Reviews Coming Soon

Album Reviews Coming Soon: Karma To Burn - Mountain Czar, Holy Grove - Holy Grove

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Album Review: VŌDŪN – Possession

London turbo-doom trio, VŌDŪN, are a live act like no other. Dabbling in all things voodoo they paint their music and themselves accordingly and allow the crowd’s focus to fall naturally upon their vocal icon – one Chantal Brown (a.k.a. Oya), once member of Chrome Hoof. She is the veritable stick of dynamite with a crystalline, pulsing vocal that borders on the operatic. Crush that into a small room and throw in Ogoun and Marassa (her co-conspirators) and their gutsy, thundering backline and you’ve got an overwhelming burst of colour-drenched music.

One fleeting experience with them at the London Underworld, watching them steal the show from opening slot, was enough to burn their name onto my cortex; so it was a happy day when their debut album landed in my inbox. Could they reproduce anything like the same impact shorn of their visual show?

From the off, we quickly learn that their moniker refers to the god of the West African Yoruba people and their religion – the inspiration behind the distorted voodoo tropes we’ve all assimilated from the movies. Through a series of track-linking spoken passages, we also learn that the band can come across as a little preachy.

Skipping over that then, the music itself is indelibly marked with many of Skindred’s tribal touchpoints and rumbles along with a passionate, rhythmic flow. Oya’s enormous vocal immediately takes centre-stage which is only right considering the quality. I can see how the dominance of it could be a marmite issue and the shock value has diminshed somewhat from being within touching distance of it which is a shame. Any way you take it though, she sells every note and gives her all in an impassioned display of both control and range.

There are plenty of standout tracks: “Bloodstones” simmers with joyously soft blue notes that whip up into gutsy driven climaxes; her own “Oya” allows our resplendent vocalist to fully stretch out her peacock’s feathers; “Legbas Feast” brings in folky elements and enigmatic sounds of the jungle to create campfire music to dance to; and “Mawu” delivers an unctuously thick, fuzzed undercurrent that stands in direct contrast to Oya’s vocal clarity.

Having fully road-tested it, there is an unerring similarity between the tracks and the album loses its sense of purpose as it reaches its conclusion. One particular thorn is “Divinity” that quickly abandons its drive for a dissolute structure that skips between structural sections without truly defining any of them.

VŌDŪN’s number one selling point is that they bring something fresh-sounding to a stagnant scene. They seem boundless by design and big on extracting the core triumvirate of soul, psych and blues. With a compelling live show already nailed on, if they stick to those three emotion-sparking keystones they will remain a beguiling act to follow.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Album Review: S00N – Vol. 1

Atmospheric doom quartet Soon is the brainchild of Stuart McLamb and drummer Thomas Simpson. As purveyors of indie pop, their main project being The Love Language, it’s an unusual sidestep but is a most welcome one and offers up listeners the opportunity to immerse themselves in music with a metallic canvas streaked with innovative flecks of folk and dreampop.

Although the band do find room to go low and slow, they shrug off doom’s more contemplative concepts. Instead they choose to mix up the delivery to try and keep the run-times down. The end result is a stingy album length of 35 mins.

Diving in, the instant connection to Mars Red Sky is established with opener “We Are On Your Side” revelling in its catchy vocal hook and heavy power chord combo. Lilting through the verses they lighten the crush and coat the music with a watery psychedelic wash.

From here, the tracks fire in and fade out leaving the unsuspecting a little punch drunk. They act as mere tasters of something potentially stronger. In this form, they are just fillers that lack direction. “See You Soon” and “Gold Soul” are particular culprits of these narrowed horizons. There is pillar, there is post, but the journey between them is what counts and these tracks gutter like dying candles.

An album of contrasts then, the band glory in the fact that they can stick “Glass Hours” next to “Mauveine” – one is a punky panic of flailing arms, the other a bowed beauty of gentile folk maudling. It is the final two-track statement that takes the biscuit though. “Take a trip down to the feeling / Take your hands off, take it easy” intones the three-way vocal as the band slip back into a more recognisably ponderous vibe – one that shares a commonality with the superbly bluesy experimentation of Orange Goblin and the bliss-kissed mind of Monster Magnet. Then the segue from penultimate to ultimate hits and peels away to reveal the very “abyss-gazing” that their own blurb swears blind the band don’t do.

Soon promise to be an infuriating enigma. How can an album so replete with half-baked ideas and antagonistic contradictions still produce moments of genius like these?

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Album Review: Bombus – Repeat Until Death

With Sweden’s big, bad rockers now happily settled in at label giants Century Media, this new album of theirs is going to have to break the mould to impress. Can they create the kingmaker?

Things are sounding good. What we have here is as solid a series of grooves and as powerful a hit as we’ve come to expect from the Bombus boys. First of the bat, three cheers for the butch, meaty mastering job that Jens Bogren has managed to bring to the table after the raw, live feel of 2013’s The Poet And The Parrot. Layered deep to create a moving tsunami of sound this welds together the raw, gritty power of Motorhead with the driven riffing and voluble delivery of Stone Gods (yep, bonus points for those that remember The Darkness’ Dan Hawkins and his impossibly powerful, yet woefully short-lived, side project).

From Ola Henriksson’s first vast bass strike and warming buzz that disseminates slowly only to reveal a bona fide sonic riot, you know all is going to be well. “Eyes On The Price” positively glows with massive choruses, repeating dual vocal (think Richie Edwards in one ear and Lemmy in the other) and an absolute avalanche of electric guitars and rumbling bass. Rarely straying from this righteous path, we hot-foot it through the pile-driving “Rust”, rock-tastic “Horde Of Flies” and the smash-and-grab 3-minute title-track. There’s a pattern emerging, right? But hold on right there, Slick. Rewind a sec and dig a little deeper.

Third track in and “Deadweight” is where the pace slows and the album starts to splinter. Still rocking with the best of them, they now load up on metallic bite and sport a dark brooding visage. Behind, you’ll find a world of vitriol and sinister minor chords that weave whole new paths. Bombus have evolved!

Shifting mindsets then, we hit the gamechanger “I Call You Over (Hairy Teeth, Part 2)”. Those curious souls amogst you will find the rumbling, bass-loaded “[Pt. 1]” lurking within the confines of their debut album. “Part 2” has opening piano and post-rock drift harmonics in the verses (Between The Buried And Me fans, pay attention!) Those features pitch up oddly against the warm, almost gang-chanted chorus. It’s definitely a work in progress, but this proves they have the balls to go out on a limb and experiment.
As the album reaches it’s conclusion they take this new concept to a breath-takingly dark conclusion. The slow-melt chiming strings and visceral edge of “Shake Them For What They’re Worth” rings every last ounce out of the addictive lyrical hook they centre the track around. Reeling, we stagger into the power-hungry crush of “You The Man” and the swaggering, hooded menace of show-stopper “Get Your Cuts”. Two tracks that seal the deal.

I’ve always wondered where the line between rock and metal lies. Now, having heard Repeat Until Death, I know exactly its location and its name. It’s right here in the middle of this album. Brave, boundless and furiously catchy, Bombus have ticked every box and it will make them masters of their own destiny. Well played, boys, well played.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Album Review: All Them Witches – Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

Direct from the recording studio of a remote mountainside cabin, hand-built by the band, perched above the fake glamour of Dollywood, here comes an utterly bewitching album of luxuriantly rich sounds. It draws its inspiration from across the dusty plains, glutinous swamps and rolling hills of arcane America and knits together the softer edges of desert rock and folk blues with transient tonal nods to country, pop, psyche and stoner.

The first thing though that hits you about this album however is the unbelievable restraint shown throughout to not swamp the songs with lyrics, instrumentation or verbose affectations. Remarkable, especially when you consider the quality of the musicianship on show and the melodious quality of the vocalist – one Charles Parks. No, here things are stripped back to allow for the essential to shine and the unnecessary to melt away.

Stepping through the doorway and into that initial mellow riff of “Call Me Star”, you are whisked immediately away into All Them Witches’ universe. The tension, the stress melts away and you begin to float. It works as a real statement of intent, forewarning us to expect the unexpected; there are to be no fireworks, no clap of thunder, no desperate need to blast out your ears before they settle. Hewn back to its humble core, it oozes star quality. Sat atop its mellifluous acoustic guitar, the band displays an exquisite touch, gifting the song a lightness and an almost magical quality. Both beguiling and jaw-droppingly beautiful.

The instrumental eight-and-a-half-minute “El Centro” picks the pace up, drowning the listener in a Torche-like melting pot of battering stoner chugs and shifting psychedelic affectations that centres round a two-note riff. Within two tracks they have blown any preconceptions you might have of the band not once but twice. And for the kicker? How about a spot of “Dirt Preachers”? A driving rhythmic build with a grim vocal performance injected with malice and menace and a storming chorus. The viciously slow final section drags up sinister undertones of religious paedophilia by littering the lyrical wordplay with lines like “Come all you children to my arms” and “Twist your fingers, I’ll call you a star”.

Betwixt and between, there is a bluesy lush jam, a half-whispered vocal, a dash of harmonica and a gorgeous acoustic instrumental to wallow in. Venturing down “Open Passageways ” and its pursuing tonal reprise finds ATW managing to morph the goodness of Coldplay’s early naivety with Moby’s “Extreme Ways”. It’s a monster track of acoustic guitar with bowed violin gifting it a folky hue with a sumptuous kick of vocal hook – “Scream and shout and bellow / Chew up your love then swallow”.

Then, as the album draws to a close, the band continues to loosen their belts, resulting in a maddening dropping away of exploratory content. What it does allow them to do, eventually with Monster Magnet hats firmly in place, is jam; to gradually step backwards from the lead to walk beside the listener offering simple chanted echoing incantations and a degree of psychedelic warbling.

The “solitude of the mountain”, as Parks describes it, has indelibly coloured the album, removing it from their harder, faster back catalogue and gifting it a laconic, unforced swagger and a beautifully controlled flow where everything fits with everything else. Having initially been released in late 2015, essentially what you’ve got here is the record everybody missed from their album of the year lists. From here there are no limits.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Album Review: Textures – Phenotype

Dutch goliaths Textures are rapidly building quite a reputation for quality songwriting. Following the instant success of debut album Polars they have gone on to build quite the back catalogue. All that culminated in their finest work-to-date, 2011’s polyrhythmic genre-morphing Dualism. For their latest trick they are planning a conceptual diptych, album one being Phenotype and album two being Genotype with both surrounding the subject of genetics.

Let me just put on my Professor mortar board… Now, the “genotype” concerns each organism’s core genetic structure, whilst the “phenotype” concerns the morphology and development of the organism’s traits. Essentially the two albums are a study of nature versus nurture. The intention is for the musical structures on Phenotype to reappear within Genotype, only adapted to display the music’s origins – an attempt to mimic an aural version of genotype-phenotype mapping. Yes, it seems odd to release them that way around then (the “after” picture before the “before” picture), but there you go.

Heavier than Dualism, this sports a strong muscular base that draws on pistoning drums, spasming drop-chord structures and a thick, brutish death vocal roar. Echoing the immense wall of power generated by bands like Periphery and Monuments, the whole construct hammers its way into your ears, the driving rhythm rolls around in your skull and once complete emerges with a slowly dissolving echo.

Opener “Oceans Collide” grips like a vice as it builds and builds to an unbearable crush before abating like some of Uneven Structure’s more noisome compositions. Similarly, “Shaping A Single Grain Of Sand” bucks and brays like a mule, jerking from action to inaction, from clean to roared vocal. The closing Meshuggah-styled breakdown even leaps out of hold before it has had the chance to settle but gives vocalist Daniel De Jongh a chance to give it absolutely everything. Which brings us to “The Fourth Prime”. It concerns “the downfall of man” through imperfections within those in control. It is riddled with brutish chugs and zinging fingerwork and proves the switch of guitarist Joe Tal for Jochem Jacobs will ultimately be a smooth transition. Halfway through, the rumbling drop in pace reveals a vast, echoing cave of wonders which ends up being the perfect place from which to launch a renewed aural assault.

There are spots in some songs where the music begins to feel a little overwrought – “Erosion” and “The Fourth Prime” being good examples. At these moments proceedings become swamped by the multi-part construction; the sheer desire of the band to fill every available space with an army of intertwining riffs, leads and rhythms. It proves they are one talented unit of players but sometimes less is more and here there is a tendency for the natural flow to become stifled.

In a poppier, more melodious moment, “New Horizons” proves to be catchier and a heck of a lot more colourful. As vibrant as a halogen bulb, it glows like a deconstructed Killswitch Engage track. The subject matter is all about self-improvement and rising above any perceived limitation. Further relief from the thunder, can be found in “Zman” and closer “Timeless”. The former is a gentile little number that sports a sweetly-echoing, cyclical piano played by Uri Dijk. The latter provides the glorious wash of clean vocals that we were waiting for. It takes the joy of 2011’s “Reaching Home” and turns it into a mournful, emotional ride that describes the curse of a faulty genetic blueprint. It tugs at heartstrings, playing on our own perceived fears and failings with De Jongh driving home the impacting lyric “I heard you crawling, carrying your burden down the yearning hill”.

When all is said and done it’s not a faultless album. There are oddities that initially catch you out, like the drumtrack “Meander”, but even here there is much to draw strength from – it certainly serves as a gentle reminder to Stef Brooks’ incredible percussive work that goes on behind each track. The last album was a grower, and this will inevitably also take longer to fully ingest and appreciate the full impact of Textures’ constructions. No doubt, when all is said and done we have the portent of Genotype to follow and that promises to fulfil so much of Phenotype‘s true potential.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =