A Dark and Scary Place
New Heavy Sounds releases Faithless Rituals by Sky Valley Mistress. This Stoner Rock band, hailing from Lancashire, incorporates Kayley ‘Hell Kitten’ Davies on vocals, Russell ‘Russell’ Russell on bass, Maxwell Harvey William Newsome III on drums, and Sean ‘Starsky’ Berry on guitar. Faithless Rituals is their debut full album, following some demos and a lead-in single called 'Skull Pistons'....
The first track, 'A Faithless Ritual', is a spoken intro by Dave Catching, guitarist with Eagles of Death Metal, Queens of the Stone Age, and co-producer on this album. He tells us “something that you really need to know. I want this to perforate your eardrums, have a fight inside your head and leave a slow burnin’ fire in the darkest part of your mind. That will never let you forget what will be embedded inside you forever.” What a load of pretentious claptrap. Let the band speak for itself, for goodness sake. And speak they do.
'You Got Nothin’' has a Black Sabbath-like sound, with overdriven guitar riff. It has a solid, thick backing. Respite comes in the form of a quiet, retrospective mood, with almost sighed vocals. However, it isn’t long before the wide wall of sound returns. 'Lost in Shock' has a similar structure; it owes everything to the early days of the mighty Black Sabbath. There is much use of guitar foot pedal effects and reverb for the vocals. This is driving Rock and Roll. 'Punk Song' has a heavy, sleazy sound. The riff has Deep Purple’s 'Black Night' to thank. The vocals are sung somewhat lazily until the next session’s full-blown slap around the face. The first hint of a guitar solo comes via a Wah-Wah pedal.
'It Won’t Stop' has more of a Led Zeppelin Blues vibe to it. There’s a light and atmospheric opening with inherent background noises. The only heaviness is briefly at the end of each verse. However, the full band onslaught returns with distorted guitar and more hearty vocals. Did I detect piano in there at the end? The single, 'Skull & Pistons' has all the guts and glory. Surely a fan favourite. There is an official video of this song on YouTube. Check it out. 'She Is So' has a nice rocking beat, thick and heavy in the backdrop. Again, there’s a more subdued section which only seems to exist to shock the listener with the slam-back into the song proper. This one is short and sweet, with a weird keyboard outro.
'Blue Desert' is an opus at nearly 11 minutes long – by far the longest track. This is closer to acoustic than full-blown. It’s a welcome change to hear some guitar on this release which isn’t in-your-face effects-driven. It picks up speed at around 7 minutes, and the drummer is let out of his cage to play. An enjoyable jam which displays individual talents. The most changeable example of music on the album. We finish with 'Electric Church' (the name of a frequented club in Blackpool). This one has energy, power and melody in abundance. A nice closer.
I hope their sophomore release mixes things up a little more, as this is my only reservation. But don’t let this comment stop you seeking-out what is essentially a great debut album.
Pelagic Records releases, for digital download, The Fallen Crimson, by Envy – described as a ‘Screamo’ band from Tokyo in Japan. The group has been together for nearly 30 years, but this is their first album in five years, following Atheist’s Cornea in 2015 and a teaser single called Alnair in August, released in November 2018. The instrumentalists consist of Yoshimitsu Taki on guitar, Manabu Nakagawa on bass, Hiroki Watanabe on drums, yOshi on guitar, and Nobukata Kawai also on guitar...
We begin with 'Statement of Freedom', which has slightly growled vocals, a heavy riff and a simply melody. All of the vocals are sung in their native language and that’s fine for the words that are sung, but the crammed-in effect of the spoken vocals is disconcerting at first and then a little annoying, as they don’t really fit. That aside, there is light and shade.
This definitely isn’t the conventional direction for any Rock or Metal band. The heavier vocal style and overall theme reminds me somewhat of Dark Tranquillity. Conversely, 'Swaying Leaves and Scattering Breath' is reminiscent of a heavy version of Big Country. Envy has certainly stolen their early sound with this one. There is a quiet musical break in the middle with clean vocals. This band has been listening to The Crossing, and that’s no bad thing. 'A Faint New World' has a nice drum pattern accompanied by acoustic guitar introducing this track, before it kicks in with a heavy but moderate pace and slightly screamed vocals. It keeps the previous theme of spoken vocals in the middle which build up to the full band sound again. There’s a nice alternative timing. I have to applaud the drummer on the variation of beat here, as it keeps the sound fresh.
'Rhythm' has angelic "Ah"s which are joined by a nice straightforward guitar melody and floor tom drums. This time the vocals are female and clean. It has a medieval gothic feel. The band beefs-up the backing, but it remains essentially a ballad. An enjoyable song. 'Marginalized Thread' has a drum count-in to a riff that again hints at Big Country, before quickly slamming down the hammer with enjoyable double-paced but varied freeform drums, screamed and clean vocals. The switch from moderate to fast thrashing works really well, and the song ensures that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. 'HIKARI' incorporates a haunting David Gilmour-like opening. Quiet and ‘less is more’. The words are spoken quickly now, amid a heavy/moderate backdrop and the introduction of the growled vocals, which sound like they are coming from a distance. Throughout this time the same melody is maintained. I like the nice warm bass feel to the intro of 'Eternal Memories and Reincarnation'. It has the same basic melody structure as the previous song. The quickly spoken ‘unsung’ vocals begin to grate though.
We’re slammed straight into 'Fingerprint Mark' at a hundred miles per hour, with screamed singing much superior to the spoken ones. A brief respite and we return to the glorious frenzy. Enjoy the energy. This one’s short, sharp and takes no prisoners. The freeform drum patterns are great. Envy likes to build up from simple little melodies. In 'Dawn and Grace', Big Country are back. Electronica is utilised to distort the early vocals. I much prefer the full band heaviness. This one, 'Marginalized Thread', and 'Fingerprint Mark' are the best of the bunch. Light and heavy moods compete in 'Memories and the Limit'; a great hooked theme which links the two together. This one’s nice, too. We finish with 'A Step in the Morning Glow', the first single from this album. Again, I like the heavier moments of this song, along with the sometimes lighter atmosphere. However, this is too similar to previous tracks and is therefore perhaps not the best choice to round-up the proceedings.
