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Friday 31 May 2024

Reviews: Hellbutcher, Haunted Plasma, Wormwood, Saltpig (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings, Mark Young & Rich Piva)

Hellbutcher - Hellbutcher (Metal Blade Records) [Matt Bladen]

Not content with fronting Friends Of Hell and , black metal maniac Nifelheim, the Hellbutcher sharpens his knives ready to cleave your ears again. This time with his new band, the eponymous, Hellbutcher. The man himself describes this album as encapsulating "the true essence of metal" and boy does it ever, there are few melodies, few emotional bits, few moments where they slow down and let you breathe, perhaps only Possessed By The Devil's Flame, allowing that brief pause.

Hellbutcher are non stop metallic blasphemy from the first chord to the last. Biting disgustingly distorted guitars, tinny drums, little to no bass in the mix and those demonic vocals of Hellbutcher himself are all you need to know about this debut album, it's music that is in the Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost (ugh in Horned Of The Horned God) form, 40 years of extreme metal condensed into eight furious tracks.

Joining Hellbutcher are guitarists Necrophiliac (Mordant) and Iron Beast (Unleashed), bassist Eld (Aeternus) and drummer Martin ‘Devastator’ Axenrot (Bloodbath), so monsters in the extreme metal world, the reason why this album is so bloody vicious, they took a D.I.Y approach to the production, recording it nomad style in various studios, it sounds like it's crawled out of bathroom circa 1983-1993.

Scandinavian blasts of fury, Hellbutcher feels the band can offer more than Nifelheim ever did and he may be on to something as Hellbutcher is fucking nasty, be it on the Venom/Motorhead snarl of Death's Rider or the divebomb driven thrashing of Satan's Power, the evil of this album is difficult to contain. Paying homage to metal at it's rawest, Hellbutcher is the next exciting chapter in a very long story. 8/10

Haunted Plasma – I (Svart Records) [Paul Hutchings]

There’s something a bit special about this album. Whether it’s the driving electronica dance vibes that are subliminally touching that special spot (no touching now!), the sinister overtones of this predominantly dance based music, or the blackened edge that drifts throughout this 40-minute release with a mysterious air. Whatever it is, it’s hard to point to.

The description of Haunted Plasma as a ‘powerhouse of futuristic synth in symbiosis with the super violent atmospherics of kosmische Black Metal’, may blow your mind, but it seems about right to me. It’s an album that confuses, delights, bamboozles, and contorts in equal measure. An immersive, sometimes exploratory, always evolving collection of five songs that drift, vibrate, echo.

At the centre of this cosmic chaos is Juho Vahanen (Oranssi Pazuzu / Grave Pleasures), Timo Kaukolampi (K-X-P, Op:I Bastards) and Tomi Leppänen (Circle, Aavikko, K-X-P). Together with a collection of guest vocalists including Mat McNerney, Pauliina Lindell and Ringa Manner, they have crafted one of the most avant-garde albums you’ll hear. 

Now, I’m not familiar with the whole sonic soundscape that Haunted Plasma create, from the addictive Reverse Engineer that shaves out the first nine-plus minutes, through to the towering climax of Haunted Plasma that concludes in extraordinary style over the final 13-minutes, but it didn’t matter how many times I played this, it just slowly dove beneath the psyche.

I’m not going to draw comparisons, but there is a krautrock element to this music, alongside many other influences. The swirling, cinematic elements are compelling, whilst the driving, rhythmic motions simply enchant. It’s an album you need to hear. And then decide. Can I rate it? Probably. But it’ll no doubt change again after the next play. 9/10

Wormwood: The Star (Black Lodge Records) [Mark Young]

Ah, Sweden calling!! Wormwood drop their latest offering, a typically grandiose blast of black metal which leans heavily into the melodic and atmospheric that gives it a unique take on that aforementioned genre. It is an album large in scope and in its approach and Wormwood have the necessary skills to carry this off.

Stjärnfall, opens proceedings with a measured, controlled arrangement that brings strident riffs and of course a health dose of blast beats. There is a feeling of light within it as it progresses through each part and then a real surprise as it drops into a Pink Floyd style of melodic break. 

You will know what I mean when it lands, and it makes the song work because it is so unexpected. Then they do it again, the closing sections employing a choir effect that adds another dimension. It shouldn’t work but they make it work and we end up with a cracker of an opening track.

Having calmed down, A Distant Glow is next up. Opting for that mid-tempo attack and uplifting guitar parts that soon become the standard template from which the others follow. I’ll say it now that Wormwood have an amazing knack for picking the right guitar parts that give the song that feeling of triumph. 

Liminal continues in the same vein, with more or less the same speed of attack but there is a wicked little change of tack that is wonderful, wringing out more emotional heft before it returns to the original arrangement. However, what becomes apparent that despite the quality of the songs here they all follow a similar template. 

Once that exceptional opening song finishes and they complete A Distant Glow that arrangement becomes almost a standard template for the rest to follow. Galactic Blood brings a blast of movement that is replaced by that keen sense of the melodic and a cracking lead break. It’s not that there is a lack of speed, it is more that there isn’t a song that has a vicious or truly aggressive edge to it. 

When they deploy blast beats or trem parts, they do it to embellish rather than do it for effect. But what they do, they do it well with Thousand Doorless Rooms providing more of that grand, sweeping metal whilst Suffer Existence brings the blasts from the off and is the closest to that aggressive sound I mentioned earlier. But what it does have are moments where a dual vocal kicks in, providing another facet to their sound. 

The use of strings goes a long way too, and it's these little touches that add so much overall. Ro has a gentle start, those dual vocals now providing the narrative in the opening moments. Like Stjärnfall, it is made up of so many moments of class as the trip runs from the subtle into the fully charged into an emotive lead break. It's tastefully done and ensures that they climax on a true high note.

So, on the one hand, it’s an album of superbly crafted music that makes good on their word of being unique within the realms of black metal. It is an endlessly uplifting album, chock full of those melodies and guitar parts that make the hair stand up on your arms. On the other hand, those wishing for a bit of grit and a balls-out attack won’t find it here. 

It is guilty of the songs following a similar build right through, but they are so good you will forgive them for this. Or maybe you won’t. But if you give any one of the songs a chance you will stop for the rest. Try it. 8/10

Saltpig - Salt Pig (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

Heavy Psych Sounds has done a good job of picking up bands who released a record on their own in 2023 and giving them the full HPS vinyl treatment in 2024. Lie Heavy, the first example of this, was an excellent pick up and will for sure be on a lot of year end lists. 

Saltpig is another example, as the band put out their debut self-titled album back in October of last year to strong reviews and is now getting their very own ultra limited-edition splatters (and all the other variants) a HPS band gets these days. It is not fair to compare this album to Lie Heavy, but what I can say are both records are great heavy rock with Saltpig leaning more towards proto doom type heaviness leaning less on the production values and more on the frantic noisy fuzz with mostly killer results.
The opening two tracks, Satan’s War and Demon are beautifully underproduced slabs of Sabbath-y proto goodness with nods to bands like Witchfinder General that are just killer. This sounds like it was recorded in a garage with the washing machine going in the background and Iommi riffs flowing along with the detergent except there is nothing clean about Saltpig. 

This is some dirty ass proto metal. Did I mention dirty? Burning Water is just that, and has some chunky ass riffs to boot. I love the solo on this one. I would compare this to a band like Early Moods but only if EM didn’t pay for studio time and said fuck it and plugged in and recorded in the alley behind the studio (this is a high complement coming from this reviewer). 

When You Were Dead stays on the same tip, but we are now heading towards an even messier, mid-tempo, noise rock type approach (more on this later) that still rocks. Burn The Witch is more sloppy proto goodness which is something Saltpig, even in their early stages as a band, have perfected. I love the fuzzy and almost funky nature of the guitar work on this one. 

Where this album may lose people is with the closer, 1950, which is almost 20 minutes of straight up noise straight out of the bowels of Hell. Yeah, there are riffs, but this track is hard to digest. Like think of some dissonant black metal stuff or some of the most difficult to listen to Thou, and this is what you get on 1950, and it never seems to end. This track will ruin Saltpig for some, or people may just skip it and take the first five tracks and run, but kudos to the band for putting such a challenging track on their debut record.
Heavy Psych Sounds wins again with Saltpig, as the majority of this record will be killer for most of the proto riff loving community. Saltpig wins by getting this record out to more people and having some killer splatter options for the vinyl geeks as well. A win for everyone involved, band, label, and fans alike. 8/10

Reviews: Rhapsody Of Fire, Cloven Hoof, Ebba Bergkvist & The Flat Tire Band, Lowlives (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings, Paul Scoble & Rich Piva)

Rhapsody Of Fire - Challenge The Wind (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

I'm not sure how we can still review albums by Rhapsody Of Fire. Keyboardist Alex Staropoli has been performing symphonic/cinematic/conceptual metal since 1995. Then known as Rhapsody in 2006, after a trademark issue they changed their name to Rhapsody Of Fire and further down the line there was spilt in the membership leaving just Strapoli as the sole founding member. So Rhapsody Of Fire are the official version, as founding guitarist Luca Truilli and long term singer Fabio Lione have both formed their own versions of the band separately and together.

The spirit of Rhapsody's impact can be heard with bands such as Twilight Force, Fairyland and Dragonland and that's how you can approach any new albums by Rhapsody Of Fire, they originated this style so it's difficult to complain that they stick to it. As with all their other 13 albums they are part of a concept and Challenge The Wind is the third and final chapter in the The Nephilim's Empire Saga, their first saga penned by just Staropoli alongside guitarist Roberto De Micheli.

