14 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
Pelagic Records releases Oscillate, the fifth full album by Experimental Post-Rock/Post Metal band PG.Lost. They formed in 2004 in Norrkoping, Sweden, and incorporate Mattias Bhatt on guitar, Martin Hjertstedt (ex-Ghost) on drums, Gustav Almberg (The Great Discord) on guitar, and Kristian Karlsson (Cult of Luna) on bass. Previous releases include the self-titled EP (2006), the Yes, I Am EP (2007), and the LPs It’s Not Me, It’s You! (2008), In Never Out (2009), Key (2012), the Wang Wen split LP (2013), and the popular Versus (2016). Oscillate is described as ten tracks of pure drama and catharsis. The theme has you or the unknown protagonist trapped in a dark, musty and claustrophobic cavern environment, desperately digging at the rock to reveal a single point of blinding light. Hope and salvation is so near and yet so far away. The band has been compared to Black Emperor and MONO, and influences range from the emotional heft of Big Thief, to the inventive spirit of Krautrock; the brutality of Neurosis, to the experimentalism of Coil. Oscillate is available on Limited Vinyl, CD, and for download...
PG.Lost has an Instrumental leaning which strives for a grand cinematic experience of high drama. The opening track, 'Oscillate' begins with low synths and dark ambient noises. A simple repeated theme is given space in the build-up, and it becomes the full band melody. The drums set up their own pattern, and the whole is allowed to enter our consciousness before the intensity is increased. A great launch to the album. 'E22' has a treble guitar intro crept-up upon by a solid drum beat and a wide music experience. Again, the track chooses its theme and makes it the central body of the piece. It undoubtedly amalgamates the Rock band and film soundtrack formats. It’s very atmospheric. It partly withdraws at times, or lays on an extra thick sound, but never loses touch with the listener’s connection. 'Mindtrip' has a tentative start burst open by a basic guitar and drums riff. It becomes a guitar and synth melody flying over the main beat. The quality of the sound is immense. It would be great to lie in the garden on a hot Summer’s day, staring at the clouds and listening to this momentous experiment of synergetic sounds washing through your headphones and your head.
'Shelter' leads us into the track with a reverb-inflected electronic synth sound, blasted away by the emotional beast that is PG.Lost. A loud ringing guitar soars for a moment, before the drum pattern forms the basis for a more contemplative piece. The drums drive it higher once again as it breaks free and takes to the skies again. There are touches of bite in this without losing the melody. It sees the track out with an almost church organ feel. 'Suffering' has a warbling synth and atmospheric noises fluttering around it. The synth chugs away, becoming an engine of sorts before the full sound takes to the skies with higher notes. It lands once more, chugging and fluttering until the emotional button is pressed again and we don’t know whether to feel happy, sad or simply contemplative. 'Waves' opens with a low organ piece which sounds vaguely familiar. Yet another drum pattern enters with the guitar taking over the melody. Although still brilliant, this track outstays its welcome a little at over seven minutes. However, it does become slightly heavier towards the end. You can’t help but be drawn in by this music. It spreads tendrils through your system and makes you think about what you’re feeling as you listen.
'Eraser' jumps straight in with the full band sound. Another nice drum pattern reigns over the proceedings until a thicker sound and heavier guitars makes it a part of the whole. It goes though three sections of light and shade without losing its thick and wide sound. It eases off to introduce an alternative bass line and beat. Moderate but just as intensive. The guitars create the melody to each ear and the drums are central to the piece again. This is such good stuff. It’s simply impossible to do it justice in mere words. I would challenge anyone who gives this music proper time and opportunity not to be blown away by what it does to you, with what are basic melodies. It has a feeling of enveloping you in sound; you’re just not certain whether it’s comforting or unnerving.
The final track, 'The Headless Man', is the longest of the album. The bass guitar plays a low tune against a ringing – almost chiming – background guitar. An echoing reverb guitar joins the bass. A crunchy synth leads in the rest of the band. A soaring piece of music which becomes more substantial and surrounds you. The drums have quite a basic beat, but as the track moves on Hjertstedt does what he can to add a wider pattern with fills and little drum rolls. This closer, if anything, is the weakest of this offering. However, you still can’t knock the music, the concept or the production. This has come as a very pleasant surprise, and I can’t recommend this release highly enough. It’s more than music. It’s more than soundscapes. It’s feeling. I challenge anybody not to be intrigued, if not totally moved by this. In my eyes, the entirety of the music and production is award winning stuff. In the early days of DVDs there were nature or space collections with accompanying music. This would fit one of those like a glove. It’s what you might expect to hear on TV programmes where the visuals cannot be given justice by mere words. Buy it!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2021)
InsideOut Music releases the album Virus, by Progressive Metal band Haken. They were formed in 2007, although they honed their art from 2004. The current line-up incorporates Ross Jennings on lead vocals, Richard Henshall on guitar and keyboards, Raymond Hearne on drums, Charlie Griffiths on guitar, Diego Tejeida on keyboards, and Connor Green on bass...
Since their last album, Vector, released in 2018, Haken have toured extensively in Europe and America supporting Devin Townsend. After releasing The Mountain, in 2013, fans were asking the question “Who is the Cockroach King?” This is something the band is addressing across two albums, the last one and this new release. Virus is available as a Limited Edition 2-CD Mediabook (with instrumental mixes and sticker), as a Gatefold 2-LP + CD, as a Standard CD, and as a Digital Download.
