Thursday, 15 April 2021

Blaze Bayley - War within Me (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Apr 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It seems odd to think of Blaze Bayley as a solo artist, but he's effectively been that since the previous millennium. I still think of him as the vocalist of Wolfsbane and Bruce Dickinson's replacement in Iron Maiden. The latter stint only lasted for five years and it ended over two decades ago, while I think of the former as a nineties thing, even though technically Wolfsbane reformed in 2007 with Bayley back on lead vocals. This is a solo album, though it's really Bayley effectively fronting Absolva, a band from Manchester who have five albums out with their own name on, plus another three under Bayley's, the Infinite Entanglement trilogy.

This is the first original album other than that trilogy that Bayley's put out as a solo artist in almost a decade, the previous album before them being 2012's The King of Metal. I haven't heard any of these solo albums, so I was interested to see what he sounds like nowadays. What I found is that he doesn't particularly sound like Wolfsbane at all but there's definitely some Iron Maiden here, not only in the musical approach of some songs but the lyrical approach too, most obviously when looking at the war (303 is about the 303 Squadron of the RAF, which was a Polish unit), but also in a look at the history of science, with songs about Alan Turing, Nikola Tesla and Stephen Hawking.

However, Maiden weren't the obvious influence for me, even if the title track comes out of the gates like a Maiden blitzkrieg. As the album ran on, I found that the Maiden influence could really be seen as a Wishbone Ash influence, they being the true source of the famous twin guitar Maiden sound. It's here in a lot of intros, but when it continues into songs, the sound more like Wishbone Ash than their most famous devotees. Warrior is a completely new song, not a cover of the one on Argus, but it still has a Wishbone Ash mindset to it.

The other obvious influence I heard is Saxon, which surprised me, but it's very clear in songs like Pull Yourself Up and 18 Flights, while The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking moves well from Wishbone Ash to Saxon as it runs on. Bayley's voice is more reminiscent of Biff Byford than Bruce Dickinson; he sounds more working class than the Air Raid Siren and his tone and intonation hint at the Saxon frontman. And hey, it's hard to not see 18 Flights as a sort of spiritual sequel to And the Bands Play On, detailing not a festival set but an entire South America tour, including a gig in Chile that was stopped because of an earthquake and a likely tsunami. It's dedicated to the people of Coquimbo.

I like this sound and not only as a form of alternate history, as if it had been Saxon rather than Maiden who had brought that Wishbone Ash twin guitar sound to the NWOBHM era. I was a little wary that a Blaze Bayley album might seem derivative of his former bands, as Paul Di'Anno's albums often tend to be, but I didn't get that feeling at all. He's doing his own thing, whether it be blistering metal in War within Me; hard and heavy chronicles like 18 Flights or a ballad like Every Storm Ends that rocks itself up in the middle. There's some prog in here too, perhaps most notably in Pull Yourself Up.

I do need to find a lyric sheet because, while Bayley is up front and clear in some songs, like 18 Flights, he's a little lower in the mix than I expected him to be on some others, especially when guitarist Chris Appleton is in full flight, like on the title track. That was a real surprise to me as, while War within Me is a fast and furious number, the band seems to be more energetic than its singer. That's not the case across the album and it's not due to any lacklustre performance by Bayley—it's just how the song was written—but that seems odd on something that presents itself as a solo album.

Now, I already knew coming in that Blaze Bayley was a talented singer. This doesn't dissuade me of a notion like that and he still sounds good but, had I known nothing about him, I might well have left in search more of Absolva than what he might have done elsewhere. They impressed me here and I have to wonder what they sound like without Bayley and with Appleton stepping up to the mike instead.

The Limit - Caveman Logic (2021)

Country: USA/Portugal
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Apr 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Here's a new band full of musicians who aren't at all new and I have no idea how to categorise them. I labelled this hard rock as a very vague catchall, and that's one obvious ingredient, but you do need to know a lot more than that. There's a lot of punk in here, some psych, some blues, some garage, some psychobilly, some post-punk. If Lemmy was looking over my shoulder, he'd just call it rock 'n' roll. What it isn't is a metal album, even with sixty per cent of the band known for their work in a couple of metal bands. And, before I rabbit on any longer, I should really introduce those musicians.

