It’s the same content, same artwork, same awful reviews, just in a more professional format. So please, feel free to check it out, let me know what you think, and maybe even bookmark it & follow me on all the socials via the newly installed links – that way, you won’t miss a thing!
Oh, and as added incentive, I have published 2 new reviews since the move yesterday:
Sinner – Brotherhood
Fellowship – The Saberlight Chronicles
I look forward to seeing you over on manofmuchmetal.net very soon!
I’m really not entirely sure how I should view this album, and how I should go about reviewing it.
Thirteen Goats is a new name to me, and to the metal world at large, with little known about the band, other than they like heavy, extreme metal, they have a sense of humour, and ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ is their debut full-length offering. Comprised of three musicians, Graham K. Miles (vocals, lead and rhythm guitars), Rob Fitzgerald (lead and rhythm guitars, vocals), and Mike Redston (bass, vocals, acoustic guitar), this band is then rounded out in the live arena by drummer Leonid Verman, with the bass duties switching to Cody Lewichew. Together, this ensemble takes us into a world of death metal that is hard to definitively describe.
Apparently, according to the ‘fun facts’ presented within the accompanying press release Miles is a classically trained Shakespearian actor with a master’s degree in theatre from the New School for Drama in New York City. This goes some way to explain the more flamboyant elements to this album that show up throughout, although maybe some of it was an outlet for the frontman to turn his pain into something creative – Miles played all of his guitar solos with a broken finger and two sprained wrists following a motorbike accident midway through the recording process. This is some feat and perhaps helps to underline the apparent determination and hunger of Thirteen Goats to succeed where so many others have failed. Clearly, they are made of strong stuff up there in Canada.
The thing that threw me from the very beginning, and still does to some extent, is the way in which the opening title track differs so markedly from the remainder of the album. The band themselves admit that this is the most melodic song on the album, but that doesn’t really tell the full story because ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ is so much more catchy and immediate than the rest of the album. With a gentle acoustic guitar-led intro, clean vocals and a full-on melodic death metal hook-laden chorus, it becomes disconcerting to not hear anything of its like again within any of the subsequent eight songs. That isn’t to say that the remainder of the material isn’t good, it’s just that I feel I have to register the slight pang of disappointment I encountered when I realised that there was no similar output anywhere else on the album.
With time, I have been able to make peace with the initial feelings of disappointment, not least because there is some genuinely great material to be heard on the album if you take the time to listen and treat the songs on their own merits. For example, ‘Challenge The Executioner’ is a thunderous and aggressive beast of a death metal track, with an impressive array of technical-sounding riffs, vibrant bass work, and some truly bruising drumming. It’s a song that proves that these guys have the ability and the chops to succeed, whilst channelling bands like Lamb Of God into their output.
On the other hand, you have a song like ‘Return To Ruin’ that is part thrash-infused monster, and part groove fest. Again, it is heavy and aggressive with the speed to match when the pace is kicked up a notch, but equally, the slower sections are no shrinking violets either, with a steamroller-like, pounding groove. The juxtaposition works really well, too, making it a much more memorable and enjoyable affair than I first gave it credit for. The spoken-word part is a little hammed-up, but it further emphasises the thrash vibe, backed up by lyrics that touch on the political, talking about institutions that have failed this current generation. The political content is maintained elsewhere, such as within the more no-frills, dialled up to eleven attack of ‘Prisoner’s Anthem’.
And then you have songs with names like ‘Through the Meat Grinder…The Recipe’ which is about as serious as a clown on a unicycle. Mind you, the song itself is nothing to be laughed at, what with its slow doom-like intro that then explodes into full-on death metal territory before veering into all sorts of wild and wonderful places, the musical equivalent of a toddler searching high and low for the biscuit tin. And how about the opening to ‘Sub-being’ which begins with a twisted circus ringleader’s address to the audience – it’s a little incongruous, as is the ensuing ‘whoop, whoop’ declaration before a brutal slab of death metal kicks in to blow our heads off.
As I declared right at the start, this is a difficult album to review as it has a little bit of everything within it, without nailing any colours firmly to the mast. The death metal quota is highest and acts as the framework around which everything else congregates, but even after several weeks in the company of this album, I don’t instinctively think of it as a death metal album. And that’s because of the wide variety of influences at play and, dare I say it, a lack of genuine, true identity from the band. Instead, I’ll cop out slightly and refer to it as extreme metal where just about anything goes. Nevertheless, I’d urge you to take a listen to ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ because as debuts go, there is an awful lot to enjoy within it. I also have a strong sense when I listen, that there is plenty more to come from Thirteen Goats. I certainly hope so.
Welcome to the first post in a brand new series called ‘new sounds to wrap your ears around’
The idea of these posts is simple. Every week, I am inundated with requests and/or updates from bands that are either well-known, deep in the underground, or brand new. Often, these requests or updates seek to get me to feature a new song on my website. Up until now, I’ve had to say ‘thanks, but I only have time to feature albums and EPs’.
I hate saying ‘no’ to anyone in a musical context, so I have come up with something that I hope will please everyone: a regular round-up of some of the new sounds that are out there that you may have missed, or you simply weren’t even aware existed. More often than not, the music featured here will then translate into an album or EP review in due course, but it doesn’t have to. This is a new platform to shine the spotlight in any direction and on any subgenre. The only criteria is that I have to like it.
I’m happy to tweak the format dependng on suggestions or feedback, but let’s get started with this first instalment…
— MoMM —
Artist: Hyper Planet
Song Title: “To Live With Wisdom”
Album info: N/A
Hyper Planet are a progressive metal band from Tehran, Iran. I was contacted recently and asked if I would feature their new song on my website. In fact, this was the catalyst for this whole new feature, as I wanted to give the song a bit of a plug. Incorporating traditional instrumentation and lyrics that talk of the struggles of being an Iranian metal band, it immediately interested me. Plus, as you’ll hear, the song itself is a great slab of prog metal that successfully blends melody and complexity together. Check it out:
— MoMM —
Artist: Virtual Symmetry
Song Title: “Come Alive”
Album info: “Virtual Symmetry” – 16 September 2022
Label: Sensory Records
Swiss progressive metal band Virtual Symmetry may be a more widely-known band, but they are featured here for two important reasons. Firstly, they are one of the support acts for Evergrey’s European tour which kicks off on the same day as this self-titled album, their fourth, is released. And secondly, I really like the song. But then, as it’s a realy nice mix of prog metal and Euro power metal, with bucket loads of melody, it’s hardly surprising that I like it, is it?!
— MoMM —
Artist: Demon Hunter
Song: “Silence The World” (feat. Tom Englund)
Album info: “Exile” –9 September 2022
Label: Weapons FMG
Were it not for a loyal reader tipping me off about this song, I might have missed it altogether. So I had to spread the word just in case it had slipped past anyone else’s radar too. Featuring the peerless Tom Englund as a guest vocalist, it immediately piqued my interest and the ensuing moody and atmospheric composition has really grown on me over repeated listens. Unbelievably, the upcoming album, ‘Exile’, is Demon Hunter’s eleventh full-length release. And until a few days ago, I’d never heard of them. I will do all I can to bring you a review in due course. In the mantime, enjoy ‘Silence The World’:
— MoMM —
Album info: “Pagans Rising” – 30 September 2022
Label: ViciSolum Productions
This is a song that caught me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything much when I checked it out recently. I’m not the biggest fan of symphonic metal at the best of times, but this is a little different because it rocks hard, it’s sufficiently heavy, and the melodies are strong. I also like the mix of clean female vocals and growls which normally are a little cliched, but given the attitude and grit within Tina Gunnarsson’s performance, it’s hard not to like the final product. This definitely has potential…
We’ve all been there – you wait for someone to pass you in the supermarket, and they blank you; you’re cut up by another driver on the road; someone acts in an antisocial manner on public transport. Well, instead of stooping to their level and acting inappropriately, I suggest you get hold of a copy of ‘Seething Malevolence’ because it is the utterly perfect soundtrack to help channel your rage in a much more constructive manner. Lay back on a sofa in a darkened room and with headphones or start a one-person mosh pit in your living room, whatever floats your boat. Either way, it’ll help with that pent up anger inside I can tell you. Your neighbours might not agree, especially with the latter option, but I think it’s a splendid idea quite honestly.
Hailing from Connecticut on the US East Coast, Vomit Forth is comprised of vocalist Kane Gelaznik, bassist Tyler Bidwell, drummer Nick Herrmann, and guitarist Ricky Bravall. They have built up a name for themselves in the death metal underground since their reasonably recent inception, releasing two EPs, ‘Inherent Laceration’ in 2018, followed by ‘Northeastern Deprivation’ the following year. Bookended by a couple of demos, their name and reputation caught the attention of Century Media Records and so we’re now presented with the quartet’s debut full-length album, ‘Seething Malevolence’.
The title of the record is well-placed too, because this album is about as disgustingly vile and malevolent as it is possible to be whilst still plundering the genre of death metal. Mind you, Vomit Forth are intent on demonstrating that they are more than just a brutal, uncompromising death metal band, as they lace their music with other influences and sounds in order to create something just a little bit different. To the casual observer, and me on a first listen, you could be mistaken for thinking that ‘Seething Malevolence’ is a 29-minute slab of thunderously heavy, bruising, and menacing riff-obsessed death metal, where there’s no space for frills, bells, or whistles, just cranium-busting aggression and groove. To an extent, that’s true and when you’re in the mood for it, there is definitely nothing wrong with that.
But, if you’re prepared to be constantly battered by repeated spins of ‘Seething Malevolence’, you begin to realise that there is more going on than you first thought. I’m not sufficiently well acquainted with the East Coast death metal scene to name drop bands at will, but the music here seems to fit the mould pretty well whilst adding a few nuances for good measure. For a start, I hear forays into grindcore ferocity at points, as well as deathcore slams and breakdowns, plus the band aren’t afraid to utilise electronic sounds on occasion too. And whilst I’m not normally a fan of the ‘core’ elements, it seems to work here, perhaps just because the music overall is just so filthy and violent.
To underline the band’s desire to try a few new things within their music, the opening track, ‘Untitled’ is an unnerving piece of brooding noise/ambience, composed by Vatican Shadow’s Prurient (Ian Dominick) after he reached out to Vomit Forth personally. It both fits well with what’s to come, and acts as a surprising beginning to the record. Either way, I have grown to quite like it, as brief as it is. And happily, there is a continuation of the opener which closes out the last couple of minutes of ‘Pious Killing Floor’ and indeed the entire album. In so doing, the album is bookended by the minimal sounds of what feels like a suspenseful horror film.
In between though, Vomit Forth deliver nine and a half blistering tracks of savagery that essentially bash my skull in with a meat cleaver, beginning with the ultra-sadistic and weighty slab of death entitled ‘Eucharist Intact’. The guitars sound like slabs of granite being thrown at your ears, whilst the drums and bass shake the foundations with a thunderous, yet dextrous attack. The guttural vocals meanwhile, gurgle and growl impressively, occasionally plummeting to depths that feel like they should be impossible to reach. The song manages to sound unbelievably extreme, but also groovy as hell, with some haunting sounds at the death to increase the sense of unease.
The groovy riffs continue from the outset of ‘Pain Tolerance’, as it lurches forward with all the subtlety of a hand grenade thrust down your trousers. The slams that I’d normally bemoan here actually enhance the track, whilst the sounds of agonised screams in the background towards the end only add to the evil nature of the music that I find myself listening to here.
Pinched harmonics and an increased pace signal the onslaught of ‘Tortured Sacrament’, although once again, we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of a stomping behemoth as the foot is applied effectively to the brake pedal to completely alter the dynamics of the song. The only thing that devalues the composition is the slightly lazy fadeout at the end.
