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Wednesday 12 June 2024

Reviews: High Desert Queen, DarWin, Shrapnel, The Human Condition (Reviews By Rich Piva, Matt Bladen, Mark Young & James Jackson)

High Desert Queen - Palm Reader (Magnetic Eye Records) [Rich Piva]

Back in 2021 there was a huge buzz around a new band dropping their debut. After a lot of chatter, the Texas band High Desert Queen released Secrets Of The Black Moon to pretty much universal acclaim, appearing on a whole bunch of year end lists due to its killer riffs, heavy stoner goodness, and excellent song writing. 

The beast lived up to the hype and your new favourite stoner band from Texas was born, brought to you by Ripple Music, who then featured the band on their Turned to Stone Series last year, providing us three more tracks of heavy and fuzzy goodness, partnering with another excellent band, Blue Heron. Now in 2024, the band has made the jump to Magnetic Eye Records for full length number two, and with huge expectations to live up to, HDQ gives us Palm Reader. Does this new record live up to their small but awesome previous output? It is not really a fair question, but the answer is mostly yes.

The opener, Anicent Aliens is exactly what you would expect from the band: heavy killer riffs that crack you in the head and leave you wanting more along with an amazing guitar sound and great song writing. Track two is where the band really starts to exceed those lofty expectations, with the duet with the Bjork influenced and amazing frontwoman Francis Tobolsky from Wucan, and the song Death Perception. Wow, is this the Close My Eyes Forever of Stoner Rock? This was co-written by Tobolsky and is next level stuff from HDQ that separates them from the last record. It’s not just the duet and how the voices work together. Musically this track kills as well, putting the expert production of these seven songs into focus. 

Head Honcho is up next and while the nine minute length may put some people off this track is the heaviest on Palm Reader and to me boarders on the sludge side with that non-stop driving guitar. The vocals are excellent on this one too. I love the 70s leaning noodling riff on the title track that is as funky as this band is going to get, and I mean this in the most loving way. The chorus part absolutely rules and this may be my favourite track on the record. 

Time Waster sounds like a Clutch song to open which I am always here for but goes to a more psych direction, at least psych as far as HDQ goes, and I go back to my sludge comparisons because I hear maybe some Baroness in this one as well. Tuesday Night Blues is perfectly named, given its leanings, and the spoken word vocals adds a new element to the repertoire of the band. A nice slow burn that leads to the closer, Solar Rain. I hear elements of Trouble with this one and the band gets a psych as they ever have with this slow burn turn riff machine (don’t forget that great solo) over nine minutes.
Palm Reader is a killer record and High Desert Queen knocked it out of the park. The only thing I am missing is that one above and beyond track like on the first record, when The Mountain Vs The Quake destroyed us all. It is not fair to compare this album to that masterpiece, but High Desert Queen makes another mark on the scene with the form of Palm Reader. These guys are and will be a force to recon with for a long time. 9/10

DarWin - Five Steps On The Sun (Townsend Music) [Matt Bladen]

Virtuosity on top of virtuosity is what you get with this new album from enigmatic guitarist DarWin. Five Steps On The Sun is his second album, and his sceodn collaboration with drummer/producer Simon Phillips (Jeff Beck/Toto). Probably one of the best percussionist around, his talent on the title track is obvious, but he showcases skill throughout. As for DarWin his playing is beautiful, techicallly gifted but with soul and groove too it. Fluid lines remind me of both Steve Howe and also Ty Tabor who has that ability to meld soul and funk with prog rock precision. 

DarWin has performed alongside Billy Sheehan (Mr Big), Guthrie Govan (Aristocrats) and Derek Sherinian (Black Country Communion/Whom Gods Destroy), the latter also appearing here. Five Steps On The Sun is an album about the modern day, carrying an environmental message, the trio of One Step On The Sun, Five Steps On The Sun, and The Sun, form one suite at the centre of this album, surrounded on both sides by choppy, virtuoso prog pop rock. 

Filling out the band are shredder Greg Howe, who is something of a guitar genius and a Shrapnel records alumni. Howe and Phillips are now on their second album, but joining for this one is bassist Mohini Dey, playing precision grooves that happily sit high in the mix, gaining a solo on Hulks & Heroes. Additional lead guitars come from Andy Timmons, acoustics from Jesse Siebenberg, Julian Pollack joins Derek on keys. 

While the vocals come from Matt Bissonette, an accomplished bassist who has played alongside drummer brother Gregg with David Lee Roth amongst others including Elton John, showcases his vocal chops here, having the harmonic, emotional deliver of Joseph Williams on tracks such as Season Of A Life. Prog, rock, pop and jazz fusion but never stroking it's chin too strongly DarWin may be a mystery but the music is an obvious hit. 8/10

Shrapnel - In Gravity (Candlelight Records) [Mark Young]

A late review for UK natives Shrapnel, with their latest full-length In Gravity via Candlelight Records. Presented as one of the exponents of UK Thrash, I’m always excited to be given the opportunity to review British music and hopefully find new bands to follow. Active since 2009, they have slipped under my radar at least until now so let’s see what they are about.
In Gravity is our lead off, with Scott Kennedy guesting and following a building instrumental it kicks into what feels like a dialled back, polished attempt at cultivating a certain audience. It’s not thrash as I recognise it as the clean / extreme vocal split that comes in doesn’t work like it should. It’s like two songs glued together that do not fit, two arrangements that would work better if it was one or the other. 

Amber Screams comes in with a slower, muscular stomp with precision riffing but there is something not hitting with me, and I can’t put my finger on it. The riffs are there, lead breaks are good, but it feels like it’s a bit like paint by numbers. It is possibly due to my vintage, but as we traverse through the tracks they follow a key work-print: fast bit, singing bit which is built for being sung back to them.
Guardian has some top riffing but the reliance on slowing it with clean vocals trips it up.

When they let go in the final third of this, it rips until they loop back to that slower / singing arrangement again. It is so frustrating because when they go for it is as good as anything you will hear. Breaker on the other hand comes flying in, and then they kick me in the shin. Dropping another slow bit when it wasn’t required. I appreciate that if they have been doing this since 2009, they are wanting to stretch themselves as artists but by Christ they should know that when they come out of the traps at a 100mph then almost stop is criminal so they can drop a melancholic clean section in. 

Just like Guardian, they drop some cracking full-pelt riffs but are preoccupied on bringing the cleans in which ruins the good work they have done. Dark Age begins firmly on the front foot, but they soon switch to bringing the cleaner vocals in once more, and to a reduced extent they do follow the pattern established earlier. On this one, they keep it more to the heavier side, but the clean / melodic side is shoehorned in.

Anyone who has read my reviews knows I go out of my way to find something positive, and on here I found that there is some belting riffs which come flying at you thick and fast. Follow The Cold is a great example of a song that starts on fire but loses its way as they use the cleaner style. If you are going to sing (and he can sing, no question there) then stay in that style and write to suit it. The melding of the two styles doesn’t work for me and as a result I found myself pressing next, wishing that the following song would crush. It’s a shame because musically they can rip like you wouldn’t believe. 

On the whole, it feels as though there is two albums within here, or at least the meshing of two styles where they drop some of the most frantic riffs only to be arrested by trying too hard to be something they aren’t. 6/10

The Human Condition - Foundations (Self Released) [James Jackson]

This seven track album from UK based Doom Metal band The Human Condition is their second and according to their social media accounts, their last.

Like the majority of UK Doom bands, The Human Condition are from the North, where according to the old saying, it’s grim and perhaps it’s that environmental aesthetic that lends itself well to the genre.

Foundations opens with its title track and the building guitar and drums of the intro, set the scene, not only for the song but indeed the album itself. What follows are some notable moments that stand out from the familiar grounds and staple tropes of the Doom genre, the tribalism of the opening drum pattern in Mirrors, the guitar accents in The Joker And The Fool.

Here comes the gripe however, for whilst the instrumentation is as Doom laden as I would like, it lacks the depth and diversity that other bands within the genre are adept at producing, a subtle addition of keys or more classical instruments would make these songs feel more solemn yet vibrant. The vocal style is where my personal preference really comes into question, lyrically I feel as though it’s forced, the compulsion to rhyme standing in the way of a good rhythm and whilst the album is called Foundations and I accept that as a theme, the impulse to return and repeat that mantra could have been tempered slightly.

The physical voice itself also an issue for me, again a personal preference, but the tone could’ve been different, grittier to match the music, rather than the higher pitch presented here. As always, this is my personal preference, there’s a lot to get into within the album but for me there’s as much that I find lacking. 5/10

Reviews: Sunburst, Moloema, Eons Aura, Blynd (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Sunburst - Manifesto (Inner Wound Recordings)

With inspiration from Dream Theater, Nevermore and Symphony X, Sunburst are looking to follow up their critically acclaimed debut album Fragments Of Creation with new record Manifesto. At a time of election fever, that title could be quite triggering but, with their sophomore effort Sunburst are setting out the band they want to be now and in the future.

Taking inspiration from their influences but standing on their own collective merit too. As is the case with a lot of Greek bands the members all play in other acts so getting together can be difficult, but they have managed to write the follow up and they’ve matured as a group with complex, heavy arrangements that have no lack of melody or orchestral backing.

A much wider scope to the music then on this second album, something you’d expect as they gel as a band. With The Flood those Symphony X influences are merged with the Kamelot theatricality, the swells of John K’s (Biomechanical) orchestral arrangements, are breath-taking but when joined by the virtuoso guitar playing of Gus Drax, you can hear that Sunburst aren’t happy with just repeating what they have done before.

After such a brilliant intro they need to keep the energy high and the chugging Hollow Lies does just that, distorted and aggressive, it’s full of Dream Theater-isms with Nick Grey’s bass a core part of the rhythm and Kostas’ Milonas’ drumming catching the ear with his off time beats and fills. It’s also the first track where Bob Katsionis’ keys can be heard and it’s also the second of three tracks with John K's orchestral mastery, Samaritan again reminds me of Kamelot, Katsionis making an impression here as well as Vasilis Georgiou's brilliant Roy Khan-like vocals.

This is prog metal infused with emotion and grandiose, compositions such as From The Cradle To The Grave or Nocturne which is the cascading, glorious closer will have any fan of bands I've mentioned in this review salivating. Sunburst have far surpassed their debut with their second release, it will be the strongest Manifesto you'll see this year! 9/10

Moloema - Unpredictable (Sleaszy Rider Srl)

Moloema are a heavy rock band from Greece, featuring Kostas Voulgaris the singer of Northwind and Aris Giannopoulos the drummer of Villagers Of Ioannina City. Moloema though don't sound like either of those bands, there's a bit of groove, some prog and most importantly lot of heavy riffs. In fact they've got a lot of grunge coming through but the psychedelic grunge of bands such as Soundgarden. 

Recorded and produced over a long period of time, due to COVID of course, it's now finally seeing the light of day. Chek Giorgos Tasoulas and Padelis Floudas share the guitar duties, trading off electric riffs and melodies, Floudas adding the acoustic guitars and keys as Kostas Zois of V.I.C adding a solo to Arrow. Giorgos Droudes' bass works in conjunction with Aris Giannopoulos' steady, muscular rhythms. 

Moloema have an sound that is quite eclectic, whether it's the proggy grunge riffs I mentioned earlier, the gothy post punk meets NWOBHM of A Stray Sober as Persephone adds some driving psychedelic rock. They're really trying to bring as much to their sound as they can, leaning more towards the 90's stoner/alt/grunge scene of the USA a their native Greece (Dance Of Balkans) with this debut. 8/10

Eons Aura - Hybris-Nemesis-Death (Sleaszy Rider Srl)

Another debut album, this time from Greek black/death/doom metal band Eons Aura, again it's a bit of a supergroup featuring guitarist Mike G of Nightfall/Snowblind, ex-Nightfall current Snowblind guitarist Jim Aggelopoulos and two members of Corax B.M. who's album was reviewed here quite recently. Named after an EP by Nightfall it's no surprise that they share a lot of similarities to that legendary Greek band when they were in their earliest form as well as the early 90's Peaceville Three. 

The funeral march beckons you into Hybris-Nemesis-Death, building the gothic evil atmosphere ready for The Curse Of The Underdog, to get it started properly with song writing and production methods that directly out of the 90's extreme metal style. The drums are tinny, the guitars really high in the mix and the vocals are squawked and pained, but with all the tremolo picking and blast blast repeat drumming they do have some melodic touches on tracks such as Forest Demon.

Nightfall references throughout, Eons Aura is a must for fans of that period of black/death metal. 7/10

Blynd - Unbeliever (Pitch Black Records)

Unbeliever is the is the fourth album for Cypriot thrashers Blynd. Forming in 2003 they're an experienced group who blast through a heavy side of thrash death groove metal part Machine Head part Kreator, part Rotting Christ. From the chugging  Infernal, the first real onslaught is Between Two Worlds where the speed increases, but that groove metal thump is retained, it's aggressive and muscular the songs about Orwell (1984), propaganda, alternative history and the suppression of free speech. 

With Primordial Hunter there's yet more RC like repeating grooves, as One Last Dance has some strings in the intro, as Ground Zero features some soprano vocals. Fire In The Sky goes into pit starting pace as death metal comes with some technical guitar riffs. Modern death thrash that expands the sound a bit more than usual. 7/10

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Reviews: Four Stroke Baron, Octohawk, Broken Lungs, Parchment Farm (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Joe Guatieri, Tony Gaskin & Rich Piva)

Four Stroke Baron – Data Diamond (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Having seen these guys deliver a set of sonic abuse at the recent show supporting Caligula’s Horse at the Thekla in Bristol, it seemed appropriate to have a listen to Data Diamond, the band’s latest release. Live, it was a melding of sound that I struggled with, possibly due to a muddy sound and my position directly in front of the stage.
The first thing to say, is that you just cannot pigeon-hole the band from Reno. Kirk Witt, Dan Mandoki and and Matt Vallarino’s sound is a brutally complex blend of styles, from electronica through to crushing nu-metal and modern metal sounds. Inevitable comparisons would include Devin Townsend meets Tears For Fears, such is the kaleidoscopic soundscape that they paint. Intricate patterns traverse across the entire album, intertwining with rhythmic percussion and obtuse yet dynamic sections. After four songs, we encounter VALLTT, a 1:30 curiosity that provides a bizarre outtake amidst the confusion around it.
Tracks like The Witch and the elongated Cyborg Pt. 3 (Because I’m God) are angular, jarring, yet somehow dive underneath the skin in an infectious manner. It’s not something that I’m a huge fan of, yet the unpredictability of this album is without doubt one of the main attractions. Open The World delves into several different directions at once, with distressed vocals combining with AI generated cyborg style narrative to present something completely different.

A fusion of pop, progressive metal, gothic pop, and electronic vibes that present a challenge from start to finish, their sixth album is perhaps slightly more accessible in some ways. For all that, this is an acquired taste that is certainly not going to appeal to all. Judging by the crowd’s reaction to them at the Thekla though, it’s likely that more will be digging this release now than might have before. 7/10

Octohawk - Determinist (Crime Records) [Joe Guatieri]

Having making a name for themselves previously as Mammuth, Norwegian Progressive Sludge Metal outfit Octohawk bring us their debut studio album Determinist.

The record opens with the seven minute epic that is Arcane Dawn, showing shades of both Sludge and Groove Metal but the track is so much more than that. A rainbow full of ideas are presented here, the bass is full of punch and groove with the drums being tied to their hip, completely locked-in and the guitars are tastefully intertwined with synthesizers. All of this combined with these catchy gruff vocals which sound like Matt Pike if he was a pirate, they just make me want to get up and dance like a mad man.

Going from this into track three, my favourite song on the album which is called Decode. Octohawk feel out of control here with their noisy guitar riffs and an unmatched drum performance which both feel like a car skidding all over the place but then suddenly before the crash happens a bright light shines across your person. 

After all of the unpredictability, the rug is swept away under your feet once more as beautiful sitars sweep over the track, slowly teasing you before they're unleashed by end of Decode and sing loudly over the sparkling guitars. You’ve been ejected from your seat, ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. Taking great inspiration from Ufomammut, there is no other way to put it, this song is Space Sludge through and through.

Later in Determinist we have track six, Beyond Tomorrow which presents stylings of Stoner Rock. Their great pace to this number slows down to a walk through the desert within more psychedelic passages. Throughout this number you have these small little seeds of greatness with these off-sounding guitars that do battle in harmony with each other in the background but unfortunately they don’t grow nor explode by the end. It leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth at the thought of what could have been, a major missed opportunity.

Overall, Octohawk have pleased me with some genuinely stellar performances, especially within the first three songs, pounding drums and the type of bass that I always cry out for in a metal album like this, sounding very Les Claypool-esque and show Determinist as its very best, portraying the futuristic vibe of the album artwork very well. 

With the highs come the lows, it’s a shame that some songs couldn’t live up to my expectations, much like Beyond Tomorrow, track seven Gateways, refuses to take the ball and run with it. Featuring a choir in the background, it’s just there for show and doesn’t take it any further, they had the chance to scare me there with it, if not wow me again. 

Octohawk are a good level but they can go even further, with a lot of potential and so much more to give. 7/10

Broken Lungs - Love Is Temporary And So Are We (Self Released) [Tony Gaskin]

Love Is Temporary……. Is the latest offering from hardcore outfit Broken Lungs. A five track EP that opens up with the angst ridden Push Notifications, Pushing Me To The Edge, a fast, beat laden track extolling the unvirtuous nature of social media and perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the EP.

Pity Party has more of a groove to it with a sing-along chorus that will prove a hit at gigs no doubt. The misery continues with Catholic Guilt a dig at secular religion and it’s forced beliefs and morals that can lead to a lifetime of doubt. Scatter The Fragments takes us to even deeper depths of darkness, you get the feeling this slow, short track is trying to come to terms with death.

Finally we have the title track and it goes back to a faster, more anthemic pace. Full of hooks and breakdowns, this is the standout track for me. Again dealing with a tricky subject, trapped in bad relationships. This is not an album to brighten your day, this is a look at how the expectations, peer pressure and the pace of modern life can severely impact our mental health. This is a cry for help from our disaffected youth trapped in a dystopian world. 

It doesn't make for easy listening (read the lyrics as well!) but sometimes the really important stuff is difficult to hear and to accept. 8/10

Parchment Farm - Parchment Farm (RidingEasy Records) [Rich Piva]

RidingEasy Records has done it again, unearthing a lost late 60s early 70s classic for all the world to enjoy. This all started with the Brown Acid records, a series of “lost” singles from killer proto/psych/heavy rock bands that were one offs or local heroes or just got lost in the shuffle. 

Now, we are getting full records of material from these bands, including this record from Parchment Farm, a combination of five musicians in different combinations from Missouri who produced some great heavy psych tunes that have no business being buried given they are so good. The band lasted for about five years, disbanding in 1973, and with multiple members not with us any longer some of the facts are shrouded in mystery. 

What is truth is that these songs are all of high quality, are a bit weird, and sound like an amalgamation of the bands they supposedly opened for: The Velvet Underground (the more rocking songs in the VU catalogue, early ZZ Top, The Amboy Dukes, Brownsville Station and Canned Heat. Throw in a bit of Dead and you get an idea of what Parchment Farm brings to the party.

I mentioned weird, and that is what the ripper Devil’s Film Festival is, with a cool one string riff and a drummer that must be on all sorts of speed. The opening track has a funky riff and feels like a combo of The James Gang and The Yardbirds. Other than access to a wider audience, there is no reason why a song like Midnight Rider could not have been a hit for the band, even if it is a bait dark on the lyrics side for that time. Summer’s Comin’ Soon has a strange guitar sound that also goes in multiple tempo directions and is weird and wonderful. I get Allmans vibes vocally, but with more fuzz rather than a clean guitar sound. 

Speaking of Weird and wonderful, Blue Skies Comin’ falls into that category, with an almost occult hippie feel to it. I dig the sparce coolness of Friends And Lovers and the nifty bass line from Mind Trip, that gives me some mothers Of Invention vibes and starts the more political side of the band, that culminates in the closer, If I’m Elected I Will Not Serve, which is a slow protest song that shows how deep the band could have gone if they continued.

Another fun record brought back to life by RidingEasy Records that should be in your collection if you want to hear what else was out there besides the big hitters of the time and what bands who were hustling to be heard were doing in the time when rock was still you and being moulded to what it would eventually become. Go get Parchment Farm and all of the other records RidingEasy are gifting us with. Great stuff. 8/10

Monday 10 June 2024

Reviews: Severe Torture, Nightmare, DVRK, Intranced (Reviews By Mark Young, Paul Hutchings, Zak Skane & James Jackson)

Severe Torture - Torn From The Jaws Of Death (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

Dutch metallers Severe Torture have been pedalling their brand of brutality since the release of their debut back in 2001, Feasting On Blood. Although their career spans over 25 years, there had been a hiatus that started 2010 until the addition of new drummer (Damiën Kerpentier) in 2018 started the fires burning a little, leading to 2022’s Fisting The Socket. This fresh impetus has carried them on to drop this slice of death metal which is available on the 7th of June for those who love this genre of extreme metal.

