Reviews Coming Soon

Album Review: TBA

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Album Review: Torche - Restarter

Talk about over-egging a promotional pudding. There’s been a retro Torche vs Robots computer game thrown out into the public domain and enough single tracks released to tease a brick into submission. Having been drip-fed all that, to the verge of saturation, it is a delight to finally understand how the tracks flow as a complete set.

In fact, the interconnectedness of Restarter actually surpasses even that of their wraparound 2012 release, Harmonicraft. What shocks is how each track impacts like a pressure wave leaving the ears ringing and a metallic taste on the tongue. The band have clearly drifted back to the heft of their early releases with tracks like "Annihilation Affair" and "Undone" piling discord onto discontent. Yet what continues to impress above all is the intense production levels. With bassist Jonathan Nuñez twiddling the knobs and Kurt Ballou mixing they have once more managed to blend a range of dynamics into what is essentially a wall of sludge, and yet retained the heart-warming crisp edges that so mark out the clean vocal harmonics. It allows the band, even here in this crushing vortex of an album, to retain an element of accessibility.

The end result is tracks like "Minions". It is what Gary Numan would have created if he'd been given a jackhammer to operate instead of a synthesizer. Here, above the burn and the crushing mountain of guitar fuzz it pings with an effervescent quality that reaches into your chest and shakes your very core.

What is missing here though is a range and variety of tones. Their last release marked out by light and dark shading was still driven beneath by the riffage but came littered throughout with layers of popping, addictive hooks. Restarter, instead, returns to the shadows utilising changes in tempo alone to dig out almighty furrows. The band stave off temptation to stray into key changes in favour of creating a subtly-morphing, hypnotic drone. The result is levels of all-encompassing power that border on the obscene.

There's the agonizingly elephantine bludgeoning of the paired "Believe It" and "Barrier Hammer". Rumbling like the sundering of the Earth; loud enough to extinguish the vocals and break your resistance. If those two don't convince you of the album's extreme metal credentials then the wall of feedback agony that opens "No Servants" will. Yet more proof of Restarter's far from hidden agenda.
Fans of the upbeat, should check out "Loose Ends" and "Blaster" which can be glimpsed as breaks through anvil-shaped clouds. Here the short clipped sentences contain lyrics that almost sound like poems. To attempt to decipher them though is to fry your mind. Take "Blaster"s opening lines as an example - "At last gold, He is bilingual, Lick lips and lusting cars, Six pack, Cold, Built strong and legal, This sound attack travels". Bonkers.

Probably most impressive of all Torche's feats with this album is their determined return to basics and you won't find anything more simple than the album-closing title-track. It fires out a three-chord riff, loads it with a singular driving beat and warbling rotational strings, then milks every last ounce of it for eight and a half minutes until the song becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Essentially, though, there is a price to be paid for this desperate attempt to claw their way from the mainstream. As single releases each track works but bring them together and you'll realise the casualty here is the album itself. In a live arena the sinister power that Restarter wields will thrill, but as a static piece it's dense beyond reason. The marketing might grab you, you might even buy it and like it, but you won't cherish it.

Also online @ TLOBF =

Feature: For Fans Of

A collection of my contributions to Heavy Blog Is Heavy's new feature on other great alternatives to much-loved bands...

This week: ISIS

As a band of ISIS-worshipping Belgian teenagers, Steak Number Eight‘s early work showed guts, heft and plenty of misdirected angst, but in 2013 they released The Hutch and everything changed. The presence of Matt Bayles at the mixing desk should tick the first box for ISIS fans, yet it is the music that lies within that will seal the deal. There are luminescent flourishes hidden within thick sludge, patches of rich, thunderous guitar squall, slack-jawed vocals, rotational riffs and dark melodious washes to drown in. Constantly shifting, the band weave in new elements; layering up as they progress. The post-metal meandering of the sublime ‘Pilgrimage Of A Black Heart’ feeds the muscle of ‘Exile Of Our Marrow’ and, before you know it, they’re piling malcontent upon disillusionment; sharpening the visceral edges for ‘The Shrine’ and ‘Slumber’. These sudden, thrusting, sharp stabs finally relent to reveal a sonic wasteland for the masterful ‘Ashore’ and the brain flips once more. For a final trick, you will hear young men exercising phenomenal restraint to allow ‘Tearwalker”s one-key rolling maul of tones and textures to run every second of its nine-and-a-half minute course. If you loved ISIS, Stk8 might just floor you, literally.
Recommended Album: The Hutch

Next week: TBA

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Album Review: Amniac – Infinite

Fresh from the Greek fire, these young post-metallers’ offer up their raw debut long-player, Infinite, with arguably their weakest track smack-bang in the shop window. Naturally, being the metal detectorists we are, we weren’t deterred by such a foul odour and delved deeper to discover something far more appealing within. Indeed, here lies metal that dabbles in dark places, moulding the triple-threat of doom, black and sludge together to form a subversive, gnarled ball of bellicosity. 

