Sunday, 28 May 2023

ALBUM REVIEW: Wytch Hazel, "IV: Sacrament"

By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 02/06/2023
Label: Bad Omen Records

“IV: Sacrament” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. The Fire's Control
2. Angel of Light
3. Time and Doubt
4. Strong Heart
5. Deliver Us
6. A Thousand Years
7. Gold Light
8. Endless Battle
9. Future Is Gold
10. Digging Deeper

The Review:

Wytch Hazel are back to save us from ourselves- and mediocre albums- with this, their fourth full length. Hitherto, the Lancastrian band have been building up quite a head of steam. “Prelude” introduced the band with its Thin Lizzy meets Wishbone Ash meets NWOBHM stylings. “II Sojourn” was a more straightforward rock proposition and then their crowning glory, “III Pentecost” was the best hard rock album of 2020- fairly easily.
While “Pentecost” may have borrowed from Argus in terms of its pastoral elements and the overall Englishness of the vibe and the space of the sound, “Sacrament” is different again. Having moved from The Stationhouse studio in Leeds to pastures new at StudiOwz in Wales, the band have retained their spacious and expansive sound, along with the analogue vibe of the production courtesy of Ed Turner who operates here as something like a band-member-once-removed.
It’s clear that the band’s Christian themes/element is stronger than ever here; fear of hell and the control that asserts is the theme of “The Fire’s Control” and “Angel of Light” is about, well- you know already. There is Hammond Organ in the mix, multi layered guitars and an excellent bass sound.
There are quirks here; the solo of “Time and Doubt” is extremely fiery, even when the vocals and lyrics are maudlin. Main man Colin Hendra clearly put in overtime with this record- he plays drums after the departure of Jack Spencer. His drumming here is perfectly serviceable, but it is missing the flair of Spencer’s fills and the subtleties/style of his approach. Hendra instead supplies a bedrock for the other instruments to build upon, without flash or fuss. It’s competent and direct. I suspect the album could have been lifted by a full-time drummer, but the fact that the band and Colin made it work without one is a minor miracle in itself. The guitars, vocals and other instrumentation is superb. They all sound incredible and are full of life and purpose. The acoustic guitar overdubs, used to expand the sound a la the Stones on their best 70s work, work superbly and the whole sound has the effect of a wall of sound. Majestic.
Hendra has kept the songs tight and focused- no sprawling 20min prog epics- but despite the taut running times the record has a completely epic feel; it’s a truly immersive experience. As the listener is exhorted to stay until the battle is won on “Deliver Us”… well, I believed in the quest and I believed every word that was sung. It’s powerful, affecting and effective.
Across the record, Wytch Hazel have achieved something in hard rock/metal that is very difficult to do: they have made a heavy album that isn’t aggressive. Too much rock and metal these days (and all days) relies on aggressive chest beating as a trope to confirm heavy credentials. Wytch Hazel instead rely on songs, melodies and sound. Not many bands have been able to do that over the years- Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Queen, Wishbone Ash and if we extend things a bit, Jethro Tull. It’s a fairly small list (you’ll think of others) and places Wytch Hazel in exalted company indeed. Yes, make no mistake, this album IS heavy. It’s heavy in themes and vibe, even if its airy production belies this. It also rocks hard, but without machismo.
As the record reaches its final triumvirate, the guitar riff and sound that opens “Endless Battle” is simply excellent. The band immediately change things up and the verse section is not what you would expect from the opening- again, a little like classic Tull. The guitar work also echoes Iron Maiden a little- the lineage of British rock and metal is clear and Wytch Hazel are claiming their place in it. The reverbed start to “Future is Gold” allows for lovely acoustic sounds and excellent layered vocals from Colin Hendra; it introduces a rather positive outlook missing from previous tracks- but it is still tinged with a little sadness, a little uncertainty, a little wistfulness. As the album’s ballad track, it works well and is expertly placed in the penultimate position.
Naturally, the band close the album with the longest track- the aptly named “Digging Deeper”. The Wishbone Ash influence is present and correct again here, but the band are now just sounding like themselves- as they did on “Pentecost”. Their sound is unique and instantly recognisable. In fact, over the last few years, Wytch Hazel have become one of my favourite bands. They are peerless at what they do in the modern age and this record is, front to back, incredibly strong. It’s heavy, but paradoxically has a lightness of touch to everything within it. It’s dark but uplifting. It’s much like a Cathedral; a towering achievement built from the ground up, reaching towards the heavens above.
If you haven’t heard Wytch Hazel, you must listen. They are the way, the truth and the light.
“IV: Sacrement” is available HERE
Band info: Bandcamp || Facebook

