Welcome to Heavy Metal Spotlight! On here you can find reviews and features about metal bands both known to many, and known to few. Sharing my discoveries, or adding to the discussion about well known metal music is something I deeply enjoy, and I'm delighted that it reaches people who are interested from time to time. Don't forget to like the facebook page to keep up to date more easily with what I'm reviewing, to make suggestions about reviews, and the blog in general, and to annoy me as much as you please. If that doesn't float your boat, you can also suggest bands for me to take a look at in the slightly obsolete suggestions post which I'll keep, despite the facebook page.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

#358 Meads of Asphodel - The Murder of Jesus the Jew

Every now and again, I stumble across a band that I very quickly get really, really into. Currently, the band occupying that "slot" in my listening has been The Meads of Asphodel, an English avant-garde black metal act, and, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most interesting and unique bands out there. Sometimes, when I write reviews, I refrain from immediately telling you what I think from the outset, instead leaving my verdict as more of a surprise, only revealed by the reader having to strenuously complete the task of scrolling past the large image of the album art directly below the introductory paragraph... This time however, spoiler-warning, I think the record in question - The Murder of Jesus the Jew - is exceptionally good. The rest of the review is going to involve me telling you why I think so, quite possibly at great length.

Sometimes less is more. Sometimes, alternatively, more is also more. And where more is more, The Meads of Asphodel bring what might well be the most. Particularly on this record, which manages to be the most dynamic and varied - and yet cohesive and flowing - album of its kind that I've ever heard. The whole thing - best listened to in its entirety, might I add - is eclectic, absorbing, grandiose and at times sublimely beautiful and grim in equal measure. Tracks like "My Psychotic Sand Deity" epitomise the record for me, running the spectrum from crushing, twisted black metal right through to sublime lead-guitar and comfortably incorporated beautiful choral singing, all whilst managing to avoid paying the usual price of coming across as spastic, and over-saturated with contrast. Nothing about the album is superfluous despite the huge - legitimately huge - swathe of influences which are brought into the fold.  The fact is, The Meads of Asphodel are actually a very difficult band to explain, such is the extent to which they go against the grain of what a black-metal listener might expect, pushing the envelope and furthering the things which the genre is capable of. Perhaps the sheer difficulty they pose to the reviewer - who is, after all, trying to put into words something which is not words but is instead sound - is the highest compliment I can pay to their work.

As I said, the record is exceptionally good, and while I - as many are - am guilty of sometimes using words like "exceptionally" merely as something to keep the word "good" company within the sentence, this time around, I very, very much mean it. The album itself, a concept album, is one which showcases just how well music can be utilised to tell a story - and unlike many a "concept album" this one actually sounds conceptual, with the life and death of Jesus evoked very effectively by the musical choices; the grandiose portrays the divine, as used early on in "...Psychotic Sand Deity", which concerns the wrath of God. Likewise, the record sounds very biblical, both with its epic sections and its crude, gristle-chewing sections, with Metatron's brutal narration gnashing and snarling it's condemnation on anything which stands in it's path. The competently dynamic nature of the record also ensures the other sounds which are present; punk influences, more modern sounding sections, and a multitude of others, are all woven in very seamlessly. While the record dances from style to style merrily, there is no point at which the listener is juddered out of their enjoyment of the music with a cry of "What the fuck happened there?", and really that says it all - if there was one band I firmly trust to capitalise on a "more is more" approach, this is it.

Ultimately, all that I have to say about this record has been said. Despite being from 2010, The Murder of Jesus the Jew has managed to be one of the albums which has greatly impacted my listening in 2014, and for good reason; it's one of the best albums I've listened to in a long time, and in the world of avant-garde metal, perhaps the best within that sphere that I have heard thus far.

This is a definite 10/10.

The Meads of Asphodel on Bandcamp
The Meads of Asphodel on Facebook
The Meads of Asphodel on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Live Review #011: "EdinbURGH", w/ Bonesaw, Ninkharsag, et al.

Of the live-reviews I've written, this one probably involves the most obscure bands thus far. Obscurity is not, of course, synonymous with low-quality, and of all of the shows which illustrate this fact, this may well have been one of the best. Indeed, this review highlights some of what are, and were, my favourite metal bands from around the UK. Initially, owing to it's relative obscurity, perhaps limiting its interest to the metal community at large, I hadn't planned to review this, but as the dust settled after Bonesaw's set - Bonesaw's last ever set - as I thought about it, I realised that yes, writing a review seemed the thing to do. Not only because it demonstrates that the depths of the underground can put on some of the best shows in metal, but also because many of the bands involved, obscure as they are, should be of interest to the metal community at large.

Black thrash band Nolti Nan Gana Nan Nolta were the first on. They were the promoter's band, and, as it happens, are also the band that I'm in. Consequently, it's not really my place to attempt much of a public analysis of how their - our - set went; that was for the crowd to decide. I quite simply did my best to deliver a good show from behind the drum-kit, and pleasantly, things went quite well. Our performance ended with a feeling of general positivity, an anticipation of the evening yet to come, and a thirst for beer. The most positive sign of things to come was the sheer number of people who were already arriving in the crowd so early; more than the total-attendance of some shows I've seen in the same venue, and definitely a substantial number of people. The Banshee Labyrinth where "EdinbURGH" was held is the epitome of an underground venue; hidden, tiny, at times cramped, but likewise home to some of the best shows I've ever seen, and a true physical cornerstone of the local metal scene. Tonight, it would later emerge, was to be no different, and the numbers present foreshadowed the crowding to come. 

Second up were Newcastle old-school death-metal outfit Live Burial, who deliver some of the meatiest, filthiest old-school goodness out there. Undulating, powerful riffs with a thick and unique tone, accompanied by cavernous vocals. The sound front-out-house isn't quite perfect, but the essence of the bands work comes through clearly, with lengthy, substantial death-metal tracks energising the crowd and appealing to the sensibilities of anyone with a love of everything from crushing Swedish death metal to the from-the-gutter nastiness of Autopsy or the hammer-blow of Asphyx, all delivered tightly and comfortably. Live Burial can claim ownership to some of the best riffs in the business.

Evil Blood have been more-or-less going since 1982, and they show no signs of slowing down. Indeed, I certainly consider them among the underground's true hidden gems, and with each performance they demonstrate why. Their set revisits plenty of their classics; "Malevolent Warrior", "Kill With Napalm", "Midnight in Sodom" and the like, but also delivers new material which manages to stay true to the spirit of the band, something which many of the far larger bands with similarly long careers cannot do. The band's evil, Venom-inspired thrash enthuses the crowd well, and while the guitar cuts-out at one point, it somehow manages to sound like it was meant to - heck, as far as I know it might actually have been intentional - which very much limits any impact the mishap might have had. In short, Evil Blood once again re-affirm why they're superb.

While Evil Blood tidied up their equipment, and Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves set up theirs, I attempted to run up the hill to buy something for supper. Unfortunately, I didn't consider the fact that I would also have to eat said supper before returning to the venue. The price - missing the first few songs that Tommy Concrete's lycanthropic gang unleashed. Fortunately, I did catch the majority of their set, and as ever, they bring a ferocious, sublimely dirty d-beat metalpunk oldschool-thrash inspired attack upon us all, motoring along like a punk lawnmower. As someone who appreciates d-beats and leering old-schoolery, their set was consumed with every bit as much relish as the kebab which kept me outside had done moments earlier.

Ninkharsag are, I gather, the head-liners officially, and while I suspect more people were drawn here to witness Bonesaw's last ever show, there is no doubt whatsoever that Ninkharsag earned the right to sit at the top of a bill like this. Their atmosphere and execution is flawless; wreathed in dry ice and commencing a true-to-the-second-wave black metal onslaught with all of the regal magnificence, malevolence and majesty offered by the best their peers in the genre. The serious, dark, brooding style with which the band conduct themselves grants the set a presence and aura which many bands strive to achieve, and many, indeed, fail to. Their forty-minute journey into the pits of hell feels earnest and legitimate - this is a band to whom black-metal is serious business, but they manage to keep it such without falling to the dime-a-dozen clich├ęs which infest the thousands of bands who are simply playing at being Mayhem. Ultimately, Ninkharsag's live show backs up their studio work in suggesting that they are one of the great forces to be reckoned with in the UK scene.

And so onto Bonesaw. Bonesaw are, truly, what an underground band is all-about; soldiering on for fourteen years not for money, not for prestige, but for the love of metal, and there is no calling more earnest than that. They are integrity incarnate. I've seen the band countless times; in Aberdeen from whence they came, in Glasgow, in Edinburgh, and every single time they delivered a fantastic show. No sound-check, no fucking-around, they go up on stage, and they do what they do best. This night is no exception, and they blast through a set of grimy, nasty, down-right-filthy old-school death-metal inspired by Autopsy. Every track sends the crowd into greater fits of chaos and abandon; pits happen in a room not-much bigger than the one I'm sitting in right now - there's even crowd-surfing, as best the low roof will allow; the behaviour of a crowd giving their all to a band who are giving it their all, for one last time... and what a time it was. 

A relatively long set and several encores later, business is concluded; the background music comes back on, and as the equipment is packed-away and disassembled, so too is Bonesaw itself. It has truly been an honour to play on the same shows as the band on so many occasions, and their music has truly been a gift - a gift which will last forever - to the local scene, and the wider world of death-metal. The sorrow of seeing such a fantastic band play for the final time is blended with the joy of seeing a fantastic performance, the capstone on an already extremely enjoyable gig. It was fantastic to see so many people, and I very much hope that Bonesaw received the send-off they deserved.

Fantastic to the end. A band that will be greatly missed by the metal community.

Bonesaw on Facebook
Bonesaw on Metal Archives

Ninkharsag on Facebook
Ninkharsag on Metal Archives

Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves on Facebook

Evil Blood on Facebook
Evil Blood on Metal Archives

Live Burial on Facebook
Live Burial on Metal Archives

Nolti Nan Gana Nan Nolta on Facebook
Nolti Nan Gana Nan Nolta on Metal Archives

Sunday, 24 August 2014

#357 Children of Technology - Future Decay

I'm a massive fan of d-beats. Logically following from this, I'm a massive fan of Children of Technology's post-apocalyptic d-beat relishing attack. For as long as I've been aware of their first full-length release; It's Time to Face the Doomsday - a sneering, grimy, thermonuclear storm in  twenty-five minutes, I've been eagerly hoping for a follow-up. Perhaps it's indicative of how haphazardly I keep up with metal news that the way in which I found out that the band's second full length - Future Decay - had come into existence was simply because I was browsing bands I like on metal archives, just in case they'd made new albums - heck, sometimes I'm late to the party, but sometimes the method works works. As it turns out, Children of Technology had.

Future Decay opens with a somewhat more grandiose opening than I expected, with the first minute of music amounting to a distinct, enjoyable, and very musically solid intro-section, indicative perhaps of some misty moment of maturity, or stroke of inspiration the part of the band. Soon, a squeal and acceleration of the music forward, like some oil-drenched road-machine ensures the listener that no, the whole album definitely isn't going to be like that... or quite like that, anyway. It promptly ups in intensity, and very seldom relents right through to its conclusion, unleashing pent up d-beats like steam from a locomotive. There's something about the tone throughout the record which steeps it in something quite breezy, fresh, almost elevating; at first listen it seemed an unusual choice, but subsequently grew on me. As with the previous record, it's an attack, a lurching, vicious riff-fest, oozing greasy-haired, oil-on-your-hands metalpunk snottiness, but this album, as the intro foreshadowed, really does at times feel big. I can't quite tell the extent to which I'm imagining this shimmer in the music, but it does to some extent seem to be there; an impression of passion, scale; the roaring motorbike of d-beat madness colliding with the vast, scenic salt-flat, and the soaring chord progressions in the riffs certainly help to grant it this feel. It's odd for music like this to feel outright panoramic, and as first impressions go, that one makes Future Decay an extremely interesting album, especially considering how well it seems to work.

Atmosphere aside, which I've dwelt on for far too long as it is, the record offers you roughy what you would expect - I dare say what you would hope for - from a Children of Technology album. It's intense, cacophonous nuclear frenzy at its best, executed so as to be an indulgence;so many of the riffs and songs are extremely well formed, but stick close enough to the shores of familiarity to deliver music which, instead of taking you by surprise, is exactly what, knowing the genre, you want to hear - indeed, it's the sort of album you would happily refer someone to if they simply asked for "a good metalpunk record". For that reason, of course, it would be exaggerating to describe the record as particularly innovative or ground-breaking (although it does feel unusually fresh for a genre with its fair share of recurring musical tropes), but that need not count against it. People often underestimate how strong an album can be when it relies on simply being good at what it does, and this is such a record; a fitting continuation of the bands career, and clearly the product of individuals well-versed in their genre, and in particular, well versed in how to make it damn well. 

Initially, I had my misgivings about Future Decay. Nothing major, of course, but a level of uncertainty about whether I was really enjoying what I was hearing. Subsequent listens - always vital to the process of digesting an album - have revealed that I do, indeed, enjoy the music to be found on the record. It's a bit different to its predecessor, but that if anything is refreshing, and to the sound of thunderous d-beats, I'm exceptionally refreshed.

This is an 8/10.

Children of Technology on Bandcamp
Children of Technology on Facebook
Children of Technology on Metal Archives