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Friday, February 25, 2011

Album Review: DevilDriver - Beast

Usually at some point, a band will hit a wall. It could be because a change of personnel or record label leads to new impetus or it could be that they want to go conceptual for an album; perhaps they want to improve themselves; maybe create something fresh, inspiring, outlandish, or simply that they’ve run out of ideas. Whatever the reason, in general, said band will either down tools and turn tail in frustration or find a way around or over that damnable wall. In DevilDriver’s case they’ve dispensed with getting cerebral and, instead, simply bought themselves a big-assed tank and they’re gonna roll straight on through.

The aforementioned armored fighting vehicle is their fifth full-length release, Beast, and it’s, by far, their most extreme, barbaric, unstoppable, sinister, behemoth of an album to date. As Dez Fafara has suggested, in reference to their 2007 release, “If you liked The Last Kind Words, this is like that on steroids and crank, driving a Buick Skylark 200 miles an hour straight to Vegas.” Basically, if you thought their back catalog was the equivalent of being hit repeatedly with a plank of wood, this is that same plank of wood, but covered in nails.

DevilDriver have always had a massive groove-based, swarming sound but here there are tracks that simply just don’t let up. It’s a constant attack that completely drowns your senses in one elongated hit. The vocals in the verses of “Hardened”, impossibly, don’t even pause for breath as the cyclical guitars pile on pillow after suffocating pillow. There is also an underlying, malevolent message that rips through everything, from the bleak chord choices to the scathing lyrics, revealing the kind of negative emotion that Fafara and co. were experiencing at the time of writing. Tracks like “You Make Me Sick” and “Coldblooded” feature the kind of soul-sucking gloom that are more likely to inhabit the black metal world of Samael or Moonspell. There’s also lyrics like “I don’t know you but I fucking hate you, you’re a marked man” that dominate “Blur” and what starts out as Fafara making a “Shitlist”, rapidly ends up with him compiling a “hit list” – now that’s dark. It’s also interesting that the more familiar, straight-up, muscle-bound style that marks out the stunning opening salvo of “Dead To Rights” and “Bring The Fight (To The Floor)” were both released as singles, because there could be a bit of a shock factor when you finally get your hands on this and realize just how evil it is.

There are several times that Lamb Of God come to mind – the mind-blowing depth of heaviness that powers out of John Boecklin’s drumkit is now comparable in so many ways to Chris Adler’s cacophonic battery, and when Fafara gets REALLY pissed he brings out the strain, reaching up to peak at Randy Blythe levels of rasp. “The Blame Game”, in particular, wouldn’t look out of place if you stuck it in the middle of Wrath. It rocks like an absolute bastard before pitching itself into a big Chimaira-esque beatdown.

I must admit I’m not a huge fan of their more melodic 16 Horsepower cover, “Black Soul Choir”, or their continued love of the fadeout or, for that matter, the rather bare artwork (but it’s still infinitely better than Pray For Villains comedic owl) but I guess I’m just being a pedant. Let me cut to the chase. There’s no other way to say this so I’ll just, like DevilDriver’s tank, plough on regardless. Beast is, well… a beast. That wall of theirs won’t know what’s fucking hit it.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/devildriver-beast

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Album Review: Of Legends - Stranded

Of Legends mix the rampant technical tomfoolery of Strapping Young Lad with the mathematical, bass-heavy polyrhythms of Meshuggah and throw it deep into the kind of roiling 'core tempest that bands like Oceano or Whitechapel get swept up in. They are the side-project of Luis Dubuc. Yes, that's Luis Dubuc, the electro-pop wizard, founder of one-man band The Secret Handshake (which he announced as defunct towards the end of last year). How he jumped from one absolute pole to the other in one vast leap is astounding. Not just because of the audacity of such a move, but that he's managed to produce something as utterly convincing as this. He's pulled in a little help from none-other than Travis Orbin (Periphery, Sky Eats Airplane) on drums but the rest of the parts are, inevitably, performed by his good self.

Not surprisingly the interest of Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan's guitarist) and Tim Smith (Atreyu, HORSE the band and Norma Jean's manager) was piqued and they are now co-managing the band which, according to the cover bumph, appears to have become a quintet with Elliot Coleman now on bass and Zack Ordway and Jacob Belcher coming in on guitar. However many they are, they have clearly enough clout behind them now to make a lasting impression.

'Stranded', their debut album, will feature twelve tracks when it finally drops in March (two more than this promo release has) and all the signs point to it being a monster. It is, essentially, an epic display of Orbin's drumming prowess and, when that ability is fed into this colossal series of body slams it leaves you feeling utterly breathless. Highlights are the scraping guitar licks and elongated open, whammied chords that litter 'Cannibal King', the donkey kick battering that the drums of 'Death Eyes' give you, and the phenomenal two-minute electro machine-gun blitzed husk that the venomous 'Consecro' snake resides in.

