on Whispers Of Woe rough and ready but also stylish and slick modern rock ready for radio play. 7/10

Boarhammer - II: Chemognosis - A Shortcut To Mushrooms (Naturmacht Records) [Paul Scoble]

Coming into being in 2020, Boarhammer have taken a black metal left hand path that is not often taken, by basing their sound around early first wave black metal, rather than aping the second wave bands as several billion other bands have done. The band is made up of The Vessel on vocals, bass and drums and Wodwaz on guitar and additional vocals. The band made a bit of a splash in 2021 with their highly thought of Demo, I: Cutting Wood For Magical Purposes, so this is the bands second release, and their first full album.

As this is first wave black metal the influences are mainly from the early eighties, Venom, early Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer and Czech band Masters Hammer. Masters Hammer tend to be lumped in with the second wave Scandinavian bands, but they were active much earlier, and due to being based in Eastern Europe, did not have very many contemporaries, so developed a pretty unique sound, which has clearly been influential on Boarhammer. There aren’t that many current bands playing this style, but if I was to compare this to a current band then it would have be to Negative Plane who have released some very good first wave style black metal over the last few years.

The album opens with the song Entering Forest Twylite, which starts with mid-paced and very dramatic first wave black metal, this is the place where we first experience The Vessel’s vocals; he is part lead singer, part insane bellowing prophet of doom, and his vocals are a wonderful part of this album, bellowing furious denunciations and raising the magical energies. The song then drops into fast and primitive thrash, before a more measured and subtle section that, despite the minimalism, still has mad preacher vocals. The song then builds back from the minimal feel back to the Mid-paced Black Metal we met at the beginning of the song. Skeins Of Demented Magick, begins with a primal Blast Beat, that is simple and effective, before the song goes into a mid-paced melodic section, this then morphs into a very dramatic and aggressive section before going back to the melodic mid-paced first wave black metal with some very tuneful and melodic guitar work, the vocals are definitely channelling Demented Magick.

Next we get the song Tree Transvection which is mainly a mix of dramatic and aggressive chorus sections, with very fast parts that have a tempo that is part thrash and part polka, it’s an interesting high speed feel that works very well. The song also has a really good Guitar solo and a very dramatic ending. After Tree Transvection comes Erdkaul which is mainly about melody and great Harmonies, the pacing has a lot drive to it and it also has a great guitar solo. The song comes to an end with maniacal laughter, which on this album fits perfectly.

Arboreal Portal Ritual opens with the kind of sick guitar harmonies I associate with early Slayer before the song goes into a primitive blast beat. The sick harmonies return before a guitar solo, and a very dramatic ending with layered maniacal vocals for full lunacy, great ending! Behold Those Fell Candles is a song that is mainly driving and purposeful first wave black metal, the song does have a section of with that thrash/polka tempo, and a slow and heavy ending, but what you will mainly take away will be the mid-pace and drive. 

Extreme Unction opens with slow and heavy riffs and insane bellowing, before the song takes a turn towards noisy thrash. The middle of the song has a section that is reminiscent of Slayer’s Raining Blood’s intro, before more loose, noisy thrash and bellowing takes the song to its end. Lysovik - Midnight Conjuring At The Crossroads is bookended by primal blast beats, in between is mid-paced black metal with a slight drifting feel to the tempo, there are also some very effective backing vocals.

The album comes to an end with the song The Witch, which is the shortest song on the album. The song has a suitably spooky opening before we go into stomping mid-paced metal with a bit of punk feel to the tempo, the song has a great singalong chorus and collapses in on itself at the end.

II: Chemognosis - A Shortcut To Mushrooms is a cracking album, really enjoyable and quite different to most of the black metal being released at the moment. The album has a loose and in some places is a little messy, but this is essential to the feel and atmosphere that the album has. If this album was perfectly tight and polished it wouldn’t work at all. Add to this feel the crazy bellowing vocals and this really stands out in a field of second wave soundalikes. After a few listens this really got into my head, there are so many melodies to hum and I will never tire of singing along with the madness and magic contained in these songs. 

If you are looking for black metal that is different, enjoyable and full of enchantment and thaumaturgy, then you should definitely check this out. 9/10

Reviews: Slower, Lucifer, Blood Red Throne, Hearts & Hand Grenades (Reviews By Rich Piva, Matt Bladen, Richard Oliver & Paul Hutchings)

 Slower - Slower (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

Let’s see…a Slayer covers album, done in the style of doom, with haunting female vocals, members of Monolord, Lowrider, Kyuss(!), Kylesa, and Year Of The Cobra, and Bob freaking Balch (the hardest working man in stoner rock along side Tony Reed) from Fu Manchu ripping it up? Where do I sign up and how quickly can you deliver the goods? 

On paper this sounds amazing, but to some Slayer purists this has the potential to be a polarizing release, but the band known as Slower (such an excellent band name for this project) absolutely crushes this unique concept by making these classic metal tracks their own but never disrespecting the master that birthed these songs from the depths of Hell. Oh, and Mr. Balch is simply shreds on the self-titled debut.

Taking most of the lead vocals here is Amy Barrysmith (who I read never listened to Slayer before this) from Year Of The Cobra and wow does she deliver, transforming Tom Araya’s trademark voice and replacing it with her own trademarked haunting siren song. Take the opener, War Ensemble, which, unless you knew it, you would not be able to recognize on first listen. 

The tracks is spread out across eleven minutes, with the original riff sounding less King/Hanneman and more Iommi, with a tuned down back end layered with Barrysmith’s vocals for something you didn’t know you wanted until it was right in front of you. The Antichrist is right there in quality, with the doomiest of riffs and Barrysmith creating layers of vocals that somehow makes The Antichrist float. 

