Friday, 16 August 2019

Finsterforst - Zerfall (2019)



Country: Germany
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 2 Aug 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

Finsterforst are one of those bands that you either love or you leave alone and this fifth studio album isn't going to change that. The band's name is a reference to the Black Forest of their home state of Baden-Württemberg and their music is almost as impenetrable as the same Black Forest was to many of the characters of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. It's not remotely as densely packed as the Fleshgod Apocalypse album I reviewed back in June, but it's a formidable album nonetheless.

Part of that is the fact that this album runs almost eighty minutes long and yet features only five tracks. Never mind Wut and Fluch des Seins, which are both over ten minutes long, and Weltenbrand, which comes really close, Ecce Homo is amazingly longer than all three of those put together. I've reviewed many entire albums this year that run notably shorter than that Ecce Homo on its own! And this is folk metal, not a genre known for its long tracks.

Much of it is the structure of the songs, though. These are immersive slabs of music that aren't remotely constructed out of verse, chorus, verse. That isn't to say that there isn't melody, because there's melody everywhere; it just doesn't lend itself to visualisation of a big picture. There's variety too, plenty of it, but it's spread out over all the tracks so that it fails to help distinguish Weltenbrand from Fluch des Seins and Wut from Zerfall.

In fact, I've listened to this for much of the day and I continually fail to notice when a song ends and another begins, rendering this into one eighty minute track in five relatively similar movements. If that's not your thing, especially on a folk metal album that isn't all accordions and bagpipes and fiddles, then you're likely to hate this with a passion. If you listen to a sample, enjoy the sound and like the idea of immersing yourself in it for an hour, then this is done very well indeed. They're the Opeth of folk metal.

Me? I kind of dig it, even though it'll be a brave radio show that tries to play any of it. If they do, it ought to be Weltenbrand, which starts to make itself known after half a dozen listens, both for many heavy sections and a neatly quiet and intricate section six and a half minutes in. The production is excellent, the drums perfectly placed in the mix. The bass sets the tone and the heavy guitars aid it. The vocals are a highlight, Oliver Berlin ably mixing harsh, clean and choral styles to good effect, though he has help on the latter. Those choral parts sound like monks, sometimes being devout and sometimes clearly testing their mead.

I have a feeling that another half a dozen times through will reap rewards. There's a lot here waiting to be found and I'm already finding some of it. I doubt, however, that any but the diehard fans are going to expend the energy to explore this over weeks. And, you know what, I think Finsterforst are OK with that.

Blindead - Niewiosna (2019)



Country: Poland
Style: Post-Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 5 Apr 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

The more I listen to bands from Poland, the more I realise just how varied and deep the rock scene must be over there. Case in point: Blindead, whose sixth album came out in April without me noticing. It's unlike any of those other Polish bands I've been enjoying. Frankly, it's unlike much of anything I've heard. While a few comparisons do come to mind at points, I'm not used to hearing all of them on the same album.

Niewiosna, the eleven and a half minute title track, for instance, spends five minutes building textures before vocals show up to surprise us. The music continues to build anyway, melodic jangling guitars gradually fading into the wall of darkness that grows up around them. Drums are punctuation not accompaniment. The vocals are spoken rather than sung and spoken in a recitation as if this is performance art or sardonic ritual. Sans vocals, this could be a new wave song played at a third normal speed. With vocals, I'm really not sure what it is but it had my attention.

The Bandcamp tag that makes most sense is "experimental", but it's musical experimentation not noise, even when the album gets extreme. They also use tags as varied as alternative, electronic, post-metal and sludge. There's a lot of truth to each. What makes the band special is how they can combine it onto a single album and have it make some sort of demented sense.

It was Niepowodzenie where I started to grasp the point. It's the shortest track here by far, at just under five minutes, but the music is both perky and hypnotic. It's also extremely rhythmic, not unlike some of the work of Philip Glass. More importantly it's cinematic, even without the performance art vocals. It felt like something Wong Kar Wai might use if he ever made a giallo. There's suspense but there's dynamism and hints of story, like some young lady is being chased, but by what?

By this point, I'd looked them up. If Google Translate isn't misleading me, the band's gigs are often soundtracks to the films of Roman Przylipiak. I'm finding a bunch of short films on IMDb by him but I haven't seen any. I have to say that I'm interested in doing so now.

And what film would Potwór się rodzi accompany? It feels experimental from the outset, reminiscent of Andrew Eldritch jamming with Coil in slow motion. But then, it gets all doomladen in the midsection, more like Swans, but with some ritual drumming from Konrad Ciesielski and snippets of conversation. If that wasn't enough of a change, it soon adds in the electronica and goes off the deep end. Are we in a serial killer's basement watching him warm up his power tools? This is heavy stuff but not in any usual way. At least the end has a pulse.

I was completely hooked at this point, because the rollercoaster was moving faster and the seatbelts had evaporated and what is Ani lekkomyślnie, ani bezboleśnie? It's pure punk, with snarled vocals. There's Iggy Pop in there and Lou Reed and some sort of demonic creature. It's like someone was forced to transform into his inner beast during an Einstürzende Neubauten concert, while Celtic Frost watched.

Maybe that's what happens. When I put the song titles into Google Translate, I saw a progression. It didn't know what Niewiosna means, but the others are Failure, The Monster is Born, Not Reckless, Not Painless and Spring. Maybe it's a concept piece with science going wrong, creating a monster, trying to deal with what it is and eventually finding a dark solution.

I'm less fond of that last track, Wiosna, which is too subtle until, well, it isn't subtle enough. It gets even more out there, but this is magnetic and engrossing stuff across the board. Most people will hate it, of course.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Killswitch Engage - Atonement (2019)



Country: USA
Style: Metalcore
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 16 Aug 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Beyond having one of the coolest frickin' band names ever conjured up, Killswitch Engage are also one of the few radio-friendly modern American rock bands I'm still able to enjoy. No, I'm not likely to be reviewing the new Slipknot or Korn albums and I'm not too likely to be listening to them either. This is a different matter. This bunch are a real metal band underneath the hardcore elements.

Regular readers know that I'm hardly the world's biggest metalcore fan, but this outfit do it right. They have all the energy and attitude required but they mix it up a lot too and don't see melody as a four letter word. Sure, there's a lot of that shouty metalcore vocal that tends to leave me dry, but it's not everything here. To accompany a variety of styles in the backing, there are clean alternative vocals as well, plus fast thrashy vocals, slow churning vocals and even what almost sound like death growls as The Signal Fire kicks off.

That latter may be because there's a notable guest on it. He's Howard Jones, who was the vocalist for Killswitch Engage during the decade between Jesse Leach leaving the band and returning to it; fans ought to thrill to hearing both of them on a single track. The other notable guest is Chuck Billy, of Testament fame, who appears on The Crownless King. He's only one reason why it stands out to me though. It stalks. It churns. The pit will find serious motion to this one!

This is Killswitch Engage's eighth studio album, their first since Incarnate in 2016, but they're almost as regular as clockwork. They've never gone less than two years between albums and never more than four. It seems to work for them and nobody's complaining so far. Well, not about that. I have a really odd complaint about this album. There's a 'Yeah!' that gets thrown out like punctuation in a James Hetfield manner; it's all over the album and it's an annoyance to me, albeit because Leach doesn't sound like Hetfield elsewhere. The 'Yeah' is a real distraction.

Otherwise, this is solid stuff for metalcore fans, with an agreeable amount of variety. The Signal Fire starts out thrashy, then gets all puffed up in the chest like metalcore so often does, then finds its groove in time to set up a melodic chorus. Know Your Enemy is a bouncy piece, just what metalcore is supposed to be. Bite the Hand That Feeds has some real energy to it with an attitude strong enough to spit through the speakers. Take Control is one of the more straight forward metal tracks and it's just as effective, with a decent solo to boot. I wouldn't change the radio station if this was on.

It's been really interesting to see just how nu metal split the wider genre onto two completely separate paths: there's modern American radio metal and there's everything else. With this album, Killswitch Engage continue to be a rare band to be able to walk, with head held high, on both those paths. I'm not seeing a need to atone for that.

Anfel - Echoes of Buried Hope (2019)



Country: Russia
Style: Symphonic Gothic Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 12 Aug 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | VK

It seems odd to suggest that this is polarising music and then come down in the middle, but I'm going to do just that.

Anfel are an unusual band, not least because they're often the solo project of Denis Lobotorov, who goes by Dionis. He's Russian, from Tver on the road from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and he mostly plays symphonic gothic metal.

I say mostly because the steady release of new albums—eight of them in the seven years from 2009—stopped in 2015 so that he could concentrate on re-releasing each of them as solo piano performances. That's pretty gothic, I have to admit, but it's neither symphonic nor metal. I should add that some were instrumental to begin with, but this still marks a return from reworks to new work.

It also marks the debut as lead vocalist of Elvira Lobotorova, the guitarist of Blackthorn, who goes by Alchemida. She'd also previously played guitar on the prior Anfel album, Icy World, and I believe she does so here too. Dionis play bass. I presume that the rhythm comes courtesy of a drum machine, but I can't confirm that.

I liked this immediately and a good portion of that is Alchemida's voice, a soaring creature that seems to sing even slower than she does. The music is clearly symphonic, each song finding a swirling groove that I'd be surprised to find isn't the product of synths rather than an actual orchestra. I don't think Anfel has that much budget. Alchemida soars over it but she's part of it too, as if the music is clouds and she's floating on them.

What surprises me is that, as overblown and emotional as the music is, the vocals make it sound somehow patient and restrained, not something we tend to hear in this genre. It's lush material, music to be enfolded by. There's real melancholy poured into it, but it refuses to be too weighty. And that's a good thing.

What may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective, is that it's crazy long. Sure, there are only ten songs here, but six are over ten minutes and the average is only just shy of that length!

Sometimes that's certainly good. The opening song, And Our Proximity Create Only Chaos, doesn't feel remotely long at eleven minutes. It just continues to get increasingly exquisite, the soaring vocals of Alchemida at the fore and the harsh ones of Dionis rumbling underneath her to provide texture. It has to be said that, while there are plenty of instrumental sections, this is all about that contrast of voices.

Sometimes, however, it's bad. Dawn on the Ashes of Our Senses may get where it needs to go, but it takes its sweet time about doing it and it really has no business being nearly a quarter of an hour long. The whole album can be actively listened to or set off in the background for a pleasant environment but songs like this one do test our attention.

And this is where it's going to get polarising...

To fans, of whose number I'm now one (while acknowledging that the album is too long), this is often hypnotic stuff, the vocals lulling us as the drum machine speeds up and the synth strings swirl around. I've had it on in the background for a couple of days now and I seriously feel better for that.

However, to non-fans, this is going to seem interminable. They'll complain about how songs never end and don't vary much either, the groove found two minutes in to any song being the same groove found ten minutes later as it wraps up and, arguably in the next song too and the one after that. It does sometimes seem like a fourteen minute song is actually a four minute song with the key parts looped, but that may be overly cynical.

So which are you? Well, if you're interested, I'd suggest that you sample the track, And Our Proximity Create Only Chaos. If it knocks your socks off, this will be a must purchase. If it doesn't, then this really isn't going to be for you.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The New Roses - Nothing But Wild (2019)



Country: Germany
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 2 Aug 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

The New Roses, who hail from Wiesbaden, Germany even though they don't sound like it, have been building a serious name for themselves over three albums and a lot of touring. This is number four and it's so full of energy that it might just explode in your hand. My only disappointment was that I heard the best track on it first, on Chris Franklin's Raised on Rock radio show, so it was all downhill from there.

Fortunately, it doesn't go very far downhill. If nothing's up to the quality of Down by the River, that doesn't mean that the other dozen tracks aren't a seriously good batch of songs. From the opener, Soundtrack of My Life, which is a six pack of Monster packed into three minutes of rock 'n' roll, Nothing But Wild does its level best to thrill us with music that's clearly new but just as clearly rooted in the classics.

One major compliment I can throw out is that, while I caught bits of a wide variety of rock artists in here, this band really don't sound like anyone else. I might, if you twisted my arm, raise Airbourne as a fair comparison, but that reflects on their shared approach more than anything else. The New Roses may have a little less AC/DC in their sound but it's still there, especially in some of their more relentless songs that don't want to stop for breath.

Down by the River is a great example of how they mix things up. It's a sort of Rick Springfield story song, but heavier and there's a lot of Scorpions in the melody of the chorus. There's glam rock riddled throughout the title track and there's a punk pop urgency to Unknown Territory. There's southern rock in The Bullet and more both country and AOR in The Only Thing; I spent a while wondering if it was more likely to be covered by Bryan Adams or one of those generic hunks in hats with twangy accents. To be fair, though, the crunch on the guitar elevates it past that sort of half insult.

Put it all together and it's very New Wave of Classic Rock, with songs like As the Crow Flies hard to describe in any other way. The band are certainly looking backwards, not just to a single style but to an entire era of music history. However, like some of the other bands wearing that banner, they're bringing those sounds into the modern era in a consistent manner to make the blistering hard rock fit alongside singalong clap-a-long songs like Meet Me Half Way, with clever lyrics like, "Don't be my partner, just be my partner in crime."

I haven't listed the band members, but that's because this is so much of a team effort and it's the songwriting that stands out first. Let's just say that nobody lets the side down and they all clearly had a lot of fun putting this together. If it doesn't feel too long at thirteen tracks, it's got to be fun, right?

Tomb Mold - Planetary Clairvoyance (2019)



Country: Canada
Style: Death Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 19 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

I hear a lot of good about Tomb Mold. Their second album, Manor of Infinite Forms, featured in a lot of lists of the best of 2018. I was eager to check out album number three. And... I just don't get why they're so adored.

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate this, even though I haven't really been a fan of old school death metal since I was diving off Autopsy and Obituary stages in my Morgoth sweatshirt back in September 1990. It was a new genre back then, extreme and brutal and enticing. However, I didn't stay with it for too long, because there were local bands like Anathema and Paradise Lost inventing doom/death that sounded much more versatile and interesting.

Even now, I prefer melodic death to brutal death and doom/death to both. I appreciate that Tomb Mold are trying to do something different with it and I liked some of what they did here. Just on the opener, Beg for Life, I like how it ramps up the pace a couple of minutes in. I like how it drops into an acoustic section a couple of minutes later. I like how it stays there, even when the vocals and drums kick back in, for a little while.

But, I don't like the muddy production. I don't like the way a late section involves the tempo changing frequently because it loses the groove. Most of all, I don't like the vocals of drummer Max Klebanoff, which seem unvarying not just through this track but through the whole album. I'm not averse to a good death growl, as regular readers will know, but this isn't what I'd call a good death growl. And so, even on the strong song to kick off the album, I like a lot of it and dislike a lot of it.

The same goes for the rest of the seven tracks on offer. I appreciate how a number of them feature samples or created effects to vary the sound. There's a three minute interlude called Phosphorene Ultimate, quiet noodling with a staticky communication of some description over it, that's neatly cinematic, but I don't know why it's there. The same goes for the two minute outro to Heat Death and the album, which I presume is supposed to be the universe in a downward spiral through some celestial drain. It's all interesting on the first time through but it gets old really quickly.

Given that I tend to look for different sounds even in my death metal, it's odd to say that my favourite parts of this album are the fast ones. While I can't say the production helps them, the band really know how to kick it up on songs like Infinite Resurrection and Cerulean Salvation. I found myself engrossed in the music on these tracks, because it has ambition and energy and, as far as the production allows us to tell, it's tight. I found myself wishing that the album was instrumental so I could hear more of that.

It's only because there are so many instrumental sections that I considered a 7/10 but the vocals bounce it right back down to 6/10. I've listened four or five times through and I'm just not grokking it. Maybe I need to catch a gig sometime and see how they sound live.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Sabaton - The Great War (2019)



Country: Sweden
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Instagram | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Is it a compliment or an insult to suggest that The Great War, which is the ninth studio album from one of Sweden's most recognisable power metal bands (and HammerFall's album comes out next week) is just like the first eight? I think it's a combination of both, because Sabaton score low on ambition but high on consistency. They're one of the most recognisable bands in the metal genre today because you know exactly what you're going to get every time.

For those new to the band, that means that the ten tracks proper here each last three or four minutes, contain a collection of strong hooks and catchy choruses and recount some sort of historical story about war. There's also a further theme to link them, which is particularly obvious this time because it's in the title of the album. For those not paying attention to all those anniversaries over the last few years, The Great War was World War I or the First World War, which ravaged Europe and changed everything.

It seems appropriate to call it here The War to End All Wars and add that it took place from 1914 to 1918 and I'll explain that. While some Sabaton fans rave about their knowledge of the history of warfare, this is legend as much as it's history and it's dotted with numbers to make it sound more detailed than it is. It's just the sort of simplified history you might read about in grade school books. Take these stories as rabbit holes and give them worth.

For instance, Alvin York was a real soldier and his deeds certainly deserve to be recounted (he attack on a German machine gun nest, capturing a hundred plus enemy soldiers and killing a couple of dozen). That story isn't 82nd All the Way, which is as shallow as the spooky tales a new parent might read their baby to send them to sleep. But hey, it's chock full of details like 8th October, 1917, the 338th, Hill 223 and the 82nd all the way to make it feel like more than, say, the Gary Cooper biopic.

It's fluff, folks. But it's insanely catchy fluff that attaches its hooks to your brain and refuses to release it until the next song has taken over. The band are so good at these hooks that others bands might kill for the secret. They're so good that every one of the songs here has a real shot at being a single. Four have made it so far: Fields of Verdun, The Red Baron, Great War and 82nd All the Way, and I can't argue with any of those, even if I'd call out The Attack of the Dead Men as the catchiest thing here.

But hey, there's so much that's catchy that we could each compile a top ten and still not come up with the same choices. Most of it is the vocals, where the verses are catchy, the bridges are catchier and every chorus is a deadly earworm. Some of it is choral, nesting multiple voices together, The Future of Warfare seemingly just as easy for Van Canto to cover as Primo Victoria from their first album in 2005. There's plenty of it in the guitars too and the keyboards bolster those, occasionally going solo, with a lovely Hammond sound at points. The drums do a great job of both accompanying and sounding like rifle shots in the background.

The line up is mostly the same as it was last time on 2016's The Last Stand. Vocalist Joakim Brodén and bass player Pär Sundström have been there all the way from the band's beginning in 1999. The rest of the band changed at once in 2013, with drummer Hannes van Dahl and guitarist Chris Rörland joining at that point. New fish Tommy Johansson replaced Thobbe Englund (who just put out a solo Judas Priest tribute album last week) on second guitar just after that last album and this is his recording debut with the band.

I highlight that because a new guitarist is at least a change. I think it's fair to say that everything else here is exactly as you remember it from any previous Sabaton album. And, as I said at the beginning of this review, it's both an insult and a compliment to point that out. No, there isn't anything remotely new here. Yes, it's just as good as you remember.

Madmess - Madmess (2019)



Country: Portugal
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 13 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Oddly, given that I've been highlighting an admirable diversity in the rock and metal coming out of countries like Poland, Greece and Finland, it seems that everything I review from Portugal is instrumental psychedelic rock. I'm sure there's other music being made there, but until I figure out where the good stuff is, here's another instrumental psychedelic rock album.

In fact, it's an instrumental psychedelic rock album from a band who played earlier this month in Porto with one of those other bands whose instrumental psychedelic rock album I reviewed earlier this year, Orangotango. Oddly, the Spanish half of the bill appears to have been grindcore bands, which doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to me, but hey.

This band is Madmess, who are surely doomed to have every Google search for them be 'corrected' to the name of a very different band, and they're from Porto, though they're apparently based in London nowadays. They play their psych with a deceptively loose touch and they play it long, the shortest of the four tracks here clocking in at six minutes on the dot. That gives them a lot of room for musical exploration.

Everything about them seems to tie to motion, though the intensity of that motion varies. It's wildest on The Storm, a maelstrom of activity that has more than a foot in the door of space rock. This could be what it's like to surf Jupiter's great red spot. Lunar Giant is much more patient, its bluesy jamming much more relaxed but never calm. It builds too, with some rumbling drums, to be just as dangerous, if not quite as intense. This giant may seem to be gentle but he hits frickin' hard when he wants to.

It's my favourite track here, though every track was my favourite until the next one hit. It does so much with mood, taking us up and down and in every other direction, as it wishes. It also ends beautifully, setting us up well for the more peaceful motion of Waves. Well, peaceful until it isn't, as the ocean can be just as dangerous as that lunar giant when it gets a hankering to wreak some real havoc. Oddly, there are vocals here, albeit not for long and in a way that doesn't really add anything to the song at all.

The obvious praise here goes to Ricardo Sampaio who handles all the guitars on the album, but that's not to diminish the work of his compatriots, Vasco Ricardo Sampaio, whose bass is a reliable constant under Sampaio's soloing and sometimes a neat counterpoint, and Luis Moura, whose drums do everything they need to do. I love his drum sound here, which is not as up front as I expect modern production to make it but still has all the oomph that it was hard to capture back in the day on old equipment.

I liked this a lot, especially The Storm and Lunar Giant in the middle, and I now look forward to the next instrumental psychedelic rock album that will show up from Portugal. But hey, feel free to throw in requests. Who's making good music in Portugal right now that isn't instrumental psychedelic rock? I see that there was a lot of prog rock in the seventies after the Carnation Revolution, then blues rock in the eighties. I know about Moonspell but I'm unable to conjure up another non-psych name. Help me out, folks!

Monday, 12 August 2019

Destruction - Born to Perish (2019)



Country: Germany
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Aug 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Teutonic thrash legends Destruction are back with their fourteenth original studio album (I'm excluding the two Thrash Anthems re-records) and, while I can't call it one of their best, it's a heck of a long way from their worst (there are reasons why even the band have disowned the ironically named The Least Successful Human Cannonball).

It actually felt a little underwhelming on a first listen, but then I turned the volume up and let it clean me out on a second time through. I couldn't quite figure it out, because Born to Perish is a blistering opener and none of these tracks are bad. Maybe the problem is that the first few tracks feel a little too similar.

As a long term Destruction fan (I played Eternal Devastation to death when it came out and I still pull out the Live Without Sense album pretty often), I'm aware that they're hardly the most progressive thrash band on the planet and they tend to just do what they do, live or recorded, but the first three tracks feel a little close and Rotten doesn't help, given that its chorus of "Rotten to the Core" can't help but bring Overkill's song of that name to mind and pale in comparison.

At least Rotten tries something different. So does Filthy Wealth, though it sounds familiar from the outset. Metallica's Jump in the Fire is part of it but there's something else too that I can't place (maybe a little Electro-Violence in the vocal line). Butchered for Life keeps up the variety with a quieter start that makes me realise just how much Schmier sounds like Alice Cooper in this style. It's actually quite cool.

Destruction are always at their best when playing fast, though. Sure, there are nuances allowed by a mid-pace that work pretty well but, when they're in their groove, they blister like few bands can. In fact, the precise moment when I realised how old and out of shape I am came when I hit the pit for an encore of Bestial Invasion a couple of years ago. How can anyone not go wild to a song as perfect as that?

Anyway, Tyrants of the Netherworld is my choice for the highlight here, with Born to Perish and a few other fast songs close on its heels. Ratcatcher had no effect on me first time through but really starts to stand out on further listens too. I look forward to hearing some of this material live when they come through Arizona again.

The band are half old and half new. Mike Sifringer is still there on guitar as he's been since the very beginning in 1982. Schmier is there too on bass and lead vocals, which makes two thirds of the founder members; he's played on most of the albums that the band will admit to. The new fish are Randy Black on drums, who's only the sixth drummer in almost four decades, and a second guitarist from Switzerland by the name of Damir Eskić. They're good hires, based on this album.

The oddest decision doesn't revolve around the line-up but the chose of the cover to close the album out. I wasn't expecting a Tygers of Pan Tang song, but Hellbound does sound pretty good in Destruction's hands, maybe a little melodic in the chorus, but hey. It's a good song and a good cover and I have a lot of respect for a band shining a spotlight on the Tygers.

tl;dr version: this is good stuff, even if it isn't great stuff, and I hope to see this line-up live soon.

The Matter of A - Amphibious (2019)



Country: Poland
Style: Gothic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

The Matter of A is a one man band, with Artur Jankowski responsible for the whole shebang: not just the singing and the playing of every instrument on this second album, but all the songwriting, arrangements and recording. He didn't paint the gorgeous cover (that's the work of wildly talented Russian artist Tanya Shatseva) and he didn't do the mixing and mastering, but that's about it. He probably put the kettle on too.

Jankowski (and thus The Matter of A) comes from the heart of Poland, a town called Mińsk Mazowiecki, which is east of Warsaw, but that can't explain the wild variety of sounds on offer here. I found the album labelled as prog or gothic rock and both sounds are certainly in here. However, I'm hearing far more than that. The band's Bandcamp page also tags this album as electronic, ambient, industrial and jazz, which helps to highlight some of its admirable diversity.

I was hooked from the outset. I played the opener, Gone and Done, three or four times before I let it run on into the next track. It's built softly on a gorgeous bass run with some ethereal saxophone and some goth musing. That sax keeps teasing us with flavour as it jumps into driving darkwave, but it isn't the only flavour. Is Jankowski playing a koto here? It's some sort of eastern lute, whatever it is, or the equivalent setting on a synthesiser.

How do I describe this stuff? Just on that one track, there's Joy Division and Primus and the Cure. There's Dream Theater and King Crimson and maybe even some reasonably accessible John Zorn. There's European darkwave of the sort you expect to find in an East Berlin nightclub before the vampires dig in to the snacks. There's stuff I don't recognise at all, because Jankowski digs deep for his influences and crafting something entirely new. I like it a lot. And overall, the feel is gothic rock because that's inherent in the vocals as well as some of the music.

While a lot of these elements move through the tracks, there's variety there too. Phase Up is less ethereal and more in your face. The Haunting Roar goes another notch up that scale, switching out quiet piano for industrial power chord assault. The Comedian's Dead highlights that this is definitely a drum machine, almost new wave in its sound but gloomier than anything mainstream. Windshield is NDH material, Rammstein with sax appeal and harmonica. Phase Disconnect gets all experimental, like Lacrimas Profundere on the other side of a dozen filters. I'm not fond of the overdone cymbals here but I love the drums.

I find this wildly interesting stuff. It's different to anything else that I can remember hearing and I treasure that. The fact that it's also damn good is a bonus. Weirdly, it's Jankowski's bass that impresses me most here, except for his songwriting of course. There's a lot of bass here and he plays it as a lead instrument. Every now and again it fades into the rest of the music, only to make itself known again soon enough in a different way. The bass on Gone and Done isn't the bass on Inside and Outside, but it's gorgeous on both.

Other aspects do that too. There's a delightful Mike Oldfield style guitar on Phase Disconnect that emerges out of the ether halfway through the track, only to dance with the drums with real style. There are little sounds like that throughout the album and they highlight to me how we need more jazz in rock music, even when it isn't instrumental fusion.

You'll know by what I've said thus far whether this is likely to be for you, but I'm really digging this and I think Inside and Outside is going to take over from Children of the Sün's Her Game as what's playing in my head when I wake up every morning. This is definitely an album I'll be returning to soon to see if I need to up my rating.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Velesar - Dziwadła (2019)



Country: Poland
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 6 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

I had trouble finding a second album to review today. I weeded through many lesser albums that I wouldn't review here, only to find a great one that was perfect until I released that it won't be released until the 23rd. So, back to the search went I until I found Velesar, a Polish band formed last year by Marcin Wieczorek, who had previously sung for bands like Goddess of Sin, Radogast and River of Time, covering heavy, thrash and folk ground in the process.

This is folk metal, as the atmospheric intro makes very clear. It features a host of interesting instruments mixing together in the rain, including drum, flute and violin, but also voices as instruments. It's delightful and it's a great way to set the mood. So is the opening track proper, Taniec diaboła, a wild piece of music that demonstrates how lively folk metal can be. I wanted to get up and dance which, besides being ill advised in a kilt, is something I have zero talent at. My feet couldn't stay still though. I was unsurprised to discover that the song's title translates to The Devil's Dance.

While I like the metal instrumentation here, it's the folk instruments that really stood out as dominant. The violin that leads the way on so many songs, like Zew Arkony and Ślad Swarożyca and that's variously the work of Iga Suchara and Jagoda Połednik. Similarly, there are two flautists here. Zuzanna Bornikowska is responsible for the flute on Ostatnia Kupalnocka and the title track, but Katarzyna Babilas handles most of the rest.

The other folk instrument is an unusual one, a kemanche, which can be heard on the title track; I had to look up what it is, finding that it's a bowed string instrument from the eastern Mediterranean. I thought it's what provided that gorgeous tone behind Karczmiany troll, which is much more serious sounding, but I'm told that that's a violin instead, meaning that I'm even more impressed with the violinists. I'm also happy that the flute and violin are lead instruments here and it's the best folk metal that allows that, instead of expecting only some texture here and there. Plony wouldn't be the same without a violin.

Marcin Wieczorek's voice is just a little rough to give him character and a lot firm to be a commanding lead. Dawid Holona gets moments here and there to highlight why this is folk metal rather than just folk, with good solos on Ostatnia Kupalnocka and Plony. I was highly impressed by the drummers, as the drums vary so much on this album but never cease to be interesting. Again, they're the work of two people: Łukasz Obiegły and Marcin Frąckowiak, who also plays the rhythm guitar.

While the majority of the album is lively and uplifting, built on dances and shanties, there's a darkness to it too, albeit a friendly one as highlighted by the album's title, which is Polish for Freaks. The intro is Where the Sun Does Not Reach and there are songs here called Brother's Blood, Wolf Pack and Troll Inn. It's fairy tale darkness, I think, as is hinted on the cover art, and I love that.

I hadn't heard of Velesar before, but I'm paying attention now. They've only released one single before this, which is the opening track, Taniec diaboła, but this debut album is consistently strong for almost an hour. I hope they continue to make music for a long time to come.

And, should I one day win the lottery, I'd love to see Velesar live. I want to see the pit come alive during tracks like Normanica, a Viking shanty. I'm sure the stage would be alive with seven musicians on it playing their socks off. This is folk metal the way that I like it best: lively and frantic and tight, with folk instruments at the fore. Let's see if YouTube will allow me to live vicariously through video.

Roxy Blue - Roxy Blue (2019)



Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Aug 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Sometimes it just doesn't seem like 2019! Bang Tango are touring with Faster Pussycat. I've reviewed new albums by Jetboy and Tora Tora. And now, here's the first album of new material from Roxy Blue in 27 years.

It has to be said, with hindsight, that 1992 was hardly the best year for a glam rock band to release their debut album. Nirvana had released Nevermind in 1991 and firmly ended an era. Roxy Blue's album was called Want Some? As nobody did in 1992, they vanished pretty quickly from sight. The point, of course, is that timing is far from everything. So their timing sucked. That doesn't mean that they didn't turn out a pretty damn good album. I still have mine on CD and going back to it reminded me just how fantastic songs like Sister Sister were.

Now, almost three decades on, Roxy Blue are back to kick it up a couple of notches. Modern production values are part of it, but this is ten times as in your face as Want Some? from moment one. The cover is so minimalist as to feel like a manifesto: it's just the band's old logo but on battered steel, with the lip imprint and stars intact. It screams down and dirty glam rock and that's exactly what is. These guys may not be young and pretty any more but they still know how to kick ass and it does feel like they have a real hunger for it that 27 years not touring might just prompt.

Silver Lining and Rockstar Junkie are both in your face songs to kick this off. They're downtuned but upbeat. The guitars have a tough tone, like they want blood and they want it now. The melodies have a husky delivery, as if Todd Poole's vocal cords have been doused in a bottle of Jack for every day of that 27 year gap. Everything about the production is dirty where, in the glam rock heyday, it would have been sleazy. As a song, Rockstar Junkie has the chops to have been on Too Fast for Love, but not with this production. This is like Godsmack covering that in 2002 and that's most of this album.

And I really couldn't get very far from comparisons to more modern American music. Scream, with its grungy guitar tone, vocal effects and alternative filters, could have been recorded by any number of crappy nu metal bands if only they had more than that tone to go on. Collide often feels like it's a country song rather than a ballad, but it's so gritty that it would infect the Grand Ole Opry with something distinctly unsavoury. On Outta the Blue, Poole may well have screamed it through a metal pipe from the next warehouse over, but the guitars never lose that bouncy glam mindset even under thirty shades of rust.

And that's what makes this work. Whatever contemporary sound they're trying to emulate, they still rock. They feel like they're going to take any local bar apart and kick the ass of everyone there, while those big names wouldn't be seen dead in places like that. That sort of gig is beneath them. I don't think Roxy Blue care. They just want to rip it up again and they do, with a host of hints at where they came from in the songs. I heard some Kashmir in Blinders and there's plenty of On the Road Again in Til the Well Runs Dry.

Welcome back, folks. Times have changed. Good music hasn't.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Volbeat - Rewind, Replay, Rebound (2019)



Country: Denmark
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 2 Aug 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives |Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Somehow I've managed to miss out on the varied joy that is Volbeat, a group from Denmark who have been around since 2001, feature a former key member of Anthrax in their line up and have little interest in playing only one style. Unlike the Roadside Crows album I reviewed yesterday, however, the shifting from one sound to another somehow doesn't remove coherence from the record.

I'll get to my surprising conclusion on that later. First, I'll introduce a few apparently disparate sounds that Volbeat keep returning to, so you can see how this builds.

For a start, there's safe alternative rock. Last Day Under the Sun could be a Bryan Adams song if it didn't have quite so crunchy a guitar tone. Rewind the Exit is perkier than Creed and less funky than the Chili Peppers but is reminiscent of both. Cloud 9 epitomises this approach, being overtly radio friendly with its harmonies and strong beats.

It also features a little rockabilly, the second sound in play. As you might expect, Pelvis on Fire is kind of like a punk rock Elvis holding court over a very different audience to the ones he thrilled in Las Vegas. Sorry Sack o' Bones does the same thing but it has a gimmicky edge, like the melody is taken from an alternate universe TV theme tune.

And then there's groove metal, when they decide they want to be heavier for a while. Cheapside Sloggers introduces this when it goes all doomy and starts into Metallica-style chugging guitars. The Everlasting is a bold red underline to that, easily the heaviest song on the album, with that chugging guitar sound accompanied by a more James Hetfield style vocal style.

That's not quite everything, because there are also tracks like Parasite, an abidingly polite 37 second punk song which cheekily became the first single, and When We Were Kids, which feels Irish, like a Flogging Molly ballad, but with some oddly classical riffage added in for good measure. However, those three styles cover the majority of what's going on here. This is rockabilly and alternative rock and groove metal. You know, because why not?

But here's the kicker... while each of the first few songs only play in one of those styles, as the album runs on they quickly start to merge them until everything surprisingly starts to sound like a safer version of the Michale Graves era of the Misfits, just without the expected associated focus on the schlocky horror sci-fi movies of the fifties. That begins with Die to Live, which is only experimental in the sense that the band decided they wanted to see if they could get a piano, a saxophone and the lead singer of Clutch on the same song.

And, to me, that averaging sound is really odd, but it's also weirdly blah. Like them or not, those first few songs aren't ones that can be ignored. If you like Last Day Under the Sun, you may not like Pelvis on Fire and that's doubled the other way around, but both are excellent examples of what they try to be and they'll both have a lot of fans. By the time we get to later songs such as Maybe I Believe, Leviathan and The Awakening of Bonnie Parker, it's all starting to sound the same and my main focus unintentionally ended up being to miss Doyle's guitars every time.

I didn't go to see Volbeat when they hit Phoenix last week as a supporting act on the Slipknot tour, but I have friends who went. I'll have to ask what they thought of the line-up, which is surprisingly diverse, even if we see Volbeat as just one style. They're clearly not Slipknot, but they're hardly Gojira or Behemoth either and none of those are remotely like any of the others. I'm all for breadth of styles but I do wonder who showed up to see whom on that tour and who was still playing when they left.

Based on this album, I'm intrigued as to what earlier albums sound like and there are six of them out there in the wild. I want to find out where these sounds came from, but sadly a lot more than I want to listen to this again.

Calvaire - Nodus Tollens (2019)


Country: Singapore
Style: Post-Black Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 21 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Twitter | YouTube

I've reviewed a couple of post-rock albums here at Apocalypse Later in 2019. Sparkle and especially Ogmasun explore the post-rock mindset of not writing songs in a traditional form but creating soundscapes by playing traditional rock instruments. I've also reviewed some post-hardcore, which sadly doesn't share that mindset. Fortunately, post-black metal does and here's a quality example from Singapore's Calvaire, presumably named for the Belgian horror film with Vincent Cassel but maybe for the novel by Octave Mirbeau.

Now, black metal has often leaned towards the verbose, so songs of eight or nine minutes in length is nothing new. It's often mixed with ambient music, so the quieter side of this album isn't surprising either. Even when it's at its loudest and most raucous, black metal enjoys a wall of sound approach, a further step into soundscape territory. And, of course, black metal shrieks have always been an instrument in themselves.

In other words, it's not much of a step to go from black metal to post-black metal. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to find that a good deal of what I'm used to calling black metal genre was really post-black metal, merely before the term was ever coined. This album knows that it's post-black metal but it isn't too far adrift from its parent genre with five full tracks that total just shy of forty minutes, a further two minute collection of sounds called Liberosis nudging it over that mark.

To my thinking, the best tracks are the opener and the closer, but what's in between doesn't slack any. Aokigahara is the opener, named for the so-called Suicide Forest on the lava slopes of Mount Fuji. This seems appropriate, as Calvaire are often listed as playing depressive black metal too, and suicide is about as depressive as depressive gets. The album title might prompt that because it refers to the realisation that you don't understand the story of your own life, as if you're a character in the wrong book. Flowers of Fixed Ideas is the closer and I have no idea to what that refers.

I should add here, however, that I didn't find either of these tracks to be depressing (and I've listened to plenty of depressive black metal that is). I found them to have a melancholy to them but the bell-like guitar work has both a ritual aspect and an uplifting nature. Aokigahara is more deliberate, so I wonder if it's about someone (usually a young lady) visiting the forest to take her own life but Flowers of Fixed Ideas is about her returning home having not done so.

By comparison, Lacrimae Rerum is harsher, more brutal and more incessant, a sort of assault that presumably brings on the tears mentioned in its title. It does quieten down at points but it's always more black than post-black. Liberosis, the experimental two minutes that follows it, is more post-black than black, so the album does swing back and forth. The Celestial Dog has a lot of each side, as does Open Grave Dialogue, which combines blastbeats and shrieks with a slow melodic guitar line floating over everything, as if it's a spirit leaving a body.

This is interesting stuff. It's not for those who want their black metal to sound like the product of a cluster of demons celebrating their evil works. It's for those who appreciate the idea of post-rock but also believe in the idea that evocative soundscapes can be harsh and brutal.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Crypto Chaos - Sediments of Wrath (2019)



Country: Iran
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

I've been having internet trouble this evening while trying to get work done so I decided to throw on some thrash to cheer me up. It really ought to be a recognised cure for what ails you! Now, I have a stack of interesting thrash to work through but Crypto Chaos hail from Tabriz in northern Iran, which is one of those unlikely metal countries that keeps on turning out interesting material nowadays, so I threw on their debut, Sediments of Wrath.

Initially, it's pretty basic thrash but it's done well, Moshpit Underground being as enjoyable as its title is clichéd. Then again, I can't see moshpits being a particularly government supported activity in Tabriz, so what might seem like a clichéd title to us might be grim reality there. As to sound, I immediately caught an early Testament feel but with a more evil set of pipes on vocalist Damo, more German in style, like Schmier from Destruction mixed with Tom Angelripper from Sodom.

It's a mid tempo song and so is Thousand Natural Shocks but, just as we're convincing ourselves that the band aren't planning to create anything fancy, they add in some eastern strings and my ears perked right up. That's a wild sound right there and I wanted more of it, but it didn't manifest elsewhere. The song is still much more complex and adventurous than the opener, though.

And then Carnivore ups the tempo and I was totally sold. It makes the first two tracks seem like they were played in slow motion and it's just what the doctor ordered today. I'd have preferred more up tempo thrash but Carnivore is not the only such song on offer. Rebellion of Authority also ratchets up the speed and writing a song about a rebellion against authority in Iran is a sort of rebellion against authority in itself, in a neat but sad meta touch.

Just to keep that thought alive, Revolt ramps up the tempo as well and also wraps up gloriously. As you might expect from its title, Bullet is another fast one for three in a row. However, not all those songs stay fast and the other songs don't always get there. It's a mixed album with regard to speed and, as it ran on, I started to hear not just thrash influences but power influences too, like Accept. There are sections in Bullet and in White Cave that feel very Accept in sound, albeit sans the classical additions. As I listened through the album again, I heard more of that sort of thing.

While I'm seeing conflicting information, I gather there are three people in the band, but that's two guitarists, Trigger and Brontide, and a vocalist in Damo who also handles bass duties. I'm assuming that they're using a session drummer. They're all capable and that bass is refreshingly prominent in the mix on occasion. Whoever's handling the drums does a solid job too.

At the end of the day, this is good stuff and I enjoyed it a great deal. It did exactly what I needed from an album tonight and if I wanted more speed and more of those eastern strings from Thousand Natural Shocks, that doesn't mean I didn't like what I got. This is more good stuff from Iran.

The Roadside Crows - The Roadside Crows (2019)



Country: Australia
Style: Alternative
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 7 Jul 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter

Here's something different: the debut from an Aussie rock band by the name of the Roadside Crows. I'd tell you what style they play except that I can't really be sure what they're aiming at. Is this a coherent album? Not on your nelly. But hey, did I enjoy the heck out of it? Why, yes I did!

It starts out strange with a 58 second intro and a sub-two minute first song that sound like Tom Waits trying alt country. The latter is named If There's a God Out There, with the obvious subtitle of "He's sure got a strange sense of humour." It's subdued for a song, more like a spoken word performance of alternative poetry with gospel backing and even some brass at the end.

And then suddenly we're in garage rock territory with My God is Better Than Your God, delightfully lo fi and sounding as vibrant as if it was recorded live on my desk right in front of me. The vocals are spat out with suitable pith but it was a couple of drum fills that sold me on it. It sounds like a completely different band or perhaps even two, given that, even at less than two and a half minutes, it stops halfway and restarts at a different pace.

I started to wonder if the Roadside Crows were a band or a record label who had put out a weird compilation album without band names. Well, consistency does show up in a few ways but the band apparently have no idea what style they play. It gets more than a little schizophrenic.

Rest Well, for instance, finds a patient groove. It's alt blues, the sort of sound I might expect to hear behind Screaming Jay Hawkins, except Andrew on lead vocals sounds far more like a younger, more acid Nick Cave. In an Empty Room in an Empty House comes up next as a solo acoustic guitar piece with a deep resonant voice over it and a wild atmosphere conjured up behind.

They're both interesting songs. Rain and Another Morning, however, are just more songs on an album where most of the tracks can't be described with that sort of dismissal. They're things like a delightful ska tune called I Fucked Up, which would be a huge hit at parties, or a fifties rock 'n' roll number called I Wanna Make a Cuppa Tea. Like them or not, you're not going to call these just more songs. They're characters in a variety performance.

Some of the songs don't even feel like they were recorded in a studio, or at least not while the artists knew it. The 29 seconds of Trojan sound like a guitarist noodling away in a corner between takes not having a clue that the mike's still on. Without sounds like sixties folk pop recorded outside at a party. In an Empty Room could be a street recording of a depressed but very talented busker.

And yet others are clearly crafted songs, like Faces Make Fools, which is a really tight track with a neatly escalating sense of tension that evaporates in effortless style. Talk is also pretty traditional, relatively speaking, a rock 'n' roll number with a welcome return for brass. The last serious song, In the Sun (Tammie's Song) is more modern sounding Nick Cave with a notably playful bass when the whole song gets loose. The Roadside Crows clearly have no intention of ever being predictable.

So, after all that and a few times through this album, I'm still not quite sure what to think about it. They're clearly talented. I dug a lot of these songs. They don't sound like anyone else, especially on a grand scale if you factor in just how many genres they play in. And not being able to describe a band sounds like a positive to me and my eclectic heart. But somehow I do want to and I can't. Whether you need this album in your life will depend on whether that sounds like a positive rather than a negative.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Dream Tröll - Second to None (2019)



Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 12 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

Well, here's something special, for a number of reasons, only one of which is the fact that I'd highly recommend it.

Dream Tröll are based in Leeds, in northern England, and this is a follow-up to their debut album, The Knight of Rebellion. That was released in 2017 and this album is brand new, honestly released in July 2019, even though it has very little intention of acknowledging the new millennium. If it wasn't for the decent modern production, this would sound very much like it was made in the early eighties when I was a hop, skip and jump away in Halifax, a swift train ride from venues Dream Tröll might play.

And, as an old school metalhead who discovered rock and metal in 1984, this brings back so many memories. Most importantly, it doesn't just sound like a whole bunch of bands I remember from the hallowed pages of Kerrang! and my carefully recorded tapes of the Friday Rock Show, it sounds as good as any of them ever did and they're combined into a sound that somehow avoids what we might expect initially from the umlauted name and then everything else on offer, from the cover art to the promo photos, from the songs to the lyrics.

That's cheese and surely the greatest success this band have achieved is the fact that they're not cheesy at all when it's almost impossible for them to avoid it. They play traditional heavy metal with a NWOBHM mindset, a strong nod to power metal and a real taste for progressive rock. There's a point in The Lawmaker when I could have sworn I was listening to Marillion's Grendel. There are keyboards all over the place. The songs are long: the shortest of them over five and a half minutes, the longest over ten. And just listen to Chrome Skull Viper!

Beyond the song's title, which is so clichéd that I can imagine cover art, the lyrics sound rather like something Steel Panther might write in parody. "Transcending beyond worlds, through the howling vortex, the astral door reveals the chosen one. You want it! You got it! Dance with the chrome skull viper!" There's no way that this can't be embarrassing but it isn't. It's a damn good song and, while I really have to be in the mood to listen to Steel Panther, I'd happily listen to this album all day long. In fact I just did.

It's going to be fun trying to describe them because none of these songs are recognisable as any one influence, but many influences are overt. Let's just suggest that the band took every British heavy metal band from 1980 to maybe 1987, stuffed them into a blender, invoked the metal gods and hit the power, emerging fully formed as Dream Tröll. If I must focus closer, let's see the fundamental ingredients as Victim of Changes, Grendel, Kingdom of Madness, Lightning to the Nations and maybe even some Eye in the Sky, all wrapped up in the first couple of Demon albums.

There are no songs to highlight because every song is a highlight, complete with its own highlights. Legion is the epic but I'm not going to elevate it over The Lawmaker or Darkness Lies Within the Sun. Is Steel Winged Warrior a catchier song than Chrome Skull Viper? The Art of Death won't leave me alone and the other two tracks deserve mention too: Checkmate... Annihilate! and I Will Not Die Today. And those eight tracks, every one of which has its very own identity, almost reach an hour between them. There's no shortage of good material here.

In short, while this really ought to be awful, embarrassing, clichéd stuff, it may be the most fun I've had with an album all year. I adored every part of it. Now I need to look back to The Knight of Rebellion, which featured a smaller line-up (Paul Walsh has replaced Rob Stringer on vocals and they've hired an actual bassist, Paul Thornton, so Matt Baldwinson can stick to his guitar). In between was a three track EP, The Witch's Curse.

It's a good day. I've found a new favourite band!

Atomic Time - Out of the Loop (2019)



Country: Brazil
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website

A minute into second track Shooting Star, Roger Lopes started singing and it caught me completely by surprise. It just hadn't registered on me, after the first eight minutes, including the whole of Robot Can Lie, that Atomic Time weren't an instrumental band. They tie more to prog rock than anything else, but there's a jazz feel too and I was intrigued as to where the instruments would go with their interaction. I just wasn't thinking about words.

Perhaps the reason I'm reviewing the album is because Lopes, with his quiet and unassuming vocal, adds another level to the music, which is otherwise as much driven by the keyboards of Gabriel D'Incao as the guitar of his father Pedro. Add in drummer Silvio Serra, who has been playing alongside the elder D'Incao for over thirty years, and you have a band whose members know each other inside out and can therefore mix things up without shocking them. João Ribeiro is the bassist tasked with being noticed in this setup and he does an excellent job. Just check out the beginning of Grey Sky for just one of many moments in the spotlight.

The band's page on Bandcamp suggests that their influences are chiefly with the old school prog bands of the seventies, like King Crimson, Yes and ELP, but with a more modern tinge of Radiohead too. I'd add Vangelis here too, as I heard a lot of his style here, as the synths drive so much of this, from the very first notes. Radiohead makes a lot of sense though, because while the band are all quite obviously talented musicians, they're most interested here in setting a tone.

I tend to think of King Crimson as experimenters, Yes as songwriters and ELP as virtuosos, while Radiohead, especially on their best and least commercial albums, are about creating moods and textures that we haven't heard before, stretching instruments far enough that they have to invent some themselves. The moods here are generally laid back, but they're more important than the songwriting and the mastery of technique.

Those moods grow too, as the album runs on. If the first couple of songs are relatively grounded, introspective explorations placing us in the mindset of a small indie coffee shop stage, then Grey Sky manages to levitate the band through the roof; they keep on playing as they float away into the distance. Gabriel D'Incao is clearly finding things to do with his Moog that I haven't heard before and that's a very welcome sign to me. The most important thing, though is that, rather than stick to a healthy elevation and finish up a hot chocolate, I chose to float along with Atomic Time without thinking.

With all distractions evaporated, Rivers is utterly delightful, initially as a vocal track and then especially as an instrumental one. I don't know how I floated with the Moog while still somehow focused on what Ribeiro's bass was and wasn't doing, but there was a point where I felt like I was listening to each of these musicians simultaneously both apart and together. It's a real experience of a track.

And, quite frankly, there's something of that thinking in almost every track here, especially when we let the album replay. That goes even on relatively conventional tracks, like The Same, which does betray a lot more of that Yes influence. The whole album manages to become rather like a hallucination or a dream. Sure, it's easy to listen to but it's easy to listen to in the way that brings us out of our own skin because its skin is more comfortable.

No Time for Angels, the epic ten minute closer, is the one exception. It's as raucous and abrasive as the band gets, and while it's highly enjoyable, it works differently to the earlier tracks. Put simply, it forces us to pay attention, while everything else entices us in. I didn't like it as much for that reason. It didn't lose me by being a nightmare instead of a dream; it lost me by waking me up from my trance.

Fortunately, I could just roll right back into the trance through the magic of repeat play. I believe this is Atomic Time's first album but I'm already waiting impatiently for the follow up.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Prometeo - Aurora (2019)



Country: Peru
Style: Groove Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 23 Jun 2019
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Prometeo translates to Prometheus in French, Italian and Esperanto and many others, I'm sure, including Spanish, the language this band sing in because they're from Peru; they sent this in after I reviewed Coffin Rags and Regum. I love how scenes coalesce even when bands don't play in the same style. Unlike those groups who play black metal and hard rock/heavy metal respectively, Prometeo are a groove metal band.

And they're a good one. Colisión, the first track proper, kicks off with an absolutely textbook set of escalations, except it switches out the last step into fast thrash for a heavy groove instead. Prometeo play heavy throughout, often achingly so, and they play very tight too, but they resist that speed element, even though there are a whole slew of points where we think they're about to let loose.

I wonder how they would have sounded had they gone there. Profetas is a pit starter for sure and it's about as fast as they get. I think quite a few of these songs would sound more intense at higher speed, but they'd lose some of their heaviness in the process and that's not what Prometeo are looking for. Instead they use Luis Lopez's drums as a way to ratchet the intensity up and down as needed.

I'm not the world's biggest groove metal fan, but this is good stuff. To me, groove metal needs a tight sound, solid riffs and vocals that are both tough and melodic. That's not an easy set of attributes to fill, especially with as much of it reliant on good songwriting as good performance, but Prometeo have them all down. Check out the melodies in the title track, which always stays heavy even when the guitars and the vocals are getting all melodic. Intermisión does the same thing too, really well.

Part of it may be the fact that the band doesn't only feature two guitarists but two vocalists too. Percy Sonan and Christian Bjork handle the guitars in the expected sort of way, one holding down a riff while the other solos. The vocals are more interesting, because there's a male vocal and a female vocal but they're not always easily distinguished. Is that Beatriz Farfan leading the way on Yo but Leo Vannucci on most of the others?

Their collaboration leads to some really interesting sounds. Often they sing the same lyrics together for depth. On Treinta Monedas, that'll be Vannucci in front but Farfan right behind him like an improvisational echo. She's not a prominent part of the mix but she's there and she deepens the sound. What's more, on Intermisión, there's a whispery evil to the vocals which I presume is due to the two singers combining superpowers but it never leaves heavy or groove metal for a more evil genre.

Valientes is an odd one. I keep hearing old Paradise Lost songs in bands of late, but it's generally been the old doom/death Paradise Lost. Here, it's Draconian Times-era Paradise Lost because there's plenty of Once Solemn in Valientes, once it starts chugging, but always with the benefits of modern production. It's not just the guitars either but the vocals too, which feel reminiscent of Nick Holmes at that point.

I like this album, but I'd like to see them live even more. These guys ought to kick ass in a small club. Hopefully, now that they've been signed by the American label Rotten Brain Records in a two album deal, they'll get to play somewhere a little closer to me than Lima. Sure, they're just down the west coast, but there are nine countries in between.

Oh, and they have the best intro music I've heard in a long while. I really hope they come out on stage to Alea Jacta Est because it's a magnificent setup for a metal band.

Dendrites - Grow (2019)



Country: Greece
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 9 Jun 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr | YouTube

My virtual travels around the world over the last couple of weeks netted me a couple of interesting submissions for review and I'm always happy when my inbox sparks up with quality new music from bands from all around the globe. First up are Dendrites, yet another interesting outfit from Greece who don't sound like any of the other interesting outfits from Greece I keep finding. They're from Volos on the Aegean, home in antiquity to the hero Jason, but this bunch are a heck of a lot more laid back.

They call what they do "groovy southern stoner rock" and, for once, that's a pretty accurate description. In keeping with the overtly American influences that I heard in Voidnaut, Skybinder and Soundtruck, Dendrites often sound as if they're closer to Athens, GA than Athens, Greece. Thanasis Tiblalexis has a fluency in English that many people in the deepsouth don't have and that's not just regular language but profanity too, which isn't throwaway.

It does highlight a certain attitude to kick off an album with a song named Get the Fuck and then follow up with Bullet Dodger about "your sensitive son of a bitch". Then again, their debut album from 2016 featured a track with a name as subtle as Whiskey Preachin' Motherfucker. They feel like the sort of band who play gigs on Tennessee stages that are protected by chicken wire and love it.

What's notable is that both Bullet Dodger and the next song, Throwing Rocks, are regular vocal based tracks until, well, they're not, each of them ending but then carrying on with a couple of minutes more jamming. Stoner rock has never been a single thing and Dendrites bring a lot of different influences from those worlds. There's as much Hell Yeah or Black Label Society here as there is Kyuss or Fu Manchu. There's also a grunge influence in the way the vocal lines are phrased, as if they know and like melody but don't ever want to be seen as radio friendly.

While the album rocks for a while, the first three tracks playing relatively consistently, Dendrites cover more ground than that. Dreamhouse Pt. 1 is far too deliberate for me, rather like alt country on a forced tempo, but I love the liquid guitar of Giorgos Alexiou. This is psychedelic territory and it's interesting instrumentally if not vocally. I'm Gonna Fly, which wraps up the album, is even more laid back, so far that it features a saxophone. It's a trip and it's gorgeous.

Mostly, though, Dendrites stay in that grungy stoner rock mould with a southern edge, nailed home by Tiblalexis's accent. That's not shit creek he's stuck up, it's shit crick. They do this sound well, but it gets a little samey in the second half of the album. Bullet Dodger is a much stronger single than Leave Me Behind; and a song like River, with its wild solos, ought to sound great deep into a live set but next to one of the band's catchier songs.

With the exception of I'm Gonna Fly, the best songs for me are in the first half, not just the rockers that start things out but also Dreamhouse Pt. 2, which builds off an old school riff to feel like a much dirtier Cathedral, less doomy and less cheesy but even more psychedelic and wild. As much as I didn't like Tiblalexis's vocals on Pt. 1, I think he makes up for it on Pt. 2 because he really cuts loose on this one to wail with style.

I wanted to like this a little more than I did, but it's good stuff and it's another really interesting sound to come out of Greece. The southern stoner thing works and fans of the genre will dig this, but the looser the band gets, the more interesting they get. I wonder if they jam more on stage.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Children of the Sün - Flowers (2019)



Country: Sweden
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 26 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Here's a real gem that came out of nowhere and I still know almost nothing about Children of the Sün, who clearly have one foot firmly planted in the Summer of Love and the other striding into the early seventies. I know that they come from Arvika, Sweden and there are apparently eight members of the band, only two of them male, but I don't know what each of them do.

They talk up the sixties connection everywhere, it seems, raising Woodstock and adding, very confidently, that "No one since has managed to reincarnate the feeling of nature, soul and rock music, that was on that magical field north of New York, since. Until now." The thing is that they have something of a point and what's truly impressive is that they replicate the feel, not any particular artist's style.

While there's definitely a lot of late sixties here, most obviously in the brief intro and the title track, I'd suggest that there's more than a bit of seventies in their sound too though. Quite a few tracks are built like John Kongos did so memorably back in 1972, not least Her Game and Sunchild. While there's almost nothing modern at all, the production is definitely very 21st century so we wouldn't mistake this for a disc that someone found on a shelf after half a century and brought to the world's attention. There are effects here that would have blown people's minds back in 1968 too.

I try not to always talk through every track like I'm some match commentator but this album does invite it because each of them adds something different to the sound.

Her Game starts out like San Fran pop rock, the vocals initially reminding of Grace Slick until the whole thing evolves into a John Kongos song, right down to the looping chorus and the wailing backing vocals. Emmy is more of a vocal workout laid over a laid back Hammond organ. The Swedish accent isn't Janis Joplin's and the tone is much sweeter but some of the approach is very reminiscent. There are great transitions here too, where a voice or voices give way to or merge with guitars in a glorious harmony.

Hard Workin' Man is completely different and very interesting. It starts out with some funky beats and a vicious slide guitar, clearly a rock version of some old blues song we've never heard before, but flows completely naturally into a sort of psychedelic Beatles tune instead, eventually returning again. Sunchild has some world music in the vocal approach, overt in the a capella opening, along with some Abba and some Sandy Denny, a heady mix indeed, all again in the phrasing rather than the tone.

The title track is the most hippified song on offer, not only because it's named Flowers but because of its handheld percussion and that guitar line. The voice that comes to mind here is Dolores O'Riordan's, that recognisable Irish lilt working well on a Swedish voice. Like a Sound is odd as a follow-up because it's like a hard rock song that isn't sure how hard it wants to be. Every time it thinks about really rocking it up, it calms down again and stays pop. It's an interesting piece and a successful one but it oddly makes us think about what it could have been rather than what it is.

That leaves Beyond the Sun, complete with a plaintive harmonica somewhere in the distance. It's a singer/songwriter piece of the sort I'd expect to find on a Kate & Anna McGarrigle album. Well, until it really escalates into the hippie campfire singalong song that it felt like being all along.

I wish I knew who was doing what here, so I could praise everyone, but I can do that by just praising everyone anyway. This is a real throwback album but it's done incredibly well and without ever seeming to try too hard. It feels like the band just recorded this for themselves rather than some demographic or other. And it all works, really well. I've been playing it over and over all day and I can see myself coming back to it again and again, which is why I'm going to edge this up from the 8/10 I was expecting to my first 9/10 of August. Let's see if anything can top it!

Narnia - From Darkness to Light (2019)



Country: Sweden
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 2 Aug 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

When I decided to wrap up this first week of August with a couple of albums from Swedish bands, I honestly expected the high note I aimed to finish on to be from Narnia rather than Children of the Sün. After all, the latter are new, their debut album coming out of nowhere, while Narnia have been around since 1996, releasing six studio albums before they split up and another two after they reformed, with most of the same line-up too, only bassist Jonatan Samuelsson being new.

Album nine is certainly good stuff. It's melodic and it's catchy and it has enjoyable solos and plenty of riffing that feels a little safe because evil isn't a good sound for a Christian rock band. They do couch their preaching on tracks like Has the River Run Dry? and From Darkness to Light, though it is there if you listen carefully to the lyrics. On other songs, it's rather up front, especially on MNFST and I Will Follow. But hey, I review plenty of bands who write songs about Satan, Odin or their favourite elder god from the Cthulhu Mythos. I have no problem with a band who sings about Jesus.

I especially have no problem with a band who sings about Jesus when it puts songs as glorious (for want of a better word) as The Armor of God. It stands out well, kicking off with swirling keyboards and solid riffs but continuing with catchy vocals and catchier guitars to drive the song home. It's easily my favourite song on offer, even though it arrives after the opening track, A Crack in thy Sky, which is the single, and You are the Air That I Breathe, which probably should have been.

Those are good songs, but The Armor of God is better and has everything you could possibly want from a melodic power metal song, from killer riffs all the way to a soft piano outro. The only catch is that I was thinking about Sammo Hung rather than the son of God, but that's me. I'm a film critic too. On my first time through, it was my obvious highlight and I was disappointed that the other tracks were unable to match it.

In fact, on my first time through, I felt that the rest of the album fell a little too overtly on the side of safety, perhaps trying to be a bit nice, a great attribute for an evangelical Christian but not a great attribute for a power metal band. I'll have to go back to whatever early Narnia albums that I vaguely remember, because I thought they were heavier than this but not so steeped in prog rock.

On a second listen, however, I got into the album a lot more, because of a host of moments that started to stand out: some of the guitars in MNFST, a melody here in A Crack in the Sky and a prog rock section there in Sail On. Some that had leapt out on the first listen, such as the Hallelujah vocal midway through The War That Tore the Land, bookending a strong guitar solo, stood out even more. Some, like the instrumental sections within the rather Iron Maiden-ish From Darkness to Light, coalesced better. It's good stuff.

White metallers will already have picked this up, but you don't have to be religious to enjoy it. So the blind conformity in lyrics of I Will Follow might feel anathema to the rebellious nature of metal; it still sounds good and it's one of the weaker songs on the album. And, at the end of the day, sounding good is what matters.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Soundtruck - Voodoo (2019)



Country: Greece
Style: Southern Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 31 Jul 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

If melodic metalcore band Skybinder play in a modern American style, that goes double for Soundtruck, also from Athens, who play southern rock. One of the highlights they raise across their web presence was opening an Athens show for Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2012. There's definitely some Skynyrd in their sound, but it's mostly more modern, even if the other names they list as influences don't get any newer than Blackfoot or Whitesnake, hardly fresh young things any of them.

They've been around for a while, even if they haven't recorded much, just a self titled album back in 2012, but there have been line up changes. If I'm reading things correctly, Billy Panagopoulos on guitar and Dimitris Lykakis on bass are the only ones to date back to that Skynyrd gig, having been with the band from the very start in 2008. George Kalaitzoglou, the drummer, and guitarist Greg Apostolopous joined in 2014, with vocalist Romanos Alexander the new fish, coming on board in 2017.

They feel very comfortable together, not just because they're tight but also because they're deceptively loose. Songs like Voodoo Woman are so loose that a band where musicians don't live in each other's heads would fall apart in no time. It's a real highlight here, not my favourite song but one to really appreciate nonetheless. Everyone gets their moment here, often all at once. During the solos in the middle, the guitarists play off each other, Lykakis patiently keeps time on bass and Kalaitzoglou keeps things very lively.

There's a heck of a lot here to enjoy, because Soundtruck never repeat the same song twice. Stay is a laid back blues rock song in the Blue Jean Blues style, but with smoother, more radio friendly vocals. Those vocals fit That Lady even better, as a hard rock song that would play very well indeed to a melodic rock fan. If That Lady plays it safe, The Calling has an edge to it, Lykakis's bass an ominous rumble, the guitars hinting at imminent menace and Alexander adding some danger to his voice.

Interestingly, those three songs come next to each other on the album, like a sort of progression. I like The Calling a lot, because Alexander's voice is so inherently friendly that it tends to take a little edge away from the band. This one, and the slower Wanted Dead or Alive-esque track that's The Train, restore some balance and they do it nicely. That last one's a western as much as it is southern.

With all that goodness in the second half of the album, I should point out that the first couple of tracks may be the best couple of tracks. Senorita is the catchiest and liveliest song here, played in a sort of Black Crowes meets Molly Hatchet style with an AC/DC midsection; it would be an obvious choice for a single. So would Heading Your Way, although it's a lot heavier and more reminiscent of the Cult. It's probably my favourite track here.

With only nine tracks on offer, that leaves The Wind is Blowing and Time to Change, the latter of which is easily the weakest song on the album, like a routine country song rocked up a little. It has a good solo but it's far too emphatically inoffensive to make me care. Would the album have been short at 37 minutes? It would have been a better album without it, albeit not enough to warrant an extra rating point. This is a strong 8/10 though to set August off running in style. Thank you, Greece, as always.