The vocal delivery, being nothing more than a piercing, mono-pitched lughole scraper, does tend to make one track seep into another but, thankfully, the lyrics behind the screaming banshee do a good job of identifying each track for you. Off-the-wall lines like "Stay above the water and try not to sink" (from 'Consecro') are telling, but it's the full-'Ziltoid' lunacy of "It's just the humans, they do tend to scatter" (from 'Nothing Matters') and, in particular, "OH MY GOD, we've got to keep on fighting to save the humans" (from 'Save The Humans') that shows off the extent of Dubuc's desire to emulate Devin Townsend. The day he starts sporting a skullet is the day we'll know for sure just how fanboy he is.

You simply have to ignore the writing and production inaccuracies. Ignore the obnoxious click on the drum kick-pedal (particularly noticeable on 'False God's bare double-kicked intro), ignore the lifeless smack of the snare, ignore the fact that the electronic sample fills and effects keep the album from feeling truly organic. Especially ignore the final abruptly-cut caterwauling reverb effect on 'The Last Legend' (the full-length album should leave you with a more suitable lasting impression). You have to ignore all these things because you just must admire what Dubuc has achieved here in such a short space of time and marvel at what this band could potentially become. If this man can keep his wandering mind on this one project for awhile we might see Of Legends become legends themselves.

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/jan11reviews/cdreviews-ol.htm

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Album Review: AXXONN – Let’s Get It Straight

What is a rulebook if you can’t tear it up once in awhile? Brisbane’s Tom Hall has the imagination to do such a thing and, now he’s commandeered AXXONN as his solo project, latest album Let’s Get It Straight proves he wields the power to grip it and rip it.

Previously, with No Anchor bassist Ian Rogers on board, the band were known mainly for driving out dirge-riddled electronica, but here Hall goes one stage further by combining all his musical loves in one place; taking genres as far apart from each other as black metal and J-pop (although you’re doing well if you can spot that one), drone and electronica, doom and ambient rock or, as his biography reads so eloquently, “powernoise and icecream”, and sinking them all deep into a soundtrack that speaks to both the mind and the soul.

It could be that Hall was feeling a bit peckish when he concocted this brutal crossover recipe but there’s definitely a food theme here with titles like ‘Cod & Chips’, ‘Choc Milk Addiction’ and ‘Frosties 2L’ knocking about. The music itself often brings the eclectic output of 65daysofstatic, Fieldhead or, even, Mogwai to mind. Hearing skipping, downtempo rhythms being fed into a heap of electro-noise is thrilling and, in the case of ‘Choc Milk Addiction’, a smothered, shoegazing vocal is thrown into the mix aswell – it’s quite possibly how 65DOS would sound if they joined forces with The Big Pink. And yet, to focus on that one thought, ignores the rest of the musical spectrum that Hall explores. ‘Golfini’, for instance, combines crisply strummed and plucked acoustic guitar, then smothers it in electric fuzz, squeak and overdrive, and ’10 Pound Trouble’ presents us with a bravely bare field recording of territorial bird squabbles before crystallizing our minds with a hammering, resonant piano layered up with synth beats.

The imagery as you proceed through the album comes thick and fast and most of it is convincing enough to prove that this is no walk in the park. ‘Slave Driver’s sub-heavy cannon blasts stick you in a barren desert, watching helplessly as shells burrow their way into a sandstorm of white noise and industrial drone. Then, the eking build of ‘The Slow Death’ casts you adrift, oxygen-starved, floating through star-spattered space, whilst ‘Perfect For Acid’ ties you up in its basement and performs dark, aural torture on you as you swing back and forth through a blinding sea of strobes. It all adds up to one messed-up, wildly introspective trip.

Inevitably, there is material here that wouldn’t even bond together if you used superglue, and the title-track is the standout black mark. Throwing a church organ into a jumble of 80s house music it seems is just a step too far. But then there are wham-bam tracks, like the eight-minute industrial mallet that is ‘From Blacks Void’, that wipe the slate clean and make you think again. It’s not an easy record this – it’s that banana boat ride you opt for instead of the relaxing option of simply lazing and tanning on the sand. You’ll feel nauseous, you may get flung off every now and then, but it’s the kind of thrill ride that leaves you stuffed full of adrenaline, gasping for breath and with a mile-wide smile on your kisser.

Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/02/axxonn-lets-get-it-straight/

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Album Review: But We Try It - Dead Lights

So, The Matrix Trilogy. Now there was a high-concept project that set new standards with its innovative approach, incredible action sequences and stunning effects. Sadly, it’s legacy is rather hampered by its intricate and increasingly ludicrous storylines which tied everything up in knots leaving us with an overwhelming sense of disappointment. The reason for my retrospection is Germany’s But We Try It. They too have big ideas, pile in as much action into their music as possible and can do it to stunning effect. I’ve set things up nicely for there to be a down side, but I’ll get to that later.