Esben Willems of Monolord does wonders on the drums for this track, not having to match Lombardo’s speed but does match his impact, and of course Balch kills here with a solo you would not expect as part of this song. This one slows down to a snail’s pace at one point in glorious, almost funeral doom fashion but with Balch just tearing apart a solo. 

Sticking with Seasons for track three, Blood Red in doom form is wonderful, haunting, and somehow catchy. Seasons is very well represented as 60% of the songs come from my favourite Slayer album, with the unmistakable riff from Dead Skin Mask in close to original form, but the similarities end there as it is transformed into a sludgy doom masterpiece. 

The final track, the God tier metal classic South Of Heaven, changes up the lineup a bit, bringing the legend Scott Reeder on bass and vocals from Kylesa’s Laura Pleasants to join Balch and Willems, but loses none of the quality or coolness of Slower. The classic riff is there but slowed down, and South Of Heaven as you know it is completely transformed into a slow burn dirge in the best possible way.

That Slayer purist mentioned up top could be me, as I have been a fan since I was in eight grade and was first exposed to Reign In Blood, but what Slower has done here is nothing short of amazing. The playing on here is incredible, especially Balch, and the arrangements of these metal classics are so unique and creative that I could not recommend this more. Let’s hope that this was not just a one-off project, because there is so much awesome Slayer stuff to explore that can be transformed like they are on this record. Amazing stuff. 9/10

Lucifer - V (Nuclear Blast Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now signed to Nuclear Blast Records after albums on Rise Above and Century Media Records, the retro rock of Lucifer returns to have reaching for the absinthe and the acid, ready for that graveyard party you've been planning for months now. Lucifer have always delivered quality across four previous records, and with V, their fifth album they continue down a path forged by I - IV, the culmination of many years of rigorous touring and recording. 

Lucifer are a band honed on stage, Johanna Sadonis' spectral, soulful wails at their very best, her lyrics macabrely but sharply observed and delivered with a knowing smile at the ridiculousness of singing about ghouls and spooks, especially on the pining necromance of Slow Dance In A Crypt. Beneath Johanna's vocals is some occult rocking par excellence, locked down by the driving drumbeats of Nicke Andersson and the hypnotic basslines of Harald Göthblad.

This fifth entry into the Lucifer canon shows how far they've come from the obvious Sabbath/Coven worshiping doom of the debut, their whole sound now much more rounded to include proto-metal, classic rock (The Dead Don't Speak), NWOBHM and even some glam stomping on A Coffin Has No Silver Lining. The rhythm section is a testament to this with the frequent changes in At The Mortuary guided by these two. 

As it's all decidedly and deliberately retro from the styling to the production etc, there's obviously a guitar duo that harmonises with ease, Linus Björklund and Martin Nordin peel off some psych rock licks and groovy fuzz riffs on tracks such as Maculate Heart, with the ringing emotion draining out of the veins on Nothing Left To Lose By My Life

Five records and Lucifer still deliver brilliance with lashings of retro occultism. Get down to your local graveyard and have a boogie! 9/10

Blood Red Throne - Nonagon (Soulseller Records) [Richard Oliver]

Blood Red Throne have spent the past twenty six years making absolutely bludgeoning music into a true art form. Despite a revolving door of members in the band, guitarist Død has been the one constant member from day one and the driving force behind the band. Since their formation in 1998, these Norwegian death metallers have been cracking skulls and destroying neck muscles and they continue on their path of aural devastation with their eleventh album Nonagon.

Blood Red Throne albums are always a guaranteed riff-fest and Nonagon is no exception with a set of riffs from guitarists Død and Ivan Gujić which slice and dismember. Mixed with the clanging bass lines of bassist Stian Gundersen and the powerhouse rhythmic attack of drummer Freddy Bolsø absolute carnage is guaranteed. This carnage and chaos can be heard at their maximum power in songs such as Ode To The Obscene and the title track. 

Whilst their sound is very much rooted in 90’s death metal, there are some modern touches to their sound as can be heard in the breakdown section of Split Tongue Sermon as well as some melodic twists and turns such as in Every Silent Plea and in some of the lead guitar solos. Nonagon is also the recording debut for new vocalist (and current live bassist) Sindre Wathne Johnsen who impresses with a furious performance flitting between guttural growls and high pitch screams.

Nonagon is a bruising death metal album from a band that has been remarkably consistent throughout their existence though they really struck hard with their previous album Imperial Congregation in 2021. Nonagon picks up the momentum of that previous release and proves to be one of the strongest releases in the band's discography. Fans may clamour for the Blood Red Throne glory days of the early to mid 2000’s but the band prove that they are still an absolute force to be reckoned with in the pummelling world of death metal. Fans of bands such as Cannibal Corpse and Deicide should be all over this album. 8/10

Hearts & Hand Grenades – Where I Begin (Eclipse Records) [Paul Hutchings]

What does it take to stand out from the crowd? A difficult question to answer, in the saturated world of music today, where hundreds of thousands of songs are released across the globe each day. Don’t worry, this isn’t a thesis on music management, that’s not my bag in the slightest. But I pose the question after listening to the latest album by Hearts & Hand Grenades, a four-piece from Buffalo, NY, who were only recently over in the UK on tour. 

Where I Begin is a solid hard rock album, combining a variety of styles that work to their strengths. In Stephanie Wlosinski they possess a singer (and bassist) whose fiery vocals add an extra dimension to their sound. Their third album, it has a confidence and swagger that only comes with time and experience. But does it stand out, grab you by the balls, and make you stop in your tracks? 

Well, and of course, this is only my view, they don’t quite get across the line. Yes, they can craft an anthem, such as the title track, which has an edgy, driving style that should appeal to those who like their hard rock, and they bring it loud, but there is just something lacking a little in the overall vibe of the album. 

That’s not to say it’s poor by any stretch. The riffs of guitarists Mike Bree and Kenny Blesy are thick, the hooks on each track dig deep and you’ll find yourself humming the melodies for hours afterwards. The songs come hard and fast, from the smouldering Boom, with its addictive groove, through to the bristling finale of Over Again, a track that provides a true palette of colour to close.

Elsewhere, there is splendid acoustic guitar on ballad Let Me Down, which has a Celtic lilt and feel, even if Wlosinski veers into Dolly Parton territory at times, and an alternative feel to several of their songs. Way Down Low is bursting with energy, vibrant and bouncing, and one that you can see audiences jumping along to in their live shows. The musicianship is high level, with each member of the band interlocked with each other. Bluesy provides some excellent lead work, whilst Wlosinski’s bass is very much locked in the low end alongside the engine of the band, drummer Cory Michalski. 

So, competent as it is, there’s just something a little routine about tracks like Better Off Alone. They sound like many, many other bands, and that’s the key issue. You could play this on the radio, and you’d be shouting out a plethora of names in response to the “who is it” question. The exception, as there is to anything, is the multi-hybrid I Just Want My Rock, a horrible hybrid of hardcore, rap, pop, and country, all bound together with a psychedelic guitar breakdown. It’s a hideous song, and one that jars uncomfortably for it’s three-minute life. At least it doesn’t last too long. 

Where I Begin is perfectly listenable. I enjoyed parts of it immensely. It just didn’t stick in the way that one might have wished. I can see others absolutely loving this record. And I’d be happy for them. It just didn’t grab me in the way I hoped. 6/10

Thursday 25 January 2024

Reviews: GUHTS, Bright & Black, Temple Of Void, Dymytry (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

GUHTS - Regeneration (New Heavy Sounds/Seeing Red Records) [Mark Young]

Hailing from Brooklyn, GUHTS drop their debut album and it’s a striking affair from the word go. The four-piece have themselves described their sound as ‘Avant-garde post-metal’ which is a great way to differentiate yourself from everyone else. What you have here is 7 songs that are just class.

White Noise with strings grinding, stretching a simple yet massive riff announces Amber Gardener’s vocals over an accompanying piano which immediately sets this out as something to behold. Moving between soft and dark, the voice is a dominant force that owns this song. Over the 8 or so minutes they treat us to a tour-de-force of ideas and motifs taking in that subtle, light attack and then turning the lights off as the heavy comes in. It's urgent at the end and is a massive statement from them.

Til Death slow burns, but again the constant is that voice and the incredibly effective riff that sits beside it. There is so much going on and yet it is direct. The way the piano works the song just adds so much to it, and I know that this is not a new thing but here it seems so fresh and fits so well that it grants the song so much breadth it’s fantastic.

The Mirror unleashes electronica, with that absolutely massive guitar tone providing the backbone for Amber to continue to take you on a journey, voice cracking with some beautiful harmonies accompanying this. It’s love and hate mixed and delivered in a peach of a package.

Handless Maiden steps up with what is going to be a live stormer. It’s got that swing to it that is going to grow and evolve, hypnotic and it is over in a flash allowing Eyes Open to come in with those spidery guitar moments that build and move, all of the key parts in unison that in coming together are just quality. The piano lines are superb, as with the other songs it adds so much without overshadowing the music around it. Its sparing use makes it so effective, and these two songs feel like a companion piece.

Generate is part lullaby, part something else. It shows the range of Amber, moving from this to an emotionally charged detonation, again the music that is built around just fits and serves the song so well. This is what they do, just build exceptional songs that flash by. They have this constant motion to them that is lacking from other bands who write long songs without making them interesting.

The Wounded Healer completes and is a slow, controlled almost doom gaze in its attack that lumbers into life as Amber just screams her life out before it drops back into a restrained almost choir-like arrangement that swells and builds to isolated vocal tracks to close this out. Mesmerising and a fitting end.

As debut albums go, there is not a bad track on here. Each one delivers in its own way, taking and building from a central conceit without repeating the ideas used elsewhere. They offer so much in how they have been put together, its so easy to listen to the album in one sitting and miss some of the subtle things they do, it deserves repeated listens so that you can fully absorb it for the masterclass It is. And it is class. 9/10

Bright & Black - The Album (Self-Release) [Matt Bladen]

So we're a metal blog but of course as you may know we have dabbled in the orchestral realm before. I've even reviewed Tuomas Holopainen's (Nightwish) concept album about Scrooge McDuck 10 years ago so I guess it's about time I picked up another all orchestral metal album. Yes don't go thinking this is metal covers of Tchaikovsky, Chopin or Arvo Pärt, it's very much the other way round. 

Metal musicians composing pieces for The Baltic Sea Philharmonic Orchestra to play, it means that on Bloodgrind you get black metal blastbeast and growls despite no vocals, as the conductor, Kristjan Järvi, contorts this living, breathing, musical ecosystem into places they may never have been. The result is Bright & Black where metal and classical music are closer than ever, the orchestra not relegated to just fleshing out songs, but playing specially composed pieces for them, recorded in full Dolby Atmos in 2022. 

Produced by Jacob Hellner, orchestrated by Johnny Abraham, the core composers of this album are Eicca Toppinen (Apocalyptica), Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth), Erik Danielsson (Watain), Nico Elgstrand (Entombed AD), Tomas Haake/Dick Lövgren (Meshuggah), all coming from the extreme side of metal where dark intermingles with light so well. It's not only a way to show the musical chops of these "metal" musicians but also for the Baltic States to shine their musical power on the world. 

