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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Reviews: Fen, Destroy She Said, Synaptik, Light Freedom Revival (Reviews By Paul)

Fen: Winter (Code666 Records)

It's hard to know where to start with Winter. Perhaps the most beautifully crafted black metal album for many years, the East Anglians fifth album is an astonishing mix of textured soundscape which envelopes the listener and transports them into a different place. Technically fantastic, the album ebbs and flows, ranging from blisteringly heavy black metal to delicate fragility. For a three piece to make this sound is incredible. Winter is divided into six sections, I to VI, all of which capture different parts of the season. 

They are lengthy too, with opener I (Pathway) a 17-minute epic. Each track segues perfectly into each other, providing the listener with an intertwined stunningly dramatic piece. Whilst there is the heaviness associated with black metal including blistering drumming, massive thrashing guitars and death vocals of Grungyn and The Watcher, there is so much more to this release. Part V (Death) is a perfect example. Repeated listens make this album more incredible. You should not miss one of the best albums of not only 2017 but of this century. Essential listening. 10/10

Destroy She Said: Origins Of O’Detta (Hellfire Records)

If you didn’t know, you’d quickly realise that Destroy She Said are from Australia. With a sound that combines the rawest elements of AC/DC and Rose Tattoo, the Melbourne five piece’s latest release is a gritty, raucous affair that delivers some of the dirtiest rock ‘n’ roll since Dirty Deeds dropped on the turntable. Now, it’s not ground breaking in any respect but what it does have is that filthy snarling soundtrack for the bar room brawl which countrymen Airbourne have polished out of their sound. It is blunt and crass, with tracks like Squirter (yes, really) Fat Lizzy and Hookers Don’t Kiss leaving nothing to the imagination. The Sabbath like stomp of You Might Think I Love You diverts slightly from the routine heads down approach in the other tracks, with a vocal performance from Simon McCullough that fuses Iggy Pop with Jim Morrison. Apart from that, with a band that is so adult that two of the members are called Scampers and Youngy what else would you expect. Crack open a tin, punch your mate in the face and bare your arse at the world. Destroy She Said. They certainly have. 7/10

Synaptik: Justify & Reason (Divebomb Records)

Norwich outfit Synaptik's 2nd album is a real hybrid beast. Elements of progressive metal, thrash, melodic death and power metal are all present. Whilst experimentation and incorporation of different genres is an admirable objective, the results here are mixed at best. The playing is excellent with lead guitarist Jack Murton shredding like his life depends on it. Vocalist John Knight has a strong clean voice which is a joy to listen to. In places the album is quite impressive, with some real cohesiveness, for example on the slower paced Conscience which builds majestically over its 9 minutes. However, some of the other tracks are just a bit too busy, with so much going on it's difficult to know where to listen. Human is a case in point. Huge riffs, some Iron Maiden style melody but then there is some djent type bass lines, numerous time changes and varying patterns which begin to make the listener really have to work to keep up. It sounds messy. There is some real potential here. The band are tight and talented. Whether they can push their complex sound into a saturated market is debatable. 6/10

Light Freedom Revival: Eterniverse Déjà Vu (Positive Imagination Media)

‘From the perception of the Light Omniverse, right now each of us are consciously or unconsciously, passing through quantum stargates by simply making decisions about where our lives are going, and our minds are slowly learning to use a sort of a holographic customized reality operating system, leading us into the kind of future we would like to experience. I know I’m headed towards this exit timeline, where Earth evolves to become the centre of a gigantic crystal space city of light called the Avatar that represents the point of focus for the entire Light Creation with a sealed cornucopian light society template. That is for me the true Ascension into the Eterniverse and I wanted the songs to reflect that!’

That’s the explanation from John Vehadija, Vancouver based singer songwriter about the debut (and hopefully only) album from Light Freedom Revival, with prog rock luminaries Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band). I’d really like some of what he’s been taking. The album is utter shite, a horrible bastard that should have been aborted at conception. With a sound that appears to have merged the worst of Asia, Weezer and Mike Oldfield, I can find nothing enjoyable in it. Vehadija’s voice is one of the most irritating I’ve ever heard, nasal mucus soaked in saccharine and wildly over produced. With Marisa Frantz’s harmony vocals attempting to smooth the sound but accentuating it, I was reaching for the knitting needles to ram in my ears after song number one. Anyone that enjoys this needs therapy. Utter bilge. 1/10

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sonata Arctica, Striker & Triosphere (Live Review By Paul & Matt)

Sonata Arctica - Tramshed, Cardiff

Paul- Having checked that all vital organs were still located where they were meant to be after the battering that Gojira gave them the night before, we headed the Tramshed in Cardiff for a night of total contrast. It's very rare that the UK gets a visit from the power metal Finnish outfit Sonata Arctica but combined with an even more rare appearance from Triosphere and Striker meant this was one not to be missed.

Unfortunately the metal crowds of South Wales clearly didn't feel the same as there were some rather large gaps in the venue. Kudos to those who made the effort on a Sunday night. Their noise for each band made it feel like the venue was full and we were rewarded with an evening of high quality as a result. With the battle for Womanby Street beginning, you do sometimes wonder whether the metal fraternity of South Wales gets what it deserves. Make sure you cram into the cowshed for Slipknot, Korn and Alter Bridge but don't support some of the hardest working bands. It makes my piss boil at times. Anyway, rant over and on to the music.

Norweigian four piece Triosphere (8) hit the stage promptly at 7:30pm and delivered some fine symphonic metal with a much harder edge. For a band that started out as a thrash band, their sound has certainly developed and anyone who has been wise enough to give 2014's epic Heart Of The Matter a listen will know that this is a band who can mix up their styles. Bassist and vocalist Ida Haukland may be diminutive in stature but her playing is solid and her voice, well, just fantastic. It's impossible to listen to her without comparing other leading metal ladies but alongside Cristina Scabbia and Kristie Kirby (ex-Triaxis), Ida has one of the most impressive voices around. Her soaring range, ably enhanced by an excellent sound (well done at the back!) ensured the band gained some new fans.

Flanked by Marius Silver Bergesen and Tor Ole Byberg and with Kenneth Tarneby pounding the skins Triosphere raced through their allocated slot, focusing mainly on tracks from their most recent release but with a dip into the past with Gunnin' For Glory from debut Onwards and Human Condition from sophomore release Road Less Travelled. Bergesen ensured that Haukland wasn't the centre of attention with some stunning guitar work, especially the bluesy solo on Breathless. He knows he is a rock star and adopts every pose in the book overdoing the posing a little for me at times. Closing with The Heart's Dominion Triosphere were worth the admission price on their own.

Fifteeen minutes later and Canadian traditional metallers Striker (8) crashed onto stage and proceeded to play as if they were headlining Download. Similar to Triosphere, Striker wasted few seconds in their set, careering around the stage and gurning in that goofy way only Canadians can. Imagine Anvil as a five piece, but with some decent songs and the energy of fellow countrymen Exciter in their heyday. It really was great to see a band having such a great time, playing quality heavy metal and loving it. And so was the crowd, who once again made a massive amount of noise for such a small gathering.

Dan Clearly is a charismatic frontman with a really powerful voice. Guitarist Adam Brown is hyperactive, climbing on monitors and generally acting the fool. It was engaging stuff and there were huge smiles all around. The band focused most of their set on their most recent two albums, the new self-titled release and 2016's Stand In The Fire. they even had the cheek to do the most Maiden style sing-a-long at the end during Fight For Your Life, which worked perfectly. A super live band with some solid songs to support the show.

Matt - Then it was time for the main event as the numbers of the crowd swelled a little, the mix of old-school rockers, lace covered goths and leather studded metallers was an overview of the style of music Sonata Arctica (8) play, it's heavy, dramatic, symphonic and joyous. Having last seen them in Cardiff in 2011 I was anticipating a similar level of energy and quality as then. As the intro tape of We Are What We Are played each member of the band took to the stage Tommy Portimo hidden behind his immense drumkit, Elias Viljanen stage right with his guitar held aloft, in fact he probably only had it horizontal twice during the show, the imposing Pasi Kauppinen was on stage left with keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg behind him cradling his keytar.

Portimo hit the switch and the set kicked off with Closer To The Animal and Life from the latetst album The Ninth Hour, just as the opening chords of Closer...hit frontman Tony Kakko swaggered on to the stage and started to belt out the words with his incredible voice, in fact the first four songs all came from their most recent releases with the excellent The Wolves Die Young from Pariah's Child and the furious In Black And White from Unia leaving the crowd breathless from fist pumping, singing and clapping. The songs demand participation but we were given a chance to breathe with the gorgeous ballad Tallulah that saw the first mass sing-along and even grown men cry such is the power of the song, it was a moving sight to see but the band effortlessly build the pace back up with the satirical Fairytale from the latest album that was followed up by going back to the beginning with classic FullMoon from Ecliptica.

There was genuine joy on the stage with Tony leading proceedings guiding the crowd through the motions, Pasi banging his head throughout and Henrik and Elias trading solos at blistering speed. As an old school Sonata fan the inclusion of Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited was very much welcome especially as it was sandwiched between the symphonic new tracks Among The Stars and We Are What We Are which carries resonant message about protecting the Earth we have. The main set ended with The Power Of One and the band were off stage for only a short time before returning because Tony "forgot his drink". The encore was made up of three songs two old favourites one modern classic and as Misplaced commenced the crowd went nuts, it sounds as good now as it was when it was released, I Have The Right sat in the middle as a clarion call, the set wound up with their normal final song the awesome Don't Say A Word and the breakdown into Vodka after a bit of crowd call and response.

Sonata Arctica are one of the top power metal bands in the business and this show deserved a bigger crowd than it actually got, three great bands for a good price, in a great venue (that still needs aircon) As Paul mentioned at the top, to really save the local scene we must attend these shows in larger quantities otherwise they may disappear all together.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Reviews: Pallbearer, Eclipse, GraViL

Pallbearer: Heartless (Nuclear Blast)

Having only recently discovered Little Rock, Arkansas' Pallbearer I have avidly listened to their two previous records and I really think that they could be one of the best bands around today moving away from the abrasive sometimes overly slow delivery of other bands in the doom genre. Pallbearer add a much more psychedelic, melodic sound to their songs, yes they sprawl with most of the songs over 5 minutes long, two clocking in over 10 minutes but the musical dynamics involved means that the minutes fly by as the dual harmonic guitar playing from Devin Holt and Brett Campbell is reminiscent of bands such as Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy along with more modern purveyors like The Sword and even Mastodon. Lie Of Survival is prime example of this with fly away clean guitar riffs moving into the deliberate, heavy riffs associated with doom bands.

On the title track they display everything that makes them great, fuzzy bludgeoning riffs, a heavy low end from Joseph D Rowland (bass) and Mark Lierly (drums), shifting time signatures and sounds that are augmented by Campbell's excellent clean vocals. Heartless only has 7 tracks but they are all incredible, the first four blend so beautifully that you'd be forgiven in thinking they were one song, the album builds and builds releasing every single ounce of emotion on the incredible A Plea For Understanding, clocking in at just over 12 minutes it's a magnificent piece that serves as a fitting climax for a monumental album from the US band. I may be late to the Pallbearer bandwagon but I can see it gaining an awful lot more momentum on the back of this fantastic record. 9/10

Eclipse: Momentum (Frontiers Records)

Those of you that follow the Scandinavian melodic rock/AOR scene or indeed Frontiers records releases will have heard of Erik Mårtensson the vocalist guitarist is a key member of W.E.T, Nordic Union and his main band Eclipse. He also writes for and produces many of the albums released by Frontiers, clearly a man with a Midas Touch for gleaming melodic rock (and a huge work rate) it's only been two years since Eclipse last released a record and now their sixth is ready to drop. Once again it's probably some of the best melodic rock around, continuing Eclipse's upward trajectory as the worthy successors to bands such as Journey.

Since their last record they toured almost relentlessly for two years and having seen Eclipse live I can tell you that this Journey comparison is not hyperbole, they have the ability and most importantly the songs to make it big. Momentum builds just that raising the stakes established on Bleed & Scream and Armageddonize with a sharper focus, huge hooks, impressive guitar work from Mårtensson and long term collaborator Magnus Henriksson that mean that the songs on this record resonate in your mind for a long time. Opening with Vertigo they kick things off in style with a fist in the air rocker, one of many, it's music that makes you want to just go wild, shout along and air guitar with abandon, cue No Way Out.

This record is fun from beginning to end rarely dropping in quality, Black Rain is a heavy one, swaggering and moody it still has a glorious chorus and orchestral elements, The Downfall Of Eden is one of the records best tracks, immediate and driving with a slight folk influenced dramatic track that actually could represent Sweden at Eurovision (it even works in the acoustic version bonus track) even the ballads are tough, Hurt is a darker ballad that could have come off a Sixx AM record with the lush symphonies and sparse delivery but it's the superior hard rockers that frankly litter this album that will make you stay. Momentum is a truly great melodic rock album and I can't wait to see them in Bristol on the 23rd April. 9/10

GraViL: No More Forgiveness (Self Released)

London melo-death mob started out as just two men, since then the membership has expanded and changed with the one constant being frontman Grant Stacy, it's his evil vocals that are the link between this album and the early EP's, the first one I heard being Age Of Corruption which I got in a Darkstore (R.I.P) goody bag. They really found their feet on 2013's Thoughts Of A Rising Sun expanding and rounding out their sound very well and this has continued on this second full length, noticeably darker (if that's possible) than their first record the band has always been politically/personally charged and with the current state of the world this record is angry and remorseful in equal measure but with hope cutting through.

According to frontman Grant "There is a massive sub-context of loss within the new album, with 2016 notably being a brutal year, however No More Forgiveness pulls in a lot of strength from negativity." That brutality is reflected in the songs, it's pummelling death metal with furious guitar solos, bullet train speed drumming and industrial touches (Locate The Traitor) that means the tracks stomp, crush and groove in equal measure.

With the furious riffage of I Am Blood, the grinding riff of Plagues, Thieves And Murderers and the symphonic curve-ball of Fractured, Divided which adds soaring female vocals. GraViL are still a major force in the UK underground scene but I can see No More Forgiveness taking them to that next level, four years on from their debut and GraViL retain the high quality melodic death metal heard on their debut. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Gojira (Live Review By Paul & Nick)

Gojira - O2 Academy Bristol

A sold out crowd in boisterous mood meant that this was an evening of high intensity for start to finish. Securing a place on the balcony early doors gave a great view and a much more bearable temperature for the evenings fun and games.

New Yorkers Car Bomb (5) kicked off the evening with the audience still filling the venue but already a high percentage had decided it was worth getting in early. Car Bomb are an acquired taste, their discordant polyrhythmic mathcore at times a disjointed cacophony. The band are high on intensity and aggression, which is conveyed in their sound. The buzzing crowd responded positively, although they made no impression on me. The band have toured with Gojira a number of times so it's likely that Car Bomb will be back.

Confidence is not something that Code Orange (6) lack. Hitting the stage with a swaggering arrogance that only American bands display, the Pittsburgh based outfit blasted the Academy with their blistering uncompromising hardcore approach. Drummer Jami Morgan is bizarrely the focal point, his screaming vocals and constant coercion to the enthusiastic pit strangely endearing. Amidst all the chaos of a set that was disjointed and chaotic, which I guess is part of the approach, Reba Meyers took lead for the one clean vocal track, but chaos soon returned with tracks like Forever from the album of the same name turning all those on the floor into a gibbering mess. "This is the new shit" screamed Morgan towards the end of the set. Hmmm. If that's the case I may stick with the old. But then I am old!

2016 was the year Gojira (9) really moved into the premier league. On the back of their brilliant release Magma, the band has developed into a slick headline band who have sold out virtually every show on their tour including Brixton Academy. No mean feat. Recent visits to these shore saw a blistering special guest slot at BOA and a show stealing support to Alter Bridge during the autumn whereby all accounts they blew both the headliners and main support Volbeat to shit. Judged by tonight's showing it's no surprise. The Frenchmen were imperious, laying waste to the venue with a set as intense as I've ever seen. The wall of sound these four men lay down almost defies description. Heavier than anything that had gone before, their sound envelopes you and sucks you in. Industrial, brutal and totally absorbing.

Gojira now have a set list to rival any of their peers. Six tracks from the monumental Magma were greeted like old favourites, whilst the veteran tunes from Ocean Planet and From Mars To Sirius elicited the mightiest roars. Opening with Only Pain and segueing right into The Heaviest Matter In The Universe the band didn't drop the pace for one minute. With Mario Duplantier destroying his drum pedals, the only cessation in the assault was due to technical support. The rest of the set list almost wrote itself, with the mighty Flying Whales, complete with beautiful footage of a humpback on the screen behind was just mesmerising. The new tracks sit comfortably in the set, with set closer Pray rivalling a pulverising Backbone for song of the evening.

My only complaint as is my usual beef was the inclusion of a drum solo. If ever there was a band that didn't need to showcase the drumming it is Gojira. However, there are always reasons and as solos go it was decent. Joe Duplantier, who has emerged as a Goliath frontman noodled a little at the start of the encores before Oroborus and Vacuity closed a phenomenal set. Bassist Jean Michel Labadie finally came to a stop as the show ended, having put in another energetic show whilst Christian Andrew never stopped smiling. As the sweat dripped off the walls of the venue, the band vowed to return soon. they proclaimed Bristol the best crowd of the tour and whilst bands often say that this time there was real truth. The crowd were as intense as the band, feeding off the energy of each other. A fine evening from one of metal's most exciting bands.

The Hewitt Perspective:

Gojira have been a favourite of mine since seeing them in the Cardiff union a few years ago, and no matter how much I prepare myself for their gigs I am always taken back by the sheer power and heaviness that they offer up, which, more impressively is never diminished by the astonishing volume they present it with. These guys are the epitome of a perfectly well oiled machine that clearly love what they do, pouring their heart and soul into every album and live performance. Throughout the hour and forty five minutes Gojira dipped into their entire back catalogue providing us with a plethora of songs including The Heaviest Matter Of the Universe, L'Enfant Sauvage, Toxic Garbage Island and the ever phenomenal Flying Whales which satisfied all fans old and new. From the Duplantier brothers Joe and Mario to Christain and Jean-Michel each member of the band showed their skills and tightness across the entirety of the set. Testament to this was the synchronicity in which the crowd banged there heads to the heavy bass laden riffs and breakdowns that Gojira constantly threw our way all night. 

Circle pits and walls were breaking out left right and centre with little encouragement from the band. Halfway through Mario lost suffered a heavy loss of a bass pedal (unsurprisingly) which thankfully was quickly replaced as that pedal is the centre of what the band do. Seamlessly working their way through the eighteen song set there was little time for chit chat, however Joe did seem a little taken aback at to the crowds reaction at one point, leading him to highlight the fact that last time Gojira were in town they had to cancel as they only sold four tickets! Sounds crazy I know, but this just shows the work this band have had to put in to earn their greatness and support... damn don't they deserve it??! 

Sadly the evening had to come to an end but it was done in style with a three track encore consisting of a guitar solo followed by a beefy breakdown and then bone crunching but brief songs; Oroborus and Vacuity. I left the venue like most people present; with a slightly broken body, buzzing ears but with a massive smile on my face which still remains as I write this. Gojira somehow manage to build upon perfection every time I see them, I cant wait for their next visit... next time hopefully in Cardiff.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Reviews: Obituary, Svart Crown,The Crawling, Axxis (Reviews By Paul)

Obituary: Self Titled (Relapse)

The teaser EP Ten Thousand ad Ways To Die which signalled the return to the studio of the Floridian Death Metal legends back in November 2016 was a tasty morsel which really left a desire for more. Well, the wait is over as album number 10 has arrived and what a monster it is. Absolutely packed with vicious riffs and skull pounding death metal, the masters have once again shown that age is no obstacle to class. 2014's massive Inked In Blood was a brutal bastard but in my humble opinion Obituary kicks harder, stronger and more impressively.

With the pace changing from track to track, one thing that doesn't vary is the sheer heaviness. Opener Brave finds John Tardy on stunning form, racing his distinctive vocals at top speed. End It Now and Turned To Stone are just two highlights of the sheer power of one of the best bands in the genre but it's on Straight To Hell and Ten Thousand Ways To Die that the band really hit top gear, brooding sinister and absolutely unstoppable. In a year with some of the best death metal releases hitting the shelves (see Hour of Penance, Immolation, Benighted and Memoriam for examples) Obituary has delivered a contender for the top spot. Buy it. Crank it up. Split the skull. Magnificent. 10/10

Svart Crown: Abreaction (Century Media)

Blackened death metal of French outfit Svart Crown return after 2013’s Profane with a blistering release. Abreaction is full of cascading riffs, threateningly evil vocals and blisteringly heavy drumming. The band has been around since 2004 and they know what they are doing. JB Le Bail’s guttural grows adds a sinister edge to tracks like The Pact: To The Devil His Due which drips with haunting malice.

Opener Golden Sacrament nods the head to doom whilst Carcosa is a thrashy beast. With slicing vicious guitar work courtesy of Le Bail and new guitarist Kevin Verlay added to the powerhouse battery of Kevin Paradis’ drumming and Ludovic Veyssiere’s driving bass lines, Abreaction has plenty of slower pieces, drifting perilously close to the death doom metal line at times; Upon This Intimate Madness is a behemoth crashing along.

A hugely powerful industrial sound changes pace on Tentacion before leading nicely into the head splitting Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy. This is not music for the faint hearted. Svart Crown are crushingly heavy, dangerously brutal and clearly give zero fucks. 7/10

The Crawling: Anatomy Of Loss (Grindscene Records)

Anatomy Of Loss is the debut release from Northern Ireland’s The Crawling and it’s a mix of death and doom. The three piece make quite a noise and three years from their formation have started to find a sound which will appeal to fans of the death doom genre. There are elements of the melodic death metal sound similar to In Flames and Arch Enemy in places and a vocal delivery on a par with Angela and Alissa. Acid On My Skin is case in point. Doom has always verged between exciting and powerful (Candlemass) or a bit on the ponderous over bloated sound. The Crawling currently sit somewhere in the middle.

Stuart Rainey’s vocals fit comfortably with the more crushing and plodding elements whilst Craig Beattie’s thunderous drumming provides a powerful backdrop. However, it’s when the band really let loose, such as the middle section of closing track Catatonic that it gets a bit more fun and guitarist Andy Clarke can let rip. The difficulty with the death doom genre is that so much of it is just a bit average and repetitive. Few can match the power of Finland’s Vainaja who to my mind changed the blueprint with their recent releases. The Crawling have potential. Whether they can achieve it is up for debate. 6/10

Axxis: Retrolution (Nuclear Blast)

Axxis have been around since 1988 and this is album number 15. Original members Bernard Weib (vocals) and keyboardist Harry Oellers are currently joined by long serving bassist Rob Schomaker, drummer Dirk Brand and 2015’s addition guitarist Stefan Weber. Described in some quarters as national legends, the band do a great deal of charity work in their home town Lünen. (Cue Smashie and Nicey - Ed) 

I must admit my first thought was more about the use of Retrolution as an album title. For the uninitiated Retrolution refers to a right-wing reaction against modern society and politics. Phrases such as ‘taking my country back’ are associated with this. However, I’m not sure whether the Rhine Valley’s heavy metal veterans are extreme right wingers or not. Reading some of the blurb about the album release would suggest a more naïve explanation which is that they’ve merely merged the words retro and revolution to capture the current increased demand for vinyl in the rock world and the continued interest in older bands. Let’s hope it is that one.

So, what about the Axxis sound? Well, in the main, it’s routine and tepid Germanic hard rock. You won’t get the power metal surge of Primal Fear or Helloween or the onslaught of Kreator, Sodom or Destruction. No, Axxis sit firmly in the bland inoffensive section. Like the bloated commercial excesses of Scorpions, tracks such as Do It Better and the ballad Burn Down Your House are ponderous and unexciting. The acoustic Queen Of The Wind is the lighters aloft moment. It’s a decently constructed song, and Bernard Weib’s distinctive voice (a kind of hard rock Jon Anderson) copes admirably with the soaring range required. 

I just find all acoustic ballads a bit disturbing. Seven Devils and Somebody Died At The Party are just drivel. However, it’s not all bad. The pumped-up power of This Is My Day motors nicely and when the band put the foot down the output is pleasingly comforting, a bit like Scorpions in their prime. It just doesn’t happen enough. Unfortunately, overall this is just a bit bland. 5/10

Reviews: The Silent Wedding, Dead South Dealers, Quadrus

The Silent Wedding: Enigma Eternal (FYB Records)

Greek progressive/symphonic metal band with a male singer, sounds a bit like Kamelot or Serenity with the melodic metal sounds intertwining with cinematic synths (see Under The Veil Of Grey). The dramatic intro leads into first song Shadows & Dust which sets things in motion very well as it has changing time signatures, a crunchy riff and floaty keys and really displays the range of vocalist Marios who has a melodic but lower register voice much like Khan (Kamelot) or Georg (Serenity) that entirely fits the musical style there's a certain sadness to his vocal and it does wonders on the melancholic style of the band. This is the band's second album and it is a step up in songwriting as the tracks on this record are more complex and carry a gravitas that make you invested in them, this is helped by the production which is crisp if a little thin, it displays all of the facets of this bands talents. The Endless Journey has impressive double kicks, buzzing industrial electronics and the excellent vocals again. The other big influence I can hear in this record is Evergrey so it's fitting that Tom S Englund comes on board to add his weighty baritone to the Gothic A Dream Of Choices. I really like this record, it's the sort of mature, bittersweet, intensely musical I enjoy having named three of my favourite bands as influences I guess it's only natural that I'd like it. High quality progressive/power metal with an emotional punch. 8/10

Dead South Dealers: Walk Through The Line (Sliptrick Records)

Southern heavy metal that reeks of bourbon and beer, Walk Through The Line is the kind of bar brawling music favoured by the Stetson clad tattooed Dean Razorback wielding members of the NOLA crew. It may come as a surprise then that Dead South Dealers come from Athens Greece as their brand of blues-influenced dirty Southern metal sounds very authentic. D.S.D is a highlight of the record dripping with chest beating machismo and reverb drenched soloing layered over the groovy rhythms. Lost Within Time is a slower piece successfully pairing an acoustic opening with crawling riffs, Walk The Line has more acoustics and takes things into slow-moving impactful territory. DSD are as near to the Southern metal favourites as you can get, you can practically smell the bayou on Fairies Of The Swamp and if you love the NOLA blues influenced stoner metal then I urge you to Walk Through The Line as soon as possible. 7/10

Quadrus: Entropia (Self Released)

This an interesting record, sounding like a film score orchestra and a death metal band having a fight, John Galanakis is the brains of the outfit giving this record the rhythm guitars, orchestrations with the harsh/brutal vocals, he takes a similar role to that of Mark Jansen in MaYan or Epica, sound-wise Quadrus share similarities with Epica and Wintersun. However unlike those bands the sound quality of this record is shocking, it sounds like Epica and Wintersun playing together at the same time, but they are playing totally different songs. With operatic vocals, cinematic synths and furious riffing all the elements are there but they are so randomly placed and poorly produced but everything's a blur. Entropia tries to be so much but fails unfortunately. 5/10

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Reviews: Sumo Cyco (Review By Neil)

Sumo Cyco: Opus Mar (Self Released)

“Listen to raggapunk” read the slogan on an old school Skindred t-shirt. This would be good advice if there were any bands other than the Dred making music of that genre (well, there was Zeroscape I suppose but let’s overlook their failed attempt to start a musical feud with Benji & co). Fast forward a mere decade or so later and enter Canadian four-piece Sumo Cyco whose style is probably best described as punk laced with elements of dance hall and who clearly owe a very large musical debt to Skindred and – by extension, as they are still a going concern today – Dub War.

Despite singer Skye “Sever” Sweetnam’s recent assertion that without Skindred there would be no Sumo Cyco rest assured they are no mere clones. Sprinkling their influences into their own musical melting pot they manager to evoke similar sounds yet clearly have their own musical identity. Much of this is down to Sever’s distinctive vocal style, effectively combining moments of rapid-fire delivery (as on The Broadcasters) with melody (Kids Of Calamity) and aggression (Anti-Anthem) all of which gives the Cyco's their own unique sound. Couple this with guitarist and co-songwriter Matt “MD13” Drake’s knack of writing catchy, spiky riffs (such as on Sleep Tight) and killer choruses (Free Yourself) and we have a very tasty musical feast here on their sophomore PledgeMusic-funded album.

Opus Mar’s lead single and opening track, the aforementioned Anti-Anthem, is in many ways the quintessential Sumo Cyco song, showcasing as it does Sever’s vocal flexibility, MD13’s riffing, the signature dance-hall-flavoured breakdown and of course that all-important killer chorus, all underpinned ably by the rumbling bass of Kenny “Thor” Corke and the rhythmic drumming of Matt Trozzi (who, oddly, isn’t credited as a full-time member of the band in the CDs notes, even though he played on every song bar one). The dance hall elements of SC’s sound appear to be more emphasised on this release than 2014’s debut Lost In Cyco City but in this writers opinion it’s to the benefit of the album as whole giving some of the albums quieter moments (such as during Brave II, a successor to a song on that debut) a funky swagger and attitude all their own.