This final part is the most metal album of this 30 odd year career, no ballads, just fast paced symphonic metal, Vanquished By Shadows for instance adds some harsh vocals, Diamond Claws goes into thrash as they keep the history with tracks such as A Brave New Hope. With an intense rhythm section, neoclassical guitars/keys, anthemic vocals and those dense, blockbuster orchestrations that bands have long imitated Rhapsody Of Fire are still the original and best group in the 'film score' metal genre. There will be many more stories and I assume many more offshoots, but Rhapsody Of Fire keep the lanterns burning bright. 8/10

Cloven Hoof – Heathen Cross (High Roller Records) [Paul Hutchings]

If you search back through these mighty pages, you’ll find two reviews from me of Cloven Hoof, those also rans from back in the NWOBHM days. Who Mourns The Morning Star got a bit of a mauling from me, whilst my angst about the band’s plagiarism of Iron Maiden in 2020’s Age of Steel was evident throughout. I missed 2022’s Time Assassins altogether. The Hoof is nothing if not persistent though, and four years later we have the new album, Heathen Cross to digest.

First thing to say is that the band’s latest singer, Jag Panzer’s Harry ‘The Tyrant’ Conklin is a fine improvement on previous singer George Call, whose voice didn’t work for me at all. Conklin has a range that covers Dio to ‘Ripper’ Owens, with a bit of Stu Block thrown in for good measure. Alongside Lee Payne, bassist, original member and driving force, this time around, we see Ash Baker move from guitar to drums, recent addition Chris Dando (keyboards), and guitarists Chriss Coss and Luke Hatton return.
Payne is clearly rather pleased with it. “We are back now where we belong. Heathen Cross is Cloven Hoof’s most dark and heavy album yet! It has the Satanic undertones of our debut album, but with the best vocalist the group has ever had. Personally speaking it is hands down my favourite Cloven Hoof album. We wanted to recapture the spirit and the supernatural majesty of the debut album. Talking to the fans we have given them what they wanted most, a return to the roots of the NWOBHM. They are going to love it!”

Well, who I am it piss on his parade? Heathen Cross is indeed a solid heavy metal album, albeit crammed full of riffs and segments that you’ll have heard on those bands from he 70s and 80s that are the influences for the band. Yes, there is plenty of Iron Maiden here once again, with the duelling twin lead guitars working well. Darkest Before The Dawn rips just about everything you can from Maiden’s Only The Good Die Young, whilst Redeemer flips between King Diamond and Judas Priest. Elsewhere, echoes of Sabbath’s Hole In The Sky on Do What Thou Wilt loom large.
But for all the plagiarism, this is really enjoyable if you like classic heavy metal. Tracks like Frost And FireVendetta and Sabbat Stones will all get the head nodding, with thick riffs, high tempo driving rhythm sections and Conklin’s energetic delivery all combining in fine style. A vast improvement on those previous albums, it’s somewhat encouraging that Cloven Hoof have enough enthusiasm to continue. I’m not knocking any band with that amount of drive, and whilst I have my criticisms, I enjoyed Heathen Cross from start to finish. 7/10

Ebba Bergkvist & The Flat Tire Band – Four Wings (The Sign Records) [Paul Scoble]

Ebba Bergkvist & The Flat Tire Band started as a solo project when Ebba was still at music school in 2017. An EP called Alright followed in 2019, and Ebba moved back to her hometown of Stockholm, got a band together and Ebba Bergkvist & The Flat Tire Band released their debut album, Spilt Milk in 2020. Four Wings is the bands second album, recorded at Silence Studios, Värmland, on this album Ebba is joined by bass player Björn Björnehult Korning, drummer Adam Randolf and guitarist Jonas Skeppar.

The album features ten song that fit into a blues/blues rock/Americana style. The album kicks off with the title track. Four Wings is great piece of blues rock, with a taut and soulful verse that immediately showcases Ebba’s great voice. The chorus is more driving and purposeful than the verse section, with some great backing vocals making the chorus nice and powerful. 

Four Wings is a great way to open the album, next song, The Pack is another rocker, but with a bit more blues to it than the opener. Again, the chorus has some great Backing Vocals that sound huge, making a nice juxtaposition to the verse that is more minimal. The song grows a lot, building to a huge ending.

Northeast Passage has a minimal and quite funky verse that draws you in for the straight rock of the chorus. The contrast between the two feels works very well, and the chorus always feels powerful and forceful, again the vocals add a lot to the drive and power of the song. Vice Versa is a stomping rocker, it’s a fairly simple song, but that is its’s strength. It drives along, always pushing forward, and has a nice guitar solo and a powerful ending.

Seasick is a great piece of blues. The guitar tones are closer to clean than on a lot of the material we have heard so far. The verse is nice and tuneful, and the chorus is based around a great blues riff, the song also allows Ebba’s vocals to shine through. There is also a great slide guitar solo, to complete this great blues track. Backslide is a beautiful lilting ballad that is mainly clean guitar and lush vocals, and a wonderful chorus. It’s melancholy, sweet and perfectly placed to give the listener a breath after several up-tempo rock tracks.

Black Horses is a very interesting song. It features two very distinct styles, between the beginning of the song and the second half of the song. The first half is very minimal with a simple, clean, and quiet guitar riff, minimal percussion, brooding bass and gentle vocals. The second half builds on the foundations laid by the opening of the song, by adding layers of vocals to build the song up too much bigger proportions for an ending that feels hugely bigger than the songs beginning.

Maverick is a measured piece of blues with lots of Hammond organ. The verse is minimal and brooding, whilst the chorus is huge and driving. The chorus has a bit of Seventies rock feel to it, that Hammond organ gives the chorus a little bit of a Deep Purple vibe. Next song Treachery is a driving rock song, tight and purposeful it has a great energy that feels good after two softer tracks.

Four Wings comes to an end with the song Eastern Prairies, a song that sits between blues and country, a wonderful piece of Americana. The song is lilting Piano, clean guitar and great personality filled vocals. It’s the sort of thing that Alison Krauss is so good at. The song builds to a big and very beautiful ending to the song and the album.

Four Wings is a great piece of  blues/blues rock/Americana. All the songs are very well written, and the performances are great across the board. I liked Ebba’s voice a lot and loved the way the choruses were structured with layered vocals to make them stand out and feel bigger than the verse sections. I also like the way the album flows; opening with several of the rockier songs before bringing in some softer and less aggressive tracks so that the album has a nice ebb and flow. It’s a great album that is even more impressive considering it is only the bands second. Great piece of blues rock, highly recommended. 8/10

Lowlives - Freaking Out (Spinefarm Records) [Rich Piva]

Los Angeles, California’s Lowlives bring all sorts of 90s-early 2000s vibes on their debut album, Freaking Out. I get elements of grunge, pop punk, emo, and radio friendly alt rock spread liberally across the ten tracks, with varied results, showing some good promise for a young band but with lots of room for improvement.

Let’s start with some good, as the opening title track rocks, another example of a song that you wish the Foo Fighters were putting out these days but have not since, like, 1997. Even the scream parts have Foo vibes, but the good kind. I am also getting some of those second or third (depending on who you are talking to) emo vibes, which makes sense, since, you know, The Colour And The Shape and all that. This is energetic radio friend alternative rock in all of the best ways possible. Liar is up next, and we seem to go more Weezer then, say, Sunny Day Real Estate, unfortunately. It is catchy and will have people who really dig it, but it is a bit too sugary mainstream for this reviewer. 

Back to the Foos, Getting High On Being Low is that formula as well, but maybe throw some Bush via Lit with some Buckcherry in there too. Swan Dive has the chunkiest riff and the layered lower octave vocals bring faint Alice In Chains vibes, but without the darkness that AIC made their own. Loser to me is just that; a failed attempt for a hit single that sounds like one of those punk bands that tired to make a mid tempo clever track in 2003. You Don’t Care, however, is a nice, driving and aggressive track that is grungier than the rest and it is unfortunate because when the band gets heavier, I think they excel. Out Of Step is a strong track too, with serious 90s vibes that really hit the mark. 

The problem is Closer Than You Know reverts back to my thoughts on Loser, which to me in he 90s cut out bin more that Buzz Clip. To compound the schizophrenic nature of this record, Damien kind of rocks too and has all the good aspects of 90s radio friendliness. Lowlives channelled their inner Nickleback, or maybe Staind, or a band of similar ilk with the acoustic driven Vertigo that closes Freak Out with more of a whimper. Acoustic closers only work when the track grabs you, see Blue In The Face off of Alkaline Trio’s classic Good Mourning, this is not Blue In The Face

There is some good stuff on Freak Out, and some stuff I am not too keen on, but I am sure others will be, because Lowlives is appealing more to the rock mainstream than to the guy who waits every day on the edge of their seat for the announcement of a new Wo Fat album. I will say, however, when the band rocks and doesn’t try to pop punk stuff up too much they are at their best. Freak Out shows some signs of real potential, especially if the band decides to channel their grunge side and just go for the heavy. 6/10

Thursday 30 May 2024

Reviews: Young Acid, Grain Of Pain, Graywave, The Troops Of Doom (Reviews By Rich Piva, James Jackson, Mark Young & Paul Hutchings)

Young Acid - Murder At Maple Mountain (Majestic Mountain Records) [Rich Piva]

Young Acid is a Swedish heavy music super group of sorts with members of Greenleaf, Grand Cadaver, Domkraft, and Besvärjelsen amongst others who step away from the usual heavy riff rock stoner psych side and lean more towards the punk side with their debut record, Murder At Maple Mountain, brought to us by the amazing Majestic Mountain Records who knows a thing or two about what is awesome in heavy rock music. 

Now all of the guys in Young Acid come from great bands, but having current Greenleaf vocalist Arvid Hällagård, one of my favourite vocalists, involved really sealed the deal for me. So, based on this information how on earth can this not be killer? Well, it is and then some, because Murder At Maple Mountain rips shit up.

This is a 30-minute blast of punk with psych and stoner leanings (of course) that kills right from the opening track, Into The Depths. Hällagård’s vocals lead the way over some up-tempo stoner punk that has amazing sound and excellent mix. I love the start and stop in this one and you can tell the guys are just having fun with this project. 

Bitter Little Man is no too off from a Greenleaf track but if the band leaned more towards the garage, which is as great as it sounds. The driving base and the echoed vocals give some serious early 90s punk vibes and I feel like I am hearing some Social Distortion love happening musically. I love the frantic nature and weird riff of Fightmaker Street that shows that these guys don’t want to move too far away from their stoner/psych leanings, as I get a Masters Of Reality vibe on this one. 

Speaking of frantic, I love the drum work on PV 444 which may be my favourite track on the record. Woodshed Blues is just as great as the last track, and goes a heavy blues/White Stripes sort of direction and I am here for it. I’m sure these guys all love The Helicopters given a song like The Crust that just kicks ass, just like the simple yet extremely effective The Kids Of Rumble Village. Shortcomings And Longstockings is a chunky ripper while the aptly named Run Boy Run sounds like its name and blasts right past you with the driving base and very cool guitar work. 2002 wraps up the non-stop action, bringing us down gently with excellent layered vocals and a wall of sound guitar.

Young Acid better not be just a side project, because Murder At Maple Mountain leaves you wanting more from these guys for sure. It is the perfect length, tempo, and vibe and has excellent playing and the song writing sounds like a band that has been together for years. This record rips and should be experienced by all. A Greenleaf and Young Acid record in the same year, in back-to-back months? What did we do to deserve such awesomeness? 9/10

Grain Of Pain - The Moon Lights The Way (Noble Demon) [James Jackson]

Treading that path between death and doom metal are Finland’s Grain Of Pain, fronted and masterminded by Timo Solonen but joined by quite the team of session musicians, particularly guitarist Juho Raiha and drummer Juuso Raatikainen both of whom are in Swallow The Sun.

Beneath opens the album and already it’s easy to see that Timo is more than adept at composing something dark and melancholy. Layered black/death metal style vocals lead as clean vocals take the chorus, the cycling script feeling more desperate with each new turn; the drums driving a solemn pace alongside a funereal guitar.

Sun For Thee is a faster paced track but no less dark for it, vocally the focus is upon a cleaner style, the death/black metal style used minimally with far greater impact than having this style being the sole focus. 

The Moon Lights The Way, being not only the title track but also the lead single from the album opens with a picked guitar melody and an underscore of bass, clean vocals offer lead and harmonies, it’s a far more prog affair than it is doom or death metal but those elements are evident at times.

As Suffering Ends brings the doom back in glorious fashion whilst The Witch adds an altogether more interesting twist to its verses that after an acoustic style intro becomes funkier, almost sultry in its atmosphere.

Can’t Be Fallen and Last Morning, another track showing a more diverse mix, round out the album before two “bonus” tracks conclude events completely.

The writing credits go solely to Timo Solonen and within the nine tracks on offer, he has crafted an impressive collection of songs that not only fall within that doom/death category but are also comfortably drawing inspiration from other sources. 9/10

Graywave - Dancing In The Dust EP (Church Road Records) [Mark Young]

Representing something of a departure from the steady diet of death metal / traditional extreme music comes Graywave with their EP, Dancing In The Dust. They recently popped up on my Twitter / X (delete as you see fit) feed via Revolver magazine as one of 5 bands to watch out for and they described the new EP as ‘REM-disturbing storm cloud of grunge-gloom moodiness and haunting vocal work’ which is a pretty good statement to kick off with. 

Formed in 2019 initially as a solo venture for Jess Webberley they have evolved (and are continually evolving) into the band that has dropped the EP we have today.

And it’s a cracker.

Falling Apart leads off and straight away you can see where they are coming from, there is an underlying darkness that pervades even in those quieter ‘gaze’ moments so when they go loud it gets darker. It’s so well put together and sounds so vital, that dark energy putting a lot of the extreme bands to shame because of the honesty behind it. 

Blur Into One launch with what could be described as an atypical grunge motif, large guitar dropping back to showcase Jess Webberleys vocals which shine through. What is also apparent is that command of required melody that keeps this pushing forward. It may evoke memories of bands past, but it is firmly of this time.

Dark Spell would have been the song played just after midnight at the extreme nights I used to go to, its balance and rising tempo would have filled the floor as there are hints of that darker aggression that has been bubbling away, its quality and leads to Undone, which is just more of that sumptuous vocal hooks that are everywhere on this EP.

I can only assume that when they play this live it will elicit a storming response because it is built for a crowd to sing this back. It’s heavy and it just grabs you from start to finish. Cycle with those chorus effects that lead into a hypnotic journey with Jess’s vocals once again running away with it as the song rises to an end. 

There is power within it as it traverses its course and suddenly, we are on the title track, which sees them switch it a little as they look further backwards, at least to me sounding similar to new wave synth from the 80’s. It has those earworm melodies to it which makes it difficult to shake and you know that this would get the crowd up. 

Dancing In The Dust lands differently from the others, it is not a jarring change, but it works so well and shows that they can’t sit still over the course of an EP. Big thanks to Church Road for putting this out and you should check their site out because this is not a one off.

We have talked about the health of UK music, generally in more extreme genres – Heriot, Burner, Mastiff amongst others all putting out exceptional music and you can add Graywave to that growing list who do what they do so well. I didn’t think I would appreciate it as well as I did, but I’m glad that I got the opportunity to review it. 

It is a cracker, and you shouldn’t be put off by the fact there are no blast beats or hyper-speed guitar because it is a thing of beauty. 8/10

The Troops Of Doom – A Mass To The Grotesque (Alma Mater Records) [Paul Hutchings]

They’ve been a blur of releases since their formation in 2020, with a work rate that is exhausting just to read. It was The Rise Of Heresy that first grabbed my attention, but it was debut album Antichrist Reborn which really grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns with a 40-minute onslaught of nothing but old school Brazilian death metal.

Two years on and we are facing a similar aural assault as the band’s second album lands. The line-up remains the same, with Alex Kafer’s powerful bass lines and gravel-soaked delivery once again front and centre. He is joined by Jairo ‘Tormentor’ Guedz and Marcelo Vasco on guitars, and drummer Alexandre Oliveira.
It’s a familiar, almost welcoming layout. The spooky, atmospheric intro of Solve Et Coagula (dissolve and coagulate) is expected and gives way to the frantic opening riffs of single Chapels of the Unholy. It’s a skin removing blast, which attacks with typical savagery. The riffs are brutal, the vocals abrasive, and the drumming blistering. It doesn’t let up from here until the final notes of sinister album closer Venomous Creed. And to be fair, why would you expect anything else?
The Troops of Doom balance out their songs on A Mass To The Grotesque. Two longer songs are mixed with much shorter, punishing bursts. Dawn Of Mephisto is one, a six-minute battery which flies along. The other lengthier track is Psalm 7:8 – God Of Bizarre

The latter allows the band to expand their sound much more, and whilst the intensity which has become their trademark remains, the elongated intro that eases you into the song works well. It’s a sprawling monster, and probably the best song on the album. The slower chug allows a balanced delivery and whilst the influences are evident, there is something quite killer about this song.

Elsewhere, The Troops continue to demolish with a reliable solidity that is hard to fault. It may not be the most original of styles, but they do what they do well. All out thrashers like Terror Inheritance, the feverish rage of The Imposter King and the blast of Blood Upon The Throne all work and should entice those who like their death thrash. 

Once more, The Troops Of Doom has delivered. Now, when do we get some UK dates? 8/10

Reviews: Nestor, The Dave Foster Band, Bass Communion, EvilDead (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Nestor - Teenage Rebel (Napalm Records)

Nestor took the music world by surprise with their previous album Kids In A Ghost Town, the Swedes play authentic melodic rock that sounds like it’s been stuck in a time capsule since the late 80’s. Dispelling any notions of grunge or nu-metal, they’re here to party like its 1984 not 2024.

Unlike a lot of bands that have revived the AOR/melodic rock genre, Nestor actually formed in 1989 as a progressive metal band, releasing a few self-produced efforts but only in 2021 when they fully embraced the slickness and gleam of the ott 80’s did they fully realise their vision.

35 years of experience packed into these songs ring loud when they give you some Journey-like brilliance on Victorious or some Toto-like soul on Caroline, you can hear that even though they have their tongues in their cheeks a little the performances are honest reflections of that era, nostalgia but with reverence to the source material.

For example the title track is rose tinted look at the past Tobias Gustavsson is the reason why Nestor appeal to me so much, his vocals are in that melodic sweet spot of Steve Perry and Bobby Kimball soaring high but with soulful quality that brings real emotion on the ballads and rockers alike.

Jonny Wemmenstedt adds the flash with his widdly guitar playing, most of the songs building into some guitar heroics, the additional flavour brought by Martin Frejinger’s keys, sometimes a lead instrument, sometimes fleshing out the backing on strutting numbers such as Addicted To Your Love.

On 21 they up the speed, like those early Europe records where they were neo-classical in the song writing Mattias Carlsson’s drums galloping with double kicks as Marcus Åblad’s bass locks in for the wild ride, this will slay on the stage but so too will the huge ballads such as Daughter and The One That Got Away.

Nestor blend the best moments of Journey, Toto, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, adding dashes of hard rock and some prog rock technicality as well. They maybe a long time off from being Teenage Rebels but their experience shines on this slick, melodic rock record! 9/10

The Dave Foster Band – Maybe They’ll Come Back For Us (English Electric Recordings)

A band who met after being introduced by Marillion’s Steve Rothery, Dutch singer Dinet Poortman and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Foster have been a band since 2017, having released two previous albums, I knew that even if I hadn’t heard the others I’d love this due to the membership.

The Marillion link continues a Dave plays in Steve Rothery Band too, as well as being a member of Big Big Train, whose label releases this third collaboration, joining them are bassist Neil Fairclough (Queen + Adam Lambert), drummer Leon Parr (also of Steve Rothery Band), pianist Anthony Hindley and string arranger Stephen Boyce Buckley.

They’ve even manged to rope Rothery in for a sublime solo on These Tendencies, while on Talented Failure there is the unmistakable bass playing of Level 42’s Mark King and elsewhere extra vocals from Carly Bryant ex-Big Big Train. With that beautiful guitar sound that opens Sleep Spindles I’m in heaven as the likes of Floyd, Marillion are instantly recognisable, Foster playing with feel over flash and Dinet’s vocals are smoky, breathy and full of 90’s alt rock sneer.

Lots of links to bands I love such as Mostly Autumn, Touchstone, The Reasoning are audible, on a track like Pollyanna for instance but also Cranberries (Queen Of Maybe), Muse (Delicate Things) and The Gathering (The Optimist) too. With the King funk bass driving Talented Failure, there’s a very specific nod to the Britpop of Shampoo and The Manics, These Tendencies too has a nostalgic 90’s drive to it.

This is pop prog at its slickest, the virtuosity never getting in the way of accessible song writing, emotion rings out of the guitar, piano and the vocals, functionality and groove from the rhythm section, the relaxed way it was recorded benefitting the players by letting them fully take control of the recording, giving them a way to experiment and make sure things are perfect.

It's damn close to perfect, I'm a sucker for this sort of music so of course I was going to like it but The Dave Foster Band deliver some top flight pop/prog on their third album. 9/10

Bass Communion - The Itself Of Itself (Fourth Dimension/Lumberton Trading Company)

No matter the genre, you can bet Steven Wilson will have a go at it. Progressive in the best sense, his discography is as broad as it is extensive and with his Bass Communion project he takes things to the furthest reaches paying homage to ambient, drone, noise and field recordings.

The Itself Of Itself is his 11th foray into the sub tones and atmospheres and it begins auspiciously with Unperson, 10 minutes of audio harshness that evolves into some ambience at the end, Apparition 3 on the other hand delves into low end throbbing, journeys through undiscovered galaxies to forgotten stars.

The obsession with analogue instruments and the sounds they make be that deliberate or incidental such as tape hiss or static on Bruise for instance. The Itself Of Itself will not be for everyone, there's not a huge amount of music here, but there is a lot of noises, drawn together, from the industrial harshness of Blackmail to the use of distorted, twisted string and wind instruments, there's nothing safe on this album.

It's going to upset some people, bore others but anyone who has an obsession with Sunn O))), Brian Eno or Alio Die this will infect your psyche. 7/10

EvilDead - Toxic Grace (Steamhammer/SPV)

Thrash has always been political so with a track such as Stupid On Parade US thrash metal band EvilDead continue a long standing tradition of raging against the fringes of political oppression and the bane of technology on Subjugated Souls. It's been a four year gap since this comeback album United $tate$ Of Anarchy but before that they last released an album in 1991.

I didn't hear the previous albums but Toxic Grace is retro as it comes, the production is rough and ready as they shift from their distinct thrash metal into doom, death and more. An experienced band then but playing thrash similar to the way it was back in 1986 when they formed so it can't really escape those trappings for very long. Only really the bonus track The Death And Resurrection Show adding a different sound standing as an industrial tribute to Kevin 'Geordie' Walker of Killing Joke.

So Toxic Grace continues EvilDead's socio-political thrash metal crusade, never wandering that far from their beginnings even after nearly 40 years. 7/10

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Reviews: Knights Of The Realm, Bloodorn, Night Laser, Electron (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Knights Of The Realm - Darker Than Leather (Playground Music)

Classic metal is done very well by The Swedes, though what isn't really? It's to the point now that almost all of their bands are a supergroup of sorts. Knights Of The Realm draws members from Eclipse, Tiamat, Tank and Avatarium and they are a unashamed homage to the leather clad sounds of 80's classic metal, forged in the fires of NWOBHM, speed metal and the occult. Darker Than Leather brings together all the good bits of Priest, Dio, Mercyful Fate even the likes of Venom as well as the countless additions to the NWOTHM such as Enforcer and even Grand Magus. 

Releasing their debut in 2021, this follow up doubles down on their style but adds some personal touches to the lyrics to add some introspection and maturity to their approach. Lars Sköld behind the kit is joined by bassist Mats Rydström as a full time member, taking their live line up into the studio for the first time. This now experienced duo add that extra layer of muscle to the fireworks of guitarist Magnus Henriksson, as the band exudes the "power of metal" on Hell Can Wait.

Then we get a Saxon-like biker groove on Killer Machine and things become more dramatic on The Dark. The latter showing off the powerful vocals of Marcus Von Boisman who has a good amount of grit even when the band move towards some melodic realms on Love Hunter.

Knights Of The Realm are classic metal, grab your leathers and turn up the volume. 7/10

Bloodorn - Let The Fury Rise (Reaper Entertainment)

Another supergroup, this time international, this time playing power metal. Meaty, American style power metal. Founded by Sirenia members Nils Coubaron (guitar) and Michael Brush (drums) they are joined by Silent Winter singer Mika Livas and Freedom Call bassist Francesco Saverio Ferraro. Let The Fury Rise is full bore speed metal if Dragonforce went down a thrashier route.

Tracks such as Fear The Coming Wave and Under The Secret Sign both have that mix of styles, the latter featuring some brilliant guitar work and lightspeed drumming. The accelerator stays firmly on the floor as Rise Up Again adds more aggression and synths, again there's even more synths on Tonight We Fight used against the heaviest track on the album. So Bloodorn bring a muscular style of power metal to the table, their experience meaning that Let The Fury Rise is brilliant listen for any shred fans, there's even a cover of Ghost's Square Hammer which gets a speed metal makeover for the better to end the album.

I had high hopes for Let The Fury Rise and for the most part they were met. Warp speed, aggressive power metal from a multi-national cast of skilled musicians. 7/10

Night Laser - Call Me What You Want (Steamhammer/SPV)

Glam...it's one of those genres...it's either decent or bloody awful. A lot of that stems from the cringe lyrics and the image surrounding it. Very much of it's time you can think about any modern glam bands without thinking of the big hair and spiky guitars of Ratt, Poison or even Def Leppard. 

Hamburg band Night Laser look to change the opinion with the fourth album Call Me What You Want, the band called it their most diverse record yet, recorded for the first time together there's a lot more cohesion in the compositions as they can all feed off one another while the lyrics do away with fast cars and women for socio-political and personal metaphors. 

So it's mature sleaze, recently added guitarists Felipe Zapata Martinez and Vincent Hadeler playing the twin axe attack as new drummer Ingemar Hadeler locks in with founding member Robert Hankers, brother Benno behind the mic. It's Benno that spoils this album from me as it could be the best music I've ever heard but his voice doesn't sit well, it's too strained and shrill, even when they breach into classic metal or even power metal, I still find it distracting. 

A shame as there's a lot to like if you're a fan of the genre and they do add strings and keys much more to make it more than just glam/metal but I did find myself tuning out. 5/10

Electron - Hollow EP (Self Released)

Bristling with electronics and Nu-metal influences Electron spark up some modern metallic noise that's got leanings towards the scene of 20 years ago (that hurts to say) comparisons to bands such ad Korn or Architects are both valid as they have a darkness but also huge melodies, sometimes moving beyond the soundscapes of a trio.

Recorded with Romesh Dodangoda who knows a thing or too about making an album sound modern, this EP then has a lot of potential around it, potential that can be heard on Tame! an electronic rocker with aggressive vocals that is anything but that, Hollow too brings some hooky choruses but at times there are dips on The Unbound and Loathe which are not much more than angsty brooding but still not bad.

Consisting of Jason Payne (vocals/guitar), Joanna Hyde (bass), and Nuno Bessa (drums) there's lots to enjoy about Electron if you like modern metal. 7/10

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Reviews: Defects, Red Handed Denial, Reversed, Ataraxia (Reviews By Zak Skane, Matt Bladen, Gavin Brown & James Jackson)

Defects – Modern Error (Mascot Records) [Zak Skane]

Defects are a new up and coming metalcore band that are releasing their debut album Modern Error. Throughout the 14 tracks the band harness the trending modern metal tropes that have been made famous by metal acts like Architects and Wage War with it’s low tuned riffage and factory tight drums, even though the band have this modern delivery it a comes in a genuine package. 

The first full length track on this album Scapegoat brings us classic old school meaty metalcore pedal tone riffs which combines a modern flavour with it’s new school technicality whilst being backed by bouncy drum beats. The vocals come in with some fast pace harsh vocal phrases that would give Briton Bond from Wage War a run for him money whilst they are traded off with some modern clean vocal melodies in the choruses. 

End Of Days brings in some eastern scaled technical riffs that combines bands such as Monuments and Architects especially with it’s djenty riffages, which is followed by some pitched whammyed breakdowns. The clean choruses on this album come in a powerful package that reminisces of the former guitarist of Bury Tomorrow Jason Cameron's delivery that just naturally cut through the mix. 

Dream Awake takes a melodic route with it’s factory standard mainstream song structures, placing the harsh vocals aside and going full melodic delivery with soaring choruses. On Dream Awake we also get some melodic solos that swoon from rapid phrases to melodically spaced out sung notes that tail perfectly into the final chorus. 

Another Heart To Bleed gets us back into familiar territory with it’s technical riffs and tasty anthemic choruses. Recurring brings in a great match made in heaven with combining the old and new ways of metal. Opening with some classic Architects style technical riffs which is then followed by Slipknot styled thrashy energy that are gelled well with relentlessly accurate double kicks before it dives into some Lamb oO God meets Wage War styled half time grooves.

Lockdown come with some classic old school metalcore with it’s heavy thrashy low tuned down picked riffs and harmonised leads and licks. The tracks also features some nods to Slipknot some Beer Keg samples. The track really highlights on the concept of the infamous pandemic especially when it comes featuring lyrics about miss information and the oppressive side of the isolation. 

As on the nose these lyrical themes are, when you put them in the context of their mix of old school meets new school metalcore it really creates a passionate outcome. The ballad Echo chamber brings in pop influences with it’s neo soul sounding reverbed chords, 808 sounding drum beats whilst flickers of padded synths fill the void before it fades into one of the most well constructed synth wave styled interlude tracks that I have heard this year. 

The last two songs on the album bring this album to climatic closer with Second To None bringing in some old Lamb Of God style grooves with it’s 8th note triplet based riffs and Laid To Rest sounding lead guitar melodies but also bringing the new school metal elements with it’s ambient delayed guitar layers and soaring clean choruses. Speaking of atmosphere Gone To Waste carries on the delayed guitars and pushes them front and centre for the introduction before they are elevated to their final radio friendly choruses. 

Defects debut release Modern Error really captures the new the ideas of the modern style of metal whilst still carrying the old school spirit. The lyrical themes contained on this album venture from your standard emotional heart break themed lyrics to topics that explore the events that took place during the great pandemic whist not feeling jarring at the same time. 

Overall Modern Error brings Defects onto everyone radar with their tried and tested form of metalcore. 7/10

Red Handed Denial - A Journey Through Virtual Dystopia (Paid Vacation Records)

I've been on the Red Handed Denial train since I heard their 2019 album Redeemer. It was an experimental, progressive record that hinged on powerful metalcore, electronic elements and prog/djent technicality. With their next album I'd Rather Be Asleep they refined it, cutting down the amount of songs to streamline their approach. With that album they became a four piece and that is how they stay on this new record, A Journey Through Virtual Dystopia

This Canadian band have again reshaped their sound, it's more complex but easier to access, heavier but with stronger melodies and with each album singer Lauren Babic gets better and better, though she started out pretty good to begin with. Lead single Parasite is the first of 10 tracks and the djenty stop start riffs begin in earnest, gothic synths filter in the back, the crushing riffs giving way to a anthemic clean chorus, Chris Mifsud's guitars shifting from down tuned palm muting to fluid arpeggios. 

My Demise brings a bit of nu metal shredding and more massive riffs, the technical guitar playing over the virtuoso drumming from Tyson Dang while One More Night is deep in the synthwave/electronica sound, as is Falling Back To You which ups the emotion, Dominick De Kauwe's bass at the grooving heart, while he's also the major part of the trio that forms the middle of the record, industrial instrumental Driving Towards A Neon Sunset, heaving groover Smokescreen then the trip hop outro of and Then I Found Myself In A Virtual Dystopia

Their latest album sees Red Handed Denial taking the most modern route they can with their music while continuing to get heavier. 8/10

Reversed - Wildly Possessed (Invictus Productions) [Gavin Brown]

Canadian Black/Death/Thrash metal monsters Reversed unleash their debut album Wildly Possessed and it sees the band show no mercy as they detonate seven powerful metal anthems with reckless abandon. Starting as they mean to go on with the title track of the album and from then on in, it’s a wild ride with Reversed cranking out high octane laden metal anthems for fun, and it does sound like it is fun they are having s they do so. 

Wildly Possessed is very much a full on blitzkrieg of a record with tracks like Maelstrom Juggernaut, Final Death and the closing blur of Black Sees defining this, the songs running amok as Reversed blast through them. On tracks like Rusted Breath or the haunting outro to Hungry Graves however, the band add a feeling of dread with a slower pace that is akin to Venom and Bathory's weighted slower and atmospheric parts and it adds and extra dimension of heaviness to the album, with the balance working out extremely well. 

Reversed have got off to a flying start with this debut record and of Wildly Possessed is the start of things to come, then Reversed have a very bright future in metal indeed. 8/10

Ataraxia - Centaurea (The Circle Music) [James Jackson]

Ataraxia means a state of serene calmness, the band itself are a Neoclassical Darkwave act based in Italy that have been around since the mid 80’s, wracking up an impressive number of albums during those years, with their blend of modern technology and the use of more classical instruments.

Comprising of three members, fronted by longstanding vocalist Francesca Nicoli, the band’s longevity where other more mainstream artists have long since faded away, can only suggest that they’re either really good at what they do or they are just unashamedly doing their own thing. The songs are well composed, they rise and fall throughout the album, each track utilising male and female vocals, soaring in English and the band’s native tongue (I presume); above a mixed medium of classical instrumentation. 

The Darkwave characteristics are eminent in the rather sombre tone to each track, though solemn there’s also a feeling of light, of something rural and familiar, sunlight upon fields of golden wheat, it conjures every dreamy notion of summer in the countryside. I’m not trying to be poetic here, that’s just the images I see and isn’t that the point, that music can inspire a thought or a feeling.

So, did I like it? 

Yes and No, there are those aforementioned elements, the soothing melodies and subsequent emotional responses; there’s also a rather irritating tone to some of the vocals which feels like they could shatter glass, something rather nasally at times which doesn’t quite match with the orchestration beneath it. An odd one this. 6/10

Reviews: Blasteroid, Forbidden Myth, Caelestia, Oathswan (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Blasteroid - Crypts Of Mind (Self Released)

Now this is more like it when it comes to death metal. Blasteroid started life as a band who played technical death/thrash but now they have entered the more progressive galaxies to return with the brilliant Crypts Of Mind

The first thing you notice is that Chris Koutalelis and Spyros Pavlis try to pack on as may riffs as humanly possible, weaving intricate arpeggios, tremolo picking, sweep picking, atmospheric elements and virtuoso soloing on every track, shifting what they play several times throughout the song. For example Of Nature Unknown which is more melodic or the shredfest that is Chaos God.

Fans of Obscura, Cynic or Atheist will immediately be drawn to the guitar playing but as a true connoisseurs will know it's the bass and drums that make technical/progressive death metal so impressive, so Manos Skoularakos' solo section on a tracks such as Void Alchemy or Binary Orbit or Jim Makrinakis way of leading the frequent shifts on Entwined or Void Alchemy with just inhuman blasting is really where the power lies. George Emmanuel's production skill keeps Crypts Of Mind razor sharp, even giving immense clarity to Alexis Papatheofanous' raging vocals.

As the extremely proggy title track closes out the album, Blasteroid have taken you on a journey of intergalactic travel musical dexterity that will leave you a little breathless but desperate to do it again. 8/10

Forbidden Myth - Zantea Chronicles : The Nightmare Awakens (Hydraulis Records)

The sequel to Zantea Chronicles : The Dream Dominator, The Nightmare Awakens is another huge concept record from musical director Antonis Adelfidis, he wrote the storyline alongside Myrto Gregoriadi, but Antonis is the main composer here. He also plays most of the instruments here: Acoustic Piano, Electric Pianos, Hammond Organ, Combo Organs, Mellotron, Hohner Clavinet, Digital and Analog Synthesizers, Rheem Kee Bass, joining him as a cavalcade of musicians and vocalists taking on the various roles.

With nine different vocalists this is Ayreon levels of performance, the musical setting varying wildly between prog/rock/pomp, keeping the style in the 1970's over 70 minutes. That 70's sound comes from the usage of vintage synths and organs over guitars as neither Adelfidis or George Katsanos, who supply the most instruments, play no guitars. The guests adding drums, pianos and synths. So this is Arjen Lucassen meets Mike Oldfield or Avantasia meets Vangelis whatever takes your fancy.

It's 12 songs, 70 minutes like I said and the varied vocals mean that some can be a bit hit and miss and it is rigidly stuck in the 70's concept era from the music to the production, there's not the diversity that their is on Ayreon or Avantasia. Still musically it's impressive and with the liner notes to follow the story it's a much more immersive experience. 7/10

Caelestia - Infernalia (Self Released)

Athens based extreme death metal band Caelestia release a four track EP that sees them move away from their symphonic past into a more technically aggressive direction. It's their statement to show what they will be as a band going forward. From the opening blasts of To The Elder Elemental Flame, this is band who have become harder, heavier and more complex in their song writing.

Death and black metal combine as tremolo picking and blast beats are the order of the day but No Man's Land still has some of those symphonic beginnings but quickly resorts to being death metal again. That's the issue though I think, moving towards being a more guitar driven band has sort of made them sound a like like a million other bands. They are now a straight up death metal band and while they do it well, I can't help but think it's moved them backwards a little. 6/10

Oathswan - For Those Who Breathe From Darkness (Self-Released)

Oathswan are a Greek band but features members of Mask Of Prospero, Gentihaa and Aetherian. That that sort of calibre amongst their ranks, you can expect this debut EP to be a mix of all of those bands, progressive metalcore with post metal atmospheres as aggression and intensity are joined by ethereal shoegazing and melodies. 

Comparisons to Black Crown Initiate and Thy Art Is Murder are very fitting as Oathswan are a cinematic style of progressive deathcore, bludgeoning drums, clean/harsh vocals and breakdowns, all undercut with electronics. A song such as Glass Heart will tell you all you need to know about Oathswan, it's heavy, ominous and brutal but nothing ground breaking. 6/10

Reviews: Liar Thief Bandit, Vale Of Pnath, Kati Ran, Mortal Wound (Reviews By Rich Piva, Mark Young, Rick Eaglestone & GC)

Liar Thief Bandit - Icon (The Sign Records) [Rich Piva]

Liar Thief Bandit is one of those bands that if you asked me where they were from, I would start with America then move to the Pacific Northwest portion of the States. Well, I was off by 4,848 miles considering these guys perfect their version of grunge with bits of psych and stoner thrown in out of Malmo, Sweden. But no matter where LTB HQ is, these guys do that 90s grunge alt rock sound better than just about anyone if we are considering their new album, Icon, as evidence. 

 Close your ears Foo Fighters fans, but this is what I have always wanted that band to sound like from when that classic first Foo record dropped back in the day. The Foo Fighters bore me, Liar Thief Bandit revive my faith in heavy and catchy rock and roll. 

Deep cut comparison coming up: There was a band in the 90s called Liars Inc. and they put out a record called Superjaded. That is the closest comparison I can get to Icon. This is a massive complement. These guys have the energy, the playing chops, the songs, and are catchy as hell. The production is spot on and it is all you want from a band that waves the flannel flag. 

There is a punk element to LTB too and this is evident with the ripper of an opening track, The Ultimate Sign. This is their This Is A Call and they nail it. Death Pioneer is up next and talk about a catchy chorus. This will be on my end of year playlist for sure. There is nothing complicated about these tracks, just killer straight ahead heavy rock and I love it. 

  Dying Efforts just rips, what a great song. There is more of that punk rock almost garage rock feel to this one and you get that all over Icon. I mentioned the Foos before, and It All Goes Away In The End is the most Foo of the bunch, but better than anything that band has released since the turn of the century. 

Recoil is the song that gave me the most Liars Inc. vibes and if you like melodic heavy rock/grunge listen to Superjaded ASAP, but only after Icon. I love the pace of Icon. Eleven tracks, with only Recoil over four minutes. 

 This record flies by in the best way, especially with a ripper like Retaliation that has a cool riff and could be a 90s punk rock hit; you know the ones that were played on the radio a billion times and you still sing along to today. Big, sing along choruses in the least ironic way are ever present on a track like Red Out Of The Blue while the 90s punk vibes shine even brighter on Traces Of Use that reminds me of something from Face To Face

If there was a weak song on Icon it would be Can’t Slow Me Down. It is a bit formulaic and doesn’t grab me like the other ten do, but it is not bad in any sense and doesn’t hurt the overall quality of the record. In contrast I love the energy on Residence Sorrow that reminds me of the Seattle punk band Seaweed and the closing title track that goes the catchy radio friend grunge route in all the best ways. 

This album is like drinking a can of Jolt Cola. I get the energy, the sugar, and the nostalgia all in one 37-minute package that I am totally here for.  This is the best Liar Thief Bandit record so far and should be consumed only if you are ready to get up and move around. Icon is excellent and if you ever wanted Dave Grohl and his band to start putting out stuff worthy of their 90s output Icon is for you. 9/10

Vale Of Pnath - Between The World Of Life And Death (Willowtip Records) [Mark Young]

After a five-year break, Denver’s Vale Of Pnath has returned with Between The Worlds Of Life And Death which picks up after their last release, Accursed, and in their words captures the band's core sound whilst bringing a newer and bold take on this brand of metal. The four-piece, headed up by Ken Scorceron (V/G) has dug in to deliver what is certainly a tight and focused album with barely any fat (Instrumental introduction notwithstanding). It sounds great, with the right amount of bombast nestled within the aggressive attack. 

The Forgotten Path is a better instrumental introduction than most and brings in Silent Prayers, which gives an indication of the level of drum-nastics we are about to hear. As a statement of intent, it sets the tone for the album – razor sharp riffs, Tier 1 drumming and great vocal delivery. 

Soul Offering has that instant blast from the start, repeating piano lines dropping in and out to suit as the sparing use of synths to expand their sound. The lead break is top notch, with a guest spot here from Donny Burbage (Cradle Of Filth) who also joins in the fun on Shadow. Speaking of Shadow, once the understated opening is done, Shadow takes flight and burns with a lead spot from Matthew Brown (Demon King) adding to the crushing arrangement. 

Uncertain Tomorrow channels that restrained opening again, before unleashing some machine gun riffing, in combination with the drums that just royal. Gabe Seeber has delivered a masterclass here, in total control whilst knocking the holy hell out the kit. Beneath Ashen Skies has that technical approach which is fabulous. Clubbing riffing sits hand in hand with fretboard wizardry. There are some frankly awesome lead moments on this one, Miles Dimitri Baker (Interloper) getting the guest spot here. It never loses sight of keeping the visceral thrill levels high amongst the technical approach. 

No Return, No Regret featuring Michael Wilson, is full on with some light speed footwork keeping those bpm’s high and an effective arrangement leads to a blazing track. Another interlude, Echoes Of The Past doesn’t add anything of note, but Burning Light comes in and delivers as the final song should. 

Its grand, aggressive and full of those technical / melodic moments that have been a showcase here. There is even time for restraint, to catch a breath before launching back into the final measures. It is a fitting end to a devilishly strong album that skilfully blends the technical, the melodic and flat-out approach of death metal into one neat package. 

Quality-wise, it is at a high bar right through as they never rely on one way of expression in each song. The addition of the guest solo spots is inspired, by each bringing their vison to the piece whilst treating the song with absolute respect. Obviously, I’m not fussed for the introduction, but it served a purpose for letting Silent Prayer kick in. 

Echoes Of The Past on the other hand did not add anything and for me could have reduced the impact of final track Burning Light. These are minor criticisms and more of personal thing for me. You might love them, who knows? In any event this is storming album, resulting in a well-deserved 8/10

Kati Ran – Sala (Svart Records) [Rick Eaglestone]

Nordic Dark Folk artist Kati Ran embarks on a far-reaching musical and personal travelogue with long awaited debut album Sala. Named after the Old Norse word for ‘soul’ and ‘sea’, “SÁLA” is an act of ‘soul retrieval’, the shamanic art of trauma recovery, be it illness, death, heartbreak or loss, and the reintegration of a splintered self, the albums opening title track is an evoking and all encompassing of the albums overall aesthetic of the albums narrative with emotionally charged vocals and harmonics which effortlessly sweeps into easily the album’s haunting highlight track Hefring

Some of the albums most delicate vocals appear on Kolga but embedded in it are some of the darkest soundscapes and the duality of the two make for particularly enjoyable listening. Moving onto Blodbylgje there is a hypnotic multi performance which lingers into Drofn | Drifting which is more of a narrative piece, this is then followed by one of the albums most ambitious offerings Stone Pillars

Dufa | Sleeping very much feels like an introduction to Unnr | Mindbeach which at nine and a half minutes really translates the dynamic matrix of mysteries that this album seems to be brimming with which is paired with Himinglva to put into no doubt of the listener that is something that will be revisited over and over. Hrron incorporates more traditional elements with Barra taking a more ethereal approach producing and bleaker tone to the album for the first time. 

The album concludes with the pairing of the rousing Segi Mer and woeful Satta ending this transformative rite of passage. The contributions from across the musical spectrum, including extreme metal vocalist extraordinaire Gaahl, the Icelandic female choir Umbra Ensemble, renowned Norwegian jazz musician Karl Seglem, Björk and Brian Eno contrabassist Borgar Magnason, members of pagan folk acts Völuspá, Gealdýr, Heilung and Theodor Bastard and even Napalm Death’s Mitch Harris on vocals all add an enriched dynamic to this glorious well-structured and no doubt future influencing debut. A Profound Collection of Treasures. 9/10

Mortal Wound - Anus Of The World (Dark Descent Records/Me Saco un Ojo Records) [GC]

Another new release week is upon us and so with that I am obviously reviewing some death metal, now you wouldn’t know Mortal Wound but when you see an album is called Anus Of The World, what else would you really expect? Found Dead In A Bush has a short sampled intro before everything slams into gear and when it does what we get is a sound that is bathed in the gory glory of 90’s Florida old school death metal. 

Scuzzy lo-fi riffs collide with the pounding double bass drums and unintelligible low barked lyrics and while its all done well enough, it doesn’t really spark much in the way of excitement, Tunnel Rat bizarrely starts with a County & Western Hawaii type sound before that makes no sense to anything as the next thing it does is launch into another full on OSDM track that obviously has no stylistic values with the intro.

