Wednesday, 3 June 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Wolftooth, "Valhalla"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 22/05/2020
Label: Ripple Music |
Cursed Tongue Records

Valhalla CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Intro – The Lamentation of Frigg
2. The Possession
3. Firebreather
4. Valhalla
5. Fear for Eternity
6. Scylla & Charybdis
7. Molon Labe
8. Crying of the Wolves
9. The Coven
10. Juneau

The Review:

Wolftooth's sophomore release arrives at a fortuitous time. I've been savouring their debut since I reviewed it back in 2018 and I have craved more of this metal mixed with stoner mixed with tales of fantasy and heroism. “Valhalla thus arrives right on time- two years after the debut and hopefully hints at an Overkill-esque work ethic in years to come.

The debut essentially took what was great about The Sword's first three records and distilled it. “Valhalla is NOT the sound of Wolftooth abandoning their fan base and making a more mature record. In fact, though the arrangements of “The Possession” are undoubtedly more complex with layered guitars and vocals, the identity of the band remains firmly intact. The atmopsheric intro of “The Lamentation of Frigg” sets us up nicely for a delightful metal album which mixes a lot of the best of trad, stoner and a little doom.

The sound is once again tight and organic- wonderful tom sound- with a burly mix. It's not as aggressive as, say, High on Fire, or even The Sword's early work but it grooves well and there are great riffs and choruses played by a solid band in all aspects. As Wolftooth hail from the same state that gave us the mighty The Gates of Slumber, Apostle of Solitude, Thorr Axe and Throne of Iron, it might be reasonable to expect more of a doom flavour to the songs here, but if anything this is closer to traditional metal than even the debut. There is almost a hard rock vibe to the likes of “Firebreather” and even the title track even of the subject matter and component parts are totally metal.

It interests me to note the fairly uniform song lengths- 4-5mins- and also that despite this the material is not formulaic. There are stylistic traits throughout, such as the aforementioned  layered vocals of the choruses, but it's not boring. Quite the opposite. It's an album to play all the way through. There are some really heavy tracks here, too; “Fear For Eternity” is pure sword and sorcery in Conan style wrought in metal. Each song offers up light and shade, whether it be “Molon Labe” or the pretty catchy “Scylla & Charybdis”.

As the album reaches the closing stages, “Crying of the Wolves” offers up a track close to Dio-era Sabbath (yes!) and rocks hard down the back stretch. “The Coven” offers up a late album highlight with its absolutely hard-as-iron riffing and melodies. “Juneau finishes the album strongly with... more of the same; fuzzed bass, heavy riffs, reedy/Ozzy-esque vocals and some big slabs of groove.

If the debut made many metallers take notice, this should push the band over the top and hopefully bring them over to the likes of Desertfest, Damnation Festival in the UK and Keep It True and Courts of Chaos etc on the continent. This is for fans of any of the bands mentioned in this review. It's heavy, it's metal and it's quite superb.

Valhalla is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

6 NEW BANDS: THE SLUDGELORD'S "666 Pack Review" (April 2020)

By: Nikos Mixas

Well, it’s been two months since THE SLUDGELORD has been in quarantine and it fucking sucks as bad as Ozzy’s latest attempt to make music…The good news is that the music you guys send in is still better than that atrocity.  But in all seriousness, no live shows, festivals, zip, nada, diddly squat for the unforeseeable future is the worst part about all of this and we know that we’re preaching to the choir here.  However, the “666 Pack Review” is here for the bored masses.  BTW, if you’re new to this, each and every month we handpick 6 review submissions and critique them by only using 6 words, then we rate them on a scale from 1 to 666!  Check out our all shades of Ozzy rating scale below: 

1) This is the score we would give any of Ozzy’s most recent decade’s worth of albums without even listening to them.  Whatever we just heard just now is worse than all of them combined.
2) Remember Ozzy’s hair and clown garb during “The Ultimate Sin” era?  This is the score we gave that shit.  Your band is just as ridiculous. 
3) When Ozzy recruited Zakk Wylde and he made pinch harmonics a thing, well…it was kind of cool and kind of not.  Yup, same thing for this band.
4) A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, Ozzy relieved himself on The Alamo and bit the heads off of live animals.  That’s legit.  So is this band.     
5) “Diary of a Madman” and “Blizzard of Ozz” kind of glory starting to happen right here. 
666) Let’s get fucking crazy!!!  We love you all!!! 

Caveat:  Even though the “666 Pack Review” is meant to offer humorous critique, there are no safe spaces here and your gripes will only make you sound like a bellyacher.  THE SLUDGELORD is a picky listener…and doesn’t care what you think of his opinions….

1). Starspawn of Cthulhu “Yog-Sothothery” (Vicenza, Italy)    Rating: 3

If Candlemass went full death metal.

2). Gavran “Still Unavailing” (Rotterdam, Netherlands)   Rating: 5

Shoegazey and progressive, yet not pretentious.

3). Phe “Glooming Dawn” (Helmond, Netherlands) Rating: 3

Oh my!  Another stoner rock band!!! 

4). Vulture Neck “Mountain Giant” (Stockholm, Sweden)   Rating: 2

St. Vitus riffage with constipated vocals. 

5). Hypnochron “Hypnochron” (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.)   Rating: 5

Groovy. Fuzzy. Heavy. Composed. Instrumental. Interesting.

6). Maussade “INSIIPIIIDE” (France) Rating: 666!!!

Sharon!!! What the bloody hell!! - Ozzy

Band info: Phe || Vulture Neck || Hypnochron || Maussade

Monday, 25 May 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Yarrow, "We Made What God Could Not"

By: Josh McIntyre

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 01/05/2020
Label: Independent

“We Made What God Could Not” CS//DD track listing:

1). 活け造り
2). Old Shadows
3). In Shade, I Expire
4). Oceans of Rot

The Review:

Doom metal in general is a tricky subgenre to play in. It takes real talent and taste to keep it interesting, especially when tracks reach the ten minute mark. Yarrow, with their second full length, have proven themselves one of the better bands at it. The Bay Area band has an excellent sense of how to make their songs flow, even when they feature the same riff idea stretched out. They know how to layer parts on top and beneath each other so that instead of stagnation we feel more like riders on a river at the mercy of the water’s course.

We can call this death-doom though it is a bit sludgier than most (death-sludge?). The tone overall is just utterly bleak. In fact this is one of the most miserable sounding albums I’ve heard in 2020 so far. Everything sounds HUGE and the guitars just bleed filth. The addition of keys and swirling noise in certain sections is especially spectacular in adding to the atmosphere. There’s even an acoustic guitar that breaks through over distorted doom, reminding me of Corrupted’s later material. Beyond that, all three members take turns on vocal duties giving us multiple voices full of agony. Whereas other bands hop along genre lines to keep interest, Yarrow more or less stays within the same musical plane while doing all they can to move the parts around. 

Yes, Yarrow also dives into more uptempo death metal sections as is typical for death-doom but they do it much more tastefully than most. The songs still make sense as they transition instead of sounding like they just copy/pasted an OSDM riff into a slow song. Besides being suffocating, these riffs are just killer and far from generic. 

This is without a doubt a must listen to fans of the slow and heavy, especially if they like a bit of misery. Yarrow comes across as a mix of traditional death-doom like Disembowelment with sludgier bands like Body Void and Monarch. Tonally, I don’t think this album could have sounded anymore perfect for what it wants to achieve. It’s seriously perfect, mix and everything. It is a huge improvement over their debut, which already made me a fan when I discovered them last year. This might end up being one of my favorite heavy albums of the year, so far a little known gem that deserves every bit of attention that it receives. 

“We Made What God Could Not” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Lesser Glow, "Nullity"

By: Peter Morsellino

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 29/05/2020
Label: Pelagic Records

“Nullity” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1). The Great Imitator
2). Red Ayrag
3). Fosterng The Nullity
4). Alone in the Column
5). Versterven
6). I am the Island
7). The Great Filter
8). Toba

The Review:

Boston Massachusetts based sludge troupe, Lesser Glow return with their second release, “Nullity”.  An equally destructive and emotionally vulnerable epic of an album, Lesser Glow take the sludge genre to another level with this one.

With an experimental sound that takes great strides beyond the sludge metal genre, “Nullity” features a perfectly crafted dichotomy that exists both in the realms of serene beauty and hellish chaos simultaneously.  Like an oasis caught between the warring landscapes of heaven and hell, this is a space all its own.

Bludgeoning riffs slog along in the doom tradition, much as you may expect. Attentive listeners, however, will note the intricacies involved.  Without venturing far from the route sound, Lesser Glow combine the punishing cacophony of sludge with moments of blissful, almost religious atmosphere. This provides the group with an air of severity. There is an almost primal need to perk up and listen to what's going on here.

The immaculate hymnal passages are interspersed with powerful grooves and spacious atmospheres, creating a space that is both chaotic and serene, all at once.  The song writing here is emotionally rich, with the group being able to layer different feelings deep into their sound. The listener is welcomed to these feeling, they are not thrust upon them.  Rather the feeling is more of an invitation to be taken on the album's musical journey.

Lesser Glow have crafted a sound that is very much their own on “Nullity”, cementing themselves as major contenders when it comes to the progressive sludge scene.  Uniquely tuned into the same ether that they project, this is a group that has huge potential to bring the genre into the deep space it has been reaching for since its inception.

“Nullity” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Paradise Lost, "Obsidian"

By: Thomas Gonzales

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 15/05/2020
Label: Nuclear Blast

“Obsidian” CD//DD//LP track listing:

01. "Darker Thoughts"
02. "Fall From Grace"
03. "Ghosts"
04. "The Devil Embraced"
05. "Forsaken"
06. "Serenity"
07. "Ending Days"
08. "Hope Dies Young"
09. "Ravenghast"

The Review:

Death/Doom is a genre that at times, can feel contrived; leaning too heavily towards either side of its genre spectrum, sacrificing nuance that gives it an identity. Amidst the mediocrity however, one band has constantly set the standard for craftsmanship, and that band, is Paradise Lost. Often emulated, but never duplicated, Paradise Lost has cemented themselves as one of the most iconic bands of the extreme metal subgenre. Blending depressive and melancholic themes, with crashing furry, every album is a roller coaster of emotion, evoking chills without compromising the epicness of even their most brutal peers.

Recognized as one of the mythical Peaceville Three, Paradise Lost formed in 1988 before signing with Peaceville Records, alongside juggernauts My Dying Bride and Anathema. Credited with inspiring bands from Amorphis, to HIM, and Cradle of Filth, their influence reaches far past the confines of a singular music subgenre, and instead has left its impact on anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience it. Gothic and disparaging in their sensibilities, Paradise Lost are as influential now as ever, and “Obsidian” expands their scope to a much wider audience.

Yes, it’s still heavy, and yes, it still features the primal growl of front man Nick Holmes, but where in the past there might’ve been moments of crunchy riffs, they have chosen to fill the space with sweeping guitar solos, more clean singing, and heavy, pulse racing hooks, accented with a ringing and mournful key track. As veterans of their craft, Paradise Lost are no longer discovering themselves, but are instead working to expertly execute their art with focused precision. It makes sense, as the band has had one of the most stable line-ups in amidst long standing bands, featuring vocalist Nick Holmes, guitarists Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy, and bassist Steve Edmondson, the band has only ever changed drummers on a few occasions. 

Stand out tracks “Darker Thoughts” and “Ending Days” showcase the band’s Goth Metal tendencies. Opening with industrial style instrumentals or acoustics respectively, the macabre spirit of their content is put on display, painting a depressive vision with sound. There is such a diverse approach to composition throughout the album, one could easily spend an entire blog post waxing poetic over the sheer artistry, but that would be a disservice to the sonic experience. This is an album that will easily find a place amongst most year end list, and deservedly so.

Whether you are familiar with Paradise Lost or not (how could you not be?), “Obsidian” is a metal release worthy of the accolades it is sure to receive. It can be enjoyed by fans of various genres of metal, and still be appreciated for its technical execution, and heaviness. More importantly, this album is more Paradise Lost, and who wouldn’t want that!? Expect people to talk about “Obsidian” for months to come, as their influence spreads further, with a dark and beautiful opus.

“Obsidian” is available HERE

Band info: facebook

Monday, 18 May 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Blaze Bayley, "Live in Czech"

By: Richard Maw & Nathan Harrison

Album Type: Live Album
Date Released: 03/04/2020
Label: Blaze Bayley Recordings

“Live in Czech” CD//DD track listing:

1. The Dark Side Of Black
2. A Thousand Years
3. Dark Energy 256
4. The World Is Turning The Wrong Way
5. Human
6. Together We Can Move The Sun
7. Solar Wind
8. Virus
9. Life Goes On
10. Fight Back
11. Silicon Messiah
12. The Day I Fell To Earth
13. Eagle Spirit
14. Calling You Home
15. Stare At The Sun
16. Man On The Edge
17. Futureal
18. The Clansman

The Review:

Blaze's live offering captures him and his band, comprising members of Brit metal aces Absolva, at the end of a 59 date (!) tour at the Melodka venue in Brno, Czech Republic at the tail end of September 2019. Having seen Blaze around a month earlier at The Underworld in London, I knew what to expect from a live document of the show.

To fully explore the Blaze live experience, Nathan Harrison, a Blaze Bayley fanatic, of British doomers The Human Condition and Maiden tribute band Maiden's Shadow has been asked to weigh in on this weighty release.

The release takes in a monster eighteen tracks and spans a good portion of Blaze's career.

RM: The overall sound is as live as it gets (to borrow a phrase!). It's raw and most definitely not overdubbed or tweaked in the studio. Similar to the “Live in Francerelease a while back, this represents exactly what the band and Blaze sound like at a live gig- tight, fast and furious.

NH: As with any Blaze Bayley release (and as should be expected) the man himself is the main focus here. Anybody who dismissed Blaze’s singing ability during the Maiden days should give his recent solo releases a go as his voice and range have improved beyond measure – the man is ostensibly a walking diaphragm, such is his building-toppling vocal power. The band behind him certainly sounds tight as always but they don’t quite pack the same punch they do when playing right in front of you. A slightly beefier sound would have benefitted this release – Chris Appleton’s guitar sound is quite trebly but the other instruments aren’t given quite enough bass to compensate. That said, there are moments where the overall sound simply soars – the more epic tracks were the focus of this tour and it shows. “The World is Turning the Wrong Way”, “Together We Can Move the Sun” and “Eagle Spirit”, the stunning closer to the latest studio release, are particular highlights.

RM: In terms of song selection, Blaze has a lot to choose from: Wolfsbane, two albums with Iron Maiden and all of his solo full band records - now close to double figures. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Live in Czech” focuses on a selection of tracks from the “Infinite Entanglement” trilogy- with a bent towards the more epic feeling songs from those three albums. There is a fair smattering of Maiden classics here as well- “Virus “(appropriate for these times, sadly) rears its head as do more obvious choices such as “Futureal” and “Man on the Edge”. There is also the title track and “Stare at the Sun” from the “Silicon Messiah” album. The set hangs together well and Blaze sings all songs with total conviction. I personally would like to have heard a track or two from the superb “The Man Who Would Not Die” record, but I am splitting hairs. The fact that there is only one guitarist is of course noticeable on the Maiden material, but so what? Chris Appleton is a phenomenal player and his virtuosity and energy shine through on every track.

NH: As the “Infinite Entanglement” trilogy was the focus of this tour, this leaves little room for anything unusual or surprising in the rest of the setlist – not that there’s anything wrong with the other songs showcased here! The vastly underrated Blaze era of Iron Maiden is represented brilliantly by the tracks chosen here and Blaze picks some of his most popular earlier solo songs to round out the set. The problem is that Blaze’s solo catalogue is so solid that there’s always going to be something missing! Songs from the aforementioned “The Man Who Would Not Die” and its incredible follow up, “Promise and Terror” have been largely absent from Blaze Bayley shows in the last few years so a return for some of these would have been welcome. The songs that are here, though, are some the best – “Stare at the Sun” particularly will always be an incredible song, especially when played live with such gusto by all concerned.

RM: As anyone who has been to a Blaze live show knows, Blaze talks to his audience. A lot. He delivers his song intros in a slow and stilted style- making sure that members of the audience who do not speak English as a first language (i.e. probably almost everyone) understands what he is saying. In a live setting it's an endearing trait. On a live album, it can be a little distracting as it makes for some lengthy intros and breaks between songs. This is, however, offset by the fact that this is a live record- representative of the show, not a live “greatest hits” contract filler. To be fair, the introduction to “Silicon Messiah” is genuinely interesting as it tells the tale of how the band in its current form came to be.

NH: For a lot of his time as a solo artist, Blaze’s general approach to audience interaction has remained unchanged. While it can occasionally be a bit repetitive, his sheer love and gratitude for his fans is undeniably real and he makes it clear just how much he relies on them when he now self-releases everything he puts out. Blaze is also a man who has been through some very tough times - personally and professionally – but has come out of the other side. This determination is reflected in the encouragement and advice he often gives to his audience and the sentiment he puts into many of his lyrics. During these rather trying, scary and altogether depressing and difficult times for many, we could probably all benefit from being a bit more Blaze Bayley about it all!

RM: I think this edges out “Live in France- the more epic material goes over really well live and as this was recorded long after the “Infinite Entanglement” trilogy had been completed the set feels really cohesive. The sound is also a notch above “Live in France- a little clearer, a little more punchy to my ears.

NH: Given its very specific focus, this is a strange album to compare to previous Blaze live releases with a broader approach. Sound wise, it certainly edges out “Live in France but doesn’t quite have the power of earlier releases “As Live As It Gets” and “The Night That Would Not Die”. Blaze’s performance, however, has only got better since these releases and, three studio and two live releases in, the chemistry between him and Absolva as his backing band is tangible.

In conclusion, this is a real live album for fans who witnessed the tour, fans who have the albums but couldn't make the shows or anyone interested in hearing what a real professional metal band sounds like. Blaze Bayley is an international treasure of the metal scene and one who deserves your support. He's out there; year after year, album after album, tour after tour- relentlessly taking real heavy metal to the masses. He's a totally independent artist these days, as he states at the start of “The Clansman”, and his passion and commitment to the faith is unwavering. When the current dystopian world health crisis is concluded, it's guaranteed that Blaze will be coming to a venue near you and bringing his best. This live record is definitive proof that you should go and see him and his band play- after all, as recent events have proven, you never know when that option might be taken away.

“Live in Czech” is available HERE

Band info: official || facebook

Thursday, 14 May 2020

ALBUM REVIEW: Vader, "Solitude In Madness"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 01/05/2020
Label: Nuclear Blast

“Solitude In Madness” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Shock And Awe
2. Into Oblivion
3. Despair
4. Incineration Of The Gods
5. Sanctification Denied
6. And Satan Wept
7. Emptiness
8. Final Declaration
09. Dancing In The Slaughterhouse
10. Stigma Of Divinity
11. Bones

The Review: 

Polish death/thrash kings return with this brutal and vicious 30 minute slab of metal. With James Stewart firmly installed behind the kit, what do the band bring to the table this time? A feast of death metal, that's what! Half an hour of to-the-point extremity, hitting hard on every track.

It's eleven tracks long and with “Shock and Awe”, it starts with blast beats, frantic riffing and shredding leads. It continues in exactly that vein. It's adrenaline inducing stuff and is even more insistent than the excellent “The Empire” album from 2016. Track after track, the record simply steamrollers the listener. It's catchy in places as well- like all the best death metal. “Into Oblivion” echoes Morbid Angel at their peak and that is a very high compliment. It's expertly played, mixed and produced.

Its head nodding and neck snapping at the same time. It's rare that a death metal album inspires this kind of desire to break the speed limit/destroy something with joyful abandon, but Vader have managed that here. “Despair” is a nasty little track at not much over a minute in length, before Stewart fires up the tank and rolls over skulls on “Incineration Of The Gods”. Piotr Wiwczarek is as commanding as ever with Marek Pajak and Tomasz playing a blinder throughout. I can't actually think of a more reliable and consistent death metal band than Vader- possibly Cannibal Corpse? Certiainly not Deicide, or Morbid Angel or Entombed etc etc. I think of Vader as the Motorhead or Overkill of death metal- consistently good, record after record.

As the album progresses, it doesn't really change or dip at all. “And Satan Wept” is just as menacing as anything in the first half of the album and so it goes from there. Each track is concise and brutal, mixing death and thrash elements to perfection. It doesn't rely on blast beats or pure speed so is not boring. It has songs, riffs and excellent time changes- witness “Emptiness” for proof.

The last few tracks are just as cruching; “Final Declaration” is a percussive tour de force, “Dancing In The Slaughterhouse” is weighty, “Stigma of Divinity” is blasting perfection and “Bones” finishes with a relatively lengthy four minutes of serpentine riffage and heaviness. As Vader albums go, this one is excellent. As death metal albums go, therefore, this is exceptional. I can't find anything to fault here- this is death metal as it should be. Not bland, boring or aimless. It cuts like a razor.

“Solitude In Madness” is available HERE

Band info: facebook