Friday, 13 December 2019

Dressed to Kill - Midnight Impulsion (2019)

Country: China
Style: Heavy/Speed Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 23 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Douban | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

I'm not sure that Dressed to Kill, who hail from Beijing, China, have quite figured out what they want to be yet, but that's fine because they're pretty good at a number of different things. Even once we get past the intro, which is a soft synth thing that sounds like it could have escaped from a B-movie soundtrack from the eighties, maybe the same one that's depicted in the art on the cover, the songs never manage to seem entirely consistent.

They start out with Midnight Comes Around, buzzsaw guitars and fast drumming heralding a speed metal song. The band are Chinese but they sing in English and this song is reminiscent of a bunch of speed metal bands from the early eighties, whether Canadian, American or even British, one of the NWOBHM era bands who felt the urge to speed up, especially given that there's a lot of twin guitar attack in the midsection. This band could easily have shared the stage with Raven and Tokyo Blade and done it well.

Then they move into Rose of Kowloon, which drops the speed and moves into a more traditional NWOBHM sound. It's a catchier track with neat hooks, though it never feels as mainstream or commercial as say, the Scorpions. It's still the music of a jobbing metal band who do their business on the stage. So are Dressed to Kill a heavy metal band or a speed metal band?

Let's check out Welcome to My Carnival, which kicks off with a neat intro of carnival organ and wicked laughter. It moves, however, into punk territory, albeit the glam end of punk, so more like the New York Dolls or Hanoi Rocks than the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. So that's three styles so far in three songs, albeit with Yang Ce's vocals moving seamlessly between them. I wonder where Dressed to Kill will take us next!

Well, things move back and forth between those styles as the album runs on. Breakin Thru the Sky feels urgent: up tempo heavy metal but not speed until a faster section late on, all bolsted with a punk anger. Rock on the Way of Dream plays with that glam sound, with sleazier guitar solos, shouted yeahs and a hairspray laden intro. A Blade in the Night is back to straight speed metal, making me wonder how much this band would blister on stage. I'd love to see them live to find that out on songs like this one.

Part of the problem is the production, which leaves them sounding more like a glam metal band than I think they would otherwise. The vocals are high in the mix, as are the cymbals, but the back end is restrained. With that back end bulked up, as I tried to emulate with my equalizer, Dressed to Kill are a heck of a lot more powerful than they might initially seem.

As much as I like Yang Ce's voice, it's the instrumental sections that sold me on the band most, especially with that equalizer tweaked so I could hear the excellent contributions of Hao Chenxi on bass and Zhang Yichi's drumkit doesn't sound like it's in the next studio over, being recorded through two open doors. The guitarists are Yang Fuwen and Chen Wake and they duel very nicely indeed in the Iron Maiden tradition. The intro to Queen of the Night is glorious and there are sections in almost every song that made me grin.

This is Dressed to Kill's debut album, even though they formed back in 2013. They released an EP in 2017, which featured two songs that made it onto this album too, Murder City and Speed Metal Mania, along with a cover of A-II-Z's The Witch of Berkeley, to underline that NWOBHM influence. However, they've changed vocalist and one guitarist since then, so I'd expect it to sound a little different to this.

I'm interested enough to find out, though, because Dressed to Kill are solid enough to make me pay attention. This isn't the greatest album ever recorded and I hate that production more and more with each listen, but it shows much promise for a band who are happy to alternate between 1983 and 1986 and who really don't seem to care about anything released since. I'd like to hear a fresh album in a couple of years time to see how they've grown.

Hamradun - Hetjuslóð (2019)

Country: Faroe Islands
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Nov 2019
Sites: Facebook | Wikipedia

If your tastes run even a little towards world music, this is going to be an easy album to like. Even though vocalist Pól Arni Holm started out with Týr (that's him on their debut, How Far to Asgard), this isn't really folk metal at all. It's folk music, pure and simple, merely folk music that's played on rock instruments at points. How often, I'm not sure. There are a lot of folk instrument sounds, but they may or may not be the product of keyboards.

How far Hamradun go in either direction, towards pure folk or towards metal, can be easily seen in the first two songs.

Kirsten Piils kilde is a dark ballad. It's driven by a voice, which is clean and traditional and is clearly telling a story. I have no idea what that is, because tradition here goes as far as adapting ancient ballads and singing them in Gøtu-Danish, a dialect of Danish that's spoken in the Faroe Islands, from which Hamradun hail. I presume that the rest of the songs are sung in Faroese but, either way, I don't understand the lyrics but would like to, as they revolve around Faroese legends and history.

There's a deep, slow drum beat behind the vocals on Kirsten Piils kilde that surely comes from a drum kit but is phrased like a hand drum, albeit a hand drum of brutality. There's a hint of something else behind it too, conjured up either by keyboards or more traditional folk instruments. The full band only joins in after a build that lasts for a minute and a half and, even at that point, it's still all about the vocals. It's the sort of story song we might expect to hear around a campfire, in good company made even better by alcohol.

Hevndin, on the other hand, is a metal song. It's a heavier song from moment one, with an electric guitar to the fore and none of the instruments are as restrained. There are riffs and guitar solos to highlight musicianship along with the singing. There's dynamic play, moving from loud to quiet and back, presumably as the lyrics require. Sure, the song's point is still to tell a story, but the music isn't there just to back it; it's also there for itself.

If those songs mark the boundaries, the other seven songs each fit somewhere in between and there are still surprises waiting for us. Feigdarferð starts out rather proggy, the keyboards at the fore, and it goes on to feature very nice electric guitarwork. Grimmer går på gulvet has a gorgeous alternative vibe to it, not least because of the bass of Heri Reynheim underneath. What a heavy build for a song that's more rock than metal! Naglfar almost finds a glam metal vibe as it begins, though that's unsurprisingly not where it goes. At the end of the day, though, these are all story songs told to folk tunes.

I liked this album, which is Hamradun's second, after a self-titled release four years earlier. Hetjuslóð means The Path of Heroes, so highlighting the lyrical focus on history and legend. The biggest problem I have is that I'm unable to understand what Pól Arni Holm is singing and that's more important here than usual, because these are story songs. I can enjoy these as pieces of music but unfortunately not as the stories they are. At least until I can find English language lyrics somewhere...

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Moon Cresta - Civil Fuzz Brigade (2019)

Country: Spain
Style: Psychedelic Funk/Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Here's something a little different: a Spanish psychedelic rock outfit named for a Japanese arcade game who lean very heavily on the funk. The only band on their influence list who aren't regulars on classic rock radio stations (Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc.) are the Raconteurs, a highly successful alternative rock band from Detroit in the late 2000s.

I can hear that sort of mix. Like those bands, Moon Cresta don't feel a need for every song to sound the same. There's a lot of invention here, as if the band are seriously exploring their musical influences rather than trying to sound like them. Yeah, I know, that should be a given but it's rare that it feels as obvious as this. A song like Misfortune Always Comes Again clearly comes from a Beatles mindset but there's a lot of Zeppelin in there too. I'd suggest there's more Zep on this album than anyone else even though the band only really sound derivative at points in No Time to Waste.

What surprises me about that list is the lack of more recent names. There's some Black Crowes in the opener, The Myth of the Rolling Rock, and Someone Has Put a Spell on You sounds like Lenny Kravitz with a fuzzy stoner guitar behind him. Here We Are has a rap vibe but it's never anything but funk, like Mike Patton guesting with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Mr. Know It All is the Beatles channelled through Extreme. Much of the fresh interpretation of old material is similar to what Saigon Kick did a couple of decades ago.

That recognisable Mike Patton vibe is all over Are You on Their Side? too, but the song feels more like a seventies song and not just because of a few Led Zep moments. I haven't enough background in American funk to be able to set up comparisons. Maybe I'll run this past my better half, who grew up in a time and space where that was everywhere and it became part of a musical baseline for her.

For me, this is a heady mix that gets headier. There's even some prog in the changes in No Time to Waste and that's a really weird thing because funk and prog tend to be more like opposite approaches than compatible ones. Suddenly the idea of funky prog makes sense. If I'm translating websites right, Moon Cresta go for "power funk", which makes sounds good to me. A lot of songs on this album could be hit pop songs, but they're generally much heavier than a mainstream audience is used to. Their debut album in 2006 was appropriately titled eROCKtile dysFUNKtion SOULution.

I've listened through Civil Fuzz Brigade a couple of times now and I'm sure that I'm going to playing it quite a lot more. I'm interested to see if any of the band members really start to leap out for special mention. Right now, beyond the vocals of Mr. D. that were always going to be a focus, this feels like a real band performance. Everyone's doing interesting things, often at the same time, but never in a way that steals attention from the rest of the band. Moon Cresta play deceptively loose but are actually really tight.

