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Thursday 13 June 2024

Reviews: Black Country Communion, Dreamslain, Darkened, Dendera (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Black Country Communion – V (J & R Adventures) [Matt Bladen]

Bonamassa, Bonham, Hughes and Sherinian are back after 7 years of silence. Well collective silence, since BCIV all four men have been embroiled in their own projects, but now the supergroup of supergroups is back. It puts the The Voice Of Rock is back where he belongs, after flirtations with flowers and peeking back at Purple. Here he's belting out classic blues rock inspired by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the family trees of both those bands lead directly into BCC via Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and producer Kevin Shirley too. 

There has always been a pedigree to live up to with BCC, four major players, a super producer and an expectation that it would all turn to gold. Formed in 2010, the foursome, alongside Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley embarked upon a musical journey that brought together the component elements of their respective backgrounds, over the course of four albums they bashed out big rock riffs, badass blues, scintillating soul and even some funk rock, all with a nod to the British rock scene of the 60’s and 70’s, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and rock was a hot commodity. 

Releasing four studio albums they went back to their own projects but after a gap and the wonder if they were ever to return, BCC are back again older wiser and more accomplished, gelling once more but better than they were. Whether they’re jamming on the straight up blues of Restless or the more joyful The Open Road, strutting with soulful funk rock of Stay Free where it all goes Purple MK IV, it’s a foursome of virtuoso’s impressive with every note. Hughes is on fire as per usual, the best rock voice out there, bar none, he fires off funky basslines when they get loose and locks down the cavernous grooves on the heavy rockers, Jason Bonham has the touch of his father, but a contemporary edge adding huge fills and hard hitting rhythms on tracks such as the psychadelic Red Sun.

Sherinian adds his prog brain to the record, relying on analog methods such as Hammonds/Fender Rhodes etc. He is like audio Polyfiller, squeezing into all of the gaps with organs and keys, be it Lord like torrents that wash over Too Far Gone or some squidgy Fender Rhodes on the truncated bop Letting Go. He can go from being underlining atmospheres or working like a co-lead alongside Bonamassa’s sublime guitar playing. Joey Bones needs no introduction, none of these four do really, but his playing with BCC is maybe be a bit more restrained with the delicate touch of his ‘day job’ on Restless, there are chunky classic rock riffs on You’re Not Alone and Skyway, a track that thematically links back to their 2010 debut with the refrain of “Across The Great Divide”.

V, sees Black Country Communion, refocused, reenergised and sounding vital. The songs stand taller, are played louder and carry more weight, than tracks from the last record. My personal favourite being the titanic Zep-like Love And Faith, all drama, pathos and colossal riffage. After a seven year gap it’s glorious to hear BCC again doing what they do best. Four top level players making magic, they’re more vital than ever. Those Daisies are definitely Dead, now the Communion is back! 9/10

Dreamslain - Forge Of Rebellion (Independent) [Mark Young]

Right so this has taken me a few goes to get into it. Dreamslain are a three-piece hailing from Tromsø, whose constituent parts take in Norway, Russia and Switzerland coupled with some multi-instrumentalism that involves drums, guitar, bass, organs, piano and more. They have tags running from epic melodic death metal to extreme to progressive and points in between. And its certainly unique. What distracted me at first was the vocals from Igor Jakobsen (guitars, bass) which reminded me of an extreme version of Ten Pole Tudor (Google it kids). It’s delivered in an ever so off-kilter way that you think is this some form of inside joke, leaving the rest of us to scratch our heads. It’s not until it is joined by everything else that it then makes sense.

Secrets Of The Forge opens up with a folky kind of tilt to it as the aforementioned vocals stamping over it and then it turns 90 degrees with a heavy bend and some classic organ touches that come flying in from the late 60’s. There’s a melodic pattern that could have come from the Prisoner (Google it kids) and its back to the heavy again. The vocals ramp up to extreme without being guttural and somehow it works. Don’t ask me how, just know that it works. There’s galloping guitar with organs/ synths providing that mad counterpoint to it. In one song they have painted an expansive canvas in sound, again listening with decent earbuds will pay dividends as it is such a rich sound. Despite having this amazingly full sound, you can hear everything, and it sounds top. 

