Sunday, 21 December 2014

#367 Bunker 66 - Screaming Rock Believers

Within my music taste, I like to think everything has a place - at least as far as the metal-spectrum, still my primary residence, goes. For every grandiose and atmospheric record which passes through the speakers on my desk, there is likely to be a filthy slice of rock n' roll which is every bit as welcome to my ears. Every mind-altering, spirit-elevating record is balanced neatly by something a little more down to earth. Sometimes, like today, you just want to listen to a gnarly old-school serving of loud guitars and pounding rhythm - and there's definitely nothing wrong with that. Often, as will be the case in this review, d-beats are involved, and that... that makes things all the better.

Bursting into life with "Seduce Me Tonight" - a cover from Celtic Frost's less than worshipped "Cold Lake" record, Screaming Rock Believers is a brave, brave album. Lots of bands might be tempted to cover Celtic Frost. Many have, in fact - but by covering such an unexpected track, Bunker 66 instantly prove that they don't exactly do what every other band does. They may worship the old-school, but the record feels distinct and character-filled, standing tall in its own kingdom rather than trying so hard to be something else. The sped-up, rampaging cover-rendition, as it happens, far outstrips the original, and sets the tone for the rock-gone-crazy sound of the record as a whole. Generally, the album isn't one which is overly worried about genre and style based lines in the sand: it is very clearly free from restraint creatively. Consequently, it offers everything from fantastically catchy clean choruses, right through to filthy blast-beat fuelled sections which carry more than a whiff of extremity. The album feels all the more of an achievement for doing this, too - it takes everything from almost glam-style sections right through to a hearty black metal influence, but rather than carelessly cramming them together, it actually comprises a record which takes these disparate elements and crafts a smooth and rewarding record to listen to. 

A friend of mine described Bunker 66 as being "stadium metalpunk". In many ways, this album offers reasons to think so. The accustomed filthy approach to song-writing by the band is of course very much intact - don't worry about that; the songs on here are definitely as good as their last full length - Inferno Interceptors. Many of them rush along at high tempo, d-beats at the ready, and all the while accompanied by Thorne's distinct and enjoyable vocal style, offering the "classic" Bunker 66 sound. This time, however, the tracks often come across as a little more creative; the formula is spliced and spiced-up by an even more tangible rock influence, easily earning Screaming Rock Believers its name. The slow, catchy sections very much earn their place, often serving as the most fun-filled, memorable sections of songs, and bringing a swaggering rock n' roll sleaze, and a couple of very enjoyable sing-along choruses, to the proceedings. Songs like the title-track are a great example of "good old rock n' roll" being adopted fruitfully by the underground of today, with results which I absolutely approve of - bands like Bunker 66 and Midnight have proven that. It's a direction which was slightly unexpected in this case, but extremely enjoyable to listen to.

Bunker 66 have proven that they have what it takes to make a solid second-record. Often, when a band only has one full length, it is to the detriment of their presence in one's mind. The record might be fantastic, as Inferno Interceptors was, but nonetheless, it is only one album. With Screaming Rock Believers, the band have renewed and reaffirmed their absolute legitimacy, and certainly managed to re-enter my regular listening, rather than being a very occasional indulgence. I'm sure I've finished many reviews along these lines by now, but it's truth doesn't depreciate for it; there's no school like the old school. 

This is an 8.5/10.

Bunker 66 on Bandcamp
Bunker 66 on Facebook
Bunker 66 on Metal Archives

Sunday, 14 December 2014

#366 Mesmur - Self Titled

I try to listen to as much music as I can. No matter how well versed you become in a genre - or rather, how well versed you think you are - there's always more. There are constant surprises and new directions to explore. As the year winds down in December, I find myself pondering what the tone of the year as a whole has been for me, in terms of my listening. One genre which sticks out for me is Funeral Doom - I entered January knowing little besides Ahab, and as the months have passed, I've done my best to take more and more on-board, both of death-doom and funeral doom. I bring this up because I hope I'm now sufficiently equipped with background knowledge to review a funeral doom record coherently. The one I have in mind is the self-titled début by United States band Mesmur.

I open by saying that Mesmur do what a funeral-doom band ought to do. This becomes immediately apparent as the listeners find themselves engulfed in mournful, wailing lead-guitar and thick, crushing rhythm, united with clear but thoroughly appropriate production, erasing any worries of the record having the "shaky start" that some débuts do. It is, to state the obvious, both funereal, and doomy - and at that, very well executed. The record is a thorough manifestation of what makes the genre good. It is sorrowful with sincerity, but also otherworldly; it lifts you out of yourself with sonic vastness. The combination of percussive intensity with rolling, reeling riffs creates in the listener the mindset of being underwater - a surreal, sepia reality incongruent with the trappings of the mundane. Emotional content is heightened with evocative lead-work and tastefully restrained keys, which do absolute justice to the record's vision, opposed to being some sort of unwelcome visitor. The juxtaposed claustrophobia and vastness of early Ahab colliding headlong with the emotional depth and heart-rending melancholy and majesty of Evoken, if that gives any kind of comparison. The song-writing skill showcased throughout the album's labyrinthine catacombs of sound is impressive, and delivers immediate enjoyment as the songs progress, much in the way one enjoys beholding a well-crafted object of any sort. 

In a genre of monstrously long records and double-albums, at only 52 minutes, Mesmur's début is a short but sweet affair compared to some. Nonetheless, it feels whole and complete; not a tentative toe dipped into murky waters, but a fully formed realization of vision. It's over before you expect it to be, perhaps, but it does not feel stunted or withered as a work. The creative integrity which shines through in the production, musicianship and song-writing makes it an immediately appealing record. The feel - in terms of atmosphere and immediate musical gratification - of the record is sublime. The melodies themselves aren't always immediately accessible, but not in a sense of them lacking anything - the music is simply quite intricate. There is out-of-the-box thinking afoot, and the record becomes a densely populated, difficult to fathom affair compared to something more simplistic; I realised after several listens that I had been basking in the atmosphere, but still wasn't certain where specific songs began, or ended. The music delivered is music which you feel more than music for you to know. While I listen to the record, its quality speaks volumes, even if I can't fully remember after several listens. I don't see this as a problem, however. The album absorbs you, like a vision, keeping you for 52 minutes - it exists as a whole in my mind, and while each part is definitely itself a superb track, the five united are how the album presented itself to me foremost, and I would suggest that that is how it is best digested.

Mesmur's self-titled is a very strong first appearance by the band - a record which truly embodies the genre it stands-for, delivering what you'd expect, and what you'd want - but more importantly, delivering it well. Very well indeed. At the time of me writing this, there isn't a particularly tangible amount of attention being paid to the band. It won't be long, however, until the metal community encircle this gem, and give it the appreciation it is almost certainly due.

This is an 8/10.

Mesmur on Facebook

Thursday, 4 December 2014

#365 Horrendous - Ecdysis

It's nice to see a band tangibly grow - to see an album which has really managed to make people turn their heads with interest. How familiar with the feeling you are tends to be tied to how long you've been into metal - it takes a few years to delve into the currents and flows, to see where things are going, and to know where the lines between vacuous and justified hype lie. I'm never entirely sure if I'm there, yet. The point being, on the subject of bands which have been trailing a considerable wake of hype and acclaim, I'm something of a latecomer to the work of Horrendous - discovering their début record "The Chills" in light of the acclaim surrounding it, as opposed to originating any sort of hype around it myself. So too, in many ways, for their second work; Ecdysis - in fact, while the record came out mid-October, I've only properly listened to it in the last few weeks. I have, however, been aware of it for longer than that, and now, the time has come to see if my listening experience matches the outright impressive amount of hubbub the record has created throughout the metal community.

Every concious choice of an artist, or a group of creators, as a band is, has an effect on its audience. The first thing which is likely to strike anyone about Ecdysis isn't musical at all, in fact, it's the fact that the band's logo is left off the album's artwork. There are two paths I could take here; first off not reading very much into it - after all, perhaps the logo just didn't lend itself to being superimposed over the artwork the band settled upon - and that's eminently plausible. However, if I read more into it - wrong as I may be - we see an album which visually shrugs away the conventional "artwork and logo" format which typifies metal releases; something which reflects the fact that likewise, sonically, Ecdysis is no ordinary death metal record. Whether or not this is true, it sets the scene rather well for the album's music. "The Chills" was a superb old-school death metal work, and an inspired one, at that. Ecdysis is not quite "more of the same" however - instead, the album represents an expansion of the penchant for ingenuity and experiment on the part of the band - delving deeper and more sprawlingly into the seeds of unique atmosphere and fantastic composition planted by The Chills, which in this record have grown into twisted, unearthly trees.

The beginning of the record introduces the development extremely well; the uncanny, almost underwater feel of the music immediately plain. Horrendous' first record had this feel too - one of outright Lovecraftian difference, but is even more pronounced here. The atmosphere is bolstered by - created from, to a great extent, in fact - the wailing, distinct lead-guitar, harmonies and melodies which the band not only saturate the record with, but justify doing so by the dreamscape which results - while there might be a lot, it certainly isn't too much. It could seem tempting to assume that other elements of the music might suffer for this, but the resultant creation is not actually something rendered unwieldy or unbalanced by the lead-heavy playing - quite the opposite; when the record outright indulges in pure riff-based playing, the listener is urged to relish it even more - and solid riffs they are indeed, reflecting the refreshing song-writing which goes into the album. Ecdysis smoothly traverses everything from traditional, Swedish death-metal inspired passages right through to others which feel, my finite knowledge perhaps showing, like something genuinely exciting and new - certainly, I can't think of a band who have made a record which sounded quite like this one before, and the record is made all the more exciting for it. The record manages to capture being fresh without falling into the pitfalls which always cling close to blazing a trail. It's substantial but not over-long, atmospheric without being over the top, and innovative without having to flirt with gratuitous craziness.

Ecdysis takes a few spins to work its magic - or at least, it did for me. It's quite an incomprehensible record, initially, but with each spin it reveals fresh secrets. Even the first spin, however, will give the listener a taste which they will find themselves racing to delve into again, and of the marks of great records, being able to do that is certainly among them. What's more, there are plenty of other underlying signs that Ecdysis is a legitimate contender to be among the best albums this year, some of which I have tried to express above... and while I probably can't convey that seamlessly in words, I would suggest that the album itself might.

This is a 9/10.

Horrendous on Facebook
Horrendous on Metal Archives

Sunday, 23 November 2014

#364 Desaster - Divine Blasphemies

I spent a while pondering what to review today - there are so many metal bands out there; almost an infinity of them, it sometimes seems, but sometimes it still takes a long time to find something. As the year slowly cools down, I have a growing awareness that I need to start getting my finger-on-the-pulse of how 2014 has shaped-up as a year in metal as a whole - in short, doing some revision, so perhaps I should focus on albums which were released this year. While I do that, however, it needs to be reconciled with the other side of what this site has always been about; reviewing albums whenever they're from. I'm as happy to review something from 2002 as 2014, with little regard for circumstance other than feeling like reviewing it. After deliberation, I settled on doing the latter, by looking at "Divine Blasphemies" by Teutonic black-thrash band Desaster. Why?.. because I can.

Desaster are one of the most consistent - and consistently underrated - entities within black-thrash. Uncompromisingly old-school and familiar, but likewise having claim to an instantly recognisable and distinct style. Nobody really does what Desaster do, in quite the way Desaster do it. Indeed, I could have picked more or less any of their albums as a backdrop against which to air these thoughts. Divine Blasphemies, however, is one which I feel expresses their style well; a striding and confident mid-era work, with some very well pronounced moments of what the band do best. The music is destructive, with the malice and sharpness of the best 1980's extremity, bred with the influences of second-wave black metal woven into the tapestry here and there. The music manages to be very intense regardless of tempo and structure, particularly with the production which the band choose, with truly pounding, clattering percussion emphasising the rushing, vicious aspect of the music whilst simultaneously giving the guitars room to do their ripping, desiccating work. The musicianship in these aspects, in fact, is really what gives Desaster a unique edge, as both the guitar-work, drumming, and indeed vocals, themselves loaded with rage and scything delivery, possess a lot of character, never failing to stand out from the crowd of the band's peers.

The atmosphere you get in a Desaster album - as is well represented here - is a very distinct one, capturing what might seem, on paper, quite a "standard" one; conquering might, and devilish violence... but doing so in a very different way to convention. It does what you expect black-thrash to do, but in a very different and fresh way, compared to the tried-and-tested table of laws to which many bands abide. Desaster's sound is one of great scale, but without being polished - the rawness and frostbitten sound of second-wave black metal is represented in a much more tangible way than it is with many of their peers. It has the regal, almost magnificent sound, and elevates the listener, whilst still sounding extremely faithful to the more overtly oldschool influences bubbling away below the surface - it's tough and visceral, but oddly beautiful and sonically indulgent at the same time. It's a strange blend, to tell the truth, and that is very much one of the things which gives Desaster as a whole the sonic magic that it has. The band are exciting to listen to not just because of their consistency or uniqueness, but because they do something extremely well which very few bands - even if others have tried - could do well.

It's a nice change, I find, to review something a bit more established - something which I've had quite a long time to let simmer. I can really come to some conclusions about what I think of an album like this, free from the mystification of shiny, new 2014 records. Something like this, beyond being a great album in its own right, is also a great palette cleanser. Desaster are a band you can count on to provide solid album after solid album - this one is no exception. It might be hard to explain exactly what it is that makes Desaster so enjoyable, but it's certainly something they've always managed to have.

This record is an 8/10.

Desaster Official Site
Desaster on Facebook
Desaster on Metal-Archives

Monday, 17 November 2014

Live Review #014: "The Annihilation of Glasgow": Atlantean Kodex w/ Solstice and Dark Forest (UK)

It's been one heck of an autumn - one heck of a year, in fact, in terms of live-music. I've seen bands I never dreamed I'd see. I've seen bands I'd never heard of, bands I'd heard about endlessly, and everything in between. Bands I've listened to for years, and bands I'd never listened to before I saw them. The last thirty days, especially, have been a real treat - three shows which easily compete with each other for gig of the year; Manilla Road blew me away about a month ago, and while I didn't so much see Bolt Thrower as stand on tip-toes ineffectually and hear them instead, it was nonetheless a fantastic experience. Completing this glorious triumvirate of bands I half expected never-to-see was epic-doom outfit Solstice, and indeed their brethren in Atlantean Kodex. Solstice are literally the first doom band I ever discovered, as best I recall, and one which has inspired and kept me sane for many years. When "The Annihilation of Glasgow" was announced, I was immediately enthusiastic; 'Kodex alone are every bit worth the train-fare and the ticket, and the later addition of Solstice - not to mention rising UK traditional-metal act Dark Forest - easily sealed the deal. Since that point, I looked forward to the event as one looks forward to any show with "gig of the year" potential.

Shows like this are always something special. Glasgow is a fairly big city, granted, but not one you expect, necessarily, to see shows like this in. Atlantean Kodex, and the lineup in general - arguably one nearing thematic perfection - must have had one heck of a draw. Any show where I see a substantial number of people I've never seen before is promising. Ones to which people have flocked to from neighbouring countries is a step more impressive again. In a loose way, I suppose, 'Kodex, Solstice and Dark Forest amount to a contingent of something of a scene - at least as far as scenes exist in these post-internet days. Regardless, all three share an ear for earnest, stirring and epic heavy-and-or-doom metal. Just as importantly, however, the three bands share a collective fan-base. Most of the people present were interested in seeing all three bands play, and this created a fantastically enthusiastic, revelling atmosphere from the very beginning.

Dark Forest were first up, with a slightly shorter-than-expected set. What they lack in time, they more than make up for with quality, and by the second song, with the sound front-of-house shining-up a treat, they make their presence felt. The fastest band of the night in terms of tempo, they deliver memorable and extremely well-executed traditional metal with no compromises. It's radiant, glimmering goodness, delivered the old fashioned - in other words, correct - way. They look the way you'd expect a traditional metal band to look, and equally, sound that way, but without excessive toe-dipping into the ocean of the derivative. This band isn't made up of ne'er-do-wells who listen to nothing but Iron Maiden and sound only like them too. Not Dark Forest. This is a band made up of people who are clearly legitimately passionate about traditional metal as a whole, and Maiden' inspired as some of their sections clearly are, there's a far more diverse range of influences going into the cauldron to make this brew - a brew, as it happens, which makes for one hell of a live show. A superb warm-up comprised of earnest, extremely well-written and pleasing-to-the ear metal. Delicious. I hope I get to see them play a longer set eventually.

I buy some merch in the time before Solstice. A shirt from both them and Atlantean Kodex. Then I move to the front to make sure I'm well placed to catch the band - a band I will re-state, I have been hoping to see for years. Amid splendid guitar tone, they burst into their set with The Sleeping Tyrant, to audible roaring-of-glee on the crowds part - extremely well deserved praise on the part of the band. Solstice aren't perhaps the tightest band of the night - arguably, in fact, the least tight of the three, but not in such a way as to detract from their presence and sound one bit... and besides, they make up for it by being superb. A few classics from New Dark Age, both non-instrumental tracks from I am the Hunter, and "White Horse Hill" - a new one which the vocalist mentions, in rather self-aware fashion, will probably be out "in the next fifteen years or so". It's a damn good track too, and I eagerly - but patiently - await its arrival in studio-form. It's good. It's New Dark Age levels of good, in fact.

Interestingly, the band don't dip into "Lamentations" at all, and while I'd have loved to hear a few tracks from it, just about every Solstice track could well be my favourite, so I'm not going to be one to complain. Finally seeing the band live is another great moment in a year bursting at the seams with great live-music moments, and while their music is very introspective for me, it translates relatively well to the hubbub of a busy venue. As so often is the case with bands I've yearned to see for years, it's harder than I expected to get into "the zone" when it comes to listening to them in a live setting, particularly a band like Solstice, which has always been music I listen to alone; I find myself having a constant awareness of being in a crowded room, which transmogrifies the experience somewhat. I didn't quite transcend reality and glide skywards as I occasionally do whilst listening to the band's studio work, but I was nonetheless impressed - Every bit worthwhile. 

Finally, Atlantean Kodex are an exceptionally good live band - even better than I was expecting, in fact. The sound is solid from where I'm standing, and the musicianship extremely tight - the band must put in a heck-of-a-lot of practice... and if they don't, well, they're damn lucky. The atmosphere amongst the crowd is superb. It's been a while since I saw crowd,-members who were able to sing entire songs word for word, and that should say it all. The band themselves really know how to deliver a good show. The energy is there, and the songs have everything of their glory in the live-setting; all of the grandiose splendour and fantastic riffs. The vocals are extremely good, better than many vocalists ever get in terms of integrity and delivery in the live setting, and easily every bit as good as their rendition on the studio-albums. Tracks like "Sol Invictus" really showcase a cohesive band, and an audience brimming with surging enthusiasm, coming together to create something which is sort of magical.

The whole thing - all the bands - are extremely affirmative of my faith in metal. I had worried that I might find Solstice to be the pinnacle of my evening, and end up unenthusiastic about Atlantean Kodex, but I was mistaken; the band are truly absorbing and impressive, and beyond that, very much managed to hold my attention despite having to follow-up one of my favourite bands of all time. Any band who can play for an-hour-and-a-half whilst still being memorable, engaging and whilst meeting with riotous approval from the crowd are one deserving of respect. Atlantean Kodex live up to everything good I've heard about their shows - their future is, I hope, one filled with promise. Epic metal, I think it can safely be said, is very very safe in their hands.

Atlantean Kodex: Official Site | Facebook | Metal-Archives
Solstice: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal-Archives
Dark Forest: Facebook | Metal-Archives

Monday, 3 November 2014

Live Review #013: Damnation Festival 2014: Bolt Thrower, Ahab, Saint Vitus et al.

I woke up tired, unreasonably early but necessarily on Saturday morning and slumped onto a train to Leeds. Later in that same session of being concious, I slumped off a different and opposite-directional train feeling even more tired on Sunday afternoon. At some point in between, I was at Damnation Festival, and between two caffeine dependant pieces of life-bread, the filling of this weekend sandwich was truly exquisite. Lured from my lofty northern castle of gratuitous metal elitism by the promise of Bolt Thrower - among other fantastic bands - I decided that I had reached the point in my life where going relatively far away from home to see bands had become very much worth-while. Conversely, it appears I have not yet reached a point in life where I'm sensible enough to get a hotel-room, as seven hours sitting in a railway station waiting for the first train home would go to show. Regardless, as I'm about to elucidate, it was very much worth it - in fact, one of the best things I've ever undertaken in the name of metal.

I've never faced the prospect of quite so many bands over quite so many stages before - especially as someone who hasn't done any multiple-day outdoor festivals at all. Regardless, looking at the line-up, there wasn't going to be too much loitering around. The timetabling was quite fortunate however; there were relatively few difficult-decision creating clashes, and none which involved missing bands I wanted to see but hadn't seen before. Of course, that's the thing with festivals - the occupational hazard, if you will, which can't really be avoided -  missing bands completely, missing the first songs by some, the last songs by others - it's a much more muddled experience than a normal show, especially considering it's also a good deal longer, and a lot of people end up a good deal less sober. Regardless, somehow my reserves of energy lasted all the way through the day.

I arrived early enough to wonder around aimlessly and work out where things were for a bit before the bands started... or at least, by that I mean I stood in various unexplored stretches of corridor announcing "where the fuck is this?" to nobody in particular. Eventually I blundered into people I knew, chatted for a while, and then, as the bands started, went down to see Amputated. As with the last time I saw them, the band deliver tight, enjoyable brutal-death metal with plenty of slams. As ever, extremely fun, and with some of the best slams in the UK, Party Cannon not withstanding. I'm not usually a brutal-death guy, but when it's live and in-the-flesh like this, it's extremely enjoyable. Considering it was 1pm, the enthusiasm and busyness on the part of the crowd - and the band too - was very positive, and one heck of an omen on how packed (albeit not, as some seemed to think, oppressively so) it was going to become. Amputated offered a very solid, professional and rigorously tight opening act, and managed to avoid the bad-sound which haphazardly preyed on bands throughout the evening.

I missed the last Amputated song to catch Bast on the smallest stage down even more stairs. I don't like leaving bands early, but at festivals it's usually a bit of a must. Regardless, Bast are one of the most interesting doom bands in the UK, levelling an absorbing, exciting and dynamic wave of crushing and memorable music at the assembled crowd. As a band, they traverse high tempos just as well as they do slow, with classic sounding doom-riffs mingling with atmospheric, almost avant-garde black-metal wizardry to create something which to my ear either hasn't - or has very seldom - been done before. Be sure to see them live if you can. When they were finished, I took a break for a while; got a drink, wondered around looking at merch and talking to people I know; essentially the usual stuff; I investigated Obsidian Kingdom but decided they weren't really my cup-of-tea after a while - and so I won't offer much in way of review.

The next band I saw were Leeds' very own Black Moth, who are above all things extremely fun, dispensing Sabbath-worship riffs and enjoyable vocal-patterns courtesy of their enthusiastic front-woman. They had a good-sized crowd, reasonably good sound, and are definitely a band I could see myself getting into - although I hadn't listened to more than a couple of their songs beforehand this time, which is always debilitating to my ability to say anything. The vocals could have done with a little bit of reverb to sweeten the deal, but beyond that, very positive - it's a shame, in fact, that I left early - and very prematurely, as it happened - to get to a different stage. 

Watching my countrymen in Falloch sound-check was an exercise in realising that I could still be seeing Black Moth. When they did begin their set, however, it was enjoyable enough; I'm not the biggest fan, especially of the vocals, but they certainly do some justice to their soaring post rock in the live setting. Atmospheric, well-delivered and tight, albeit as with Black Moth, the vocals lacked the reverb they needed. My final verdict before I left to catch Winterfylleth was one of some enjoyment, although I'd be lying to claim I was especially excited. I'm glad for them they drew a good crowd however, especially considering that I've seen them perform to about ten people in a room previously. 

I've even highlighted the bands I saw, quake mortals, at my generosity!

I arrived at the Terrorizer stage just before Winterfylleth began. They're a band I've heard many people praise live, and they weren't wrong. The whole set is a schooling in the excellence of tight execution; there's barely a hair out of place as track after track of grandiose and powerful black-metal. I've been listening to the band for a long time, and they every bit lived-up to my enthusiasm in the live setting. While I haven't listened to the new record yet, and thus didn't know a song or two, the band managed to faithfully recreate their formula live with all of its glory and vast-scale, even as a four-piece, and with only - and I forget - either a very minimal or totally non-existant backing track; an achievement indeed. Following Winterfylleth, I spent the next while socialising and communing with the spirits - namely Jägermeister. 

The next band I saw were A Forest of Stars. The first time I saw the band, in 2012 they stole the show - a truly fantastic and sublime performance, and quite a feat considering the headlining band was Wodensthrone, a favourite of mine at the time. By contrast, this time around was a bit of a sad affair. Not the band's fault at all - I considered and still consider them to be among the best bands out there. They performed a solid show... or... I expect they did, but I don't know, because couldn't hear them at all; the sound on the Eyesore Merch stage at this point seemed to have become so poor that A Forest of Stars - one of the most interesting and fantastic black-metal bands I've ever encountered - were sadly reduced to incoherent rumbling interspersed with soul-crushing feedback. Apparently the sound was a bit better at the front... but from where I was standing, all I could do was watch while one of the best bands in the building was mercilessly robbed of their time to shine. At least they're a band I know I can count on to return stronger than ever someday.

I leave the Eyesore Merch stage a little early to catch the beginning of Anaal Nathrakh. I've seen the band twice before, and while the latter of those times was relatively recent, I quite like to see a band often enough to compare and contrast their performances. This time around, I have to endure a few tracks from the new record... It's one I've heard mixed things about, but personally I'm not a fan. The backing track is so excessive and loud that I feel like I'm watching a miming act. Fortunately, this is scaled back a little by the time they play a selection of the classics. The last song I catch before heading upstairs is Between Shit and Piss We are Born - a personal favourite, and a fan favourite too. As ever, Dave Hunt has impeccable stage banter, and the band have a good stage presence, but this time around - as with the last time - they are a little underwhelming compared to my initial experience of them.

My reason for heading upstairs early is, fortunately, a good one. It's a certain little band called Saint Vitus. I've seen the before, and god damn it I'd happily see them ten times more. This evening, they're extremely energetic, and on exceptionally good form - the set is a true lesson in exactly what doom is all about. The songs are tight, with a fantastically thick guitar tone, truly giving a larger-than-life rendition of how they sound on Born Too Late - incidentally an album which they had set out to play all of. Wino delivers superbly good vocals, and both him and the rest of the band are possessed with an energy and enthusiasm which is truly inspiring. As expected, Dave Chandler delivers many an exuberant wah-laden solo, transporting everyone back to a time where electric-guitars were the coolest things on the planet... and let's not lie, that time endures to this day. After a few songs from other records, the band set out upon "the pink record", playing several tracks from it before (I can only assume) playing the title-track to rapturous applause. By that point, however, as much as I love Saint Vitus, I had moved back through the building to get to Ahab - it's a shame, but it had to be done.

