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Thursday 29 February 2024

Reviews: Ministry, Suicidal Angels, Tiger On Opium, Messiah (Reviews By Rich Piva, Matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings & Mark Young)

Ministry - HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES (Nuclear Blast Records) [Rich Piva]

Three bands really shaped my listening habits and ultimately changed my life when it comes to my heavy music love today. First, was hearing Slayer, Seasons In The Abyss. Next was The Misfits collection. Third, and probably the most profound experience was hearing Ministry’s In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. Up until that point I had no idea music could be that intense, that scary, that heavy, not just in what was being played but what came with it. I have never been blown away by an album like I was by In Case

Uncle Al and I have been on a life journey together, through lots of ups and downs, (talking musically now, call my therapist for other stuff) with more ups that downs, but some serios musical bumps along the way. It would be impossible for Al to recreate the lightning in a bottle of In Case and The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, or the huge platinum success (without ever compromising on the heavy) of Psalm 69, or even the sludgy FU of Filth Pig

So, to expect that would be unreasonable, but what I long for with a new Ministry album is something different and something unique that will stand out from the more recent good but not great output. Well, here we are in 2024, Uncle Al is still really pissed (and happily still alive) and brings us the best Ministry record in decades with HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES.

B.D.E. opens us up with a Psalm 69 leaning vibe. A heavy, slow burn with well-placed samples, and multiple vocal styles, this could have been a B-Side from 1992. Did I mention slow burn, yeah it is until we suddenly go all hardcore on your ass. B.D.E. goes in all sorts of heavy and wonderful directions. 

Goddamn White Trash reminds me of one of the better more recent Ministry tracks, with that breakneck tempo and signature Al vocals. Al has been extremely political over the past three decades and this continues here. Tread lightly if you lean a certain way. More political discourse is the theme of Just Stop Oil, which is another solid late period Ministry track that does harken back to some old school tendencies, especially during the bridge. 

Aryan Embarrassment is in Test Grand Wizard from TMIATTTT vocal style and chugs along nicely embarrassing all those Nazi assholes that are out there today. TV Song…remember TV Song and TV II from the Jesus Build My Hotrod single and Psalm 69? This is a continuation of those rippers, and I am here for it. New Religion is unfortunately not a Duran Duran cover, but it is my favourite track on HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES, as we have Al, in trademarked Ministry mid-tempo form, adding harmonies to the chorus with glorious results. 

You want Ministry unplugged? Well enjoy the first half of the acoustic driven, but still with those Ministry vocals on It’s Not Pretty, before the heavy kicks in and that extremely distinct Ministry sound hits you. Did I say distinct Ministry, because there is saxophone and female vocals to accompany all the samples. Could I have done without Cult Of Suffering? Yup. Ricky’s Hand however is an 80s style synth driven surprise that closes out HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES surprising perfectly.

HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES is still a later period Ministry record, but it is for sure one of the best ones since the turn of the century. New Religion and B.D.E. alone make this some high-level Ministry material. Could this have been a bit shorter? Probably. Will the politics be too much for some? Yes, but those people should not be listening to Ministry anyway. Ministry fans should be very happy here, as HOPIUMFORTHEMASSES delivers more than we could hope for in 2024. 8/10

Suicidal Angels - Profane Prayer (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Started in 2001 when Nick Melissourgos (vocals/guitars) was just 16, Profane Prayer is the eighth album from Greek thrash metal band Suicidal Angels, four years since their last album Years Of Aggression they return with some more aggressive thrash metal that owes more to the Teutonic style and the second wave American one. Think Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and Exodus. Spurred on by associations and patronage by Sakis Tolis and Mille Petrozza, they have climbed the ranks to become one the Hellenic scenes most prizes metal bands. 

Profane Prayer isn't your typical thrash release though due in part to Nick's voracious appetite for books, especially the philosophy of Plato, Nietzsche and Socrates along with a healthy dollop of Edgar Allan Poe. Teaming up with Fotis Bernardo and Jens Borgen to bring in a wider range of influences that sees them base themselves in thrash on Purified By Fire, but explore melodeath on When The Lions Die, prog metal and cinematic tendencies on Deathstalker which features Sakis Tolis, Efthimis Karadimas (Nightfall) and Fotis Benardo behind the mic, though it's Nick's gruff voice that keeps the thrash alive along with his rhythm playing. 

Gus Drax's lead guitar lightning strikes are brought forth as much as possible, shredding through the metallic riffage that's the realm of Nick, Angelos Lelikakis (bass) and Orfeas Tzortzopoulos (drums), as effective on thrashers such as The Return Of The Reaper as they are on the epic last cut The Paths Of Fate. On their eighth album Suicidal Angels, display their experience but also their ability to think outside of the thrash template. 8/10

Tigers On Opium – Psychodrama (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Hutchings]

When you see a band are signed to Heavy Psych Sounds, there’s not much doubt about what you’re going to get. Tigers On Opium bring ten tracks of stoner drenched psych rock that is certainly worthy of a listen if you are fan of the genre. 

I don't think for one minute that they do anything mind-blowing, but they certainly do what they do well. With a settled line-up, the band now comprise founders Juan Carlos Caceres (producer / Vocalist /Guitarist), drummer / multi-instrumentalist Nare Wright, and more recently guitarist Jeanot-Lewis Rolland and bassist Charlie Hodge.
The tracks roll along in four-minute blasts, the rolling vibes maintaining trippy and engaging sound that keeps the interest. Three songs of similar style quickly bring the album to the boil, the opening Ride Or DieBlack Mass and Diabolique all heavy on the riff. It’s intoxicating stuff, catchy and full of groove that gets the head nodding and the feet taping.
Things slow down a lit on the psychedelic trip that is Retrovertigo. A calmer, gentle meander through time, it’s a track that works as effectively as the three that precede it. Intricate and melancholic, it’s the perfect foil for what follows, the rampant drive of Sky Below My Feet, which is propelled forward by Hodge’s bass

At times you can lose yourself within this album. The powerful vibe of Paradise Lost is followed by the album’s most interesting song, Radioactive. At over seven-minutes in length, it’s the longest track here, and exudes a real retro flavour. There’s a nod to Zeppelin as the song slows before a single guitar takes the track to its conclusion. 

There’s another spiritual journey before the end as well. The psychedelic Separation Of The Mind clocks in just shy of seven-minutes, and it’s another fine trip to enjoy as the album comes to an end with a reprise of the opening song Ride Of Die.
I’ll be honest, this didn’t set my world on fire. It did, however, make for a fine hour of listening, and playing it several times to spend a bit of time with it wasn’t a chore. It’s an album that I think will get better on repeated plays, and I’d certainly recommend a visit to make up your own mind. 7/10

Messiah - Christus Hypercubus (High Roller Records) [Mark Young]

Switzerland! Home to Heidi, Neutrality, incredible chocolate, and extreme music that would stop a (Swiss) clock. Ahem.

Messiah have been active since 1984 which puts them right at the start of the fledgling extreme scene that included Hellhammer and later became Celtic Frost. They went on hiatus after 1994’s Underground saw them reform in 2018. A new album, Fracmont came along in 2020 before OG vocalist Andy Kaina left in late 2021, leaving them to regroup and refocus, taking on new singer Marcus Seebach to move forward once more.

For my sins, I knew nothing about them before this album, which is something I’m about to put right now. And it’s a bit of all right, Sikhote Alin exploding with an absolute belter of a riff that has that old school flavour to it as it, the musical battery is front and centre, right up to the demanded solo break which is delivered in a tasteful and restrained way. The riff is king here and it is on point, possessing that authenticity that comes from having been there and done that.

Christus Hypercubus takes the baton and runs with it, offering a speedier run via those trem-picking verse moments. The main riff itself is an exercise in simplicity, it's not complicated but does exactly what it needs to which is to give space for the more instrumental middle moments. That space is key, giving the song the necessary room to be engaging and show that they are certainly not stuck in the past with ideas and execution.

A frantic opening solo kicks Once Upon A Time…Nothing Off, with that high pace running through it. It has that early death metal build to it, and it is a welcome blast from a band having fun, which bleeds through the speakers. Speedsucker Romance, sorry it didn’t vibe with me. Next.

They are back on track with Centipede Bite, It is rapid, with some more top-level riffology plus quality solo and they there again maintaining that high level of songcraft that has been on display here and with Soul Observatory, its main riff sounding like the Munsters with added triplets. It's raucous and a real blast.

Acid Fish is another one that combines different riff structures to great effect, moving constantly and never settling in one lane. It's another display from a band who know how to put things together and are not afraid to take from their past to move forward now. The Venus Baroness I and The Venus Baroness II close out, with part 1 just going for it, extended solos, heads down fast moments, and of course prime riffs but could probably been trimmed a little. Part 2 heads down a more mid-tempo route, which throws in some melodic flourishes as it makes its way to the end.

This is a strong, strong outing from them. Students of extreme metal will know about them, but others like me probably won’t do. This is a perfect introduction to a band that has rediscovered it’s love for the music and now want to share that with you. It works on almost every song; I won’t lie I just didn’t dig Speedsucker Romance due to it not sitting well with the other songs. Each one has that quality build to it; riffs are everywhere and there is some real magic when they opt to pull back with gentler moments in the run-up to solo breaks such as in Soul Observatory

It’s a welcome addition to metal in 2024. In terms of a score, it is a difficult one because overall it’s a good listen. Some of the songs probably run a little too long if I’m being totally honest despite those class riffs. Despite that, I think that fans of the band will welcome this with open arms. For the uninitiated, give them a spin!! 7/10

Reviews: Pantheïst, Clouds Taste Satanic, Azell, Defocus (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, Mark Young & GC)

Pantheïst – Kings Must Die (Melancholic Realm Productions) [Matt Bladen]

In 2023 veteran atmospheric doom band Pantheïst returned to the live stage after moving from London to South Wales, though they were formed in Belgium. Founding member Kostas Panagiotou put together a new band featuring Matt Strangis (bass), Atanas Kyurkchiev (guitars), Fanel Lefterache (drums) to play shows around the UK and into Europe too. One such show was their historic appearance at Organic Doom Vol I where they played a set at Huddersfield Town Hall accompanied by the pipe organ of David Pipe. It was covered in numerous articles including The Guardian and the BBC. 

With this renewed interest and buzz around the band they entered the recording studio with soprano vocalist Linda Dumitru (now a member of the live band too) to record a brand new 49 minute opus entitled Kings Must Die. Joining Linda and Kostas on vocals is Jake Harding of Grave Lines and on guitars is Jeremy Lewis of Mesmur, these two additional players joining well with the first recording from the Cardiff based line up of the band. 

The song itself is a study on the current political climate, the rise of the right and the massive divides in wealth all inspiring this bold, elongated piece that whirls between slabs of funeral doom, aggressive black metal barbs and Floydian esotericism, the contrast between Kostas’ and Jakes’ harsh and clean voices and Linda’s soaring angelic soprano adds a new dynamic to the already layered sound of the band. 

Following on from the gargantuan Strange Times on Closer To God was always going to be difficult but this monolithic number is worth the price of entry alone. However there’s more as also included is the entire three song sermon they performed at Organic Doom Vol I, recorded/mixed/mastered by Mark Mynett, from the spine-tingling 1000 Years, to the classic O Solitude culminating in Strange Times, the chit chat is short, the songs are long and the pipe organ reigns supreme, making for a perfect recreation of the vent as you can feel it course through your veins even without being in the same room. 

Kings Must Die looks to be the beginning of the next chapter in the Pantheïst prayer book, come and worship soon. 9/10

Clouds Taste Satanic - 79 A.E. (Majestic Mountain Records) [Rich Piva]

As I have mentioned before in reviews, I usually do not go for the instrumental bands on the regular, but when I do, it will mostly be either some version of the guys in Yawning Man or my number one option, the instrumental doom masters from New York’s Clouds Taste Satanic. 

I have never once been disappointed by a CTS release, and their new one, 79 A.E, is no exception. 79 A.E. brings two twenty-plus minutes of outstanding instrumental doom, with all the riffs you would expect and that innate ability to tell a story with their music and no need for pesky lyrics that will only distract from the expertly executed doomy goodness.

Side A, Collision, is a master class in how to weave a narrative without words. Starting with some cool atmospheric dual guitar action, CTS takes us on an intergalactic journey with all sorts of killer axe work along side of that heavy and steady rhythm section. Around the four-minute mark is when it really kicks in and the fuzzy solo blasts you off until you hit the ground and get attacked by those riffs. 

The atmosphere and vibe the band creates is like no other band in their space, just check out the ten-minute mark to see what I mean. I love around the eighteen-minute mark where the chunky riffs give way to the more delicate guitar work before the heaviness brings us home. Never too much or too repetitive, the twenty-one minutes fly by and before you know it you are at the second leg of the journey, Reclamation.

A nice, evil riff opens us up on side two, easing us in with a nice slow burner and more of that killer doom atmosphere. Around five minutes we start to feel a shift, led by some more of that chunky riffing, but riffs along side so more sprawling guitar work. The interaction there is just masterful. You get almost Cantrell like riffs in this one, which I know will delight many. Those space vibes really kick in about halfway through and is probably my favourite part of the record. Or is it the fuzzier parts around twelve minutes? Hard to know, because 79 A.E. is filled with my favourite parts.

79 A.E. is an album that when I have no idea what to listen to is always going to be my default, because every time I hear something different, and it allows me to sit back and really clear my mind with only the riffs and the doomy fuzz to consider. I can’t imagine Clouds Taste Satanic not having the instrumental album of the year and 79 A.E. being one of if not the most played album of 2024 for your reviewer. Another instrumental doom masterpiece from Clouds Taste Satanic. 9/10

Azell - Death Control (Rottweiler Records) [Mark Young]

Azell are a duo consisting of vocalist Courteney Napier and David Napier. Between them, they hold down the bass, drums and guitar (with David noted as guitars) on their debut release due out on the 1st of March. There is a telling quote from Science-fiction master Harlan Ellison which has really piqued my interest here (if you don’t know who this is, there are online sources available. Especially where the origin of The Terminator may have come from).

Taken from I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream “surrounded by madness, surrounded by hunger, surrounded by everything but death, I knew death was our only way out” this hopefully points to a great addition to the genre.

So, no pressure.

Death Control Is positively dripping in some of the filthiest sludge, Courteney’s vocals are everything they promised they would be, roaring their way through the opening track which is just so dense that light will not escape it.

The cosmic feel comes in on A-M, a simple but deadly effective riff dominating the opening measures. Accompanying synths paint that picture of an outer world, pinned back by those vocals once more. It takes that sludge/doom approach and squeezes the life out of it, with constricting bends before it loops back to allow those synths to come in again. Its as dark as it comes, and Scud announces itself with a riff that could split rock. Not content to simply offer super low guitar they give this more life by adding sonic textures to it that flash in and out it shows that they have a unique handle on their music and how they want it to go. 

Changes in pattern are subtle and do enough to keep you engaged with this instrumental which really evokes a feeling of outer space. Being able to tell a story without words is incredibly hard to do so obviously Apocalypse Verdict goes the opposite way with dual vocals trading off as it starts. The vocal delivery from both actually carries this one across, allowing the music to bubble along underneath, supporting until it reaches its natural climax. Its cracking stuff and suddenly we are half-way through the album.

On Chemical Chains, David is up first, setting us up for Courteney to come in and batter. Those little sonic textures are utilised again, filling the space as those anguished vocals continue to lay waste. It lurches into life with some speedy drumming which just creeps up on you. I must mention that this is one of the key parts on show, there is some fantastic stuff going on here behind the kit, propelling the songs forward without going over the top. 

Cosmic Requiem is a fine example of that drumming approach, those little fills here and there adding to the massive sound they have. This is one of those things I love where a band just messes with expectations of what they should sound like. Yes, it’s sludge, yes, it's doom but they are having fun with it and by that end so are you.

Wallow continues that game, with background noise that sounds like a radio that it is receiving a message but isn’t tuned in properly. It brings in that cosmic idea once more and is a fine instrumental that leads us into the speedy End It All. This one comes straight out of the left field, vocals straining, guitar banging with an urgent (for doom) tempo, its incredibly short but sweet.

You Failed Me goes back to that blackened goodness with riffs unfolding that are supernaturally slow but venom-laced lyrics that are just spat out and then the final song, Echoes Of Eternity with that fuzz-laced tone and a bell ringing out as for the last time they fill out the space with noise and close out proceedings nicely.

One of the things that hit quite quickly is how each song manages to make you think they are speeding along despite that glacial pace. The vocals are spot on, both offering a distinct counterpoint to the other whilst combining with the lead-heavy riffs they are churning out for fun. For me, this is one of those releases that should pick up a lot of interest in the coming months. 

In terms of sludge/doom, it is a fantastic addition to that genre, and they do a lot of things that others don’t seem to grasp. One of those things is to write songs that move, that are not content to have one riff repeated forever. They show that they are not scared to do what feels right to them and it is exceptional stuff, a brave and engaging debut 8/10

Defocus - There Is A Place for Me On Earth (Arising Empire) [GC]

After forming back in 2019 and getting a few live performances in the locker Defocus like many other bands were thrown off track by that mildly inconvenient global pandemic thing that happened, they did manage to work through this and get a debut album released in 2021 and now they are gearing up to release their new album, There Is a Place for Me on Earth and this is what I will be listening to today!

It all starts with Let The Bond Be My Grave and as is the case with most metalcore bands these days there is a heavily electronic/digital sound to what is coming out of the speakers and when the vocals start it all starts to feel very industrial and it’s all very mid paced and doesn’t really do much for me if I am honest? Biased does at least pick the speed up and starts with some frantic drumming but then drops back into more industrial/nu-metal-tinged style, one thing I know for sure is that it is most definitely not metalcore, we do get some interesting time changes, and some of the electronics worked into the song are decent but nothing spectacular. 

Watch Me Bleed then ramps up the nu-metal influence to 1000 and has the down tuned chugging riffs mixed with clean vocals intertwining with more electronics and it huffs and puffs but never really does much of note, Consumed By You is more of the same really chugging riffs fed through electronic filters it does its best to make you want to be angry but just doesn’t carry enough weight behind it to fully force their message home and the breakdown that is just randomly and forcefully tagged on at the end is best worth avoiding. 

Crooked Mind gets us to the halfway mark and is a mish mash of mostly atmospheric walls of sound and clean vocals and they feel the need to add more of the standard nu-metal guitar work in here which in all honesty could have been left out and this would have been a good song but as it is it just is sort of ok. Don’t Let It Hurt You is actually embarrassing to listen to, it’s got some god awful, rapped verses and has the standard angry chorus thrown in and I’m a bit lost as to who though this track would be a good idea, a definite skip if I ever have heard one! Hybrid Anthem is then a completely unnecessary minute of electronic noises that is another flabbergasting musical choice and should 100% not have been marked as a track of its own? 

…To Not Feel Anything FINALLY gets the mix right and doesn’t feel forced or frustrating to listen to it has got a good pace to it and the vitriol actually feels right and it’s a furious and unhinged attack from start to finish and the only real problem with it is that it has come this late in the album! Flatlines then instantly drops the pace right back down and stunts any spectacular end to the album as it’s just a frustrating and ultimately boring song that does precisely nothing for 3 minutes!? 

Some of the musical choices that have been made on this album are so frustrating and so it come down to title track There Is a Place For Me On Earth to close the album out and they again choose to finally hit the right marks with this song and the industrial tones mix in nicely with the more ‘’core’’ elements of the sound, the clean vocals do slightly miss the mark on the chorus but is a good way to end at least. 

This was a massively frustrating album to listen to and review because most of the time I can hear what they are trying to do and at times they do succeed with it by creating dark, brooding and menacing tracks but there are unfortunately so many ill-advised musical choices taken with the styles that all the good work is cancelled out and I just ultimately feel confused and disappointed at what I have heard. 4/10

Reviews: Bruce Dickinson & Blaze Bayley (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Bruce Dickinson - The Mandrake Project (BMG)

Bruce Dickinson has always had a flair for the dramatic, whether it's the costumes in Iron Maiden, his love of the macabre, the TV shows about Spontaneous Human Combustion. He's always been theatrical part of Britain's biggest metal band. This is always been obvious of you've listened to any of his solo albums, starting with the two featuring Adrian Smith, Accident Of Birth and The Chemical Wedding (influenced by Aleister Crowley and William Blake) and continuing with Tyranny Of Souls, his last solo record released in 2005. There he was joined by guitarist/producer Roy Z, drummer Dave Moreno and keyboard player Mistheria and now nearly 20 years later Dickinson's latest solo venture, The Mandrake Project sees him reunited with this trio for a multimedia, conceptual record that is swamped in drama and theatricality. 