'Prosthetic' can be seen and heard on YouTube as a teaser video. It begins with plenty of energy. Guitar and drums play the pattern in unity. In fact, the drums are probably the most interesting aspect of the sound. However, the guitars are crisp and melodic in this one. The vocals to me sound too clean for the style of music. This is just as much Technical Metal as Prog. It’s a very solid opener though. Nevertheless, it proves to be misleading, as the rest of the album is very different, and not so much to my liking.
'Invasion' begins with a throbbing keyboard and stilted vocals. The verse is lighter, albeit with fuzz guitar, while the chorus is a little heavier. This is the theme from here on; it’s a cross genre with Goth Metal. The remaining tracks conform to the normal restraints of Prog. In 'Carousel', the vocals are far too poppy and West Coast for me, but the guitars and drums save them from sounding too wet. This song has its heavy moments, but it’s too long and meandering. I lost interest more than halfway through this ten-and-a-half minute marathon. 'The Strain' follows a moderate pace with occasional galloping up-beat. This band is technically very tight, but it’s too ‘clever’ by half – to the point of pretentiousness. It is well-produced though. By the time of 'Canary Yellow' I’m becoming a little tired by the predictable similarity of style. Perhaps it’s because this is not my chosen sub-genre of Metal. I enjoy energy and melody, but like to be surprised and excited, too.
To be completely honest, I found the five linked songs of 'Messiah Complex' a chore to endure. The closer, 'Only Stars', is slow and off-kilter with sound effects. I’m certain something more atmospheric could have been made of this track. The biggest problem I have with this album is it’s far too long, with very little variation to keep it fresh. It’s nice that the Prog has been interlaced with Industrial and Technical Metal, but it remains solidly embedded in Prog Rock and all of it’s cliched restrictions. Nevertheless, because this record isn’t to my liking it doesn’t necessarily make it a bad one. Current fans of Haken will savour this, I’m sure.
Record label PIAS releases the debut album from Post-Punk, Eastern Psychedelia and Alternative World Music combo Arabnormal, from Oslo in Norway. The combo comprises surviving ex-frontman and songwriter of The Hickey Underworld, Younes Faltakh – along with ex-Das Pop member Niek Meul. When playing live the duo is joined by ex-Hickey Underworld member Jonas Govaerts, ex-Deadsets member Mich Beniest, and Millionaire members Damien Vanderhasselt and Sjoerd Bruil. They are described colloquially as ‘a manically zonked-out flying carpet ride.’ The new single 'Digital Veil' proves to be a contrast, purveying a Soft Rock treatise mainly for the purposes of creating a video in the vein of The Hickey Underworld.
'Scorpio' is the opener, and it’s different right from the off. Central bass, guitar, and electronic noise creates a song which incorporates several genres including, World Music, Psychedelia, Pop, Funk, and Experimental Rock. The vocals fit right in with the madness. It’s a very original sound, with no sense of direction. Nevertheless, intrigued, you’re pulled along for the ride. 'Dominion' lures us with weird out-of-tune electronica, before a thudding electronic bass and guitar effects from Mars takes us into a song with the strangest backing. The idea is to creep you out with sounds from another off-kilter universe, and then taunting with short sequences of traditional Rock which is all the while being enticed by tendrils from another dimension. 'Bodyguard' begins like the soundtrack to a creepy suspense thriller. Part of the sound is maintained by the guitar and ever present bass for the song proper. The vocals are versatile; this time they are purposefully strained and moody. I love the turn the guitarist puts in at the end. You think it’s going to conform to generic standards, but instead it’s weird, inventive and brief.
With 'Toy' the vocals are quick, dragging the band sound into a similar format. This one is very melodic, and again tweaks at the outré. It gets in and out again before you are able to get a handle on it. 'Crypt' tempts with an early Funk-like intro, before going on a totally alternative path. The bass, drums and tweaking guitar sounds turns to a smooth melody, but it’s a trick. Even the returned-to structures are punctuated by stirring out-of-nowhere sounds and electronic noises. 'Digital Veil' is the most constrained and traditional sound of the bunch. It’s a great song, but is it a good idea to stray from the norm with the single. Surely you would want at least a hint of the overall quirky, unhinged madness of the band. It’s what makes them different and special for their originality.
'Bubble' is more like it, with a return to a great off-balance Rock song incorporating style and drive unlike anything I’ve heard before. This would be a fantastic song to play in the car, and possibly the best of the bunch so far. The bass controls 'T9', while screeches of guitar accompany to the full band sound which is thick and tight. As yet I haven’t really heard any pilfered sounds from other bands. It seems to be a well-thought-out original waywardness which you can never guess at. 'Crybaby' goes the extra mile in its verse oddities; it’s so refreshing not to know exactly where a song is heading. 'Hall of Mirrors' is the exception to the rule. It could very well be a Gary Numan track, it is so close to the style. There’s nothing wrong with this quite heavy moderate-paced track, but it does not display their otherwise diverse rollercoaster of abnormal (I can see that the name comes from this idea and Abbey Normal from Young Frankenstein) brilliance.
This music is difficult to explain, and I don’t feel I’ve done it enough justice. There isn’t a duff track on this album which refuses to outstay its welcome. I can only suggest you seek it out. I might have to pick up a CD copy myself.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2020)
New Heavy Sounds releases Abyss, the second full album from Doom/Stoner/Slowed Hardcore Punk outfit BlackLab. The name originates from putting the two band names Black Sabbath and Stereolab together. Known as the "dark witch doom duo" hailing from Osaka in Japan, the band consists of Yuko Morino on guitar and vocals, and Chia Shiraishi on drums. Recorded in Japan and mixed and mastered in London, Abyss follows Under the Strawberry Moon which emerged in 2018, after their initial E.P. in 2017. The release is available as a Gatefold 4-Panel Digipak CD, a Limited Edition 12” 3-Colour Cosmic Swirl Vinyl, and for Digital Download...
'Insanity' is the opener. A drum and bass guitar counts in a heavy and over-driven-as-you like, Doom-laden fest. The riff is straight out of the Black Sabbath prayer book. The tempo picks-up partway in with a complicated signature. Female vocals join the feeling miserable party. Her tones convey confusion and disillusionment. It’s a nice surprise to have her suddenly change to growled/screamed vocals which much better fit the piece. This makes a statement for the structure of the song. If anything lets this down it’s the reluctance to end before it becomes dull. A shorter version of this would be great. 'Fade and Melt' invokes a mystic east opening, which soon blasts through with the heavy-as-hell moderate to mid-paced gloom. This is driven by the drum beat and down-tuned guitar. The clean and growled vocals are in place again. I find myself listening to the drums at this point, which hold the sound together, and whose patterns are the most inventive of what’s on offer here.
'Weed Dream' has more of a galloping riff, but the vocals remain at the same tone as before. This is an opportunity to mix things up a bit, which only partly works. The clean vocals should clearly have been left out of this one, as the growls seem more at home. This is a good music piece though, and the best of the bunch so far. 'Amusement Park of Terror' has chunky guitar that leads-in a Doom riff which is too clever by half, preventing the listener from getting a handle on the direction. Into this chaos is injected a multitude of high-pitched electronic astral noises. The whole just fades-out pretty quickly. 'Forked Road' begins like a Thrash Metal song, and pretty much stays that way except for the weird off-kilter vocals which sound like she is singing to another song completely. There is a short Doom-paced moment, before feedback and a two second break leads us back into the Thrash riff. Easily one of the best tracks from the album due to its diversity in relation to the others.
'Chained' has another Black Sabbath-like opening and verse, before chugging up a gear or two. Wow, the clean vocals actually fit perfectly for this song. The balance is very nice, with a reverb and over-driven ultra-short guitar break. This is the first track I’ve enjoyed every aspect of. It should be the opener to the album, to get the audience acclimatised to the construct. 'Sleepless Night' has what you might call a nice Red Indian drum beat opening for this one, but the song loses its way pretty quickly. It does chug along into the first proper guitar solo, but the low-key verse and out-of-place vocals don’t convince, until there’s a break and a low and heavy chord sequence which works really well. For me, it doesn’t last long enough before returning to the dull verse. 'Sun' features a nice guitar only piece that brings in a thud of drums and the full weight of the Doom bass sound. Immediate screamed vocals are welcome, but it isn’t long before the clean vocals are back. This time they just manage to hang on to the sound. This is a good solid band sound.
Anyone whose favourite Metal sub-genre is Doom will love (if that’s the right word!) this, I’m sure. I appreciate Doom but sometimes find it a little repetitive and trapped in the same tempo. BlackLab (nice name) do break out of this mould at times. The hints of flexibility displayed are short-lived. I think this band has potential, although I do see it as a series of missed opportunities. I’d be interested to hear the next album to discover where they go from here.
InsideOut Records releases Rise Radiant, from Progressive Rock/Alternative Rock band Caligula’s Horse (Incitatus, for those in the know). This follows the very well received In Contact from 2017. The combo was formed in 2011 by vocalist Jim Grey and lead guitarist Sam Vallen, and also features Adrian Goleby on guitar, Dale Prinsse on bass and vocals, and Josh Griffin on drums. The group hails from Brisbane, Queensland in Australia. The single 'Oceanrise' has been lifted from the album. Rise Radiant is available as a Limited Edition CD Digipak, Gatefold 2 x LP + CD Vinyl, and for Digital Download. All formats contain the two bonus tracks...
'The Tempest' has a nice guitar riff and drum beat, with typical Progressive Rock timing structure. Keyboard and vocals are quiet and husky during the verses and rise in pitch and volume for the chorus. Some Prog is meandering and self-important to the point of pretentiousness, but this one sticks to a manageable song format. 'Slow Violence' stamps down the declaration that this is well and truly Prog with no experimental crossovers. These are not exactly sing-along songs, but they’re made more enjoyable by their restraint and their remit to remain within the confines of tracks open and accessible to the casual listener, rather than expecting people to invest in a make-it-up-as-you-go along mentality. Tinkling Piano introduces 'Salt'. It’s a fairly heavy full-band sound, before piano and soft vocals take over. The intro puts in place the structure of tentative vocals for the verses and heavy sound for the chorus. As this is a longer song, there is time for a middle-8 of sorts which is almost totally different to what has come before. There’s an unusual guitar solo, which is a little different, too.
Don’t waste your time with 'Resonate', it’s a wet soul-like ballad with no substance, and probably not much interest for a Rock fan of any sort. The single, 'Oceanrise', incorporates vocals which are a little light for me. The band format is pretty good though, driven by the ever-changing drum pattern. Very much like 1990s Prog Metal. 'Valkyrie' has a nice introductory riff and melody, but again the vocal stance and sound lets it down somewhat – stopping the heaviness having much effect. 'Autumn' is another dull track. Again, the pattern of too light a beginning can’t be rescued by a much too short guitar solo of substance. We finish with 'The Ascent' (no, not the Ultravox one from Rage in Eden). This closer has some life breathed into it. There are clever changes of stop-start melody. But why does it have to lose its fire and slow almost to a stop for the vocals. Nevertheless, this is the best offering after 'The Tempest', and 'Salt'.
I have mixed feelings about this album and Caligula’s Horse as a whole. If you love Prog Rock in all its shapes and forms you will undoubtedly lap this up. What the band is trying to achieve sometimes reminds me of the British band Ten. Although Ten has enjoyed a substantial following over the years, I still have a problem with many of their releases. I think I was spoilt by their superb rocking masterpiece 'Spellbound' (check it out). I think this may have been my problem here: I’ve been listening while knowing they can do better. Stick to the better heavier vibe, and ditch the snowflake vocals for something more substantial. Just a thought...
Banana Castle Records releases Forever on the Road, the fifth full album (following 2018’s Delirious Dream) from UK Psych-Punk band Healthy Junkies (a reflection of mental health). The band consists of Nina Courson (originally from Paris) on lead vocals, Phil Honey-Jones on guitar and vocals, Dave Whitmore on bass, and Tony Alda on Drums – although they were obliged to record using an anonymous drummer because of Covid-19 restrictions. They formed in 2009, playing their first gig the following year in Brighton. They have toured extensively in the UK, France and Holland. Forever on the Road contains songs written and inspired by their US dates in 2018...
We lead off with 'Intro', which has electronica, guitar histrionics, odd drumming, and then a chord sequence a la Black Sabbath. It’s a purposeful chaotic mess which sorts itself out with the beginnings of vocals before it fades away. 'Last Day in LA' is the heavily promoted single. It has a nice riff, power and melody. The female vocals are nice and clear. Short, simple and excellent. A drum beat and keyboards introduce 'Beat Box LA'. Guitar noises come in which become more prominent as harmonic tones. Discordance takes over from the middle until the end, when the guitar begins to take shape again. 'Transportation to Nowhere' has Psychedelia turn to out-and-out Rock and male vocals. This one benefits from both genres, the guitar having both feet in the former. 'Halloween in LA' incorporates eerie keyboards with delay effects. This is a soundscape that was obviously written for the band’s documentary of their tour in the US.
'En Route to San Diago' has keyboards introduce over-driven guitar and ghostly vocals. Definitely Indie and Psychedelia influenced. Again, a chaotic backdrop with a hint of mysticism. Atmospheric. 'The Puppeteer' is a piano piece with background bells and bottle sounds. 'Sunset Strip' is a good, energetic Rock/Punk song. At one minute and twelve seconds, far too short. 'On the Way to Portland' is more of a Brit Pop song. It’s a nice offering which is melodic and entertaining. The squeaking guitar could have been toned-down for this one. But certainly a single in the making. 'Give Me Back My Kiss' races from the traps. A simple but effective Rocker. There is rumbling bass in the middle… and it kicks right back in again.
'The Sunlight Has Gone' has a whirligig piano opening. Atmospherics emerge from the edges with an off-kilter Angelic effect. An echoing rush washes over the piece. However, at five minutes duration it hardly changes, and is far too long for a Rock album. 'Mayday' is the best of the bunch on offer here. It is a Commercial Rock song using male vocals and female backing vocals. This makes a good driving song and is fun, too. There are latter screams and nice guitar. Clever use of vocals as the Mayday call becomes progressively more manic. 'Streets of Olympia' is another great Pop Rock offering. It has a galloping riff, and more melody to the female vocals. 'Something in the Way' has reverb vocals against a simple chord sequence guitar. This one is slower and more retrospective. It’s quite ghostly and atmospheric. Next up is 'Underground City'. Both vocals tackle this one together. A moderate piece, but backed by a riffing guitar. There is a nice use of keys and electronica to lead back into the riff.
'Walking Away' has a cello sample and piano introduce this ballad of sorts. A little weird, as it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Da da da choral vocals and sampled instruments make this close to an orchestral piece, but the guitar pops up often with its trademark screeches, as if to remind the others that he’s still here. We conclude the proceedings with 'Tricky Situation' – a great upbeat Pop Rocker to finish with. This is what every Rock, Metal or Punk album should do: leave them wanting more. Plenty of energy, a good hook, repeating chorus and plenty of meat on the bone.
This album started as a mostly instrumental soundtrack to their 2018 US tour diary Rockumentary, but the music which emerged couldn’t be kept as background music and evolved into such Rockers as the single 'Last Day in LA'. So says the PR blurb. I beg to differ. Tracks 3, 5, 7, 11 and 16 are obvious recordings for the documentary film, and sprinkled throughout the other dedicated Psychedelic Pop/Rock songs causes the overall album to lose its power and continuity. Without these the release would make a great driving collection – and score higher! My idea would have been to release these tracks on an EP to promote the film, leaving all of the energetic songs together. Nevertheless, a good album, and a deserving...
Kind Violence releases Architecture, the debut album by Manchester four-piece Alternative Pop-Rock/Post Punk band Ist Ist. The line-up is Adam Houghton on vocals, Mat Peters on guitar and synth, Andy Keating on bass, and Joel Kay on drums. This combo has built-up their following the old-fashioned way, by word-of-mouth. Formed in 2014, they have since released a string of singles, and two impressive EPs. Architecture is their first full album, inviting us into a dystopian world framed by the fragile human mind. In particular, they explore themes of emotion, anxiousness and redemption. Many of the songs on the album are being released separately with their own individual artwork and accompanying videos. Check out some of these on YouTube.
We begin with 'Wolves', which has a nice bass synth intro and deep baritone vocals reminiscent of pre-New Romantic electronica. The guitar and drums enter halfway through, and we’re treated to a great full band sound instrumental for the second half. This is a simple but compelling sound. 'You’re Mine' is one of the best tracks, with vocals so like Johan Edlund of the Goth Metal band Tiamat it’s amazing. It’s even close in style to the Human League’s 'I Am the Law', sung by Phil Oakley. It’s no surprise that the majority of these tracks have been released with their own videos, as most would work as singles in the normal sense. 'Black' has energy and melody in the style of electronic Pop-Rock. It makes this bright and exciting to listen to. This one has a moderate pace but, whereas many bands tone it down for the verses and crank it up for the chorus, this loses none of its power and drive throughout. You can’t help but get drawn into these songs.
There are shades of New Wave in 'Discipline', using a bass riff and an effective drum pattern to pull you along for the ride. These songs are very well-mixed, too, to bring out the best of all aspects of the band. Nothing is too far down in the mix. 'A New Love Song' starts like a Tubeway Army album track, particularly with the synth theme soaring over the clattering beat. This has a gothic slow pace but, again, is compelling. Throughout, the vocals are ultra-low baritone. 'Silence' possesses the unmistakable influences of several other groups from the height of this genre’s era. You can’t avoid pigeon-holing this sound in the early 1980s – even though it’s bright and refreshing. But the band has an added Rock feel which is part of its magic. The vocals are more varied on this one, too, raising in pitch and cadence without ever losing control.
'Drowning in the Shallow End' is closer to straight commercial pop. It’s disappointing because it reminds me of when this genre lost its edge and played to pop chart expectations. The drum machine is really annoying as well. Let’s look on this one as an oversight. We’re back on track with the brilliant 'Night’s Arm', which incorporates a throbbing back-beat and crashing energetic and melodic intrusions, sweeping everything away before it. Parts of this sound like a classic song I can’t place (perhaps Tiamat again). 'Under Your Skin' highlights the very wide sound Ist Ist has. The vocals seem to reach out beyond the song itself. Another simple but effective track. We conclude with 'Slowly We Escape'. This opens with a quiet keyboard and pattering percussion – slow and deliberate, until halfway through when the song changes entirely, with only the vocals maintaining the link. The tempo turns to galloping, with ringing guitar and synth making the noticeable chord changes. Not the best of the pack to finish with, but I can’t find much fault with this excellent debut album. I’m intrigued to know where they’ll go with the notoriously difficult second album. Perhaps they could introduce a little more Electronica into the mix. It was very inventive in the late 1970s and would suit this band down to the ground.
InsideOut Music releases the album Panther, by Swedish Progressive Metal band Pain of Salvation. It is the follow-up to 2017’s In the Passing Light of Day. The band was formed by multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and writer Daniel Gildenlow in 1984. The current line-up also includes Johan Hallgren on keyboards, Leo Margarit on drums and vocals, Daniel Karlsson on keyboards and vocals, and Gustaf Hielm on bass and vocals. Panther has a comprehensive artwork theme with cover and illustrations by Andre Meister. It is available on 2 CD Mediabook, 2 LP + CD, and for Digital download...
Prog isn’t my favourite genre of Rock or Metal but, as I’ve learned over the years, each band should be taken subjectively on their own merit. This one is a little different; rather than conforming to the existing trope this, the eleventh album from Pain of Salvation, incorporates a great many sounds and atmospheres into one conglomerate piece of music. Of course, some tracks are better than others. I simply couldn’t take to the title track at all, chunks of it sounding more like Rap and House. Most bizarre. Another aspect which I found tiresome was the relentless off-beat, which is ‘different’ once or twice but then quickly begins to grate.
Now let’s consider the positive aspects. The overall sound is more keyboard- and Electronica-influenced, which offers it an alternative feel. Even much of the guitar sounds like keys. In addition, we have a multitude of atmospheric periphery accompaniments such as bells, stuttering and jarring, and squidges moving in and out of the soundscape. There is Spanish guitar, bottleneck, acoustic, and what sounds like a resonator. The vocals mix-it-up too, with clean, strained and whispered variations. The band is not afraid to have a standard piano as a riff, driving it into an arena of surrounding moods.
For me there are two stand-out tracks. 'Unfuture' has a smattering of Blues about the intro, before becoming a moderate piece with melody and harmony. The vocals fit the structuring really well, which at times has the feel of Goth Metal. 'Icon' is not only the final track but the longest at more than 13 minutes. It includes all of those tricks of the trade without ever becoming repetitive or tedious. The choruses on this one are probably the heaviest music of the album, which is undoubtedly what drew me towards it. This has a little of everything, and is a fine and conclusive way to sign-off.
For some reason I wasn’t expecting much from this release and, consequentially, I was pleasantly surprised. I can’t see myself returning to this many times; however, I did enjoy most of the music, and appreciated the spin variation on standard Prog by immersing the whole in Electronica.
Nuclear Blast releases Obsidian, the 16th album by home-grown Goth/Death/Doom Metal band Paradise Lost. They were formed in Halifax in 1988 and have since produced a string of ground-breaking records, including Gothic, Draconian Times, and Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us. 32 years later they are still going strong, with an ever-growing fan support. The current line-up consists of Greg Mackintosh on guitar, Nick Holmes on vocals, Aaron Aedy on rhythm guitar, Stephen Edmondson on bass guitar, and Waltteri Vayrynen on drums...
We begin with 'Darker Thoughts', which has an acoustic opening with quiet typically English vocals and even strings. I love the stepped jump into a heavy full band Goth sound – moderately-paced with growled vocals. There is a sort of bridge with almost New Romantic-sounding vocals, before we are back into the meat and gristle of the song. There is a guitar solo which fits perfectly, and a melancholy feel to the final moments. 'Fall From Grace' has a simple but great guitar riff that leads us into a Doom piece, with clean Goth vocals and growled verses. A nice standard melody accompanies the entire song. The drums give the illusion of picking-up the pace around the halfway point. 'Ghosts' has drums and bass introduce a trebly guitar. The vocals in this one sound a little like Tiamat. This has some very nice varied sounds, and is quite original. It’s quite changeable at times. If this isn’t a single it should be. It’s much more upbeat – musically speaking – than many of the other tracks.
'The Devil Embraced' has acoustic guitar, piano and bass hint at a beginning, before being swept away by a deep and heavy vibe. This is maintained with nice drum patterns. The growled vocals fit perfectly, before turning to clean ones for the verses. There’s a short and light church organ effect, before we are dropped back into the song proper with a couple of nice guitar solos. 'Forsaken' opens angelically enough, but this is essentially a slow-paced heavy-as-they-come track. The pace picks-up, leading to a style and structure that would suit a single. 'Serenity' is guitar and drums accompanied by a melodic riff from the guitar. This hook gels the song together. Another favourite. The quiet, low bass of 'Ending Days' atmospherically takes us into the heavy impact of the chorus. The majority of this one is light, with a more traditional guitar solo. In 'Hope Dies Young', the guitar is high and almost bagpipe-like. Again, the song is very Tiamat in style – particularly the vocals – although Paradise Lost were here first. Probably the weakest in terms of versatility.
'Ravenghast' is a nice title. The opening inspires classic horror films (the song is about a battle), but then descends into Doom territory. The two guitars playing slightly different melodies produces a nice effect, which is somewhat spooky. The drums pick-up the pace for the solo. I love the atmosphere of this one. This could quite easily be used for the closing titles sequence of a horror movie. I was aware of Paradise Lost, and have heard some of their old produce, but have lost track over the last few years. It’s good to know that, although they’ve been operating for decades, they have lost none of their ability to impact on the scene, and can still be original within what is quite a densely-packed Metal sub-genre. This is a good bunch of songs, which I am sure will more than satisfy their loyal fanbase.
InsideOut Music releases Eupnea, the fifth album by British Progressive Rock/Electro band Pure Reason Revolution. It is available on Limited Edition Digipak CD, Gatefold 2 x LP with CD, and for Digital Download. Formed in 2003 at the University of Westminster, they put out four albums (The Dark Third in 2006, Live at NEARfest 2007 in 2008, Amor Vincit Omnia in 2009, and Hammer and Anvil in 2010) before going their separate ways and moving on to other projects. Ex-Period Pains and Tiny Giant artist Chloe Alper (vocals, bass and keyboards) got back together with All Bangers No Mash, Bullet Height, and Sunset Sound musician Jon Courtney (vocals, guitar and keyboards) to play The Dark Third in its entirety at a Dutch festival. Afterwards, they decided there was much more to explore musically. Favoured in a review by none other than Rick Wakeman, the band has returned to its roots of Prog/Psych Rock and Electro Folk, whilst incorporating the experience of everything they have gathered since the early releases...
The LP opens with 'New Obsession'. Here atmospheric sound effects reminiscent of Pink Floyd evolve into Intensive Care Unit beeps and buzzes. A repeated drum pattern is a ground for a mid-paced Psychedelic Prog Rock sound, with guitar, piano, male vocals and reverb female vocals. This enters more of my territory two-thirds of the way through, when it suddenly gets dark and heavy, with throbbing bass and guitar fuzz to the fore. A nicely constructed song. 'Silent Genesis' has everyone’s worst instrument – a drum machine! – get us underway amidst a ringing guitar and electronica. This is a great sequence. Again, it is heavily influenced by Pink Floyd. A warmer guitar sound plays over the trebly one. Keyboard enters the fray, heavy and distorted, before stepping back to introduce the male vocals. Quite frankly, they spoil the magic of the construct by failing to fit the mood, and by incorporating American slants on English words. The female vocals work much better. This is the best track by far, though. A magnum opus which would have worked much better as an instrumental.
'Maelstrom' has the female vocals over a similar drumbeat as 'New Obsession'. This one is too lightweight AOR for my liking, the only saving grace being the guitar with touches of early Big Country. With 'Ghosts & Typhoons' we’re back to the ghostly sound of the earlier songs. Very much the Pink Floyd style of the 1971 Meddle era. The attempt to emulate the tones of David Gilmour doesn’t work though. I love the tentative fuzz guitar which invites the obvious trademark late heaviness. More of this please. The thick but smooth sound is much the better of the two moods. The haunting delay on the guitar is nice, too. This is an outstanding track, but much less varied than 'Silent Genesis'.
'Beyond Our Bodies' has both singing voices harmonise to this ringing guitar ballad of sorts. It is only natural by now that an even heavier band sound should slam into place as the expected contradiction. We wrap-up with 'Eupnea'. The electronic voice disappearing into a keyboard sound is again treading Floyd territory ('Sheep', anyone?). This is the title track and longest piece. At almost thirteen and a half minutes, this combo has the opportunity to incorporate the full scope of their sound. This time we are left waiting until the halfway point before the heavy point emerges. This has more meat on the bone and carries more substance than some of the lighter touches. Mother Earth gets to have her story told here, but the truth is this falls far short of track two.
Obvious influences are a bold move. Pure Reason Revolution has tried to make this style their own, and succeeded to a point. It’s a good album, with the only mistake being a similar structure to the songs.
Third Man Records releases The Stooges Live at Goose Lake: August 8th 1970. The ¼” stereo two-track tape of their complete performance was found in the basement of a Michigan farmhouse. It features the last performance of the original line-up, and is the only known soundboard recording of that line-up. At the concert The Stooges played the whole of their 1970 album Fun House. The audio has been restored and the product mastered for retail sale to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the gig. It is available on LP, CD, and Digital Download...
Having been presented with such a rare audio treasure, I expected the restoration and mastering to be a little better. It does sound somewhat tinny, at least early on, and Iggy Pop shouts in your face to the detriment of the rest of the band. It does improve, however. Perhaps I just became accustomed to it and learned to cock an ear to the others – particularly the very solid drummer and the excellent and versatile guitarist. You can’t help but love Iggy Pop, a singer and stage performer for many years. His persona was said to have influenced David Bowie’s creation of Ziggy Stardust – and that’s no bad thing!
I expected the set to be longer, but beggars can’t be choosers, as they say. The first track is the 'Intro', and the announcer introduces the band with all the enthusiasm of calling for school dinners. “Let’s welcome The Stooges,” so I can go off and have a kip. This era of the band is a crazy cross between Rock, Sleaze and Pro-Punk. The first song proper is 'Loose', which has a nice riff that sounds pretty close to 'Smoke on the Water' – two years before Deep Purple. The vocals on this sound like an early version of The Rolling Stones. It’s a shame this couldn’t have been thickened-up. 'Down on the Street' is a little more moderate, except for occasional guitar breaks. But it’s a nice track. 'TV Eye' has a kind of ZZ Top-style repeated riff. The song speeds along with a pounding drum beat and driving guitar. It is no wonder that this sound inspired so many subsequent bands.
'Dirt' is more restrained, but as raw and dirty as the name suggests. There is a nice guitar solo in this one incorporating different effects, and Iggy’s vocals alternate between smooth and rasped. From the restrained to the unreserved for '1970 (I Feel Alright)'. This one requires no introduction. “The one I’ve been waiting for,” announces Iggy in relation to 'Funhouse'. This has added saxophone and is chaos incarnate. The track breaks on this album are in strange places. A song will end but the track rolls on with nothing to offer but some guitar tuning, the odd tap on the drums and other noises. 'Funhouse' chugs along and then finishes in what appears to be the middle of the semi-improvised piece. The next song is supposed to be 'LA Blues', but is a continuation of prior pandemonium. Strange.
Although the mix seems a little odd, this is a valid and enjoyable release. A little piece of history, you might say.
Eeasy Records releases Science Fiction, the first full album from riff-driven Punk-Groove band Thee MVPs, after a string of E.P.s and the first single off the album – 'Ship Episode/Planet Episode'. The combo, originally from South East London but now based in Leeds, was formed by guitarist Charlie Wyatt and Daniel Bishop, who hadn’t even picked up a bass guitar before joining the group. Formed in 2012, they have toured relentlessly in the UK and America for the last six years, playing over 350 gigs supporting the likes of Ty Segall, Meatbodies, Twin Peaks, Flat Worms, METZ, Surfbort and others. The group’s album is described as part-concept, with both homages to science fiction and contemporary issues, such as relying on other people in times of need, the downside of being contactable 24/7, and the assumptions made about people who are in a band.
A 1950s B-movie-type radio receiver sound introduces us to the opener and single, 'Ship Episode/Planet Episode'. It’s very much Punk from the 1970s with a nice driving riff and guitar hook. It even has singalong ‘Oh, oh, oh’ choral vocals which nicely conflict with the general Street Punk vocals for the verses. The wavelength interference makes a brief return, with a nice frantic and short solo. There is a bass riff entry back into the song. This is very tight and energetic music with a false ending. Refined Punk Rock, if there is such a thing. 'Causality' has an exchange guitar melody with harmony and a front, as you would expect from this genre. Jaunty but played with attitude. 'A Song For Councillor' has a guitar and drum-driven beat with an inherent groove and a memorable melodic chorus. It slows to a staggered beat and a single guitar riff, before returning us to that chorus and leaving us wanting more. 'You Ain’t It' has a little of Sunny Afternoon, by The Kinks, to the vocals in verses. Another nice chunky riff and chanted chorus. This one has heavier and lower bass sounds.
For 'HAL', bass lines and eerie guitar introduce a moderate-paced song based on the incalcitrant computer from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is quite different to what has gone before, although it does get much heavier and therefore more palatable in the last third. Somewhat quirky. 'SESH' has a low, fuzzy melody with intensity. It still comes across as an Indie Rock structure – particularly the vocals. Perhaps a Grunge version of one. 'Super Contactable' has some harmonies and echo/delay which acts as a nice opener. The verses are dull and purposely sung flat, but that is more for the effect of the chorus, I think. The bass rumbles along giving this one structure. The stops and starts are perfectly timed though. 'A Pining Replicant' sounds like a single in the making. Fast, very melodic and with plenty of energy and a nice guitar piece. The main piece is broken up with some great changes, and a new little riff incorporated which deserves a song of its own.
'Funeral I and II' is a Post Punk, late 1970s Rock number, mostly fast-paced but with moments of more heavy and Progressive Metal, more moderately-paced. There are some interesting moments here. The over-driven guitar is never far away and it breaks-through, before simply and unceremoniously being cut-off along with the rest of the song. 'US Airways (Final Flight)' is the longest track and sees us out. It has the feeling of a short Pop Punk song, but has a bit of everything: a nice long guitar solo with background sound effects and fluttering, a scratchy bar chord riff, echoed background vocals to accompany the central ones, and plenty of rocking drive. What a way to end. The best of the bunch.
Aside from the fact I can’t see where 'HAL' fits in – apart from to offer the band a breather halfway through the set – I can’t find anything wrong with this album. It has energy, excitement, pace and melody. What more could you want from a band? A home-grown talent.
Share It Music releases the self-titled debut album from Punk/Grunge/Indie band The Unfit, from Seattle in the U.S.A. They incorporate high school friends Jake Knuth, Michael Lee, T.J. Johnson, and Tyler Johnson. The combo is described as “… an unrelenting exercise in catharsis formed out of the band’s need for a sort of musical therapy in the current times.” They experiment with themes of ‘finding meaning’, ‘belonging’ and ‘honesty’ in a world where it’s increasing difficult to cope without them. How do we avoid running with the wolves? Two singles were lifted from the album for prior release: opener 'Caged Rats and Hamster Wheels', and 'Picture', a song about taking things for granted – particularly our memories.
We kick-off with the single 'Caged Rats and Hamster Wheels'. It’s a riff-driven chug-along Pop Punk song, the vocals of which anchor it more to Punk. Even the few notes of a guitar solo that doesn’t really get started, consists of off-key sounds. 'No Culture' has a drum beat and bass line which introduces an over-driven guitar repeated chord sequence. This tip-toes between Punk, Noise, and Grunge. This would have made a better single than the opener. 'I Don’t Get It' incorporates "railing against the world" vocals that lead this drumbeat-controlled simple but energetic piece. Bass and drums are the foundation for 'Spin It', the guitar making weird off-key shrieks while the vocals are a little more refined.
Back to a faster tempo again with 'Interest', which has a nice chase structure. However, all of the vocals on this album are sung in the same flat tones. There is a nice short instrumental in the middle though. 'The Living' has a low rumbling bass with siren sounding guitar, and spoken vocals which then turn to shrieks. This works quite well and displays the first degree of variation in how the songs are sung. 'Picture' is another single lifted from the album. It probably has the best full-band melodic stance of the bunch thus far. I like the guitar pitches which sound psychedelic. Because this has more of a moderate pace, the vocals are unrushed, creating a nice combination of genres.
We’re back to more traditional Punk fair with 'Righteous'. Even the guitar feedback is left in. The words are well-used in this one. 'Progress' has gut-vibrating ultra-low bass for this moderate-paced grunge piece. This is without doubt the most diverse sound of the collection, which for me makes it the stand-out track. Imagine a heavy and raw version of Spandau Ballet’s 'Work Till You’re Musclebound'. 'Pills' brings us to a close with another off-key Pop-Punk song.
This is an enjoyable bunch of no-nonsense, get-in-and-get-out-quick set-pieces. It’s a solid enough debut album for this genre, but the problem is the sound and structure is the same for the majority of the songs. I wouldn’t call The Unfit one-trick ponies; it’s more a case of knowing the format inside-out by the first three tracks. Ironically, I possibly wouldn’t have got that impression had they started with 'Picture', 'Progress', and 'The Living' – so the balance of songs on the album could be looked at for subsequent releases.
Gadzook releases Barbarians, the first album in seven years from Indie Rock band Young Knives (the name of which comes from a literary misunderstanding of the term Young Knaves). The band originates from Leicestershire and consists of Henry Dartnall on vocals and guitar, and brother Thomas Dartnall (also known by his stage name House of Lords). This is the long-awaited follow-up to Sick Octave (2013). The new theme of Barbarians is taken from the John Gray book Straw Dogs, and in particular the sense that no matter how much we advance as a race, we don’t become any better humans. We remain barbaric...
We begin with 'Swarm', and at once it mixes Noise Rock, Psychedelia, Space Rock and Electronica. It’s very different, with drums and guitar closest to keeping the format together. There are sound effects throughout and vocals are purposely monosyllabic in tone. 'Society For Cutting Up Men' has an Industrial feel, and vocals like unto Post Punk and late 1970s Synthesiser music. The attempt here appears to be to create a multitude of original bizarre and outre Rock and Indie soundscapes. I love the bass synth sound of 'Jenny Haniver', and the off-beat drums. The vocals and overall sound is quite melancholic. A late transmitter noise incorporates radio signal sounds. 'Red Cherries' is rather manic and chaotic, but somewhat mystical, too. With counter slow vocals, the organised mess of this song romps away to other dimension. 'I Am Awake' has bottle chimes and strange Electronica accompanying a moderate pace and touches of Prog Rock.
'Holy Name ’68' is a short filler of distorted chanting voices. Title track 'Barbarians' has voices from a fight introduce a heavy Electronica piece. This one wouldn’t be out of place in a Camden night club. It has more of a traditional direction, but incorporates weird noises, nice guitar pieces, and sounds to keep it off-kilter. 'Sheep Tick' is shades of Gary Numan in style. However, there are many moments of madness and outright childish antics, before the central theme kicks in again. In these songs there is very little to get a hook on, which is sort of the point, I think. 'Only a God' has quite a long intro of distant guitar and plaintive vocals. Toneless, Punk-like vocals take over, with a backing like a train ride. This is probably the least interesting of the lot. The intro to 'What I Saw' sounds like a theme from a 1950s SF B-movie. This has elements of Trance about it, as well as tribal elements.
I was going to reward this release with a 9 for its sheer inventiveness, but the final two tracks rather let the side down. Nevertheless, it’s a hugely original sound incorporating a little of everything. This is not an album you can joyfully sing along to – the chaos and dark subject matter sees to that – but it remains extremely interesting and diverse.
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