There is also second single Move Mountains which features a guest verse from none other than Benji Webbe himself which is yet another highlight amongst a very strong set of tracks. It’s probably safe to say that if you enjoy the two singles released thus far then you’ll enjoy the rest of this album. Upon it’s release on March 31st, I strongly suggest you take the advice adorned on that Skindred t-shirt. In fact I’ll give you some more specific advice – listen to Sumo Cyco. 9/10

Friday, 17 March 2017

Reviews: Them, Sail, Basement Torture Killings (Reviews By Rich)

Them: Sweet Hollow (Empire Records)

Them are an internationally based King Diamond tribute band who have decided to write and record their own material with 'Sweet Hollow' being their debut album. The band is formed from members and ex-members of bands such as Symphony X, Ross The Boss, Suffocation, Coldsteel & Lanfear so this is no bunch of amateurs.  As you can tell from their tribute act past and influenced band name there is a massive King Diamond influence throughout the album both in tone and in the horror inspired lyrical themes.

Musically though generally the band stand on their own two feet and play classic heavy metal with touches of power metal and thrash metal. With the calibre of musicians involved in the band everything is played to perfection and special mention must go to vocalist Troy Norr who ranges from King Diamond falsettos and mid range clean vocals to a harder gruffer vocal style. The songs throughout are catchy and theatrical but also hard hitting enough for fans of the heavier end of metal to still enjoy.  All in all this is a very enjoyable album which has enough King Diamond influences throughout to please fans of his but also enough originality for general heavy metal fans to enjoy. 8/10

Sail: Slumbersong (Hibernacula Records)

Slumbersong is the debut album by Sail formerly known as Husk. The album incorporates many different sounds and is a big reflection on the variation currently within the sludge metal genre. The album ranges from groovy riffs to atmospheric progressive soundscapes to catchy almost poppiness. The band wear their influences on their sleeves and you can hear bands ranging from Mastodon, Baroness, Pallbearer and Torche in their sound. The album almost works as a love letter to the genre of sludge metal in 2017. The harder hitting songs such as Righteous and Old Tom work better and are more preferable than some of the most drawn out atmospheric songs which can get a little tedious. This is still a very enjoyable album which celebrates sludge metal in the 21st century though it does lack a bit of its own identity. 7/10

Basement Torture Killings: There's Something About Beryl (Grindscene Records)

Basement Torture Killings return with album number three There's Something About Beryl which is the first album with frontwoman Millie Crampton aka the eponymous Beryl. The album is 34 minutes of extreme metal insanity taking elements from old school death metal and grindcore and mixing them into a concoction of blood, guts and terror. There is very much a retro sound to this album sounding a lot like early 90's death metal and grindcore albeit complimented by a modern production sound. The songs all hurtle by with plenty of speed and ferocity and have all the common traits of the genre - savage riffs, blastbeats, guttural vocals and horror movie samples. Unfortunately there is very little in the way of variation and many of the songs are difficult to distinguish apart from each other but that being said this is a very fun and enjoyable album. 7/10

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Reviews: Memoriam, Anewrage, Havok (Reviews By Paul)

Memoriam: For The Fallen (Nuclear Blast)

If like me you were lucky enough to have seen Bolt Thrower before their untimely but totally understandable cessation in 2015, you will have been waiting for this release with a real sense of anticipation. The Hellfire Demos certainly whet the appetite and Memoriam’s pre-Christmas show at The Asylum in Birmingham demonstrated that the band were the real deal in the live arena. However, the arrival of their debut album, For The Fallen is the acid test. And it does not fail in any aspect. The reunion of Karl Willetts and former Bolt Thrower drummer Andrew Whale elicits many memories but this is not a trip down memory lane.

As Willetts stated recently in Terrorizer, “This is a new band and we’ll do things our way”. With the addition of Benediction bassist Frank Healy and live guitarist Scott Fairfax, Memoriam contains enough fire power to destroy anything in their path. Opening track Memoriam is a real statement of intent, a crushing brooding beast which segues neatly into the now familiar War Rages On. This is a mesmerising track, full of power and bone crushing riffs. Willetts has added a little melody to his death metal growl but this merely enhances a truly magnificent vocal performance. Reduced To Zero is a slower, muscular track, one of four on the album clocking in at way over six minutes.

The punk infused battery of Corrupted System follows, Whale’s spine crushing drumming making a mockery of the fact that the guy hadn’t been in a studio for the best part of two decades. A statement about the current political shambles, Corrupted System is razor sharp, pacey and just full throttle. Flatline is next, a huge chunky slab of old school extreme death metal, Whale and Healy holding the song together whilst Fairfax unleashes some brutal slicing guitar. The song also contains an almost Slayer like chug in the middle section, evil and atmospheric whilst retaining the heaviness expected. The speed increases for the next two, with Surrounded By Death possibly the best three minutes you’ll hear this year.

Crashing power chords, ball shattering bass drumming and Willetts once again delivering in his own inimitable style. The change of pace is impressive, allowing you little time to draw breath until the final beat. It’s far from over though with the might of Resistance crashing straight in, the memorable riff both familiar and refreshingly new. Album closer Last Words is emotionally charged but holds no prisoners with a charging gallop. At close to nine minutes it is a fitting closing track, epic in both construction and delivery.

It's been over 11 years since Bolt Thrower’s For Those Once Loyal was released. It’s good to have Willetts and Whale back delivering the goods. For The Fallen lives up to all the expectations. Quite magnificent. 10/10

Anewrage: Life Related Symptoms (Scarlet Records)

This is album number 2 for the Milan based outfit and if you enjoy the alt-rock scene then it’ll probably be something to get hold of. It’s full of chunky rhythmic changes, beautifully clean vocals and some intense guitar work. There is a whole range of influences cascading through Life Related Symptoms, with djent style bass work, all leaping and driving very noticeable. Evolution Circle for example swings into nu-metal territory and splashes a bit of grunge into your face whilst Linkin Park spring to mind on Floating Man.

The overall atmosphere is one of melancholic and misery, something that sits comfortably within the genre. Axel Capurro and Mauel Sanfilippo’s intricate guitar work is never lost in the mix whilst Capurro’s clean voice really gives this release a bit extra. Bits of Soundgarden and the Deftones drift in and out but Anewrage are far from a tribute band. Their compositions are crafted and well-constructed. A very interesting release and worth a listen. 8/10

Havok: Conformicide (Century Media)

It’s been four years since Denver thrash quartet Havok released Unnatural Selection. Conformicide captures the best of Megadeth and Exodus thrown into a snarling mosh pit and vomited out at 100mph. Fast, furious and spectacularly old school. David Sanchez’s vocals sit somewhere between Bobby “Blitz” Ellesworth and Steve Souza. You’ll either love or hate them. New boy on board is Nick Schendzielos whose bass lines are running riot throughout. Otherwise, Havok deliver exactly what you’d expect. It’s solid thrash metal with chunky riffs, enormous stomping sections and flat out speed. However, when you compare Conformicide to this year’s fantastic offerings from Overkill and Kreator, both 30 year plus veterans you realise that Havok have a way to go before they get to the Premier League. 6/10

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Devin Townsend Project

Devin Townsend Project, TesseracT & Leprous, Colston Hall, Bristol

Finally a chance to see Devin Townsend in a venue with good sound and promising support was too much of a opportunity to pass up so, over the bridge to the majestic Colston Hall arriving shortly after the doors opened, through the labyrinthine venue I took a seat at the back of the venue due to the limited standing space at the front and within five minutes Norweigian band Leprous (7) took to the stage, this was my second viewing of Leprous and my how things have changed their songs are now more direct, euphoric and emotive than before, using the low-lights to dramatic effect Einar Solberg prowling the stage with mic in hand before getting back behind his keyboard, it was great to see an animated keyboard player for a change as Solberg commanded the stage from Foe through to Slave. With a prog-metal crowd and more than a few Ihshan t-shirts (Leprous are his solo backing band) Leprous' electronica-driven prog metal received a warm response from the Hall and set a high watermark

Next it was time for TesseracT (8) who have always been at the forefront of djent but appeal to me due to the soaring clean vocals the employ, but my one criticism of them live is that they are not the most visual of acts, well consider that changed, the use of lighting in this set was some of the best I've seen in a long time, the band were pretty much in shadow for the majority of the set as the lighting set the mood in sync with the poly-rhythmic riffs, it was great to hear Dan Tompkins once again behind the mic displaying one of the widest vocal ranges in the business. The songs came thick and fast each flowing in and out of one another making the set flow well, the band are all incredible musicians and their powerful, modern sound, resonated with the crowd who cheered during the very short gaps between the songs, with so much turmoil surrounding vocalists having Dan back means the band are now firing on all cylinders and taking the position in the prog metal world that they deserve.

Whereas TesseracT had little chat and messing about the same cannot be said about the headliner, one of the issues I've had with Devin Townsend (7) is that he does tend to ramble on a bit too much during his sets, he has gonzoid sense of humour we all know but he also seemed to be in the grip of an anxiety during the set, he punctuated each song with incessant rambling and churlish humour. I'll be honest Devin is a genius but I came to this show because the last one I attended in Bristol was a washout due to Devin's voice being all but lost, I didn't enjoy that set and unfortunately I found this set a bit stale, yes he played the best tracks from most recent release Transcendence with Failure, Stormbending and Higher all featured but most of the set was the normal Devin mixed bag of older solo material drawn from Devin Townsend, Devin Townsend Band and Devin Townsend Project.

The heaviness coming from Hyperdrive! March Of The Poozers and the heavy as all hell Planet Of The Apes, there is a reason why they call him Hevy Devy but he also showed the duality of his work with Where We Belong and the sing along acoustic Ih-Ah. Yes the playing was at the normal high level, the band all as good technically as Devin but the whole show just lacked a little something, I've been on the Devin train for a long time now but maybe it's a sense of consistency breeding contempt, as good as everything is played and delivered there was a sense of going through the motions of a normal Devin gig. Is Devin still in a league of one? Yes he is. Will I see him again? I'm not sure, for me the train is approaching it's last stop.