This is undoubtedly something a little different, but across the album quite samey in places. Dark Tranquillity’s and Big Country’s love child. Nevertheless, it’s a solid release, and the drummer is superb.
New Heavy Sounds (the label that also has the recently reviewed Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard LP, Yn Ol I Annwn) releases 1823, the debut album by Doom band Embr from Alabama in the USA. It is available on LP, CD and for digital download. The group consists of Mark Buchanan on guitar, Alan Light on bass, Eric Bigelow on Drums, and his wife Crystal Bigelow on vocals. After four years of waiting, Eric received a kidney transplant in 2019 right in the middle of writing the songs with Crystal. All that he was told about the donor was that it was a young woman between 18 and 23. Hence the album title. A nice tribute...
We open with 'Prurient', which is introduced with echoing screeches, before dropping a Black Sabbath-like Doom-laden thick and heavy backdrop to the reverb-soaked female vocals of Crystal Bigelow. All is kept to a moderate pace. A short respite featuring a trundling bass guitar… and suddenly we’re back into the same beat, with further-reaching and heartfelt vocals. 'Where I’ve Been' has the Doom take centre stage again, with all the features of the first song repeated to the point I’m already looking for some variation. There is even the respite three-quarters of the way through – this time with subdued vocals keeping the connection. This is better than the opener. Crystal’s voice is more compelling here and, just as the song reaches its conclusion, we get a couple of growled words, which is promising.
'Stranger' is more like it! A nice riff-driven introduction. There are shades of Lacuna Coil about this band. The vocals get more of a workout to the riff; it works very well. Fuzz guitar holds quarter in the middle and welcomes back the reverb effect vocals. The best track yet, but still bettered by 'Powder'. Thunder and lightning sees in a simple bass line, soon joined by the guitar and male growled vocals. Contrasting this is the standard clean vocals of Crystal (and the odd growl herself!). The male growled vocals lift this music. The angel and the devil-type singing has been around for quite a while now, but still seems to work quite well.
As we reach 'Eyes Like Knives', it becomes obvious this is all about different riffs, but the same format in nearly every song: heavy, dark, moderate pace, searching vocals. This one has a similar change to the song 'Black Sabbath', which momentarily picks up the pace. 'Your Burden' has sound effects reminiscent of a stirring beast, and we are literally slammed into the song. I long for the growled vocals which so lifted 'Powder', but no such luck. Crystal does seem to grow into this album, becoming more versatile and emotive with each track. 'Vines' is the longest track and brings the proceedings to a close. It marks the welcome return of the growled vocals (hooray!), vying for position with the clean ones. For me, it’s not prominent enough. The album is too repetitive without them. Nevertheless, the band is solid and more than competent. They just need to mix things up a little.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2020)
Pelagic Records releases Obscuroscope, by Astrosaur – a three-piece Instrumental Progressive Rock band from Oslo. It is the brainchild of Song-writer and guitarist Eirik Krakenes. This is his second Astrosaur album, following Fade In // Space Out. It’s described as a record about Curiosity; each song relating to exploration and unveiling that which is obscured or unknown. An investigation of our own musical universe. The track listing is: 'Poyekhali', 'Karakoram II', 'White Stone', 'Elephant Island', 'Supervoid', and 'Homewards'.
This is indeed a Progressive Rock band, but rather than the promoted Jazz, Mathrock, and Black Metal, I would describe the approach as Post Rock and Space Rock. Where is the Black Metal? The music begins with some pointless Prog guitar twiddling, before metamorphosing into much more of a technical piece. The slower and heavier sections are much more palatable. The question Astrosaur seems to be asking is “Can you guess where we are going with this track?” The only answer you get is that it leaves you waiting to find out… and that’s the main problem.
The instrumental music which follows is not so much exploratory as tentative. It makes me think of a lost driver repeatedly circumnavigating a roundabout, unsure as to which exit to use. There are timing and even genre changes within one song. Nothing actually goes anywhere, and the biggest mistake this release makes is to keep the listening audience at arm’s length. If they can’t let potential followers into their plan, how can they expect those wannabe fans to invest their time and money in the band.
I really wanted to like this album, because I often fully appreciate something a little different. I thought I was going to get some atmospheric psychedelic Space Rock; but the let down isn’t the genre-realisation, it’s the dawning conclusion that the intention is to be clever when it only comes across as being pretentious.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
Black Lips is a Flower Punk or Garage Rock (depending on your point of view) band from Atlanta, comprising mainstays Cole Alexander and Jared Swilley, returning guitarist Jack Hines, and recent new additions Oakley Munson (on drums) and Zumi Roscow (on Saxophone). Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art is the group’s ninth studio album. It is produced by Sean Lennon, son of John, and features guest locals on one track by Yoko Ono.
Scuzzy, Swampy Rockabilly is the closest I could get to this in terms of a description of music genres/crossovers. Black Lips have enjoyed many favourable reviews, but to be honest I found it to be a naval-searching cacophony of chaos. The problem is that the album quite simply can’t decide what to be. You might argue it makes for a more diverse collection of songs; however, the truth is it’s too extreme in its differences. For example, 'Occidental Front', and 'Can’t Hold On', have a weirdly Western (as in Spaghetti) sound going on – with a galloping background keeping it together. In fact, you can quite imagine these being used in a film. So, just when you think you have a handle of the overall theme, nothing else sounds even remotely similar.
Sometimes ambient noises and discordant twangs can aid the bridge between tracks. Here, it’s as if everything has been detuned… to the extent that the guitar has the effect it’s playing in another key entirely. The resultant mess, along with the ‘can’t be bothered/only just woken up’ – sounding vocals made the supposed disinterest rub-off on me. There is a song called 'We Know', which has a Rock-like opening riff; my ears pricked up at this point, but not for long. And then the rest of the album seems to degenerate into a Hill Billy half-hour.
Not for me. My verdict is it’s Satan’s Graffiti.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)
Metal Blade releases A Dawn to Fear, by Cult of Luna, weighing-in at no less that 79 minutes. They are a Post-Metal band from Sweden, comprising lead songwriter Johannes Persson on vocals and guitar, Gredrik Kihlberg on guitars and vocals, Kristian Karlsson on keyboard and vocals, Andreas Johansson on bass, Magnus Lindberg on drums, and Thomas Hedlund on drums and percussion. They were formed in 1998. This is their eighth full length album...
'The Silent Man' has a constant solid drum beat, and there’s a heavy but moderate bass sound. The vocals are growled and are mostly incoherent; perhaps they are a little low in the mix. The track has lighter and mystical moments. Generally, it’s a good start. A military beat with reverb guitar serves as an instrumental outro from about halfway through. The vocals re-join briefly at the end. 'Lay Your Head to Rest' encompasses another slow but heavy Doom sound, incorporating a nice repeating drum pattern. 'A Dawn to Fear' has something of the Spaghetti Western incidental music about it; soft and menacing. The vocal style invokes the vision of cult chants. A light keyboard touch introduces the return of the Western sounding guitar. This would work in a Robert Rodriguez movie. The whole thing is at a moderate pace. Much as I like growled vocals it does spoil the atmosphere here. This is one of best of the of the bunch.
'Nightwalkers' has an original start, which opens up a little two minutes in. I’m beginning to notice a pattern here: a Doom standard moderate pace with repeated sequences and slightly different segments which piece the whole together. This has a centrepiece with galloping drums that offer the illusion of a much faster rate. It reigns in at over ten minutes. Enjoyable non-distracting music. 'Lights on the Hill' introduces a four-note guitar sequence which is somewhat eerie. However, we have to wait three minutes for a semblance of life to be breathed into this track. The main theme is good enough, but at fifteen minutes in length it’s far too long and much too repetitive.
'We Feel the End' is more contemplative, with atmosphere and poignancy. There are no growled vocals; just melancholic clean sounds. This is very nice, if a little long again. 'Inland Rain' begins meditatively but with growled vocals. I love the floating feeling of this one. This album is really coming good late on. It reminds me of the concept album idea, which admittedly sometimes leaves me cold, but here you can relax to it with headphones or play as background music. I can’t imagine anyone leaping around down the front at a live gig; it just isn’t that sort of music. 'The Fall' wraps things up with a similar guitar sound as on 'A Dawn to Fear'. This is another mega track at over 13 minutes. It’s very nice in its riffs and soundscapes and, unlike a couple of the other lengthy examples, doesn’t outstay its welcome.
I think this album has a lot to offer, but is perhaps a little imbalanced. I believe if 'We Feel the End' had kicked off the proceedings, followed by 'Inland Rain', 'The Fall', and the title track of 'A Dawn to Fear' – then this would enable the listener to feel their way into the package. Nevertheless, a very solid release.
Svart Records releases Deathtrip’s Demon Solar Totem, the follow-up to their debut album, 2014’s Deep Drone Master. Deathtrip is a Black Metal band consisting of Kvohst on vocals (and lyrics), Host on guitar, Storm on drums, and Thomas Eriksen on bass. They have a theme of primeval possession and open portals to other dimensions, old-English occultism, sacred sound formulae, otherworld eeriness and spectral realms.
The title track has a nice paced riff intro, which is maintained at a moderate speed, with drums thrashing at twice the rate. They get together with the introduction of screamed vocals which calm after a while, so that the backing is infinitely more manic. Ironically, when the music is more controlled the vocals are throaty; so, they are in contrast… and it sort of works. I like the chanted pieces, which they really should have incorporated more freely. The vocals are a little clearer on 'Angel Fossils', so you ascertain more of the story behind the urgency. The band manages to maintain a frantic feeling that we are on the edge of armageddon, or the unearthing of something cataclysmic. They are doom-laden without being Doom Metal.
'Enter Spectral Realms' begins well (if you can describe the subject matter as ‘well’), but soon descends into a similar formula as the first track. Having said that, the echoed soundscapes do conjure pictures of untamed lands and undiscovered cultures. 'Surrender to a Higher Power' contains a central riff that drags you along for the ride. It is at this point that the album begins to find its feet. 'Vintage Telepathy' has a more moderate and brooding atmosphere, which works well with the sporadically materialising monastic chants. 'Abraxas Mirrors', after a tentative start, suddenly unleashes into a heavy allegro, accompanied by an unusual but melodic hook. This feels like a centrepiece. Nice.
We wrap-up with 'Awaiting a New Maker'. The riff sounds like the intro to 'Iron Man', by Black Sabbath (perhaps the greatest Black Metal band, before the term was even invented by Venom). Anyway, this track is more about creating an atmosphere – something this band excels at. A new closer for their live set, maybe.
I can appreciate what is being attempted with this release. The atmosphere and visions of other worlds inspired by the music is countered by the less than vibrant sound, wherein the vocals are too low in the mix, and the progress is somewhat directionless. I believe the mysticism should be brought more to the fore, because this is the album’s strength – and there isn’t nearly enough of it.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
Labile Records releases Hollow Loss, the sophomore album by Rock/Industrial outfit Drev – which is the ‘musical expression’ of Boston, USA’s Jess Hewitt. This is the long overdue follow-up to 2008’s Failure (the gap between the two being due to side projects and ill health). The record is written, recorded and mixed by Hewitt, with Mike Wells handling the mastering...
We begin with 'Welcome Back', a full-on bass-driven collective with solid drums and slightly distorted vocals. The whole sound is controlled by electronica, which constantly plays with the format. 'Crossover' has an atmospheric and spooky opening which introduces off-kilter bass and drums. It has a conventional mid-pace, and the clear vocals get deliciously swamped in the chorus by a heavier sound. Later in the track the weird electronica tugs at the edges of the sound. The guitar tends to be a more trebly setting in contrast to the other instruments, but it works quite well. I thought that the opening to 'Easy Addict' had been corrupted, until I realised the opening had achieved this effect purposefully. Electronic drums give this a distorted feel, which the full band sound bursts out of in what can only be described as a chorus of sorts. Again, weird noises are introduced to play with what is already present. This third track is quite diverse, incorporating lots of off-kilter distortions to keep the listener guessing at the direction of the song.
'Pavement' is a very short linking track, as is 'Tremen’s Edge', with slow and moody piano and whispering noises. 'Drifting' has an almost amateurish mono guitar riff opening, which purposefully slams us into a full and wide band sound, with a washing in and out ‘whooshing’ sweeping across the whole. The controlling electronica plays with the early verse, making it very stilted and setting the listener on edge, before fluttering into a more full chorus sound with an Industrial edge. 'Friend of a Friend' begins reminiscent of a later Gary Numan song. This has more of a subdued presence, with an inherent bass run and clattering drums. No real changes in this one, which makes it probably the weakest track. A fuzzy clattering introduces the ‘catchy’, full-on electronic Pop/Rock song, 'Catch'. I think this was a single; if it wasn’t it should be. Once again, the edges are nibbled at by fuzz, distortion and odd sound effects. A great song.
We wrap-up with 'Carefree'. This starts with the sound of an early portable drum machine which I hate because I have experience from their inception. Thankfully, the normal acoustic drums take over. This track has a more standard format. It’s okay, but doesn’t experiment with and push the boundaries of what’s possible, as many of the other tracks do. I feel that 'Pavement', 'Friend of a Friend', 'Tremen’s Edge', and 'Carefree' could have been substituted for a much more fun and edgy song like 'Catch', or 'Easy Addict'.
Preconceptions can be misleading. For some unknown reason I wasn’t expecting much from this release. I’m happy to be proved wrong in this instance, Hollow Loss generally being an enjoyable collection of songs that span the genres of Rock, Industrial and pre-New Wave Electronica. A pleasant surprise.
Train Records releases Model Citizen, by Hammerhands on limited edition vinyl with artwork by Justin Hunt, on Digipak CD (also with Hunt’s artwork), and for download. Hammerhands is a bleak and heavy band from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. The four members comprise Colin Young on guitar and vocals, NJ Borreta also on guitar and vocals, Jon Galletly on drums and vocals, and Justin Hunt on bass. This is their fourth album, following on from 2013’s Glaciers, 2013’s covers EP 1995, and 2016’s Largo Forte. The full track listing is 'Pleasure Island', 'Maximum Beta', 'Do It Right', 'I’m Not Here', 'Too Many Rivers', 'Dad Sludge', 'That Awful Sound', 'Not In the Cards', and 'Bastard Jesus'...
Hammerhands could be described as Stoner/Noise Rock, Doom Metal, Fuzz/Trash, Alternative or Industrial Metal. I would describe them as all of those things and more. It’s definitely a cross-over in terms of genres and influences. This is also an album of two halves. Although solid and kicking a punch, as they say, I didn’t recognise any individualism until track 5. 'Too Many Rivers' has a drums, bass and keys slow melody, with vocals that follow it precisely. To all the world it sounds like it should be in a dark musical, and it’s that tinkling macabre feel which makes it special. The vocals become more gruff halfway through the song, and the guitar plays around the central theme. It’s a very nicely structured song; the pick of the bunch on offer here.
'That Awful Sound' is also well worth a listen. It has a nice soft guitar intro with a heavy back beat. For me, the vocals don’t seem to fit this at all, which is a shame because I like the slightly eerie melody followed by the heavy crashes for the chorus parts. The singer, however, sounds like a drunk, ranting preacher. Perhaps that was what he was going for Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good song which gets more frantic as it goes on, before using sound effects for the outro. The best song after 'Too Many Rivers' is 'Not In The Cards'. This is a very effective acoustic number, full of atmosphere and melody.
The band is very tight as a unit. Those two favourite tracks I’ve mentioned prove just how inventive Hammerhands can be within their chosen genre realm. However, I found the others a little mediocre.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
Casu Marzu Records releases Lags’ sophomore album Soon on vinyl, CD, cassette and download, three years after their debut Pilot. Lags incorporates Antonio Canestri on guitar and vocals, Gianluca Lateana on guitar, Daniele De Carli on bass, and renowned athlete Andrew Howe on drums. The music is described as '90s post-hardcore and indie punk, with a punchier and more pro-active sound than their original. The theme is said to be honest and self-realising, delving into the uncertainty of life, suffering and the consequences of healing thereafter...
When 'Knives and Wounds' begins we are introduced to the album with a bass guitar riff and a nice drum pattern. The vocals come as quite a shock. They are harsh, stark and strangely tuneless (and that’s coming from a Metal fan who likes growled vocals). Conversely, the music is very melodic in a traditional rock manner.
The thing that strikes me about 'Echoes' is the mix. You can hear each instrument with equal clarity. The vocals are a little better but still not in touch with the whole. 'Showdown' is a simple but effective chord structure, with a repeated riff which grounds the song. Rock with elements of indie rawness; pop in structure. Any of these could be singles or YouTube clips.
With 'The Bait' the vocals are even more removed from the piece. It’s somewhat like Roger Waters, this one, making certain we know about the harsh realities of the world. In 'Magic Bullet' the vocals sound not so much punk-outspoken as a cry for help. 'Second Thoughts' showcases the excellent drums; throughout there are nice diverse drum patterns. The spoken vocals format works really well for 'What it Takes'. Probably one of the most enjoyable songs on offer here. This is undone again when the vocals grate in 'Acceptable'. 'I Still Remember' features another great drum pattern, with a linked instrumental break.
And now we get to 'Il Podista' (is this 'Showdown' again?). The difference here is that it’s sung in Italian. It sounds 100 times better. The vocals fit the music now. Perhaps they all should have been sung in their native language. This is a bonus song, but there’s no doubt it’s the best track by far. There is even a slight scream. The music is simple but fine across the whole album, let down only by the vocal style. The last track shows how strong the whole album could have been.
Sacred Bones Records releases Devour, by Pharmakon, available to download or stream. Pharmakon was formed in 2007 by New York-based Margaret Chardiet. Devour is her fourth full-length project, this time incorporating denser electronics, melodic hooks and what is described as moments of ‘unhinged’ vocal deliveries. Tracks include: 'Homeostasis'; 'Spit It Out'; 'Self Regulating System'; 'Deprivation'; and 'Pristine Panic Cheek By Jowl' – although Pharmakon (meaning in the literal sense: Remedy, Poison and Scapegoat) prefers to have the material digested as simply Side 1 and Side 2, as the music runs into each other and should be experienced as a whole...
It is curious that I mention the word ‘digested’ as Margaret Chardiet’s entire concept here concerns consumption and in particular self-cannibalisation. It’s an allegory for the self-destruction of mankind. Each song concentrates on a stage of grief via violence, greed and oppression – which in turn drives us towards a feedback balance aimed at ourselves. It is dedicated to all those who have been institutionalised or ostracised by a society which chews them up. It’s certainly a very interesting idea which belongs more to a novel (AnimalFarm, anybody?) than a noise-driven scream from the ether.
Whilst appreciating the concept, I fail to understand the music. Spanning the divide between sound and theatre, this simply comes across as incoherent noise. The vocals simply scream monosyllabically and without tune. The electronic backdrop is low and without any real melody. The only individual points I can make is to state that 'Self Regulating System' has a vaguely Industrial feel, and that 'Deprivation' begins with a spooky vibe. I have given this release two separate airings, believing I may not have been open-minded enough on the first outing, but I’m sorry to say it hasn’t changed my initial view. Not for me.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
Exploding In Sound Records releases Green and Gray, Pile’s seventh album since their humble beginnings in 2007 – and their first since 2017’s A Hairshirt of Purpose. The band or, at least the singer – originate from Boston, USA, and are now based in Nashville. Pile comprises Rick Maguire on vocals, Kris Kuss on drums, Chappy Hull on guitar and Alex Molini on bass. The music is described as anything from Indie Rock to Post-Hardcore...
It’s nice when you come across a Rock or Metal band that is doing something radically different from the norm. The first thing which strikes me about Pile is their conscious effort to mix things up and not conform to standard chord patterns and direction. In my opinion, if a sound is too simplistic in style you are likely to become bored with it pretty quickly. Whereas, like here, if the structure is more inventive and intelligent you don’t get a handle on it straight away and are more likely to give it repeated plays.
This release incorporates so much variance it’s difficult to know where to start. So, how about at the front? The main man Rick Maguire’s voice is diverse, to say the least. Just when you think it is dull and mid-range, it suddenly turns on a sixpence becoming low and sorrowful, thick and powerful, or outright screamed vocals. The feel of the songs break boundaries by not only constantly changing the shape of the track but changing the music’s presence. At times, light, moody or melancholic, atmospheric, imposing or intrusive. It’s an original and exciting manner in which to keep your listening audience on their toes.
Right from the off, 'Firewood' begins like an underground psychedelic tune, which seems to switch between commercial hooks and Industrial Rock, light and shade keeping you off balance. The drumming impressed me, being both extremely solid and yet experimental. There is a nice off-beat pattern in 'Your Performance'. The overall timing and structure in this keeps it fresh. I simply love the fast-paced, almost Western theme to 'On a Bigger Screen'. The singer sounds much better when he goes-for-it, too. There is a slow and dreamy, somewhat off-kilter ending which gives it true atmosphere. In 'Other Moons', the vocals are pitched even higher. 'Hair' is more slow and moody, with plaintive vocals that are pitched even higher this time.
'A Labyrinth With No Centre' has a reflective semi-acoustic start which turns into a heavy, full band breakthrough. The shouted vocals sound even more exciting than the clean ones. 'The Soft Hands of Stephen Miller' has a sort of indignant talking over a back riff that suddenly comes to life. Both spoken and screamed vocals, with a heavy discordance and nice drum pattern. 'Lord of Calendars' showcases the light and dark flourishes; a commercial ballad sound is suddenly ripped apart with a heavy hammer guitar and drum beat. This one interestingly goes off on a tangent.
'Bruxist Grin' is an alternative moderate Pop-Rock offering, reminiscent of the Revolver or White Album period of The Beatles. 'A Bug on Its Back' could be a good choice as a single, with a nice returned-to riff and not too much deviation. 'My Employer' sets an old and retrospective background, slow, stylish and melancholy. An almost dreamy reality, if that isn’t a contradiction. This segues neatly into 'Hiding Places'. This and 'No Hands' are very similar in style, and so should probably have been split up on the album. It would also have been nice to have something with a bit more energy wrap-up this offering. But how can you complain about something as refreshing as this. It has the vitality of a keen amateur band knocking it out in the garage and annoying the neighbours, but with professionalism and inventiveness. A pleasant surprise.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
APF Records releases Hailz, Pist’s third offering following the Riffology EP in 2014, and Rhythm and Booze in 2015. Pist, hailing from Bury in Lancaster, have previously been described as Stoner Doom – a label they disclaim and have positively moved away from with this outing. The current line-up is Dave Rowlands (vocals), John Nicholson (guitars), Mike Collins (Bass and backing vocals) and Andy Hunt (Drums). Pist have toured with the likes of Orange Goblin, Raging Speedhorn, and Napalm Death...
Whilst being an avid follower of Metal in several genres, Pist is a band I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing. Consequentially, I come to this cold. The album has a serious theme exploring loss, after a friend of the band committed suicide. They describe their music as Heavy Metal Rock and Roll, which is an understandable way of keeping their options open. I would closer describe the style on this album as Gothic Melodic Black Metal. It was recorded with Chris Fielding, who also worked on the Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard release, Yn Ol I Annwn (which I reviewed earlier this year).
'Ex-Nihilo' begins with a low, gravelly riff, jumping in short order to a galloping pace. This track has three sections to it which completely segue together with no detectable join. There is a small amount of clean vocals, but most are screamed. It’s curious how some vocalists in this field seem to fit the music and themes, whereas others are so discordant and mismatched you wonder what they were even thinking. Here it works well. In places it makes me think of Children of Bodom without the symphonic element.
'Wreck' lays down the trademark solid riff. In this case it introduces the listener comfortably to the song, before adding more complicated and well-honed elements and quickening the pace – only to bring the layers right back to bass and drums. The time changes are well-handled. Again there are reminders of COB. 'Mind Rotter' has an acoustic introduction with a very nice drum pattern supporting it. A heavy riff breaks through. One part of this song sounds very much like early Black Sabbath. There are lots of time changes, and the ever-present guitar riff which bonds the whole. I like the way the drums follow the style and pace of the guitar in 'Fools Gave Chase', driving the song along. There is an introspective section at a much more subdued level. It’s very atmospheric and leads into the first guitar solo proper. Nicely done. When you think it’s fading out, the original frantic but melodic pace reasserts itself.
'If I Was You' is straight out of the Amon Amarth textbook. Alternate fast and moderate pace. It uses that band’s verse style, without conforming to the heavy melodic chorus lines. 'Strangle the Sun' offers another nice acoustic intro with clean vocals. A pagan style. A heavy band piece intrudes with great effect, before changing yet again to a galloping riff (Iron Maiden would be proud!). 'Skin Your God' incorporates an off melody riff for the opener, but this structure has been professionally mapped-out and links to the following parts nicely. Aside from the Metal screams late-on in the song, this is closer to Heavy Rock from the 1970s. A single, perhaps?
In conclusion, I would say this is a great release; much better than I was expecting, having not heard them before. For me Metal has to have energy and melody, and Hailz has it in spades.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
Inside Out Music releases The God-Shaped Void, by California-based Progressive Metal band Psychotic Waltz. The band incorporates Dan Rock on guitars and keyboards, Brian McAlpin on guitars and keyboards, Ward Evans on bass, Norm Leggio on drums, and Devon Graves on vocals, flute and keyboard. The group started life as Aslan in the 1980s. Their first three albums under the name Psychotic Waltz (A Social Grace – 1990, Into the Everflow – 1992, and Mosquito – 1994) made quite an impact with early fans, but the band parted in 1997. Now, 23 years later, they are back with a new album – available on Ltd Mediabook CD, Jewel Case CD, 2 x LP + CD, and Digital Album...
'Devils and Angels' introduces us to the album with angelic sounds and dark rumblings, which have an Australian Outback feel. The song itself has mid-paced bass and guitar riff and clean vocals. There are some unusual changes to keep you interested. It has subdued verses and a pleasant melody for a chorus. Electronic vocals are incorporated mid-point. Stranded has a grand anthem-like opening, and an unusual beat and structure which doesn’t conform to commonly put-together material. Heavy but moderate is the name of the game here. 'Back to Black' has a heavy and melodic opening. It also has lighter moments, with airy keyboards in the background. Essentially though, this has energetic weight, a nice guitar solo and real feeling within the chorus vocals. There are some great pieces of music in 'All the Bad Men'. The only reservation I have is that they’re all at the same mid-tempo pace. I can hear elements of the band Ten in this one, but without the variety of pace and time signatures.
'The Fallen' is an acoustic song somewhat in the style of Pink Floyd. A nice ballad which plays with vocal styles and includes some fitting guitar. It’s a shame about some of the dodgy lyrics. 'While the Spiders Spin' has a nice acoustic introduction to bring back the moderate heaviness. There are hints of other musical influences here – in particular, Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime. I do like the reverb setting guitar break. A chugging riff drags us straight into 'Pull the String', in which the vocals follow precisely along with the chords (“Angels carry guns.”). Pan pipes pop up and make for a nice surprise, and this directs us into a slightly faster galloping melody and, in contrast, slower vocals. 'Demystified' is another attempt at Pink Floyd; this time with obvious Jethro Tull influences. Actually, this is quite a well-structured song comprised of three interlinked sections. This is one of the better tracks on offer here. A nice acoustic outro, too.
'Sisters of the Dawn' has a cosmic, science fiction feel to it, with clipped vocals for the verses. This is quite refreshing for something a little different. Electronica is added to the fuzz-tinged guitars, which then produce a short, clean solo. 'In the Silence' rounds things up. Reverb and artificial atmosphere abound in this track but, aside from the guitar break, it proves to be the weakest song of the bunch. I’m not a huge fan of traditional Progressive Rock with its twiddling and meandering journeys (although there are a few exceptions); however, this is just heavy and unusual enough to be of interest. In truth, I enjoyed this album a lot more than I thought I would. You can hear the hard work of structure and planning that has gone into this long-awaited album. However, because of the constant mid-tempo backdrop to this vision, I can’t see myself replaying this many times before I grow tired of the format. That’s a shame, because this is a very solid release and could have been even better by mixing-up the balance of pace a little. Prog Rock fans take note: this is for you.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2020)
TTWD Records releases The Body As Pleasure, by Rat The Magnificent, a home-grown trio from London. The band consists of Perry M. Anderson on guitar and vocals, Ross Davies on bass, and Anna Dodridge on Drums. They have previously released an E.P. and several singles. This is their debut full-length album. Guest musicians include Stephen Gilchrist, Jen Macro, and Ian Catskilkin.
The music of Rat The Magnificent (which, incidentally, is a great name) is described as Fuzz-laced Experimental Noise Rock – and I would say that is pretty accurate. The music even as the promotion admits – is an acquired taste. That is an understatement of monumental proportions. There are no catchy choruses, no hook melodies, and no riffs as such.
Influences include Jesus Lizard, Sally Bowles, Slint, Oxbow, Son House, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. Even as a rock and metal fan I am really only aware of some of the material of the last two. Whilst I wouldn’t agree that it is reminiscent of either of these bands, it does lend Rat The Magnificent a certain individuality. The track Listing is: 'In the Middle Touch', 'Marrtalon', 'Up the Street', 'Where You Been', 'The For', 'The Parlour', 'Olon', 'Ilsflat', 'The Inevitable', and 'Panarron'. The first is like a dreamy, slow 12-bar blues, with a fuzzy and overdriven and back to clean structured sound, which ends abruptly. Then, looking at my notes for the songs, I began to notice a recurrence of phrases: Heavy bass, detuned overdriven guitar, sleepy vocals, slow/lazy pace.
This is essentially where the problem lies. Being experimental is one thing, but sending the listener to sleep or into a boredom coma is quite another. In the majority of songs the singer either sounds drunk or as if he’s been forcibly awoken and made to utter some uninteresting words into a microphone so that he can go back to sleep. Lazy and slow is the order of the day for at least half of the material on offer here. The monotony is such that any change induces a little excitement. 'Up the Street' is the shortest and best track with a slightly more conventional format. 'The For' sounds like a jazzy night club song, and 'Olon' is suitably more up-tempo with good music, but the dreary vocals drag it back into the mire.
I really wanted to like this. However, after two listens I had to admit to myself it was unlikely to grow on me. I appreciate bands that attempt to do something a little different, but my main criteria is energy and melody and this has precious little of either. I wish them the best of luck in their career, but I’m afraid it’s not for me.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
Pelagic Records releases How Are We To Fight The Blight, by The Shaking Sensations. They are a Post-Rock/Alternative/Indie Instrumental band from Copenhagen, Denmark, comprising musicians Jens Sorensen on guitar, Mads Hantho on drums, Lasse Vansgaard on bass, Jeppe Nygaard Christensen on guitar, and Christian Wejs Sorensen additionally on drums. They have been active since 2005, but underwent a hiatus from 2013, during which time they worked on new concepts of lost innocence, reflection, and growth and maturity – in order to bring the band back to life.
There is a moderate full band intro with melody guitar and drums quite prominent. I like this opener, 'Twenty Amino Acid'; it’s atmospheric, if a little repetitive. Bass guitar gets the limelight in the middle section. Guitar and drums are added to the mix to take it back to how it started. 'Tremendous Efforts' has a trigger drum beat kicking this off, with the guitar sounding a little like Big Country, whilst the main theme returns to a melody which can’t help but remind you of Blondie’s 'Atomic'. At around the three-minute mark the pace and energy picks-up, this time reminiscent of a film score. 'The Frailness of Your Stem' has a steel guitar sound which rings in the foreground, while another guitar plays acoustic chords underneath. It soon changes to a nice repeated drum pattern and a slower pace which is quite melancholy. This builds in stature, heading back to the earlier sounds but with a difference. This would be a great soundtrack if used to accompany film of nature’s wrath (tidal waves, electrical storms, erupting volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc). Someone try it! At ten minutes, there’s plenty of scope. It reminds me of the Pink Floyd of 1971 – the Live in Pompeii era.
'Manual Trauma' is a simple technical piece. It’s a meticulously paced beat with Big Country raising its metaphorical head again. These are basic rhythms which break and rise again. I would prefer them to vary the sound of the guitar. The tracks have a similar direction, but are enjoyable all the same. It works well as a backdrop to another activity, but not so well as a centerpiece. 'Sightings' has very similar chord sequences. This one is a little different in other respects, although it creates the same mental images as a soundtrack, and the same emotive atmosphere that sadly makes it lose its uniqueness. I do love the drum patterns though.
'End of Hope' consists merely of soundscapes until about the three-minute mark, when an actual tune enters the fray. The samey guitar sound is beginning to grate by now, and there are a couple of vocal ‘ah ahs’ in the background. I hoped that 'In Dead Silence' might possess more cadence, but it’s the same old shoes which by this time are practically worn out. 'Arcadia' is the closer, and it’s pick any one from eight. It’s a real shame because I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the opener. The whole is a different story; it’s somewhat directionless, with neither drive or restraint – it just sort of rumbles along. I’m convinced that if this were an E.P. incorporating only two or three tracks (preferably including 'The Frailness of Your Stem'), I would be singing its praises right now, rather than accepting that this is average fair.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2019)
“The line between sanity and madness can be crossed in a single step.”
APF Records releases Dominion, the first full-length album by Death Metal/Punk band Video Nasties, on LP vinyl, CD, cassette and for digital download. The quintet hailing from Liverpool, Merseyside comprises Tommy Lloyd on guitar, Rick Owen on bass, Dave Archer on drums, Damian Von Talbot on vocals, and Stu Taylor on guitar – members of heavy exports such as Iron Witch, Magpyes, and The Bendal Interlude. The music is described as a mixture of Sepultura, Carcass and Entombed, with The Cure and The Cult. There is also the added element of the horror genre and in particular John Carpenter influences.
In the press release it mentions post punk, goth, rock, horror-metal, retro and all manner of other genres, but it would be more accurate to simplify it to metal, punk and rock riffs with soundtrack sound effects and voice-overs. I’m a huge enthusiast of John Carpenter’s films and soundtracks, so the very idea of paying tribute to the great man made me sit up and take notice – particularly when the 1980s influences were mentioned. However, if they’re there I can’t really detect them, although there is the simple but effective style of the music which, like Carpenter, hooks you in and builds atmosphere. There’s no ‘building’ here though, as the music of Video Nasties hits you round the head with a metaphorical hammer… in a really exciting way!
I’ve often mentioned that as I’ve got older my tastes have become heavier, with the prerequisite of energy and melody. Video Nasties could never be described as lacking either. There is a bell tolling and riff intro to 'Stay Gold', which incorporates a spooky horror voice-over with sound effects. This is a powerful guitar and drums-based song, which bursts from out of the blue like a demon poltergeist. The screamed vocals fit the horror packaging like a glove – one of Freddy Krueger’s gloves! This song doesn’t stick around, segueing into 'The Hanging Tree', a rocking, driving melody. With everything that is going on at the moment – around the world, and closer to home – this one immediately brought a smile to my face… and that’s worth its weight in gold.
'Helvetica' is a simple but heavy music riff. The vocals are more chorus for this one. Variation is the key as it has three sections but returns to its origins. 'Transvoltum' was the band’s first single, released back in 2017. It has melodic chords and riff, and a motoring heavy rock sound. 'Red of Night' has a rock intro, before breaking through into metal in a split second. It periodically returns to the rock melody but much more forcefully now. This switch back and forth works well. A nice clean vocal sequence too. 'Viva Deth' was the band’s second single, which also appeared on their 2018 album demo. This has a nicely put together acoustic intro with off-kilter sound effects. This one will drag you along for the ride with guitar and vocals complimenting each other. There’s a chunky verse and catchy chorus. It has almost symphonic-style guitar. A notable track. I can see why it was a single.
'Drone Eagle' is powerful and cleverly misleading in its direction, with a nice guitar break. If it’s not a contradiction in terms, this is feel good horror music. By the time we get to 'Stabbing Nightmare', the feeling is that some may consider this album ‘samey’ – but there are subtle differences. It’s very melodic, with changes in tempo and lots of horror inserts. 'Dominion' has quite an original buzzing, ringing intro, and the exclaimed quote, “He tried to kill me!” It’s accompanied by a keyboard sequence. Obviously, this works as a bridge or insert between tracks, which goes straight into… 'They Ride' concludes this offering; a full band effort incorporating screamed verses and a clean vocal chorus. There’s a twin guitar melody which isn’t too dissimilar to 1980s Iron Maiden. I like the way this returns to a guitar-only riff before breaking back in with a full brutal band assault. There is a nice driving guitar solo, too. The song ends to a repeated record-jumping voice over with accompanying organ: “Let the dead bury the dead.”
There are chunky chord mid-sections prevalent to many songs, as if utilised to get you used to the song before the next section – the thought possibly being that too much of an onslaught in one go might blow your mind. This album, in my eyes (or ears!), is pretty near perfect, with real zing, thrust and joy, regardless of the horror subject matter. So much so I might seek out the CD version for my collection (because I’m old-fashioned like that!).
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2020)
Black Pop Records releases the first full album from Punk/Garage band Wet Dreams. Originating from Oslo, in Norway, the band was formed by Sabastian Ulstad Olsen of the group Death By Unga Bunga (I’ve reviewed their last two albums - So Far, So Good, So Cool and Pineapple Pizza) when he found himself with some songs he required a different outlet for. This became an E.P. and has moved the band forward to this, their self-titled album. Wet Dreams consists of the aforementioned Sebastian Ulstad Olsen, Elmund Aadahl (ex-Warp Riders), Per-Richard Ottosen (ex-Warp Riders), and Bendik Petterson (ex FOAMMM). There are two singles from this release: 'Bad Boy', and 'Boogie' (if you put these two together you have an AC/DC song!). One of their first ever concerts was at Norway’s biggest festival in 2017. The following year they followed this with festivals in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. They are touring extensively in 2019.
Olsen will be the first to admit that Wet Dreams sounds a lot like his other band Death By Unga Bunga. The style can be described as Post Punk, Grunge, Power Pop, with touches of psychedelia. If I were to invoke any influences it would probably be the Ramones and Green Day. It’s amazing how the equalisation sound mix can change the whole feel of some bands. In this case, too much treble makes them sound messy and discordant. A Rock pre-setting is suitable, but heavy bass seems to suit them best.
The single 'Bad Boy' is a very basic two- or three-chord structure, but with power and melody. The 'Band Aid' track has absolutely nothing to do with the 1980s charity song. This is about never having a plaster when you cut yourself (“Somebody give me a band aid”). Simple, catchy and fun. 'Beautiful' is very much a Green Day-type of song; it is very short and sweet, probably the best of the bunch. 'Blues Lata' is moderate but heavy, with chorus effect vocals. 'Boogie' is the second single. It’s a sort of Punk version of a Boogie shuffle which works well, especially when it almost halts a couple of times before crashing back in again. It also contains the first proper guitar solo.
'Depression' is another short song; fast and furious. 'Her' returns to the moderate but heavy vibe. The vocals sound like they are played through a reverb unit. There is another guitar solo, and sound effects are introduced for the outro. 'I Told You / Drugs' is a song which reminds me of the style of Elastica on their brilliant first album (no bad thing). 'Radioactivity' returns to Green Day. A very melodic, driving song (“I’d rather kill myself than be like that”). We wrap things up with 'Roliglata', a 60s-type Pop/Rock song, moderate-paced with the emphasis on the catchy vocals.
This is a simple but fun collection of songs. Don’t expect anything technical or clever; sheer energy and drive take over. This is Post Punk by numbers, but there’s nothing wrong with the format . Many enjoyable bands did exactly that.
Pinkflag releases Mind Hive, the 17th album by Post Punk band Wire. The band has been going for more than 40 years – their debut album, Pink Flag emerging back in 1977. The current line-up incorporates Colin Newman on vocals and rhythm guitar, Graham Lewis on bass guitar and vocals, Matthew Simms on guitar, and Robert Grey on drums. Mind Hive is the first recorded material since 2017’s critically acclaimed Silver/Lead. They are said to have influenced the likes of R.E.M., Joy Division, and My Bloody Valentine, and are the subjects of a career-spanning documentary called People in a Film...
We kick-off with 'Be Like Them', with spoken but tuneful, low-toned vocals sounding more like New Wave than Punk – perhaps John Foxx as a comparison. This is moderately paced bass and drums-driven, with a returned-to staggered guitar piece. It fades with a fluttering, as if falling through a hole in the ground. Not having heard Wire before, I’d been expecting 100 miles an hour heaviness, so this comes as a refreshing surprise. All of the vocals can be heard in 'Cactused' (which will please the oldies). There’s a pattern here of oddly spoken words and light accompaniment, with a more melodic and fuller sound chorus.
With 'Primed and Ready' the electronics take us away from preconceptions – especially for a Post Punk band. This makes up the introduction, riff and the short instrumental break. These songs are not afraid to end abruptly, without any fading or indication. 'Off the Beach' sounds like a light Pop Rock song. Certainly commercial enough to be a single. “Have you ever been washed off the beach?” This seems to be a simple study of humankind. Now we come to 'Unrepentant'. Is this an attempt to be 1970s Psychedelic Rock? It’s a good copy of Pink Floyd from 1971, at times sounding a little like their song 'Fearless'. It even has the smooth and echoed vocals. Nice though.
'Shadows' is dreamy and slow and, for me, a little dull. 'Oklahoma' has a melancholy opening, bursting into a moderate Pop song with a difference. The vocals are spoken in an off-kilter way, reminiscent of the Electronica around the time before New Wave broke through. An attempt to be humourless and weird, perhaps. 'Hung' has Industrial elements to it. An overall soundscape wherein the vocals come and go. “In the moment of doubt the damage was done.” These words being a short-lived heaviness. This is the longest track by far. Pink Floyd raise their heads quite often in this music. Is this where the Pink Flag album title and label came from?
'Humming' is a weak track to finish with (the album should have closed with 'Hung'). This has a bass and keys intro. It's a slow and slightly Jazzy number which sounds nightclub ish. Mind Hive is a solid enough release, with some unusual direction in the songs. It’s different and, in places, quite diverse. The home grown Wire were due to play the Islington Assembly Hall in May; it’s a shame that current world events will prevent this.
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