So, I was conscious that their PR referred to them as raw, visceral and (that word again) brutal which conjures up thoughts that they could favour one form of attack over variety, of vocals that stay within that ‘low’ register that somehow constricts the music behind it. Raw and visceral could equal poorly produced which again I’m not a fan of. I am happy to report that the attitude behind it satisfies whilst sounding good. Its straight in, no intros or drawn-out ambient noise. Its blast beats, guttural vocals and trem picked guitars. 

Right from the bat, they set out a line in the sand and say this is what you are getting for the next 10 songs. If it’s not for you, the door is there. The Death Of Everything is the lead off track and it’s a cracker. Guitars have that crunch and there is some serious drum-nastics courtesy of Damiën Kerpentier who seems hell bent on dragging the others along on his personal hell ride. Is it new and ground-breaking? No, but it lives up to their promise that once it starts it will go full pelt until it finishes. Marked By Blood And Darkness is a relentless attack and an arrangement that comes from that OSDM era. And there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Hogtied In Rope shows that they are not averse to bringing in a little of the technical into the mix and throws a top lead at us too whilst title track Torn From The Jaws Of Death hints at classic era Morbid Angel in its build. Again, this is not a bad thing as it starts full-on and stays like it.

What you do find is that the songs do bleed into one another as the album progresses and I guess that if you are writing music within a given genre then there is not a lot of room for manoeuvre so there has to be a trade-off. Do you go down a tried and tested route or expand your sound whilst possibly alienating your audience? The build may not differ from song to song so Christ Immersion, whilst it rips is similar to the ones before it and after. 

The key here is the attack behind each track. They have attempted to go for the throat on each song, so that each one drips with the attitude of ‘go on, you write something better. Because 9 times out of 10 you won’t’. Putrid Remains is an example of that. It has everything you want in death metal and it’s the same with Through Pain And Emptiness. It’s just top-level music in a genre which is nearly 40 years old. Let that sink in.

Watch out for Those Who Wished Me Dead, it is furious and just burns out of the speakers. It’s the shortest track here but probably hits the best because of it. Tear All The Flesh Off The Earth finishes us off with the same impact that The Death Of Everything had. I still maintain there are hints of Morbid Angel in there, just in the way drums remind me of Pete Sandoval. Give them a listen and you will know what I mean straight away. This will probably not appeal to those who like technical death metal nor progressive. It will definitely appeal to those who love OSDM, and those that love extreme music that is just bang, bang, bang with one battering after another. 

The argument that it is not offering anything new, well you can forgive that because what they have done is give us 10 songs of prime death metal. Yes, the songs don’t vary a lot but on reflection I don’t want them to. In doing that it wouldn’t be true to the core of Severe Torture’s ethos. That is what I like about it, that is why you should go out of your way to get it. What it also shows is that despite the band age hitting 25, they can still tear it up like it’s 2001. 8/10

Nightmare – Encrypted (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Our only encounter with Nightmare in these ages was when I reviewed 2016’s Dead Sun. I rated it a 7/10, noting that the band’s sound has changed several times since their reformation in 1999. Not only has their sound evolved, but so has the line-up, with 2016 seeing singer Maggy Luyten feature. She moved on after three years, replaced by Madie for 2020’s Aeternam, who in turn was succeeded by Barbara Mogore, who makes her recording debut on the band’s latest release, Encrypted.
It's therefore something of a new outfit which we are dealing with here. Only Yves Campion (bass/vocals) remains from the original NWOBHM band of 1979 although guitarist Franck Milleliri is a 20-year veteran, with Matt Asselberghs over a decade in.

The band are clearly pleased and confident with their direction. “With the arrival of Barbara transcending Nightmare in new dimensions, we have decided to move to new heights in terms of musical approach to make Encrypted our most ambitious album to date in terms of production, musical direction and achievement… You can find here some traditional power metal riffing in the trademark of Nightmare but also extreme metal parts and some highlights even reaching melodic death metal… making Encrypted our most varied opus so far, beyond all boundaries and expectations…”

Initial listens prompted some questions. There are elements of power metal, death, thrash, and more traditional metal wrapped up in this release, and evident immediately. Two tracks in, the opening Nexus Inferis and The Blossom Of My Hate see the band flick between soaring symphonics and crushing death metal bursts. It’s the kind of schizophrenic playing that makes sticking any label other than heavy metal on them almost redundant. If anything though, it’s the blasts of power metal that shine. It comes complete with some ferocious guttural roars that fit neatly with the music.

Ten tracks then, sitting comfortably between four-five minutes in length, Encrypted is well-paced over the 48-minutes. There’s ample here to enjoy, with the sweeping drive of Voices from The Other Side seeing additional layers added to the vocals and a rather grandiose and impressive sound. My recollection is that there was certainly some thrash on Dead Sun, and here and there on Encrypted the odd flash appears from time to time. Riffs are plentiful, and combined with the soulful vocals combine to provide a typically European sounding release.

The anthemic Saviours Of The Damned and Wake The Night are songs that demand you fist pump the air, the latter a darker, more sinister sounding track with a tolling bell adding dramatic atmospherics. The drama continues with the sweeping orchestral segments that interlink with some ferocious riffing on the title track. It’s got a majestic feel, imperious and imposing, and is certainly one of the highlights of the album.

There is a threat that the album will tail off when we reach White Lines, which is a little routine, but Borderlines picks the tempo up again, a stomping head banger of a song that leads to the finale, the 2023 version of Eternal Winter. Those initial questions answered, Encrypted is an album that is very much worth a listen. 8/10

DVRK – Infinite Reminiscence (Season Of Mist) [Zak Skane]

Formed in 2019 DVRK initially started as a solo project but throughout the years the band have recruited members; Peter Morgan on vocals, Bestain Deleule and Gerland Audiard on guitars, Fabien Letren on Bass and Vincent Vidal on drums. The band take fresh twist on the metalcore and hardcore genre by incorporating inventive electronic elements and sound designing into classic assaults of low tuned breakdowns and harsh vocals.

The opening track Distant Roads begins with these short synth key melodies before we get smashed in the face with the modern sounds of low tuned guitar rhythm patterns that are synced up with machine precision with Vincent’s kick patterns to create this bludgeoning force. Whilst these pounding grooves are playing away these layers of ambient leads and pads weave in and out of the mix. Peters vocals on this track provide this thick body of low growls that remind me of a more angrier Winstern Mcall from Parkway Drive. The short and sweet track Breathless continues with the crushing breakdowns along with this crushing modern Darkglass styled bass tone but contains with these interesting robotic Konami video game sounding samples.

The Secret mashes up the jarring sounds of bands like Knocked Loose and Vein along with the mind melding low tuned rhythms of bands like Emmure and Meshuggah, whilst also combining industrial samples and electronic break beats. Paco take us into a emotional journey with it’s heavily reverbed mix consisting of lo-fi’d pianos, emotional post-rock sounding heart filled tremolo picked guitar melodies, whilst echoed drums and reverbed vocals leaves a haunting presence to the listener. Colors takes up back to familiar territory with it’s low tuned groovy assault whilst the drummer Vincent Vidal is driving the songs with his complex foot work.

Finally to close this album F.A.M brings us old school Northlane styled Djenty rhythms layered with these tremolo effected lead lines that have come straight out of Meshuggah's play book, whilst layers of trap drums, eerie samples and even police sirens come in and out of the fold during ear punishing breakdowns.

DVRK harnesses the meat and potatoes of breakdown driven metalcore bands like Emmure and Darko US, whilst adding their personal take on the sub genre by adding these industrial elements like the rhythmical soundscapes in Breathless, the eerie choirs on Paco and the electronic drums in F.A.M which provide this fresh identity in the metalcore scene. The only criticism that I can give….and that is me just splitting hairs is that I can find the low harsh vocals to could do with EQ-ing some low end out because with it’s low pitch vocals played along with low tuned guitars the annunciations tend to get lost in the mix, but other than that, this six track is worth checking out. 8/10.

Intranced - Muerte Y Metal (High Roller Records) [James Jackson]

Death and Metal, allegedly that’s what the interpretation from Spanish to English is; the first full length album from Los Angeles based Intranced. Coming from a Spanish speaking background the band have made a conscious decision to sing in Spanish upon some of the tracks, an ode to their heritage.

I am completely oblivious to the bands that have, according to the bio, inspired Intranced; most of them listed are, quite obviously, Spanish but they cite the 70’s and indeed the 80’s Rock/Prog and it’s acts from those decades that I’m particularly reminded of as I listen to the album. Switchable, the second track and first in English, has a hint of Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever to the lead guitar in the intro, vocally one of the first lines references an alley cat - possibly a coincidence or a very intentional nod to the Rock/Metal that they’ve been inspired by. Life, love, sex and Death, the standard tropes of Heavy Metal lyrics are portrayed by James-Paul Luna and his vocal style is befitting of the 80’s Metal era, soaring and emotive.

What plays out upon this album is a Traditional Rock/Metal composition and I’m reminded of so many tracks from an old compilation album featuring the likes of Motörhead, Quiet Riot, Blitzkrieg and Uriah Heep; whether the vocals are sung in Spanish or English the end result is the same, hook filled tracks that are instantly “danceable” and by dance I mean nod my head and tap my feet - I’m old and tired. Complete with the standard Rock ballad, the rather soulful album closer, See You On The Other Side; Intranced’s Muerte y Metal is an ode to a bygone era that refuses to die and quite rightly so. 7/10

Reviews: Nordic Giants, Holy Mother, Issa, Swelling Repulsion (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Nordic Giants - Origins (Self Released)

Esoteric, enigmatic, spellbinding the music of duo Nordic Giants can be called all these things. But it can always be referred to as forward thinking. Musically expansive, visually thrilling and progressive to the truest meaning of the word, Origins sees Nordic Giants in retrospective mood. It's a compilation of their first EP, two singles and a rework of a track of a bonus.

It's not just a reissue though, this is a proper album, the order has been mixed around to make sure it flows better, the songs themselves have been re-mixed, re-mastered and most importantly re-recorded with live strings, drums, piano, synths and guitars to make for a more natural feeling record, suiting the band Nordic Giants are today and showing how far they have come in the 10+ years since these songs were first released.

The songs themselves are beautiful, richly inspired by Nordic/Scandi art pop and alternative music, leaning more on their classic prog stylings from today, guest vocalists still in tact it's the musical backing that shines through, the careful, meticulous reconstitution of these songs will appeal to long term fans, as they will possibly have only heard some of these songs live in a way similar to this, but it's also a good way for new fans to experience the band in their earliest guise but with their current style. 8/10

Holy Mother - Rise (Massacre Records)

American heavy metal is a joyous thing, I've always enjoyed the more muscular, heavier, thrashier style of classic and power metal supplied by our cousins across the pond.

Saying this I've never heard Holy Mother before despite them being around since 1990 and Rise being their seventh studio album. Like with a lot of new albums from American heavy metal bands recently, Face This Burn, their previous album and this new record Rise are tribute's to a fallen co-founding member Randy Coven who passed in 2003, leading to a break in the band.

They reformed in 2020 with co-founders Mike Tirelli (vocals/rhythm guitar) and Jim Harris (drums/lesd vocals) taking the band forward. Unfortunately it seems Rise is the last album to feature Harris so Holy Mother will be forging ahead with Tirelli, lead guitarist Mickey Lyxx, bassist Wayne Banks (Persian Risk) and Steve MacQueen on drums.

So what's this album like? Well it has some anthemic heavy metal, meaty riffs and Dio-like vocals from Tirelli charging the songs such as Power and Fire forward as Harris and British bassist Banks round out this gutsy rhythm section. Bouncing between power metal and thrash metal as Mickey Lyxx lives up to his name with a loads of tasty speed/virtuoso licks and solos. There's also a ton of guests on guitar, keys, strings and backing vocals making for a record that's dynamic, tough US heavy metal. 7/10

Issa - Another World (Frontiers Music Srl)

AOR is full of powerhouse vocalists. Especially powerhouse female vocalists, be it Ann Wilson, Pat Benatar, Roxette or Robin Beck, there's a lot of history for a singer such as Issa to live up to. There's no issue with that though as Another World marks the eighth album from this Norwegian vocal sensation on Frontiers, working this time with Vega founding members James and Tom Martin, who have left that band in 2022, but bring their 80's melodic rock influence to this album.

With James on synths, Tom on guitar/bass, Leon Robert Winteringham on lead guitar and glut of special guests on various additional instruments, Another World is that slick, saturated melodic rock Vega have been doing for a long time, Issa taking to this direction brilliantly due to her vocal chops. Both the brothers not only wrote the album but also handled the production alongside Alessandro Del Vecchio.

There's a couple of ballads, such as Only In The Dark or A Second Life, the former having some slinky sax while the latter reminds me of Richard Marx at his most radio friendly. Another World though is a rock album, there's riffing on the title track, Armed & Dangerous and The Hardest Fight while Got A Hold Of Me adds some synthy basslines. 80's styled melodic rock from on of Frontiers best singers and two of AOR's best writers. 7/10

Swelling Repulsion - Fatally Misguided (Transcending Obscurity Records)

Mechanically precise battery, progressive flourishes and dissonant walls of aggression these are all what Swelling Repulsion bring as a band. Their songs are all busy, built on multiple layers of Donovan's guitars, which add a real violence to Sacred Doom as Kristian Jablonicky's bass playing is just as technical, both string instruments in some killer unison throughout.

It's an album that needs repeated listens to fully discover what it's about. Donovan and drummer Bage share the vocals, though I'm not sure how he can sing when he's going full pelt on track such as Drug Induced Anti-Logic and Failure but maybe he's not human. Like a bad acid trip at a Dismember concert Swelling Repulsion are less misguided more laser focussed on this new record. 7/10

Review: Umbra Vitae (Review By GC)

Umbra Vitae - Light Of Death (Deathwish Inc) [GC]

Back in 2020 in the midst of Lockdown part 856 there was an announcement that a band consisting of members of Converge, The Red Chord, Hatebreed and Job for a Cowboy had formed, needless to say I lost my mind when Umbra Vitae came about as 1 of these bands is easily in my top 20 ever and the rest are all equally amazing, an album in the shape of Shadow Of Light followed and honestly?, I was slightly underwhelmed by it? Maybe I expected too much from them? Who knows anyway it’s been 4 years, and they have re-united and recorded their second album Light Of Death, so will this be the one that really makes me excited and back up all the talent involved??

It starts with a suitably epic build up on Leave Of Absence and when it does all explode into life it does so in suitably hectic fashion mixing the hardcore and death metal influences of all the members to absolute insane perfection its mix of fast and furious hardcore but ultimately is rooted firmly in the heaviness of death metal and it all mixes together in effortless perfection, Belief Is Obsolete absolutely tears out of the blocks and is supercharged metallic hardcore with some absolutely filthy riffs that mix the groove of death with the bravado of hardcore but never sways to close to one style with everything mixing together is absolute devastating harmony. 

Before Clear Cutter blasts and bounds into your conscious with some huge chugging riffs that sound crystal clear and are insanely heavy and the ferocity and speed of this track sees it fall into a grindcore rhythm and when its all over in 1:26 you just want it to keep on going but alas it doesn’t and Anti-Spirit Machine carries on with the stunning production from none other than Kurt Ballou so of course it sounds unreal and you don’t miss a single note which can sometimes happen when the music is so chaotic and unpredictable and the chorus on this song is an absolute work of art, Jacob Bannon sounds as glass throated and angry as ever and Mike McKenzie and Sean Martin have to be commended for there guitar work here, its fucking amazing!! 

Reality In Retrograde is another short, sharp grinding shock to the system that is here and gone in 57 seconds of furious anger and apocalyptic sounding music that just doesn’t let you gather yourself before Past Tense roars out and is a full on mid-paced grooving death metal monster that this album has been calling out for but of course the nature of these people is to brutalize and attack which also happens and the blend of madness and measure really is something that you cant appreciate enough as a listener.

As we reach the mid-point of the album with Velvet Black we are introduced to an altogether different side of Umbra Vitae which is a slow and doomy sound that really showcases the low end, huge rumble of Greg Weeks’ bass sound that manages to create menace and unease and shows that all the experience gained from the years of playing in their bands has taught them many different ways to create heavy music, I think if most tried to introduce this song on an album like this it wouldn’t work, not here! Here its another masterstroke of heaviness! 

The slowed down pace is then firmly kicked to the curb and Twenty-Twenty Vision feels like it forcefully places your jaw on that curb and stamps directly on the back of your head, the bluntness and utter savagery on show here is something that only really comes around so often and while you would expect it from Umbra Vitae, it still gets you excited and wanting more and of course its delivered on Algorithm Of Fear which mixes the metalcore/noise of Converge and the grooving death metal influence of The Red Chord to stunning effect and the for another track Jon Rice has an absolute world class performance on the drums. 

Empty Vessel is a whirlwind of brutality and in 1:38 manages to create a noise so unholy and relentless you wonder what they are going to do to follow this up and of course they completely change everything on Cause & Effect with a gentle acoustic intro that then cascades into an epic and atmospheric doomy death metal masterpiece, full of swathes of rich, textured guitars that as always end up exploding into life with such a fury you wonder how much more you can take but then it all drops down into a slow dragging chug mixed with blasting sections ad all this could sound confusing to read but to listen to its truly special and a little overwhelming but in the best way.

If that was the end of the album, I would have had no complaints but its not so we keep on going with Deep End and to show the clear light and day between tracks its is back to the utter chaos and savagery that has become customary on this record so far and this far into an album you may expect the foot to come off the pedal maybe, no chance, its just full throttle fist to the throat stuff and this is no more evident than on Nature vs Nurture which lulls you in with a another soft acoustic intro before probably the most straightforward sounding song on the whole album, its predominantly a death metal track but with the unpredictability element thrown in just to make sure your paying attention all the way. 

Into the final tracks of the album and with Fatal Flaw we get one last blast of Converge-esque noisy and out of control furiousness which then makes way for closing track Light Of Death which is full of blasting drums and razor sharp death metal riffing mixing with the haunted vocal screeches that always hit you deep and the actual song itself just sounds like a wave of noise that just consumes you and drags you in, makes you feel all the pain involved then at the end just drops you and walks off without looking back.

WOW! And when I say that I really mean it, this album is everything I was expecting from the debut and then some, it has everything you could want as a fan of heavy music, its thought provoking, angry, beautiful in places, heavy as fuck and ultimately from beginning to end there is not one single song that you would want to avoid. The longer Light Of Death goes on the more invested you get and the feeling after its all done is one of complete shock because the intensity on show is unrelenting and for some maybe just too much. Make no mistake about it, if you like heavy music this album is a must hear. Absolute perfection in music form. 10/10

Friday 7 June 2024

Reviews: Joanne Shaw Taylor, Candy, Holycide, Amen Corner (Reviews By Paul Scoble, GC, Paul Hutchings & James Jackson)

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Heavy Soul (Journeyman Records) [Paul Scoble]

Joanne Shaw Taylor is a solo artist playing blues/blues rock/R&B. She was discovered as a teenager by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. She started releasing albums in 2009, her debut was called White Sugar in the intervening years she has released another 7 albums, the release of Heavy Soul is JST's ninth album. The album was produced by Kevin Shirley (Black Crows, Aerosmith), released through Joe Bonanmassa's Journeyman Records label and features lots of talented musicians including Rob McNeiley, Anton Fig and Alison Presswood. In the 15 years Joanne Shaw Taylor has been releasing albums she has had 2 top tens and a number 1 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart and has won 2 British Blues Award for Best Female Vocalist, and once for Best Songwriter, so calling her accomplished would be an understatement. 

Heavy Soul features ten songs, nine originals and one cover. The album kicks off with the song Sweet 'Lil Lies, a mid-paced piece of tight blues with a very distinctive guitar lick that runs through most of the song, a very memorable chorus and a great guitar solo. After this really good start comes the cover, Joan Armatrading’s All The Way To America, a song that I remember from my childhood with a lot of affection. The version that Shaw Taylor has done is very respectful of the original, it’s a fairly strait cover, but with a song as good as this messing about with it would probably have ruined it. This version has all the factors that made the original so good, and Shaw Taylor's voice fits the song perfectly, an extremely good cover!

The next song is Black Magic, a wonderful piece of mid-paced boogie blues with a bit of a Rockabilly feel to it. The song features really great backing Vocals in the chorus, which is great, handclaps, a piano solo with a bit of a ragtime sense, a guitar solo and massive amounts of fun. After Black Magic comes Drowning In A Sea Of Love a beautiful piece of soulful R&B that is driven by a great bassline, the chorus is really good and very memorable, and the song features some really great melodies. Next comes A Good Goodbye, a song based around a clean guitar riff, with a very good vocal performance that is full of personality and really brings the lyrics to life. The chorus is very good and features lush backing vocals. 

Then it's the title track Heavy Soul, which is a very interesting song. It starts as mid-paced blues that feels measured, minimal and muted, however, as the song progresses the performances slowly build in intensity, getting bigger and bigger. It feels as if the song is growing in confidence, initially controlled and subtle, but then becoming louder and more purposeful until by the last minute the song struts along and feels much bigger. It’s a great song that is a standout track on an album of great songs. 

After this is Wild Love, a tight piece of soul pop with a clean guitar riff and keyboards. The song is mid-paced and has a really great positive energy. Next comes the song Someone Like You a blissed-out soul ballad that is full of sunshine. The song is similar too and has the same feel as the song Easy by The Commodores, and just like that song, Faith No More would probably do a very good cover of this.

The brilliant blues boogie called Devil In Me is quite similar to Black Magic, but is faster and has a great Hammond Organ riff. Those absolutely lush backing vocals are back for the chorus, which is awesome, and just like Black Magic it is massively good fun. Heavy Soul comes to an end with the song Change Of Heart, a poppy piece of soul. The verse is soft and minimal, while the chorus is bigger with backing vocals that could have come from a gospel album. The song features a very tuneful guitar solo and is a lush way to end the album. 

Heavy Soul is a great album. Joanne Shaw Taylor is breaking new ground for herself with the addition of quite a lot of soul and R&B to this album, with the Blues taking a bit more of a back seat and letting the soul take the wheel. Doing this was risky, it could have been a big mistake if it hadn’t worked, however the quality of the songs on Heavy Soul makes the album work brilliantly. I’ve only had the album for 6 days and already I can sing all the choruses and the whole album seems to be stuck in my head, a sure sign of quality. The different styles also fit together very well, at no point does this sound like different artists, it all hold together and feels like one cogent whole, which is impressive. 

It’s a really great album to add to an already impressive discography. A great blues/soul/R&B album, highly recommended. 9/10

Candy - Its Inside You (Relapse Records) [GC]

When it comes to descriptions of what I am reviewing I get a bit nervous when the word experimental is used, so when I got the latest release from ‘’experimental hardcore noise ‘’ band Candy, I was excited, cos hardcore but also apprehensive cos, experimental, noise! But, judging a band merely by its description is not going to help anyone so onwards with the review.

Opener eXistenz is a bit of an odd blend, it’s got some ferocious metallic hardcore mixed with danceable electronics in and its all very stop start and jagged and does fit into the noisecore style as there is no real focus on one thing, its all just thrown at you and you just have to fend for yourself, Short Circuit is a bit more my thing as its got a stomping NYHC vibe running throughout even when mixing in some electronic chaos it never strays too far and the groove it has is infectious, this feels a bit more like it for me.

You Will Never Get Me starts off with the electronic element heavily leading things and is a weird mix of styles that seems to lean HEAVILY on a nu-metal influence just that little bit too much for my liking and makes the song feel slightly dated they then go back to basics for the beginning of Its Inside You and throw more lovely hardcore out but then mix in some mental gabba electronics and it’s a real headfuck of a song as one minute your circle pitting round the room then your raving like a loon and its this mix of styles that will either intrigue you or make you want to turn off so far I am in the intrigued camp.

Love Like Snow then totally rips up the rule book and is throws all the electronics around and creates and atmospheric soundscape full of heavy bass and distorted vocals and it’s an interesting way to make you think about what you would classify as heavy music, Dehumanize Me is a masterful display of furious and punishing metalcore with everything fed through a distortion filter and spat back out with jagged and grinding electronic noises and is another brilliant left turn to make you really pay attention to what is happening, Faith 91 can only be described with one word and that is crushing, there is a definite death metal influence on show here and while it mixes well with the hardcore it doesn’t go all deathcore on us it manages to show both individual influences and makes them both shine separately and beautifully.

Terror Management then throws another influence in ad this time its grindcore, all the experimenting here is for the most part paying off as this is blistering and urgent blast of angry, energetic grinding hardcore and easily one of the best racks on the album! Dreams Less Sweet follows on with another swaggering hardcore feel that will get everyone 2 stepping in joy before unleashing some savage beatdowns that will absolutely explode in a live setting this is a savage and unrelenting beast of a song that shows when they focus and everything is on point Candy can be brutally fantastic.

Silent Collapse is a lively short, sharp shock of hardcore punk before Dancing To The Infinite Beat is a fully electronic ravey song that some might enjoy but I don’t at all, after the full on fury we have had this just feels out of place for me and I can say that same for Hypercore although it is more ‘’metal’’ its another dance song full of off kilter beats and bloopy, weep, weep samples and while it is ok, I just can’t be doing with it especially as it’s the last song on the album!

Its Inside You has some killer stuff on it when they focus on the heavy side of things the furious anger demonstrated is something special but when they get a little experimental its feels like they lose focus and it affects the whole feel of the album, the dance influenced songs at the end were a really weird way to end this album as well! Still, despite my whining I would recommend this album If you wanted an album that challenges the way you think about heavy music. 8/10

Holycide – Towards Idiocracy (Xtreem Music) [Paul Hutchings]

One glance at the fantastically over the top cover on the Madrid Thrashers third album will leave you in no doubt about what you will hear. It screams THRASSSSHHHHH!! But a quick examination of the cover shows humans staring blindly at phone screens as they fall like lemmings off the cliffs into the boiling blood red waters of the seas below them. And an underlying message that is one I fully endorse. The charge of humanity towards its AI controlled conclusion.

Towards Idiocracy is a stark observation on the state of the planet, rolled up in a raging ball of visceral thrash metal that ticks all the boxes. A mirror on the world, all caught up in the virtual existence whilst the world burns and is destroyed around us, pollutants and toxins damage, wildlife is destroyed, and we protest about being offended by the trivial and unimportant.

That message is caught up in ten songs of razor-sharp thrash which opens with A.I. Supremacy, a fast-paced track that needs no explanation. From here it’s high tempo all the way, superbly played, viciously delivered and vocally perfect. Dave Rotten’s snarling roars are ideal for the message the Spaniards are delivering.

Four years since the less than subtle Fist To Face, it’s time for Holycide to remind the world of their existence and to demonstrate their quality. It’s a combination of Slayer, Exodus, and Sepultura with a crossover edge that gives it just a little change in style. It’s this approach that makes Towards Idiocracy something both familiar and yet new to listen to.

The tracks tumble over each other; Remote Control, Power Corrupts and Technophobia are all quality old school sounding thrash, whilst the groove of Angry For Nothing blends a more contemporary sound into the mix. Sava Esteban and Ankor Ramierz bring a dual guitar attack that slices with no remorse, whilst the tight rhythm work of bassist Vincente J. Payá and drummer Santi ‘GoG’ Arroyo keep everything moving. There’s even a cover of Atrophy’s Chemical Dependency thrown in, and it’s treated with the respect it deserves.

Holycide are unashamedly thrash in the way that many older fans want it to be. Towards Idiocracy is pleasingly retro yet refreshingly contemporary. And any band that ends their album with a song called Flamethrower ‘Em All deserves plaudits in my book. 8/10

Amen Corner - Written By The Devil (Hammerheart Records) [James Jackson]

*This not the South Wales pop band founded by Andy Fairweather Low* - Ed

There’s a list of marketing points that comes with the press release for Amen Corner’s upcoming album Written By The Devil, that plays heavily upon the fact that the band has stuck to its Underground Black Metal roots for over thirty years.
The opening track to any album is the band’s first opportunity to draw the listener in and offer a glimpse of things to come, in this case it’s a collection of unrelated samples that offer no indication or any feasible direction to what comes next, in some cases the “intro” builds, offering a hint of what is to come, this one is called Intro and bares no obvious connection to the album, whose theme is Death.
When I think of Black Metal, I instantly think of the likes of Darkthrone, Emperor, Dark Funeral, early Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth; the screeching vocals, blast beats and frenzied riffs, this has far more in common with the extreme metal of genre defying/genre defining Venom.
Where the band may well be a national treasure in the underground of Brazilian extreme music, I’m finding little that would garner such prestige. Vocally it feels as though the Sucoth Benoth is phoning it in, there’s nothing new or interesting about what he’s doing here. The same could be said for the album as a whole, there are a few occasions where a riff, or drum pattern stands out in the sea of mediocre tracks but these instances are few and far between.

Amen Corner may well be a national institution but bigger and better things have come out of the same Underground circuit that Amen Corner have firmly planted themselves in and I’m beginning to think that the reason why the marketing points focused so much on the longevity of the band and its place in Brazil’s Underground scene is because there isn’t much else to say; I’m sure that if you’re already a fan of the band or that old school Black/Extreme Metal then this is one to try. I am neither. 4/10

Reviews: Evergrey, Huntsmen, Grand Slam, WyndRider (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Evergrey - Theories Of Emptiness (Napalm Records)

Tom S. Englund and his not so merry men celebrate nearly 30 years with their  brand new album Theories Of Emptiness. Their 14th studio album is the end of an era, the final recorded output from long term drummer Jona Ekdahl who moves on to pastures new and has been replaced by Simen Sandnes. He will have big boots to fill as Ekdahl's influence on the band is notable, especially when Evergrey do that heavy introspection they are the best at, represented best with To Become Someone Else, the steady chug of Englund, and Henrik Danhage merged with the organs of Rikard Zander. Zander's organs are also a major part of the chunky Say, as is Johan Niemann's bass. 

Evergrey are a band who put progression above all else, always striving to make more of their music, new nuances, different textures, added heaviness or more melody, they're progressive in the best sense. As a long term follower, I can say truthfully that the band have been on an absolute tear since 2014's Glorious Collison, reinvigorated and more creative than they ever have been since then they have released five albums, all of which are now celebrated and bring something different. 

Theories Of Emptiness does this too be it the electronic throb, piano and strings on Ghost Of Hero, which as a similar yearning and melancholy as Silent Skies, one of Englund's other projects. The balance of power and fragility of his voice on this track brought a  tear to my eye, but as this is Evergrey and one minute they're making you cry the next your head is banging, be it the Viking heaviness of We Are The North or pacey opener Falling From The Sun

The industrial Misfortune or the anthemic One Heart, a track that really does the production of Englund and Ekdahl justice the mix of Adam "Nolly" Getgood and mastering of Thomas “Plec” Johansson adding to the epic approach of this album as a whole. I spoke about progression but Evergrey are now and always were a progressive metal band and with a track such as The Night Within, where they play technical, fluid melodies and have a couple of time changes in a four minute song. 

I mentioned Englund's voice but I'll mention it as often as it takes to reiterate what a bloody good vocalist he is. Be it by himself or when duetting with the dulcet tones of Katatonia's Jonas Renkse on Cold Dreams, Tom's daughter Salina giving the ethereal backing. Cold Dreams is also the heaviest song here, putting in death growls which will be difficult to replicate live but suit the nature of this eclectic album, this is proven by the AOR-like Our Way Through Silence following Cold Dreams

It's no secret that I love Evergrey as a band, but Theories Of Emptiness is a stunning record that I'll be playing to death for the rest of the year. Riffing on a theme they established in 1995, Evergrey get existential and personal on their 14th album, with magnificent results. 10/10

Huntsmen - The Dry Land (Prosthetic Records) [Matt Bladen]

Chicago's Huntsmen have released plenty of music over the last few years but The Dry Land is only their third album. I guess the issue when you write long songs is that a three track EP often has a similar running time to a 6 track album.

Anyway I digress as on The Dry Land, Huntsmen traverse the plain between living and dead through all the hardships attracted over the past four years, band members dealing with chronic illness, isolation and mixed fortune, saw them coming together as almost a family unit to describe their pain through their music. Having always played with song writing that speaks to the living and the dead, this tribe of troubadours always struck me as a "Americana Metal" band, the kind of collaboration you'd expect from Baroness, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks and Nick Cave (listen to Rain), brooding in the netherworld between folk tales and personal metaphors, they use country and folk music as a way to explore further reaches than their sludgy doom could ever.

On The Dry Land the spectral wanderings are stronger, brighter so too then is the extreme metal influence, glacial blasts of black metal cut like glass through the cavernous doom riffs. Another feature of this record is that Aimee Bueno-Knipe appears not only as a performer but as a full collaborative member, it means her voice and lyrics are integral to the album, creating some gorgeous harmonies on In Time, All Things and the sprawling Cruelly Dawns, a track which has black metal blasts from Ray Bueno-Knipe behind the kit.

This, Our Gospel again relies on the threating black metal anger, as Lean Times can give a slow build and cathartic release, the trio of guitarists Chris Kang, Gavin Cushman and Kirill Orlov (who is studio only) get to show their chops with lilting acoustics, jangling post rock or furious grooves. Marc Stranger-Najjar's bass catching the attention here as well.

If Crippled Black Phoenix were American they'd sound like this and that is the highest compliment I can give Huntsmen. 9/10

Grand Slam - Wheel Of Fortune (Silver Lining Music)

When you're a band founded by one of the most enigmatic, long remembered Rockstars of all time, it may be hard to shake off their legacy. Grand Slam was formed by Phil Lynott after Thin Lizzy's farewell tour in 1983, after Lynott's death and plenty of subsequent lawsuits, co-founding guitarist Laurence Archer and keyboardist Mark Stanway reformed Grand Slam in 2016, but as of 2018 Archer is the guiding force of the band, releasing an album in 2019, he's adamant that this is to be considered a different band. Doubling down by re-releasing 2019's Hit The Ground with a bit more refinement as the original consists of stolen demos. 

Though considering them as different band could be difficult when you hear There Goes My Heart which is the sort of Lizzy clone Black Star Riders used to deal in. But I can't blame them, much like BSR, if you have a legacy to call on why not do so, it will endear you to long term fans and increase recognition. That is so long as the songs are there. Well the production is very much there, the record is as sharp as a needle allowing you to hear every single Lynott-like vocal phrasing of Mike Dyer on tracks such as the strutting Come Together (In Harlem), his knack for telling a story or creating an image with a lyric is right out of Phil's playbook. 

Archer's song writing owes a lot to Lynott but his playing can come from a few places, Def Leppard, Whitesnake and others in that 80's rock scene, for example Feeling Is Strong (Jo's Song), Archer gets plenty of sumptuous solos and swaggering riffs to show off with, as Grand Slam 2024 are rounded out by Benjy Reid on drums and Rocky Newton on bass. The album is based on stories, be they death, history, the love of Jaguars (the car) or more intangible things, there's so many similarities to the band Lynott and Archer were trying to get off the ground as Lizzy met NWOBHM (Trail Of Tears) and AOR (Afterlife). With Spitfire and I Wanna Know! Dyer morphs into Blaze Bayley in prime Wolfsbane while they add a bit of folky mysticism on Pirate Song

Wheel Of Fortune continues the legacy of a band that never got the breaks it should have, with so many bumps in the road, it's Archer's resilience that is on display here. Life like the title track is a Wheel Of Fortune and it looks like Grand Slam are now enjoying their bonus round with classy, classic rock. 8/10

WyndRider – Revival (Electric Valley Records) [Matt Bladen]

It was fair to say I liked the debut album from East Tennessee’s WyndRider, comparing them favourably to Jefferson Airplane, they also remind me of Lucifer, Blood Ceremony and obviously have plenty of odes to Iommi, they even have a song called Remember The Sabbath. Since their 2022 debut they’ve played all over the pace, honing their riffs ready for the follow up entitled Revival. A natty play on words that beckons their return/revival but also links to the blood soaked, behind closed doors nature of the Southern Baptist history. 

Stoner doom that deals with fanatical devotion then? Same old same old but this Southern band were born into it, so Revival is a first-hand account of the evils carried out in the name of religion. It inspires the Appalachian doom of tracks such as Judas, Joshuwah Herald’s bass and Robbie Willis’ guitar soaked in fuzz for the main riff as Willis briefly expands into a solo before that riff comes crashing back. The low end crush continues with Devil’s DenRemember The Sabbath has creeping drums from Josh Brock, as The Wheel uses off time percussion to set up for the final groove. Chloe Gould’s echoed lamentations beckon you to the underbelly of their Southern home. 

Revival is WyndRider expanding on their debut with a sound that streamlines things a bit, it’s darker but somehow more harmonious. Play loud, praise Sabbath. 8/10 

Thursday 6 June 2024

A View From The Back Of The Room: Bloodstock Metal To The Masses Semi Final #2 Swansea (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Apathy Avenue, Kill By Mouth, Verletzen, Confessions Of A Serial Killer, The Bunkhouse Swansea, 01.06.24

Heading over to the Swansea side of things was a bit of an unknown quantity, well kind of. I had seen two of the bands that had made it through to the semi final before when we were just Cardiff based before the expansion of M2TM South Wales.

Still this was the first time in this year's competition that I'd been over to Swansea to check out the talent they fielded this year. Mental note is to go more next year and catch the heats and quarters.

Anyway once more into the Bunkhouse which while retaining the "rock bar" feel of Fuel, is just that little bit more welcoming, despite the massive building site next door making outside space a little cramped. Still it's a great venue and bands always sound a look excellent in there so kudos to all the staff, but especially sound man Kalebh.

First up were Apathy Avenue, an alt/nu rock styled outfit that put post grunge, with rap vocals and grooving riffs. Their music isn't my style at all if I'm honest but they've got some chops, unfortunately there was a lot of talking amongst the crowd while they were playing and they had a few audio gremlins too. In their last song though they gained a burst of energy, diving off the stage on to the floor and whipping up a frenzy, if their whole set was like this then they would have won over everyone much earlier and perhaps not missed out on a place on the final.

A decent opening but we got into the crux of this semi with the next two bands, the two fans favourites of the completion and the two most experienced bands in terms of M2TM. First on stage was the Killdozing groove/thrash of Kill By Mouth, part Pantera, part Machine Head and all aggression, these guys have been crushing the South Wales scene for a good while now and and tonight was no different. Even when there was guitar issues frontman Cassar picked up a mic and started going full Anselmo with vitriolic rage. Impressive and aggressive Kill By Mouth had the crowd in their hand and progressed easily to the final on this display.

Then it was time for a sermon, a black metal sermon to a heavily partisan, black metal crowd all wearing their best leather, studs and corpse paint. I've been constantly surprised and entertained by this youthful trio and they were the best I've ever seen them on that Bunkhouse stage. Verletzen let everyone know what they were aiming for, Patti Pavilion, ritualistic introductions, riffy black metal that sounds so much like Immortal, lots of movement to keep the hair flowing, triumphant posing and even capes. They played it like arena headliners, savagery and melody together, they'll be ones to watch at the final.

Last on stage were a band whose members are veterans but have only actually been playing gigs in this format for M2TM and a few other shows. Confessions Of A Serial Killer, have been called audio violence and they take that mantra seriously, decked out in masks, their frontman's is very disconcerting if I'm honest, especially when he's prowling the crowd looking for victims. More than one person compared them to early Slipknot which I totally get but there's a bit more to them than just that. Also comparing them to the Iowa band when two of their sons were playing with Vended in Sin City is a happy coincidence. Confined to a small stage it's a bit like an interactive horror show, how this will translate to the final is anyone's guess.

So there we have it the three bands from the Swansea side heading to Day Of Wreckoning on 29th June at Patti Pavilion are Confessions Of A Serial Killer, Kill By Mouth and Verletzen. They join Rites To Ruin, Root Zero and Thrakian for a 6 way showcase of the South Wales scene and place at Bloodstock Festival at stake

Tickets available through the event link here:


Reviews: Grey Giant, Sykofant, The Fires Below, Fight The Fight (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Grey Giant - Conversus In Lutum (Self Released)

From Santander in Spain, Grey Giant are a stoner band who draw heavily on the 90's desert rock scene as well as many bands in the Greek stoner scene too. A trio consisting of Mario Hospital "Pitu" (bass and vocals), brothers Javi and Hugo Echeverría (guitars) and Pablo Salmón (drums), they fixate on long instrumental passages of Karma To Burn on Mud & Sorrow, which waits a long time for the vocals to kick in. 

Then we go traversing through the dunes with Kyuss on Ostrich Head and Bright Eyes, as I'm A Mosher has the psychedelic stomp of 1000mods and also Nightstalker. The album title translates to Turned Into Mud and record sounds as if it is turning to mud with these tracks, the riffs are syrupy, thick with fuzz and the bass grumbles underneath it moving the monolithic grooves with the drummer keeping the movement steady and regimented.

If you were brought up with the desert rock scene the mind expanding riffs of Grey Giant will snap you back to that era with one reverbed guitar riff. 8/10

Sykofant - Sykofant (Self Released)

Sykofant are a Norwegian prog band and this self titled album is packed with broad prog rock soundscapes. Anyone who did English GCSE will probably know that a sycophant is "someone who praises powerful or rich people in a way that is not sincere", well there is tonnes of praise for bigger bands on this record but there is definitely sincerity.

Most the music here pays serious homage to Pink Floyd, drawing influence from their entire career as 60's psych rock evolved into grandiose 70's experimentation and into 80's anthems, the use of jazz, funk, fusion and many other influences allow them to take their music to some interesting places, similarly to another obvious influence, Rush who they ape convincingly on the last moments of Between Air And Water and most of Monuments Of Old.

Sykofant have a really high level of progressive in their music, the guitar interplay on a track such as Between The Moments is dreamy, with a hint of Opeth from what I think is a mellotron. The bass is thick and played as a lead instrument on Monuments Of Old for instance, while the drums lay down steady grooves and dictate the pace changes. What was interesting to me about this album is how it takes a few listens to really understand the music, my only major quibble being with the vocal which are really a little too rough and unrefined.

If you give it time then Sykofant's debut will reveal it's wonders to you. 8/10

The Fires Below - Thorns (Self Released)

The Fires Below are from London and they play big riffing heavy rock, punk and metal slamming together in the same band. The Fires Below are very similar to more recognized acts such as Bokassa, Red Fang, Orange Goblin (Thorns) and Slomosa too. 

Made up of Smithy (vocals/guitar), Si (bass), Del (drums), and Sam (guitar), they have been around since 2022 and they have an EP under their belt so they're definitely prioritising getting as much music out to people as they can. Their follow up EP gets going with the feral Worth, add some punk noise on No Man's Land and bring a chug to the aggressive Plastic Utopia, To Far To Reach

Having spent the the last few years touring like hell, they have brought all this experience to their second EP and it shows with five hard hitting, heavy riffing tracks. Ones to watch, The Fires Below burn extra bright here. 7/10

Fight The Fight - Shah Of Time (Indie Recordings)

Another Norwegian prog band, but Fight The Fight are much more on the heavier end of the scale than Skykofant. Shah Of Time is the follow up to their 2017 debut and they have updated their line up, notably getting Baard Kolstad of Leprous behind the drum kit and their music now features a very modern prog metal. First song Serpents builds on the repeating electronics for some djenty, modern riffs and guttural vocals that go clean in the chorus.

But there's more to it, Middle Eastern percussion is abound on this concept album. It's been written over a period of two years but came from a very creative time in which they just started to write. With Kolstad behind the kit, there's a lot of Leprous links in the sound, his drum patterns on Heart Of Stone keeping that propulsive power that's at the heart of Leprous, acoustic drum set linking well with the electronic percussion, he's actually given free reign to do as he pleases, talent fully on display but never undermining the other members.

With cinematics of AI leading into the chunky beginnings of djenter Alien, though it quickly shifts towards industrial ambience while 12800 is a short blast of Meshuggah with a longer one coming on In Memory which also goes a bit Vola in the middle. Shah Of Time boldly invites you into modern heavy prog, bursting with electronic help and start stop riffs. 7/10

Wednesday 5 June 2024

Reviews: Voidgazer, Apocalyptica, GURT, Withering Surface (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

Voidgazer - Dance Of The Undesirables (Reigning Phoenix Music) [Mark Young]

Have you ever heard an album that makes you smile? Something that seemingly comes out of nowhere and stakes a claim for what could be one of your favourite releases of the year? Say hello to Voidgazer, who have released what should be considered as a future classic. The album just has everything that any fan of loud, unabashed heavy metal should love. But there is a minimum word count so here goes as I try to find as many ways of saying ‘This is Ace’ as is possible (because it is) and try to capture why it’s such a cracker.

Jesus Takes The Needle kicks off with a thrashing introduction that morphs into a sludge slow-down that is chock full of immediate riffs from Manny Watts and some guttural vocals courtesy of Omar Olivares II. It grinds, stomps and is like Mastodon on crack. It is frenetic, possibly schizophrenic and constitutes one of the best opening songs I’ve ever heard. The closing section is fire, and makes you want to play it. Driving a car to this is dangerous and over the course of 5 minutes and 42 seconds have dropped a massive marker on how you take different genres and mould it into what metal should sound like. 

The tone darkens on Expectations Management with lead heavy picking intro that drops into something akin to rock and roll, dressed in 2024’s clothes. It mixes in triplets, guitar lines that run everywhere on the neck. The progressions are mint and then it goes into classic rock territory with lead licks that could have come from 1985. That is not a dis, it’s just mental that it works so well. Face melting solos are the order of the day here and as a song it is completely different from the track that preceded it.

The end licks are royal but there is no time to breathe as we get into the title track which is just 8 minutes of pure quality. It’s the way it is put together, the mix of low-down riffing, the chiming chords, the melodic fills and then more melting of faces. I defy anyone to listen to this and not be uplifted. There is a genius at work here, the way that they turn on a penny and charge into a new direction and carry it off is superb.

Blast Equalizer goes down that progressive/technical route with a standout opening sequence before getting their stomping boots back on for a tear up, double bass firing like machine guns. The break down is perfect, giving the lead over it the necessary foundation before they wind themselves back up for Sexual Sadist Serial Slasher which takes great delight in beating you around the head with a blunt instrument. 

Even in amongst the bludgeoning they don’t forget that it has to engage you and they do just that. It crams so much in without any drop in excellence that the inclusion of an interlude (GRRRRR) with Grand Appeasement, it doesn’t take the shine off the closing track, From Nothing. Back on the progressive train with this one, it’s one blinding riff pattern after another, occupying that mid-tempo range that allows the lead to come in and scorch the earth in front of it.

It has been a while since I’ve had a review like this where there are no standouts or highlights. This is simply because the quality is that high right the way through. It deserves to be on your album of the year lists because it is THAT good. 10/10

Apocalyptica - Plays Metallica Vol. 2 (Throwdown Entertainment) [Matt Bladen]

How and perhaps more pertinently, why do you record a sequel to the album that made you? That’s the question I posed when the new album from Apocalyptica dropped into my inbox. 

Plays Metallica Vol 2 is the sequel to their 1997 debut Plays Metallica By Four Cellos. That album slowly built them a reputation, one that has seen them get bigger with very new studio album, eight in total, with addition of Mikko Sirén on drums it was probably 2007’s Worlds Collide that saw them collaborate with guest singers such as Corey Taylor, Till Lindermann and Christina Scabbia that solidified them as more than just “that band with the cellos”. So why return to Metallica when you’ve done so much to become a rock/metal band in your own right? 

Well it’s been 25 years since their debut and as the band have opened for Metallica in the past they maintain a great relationship with them to this day, so this is a homage to the band that first inspired them to record that lo-fi, simple tribute all those years ago, but to perform new cuts from their back catalogue in their current form. 

I’ll say right now that as the band have delved further down the metal band with cellos route, this is sonically much bigger than the first one, there’s all sorts of effects and distortion on the cellos, to make it more like the traditional set up, the trio of cellists having played this way for years now, what sets it apart from the original though is the drums. It was the thing that was missing and not matter what you think of Lars as drummer, you just can’t beat that double kick blast in One or even the donk in St Anger, which isn’t emulated on this version. It’s a shame then that this is the final album with Mikko Sirén behind the kit as he’s integral to this record. 

The track list was chosen to vary from the debut, no songs are duplicated, with some more modern era and album cuts included I was excited to hear To Live Is To Die and Holier Than Thou and they don’t disappoint. In fact nothing disappoints but you can’t help but wonder why they have gone back to Metallica covers. 

For me it would have been better to have this album and to re-record the debut in the same style to show the evolution of the band. Still it gets the seal of approval as both Robert Trujillo and James Hetfield appear on the album, speaking volumes about the link both bands have to each other. If you’re a Metallica fan or an Apocalyptica then you’ll get excited about this album, but try not to worry too much about the why. 7/10

GURT – Satan Etc. (When Planets Collide) [Matt Bladen]

GURT LUSH as 'party doom' crew GURT return with their first album in five years. Following up the brilliantly titled Bongs Of Praise, they stoked another fatty and mulled upon Satan Etc. With this album they've tried to be shorter, sharper, more direct and to the (knife) point, keeping their clowning around and satirical wit but delivering it with the most savage song writing of their career.

Focussed on survival, our survival in this crazy world, the band have had deaths, births, botched vasectomies and dodgy haircuts in this lay off, putting it all down on several pieces of A4 and taking it to Steve Sears to record it. He's poked and prodded, begged and pleaded and showed sympathy and friendliness to again get the best out of them on their fifth collaboration.

There's a groove to The Most Dying Way To Die while Knife Fever (a tale of that vasectomy) is visceral with hardcore bile sloshing out of the pores, Satan Etc feels angrier, maybe the phrase to use is, aggressively absurd, if it's all going to shit you may as well have a laugh about it. Musically they take no prisoners, biting riffs from Rich Williams undercut with David Blakemore's stinging bass and love of Slavic hardcore.

With Blakemore and Williams grinding and chugging away, Bill Jacobs gives it the beans behind the kit, a fully stoked furnace that gets the doom pop bubbling over on Appetite For Construction and Doi Of The Doid, Gareth Kelly snarling and screaming with black metal ferocity on Exit As You Enter and Sandworm Fleshlight.

Whether lyrics that have their tongue in their cheek, music that leaves your ear ringing and one man's odd to how much he loves his kids, Satan Etc is evil and more. 9/10

Withering Surface - Exit Plan (Mighty Music) [Mark Young]

Exit Plan is the 6th release from Scandinavian melodic masters Withering Surface and is an album that proved to be challenging for them in terms of set-backs courtesy of Covid, line-up changes which might have forced other bands to succumb and return to hibernation. 2020’s Meet Your Maker was their first after 15 years and should have seen them capitalise upon it with festival appearances which would have spread the word even further. 

As we know, Covid came and said hello and put the brakes on their activities. Not wanting to let that stop them, they managed to put everything into delivering Exit Plan which shows that sometimes good things come to those that wait. As a slice of melodic death metal, it’s a very strong release that does enough to keep your attention right the way through. Melodic death has been around for years and dependent upon where the band is from there are certain wells from which they draw influence from. 

We know that At The Gates have cast a massive shadow over this genre and they have stayed true to their core beliefs in what good sounds like. It is sometimes unavoidable to have moments that sound like ATG, but these are kept to a minimum. What they do well is putting these songs together so that the vocal lines are delivered so that they expand the guitar behind them. Exit Plan is the proper opening track and is one of those mid-paced stompers that have a riff build that draws you in. 

It is a fine starter, its insistent and is a great marker for the songs that follow on. It feels like they opted to keep it simple for simple’s sake (not that they are using simple riffs here) so that it doesn’t overwhelm. Where Dreamers Die keeps that idea going, its classic Scandinavian melodic metal that grooves from start to finish. If you imagine that they start off slowly and ease themselves into it so by the time we get to The Oracle which is a slow number, it has a certain weight to it as each component part is firing on all cylinders. 

Then allows for them to add a bit of speed with I Finally Lost (All Faith In Humanity) that quickly starts and then takes off, with some prime melo-death. A conscious decision to do it? Not sure but in the context of following The Oracle it slams, as the big bag of riffs is ripped open and the contents sprinkled on Denial, Denial, Denial which has a storming progression to it. As they run through it, everything links back to that movement and the way the vocal lines are delivered.
Finish What You Started is another class work through with a tight riff line that carries it along and wraps quickly into the final duo of You Hurt This Child and Mindreader. The former has that rumbling tempo to it and once again has that classic build to it. It has all the key parts for what makes good melodic metal, but with their stamp on it whilst the latter just propels and is a fine song to finish with. Mindreader uses those discordant riffs that remind me Orion (honest!!) whilst dropping in some mental down picking.

I think that they should be rightly proud of what they have done here, given all of the problems they faced along the way. They have managed to craft a strong set of songs that possess all the necessary requirements whilst not aping what has come before. I’m not suggesting that this is all new or ground-breaking and I don’t think they would say that either. But It does what you want it to do, and it does it well. 7/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Up The 'Port (Live Review By SJ)

Up The ‘Port, The Corn Exchange, Newport, 01.06.24

Cherry Blossom presents Up The ‘Port, which was an event to showcase local Newport talent and boy there was a lot of talent in the room tonight at The Corn Exchange. The environment felt quite community based, which already provided a level of warm reception from the get-go.

The night kicked off with Joe Kelly & The Royal Pharmacy (8). The melodies reminded me of sitting on a porch in a rocking chair on a summer’s morning with a harmonica. Throughout the set there were exchanges between the members showcasing their passion for playing on the stage. The atmosphere overall felt quite chilled, rustic and gave a feeling of nostalgia. Very captivating.

Up next were the Burning Ferns (7) who specialise in their self-described “…guitar pop with a healthy side order of Welsh psychedelia.” The choruses were so catchy that people in the audience who haven’t heard their songs before were able to sing along. It was a delightful surprise when the good old kazoo made an appearance on stage with them!

PARCS (7) provided a change of style with their funky, lo-fi dreamy tunes. The atmosphere turned into a more relaxed, meditative vibe where you could relax and let the music flow through you. I hadn’t seen PARCS before and they were an unexpected and pleasant surprise for me on the night.

Eurekas (7) highlighted their Indie rock style that reminded me a bit of The Clash, singing about roots in society which paints a picture and tells a story. They certainly made us look and made us stare while Falling From Your Grace. Who knew singing about the bankruptcy of our political class could be so catchy.

Next up were Failstate (8) who owned that stage with both Tom and Dave showcasing their vocal abilities, a complimentary yet contrasting dynamic that provides an extra layer of elevation to their set. They also graced us with “A new song that doesn’t have a name.” Their exhilarating and zealous set got the crowd moving.

Finding Aurora (7) are a local garage rock group and Newport’s “Best Kept Secret” with their raw rock and dangerously addictive drumbeats. Owning the crowd once again, I can definitely see the Foo Fighters influencing the band.

As the penultimate act, Only Fools And Corpses (9) were a standout for me on the night, again, it wasn’t a band I was familiar with before going to the event. I felt like I was being shouted at (in a good way), they were very animated and energetic throughout their performance. They certainly, grabbed my attention. 

The finale of the night was the Murder Club (7). The 4-member riot grrl girl group specialised in indie, pop rock. Their lyrics and stage presence made me feel like I was at a sleep over with my best friends or getting ready for a night out. It was a sugar filled, comforting environment and a fantastic way to end the night. 

I’ll leave you with a quote that I feel summed up the night from Miss Penny Lane in Almost Famous: “Never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt, you never get hurt, you always have fun; if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends” 

Up The ‘Port was just that, the record store for the community on the night. Bringing local Newport talent together and our community under, what could be, the largest disco ball in Newport!

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Reviews: Marjana Semkina, Laughing Stock, Conflict Choir, Enquire Within (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Marjana Semkina - Sirin (Self Released/Kickstarter)

One half of iamthemorning, Marjana Semkina's vocal brilliance will be known to anyone who has ever listened to the chamber pop act. Now based in London having left her native Russia, she is outspoken about the country and their politics, a staunch and active anti-occupation of Ukraine campaigner she has raided thousands of pounds to support Ukrainians living in the conflict, using Kickstarter to generate a portion of the revenue of this second solo album to anti-occupation charities, something that would see her imprisoned in Russia.

So Marjana now is a woman without a country, telling her tales through her music. Her solo music sharing similarities to iamthemorning but more akin with the dark folk of Tori Amos, Björk and Kate Bush. Sirin is her second solo full length album and it's drenched in grief, told through Slavic fairy tales trying to find some sort of hope, as Sirin is an omen for death and bad luck, so it's Marjana who paints herself as the "bird of sorrow" on this new record.

Sparse but layered compositions sees Marjana's haunting, ethereal vocal and deft acoustic guitar joined by pulsing electronics, a string quartet that brought tears on Gone. There's also a band comprised of drummer Keli Guðjónsson (Agent Fresco), bassist Charlie Cawood (Medieval Baebes, Knifeworld), guitarists Liam McLaughlin (Sithu Aye, IATM) and Vlad Avy as Grigoriy Losenkov adds piano and bass. Their contribution is understated but vital to the beauty of this album, just compare Pygmalion and Angel Street, you'll see without that vocal it could be two different bands.

It's the vocal here that is what raises the hair on the back of your neck though, duetting with Jim Grey of Caligula's Horse on the spatial ballad Anything But Sleep as Antimatter's Mick Moss adds his sombre tones on Death And The Maiden. Sirin brings sorrow through emotive, evocative songwriting and virtuoso performances. A beautiful record. 9/10

Laughing Stock – Shelter (Apollon Records)

In a wave of dreamy psychedelia Shelter the sixth album by Norwegian band Laughing Stock begins. A concept album about the organization Shelter, not the UK homeless charity but a fictional place where you can live at one with nature, a society based on happiness, love and peace, no whether this is a hippie fantasy or a cult, the band seem to move more towards the former, creating a dreamy, natural soundscape for the these lofty utopian ideals. 

The trio of Håvard Enge, Jan Erik Kirkevold Nilsen, and Jan Mikael Sørensen, perform the sort of music that is classed as part of the ‘Canterbury Scene’ the likes of Camel, Caravan, Renaissance and Gentle Giant with Jethro Tull and early Genesis brought in through the use of flute (Morten Clason), trumpet (Terje Johannesen), on The Flood particularly. You know it’s the kind of music Michael Akerfeldt of Opeth loves, the sort that is on double vinyl taking the listener closer to the natural world. 

Folksy passages of acoustics float by on Roots Go Deep where Anders Buaas has the intricate guitar solo. The Flood that I mentioned earlier also has quite a high profile guest appearing on it, Tim Bowness of No-Man appears to lend his vocals, doing so too on non LP bonus track/single Memories. Delicate strings, lilting melodies, wind instruments, classical prog leanings and moments of darkness and distortion, Shelter forms an audio journey from darkness of the modern age into a simpler time. 8/10

Conflict Choir - Strange Game (Self Released)

Well this is something that I didn't expect. Ali Clinton and Jack Bowles are session players, having worked with artists from The Scorpions, Whitesnake, Ocean Colour Scene and many more. So they have a wealth of experience in the music industry, experience which they have turned into their own band Conflict Choir.

Experimenting with sonic journeys and layers upon layers of musical nuance, this two piece play a thrilling mix of alternative, psychedelic and progressive rock that has chittering electronics and swathes of gorgeous synths, thick riffy grooves and atmospheric guitar playing.

The theme of the album is about our struggles with technology, mental health and distrust between the world, the duo utilising their expansive musical repertoire alongside Thomas Atlas and Greg Chandler to record Strange Game their debut full length.

The inspirations are listed as Jeff Buckley, Steven Wilson and Pink Floyd, all three luring me into listening to the album, which kicks off with the dreamy title track, multiple vocal tracks that leads into the jangling fuzzy rock of What Are You Doing It For as Don't Let Me Drown blends The Beatles with Pink Floyd (Gilmour version), Algorithm too has a sense of the ethereal as it glides into Til The End for the finale.

The vocals are brilliant, emotive and dreamy on I Feel Fine, which also has some soaring Gilmour-like guitar playing as Only One has the Steven Wilson build and release, while Wake Up is some heavy psych rock. So as you can read there's plenty going on musically, it's progressively played by accessibility minded, tracks such as The Real Thing made for radio play.

No conflict from me, I love Strange Game, already looking forward to more. 9/10

Enquire Within - Elysium (Self Relesed)

Enquire Within's second album ReBirth was given a 7/10 by Mr Hutchings back when it was released. A solid score that showed there talent that was on offer from this UK metal crew. Fast forward to 2023 and on the back of single Point Of No Return the London band took up every support show they could to get themselves noticed. 

This constant performing has made sure that their new EP Elysium takes that snarling live sound and lays it down on record. Like the previous single it's highlighting a new wrinkle to their sound, shifting more towards groove/thrash than their previous releases, they've gotten heavier than they ever where, the confidence just dripping off them. 

To record Elysium the band found themselves in Joplin Studios with Dan Lucas to record, they managed to get Howard H Smith of Acid Reign to add his skills to Seeds Of Destruction but the foursome of Dan (guitarist), Henry (drummer) Jacob (vocals) and Erim (bass) really raise their game here but never move to far out of the influence of Machine Head, Slipknot and the like. If you like your metal ready to start pits then Enquire Within and ask about their their 7 track circle pit deal! 7/10