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Friday 17 May 2024

Reviews: Pallbearer, Combichrist, Insanity Alert, Tzompantli (Reviews By Rich Piva, James Jackson, Mark Young & Gavin Brown)

Pallbearer - Mind Burns Alive (Nuclear Blast) [Rich Piva]

Pallbearer is a strange band to review after you just lost a loved one, but what better way to experience the beautifulness of their version of doom, a version that has become less and less heavy instrumentation wise but never loses its punch. Mind Burns Alive is barely a metal album, but it is going to be tough finding something heavier and more emotional than this record.

Reviewing this and the new Vitskär Süden back-to-back in my given headspace is quite cathartic I must say, but Mind Burns Alive is even more on point to the pain and emotions that I have experienced over the pat 2 months or so. I literally feel this record coming out of my speakers during the opening track, Where The Light Fades. Can an album be more on point for a person at a certain time of their life? Pallbearer has perfected the doomy slow burn, but this beauty they continue to add to their music is astounding. Yes, this one gets crunchy at the tail end to keep the metalheads interested, but it is about so much more than that. 

There has always been a bit of Type O in Pallbearer, and with the title track you get some of those vibes for sure. This track will satisfy the listeners yearning for the heavier doom metal side of Pallbearer. The whispered vocals at the beginning just adds to the deepness of the song as it permeates your skin and seeps into your veins. Signals hits just as hard, with a chunky but beautiful, with excellent vocals and a solo that breaks your heart. There is so much raw emotion built into Mind Burns AliveEndless Place is classic later period Pallbearer and if saxophone offends you in any way be ready for it, but it very much works here. 

Daybreak may be Pallbearer’s most delicate track in parts, abandoning any semblance of metal for just straight up raw emotion that rips your heart out up front and at the end, but when it does kick in during the middle oh how I love that layered guitar work and we get really heavy around seven minutes where the raw emotion and metal crunch absorb each other into a purely perfect sound. What a song. Where The Light Fades, the closer, destroyed me.

Whether it is the right album at the right time or whatever, Pallbearer nails it with Mind Burns Alive. The perfect mix of raw emotion and heaviness lyrically and musically that creates a dark and beautiful soundscape that only this band can deliver in this form so effectively. 9/10

Combichrist - CMBCRST (Out Of Line Music via Rough Trade/Believe) [James Jackson]

I had the pleasure of seeing Combichrist perform an Old School set at Leicester’s Uprising Festival last year and the act were a personal highlight of the event, I went for one band but came away very much intrigued by the Industrial/Aggrotech of Combichrist. For the most part the “band” are frontman/founder Andy LePlegua, joined by various artists when performing live; earlier recordings are far more Techno than the most recent recordings including this album and an EP released earlier this year. 

The tracks on CMBCRST are an interesting blend of Metal and Techno, the two seemingly unrelated genres thrown together to create something simultaneously organic and synthetic, where one track is more “Metal” the next holds more of an Electronic/Techno element; some are then more in line with the Industrial offerings of Fear Factory, the first band that came to mind when Through The Raven’s Eyes came on. 

Such is the diversity within the tracks that even the rather Funk infused, cowbell toting intro of Modern Demon which almost descends into Goth Rock territory before a stomping Techno beat takes over, doesn’t seem out of place, whilst the track Sonic Witch has a riff that reminds me of the tone of Rob Zombie’s album The Sinister Urge. For twenty years LePlegua and Combichrist in its various forms have been a huge part of the Aggrotech/EBM/Dark Electro scene, their work appearing on both Movie and Game soundtracks. 

Undoubtedly this album will only cement their role as one of the most influential and longstanding artists within the genre. 9/10

Insanity Alert - Moshemian Trashody (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

From one extreme to another, Insanity Alert brings you four songs that are inspired by four incredibly well-known recording artists. How well you’ll like it will depend on how you like your classics being treated. They take influence from some of the speediest exponents of thrash – S.O.D, D.R.I and Municipal Waste as well as adopting that sense of humour that allows them to poke fun and hopefully get a laugh too.

Welcome To The Moshpit is our kick-off track and is a rapid fly-through, keeping enough of its source material so you know exactly where it’s coming from. Wisely, they have trimmed the song to an inch of its life, knowing that stretching it beyond would probably start to grate on our nerves. It sounds exactly how you think it's going to sound, job done. Beer In The Park is shameless. And guaranteed to make you thirsty. They keep the best bits in, and you can imagine this being done live, everyone singing along as you would with the original. Beerless Fiesta is well, George Michael with double bass and death vocals. It’s the sound of drinker’s remorse, but with trem picking and Motorhead’s drums. I’d rather hear this than the original...

Moshemian Thrashody, well, this is the song for everybody who has been battered in the pit. I defy anyone not to like this, it could be the soundtrack to anybody who has been battered in the pit. Condensing a 7-minute classic into the best bits is a tall order. Adding your own lyrics to it and keeping it sounding something like the original is something to be applauded. It is not half-arsed and finishes the EP off well.

In the space of 12 minutes, they take what could be thought of as untouchable music and George Michael and wring it through an irreverent thrash filter. Sometimes you need someone to do this kind of thing, have a bit of fun that we can all share. Each of the songs is approached with the right balance of keeping it recognisable whilst maxing out the speed. How this lands will depend on your sensibilities, but if you go in with the approach that it is in good fun then I think you will like it. 7/10

Tzompantli - Beating The Drums Of Ancestral Force (20 Buck Spin) [Gavin Brown]

With their 2022 debut album Tlazcaltiliztli, the death/doom/ black metal behemoth that is Tzompantli fused indigenous history and lore, merging traditional instruments with the heaviness of that unholy trilogy of sounds and the results were spectacular.

Now two years later, Tzompantli return with the follow up album Beating The Drums Of Ancestral Force and it sees the band building on the power of that debut album with another collection of brilliantly executed songs, bolstered by even more additions to their tribe this time around.

The tribal rhythms that Tzompantli crush all in their path with are more than present and correct on Beating The Drums Of Ancestral Force and this definitely adds to the power of the bands music especially on songs like Chichimecatl and Otlica Mictlan, which merge their doom infusing brutal death metal and in turn, some real menacing vibes with those tribal sounds, and the results are immense, something that happens constantly on this album.

Those meetings of sound are something that are all over this album and it all adds up to a brutal and atmospheric listening experience, and it safe to say that Tzompantli have delivered the goods again with Beating The Drums Of Ancestral Force, and in doing so, they have made an album that is even more eclectic and even heavier than what they have done in the past, and another example to mark Tzompantli as an undisputed force to be reckoned with in extreme music. 8/10

Reviews: Gatecreeper, Cognitive, BAT, Ancient Settlers (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, GC, Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Gatecreeper – Dark Superstition (Nuclear Blast Records) [Paul Hutchings]

We’ve covered the burgeoning development of this Arizonian old school death metallers in some detail over the past decade. Now signed to Nuclear Blast, this is a big step up the band, which they have pulled off with ease. Vocalist Chase H. Mason acknowledges their improvement. “We refined the song structures. We’re getting better at what we do.”

Ominous words for any competitors, but great news for those who enjoyed the band’s previous work. Alongside Mason, Dark Superstition sees the return of guitarists Eric Wagner and Israel Garza, drummer ‘metal’ Matt Arrebollo and bassist Alex Brown. It’s a powerful follow up to 2021’s An Unexpected Reality and evidence that the band are moving upwards through the ranks.

What’s impressive about Dark Superstition is the feel of it. Described as their answer to Entombed’s Wolverine Blues or Dismember’s Massive Killing Capacity, there’s a wider sound to this album. Whilst the band retain their death metal links, there are variations which show a maturity in the songwriting. 

The opening track Dead Star is less ripping your face off than previous albums, whilst Oblivion is a sonic blend of intensity and slower, more pleasurable riffage. Tackling themes of supernatural, divination, fear of the unknown and the trust in magic or chance, there’s plenty to explore. Black Curtain for example, sees the band take on a gothic stance with influences like Sisters Of Mercy and Fields Of The Nephilim combing with the band’s more punishing style.

That’s not to say that Mason has eased off, no way, and his rasping gravel coated roar remains as ferocious as before. However, the influence of bands like Dismember is strong. Drummer Fred Estby worked with the band in pre-production, and his touch on tracks like Masterpiece Of Chaos, described by Mason as “a nightmarish vision of a broken mirror with an ominous creature that lives within the fragmented web of glass”, is evidence of the classic Swedish sound’s influence.

Gatecreeper don’t mess around either. The songs are generally short and sweet, with only the dramatic finale Tears Fall From The Sky, a crushing doom epic clocking in at over four minutes in length. With a tour with Enforced and 200 Stab Wounds booked for the Autumn, and an album that is certain to carry favour with old and new fans alike, Dark Superstition still brings the HM-2 sound and, having established their position, are unlikely to let it go. 8/10

Cognitive - Abhorrence (Metal Blade Records) [GC]

Formed back in 2011 in New Jersey Cognitive have released an EP and 4 full length albums so far, the last being back in 2021, now they are back and ready to release their new album Abhorrence on their current label Metal Blade.

The title track Abhorrence kicks everything off in a suitably savage deathcore way, managing to avoid the overtly electronic sounding guitars that most bands seem to have right now and sticking to good old fashioned and well produced cuts, overall, it’s a decent start BUT there are cleanish type vocals included that sound a bit cheesy, Insidious does its best to sound like early Whitechapel and succeeds in everyway which is no bad thing because that was their best era, but it just seems a bit too familiar for me for a band 5 albums into their career. 

A Pact Unholy doesn’t really do to much different from the first 2 tracks but the range of vocals is different and there are a load more technical guitar parts and this makes for an interesting listen, but once again I just don’t think the clean vocals go at all, in both songs they have featured you could easily take them out and not notice, I hope this doesn’t become an exhausting pattern throughout the whole album. 

Ivory Tower continues the deathcore tone running and once again while not being exhilarating is still more than decent to listen to, with As The Light Fades there feels like a bit more grandiosity has been added into the darkness and its chugs and blasts away while having an almost epic feeling in places and because of that the clean vocals finally pay off and add something to the song as a whole and the guitar solos at end add a suitably grand finish! Savor The Suffering is almost everything you could ask for from a modern deathcore track, huge guttural vocals, chugging riffs and thunderous drumming and the obligatory breakdowns midway through all careering together to rip your face clean off and all in just under 3 minutes, thank you very much! 

Containment Breach is more of the same as you would obviously expect, there isn’t a whole lot of variation on this record and sometimes, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it and it does have an excellently ominous ending section that really makes the whole song that bit more interesting. Rorschach tries its best to lull you into a false sense of security but the more laid-back start last all of 30 seconds before all hells breaks loose, the riffing of Rob Wharton & Harry Lannon is sharp and stabbing.

Tyler Capone’s undeniable bass rumble holding the all the chaos together with the drums absolutely exceptional from AJ Viana but what stands out here are the vocals, its an unreal vocal performance from Shane Jost on this track, you can feel everything he is spitting out at you, tremendous stuff, following this with Lunar Psychopathy sounds slightly less interesting because it’s not as layered or nuanced but it’s still decent in the grand scheme of things, so its onto Cold Dead Hands to close the album and of course it does so in furious fashion, with not one single second wasted on subtlety or restraint and is another great showing of when it’s done right deathcore can be one of the best styles of metal around.
 
At first, I was a bit unsure about Abhorrence, there were some parts that I could have done without but for the most part this was a brilliantly heavy and unrelenting listen and the few bits I didn’t particularly like didn’t actually ruin anything for me in the long run. If you like deathcore you will undoubtedly love this record. If you don’t and are looking to explore the genre, check out this record as it’s a very, very good way to start your journey!! 8/10

BAT - Under The Crooked Claw (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

2/3 Municipal Waste and 1/3 No Tomorrow, BAT is a no-frills gore soaked band from Ryan Waste of the Virginia thrashers, he’s joined by Waste guitarist Nick Poulos, also of Volture and drummer Chris Marshall of punk band No Tomorrow, this trio coming together in 2017 but only now making their recorded debut. The punk drumming of Marshall, fills these songs with fury, putting the speed into speed metal. 

Influenced by blood splattered VHS tapes from their youth, banned video nasties that were said to corrupt the moral fibre and set against music inspired by bands such as Venom, Discharge (Warshock), Motorhead, The Misfits (Just Buried) and Motorhead. BAT is no side project it’s the flipside to Municipal Waste, there Ryan cranks out crossover thrash rhythms on six strings but here he gets to take scuzzy lead bass like Lemmy or Cronos, the NWOBHM gallops on Revenge Of The Wolf fitting into that sort of musical area before the crossover chops ring out on Bastardized Force

Rite For Exorcism sees the trio locked in for some punk metal grooving, those basslines giving you some grunt as the drumming takes that familiar punk one-two to make it faster and nastier, Streetbanger unloading speed metal on you in under 3 minutes. The lyrics are all derived from horror movies so the song Horror Vision is a natural fit as it sees them praising these video nasties, with lurid excitement as Marauders Of Doom lets more classic/speed metal leather shows it’s face. 

Signing to Nuclear Blast and the addition of a new drummer allows more experimentation of their gory punk metal hybrid, Under The Crooked Claw is a superior record to their debut, better balanced between the moments the band wants to create, fire up the VCR and let the slashers loose with this as your soundtrack. 8/10

Ancient Settlers - Oblivion’s Legacy (Scarlet Records) [Mark Young]

Oblivion’s Legacy is the sophomore release from Ancient Settlers, their first for Scarlet Records and it is good one. The Circle Of Misanthropy, with its jaunty opening, voice-over, and Swe-tinged guitar build starts at a fair old lick, with some class death growls courtesy of Argen Death There are melodic flourishes all over it with the partial switch to clean singing handled well. It's punchy, taking enough influence from Swe-death without it being a direct copy. 

Lead breaks go the right way, and it’s a solid start that they maintain into Oblivion’s Legacy. That jaunty theme returns as the muscular opening falls away to reveal a carny arrangement, which jars for a second. Luckily, the metal returns, dual vocals that match with the guitar lines, presenting them with a class singalong section that is made for live performance. The melodic death provided does enough without trying to be something new and has all the key ingredients you would want – great tempo and is attacked with gusto, in every facet from the drums to leads to the vocals.

This attitude towards the music is kept up, as they know what riffs should go where, a great example is Stardust Odyssey where they have three great chord builds, and a mighty elongated roar that segues into a massive breakdown via a subtle change. Its really good stuff, as is the charging Wounded Heart. The synths used here do good work in supporting and once again they go for a chorus section that is built for being played live.

Their respective countries of origin, being Venezuelan and Spanish means that they can also lean into a lighter approach, such as that delivered on Subversive. This is not to say its soft in any way, it’s just the way it is put together is more Euro metal than Scandinavian (this is not a diss). What is excellent here is that there is no drop-off in speed, the tracks fly by at a lick with barely a chance for them to grab a hold. What is in their favour is that they keep to the overall tenet of providing the best melodic death they can, Coven Garden has this wicked progression with the cleans draped over without sounding off.

In fact, I’d like to say that Oblivion’s Legacy is certainly one of the brightest melo-death albums I’ve heard this year. There have been plenty of albums that talk about channelling the Gothenburg sound and in the process seem to lose something of themselves, ending up with mixed results. Here, they take what they like, or feel right and then put their stamp on it. The Mechanical Threats Paradox, whilst a mouthful of a title is another great example of their vision. Don’t take my word for it, give it a go. Alas, Redemption is the last song, and as you would expect, they serve up a classic slice of melodic metal, mixing tempo up nicely and even amping up the synths for good measure. 

All told it’s a decent set of songs that whilst not offering up anything ground-breaking, they are good songs that deliver on all counts. On the strength of this material, you hope that they can continue to grow with bringing their own sound into it, as they are doing on here. Good Stuff. 7/10

Thursday 16 May 2024

Reviews: Vitskär Süden, Troy Redfern, Freedom, Darko (Reviews By Rich Piva, Paul Scoble, Paul Hutchings & GC)

Vitskär Süden - Vessel (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

When you hear a band has a “Dungeons and Dragons” theme to their music, where does your head go? Probably not to a dark and beautiful place like Vitskär Süden takes you with their output, and there may not be anything more dark and beautiful right now that their new record, Vessel. This is heavy stuff. Not heavy in the normal meaning from a band that the awesome Ripple Music releases. This is heavy in a bleak, atmospheric and sparce sort of way. It’s not the riffs that get you on Vessel, it is the vibe, the darkness, and the cold feeling that this record leaves with you, in the best sort of way.

There is nothing remotely metal or stoner rock on vessel. I guess you could go doom here, but more like Nick Cave finally figuring out he should have done doom records all along. Or how about dark prog? Bleak psych maybe? I mean the opening track, Vengeance Speaks, with the sparce opening and added synths and background vocals, it is just next level bleakness and I am so here for it. Martin Garner’s vocals have grown so much and is now one of my favourite voices is rock today. 

Those synths I mentioned drive R’lyeh, an awesome song with a cool riff that goes nicely with the frantic baseline and pairs nicely with the synth work. I love the subtle sounds added to the track and those vocals are so great too. Vessel Through Tunnels They Move has an almost Middle East vibe to it, especially in the guitar work. This track is simply beautiful and incorporates all of the goodness the band brings to Vessel, this one lead by the sparce but simple and effective guitar parts throughout the song. 

More darkness envelops you on Hidden By The Day. I love the addition of the acoustic guitar and piano to the mix on this one bringing more of those Nick Cave vibes I mentioned earlier. I could see the goth kids from my high school back in the day getting behind this one too (compliment), especially with the cello sounding synth chimes in. Tattered Sails is the slowest of the slow burns and incorporates more of the psych aspects of the band, especially in the guitar work. 

Did I mention bleak in this review before? Well check out Everyone, All Alone for even more of it. Closing with what is pretty much a piano driven ballad is probably a first on a Ripple release but boy oh boy does it work here. These vocals are just next level.

If the D&D aspect of the band has kept you from listening to Vitskär Süden, you need to get over yourself quickly and check out the beautiful bleakness of Vessel. Trust me, you will not even get a whiff of the stuff while experiencing the gorgeous doomy psych prog the band has perfected. 9/10

Troy Redfern – Invocation (RED7 Records) [Paul Scoble]

Troy Redfern is quickly becoming one of the biggest noises on the British blues rock scene. Troy has been making music for well over ten years and has also released material under The Troy Redfern Band moniker. Troy’s last album was 2022’s The Wings Of Salvation. The style on Invocation is Blues Rock with a definite Boogie feel to a lot of the material. There is a lot of rock and roll swagger and in the odd place a little bit of late eighties / early nineties rock, and maybe even a little bit of seventies glam rock. 

The album kicks off with the song The Strange, a great piece of bouncy boogie at a fast-walking pace. The verse has a purposeful stomp, whilst the singalong chorus is full of energy. Next comes Getaway, a very tight, funky rocker with a rock and roll chorus and a very good solo, the song has a great driving fast ending. The next track is Van Helsing, another up-tempo rock track with a minimal and very controlled Verse, and a pounding and almost aggressive chorus that releases all the tension that has built up during the Verse in a way that feels explosive. The song also has another really good solo, the one on Van Helsing just soars, and is perfect for the song. The next track is the first blues ballad on the album; The Calling

The Calling is a great melodic ballad with some superb slide guitar playing and an absolutely anthemic chorus. The next song is Native, and it is a very interesting song. If you plotted a graph of the songs intensity it would form a shape like a mountain or an inverted V. The song starts very minimal and it slowly builds in intensity, peaking roughly half way though, with a section that is big, loud and dramatic and includes a really great guitar solo. The song then ebbs away, dropping back to the minimal sound from the beginning. The song builds from nothing to huge proportions, and then collapses back. After Native, comes The Fever

The Fever is a great piece of bluesy rock with some great slide guitar, the chorus is nice and powerful, and the awesome guitar solo features slide and shredding. All Night Long is an absolute blast of rock and roll with great energy, a brilliant chorus and yet another stunning solo, this song is so much fun! After the energy packed brilliance of All Night Long Troy goes for a ballad as any kind of up-tempo song would seem bland at this point. Blind Me is a big blues ballad with lots of slide guitar, the chorus is very emotive, and the song has the feel of a piece of Late Fifties or early Sixties pop, there is also a slight country twang to the song. 

Voodoo Priestess is a stunning piece of sleazy rock and roll with loads of slide, an awesome chorus and the perfect foot tapping, head nodding, fist pumping tempo. Next comes Take Me High, a relaxed blues rock / rock and roll with an awesome chorus (have I mentioned how good the choruses are?). Invocation comes to an end with the appropriately titled song The Last Stand. A taut piece of blues rock with a measured verse and a bigger but relaxed chorus, the slide guitar solo is haunting and memorable, and makes the song a great way to end the album. 

Invocation is a great album. It’s full of a really great energy that makes the fast rockers crackle with vigour and zeal and fills the ballads with emotion. The guitar work on the album is nothing short of spectacular, but that is what Troy is known for, I was also very impressed by his vocal performance which is pretty much just as good. I loved all the choruses on the album, they get stuck in your head very quickly and stay. Most of all this album is a blast of great fun from start to finish, the only thing you’ll feel sad about is when the album ends. 9/10

Freedom – Stay Free! (Wild Kingdom) [Paul Hutchings]

Plenty of melody, harmonies, and Americana in this second album by the retrospective sounding Freedom. Formed in 2019, their live show is rumoured to be anthemic, uplifting and a joy to the soul. Described as a ‘bargain basement Springsteen’, anyone who caught the Boss on his recent tour of UK stadiums is likely to be up for some of this punchy, classic Rock n Roll. Stay Free follows on from the self-titled debut record, and it’s the first with the revamped line up which now includes Ola Göransson (Heavy Feather, Stacie Collins) and Matte Gustafsson (In Solitude, Siena Root, Heavy Feather) alongside Mange Monroe and Magnus Laver. 

Anthemic, uplifting, Freedom rightly don’t claim to reinvent the wheel, for that would be too bold a statement for an album steeped in those early influences. There are bits of Tom Petty, Eagles, and even The Gaslight Anthem in parts. A heady ten tracks that move from the up-tempo opening song Tonight through to the slow drawl of closing song Generation, with its laid-back vibe, there’s certainly an enjoyable experience lurking here if you want some guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll. The music is rich, excellently crafted, and has a polished finish that doesn’t over gloss the sound. 

There’s saxophone in Eye Of The Storm and Love Reaction which add class and depth, whilst every song provides a catchy undertone that you can’t but help nodding along with. With a fine production that enhances the harmonies and crisp vocals, and an overall tone that brings a smile to the face, this is music that the band rightly describe as music to follow you through thick and thin, far into those never-ending summer nights. Whilst summer nights in the UK may not be quite as inviting as they once were, Freedom’s approach is certainly reminiscent of good times and good memories. 7/10

Darko - Greyscale (Lockjaw Records) [GC]

Before I begin, I need to clear up some initial confusion from my end. This new EP Greyscale is by UK hardcore punk band Darko and has nothing to do with the US deathcore band Darko, which is a relief because they are shit! Anyway, Darko (UK) have been knocking about for 10 or so years and have a few EPs and an album behind them already. 

It all starts in a very subtle and subdued way on What I Cannot Be but that doesn’t last long before some raucous and rowdy hardcore punk spin kicks its way into your presence then batters you around the chops repeatedly and before you know its all over and Built On Broken Wings then throws a definite nod to early Taking Back Sunday but with more a much more punk attitude and less of the emo whining and while it does all have a very post-hardcore feel to it they never lose their edge throughout. 

Aggro falls directly into Comeback Kid territory and really packs a punch as the title of the song would suggest, the main thing I have noticed so far about the songs are the varying styles of vocals, there are 4 members listed as doing vocals and every single one has a different style so therefore the music changes to try and match the chosen vocalist at that time and while sometimes this may help, here it tends to makes things sound a bit muddled in places, especially the grunting death metal vocals? 

Aux II for the first time carries the hardcore theme directly into the next track and also starts with aforementioned out of place DM vocals when the more HC style vocals kick in it all makes much more sense and sounds more coherent, maybe it looks/sounds good live but here it just fells all over the place, when they do find a groove its all works so well and sounds positive and uplifting but then they mix the styles up to please all 4 vocalists and lose all momentum. 

Anyway I’m already onto the last track Lowest Hanging Fruit that has more of the urgent post-hardcore from earlier and when they play this it’s an absolute pleasure to listen to because its focused and laser sharp and uplifting like it should be and this song is a perfect exercise on focusing on what you do best and also annoying as I wish the rest of the EP sounded like this because if it had their score would have been so much higher. 

Having been around for as long as they have, I would have expected Darko to have a more defined style but to me here it seems like they are still trying to find a sound? When they concentrate on the post-hardcore/punk they sound brilliant and life affirming but they then try and throw all sorts of other things in that just makes everything sound like they are trying way too much for their own good! 6/10

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Reviews: Kerry King, Pain, Geezer/Isaak, Zombeast (Reviews By Mark Young, Richard Oliver, Paul Scoble & James Jackson)

Kerry King - From Hell I Rise (Reigning Phoenix Music) [Mark Young]

I think we should start this off by saying that this is not Slayer. It’s not meant to be Slayer and at the end of their 2019 run, some would say that the Slayer on stage wasn’t Slayer. There is also a lot of negative arrows being shot at Mr King, based on comments he’s made (or not made), his personae, and the fact that the announcement of some Slayer shows this year surfaced around the same time he was gearing up to release his solo album. 

Considered by some to be a hack artist, constantly in the shadow of Jeff Hanneman his efforts are sometimes maligned and to be honest I think treated unfairly. Was Repentless a storming album? No, it was patchy, but it was the only Slayer you were getting. Like AC/DC you know what you are going to get the minute you press play, and they are not going all out to win new fans.

So, to recap I’m reviewing this purely on the strength of the music within. I’m not comparing it to Slayer, because it isn’t. However, I’m sure that if there is something that sounds like them, I’ll have to mention that. King himself has said that some of this material was around in one form or another around the Repentless era. Also, if you have been writing music for one band for the last 40 years then that style will undoubtedly bleed into whatever music you are writing. So, I assume that if you weren’t fond of that album, then you might not find a lot to like here.

And to avoid any doubt, those wishing to read a hatchet job might as well look elsewhere. I’m sure there will be plenty of that online.

Ok, here we go.

Diablo is the kick-off track. Its instrumental and I’m beginning to detest these because everyone is doing them. I’m not sure they offer anything apart from announcing that the show is about to begin. Where I Reign on the other hand comes screaming in, breakneck pace with Mark Osegueda in full flight. Lead breaks are right where they should be, and Paul Bostaph is playing with an energy that surprises me. It is exactly the sort of song you want to be starting things off, a statement of intent that there is still a fire there. 

If the riffs play up to his stereotype, then so be it because it flies. The lead breaks are frenzied, and I expected nothing less. Residue backs off, occupying that mid-pace chug but here the vocals carry the song as they are delivered with venom, As riffs go it’s perfectly adequate but with the vocals and drums being so prominent, they make it sound better. Idle Hands, mixes in punk with a delivery that is spat like bullets. So far so good.

Idle Hands brings more of that riff build that was used on Residue, so much so that the pair could be almost the same song. There is a nifty little pre-solo break, but again it’s the vocals that rule here. Trophies Of The Tyrant has some great lead breaks, a King™ melody line, and a solo rhythm that can be described as simple. Having reached halfway one thing is apparent. There are a lot of great moments, but they don’t translate into great songs.

Second half, Let’s go.

Crucifixation starts off at a pelt and stays there. There is some class drumming from Bostaph, not overtly flashy but embellished with enough touches that you would expect from him. An elongated melody break feels overlong, but as it descends into a manic solo it picks up once more which is always welcome because if you have nowhere to go, go berserk with a whammy bar. Tension has that slow, measure to it but again doesn’t offer anything and feels as though we are in the filler zone. 

It makes Everything I Hate About You hit so much better. Of all the songs I’ve heard so far this reminds me of about three different Slayer songs but is a quick blast through and over quickly. Toxic is a straightforward, heads down stomper and works really well because of that. It’s not trying to be anything other than a meat and potatoes track but its better than Tension by a mile. Two Fists has an almost hard rock riff build to it and is fighting with Toxic for the song I hate the most so far.

What did I say about a hatchet job?

Luckily, Rage comes in and gives the album the necessary kick in the arse. Mark’s vocals are spot on here, full of energy like he’s determined to drag the material kicking and screaming into something you want to hear again. This is what has been required, quick, nasty, and to the point. Shrapnel does enough to keep you engaged, but it needed to be faster to keep that momentum in place that had been built up by Rage. Its not a bad track by any means, but it could have been shifted earlier in the pack so that the final duo could have been a proper blitzkrieg.

Final track is From Hell I Rise and closes the album in a similar style to Rage. It had to finish with an attack like this, fairly rapid with suitably mental lead breaks. This is what this album should have been like, it’s what I expected it to be like and I wish It was like that. Its compact, quick and does what it needs to do.

In all honesty, this could have done with some ruthless attention. There are two, probably three songs that should have been cut from the final selection. Track placing also plays a part in reducing the effect that the good songs have and the final three should have been switched, so that the pace could increase and really give the album a decent close. 

I keep mentioning Mark’s vocals, but they are the MVP here. He attacks each song like his life depends on it, there is nothing half-hearted or tired in his delivery. Same for Paul Bostaph. He is playing with an energy that I didn’t think he had and puts a shift in here. Between them, they do their best to elevate the music. Riff-wise, we know there is a million memes about 000-111-000-112211-000 and there is nothing here that will change it. They do what they need to do, and with that From Hell I Rise gets a 7/10

Pain - I Am (Nuclear Blast) [Richard Oliver]

After an eight year absence, Peter Tägtgren returns to his “hobby” project Pain for the ninth album I Am. Peter has certainly kept himself busy in the last eight years recording another album with Till Lindemann of Rammstein, a new Hypocrisy album and the resultant touring and an album with Joe Lynn Turner. Pain has never left Peter’s mind though and the overwhelming reaction to the 2021 single Party In My Head gave the album writing process an explosive start.

One thing that is definitely certain is that I Am is definitely a nod to the Pain of old. Previous album Coming Home was a great listen but saw Peter exploring some different sounds and was a more experimental Pain album. I Am certainly explores some different musical avenues but this has far more in common with albums such as Rebirth, Nothing Remains The Same and Dancing With The Dead with heavy, anthemic and downright catchy tunes which perfectly mesh metal and industrial sounds such as I Just Dropped By, The New Norm and Revolution

There is a greater emphasis on electronic and industrial sounds this time round with the 80’s goth aesthetics of Go With The Flow being a particular highlight and the darkwave teasing's of Not For Sale. The title track introduces a darker and melancholic tone which also really shows itself on sombre album closer Fair Game. Party In My Head makes an appearance on the album after its 2021 single release and it is a clear highlight being one of the most dangerously catchy songs that Pain have released.

As with the previous Pain albums, all music is performed by Peter Tägtgren though this one is a bit more of a family affair with Peter’s son Sebastian (also the live drummer for the band) contributing some writing credits. I Am is an album that is definitely going to go down well with the Pain fanbase. For those that were not keen on the experimental nature of Coming Home this album is Pain doing what they do best and firing on all cylinders. After an eight year gap between albums, Pain sound truly invigorated and energised and it sounds like Peter has had an absolute blast writing and recording this album as the energy of it is infectious. 8/10

Geezer/Isaak – Interstellar Cosmic Blues & Riffalicious Stoner Dudes (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Scoble]

Heavy Psych Sounds are a great label, particularly when they put two great bands like Geezer and Isaak together to make a split release. The two Doom bands, with different but complimentary sounds, have produced a split (as it’s got seven songs on it and comes in at thirty-six minutes I’m not sure if this is a split album or EP, I’ll just refer to it as a split) featuring four songs from Geezer and three from Isaak.

Geezer have been making music together since 2010 and in that time have made six albums, the last one being 2022’s Stoned Blues Machine. Geezer are made up of Pat Harrington on Guitar and Vocals, Richie Touseull on Bass Guitar and Steve Markota on Drums and Percussion.

Isaak have been around since 2007, from then until 2012 they went under the moniker Gandhi’s Gunn, but have only released material as Isaak, as their first album The Longer The Beard, The Harder The Sound was released in 2013. The band have released two albums since their debut, the last being Hey in 2023. Isaak are made up of Davide Foccis on Drums, Francesco Raimondi on Guitars, Giacomo H. Boeddu on Vocals and Gabriele Carta on Bass.

The Geezer material has a great bluesy stoner feel to it. Opening song Acid Veins is mid-paced Stoner Doom that switches between driving and purposeful and bigger, more expansive riffs, the song also boasts some great melodic Guitar solos. Next is Little Voices which is slower and more relaxed than the song that preceded it, again there is a tuneful solo, and a great head-nodding tempo. Mercury Rising is a great piece of Stoner Rock with a wonderful bounce to the tempo, it also has a great chorus that will get stuck in your head. Geezers side of the split comes to an end with the song Oneirophrenia, a tout and measured stoner song with a purposeful chorus and as with all the Geezer tracks, lots of melody.

The three Isaak tracks have a more aggressive, sludgy feel to them. The Whale, which features a guest performance from Fabio Cuomo from Gotho and Liquido Di Morte, is a fast and aggressive track with a Hardcore edge to it, in places it reminds me of High On Fire’s more extreme material. Despite all the aggressiveness the song also has lots of melody, particularly in the second half of the song. Next we get Crisis, featuring Fabio Palomba from Nerve and Burn The Ocean. Crisis is slower than The Whale with a relentless feel it, the song gets more aggressive and sludgier in the second half. The final Isaak song and final song on the split is Flat Earth featuring Levre from Ufomammut, a big Doomy track that is full of melody and builds in intensity as the song develops.

Interstellar Cosmic Blues & Rifferlicious Stoner Dudes is a cracking split. All the material is very good, and the two bands styles complement each other very well. If I had to choose I prefer the Geezer material as I’m more into that style of Doom, but that is just my personal taste, the quality on this split is very high throughout. Another great split from Heavy Psych Sounds! 8/10

Zombeast - Heart Of Darkness (Massacre Records) [James Jackson]

Well this one took me by surprise, proving that you really can’t judge a book by its (Necronomicon style) cover. Heart Of Darkness is Zombeast’s second full length album and with a name like that and the accompanying blood soaked artwork, I fully expected to be heading into Death Metal territory but instead found a Horror inspired Punk Rock outfit in a similar vein to The Misfits. 

Covering such Horror conventions as werewolves, in Call Of The Wild with its obligatory chant of "Die, Die, Die" soul sucking demons and serial killers; Zombeast have everything covered thematically, even including a track dedicated to necrophilia. Whilst I am finding the vocal delivery a bit hard to understand at times, that drawl a little muffled, the overall performance is pretty good, all of the “whoa’s” are in the right place and the melodies catchy. 

There are moments which are almost Thrash like, thrown into the mix of Punk Rock which amps up the sound without it becoming too frenetic and for an album that is had initial doubts upon its fast becoming something that will be played again. My experience of Horror Punk acts is limited to the more commercially available Wednesday 13, Frankenstein Drag Queens and Murderdolls, Zombeast are a band that, based on this album, I’m keen to explore a bit more. 8/10

Reviews: SVNEATR, Take Offense, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, Waste (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

SVNEATR - Never Return (Prosthetic Records)

Third album from Vancouver extreme metal band comes as the band celebrate their 10 year anniversary. Following their 2021 album Chinhook, band founder Vitharr Monteith (guitar/vocals) didn't know if the band would survive much longer. He found himself worrying about not only the future of SVNEATR but of the world in general with corporate tyranny on the rise, the global pandemic and the environmental crisis. These things are all what inspired Never Return an album that is about resignation, how to live with the world in it's current state. Monteith's approach to this record was to take everything they have learned over 10 years and create their most progressive record to date.

Swathes of atmospheres driven by strings and the impressive guitar playing of Vitharr and James Readman, lead us out of the last track Reaper Of The Universe, an elongated outro that is just an instrumental journey finishes off Never Return in a way that would make you doubt that this is an extreme metal album. Their duality with the guitars, moving between tremolo picking, death metal grinds, acoustics etc builds on the already technically gifted black metal style the band are known for but embellishing it. The addition of cello and contrabass from bassist Shawn Hillman who adds both of these to his repertoire and uses them on the record to brilliant effect, expanding the sonic output of SVNEATER.

Omen has some slow moving groove ala Gojira, even bringing some of those fret slides the French heavies love. It means that they can unleash metallic hell on the title track, Matthew Logan's drumming dictating the changing pace of And When Comes The Storm. This track is where SVNEATR have added to their sound with some chanting and clean vocals too, the chants coming at the end of Omen especially. This Canadian foursome's third album is an advancement in their overall sound; with the doubts cast over their future erased Never Return is a crowning achievement. 8/10

Take Offense -  T.O.tality (MNRK Heavy)

I've always talked about how picky I am with thrash, a lot of it just doesn't always sit well with me. However crossover thrash is a different thing. Maybe it's the punk and hardcore elements, the more rabid approach or the fact I was brought up with the Tony Hawk's soundtrack, I gravitate more towards any band who have that crossover sound. 

Releasing their debut on MNRK Heavy but their fourth record total, SoCal band Take Offense tick all the right boxes for fans of the crossover style. This is a bunch of Cali dudes playing music to skate, drink and toke to. It's anti-authority, anti-fascist and proudly shouts about Latino/Mexican heritage. Influences are of course fellow SoCal legends Suicidal Tendencies but also shredding bands such as Ratt of Van Halen where the Strip bled into the world of the Z-Boys, listen to the title track. The album is a tribute to the acts that have come before them and their scene in general. 

From the abrasive S.W.O to the shredtastic If I'm Damned Then So Be It, there's aggression in Uncivilised Animals, while Now Or Never brings the speed of Slayer, House Of Shadows has the brooding evil of Kerry, Jeff, Tom and Dave. It's 14 tracks but this ain't prog, most fly past in a heartbeat though No Man's Land is an intro to the excellent and defiant Stolen Land, T.O.tality really takes you on a breakneck listen, culminating with the snarling The Prayer, Take Offense take you to Cali with their frantic crossover stomp. 8/10

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown - Electrified (Rattle Shake Records)

Nashville rock n rollers Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, club together stories of underdogs and rebels on their new album Electrified. Released on their own label Rattle Shake Records, this trio have had a real meteoritic rise to fame, from playing little shows in rock clubs around the world they have supported bands such as AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, ZZ Top, Jeff Beck and many more meaning that this southern blues rock trio have a lot of experience behind them both on stage and in recorded output. This is their sixth album and their fourth on their own label and it's got the swagger and the style of a band at this point of their career.

Locked into what they do as a band, that fuzz drenched guitar and soulful vocal is insistent, Caleb Crosby's locomotive shuffle drumming rattling the rhythm along as Graham Whitford doubles down on the six stringing. They're a band who are born from the blues and raised in rock n roll but they happen on many of sounds painted by Americana acts. Whether it's the moody Crossfire, the southern style of Happy Gets Made features blues legend Ruthie Foster duetting with Tyler while One And Lonely is a swampy ballad that features Larkin Poe and some slinky slide guitar. 

Bryant wields his custom Strat on grimy country rocker Snake Oil and the wild eyed Shake You Down but on Trick Up My Sleeve he reveals vulnerability in his vocal and deftness in their song writing. Well into their groove as a an act, TB&TS keep quality high but still try to test themselves on this sixth record of American roots rock. 7/10

Waste - In Bloom (Seek & Strike)

In Bloom is brutal, there's no arguing with that. This new EP from deathcore mob Waste is absolutely bloody brutal from the build of intro Be Welcome which moves into the crushing aggression of Wither it's no wonder they're said to be for fans of Suicide Silence, Osiah and Bound In Fear, though they are a lot more than just a copy of these bands. 

Aggression, breakdowns, guttural vocals with poignant lyrics about mental health and music that is infected with electronics and with Serpants Tongue and In Dolore a unnerving dissonance which reminds me of Slipknot. I'm trying really hard to find any other things to say about this but I'm not the biggest deathcore fan, especially when it's all about the sheer brutality however if your music tastes expands to burly dudes beating the crap out of you with music then In Bloom will be for you. 6/10

Reviews: Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, Freedom Call, Missles, Callus (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Nell' Ora Blu (Rise Above Records)

Like how Arctic Monkeys evolved from their scuzzy garage indie rock into a smoother psychedelic/lounge pop existence. Cambridge band Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats have always threatened to become more than just a doom leaning retro band and with Nell' Ora Blu they realise their potential as a band who could write soundtracks. Specifically soundtracks to the Italian crime/thriller classics of Argento, Giallo and Poliziotteschi, with this new album they have brought in cast members from films that were directed by these last too, including Edwige Fenech and Franco Nero, who perform together for the first time.

So with the cast sorted it's up to Uncle Acid to provide the musical accompaniment to what I think is a concept record and they do so with 19 tracks and over an hour of music. Now anyone who is looking for the riffy, occult doom rock of their earlier albums then here you'll get eerie audio journeys instead. You'll get spatial atmospheres, spooky textures and lush arrangements layered with lilting clean guitars, dreamy vocals on tracks such as Il Tesoro Di Sardegna, we're into the those late 60's vibes Arctic Monkey's brought into their music.

There's moments of refined jazz, psychedelic rock or both on Il Gatto Morto. They go towards avant-garde expressionism a lot but there are still brief forays into acid rock on Solo La Morte Ti Ammanetta, some Tangerine Dream/Giorgio Moroder modular synths on Il Ritorno Del Chiamante Silenzioso
Weaving these sonic tapestries together shows both vision and skill and while plenty of bands use inspiration from movies, some even use lots of samples from old movies, doom bands for instance, but no one has taken it this far. I don't think they ever will or do it as brilliantly as Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats do here. 

This is their final evolution as a band and it's a masterpiece. 9/10

Freedom Call - Silver Romance (SPV/Steamhammer)

Unless you have a heart of stone, there's no way you won't smile if you listen to any album by Freedom Call. The premier proponents of "happy metal" are now 25 years old and as such are celebrating with their new album Silver Romance.

A tongue in cheek reference to a silver wedding anniversary as vocalist/guitarist/producer Chris Bey has been married to Freedom Call since their inception, the primary writer behind their joyous, catchy, power metal. Be it the galloping title track, the poppy Out Of Space or the fantasy metal of Symphony Of Avalon where they claim Freedom Call are from a land beyond the sun, which I've never heard Germany called before.

However it sums up Freedom Call's role in the metal world, guilded in silver for all these years they are resilient to critics and to hardship, forging ahead with what they want to play for 25 years. If you've ever heard a Freedom Call album or seen them in concert it doesn't take long to start singing along, the choruses are easy and catchy as a cold from a student so it's not long until you're singing along here.

25 years of "happy metal" and no sign of slowing down, indulge in this Silver Romance. 8/10

Missiles - Weaponize Tomorrow (Svart Records)

Having just hosted that celebration of all things camp and poppy, there's been a lot of focus on Malmö over the last fortnight. But Swedish band Missiles and their new album Weaponize Tomorrow are the polar opposite the colour explosion that just happened, this is concrete grey, riddled with maudlin and introspection but with a beating animalistic heart, that inspires conflict.

Beginning as a side project by guitarist Gabriel Forslund of thrashers Antichrist, they've released a 7-inch before this but Weaponize Tomorrow is their debut album that is inspired by goth, punk, metal and industrial soundscapes. It was dubbed a Cold War album, the shadow of the Iron Curtain and friction of East Vs West captured in the frantic recording of this album.

So frantic and fractious that the band actually broke up after the recording and their aborted first gig/video shoot but Gabriel Forslund and bassist Linus Larsson both have talked about the band still being in existence despite this but with a format on how not to do it, so we can expect more from Missiles in the future which I look forward to on the back of this debut.

When Russia invaded Ukraine the title of the album was changed but it's message remains as relevant as it could ever be, the East and West are still at loggerheads 30 years after the fall of the Wall, the sense of unease and impending doom never went away just got replaced by new actors, but somehow the sparse iron coldness of the East has come back again.

Weaponize Tomorrow begins with some buzzing synths from Age Augustsson, his electronics lustre and oscillate as much as a lead instrument as the guitars. Forslund and Sebastian Gadd bring angular punk stabs, jangly post punk melodies and snappy riffs. Linus Larsson's bass has that lustful throb on Deathlike Love and Living In A Nuclear Town while Jens Rasmussen puts himself forward as a flesh covered Doktor Avalanche, putting metronomic beats that get your hips swaying as you imagine the strobes of an East Berlin bunker.

The invocations of that 80's post punk scene can be heard on each one of these eight songs, with Bahaus/Lou Reed coming on the unsettling End Of The Line, as Forslund's Andrew Eldritch-like baritone is heard clearly, with the likes of Type O Negative and Joy Division also viable comparisons. None of these matter that much though as Missiles fly in a sky of their own, music from Sweden that conjures “Aus grauer Städte Mauern” brilliantly. 9/10

Callus – Gravis Decennium (Trepanation Recordings)

Released as the final record on Trepanation Recordings (R.I.P) Gravis Decennium is the third album from UK heavies Callus. Like the crusty sore they take their name from, their music is painful, hard and abrasive, putting sludge, doom and thrash together and adding down tuned riffs, snarling vocal shouts and some forays into stoner grooves. 

This record celebrates 10 years of the band by re-recording early material then getting Chris Fielding to make it sound like a truck slamming into a mountain. Due to the productions skill, it means that these songs sound bigger leaning more on long psychedelic passages of instrumental wonder such as on the woozy Dreameater before they re-route down the classic chugging sludge highway on The Primordial or unleash thrashisms on The Root Of All Evil, tracks such as Cycloid putting together both stoner fuzziness and thrash aggression for this Slayer meets Sleep sound. 

Improving the sonics of these tracks can only be a benefit to Callus going forward, they are almost new songs all together. A loud way for Trepanation to go out and a continuation of Callus’ rise on the UK scene. 7/10

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Reviews: Anette Olzon, Sonic Universe, Coldborn, Ivanhoe (Reviews By Rick Eaglestone, Matt Bladen, Gavin Brown & James Jackson)

Anette Olzon - Rapture (Frontiers Music Srl) [Rick Eaglestone]

Powerhouse vocalist Anete Olzon returns with her third solo studio album Rapture

There are a few reasons I chose this album but for context I think the main one will suffice it may be slightly controversial as it pertains to the vocalist’s tenure with the symphonic powerhouse that is Nightwish.

I have been a fan of every incarnation from Wishmaster right through to Human II : Nature and from the moment I heard She Is My Sin I was hooked so much so that during the Century Child album before they played the UK I saw them in Paris with Charon and After Forever which now looking back makes me acknowledge the circle of life, especially who the band now have as their vocalist.

Olzon joined at a very tumultuous time where Nightwish were almost trying to deliberately steer away from the operatic side and it came across as almost and I hate to say this but sulky kids, they paraded Olson around as a new toy and put together the album Dark Passion Play which at the time I didn’t give the attention it deserved as I bought into the nonsense but by the time the indulgent Imaginaerum was released the writing was one the wall with the Olzon experiment – in a way I feel in particular the track Storytime is the ultimate what could’ve been (maybe)

In reflection I feel Anette Olzon was grossly underused so now with two previous solo albums under her belt Rapture is by far the strongest and quite frankly I was swept away by the sheer power and beauty of this album there is an effortless weaving between symphonic to power with even a sprinkle melo death and should hopefully solidify her place as a great metal vocalist. The inclusion of Karlsson's masterful riffs and the addition of growls by Johan Husgafvel, add a dynamic layer to the album's sound.

Title track Rapture and Arise are particular highlights which really showcase the overall dynamic of the album with the blistering Take A Stand all but confirming that this is a very well structured and varied release. With a sense of excitement and anticipation, Anette Olzon shares: "I'm so happy to release the first song from my upcoming album Rapture”. Heed The Call is a culmination of passion, energy, and creative expression, and I truly hope you'll enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed bringing it to life."

Powerful and Poetic.8/10

Sonic Universe - It Is What It Is (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Is Sonic Universe going to be another Frontiers supergroup that's just built on the the 'cult of personality' or are they their own beast? That's the question posed by the new band formed by Living Colour frontman Corey Glover and Adrenaline Mob founder Mike Orlando.

It may seem an odd mix of having a shredding guitars teacher alongside a funk rock legend but there's a chemistry here that means It Is What It Is hits just right. Much heavier than yours expect, though there is a ballad, imagine the crowd bouncing grooves of Skindred but put together with some virtuoso musicianship, similar to Kyrbgrinder which is an offshoot from prog metal act Threshold.

It Is What It Is sees Orlando peeling off those mind blowing, guitar instructional solos that make him hero to shredders everywhere. While here like in Adrenaline Mob he's able to show off his sonic stomp with lively riffs for Glover to showcase that unmistakable vocal that any CM Punk fan will have tried to emulate.

For me though I know how good Glover and Orlando are, it's the rhythm section of bassist Booker King and especially drummer Taykwuan Jackson that draw me to this album, the drumming is something else, little fills, rim shots, percussive pieces that stop simple beat keeping, on the bass too King exhibits some fusion playing with a warm rounded sound and plenty of funk/jazz rhythm structures.

It's about the groove though mainly, thick, juicy grooves welcoming anyone that likes their music loud and full fat, adding flashes of technical brilliance just makes it all the more satisfying to listen too. While Corey Glover has a voice that doesn't age, still as potent and political as it ever was. Giving a message if hope and wish for change, this universe sonically binds this all together for a newly formed constellation of excellent music. 8/10

Coldborn - The Unwritten Pages Of Death (Final Sacrifice Records) [Gavin Brown]

Coldborn are a band who specialise in the kind of Black Metal that is typified in their name and their new album The Unwritten Pages Of Death is a collection of ice cold riffs and a sense of abject terror. The bands whose sole member Norgaath has played in the likes of Enthroned and Nightbringer so has the kudos when it comes to Black Metal, start as they mean to go on and their brand of Black Metal is both atmospheric and relentless. 

The opening intro Foreboding is perfectly titled and sets things up for what is to come, and it does almost immediately with The Silenced Is The Choir Of Euphoria which sets the pace for the entire record. With songs like Cold Void Rife and Harps Of Death Chiming Reverberant going for the jugular alongside more atmospheric tracks like Cornuvopia Hunters For More and the closing A Spectral Dance Of Midnight Sorrow, this is a perfect listen for all those who love their Black Metal to have an air of doom laden menace alongside the deathly brutal vibes. 

The Unwritten Pages Of Death is a solid album and marks a welcome return for Coldborn, let’s hope the wait for the next album isn’t as doing as it has taken for this one to get here. 7/10

Ivanhoe - Healed By The Sun (Massacre Records) [James Jackson]

There’s an initial impression of Iron Maiden, particularly the vocal style of Bruce Dickinson, that strikes me as Ivanhoe frontman Alex Koch takes us through Healed By The Sun, the second track upon the latest, and I believe 9th, album from the German Prog Metal act. Thematically the songs cover a variety of subjects, the spoken word intro of Headnut sounds like a news reel sound bite, taken from the days when Covid was rife and the body count rising - though the lyrics to the song itself are a bit more “fantastical” and open to interpretation; political views, personal demons and church scandals are covered to varying degrees.

I don’t know if it’s the style but at times it feels as though Koch was singing a different song to that being played by the band, in my limited experience of Prog, the song structures are often extremely varied and technically complex, so perhaps this technique is on brand. Instrumentally the songs are well written, keyboards add atmospheric layers to the Rock/Metal sound, some of which feel very Sci Fi, particularly on Moments In Time

Overall, not a bad album, plenty of moments where the riffs and melodies are on point, some of the chorus lines are catchy and after a few more listens, they’d be sung along to; but I feel indifferent to the vocals and as the album progresses it becomes irksome and distracting; there’s just something that doesn’t quite gel for me and it’s a deal breaker, over the years I’ve heard plenty of great tracks comprised by how I feel about the vocal performance. 

Not an album that I’ll be revisiting any time soon but fans of the band and indeed this genre, may get more out of it. 5/10

Reviews: The Tangent, Daath, El Moono, Vaticinal Rites (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Gavin Brown, Zak Skane & Mark Young)

The Tangent – To Follow Polaris (Inside Out Music) [Matt Bladen]

Listening to the 21 minute The Anachronism, one of only five tracks on the new album from The Tangent, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a new record from Roger Waters. Highly politicised, extremely critical and cutting with the lyrics talking of red and blue being all the same while we all are bamboozled into accepting a world being destroyed. 

The varied musical soundscape and croaky, at times spoken and whispered vocals, very similar to how Waters delivers lines on his masterpiece Amused To Death, another record that is incredibly politicised but tries to fine positivity or hope. It seems then that when long tenured prog musicians are left to their own devices they turn their scope inward to what's happening around them and it all becomes quite personal. 

To Follow Polaris is a The Tangent album in name but not in membership. With the rest of band plying their trade in various other acts on the scene, there was no time to reconvene and record. It was agreed that bandleader Andy Tillison would continue to release music, but essentially as a solo artist under The Tangent name. This means that To Follow Polaris takes more risks than other records, as it's the distilled influence and musical direction of Tillison, something Andy has wanted to do for a long time using his years of experience with the 'band' format and put it into a solo album. 

Emphasis being out on solo there as 'everything' is done by Andy, all writing/composing, instrumentation/singing, recording/producing, mixing/mastering and artwork/layout were done by Andy, his impressive keyboard array, guitars and electronic wind instruments, augmented for the first time with Tillison playing bass and second time on drums. Like a chameleon changing it's colour to suit the background, Andy has studied the work of his band mates and has made sure that this The Tangent record is unmistakeable from any other, from a quality of performance perspective anyway. 

Inspiration wise there's lots of 'classic' prog elements but also the jazz experimentation of Van Der Graaf Generator on A Fine Line as well as the varied introspective sounds of Steven Wilson, all of which can be picked out of this mammoth recording. To Follow Polaris is then his guiding light, a quest for truth in the murky world of fake news and mistrust we live in now. It's one man's lyrical and musical imprint laid bare but this is brief stop, Andy promises that album fourteen will be a full band again so maybe this is the new Tangent. 

One for them, one for him. I for one welcome that idea. If not then we are left with a thirteenth album that proved to be lucky for any fans of the band. 9/10

Daath - The Deceivers (Metal Blade Records) [Gavin Brown]

Daath play a style of metal that takes in everything from death metal to progressive and orchestral metal and the results are always a stunning array of musicianship and execution, packing in so many twist and turns that it can be dizzying. 

The bands latest album The Deceivers certainly lives up to Daaths reputation and more as it adds even more layers to their sound and is delivered in an even more energetic fashion, bolstered by a massive sounding production to boot. With a vast array of guests on The Deceivers including members of Ice Nine Kills, Archspire, Periphery and Scar Symmetry alongside guitar virtuosos Jeff Loomis and Spiro Dussias, Daath let loose with a barrage of bombastic metal anthems delivered with vivacity and pride. 

The Deceivers sees the music of Daath taken to higher new levels and the band sound as if they are having a blast in doing so as songs like Ascension, Unwelcome Return and Purified By Vengeance prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. If you want an album that is epically delivered with an air of grandeur alongside the aggression, then you won’t go far with the power of The Deceivers. 8/10

El Moono – The Waking Sun (Lockjaw Records) [Zak Skane]

After the intro track Dawn finishes with it’s suspended sounding droning organs, we can get El Moono’s opening track Illusionist which packs in some fuzzy heavy Deftones styled riffs along with some deep and pounding half time grooves. The vocalist delivery sounds quite familiar to Greg Puciato from the Dillinger Escape Plan, especially when it comes to channelling this emotional intensity along with it’s smooth transitions into anxiety driven cleans into harsh high vocals. The whole track brings in these post rock styled if eerie ambience sounds which brings this climatic delivery to the end of this track. 

The following track The Walking Sun brings in a lighter approach with these classic grunge delivered choruses which reminds me Alice In Chains styled vocal melodies accompanied with reverbed tremolo picking textures. This combination of stoner/post rock tunes are carried out threw out the rest of the album but their some tracks on the album in which they change it up. For example Hunting brings in some suspenseful pounding tom grooves whilst being complemented with eerie plucked melodies and sickening textured guitar timbres, whilst slurring vocal phrases are thrown into the mix. 

Chairs comes in as the most heaviest track on the album with its memorable riffs that are built from pentatonic and chromatic scales. The crushing bass tones are pushed more in the mix giving the guitars more thwonk whist the the vocalist marries the vocal tracks with octave harmonies giving it a more menacing vibe. The First Man On Mars takes a one eighty on their sound by combing samba and jazz fusion arrangements which is ripped out of The Dillinger Escape Plan play book, whilst the track escalates us back into heavy territory. 

Phantom comes as the most experimental track on the record with these electronic elements that remind us of Trent Reznor's efforts when scoring the first Quake game with these cynical industrial sounding drum loops with pulsing synths backing it add these subtle melodies. The bands arrangement brings some classic mathcore odd riffs phrases laced in their fuzzy post rock tones. Also there are highlights on this album which the band explores the trending Shoegazing styles with tracks like The Charm that brings in these waves of low tuned fuzzed up guitars that have elements of ambient leads, whist the crushing bass lines and the pounding drums still hold on to the heavy elements of the bands sound. 

The closing track on the album Soul Eclipse continues the shoegazing sound with the riffs being structured through major chords that takes the influences from bands like Deafhaven and My Bloody Valentine. The vocals swing from high and low ranges with a smooth swift of a phrase, whilst the vocal intensity increases to the albums final mathcore driven climax. El Moono's strong form of a debut album has left us with our eyes open with their combination of Mathcore, Rock and Grunge, leaving us intrigued with what this band is going to plan next. 

The intense vocal performances gives Greg Puciato a run for his money, whist the guitar and bass arrangements performs a perfect marriage of modern fuzzy post rocks tones to 90’s Shoegazy grunge sounds with the drums bringing this Dave Grohl energy to each performance on the album. There were times in which I felt like the fuzzy riffs over half time grooves felt a bit repetitive on times but it still has enough mojo to keep the listener interested. For fans of The Dillinger Escape Plan, The modern Shoegaze styles of Loathe and the post rock – styles of The Deftones. 7/10

Vaticinal Rites - Cascading Memories Of Immortality (Everlasting Spew Records) [Mark Young]

Everlasting Spew Records have a filthy habit of continually dropping new death metal that maintains what we know and love about extreme music and with that Vaticinal Rites bring their first full-length release, which promises to bring OSDM vibe whilst given a burst of energy.

And it’s straight in with Foiled Skirmish kicking things off with tight, focused blast. There is a definite OSDM feel to it, but it isn’t a rehash of music from that era. Its quick, has a real swing to it with everything from drums to vocals being on point and makes a great start for Plead For Termination to follow, with some urgent riffing, dropping those pinched harmonics in for fun. They manage to change gears through this, keeping from being just one note, with the solo breaks being excellent whilst not overshadowing everything else.

What shines for me is the appreciation that the riffs, the build has to be engaging and with this it makes you want to catch them live. Similarly with Asphyxiation Of Ecstasy they manage to imbue a feeling of speed without it being a blast-fest. Its intelligent, with its early harmony parts that set the song up and allows them to motor along whilst using effective melody lines that belies the fact that this is their debut.

This is what I really like about them is that they don’t rely on a million ideas that have been poorly shoe-horned together. The build is spot on, solo breaks when required, rather than thrown in for vanity. Song lengths too are key, they are set perfectly so they come in and do their job without becoming boring. Bowels Of Gargantua nails that approach, throwing in those frantic trem-picking parts with ease.

And who doesn’t love whammy bar abuse? Siphoning Plasma From The Gods kicks off with that and a scorching solo, leading into that dual rhythm approach, both parts doing their job and combining to fill the sound. This has a fantastic solo break where everything comes together and rather than loop back, they drop in one of those riffs that allows them to reset and close out with a Middle Eastern-tinged lead. I appreciate that these ideas may not be new, especially if you have been listening to death metal for a long time but it’s the way they are put together that gives it that feeling of freshness.

Unhinged Cataclysm takes on that good work and gives it another spin, using those ideas but doing it differently. Riff's build here again is spot on, knowing when and where to change things up. Corporeal Affliction hits like something you may have heard in the early 90’s, I mean no disrespect as they drop a lumbering riff that changes attack as the song progresses, especially those trem parts around 2 minutes 40. You will know exactly what I mean when you hear it. For me on this one, it feels so close to Morbid Angel that fans should love it. If not, there is no accounting for taste.

Eroding Planetesimal (Interlude) is just that. Did I mention I’m not fond of interludes? Moving on, Cascading Memories Of Immortality stomps in, with some nods to death as they unleash their magnum opus that coalesces the riffs, approach, and feel from the songs before it into a slab of death metal perfection. It's epic, bursting with riffs and lead breaks that sit so well together.

What I should also mention is the vocals from Marcus Broome. They are consistently spot on right through this, hitting that range where they are guttural and extreme without being too low to make out. This makes up for the inclusion of that interlude, sorry lads but they get on my nerves and can almost single-handedly halt any momentum an album has generated. It is an absolute beast of a track and closes this debut superbly.

So, my final thoughts are that this is a finely crafted debut with some storming songs on it. Each song is consistent in delivering that vibe they were going for without sounding old or a desperate rehash of what has gone before. Its strong stuff, with emphasis on build as opposed to speed or simple brutality. It shows that they are confident in their material and that they have a keen ability to put top class death metal songs together. That closing track is royal, and Vaticinal Rites should one of your bands to keep an eye out for this year. 8/10

Monday 13 May 2024

Reviews: Brume, Devilskin, Just One Fix, Room11 (Reviews By James Jackson & Matt Bladen)

Brume - Marten (Magnetic Eye Records) [James Jackson]

I’ve always enjoyed the use of classical instruments, particularly the violin, in Metal, however after listening to the third full length album from California based Brume, I have to say that the cello has to be up there for its ability to be as dramatic and sorrowful as the violin. 

Opening track Jimmy, has the rich sound of the cello flowing throughout, it leads yet doesn’t overwhelm the melody, a hypnotic bass line and drum pattern support the song, guitars ramp up the energy during the chorus, whilst the verses are subtle, the vocals of Susie McMullan haunting. According to the bio, the band are keen on experimentation, pushing their sound from Indie Rock to Doom Metal, New Sadder You is evidence of that, a five minute journey through a Jazz inspired Lounge influence to a frenetic sound of Hard Rock/Metal and it’s this obvious desire to make something new that drives the band and the album that they’ve created. 

The hauntingly beautiful sound of the cello and guitar open Otto’s Song; it’s the most vocally minimal, male and female vocals used as instruments, harmonious sounds rather than a clear message, yet is somehow just as expressive as any other song upon the album. I’ve just used two words which sum the album up for me “hauntingly beautiful”. And it is, the string arrangements are brilliantly crafted, the more traditional “Metal” instruments used to create soundscapes that are emotive and rich; whether it’s a hint of Doom or the almost Black Metal despair found in How Rude, this album has touches of pure genius within it’s eight songs. 10/10

Devilskin - Surfacing EP (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Has it been 10 years since We Rise? Bloody hell! I remember listing to Kiwi band Devilskin's debut album, from there I was absolutely smitten with Jennie Skulander's diverse vocals, Paul Martin's driving bass, Nic Martin's muscular drumming and Nail Vincent's virtuoso guitars. Devilskin bring radio friendly American alt metal grooves, classic metal anthemic choruses and solos and personal lyrics that fans can identify with. So to celebrate the 10th anniversary they are not only going on tour with Tadpole and Skinny Hobos but have released this EP called Surfacing

It's three live favourites and three new tracks to give people of taste of what to expect from Devilskin as a band now while they look back on their debut album. Kicking off with The Whale Song they have chosen the proggy early live staple to get things going, it's classic Devilskin groove with Jennie's brilliant vocals over the top, it's also the first time it's been recorded. Long term fans will have heard this song and it still sounds pretty vital. The other two songs are covers and both are brave; Holy Diver and Barracuda, tackling both Ronnie James Dio and Ann Wilson may be daunting for some but Skulander takes both in her stride, the versions heavier than the originals but keep the spirit. 

If the quality of the covers don't make you realise how talented Devilskin are then the three new tracks will. Let Me Breathe takes a heavy route with crushing thrashy riffs and growls, it's a snarling and snorting track which shows you that Devilskin can go into the heavy side with ease. On the other side you have the tender ballad Unborn which is beautiful, giving the other side of the band. On these songs it's obvious Devilskin have stepped up, even with Insects which is the raison d'etre, it feels bigger and better than before. I'll definitely be looking forward to what comes next, hopefully some UK dates. 8/10

Just One Fix - Submit Or Death (Self Released) [James Jackson]

With a name that instantly reminded me of an Industrial classic from Ministry, I could be forgiven for expecting something of a similar vein. The fourth album from the New Zealand based quartet however sits firmly within the Thrash Metal genre with a touch of Death Metal thrown in for good measure.

Starting off with that staple of 80’s/90’s era Thrash albums, the acoustic guitar intro, gives you a glimpse of what’s to come, much like Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains, it’s the calm before the storm. This is Old School Thrash and as such bands like the aforementioned Sepultura, Slayer and Exodus come to mind, along with early 80’s Metallica.

Neither Thrash nor Death Metal are genres I spend too much time listening to anymore, I’ve found too many albums to be repetitive and boring, never veering too far from the beaten path; despite there not really being much new on Submit Or Death it is a solid enough album, the riffs are good examples of the genre, breakneck drums drive the rhythm and that Death Metal influence drives the tracks harder; there are a few interesting moments however, the tribalistic drum intro of Thorns for example, great accompanying riff and something I’ve not heard for quite some time.

Not one that I’ll personally listen to again but I’d certainly recommend it for any fans of the genre. 5/10

Room11 - We All Fall Down (Self Release) [Matt Bladen]

Coming from Pershore in Birmingham, garage punk rockers Room11 are a contemporary duo that draw influence from Jack White, The Royal Blood, The Graveltones and The Virginmarys. Chrissy Finn has a raw vocal as Robbie Pinnetto cranks out the fuzzy electric guitar riffs. On the video for single We All Fall Down, Robbie had a skateboard crash and broke his arm. 

That D.I.Y ethos runs through all of these six tracks, the kind of music that would easily feature on a Tony Hawks soundtrack. Punchy and punky, it bristles with attitude and some jerky riffs. If any of the bands I mentioned earlier are up your street then open the door to Room11. 7/10

Reviews: The Monarch, Amerikan Kaos, Empire Warning, Beyond Salvation (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Monarch - A Moment To Lose Your Breath (Art Is War Records)

If it's got Chris Clancy in it then there's a high possibility that I'll enjoy it. He's not only a fantastic producer who works alongside the legendary Colin Richardson, the man who pretty much set the template for how extreme metal and more importantly post-2000's extreme metal should sound. Clancy is from the same mould and with Mutiny Within he hit the scene with one of the most impressive vocals I'd heard in years.

From the clarity of his harsh growls, to his soaring highs and cleans his potted projects such as Mutiny Within, Wearing Stars and Invictus all have shown Clancy the musician but many more albums bare his production skill. He's back as the singer of The Monarch, but the production falls to the band and Vincent M. Ippolito, though Clancy engineers his vocals. The record and the band has been created by Dave Kinkade, drummer and animal welfare crusader, founded the band in 2010, but it sat on the back burner as he played drums for Soulfly, Borknagar and others.

However he reactivated it in 2020 releasing a debut in 2021. This second album however builds on the debut with a much bigger sound, higher profile members and much better writing as Kinkade shares the writing with various writers alongside guitarists Marco Martell (ex-Malevolent Creation) and Marc Rizzo (ex-Soulfly/Cavalera Conspiracy). The last member of the band is Tony Campos (Fear Factory/ex-Soulfly) on bass as producer Vincent M. Ippolito brings additional guitars and David Cramer provides the piano before the excellent Soul Collector, the first song written for the album, but he also adds piano to a few moments.

The main part of the music though is modern metalcore/thrash/death which comes out of the American style. It's aggressive but cathartic, the lyrics are all personal to Kinkade taking the listener on a journey, written while Kinkade dealt with the loss of his father it's a dark and brooding release that is emotionally driven by Kinkade's creative minds, a cast of brilliant musicians and a fantastic vocalist. If anything Chris Clancy has been involved with or post-Millennial US metal floats your boat then you'll love A Moment To Lose Your Breath. 9/10

Amerikan Kaos - Armageddon Boogie (Self Released)

Amerikan Kaos is the other side of Jeff Waters. Founder and lead shredder for Annihilator, he's released 17 studio albums alone, toured all over the world and is recognised as one of the best guitar players and writers in the thrash genre due to Annihilators sometimes unconventional style. Now based in Durham England, during the lockdown he sat in his home studio and started to write, but not for his main band, no he started to write music for what he thought would be a solo album.

However as with all creative people left to their own devices, his many musical influences and willingness to experiment with production ideas etc has made sure that Armageddon Boogie is the first of a trio of records releasing over next three years. This first album is influenced by hard rock, blues and a bit of pop too. The major influence coming through being Waters' worship of Van Halen, he of course takes the Eddie role, with Bob Katsionis adding keys, keeping the mid 70's to mid 80's sound, not only with the music but with the production. If you want a VH sound you need a drummer that can play like Alex so Brian Tichy brings his fast feet when they need to get Hot For Teacher.

There's some Stonesy blues vibes two but they don't move too far from hard rock, the soulful vocals of Chandler Mogel ideal for both whether it's the blues gospel infused tracks with Jessie Wagner providing backing or the lightning delivery that mirrors Diamond Dave. Delivered in his own style but with trademarks in place to win over the listener, Marc LaFrance harmonising for those massive FM radio choruses on BTO's Roll On Down The Highway the solitary cover, LaFrance is the drummer for BTO so has a lot of history with this one. Waters is having fun with this record, you can hear it in the songs, paying homage to the bands he loves.

With the next two said to be a rock n roll record and a metal record with different singers and musicians. I'll look forward to that as Jeff Waters has found himself a great little side project here. 8/10

Empire Warning - Destiny (Self Released)

Hailing from London and the winners of the 2019 London M2TM, Empire Warning have been on a high since the then having one previous release behind them but it's with Destiny they look to really show what they are about, as they are an established live act so this will hopefully have transferred this into their recorded output. 

Empire Warning play groove metal, the kind Lamb Of God and Devildriver have been dealing out for years, they blend thrash-like heaviness with some personal lyrics that are shouted at your face from Be My Victim as Destiny? slows things down at the beginning and kicks off again. For me though they do best with Just Run which has a tonne of that bounce groove metal acts have and brings clean vocals as well, Peace In Pain too as that dual vocals dynamic. 

Due to the high levels of performance on this EP fans of groove/thrash and modern metal will enjoy the five tracks here, reflecting the experience of the band on stage. 7/10

Beyond Salvation - A Line In The Sand (Self Released)

A Line In The Sand is a three track EP from thrashers Beyond Salvation. Well they say thrash but I say metalcore, about as metalcore as you can get, in fact I did legitimately think it was one song and then it finished. I listened to it a a second time and managed to pick out some differences in the songs but there still aren't that many. 

Speed is of the essence as they peel away from the opening chords of Ghost Machine, then it's sort of breakdown heavy metalcore all the way for the next two songs. It's all decent but hopefully on any new music they bring a bit of variation as 10 songs of this may be a little taxing. 6/10