‘Unrecognizable’ is a personal favourite as it is a little longer, nearly hitting the dizzy heights of four minutes. In that time, the quartet once again toy with the listener by mixing up the frenzied, speedy charge with sections of slower groove. We’re even treated to a gloriously dirty and vaguely melodic lead guitar solo which I thoroughly enjoy but then find myself bemoaning the lack of solos elsewhere. Double-edged sword.
The title track offers something a little different, as Kane Gelaznik experiments with higher-pitched, black metal-esque rasps, as well as a slightly cleaner tone where you can almost hear the words that he is spitting out with feverish intent. The song also offers a little more by way of overt melody, or at least a slightly more immediate hue, as ‘melody’ seems completely the wrong descriptor here.
Meanwhile, ‘Severely Wounded’ is a two-minute blast of sheer unadulterated power that sees the vocals veering into grindcore ‘pig squealing’ realms, whilst ‘Carniverous Incantation’ has a twisted, almost progressive feel to the off-kilter riffing unless I am gravely mistaken.
I still get the feeling that there is more to come from Vomit Forth in the years ahead, that perhaps the material on this debut album is merely scratching the surface. Only time will tell on that front. In the here and now, it is very difficult for me to reach anything other than a positive conclusion. It may last for less than half an hour, but there is so much packed into ‘Seething Malevolence’ that you never feel short-changed. And given how extreme the music undoubtedly is, any longer and the effect and intensity of the output may have suffered. As it is, I feel wounded and violated, but in a good way thanks to ‘Seething Malevolence’, the debut long-player from Vomit Forth.
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Greylotus are a relatively new and emerging name in the technical death metal arena. They released an EP in 2018 entitled ‘Savior’, and toured in the US with Abiotic, Cognitive, and God Of Nothing in 2019. Just last weekend, they came to the shores of Blighty to play on the UK Tech Fest bill alongside the likes of Scar Symmetry, The Ocean Collective, and God Is An Astronaut. And now, in 2022, they are on the cusp of releasing their debut album.
Entitled ‘Downfall’, this first full-length record feels like a massive smack in the face in a number of ways. Firstly, the nine tracks spread across nearly three-quarters of an hour contain some pretty hefty and aggressive sounds, with blast beats and rabid riffs in plentiful supply. Then there’s the complexity of the music too, which is impressive in itself, but when coupled with a myriad of different styles, influences, and genres, it becomes quite an intense and daunting prospect. The jewel in the crown though, is the way in which the quintet manages to pull everything together thanks to an inspired and liberal use of melody. I’ve listened to a lot of technical and extreme death metal these past few months, and not all of them succeed because the balance is not quite right as far as I’m concerned. Greylotus don’t suffer from this however, which means that I have become quite smitten with ‘Downfall’.
Admittedly, the album is not perfect; there are some rough edges that will, in time, likely be ironed out. On occasion, for my tastes, the music does veer a little too far into metalcore territory, and a few of the transitions from idea to idea come across as a little clunky or contrived. Plus, at times, the sheer breadth of experimentation on offer does call into question the exact identity of the band. However, that’s where the criticism ends because the rest is pure positivity as far as I’m concerned.
To quote the band directly, “‘Downfall’ explores the self-doubt that accompanies the realization that healing is a non-linear process. It wanders through the pits of self-judgment and confronts what follows when an individual accepts that the best version of themselves is not constrained by perfection.” No wonder then that the music is so varied, given the subject matter, which is a deep and interesting topic for sure.
Given the paucity of information about the band on the press release and across the Internet, you’ll have to forgive me if I am mistaken, but I understand the quintet to be comprised of guitarists Ben Towles and Sanjay Kumar, drummer Matt Tillett, bassist Drewsif Reynolds, and vocalist Lee Mintz. They waste no time in laying waste to our ears either as ‘Rectilinear Motion’ explodes from the speakers in a breathless, extreme attack of ferocious drumming, lightning fast almost neo-classical-style riffs and leads, and savage, possessed screams. The whole thing is laced with a grandiose feel though, thanks to layers of synths, and after a minute or two, an incredibly elegant melody that cuts through the extremity like a knife through butter. It is gone in a flash, but it leaves a lasting impression throughout the next section of the track which offers real cut and thrust thanks to more complex musicianship. A moment of quiet near ambience takes over, the signal for yet more melodic interplay, albeit this time accented by more of a progressive gown. And with that, after one more furious blast of extremity, it’s gone.
With head still reeling, I willingly dive straight into the rest of the album, to uncover what’s in store. The immediate answer is ‘Shadow Archetype’, an initially uncompromising slab of death metal that features deeper vocal growls overall, as well as a greater use of bold and more modern electronic sounds, culminating in a full-on electronic section for a few moments. I’m not sure the song required the ensuing breakdown, as I much prefer the breezier, more melodic closing flourish, capped off by some insanely good lead guitar playing.
The intro to ‘Currents’ is pure melodic death metal nectar, full of precision and elegant, almost epic melody. The remainder of the track isn’t bad either, featuring the first use of clean vocals in a layered, choral manner to only reinforce my ‘epic’ description. And yet, as the song develops, we’re suddenly taken into some twisted death metal-meets-grindcore aural nightmare that then segues into the fastest drumming I’ve heard in a while. Melody is never far away though, as this track borders ‘catchy’ territory which I lap up gleefully. The addition of the string orchestral sounds towards the end is the icing on an already delicious cake.
‘Chiaroscuro’ features spoken-word sections set to an ambient soundscape, the voice gentle and soothing with an English accent (bonus points there gentlemen!), whilst much of the remainder of the song feels like a barely contained, violent stream of consciousness, where the instruments go wherever they please, molten, fluid, and organic. The ending minute or two of ‘Capgras Delusion’ is stunning too, as the pace slows and quickens at will, but retains a wonderful sense of melodic intent. I could have done without the shouted spoken-word part that feels a little unnecessary and slightly ham-fisted, but that aside, the second half of the song is just about flawless.
I could go on with the same level of detail, but instead I’ll mention the sonic destruction created by the classic death metal muscle and pinched harmonics within the opening half of ‘Syzygy’ which I love (the second half suffers from delving too deeply into cliched metalcore realms) as well as the delicate beauty of the introduction to ‘Hoarfrost’. And what about the latter stages of the title track? After a blitz of uncompromising progressive death metal, we’re suddenly met with clean vocals that soar, alongside equally vibrant guitars, a dancing bass, and wondrous, uplifting melodies.
It seems almost fitting that the final track, ‘Azure Rain’ is arguably the most stunning song of them all. There are bursts of breakneck speed, heaviness, and complexity, but the song is built around exquisite melody, ambient textures, deep atmospherics, and in so doing, ends the album in near-perfect fashion. It features a smattering of just about every style of music heard in the preceding eight tracks, from metalcore to electronic, but it just works and gives me a few chills in the process. Yes, there are a couple of minor things I’d change, but that in itself is in keeping with the album as a whole.
And what an album ‘Downfall’ is. Warts and all, I have taken it to my heart, and I feel so grateful to have heard it. As I’ve said many times before, there’s no better feeling than being blindsided by a new band, and Greylotus is that band on this occasion. Every single established technical death metal band needs to watch out, because with more time and experience, Greylotus could become the new force to be reckoned with in the genre. Some will find the melodic sensibilities not to their taste or feel that it dilutes some of the intensity. But I’m not one of those, and as such, cannot recommend Greylotus’ debut, ‘Downfall’ more highly.
Melodic black metal and I have always been keen bedfellows, so the opportunity to check out a debut album from a new player in the scene was too tempting an offer to pass up. In fact, I’ve been keeping an eye open for this album from Pestilent Hex since it was announced a while back and became more interested upon hearing the first single and opening track, ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ a month or so ago.
The band Pestilent Hex hail from Finland, an entity comprised of just two musicians. Better known for their work in other genres, namely death and doom metal, the duo features L. Oathe (Lauri ‘LL’ Laaksonen of Desolate Shrine fame), who handles all of the instrumentation alongside vocalist and lyricist M. Malignant (Matti ‘MM’ Mäkelä of Corpsessed, Tyranny, ex-Wormphlegm and many others besides). This isn’t a rarity within black metal circles, but it never ceases to impress me how just two people can create such proficient and quality music. ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ is no different in this regard either, as it’s a hugely solid album, particularly given that it is a debut release from Pestilent Hex.
The modus operandi of this Finnish duo becomes clear almost immediately that the album begins. ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ is very much cut from the cloth of symphonic, melodic black metal in the style that was seemingly everywhere in the mid-late 90s. It’s the style that, for the most part, got me into the genre and gave me much enjoyment and aural gratification. The blend of aggressive and evil-sounding music with a softer underbelly of well-placed melody was like catnip to me, and I plundered as much of the scene as I possibly could in my late teens and early 20s. To hear that this style of music is undergoing something of a revival is wonderful as far as I’m concerned.
As with everything, though, there are numerous ways that something can be viewed. My delight could just as easily see others rolling their eyes and shrugging their shoulders, unhappy that a style of music is making a comeback rather than new bands pushing the envelope just that little bit further and offering an original sound. Depending on which side of the fence you sit, this review will either leave you cold or it might point you in the direction of the next album on your wish list. I sit firmly on the latter, as if you didn’t already know that.
Comprised of six tracks, ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’ takes the listener on a 42-minute ride that reminds me of why I fell for the charms of bands like Obtained Enslavement, early Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Abigor and many, many others. It demonstrates a really excellent and well thought out blend of extreme metal alongside plenty of rich, dark atmosphere, melody, and a sense of grandiosity.
The title track wastes no time in hitting the ground running, featuring blast beats and a malevolent-sounding fast-picked riffs. It is all laced in an opulent gown of orchestration, where tinkling keys and bold organs emerge alongside layers of synths to add a touch of Gothic splendour to the composition. The vocals are full-on nasty, with plenty of high-pitched shrieks, accented by some deep and gruesome growls. But the changes of pace, from all-out speed to more a more measured mid-tempo, alongside occasional deviations into quieter moments creates a variety to the composition that is then further enhanced by the delicate melodic sensibilities of the song.
It’s a great opening but, if anything, ‘Chapter II: ‘Nature Of The Spirit’ is even better. Again, it opens with real intent, driving forward with blast beats and long, tortured growls of anger. If anyone was under the impression that the music of Pestilent Hex wasn’t particularly extreme because of their melodic tendencies, should think again. But with that said, this second track is easily the most immediate and melodic of the entire lot – either that or the chosen melodies just resonate with me most strongly. I love the way that the song shifts effortlessly from all-out attack to epic grandeur in the blink of an eye, offering fantastic entertainment in either guise. There’s even space within the composition for some spoken-word lyrics, followed by the kind of piano tinkling that so beguiled me on Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ record all those years ago.
The impossibly difficult to pronounce ‘Chapter III: ‘Mephistophelean Liaison’ comes next, and it features plenty of those classic frostbitten staccato riffs that I latch on to with eagerness. The song also feels like it is both the most grandiose and the heaviest at the same time, which is some feat in itself. The mid-song breather that sees clean guitars lay out a delicate solo melody is quickly seized upon, only to build into something far heavier and really rather striking, especially when the lead guitar lines sneak up on you in the latter stages.
If you were wondering about the presence of the ubiquitous instrumental workout, then wonder no longer as ‘Chapter IV: Interlude – ‘Mists Of Oneiros’ offers a two-minute respite from the black metal attack. If there was a weaker moment to be heard on ‘The Ashen Abhorrence’, this is it. It is incredibly dark and theatrical, but it doesn’t do an awful lot for me if I’m totally honest.
