Monday, 19 April 2021

REVIEW: Ungraven & Slomatics, "Split"

 By: Richard Maw
 
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 05/03/2021
Label: Black Bow Records



 
Split DD//LP track listing:
 
1). Ungraven, “Defeat The Object”
2). Ungraven, “Onwards She Rides to a Certain Death”
3). Ungraven, “Blackened Gates of Eternity”
4). Slomatics, “Kaan”
5). Slomatics, “Proto Hag”
6). Slomatics, “Monitors”
 
The Review:
 
So, half an hour of the heaviest sounds and tones known on the planet... Ungraven is Jon Davis' (Conan) side project, Slomatics are Northern Ireland's heaviest export.
 
Ungraven is not a million miles away from Conan, of course, but is less about atmosphere and slothfulness (or High On Fire bits) and more about beating the listener down with unbearable weight.
 
Over the course of the three tracks, Ungraven sound superb- heavy, crisp, weighty... I assume a Foal Studios recording with the inimitable Chris Fielding at the helm. Simply put, if you like Conan, you'll like this. If you like Fudge Tunnel, you will like this. If you like.... well, you get the idea.
 
Slomatics are all about heaping impossible weight onto the listener, in fact the material here is so heavy you'll need to Eat Clen and Tren Hard to withstand it. It is certainly downcast and moody- atmospheric in its blackness with impossibly low tuning. If you haven't ever heard them (is that possible?) think Electric Wizard crossed with Conan and you are in the right ballpark, but Slomatics have a sound and style all their own.
 
Over the course of six tracks, each band gets a roughly equal playing time and three tracks of each is enough to get a flavour of both, to decide if you to explore further.  Of course, where this is all building to, is to say that it is great – if you like any of the comparison bands mentioned here, this is a must.  Heavy, dark and pleasingly relentless.
 
You can purchase the Split HERE
 

Band info: Slomatics || Ungraven

Friday, 16 April 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: The Crown, "Royal Destroyer"

By: Richard Maw
 
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 12/03/2021
Label: Metal Blade Records



 
“Royal Destroyer” CD//DD//LP track listing:
 
1). Baptized in Violence
2). Let the Hammering Begin!
3). Motordeath
4). Ultra Faust
5). Glorious Hades
6). Full Metal Justice
7). Scandinavian Satan
8). Devoid of Light
9). We Drift On
10). Beyond The Frail
11). Absolute Monarchy
 
The Review:
 
Ok, so the tracklist on the info sheet does not match how the files store in my media player- or on the band's Wikipedia entry... so track by track is out of the question here. However, information issues aside, what you really need to know is that this RIPS!
 
The Crown are Scandinavian and play, officially, melodic death metal. Don't expect the Gothenburg sound of In Flames on their later records though- this is feral and vicious. There are blast beats, thrash passages, solos and plenty of nasty noise.
 
You can pretty much pick out any track (running order be damned!) and enjoy- if you like Swe-Death. Advance track “Motordeath” is as good as any at a summing up- fast and furious with a huge dose of adrenaline. There is a surprising amount of depth over the course of the tracks here- “Ultra Faust” is dynamic and develops across its running time and elsewhere there is no shortage of slower pacing and, yes, melodic guitars. The song titles are uniformly excellent (“Full Metal Justice”!Baptized In Violence!) and there are nice touches that keep things interesting- things like the cowbell at the start (and later on) of “Scandinavian Satan” and the helter skelter riffage contained therein.
 
The record, overall, is a good mix of Entombed, Motorhead, The Haunted and even structural echoes of the best American thrash. There are no bad tracks, the production is great and you get ten tracks of high quality Scandinavian death metal. There is a lot to like here and I would urge all fans of the genre to give it a go- it's an engaging and weighty listen, without descending into dissonance or mindless blasting. Top quality death metal.
 
“Royal Destroyer” is available HERE

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Sunday, 11 April 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Blaze Bayley, "War Within Me"

By: Richard Maw & Nathan Harrison
 
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 09/04/2021
Label: Blaze Bayley Recordings


“War Within Me” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. War Within Me
2. 303
3. Warrior
4. Pull Yourself Up
5. Witches Night
6. 18 Flights
7. The Dream of Alan Turing
8. The Power of Nikola Tesla
9. The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking
10. Every Storm Ends

The Review:

Blaze roars back with another solo album. The ex-Iron Maiden alumni has been building a real head of steam over the last half decade- The “Infinite Entanglement” trilogy of albums (one per year!) was uniformly excellent. A brace of live albums and an acoustic record have been put out as well- all of that within a five year period! You could never accuse Blaze of slacking. Indeed, he has earned a reputation as one of the hardest touring and hardest working singers in the business.

This is metal solo album number ten, so what has Blaze got left to say? As it turns out: plenty. This is a call to arms, a rallying cry for anyone who is down but not yet out. Track by track, it is like this - with my own views articulately and expertly augmented or argued with by none other than Nathan Harrison of The Human Condition and ace Maiden tribute act, Maiden's Shadow.

“War Within Me”:

RM: What an opener! The title track is fast and furious with a gnarly guitar tone and hooks for days. It's anthemic and comes out all guns blazing (ha!). As a first impression, this is good. It's high energy and pushes all the right motivational buttons.

NH: A Blaze mission statement if ever there was one – his lyrics have always been about self-empowerment and nowhere is this more evident than tracks like ‘War Within Me’. Furious riffing from Chris Appleton blends perfectly with Blaze’s assured and confident flitting between a punchy staccato and his usual flowing and powerful melodic approach, his voice still going strong and arguably getting better and better as each year passes.

“303”:

RM: A real stand out track for me. This is a classic tale of derring-do regarding Polish fighter pilots in WW2 who greatly assisted in the Battle of Britain. It's really catchy and exhibits, for me, the best of what Blaze can do.

NH: Blaze has arguably been at his best on recent albums when things have gone ever so slightly power metal (see the title track of “Infinite Entanglement”, Blood’ from “Endure and Survive” and ‘Immortal One’ from the last album) and this track is no exception. Blaze and co can write a damn fine chorus and this one just begs for a huge crowd to sing along. The way the verses pack in their storytelling and lead straight into the choruses with Blaze barely taking a breath is absolutely electric, and Appleton’s solo is one of his finest – more Glenn Tipton than his usual KK Downing-esque frenetic style – which suits the melody-led approach of this track beautifully.

“Warrior”:

RM: After a melodic and clean intro, it's blast off time again. Again it's catchy, again it's full on metal. I think that Blaze's band deserve a special mention here. Three quarters of Absolva are once again present and correct and Messrs Appleton, McNee and Schramm play a blinder. Chris Appleton seems to have hit just the right balance between metal and melody for Blaze's material. The riffs and solos are very strong and Blaze meets their challenge with a powerful baritone performance.

NH: That voice though! The quieter moments like the one that opens this track really show off the nuances of Blaze’s vocal quality – simply goosebump inducing stuff. Introducing the full band is impactful none the less, and the moment they kick in oddly has more in the way of noticeable dynamic range than when the opener gets going – more on this in the mix section later, though.

“Pull Yourself Up”:

RM: Once again, we are in self-help territory here - or metal motivation mode if you prefer. Blaze reminds us that we must press on, we must overcome. Blaze's explanation of this track is interesting and worthy of mention here. The first verse and part of the chorus are owed to a serious motorcycle accident he was involved in just after joining Maiden- what timing! He was told that he would thereafter walk with a limp and that he would not be back to anything like normal mobility for at least a year. Naturally, he had opportunities that he had to grasp. He beat the doctor's prognosis and now exhorts the listener to stop doubting themselves and walk with him. The other lyrics deal with criticism Blaze has faced and how he simply forged ahead. I love this track. It's motivating and quite profound. I can't help but sing along.

NH: Something a little different here, and the experiment pays dividends. The guitar generally stays in the higher register, wailing and soaring throughout, while the bass and drums lock in tightly with Schramm and McNee providing a solid backing to the more wayward guitar approach. Blaze’s rich tones sit perfectly on top of the cacophony to make for a solid mid-tempo foot tapper with a sing along section that stands out as a result of the approach to the rest of the song. Definitely one for the live set.

“Witches Night”

RM: This offers up a kind of mid tempo point - faster than one of the preceding tracks but slower than the others. Nice guitar refrains throughout and a hooky chorus. It's a solid album track, but not a stand out for me.

 

NH: Another slightly odd track, which doesn’t land quite as well as ‘Pull Yourself Up’ thanks to a slightly meandering sag in the middle, but the ideas here are solid and the transition from verse to chorus is surprising every time. Said chorus offers a solid, simple riff but with more guitars working their way around it and making for a really interesting listen.

“18 Flights”

RM: Ah! My first thoughts on this one: SAXON. It is exactly the kind of track that Biff's Yorkshire heroes would and have delivered at any point in their forty year career. The main guitar lick is strong and the verses and choruses are delivered with utter conviction. It tells the story of Blaze and band being caught up in an earthquake in South America and the surrounding chaos. It also contains a stormer of a solo. It's unashamedly fun and bombastic and although it could come across as very Spinal Tap, I find it charming.

NH: Yes, this one is pure ‘And the Bands Played On’! Songs about touring experiences often don’t quite hit the mark, but as a novelty with a cheesy chorus, this is a nice pallet cleanser before the more serious fare of the last few tracks.

“The Dream of Alan Turing”

RM: This is the first of a trilogy of science themed tracks that form a kind of nucleus of the record. Each track deals with a giant of their field and each one is quite different. Turing, of course, cracked Enigma and thus turned the tide for the allies in WW2. That he was treated so disgracefully by the British establishment thereafter due to his sexuality is a sobering and souring epilogue to the life of a man who really can be described as a true hero. The song is great, the subject stellar and this is another standout, if a tad on the short side.

NH: Little pockets of concept or thematically linked songs in albums of otherwise standalone tracks always appeal – this is something that Blaze himself did so well on “Promise and Terror”, dealing with an intensely personal and heart-breaking subject. While these tracks deal with subjects and figures unrelated to Blaze’s own life, the opener of this little trilogy is certainly epic and is fitting for the impact that the three men concerned  have made on the world both during their lives and after their deaths. Alan Turing’s story is presented in a rather dark and melancholic but powerful 3 minute package.

“The Power of Nikola Tesla”

RM: Another giant of science and a champion of the greater good - and again a man who did not get his just desserts or the respect he deserved in his lifetime. It's safe to say that Tesla changed all of humanity with his work. Again, it's a rollicking track with a strong chorus that quite literally screams “POWER!”

NH: Power is certainly the word – this is the standout track of the trilogy and briefly shows off the upper end of Blaze’s range in a way that’s bound to knock heads off. The lyrics frame energy and power as something that Tesla saw in every aspect of the world, and that is translated expertly into the approach the whole band has taken here. Well, they could hardly have written a song about a man so inextricably linked to the popularisation of electricity without a little thunder and lightning, now could they?!

“The Unstoppable Stephen Hawking”

RM: The last of our scientific/intelligent holy trinity, Hawking is a man known to most as the author of the book most purchased and least finished (A Brief History of Time) that exists. Hawking's life obviously chimed with Blaze - Hawking refused to accept his MND diagnosis and confounded doctors by living on for decades longer than the three years he was given. As Blaze pronounces, Hawking was unstoppable and a giant of his time. Verse wise, the lyrics are classic Blaze, if a little clumsy in terms of phrasing. The bridge and chorus more than make up for any shortcomings, though and again this is a track that pushes forward relentlessly, inexorably, towards its conclusion. The avian imagery that Blaze conjures up (“the eye of the hawk”) is quite excellent and the song is a good example of more being more; words, length, guitars etc. It's all there and all gloriously over the top.

NH: It’s impossible not to be inspired by the late, great Professor Stephen Hawking – even without his incredible scientific achievements, the man was a one off, defying all the limitations put upon him by the terrible disease that ravaged his body. Blaze takes Hawking’s story and incredible spirit and uses it as a lesson to anybody who is ever told that they can’t do something. If there’s anything that can be learned from Hawking (other than very advanced physics!) then that is certainly the main candidate. The song uses all 6 of its minutes to great effect and this closes out the trilogy perfectly.

 “Every Storm Ends”

RM: How else to go out but with a big melodic ballad where Blaze gets to sit in his most powerful register and deliver an emotional performance and summing up of all the themes contained within the album. It's melancholy and hopeful at the same time. It's a great closing track and can only fit at the end of the album.

NH: A closer that gets to the emotional heart of the album as a whole and, as stated in a previous piece on Blaze’s work, during these trying times we all live in currently it’s hard not to get swept up by someone suggesting that things might just turn out alright in the end! This one really shows off the versatility of Blaze’s voice, as he goes from belting lines right at the top of his range to low, sonorous and expressive lows. An impressive way to round things off.

Mix and Production:

RM: My only criticism of the album would be the mix. The drums are a little low, the bass a little indistinct and the guitars a little loud - to my ears at least. Blaze and band worked within the limitations they had during, as the BBC keep telling us, an unprecedented situation. The album was recorded using modern technology and digital files being sent from each musician to the other. Blaze and Appleton worked directly together in Birmingham for much of the album's genesis, with Martin McNee and Karl Schramm recording as and when they could. Consequently, the drums have a less than organic sound, but are of course well played and feature all of McNee's trademark rhythms and phrasing. I found that the louder you turn the album up, the better it sounds - which for a metal record is... as it should be! The performances are uniformly great and Blaze in particular really shines.

NH: It feels like a bit of a cheap shot to have a go at the production given the circumstances already outlined and the challenges thrown up by the pandemic, but it is necessary to point out that the production does falter at times here. As previously mentioned, the dynamic range is inconsistent – the title track has practically none when a single guitar becomes a British metal band going at full pelt, but ‘Warrior’ manages to sound impactful in a similar situation. The drums are far too quiet and the guitars far too high in the mix and this makes for an uncomfortable listening experience through headphones, at times borderline painful when cranked up, even through near top-of-the-range B&O cans. However, when heard through a decent speaker, these issues are less evident and perhaps a finished CD or vinyl copy when the album is released may prove a better listening experience.

Summing up:

RM: This is another very strong entry into Blaze's discography. It's more straightforward than any of the “Infinite Entanglement” Trilogy and is relentlessly 'up' in a similar way that “Somewhere in Time” is; it's enthusiastic and energised throughout. There are no bad tracks and most are at the least very good. I hope it wins over new fans as it deserves to.

NH: Blaze has very rarely put a foot wrong in his solo career (the slightly odd “King of Metal” proving the only real dud in his catalogue) and, production aside, he maintains his confident winning streak with “War Within Me”. He could hardly be blamed for wanting to take a bit of a break or perhaps even for running out of ideas after releasing 3 interlinked concept albums over 3 years with tours between each (and not forgetting also that the band still regularly release their own material without Blaze as Absolva). However, it seems that stopping is simply not Blaze’s style and it continues to work in his favour, with this latest release the fourth blinder in a row. Roll on number five!

“War Within Me” is available HERE

Band info: facebook

REVIEW: Rorcal & Earthflesh, "Witchcoven" [EP]

By: Josh McIntyre
 
Album Type: EP
Date Released:02/04/2021
Label: Hummus Records


“Witch Coven” CS//CD//DD//LP track listing:

1). Altars of Nothingness
2). Happiness Sucks – So Do You

The Review:

 I am always impressed by Rorcal’s ability to be immaculately heavy. I mean it’s pure black bile smashing into your face with the weight of anvils. It melts your eyes and makes you feel smaller, more insignificant as an existential being. The guitars are huge, the drums are huge, the frequencies are huge, and the vocalist (who has one of the best tones in metal) roars like the meanest devil sent to drag you to Hell. Add in Earthflesh, their collaboration partner with this release, and the layers of noise make it sound like being forced into a meat grinder.

Speaking of Hell and devils, these two songs (both around 15 minutes) sound like occult rituals of the most frightening sort. The first song, “Altars of Nothingness”, begins with deep, choir-like vocals that certainly recall religious ceremonies before building up into a vile sludge fest. I’m normally one of those people who views religious and occult themed metal to be played out and cliche but somehow Rorcal and Earthflesh turn out something that really, truly sounds like the soundtrack to someone being set to flames. It isn’t just some band playing rock n’ roll songs about Satan, they manage to bring about an intensity that brings to mind the emotional state of someone in great pain who knows that all they have left in life is pure torment.

It feels as if the first track takes place on Earth, our living realm, while the second half takes place in a Hell-like dimension. Switching to blastbeats and buzzing guitars it sounds like the pure dread of someone falling to their doom, knowing that this is all they have left in life. As the song develops it continuously wavers between these faster parts and back to more doom sections. It feels natural as it flows and when the EP ends the quietness is quite apparent given the last half hour journey.

“Witch Coven” finds a brilliant balance between crushing atmosphere and riff to move the body (particularly the chugging section of the first track). Rorcal is truly at their best when throwing these juxtapositions together. The clean vocals and layers of sound from Earthflesh add to make this a special flavor of extreme music, one that is rich in mindfulness, a focus on emotive feel, and pure devastation.

“Witch Coven” is available HERE

Band info: Rorcal || Earthflesh

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Day of the Jackal, "Day Zero"

By: Chris Markwell
 
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 15/03/2021
Label: Independent


 

“Day Zero” DD track listing:

 
1). On Your Own
2). Belief in a Lie
3). Rotten to the Core
4). Secrets to the Grave
5). Coffin Fix
6). Riskin’ it All
7). ‘Til The Death
8). Afterburn
9). Deadfall Trap
10). Rock n’ Roll Deathride
 

The Review:

Just beyond the kingdom of Sludge sits the Mountain of Hard Rock: an immovable edifice of majesty, it is the magical, ever-present spire, whose shadow touches all the lands of music. From the deep mines of Heavy Metal, to the cloud-topped towers of Prog, all know and feel the touch of Hard Rock upon their territories.

Carved into the face of Hard Rock are names of power: AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, Guns ‘N’ Roses, to name but a few. All names are known and respected among all the lands that surround Hard Rock. But, look closer… A new name has been etched into the foot of the mountain.

Day of the Jackal, spell out the jagged letters. And when a new name is etched, it stands to reason to seek them out. So I did.

Leeds’ Day of the Jackal have, on 15th March 2021, released their debut album “Day Zero”, and, if it were any more balls-out hard rock, it would be charged with indecent exposure.  

Recorded in Gentlemen’s Pistols James ‘Atko’ Atkinson’s Station House studio, the rock runs through every inch of this record like a stylus runs through a record’s groove.  In fact, the entire album was recorded live: no click tracks required, kids.  Because of this decision, each one of the ten tracks present on “Day Zero” retain that raw energy you’d normally expect to feel in the sweaty confines of a gig venue. 

Ten tracks, zero bullshit.  If you want ballads, experimentation, or odd time signatures, move along.  This album is designed specifically to give you a rock ‘n’ roll injection straight to your heart.  Palpitations, shortness of breath, and a desire to bang your head uncontrollably are common side effects, so don’t worry. 

From the first blast of electric riff-raffery of opener ‘On Your Own’, to the bar-room brawl of a closing song ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Deathride’, Day of the Jackal make statement after brash statement with each track that pummels and pounds your eardrums.  The quartet have forged a beautiful, whiskey-stained ode to the gods of hard rock, their love for their genre shining through with each hi-hat snap and every power chord struck. 

Personal favourite of mine from this album has to be ‘Til the Death’, with its slamming riffs and Bon Scott-esque lyrics (“I’ll be your best mistake, but I won’t be your man” is delivered almost with a knowing wink audibly heard in the mix).  You can envisage baying crowds of people knowing every word, and singalong in turn.  I want to be part of that crowd and, after listening, you will, too.   

Day of the Jackal are not reinventing the wheel with “Day Zero”.  Rather, they’ve stolen that wheel, affixed it to their cherry-red hot rod, and are riding it down the road to the hallowed mountain of hard rock mythology.  Best get on board and join them on their journey. 


Band info: bandcamp || facebook

Monday, 15 March 2021

ALBUM TYPE: Cruelty, “There Is No God Where I Am”

 By: Peter Morsellino
 
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 30/04/2021
Label: Church Road Records



 
“There Is No God Where I Am” CD//DD//LP track listing:
 
1). An Introduction
2). A Lie That Makes Life Bearable
3). Spiritual War
4). Crimson Eye
5). Dead Culture
6). If There Is A God, He Does Not Believe In Me
7). Mine
8). To The Ground
9). Cut
10). Barren Land In Bloom
11). Starve
12). There Is No God Where I Am

The Review:

With an ever-shifting frenetic energy, Cruelty assaults the senses, taking no prisoners. Mixing expert musicianship with chaotic emotional frenzy, the sound here is a bit of a grab bag of intense grooves crushing weight and utter lunacy.

I am going to be returning often to the word chaotic in this review, because as I listen to Cruelty's swirling battery it is simply the only word that comes to mind. The music here brings up a picture of a mind on the edge. There is darkness, there is fear. There is confusion and there is laser focus. Its ugly and at once it is a very beautiful thing.

Cruelty is frantically searching for something that will never materialize. I think that's the best way I can describe it. It encompasses that panic and the cloudiness that results in a plan coming apart at the seams.

On the audio side of things, the production team simply must be praised for capturing such an unruly sound and presenting it as a crisp and clear product. The sound design throughout the album is gorgeous, and the musicianship is completely on point.  Only true masters of their craft could purposely create something so off the rails while leaving intact the intricacies of their playing. It is a wonderful thing.

I really wish I had more to say about this album, but it is simply something that needs to be heard. It's very difficult to describe in logical terms. But hopefully these abstracts have piqued your interest.  Definitely check this one out. It's an experience all its own.

“There Is No God Where I Am” is available HERE

Band info: facebook || bandcamp

Friday, 12 March 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Blind Monarch, "What Is Imposed Must Be Endured"

By: Peter Morsellino
 
Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 05/04/2019
Label: Dry Cough Records | 
Heavenly Vault
 

“What is Imposed Must Be Endured” DD//LP track listing:

1). Suffering Breathes My Name
2). My Mother, My Cradle, My Tomb
3). Blind Monarch
4). Living Altar

The Review:

Blind Monarch usher us into their world with a sparse atmosphere, crawling with hints to the bleak ether that will soon engulf us. Soon the crushing weight of the music will be realized, and those empty spaces (which will graciously rear their heads throughout the release) will be a welcome reprieve from the sonic assault.

“What is Imposed Must Be Endured” is nothing if not punishing. With an emotional weight that hits equally as hard as the dense tonality of the music, Blind Monarch creates a piece of art here that is meant to stick with the listener long after the final notes have rung out to completion.

One thing that is instantly noticeable within this release is the organic nature of the music. Slow and dirge like, low tuned and impenetrable, yet never falling into a mechanical loop. The overall sound of the band brings to mind the panicked vocalizations of a cornered animal. Guttural and shrieking, fearful and dangerous. Listening to the album, the audience can never be sure what is coming next. It is unpredictable, capable of turning its warning growls into a fierce gnashing of teeth in an instant.

“What Is Imposed Must Be Endured” is cold, but it is never stagnant. Vampiric, it seems to feed off of the energy that the listener puts into it. This can be a very dark and dangerous album. It can be a very powerful and moving experience. This is one to be handled with care. Not a light listening experience by any means, this is one to be examined with full attention. Give this record your all, and it will return it ten fold.

Blind Monarch hit us with everything they've got on their debut, and the gamble paid off in spades. It is visceral and laser focused.  Any doom or sludge fan would be remiss to sleep on this one. Give it a listen; give it a good, hard, focused listen, and see where it takes you.

“What is Imposed Must Be Endured” is available on vinyl for the first time HERE 

Band info: bandcamp || facebook