I’m not sure why but I am not connecting with this at all, its fine, its just not ticking all the boxes I want it too, The Surf Is Gonna Be Bitchin is an unnecessary 43 second sample/interlude before Drug Filled Cadaver does offer a bit more oomph as it really nails down the slower tempo mixed throughout and carries a good weight to everything and does mix up the tempos well and finally sparks a bit of life into the album. One Who Kills & One Who Loves is then another sample/interlude that again is completely annoying and not needed.

Born Again Hard is more slow and low OSDM and you now start to see there really isn’t going to be whole lot of variety on show here and while I can appreciate you are influenced by a sound to just re-create something without really adding your own stamp on it just feels a bit lazy, as everything I have heard so far is ok and passable but nothing stands out and makes you really get excited enough and with most songs clocking over 5 minutes I just tend to get a little bored with what I am listening to. 

This point is no more clear that on Engulfed In Hellfire with a title like that I expected to be dodging blizzards of sharp and precise riffing and inhumane drums but it starts off with a slow build, that does then up the pace slightly but never seems to deliver that final killer blow and just sounds laboured towards the end and then The Worm Has Turned For You is ANOTHER sample/interlude and all it serves to do is just make me lose more of the will to live I am grasping onto!! 

Spirit Of The Bayonet does mercifully clock in at just over 3 minutes and now, with the length trimmed offers a more enjoyable listen as it doesn’t just go on and repeat everything constantly, with the fat trimmed there is more urgency to really create something to pay attention to and not get bored with. 

I can’t believe I am saying this but Even The Jungle Wanted Him Dead another fucking sample/interlude effort. Just shorten the songs and release an EP. Final track Royally Fucked Forever doesn’t offer anything that suddenly saves the day, its more competent OSDM worship all played well and sounds decent but once again does nothing to grab my attention and just drags along for nearly 6 minutes and then its all over in a frustratingly annoying way! To class this as an album is a bit of a liberty in my books, are 8 tracks really a full albums worth of material? 

For me not really, and to make 3 stupid interludes count as actual songs is a ridiculous decision, anyway as I mentioned most of the music was decent enough, it just never really managed to take anything to the level required to get me really involved and I can’t see me bothering to see how their next album will sound on this showing!? 5/10

Monday 27 May 2024

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

Bruce Dickinson & Black Smoke Trigger, Swansea Arena, 21.05.24

2002, that's was the year Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson (9) played a solo tour. It was 2 years after re-joining with Maiden for their brilliant Brave New World album and 3 years until Tyranny Of Souls his last solo record.

However with Iron Maiden live activity now quite obviously winding down, I'd say they've got one more mammoth tour left in them, Bruce put the finishing touches on his new solo album The Mandrake Project. More than just an album it's a full creative experience of music, video, graphic novels etc, Dickinson living up to his billing as the theatrical one in Maiden.

With any new album comes a new tour and what a tour! Having already covered a big proportion of the world in North and South America, this third UK date brought Dickinson and the "House Band Of Hell" straight to Swansea Arena. A swell of Maiden/Dickinson T-Shirts made their way to the storm ridden Swansea for the Mandrake Project Tour to roll in, yes there were others that avoided the cliché of wear an Eddie on your chest, one guy even had a 2002 solo tour shirt which must be highly coveted.

As with most Maiden and Maiden alumni shows the good majority spent the support act, who had not really been well advertised on the tour posters, in the bar, leaving quite a sparse crowd for Black Smoke Trigger (7) a Kiwi band with an American sound that was clinical, slick and radio friendly if not a little mismatched with the headliner. In their own shows, in a smaller, sweatier, room perhaps, with more than half an hour, their hard rock swagger would have been a bit more enjoyable but while their chops are definitely there, they did look a little lost on that quite mighty stage.

As the intro to The Invaders (TV Show) played out over the PA, and Toltec 7 Arrival introduced the band members and with the shredding Adrian Smith written riff of Accident Of Birth we were off and running, monkey dancing and Air Raid siren in fine fettle. On this song and throughout Bruce sang the best I've seen him sing in years, perfectly pitched, going high when he required but keeping much of it in that snide snarl and grandiose power. It was a joy as if I'm honest I prefer Bruce's last four (?) solo records to some of the more modern Maiden. Which obviously he does as well drawing heavily from them.

Without long term guitarist Roy Z in the touring band, two guitarists took his place in the shape of hulking Swede Philip Naslund who swapped between electric and acoustic and Swiss shredder Chris Declercq who played on guitar on The Mandrake Project alongside Z who mentored him during the process. Alongside the two guitarists, was the powerhouse backing of Tanya O'Callaghan on bass and Dave Moreno on drums, the long time keyboard player and Roy Z collaborator Mistheria, who we were told had the flu but soldiered on.

After being "welcomed home" by Accident Of Birth it was Abduction and more Maidenisms on Road To Hell (again co-penned by Adrian Smith). The first glimpse of The Mandrake Project was with rocker Afterglow Of Ragnarok but then it was back into The Chemical Wedding, where the bulk of the set came from. What's funny about this is that even with about 20 gigs behind them, there still a bit of miscommunication during Chemical Wedding which lived some chuckles and Dickinson to tell the audience that it's all live folks.

The mid set show stopper of Jerusalem, a folky track inspired by William Blake's poem, is one of the numerous references and songs inspired by Blake who Dickinson is a massive proponent of, recently becoming patron of campaign to restore his cottage. This dark Albion mysticism, alongside the works of Aleister Crowley inspired Chemical Wedding hugely, the themes returning again with Book Of Thel and The Alchemist but after Jerusalem it was two from The Mandrake Project and then a drum solo/cover of Frankenstein with Dickinson doing a Phil Collins with double drums and even bringing out a bloody theremin!

His energy is infectious, throwing poses, racing around the stage all while commanding the audience with the trademark "Scream For Me", but even when he disappears from view to drink etc his band are talented enough to keep the attention with guitarists Chris and Philip shifting positions or linking into a solo trinity with Mistheria on keytar (so much keytar). Tanya's dreads spin with a mind of their own and Dave gets the best arm workout I've ever seen.

As we reached the conclusion there was always going to be Tears Of The Dragon, the sole cut from his second record Balls To Picasso as it's a fan favourite, in South America particularly. As the adult peekaboo brought on the three song encore at the closing of The Tower I was left awestruck at how impressive Bruce and his band are live, if I've got half the energy he has when I'm 65 I'll be laughing. If this is the future for Dickinson, then there's plenty of life in the old dog yet!

Selected Photos By Mike Evans:

Friday 24 May 2024

A View From The Back Of The Room: Riverside & Klone (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Riverside & Klone (Unplugged), SWX, Bristol 20.05.24

It had been a long time since I'd seen French atmospheric proggers Klone (9) play. Last time it was with their seismic countrymen Gojira but this time around they were out with the Polish prog masters.

Strangely though they played an unplugged acoustic set, chairs arranged on the stage as if it was a Westlife *shudder* show they took to the stage assumed their positions and started out with stripped back but just as emotionally powerful renditions of songs from thwir back catalogue.

What happened next was simply magical, two guitars in beautiful unison, scrubbing rhythms and classical melodies, the acoustic bass present and a keystone to keeping the 'heaviness' vocally breathtaking, the power and resonance was remarkable, even the screams were welcome as way of cathartically releasing the build up. The lights in sync with who was playing unveiling each member in the slow beginnings before building to a bigger light show towards the end.

When I wasn't entranced by singer Yann Ligner it was their drummer Romain Bercé who caught my eye, from the way he utilised a small kit, using beaters and sticks, it was clear he's a percussionist and not just a drummer (there is a difference).

A set the ebbed and flowed beautifully they attempted two brand new numbers which will sound higher when fully amped up and the cover of Black Hole Sun was brave but pitch perfect paying tribute to the genius of Chris Cornell only days after the anniversary of his death.

The only issue with any sort of 'quiet' performances in this venue (which I actually really love) is that they have the loudest hand dryers known to man. So that does impact the shows a little. Still it's was beautiful and brilliant and I can't wait to see them amped up again soon.

Next though it was the main attraction. Polish prog marvels Riverside (8) still touring their 2023 album ID:Entity, they began in earnest with a couple of new ones following #Addicted and 02 Panic Room that prompted singalong with Riverside.

With these out of the way the longer songs could begin Big Tech Brother putting modern groove riffs with screaming Gilmour-esque guitars. It was punctuated by a bit of chat from Mariuz Duda where he explained what the album was about and that it was a rebirth that took the band in perhaps a different direction.

Before Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened Of A Hat) they talked about how they struggled with the prog metal tag, especially being compared to Dream Theater, however I will say that the song sounds a lot like something that band would have put on Octavarium but I digress.

Not that Duda is hung up on comparisons as he spoke, again, at length, before the heavy industrial punch of Post Truth. It's a benefit to the band that musically they are very diverse and gifted as these speeches did sort of kill the momentum a bit as personal as they were.

From then on thankfully the music did a lot of the talking, extended jams as all four men moved into Floudoan realms several times. I'm sure Pink Floyd comparisons are welcome, even throwing in a bit of Riders On The Storm by The Doors on the extended middle section of The Place Where I Belong, which yes is less Dream Theater much more Steven Wilson, another artist who has audibly maligned the prog tag for years.

From my vantage point, at a show where the crowd seemed a bit sparser than their previous one in Bristol, it was the older songs from their catalogue that performed the best and while I'd never compare them to Dream Theater or indeed prog metal to be honest it seems that this most recent album proved divisive in their fanbase. Though I really liked it.