Never fear though, because we are back on track quickly with the delightfully named ‘Chapter V: ‘Old Hag’, which thrusts us straight back into the multi-layered melodic, symphonic black metal amphitheatre, albeit in a slightly more upbeat and playful manner, as the melodies seem to dance around with a little more whimsy unless I am very much mistaken.
The final track is ‘Chapter VI: ‘Banishment’, the longest of the record at nearly nine minutes in length. It uses this time to lay down an impressively varied and nuanced track, that’s part twisted malevolence, part thunderous aggression, and part majestic opus. And the final stages are glorious affair, where the pace is slowed, the melody is cranked up a notch, and we’re treated to a truly majestic final act, the kind of crescendo that’s befitting of such a great album.
Death metal stalwarts they may be but here, the two talented Finns of L. Oathe and M. Malignant have come together to create a masterful collection of melodic and symphonic black metal that recalls the mid-late 90s perfectly and provides me with a high level of consistent entertainment throughout. It may not be the most original or ground-breaking record you’ll ever hear, but I simply don’t care. When the final product is this impressive and enjoyable, originality be damned I say.
I want to start this review by being completely transparent and honest. I have never been a particularly big fan of Porcupine Tree. I have a few of their albums in my collection, but I cannot remember the last time that I actually chose to play any of them. I bought them because, as a fan of progressive rock, I felt that I had to have them in my collection. A couple of them are limited edition boxsets that have never even been opened. I even went to one of their shows once, at Norwich UEA, but I had to check my concert tickets to confirm that I wasn’t dreaming it.
My apathy isn’t for the want of trying though; in the past I have listened long and hard to the likes of ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, ‘Deadwing’, and ‘The Incident’ in the hope or expectation that I’d finally experience that moment of clarity, that magical feeling when the mists clear and you finally click with the music. But it never came with Porcupine Tree, unfortunately. The same could be said for most of Steven Wilson’s solo material, but that’s not as relevant to this review.
Part of the problem, I believe, is that the chosen melodies, and their chosen areas of experimentation just didn’t resonate as strongly as I wanted them to. Regardless of whether Porcupine delivered heavier, softer, more, or less progressive music, I drew much the same conclusion, that I was left unmoved and cold by large swathes of the material. It was maddening to begin with. I couldn’t accept that here I was, a fan of so much progressive music, and yet one of the most highly lauded bands in the prog rock world left me numb and largely disinterested. It is even more bizarre given how many bands they have inspired, most notably for me, Katatonia in the last fifteen years or so. Now though, I just accept that this might be a band with which I will never have that affinity in the same way as I’m not a big fan of other much-loved bands like Opeth and Tool. Well, I’ve almost made peace with this.
And that’s why, after much deliberation, I have decided to review ‘Closure / Continuation’, the long-awaited, brand-new album from Porcupine Tree, their first for some thirteen years. I wanted to give it one last go. Either I’ll finally love an album by the band, or I can rest easy, knowing that I have given them every chance of having an impact on my life. I fully realise that my opinion will have absolutely zero sway on most of you. You’ve either already bought ‘Closure/Continuation’, or you’re not going to go anywhere near it. I get that, but I’m writing this review anyway, for me. Read on, or dismiss the review, the choice is yours.
Once again, the situation is a complex one. I have listened many, many times to ‘Closure / Continuation’ ahead of this review and my opinion hasn’t drastically changed in that time. Undeniably, there is some great material to be heard, but there are also some parts of the album that I am definitely less keen on. And yet, there is something pulling me back to it, forcing me to listen again and again, even those tracks about which I am less positive about. Am I trying too hard, am I doing it out of a sense of obligation, or is there something genuinely interesting going on that is creating this apparent magnetism?
To be consistent with other reviews, and my personal views, I have to say that ‘Closure / Continuation’ is too long. When you factor in the bonus tracks, it runs for over 65 minutes, with four of the ten tracks clocking in at between seven and nearly ten minutes. I’m all for longer compositions if they offer value for their whole duration, but I can point to a few times on this album where this is not the case for me.
The first example is with ‘Harridan’, the eight-minute opening track. I like the funky intro and the clever musicianship in the early stages from Wilson, Richard Barbieri (keys) and Gavin Harrison (drums) that immediately signals that the band are on top form. I also like the surprisingly meaty guitar tones that deliver some heavier than expected riffage. I have even grown to like the chorus, which is a catchy affair once it digs its claws into you. But I suffer the same problem with the song every time I listen, be it on headphones whilst out on my bike, late at night whilst the kids are asleep, or when cranked up as company whilst I work in my home office. And this problem is that I always seem to lose focus in the middle section, only jolted back to the present with the return on the chorus near the end. I don’t think that the music is at all bad, but it just doesn’t hold my attention enough.
‘Of The New Day’, on the other hand, is a much warmer and more inviting song all round. It sounds a little too close to the jangly world of Indie insofar as the guitar tones and riffs are concerned. But notwithstanding, and despite more overt experimentation and frequent shifts within the song, it has a much more melodic, and rich feel to it.
The same cannot be said of ‘Rats Return’, which is an all-out dystopian progressive rock song, bordering on avant-garde at times. It isn’t meant to be an immediate song by any means, but the weird electronics that feature heavily throughout give the song a dark and menacing undertone, not diminished by the sense of unease caused by moments of near dissonance and unexpected detours that the song takes. Oddly though, perhaps because it is one of the most striking compositions on the album, I find myself rather liking it. Morbid fascination it might be, but there’s something about it that I enjoy.
I wrestle internally with ‘Dignity’ every time it begins. On the one hand, it is one of the more melodic and catchy songs that seems to channel its inner Pink Floyd with some bright and breezy acoustic guitars alongside a gentle drumbeat. I also rather like the story that is told through the lyrics, of someone who doesn’t seem to fit in. Familiar, much? But something about it prevents me from diving headlong into it and loving it. Again, I think the song is too long, with an unnecessary foray into minimalist territory just after the halfway point, even if the subtle and precise lead guitar work is striking. Plus, I realise that I’m not a huge fan of the vocals themselves. Wilson can certainly sing and does a great job, but I’m just not that fussed by his delivery. Why do I get the feeling that pitchforks are being sharpened?
There are some cool parts to be heard within ‘Herd Calling’, especially when it explodes with unexpected heaviness after a quiet introductory passage. But I’m not certain that the song warrants the seven-minute run-time quite honestly. Meanwhile the odd minimalist electronic ‘Walk The Plank’ is easily my least favourite song on ‘Closure / Continuation’. I just feel totally unmoved by it in its entirety.
In fact, my interest generally wanes at this point, through ‘Chimera’s Wreck’ and ‘Population Three’, both of which are perfectly decent tracks but which both lack any kind of killer blow in my opinion. ‘I’m afraid to be happy, I couldn’t care less if I was to die’ is the stark line that catches my attention within the former, but the music itself largely fails to reciprocate in the same way.
It isn’t until the arrival of ‘Never Have’ that I am faced with another composition that actually fires a little enthusiasm within me. The piano intro is truly beautiful, as is the ensuing melody that becomes the song’s central chorus. Additionally, there’s a vibrancy and energy to the track that is sorely lacking in many of the preceding few compositions. If only more of the other songs had foregone a little of their experimentation in favour of a truly memorable hook or melody, then I could easily foresee my review being far more positive overall. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. And whilst I’ve read lots of positivity for the album closer, ‘Love In The Past Tense’, it isn’t a showstopper for me. I stress that the song is not bad; to suggest that of any of the music on this album would be foolish in the extreme quite frankly. It’s just that, for my personal tastes, the healthy majority of music within ‘Closer / Continuation’ simply doesn’t do it for me. I’m genuinely disappointed too, because I desperately wanted to like this new album more than I do. Maybe therefore, it is time to cut my losses, accept that Porcupine Tree and I are not meant to form a beautiful friendship, and leave it there. Damnit.
I can’t quite believe that it has been over four years since I first wrapped my ears around ‘Mire’, the debut album from UK-based metal band Conjurer. Despite being described as a sludge/post-metal outfit with strong doom leanings, I had to give them a go at the time because of the hyperbole and excitement about them in the metal community. And you know what? I loved the album, lavishing a 9.5/10 score. Admittedly, I may have been a touch too overzealous with my marking, because hindsight would suggest that I have not listened to ‘Mire’ quite as much as I thought I would after its release. Nevertheless, the debut was undoubtedly hugely impressive and so I have been looking forward to investigating the long-awaited follow-up, ‘Páthos’.
Four years on and whilst there have, inevitably, been one or two changes to life in general, Conjurer have withstood it all and remain fully intact. This means that both guitarists and vocalists Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale remain in place alongside bassist Conor Marshall and drummer Jan Krause. As we heard with ‘Mire’, this quartet can create a fearsome noise when they want to, and it was my fervent hope that this would continue with ‘Páthos’. It definitely works in their favour that they are unchanged, because there was a definite magic to this quartet’s debut; it felt like they were a well-honed unit, able to work as a team to create some truly powerful music. You’ll not be overly surprised to learn then, that the same sentiment can be levelled at the sophomore outing.
However, the magic manifests itself in a slightly different manner this time around, as ‘Páthos’ is very much an album that seeks to expand the sound of the quartet in a number of ways. As with the debut, listeners are not denied the sheer Earth-shaking force of Conjurers huge riffs and walls of sound. However, it is clear that the band wanted to explore other avenues as well, to take their music in a number of different directions in the process. As a result, you’ll hear some supremely heavy and intimidating music that contains Conjurer’s usual blend of sludge, doom, death, and post-metal. But these sections are more overtly interspersed and laced with various influences, quieter moments of contemplation, a greater sense of the progressive, and also (unless I’m terribly mistaken) a dash more melody too. Whereas the debut was akin to being attacked by a blunt tool to the head, ‘Páthos’ is more of an attack by a Swiss Army Knife, or at least a nifty multitool. For the avoidance of doubt, it’ll still hurt, but the attack will have slightly more finesse about it.
The first witness to all this isn’t slow in coming forward, being the first of the album’s eight songs, ‘It Dwells’. Opening with vibrant acoustic guitar strumming and gentle but dark electronic samples we’re lulled into a false sense of security that’s soon obliterated by a savage attack; bulldozing drums, monolithic bass, and heavy guitars combine with some bestial growls and caustic shrieks to send the listener reeling. It isn’t long though until we’re dealt some groove and a deeply shrouded, almost hidden melody that becomes more pronounced as the song unfolds. The music becomes positively beautiful when the aggression is replaced for a short while with a gorgeous, almost whimsical section, full of acoustic guitar picking, and chilled percussion. Later in the piece Conjurer experiment with more lurching rhythmic riffs, and a much more doom-infused approach borne out by the lumbering pace but overlaid by a surprisingly poignant lead guitar line. The sheer complexity of the song, coupled with the masterful ebb and flow has me salivating over what’s to come next.
The answer is ‘Rot’, a dense, suffocating affair that seeks to terrify the listener with its dark, cloying atmospheres and uncomfortable yet compelling dissonance. This is not a song for lovers of easy-listening music but there is something about it that makes it impossible to pull away. Instead, I get drawn into the calculated horror that’s created and which comes seeping out of the speakers with a twisted malevolence. I’m not normally a fan of music like this, but so brilliantly executed is it, that I am pulled in willingly.
Quite possibly my favourite of all of the compositions comes next in the form of ‘All You Will Remember’. For the first time on ‘Páthos’, we hear some clean vocals, and they are devastatingly delivered, sending shivers down my spine every time they emerge. The song has a greater quota of melody within it too, which works well with the clean vocals and, at the death, the spoken-word female voice of guest musician Alice Zawadzki. In fact, the combination of the sorrowful melodies, heartfelt vocals and the melancholy subject matter all ensure that this is quite possibly the most poignant and moving composition that Conjurer have ever written. Of course, there are some impossibly heavy moments within the song, but the heaviest thing of all here, is the emotion that runs through the music like a rich vein of intoxicating misery.
The drumming that features within ‘Basilisk’ is literally thunderous, the monstrous double-pedal assault creating a clever juxtaposition with the gentleness of the song’s opening minute or so. But, again, the melodic sensibilities are clear for all to hear, and they just serve to raise the song even higher in my estimations; it would have been so easy to just bludgeon the listener with a relentless blast of power and barely contained noise, but the musicians here are far too talented and intelligent to allow that to happen.
Staking a strong claim for my favourite song alongside ‘All You Will Remember’ is the scintillating ‘Those Years, Condemned’ a supremely weighty and bruising composition that hits the sweet spot between punishing doom-laden heaviness and melody, cleverly abutted to ‘Suffer Alone’, a sub three minute blitz of fast-paced intensity with an almost punk attitude buried within it.
‘Páthos’ is rounded out by arguably the doomiest of them all, ‘In Your Wake’, and then the atmospheric splendour of ‘Cracks In The Pyre’, which carries all of the grandeur that a closer to an album of this magnitude demands and more besides. I could say an awful lot more about each, but for the sake of brevity and in an effort to give you something to discover for yourselves, I’ll leave the descriptions there. Suffice to say that if my descriptions of the previous six have piqued your interest, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the final portion of the album, too.
With the debut, ‘Mire’, I was completely blindsided as I knew not what to expect. The situation is different this time around, but I find myself no less impressed, or in awe. And that’s a tribute to the skill, vision, and bravery of the four musicians here in Conjurer; even though I knew roughly what to expect, I didn’t expect it to be this good. And I love the fact that the band have kept their core sound intact whilst willingly experimenting and pushing the boundaries that little bit further. The added melody, the increased variety, and the extra experimentation all conspire to create an album that will rightly receive huge plaudits from across the metal spectrum. Don’t dither, don’t dally, just part with your cash now and immerse yourself in a true extreme metal highlight of 2022.
We’re halfway through 2022 already. How on Earth did that happen? It’s true what they say, that the older you get, the faster time seems to fly by.
However, the good news is that it gives me an excuse to bring you a round-up post of my favourite albums that have been released in the second quarter of the year, between April and June.
In the same way as my post for the first three months of the year (click here to read that), I have listed the releases chronologically. The task of ordering them will come at the end of the year with my mammoth ‘Album Of The Year’ countdown.
On that note, here goes…
Atomic Fire Records
“…you hopefully get the idea just how varied and dynamic this record truly is, and why I like it more than any other Meshuggah record in their now nine-deep discography. It may be a little too long but that’s literally the only gripe I have. In every other way, it’s Meshuggah. But more than that, it’s Meshuggah at their glorious best. And that means that with ‘Immutable’, we’re in the presence of heavy metal greatness.”
“It’ll be interesting to see what others come up with over the next few months but, as it currently stands, ‘The Endgame’ is far and away the best melodic hard rock album of 2022 so far. And it’ll take an awful lot for it to be beaten, that’s for sure.”
“I’m so glad I was introduced to Soledad, because the French quartet have impressed me immensely with their ambitious, bold, eclectic, and slightly eccentric musical vision…listen to ‘XIII’ and, I hope, prepare to be entertained and captivated like I have been. This is easily one of the best progressive records of 2022 so far.”
“…the album takes me back in time and fills me with an infectious nostalgia, and for all the right reasons. This album reminds me in glorious technicolour exactly why I fell for this kind of music in the first place. And it does this because it is lovingly crafted and is of an incredibly high standard throughout.”
“‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’ is anything but Evergrey’s unlucky thirteenth record. Instead, it only helps to further underline their utter dominance and superiority in my mind, and hopefully in the minds of other fans too. A companion of mine for the last few months, the music on this album has given me strength, support, and the knowledge that I am not alone on this tumultuous journey called ‘life’.”
“…the six songs are chock full of exemplary musicianship from guitar, bass, drums, and vocals alike, just as we would all hope and expect from a band with the reputation that they historically have. To be honest, I’m just delighted that Zero Hour are back. The fact that they bring with them such an enjoyable feast for the ears is just the icing on the cake. Welcome back gents…”
“As extreme metal albums go, ‘Cancer Culture’ has to be up there with the very best that 2022 has had to offer so far. Everything from the slightly disturbing cover artwork to the performances, and from the production to the songs themselves, Decapitated have returned with one hell of a bang. But crucially, the bang is not only thunderous, but it is intelligent, varied, and completely engaging from start to finish.”
“It may have taken 14 years to see the light of day but as far as I’m concerned, it has been more than worth the wait. I absolutely love this album and, if quality black metal is a favourite of yours, then you will too. Without doubt, with ‘Rapture’, Lord Belial have released my favourite out-and-out black metal record of the year so far.”
“It really is hard to fault ‘Hate Über Alles’ when all is said and done, because Kreator have well and truly delivered the goods once again. Power, aggression, venom, and spite collide superbly with expert songwriting, memorable melody, and irresistible catchiness to produce easily one of my favourite thrash records of the past couple of years.”
“Ultimately, I’m just delighted that Seventh Wonder continue to write new music. The fact that they have created another excellent body of music is the icing on the cake…it is so refreshing to hear Tommy Karevik once again unshackled and able to put his own unique talent to full use. When he is in full flow, there are few better vocalists out there…But alongside him are four more supremely talented individuals…As a result, ‘The Testament’ is, quite simply, a joy to listen to from start to finish.”