Sunday, 7 May 2023

ALBUM REVIEW: Overkill, "Scorched"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 14/04/2023
Label: Nuclear Blast

“Scorched” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. Scorched
2. Goin’ Home
3. The Surgeon
4. Twist of the Wick
5. Wicked Place
6. Won’t be Comin Back
7. Fever
8. Harder They Fall
9. Know Her Name
10. Bag o’ Bones
The Review:  
Well, Overkill return after their longest ever break between albums- “Wings of War” was 2019! It’s only the pandemic that has led to this situation, and I suspect that the band would have put this out in 2021 or 2022 if they had been able to tour it.
First things first: Colin Richardson has produced and mixed this along with Chris Clancy. It sounds incredible. The bass is percussive and aggressive with D.D Verni taking his rightful place in the mix, the drums are crystal clear and have depth along with attack- Jason Bittner is perfect for the band. The guitars are similarly in-your-face and precise. I realise that Bobby G is most fans choice of favourite Overkill guitarist, but I love the Linsk/Tailer axis even more.  On top of all that, of course, is Bobby Blitz Ellsworth’s instantly identifiable shriek.
Of course, if identifiable sounds and elements made for classic albums then the Rolling Stones and Metallica would be on a never ending winning streak of incredible records… Fortunately, this time around Overkill have focused and delivered the songs along with the sounds. With hindsight, I found “Wings of War” a little over-long and a little directionless in parts. The good songs were great, the album tracks were a little more blunt than usual. “The Grinding Wheel” suffered from a mid-album bloat with too many long songs.
“Scorched” delivers only one song over the six-minute mark and it is a welcome approach. Indeed, with the title track being up first and the longest song on offer, the band immediately announce that they are BACK. It’s a cracking and thrashy opener. “While Goin’ Home” may be the most accessible song here, it’s not one of my favourites as I am here for thrash- as I am on every Overkill record. “The Surgeon” delivers handily as does “Twist of the Wick”.
The band have time for a detour or two as well, such as “Wicked Place”- that delivers the Sabbathian lope that the band have perfected over the years (see also “Spiritual Void” and “Come Heavy”). It’s cool that Overkill continue to be OVERKILL at all times. The song writing is sharp and the band is as hungry as ever. Dave Linsk delivers some mighty lead work throughout and for a bunch of guys who are mostly in their 60s, well, it’s incredible that they still sound like this and that they are still making music with this fire and quality.
It's not all flawless; there are a couple of Overkill-by-numbers tracks; “Won’t Be Comin’ Back” is fine, but no better than that and leans a little too hard on melody- it’s an average Overkill album track, redeemed partially by the solo section. The albums most left-field track is “Fever”. It is a slow burning, moody quasi-ballad. This is the type of Overkill song that I have never really cared for and don’t buy the albums for. I didn’t rate “Bitter Pill” on “White Devil Armory”, I don’t like “Shades of Grey” on “I Hear Black...” the list goes on. On the plus side, it has some unexpected percussion, quiet and loud dynamics and isn’t a bad song per se. It’s just not what I want from an Overkill track. I’d probably rather have a throwaway thrasher than a well-crafted moody song like this one. My loss, I suppose.
Fortunately, “Harder They Fall” redeems the band instantly with a straight ahead rager- fast and furious with plenty of machismo as is expected from the title. Simply put, it is this type of song I’m looking for from the band. Not that they owe me anything at all when they are 20 (!) albums deep into their 43-year career. The chugging riff of “Know Her Name” is also welcome and feels like an old friend. Indeed, between this and the (surprisingly funky and groovey) closing “Bag O’ Bones”, the band don’t put a foot wrong and finish the album in fine style.
Overkill began an incredible run of albums with “Ironbound” in 2010. For me, that one remains their peak (of any era) but “Electric Age” was almost as good. “White Devil Armory”, “The Grind Wheel” and “Wings of War” are all good records- with perhaps a tendency for the quality to drop just a little with each album in release date order. “Scorched” reverses that slight downward trend and brings them back up a notch.
Another year, another great Overkill album. Enjoy them while they are still here as sooner or later- much like Motorhead- they simply won’t be around anymore. This is recommended to all fans of the band, all thrash fans and is as fine a starting point as any for anyone who wonders what the band are all about.
“Scorched” is available now

Band info: Bandcamp || Facebook

Thursday, 9 March 2023

ALBUM REVIEW: Memoriam, "Rise To Power"

By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 3/2/2023
Label: Reaper Entertainment

“Rise to Power” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. Never Forget, Never Again (6 Million Dead)
2. Total War
3. I Am the Enemy
4. The Conflict is Within
5. Annihilation’s Dawn
6. All is Lost
7. Rise to Power
8. This Pain
The Review:

Memoriam return to further cement their status as a British death metal institution. The band’s work rate is very impressive. “For The Fallen” still seems like a recent album for me, but it is now several releases ago- and dropped in 2017!
So, eight tracks all around the five minute or so mark. This is heavy, slow in places, no blasts, plenty of grooves…. Well, you know what to expect really- it’s not Bolt Thrower but it is of the same bloodline. That’s probably the best way I can explain this. What I can say is that it is slower and more melancholy than the first three albums.
There is an almost gothic sensibility to some of the sounds here- “I am The Enemy” being a fine case in point. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that a lot here is perhaps even death doom! A long forgotten genre, hardly mentioned anymore; but loved by many of a certain age. Check out “The Conflict Is Within” for some deathly and doomy splendour.
When the band put the kick pedals to the metal, as they do on “Annihilations Dawn”, it has a great effect. It’s neck snapping stuff, in the vein of, well, you know who. “All Is Lost” is slower but equally heavy with some nice syncopated ride work to complement the off kilter riffing. As the album progresses through the title track, it settles into a pattern- fairly maudlin riffs and leads, melancholy and doomy vibes, combined with the bursts of bullish firepower.
The album delivers one epic in This Pain and it features some acoustic work to start and then kicks off. While this is slower and more doomy than the previous albums, this is still recognisably Memoriam and recognisably of the members’ alma maters. Overall, it’s another solid and battle-hardened record and another credible entry into the band’s canon (cannon?!). Cool artwork, too. If you wanted to check the band out, start here. If you are a long-time follower, you won’t be disappointed. Business as usual, then!

“Rise To Power” is available HERE


Band info: official || facebook

Thursday, 23 February 2023

ALBUM REVIEW: Agalariept, "“Desde el Supremo Reino”

By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 03/01/2023
Label: Independent

“Desde el Supremo Reino” DD track listing:
1. Inframundo
2. Cirugía Macabra
3. Miasis
4. Putrefacto
5. Festín
6. Lobotomía
7. Inútil Fe
8. Averno
9. Desde El Supremo Reino
The Review:

Chile has given the metal world a number of great things; Tom Araya, Anton Reisenegger, Procession… and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Lurking much further underground than the aforementioned are Agalariept.
This is technical death metal, with lots of thrash leanings and melody through the lead work. Nine tracks in total, with impressively concise playing times (generally three to four minutes). This is reliably weighty and also riffy- the blasting sections never get too much and are counterbalanced with thrashier pacing. It’s all in Spanish, so to understand any of the song titles or lyrics you will need to translate it. That hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment of this at all, though.
Agalariept definitely have that Latin flavour that means that genres are crossed with each other a fair bit (kind of like the way earlier Sepultura was thrash, but had death metal in there and even black metal at the very start).The leads are superb, the playing is great and the production really suits this type of music. It’s extreme, of course, but it is also very listenable and easy to bang your head to.
It’s all very consistent and hard to pick stand outs. I liked the pacing of “Putrefacto”, but equally the opener “Inframundo” is just as representative of the band’s vibe. There are no bad tracks, they are all well-paced and don’t outstay their welcome and if you like whatever you hear first… you’ll like the whole thing!
“Lobotomia”, “Averno”… all stellar tracks. Quite simply if you do like your death metal with a South American slant and melting pot of styles, this should be right up your street. Whether Agalariept garner the kind of attention they should on an international level remains to be seen, but at least the internet (and bandcamp in particular) allows people from anywhere in the world to at least have the opportunity to hear their music. The album absolutely rips all the way through, so give this a go and hear for yourself. Superlative South American Savagery!
“Desde el Supremo Reino” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Monday, 6 February 2023

REVIEW: Born A Ghost, "“Stairway To An Empty Room” [EP]

By: Richard Maw
Album Type: EP
Date Released: 02/01/2023
Label: Independent

“Stairway To An Empty Room” DD track listing:
1). 43
2). Halls of Disrepair
3). Stairway To An Empty Room
4). When The Last Light Fades
The Review:
Twenty minutes of death doom with some post metal thrown in. That’s what you get here. But you also get more; there are synths (I assume?) and droning guitars. These guys are out of Tacoma, Washington and sound very bleak indeed. Their bio lists Cult of Luna and Neurosis as reference points, but I can certainly here some early Paradise Lost in here too- at least in terms of the bleakness and the kind of slow dm vibe.
This is, it almost goes without saying, very heavy stuff. Opener “43” is dynamic and dark- impossibly so, at times. “Halls of Disrepair” is just as weighty. The band have captured a pretty cool sound- a fair amount of dynamic twists and turns and layering of guitars. The experimental soundscape vibe is certainly Neurosis-esque and most welcome.
This EP rounds out with the title track and “As The Last Light Fades”. Again, both are in keeping with the blueprint established in the first half. This EP is weighty, full of despair and very, very good. If you like any of the bands mentioned here, definitely check this out.
“Stairway To An Empty Room” is available HERE 

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Monday, 16 January 2023

ALBUM REVIEW: Obituary, "Dying of Everything"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 13/01/2023
Label: Relapse Records

“Dying of Everything” CD//CS//DD/LP track listing:
1). Barely Alive
2. The Wrong Time
3). Without a Conscience
4). War
5). Dying of Everything
6). My Will To Survive
7). By The Dawn
8). Weaponize The Hate
9). Torn Apart
10). Be Warned
The Review:
Obituary- Florida’s death metal merchants par excellence are back. If the last self-titled album was a rather anthemic collection of death metal, “Dying of Everything” is perhaps a little murkier and a little darker. I rated the previous album very highly- not least because it seemed energised and turbo charged in a way that, say, “Inked In Blood”, was not. The core of the band remains intact- Donald and John Tardy alongside the perennial axeman Trevor Peres. Most recent joining member, Ken Andrews, is firmly embedded here on guitar and pops up in the writing credits while the formidable low end of Death alumni Terry Butler fills out the line-up.
Obituary are a unique proposition within death metal. No one else sounds like them. They mix death, doom, mid tempo grooves and the inimitable vocals of John Tardy into a swampy concoction that is immensely heavy, occasionally catchy, sometimes fast but never hyper speed.
As is the band’s way, “Barely Alive” opens things here; it’s a characteristically speedy start with Don firing on all cylinders and the band sounding fired up. The production is massive- serious low end and large drum sizes coalescing to make a thunderous racket.
From there, the band runs through an admirable gamut of styles. “The Wrong Time” is catchy and grooves in the mid tempo range. “Without Conscience” is prime Obituary while “War” slows things down and echoes 1994’s “World Demise” with its pacing and main riff hammered home ad nauseum. Obituary’s appeal lies in their ability to come up with surprisingly straightforward and catchy songs; often repetitive but never boring- they are masters of their fairly minimalist craft.
Ever since “Slowly We Rot”, the band have trodden a different path to their peers. When other bands were getting faster and faster, Obituary slowed down even more. While classic records like “Cause of Death” yielded live staples like “Chopped In Half” and The End Complete” offered up a particularly bleak and downtuned vision of the world, the band later records are just as compelling. “Frozen In Time” rules. “Xecutioner’s Return” was monstrously weighty, “Darkest Day” was prime Obituary, their self titled work was believed by many to be as defining as “SWR” and so on. The band have never really put a foot wrong- other than splitting up a couple of times… but even then the comeback records have been worth the wait.
The one thing that quality has bread is a difficulty to differentiate between albums and eras beyond the first. Much like Motorhead and Overkill- or even Cannibal Corpse closer to home, Obituary have never really made a bad album, but they remain defined to some fans by their earliest work. They have their own slot, their own groove and sound and remain one of a kind.
As “Dying of Everything” progresses, the band continue to do what they do best- simple riffing, massive drums, insane vocals… it’s all here. If you have listened to Obituary in the past and not been convinced or won over, it’s unlikely that this record will change that. If you have liked any of the band’s albums, you’ll like this one.
Whether you are here for the slow-paced crushing songs like “My Will To Live” or the slightly more sprightly “By The Dawn”, your tastes will be catered for. My only wish is that the band would put the pedal to the metal a bit more often. I like when Obituary speeds up and thrashes out. You are always guaranteed a fast opener, but it would be nice if the band exceeded the speed limit more often.
That said, you cannot argue with the double bass drum grooves of “Weaponize The Hate”, the swagger of the title track or any of the lead work on offer here. It’s prime Obituary- and very heavy indeed. The record concludes with “Torn Apart” and “Be Warned”- rounding out 45 minutes- or thereabouts- of Floridian death metal that is simultaneously familiar and brand new.
So where does this sit in the pantheon of Obituary records- now stretching back to the 80s(!). Hmm. I think that “Dying of Everything” is probably going to settle as a mid-table/high mid-table showing. It’s not as instant as the self-titled record and not as vicious as “Frozen In Time” but the songs are good throughout and it’s reliably heavy, murky, dark and with all expected Obituary-isms operating in the upper gears. If you like the band, it’s essential listening. If you have never heard Obituary (?!?) then you can pick this album and get the idea. There are few bands at the very top table of the death metal genre, Obituary reserved their place well over thirty years ago and remain there to this day. No mean feat.
“Dying of Everything” is available HERE 

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Saturday, 14 January 2023


By: Richard Maw
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 27/01/2023
Label: Shadow Kingdom Records

“IV” CS//CD//DD//LP track listing:
1). Call of the Void
2). Grave Dance
3). Living on The Earth
4). Pandora’s Box
5). Blind Dead
6). She
7). Lords of This Wasteland
8). Slave One
9). Last Rites
The Review:

The UK’s finest exponents of trad doom return with this- their fourth (!) album. Since the last record, “Excalibur”, there has been a change of personnel- with yours truly bowing out due to family commitments and the eminently capable Scott Naylor joining the band. Sealey and Steve Wilson are still in place, so the dual vocal attack remains along with that rumbling bass and intricate solo guitar work fans of the band are familiar with.
This time around, there are no overarching concepts, no knights, no swords- but there are some recurring themes. The atmosphere setting guitar intro of “Call Of The Void” sets things up for a chilling doom experience, rooted often at street level rather than high fantasy.
The excellent “Grave Dance” is the first song proper and it is a belter. The lolloping triplet time feel coalesces into a highly critical barb against… well, I’ll let you have a listen and make up your mind about what the conspiracy of silence and lust for power while another wave comes is! Whatever your views on civil liberties, the last couple of years and/or the powers that be, this is a superb track. Wilson’s vocals and riffing are excellent. Iron Void are BACK.
From there, the record retains a street level and real-world approach for the most part. Sealey takes the lead vocals for the catchy and groovesome “Pandora’s Box”. The beefy mix courtesy of Chris Fielding allows these straightforward compositions to shine; it’s a great sound and that Skyhammer/Foal Studios sound is hugely weighty. The drums in particular sound massive. Good variety from Naylor on the kit and nice phrasing through the transitional fills. As a track, it wouldn’t be out of place on an Orange Goblin album- something of a throwback to some of the material on “Doomsday” in some ways.
Things get heavier with “Blind Dead” as the band sow down to a crawl. It’s the kind of occult/arcane track that the band do so well- souls, rituals, blasphemy… Templars! It’s all here. Fantastic. I can see this one being a live favourite with its slick changes in the middle and strong refrain. Also: bass wah!
The band have gone for a good variety and breadth of material on this album- it’s by no means one paced and features some excellent dynamics on “She”, along with a surprisingly catchy hook. The track is kind of a distant cousin of “The Devil’s Daughter” and is a really welcome change of vibe. Naturally, the cleaner guitars don’t last forever and there is some serious weight in the middle with some enjoyable guitar work before the original approach returns.
As the record progresses through “Lords of the Wasteland”, many doom fans may have this as a possible doom album of the year contender. It’s riffy, varied, well put together in all aspects and doesn’t outstay its welcome. In terms of trad doom, the old guard are going or gone- Pentagram? Saint Vitus? Trouble? They are now, for the most part, bands of the past. Cathedral are gone. Count Raven are still around, but Iron Void are possibly successors to all the bands listed. They’ve got a unique and identifiable sound, well written songs and well produced records. The crown is there for them, surely.
“Slave One” is another album highlight- again, thematically it’s in keeping with other musings on the album- despite utilising a kind of science fiction motif… or is it science fact?! It is viciously delivered, certainly.  It’ll get heads banging and its cautionary tale of robot death for you and I feels, at the least, prescient and plausible. It’s Sealey’s best vocal performance on the record, I think- with real venom and spite in the delivery.
The record concludes with “Last Rites”- a romp through the doom graveyard of quiet and loud dynamics and with that the band is over and out.  Overall, “IV” is the record the band needed to make: straightforward but varied, heavy but with lighter elements here and there. This is excellent doom metal and stands shoulder to shoulder with the band’s other albums. Support the underground, support real bands and support real doom metal. Buy this album!

“IV” is available HERE 

Band info: bandcamp || facebook