I was truly filled with anticipation for Ahab. Ahab are a band which I only discovered a year or two ago, but one which has already had a massive, massive impact on me. Their mournful and crushing funeral doom have carried me through some difficult days in my life - or at least, as difficult as the days of a fairly lucky middle-class-in-denial university student can be. Live, their music is tight, and inspiring, and while the sound was too quiet for a few minutes, soon enough I'm swept away by their beautiful music. It's heavy, it's gorgeous, and it utterly lives up to the studio-albums. The clean vocals lament and soar, while the harsh vocals crush beneath the waves. The riffs are undulating and the lead work glimmering and fantastic, while the drums steadfastly keep time flawlessly. For me, Ahab may well be the band of the night, playing some of their best songs with incredible presence and talent. I've been lost at sea sometimes in my life - not literally, but metaphors are my spirit-animal - and sometimes the sound of Ahab's music coming across the waves and lifting me free from the raft of the Medusa has been what turned a foul day fair. They manage to draw a massive crowd despite clashing with Cannibal Corpse, and personally, I'd prefer them any day. They over-ran by about ten minutes, so, worried that I was missing Bolt Thrower, I scuttled-off quite quickly when Ahab's sprawling, fantastic set drew to a close.

The best part of a few thousand people were between me and Bolt Thrower when I arrived at the main stage. On the plus side, I'd managed to see all of Ahab without missing a second of Bolt Thrower, arriving on stage about five minutes before hostilities commenced. Their set included - indeed favoured - a lot of tracks from Those Once Loyal; The Killchain, Dead Armour and As Cannons Fade, to my recollection - possibly more. Conversely, I recall nothing from In Battle There is No Law, which was interesting - even a little unexpected, as I anticipated at least the title track. The band seem to favour the refined formula of their Warmaster-and-beyond years. This selection merges into being a little bit samey after a while. Not a bad samey however, let that be said. Some bands are a buffet, a smorgasbord. Bolt Thrower are a meal of one thing - but it's the best cooked, most delicious instance of that one thing you've ever, ever tasted.

Bolt Thrower more or less live up to their legendary status. As I remarked at the time, they didn't exactly glide onto the stage, levitating, with ancient and holy relics for instruments, but they certainly have one heck of a presence. A presence which I could just about appreciate from time to time given that I was behind people who are taller than me, and I can only manage tiptoes for so long at a time. The band shake the foundations of the building with their unique and crushing riff-style, intricate but devastating, with a guitar tone which sounds like the revving of an armour-division. They play several encores before calling it a night, playing more than they were billed to, and probably to most of the attendance of the entire festival... my sympathies - deepest sympathies - go to Fen, the only band with whom they clashed. Bolt Thrower utterly befit their legendary status, and over the course of an hour or so, proved it. They're only human... but they're humans who got damn good at playing death metal, and it was fantastic to see what almost appeared to be the entire underground gathered to witness it. It was, as I think Karl Willets said between songs, "a celebration of life through death metal".

Ultimately, I was drawn to Damnation first by Bolt Thrower - a band it is so rare to have the chance to witness, and I'm very glad to have seen. However, it was so much more than that too - a pleasure to see so many good bands, and a pleasure to see the UK metal scene out in force. The countless conversations with people I knew; long-term friends, acquaintances, people I've seen once or twice over the years, members of bands I've had the pleasure to share bills with in my band. It was one of the best and most tiring days of my life, and I'm eternally glad I decided to go.

In a World of Compromise... some sit for seven hours in the station waiting for the first train home. Whether hotels are a compromise or not is up for debate. For next year's sake, I hope not.

Bolt Thrower: Official Site | Metal-Archives
Ahab: Official Site | Facebook | Metal-Archives
Saint Vitus: Official Site | Facebook | Metal-Archives
Anaal Nathrakh: Facebook   | Metal-Archives
A Forest of Stars: Facebook  | Metal-Archives
Winterfylleth: Official Site | Facebook | Metal-Archives
Falloch: Official Site | Facebook | Metal-Archives
Black Moth: Facebook | Metal-Archives
Bast: Facebook | Metal-Archives 
Amputated: Facebook | Metal-Archives

Monday, 27 October 2014

#363 Electric Wizard - Time to Die

Electric Wizard are a real staple if you tread the path of doom, and I can safely say I've listened to all of their records to varying degrees of a lot. Paradoxically then, comes my admission that as much as I love their work, I've never quite known what to think; their classic records truly are classics, and yet there's never been the one in their discography - even Dopethrone, which is a monolithic statement of what stoner-doom is about. They don't have a bad album, either, despite being at times a seemingly inconsistent band. Generally speaking, they're quite enigmatic. In short, I wasn't sure what a new album was going to do for the wider landscape into which it would fall... indeed, it took me a long time to decide whether I even liked the new record, let alone think of anything substantial to say about it.

After skimming through the sample tracks online before Time to Die came out, I had mixed feelings. I wasn't at all sure whether I was going to enjoy it, and, indeed, in many ways prepared myself to not like the record. Of course, the worst thing which can happen to someone who has hastily prepared to not like something is for said thing to arrive, and be very good indeed, because that requires revaluation, and being wrong is no fun. As it happens, that's what Time to Die is - it's very good indeed - considerably more-so than I was initially expecting. In some ways - aesthetically, especially, it's more of the same, carrying on from the visual tone set by Witchcult Today and Black Masses, and sonically, this is also true to some extent; it's got the same direct riffs, it meanders less than, say, Come My Fanatics, and in general aims at catchiness more than outright delirious atmosphere. Of the three most recent records, however, I'm tempted at this stage to consider Time to Die as doing the best job, or at least, realising the band's vision most truly; it's hazier, heavier, and more drugged-up sounding than the previous two; records which are almost bare-bones by Electric Wizard standards. While I'm a fan of both, Time to Die delivers something a little more unhinged, nihilistic and negative; a return, perhaps to the triumvirate of Satan, Drugs and Negativity, as opposed to the upbeat leanings of late. For the first time in a couple of albums, Electric Wizard are playing doom metal which sounds doomed; everyone is high, but nobody is especially cheerful, and that's what I liked most about the band.

Time to Die is the most sprawling and out-there the band have been in a while, and in this regard the album is lifted a few degrees above a simple more-of-the-same verdict. It could be labelled a return to form, but it's perhaps more accurate to call it a return to an earlier style; it's got that buzzing, universe-imploding guitar tone, laced with reeling, weaving lead. The record feels less streamlined, and in Electric Wizard's case, this is a positive. Granted, the record is long, but there's surprisingly little wasted space. The first impression is one of a record which has simply got more going on, and subsequent listens reinforce it; it's thick and enveloping - granted the band never really made an album with truly non-trippy music, but Time to Die is definitely on the "oh shit, I should have taken half that much" end of the scale, which, for an Electric Wizard album, is very good news indeed. Like Dopethrone or Come my Fanatics, this album is mind-altering, and can be listened to as such with great relish. It's not the most out there record the band have ever done - but it has certainly had enough of whatever it's having to reach the brain-dissolving glory of the old days.

Nowadays, stoner doom has truly exploded into a cosmos of bands, and Electric Wizard are arguably no longer leading in their field, but with this record, they renew their license to spin some of the best doom out there. I'm pleasantly surprised, but in many ways I shouldn't have been; Electric Wizard albums are almost inevitably pretty good, and this one is no exception. It is, in fact, very good. When you get into one of these groups, there are only a couple of ways you can get out. One is death, the other is... being Mark Greening.

This is an 8.5/10.

Electric Wizard Official Site
Electric Wizard on Facebook
Electric Wizard on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Live Review #012: Manilla Road w/ Firebrand Super Rock and Farseer

Sometimes, you can predict the goings on of the live-music scene to some degree. There are bands that will almost inevitably swing by this neck-of-the woods; spend enough time in the metal scene and when someone announces that Havok are playing Glasgow, your response will probably be "what, again?". It's easy to run the risk of feeling a bit jaded at the live scene; shows can become repetitive - bands who tour a lot swing past every few years, while the bands who don't tour very much continue to play their much sought-after shows in places which are very, very far - places which are better at doing metal than us. Mainland Europe, basically. I'll always enjoy live music, but you soon come to learn that not every gig - even with bands you look forward to seeing - is going to capture the highest distillation of that live-music buzz, which leaves you wondering when the next truly stand out show is going to be. In answer to that question, fate replied out of the blue with two words; Manilla Road.

It's quite tricky to truly attend to opening-acts when the headlining band is one which quite so many people have spent years dreaming of seeing some-day, including myself. Manilla Road have never come north of the border before, and their shows are few-and-far-between to begin with. Just about everyone is here for one thing, and that's not really a well kept secret. Nonetheless, the opening acts do a solid job of warming up the crowd. Farseer play solid power-metal; not too frilly and fancy, and with a nice hint of roughness - a sort of weaponized Iron Maiden. The riffs are fun, the vocals accomplished and falsetto-tastic, and the drums deliver the goods rhythmically. I'd love to compliment the bass player as well, in the name of balance, but I know almost nothing about bass. Overall, the band play a tight and accomplished set. I've seen them before, and as good as they were then, they're even more solid this time around - there were no mistakes, slips or stumbles as best I can recall, which started the show with a fresh-coat of professionalism which is reassuring to see.

Firebrand Super Rock are second up. I'm not allowed to judge bands with unusual names, considering the name of the one I'm in, but if instinct tells you to be weary of Firebrand Super Rock, ignore it. Besides, the name grows on you. They're damn good. Few vocalists look so passionately enthusiastic about what they do as Firebrand's does, and she carries one heck of a stage-presence. Backing up the excellent vocal delivery are thick riffs which really are some kind of super rock; or at least, indicative of the band's larger than life, 'hundred-percent heavy rock n' roll approach. I've seen them a couple of times, and they've never, ever played a bad show - every time they're called upon to deliver, they do - this time, they're certainly good enough to be enjoyed in their own right, instead of being something which stands between me and Manilla Road - the rest of the crowd's reaction is similar, and they receive enthusiasm from the gradually swelling numbers.

Manilla Road do their own sound check. If I was a pretentious man, I would wax lyrical about this symbolising their eternal position of underground heroes, hands-on, no nonsense... so forth. As an even more pretentious man, I'll just bring attention to it by apophasis instead. It's the usual story - a fifteen-minute sound check - the crowd occasionally start "Manilla Road" chants. Some drunk guy cheers every time a sound issues from the stage. It's probably the most excited I've been to see a band in some time, and when they begin, the whole crowd roars very earnestly. At some shows you cheer because you're supposed to - at shows like this, you cheer because you want to. I'm awful at remembering set-lists, but the band rumble through countless classics; The Ram, Cage of Mirrors, Divine Victim... legitimately countless, in fact, because they're playing an hour-and-a-half set which seems to consist of just about every song I hoped they would play. Some bands play "long" hour-length sets. Manilla Road raise the stakes a little. Considering they played a two-hour set in London the night before, and Mark the Shark got "three hours of sleep and then drove the band up here", they show impressive stamina.

The playing itself is excellent - appropriate of a band of such venerable veteran status. Bryan Patrick's vocals are excellent, reminiscent enough of Mark the Shark's vocals to feel comfortably familiar, whilst not feeling too overtly like a copy. Mark still provides backing vocals and throws in a chorus or verse here and there, but Patrick does a superb job of making-the-grade, equipped with comfortable, flowing stage-banter, to boot. The live guitar-playing from Mark the Shark outright made me realise just how damn good he is as a guitarist; you can take it for granted on the records, sometimes, getting caught up in other elements of the tracks, but the solos which he plays live are truly blistering - especially impressive when he plays sections behind his head, which is something guitarists over a certain age are just allowed to do.

The tone is superb too, doing untold amounts of justice to the bands work in a live setting; songs like Witches Brew and Masque of Red Death are given a roaring, cutting sound which sounds immense. By about half-way through, the band have fired through so many classics that you can't imagine them managing to keep raising the bar... but they do; even in the closing sections, Necropolis and Crystal Logic having been played, the crowd still roars when an "encore" of sorts - The Ninth Wave followed by Heavy Metal to the World - is played. As everyone silently asks themselves "how can they top that", they are answered. It's impressive of any band to be able to play for ninety minutes, let alone play for ninety minutes whilst keeping the set dynamic and interesting.

Seeing Manilla Road, to me, has been one of the best moments in my "career" as a metal-fan. It's a truly wonderful moment for such a band to come to my small, relatively non-profitable corner of the world. The band didn't even play to a sold-out crowd, with empty spaces littering the venue floor, but play they did, and an amazing show at that; they are heroes for coming, and the promoter was a hero for putting them on. Alas, this "review" may read more accurately as a codex of "I love Manilla Road", but in so doing, I'd be being very truthful. There's no school like the old-school, and nothing comes close to embodying this in the way Manilla Road do. Very probably the best live-show I've seen this year.

Farseer on Facebook
Farseer on Metal Archives

Firebrand Super Rock on Facebook
Firebrand Super Rock on Metal Archives

Manilla Road Official Site
Manilla Road on Facebook
Manilla Road on Metal Archives

Friday, 17 October 2014

#262 Midnight - No Mercy for Mayhem

I've been meaning to review the new Midnight record for quite a while now. Some years ago, I discovered Satanic Royalty, the band's début full-length; a record which has been consistently enjoyable to spin since I first heard it during one of those late-night Odyssey through YouTube in which were you end up isn't where you started, and you can't remember where you started anyway. I think I discovered Whipstriker that night too... regardless, I remembered Midnight first and foremost. More or less constantly since that discovery, I've kept a vaguely-vigilant eye on the arrival of a follow-up record. Earlier this year, I discovered, to my excitement, that a second-album, titled "No Mercy For Mayhem", had arrived.

"More of the same" isn't a stand-alone phrase. It is always a phrase which needs some qualification. Before I brand "No Mercy For Mayhem" as such, it's best to clarify what I mean. There are a few ways that it can work, as a term of critique. Sometimes, the context is "Thank fuck it's more of the same". Sometimes, it's more of an "oh for fuck' sake". As far as this record is concerned, being more of the same is a great plus; immediately making it feel welcome, and snugly slotting it into the band's back-catalogue. No Mercy for Mayhem feels like a continuation, a extension, and a worthy counterpart to Satanic Royalty. The similar art-style, song-style and general aesthetic-choices immediately make the listener feel at home, and re-assert that as a project, Midnight absolutely and unapologetically knows what it's doing, and where it's going, and I'm more than willing to wager that this is exactly the album most of us were hoping for. Indeed, the album fits expectations like a glove, immediately - short intro notwithstanding - unleashing a tidal wave (no bonus-track related pun intended) of gritty, nasty, but magnificent rocking goodness. Lots of bands have reaped the results of the "Motorhead but with more Satan" formula, but few - even the most renowned ones - can do it quite as well as Midnight do, and as the record demonstrates with ease, still do.

There are a lot of bands which combine the raw leanings of black-metal with a more speedy, rock and roll vibe - heck, that's what black-metal was before the Norwegians came along and had their fun. Midnight, it has to be said, sit amongst the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to doing it. Stand out features like the ear for twisted melody which this album has - quite possibly more-so than the bands previous work give Midnight a memorable and outright cool sound, in a non-contrived sense of the term; the wailing but fulfilling melodies in the title-track, for instance, have a real sneering swagger. It's the sort of music which you almost instinctively know is badass - with some genres, especially the more inaccessible manifestations of metal, it takes a while to learn how to appreciate it. Midnight on the other hand? You know it's good right from the onset; it sets you're rock-sensibilities all-a-tingling. It's fast and loud, the way it should be, and No Mercy For Mayhem offers us another serving of metal done properly. In the best possible way, Midnight could very comfortably be the house band in the Titty Twister from "Dusk 'til Dawn". If you're familiar with said movie, I'd go as far as saying the twist half-way through makes the above statement, if anything, more apt.

It's the little things in life. Often, album of the year lists are populated by large, scholarly albums; those big sixty-minute progressive genre-defining, pipe smoking ones. However, I can safely say that when it comes to looking back on 2014, the thirty-six minutes of cacophony on No Mercy... are going to have every bit as much pride of place as any other record. Some albums prove their point with scale, intricacy and complexity - Midnight do a better job than most with rock n' roll, grit, and a sprinkling of Satan.

This is an 8.5/10.

Midnight on Facebook
Midnight on Metal Archives

Monday, 6 October 2014

#361 Argus - Beyond the Martyrs

Argus are a good example of a band I listened to on testimony, expecting something quite different from what I got. They are, fortunately, also a band that, while unexpected, were still extremely good - a happy ending indeed. "Epic" heavy metal has a great multitude of cloaks with which it can enshroud itself, much in the way terms like "heavy" or "intense" can do very much the same thing. Argus represent an interesting take on the genre, one which has been going from strength to strength throughout their discography. Their third and, as I write this, most recent record "Beyond the Martyrs" is a heavy-metal experience up there with the best of them.

Beyond the Martyrs is a well executed example of a band having an epic sound without it being nauseatingly flamboyant. There are none of the overindulgence and pomposity of a genre like prog, or European-power-metal here; simply reverence to the old-school concept of epic and, for my money, proper way to do it - albeit without being a simple re-rendering of old cliches. Beyond the Martyrs ticks a great many of the abstract boxes of epic-metal; great melodies, memorable soaring vocal-lines, glimmering solos, and massive-chords. Stylistically, Argus sit somewhere on the line between a traditional and doom-laden metal sound - a style which is quite often apt to befit the term epic, and very much a style which Argus are clearly comfortable to use to its full potential, with a tempo to match. The record weaves very smoothly between slow sections which carry a hefty load of stored-energy, with chords being allowed to ring-out and bring all of their force to bear, and a plethora of victorious, striding sections which breathe triumph. At their slowest, Argus becomes a lumbering powerhouse, ready to spring into action - albeit not one which gives the impression of stalling-for-time... quite the opposite, in fact; the slow sections can often be the pay-off of the faster ones. That isn't to say that the band are one of two-extremes; the album in fact seems to avoid going especially close to high-tempos, and as opposed to an omission, this is unapologetic; the music doesn't need to go fast to do what it does best, and the striding, mid-tempo feast of riffs and melodies is easily enough to demonstrate that. Not only does the record contain songs which you remember after a single-listen, it contains songs which you know that you're going to remember while you listen to them for the first time.

Interestingly - especially for something aiming at an epic-sound, Beyond the Martyrs has quite a tidy, warm production; there's a lot of open space in the mix, as opposed to silences plugged by the decaying remnants of guitar reverb or general... noise, of some sort, as one might expect. This use of empty space in the riffs set Argus apart from a lot of their peers, and certainly gives the record a very distinctive sound. If I could better name what is going on, I would - but for now I urge the reader to listen for themselves. It is in this respect that Argus differed from my expectations - I've very seldom heard an "epic" sound succeeding as well as theirs does with production - heck, with a riff-style quite like this; the album, and the bands previous work, for that matter, feels very aerated, as opposed to cloyingly thick. It is here that I mislead myself when first approaching the music; I half-expected epic-doom, but it has to be remembered that Argus lean far more towards traditional metal than I had expected. It is an epic-sound born entirely of musicianship, transcendent of production, which in many other bands ends up as a tool with which to augment atmosphere. In this regard, Argus are epic in the manner more of a band like Dawnbringer or Pharaoh than in the manner of say, Atlantean Kodex. The record is extremely well-written, memorable, and sincere - not once does the album give the impression of winking-an-eye, or playing games; it's an earthy, honest and - if I hadn't made it clear - "epic" installation of heavy-metal.

I have put myself at quite some risk of spending the entire review discussing the concept of "epic". I hope some praise of the record has filtered through - and hopefully is present in the review both implicitly and explicitly. If more is needed, then I can safely say that Beyond the Martyrs is, itself a superb immersion into the concept of "epic" - and certainly does a better job with music than I can possibly do with words. Metal like this is fantastically enjoyable, sincere, and - at risk of sounding like an elitist (which considering I am an elitist, doesn't pose that much of a worry) - is utterly true. 

This is a 9/10.

Argus Official Site
Argus on Facebook
Argus on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

#360 Nargaroth - Herbstleyd

For a while now, I've been aware of the fact that when it comes to black-metal - or at least, the blackened side of metal, I have typically been much more inclined toward the fusion genres and the oddities; the black-thrash, the first-wave black metal, the special cases; Rotting Christ, Blut Aus Nord, and so forth. Sometimes, however, I want to listen to some scathing nineties-style dark, ominous black metal; the kind which sends chills down your spine when you first discover it, mystified ever-so-shallowly by the controversy, the church-burning, and much more wholesomely by the larger-than-life evil sound. This craving has recently been driving me to explore more of the landscape of "traditional" black metal, if such a thing exists, and this leads me to one of my newer interests; the work of German band Nargaroth, the debut album of whom, Herbstleyd, I have been lending my ear to recently.

Admittedly, it has taken me longer than usual to decide what to think about Herbstleyd. The album is one of superb atmosphere but at times flawed execution, albeit as slowly dawned on me through several listens, flaws which are massively outweighed by the record's virtues. Following on in the hypnotic, grandiose style of the early Norwegian acts like Burzum, Nargaroth weave a rich, lush and enthralling sonic tapestry of triumphant tremolo riffing, repetitive but pleasant drum-beats, and simplistic synthesizers, all with the perfect degree of raw-production. Nargaroth are perhaps somewhat more inclined towards being dynamic, however, and the music on Herbstleyd strives at times towards a more agile style than the truly repetitive work of a record like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. Getting into the flow of the album is at times tricky; the introduction has plentiful moments of splendor, but weighing in at around seven minutes long it is, frankly, almost offputingly excessive. Forgiving this, however, much of the rest of the record flows reasonably well from track to track, particularly the first half. Better indeed, than I had first thought, with a half-hearted first-listen nearly spoiling the album's chances to gain my appreciation. Fortunately, however, subsequent listens revealed the solidity of the record, and with misgivings having somewhat lessened, the excellent atmosphere spun by the tremolos and keys truly ooze from the speakers for appreciation far less blemished than it had, prima facie, appeared. It is, in fact, a very absorbing and pleasing album.

Here and there, of course, there are crude slips, some of which can't quite be ignored; a shortcoming of the drum machine here and there, particularly in the first track, where mistimed cymbal-hits come very close to ruining a section. Likewise scattered around the record are a fair few interludes which don't serve as much purpose as might have been hoped, giving the album, if anything, baggage as opposed to embellishment in some cases. Nonetheless, the main-course, the body and soul of the album, if you will, is intact. The black-metal sections (and indeed, more than a few of the better interludes) very much capture the beautiful, vast and dark feel which I love in black-metal. It offers both bleak, dreary and sorrowful sections - typically where key-use is restrained - with far more triumphant and melodious pieces with more predominant keyboards. These two sides of the record - or at least, the two sides of the black-metal on the record - are nonetheless well-reconciled, not disrupting its feeling of purpose. Often, contrasting atmospheres can create something of a meandering two-headed snake, and while at times the direction of Herbstleyd can seem slightly diffuse, for the most part the album very much knows what it is doing... certainly sufficiently to be thoroughly enjoyable to listen to - albeit in my case with a brief run-up to becoming accustomed to it.

As it happens, Nargaroth are a band that I've actually been aware of for quite some time; I'm not entirely certain what caused there to be such an elapse of time between being aware of them and actually listening to them, however. Indeed, this process took several years. Nonetheless, I once again encounter a band which makes me which I hadn't delayed exploring their music, and while the at times apparent indifference - at least, there appears to be such - towards the band by a lot of the black-metal community may have been an off-putting factor, it's certainly not something worth taking heed of; as far as the debut goes, I can safely say the music is great - imperfect, but nonetheless great.
This is an 8/10.

Nargaroth Official Site
Nargaroth on Facebook
Nargaroth on Metal Archives

Thursday, 25 September 2014

#359 High Spirits - You Are Here

Austere, ferocious and cruel as it so often is - and we love it for it - Metal is also allowed to be catchy. Outrageously, unapologetically catchy, in some cases. Fun, too. Indeed, nowhere is it written explicitly that metal has to be at all unpleasant or set random passers-by slightly ill at ease. That brings me to High Spirits. The catchy, warm side of metal - or at least, my listening therein - so far this year has been dominated by work of Chris Black and his aforementioned suitably titled project. High Spirits are an entity which produces some of the most deliciously refined fun I've encountered in quite some time. Consequently, the second album, You are Here, released earlier this year, is the subject of my review today.

I had heard of High Spirits for some time before I acquired both of their albums (simultaneously, I might add). Indeed, High Spirits is something of a scene-sweeping cult-phenomena, and deservedly so - indeed, by my reckoning, a cult phenomenon limited only by who discovers their music, as opposed to occupying some obscure niche of taste. You Are Here carries on the work which led so many, including myself, to fall in love with the bands first work Another Night; the ultra-catchy, melodious and well-crafted traditional metal and hard-rock infused goodness remains every bit as strong on the sophomore effort; the entire thing exudes an ineffable aura of song-writing excellence. It is, indeed, quite difficult to explain just how memorable either of High Spirits' records are - if there was a chart of catchiness, you'd probably have to place the co-ordinates somewhere on the blank wall to the top-right of the graph. It's the sort of thing you could play on prime-time radio without unsettling your audience especially much. Now, that might initially sound like some sort of jab at the album for being accessible, and in a genre which fetishises obscurity, that might be the first interpretation someone makes. That's not, however, my intention. Lets frame it from another angle; almost everyone, however secretly or mildly, is partial to some rock 'n roll at least a little bit, and while many metal albums rush out to greet a far more esoteric audience, one self-versed in "how" to enjoy the material, High Spirits captures the refreshing spirit of rock n' roll being for everyone. 

It is difficult - monumentally difficult - to make an album which feels properly fresh in such a traditional genre, and yet, Chris Black seems to a great extent to succeed, if not by overt originality, then by extremely gifted crafting of established elements. High Spirits in general offer the perfect mixture of musical cleverness and elegant simplicity - there's a lot going on, and a lot of it is extremely well-written and fits into the song-structures perfectly, but at the same time, there's a beauty in You are Here which is born of its modesty; it isn't trying to put more into the mixture than it needs to, but it down-right excels at what it does. The whole run-time of the record feels like the sonic equivalent of looking at some sublime, ergonomically perfect piece of simplicity; an aluminium drink can, an elegantly shaped piece of candy - some bands try to make elaborate cocktails - High Spirits is, on the other hand, a particularly inviting whisky on the rocks, or something of that sort. Ultimately, well-crafted is perhaps the best way to summarize the quality which elevates High Spirits from good to great, and does so for the second time running with You are Here. The production is superb, leaving every element of the music open to appreciation, and the songs themselves are infectiously upbeat, but not edged with a forced children's-television grimace of forced joy, in a superb balance.

There's a limit to how - and here I look for a word for a moment - how profound perhaps, a record like this can be; in most cases, I wouldn't consider it transcendental, for instance. It is very much a heavy metal record, and one steeped in the modesty I mentioned earlier. For what it is, however (and we would be foolish to try to appraise it for what it isn't) it is a truly glorious piece of good, old-fashioned heavy metal songwriting. Memorable, inspired, and massively rewarding to listen to. Don't be afraid of fun.

This is an 8.5/10.

High Spirits on Bandcamp
High Spirits on Facebook
High Spirits on Metal Archives 

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 clichés 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