“With ‘Liminal Rite’, American quartet Kardashev have pulled the rug out from under me and sent me reeling. I said earlier that I feel like this record is a game changer for me, and I truly mean it. I love heavy music and I also adore strong melody; Kardashev have managed to combine the two in a way that I’ve never really heard before and I am left stunned and in awe of this album.”
“I had a feeling that ‘Tiktaalika’ would be good, but I wasn’t banking on it being quite this good if I’m being brutally honest. There is much to enjoy about Charlie Griffith’s debut solo effort, and I keep discovering new things with each passing listen too. No doubt it’ll appeal first and foremost to lovers of the guitar and the almighty riff, but given the diversity of the material and the quality of the songs themselves, I’m certain that the appeal of ‘Tiktaalika’ will be much wider, and rightly so.”
“Add to the package some seriously cool cover artwork, and a production that is crystal clear without detracting from the sheer power and technicality of the music, and you’re staring at one hell of an album. I love the way that bands like Exocrine have managed to open my mind fully to the magnificence of technical and progressive extreme metal, because it is a genuine thrill ride when you get to listen to music that’s this intense, this intricate, and this memorable.”
“…I am delighted to be able to say that ‘Inhuman Spirits’ shows that this quintet have lost none of their ability, hunger, or bite. All that remains is my now heightened ambition to see the Swedes on a stage as I’ve never had the pleasure to date. In the meantime, won’t you all please stop what you are doing and wrap your ears around ‘Inhuman Spirits’, as Darkane are well and truly back.”
Seeing as I have finally embraced a greater love and appreciation for the thrash metal genre over the past year or two, I felt like it would be a good opportunity to listen to the new album from Municipal Waste, one of several bands within the genre with which I have never previously clicked. Entitled ‘Electrified Brain’, it’s the seventh album from the quintet hailing from Richmond, Virginia. And, at the end of the day, it is the seventh album from the quintet of Tony Foresta (vocals), Ryan Waste (guitar), Nick Poulos (guitar), Philip ‘Landphil’ Hall (bass), and Dave Witte (drums) that has failed to fully ignite my enthusiasm. Allow me to explain why, if I can…
Firstly, there’s that ‘crossover’ aspect of the music. Municipal Waste play a form of thrash metal that seeks to blend in a heavy dose of hardcore into their compositions. As such, you’ll find plenty of ‘gang’ vocals, where a number of voices basically shout in unison. I’ve never been the biggest fan of this, which is why I don’t tend to listen to very much hardcore music at all. The attitude is there, front and centre, but it’s not the kind of attitude that I am drawn to if I’m honest – it’s all a bit shouty and overly angst-ridden.
Yes, there is plenty of tongue-in-cheek attitude as well, but that doesn’t always help because it adds a vaguely comedic element to the output, meaning that it’s hard to take everything seriously. In effect, it only serves to dilute the usual messages of political corruption and discord, which could have been more impactful otherwise. With that said, I am not a fan of overly political music either, because I get enough of that in my daily life, so I’m looking for more of an escape route. Yup, the world is awful in many ways right now, I get it.
The fourteen songs that feature on ‘Electrified Brain’ rip from the speakers with plenty of energy and enthusiasm but without wanting to sound too harsh, the album feels a little one-dimensional. There is a change in pace here and there, but for the most part, the music skips along at a similar brisk pace with a precious lack of variety. I’ve listened to this record a number of times through, including during an eight-hour train journey to Scotland where I had no distractions aside from the sight of green fields rushing past my window. And even then, after listening, I couldn’t pick more than a couple of the songs out of a line-up if my life depended upon it. It’s not quite a case of ‘heard one, heard them all’, but it isn’t far off to be perfectly honest.
This is all a bit of a shame because actually, the album begins in promising fashion thanks to the first three tracks, the title-track opener, followed by ‘Demoralizer’ and ‘Last Crawl’. ‘Electrified Brain’ sets off like a stabbed rat after a short intro, full of pacey aggression, led by some sharp, thrusting riffs and Foresta’s unmistakeable, higher-pitched semi-shouted vocals. Just as the song is about to end though, in marches in a really nice bass-led groovy ending sequence that’s totally infectious.
Speaking of infectious, ‘Demoralizer’ continues the trend with a combination of riffs and melodies that seemingly blend the naked aggression of thrash with the immediacy of Maiden-esque NWOBHM. It makes for a thoroughly decent and enjoyable song, with much more depth to it, one of the few to stick in my brain for a little longer than others. And even though ‘Last Crawl’ is a faster, more uncompromising cut, it features a couple of thunderous riffs that catch my ear, alongside a cool lead solo that sparks and fizzes nicely. But there it more or less ends.
Undoubtedly, the musicians within Municipal Waste are talented at what they do, with each musician apparently fully committed to making as much focused noise as possible. The riffs in particular, are sharp, incisive, and the guitars are blessed with a great tone that feeds my inner metalhead soul. The solos are equally impressive, full of venom and executed with style and aplomb. Occasionally, there’s a dip in the speed in favour of a mid-pace groove, which is positive too. But it doesn’t quite feel like it’s enough. The album comes to an end, and I’m left thinking ‘oh, that’s it, then’, which is never how you want to feel at the end of a record.
Now, I’m well aware that an album shouldn’t be judged on outside factors, such as what other bands within the same genre are doing, but in this instance, it’s hard not to. Over the past year or two, a number of the heavyweights of the genre have released some excellent new material, and there are a handful of exciting releases still to come before 2022 is out. More than ever therefore, it is imperative that bands are on their mettle, delivering the best that they possibly can. But that doesn’t feel like that’s the case here. There will be the hardcore fanbase that’ll lap up every confrontational moment of ‘Electrified Brain’, but it’s nowhere near essential enough for me to recommend it more widely than that. Unless you’re a devotee, I’d search elsewhere for your thrash metal fix.