That opening track, ‘And The Others Just Survive’, is all about the vocals and their relationship to the guitars. The whole comes at you in waves which only highlights the paucity in production values. The guitars work as a sludgy, dissonant series of chugs and twinkling top line, but the vocals aren’t quite so full. In fact, they are agonizingly short on body, leaving them sounding thin, weedy and loose in comparison to the string and drum thunder that surround them. Vocalist Upsetter has the gargled roars down pat but instead of sounding like the voice of the Devil he comes across like a bag of nails being hit against a hollow wall. Dwell ye not on this – it’s a failing that can be addressed in the studio next time around.

 Where Amniac excel is in the way they rather craftily employ the vocal as an extra instrument, using it only in context. When extra power is needed, Upsetter steps up to the mic and fires out penetrative lyrics in sentences, repeating them mantra-like in clipped cycles. They aren’t restricted by genre either, sourcing several different tones and styles to complement each theme. In places like ‘Rise Like The Suns‘ they take on the dark instrumental overtones of Russian Circles, creating melancholic strands that feed into euphoric gutsy grooves that are more reminiscent of early Baroness. The hammering vehemence and frugal vocal parts of ‘The Infinite‘ play on elements of Secrets Of The Sky‘s delivery whilst ‘A System Waiting To Fail’ and ‘Our Kind The Plague’ grip like Steak Number Eight’s finest pieces. These pound out the same riffs again and again to leave a ditch. ‘A System…‘, in particular, features a notable Nirvana-esque on-beat vocal technique with a mesmeric accompanying section of rhythmic, monotone, juddering chugs that build to a hellish crescendo.

 Time and again the clever song construction collapses and rebuilds itself yet somehow retains an organic flow. The music has a solid sense of direction too, one that inexorably pulls you in. It may not be the most sophisticated post-metal you’ve ever come across but it sure is exhilarating. Certainly, techniques need to be honed, production tightened and marketing savvy acquired but, even in their current form, you can sense their keen, flaming eyes igniting the path to your soul. No surprise – Amniac is, after all, just a dyslexic maniac.


Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =

Album Review: Eldorado – Babylonia Haze

There’s a vintage quality to much of the rock n’ roll music that Eldorado peddle. The Madrid quartet are bluesy enough to draw comparison to bands like Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake and Led Zep, but its their groove, moxy and hep that mark out their true calling as Deep Purple’s sons. Babylonia Haze, their third album in English (their remaining back catalogue consists of companion Spanish releases), has a tendency to slip into formulas but the heart of the piece beats strong, hard and true.

The instrumentation is riddled with strong, warm tones and kitsch touches. The harmonic warbling keys of a ramped-up Hammond crash all over tracks like “Be Satisfied” and “Flowers Of Envy”, whilst the jingoistic acoustic guitar, clean licks and fluted riff of “Resurrection Song” make all three a bit too marmite for their own good. When these affectations drop back into the mix a little more, the power rock, hooks and licks of tracks like “You Don’t Wanna Need Her” and “Mad Woman” should see you back onside.

There’s also the stone cold groove of “Karma Generator” to lap up. It’s a track that sticks you back out in the slow lane, arm hanging out your window, head gently bobbing along. And when they pull back on the throttle, the honest, often explosive, balladry of “Goodbye And Carry On” and “Moon Girl” get you in the gut with the lyricism extracting deep emotion. The gorgeous, folk-fuelled “Breath The Night” goes one step further piling lilting violin on top of gently-strummed acoustic guitar. It’s proof of just how far the band are willing to bend to the will of their music.

The album does kind of go out with a whimper, and the whole lacks staying power, but there are enough sweet melodies and softly burnished structures to strike a chord with fans. Quite why Eldorado haven’t achieved wider recognition is a surprise, because when they hit their stride they rock like the veritable bastard.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Monday, February 9, 2015

Lists: Heavy Blog Is Heavy's Best Of Selections, Part 2

Here's a few more of my contributions to those "Best Of" Selections from Heavy Blog Is Heavy...

Heavy Blog Is Heavy's Best Of: Debut Albums

In January of 1970, appropriately on Friday 13th, a hitherto unknown group of musicians released a debut album that shook the world, inspiring millions for years to come. With vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler drawing inspiration for its dark lyrics from horror writers H.P. Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley, and guitarist Tony Iommi latching on to Butler’s love for Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ to develop the riffs, in hindsight, it almost seems inevitable that it caused such a storm. The press reaction that followed only served to stir the pot – “We strongly advise those of a nervous disposition NOT, repeat NOT, to listen alone” screamed one. Staring at the washed-out cover art of gravestones, a watermill and a white-faced, cloaked woman staring back is fair warning enough.

Of course, within lies the harrowing. Rain. Thunder. A church bell. That dark tritone that constitutes the standout riff – the diminished fifth… the augmented fourth… diabolus in musica… the Devil’s Interval. Something infinitely bleak, menacing, unholy lurks within. Sinking deeper you’ll discover talk of a “figure in black”, “Lucifer”, “eyes of fire” and magical wizards walking our streets. The multi-part, multi-toned majesties of ‘Sleeping Village’ and the stop/start riff-reprising ‘Warning’ instantly teach us to expect the unexpected where the Sabbath is concerned. “Heavy metal”, yells Ozzy amidst the riotous rumble of ‘N.I.B.’ and lo, a genre is born. Has there ever been a finer debut?

Heavy Blog Is Heavy's Best Of: Final Albums

This qualifies on the tenuous fact that it was Jim Morrison’s final album before he died. Later albums were released containing recordings of his vocal, but those contained tracks that he never wanted to put out. With Ray Manzarek and Bobby Krieger completing all missing lead vocal tracks it comes as no surprise to discover that those albums didn’t exactly set the world on fire. A band without it’s heart or soul is no band at all.

Now I’ve been in love L.A. Woman for a long, long time. It’s not just their masterpiece ‘Riders On The Storm’ that swings it, it’s the laconic shading and stone cold groove that the album is wrapped in. There’s the laid-back driving nirvana of ‘Cars Hiss By My Window’ and the gentle sashaying of ‘Hyacinth House’ on through to the staccato hep of ‘Been Down So Long’ and the jinking groove of ‘Love Her Madly’. From the downbeat to the upbeat, the album flows through the full range of blue emotions better than any other. And if you’re looking for a song to fall in love with, then you can do a lot worse than Jim’s love letter to the seedy underbelly and bright lights of Los Angeles – the title-track itself. Here, the lithe rhythm, dramatic structure and gorgeous lyricism all underpin that rickety Hammond organ and rocking vibe. The album is no less then a complete and utter joy.

Heavy Blog Is Heavy's Best Of: Doom

Back in the late Noughties, the doom cognoscenti were thrown into a state of temporary disarray when the proposed formation of a supergroup containing Dale Crover (Melvins’ drummer/vocalist), Al Cisneros (Om’s bassist/vocalist), Scott Kelly (Neurosis’ guitarist/vocalist) and Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich (The Obsessed vocalist/guitarist), legends all, was rumoured. When Shrinebuilder finally formed and delivered their self-titled debut, their only album to date, there was nothing less than a volcanic eruption, literally (one actually blew it’s lid in Iceland and the fallout caused the cancellation of a European tour).

The Wino/Kelly mix of earth-shattering string dissonance and part-howl, part-croon gifted mighty tracks like the mighty ‘Pyramid Of The Moon’ and ‘The Architect’ with a thrilling taste of life inside a thresher. Crover must have almost annihilated his snare for the raging “Solar Benediction”, yet it was Cisneros grotty basslines that marked this record out as a cut above. It was his constants that allowed the music to drift into sequences of mystical noodling, providing the perfect platform for Wino to plug up any gaps in sound with wah, extravagant slide and morphing melody.
With it increasingly looking like the band will never reunite for a follow-up, this album has become an invaluable source of inspiration and enlightenment. No excuses then — buy, borrow or steal this gem and turn your brain into mush today.

Full selections online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Album Review: Ahamkara – The Embers Of The Stars

Perhaps their moniker is a reference to Hindu philosophy or, less likely, the dragon-like creature in the massively multiplayer first-person shooting videogame Destiny. One thing is for certain, Ahamkara sure know how to get under your skin.

They are Newcastle-Upon-Tyne duo, multi-instrumentalist Michael Blenkarn (The Axis of Perdition, Wodensthrone) and vocalist Steven Black and for their first trick, they have produced a debut album that combines the qualities of dark ambient, drone and second-wave black metal with varying degrees of success.

Within the four tracks, all stretching their way past the ten-minute mark, Ahamkara draw strength from the classic black triad of raw production, extended sections of pummelling double-kick and resonating shrieks to impose a sense of death, dread and the afterlife upon proceedings. What marks out their music though is the glowing underbelly of warm, atmospheric layers. They use soft progressions, ethereal synths and colour the piece with thick, resonant basslines.

Opener “Midwinter’s Hymn” casts you out on the open Arctic tundra with only the caterwauling of a wraith for company. Black’s vocal comes as if from the netherworld, distant and removed from the body of the instrumentation. Eventually, the howling winds calm and the track begins to stretch out into evocative passages of guitar and synth. With all four songs fused together by the elemental sounds of nature – running water, lapping waves and rushing wind – there is an elegant, organic theme running along the spine of the music.

 On the downside, there are some instances where the rosier tones bring about an odd clashing between the harsher edges and rich body. Nowhere is this more noticeable than within the strands of “On The Shores Of Defeat” where the harmony between the two begins to collapse. Happily, the visceral minor chords of “Lamentation Of A Wraith” return you to the dark side and drip-feed you a series of orchestral, even symphonic, affectations to build the concept of being within an immense space. At this point they drop their mesmeric trump card, “To Invoke The Stars Themselves”, and cut you loose to drift through the vasts of space; to meet your tormentor; to complete the journey and free your inner demons.

At its nadir The Embers Of Stars meets its inherent failings head on and at its zenith it becomes something far more conducive than the sum of its parts. Certainly, fans of Emperor, Arcturus, Anathema, Enslaved or Ulver should all be able to draw strength from the monumental aesthetics on display.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =