Tuesday, 19 January 2021

John Diva and the Rockets of Love - American Amadeus (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Glam Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Wikipedia | YouTube

John Diva is new on me, so I'm not sure quite what to think. On the face of it, this is a decent album, a trip back to the hair metal of the eighties and occasionally the glam rock of the seventies that laid its foundations. It's playful but varied and highly competent, well worth your hard earned cash. However, dig just a little into his background and you can't fail to see how tongue in cheek everything is. I have to say that I laughed aloud at the band history on his website, but it raises a serious question...

Are we supposed to take John Diva and the Rockets of Love seriously or treat them like another Steel Panther? For instance, is Soldier of Love neatly commercial single material or a jokey attempt to take the Desmond Child writing style and mimic a mid-eighties Bon Jovi song? Is Weekend for a Lifetime a modern day hair metal manifesto a little south of LA or a translation of Rebecca Black's Friday, as by a mid-eighties Alice Cooper?

That those songs work well as both their options explains to us how capable this band is, even if we're supposed to buy into drummer Lee Stingray being a former NASCAR driver or bassist Remmie Martin being a Frenchman preparing his own beauty line. The last time I heard a metal album full of so many overt takes on other artists, it was the Lordi album a year ago and that was actually structured like an imaginary collection of songs from different eras that was introduced by an imaginary DJ.

Maybe this isn't quite as overt as that one, but it's not far off. Voodoo, Sex and Vampires starts things off sleazy in Hanoi Rocks style, though there is a wild moment when it drops into bluegrass. After Bon Jovi and Alice Cooper, we find other major names like Mötley Crüe on Wasted (In Babylon), Poison on Drip Drip Baby and the Scorpions on This is Rock 'n' Roll. It's notable that Diva's vocals change just as often as the songs do, to the degree that he could be accused of doing impressions. He even puts on a German accent for the Scorpions song and an English one to become David Bowie on Movin' Back to Paradise.

That lessened the album for me. I'm not listening to find out how good Diva is at accents; I'm looking for quality music. Sometimes, though, the band escape the gimmickry and turn out something that's just good on its own. Here, that's the title track, which is slick and emphatically commercial hard rock with a catchy chorus and its own gimmick rather than someone else's. There are hints of violins, opera and harpsichord to play into that, not to forget a nod to Falco's Rock Me Amadeus. It really shouldn't work, but it does.

So, while this is very capably done, I'm going to drop my rating to a 6/10. If you're OK with the joking around, add a point back to that. I have no idea who the real musicians are behind these wacky names are—Snake Rocket, J. J. Love, Remmie Martin and Lee Stingray—let alone John Diva himself, but they are all very good indeed at this, even if the inevitable power ballad turns out to be soporific. At least it's at the end of the album, where we can skip it and start over again. OK, who's up for some more voodoo, sex and vampires?

Onslaught - Generation Antichrist (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 7 Aug 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

While enthusing about the return to the studio of major old school UK thrash bands like Acid Reign, Xentrix and Virus over the past couple of years, I somehow completely failed to notice that Onslaught also released a new album. In fact, I hadn't even noticed that they reformed in 2004 and issued three studio albums to sit alongside the original three I know well. Onslaught were a special thrash band, as heavy as any the UK produced and with a particular talent for songwriting. I loved Power from Hell but The Force sat among the key steps forward for the genre in 1986.

The band today is very different from the band back then, though the 2004 reunion did include three of the five members from before their split in 1991, along with a return for Sy Keeler who sang on The Force. Keeler remained until 2020 but left before this album was recorded, meaning that this features founder member Nige Rockett and four musicians who never featured in any pre-split line-up. Bassist Jeff Williams has been on board since 2006 but the others only joined in the past few years.

The good news is that they still sound damn good. Once we get past the radio dial intro, the sound on Rise to Power is slow and heavy but ever building and, when Strike Fast Strike Hard starts, we're up to full speed and attitude. Onslaught came out out of the British punk scene and this is a great example of British punk-enthused thrash, with precision playing under blistering attitude. In fact, there's only one better exmple that springs to mind and that's Religiousuicide, later on this album.

I should point out that the band's sound here is right up my alley. It's fast and heavy, slowing down to the midpace now and again but never staying there, because this is the sort of thrash to utterly clean out your system, leaving you both knackered and refreshed. The riffs are strong and incessant, with an impressive drum sound pounding them onward and an audible bass backing them up. The vocals, from new fish David Garnett, are fundamentally clean and intelligible but they're infused with attitude and they're willing to slide just a little into harsh for emphasis.

What struck me most, beyond the fact that this new Onslaught sound excellent, is that these are often shorter songs than I expect from them. There were only seven tracks on The Force because they tended to be in the six or seven minute range. In Search of Sanity was more varied but not shorter. Since they got back together in 2004, the songs have been more likely to run four or five minutes and this album follows in that vein. In fact, there are more songs here under four minutes than over it, if we exclude the bonus track on the Japanese edition, a rework of In Search of Sanity which outstrips the longest other song by a full minute.

While I miss the dynamics and growth that Onslaught's longer songs allowed, these shorter ones play with more urgency. That's aided by the surprising fact that there are more lyrics than there used to be and the lines are shorter. This is a punchier and more succinct Onslaught than I'm used to, but with a similar weight to their sound. By the way, those lyrics aren't as Satanic as they used to be, even given the album's title, but continue to rage against society.

I can take or leave the intro, Rise to Power, but everything else here is strong. Some songs stood out to me immediately, not just punkier songs like Strike Fast Strike Hard and Religiousuicide but a more thoughtful title track too; it's the longest and most old school song here, with Empires Fall following it in both respects. However, other songs stood out on a second listen and still more on a third. There are no bad songs here.

In fact, to call out a negative, I'd have to dig deep and suggest that the solos don't feature as much of a punch as they should because they're buried a little deeper in the mix than I'd like. Even running as short as three and a half minutes, there's time in Religiousuicide for some blistering solos but they're a little suppressed by the mix. Does that spoil the album? Not at all, though it would be a better one had that minor issue been addressed.

So, thank you to Dallas Falvo in the Thrash 'em All Till Death! group on Facebook for making me aware of this return. It's a real peach, right up there with the new Acid Reign album from the end of 2019. All hail the return of classic British thrash metal!

Friday, 15 January 2021

Fractal Generator - Macrocosmos (2021)

Country: Canada
Style: Atmospheric Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Twitter | YouTube

This is going to sound weird, but I found myself sold on this death metal band from Ontario for a very odd reason. Sure, the opening track is fascinating, enough that I repeated it three times before continuing. It combines fast, often black metal drums, with rough death growls for vocals. There are a few symphonic elements, with a choral atmosphere in the chorus. There are some neat textures that I presume are keyboards and electronic effects, though I don't see anyone credited for those. All of this works really well, forging a recognisable identity for the band.

But there's a riff that's so overtly "I'm just a poor boy from a poor family" from Bohemian Rhapsody that it ought to have just killed this song (and probably the album too) for me. It didn't. So I'm sold.

I'm calling this atmospheric death metal because the death metal overshadows all the black elements and the textures behind the songs are always atmospheric, even when they're symphonic, but I'm not happy with the label because there's a lot of diversity to this band. They're progressive at points and downright experimental at others, perhaps epitomised by the fact that the musicians are credited by long numbers.

That's 040114090512 on drums, for instance, even though his name is Dan Favot and he usually goes by Vesper in other bands. I presume bassist and vocalist 040118180514 is a relative of his, given that he's Darren Favot, even if he went by Fraust when they were both members of a melodic black metal outfit called Wolven Ancestry. And, on guitars and vocals, there's 102119200914, who usually goes by his real name of Justin Rienguette. I don't know where these numbers come from, whether they're taken from the cubes they sat in after being abducted by aliens or their passwords to PornHub. I'd love to know.

Looking up what these folk have done suggests that there's quite the busy scene in Sudbury, one that also seems rather incestuous, given that everyone seems to have played in a band with everyone else, each playing a slightly different style. I wonder if that's why Fractal Generator sound so interesting. I should look into who else is playing out of Sudbury nowadays.

The catch to this interesting sound is that, while it's built out of some admirable variety, it keeps the same admirable variety throughout rather than continuing to mix it up in different ways. Maybe the symphonic elements show up less as the album runs on and the electronic sounds show up more. They certainly seem more overt on Chaosphere and there's a neatly weird opening to Shadows of Infinity, a sort of alien grind that leads into guitar and an underlying choral element that's eerie like a György Ligeti piece. The whole piece also breaks completely apart at 1:35 as if it's sucked by some wild energy source through the portal on the cover art into somewhere else, where it kicks back in unabated.

It's innovative enough that I'm not sure who to compare it to. I'm leaning towards a more brutal take on Blood Incantation with a heavy side of Voivod. Certainly, there's a science fiction feel in place of a more typical horror feel for the genre. There's nothing here to suggest that we're listening to demons perform on that popular stage that floats on the lake of fire, even though the vocals aren't unusual in the death metal genre. It's not just the cover art and song titles that make us feel like we're visiting a bleak alien planet or we're stuck on the way somewhere in the endless void. It's inherent in the music, in the textures and electronic elements and a less organic and more artificial taste to the bass.

This is only a second album for Fractal Generator in thirteen years of existence, after 2015's Apotheosynthesis, but I hope to see many more and a lot more frequently. But hey, Sudbury's clearly a busy scene. I ought to see what else these guys and their many current and former colleagues in other bands are doing.

Wobbler - Dwellers of the Deep (2020)

Country: Norway
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 23 Oct 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Prog Archives

I've said a few times during the past year that 2020 was a flagship year for prog rock and the year end lists reflect that. I'm seeing a lot of the same names: names of long-standing like Fish, Pendragon and Kansas, along with newer ones like Pattern-Seeking Animals, Arabs in Aspic and Gazpacho. At least one is new to me but not perhaps to many and that's Pain of Salvation. Always floating around the top, if not at the very top of these lists is this album, the fifth from a Norwegian symphonic prog band with a rather odd name, Wobbler.

I've listened to this a lot today and it's clearly the work of incredibly talented musicians. I had a blast with it and I have no problem giving it an 8/10 and adding it to my highly recommended list. But... in the end, there was a serious problem that I couldn't get past and it's relatively easy to describe.

The runner up for my 2020 album of the year (not just prog album of the year, but album of the year) was Solstice's Sia and, if you listen to that, you'll hear music easily identifiable as Solstice. Duh, I hear you say, but that continues across all the other great prog albums I heard last year. The Kansas album sounds like Kansas, the Pendragon album sounds like Pendragon and the Fish album sounds like Fish. This Wobbler album, on the other hand, sounds like Yes, merely with a new vocalist they slipped on us while we weren't paying attention.

There are other influences here, but we have to listen carefully to catch them. There's some ELP early in the fourteen minute opener, By the Banks. There are moments of Genesis here and there, especially in Naiad Dreams. I see a lot of reviewers bringing up Gentle Giant, but I'm not familiar enough with them to follow suit. But this is Yes, constantly and consistently. It's Yes during the delightfully quiet moments in Five Rooms. It's Yes later on the same song when they ramp up to a more emphatic speed, with all the instruments overt, like the parts of Roundabout where everyone seems to be playing lead at once.

So I'm a little disappointed that five highly acclaimed albums haven't yet got Wobbler to the point of defining their own sound, rather than playing someone else's, however masterfully. I have to say that I'm also a little disappointed that this is so quintessentially English. Sure, that's where the genre had its origin and all the top fifteen rated albums of all time at Prog Archives are English, but Animals by Pink Floyd, which is the most recent of them, came out in 1977. The genre has moved on.

I'm hardly well versed in the Norwegian scene but I know enough to know that there is one and it's an especially vibrant one. Motorpsycho are amazing and every time I find another new example, whether it be rock bands like Mantric, Magic Pie or Mythopoeic Mind (or others who don't begin with M, like Kanaan), or metal (or former metal) bands, like Enslaved, Leprous and Green Carnation, it's somehow a level up on whatever else I've been listening to that week. So I wish Wobbler were more Norwegian, as if I know enough to know what that means. I'm overdue checking out keyboard player Lars Fredrik Frøislie's other band, White Willow. Maybe they're what I'm looking for here.

Like Wobbler's previous album, From Silence to Somewhere, which was as well received by critics and fans, this features four pieces of music, two really long and two not so much. This time the shortest is a four and half minute piece that often goes acoustic, Naiad Dreams. The dynamic play is impressive, all the more so given the scant length of the piece, so you can imagine how much more there is going on in a song like Merry Macabre, whose nineteen minutes close out the album.

It's fair to say that I need to listen to this a lot more than just the dozen times I've probably played it today. It's grown on me considerably already and I have a lot of depths still to explore. However, it's a decision to choose to do that. I didn't have to make that decision with the new Solstice or Pendragon or Motorpsycho. For them, it was just a given and I think it's because I know who those bands are and I'm not sure I know who Wobbler is yet. Except Yes.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Alex Beyrodt's Voodoo Circle - Locked & Loaded (2021)

Country: Germany
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2021
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

If you don't know the name, Alex Beyrodt is the current guitarist in German power metal band Primal Fear, as he's been since 2011, but he founded Voodoo Circle three years before that with Primal Fear's bass player, Mat Sinner, who's also still the main man in Sinner, a band that's now forty years young. I should emphasise that, if you're expecting a similar heavy sound to those two, you'll be disappointed, as this is their side band which allows them explore their hard rock influences.

This is their sixth album and it's a reunion of sorts, as it marks a return for David Readman, the band's original vocalist, who left in 2016 but came back to the fold this year, as did Markus Kullmann, after a six year gap as their drummer. All these folks are busy elsewhere, Readman best known for singing for Pink Cream 69 since 1994 and Kullmann the current drummer in Sinner. I'm starting to get the feeling that there's a massive house somewhere in Esslingen shared by twenty musicians who, between them, comprise about thirty different bands in many permutations.

I have to wonder what Voodoo Circle would sound like without Readman, because he puts on his very best David Coverdale impression throughout. Wikipedia tells me that Beyrodt's hard rock influences included Deep Purple, Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen, in addition to the one that simply cannot be avoided, which is Whitesnake. Almost everything here is Whitesnake, though it's a neat cross between the old bluesy Whitesnake and the later slick multi-platinum Whitesnake.

The guitars are metallic, far more like Adrian Vandenberg than Bernie Marsden, except on This Song is for You, which is the other way around (with some Carlos Santana for good measure). The vocals are bluesier, though, and the flow is melodic and commercial without feeling like it's always pandering to American radio. I like the balance, especially on songs like Magic Woman Chile, with an quiet and overtly bluesy section and the overlay of gospel-infused backing vocals that wrap it up. Only occasionally do the band ramp up a MTV video vibe and knock out songs like Straight for the Heart or Trouble in the Moonlight.

The band seem like they're having a lot of fun here and they'd be fantastic in a small venue, especially playing funky rockers like the title track that, at points, brings to mind both artists as diverse as Vow Wow and Lenny Kravitz. These are momentary, though, as there's only one song that doesn't end up a candidate for a Whitesnake album and that's Devil's Cross, which sounds like Coverdale guesting on a keyboards heavy nineties Black Sabbath track. Well OK, there's also a Purple-esque intro to Children of the Revolution, but then it goes back to Whitesnake.

There are no poor songs here, though a few of them do play far too happily in the hall of clichés. Eyes Full of Tears is full of clichés and Straight for the Heart is as unoriginal lyrically as the title suggests. It wasn't difficult to visualise Tawny Kitaen in the video for Trouble in the Moonlight when Readman sings, "Bad girls keeping out of trouble in the moonlight." Then again, it's hard to find a Whitesnake song that doesn't feel lyrically clichéd, so I should praise the songwriters for coming up with variants like Magic Woman Chile and Devil with an Angel Smile.

At the end of the day, this is what is. These musicians are consummate professionals and they do their job very well indeed but, if you're not looking for veteran European power metallers channelling the Whitesnake obsession of their youth into a side band, they're not going to convince you. If you're on board with the idea, this is pretty damn good.

Pallbearer - Forgotten Days (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 23 Oct 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter

Doom metal doesn't tend to be a particularly fashionable subgenre when it comes to critics who write year end lists, but Pallbearer were all over them in 2020 like a rash. They didn't just make six lists that I'm tracking, they made two top fives, including a #4 at Consequence of Sound, just above AC/DC. This is their fourth album and it initially took me aback because it didn't sound like how I expected it to.

I'm used to doom metal being slow, heavy and clean. From the opening title track, Pallbearer clearly have slow and heavy down, but Joseph D. Rowland plays a dirty bass and it all grows out of feedback. This is doom with nods to stoner rock and doom/death, genres that I've never seen mentioned in the vicinity of the Pallbearer name. Maybe that's because there's no attempt whatsoever to venture into the psychedelia that stoner rock so often flirts with and Brett Campbell's vocals remain stubbornly clean and plaintive and never attempt anything harsh.

The dirty sound persists though, so much so that a minute into Riverbed, when it vanishes for effect, Pallbearer sound like a completely different band, only Campbell's unchanged vocals linking us back to what came before. Initially, I thought he was being a little overwhelmed by the music, but the mix favours him more as the album runs on. Overall, he does a fantastic job at making his presence known and, in fact, his sustained notes are a major part of why this sounds epic. Maybe the title track is just that anomalous a Pallbearer song.

It took me a while to get into this album, perhaps because of how abrasive that first song is. I have no issue with abrasive, but being abrasive on an opener that also happens to be a title track sets a sort of expectation that simply isn't met by everything else here. Riverbed was more engaging, but Stasis is perhaps the weakest song here, so I wasn't impressed by the time I got to Silver Wings, the only track here to match an epic style with an epic length—it exceeds twelve minutes but the average otherwise is under half that.

Silver Wings made me pay attention, as it has a lot of time to breathe. The first minute and a half fare well enough but it really kicks in at that point, dropping into a minimalist section but transitioning back to heavy in a simply gorgeous manner. This is as slow as this album gets and the melancholy just drips off the amplifiers. There's doom/death here too, as there's an early Paradise Lost feel to some of the instrumental sections.

It's after that that I really found myself on board the Pallbearer train. The Quicksand of Existing has a real weight to it. It's not just heavy in the traditional sense of downtuned instruments and a crushing taste in riffs. It's heavy in the sense that the song feels like a leaden overcoat; I had to force myself to sit up straight while I was listening to this one! It's a bouncy sort of doom as well, Campbell refusing to be lost under the weight of the fuzzy backdrop. Vengeance & Ruination is bouncy doom too, again without ever losing its brutal weight. Can we call it doom 'n' roll? I'm sure I wouldn't be the first.

Those two songs, accessible but emphatically heavy, would be my favourites here if Pallbearer hadn't finished up with Caledonia, which is a lovely song. It starts out deceptively soft, with a bass shorn of its fuzz and infused with liquid, and some delightfully patient guitarwork from Devon Holt and Brett Campbell. Those guitars continue to delight throughout, highlighting how bluesy the band can get, not just how heavy. I'd say that this one walks a more conscious balancing beam between delicacy and doom. It's the highlight of the album for me.

So, yet again, I'm a little disappointed in an album that made multiple end of year lists, but I'm still happy that I've now heard this and I look forward to Pallbearer's fifth. It promises much.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Juggernaut - La Bestia (2021)

Country: Brazil
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 Jan 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

What should I review after something as deep and immersive as Neptunian Maximalism? How about a thrash album from Brazil, especially one that gets wacky enough to cover something as deeply uncool and safe as Starship's We Built This City to wrap it all up? Yeah, I'll go with Juggernaut's third album, their first in a decade and only their third since they got together in 2005. By the way, We Built This City doesn't work like this, though it does work much better than many of the other thrash covers of pop songs I've been hearing lately. I can't fault them for being ambitious!

Fortunately, the rest of it is much better and there's half an hour or so of original music before we get to the cover. Juggernaut play their thrash fast and vicious with a Teutonic flavour to it that goes well beyond Cicero's raspy voice and heavily accented English. Célio Jr.'s riffs and guitar tone remind very much of Destruction, though there's perhaps inevitably some old Sepultura here too. It seems clear to me that they've been paying a lot more attention to German bands than American ones and I'll never see that as a bad thing. It tends to leave a more evil feel to proceedings and it does that here.

It also means that Célio Jr. plays in a technical style, without ever seeming to show off. Hollow Surface may feature the most dominant guitar I've heard in a long while that isn't soloing. His riffs are always rooted in melody and they're full of those patented Destruction flourishes. Also, just like Schmier, the bass of Fabrício Duwe [edit: Célio tells me that the bass here is by Valda, who kept that role from 2009-2020, but left the band after the album was finished] is audible and easily trackable throughout the album and there are moments to shine for him; he's very obvious on Man of a Thousand Faces, for a start. Alefer Reinert completes the line-up behind a very reliable drum kit. However fast he gets, it always feels comfortable, suggesting a ramp up from crazy fast to crazier fast wouldn't be a problem for him.

While the album title is in Portuguese, Cicero sings in English throughout, though I didn't catch too many of the lyrics. From the titles, it looks like they follow the usual social commentary approach for thrash; nothing stood out for me except the title of the opener, which in Cicero's accented English is more like Terror Isis Squid than Terror Isis Squad, giving it a surreal nature. No doubt it'll turn into a new Alestorm album title! There is an exception, the title track, delivered in the band's native tongue of Portuguese [edit: Célio tells me it's in both Portugese and Spanish]. Apparently, the band have never done that before and have wanted to for a long time. It works well for me and it certainly feels a little more natural for them.

The most obvious downside to this album is that the seven original tracks all unfold in the same style with similar success. I might favour Puppets of Society and Hollow Surface right now, but I might shift my favour to Man of a Thousand Faces and La Bestia on another listen. Consistency is never a negative but it doesn't have to preclude variety and there's not a lot of that here.

Of course, the most obvious upside to this album is that all seven of those tracks are delivered with a passion and energy that's infectious, even through speakers on my desk. I'd love to see these guys live to see how crazy their pit gets. Given that Blumenau apparently celebrates Oktoberfest and features a Beer Museum (now I get the German connection!), even though it's in southern Brazil, halfway up the coast from Porto Alegre to São Paulo, I'd guess that the fans tend to knock a few back and then hit the pit to burn off their energy. I'm sure it's a heck of a show.

I liked this a lot, but it apparently took COVID-19 to force Juggernaut into the studio to record their third album; I haven't heard the previous two—though I'll be searching them out now—but they say that the production and technical quality has improved since then. I just hope that it doesn't require another global catastrophe to get them back into the studio again in a couple of years time. I may be a little premature but I want to hear more from this band.

Neptunian Maximalism - Éons (2020)

Country: Belgium
Style: Jazz Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Neptunian Maximalism only made two end of year lists that I'm looking at, at Pop Matters and Treble Zine, but they were high in both of them and they sounded so wild that I had to check them out (and a record label that they record for too—I, Voidhanger—named for a Darkthrone track, who release what they describe as "obscure, unique, and uncompromising visions from the metal underground.") That does fit this release, which is metal, I think, though it's jazz first and foremost.

It's a rather daunting release, a triple album of experimental music from Belgium running two hours and ten minutes and covers Bandcamp tags as wildly diverse as "dark ambient", "drone metal", "free jazz", "heavy psych", "stoner metal" and "tribal", among others. The band include two drummers and one saxophonist, with Guillaume Cazalet covering everything else: bass, guitar, sitar, flute, trumpet... whatever he can find, it seems. Its press claims that it's the "quintessential mystical and psychedelic journey of 2020." Even having already reviewed the Oranssi Pazuzu album, I'm not going to argue.

What I will say is that, as wild as this is, and it does indeed dip deep into free jazz, it felt surprisingly accessible to me. Tribal drumming and pixie-like saxophone render the first two pieces of music lively, engaging and shockingly organic. Sure, Lamasthu slows things down to paint a sonic picture of a trip through Hell itself, dark and eerie from the outset but all the more eerie as the layers peel away with us left in near silence, punctuated only by demonic voices. At least that's what I heard. Its full title is translated from the French to Lamasthu: Seeder of the Primordial Fungal Kingdom and Infanticide of Neogene Monkeys. And yes, there's definitely some Ummagumma weirdness here, but this is heavier and freer and jazzier.

These titles do offer clues as to what's going on, or at least to what we ought to be thinking about as they play. These opening songs comprise a six track cycle called To the Earth. The full title of part one is To the Earth: Daiitoku-Myōō no ōdaiko 大威徳明王 鼓童—L'Impact de Théia durant l’Éon Hadéen, which includes three languages and two scripts: English, Japanese and French. So let's figure out what all that means.

The "odaiko" is the largest drum in a taiko performance of Japanese drumming; this one belongs to Daiitoku Myōō, one of the five Great Light Kings of Esoteric Buddhism. Google Translate tells me the kanji translate from the Japanese to Yamantaka Kodo, but Yamantaka happens to be a Sanskrit name for Daiitoku Myōō. Kodo has a double meaning: both "children of the drum" and "heartbeat", which is the primal source of all rhythm. The French means "The Impact of Théia during the Hadean Aeon", referring to an ancient planet that may have collided with the Earth 4.5 billion years ago, so creating our moon.

So we're delving into Japanese mythology and archeoastronomy. Nganga brings in African culture in primal times, the title belonging to a spiritual healer, and Lamasthu Mesopotamian, as she's the most terrible of all female demons. Ptah Sokar Osiris is an Egyptian composite funerary deity, while Enūma Eliš is the Babylonian creation myth. Clearly, there's a lot of birth and death here. We're also running through billions of years: two supereons, at least five eons and mere periods like the Carboniferous. What are Neptunian Maximalism telling us in this grand sweep of history and mythology?

Well, I'm glad you asked! "By exploring the evolution of the human species," the band "question the future of the living on Earth, propitiating a feeling of acceptance for the conclusion of the so called 'anthropocene' era and preparing us for the incoming 'probocene' era, imagining our planet ruled by superior intelligent elephants after the end of humanity." So there you have it. I think I need notes. It's all ritual, but it's heavily researched, multi-cultural, multi-mythological ritual that's explored in fascinating style.

To the Moon encompasses the next six pieces of music, with three of those being about Vajrabhairava, a third name for Daiitoku Myōō/Yamantaka, this time the name used in Tibetan Buddism. The reason why Yamantaka is important is because he destroyed Yama, the God of Death, thus stopping samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, which is the goal of the journey towards enlightenment. I guess if you're going to go with a concept, it's worth making it a deep one. I couldn't name one deeper than this.

Oddly for such a desirable goal, Zâr is doomier in nature with a lot more cymbals in play, aspects that continue throughout this suite. While much of this feels theatrical, the initial part of Vajrabhairava, The Summoning, is especially evocative. It seems like it should be performed live while demons roam the stage, speaking to us in dark voices. The final part, Oi Sonuf Vaoresaji!, is thoroughly theatrical as well, initially an assault of percussion, mostly sticks banging against each other rather than drums. It feels like there's an associated dance that I'm missing. Even when it calms down, it still feels like it's a soundtrack to something visual.

The third part of Vajrabhairava is the one that spoke to me, The Great Wars of Quaternary Era Against Ego. It's chaotic free jazz for a while, until the emergency of a driving trance-inducing riff that sounds like it's played on bass and emphasised by percussion. It persists but so does the chaos, like we're here to witness the age-old battle between chaos and order in microcosm.

That leaves four pieces of music to constitute To the Sun and they're generally longer and much more patient. With the sole exception of the previous track, Oi Sonuf Vaoresaji!, Eôs, the first part of To the Sun, is twice as long as anything thus far, at eighteen and a half minutes. It takes its time, pitting that exploratory saxophone of Jean Jacques Duerinckx against a set of dark textures, sans any percussion, and, when it evolves, it does so into a commanding presence, as if this were an avant-garde opera. The latter part of the song gets all trippy and psychedelic.

I'm not as fond of To the Sun generally. It doesn't seem to have as much purpose to it, Heliozoapolis a fifteen minute jumble of hesitant jazz drumming, sitar noodling and ambient spirituality. It does end well for me, but it's easily my least favourite piece of music here and the rest of To the Sun pales when compared to To the Moon and especially To the Earth.

But hey, given how generous this release is, it's still at least a full album more originality than most albums can boast and I'm comfortable giving it a solid 8/10. The best music here is easily worthy of the highest ratings I give out. Now, I need to come back down to Earth for whatever I can follow this with.