I hope they do keep the emotive, melodic Pink Floyd/Marillion phrasing of tracks such as Egotist Headonist though as they evolve in this mould of Riverside 2.0. Its this that brought a lot of the veteran fans here and while they'll continue towards this more focussed/rebranding these tracks from ID:Entity will become like old friends but there will always be voices baying for the 'classics'.

Reviews: Abrams, Dopethrone, Summoner's Circle, Teramaze (Reviews By Rich Piva, Mark Young, James Jackson & Matt Bladen)

Abrams - Blue City (Blues Funeral Recordings) [Rich Piva]

On their fifth album, Denver, Colorado’s Abrams have completed their transformation from heavy sludge band to post metal/post grunge/heavy shoegaze act and created what can only be considered their masterpiece with Blue City. This is a bold statement considering their last record, In The Dark, was a top ten album of the year for me and still gets spun on the regular, but Blue City manages to take their brand of fuzzy rock to the next level. 

I’m going to throw some names around here: Hum, Failure, My Bloody Valentine, Quicksand, Jesus and Mary Chain…lots of 90s love there, but none of these bands equal the whole of what Blue City brings. Yeah, you can hear parts of what would be considered the post grunge wall of sound type bands mentioned but in 2024 Abrams stands alone as the kings of heavy, melodic, post whatever (grunge? Shoegaze? Hardcore? Metal?) rock.

I love the guitar sound on Blue City, and the vocals are taken to the next level, both evident on the opener, Tomorrow. The driving drums and the heavy swirling guitar remind me of something from Quicksand’s masterpiece, Manic Compression. The production, now handled by Kurt Ballou of Converge fame and producer of bands like Torche and Cave In, has captured the true essence of Abrams. 

This is what Abrams is supposed to sound like. In an interview I did with Zach from the band, he mentioned Torche’s album Harmonicraft as a sound that made him convinced that Ballou would be the man for the job and boy did he nail that, because Blue City can hang with that underrated classic and achieved the killer sound that emanates from those songs. Fire Waltz sounds like its name, with a frantic riff and a sound that gives me Failure vibes but fuller. 

Etherol brings some excellent harmonies and when that guitar kicks in you can feel the presence of Kevin Shields floating about. This is where I hear some of the Cave In comparisons too, which the band does not shy away from. Lungfish continues with the Cave In vibes, more Jupiter than Heavy Pendulum but either way you can’t go wrong. 

I just love the guitar work throughout and the literal buzz that is created on all of the songs. Wasting Time brings me back to Failure again, but with more harmonies and pedal action, which works wonders for this track. Don’t think the band doesn’t still bring the heavy and chunky riff, because Death Om does all over the place, partnered nicely with the dual vocal harmonies. 

Serious post hardcore vibes come strongly off of Turn It Off…this could have been off of a Revelation Records release back in the day and I am sure will translate excellently to the stage. Like on 2022’s In The Dark, the band is not afraid to slow it down and/or be melodic as hell (see Body Pillow), and we get the same awesome results with a track like Narc

The songs don’t sound alike, but the band’s urge to go in whatever direction they want and explore new territories are where these songs touch. While Crack Aunt was a late addition to Blue City, let’s be glad Zach did not get his way and leave it off the record given how cool the tempo changes are and how beautifully all over the place it is. Closing with the breath-taking title track and those layered guitars could not have been a better choice.

The new Abrams record is a special one. So many different types of fans of heavy rock music will love Blue City. There are zero reasons (outside of the majority of the public’s terrible tastes) that this record doesn’t put Abrams at the forefront of heavy, melodic rock. In a different time this would be arena tour worthy, but even now this is generational record and one that will be tough to top in 2024. 10/10

Dopethrone - Broke Sabbath (Totem Cat Records) [Mark Young]

Imagine a guitar tone so thick you can almost chew it. That is what Dopethrone has conjured up on Broke Sabbath. Their sixth album is just filthy, dirty sludge which they themselves to as ‘Slutch’, a Canadian term for dirty mud snow or cold sludge. Its certainly fits the bill, as Broke Sabbath contains some of the gnarliest guitar tones committed to tape. 

The attention to delivering constant riffs is there for all to see, with Life Kills You dropping in like the heavyweight it is, with a grinding stomp that kicks off things beautifully. Its heavy, in your face completed by a lead break that fits in perfectly. Truckstop Warlock slows things down without losing that grind, keeping that ch-ch-ching sound going whilst maintaining that overall ‘Slutch’ feel, so much so that it could be bleeding from the speakers. 

ABAC, with its spoken word introduction is world conquering heavy. From the first crash, it spreads itself like a lead cloak, smothering and suffocating. I’ve heard a fair amount of sludge / doom metal in the last year, and it has to be said that Dopethrone somehow manages to convey a lot more into their music than some of their contemporaries. I don’t know if it’s the feel or approach they have but they have something different. 

Shlaghammer goes lower than ABAC so that it resembles just a wall of noise (in a good way). Rock Slock, with its sleazy intro solo decides to pick the pace up and is filthier than coal miner’s budgie. If you imagine Motorhead but slowed down, if might give you an idea. The breakdown is monumental, allowing them to punch back up to speed, ripping another dirty lead on the way. 

They do all this in the first half of the song and when they repeat that trick, they stretch it out just beyond breaking point. Don’t let the sound fool you, this has some classic rock in here that works to great effect. Uniworse, with its declaration that people are the problem wastes no time in bringing those granite riffs and rumbles along like a mudslide wiping a small village off the map and Sultans of Sins finishes the album on a suitably nasty note, the repeated ‘SULTANS’ will go down a storm when they drop this live. What I like is their songs are long for the sake of it. 

They aren’t short either, but they know that the content has to be enough to keep you with them for the length of the album. The way they are put together shows that they have a keen sense of how these will be delivered live, there are hooky moments amongst the sludge, and you know which songs they will be able to extend in that live setting. 

Broke Sabbath continues that high sludge-mark to which they have attained with previous releases, and whilst you won’t find anything new here, and to be honest I don’t think you would want to it does what it needs to do – DIY ethic, monstrous sound and the right amount of punk rock to separate it from the pack. 8/10

Summoner’s Circle - Cult (Black Lion Records) [James Jackson]

The genre description that comes with this one is Death/Doom, though while researching the band I saw a description that was probably more accurate and included Black Metal also; the overall sound has quite a lot in common with Poland’s Blackened Death Metal Behemoth, touches of Carach Angren and Rotting Christ are also evident, upon the track Shroud of Humanity there’s a touch of the theatrical madness found in the Arcturus album La Masquerade Infernale released in 1997. 

Cult, the second full length album from Tennessee based Summoner’s Circle, opens with a track which wouldn’t be completely out of place in The Omen film series, church bells peal, an ominous drum beat rolls beneath keys and chanting gang vocals. 

This leads into Cult Of The Dead Son and the song pivots between the trademarks of the Black and Death Metal genres adding the flair of the Symphonic to great effect. The aforementioned Shroud Of Humanity follows, Gregorian like chants open the song, church organs support the Black Metal style vocals and another stalwart of the genre, Dimmu Borgir, springs to mind. 

Thirst Of The Vulture lulls the listener into a false sense of security, an acoustic guitar picks a melody, lain over a chorus of haunting vocals and building guitars and drums; at its crescendo, it drops, a piano takes over, it’s unexpected but brilliant, more often than not at that peak, everything would kick in, not here; the song is full of further unexpected twists. 

Profit Of Death follows, a song comprising of clean, melodic almost radio friendly Rock one moment and blast beats, Black Metal vocals the next. The album, only 7 songs and 34 minutes long, finishes off with Dogmatic Defilings, a track that encapsulates all that has gone before it without sounding repetitive. 

It’s been awhile since I listened to the bands I’ve found a comparison to with this release by Summoner’s Circle but after giving this a listen I’ve an urge to go back and listen to them all again. Great album, the overall mix of Doom, Black Metal, Death Metal and the touches of Symphonic influences, ensure that the songs don’t stagnate or become predictable and repetitive. 9/10

Teramaze - Eli: A Wonderful Fall From Grace (Wells Music) [Matt Bladen]

Probably one of the most prolific bands of the last four years is Australian prog metal act Teramaze. Releasing 3 full lengths in a span of 12 months is an amazing feat especially as you consider Teramaze play intricate progressive metal ala Dream Theater, Symphony X and Threshold. Their music is entrenched in the US style of prog metal those bands are part of, with some European elements mainly in the lyrics which are inspired by human condition, faith and storytelling. 

This eleventh album wraps up the conceptual storyline started on 2015’s Her Halo, continued on 2021’s Sorella Minore and now reaches the third part of the trilogy with Eli: A Wonderful Fall From Grace, timeline wise it’s a prequel to the events of Her Halo and tells a story of travelling circuses and the main character capturing the imagination of the crowd. It’s all quite deep and you’ll have to of heard the previous offerings to understand the full story but musically, Teramaze push boundaries with their sound. 

The title track, the first track proper, has the poppy/prog sound of Coheed And Cambria, Dean Wells' vocals are soaring an impassioned against the textured instrumentals, Step Right Up gets darker with thick bass and acoustics as Madam Roma throws us deep into Dream Theater territory as does single Standing Ovation. Teramaze are a prolific band but they don't skimp on the quality either, fans of Coheed, Dream Theater and Haken will find plenty to enjoy. 8/10