Combining thrash, hardcore and melodeath, BWTI are a powerful cocktail of Darkest Hour, After The Burial, In Flames and Despised Icon served up with an eye-bulging Red Bull mixer. On top of all this, you’ll find plenty of punk moxie in their debut album. It fires out like a fist from tracks like “Bloodritual” and “Embracing Darkness” giving them an extra bite. It’s a big, big sound and from the dual action vocal (one an abrasive bellow, the other a scouring scream) to the grunt of the chug and the visceral clarity of the shred, it’s all delivered with the force of a wrecking ball.

Perhaps this determination to pile everything in at once is partly down to the folks at Woodhouse Studios, in Hagen, Germany, who helped birth this beast – producer Waldemar Sorychta (Enemy of the Sun, Sentenced) and mix-master Siggi Bemm (Caliban, Samael). Both have plenty of experience producing wall-of-sound albums and Dead Lights can get pretty chocka.

The first three tracks here are manifestly dominant with much that follows failing to ignite in the same manner. Too often there are lumps of uninspired songwriting that leak out (much like those Matrix scripts, eh?) merely mimicking the band’s European forebears. It is filler that will all to readily get lost amongst peers that are doing much the same, only better. Take “City Of Ghosts” which bounces you from pillar to post with Swedish death metal chord structures, finger-taps and, even, wordplay. Compare that to “Dead Lights II – The Path To New Hope”, loaded with addictive lyrics and expansive melodics, or “The Great Disaster” with its monster gang chants, clean vocal harmonies and bombardment of breaks, leads and mighty, mighty bass. These labyrinthine tracks are an utter revelation that work on so many levels – the latter will have you banging your head so hard it may just part from your shoulders.

Jörn Preidt (I like to think of him as a heavy metal Neo) is listed as the sole vocalist, despite the multiple and overlapping styles. He most certainly dominates everything with his shrieking vocal – he’s even described as sounding “like a dying pig” by his own bassist Stefan Trautmann. Have a listen to his grating Dalek vocal at the start of “Everything Falls Apart” and tell me that’s not a step too far. It’s a full-scale war between vocal parts and they overwhelm all too often. Their one saving grace is the clarity with which they are delivered – you can understand virtually every word and that’s a definite plus.

But We Try It are, without a doubt, trying hard, and their album could well be a bit of a grower. I’d bet my Morpheus action figure, if they focus on raging heavy and writing complex in the future, they could well become a real force. Right now, their inconsistency is driving me nuts much like The Matrix Trilogy drives me nuts, but then I keep on going back to view that again and again in the vain hope that it will get better “this time”. You should do the same with BWTI.

Also online (with free samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/but-we-try-it-dead-lights

Monday, February 21, 2011

Album Review: Darkest Hour - The Human Romance

Seven albums deep into pouring molten metal into their vast cauldron of churning thrash and splintered 'core, Washington DC's Darkest Hour have arguably been getting more emotionally adventurous with every passing moment of their 15-year existence. The Human Romance, as the title of their latest album hints at, is undoubtedly their most melodic work to date. It's riddled with cascading solos, interwoven top-end arpeggios and curios like the instrumental 'Terra Solaris' and the soft-hard-soft anthem 'Love As A Weapon' (an attempt to slipstream Killswitch Engage, maybe?) - quite a departure from those abhorrently bleak moments that littered Deliver Us and The Eternal Return then. Guitarist Mike Schliebaum explains - "We were able to take something established and re-polish it in a way where we could present it as something new. It's still got the classic vibe, but the music is a little bit more easily digestible, I mean, it's not like John [Henry, vocalist] is singing all the time. The music is a bit more ethereal yet still aggressive as hell."

Recorded with Soilwork's Peter Wichers at the Echo Mountain complex and Old Towne Recording Studios in North Carolina the band have played around with numerous tempos, the music pinging from raging blast-beats to slothful semi-breakdowns and cutely inserted mid-song gaps. 'Purgatory', for instance, is a bull in a china shop. Loaded with snorting death vocal and pile-driving double-kick it lurches from pillar to post, spinning itself dizzy in repeated wild breaks, before curling a hoof to paw the ground and charging to a close.

The Human Romance is also riddled with moments of genius - the dive-bombing strings on 'Severed Into Separates', the swaggering riff that licks the spine of 'Savor The Kill', the "aaah"-ing build that lurks within 'Man & Swine' and the lightspeeding double-kick of 'Violent By Nature'. Despite all this, there are times when they belly-flop headfirst into that horrific pile of dirgeful hair bands that we seem to be inundated with these days. 'Wound' is one of those tracks where nothing marries up; