Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Sarmat - RS-28 (2021)

Country: Poland
Style: Black/Death Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 19 Mar 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

Many thanks to Sarmat's new lead vocalist Łukasz Kobusiński, formerly of Mortis Dei and Puki 'Mahlu, for sending over this album for review. It's a debut for Sarmat, but it's an accomplished one that does not remotely feel like a debut. Sarmat was formed in 2018 by a pair of guitarists, Daniel Szymanowicz and Krzysztof Kopczeński, both of whom have credits with other bands, Szymanowicz spending over a decade with Aggressor. I presume there are other musicians in the band beyond them and Kobusiński, though that may well be a drum machine, but, if there are, I have no idea who they might be.

Sarmat hail from Poland and I've liked a lot of what I've been hearing from that country of late, even if I'm not discerning a particular scene; the best bands I've heard so far are from all over the musical map: the folk metal of Velesar, the epic doom of Monasterium and the ever-reliable thrash/death of Vader, not to forget the prog of Fren and the hard rock of Kruk. Of those, Sarmat are closest to Vader because, while they're listed as black/death, they (especially the drums) play at a serious clip and I've heard lots of slower thrash bands lately. That black metal influence is a big one though so, if you can imagine a layer of black metal that over recent Vader, you won't be too far from Sarmat's sound.

Initially, it sounds good but also very consistent in approach. I think I was four songs into the album before I acknowledged that I'd moved to another track, the intro to Seeds of Uncertainty eventually shaking me out of that mindset. Repeat listens do allow each of these tracks to carve out its own identity from the rest but they're still very consistent in tone and tempo for quite a while, meaning that, if you like what you hear when the album kicks off, you're going to like the whole album, but, if you don't, it has no intention of converting you later on. You're either in or you're not.

The good news is that this particular tone and tempo is a decent one that gets immersive. The drums are usually very fast indeed, providing a black metal wall of sound backdrop. The guitars often play a lot slower but they're also part of that wall of sound and they speed up, adding a surprisingly bouncy feel sometimes, given the darkness inherent in the sound. The vocals are a warm death growl that's harsh but welcoming. All the playing is technical and intricate, sometimes reaching math territory on songs like Evilution. It's easy to just fall into this and let it take us places, forgetting that it's actually shifting from one track to another.

All that holds true for pretty much everything on this album, which means seven out of eight tracks, so it's very difficult to call out highlights from them. I would raise You Don't Live in My War as the exception because it takes a different approach vocally and the whole tone of the song shifts. This one feels a lot more atmospheric black than death and its both angrier and more patient. That's a tasty guitar solo late in the song that we'd usually expect to hear on a song with much slower drums. Those drums vanish entirely during the bookends too, which are an important part of this song, conjuring up a sparse but hellish landscape, with a demon serving as our guide. It's a really neat track and, if Sarmat go down the road that this suggests they should, they're going to be a damn good band.

However, it's that variety that makes this one my favourite track. While I enjoyed the album as a whole and it ought to play well to die hard black/death fans, I'd have appreciated more of that variety and, when it shows up in this track, it's obviously a better album because of it. If you're one of those die hards, please add a point to my rating because this is strong, uncompromising stuff played impeccably. If you're not, this probably isn't your best introduction to the genre and you should check out their fellow Poles Behemoth first, or other more accessible blackened death bands like God Dethroned or even Goatwhore. If you find that you dig the style, come on back to Sarmat too.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Die Krupps - Songs from the Dark Side of Heaven (2021)

Country: Germany
Style: Industrial Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 28 May 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Tumblr | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Here's another covers album, a trend that took off during COVID and will probably keep going for the foreseeable future. This is another unusual one, though, taking perhaps the opposite approach to the A. A. Williams album I reviewed last week. She took alternative rock songs and stripped them down to a vocal/piano approach, while Die Krupps here take indie pop songs and jazz them up with guitar and heavy keyboards to what could be called techno industrial.

Now, I hadn't read the track titles before diving in so I made notes about potential nods in the opener, The Number One Song in Heaven, to Enter Sandman and Walk on the Wild Side. I didn't know this song and I didn't know the one after it either, so it was the third song that got me. Hang on, I thought, isn't this Devo? Yes indeed, it's Whip It, their most famous song. And that's followed by as iconic a track as (Don't Fear) The Reaper, so I read up and discovered that it's entirely a covers album.

Now, (Don't Fear) The Reaper is melodic/hard rock but nothing else here fits that bill. There are a few other songs that tend to be played by rock radio stations, but Another One Bites the Dust wasn't ever really a rock song to begin with, even if Queen were often a rock band, and No More Heroes, originally by the Stranglers, is more obscure nowadays, even though it's still a classic. I'm not going to hear that on my local classic rock station. (Don't Fear) The Reaper is fascinating in this version, recognisable to everyone but utterly different. There's no cowbell, for a start and the famous guitar riff is turned into synths, though there is a guitar solo over the top of it.

Everything else is what I'd call pop music, albeit indie pop music rather than mainstream pop music, a note that trumps however well some of these songs did in the charts back in the day. Most of them are British and they're sourced from a very brief preiod in time. (Don't Fear) The Reaper is the earliest of these songs, dating back to 1976, and the most latest is MCL's New York, originally from 1987, but over half the songs here were released in the three year period from 1979 to 1981.

They include bands I've heard but don't know too well, like Devo, Gang of Four and Sparks, whose song opened the album, meaning that no, there's no Enter Sandman nod even if the Walk on the Wild Side one is real. I knew the Queen, of course, and I may have heard B-Movie's Marilyn Dreams, but I don't think I've even heard of the Neon Judgement, who originated the second song here, the gothy Chinese Black. I'll have to check it out, because I quite like this version. I need to know if the Sisters of Mercy vibe was there all along or if Die Krupps added it, given that the guest musician on this track is Jyrki 69 of Finnish gothic rock band 69 Eyes.

There are other guests here too and some certainly change the dynamics of the song they're guesting on. While most of this album plays in that a techno industrial vein, even (Don't Fear) The Reaper with a guitar solo from James Williamson of the Stooges, To Hell with Poverty, the Gang of Four song, has a very different vibe. The guitars totally dominate this one, thought the guest is Big Paul Ferguson, the drummer of Killing Joke. It's a very punky, anarchic version, an anomaly on this album but, with those drums, not one that seems entirely out of place. The other guest is Ross the Boss, of Manowar fame, who lends an able hand on No More Heroes, which is neatly heavy because of that.

I'm surprised at how much I liked this album and perhaps that's a nostalgia thing. I found rock music in 1984 but I'd been devouring pop music for a few years by then, reading Smash Hits and watching Top of the Pops. My idol at that point was Adam Ant, courtesy of Stand and Deliver and Prince Charming and I still listen to him often today, but I was there as the post punk era prompted the birth of a dozen new genres and I learned a lot. I certainly didn't understand how revolutionary a time it was back then but I the wide variety definitely spoke to me. It apparently spoke to Die Krupps too because they mine it well here.

Now, this isn't remotely the rabbit hole that the recent Monster Magnet covers album was, but I still plan on tracking down the songs that Die Krupps cover on this album. I'm especially intrigued by that Neon Judgement song but also the MCL, the Fad Gadget and the Gang of Four. I like discovery.

Psychotic Apes - Psychotic Apes (2021)

Country: Brazil
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 28 May 2021
Sites: Facebook

Here's a really interesting album, because it was made from a new band from Brazil who don't have a particularly wide presence on the web—I had to dig in Portuguese to find out who the members were—but it covers an wide sonic landscape. Initially, it seems like a heavy metal album, but it's a lot easier to classify it as hard rock, but even there it's rarely static, a band like Faith No More clearly being a major influence.

The heavy metal comes from the opening instrumental, Cosmic Silence, which kicks off the album with serious intent. That buzzsaw guitar reminds of Iron Maiden's Back in the Village and that's before the drumming goes all double bass and the guitar sears through a solo. Even the quieter and slower coda says metal and it seems obvious to me that one of the two guitarists is a metalhead because most of the metal here comes from one guitar, while the other one is far grungier.

As the album settles down and we find some consistency, we find a lot of grunge. The Storm kicks off in grungy style with a neat riff and what sounds like Jew's harp. The vocals are harsh and raspy but soft too, while the bass rumbles, as if these Brazilians are really a Seattle band in the early nineties trying something unusual to delineate themselves from all the other Seattle bands in the early nineties.

Much of the unusual comes in the form of intros and outros, which usually match because most of the songs here have bookends. Inside the Shadow starts bluesy with acoustic guitar and sassy maracas as if these are street musicians. The Shadow Inside starts with vocal harmonies and psychedelic guitar. Wheel of Fortune starts with a vinyl recording of Carl Orff's O Fortuna. In all instances, those sounds return much later in the song, usually to wrap them up, so, while they're notably different, they serve a similar purpose.

Just as we start to get used to thinking of the Psychotic Apes as a grunge band who like to experiment outside their genre, the songs start to diverge again. It's All About Puppets alternates between two voices, one floaty and clean but the other harsher and almost a rap, but it reminds more of a Suicidal Tendencies approach than anything from a chart rapper. This one speeds up too and that metal guitar comes back for another solo.

However, it's followed by Lovely Dirty Words, which sounds more like an acoustic Guns n' Roses ballad, like Patience. And then the album wraps with a song sharing its name with the band and the album, so I presume it's their anthem. It kicks off with ethnic rhythms and a playful bass that sets up the riff the guitars promptly take on but just as promptly avoid so that the focus can shift to the vocals that work some interesting harmonies.

Apparently, the Psychotic Apes were formed in 2019 by Ramiro Barros, one of the two guitarists, and Alax Bezerra, who's the band's vocalist. Later came Tadeu Marinho on second guitar, Miguel Dorcino on bass and Rafael Franzon on drums. Their goal is to merge grunge, metal, punk and regional music, which is exactly what they do, especially on the closer.

I'd love to hear this sound develop as they find a balance between those different styles. As it stands, grunge is easily the most obvious ingredient, with metal next and the other genres heard clearest in the bookends, but they do mix effectively in songs like Psychotic Apes and It's All About Puppets. This band just needs time (and maybe some better production) to truly find themselves because they're already interesting.

Monday, 31 May 2021

Sylvan - One to Zero (2021)

Country: Germany
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 28 May 2021
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Prog Archives | Wikipedia | YouTube

Here's another welcome discovery for me and they may be for you too. Sylvan are a progressive rock band from Hamburg who have been around in one form or another since 1990, when they were a hard rock band called Temporal Temptation. Their rename to Chameleon later that year marked their shift to prog rock and they became Sylvan in 1997, at which point they started releasing more than demos. This is their tenth album and it's a very easy one to listen to but one that also has depths should we want to dip below the surface.

I read that they're primarily neo-prog and have appropriately supported Marillion and Pendragon in their time. While this definitely sounds British in style and is sung in English, I'm hearing a lot beyond that neo-prog tag. Sure, Marillion may be the best initial comparison, albeit more the Steve Hogarth era than Fish, though there's definitely some of the latter in Unleashed Power, along with some older influences like Genesis and Camel. However, there's a lot more here than Marillion.

The excellent opener, Bit by Bit, also includes elements of post-punk and new wave. There's Ultravox in here and Gary Numan too, though musically it's harder, heavier and with a very different approach to keyboards. Ultravox show up here and there throughout, especially on the closer, Not a Goodbye. The songs in between trawl in a lot of British alternative rock too, people like Muse and Radiohead, whose lush arrangements can be both interesting and commercial. My favourite song may well be Go Viral, a more contemporary piece which adds a lot of pop and dance-oriented electronica. I'm beginning to realise just how influential Steven Wilson is.

As you can imagine from that, there's plenty of variety here but it's always approachable. In fact, it's perhaps a little too approachable. Apparently this is a concept album that explores an attempt by an AI to save the world from humans, but the concept kept sliding past me at every listen because I found the voice of Marco Glühmann so smooth that I automatically tuned into it as another instrument and not a means of delivering meaningful lyrics. He's really good at what he does, but he could easily sing synthpop or join the New Romantics without changing his tone.

Without ever managing to focus on the lyrics, I can't speak to the concept, but the songs are all good. They're also smooth enough that I'd find myself enjoying them without extracting myself far enough to take notes but enough listens through allowed me to put some thoughts down on paper. What may impress me most is how smooth Sylvan remain while changing from one focal instrument to another, even one emphasis to another. Trust in Yourself is a great example of this, as it moves from machine samples, effortlessly woven into the music, to a point that softens the song with cello and another to harden it back up with wilder electric guitar. This sounds jarring, but it's done very smoothly indeed.

It shouldn't surprise me that a band this far into their career can make something so interesting feel so effortless, especially given that none of the members are new. Glühmann dates back to Chameleon days and both keyboardist Volker Söhl and Matthias Harder on drums go all the way back to Temporal Temptation. Only bass player Sebastian Harnack joined after they became Sylvan, but he's been with them since the turn of the millennium, so he's hardly new. I should add that there's also Jonathan on guitar, but I know nothing about him at all, so can't say if he's new, old or guest.

What I can say is that the production is strong enough that we can follow each musician's contribution here easily. These songs really know how to breathe and the musicians are very good at backing away when their instrument isn't needed but stepping right back in the moment it's needed again. Oh, and that holds true whether a song runs three or four minutes, like Start of Your Life and Worlds Apart, or extends out to nine or ten, like Part of Me and Not a Goodbye. Well, the latter also runs nine, but has an unusual extra machine bit to take the album home that makes me want to read the lyrics to get on board with the concept.

I like this album a lot, though it's so smooth that I didn't realise how much I like it until maybe a third or fourth time through. It certainly makes me want to dive right into their back catalogue, though it's worth mentioning that this is Sylvan's highest rated album at Prog Archives, though they've garnered good ratings throughout their career. Now, let's get caught up so I can go and do that.

Goat Rider - Tsundere (2021)

Country: Costa Rica
Style: Black/Speed Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 May 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

I found this as a speed metal album, but it's really a cross between black and speed metal with a punk attitude, kind of like Midnight, who were quite the surprise when I saw them supporting Kreator and Obituary. They're an absolute blitzkrieg on stage and I'm guessing that Goat Rider, who hail from San José in Costa Rica, follow suit. They just don't mess around here, unless we count the intro as messing around. There are ten tracks proper here and there are as many under three minutes as over. There's a cover of a Toxic Holocaust song on their debut album, High Speed from Hell, and that fits too.

While this band are from South America, they clearly have a fondness for Japan. The album's title is a reference to a type of anime character who has two distinct moods: one cold and aloof, the other hot and temperamental. The intro is full of Japanese instruments, like kotos and shakuhachi flutes. There are songs here called Katana, Kamikaze and Hentai, not to forget Harakiri at WWII, all of which cover quintessentially Japanese topics. There are plenty of little snippets that I presume are samples which serve to underline this connection too, as does the stylistic cover art.

Musically, they're not Japanese in the slightest. The roots here are initially English, starting with the mighty Motörhead, an influence that's especially obvious on songs like Necromancer and Harakiri at WWII, the latter of which plays out rather like Orgasmatron for quite a while. Following as an obvious influence is Venom, for reasons of speed and harsh vocal delivery but also because not everything here is speed. Most of these songs don't leave the gate at 100mph and not all of them get up to that, though many do. Goat Rider would have been seen as fast and edgy had they also recorded for Neat Records in the early eighties but they're not as fast and edgy today, given what's happened in the decades between. A song like Flagellator ends up very much in Venom territory.

The eagle eyed would notice that both the bands cited above were, at least at their most influential, power trios, as are Toxic Holocaust and, on stage, Midnight. Goat Rider aren't, because they number four members, but they sound like they are because the music is generated from one guitar, one bass and one set of drums. The only way they're bucking that trend is that vocalist Anthony Umaña, or his musical nom de plume of Cvnt Deströyer, is only the vocalist and he doesn't do double duty on bass. A power trio in this genre has a very recognisable sound, with the bass as obvious as the lead guitar, as often it serves the role of rhythm guitar. A band like Bütcher, who would otherwise work as a further comparison, sound deeper and denser because they have two guitarists.

My favourite songs here are found at the heart of the album. With the Japanese connection firmly in place through the intro and tracks like Fire Rain and Katana, they show just how well they can blister on Satanic Speed Samurai, which title is a really good description of the band on this album, and just how well they can maintain that energy level while not playing incredibly fast throughout on Too Fast for You, which certainly spends much of its time very fast indeed but also slows down very effectively too for a late section. I also love the late pause, as the band wait for a single cymbal note before they enter the final stretch and dive for the line.

With the understanding that this is what it is, and it's not trying to be some higher form of art, there really isn't much negative to say. I'd have liked a thicker sound but I wouldn't suggest the production is flawed; it's just a consequence of being a power trio (plus vocalist). I'd have liked a few more songs too, because this runs a short 33 minutes, but it's kind of appropriate for the musical style. Certainly, we don't need hour long black/speed metal albums. If I want more, I should splash out for the band's debut album, which makes this one look long, given that it wraps up in under 25 minutes.

Of course, with albums running this short, Goat Rider really don't have much excuse not to knock out a fresh one every year for us to tune back in and exercise our necks for a while. This particular combo of genres is a relatively limited one stylistically, even if I really dig it, and Goat Rider have found a clever way of keeping it interesting, with samurai slashing the swords and anime girls crying out phrases still faster than the music. I'd love to see these guys live on stage too. It's only a three thousand mile drive with four borders to cross. During COVID. Yeah, maybe YouTube for now.

Friday, 28 May 2021

Gary Moore - How Blue Can You Get (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Blues
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Apr 2021
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia

Continuing in the vein of previously unreleased songs finally seeing the light, which encompasses the Cirith Ungol and Serj Tankian EPs that I've reviewed this week, here's a new album from Gary Moore, who died a decade ago. Holy crap, has it been that long? Yes, indeed: he left us on 6th February, 2011 and I remember that announcement, because Moore was one of the best blues rock guitarists of all time and, while I first heard him playing straight forward rock and later metal in the eighties, it still stuns me that so many people haven't yet discovered his talents.

It's happening. He comes up a lot on YouTube nowadays, with many commenters spreading the word of a Montreux Jazz Festival cover of Roy Buchanan's timeless The Messiah Will Come Again as being the single best guitar performance of all time. It may be or it may not be—and, if you haven't see it, you should check it out sharpish—but there's no debate around Moore being able to make a guitar speak, soar and scream like few others in history and the first couple of tracks here follow him doing exactly that. They're both covers, a six minute rendition of Freddie King's I'm Tore Down and a much shorter take on Memphis Slim's Steppin' Out, but that really doesn't matter when it comes to solos and these solos truly blister.

There are eight songs on offer here, each taken from a different era in Moore's career but all firmly focused on the blues. I believe half are originals, including some beautiful slow blues numbers. In My Dreams is quite a departure from the two openers but it's a highlight nonetheless and the vibe of the album isn't lost. Love Can Make a Fool of You is even better and that goes double for the closer, Living with the Blues, which is the longest track on the album, albeit only just, and it puts that timeframe to great use. It's fair to say that, when half the songs on this album were originally by other major artists but the best ones are yours, you're doing something really right.

If you're looking for covers, the best known song is probably How Blue Can You Get, which is obviously a B. B. King number from its opening notes, even if you don't know the original. However, it's my least favourite cover here for precisely that reason. Everything else feels like Gary Moore, even if you have a background in the classic bluesmen that he's covering, but this one can't escape its origins with B. B. The last of the four, just for reference, is Done Somebody Wrong, originally by Elmore James. I'd plump for the two openers as the cover highlights.

There's really only one downside to this album, beyond Moore not being around to promote it, and it's the remaining original, Looking at Your Picture. It's not that it's a bad song, because it isn't. However, it just doesn't work in this company. It's a brooding blues number clad in alt rock clothes and, even if it plays well in isolation, it feels emphatically out of place here, whether we're looking at style, tone or even production. I get that these songs were recorded at different times in Moore's career but seven of them fit well together and this one really doesn't.

What's most annoying is that this album would still run forty minutes with this song excised and that's how it should have been released. I guess we need to excise it ourselves. Buy the album on streaming and ditch track five. You can thank me later.

Serj Tankian - Elasticity (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Mar 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Of all the genre-hopping bands to emerge in Faith No More's wake and attain massive popularity for music that wasn't remotely mainstream, System of a Down have long been a personal favourite. They were never remotely predictable, so I always thought of them as being more akin to Frank Zappa than the other alternative media darlings of their own era. While they went away a surprisingly long time ago, their most recent albums dating back to 2005, they still seem far more imaginative and unusual than almost anyone making music today.

This EP, from System of a Down's lead singer Serj Tankian, comprises five tracks written for System of a Down but never recorded or released by them, similar to the Cirith Ungol EP I reviewed yesterday, but not quite so old. Apparently the members of the band couldn't agree on how the songs should unfold for a theoretical new album so Tankian took care of them himself. While they're a mixed bag, there's some fascinating material here and it's often neatly heavy. Oh, and while it's my second "alternative" review this week but it couldn't be any more different from the A. A. Williams covers album if it tried.

My favourite tracks are the bookends, but stretched a little to include the second with the first.

Elasticity opens up with another of Tankian's patented vocal trips that are well known to all System of a Down fans. He's a wildly versatile singer and, even when he seems to be failing utterly at scansion, he somehow gets all the words he needs into the lines and in memorable fashion. It's a unique form of delivery and that's even before he adds the weirdness the he does in the verses here. The song itself is actually rather a sedate alternative rock song for much of its running time but it's unforgettable because of what he's doing with his voice.

Your Mom is a title that makes sense in a Zappa-esque way once you've heard the whole song, but it's odd for a long time, because it's a vehemently anti-religious extremism song, if not anti-religion, with lyrics that tell a simple story in complex words, like the best of Tim Minchin: "The embedded hypocrisy fighting autocracy with an army of convenience" is merely how the song starts. And, of course, there's a particularly haunting section delivered with a catchy hook: "Butchering, raping, killing and burning, brutally beheading your enemies. What kind of retarded promises have led you to these prophecies?"

What else Your Mom does is combine ethnic music from the middle east with the alternative rock and metal musical base of the song. There's not as much of that here as I expected but, when it does show up in songs like this one, it's noteworthy. I expected some of this on Electric Yerevan, which closes out the EP, given that Yerevan is the capital of Armenia, but it goes in different musical directions, heavy riffs combining with wild electronica. The song ends up almost with a Dead Kennedys vibe to it, which shouldn't surprise as much as it does, given how Jello Biafra and Serj Tankian are similarly outspoken on politics and similarly acerbic in how they do so.

In between these three songs are a couple more that aren't as memorable but aren't weak. Rumi is a personal song, I expect, given that it's the name of Tankian's son, and How Many Times? is capable in what it does, but it just doesn't stand out in this company. These aren't weak songs, so if you're one of those people who misses System of a Down and wishes that they'd get back together for more than a charity single, this is pretty much what you've been waiting for. I wish it was longer and I wish that its songs were more consistent in quality, if not in style, but there are two killers here and another that you won't forget in a hurry. That ought to be enough for now.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Cirith Ungol - Half Past Human (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 28 May 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Twitter

When Cirith Ungol returned last year with an album of all new material almost thirty years after they had split up, I was impressed with the music but also at how far back they go. I always thought of them as an early eighties heavy metal band, but they were formed in 1972 and just didn't release an album until 1981. As they were American rather than British, hailing from Ventura, California, the influences that drove them weren't what drove the NWOBHM bands playing in a similar style over on the other side of the pond. They came out of the early days of heavy metal, taking the core Black Sabbath sound in a very different direction.

Well, they seem to be eager to release new material, even given the constraints of COVID, so they've put this EP together and it's an interesting one because it's new material to us but not to them. These are songs that date all the way back to the early days of Cirith Ungol, but only two have ever seen the light of day before and even then not in widespread form. Route 666 was included on their 1978 demo, known as The Orange Album, but it appears here in a longer version. Brutish Manchild was first heard last year on a flexi-disc that was stuck to the cover of issue #187 of Decibel magazine.

So here they are on a full release, along with a couple of others, all four of which are re-recordings of older songs we've never heard before, unless perhaps we saw Cirith Ungol live in the seventies, which isn't going to be a heck of a lot of us, and, even if we did, we're not likely to remember much. It's been a long time. I remember loving Nuclear Abomination, a song that Paradise Lost played live back in the early days for them of 1988 and 1989 but never recorded because they apparently hated it, but I don't remember at all what it sounded like.

Modern production means that these songs sound fresh, but they're clearly a portal into a long gone era that feels more authentic because it isn't a young band trying on an earlier style; it's the actual band who wrote these songs back then. I wonder how different they are in these versions to the ones back in the day. Route 666 feels the oldest, but the guitar duel in the middle sounds utterly fresh and may well be new. Shelob's Lair is built on simple but effective riffs right out of the Sabbath playbook, one so reminiscent that it feels a little too close, so it's very seventies.

Brutish Manchild feels more recent, not least because it gets very Iron Maiden in the middle, but the core of it is still that seventies heavy/proto-doom style that's all Cirith Ungol and feels like it could be an influence on bands like Manowar and Twisted Sister. Remember how heavy the latter were on their first album? If not, check out Destroyer. This isn't light years away from some of the songs on Under the Blade until it turns into a Maiden guitar duel, because it's heavy but melodic, simple but effective and raucous but accessible.

And that leaves Half Past Human itself, which is the epic that wraps up the EP. It's almost seven and a half minutes long, so naturally features a quiet intro and it's less overt and more exploratory. When it builds, it does so with a Viking-esque choral backing that so many bands would adopt in order to have this epic feel. I like it and it reminds me that there's so much I don't know about the American bands of this era. Being British and having deep dived into rock and metal in 1984 when I found out it existed, I'm well versed in the British equivalents but, while I had Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road albums back in the day, among others, I surely still have a lot to learn. That's part of why this is so much fun to me.

What will surprise British listeners like me are the vocals of Tim Baker. Everything else kind of makes sense, even though it differs from the British style. There's Sabbath in here, along with other proto-metal bands, and there's Judas Priest in here too, but Baker has a very in your face vocal style. There are calmer moments, because he doesn't stay in the same place throughout, but it's definitely a voice to get used to. I like it, because it makes Cirith Ungol stand out from other similar bands and it serves as a real middle finger in the face of rock radio. It's not unpleasant; it's just attitude personified, not punk but with the same effect in a controlled metallic way, and it might take a little getting used to. If you can do that, then welcome to the wonderful world of Cirith Ungol!