Eicca Toppinen is also cello soloist on the album and the "frontman" when they look set to tour the record, so fans of Apocalyptica rejoice, the album recording has also been recorded as a documentary so this will accompany the release. The album is full of excellent pieces of you're a fan of orchestral music and even if you're not Bright & Black will be the most unique listening experiences of the year. 8/10

Temple Of Void - The First Ten Years (Hammerheart Records) [Mark Young]

Weighing in with a runtime of almost 70 minutes, this 11-track compilation captures all of their non album tracks from split singles to flexi-discs that have adorned Decibel magazine’s Flexi series. I love when bands do this instead of the standard ‘greatest hits’ package with a bonus song or two tacked onto the end. Assuming that completists will already have these prior but putting them in one place is a way of closing out their first ten years of recorded music as well as showing how they have evolved over that time. The accompanying booklet provides further context behind each of the tracks which just makes the package so sweet.

What you have here is a collection of crushing music, presented with the most recent first with Ravenous Eyes In The Distance which is a barnstormer of an opener. Each of the songs, even the early demos from 2013 show that they were not content to stay in one lane i.e., just death metal, just doom etc. Going back to the opener, it has a percussive riff that is solid mixed in with some of those standard DM tropes but the way in which they do it is class. Similarly, Harvest Of Flesh occupies the same mould but with one of those picking patterns which is fantastic in those mid-tempo moments. Once they do change gear it takes on new life and just from these later tracks you can hear why they have the fanbase they do.

Rather than examine every track here, which I think is slightly redundant its better to look at what they have gone for which is that every song listed here, be it the split 7” single or the inclusion on other collections is to make sure that every song acts as the best gateway to Temple Of Void to draw in potential listeners. And it shows, there is an unreleased song, Ward Of Crom from the demo collection MMXIII which shows them at the melodic and brutal best. On this you can see where the doom tags come from and also can see how they have progressed when compared to the opening two tracks. Bearing in mind that they didn’t include it shows just how confident they were in the material at that time.

Personally, this is a solid collection of songs that serves as a great introduction to those that have not had the pleasure of their company (me, for example). It does everything you want from extreme music, taking you into doom, death and melodic touches combined with super-dense riffs. Its an honest collection, one that smacks of wanting to say thank-you to their fans and it does.

And any band that covers Celtic Frost (Os Abysmi Vel Daath) from A Tribute to...2015 is always very welcome!! 7/10

Dymytry - Five Angry Men (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

Releasing their first English language album Revolt in 2021, Czech metal band Dymytry made sure that they would be heard by a wider audience (which is actually a pity). Five Angry Men is their latest English language album and it's more of an American language album as there's a huge influence of bands such as Five Finger Death Punch and Mushroomhead to be found on this record, from the vocals that are gruff but angsty, to the chunky riffs that are from Nu and Groove scenes, there's a lot of the 'jock metal" dressing. 

Whether this is deliberate or satirical I don't know as the band freely admit they don't take themselves seriously despite their image but their music is socio-critical, think tree huggers that look and sound like January 6ers. Unfortunately no matter how much this is a pastiche or has a satirical bent I'm never won over with this sort of macho metal and I'm less impressed by the rap metal on the title track. Five Angry Men is an album that doesn't appeal to my taste at all but that's not to call it a bad album, there'll be an audience for it but not me I'm afraid. 5/10

Reviews: Vitriol, Ancient VVisdom, Abyssius, Dissimulator (Reviews By Dr Claire Hanley, Rich Piva, Mark Young & Paul Hutchings)

Vitriol – Suffer & Become (Century Media) [Dr Claire Hanley]

As one of the standout albums of 2019, Vitriol had already set the threshold for excellence pretty damn high with their debut full-length offering. For this very reason, I (among countless others) have awaited the follow-up to To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice with the kind of anticipation and excitement reserved for kids at Christmas, but unlike the aftermath of many a visit from jolly ol’ Saint Nick, Suffer & Become actually lives up to expectations.

The opening track, Shame And It's Afterbirth, grinds into life following an ominous introduction that instantly sets you on edge. What follows can only be defined as organised chaos; melodic yet unhinged lead guitar lines, over-layed against a rhythmic section that is grounding but no less relentless. This theme continues throughout and frankly everything about the record is unfathomably uncomfortable (in the best way). 

Emerging from this auditory anarchy, an exquisite display of technical prowess from frontman Kyle Rasmussen; who possesses a quality few extreme metal guitarists do - the ability to evoke raw emotion with their axe. The late-great Chuck Schuldiner springs to mind by way of comparison and there are transcendent moments within the solo section that truly feel as though they’re “ripping at the spirit”. A unique, immersive experience all round and this is just the first track.

The crushing weight of The Flowers Of Sadism stands in opposition to its fast-paced predecessor, while retaining the layers of dissonance as rabid vocals fight for dominance against the instrumental onslaught; powered by the low end, courtesy of bass powerhouse, Adam Roethlisberger. There is zero breathing space until the mid-section emerges like a relative moment of lucidity. Nursing From The Mother Wound also features dynamic shifts between conflict and clarity. 

New addition to the band, drummer Matt Kilner, does an insanely impressive job of keeping the double kicks flowing here (and in the next track) as lightning-fast, black metal influences become increasingly prominent. The sonic equivalent of someone with a well-managed multiple personality disorder, The Isolating Lie Of Learning Another has a multitude of distinctive elements vying with each other yet is experienced as perfectly balanced and cohesive. High, raspy, tortured vocals mesh with blackened riffs (think late 90’s Marduk) but are juxtaposed by Tungsten-level heavy death metal chugging and even a soaring solo section. If it wasn’t already evident, this was never going to be easy listening but somehow it flows seamlessly.

The addition of an instrumental track is always a gamble; execute it well and it immeasurably enhances the record, while the reverse will resign it to filler. Survival’s Careening Inertia most definitely belongs to the former category. Beginning with clean guitars accompanied by a healthy dose of reverb and imploding into a catastrophic swath of blastbeats, it expertly showcases the painful progression the record speaks to - born one thing and becoming another. It’s perfectly positioned to unleash the lower-end dominance of Weaponized Loss onto our already ravaged ears, which again conveys the value of being fuelled by life’s events as opposed to being consumed by them. 

As enamoured as I was by the record to this point, my enthusiasm was diminished towards the end of the album, albeit temporarily. Flood Of Predation and I Am Every Enemy, while both solid tracks, added comparatively little by way of variation to my aural appreciation but Locked In Thine Frothing Wisdom features a seriously catchy hook, and the atmospheric and awe-inspiring He Will Fight Savagely, with its audacious, blackened riffs, rounds off the record having kicked the dynamics back up a notch.

This certainly isn’t your typical death metal record and I say that as a definitive strength. Suffer & Become is a bludgeoning album, though at times the intricacies that made the first half so captivating are somewhat absent towards the end. Crucially, rather than riding the wave of the first album, Suffer & Become demonstrates clear evidence of evolution; both musically and thematically. Lyrical content laden with failure, loathing, and persecution has given way to that of purpose, fortitude, and self-actualisation; as the title would suggest. 

Expertly mixed/produced by Dave Otero, the intensity and aggression of the previous record remain present but are encapsulated within a more polished but no less savage outlet for all that anger. Likened to the concept of finding beauty in destruction, Vitriol have done the impossible and somehow made accounts of the darkest of subject matter seem heartfelt, and worshipping violence feel like a worthy pursuit. Simply put, there is an energy, conviction and above all else sincerity to the composition and execution of this album that render it (pleasantly) painful to listen to and I’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. 9/10

Ancient VVisdom - Master Of The Stone (Argonauta Records) [Rich Piva]

Occult Rock has made a huge comeback led (obviously) by Ghost, and I am here for it. The latest band that I am experiencing is Ancient VVisdom, a band that has been around for a while but only now have I come across their ode to Satan stylings. Think a more produced Pentagram or Witchfinder General, or a band more contemporary to compare to would be Sahg, these guys bring it on their latest, Master Of The Stone. As I said these guys are just new to me, as they have been together since 2009 and shame on me for missing them all this time because they rock.
If I were to guess I would have said these guys were from somewhere in Europe, not from Cleveland, Ohio via Austin, Texas, at least from the feelings I get from Master Of The Stone. Total Sahg vibes are found on the opener, Sold My Soul To Satan. Straight ahead heavy rock with satanic lyrics seems to be a sweet spot for me because I can’t get enough. 

The Adversary and Apollyon are cut from the same excellent cloth leading into World’s Demise which reminds me more of New Model Army than it does Ghost or other bands of that ilk. The heaviest and my favourite track is Ashes From On The High which chugs along and could be a King Diamond track with lower, echoey vocals instead of Mr. Diamond’s trademark falsetto. The title track is a doomy number with great guitar work and clean yet emanating from Hell vocals, bringing more of the heavy side to Masters Of The Stone. This is also the closest to Ghost you will find amongst the eight tracks. 

Taking inspiration from Type O and Ghost, Demon Est Deus Inverses is another excellent song on Master Of The Stone, with the guitar work standing out on this one. I love how the record wraps up, with the acoustic The Devil’s Sermon which sounds more like Murder By Death than it does an occult rock/metal band.

I love finding new bands writing for this blog. Ancient VVisdom will go down as one of my favourites that I discovered this way, as Master Of The Stone is some Occult Rock goodness that should be gobbled up by those who dig bands I mentioned above. 8/10

Abyssius - Abyssius (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Described as being both atmospheric and technical death metal, Abyssius’s component parts have come together from Taiwan, Norway and the USA. This is their debut album, following the earlier release of three songs from it last year.
So, starting by avoiding an unnecessary intro track so prevalent these days, Dreadnought comes in and weaves a melodic spell, mixing in clean and dirt vocals and offers a great start with some admittedly tech moments without losing sight of the need for a decent song. Its apparent from the start that they have more of an eye with atmospheric/melodic metal than their bio would suggest and I’m totally fine with that. 

Hollow comes in with a simple hook line from which they build spidery lines of guitar riffery around it. Strong growled vocals coming in over the top and as with Dreadnought, it favours a more melodic edge than just being technically proficient. The synths add that extra layer to an already wide sound and deploying the clean / dirt vocal attack works.
The Animus And The Anima with a subtle start into another top melody line that seems simple but works so well, it allows the song to build around it with an almost light feel to it whereas Ripped Apart goes dark with a more bottom-end focused guitar piece, with some savage drumming coming in, this is possibly the most brutal of the tracks because of that darker edge to it and there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Nihil continues in that darker vein, going for more of a brutal attack, extended guitar solo/mixed vox and like Ripped Apart shows they can harness a blackened edge to their music if they wish. Everfall closes the door on a great debut and maintains the very high level of quality shown throughout the 30 or so-minute run time. This one has it all going on, hook/melody lines, harmony breaks, and a top all-round performance with some fret-burning guitar lines.
This is quite a strong debut from the Abyssius team, songs are well built with a very powerful vocal performance, but the key is how they have approached their craft. I’ve said elsewhere that with the Technical tag, there is always the issue that skill overshadows the song making it a vehicle for said skills. Here, they know that the build has to blow you away with all parts working in unison. 

Pointing to a great example here is The Animus And The Anima which has a cracking melody line that runs through it. It isn’t super-widdly or crams a million notes in, its just there pulling the whole piece together. The riffs are what I would class as technical, but they are memorable and engage on an emotional way. The songs, especially The Animus... could be used as a boss-fight soundtrack, thinking of a Devil May Cry scenario.
Circling back to the band itself, Zack Carter brings all the guttural growls you could ever want, with a performance that makes the songs tick. I know this may sound odd but if you imagine that this music needs a towering vocal presence, and you have that here. That is not taking anything away from the guitar and bass, the leads are impressive knowing when to be tasteful and when to unleash fire from the fretboard, step forward Jake Bedard. Rhythm duties courtesy of Haitao Yang (G, production) and R.J. Xie (bass) do their bit to make these songs fly. 

One question I do have is the drummer because they are responsible for some rapid-fire moments on here without being overtly flash in approach. Whoever that is, wonderful job! This is one of those under-the-radar releases that will please a lot of people. Yes, it has technical moments, but this isn’t guitar-fest or drum athletics it’s a decent collection of songs that lean into a number of different approaches and come out the other side with a good story to tell. 7/10

Dissimulator – Lower Form Resistance (20 Buck Spin) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s probably not a huge surprise once you’ve spent time with Lower Form Resistance to discover that this debut album is performed by a Canadian outfit. Yes, Dissimulator hail from Montreal and as they say in their press release, this is one shock on the auditory and sensory nerves.
Echoing the mighty Voivod in many ways, the sci-fi thrash that they deliver combines with a death metal edge to present an intoxicating combination of angular riffage, inconvenient and challenging time changes, and robotic manner. It all mashes up into an intriguing, sometimes uncomfortable yet highly progressive assault on the cerebral cortex.
Neural Hack is rather routine in comparison to what follows, each track slowly increasing in length, complexity, and intensity. Warped sees the band divert from any traditional style to mix curious vocals that have an android feel with guttural death roars. It’s a phenomenal and complex collective, and one that rarely allows the listener to relax.
There are only seven tracks here, spread over 40+ minutes. That evidently provides opportunity for Dissimulator to flex their creative muscles, and they do that through Automoil Robotomil, central track Cybermorphism / Mainframe through to the glorious finale of the title track. At times, there are bursts of more standard metal, but these are quickly dispelled by a relentless battery of Philippe Boucher’s drums, Antoine Daigneault, and vocalist/guitarist Claude Ledec.
Whilst the band sit firmly in the left field craziness of Voivod, there are many other influences which are soaked deep into this release. If you like the technical style of Atheist, Meshuggah and Decapitated, as well as Voivod, this is an album that should be on your list. 8/10

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Reviews: The Infernal Sea, Almost Dead, Drip Fed Empire, Stone Horns (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings, James Jackson & GC)

The Infernal Sea - Hellfenlic (Candlelight Records) [Matt Bladen]

The running joke I have with my wife is that the black metal Plague Doctors in The Infernal Sea are her father’s favourite band. This is because they were playing Fuel while her parents were visiting and her dad made his way to the front rocked out and has a picture of himself with the band playing in the background. Now they aren’t into metal that much but loved the visual element, however I actually really like The Infernal Sea and their medieval black metal so I was excited when their fourth album dropped in my inbox. 

Only three years since their last record, the band from East Of England, continue to spread their plague ridden extreme metal, evolving from the often restrictive black metal format with some black n roll/thrash tenacity, folk metal dramatics (the strings on Messenger Of God) and a rawness that has got them comparisons such as Immortal and Wode. Hellfenlic translates from Olde English to “a fen of hell” and concerns the scourge of anyone considered to be a little different in a pious society, The Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins. Brutal, sadistic and fanatical in his devotion to the Church, he is the ultimate villain for anyone who is anti-religion. 

This album is a concept album that deals with Hopkins’ life, devotion, sadism and ultimately his downfall, filtered through gnarly black metal riffs, blastbeats and scarred vocals from D.L. As Lord Abhorrent shouts at you to “speak now and make peace with your god” the scene is set for a torrid journey through the deeds of a psychopath. Shadow Of The Beast isn’t as evil as you’d think as there’s even some clean vocals in between the blasting from J.B behind the kit. With Witchfinder, The Infernal Sea almost move towards Cathedral’s tribute to Hopkins as C.R’s bass leads the marching groove with J.E’s guitar playing nearer to stoner/doom than black metal, The Bastard Of The East does the same with grimy sludge as Black Witchery takes on some punk trappings ala Darkthrone or Motohead. 

Despite the raw and rough style favoured by The Infernal Sea, there’s an audio diversity on this album that stops it from being just blastbeat, hail Satan, repeat. Hellfenlic captures the horrors of fundamentalism, spewed forth through musical extremity. Whether they are still my father-in-law’s favourite band remains to be seen. 9/10

Almost Dead – Destruction Is All We Know (Innerstrength Records) [Paul Hutchings]

22 years since their formation, the anarchic chaos of Almost Dead’s hardcore / thrash metal continues at relentless pace. The Californians, led by sole original member in vocalist Tony Rolandelli are now on their sixth release, and with new bassist Felix Portillio now on board, they return with Destruction Is All We Know.

It’s a challenging listen in many ways, with the hardcore vocals not my personal cuppa but there’s no doubting the power, energy, and drive of the band. There’s no subtlety in Almost Dead’s delivery. Harsh, jagged thrash riffs are propelled by machine gun drumming and over all of this, the rapping hardcore style singing that comes from deep within. Occasionally a bit of a solo explodes from the melee, and this gives it even more affinity with thrash.

Tracks like opener Warheads In The Sky, the raging Nightmare Coming, and the punishing Brutal Devotion leave little to the imagination. It’s a crossover assault on the aural cavities, and one that works with a combination of well-crafted songs and raw power. It’s certainly well played, with the chunky riffs and gang vocals very much in keeping with the band’s press photos.

If you want some nasty thrash with a vicious crossover edge, then Almost Dead are a band well worth checking out. Over 20 years into their career, there is still plenty of fire in the tank. 7/10

Drip Fed Empire - Revolutionist (Self Released) [James Jackson]

The opening track of any album is similar in nature to that of the blurb on the back of a book, the trailer for the latest upcoming Hollywood blockbuster and as such lets the audience know what they’re about to get themselves into, choosing to make that opening statement sound like a million voices enduring pain, suffering and eternal damnation is a bold move for certain.

After the hellish intro that was Wandering SoulGive Me More opens with a sample working its way steadily beneath a pulsing drumbeat and crunchy riff, this gives way to the verse, which takes an unexpected step back but it’s the chorus that hits hard and understandably that’s the point, that opening riff is back and used to good effect.

MK4 contains an interlude of which I’m completely oblivious to which genre it may belong to; the important question is - does it work ? And it does, out of the distorted guitar comes a section that would obviously be very much at home at a nightclub or rave, whatever it is, it works and when the guitars are added it only compliments that sound further.

The Work Of God and Digital Drug follow, both further examples of Drip Fed Empire’s ability to blend electronic influences and guitar riffs that are as crushing as they are groove ridden. Systemreset is 3 minutes worth of filler, an ambient, potentially futuristic, post apocalyptic message that does little for the album though it does blend into the penultimate track, Arcane, probably the most metalcore song upon the album.

Last but not least is Invaders, by now the formula is familiar and this track doesn’t veer too far from the template that’s been steadfastly written in the previous songs.

Drip Fed Empire aren’t pulling any punches with their blend of Industrial tinged metalcore, Revolutionist is a sample heavy assault of angsty political rhetoric that aims to follow in the footsteps of Enter Shikari, Rage Against The Machine and Bring Me The Horizon. 6/10

Stone Horns - Chimaira (Rockshots Records) [GC]

First review of the new year comes in the form of Stone Horns and their 3rd album Chimaira described in the pre-release info as ‘’Groove Death Metal’’ but then in the same sentence is also listed as for fans of Machine Head, Slipknot and Jinjer among others, and I don’t know about you but none of these class as any form of death metal to me? I’m not really sure this lot know exactly what type of sound they are aiming for but it’s up to me to find out!

What becomes instantly clear to me on opener Grasping The Embers Of Exile and its gargantuan 7:51 run time is that there is clearly a misunderstanding about what death metal is, because here what we get is a mix of some standard sounding groove metal and the more fashionable updated take on nu-metal that seems to be creeping back into our lives and the vocalist really grasps onto that nu-metal types style and it feels like he’s trying maybe too hard to be different and it doesn’t pay off, it already feels like it may over before if even begins for me and I can feel that this may end up being hard work! 

No Mercy is mercifully shorter but does nothing to convince me there is going to be much I enjoy on this album, because this is as Slipknot sounding as you can be without being called Slipknot but I can’t class this as a compliment because it just feels so blatantly done that I just can’t hear anything else, and it already feels that like Stone Horns are lacking any fresh ideas and are just want to get the album done and released.

Now Terra Genesis does actually have a good riff in it, FINALLY and when its used correctly it gives the song a nice depth which has been missing so far but it quickly somehow manages to dive straight back into the standard ‘’groove metal’’ and when the decent riff does end up getting used again it feels like it’s just been chucked back in and now seems to be overused and gets slightly repetitive, but this does at least show some promise that when they want to they can crack out something worth your time! Then we get Age Of Chimairas which highlights why the vocals are not for me, the rhythms, melodies, and delivery all just seem thrown together and unfocused and they quickly become the only thing I can concentrate on which is a shame because for the most part the actual music behind them sounded ok! 

Then out of nowhere and to be fair to Stone Horns, Chrysalis is actually a decent song and easily the best on here and feels like it could actually be building on something with some nicely done guitar work and it does actually try to be a bit death metal for a bit which is a nice bonus but then towards the end it just sort of drifts away but again it does show something that has been sorely missing so far. I now have to be completely honest and admit that I have really tried my best to listen to both In the Clutches Of The Abyss and Echoes Of Fallen Empire all the way through (I tried twice) but, honestly, I just couldn’t get through both of them to see if I could pick out any more redeeming qualities from either, they both just sounded disappointing and like everything else that was on offer here!

So, I guess it will come as no surprise that I didn’t like this album very much! It all just felt very phoned in and didn’t inspire me in any way. If I were you to try and give any advice to Stone Horns, I would say just put the Slipknot albums away and try more to just be yourselves. If you were to ask me, I would obviously say have a listen and make your own mind up but ultimately for me there is nowhere near enough positive things to say about it barring that a couple of songs were good in places and then a riff in another song was also good but seriously that’s just nowhere near good enough for a band on their 3rd release, to me anyway! 3/10

Reviews: Mountain Caller, Sovereign, Kill The Thrill, Hyloxalus (Reviews By Mark Young, Paul Hutchings, Patches & Matt Bladen)

Mountain Caller - Chronicle II: Hypergenesis (Church Road Records) [Mark Young]

Now I’ve got to tell you that I am excited for this. I heard The Archivist last year as part of a pre-order for this and have avoided any further songs until this week. I also had the pleasure of seeing them live in Manchester with Tribe Of Ghosts and Urne in December and they were just amazing.

Chronicle II is everything i thought it would be, its heavy when it needs to be, melodic and subtle elsewhere. There is so much going on it will take repeated listens to fully absorb everything which is the mark of a great release. In a week where I’ve reviewed a compilation of ten years work, technical death metal, Uber-technical death metal and avant-garde post metal, this is acting as the greatest palate cleanser of all time.

Daybreak begins with a calming guitar that soon is swallowed by the first of many great riffs as they start their journey that takes us on so many different places, it’s a fantastic start, as it ebbs and flows and keeps you engaged right the way through. There is a clear plan in each song as each progression within them is organic and alive. The closing riff in Daybreak is a smasher, as is the bass opener in The Archivist (which made it onto my SOTY list for 2023) and is a stunning piece of music. Their ability to find balance and use it to build in those quiet and subtle parts and BANG drop a killer riff in which is somehow better than everything that came before it.

Dead Language vocals included!! Delivered in a way that seamlessly fits in what has come before, and the accompanying press doesn’t note who (Claire or El) is handling the vocals this is a barnstormer. There is a quality break at around 3 minutes where the three of them are in unison with rising drum pattern from Max that suddenly falls away to allow an impassioned vocal drop that ushers yet another prime riff and used so effectively. Into The Hazel Woods offers an emotional solo over a gently plucked riff and then they do it again with a stomper of a riff that now carries you forward. The interplay between guitar and bass is superb as it changes direction again, this time the three of them moving forward as they narrate a story without words. 

March Of The Göll, released as a single is just sublime. It’s got so much going on that if you play guitar, bass etc you could have so much fun playing along to it (yes, I still play along to music. Bite me). Final song, Hypergenesis has the honour of bringing the curtain down. If you imagine taking the content of the songs that preceded it and distilling them into a mould, then you would have this. It plays out like a victory lap in that in has that ascending, happy feel to it. They really squeeze an awful lot into this and it’s an epic, epic track. It could be used in film, its that good.

To put it simply, Mountain Caller have dropped one of the earliest contenders for inclusion onto AOTY lists. There will be undoubtably other instrumental albums but there won’t be another one like this. The craft on display is top notch, the songs stellar with performances to match. It requires that you give it your undivided attention and in doing so will reward you with an experience that takes in the light, the dark, the heavy and the soft. They can write music that will tick every box you need and do it at a supreme level. 

I understand that music without vocals may not be to everyone’s taste, and I get that because instrumentals do get a bad rap for being overlong, overblown but not here. Here they have got everything right, and what’s more they can back this up in a live setting. I’m telling you that if you get chance to catch them live – DO IT. Get this album because it is essential. 10/10

Sovereign – Altered Realities (Dark Descent Records) [Paul Hutchings]

There’s something decidedly old school about the debut album by Norwegian death thrashers Sovereign. Just one listen to the opening track, Altered Reality provides the answer. This is a band who clearly drink deep at the well of Death, Morbid Angel, Sodom, Kreator and Entombed. It’s frantic stuff, with second track Futile Dreams providing evidence that these guys can shred for fun. The music is claustrophobic, suffocating, harrowing. Dark, atmospheric, yet with the lacerating impact of a bat studded with rusted nails. If Lucille, the bat used by Negan in The Walking Dead had a soundtrack, it would be this album.

Vocalist / bassist Gravskjender has a delivery that is fitting for the gnarly savage style the band play. He’s been dragged up from the depths of hell, with a roar that sends shivers down the spine. A hybrid blend of old school influences it may be, but with only two of the band even born when the likes of Pleasure To Kill and Agent Orange were released, there’s a pleasing technicality that surges through the songs. Tommy Jacobsen’s slicing lead guitar bursts scream with energy and dynamism, whilst the drumming of drummer Cato Syversrud, a veteran of several other bands is tightly wound, driving each song forward.

It might be a little stereotypical in layout, such as the Testament style intro to The Enigma Of Intelligence, (think Eerie Inhabitants) but there’s no doubting the intensity and relentless aural assault that Sovereign present. There are changes in tempo, slower, riff heavy sections that interchange with visceral explosions of full-on thrash metal, all rolled up in five filthy minutes.

They save the best til last though. The epic ten-minute sprawl of Absence Of Unity is well crafted and retains all the sheer aggression that the band have poured into every other second here. It’s raw yet contains progressive elements that work. Slower segments piece together with more gritty and feral parts, especially towards the end as the track slows to a doom-laden outro.

An album that will appeal to those who want their metal with a nasty edge, there is plenty more to come from Sovereign, and I will be keeping a keen eye and ear out for future releases. 7/10

Kill The Thrill - Autophagie (Season Of Mist) [Patches]

France continues to produce a high calibre of interesting, unique, experimental bands. I’m fairly certain if you went through the last five or so years and picked out the bands that genuinely surprised me with originality at least 67% of them would be French. Autophagie by band Kill The Thrill is a fascinating compound made up of elements of industrial rock, ambient goth, dark new wave, post-punk, post-rock, experimental metal and dreamy abrasive mesmerising soundscape.

It’s all about creating an atmosphere that invites or perhaps dares the listener to immerse themselves in. An atmosphere that opposes convention, both harsh and beautiful, enticing yet dangerous, familiar though abstract. The compact short nature of this review is a testament to this works, as the album feels like a journey one needs to experience themselves. Perhaps bring a medicine man, witchdoctor or shaman along with you as they make this tranquil and turbulent trip feel like some kind of spiritual experience. 

As their first studio album in 19 years Autophagie serves as a triumphant return for Kill The Thrill. Listing some of their influences as Swans, Godflesh, Killing Joke and The Young Gods may give you an inkling of what to expect. A high recommendation for fans of dark atmospheric soundscape, post-rock/punk and melancholic shoegaze. 9/10

Hyloxalus - Make Me The Heart Of The Black Hole (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Canadians Hyloxalus have been called Fear Factory/SYL meets Tristania and they are very much both of those bands combined. Dark power metal that edges to industrial metal and melodeath but forgoing the death vocals for a full power soprano. I'll say the drumming is great but unfortunately the rest leaves me a bit cold, the vocals stay the same with little variation to them, while the music feels processed, possibly as it's all one guy with the exception of the drums. 

It does benefit from having a real drummer but it wasn't until Undead In Ward 6 and Sailors Underneath The Waves where the theatrics and gothic parts came in that I paid a little more than just lip service. I can understand the talent here but I just couldn't get into the record the way someone else would, when they slowed down it was better but I felt it was a little one note. 5/10