I'm not seeing a line-up history, but it looks like it's been consistent for a long time, with David, Mr. D., on keyboards as well as vocals; Manu "Doble L" on guitar and Antón F. "Piru" on bass. Manuel Ares is the new fish behind the drumkit, because it was Sergio "Sir" Puga on the last album, Moonary, in 2016. All of them deserve praise here as this feels like a real band rather than just a set of capable musicians playing in the same place.

I'll be listening to this more and looking for the earlier three albums (the other was 2010's The Sparkling Radio Stars and Their Lunatic Orchestra). At that slow release pace, that should keep me busy for a while until they get round to album five in another three or four years time.

Aleister - No Way Out (2019)

Country: France
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

This isn't quite what I expected from a thrash metal band returning after a quarter of a century with a new album and who label what they do old school. This is definitely thrash, but it's predominantly mid-tempo thrash with the bass of Didier Renaud prominent in the mix and the guitars tuned reasonably close in pitch. Given the strong focus on bass, it might be odd to imagine similarities with slower Metallica but it's that tone for a while, albeit a little less imaginative.

However, the next most overt element takes us in a different direction and that's the decidedly rough voice of David Roustany. It's hardly traditional clean metal singing and it's just as far from a death growl. It's more akin to the early extreme bands who were in the process of creating black, death and whatever else but hadn't quite defined them yet. Put together, this has a sound that feels like a crossover album from a band who might have started out as hardcore punks. I have no idea if they did or not.

What they stand out for is the time taken between their last album and this one. Their debut studio album, Tribal Tech, was released in 1994 after seven years of demos and gigs and they promptly vanished sometime soon afterwards, even though the album seems to have impressed the underground. The band got back together again last year with, if I'm reading the details right, with two of the original four members now performing as a trio with Renaud as the new bass player.

It's good though, often really good and it gets under the skin because it's really tight and that's not necessarily the first thing we notice. We don't notice guitar solos because it feels like Aleister don't even have anyone on lead, Roustany content to play rhythm along with the bass and drums. That's probably their weirdest aspect, as if this album is really a studio demo of what the band came up with before the leads were added in. We don't focus on vocal hooks because Roustany isn't interested in those either.

We don't even focus on riffs as much as we do how they shift from one to the next. These riffs are more mechanical, industrial without sounding like the work of an industrial band. What the band do is just knuckle down and try to keep their sound interesting with changes, which sound good from the outset because this trio is so tight and only sound better when they ratchet it up a gear and really show how tight they are. Slave has Voivod style changes, a band worthy of comparison if you ditch their fondness for prog rock. There's no Pink Floyd here but there's some of that War and Pain back end.

While the best riff likely belongs to the final song, Gods Don't Bless You, my favourite song here is probably the middle one, Straighten Up. It has the closest thing to a solo, albeit one that's delivered on bass rather than the usual guitar, and that makes it interesting. The mid section casts a sort of intricate web around that bass solo and it ups the tempo a little too, which I liked while it lasted. Primary did some of the same too and the drums get frenetic on Bastard, which is emphatically not a Mötley Crüe cover.

As I mentioned, this took me by surprise. It's not remotely what I think of as old school thrash. It's not fast enough, for a start. It's too downtuned and it's shorn of solos, blistering or otherwise. It feels very different to me, but that's a good different. I don't know that a sound as stripped down as this is a great way to go—I'd certainly like to hear this album with an added lead guitar—but it's interesting stuff, its highly rhythmic approach a little hypnotic. I like and I have a feeling that people with a fondness for both Pantera and Sepultura might like it too.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Misery Loves Co. - Zero (2019)

Country: Sweden
Style: Industrial Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Wikipedia

Latest in a growing list of bands coming out with a new studio album after a long time away is Uppsala's Misery Loves Co., who released three albums back in the nineties to much acclaim, Not Like Them beating out Entombed, Tiamat and Hammerfall to land them a Swedish Grammi. They called it a day in 2000 but the original duo of Patrik Wirén and Örjan Örnkloo got back together in 2016. This is their first studio album in nineteen years.

It's interesting stuff, Misery Loves Co. being grounded in industrial music but with a heavy edge. The opening track, Suburban Breakdown, has a notably heavy guitar, as if the band want to make it clear from the outset that they haven't softened up over time. After all, they have toured with Slayer, Fear Factory and Machine Head. They ought to have some sort of crunch to them and that's notable here and on Dead Streets.

A Little Something adds wilder rhythms and a post-punk influence that's also notable on The Waiting Room and the title track, but it's still heavy, not least through the guitar at the end and a dark bass line from Örjan Örnkloo. Örnkloo is perhaps more notable for providing the industrial edge, including the drum programming. That shines on Only Happy When It Rains, which reminds of both Joy Division and Nine Inch Nails, even though it's a Garbage cover.

And that's where a slightly lighter sound comes in that continues throughout the album. It's not soft, but it lets up on the heavier guitar and shifts to a more new wave approach to heavy industrial. It's another band that they've toured with that leaps out for comparison and that's Paradise Lost. Most of the album features gothic tinges and experimental edges along with its solid industrial base, as if they're combining different eras of Paradise Lost.

Fell in Love sounds like a One Second-era song but with some of the earlier doom overlaid as a filter. Would You?, the single, is even more reminiscent with some Nick Holmes vocal lines. Later tracks move away from Paradise Lost and then come back to them again, but they're never far from the sound, just without any of the death from their doom/death days. Misery Loves Co. don't have any wish to go there, it seems.

This band showed up in 1993, an odd time for me. Tommy Vance was leaving the Friday Rock Show for Virgin Radio, Kerrang! had gone all alternative and I'd drifted into other interests. As such, I don't believe I ever heard them in their heyday, unless it was on an Earache promo or a cover disc somewhere. I like what I hear here though and ought to check out that earlier material, a skimpy back catalogue but a well regarded one.

I've only dipped my toes in the industrial genre now and then over decades, enough to find a few favourite bands (hey, Velvet Acid Christ and Hanzel und Gretyl) but not enough to gain any real expertise. Misery Loves Co. arriving hot on the heels of the new Die Krupps album makes me want to delve deeper. Learning more about NDH this year just adds to that.

StoneWire - Life as We Know It (2019)

Country: UK
Style: Blues Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Nov 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Here's another name to watch from the burgeoning and increasingly varied New Wave of Classic Rock movement. StoneWire are a hard rock band with more than just one foot in the blues and at least a few toes in southern rock. Oh, and by southern rock, I don't mean the south of England, whence they hail, but a more American deepsouth. Think halfway between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith, like a Bad Company who grew up in Jacksonville, but with a strong lead vocal from Sky Hunter, who clearly boasts a serious set of pipes.

While nobody lets the side down, it's Hunter's voice that really leads this band. What's particularly impressive to me is that she generously avoids the urge to show off and turn this into a Sky Hunter showcase. She has a raucous whiskey drenched voice in the vein of Janis Joplin or Maggie Bell but she's more like the latter in that she's clearly a singer in a rock 'n' roll band rather than the lady in the spotlight, even when she really gets going, like towards the end of House Rules.

I don't know how the songwriting chores are divvied up, but she seems to be rather grounded in the genres that StoneWire play in, to the degree that she hosts a Whiskey Hour on Hard Rock Hell Radio that runs the gamut from blues rock to outlaw country via "anything that grooves". I recognise a number of bands on her playlists, from Clutch to the Quaker City Night Hawks, though I don't recognise anywhere near enough so I should download some of the shows from Mixcloud and get me some education.

The songs are consistently good here, though they tend towards the lyrically generic. Has every blues rock band ever founded written songs called One for the Road and Kick Up Some Dust? The latter sounds particularly familiar; is it a cover I don't recognise? I'm not sure anything really stands out over anything else but that doesn't mean that this is mediocre. StoneWire merely start out strong with the catchy Monkey Talk and stay at that level for nine more songs, before they virtually pack up their kit and move on to the next pair of speakers on the road to do it all over again.

Think of it this way. You may not wake up tomorrow morning with any of these songs replaying on your mind but you'll enjoy the whole album and you'll be telling friends on Facebook that in ten years time. "Back in my day, we had real bands who really rocked, you know, like StoneWire." And you'll pop this album back on and you'll enjoy the whole thing all over again.

They're a five piece band with Steve Briggs and Rob Glasner reliable at the back end. We don't really focus on what they're doing because they don't do anything flash, but there are points on relistens where they start to stand out for a moment. That's a good bassline on FTM underneath the slide guitar and another dances along wonderfully on House Rules. It's rather prominent on the stalking All That Matters too and it gets a cheeky response moment on A Step Too Far.

There are two guitarists, Gaz Annable and Duncan Greenway, and I don't know who's responsible for what but, like Hunter, they just keep on delivering on track after track, stealing our attention here and there with a riff or solo but never trying to steal the show. There's a lot of slide work on offer and it adds an agreeable vibe whether it's hard and soft. These guys don't play at full intensity level all the time; some of the best grooves are on slower parts of songs like Hero's Journey, whether it's the intro or the solo.

Ultimately, though, I have a feeling that, like most blues rock bands, this one are going to truly show what they can do on the stage. It's possible for that blistering live sound to transfer to a studio album—just check out No Compromise by the Mick Clarke Band—but it's hard to do and this doesn't feel like the band are playing live on my desk. They're behaving a little in the studio and are reserving the real blistering for when we buy tickets to see them. I'd like to do that. Life as we know it is good.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Fërtility Cült - Kosmodysseia (2019)

Country: Finland
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Oct 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

For a band who don't sing all that much, The Fërtility Cült sure have a way with words. Their descriptions of what they do are evocative, whether brief, like "Milking the Cosmic Cow since late 2008", or verbose, like the bio that you'll find on both their Bandcamp and Facebook About pages. Typically, they can't be pinned down to a single genre, going with "the doomy side of prog, the rock side of jazzy, the banal side of the exquisite".

And that's fairer than what Metal Archives describes as "psychedelic stoner/doom metal", really, at least on the basis of this fourth album. I can hear some sludge at points under the saxophone on the opening track, but it isn't a focus here. It's more apparent on Return to the Desert Planet and Hunters of Galactic Daemons, which run on heavier vibes generally. Maybe they used to be more extreme on early albums. I certainly plan to find out.

To me, this album is halfway between progressive and psychedelic rock with a seventies hard rock edge. That opener starts out like Wishbone Ash but ends up more like King Crimson. The Hammond organ of Solismaa firmly anchors the era on the control panel of the band's time machine, but it's the saxophone of Ryhänen that really gives them life. What's perhaps strangest is that the result rarely sounds like Hawkwind. Well, maybe Hunters of Galactic Daemons in some ways and Timeless Ithaca in others, but still not really.

Now, I'm hearing sax on a wide variety of albums of late, from prog or psych bands like Gong and Nik Turner to death metal outfits such as Acid Death and Eternal Storm via Katharos XIII, the dark jazz of which does spring to mind here, albeit not in such an extreme fashion. This is definitely a candidate for 3am headphones in the dark and I may well pop it on right after another run through Palindrome.

This is a concept album, albeit perhaps a vague one that follows an immortal but forgotten hero, the Planeswalker, who wanders through the cosmos to find his way again, encountering as he does so devastation, a luresome entity and "the boldest". It's precisely the sort of that might have come from the pen of Michael Moorcock, making it all the stranger that this doesn't sound like Hawkwind.

This captivated me on a first listen and I've enjoyed immersing myself into it more. It may not be as great as it first appears, but it's still deep and engaging and, the longer I listen, the more wends its way out to my notice. I particularly like Star Siren's Song, which is another song that moves from Wishbone Ash to King Crimson, with a jazzy saxophone adding another level. I love the way the band contrast light and dark, which isn't always with that mild sludge at the bottom end and light guitars or dancing sax at the top.

Another reason that I think I like this album so much is that it starts out well with the first part of Kosmodysseia, but finishes even better with the final couple of tracks. They're the longest on the album, the second part of Kosmodysseia lasting over eight minutes and The Queen of Spacetime over ten, wrapping up both the story and the album.

Timeless Ithaca, that second part to Kosmodysseia starts heavy and chanting in the Hawkwind style, but evolves from dark to light, as our immortal hero figures things out, growing all the way. King Crimson would have named its movements. The Queen of Spacetime is a journey all on its own, almost as if it's the entire album in miniature, with the bass of Kailasha wandering just as much as the hero. While it works superbly as an ending, it's also hard to not let the album replay.

If I'm understanding correctly, The Fërtility Cült are from Tampere, Finland and their line-up hasn't changed since they formed over a decade ago. Since then, they've released four albums at roughly equal intervals and I'm highly interested in seeing what the previous three sounded like. This is certainly another band I'm happy to have discovered.