It is a mental way to start and its fun too. It sets the template for the rest of the album, in that there isn’t a template apart from: if it makes it sound better, do it. Burn The Boats has a melancholic opening, that switches into the extreme with drum patterns operating outside of normal parameters as if they are just holding on to keep the song anchored. It’s similar to Secrets... in that there is a ton going on that you won’t get the first time round. Stick with it because once it hits, it hits. Braving The Storm is like a drinking song for the ages. Imagine that Viking swing but played and recorded by a bunch of loons (in the nicest possible way). I couldn’t do this justice in terms of each of the component parts come together and fit seamlessly. 

Nothing seems to be off-limits in terms of approach. I believe it will drive some mad, there are some off-key moments in there, but these feel as though they have been written that way. What does George Harrison say in its Only A Northern Song? If you’re listening to this song / you may think the chords are going wrong / but they’re not / we just wrote it like that (Beatles fan or not, check this out from the Yellow Submarine album as he gave airtime for his grievances against ‘the other two’). They continue this theme with Ghost Story with a rolling piano line and almost mournful vocals. As it electrifies it mixes up blasts as it speeds up, slows down but keeps it running. That central theme is something you might hear at the fair but that does not do justice to it. There is a manic energy running through it as the piano provides the backbone to allow everything else to go nuts.

Is this selling it for you? I hope so because there is two more to go as The Dragon Of Ice is next, and by now you should have warmed up to the mayhem coming your way. It’s a pounding, progressive organ filled cracker where its given full permission to stamp itself on the song, once again occupying that swinging style. And so, to the end, with the 10-minute Humankinds Fall which given its length is fairly rapid in traversing its path. Of all the tracks, it is possibly the most traditional in its build but that doesn’t mean it misses out on any of the musical madness that preceded it. Chock full of ideas it is a superlative end to possibly one of the most unique albums of the year. And there are no interludes or any wasted air. It is the sort of thing that requires you to put a bit of work in first but give it a try. It is quality. Quirky, unique quality. 9/10

Darkened - Defilers Of The Light (Edged Circle Productions) [Mark Young]

It’s the third time at bat for Darkened for the Swedish / Canadian quintet can count members of Excruciate, A Canorous Quintet and Grave amongst their members. Newly added as a permanent part of the team, they have enlisted Perra Karlsson to add further boom to the drum seat. Noting that they have set out to make death metal exciting once more, I’m eager to get stuck in and give this a suitable going over.

Starting with a brief acoustic introduction with Waves Of Desolation it slams straight into the title track that rips from the start. Its straight up death metal – attack from the off, core components in place with one eye on keeping the melodic in there to avoid any sort of boredom kicking in. It’s a fair starting point with suitably guttural vocals and that promise of hooks and musicality front and centre. I won’t say it is ground-breaking in any way, but it does what they promised, mixing the heavy in with the melody amongst some crushing drumming. It’s a great starting point and bodes well. 

Those Who Dwell Below has some serious heft to it, a thumping start is made over as it changes speed to suit. Its up and in your face for the most part, stepping back to allow the melodic breaks to come in. They sit in well, moving from subtle into fully charged that allows the song to kick back over once more. Once In Praise Of Shadows keeps this good start moving doing a lot whilst not overcomplicating. There is a tight feel with Perra’s drum patterns that compliment the riffs that fly through. I said not overcomplicating earlier, I should have said it is an exercise in efficiency.

Nothing is wasted and there is no fat on these so far. Excellent stuff that takes the good from past endeavours whilst adding more of their own identity to it. I should also point out that it sounds mint, and they should be proud of the production on this because they have achieved a clarity that is missing sometimes. The frenzied guitar on Just Close Your Eyes is a good example here, drums the same as they really hit (try with some decent earphones, you will know exactly what I mean). No fizzy guitar here.

The inclusion of Echoes Of Solitude as an interlude, as pleasant as it is always mystifies me. They have built up a solid head of steam and this sucks some of it away so when On We Slaughter starts up, they have to go some to get that momentum running again. Luckily, it’s a stormer with an infectious pattern to it, chugging away with pinched harmonics thrown in for fun. They can’t be faulted in where they put the melodic breaks within each track and its no different here. There is a feeling of making each song as good as they can, putting in what fits as opposed throwing everything in. That approach serves them so well but seriously, can we have a word about mid-album interludes?

Dead Inside slows the pace slightly, not mightily but enough to show consideration for not throwing the same approach for each song, apart from being able to conjure up a high level of melodic break which they do consistently. You could argue that because they manage to do this, it’s a rehash of one idea and I can see that but because of the way it is presented you would be hard pressed to win that argument. Having said that, Masses Of Vain Observance does sound similar to ones before it so I probably should have said nothing. That being said, it comes in like it is the aperitif before the closing dish, a thick stomping build that occupies a solid groove, laying the ground for it to achieve take-off velocity and usher in As Apocalypse Dawns which reaches the higher BPM’s as they reach into that bag of death metal tricks to pull out a stormer. 

That efficiency in the build shines again because it makes the songs more memorable. Final Sanctuary is a quick closing track, the shortest one here with so much going on. It’s almost too short but I’ll forgive them. So, apart from mid-album interludes, this is some good quality death metal. Yes, there are no surprises but what they do have is some finely crafted material that starts at a high level and stays there. Yes, there is a touch of familiarity as it gets late in the album but overall, it’s a very good set and is so very worth your time. 8/10

Dendera - Mask Of Lies (Rockshots Records) [Matt Bladen]

Starting life as a classic/power metal band, Dendera have always courted the heavier end of the metal spectrum, more in line with the American than European sound. As they toured more, streamlining their song writing and putting festivals and high profile shows under their belts, the band have evolved away from the classic metal trappings into an act that has adopted the trappings of Millennial metalcore, melodic death metal and even deathcore. With their most recent two part EP this change was noticeable as they brought in guests from Thy Art Is Murder and Chelsea Grin to add harsh vocals to the second part.

Fiercely self-sufficient and independent, Mask Of Lies is the album Dendera have wanted to make, easing away from the power/heavy metal sound, to one more aggressive but retaining the melodic streak that allows them to have massive choruses and plenty of solos. Co-produced by the band and mixed by Alessio Garavello (ex-Power Quest), the record has a warmth to it but also that clinical ultra-modern approach.

Inspired by traumas and personal demons, I really think Ashley Edison’s vocals here are some of his best, saving the histrionics for Tigertailz, he sounds more measured on Mask Of Lies, still powerful and with a great range but never jumping too far into the stratospheric trad metal highs. Counterpointing with harsh screams works well too, Ashley’s harsh screams aided by guitarist Steve Main, who alongside David Stanton, play the technical, modern metal riffs, evocative acoustics and thrilling leads/solos, all of which feature on the dramatic The Fall.

Building up from Face To Face the title track explodes out of the speakers to showcase the new Dendera perfectly. Clean/harsh vocals, thrashy/deathy riffs, time changes guided by the chug from bass Bradley Edison and the double kicking power of Andy Finch. Scream In Silence continues to hammer home the ‘new’ Dendera, showing the proggy side as it shifts into the solo section from the head banging main riff. Speaking of solo’s Russ Parrish aka Satchel from Steel Panther, but more importantly Fight, plays a guest solo on this album, as Dendera really go into the djent sound with the impressive Fading.

In the press pack it references Trivium as a band who Dendera are similar to now and that’s pretty accurate, especially as Guiding Light sounds just like the Florida modern metal act as does the meaty groove of Drift Away. The only issue is that while long term fans have heard this evolution, and for the most part have gone along with it, those who may dip in and out could feel that Dendera are a much different band to the one they were on their first two albums. 7/10

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