Friday, 30 April 2021

Evile - Hell Unleashed (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Apr 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I went to school in Halifax and sixth form college in Huddersfield and grew up out in the sticks halfway between those two towns. I continued to live in Halifax until 2004, when I emigrated to the US. Take a wild stab at when Evile were formed in Huddersfield. Oh yeah. The bastards. So, while I've never been able to see them live, what with that large pond in between us, I have to keep up with the local sound digitally. They still sound good on this, their fifth album and their first in eight years, but I have to say that I'm not as fond of new singer Ol Drake's vocals as I was of his brother Matt's.

Musically, they play their thrash metal fast and vicious, just the way I like it, with guitars like buzzsaws and an approach that's sure to get the pit moving. A song like the opener, Paralysed, ought to have an opposite effect to its title, because fans will take its opening build partway through a live set as a sign to go completely insane. I could feel their restless energy combining as they waited for the moment to go and I'm listening to an mp3 in my office. It's just like Metallica's Damage Inc. but with less messing around before the pit explodes.

It's a fantastic way to kick off an album, with memorable riffs everywhere, courtesy of Drake, who was the band's original lead guitarist, even if he only took over on vocals too last year, and new fish Adam Smith, who joined in 2020. The audible bass of Joel Graham shines through too. I'm frequently shocked by how many thrash bands hate the bass-free mix on ...and Justice for All but then proceed to copy it. I am very happy to say that that is very much not the case here and Graham does a fine job. Ben Carter is impressive behind the kit too, because, while this is generally up tempo thrash, it does shift gears a lot and he handles that effortlessly.

Oddly, the most obvious gear shifting song is Gore, which is something of a theme here, I think, given other songs like The Thing (1982) and Zombie Apocalypse. The reason why it's odd is the band's choice of backing vocalist, who is none other than comedian Brian Posehn. That's him shouting "Gore" during the choruses and, while it ought to sound gimmicky, like something a more fun-oriented thrash outfit like Acid Reign or Gama Bomb might go for, but it actually sounds fine. Posehn simply does the job.

My biggest problem here is with Drake's vocals, which aren't bad but seem to be more monotone and limited than I'm used to from Evile. He's obviously a much better guitarist than he is a vocalist and I'm reasonably sure he knows that. My initial guess was that he thinks of himself as the lead guitarist in Evile and maybe he's stepping up to take care of mike duties until his brother comes back or they hire someone else. He certainly doesn't annoy the way that John Cyriis did on the recent Agent Steel album and he doesn't jar with the style at all. It just feels like songs like The Thing (1982), which ought to be utterly blistering, like early Testament, are missing that extra something they ought to have.

The flipside to that can be found on the cover of Mortician's Zombie Apocalypse, which is where Evile play most obviously in death metal. It rips nicely during the midsection but most of the song is slower and plodding and somewhat out of place on such a fast thrash album. All that said, Drake's vocals are much more at home here, so maybe he should be playing guitar in Evile but singing for a death metal band. The more I listen to the album with that in mind, the more it seems to be true. After that song is Control from Above, a more up tempo death-infused thrash song and he fits pretty well there too.

So, Evile return after eight years to find themselves at a fork in the road. If they want to carry on playing thrash in a fast and uncompromising fashion, then they need to either bring back Matt Drake or hire a new singer. If, however, they want to evolve into the death/thrash outfit they've always kind of been but never quite embraced fully, then Ol Drake ought to carry on working double duty and he'll sound more and more at home behind the mike as that shift proceeds. Either way, welcome back, folks.

Issa - Queen of Broken Hearts (2021)

Country: Norway
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Mar 2021
Sites: Facebook

If Simulacrum, whose third album I reviewed earlier this week, are atypical for a Frontiers release, I'd be hard pressed to come up with a band more suited to that label than Issa. It's melodic rock through and through, with hints of symphonic metal behind the hooks, and it's bright, perky and cheerful from the very outset. It also remains on the rock side of the boundary with pop music, even with a few R&B runs here and there from Issa, a Norwegian singer apparently living in York, the lucky devil, and some poppy keyboards every once in a while from the Frontiers in-house producer Alessandro del Vecchio.

I'm new to Issa, having first heard her in January when Chris Franklin played her single Angels Calling, which opens up this album, on his Raised on Rock radio show. However, this is her sixth album and she has apparently grown over that discography, even if I'm hearing that the symphonic rock style in play here hearkens back to her debut, Sign of Angels, just over a decade ago. I like this sound, though it's a given that the band are there to support Issa and nobody would assume on a blind test that this isn't a solo album. At least she has the vocal chops to justify that.

She's very good at finding a balance between the soft and sensitive voice that would serve her well in the pop world and the strong and soaring voice that's perfect for the a rock world. The epitome of this can be found in Blue, which kicks off like a ballad with Issa ratcheting back her power substantially for effect and gradually bringing it back in. It's not just a toggle, it's a scale and it's telling that she has an extra level beyond the one we think might be the pinnacle.

That isn't to say that the musicians behind her aren't up to the task. They are, with del Vecchio finding some neat textures across the eleven tracks and Simone Mularoni contributing some excellent power metal flourishes. He plays for a lot of bands, most obviously DGM and, with del Vecchio, the Frontiers project known as Sunstorm, among others across the hard rock, heavy metal, power metal spectrum. These are quality musicians. They're just here to support someone else's voice, not to showcase their own abilities.

I liked this immediately because it's really hard not to like something this fresh, bouncy and upbeat. It really does play like a cold fruit salad on a hot day. It's refreshing. The question isn't about whether it gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down, because it was always going to be the former, but whether it has the staying power to work on levels beyond the simply refreshing. How's it going to taste an hour later when we're refreshed and looking for something deeper?

Well, I think it does pretty well and I'm still discovering some hidden depths on a third listen through. Derive is fast becoming my favourite track, because it refuses to be obvious. It's sultry and enticing, a real grower of a song. However, from a melodic standpoint, there's only one earworm here that nails every aspect of what it wants to do and that's the title track. However good we think this is, that song, which sits right at the heart of the album, is always a step up from everything else.

If you like your melodic rock on the poppy side, you're going to dig the songs that are more driven by electronica like The Night It Rained Forever. If you like it to be emphatic rock music but with singalong choruses and spotlight moments for the guitarist to shine, then you're going to like Without Love. As I mentioned, if you're looking for something deeper to get your teeth into, then you'll get a kick out of Derive. But whichever one of those three listeners you are, Queen of Broken Hearts is going to be your standout and that tells me that, as enjoyable as this is throughout, there's a better album still in Issa Øversveen. Maybe we'll hear that next time. I'll be listening.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Trettioåriga Kriget - Till Horisonten (2021)

Country: Sweden
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Mar 2021
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Prog Archives | Wikipedia | YouTube

It's a sign of the internet age that I've been familiar with Mongolian folk metal outfit Nine Treasures for quite some time, but hadn't heard of Trettioåriga Kriget until now, even though they're from a lot closer to home and they've been around for longer than I have, albeit with some breaks. They formed in 1970 and their debut four years later may well be the first heavy album ever released in Sweden. It did well and they put out four more before first splitting up in 1981. Their fourth reunion in 2003 took and this is their fifth album since then, for ten thus far. That's not a lot for half a century, but it seems like this discography is quite the journey.

They play progressive rock, though it appears to have changed considerably over the years. Their first album supposedly sounds like what Rush would six years later, which means Permanent Waves, so I'm intrigued. Over time they gradually softened up, though they continued to play their brand of prog in a traditional way without a wild instrumentation set. They're primarily based in the usual guitar, bass and drums setup, plus a keyboardist who occasionally plays saxophone but not, I think, this time out. I thought I heard a flute on Vägen till Horisonten though and I see a credit for violin.

I do like this sound, which includes long instrumental stretches and is often laid back, though never so far as to seem safe. The vocals are capable and never seem out of place, but I found that I didn't miss them at all when the band toggled into instrumental mode. By the time I got to the end of Vägen till Horisonten, which is a delightfully varied prog epic that almost reaches fourteen minutes in length, I couldn't remember if it had ever included vocals. It doesn't matter. It's a journey of a piece, as befits its title, which translates to The Road to the Horizon.

I'll have to take it on faith that they started out sounding like Rush would sound like later, but this has little to remind me of Rush. It's there, but it's rarely obviously there, such as perhaps towards the end of that fourteen minute epic. I heard a lot more Pink Floyd, from their more laid back era, though this isn't quite as commercial, even to Swedes who understand the lyrics. It's always prog rock, never quite right to crossover to a pop music audience, even though some of it comes really close.

While, there are passages obviously reminiscent of the Pink Floyd style and there are certainly solos where Christer Åkerberg is channelling Dave Gilmour, but the band is never derivative. What I believe they took most from the Floyd is their ability to mix a laid back sound, where less is always more and a guitar is meant to be fluid, with dark undertones, often provided by the bass of Stefan Fredin. While I don't speak Swedish, the translations of the song titles don't seem particularly negative, with only In Memoriam inherently suggesting sadness and loss. However, I caught darkness in Tidigt, Till Horisonten and especially Staden, which titles translate simply to Early, To the Horizon and The City.

Staden, which, along with the epic, is easily my favourite track here, starts off more experimental, with King Crimson the obvious influence, but it gets softer and more laid back. There's King Crimson in Vägen till Horisonten too and whenever the band decides that it wants to do something wild, often in a change or a breakdown. At the other end of the spectrum, I'd say that there are points where they go all the way through Pink Floyd to reach a Dire Straits level of laid back. In between, there's quite a lot, including some surf guitar that I really wasn't expecting.

It seems almost an insult to describe a prog rock album as pleasant, because that inherently suggests that it's unimaginative and safe. This isn't either of those things, but it's pleasant nonetheless. I felt like I could lie back and just let the entire album wash over me, enjoying the sensation of it passively and ignoring the depths that I could happily explore later in a different mood. Because those depths are there. I wonder if knowing what the lyrics say would help with that. Somehow I don't think that it matters. The music speaks volumes on its own and in a universal language.

Nine Treasures - Awakening from Dukkha (2021)

Country: Mongolia
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Mar 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I don't usually review compilation albums at Apocalypse Later, because there's far too much good new music to talk about instead. I'll make an exception here, though, for three primary reasons.

One is that I'd be shocked if many of you have heard the first three albums by Nine Treasures, who are a Mongolian folk metal band currently based in Beijing, China. They were formed in 2010, as were the far more prolific and sadly now disbanded Tengger Cavalry. That's six years before the Hu, who were a lot of people's introduction to Mongolian folk metal, but six years after Hanggai, a folk punk band of renown, who built on the folk music traditions of bands like Huun-Huur Tu and Altan Urag. And yes, if you're interested in Mongolian folk music, all these bands are well worth checking out.

Another is that, if you decided to seek those three albums out now, you wouldn't be able to find them, as the band weren't happy with the recording quality and pulled them from Bandcamp. All you'll find is this compilation, which features twelve songs taken from those earlier three albums but recorded afresh by the current line-up of the band in consistent style and with consistent production.

And that means that, for three, to the mind of the band members, this is a new album as much as it's a compilation, one that certainly looks to the past but also celebrates a rebirth, one that reflects the band as it is today and one that they can use as the bedrock from which to move forward. So, if this is new music both to Nine Treasures and to you, it fits here. My mission at Apocalypse Later is discovery and covering this album would seem to meet that.

If your exposure to Mongolian folk metal is, like most people in the west, limited to the Hu, you'll find that Nine Treasures are faster, heavier and more metallic, but just as inherently rooted in folk music. Just check out the opener to this album, Black Heart, which has guitars as crunchy as in the Hu's cover of Sad But True, but feels more like a speed metal playing a jig. The song doesn't stay that fast, but it isn't an unusual speed for them and they stay this heavy throughout, meaning that they often sound as similar to a band like Korpiklaani as one like the Hu.

Like most Mongolian metal, this features delicate finger picking strings and a bowed instrument that sounds kind of like a violin playing over the crunchy metal riffs that underpin everything. The latter is a morin khuur, a massively important instrument in Mongolia that we would call a horse head fiddle. I doubt you'll find much Mongolian music that doesn't feature at least one of these in their group. The former, however, isn't the tovshuur, or western Mongolian lute, that the Hu use, but a balalaika, which adds a neat touch to their sound.

And, over the top, of course, are the rough vocals that most Mongolian metal bands have. There's not as much in the way of throat singing here as other bands but four out of the five members sing as well as play their chosen instruments and they all sing in Mongolian. Their voices are clear and clean but in varying degrees of harsh texture and often deep. There are hints of drone and lots of rolling Rs, so it's very recognisably Mongolian singing. If you were enthused by the vocals on the Hu's Wolf Totem, you will be very much at home here.

What surprised me is that my favourite songs come from all three of the band's source albums for this compilation. Only two songs here come from their 2012 debut, Arvan Ald Guulin Honshoor, but I adore that album's title track, which is very much like a Mongolian Korpiklaani. Six are sourced from 2013's Nine Treasures, including the bookends: the frantic Black Heart and the more bouncy Three Years Old Warrior. I particularly like The Dream About Ancient City, which is a classy instrumental. That leaves a quartet from their 2017 album Wisdom Eyes, which all have opportunities for the balalaika, including its gloriously subtle title track and The End of the World, which features an excellent intro.

I can't remember how I got introduced to Mongolian metal. It certainly wasn't the Hu, because it was much earlier. I was a fan of Huun-Huur Tu and some YouTube algorithm showed me something heavier, probably either Tengger Cavalry or Nine Treasures. Like most people, I haven't looked back since, and this is a great way to be introduced to Nine Treasures. I hope it serves as the rebirth they so richly deserve and that they're soon on as many people's radars as the Hu and for many of the same reasons. Hey, they covered Metallica in 2012, with their debut album including their take on For Whom the Bell Tolls. The world's just catching up to them.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Thunder - All the Right Noises (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 12 Mar 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It's becoming more and more obvious with each year that passes that there's a serious New Wave of Classic Rock going on in the UK right now. Much of that activity is due to new bands burning to bring a new life to the old styles. However, there are old bands out there too who are still doing the business and, if we hadn't already added Thunder to that list, we can safely do so now because this is a peach of an album, as energetic, vibrant and infuriatingly catchy as I've heard in a long time. Certainly, I didn't get those descriptions from the new Cheap Trick album yesterday.

It kicks off with what I'd usually expect to call the catchiest song on the album, Last One Out Turn Out the Lights, which is just aching to get going from moment one. It's simple stuff really, but effectively so in the exact same way that Bad Company could do so much with so little. That's a basic but bouncy beat that had me dancing in my office chair, a seriously sassy riff and a catchy chorus with the sort of soulful backing vocals that have you singing along before you've even finished hearing the song once.

I said that I'd expect to call something that catchy the catchiest song on the album, but this album has Young Man too and that does all the same things with even more overt Bad Company simplicity. It's a catchy song too, if not as instantly so, but it gets there. Oh boy, does it get there! As this one is taking it home, reprising a section in the middle of the song, I felt an generation of pop divas wondering how they can hire these guys to write their hooks.

And that's not too far a stretch to take. There's a lot more here than catchy hooks, but they highlight how much soul and funk is riddled through this music, right down to the brass section. There's also an overt presence for southern rock, that comes in with the brooding Destruction and plants its feet for sure in The Smoking Gun. There's an even a riff on Force of Nature that I swear they stole from the Charlie Daniels Band and from Satan's own section in The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

The southern rock isn't everywhere but it shows up often enough to bring Lynyrd Skynyrd to mind just as often as Bad Company, who are the primary influence here for sure. She's a Millionairess moves in circles between one and the other. I'll Be the One is brave enough to populate the heart of this rock 'n' roll record with a ballad that would have been worthy material for Otis Redding at Motown, and The Smoking Gun is brave enough to boast what sounds exactly like an old school Peter Frampton voicebox right out of the seventies. They may have picked up the organ sound on She's a Millionairess from the same time travel trip.

The thing is that I've never been a huge Thunder fan. I've always liked them, because it's pretty damn hard not to like Thunder, but I remember them being described so often as the next great band from the UK and they never quite were for me. I liked Back Street Symphony and I've liked what I've heard from them since, but I've never heard them sound this great. This album leapt out of the speakers to aurally slap me round the face saying, "Dude, if we don't get you with this one, we're done." And they got me with this one, immediately and often and with emphasis.

To my thinking, and I've listened through this twice now, every sound they try works. They venture into Bryan Adams-esque soft rock and get sleazy like the Faces. There are funky riffs, soulful vocals and an abundance of good old fashioned back to basics rock 'n' roll. There's brass early on to get sassy and, on St. George's Day, some ethnic strings to raise thoughts of Led Zeppelin. And throughout it all there's a mature approach to songwriting that makes for great earworms. I went to the bathroom halfway into my first listen of She's a Millionairess and found myself singing it down the hallway. That's the sign of a great album.

Simulacrum - Genesis (2021)

Country: Finland
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 12 Feb 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

I've mentioned before that every time I listen to the Raised on Rock radio show, DJ Chris Franklin puts another couple of standout songs in front of me that I've never heard before and may not have found otherwise. Recently, he played a track from this third release by Finnish prog metal band Simulacrum and I jotted it down as a standout. Unlike perhaps every other similar instance that I've picked up for that reason, however, this one is kind of leaving me a bit dry.

What probably grabbed me was the level of technical expertise the band display, which is clearly high, and the way that they stayed inventive throughout what had to have been a reasonably long song, as nothing here runs below five minutes and change and the shortest is part three of a four part suite. I can't remember which song Chris played, but all nine on offer here would have met those criteria and he could have chosen any of them with the same effect.

Let's use the opener as an example. It's called Traumatized and it packs a lot into its six minutes, as if the band were getting paid by the note. My biggest problem with the album as a whole is that it's too much and consistently so. It's impressive on an initial listen but, the more I replayed, the more that I wanted some serious dynamic play to really mix things up. There are points where things quieten but they don't usually slow at the same time, so they're usually there to allow a particular instrument to take the spotlight for a while, rather than a way to vary the intensity.

Traumatized may be a telling name for many listeners, because it's easily the heaviest song that I've heard on Frontiers Records, a label much more known for its melodic rock. And yes, the rest follow it; this isn't a palate cleansing anomaly. The guitars of Petri Mäkilä and Solomon are powerful and carry quite the punch, often a jagged punch that fits with the modern American metal style. However, they do mix that up and vary that style, shifting often into their default mode of European power metal.

There's also a layer of keyboards to differentiate it from anything American, as it doesn't always work as a softening agent. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it's more like an opponent in a duel, with the various instruments queuing up to fight it out for supremacy. I quite like that deathmatch approach to composition, but it's a busy one and it can be a tiring one. The keyboards sometimes come out on top, as they do midway through Nothing Remains, but those jagged rocks of riffs threaten it throughout.

The vocals are clean but often unpolished for effect. There are two singers here, with the primary one being Niklas Broman, who I think is the warmer and more polished. That would suggest that the more raucous voice, not that it's particularly harsh, belongs to Erik Kraemer and he often reminds of Bruce Dickinson, especially on Like You Like Me. There's not a huge distance between the two, though, both being powerful male tenor voices, with the biggest difference being the tone.

I can't say that I don't like this, because I do. It's technically intricate and musically accomplished and I found warmth and emotion here too, albeit not throughout. It's very carefully constructed, enough so that I certainly wouldn't see it translated into emotion with the colours of the cover art. It would have a lot more blue and grey and brushed steel. The warmer parts are often the ones where the band pull back for a solo run, oddly more the bass of Olli Hakala and sometimes Christian Pulkkinen's keyboards than the guitars. Hakala gets an organic stretch in Traumatized and another to introduce Arrhythmic Distortions.

And, while I've mostly talked about the opening track with a little more about the next two, all of that is applicable to every other song here too. The album's consistency is at once a strength and perhaps a fatal weakness. And I start to realise why one of these nine tracks struck me as so impressive within a radio show full of other artists, but the album as a whole is leaving me a bit dry. This is a band to take in small chunks, appreciate their talent and move on, and any song here will achieve that. Only the diehard prog metallers are likely to be similarly enthused throughout the hour plus that this album runs.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Cheap Trick - In Another World (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Pop Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 9 Apr 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia

I'll be reviewing a few albums over the next few weeks that I never expected to see. This is one of them because I'd assumed Cheap Trick had ceased to be years ago, not through a split or any sort of musical differences but through retirement. They're close to the epitome of the band who show up in rotation on classic rock radio stations and you think to yourself, "I wonder whatever happened to them" as you can't name a single song by them that wasn't recorded well over thirty years ago.

Well, it seems that Cheap Trick have never gone away, maintaining a consistent line-up for almost half a century. Sure, lead vocalist Robin Zander didn't actually show up until 1974, making him the new fish in the same way that Dave Gilmour is the new fish in Pink Floyd. Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos were in place from from moment one in 1973, playing lead guitar and drums respectively, and they never left. Tom Petersson was also the founding bassist, but he did take a break in 1980, so causing the only line-up changes outside Zander replacing Randy Hogan at the mike when I was three.

Now, I should add that while Carlos is still the band's official drummer, that's only for legal reasons, as he's retired and he's the official drummer in the same way that James Patterson is the official author of all those books he farms out to others to write nowadays. Daxx Nielsen, son of Rick, is effectively their drummer and it's him playing drums here, whatever the legal paperwork says.

Wikipedia tells me that they've been recording a lot of albums too. I don't think I've heard anything of theirs since Lap of Luxury in 1988, which was their tenth studio release and their most successful after Dream Police in 1979. However, this is their twentieth, even though it's not particularly likely that I'd want to venture anywhere near it's predecessor, Christmas Christmas, which is exactly what you think it is. Yes, it's Cheap Trick covering all the rock Christmas classics, from Slade and Wizzard to the Kinks and the Ramones and, er, a Saturday Night Live skit co-written by Jimmy Fallon.

The good news is that this doesn't come anywhere near to how bad I expect that album to sound like. The bad news is that this doesn't live up to its beginning. I might disagree with them singing The Summer Looks Good on You because I'm a pasty Englishman living in the boiler room of Hell (Phoenix, AZ), but I like the song. It's a classic Cheap Trick song in that it's bubbly and vibrant and is never far away from a fresh hook but it keeps enough bite in the guitar for it to feel as much like an edgy rocker as the soft pop song it is under that leather jacket.

From there, however, it gets poppier and poppier. Quit Waking Me Up sounds good but it also sounds like it could be the backing for a cereal commercial. You just know that everyone involved in making it wore a big American smile as they did so. Boys & Girls & Rock n Roll is what the Faces would have been if they ditched all the debauchery and wrote theme songs for sitcoms instead. So It Goes starts out like a Harry Nilsson song and gradually morphs into a Beatles cover of a Harry Nilsson song. I don't think I can describe I'll See You Again better than as a lullabye.

And, while I can't write the album off for doing all that, because it's slick and pretty and commercial, I can't necessarily recommend it to Cheap Trick fans who want to rock out as much as they want to hear catchy hooks. Listen to the recent Jason Bieler album instead; he's mastered that Cheap Trick, er, trick of making singalong songs that still kick ass. However, there are moments.

Final Days boasts a decent riff, almost something Ritchie Blackmore might have written when he was in Deep Purple, and the song broods along nicely. Here's Looking at You is a little soft but it still does everything that we expect any Cheap Trick song to do. And Light Up the Fire is exactly what I want in a Cheap Trick album released in 2021. It's catchy as hell but it's also a guitar song, not just when the solo shows up but inherently throughout. It's the third single and I'm wondering if it should have been the first.

In other words, while this isn't close to being their best work and it would look uncomfortable next to Dream Police or At Budokan, it's not that bad an album. There are some real highlights and even the softer material isn't awful. It turns out that Cheap Trick aren't that bad at being the Beatles, or even, on Another World (Reprise), a rebellious David Bowie. I enjoyed it, though I doubt I'll ever come back to it again and, perhaps more importantly, I doubt it'll prompt me to check out any of the other eight non-Christmas albums they've released since I heard them last.

Gynoid - The Hunger Artist Show (2021)

Country: Greece
Style: Sludge Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Apr 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's something interesting from Greece. How many times have I said that over the last few years? I should thank Gynoid guitarist/vocalist Sypros Tsalouchidis as much for underlining once more just how vibrant the scene in Greece seems to be at the moment as for sending over his band's debut album for review, but I'm thankful for both. They describe what they do as both noise rock and sludge metal and that seems fair, even if it sometimes seems like the two genres are battling each other for supremacy in the Gynoid sound, albeit never to the death.

The Collar, which is the opening track proper, shows their commitment to metal, with strong riffs that are inspired, almost inevitably, by the Black Sabbath playbook. These musicians can definitely be tight when they want to be, which they are in the metal sections of The Collar and especially in Scissorman, which feels like a garage punk band covering Voivod. It's intricate and tricky and it's very tight except when it doesn't want to be tight at all. Sometimes Gynoid want to be really loose.

This is epitomised in breakdowns that sound like everything might fall apart but never does, because the band always know where they're going next and they're just keeping us on the hook. Usually these points are pause moments in songs when my imagination tells me the mobile musicians are prowling around, stirring up the pit by almost creating one themselves on stage. This works really well, but it's less effective when it's a whole song, like Garbageman (Apeman). In the briefer pauses, we know this is the calm before the storm and, sure enough, that storm promptly arrives all the more effective for the buildup. It never arrives on Garbageman.

The loose aspect is also epitomised in the vocals, which couldn't be any further from *insert favourite Sabbath vocalist here*. They're equal parts Serj Tankian, Jello Biafra and Fred Schneider of the B-52's, with perhaps a side of Blaine from the Accüsed, which boils down to very alternative and very punk. It fascinated me to see how the tight metal aspect found a way to co-exist here with the loose punk one, and I have to say it that way around because the punk side of this band's sound clearly couldn't give a monkey's about the metal side in the slightest. It drives Gynoid wherever the hell it wants, leaving the metal side to figure out ways to support it.

Sometimes they're so loose that the sound goes to very strange places indeed. My Mirror, My Master wraps up the album in a way that sometimes feels like that same garage punk band who was covering Voivod earlier is now taking on Crimson Glory but ending up more in Jandek territory instead, which is not remotely what I expect when I throw on a sludge metal album. I'm not sure if I like this song or not but Gynoid are never conventional or predictable and I know that I like that.

While it wasn't hard for me to identify favourite songs—Scissorman and Mannequin are my highlights with My Pet Worms and The Collar not too far behind—it was a heck of a lot harder to figure out what I liked about them most.

I like the fact that they're a trio, because it makes for a sparse sound with an incredibly obvious bass playing an important role, occasionally taking the lead. Panos Dedis often reminded me of Tony Sales, who was the utterly reliable bassist behind Iggy Pop when that singer was at his most unpredictable. I like the guitars on My Pet Worms a lot but I love the parts where the bass takes the lead. I like when Tsalouchidis riffs. I like the more unusual rhythms that Nikos Dimitriou finds on The Collar. But that's me.

In the end, I think whether you'll like this band or not will come down to whether you like the vocals. I can't say which are Tsalouchidis and which are Dimitriou, but they're wild and they're unrestrained. If you like the idea of sludge metal played by a punk trio with vocals that could go absolutely anywhere at all at the drop of a hat, so keeping you totally on the hop, then Gynoid might be the favourite band you haven't heard of yet.