Handling vocal duties is Bobby Liebling, who's fronted American doom metal pioneers Pentagram for half a century, since they were founded in 1971. Also from the world of doom metal are two members of a Portuguese band called Dawnrider. That's Hugo Conim on guitar, which he's played in Dawnrider since that band was founded in 2004, and Joao Pedro on drums, his responsibility there since 2014. The other guitarist is Sonny Vincent, a prolific solo artist who was in an early New York City punk band by the name of the Testors; he also spent nine years on the road with Moe Tucker and Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground. That leaves Jimmy Recca on bass, best known for being an early member of the Stooges.

There's a lot to note here. For one this has serious garage rock sensibilities. It's lo-fi, but it's also well produced. They didn't just show up, plug in and press record, but the album maintains that live in the studio feel, even though the sound engineer clearly worked hard to get everything just right and the producer knew exactly how to tweak things. It's one of the most immediate and urgent recordings I've heard in a long time and that's aided by a deliberate lack of frills. Nobody's messing around ao clever things in the studio. They're just playing the hell out of their instruments.

For another, the sound is punk but the mindset feels more hard rock. This follows the rules instead of breaking them, at least for the most part. It's clean and riff driven, with guitar solos everywhere. If a song isn't specifically doing something else, Vincent is slipping in a quick solo because he can. He's all over Kitty Gone like a rash. And this makes for a fascinating mixture of two related but very different styles, both of which require this to be played loud.

The most obvious influence may be the Stooges, even though Liebling doesn't always sound like Iggy. That's certainly there at points and he finds the right snarl when he needs to, but he's not channeling any single voice. He sings his own way and only hints at another voice when the song suggests it. He's Glenn Danzig on Over Rover, which is a bizarre take on the Misfits with a doomy riff that reminded me of Atomic Rooster. There's even a spoken word section over a creeping bass and weird guitar noises.

This play with genres is fascinating. There's some Adam and the Ants in Over Rover too and it's overt at the beginning of Fleeting Thoughts, one of the snarling songs for Liebling, which he delivers with a real relish. Human vs. Nature is quintessential garage rock but it has lots of psychobilly in there too, like the band overdosed on the Tommy Gunn Theme. Enough's Enough is straight up Cream, a bluesy performance from Vincent and a dense heavy blues rock sound. Death of My Soul takes the Doors into doom rock.

I liked this a lot, even though some of these songs are predictably short, down to Life's Last Night at a mere minute and a half, even though it features my favourite line: "Lots of rope and not much hope." Six others fail to reach three minutes and only one makes it past four. There's just not much intention for anything to do more than the core of what it's supposed to do. Nobody's indulgent, even in a solo-rich song like Kitty Gone, and nobody wants to spin out choruses ad infinitum, like the Eagles and the thoughts they had about limits. I think there's only one intro here that goes beyond a foreshadowing riff and that's six seconds long.

I have no idea what audience this will reach in 2021, but it deserves to find one. It seems very much to me that they should support Alice Cooper on his next tour. It might seem odd to suggest the godfather of theatrical rock should sign up a band who I can't believe have a stage show, but they fit nicely in his recent dabblings with garage rock. The Limit could easily cover Go Man Go without it seeming out of place amidst their own songs. Of course, I have no idea at all if they're planning to tour or even record again. I hope so.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Evanescence - The Bitter Truth (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Alternative Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Mar 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I like Evanescence, even though it's not the fashionable thing to do among metal cognoscenti. What's important to note here is that I've never seen them as a metal band, even if they added some metallic crunch to their gothic tinged alternative rock sound, and that what pissed me off in their massive hit, Bring Me to Life, was the rap line they added to the chorus. Sure, it helped them crack the big time and I'm happy for that, but the demo version doesn't have that and it's better for that. Both these points have meaning here and I'll explain why.

While I've always been a little bitter that the trendy rap bit meant that Evanescence got the success that Lacuna Coil deserved, I'm not letting that thought define me for eighteen years. The reason that I mention it is because, once they broke the mainstream, they ditched that angle and it's nowhere to be found on this album. So anyone who doesn't want to hear that doesn't have to worry about it. This can safely stand or fall on its own merits, outside of any flirtations with trendiness.

Well, mostly. It became obvious pretty quickly that the best songs here are the more overt pop songs. Every time I hear Evanescence, they reinforce to me that they really don't need to the metal aspects, because it really isn't what they do. They're a damn good pop band who are still somehow pretending to be a metal band because, I don't know, it lends them street cred or something. Amy Lee has a voice that could sing metal, but that doesn't mean that they're a metal band. Don't look at them that way and they'll likely improve in your eyes.

It was Yeah Right that underlined that for me here. There are some interestingly powerful drums on Broken Pieces Shine, the first song proper after the decent intro, Artifact/The Turn, and some neatly resonant bass on The Game is Over, but these songs are heavy without ever being heavy metal. After those two, Yeah Right shone out for me with its teasing pop sensibilities. And other songs underlined it further. Wasted on You sounds to me like Emilie Autumn singing Creep by Radiohead and whatever crunch is there really doesn't matter. My brain was stripping it away and listening to the pop cover as it played.

And, as the album runs on, I found myself doing that often. Whenever a song brought in a quirky pop element, my brain automatically applied the de-crunch filter to hear what it would sound like deep in its essence. The clockwork that kicks off Better without You echoes Emilie Autumn's quirky steampop and the song should have carried on in that vein. Except the crunch shows up to hide it because that's what it's apparently supposed to do. There's a neat Kate Bush style backing vocal on Use My Voice, in different sections to the more routine woah woah one, and that should have helped shape the song, but it's mostly drowned out.

Now, there are points where the crunch works and points where the album doesn't even when it's not obvious. Far from Heaven is a musical theatre style ballad that only serves to highlight how much Amy Lee is far more comparable to someone like Lady Gaga than someone like Floor Jansen. And, after it, is Part of Me, with some decent doomy riffs that are perfect for Lee to soar over. So I wouldn't want to throw out any absolutes here, especially given that I enjoyed this album. I'm going with a 7/10 but it's worth mentioning that, as slick as this is and as obviously commercial, I still much prefer the Marianas Rest album I reviewed before this that also got a 7/10 from me. And I guess that's the bitter truth.

Marianas Rest - Fata Morgana (2021)

Country: Finland
Style: Melodic Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Mar 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

I like this album, the third from Finnish melodic doom/death metallers Marianas Rest, but I can't help but feel that I want to like it more than I do, and, after multiple listens, I'm trying to figure out why.

The band are certainly very comfortable in the genre, unsurprising given that they've been playing in it since 2013 and they're signed to Napalm Records. There are eight songs here, most of them patient and lengthy without ever becoming epics. With the exception of Horrokseen, which is a piano/cello interlude of sorts, there's only one piece here shorter than six minutes and only one other shorter than seven, but the longest, The Weight, only reaches nine and a half. That it's also the best is telling. Marianas Rest certainly know how to make a song breathe.

Initially, on opener Sacrificial with its long intro, they start out sounding like funeral doom. These are slow riffs and Jaakko Mäntymaa's voice doesn't show up for two minutes. Arguably, even though it's a clearly gothic doom/death release by that point, it doesn't really shift out of a funeral doom gear for two more, reminding even more of Paradise Lost when that happens. They do speed up at points, the shortest song, Pointless Tale, being the most obvious example, but there's a starkness to this that's a constant companion, even when at its most lushly gothic, with elegaic melodies and spoken word.

Oddly, given that I rather like this approach towards funeral doom/death, it's ironically Pointless Tale that, well, showed me the point. The music here is beautiful, if laden down with melancholy—it seems to have a lot fewer riffs than it actually does, as most of them are cunningly disguised as melodies—but Mäntymaa's voice is a little harsher than I expected, especially during his almost spoken section early in Pointless Tale and but also when he ramps up as the song runs on. There's a layer of keyboards behind him, that are enticing but utterly content to do their own thing and Mäntymaa doesn't seem too happy about it. The song feels like he's raging against a force he can't battle, like the sun coming up and that may be the key to the album.

My favourite song here is definitely The Weight. It's slow and soft and melancholy and, when it finds a crunch, it does so with a nice and achingly slow riff. Again the keyboards float around the music like a morning fog and the vocals battle it, fruitlessly in the context of the song, but with a strong effect on the overall sound of the album. I think I like The Weight the most because of the riffs. It doesn't really do anything else different to its peers here, but maybe that's enough for the intensity to build a little more effectively. It reminds a little of black metal at points, which this album mostly isn't.

There's majesty in the early build, somewhat like a processional, and Mäntymaa snarls effectively. It grows from there, with a palpable heaviness and a real sense of isolation, as if this music is echoing around the shell of an old cathedral, like the vibrato generated by a ghost choir. There's a strong timelessness to it that befits the longest song on the album. So it's a great song in a lot of ways, but maybe its riffs are what sell it. They're not disguised here, even though they're still melodic. They're out in the open and they're an anchor that I think much of the album does away with.

And so I like this a lot, but I want to like it more than I do. Every time The Weight comes around, it's an obvious 9/10 song for me but, as enjoyable as the rest is, those other songs don't do what The Weight does. Maybe it's the riffs and maybe it's something else but whatever it does they don't do and so I'm stuck with a 9/10 song on a 7/10 album that could have been 9/10. Maybe the next one will be. I want to hear it already. Fortunately, there are two previous albums, 2016's Horror Vacui and 2019's Ruins, that I can explore in the meantime.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Ken Hensley - My Book of Answers (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 5 Mar 2021
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

While it's not without its flaws, this is an interesting album and not merely because it's the final one to be released during the lifetime of Ken Hensley, who died last year at the age of 75. I think I find it fascinating because I know Hensley best as a keyboard player, most obviously for Uriah Heep back in the seventies but also for Blackfoot in the eighties and a string of others in the decades since, up to the fantastic Blind Golem album earlier this year that was my Album of the Month for January. Yet, I would say that this album focuses more on his other talents, moving as it goes from a guitar album to a vocal album.

It starts with Lost (My Guardian), an unusual mix of sixties melodies and seventies guitar, that's at its best during the weeping Hensley guitar solo in the middle. The Cold Sacrifice starts out with guitar, a riff leading into a solo, and we wonder for a while if it's going to be an instrumental. For three out of the first four, The Silent Scream starts with guitar too, though not as obviously; we know that voice is going to come in pretty quickly. In between those, Right Here, Right Now kicks off as a keyboard piece, parping away like a Europe stormer, but it calms down, the music stepping aside so that we can listen to Hensley sing.

And that's what this becomes. As the album runs on, the keyboards make themselves scarce and the guitar follows suit, albeit without ever leaving. There are a quite a few points in later songs where I'd focused so much on Hensley's voice and the words that he's singing that I kind of forgot there was any music playing behind him. This starts with Cover Girl, still in the first half, as it's voice over piano and backing that sounds as carefully absent as a house band deliberately not trying to upstage the star in front of them. There is a solo here and it's a nice one but it's almost a token in between verses so the singer can grab a swig of water.

Light the Fire (in My Heart) continues this, as if Hensley is shifting into a Dan McCafferty ballad mode, and Stand (Chase the Beast Away) is the epitome of this. It's a great song, one that I'm sure vocalists will be queuing up to sing it themselves, from Bette Midler to Tom Waits. It has a real majesty to it, a patient motion, but the primary instrument is Kensley's voice and the secondary is the backing vocals swelling behind him. There are people playing things here, but they could frankly all go away and this would stand out as a stark but effective a capella piece.

It's almost a surprise when The Darkest Hour kicks off with more weeping guitar. I say weeping, as it's used far more as emotion here than it is an instrument to be explored on its own merits. The emotion here is usually melancholy. There's a deep sadness that infuses the album, perhaps because Hensley was feeling his own mortality. This is a posthumous release, after all, and it's difficult to listen to it in any other way than as a eulogy from his own hand. It's as if he knew and stripped these songs bare to leave a simple honesty, sung from the heart, that resonates to us.

I liked this album, even though it isn't what I wanted from the man who wrote organ-driven songs like July Morning, Easy Livin' and Stealin'. It's what he wanted to make at this late point in his life and it's poignant and emotional. Thank you for all the music, Ken, whether it's Heep or Blackfoot or the more obscure albums you made way back when, with bands like Toe Fat and Weed. There's a vast catalogue to explore beyond the obvious. This is a fair coda to it.

Iotunn - Access All Worlds (2021)

Country: Denmark
Style: Progressive Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Feb 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

You might be forgiven for thinking, after a minute of the opening track, that Iotunn are a progressive rock band. The song is Voyage of the Garganey I and it sounds like they've been listening to a heck of a lot of Pink Floyd. Well, for that minute. You might also be forgiven for thinking, after another minute, that that was just an intro and they're really a melodic death metal band. Well, for that minute and a little more besides, until Jón Aldará's vocals switch completely, from death growl to clean and soaring and it's clear that they're all of these things at once and that means progressive metal above all.

Perhaps the key clue was in how clean they are when playing melodeath. They're clearly not trying for an evil death metal sound in any fashion and the result is never brutal. The production is crisp and the guitars aren't downtuned at all. There's death here, to be sure, but, if it was ever what drove Iotunn, they evolved past it. It's fair to suggest that this is a heavy album that doesn't actually feel heavy, as I was constantly drawn to the prog rock side of their sound and its constant melody often distracts from the heavinss.

Aldará has a warm death growl, so it's not too surprising to realise that his clean voice is rich too and it's effortless. He does a lot to impress with that clean voice here but he never seems to be trying too hard. He never has to stretch for notes that are sustained or comparatively high. I'd call out his voice as one of the highlights here, but another thing that's deceptive is how everyone else is a highlight as well. I listened through almost this entire album before I realised that the lack of standout moments on guitar was because the guitars, courtesy of brothers Jesper and Jens Nicolai Gräs stand out all the way through. Pick a random track and skip to a random place and their guitars will be doing something interesting.

And, once we've got past the introductory sections of Voyage of the Garganey I to get a grip on what this band actually do, their consistency takes over. Like the guitars, the songs don't tend to stand out from each other, not because they're not good enough to but because they're not bad enough too. It's quality throughout and only The Tower of Cosmic Nihility really emerged for me as a standout, even if I couldn't explain why. Going back and back, I think it's actually the riffing late on in the track that's so engaging for me, but that's not its own highlight.

These are dense songs with a lot going on in them and it's not easy to grasp what any of them do on a grand scale on a first listen. That applies for Laihem's Golden Pits, which is under five minutes long but it applies all the more as the song lengths expand. This is a generous album at over an hour and three of its seven songs exceed ten minutes: the title track, Waves Below at the heart of the album and Safe Across the Endless Night, which closes it out with almost fourteen minutes of epic composition. While I enjoyed the experience first time through, I enjoyed it a lot more on a second and each further listen has added to my understanding of what they're doing and how well they're doing it.

This is certainly a grower of an album, one to play and replay in order to fully appreciate it, but I'd say that a better way to appreciate it is to walk away for a little while, then come back and play just one of the songs. I did that with The Tower of Cosmic Nihility, being my favourite song from the outset, and it felt all the more vicious in its intro, more emphatic in its drumming and more complex in the way that it builds. It's a gem of a track. The reason this album is so good is that it's not alone. Try that with any of the other songs, especially Access All Worlds, The Weaver System and Safe Across the Endless Night and you'll get very similar results.

I have to go with an 8/10 for this, but it's still growing on me. I have to move on to other albums, but I'll be coming back to this one. They're Queensrÿche as an extreme metal band, with sides of Ultravox and My Dying Bride, and this may well end up with a 9/10.

Monday, 5 April 2021

Liquid Tension Experiment - LTE 3 (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Mar 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Wikipedia

There are multiple meanings of the word "indulgent" that get thrown around a lot. One is applied to progressive rock or metal and involves talented musicians not even attempting to write songs but just to explore their talents in musical form (which some would suggest means getting lost in their music) Hello, Tales from Topographic Oceans. Another is applied to shred, sorry, neo-classical musicians and involves them playing as many notes as is humanly possibly in any given short amount of time. A third, not so musical, meaning tends to be applied to ice cream, because you have a right to indulge yourself once in a while and rack up those calories. Screw the diet. Splurge.

Liquid Tension Experiment has always kind of been all three of these meanings simultaneously, though your mileage may vary. When I heard their debut album, back in 1998, I was blown away by how in your face it started out. I realised that Paradigm Shift was as much a portfolio as a song, the sort of piece that I could imagine played in 1973 by musicians like these who got thrown a quarter of a century backwards through a time portal invented by bass played Tony Levin (because he just has to be a mad scientist) and found themselves worshipped as gods, kind of like Deep Purple but on steroids. Or maybe the portal took them a decade further back to a point where they failed to find an audience because nobody believed they were real but they still inspired Neil Peart and Yngwie J. Malmsteen to get into music.

This third album is something of a surprise, given that the first two were released a year apart, back in the last millennium. It's been twenty-two years now, if we ignore the Liquid Trio Experiment album in 2007 that omitted guitarist John Petrucci for family reasons. This is all four of them back together and they're a seriously talented bunch. Petrucci, of course is best known for Dream Theater, just like Jordan Rudess and Mike Portnoy, even though the latter left over a decade ago. Tony Levin has been part of King Crimson for forty years now and has worked with everyone, from Peter Gabriel to Buddy Rich via Tom Waits and David Bowie. These are the exact opposite of nobodies.

So what's the new album like? Well, it's like Liquid Tension Experiment.

It kicks off with Hypersonic, which is a fresh attempt to become even more in your face than Paradigm Shift. It's eight minutes of musical insanity that will have musicians soiling themselves because, while they've finished Guitar Hero twice, they'll never ascend to this level of virtuosity and they know it. It'll either knock your socks off or leave you utterly blah because there simply isn't middle ground to find. It is what it is and you'll either adore that or be instantly bored. Now, it doesn't stay at hyperspeed, I should add, but it's never simple music.

In other words, it's emphatically music for musicians. As a kid, I loved the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, part of her Dragonriders of Pern fantasy series. It follows a young girl called Menolly who has great natural musical talent but has to flee her home because she isn't allowed to use it. Once at the Harper Hall, the teachers sit her down with sheet music of an insanely complex masterpiece that they can play together as a group, so they can gauge what she can do. She nails it absolutely and throughout, expressing her joy at how wonderful it is and can they play it again? And these teachers, highly talented themselves, just look at her because merely playing this piece, which they know, drained them and they're spent. I recount this because it's clear to me that, should Menolly find herself in the United States in 2021, Liquid Tension Experiment would become a quintet.

I like this album, as indulgent as it is. Hypersonic is so complex, we almost need to play it at half speed so our ears can keep up. Beating the Odds is slower and more emotional. Liquid Evolution is that high caloric ice cream, utterly decadent and lush, a mere three minutes long but a piece of joy, Levin's bass a warm comfort, Petrucci's guitar an exercise in restraint and the combination of drums and keyboards a jungle of sounds to envelop us. It's a magical piece, simultaneously the opposite of a song like Hypersonic and just as overtly part of what this band can do.

As different again, so's Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey, which is experimental and avant-garde. Is the cello sound coming from Levin's bass or Petrucci's guitar? It's unusual, whatever instrument is making that sound. And then it's Rhapsody in Blue, the old Gershwin standard, that hasn't ever sounded quite like this before, but is explored for thirteen minutes in jaunty ways that Emerson, Lake & Powell might have taken. Shades of Hope revolves around some soaring Petrucci guitar, while Key to the Imagination is in many ways a thirteen minute version of the album in miniature.

I'm not sure exactly when you'll be able to hear this. I've had a copy for a while but usually wait until albums are released to review them. This was supposed to be out on my fiftieth birthday last month, but I'd heard it had been pushed forward because of leaks. Now, it seems that it's been pushed back again because of printing errors in manufacturing but I could swear I saw it live on Bandcamp (which it isn't now). So maybe it's out and maybe it isn't, but I had this review ready to go so here it is. If this is your sort of thing, this is a must. I may go up a point with my rating yet.

Aleph - Kairos (2021)

Country: Poland
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 8 Mar 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Before I get into what this album does, I should point out that I believe the name of the band is simply Aleph. I'm seeing it listed a lot as Aleph א, but א is just the character aleph, the first letter in various Semitic languages, especially Hebrew. The cover only lists Aleph, so I presume the א is just decorative redundancy. While we're talking language, the album title is a Greek word for time, because they had two of them. Chronos meant the time through which we travel sequentially at the rate of a second per second. Kairos defines the right time, from the perspective of opportunity or advantage, like when a favourable omen dictates or the stars are right. I hope 8th March, 2021 is kairos for Kairos.

It's certainly a fascinating album. I came to it as psychedelic rock, which it is, but it's as often prog and even sludge metal, all woven into a heady mix that's as unusual as it is impressive. While there are an abundance of moments that conjure up comparisons, the overall feel of the album is like nothing I've heard before, which state of affairs always makes me happy. Sometimes it reminds of Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd, but it's always heavier, even at its most pastoral. There are moments when its strands drift into Hawkwind territory but it never stays there. There's sixties hippie psych experimentation in swathes but it's phrased more like a seventies hard rock album and sometimes a nineties alternative one, as a wild song like A Swarm of Dead Insects underlines.

This song is the most fascinating of all the fascinating songs here and there are seven to choose from, including the sub-minute long Intro. This one is sludgy and alternative, with staccato moments where things start and stop for effect. It has the most overtly harsh voice here, one that's partway between hardcore shout and death growl but more restrained than either. There are plenty of points where it sounds somewhat like Primus covering Pantera, which is a bizarre concept I find myself on board with. Maciej Janus's bass is very obvious, bringing Animals as Leaders to mind as well. A jazzy performance from drummer Kuba Grzywacz often finds unusual rhythms that conjure up ideas of ritual. I also love how it ends, like this swarm of dead insects devoured the Twilight Zone theme tune.

If that's the most fascinating track, the others aren't too far behind. Invert is a wonderful piece that's so vivid that what I'm imagining is probably way off the mark, but it feels to me like a race backwards in time until we find ourselves in a babbling brook as a flight of pterodactyls soar over us chattering. Quite what hunters we find ourselves running from, I have no idea. I couldn't quite see that much, but it is a very visual sort of song.

Doubt in between them is a sort of interlude before things get weird again. It's quieter and softer but organic and enticing with patterns sucking us in. That happens all the more on Whale, Pt II, the closer, which is magnificently mathematical, as if math rock was always supposed to sound like this. Patterns are everywhere here, woven together ever closer during an entirely instrumental piece that whispers past ten minutes. It's space rock and math rock in tandem and it makes me wonder just how much I've heard in the way of vocals up until now. Resistance certainly isn't instrumental, however much it feels initially like a space rock take on Tom Waits's In Shades.

This isn't an instrumental allbum but it somehow feels like it, once Whale, Pt. II wraps up. Those weird rhythms seem to mess with the passage of time, as in chronos rather than kairos, becoming bizarrely Lovecraftian. Is this what non-Euclidean means? We just had to translate it into musical terms? Where am I? I certainly feel like I've travelled to somewhere weird and wonderful and the journey was just as notable. This is refreshingly different and there's at least one previous album to explore too, even if it doesn't seem to include a Whale, Pt. I.