Just 10 tracks tell this story of power abuse and the occult, the detailed filled out by the comic series that will accompany the album, set for 12 quarterly issues. Of course these songs have been in gestation for a long time, Dickinson is a busy man, and like with his first solo record there is a cross over between this exploration craft and the Maiden Mothership. On Tattooed Millionaire he recorded Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter, it was picked up by The Irons, re-recorded and gave them their only number one. On The Mandrake Project there's a song named Eternity Has Failed which is a slightly different (shorter) version of If Eternity Should Fail that appears on 2015's Book Of Souls

Clearly an album with a long production history behind it, the songs never seem too ott, they all keep reasonably good time, making for an enjoyable if not a little brief listening period. Though Dickinson has said he’s already working on a new record so it could be just the first part of a bigger project. Co-written with Roy Z, first single The Afterglow Of Ragnarok, gallops like a Amon Amarth-like Viking metal, more down-tuned than anything Maiden would do but with some musical similarities, though Bruce’s Air Raid Siren goes into a growl at some points, Many Doors To Hell, is back on familiar territory, though with big hard rock organs>

That flair for the dramatic coming on Rain On The Graves and Western soundtracks are heard on Resurrection Men as Mistress Of Mercy had to be considered to be a Maiden album opener at some point. The Mandrake Project is a welcome return after 20 years to the solo side of Bruce Dickinson, let’s hope the next one doesn’t take as long! 8/10

Blaze Bayley – Circle Of Stone (Self Released)

In recent years, with Absolva doubling as his main tour support and backing band Blaze Bayley has been churning out brilliant solo albums, in between relentless bouts of touring with this band and Wolfsbane, he’s very much in a purple patch but all of that almost came to a screeching halt while touring War Within Me, as Blaze suffered heart attack in 2023, requiring a quadruple bypass. However ‘The Man Who Would Not Die’ is now back in fine fettle with his eighth album under the Blaze Bayley banner (he’s released albums as Blaze too), entitled Circle In Stone, the cover art depicts massive stone totems ala Stonehenge, so perhaps you'd expect some Spinal Tap silliness but no, the 60 year old still has the power and pathos of singers half his age. 

On these twelve tracks we’re treated to more anthemic heavy metal, tinged with some introspection at times (The Broken Man) but mostly delivered with the big boisterous voice of Bayley. Yes bits of it sound like Maiden (Ghost In The Bottle), the Appleton brothers, Chris and Luke, peeling off those gorgeous dual harmonies, but that’s what the public want but just a homage, this is retro styled metal that comes from all over the place, from the blustering hard rock of Wolfsbane (Mind Reader), the more grandiose prog elements brought in on the Infinite Entanglement trilogy (A Day Of Reckoning) and also some thrashy speed metal on the title track which features guest vocals and guitar from Niklas Stalvind of Swedes Wolf, though he pops up a few times. Drummer Martin McNee punishes his kit as Karl Schramm doubles down on the riffs with his bass. 

With tracks such as Rage and Absence bringing the heavy metal thunder, a song such as Until We Meet Again is the complete flipside, using acoustic guitars, reminding me of his collaboration with Thomas Zwijsen, though here there are female vocals and violin for some folk balladry to close out Circle Of Stone. Bayley’s ability to tell a story through music is what has endeared him to his loyal fanbase and this set of tracks have been forged by adversity and determination, taking a more emotional route through some self-reflection. 8/10

Wednesday 28 February 2024

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

Tesseract, Unprocessed & The Callous Daoboys, O2 Academy, Bristol 

An evening of tech metal in Bristol's worst venue, may not be everyone's idea of heaven but it's probably going to be one of the only times I come to this venue this year so for what was going to be an epic show I can make that sacrifice. Arriving early after work, I managed to squeeze in a pint in The Hatchet before, narrowly missing James Monteith for a pint. Happily m'colleague behind the camera and our tog in arms arrived in earnest to keep me away from the Gen Z's that were crowding the bar. Through the airport level security at the venue to pick up or passes and make our way in position for the first band. 

First up was the experimental, intense, musical assault of The Callous Daoboys (8), a spoonerism of The Dallas Cowboys, probably because The Fatlanta Alcons doesn't work, this Georgia based unit bring breakdown heavy, mathcore where they blend nu-metal with emo, mixing The Dillinger Escape Plan with Botch, Linkin Park with Slipknot and adding lots of lead violin and interludes of Cascada and Neil Diamond to link the songs together, singer Carson Pace encouraging the crowd to go wild under the threat of doing horrible things to their mothers. A wild and incendiary live show, these Daoboys are much more fulfilling than anything Pilsbury can make.

While the openers were kinetic, bouncing and flailing to their songs, German djentists Unprocessed (8) were more static, the foursome exercising their fingers more than their bodies, though Manuel Gardner Fernandes looks like he puts the hours in at the gym. His vocals are brilliant as are David Levy's but the massed crowd here are here for the musicianship. Something Unprocessed brings in spades, Gardner Fernandes and Christoph Schultz's playing is otherworldly, free flowing melodic cleans that clash with the crushing tech metal breakdowns, technically impressive they have a blizzard of notes but never to the detriment to the songs. 

The two guitars in glorious union as the bass/synths of David Levy knits everything together with some expressive lines that are immensely technical but filled with groove. He's augmented by Leon Pfeifer behind the kit, a drummer who comes into his own when the power cut out in the last few minutes of their set, rendering their guitars silent. So a short drum solo took place before Manuel called the audible and finished with the last breakdown of the last show. The way they are able to cope with this shows a massive amount of maturity from this young band. 

Then the O2 Bristol filled, and filled and filled again, pushing towards the normal levels of overselling so synonymous with this venue. Sold out hours before they opened the doors, most of the dates on this tour were, Tesseract (10) have been steadily building themselves up over the course of 20 years(!), but more realistically since 2009, they have not only been busy inventing a genre but re-inventing it with their five studio albums and four EP's. 

The most recent was War Of Being which is their best record so far. It's been the album that has seen them elevate their song writing to a place where they manage to combine all of what they've done before but looking forward musically too. I gave it a glowing review and as soon as this tour in support was announced I needed to go as Tesseract have always been forward thinking, visually stunning and musically brilliant on a live stage so it was worth the trip. 

With the announcement a day later they are headlining Radar Festival this year, it may also prove to be the last time they play venues of this size as their stage show is already much mightier than these venues can contain with spinning light rigs, LED's galore and lots of space for movement, it makes for a kinetic show as Dan Tompkins takes his place as master of ceremonies. 

As the band took to the stage the opening blast of Natural Disaster one of five from War Of Being, the technical chug of James Monteith and Acle Kahney getting the metal flowing, switching between blissful melodies and heavy djent riffs, barefoot Amos Williams slamming his bass around to supply heavy grooves to earlier cuts such as Of Mind - Nocturne and the swelling throb to the newer offerings from War Of Being and Sonder which leant itself to four tracks. 

The way the set ebbs and flows is down to the whole band but Jay Postones' drumming guides the journey we are taken on for over an hour and a half. There's glorious sing-alongs, pits, constant motion in the crowd and phone lights in the air for the balladic moments, Tompkins' vocals are incredible, he's at one with the crowd, spending a lot of the time with the front row, displaying that rapport that the band have built with their audience. 

The main set closed with Juno, sending the crowd into a frenzy, which was repeated as they came back out to kick off their traditional encore of Concealing Fate Part 1 & 2, but gremlins reared their ugly heads again and Part 1: Acceptance had to restart but it didn't break the flow as these foundations of the djent genre pulsated through Bristol's O2 Academy. 

A triumphant night for a band destined for arenas bigger than this,  make sure to catch them headlining Radar this year, it's going to be special.

Reviews: Ace Frehley, Thorndale, Nemedian Chronicles, Dust Bolt (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Ace Frehley -10,000 Volts (MNRK) [Rich Piva]

I have been a Kiss fan since I was three years old, starting right after my great grandmother bought me a Kiss sleeping bag that I still own till this day. They have always been one of my favorite bands, with Ace Frehley being my favorite member. Ace’s history is well chronicled in the band, but to me he was one of the best and most unique players of the 1970s. 

Ace songs were always great and Rip It Out remains a top five Kiss song of mine of all time. I even dig the Frehley’s Comet stuff and he has had a pretty successful solo career renaissance over the last ten or so years. So yes, I am very excited for his new record, 10,000 Volts. Ace’s solo records are never perfect, and this one is not either, but the good is great, and conversely the bad is very bad.

Let’s start with the good. Ace’s voice sounds strong, and his playing is still excellent. The title track rocks and is super catchy. Walkin’ On The Moon offers a nice one two punch opening the album, with more great playing and a track that sounds like it could have been on Unmasked (this is a complement, do not take it any other way because Unmasked is awesome). 

Cosmic Heart is another good song, but here is where we hit some negatives. This album is way overproduced. The chorus of this one being the prime example. If they left the layers off the vocals here and just went with Ace’s unique delivery it would have been so much better. But that solo rips, so there’s that. 

Overall, 10,000 Volts is way too much when it comes to production, like Frontiers Records level of overproduction, and it does the songs an injustice. Cherry Medicine is next, and where I have been saying his vocals have been strong, this one is an exception. He sounds strange in the opening of this one, but it is still a nice catchy hard rock Ace style song, which you never want to be too serious in concept, so go and wear your black leather Cherry. I have no complaints with the ballad Back Into My Arms Again and Fightin’ For Life reminds me of when he would do his version of Hide Your Heart, so yeah, I dig it, and it kind of rips too. 

After this is where we have a total shit sandwich. Blinded is not good and is some kind of waring that science and technology is going to take over the world or something. This is Ace having some PTSD paranoia, I think. Whatever it is I would have left it off. Nine instead of eleven tracks would have been fine. What would be the other track I would have left on the cutting room floor you ask? Well, that is the absolute abomination that is Constantly Cute, which could possible be the worst song I have heard in the last five years. Cringy would not come close to what this song elicits. Whoever told him that this song was a good idea should be publicly shamed. I am shuddering just thinking about having to hear this track again. Ok, I am done now. The last three tracks are solid, with Up In The Sky standing out, with a riff that reminds me of his biggest hit, New York Groove.

So, in summary, 10,000 Volts is an Ace solo record. That pretty much sums it up. His playing is great as usual, his voice sounds (mostly) strong when it is not sounding weird, the songwriting is Ace, which is always hit or miss and never too deep, which he should never try to do, because when he does you get a song like Blinded. The hits are strong, and the misses are, in some cases, songs that should never have seen the light of day Constantly Cute), but there is nothing on 10,000 Volts that you could say would shock me, so if you are an Ace fan, do not hesitate to check this out. 7/10

Thorndale - Lightning Spawn (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

If you are in the market for a quick blast of straight-ahead stoner rock check out the new and first full length from Dutch band Thorndale, Lightning Spawn. Clocking in at just over 28 minutes, the LP versus EP discussion is real, but what is not up for debate is the high quality of the six tracks on Lightning Born that will surely be enjoyed by fans who like this sort of stuff, me being the primary example.

We go groove and we got riffs across the six songs, and you get both on the opening title track. The guitar work is excellent, and the production is spot on, with this track being a glowing example. Ain’t The End Of My Rope has a very doom inspired riff to kick it off and has a doomy grunge feel overall, especially the riff that kicks off the more up-tempo part of the track. I have a feeling the vocals won’t connect with everyone, but I dig them. Born As A Stranger is a more straight-ahead stoner ripper, with more sweet riffs and I especially like the addition of the background vocals on this one. I dig the filthy riff that opens I Accuse You, sounding something from the book of Cantrell. 

The song is some AIC worship for sure, until the stoner gallop kicks in and you are in Horseburner territory. This is probably my favourite track on Lightning Spawn and the best vocal performance amongst the six tracks. Into The Eyes Of Old is the fastest song on Lightning Spawn and has more of those riffs I was mentioning. This track reminds me a bit of Sandviess, which if you are not familiar is a really good thing. Fuzzy and crunchy, Foreboding is another strong track, with a nice groove, a killer hook, and some screams strategically placed.

Thorndale gets it, and their debut full length is a workshop in killer, straight-ahead stoner rock goodness. Check out Lightning Spawn as it is a super solid debut from a band that I expect big things from. 8/10

Nemedian Chronicles - The Savage Sword (No Remorse Records) [Matt Bladen]

Another band inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age, so it’s loincloths, broadswords and magical wizards, delivered with macho, oiled up heavy metal ala Manowar. Inspired by the Cimmerian tales from these fantasy classics, The Savage Sword is 70 minutes of epic heavy metal and while you listen you’ll feel yourself get more ripped so your 8 pack can glisten in the sun. 

It’s the debut from Nemedian Chronicles, who take their name from stories written by Howard, and who I immediately thought were German but no, they hail (and kill) from Toulouse, which I assume has no place for false metal. Where they stretch the sounds of the USA’s most manly band is that they use Joris Blanchard’s keyboards to bring in the influence of “Ennio Morricone or Basil Poledouris giving a cinematic touch in their epic concept”, though they fall back on traditions by having a bass player as the main writer of these battle hymns. 

The grandiose theatrics of Manowar are there, but Nemedian Chronicles take more musically from Blind Guardian. Guillaume Lefebvre leads his warriors through the 12 tracks and with each one the stories of Conan and the Hyborean Age, his bass playing low and driving alongside the rhythm playing of Thomas Tesseidre and drumming of Thibault Faijan, rounding out the rhythmic trifecta. 

With the melodies from the keys comes David Royer’s lead guitars as emotive as they are shreddy, vocalist Alexandre Duffau’s possesses a voice very similar to Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian, joined on few songs by a female singer. The Savage Sword is an adventurous epic metal record and if you like anything written by Howard or Blind Guardian/Manowar you’ll enjoy what’s on offer. 7/10

Dust Bolt - Sound & Fury (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

The pandemic did weird things to people. It made celebrities sing on the internet, TV shows all got screens and no audiences and it made every band in the world head to the studio to record albums. 

Bavarian thrashers Dust Bolt are one such band and it seems the pandemic made them try to evolve their sound, turning away from being just a simple thrash band, getting more mature, more accessible or if you like becoming Bullet For My Valentine. That's harsh to be honest as they're also trying to Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium and Machine Head too, the sneaker wearing, run in a circle thrash replaced by angst and down-tuned slower songs. 

It's the first album to feature new bassist Tom Liebling and like how a change of membership inspired Metallica's self titled record, on Sound & Fury, Dust Bolt make and attempt to redefine who they are as a band, looking onward while the world was closed off. The problem is that like Lost Society did with their last record, they have lost a lot of their bite by trying to appease to a wider audience. They consider it to be a era for them, unfortunately for me it's all the same old sound and not much fury. 5/10

Tuesday 27 February 2024

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

Collateral, Zac And The New Men & Jayler, KK’s Steel Mill 22.02.24

Six months is a long time in this rock business and it was just over six months ago when we first came across Jayler (8) at the Dementia Aware Fest in Birmingham. A quartet of very talented youngsters who on that day relied on a set peppered with rock covers and a youthful exuberance  on stage to try and win the crowd over. 

Six months on and the difference is noticeable straight away. The exuberance is still there, but it’s more controlled and everything seems tighter. They have been gigging a lot on the local scene and that shows as their stage craft is more honed and thankfully they’ve been hard at work on their own material, with new ep Piece In Our Time making up most of their set this evening.

Frontman James Bartholomew is not ashamed to show his influences up front and centre, like some weird love child of Plant and Bon Scott, he has a natural swagger and plays off his wingman on guitar Tyler (where the name comes from Jay-Ler) who shreds with a natural ability that belies his young age. Whilst your attention is mainly focused on these two, the other half of the band (Ricky Hodgkiss - bass, Ed Evans - drums) keep the pace on track and solid in that unobtrusive but confident way of all good rhythm  sections.

Keep an eye out for this young Midlands combo, they’ve got lots of gigs coming up, including Wolverhampton's big showcase The Lord Mayors Show, and a support slot for the amazing Kira Mac.

Next up was a new band to us and a bit of an enigma in Zac And The New Men (7). An enigma, because it was hard to work out what sort of band they were? A rock band? An indie band? Frontman Zac even say’s they more than just another pop band! But whatever you want to label them as they are undoubtedly very talented and there’s enough heaviness and hard riffs in there to justify sticking them on a tour like this. 

I guess there will always be bands who defy any sort of genre labelling, the likes of Muse, Biffy Clyro and Radiohead are obvious examples but it’s a tricky balance and fair play to them they mix it up with hard and heavy tracks like Atomic Bomb and World’s Gone Mad to more groovy indie pop tracks like He’s Fallen and Embers.

It will be interesting to see how they develop and which path they find themselves going down, a talented bunch with a unique look and sound deserve to be listened to at least once, then make your own mind up.

Main attraction tonight though are the quartet from Kent, Collateral (9). After a phenomenal year breaking onto the scene in 2019, they, like many others found the next couple of years challenging. Their debut album was released in Feb of 2020 and hit the top five in the UK rock chart but were unable to capitalise on that due to the ensuing maelstrom that struck the world shortly after! 

Nevertheless they kept the faith and focus and were in a great position to pick up where they left off when things began to return to normality by getting themselves noticed as support to various touring artists including Skid Row. 

They’re now back out on their own headline tour promoting their upcoming album Should’ve Known Better and to emphasise that they explode onto stage with the new single Glass Sky a much harder, edgier sound to this then their previous stuff and it suits them. The band seem re-energised, Angelo Tristan barely stops smiling or bouncing, guitarist Malagoldi is having the time of his life, this is a new Collateral.

But this new version is also happy to mix it up with the old as the set is a comprehensive look at the band's discography. The heavy and thunderous Final Stand represents the new, but older tracks like Mr Big still show their softer more melodic side but with a new vigour. 

We are treated to a poignant rendition of On The Long Road and their country song About This Boy, again, emphasising the depth of this band. It’s great to see this band come through the dark years, stronger and hungry and expect to see them continue to take the rock world by storm. 

Watch out for that album to drop in late May, you can preorder it now at the bands website and social media pages and I highly recommend you do.

Reviews: Amaranthe, Karkosa, Stellar Remains, Dream Academy (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Zak Skane, Charlie Rogers & Rich Piva)

Amaranthe – The Catalyst (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Having been at the forefront of the electo metal sound for 15 years Amaranthe can be considered originators now. Many symphonic metal bands have adopted the mixture of EDM and power metal that they brought to audiences around the world just as the gothic, orchestra driven symphonic sound was wearing a little thin. It was bold and dynamic but now many bands have jumped on the bandwagon. Where Amaranthe have lasted are that they are never afraid to change things up and that they have resiliently survived many line up changes, though the core membership of Elize Ryd and Olof Mörck has been what keeps the band releasing music. 

On their seventh record there has been another change, as Elize and clean singer Nils Molin strengthen their link as singers since the last album, long time growler Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson, departed the band to spend more time at home, so The Catalyst features Mikael Sehlin, who has a much more aggressive snarl, showcased on the 2020 Paralydium album Worlds Beyond. This new blood adds a nastier edge to some of the heavier tracks, as many of the compositions are bolder, more guitar driven and more dramatic than on the last couple of albums. The vocal trio sound re-energized from the rapid fire opening, through the poppy bounce of Insatiable and the gothic Damnation Flame, the diversity of Amaranthe’s new record is clear, Mörck using the last three years to create the most bombastic creations of their career. 

I’ll admit it’s the first time I’ve been excited about an Amaranthe album for a while possibly because there seems to be a lot of nods to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Jim Steinman, Children Of Bodom and Daft Punk. Olof says it’s their most theatrical album, based around the concept of change, each song deals with a different type of change, Stay A Little While is a proper romantic duet while Breaking The Waves adds some more traditional symphonic fayre, Outer Dimensions a Eurovision rocker. With the strongest vocals trio they’ve had for a while, Olof Mörck stretching himself in the song writing and the rhythm section of drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen and bassist Johan Andreassen on fire The Catalyst is one of the strongest entries into the Amaranthe discography. 8/10

Karkosa - Esoterrorcult (Redefining Darkness Records) [Zak Skane]

Karkosa explode into this album with classic black metal fury, from it’s opening track Encorcalled Spirits where are greeted with classic but pin point accurate blast beats, thundering and fast drum rolls. The guitar riffs go from gothic voiced cleans to razor sharp tremolo picked melodic lines captured to pure perfection. The vocals stem from demonic lows to the cursed haunting frys, whilst also throwing in some choir sounding clean vocals. 

The momentum follows on with track Poison Of God which pushes the musician abilities from it’s statically fast tempos, frantic chord changes and hellish arpeggios. Through out this whole album the band levels of insanity from track to track for example, Donni Sanctum still manages to escalate the intensity with it’s aggressive minor chords strumming, chilling Bass solos and venomous nihilistic lyrics. The chilling instrumental Axis Mundi brings in some crystal clean guitar passages played with some chilling classical flare whilst soundscapes of crow cawing in the background. 

On the second half of the album highlights consist of ,the eerie vocal passages and the frantic guitar tapping of Remnants Of Creation and Cyclopean Gateway brings in some comic lyrical content, throat cutting pick scrapes, progressive time signature transitions and eerie soundscapes. To close it off the climatic ending of Angelus Ejections brings us to a chaotic closer. Karkosa have made a splendid example of what a modern release of what an Extreme Black Metal record should be; well produced, well preformed and really fucking extreme, if you are a fan of bands like Behemoth and Lorna Shore. 10/10

Stellar Remains - Wastelands (Gutter Prince Cabal Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Astro-metal seems to be an ever-growing flavour at the moment, with the path cleanly cleared by contemporary artists like Denver’s Blood Incantation, or Leeds’ Cryptic Shift. Following them through the stargate is Australian solo-project Stellar Remains, a 6 track EP entirely written, performed, and produced by one Brisbanian called Dan Elkin - it looks like the only thing Dan didn’t do here was paint the artwork!

Taking themes and aesthetics from atmospheric black metal, through contemplative progressive rock, all the way down to sludgy, dirge laden death metal, Wastelands invites the listener to a varied aural experience. Clocking in at 26mins, there’s 4 main songs on offer, a 2 minute instrumental intro titled Ceaseless Charade Of The Living Dead setting the tone for the release, and an 85 second interlude called The Invisible Man to break the midpoint of the listen.

I particularly enjoyed the closing track Cloudbearer, with it’s polyrhythmic, high energy main riff that gives way to a stratospheric, almost meandering middle 8 passage. Multiple textures being used to convey a sense of depth and wonder, there’s a lot of interweaving melodic and harmonic content layered within the song. 

It’s well produced, fully embracing the modern guitar and bass tonality you’d expect from extreme metal, while also sprinkling some clean adjacent tones over the top parts where needed. The vocals varied from harsh growls to black metal shrieks, often placed low in the mix where they don’t always shine over and above the instrumentation, which largely fit the style.

While there is a lot of technical ability on display, the record could do with more hooks. Few passages left any permanent trace in my memory, and I struggle to recall much of the record after putting it down for a few hours. There are certainly enjoyable passages in the moment, however the lack of earworms makes me wonder why I would want to put it back on rather than listen to a different release. If Dan can crack the code to writing memorable bangers, Stellar Remains could be a force to reckon with. 6/10

Dream Academy - Religion, Revolution, & Railroads (Cherry Red Records) [Rich Piva]

This is now the second time I may have gotten in over my head, this time volunteering to review the new Dream Academy box set from the awesome label Cherry Red Records, who are experts at this kind of package and really any other type of reissue you are looking for. Last time it was Cutting Crew, which I found I really don’t like except for their big hit. The result from this time is pretty similar. The one big US hit, Life In A Northern Town, is one of the best songs of that generation, but I was left very underwhelmed with the rest of the band’s three albums and various remixes, B-Sides and rarities found on this 80-track set.

The lack of punch from the band’s discography is again one of my major feedback points. Maybe I just don’t like 80s pop deep cuts or full albums? I feel like that can’t be true given my Duran Duran and Gary Numan love, but it is worth investigating. The main reason why I took this on was that one of my favorite musicians of all time, Lindsey Buckingham, produced their second album, Remembrance Day, and for sure you can hear little quirks from him in the guitar work and the band’s sound, but even he could not really save this for me, but it was interesting to hear something else he was involved in outside his solo stuff and work with the Mac. David Gilmour produced albums one and three, but I am not really a Floyd guy enough to care (send the hate mail to my editor) and the songs just don’t connect with me anyway.

So again, like my Cutting Crew experience, musically, I would give this a three (a bit higher), but package wise and getting the Cherry Red treatment is always a ten (Cherry red is always awesome) hence the middle ground here. For big Dream Academy fans only. 5/10

Reviews: Gen & The Degenerates, Philip Sayce, Louise Lemón, D'Luna (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Gen & The Degenerates - Anti- Fun Propaganda (Marshall Records)

When I reviewed Gen & The Degenerates debut EP I said they were an amalgamation “Florence & The Machine, Gossip, Skunk Anansie, PiL and Turbowolf” rating them highly due to their right-on politics that lean; strongly to the left, support LGBTQ+ rights, feminism and anti-fascist philosophies all done with a wry grin, wide-boy cheek and a multi-layered musical approach that draws from many different places. From the synthy funk of Kids Of Wanna Dance, where an oscillating electronics pairs with some nihilistic disco. Recorded in Spatial Audio where available, it means that they sound full, the instruments shared across both audio channels, so no playing it out of your phone speaker if you please. 

You get the full effect with headphones picking up the virtuoso nuances even when they go for a punk punch on the title track. The choppy guitars coming from Dr Feelgood, Tom Robinson influences while Girls! (featuring Uninvited) is a thirsty shot at the misogyny on the internet, Gen declaring that she loves it when girls do all the things society tell them not to and reciprocating with gusto. It’s a alt rock banger as the kids say Gen in full voice, as That’s Enough Internet For Today is a grooving desert rocker dismissing the thousands of keyboard trolls out there that feel like they deserve an opinion (I mean I realise the irony of me sitting behind a keyboard and giving my opinion, but then I’ve always been a d*ckhead). T

he bile is there but Gen & The Degenerates, favour just having a good time, yeah there’s dark times but if we discuss them, sing about them create around them and put a bit of humour around them maybe we won’t all go nuts. Big Hit Single pokes and prods at the continual quest to write a 'hit' 'viral' or any other buzzword song. All Figured Out pitches the British obsession with nostalgia against New York punk and post punk. They don’t feel neatly into one category, which is sort of the point as Anti-Fun Propaganda is a story of surviving youth, figuring out who and what you are in your own way, coming of age stories in an age unlike many others. 

Recorded and produced by Ross Orton, the songs weave between different mixes, Plan B (Interlude) carrying a fireside, vinyl crackle ripe for its acoustic, pastoral tinge as Famous brings the fuzzy garage rock bass thump of The Hives as Post-Cool wields some EDM against post metal. Anti-Fun Propaganda comes to a close with the beautiful shimmering post rock of Jude's Song which simultaneously serves as a tribute to a loved one and a shot at The Fab Four. Gen & The Degenerates' debut album is absolutely fantastic, I loved every minute of it, the musical differentiations, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics, their modern take on Britishness, it's a stunner. 9/10

Philip Sayce - The Wolves Are Coming (Atomic Gemini/Forty Below Records)

Welsh born, Canada raised, blues rock firebrand Philip Sayce has been setting light to stages across the world with his incendiary style of soulful blues rocking. This new album begins with a bang as Sayce has the biting tone and rock n roll credo that Gary Clarke Jr shares, take no prisoners, step out of the traditional and write music that means something but will also entertain the hell out of you.

Sayce takes vocals, guitar, bass and piano, as the record also features two well seasoned drummers, rock royalty in Fred Mandel on guest piano for the cover of John Lee Hooker's This Is Hip and some guest backing vocals for those oh so well used gospel singalongs such as ballad It's Over Now. The Wolves Are Coming is immediate and impactful, Oh! That Bitches Brew swaggering in with some Rival Sons/Led Zeppelin mountainous heavy rock, leading into some funk rock ala Lenny Kravitz on Lady Love Divine which has one of those choruses to die for.

On these two songs you can hear the production is just the right side of old school, there's an echo to the vocals, a bite to the guitars, it's retro but with some modern muscle behind it. Babylon Is Burning is tribute to Hendrix for sure, alluding to Philip's idea that this album would be drawn from his inspirations. His inspiration's of course being some of blues rock's best and brightest from the SRV scuttle of Your Love, to The Black Keys percussive stomp of Black Moon. Backstabber deals with his lifelong struggle with OCD and the poisonous music business itself while Blackbirds Fly Alone, brings acoustics and psychedelic wandering.

Philip says the recording this album as a freeing experience, the studio becoming a solace after the pandemic, so it's no wonder you can hear him letting loose on tracks such as The Moon Is Full. The Wolves Are Coming and they're bringing with them incendiary blues rock from Philip Sayce and company. 8/10

Louise Lemón - Lifetime Of Tears (Icons Creating Evil Art)

'The Queen Of Death Gospel' returns with her third album Lifetime Of Tears. Written on a plane as Lemón navigated her way through a breakup of a relationship. With Lifetime Of Tears she has used her compositions to fine son kind of solace after this massive emotional blow. Oddly it means that this could be the happiest album she has produced, as the search for joy fuels the keenly crafted musical explorations this album contains. 

It's emotional and heartfelt, coming from the ethereal, sun-drenched wooziness of the California coast, bright melodies set to dark lyrical content, recorded and mixed without digital interference at Atlantis Studios in Stockholm joined by Randall Dunn for the mixing/mastering process to make it feel authentic and nostalgically retro. 

The album recorded after a long period of touring with the same band, they are synced perfectly, the talented band behind her all play their part on the gothic Americana of tracks such as Midsummer Night or the smoky textures of the title track, as Feels So Good reminds me of some twisted 70's funk as Mourn His Breath and All I Get both carry regret in different laid back ways. Having lived a Lifetime Of Tears, this album releases a build up of emotion, in a positive way, through Lemón's own inevitable style. 7/10

D'Luna - Monster (Escape Records)

It's no secret that love the vocals of Jeff Scott Soto, from his work with Yngwie Malmsteen, to Talisman and Sons Of Apollo, his soulful hard rock pipes make him one of my favourite singers, so when I saw he was featured on this new record I had to pick it up. D'Luna is a project formed by David De Luna, he's the main songwriter, guitarist and producer, crafting each song as a way to show off his guitar chops through the medium of heavy rock songs, that add some AOR and prog. Much like Mike Orlando did with Adrenaline Mob. 

De Luna plays a similar style to Orlando with some grooving swaggering riffs on Zombie, that unveil into virtuoso soloing. Locking down the crunchy modern metal riffs on tracks such as Rabbit Hole are bassist Philip Bynoe (Steve Vai) and Oren Halmut on drums, smashing it on One Truth, while Dan Meyers adds keys on the proggy last strains of Rabbit Hole and on the cuts that bring more classic rock melodies on Witness. Mixed by Rich Mouser (Dream Theater), it's got a meaty tone throughout, uplifting the prog elements on the moody Believe In Love or the thrashy but with a big chorus One Voice

Musically I'd also compare D'Luna to a band such as King's X, no wonder then that dUg Pinnick adds vocals to the opening title track, coming in on the choruses to add to JSS's voice, the collaborative elements similar to the Frontiers bands. There's funky King's X rhythms too on 1-2-3 and as the final Blackened Heart wraps prog/metal and hard rock together. I compared Monster to Adrenaline Mob and there's so many thick riffs and killer solos that D'Luna will appeal to fans of that band. They've created a Monster and we'll see where it goes from here. 7/10

Monday 26 February 2024

A View From The Back Of The Room: Cultura Tres (Live Review By Mark Young)

Cultura Tres, BruteAllies & Ephemera, Star And Garter, Manchester 21.02.24

The Star and Garter is one of those places that bands have to play at in Manchester. It’s a badge of honour and is one of the last independent venues that hosts some great bands. Just like tonight. 

Three bands, all differing in approach, but all set on giving us a great night. 

The doors open at 7, and it's very quiet for openers Ephemera (6) who come on first. Bringing that mix Hard core / Metal core, the Yorkshire mob kick off with people still making their way into the venue. For those of us who got there on time, we witnessed a very hungry band who didn’t let the sparse crowd put them off delivering a very punchy and high-energy set with 8 songs that kept the energy up. There is a metallic crunch and edge to them, as they tear through each one, kicking off with Ghosted and keeping a foot down approach right through. Mason is spitting venom at every turn, ably supported by understated bass via Adam Beard, cowbell operator Chris knocking hell out of his kit and Chris, who is battering his guitar. 

What I loved was that energy, from Ghosted through to Dragged up to the closing song They Will Forget You Exist, these four are on fire and did enough to make an impression on me in the time they had. They were just dropping bomb after bomb, and I missed the titles in-between. Luckily, I caught up with Mason afterwards who was good enough to get me a set list, he didn’t have to and for that I am thankful. Check them out on their socials and give them a follow. They deserve it and your ears will thank you. 

It annoys me no end that people sometimes have a very laissez-faire attitude to catching the opening act, the opening act has the ability to surprise you and if you didn’t like them then you have lost nothing. If you liked them then there is more music for you to listen to, what’s not to like?

BruteAllies (8) are next up, and the 5-piece get set up to go to war. I noticed that there is an unashamed weapon of mass destruction on stage, a warlock. They get plus points for that! Returning after a brief hiatus, they have a new power behind the kit, with Luke Ellwood replacing the departed Gabi Tretze. Immediately there is now a different vibe, with super aggressive thrash / death metal now on the menu. The room is filling up as they kick off, a chaotic energy coupled with super precise riffing of Invasion followed by Battlefield, which is a ripper, one of those that grabs and doesn’t let go.

Leaning into a mid-tempo groove, Mad Elephant soon picks up with those syncopated vocals that are tied with the guitar. There is a definite old-school death metal influence on it, and it shows that they have that required balance in their songs. Nemesis comes fast and it’s right there that they are enjoying themselves now, Hassan pounding the bass and the crushing twin guitars of Sonny and Luke blasting those riffs for fun. Vocalist James is on top notch form launching screams into deep growls and back again. This is my song of their set with an extended solo and lots of whammy abuse for good measure. 

Final song is Dark Army, following a drum clinic from Luke. Dark Army has a touch of Pantera in there and is a storming end to their set. Loads of melodic touches all through the brutality; very well received and hopefully they will make up for lost time! Check out Ash And Nails, it’s on Bandcamp and well worth your time.

Cultura Tres (9) come on and just go, starting up with The World which is just this furious mix of metal and punk. Paulo Jr is flanking the two brothers, Alejandro (vocals) and Juanma like a midfield general, laying down that bottom end whilst Jerry just destroys his kit with the biggest of smiles. It’s a strong start and they never let that energy flag at any point.

There is a primal quality to each of the songs, that South American feel running through each track with Time Is Up following on the heels, fashioning an epic breakdown that is royal. When I reviewed the Camino De Brujos last year, I felt that there was something was missing, possibly in how they captured the songs in the studio. Live, they are a different beast altogether. It’s hard, vibrant and each one really connects. On stage is their natural home and following a blast through of Proxy War which is just pummelling they deliver a heartfelt thank you. 

19 Horas slows that pace a little with a measured droning opening that swells into that twin melodic line, every line being roared by Alejandro, its glorious and then they are on the ascension once more, tearing through their set list as in an hurry to get to a favourite part of the evening with Day 1 and Zombies fall in quick succession as they throw in a cover of Black Sabbath in, again as a thank you to the British heavy metal of their youth they turn it into a super fucking low attack with their own unique twist on this classic track. If you are going to cover the greats, this is the way to do that and it’s fantastic. 

They close out the night with The Smell Of Death and Signs, with the former possessing that mid-paced groove and Signs with that trademark droning sound and those riffs that seem to stretch out forever. It’s a fine one to finish on and they wrap up, with our ears ringing after a quality night of music in Manchester

Reviews: Stygian Crown, Traveler, Guiltless, Decrowned (Reviews By Rich Piva & Mark Young)

Stygian Crown - Funeral For A King (Cruz Del Sur Music) [Rich Piva]

In 2020 California doomsters Stygian Crown dropped their debut self-titled release to much excitement in the metal world. The riffs, the unique vocal stylings, and the ode to classic epic doom generated quite the buzz in that community. The band is now back after a four-year hiatus with Funeral For A King, which aims to provide an even more epic doom journey, and for the most part they have succeeded, as this is quite a step forward for the relatively young (as a band, not in age) and is a killer lesson in doom.

The band mentions Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus and Black Sabbath in their bio and I can get behind all those comparisons and you can hear them all on Funeral For A King. The title track kicks it off, and I would also call out My Dying Bride here as a reference point. Iommi style riffing and a big, clean sound, right off the bat you know Stygian Crown knows what they are doing, even before the vocals kick in on the next track, Bushido, which is actually quite the ripper, leveraging another name they mention in the materials for this record, Iron Maiden. The track does slow down a bit in parts to hit you with more doom stylings, but for the most part this one is some killer up-tempo metal. 

Speaking of slowing down, Scourge Of The Seven Hills does just that, and this is where I hear that Candlemass comparison come out. Melissa Pinion’s vocals may be an acquired taste for some, but I love her unique voice, and this track is her best performance. The guitar work is great too. The sound on this album can only be described as gigantic. 

The interlude Let The Snares Be Planted is a nice atmosphere setter for the theme of the record and works as a nice transition to The Bargain, my favourite track on Funeral For A King, with its super-heavy riff, glorious vocals, and early Trouble meets MDB vibes. Where The Candle Always Burns is another epic and excellent track, and I love the chug of the guitars on this one that goes along perfectly with those amazing vocals. 

You want some violin you say, you get it with more My Dying Bride vibes on the dark, sparce, and beautiful Blood Red Eyes. While Blood Red Eyes is minimalist and mostly violin and voice, Beauty And Terror brings back the heaviness and the riffs and is one of the more up-tempo tracks on Funeral For A King, leveraging that Candlemass comparison mentioned throughout. The journey rounds out with more epic doom goodness with Strait Of Messina, continuing and closing with the same quality delivered across all nine tracks.

A super successful sophomore record from a band that set high expectations with their debut, Stygian Crown delivers on Funeral For A King. I just read that their drummer Rhett suffered a heart attack and is in the hospital, so I want to dedicate this review to him and wish him all the best on his recovery. Great album, yes, but Rhett getting better is way more epic than this already amazing doom album. 8/10

Traveler - Prequel To Madness (No Remorse Records) [Rich Piva]

Canadian speed/trash metal is not something I get to review often, but thankfully the new album from Traveler, Prequel To Madness, made it into my folder amongst all the stoner, doom, and hair metal bands from the 80s putting out new albums today that I usually review. These guys have been consistently great on their first two records and album three keeps up with that consistency, because it rips and keeps the traditional metal flag waving proudly.

An easy comparison here is early Maiden which is what you get right off the bat with the opening instrumental, Mayday, into the first full track, Take The Wheel. This is killer NWOTHM at its finest. The guitar work is outstanding, and the tempo of the track is enough to run you right out of your shoes. Tell me you don’t hear a little too much Aces High in this one. 

If you miss 80s speed/thrash when it was great then this band is for you, evidence presented in a track like Dark Skull, especially in the solos. The Law has a great dual guitar attack and continues the speed/thrash party with no signs of letting up. 

Trad metal lives with Rebels Of Earth which is mid-tempo (for them) and is super catchy, think Mercyful Fate without the falsetto. Tracks like Heavy Hearts, Vagrants Of Time, and No Fate turn up the speed and fretboard mastery to 11, with the ladder being the best vocal performance on the album. The closing title track is the heaviest and best on the album. Musically reminding me of a cross between Wasted Years and Dyers Eve, this is Traveler’s best song to date as all parties involved just totally bring it to finish up this whirlwind metal experience.

I don’t listen to enough of bands like Traveler who unabashedly fly the flag of 80s trad/speed/thrash metal, but I should, especially if the output is as great as Prequel To Madness. Get ready to bang your head and get in the pit because these Canadians know how to bring the metal. 8/10

Guiltless - Thorns EP (Neurot Recordings) [Mark Young]

A bleak, desolate and haunting future is the premise of this dark EP from Guiltless. Coming together from Intronaut, Generation Of Vipers, A Storm Of Light and Battle Of Mice, this collective looks to bring something new, be it experimental noise rock or a new distillation of industrial music, which is heavy on a sub-atomic level.

Devour Collide, with a guitar tone that owes to their industrial influence, is heavy as it is direct, with chords seemingly running to a dead stop whilst the drums just continually pound as if calling in the 4 horsemen themselves. There is discord, but within that, there is a purpose. This isn’t a collection of noise put together without thought. This is controlled emotion right across the board, culminating in an incredibly strong opening track that announces that they have something to say. And they are furious with it.

All We Destroy continues with those insistent drums, delivered in that cold, methodical way from Billy Graves. They push forward, striving for release. That guitar tone once more, providing a clarity and heaviness allowing you to hear every note as it is struck as they narrate a journey into the worst of times, that isn’t without a sense of groove about it. Some of the riff-builds here are magnificent, with elasticity as they move to and fro and ultimately hit a hard stop, as Dead-Eye begins it’s slow, bruising stop-start mode amidst delivering a tale of being in the end of times. 

The music definitely fits the mood, its blacker than black with that sense of forward movement there once more, never looking backward only concerned with getting us to the final track, which is a stormer. In Radiant Glow owner of one of THOSE riff arrangements, you know the one I mean where the hair stands up because it hits so well and is simple in itself. Leaning more into that doom/sludge area this is an exercise in darkness, the post-apocalyptic event is here and there is nowhere left to run. It is almost an uplifting end to the EP and closes out the four songs wonderfully.

This is what I love about EP’s, its three or four songs that highlight the best of a band ahead of an upcoming full-length release. Although I can’t see if there are any plans for that online, on the strength of the music here they must more to say because the four songs here are brimming with blackened ideas and sound shapes that share that share a common end result of the bleakest noise but are crafted to an incredibly high level. 7/10

Decrowned - Persona Non Grata (Rockshots Records) [Mark Young]

Persona Non Grata is the first full length release by Decrowned, following on from several EP’s which saw them garner acclaim amongst certain circles of the metal press. The melodic death genre is constantly being added to and in some respects, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish between bands and their releases because of this. Its not that the releases are bad, its just that you have heard it before so for something to come in and blow you away then it has to be amazing.

Ignoring the instrumental opener, Folklore Pt1 because I am utterly sick of bands employing this way of starting their albums this way. Just give me your best opening track, that’s all I want. Mouth Leaks Black starts up with a mix of synths, locking in that melodic approach from the off. Its solid, without excelling, everything you expect is in place and it is well presented. What I am not getting is a buzz of excitement from it, its simply good without being great. 

This can be said for the album in general as each song comes in without leaving a mark on me. Rainworld continues the work started in Mouth, this time with some cleans in there and some admittedly class soloing, as does Mindparasite, pushing the synths to the front with harder attack but it feels like they are retreating back to throw a chorus that doesn’t fit. It needs to be aggressive right the way through, from start to finish. The riff was there, just go for the throat, attack it!!

Aggression, that is what’s missing here. The riffs are here, but we lean more to the melodic side on the songs leading up to Awaken, which has the most in your face arrangement, but they still manage to get a clean section in there. This is the sort of thing the album is crying out for: Its heavy, fast and rips. Hot on its heels is Faceless, which continues in that vein, combining all of the traits you want to hear in an effective package, building up a head of steam that it hoped they take and run with. Which they don’t, going back to a relatively heavy approach on The Bird And The Tree which revisits the pattern shown on the earlier songs as does The Vigorian Man

In they follow the melodic route, showcasing some virtuoso moments but they lack that aggression to make them stand out. Title track Persona Non Grata could have closed out on a high, but it takes the template they established and follows it to a polished end. There is nothing wrong with it, with any of it really except it doesn’t grab you at all. Each of the songs are well put together and as I've said there are some really stand out solo moments, but these are fleeting when held against the full album.

It is possible that at some point melodic death will hit a saturation point like thrash did (unless it has done already) and some of these bands will fall by the wayside or find a way of evolving their sound to the next step. I’m all for melodic death as long as the bands remember that the music should be exciting, it should grip you from start to finish. This is not a bad album by any stretch. It just didn’t engage me as heavy music should. It needs that visceral edge to it which is sadly missing. 6/10

Saturday 24 February 2024

Reviews: Darkspace, Sundrifter, Bloom, Alfahanne (Reviews By Patches, Rich Piva, Matt Bladen & Erick Willand)

Darkspace - II (Season Of Mist) [Patches]

For those unfamiliar with Darkspace ( such as myself) an internet search will tell you that they are the Swiss pioneers of cosmic atmospheric death metal. Their works are titled only by Roman numeral and their fifth album. II comes with no information but a grainy image of the void and a single 47 minute song. Wondering how I’ve not come across this fascinating concept and cult classic of this subset of atmospheric death metal before I approach their first transmission in ten years with the excitement and curiosity of an explorer destined for damnation as they traverse the unknown.

Soundscapes pan through the mind warping senses of time as pulsing industrial beats crash against the shaper blackened surroundings produced by the guitars. Samples of human communication become distant and hard to decipher over the jagged imposing obstacles vocalised by Wroth. By fifteen minutes in, the hair on the back of my neck stands to attention at the sonic embodiment of both awe and torment. 

At half an hour the bass drum acts like the heartbeat slowly working at the centre of a surge of dark atmospheric synth and the repetitive chug of black metal guitars. As the rhythmic contractions speed the music expands outwards in the dark purples and reds of a nebula augmenting outwards from a dying star. Beautifully constructed drones of melancholy, space feel both vast and crushing.

As, I am yet to listen to their previous works (I definitely will be) so I cannot tell fans how this album weighs up against their discography. II as it stands alone is an epic twisted soundscape that I would recommended to fans of Sun O))), Godspeed You Black Emperor, Deafheaven, Post Rock/Metal, Shoegaze and Psychedelic Black Metal. 

Being almost fifty minuets of quite a slow tempo it could alienate fans of the genre who may be expecting something more traditionally ferocious or technical in the riff department, but what this album lacks in speed and riff it makes up for in the brutality of its heavy drones and intelligent sound design. 9/10

Sundrifter - An Earlier Time (Small Stone Records) [Rich Piva]

We music fans can be a greedy bunch, always wanting more great material from our favourite artists. There is something to be said, however, for the band that makes you wait, sometimes many years, for their next record. But when that album drops and you realize it was so worth the wait, there is some magic in that too. 

This is the case with the new album from Boston, Massachusetts band Sundrifter, who bring us their first release since 2018’s Visitations, An Earlier Time, brought to us by the also less is more leaning label, the awesome Small Stone Records. Visitations is universally loved by the chose few who have heard it, and I dare to say that An Earlier Time is even better, which is a seriously bold statement, but one I think the fans of the bands and new fans alike will agree with, because this record simply kills.

For those not familiar with the band’s sound, I would call them fuzzy space grunge or maybe if Soundgarden was from outer space instead of Seattle. Another good reference point would be the High Priest record from last year or maybe Hum And Failure, the two most underrated bands of the 90s. 

Whatever you want to call it, the eight tracks on An Earlier Time are pretty much perfect. Limitless is the perfect example. We have killer guitar work, vocals that are even better than the last record, and a heaviness that says F U to gravity. The atmosphere that surrounds the heavy is something to behold, with the perfectly titled Space Exploration. This song is simply put, mind blowing. 

Nuclear Sacrifice is just as good, a slower burn but with no less awesomeness and another outstanding vocal performance. Prehistoric Liftoff has some serious low end and a nice, slow chug to it. This track is a huge as space, filling up the universe with speaker rattling heaviness, but some of the cleanest heavy you have ever heard, if that makes any sense at all. 

 Could the second have of this album be better than the first, which is amazing already? Well, in a word, yes, because Begin Again is the best track on An Earlier Time, with that guitar work, next level vocals, and grungy space rock vibe that they have perfected. We got some riffs too with Want You Home that has such a great 90s feel to it, and more heavy space grunge goodness with the both fuzzy and chunky Final Chance. Last Transmission is a fitting way to end this space odyssey, or is it over?

So, is six years a long time to wait for a follow up from a band that blew you away and left you wanting more? Maybe, but the feeling you get when you finally get to experience recorded perfection in a follow up record, all those years melt away and you realize how lucky you are to be alive at a time when music like that can grace your ears. Yeah, I love Sundrifter and An Earlier Time that much. 10/10

Bloom - Maybe In Another Life (Pure Noise Records) [Matt Bladen]

Australia is a fertile ground for music, away from the normal Aussie stereotypes, there's a real glut of talented metallic/modern metalcore/deathcore bands. Sydney's Bloom edge more towards the melodic style of metalcore that brings huge emotive choruses. 

Forming in 2017 they wear their heart on their sleeves as they deal with grieving, emotions and hardship, you know all the things that make metalcore great. Releasing their second EP in 2020 during lockdown and then started to record this new album Maybe In Another Life. An Entry is an atmospheric intro to the record but from here the metallic hardcore of Bloom comes at you as an unstoppable emotional force. 

Distorted sharp guitar riffs, that chop and change into hardcore punk stabs, metalcore breakdows and harmonic metal phrasing, all within one song on Bound To Your Whispers, a track that reminds me of Rise Against though with a huge beatdown at the end. Vocally the melodic cleans and snarled harsh vocals are great, the latter moving into some black metal nastiness. 

Bloom have a lot of similarities to bands such as Counterparts and Of Virtue, bands who successfully merge introspection with aggression and on Maybe In Another Life, Bloom have mastered that art. 7/10

Alfahanne - Var Tid Ar Nu (Dark Essence Records) [Erick Willand]

As an American that hasn’t traveled there yet I’m convinced Sweden is a magical place carpeted in deep dark wintery forests populated by mythical creatures and Metal Heads. Alfahanne hails from this cold mountainous place and like most of their country men they drag that long winter chill with them into the realms of making music. 

In Alfahanne’s case this is a heady mix of raw Black Metal, noisy Punk and straight Rock’n’Roll they call “Alfapocalyptic Rock”. A style and attitude all their own that they have perfected over four previous albums. So I’m throwing on some old sports gear for armor, grabbing a gas mask and going to Alfapocalyptic Rock-out!

A short, ambient intro greets us with what sounds like a Swedish vampire whispering in a wind tunnel, it's seconds over a minute so we’ll give that a pass, it’s the apocalypse after all. First proper track is 9:e Cirkeln, not sure what 9:e stands for but Cirkeln translates to The Circle. This song opens quickly, choice fuzzed up guitars and driving rhythm, dive bomb, rage scream, begin! It's a clear street level, leather and denim song. It’s great despite the production being a bit fuzzed out. 4

Track 2 starts with a bagpipe I think but I’m under the impression it’s synth and quickly this slips right into a more fuzzy grove and my head starts moving before I realize it. Google tells me Eremiten means The Hermit but if he’s rocking this hard he’s not hiding in a cabin in the woods. Elden Har Vaknat - The Fire Has Awakened leans more into the bands Black Metal elements with harsher guitars and a more relentless drum delivery. 

Alfa Omega is a lesson in proper Black’n’Roll with special guest Nattefrost and not going to lie, my fav track here. Solid black fuzziness with a great chorus. Wolfman is a right ripper, a rocker complete with English sing along chorus and tambourine. Nar Allt Faller again leans into the Black Metal zone but still maintains an underline swagger that you can feel.

So we’ve come to the last three tracks of this Blackened little apocalyptic rock’n’roll hell ride. The last few tracks of an album are just as important as the first few, either the band has dropped what they felt were the weakest tracks here or they’ve saved the best for last. Here Alfahanne don’t disappoint, both 213 and Var Tid Ar Nu are quick paced and vibrant.

213 with it’s interesting guitar elements and title track Var Tid Ar Nu is the anchor piece, a dark, anguish coated epic just over 7 minutes, usually this run time kills a song like this for me but I didn’t even notice and that’s good. The mostly ambient, creepy piano outro is actually a nice touch that ties the album up with the beginning like a successful scavenging run through the “Alfapocalyptic Rock” wasteland. 

Unfortunately the ball is dropped hard on this album cover, which is just a Photoshop filtered pic of the band circa early ‘00s style and it feels lazy. At least it’s not AI art but…Anyway, I’m going to wash the post-apocalyptic dust from out between my toes and sort the scavenge run loot, Alfahanne comes back to base camp with a 7/10.

Friday 23 February 2024

Reviews: Desolate Tomb, Craneium, Seum, Vincent Crowley (Reviews By GC, Rich Piva, Mark Young & James Jackson)

Desolate Tomb - Scorned By Misery (Rottweiler Records) [GC]

Another week, another brutal death metal release for me, nothing changes! This week though it’s one-man band, Dakota Whiteside who has created Desolate Tomb and is about to release his second album Scorned By Misery. I am always slightly dubious about BDM bands as they never really deliver on their promises of unrivalled brutality, they always seem to have dubious titles and lyrics and usually are just a bit boring to be honest! And with that ringing endorsement let’s get on with it!

It all kicks off with Scorned By Misery which has the first of a few different guest appearances on vocals, this is from Jon Davenport of Cultist, and it’s instantly better than I was expecting! You can make out all the guitars that produce a clean and precise sound, the drums don’t drown everything out and the vocals aren’t the standard pig squeals nonsense usually thrown on top, really, it’s a more old school death metal approach with some more modern day heaviness added in to freshen it up.

The Hands That Mar is an absolute pleasure to listen to and it’s all Dakota on this track and he more than handles all sections of the music and vocals with brilliant dexterity and hellish playing, buzzing and chugging riffs fight with punching double bass drumming and when you hear the vocals you wonder why he bothered getting any guests at all!? 

Writhing In The Bowels Of Hell has guest vocals form Robert Manzone and the back and forth between both works well and mixes nicely with the more blackened death metal style of this track and it is actually fairly on the brutal side as well, which is a nice twist of styles early in the album and keeps you on your toes throughout, we do get some pig squeals here though that feel a bit unnecessary if I am honest but there are some HUGE beatdowns included which make everything better in the end! 

All Is Dust has Matthew McNamara AND Sam Dishington of Separatist lending their vocals and it all starts out in a very hardcore way, which is always a bonus and once it all gets going it’s a more deathcore vibe mixed with some more blackened death metal and all the vocals are thrown about and twisted in between this mentalness and its gloriously OTT and I LOVE IT! Tormented By The Succubus is back to just the main man and once again doesn’t suffer from this it’s a blasting and punishing run though of top-class brutality and is so refreshing that there have been so many different ways the music has come across because usually by now, I start to give up on usual BDM, not today though!! 

Sheepskin is good but doesn’t really stand out from the rest of the tracks and is slower and more measured in places and while it isn’t bad it just feels like it doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. Spitting Nails begins on a thudding beatdown riff but with a slowed down tempo and as it builds up the hardcore influence seeps back in and throws in another curveball style wise and bar the odd blast here and there it sticks mainly with the slowed pace which works well. 

Yearning Maw has the last of the guest vocals from Jaden Pruitt of Squelching and here we get a definite deathcore influence and it’s the good type as well full of scathing guitars and hectic drumming it’s a whirlwind of violence the only thing is I’m not sure the guest vocals are needed as they don’t add much to the song as a whole. Trail Of Tears tales far too long to start and when it does it’s another one of those you think probably could have been left off, it does have some nice breakdowns but that’s about it, finally The Suffering Fields closes things out and does so in a decent way with a brutal slab of deathcore that hits all the right notes.

I have to say I really enjoyed Scorned By Misery its shows you can do brutal death metal and not be boring, predictable, and lazy, most of the songs were energetic and heavy as a stone elephant, even the not so decent songs were still worth a listen. If you like your music with absolutely no remorse or subtlety this is for you. 9/10

Craneium - Point Of No Return (The Sign Records) [Rich Piva]

Point Of No Return is the fourth album from Finnish psych/desert rock band Craneium and continues the trend of the band delivering the good every time they put something out. This time we have six soundscapes that lean more on the psychedelic side of things with some of that desert rock goodness and even post rock leanings. Regardless of what you label it, Point Of No Return is an excellent fourth outing.

The super melodic and swirling One Thousand Sighs kicks us off and it sounds huge. This is the biggest sounding record from Craneium, and the clean but not over produced sound emanating from my speakers is perfect for these six tracks. There are layers upon layers of sounds on One Thousand Sighs. Its atmospheric when it wants to be but can still deliver a nice crunch. I hear Hum as a good reference point musically, but the vocals are on a different path, demonstrated at about the four-minute mark of this first track. The Sun is the most rocking track on Point Of No Return, leveraging more of their stoner/desert side with a nice and fuzzy ripper. 

Now, A Distant Shore is where the psych flag starts flying, with the tempo slowed, the bass rolling, and the song length extended, this one shows a ton of texture and atmosphere over its seven-plus minutes…but just wait until it starts to really rock just before the five-minute mark. Next, we have …Of Laughter And Cries which starts us with a nice riff and brings along a huge, multi-layered chorus to go along with the other big sounds created. Things Have Changed even incorporates some grunge elements to the psych desert vibes, and I love how the vocals work with the music on this one. Search Eternal brings a bit of that heaviness that is sprinkled across parts of the six tracks, with more huge sounding vocals partnering with all that sound.

The fourth Craneium album makes me as happy as all the others have. Have they increased the quality of their music? Not sure, but they have a great discography, so saying that Point Of No Return is on par with the rest of their stuff is a high complement. Great stuff. 8/10

Seum - Live At CJLO (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Seum are a bass only sludge band, hailing from Montreal and formed by veterans of the doom scene – Lord Humungus on vocals, Mlah! on bass and Uluun on drums. Live At CJLO is a free EP, timed for release to celebrate the first anniversary of their second album, Double Double which is a nifty way of saying thank you as well as getting their art out there. In their own words, it can also be taken as a Spicy appetizer for their next release due later this year.

And this is very spicy. Very spicy indeed.

This is stripped-back, harsh almost primordial stuff as Lord Humungus spits his lyrics as an almost primal release. The bass continually drove each song forward and is locked in with the drums, offering up an ungodly groove. A deliciously thick bass tone which other sludge bands would give their arms for coupled with their ability to write songs that take that sludge approach and meld it with punk gives their songs that little bit more of a punch. It more than makes up for the lack of guitar and you can understand why they have gone down this route. There’s no histrionics or displays of guitar wankery, the bass does the work and here Mlah! does it well.

The four songs presented are decent enough, Snow Bird kicking off as a mid-tempo vehicle that soon shows what they are all, constant movement. This is scuzzy stuff and for a radio set, they do a good job of capturing that live grit. Razorblade Rainbow has a more subtle feel despite it relying on the throat-shredding vocals of the Lord instead of a full-on attack. When it does come in that command of the riff is there, and on Seum Noir which starts with one of those monstrous riffs and the screams of the Lord. Its massive and you can only imagine what it must have hit like in person. 

Towards the end of this one there is some fiendish bass being deployed and then we are into Torpedo, which to me hits the most like traditional sludge which says a lot about the variance in each song here. There are no feelings of familiarity and there is a great sense of originality running through. Even with it being the most traditional it still has that movement to it; you can’t help but nod along to it.

Sludge isn’t for everyone, certainly sludge without guitar might appeal even less but over the course of the 4 songs they prove that you don’t need a guitar to be able to rock out. Each of the songs is heavy without relying on a boring riff repeated ad nauseum. There is that punk feel to it, maybe not in how the songs are written but definitely in how they are delivered. This is almost pure, unrefined sludge brought to you by three individuals who know how it should be done. Just like sludge / doom, its not for everyone but those who are craving new listening experiences should get on to this. 7/10

Vincent Crowley - Anthology (Hammerheart Records) [James Jackson]

When you think of Horror Movie scores there are the familiar tropes that automatically spring to mind, the buzzing of flies, the chilling string arrangements and of course the Demon summoning chants in a foreign tongue, Vincent Crowley have utilised all of these, plus more, in the aptly titled Intro, upon the second album released under the name, Crowley himself was previously the frontman for Death/Black Metal act Acheron.

Leading into the Amityville’s Horror the ambience of horror film score paths the way to a Death Metal ode to the classic film and the “true life” events that inspired it; vocally Crowley reminds me of Cancer vocalist/guitarist John Walker, a style which is still guttural but additionally coherent, it’s not all blast beats and frenetic riffing either, it’s more melodic, down tempo with touches of symphonic harmony.

Cthulhu inspired That Which Lurks In The Sea follows, there’s a vocal trick which brings to mind Morbid Angel’s Where The Slime Live, gloomier riffs are accompanied by a pounding bass drum, a church bell rings, a chorus of haunting voices conjures the eerie nature of Old Gods and the Lovecraftian mythos. Under The Hanging Tree is a far more powerful and melodic statement, sweeping solos and picked guitar parts ensure that this track stands out against the Old School Death Metal of previous tracks, it’s a tale of witchcraft and thematically fitting.

Nowhere To Hyde gives you a pretty good clue within its title as to where the inspiration for this track comes from, there’s definitely an element of duality within the song, the contrast between the parts hinting at the conflict within the titular character. Blood Moon Lycanthropy carries the theme, opening with a double bass drum attack beneath a riff that holds a contagious groove to it; a stripped down bridge allows a change of pace before offering an almost Doom like pace, before catapulting the listener into a more traditional Death Metal riff and tempo. Gods Of Crimson Cullings sets off with a rather somber tone to it, it’s a sentiment that returns throughout the song, amidst the more familiar Death Metal themes. Coupe De Poudre and Madam Laveau round out a rather solid album, two tales of zombification and Voodoo Queens.

The CD version of Anthology, of which I have had to review, contains a cover song of Killer, originally performed by King Diamond on the 1995 album The Spider’s Lullabye, a track that doesn’t appear on the digital version, so for fans of Old School Death Metal and King Diamond, the physical version would appear to be the best option. Whilst I’ve never hidden my aversion to the kind of Death Metal acts that never veer from the course, this blend of symphonic elements, Doomy atmospherics and the obvious Death Metal tropes makes for an interesting listen, whether I’ll play it again is highly doubtful but for now it’s been a worthy listen. 6/10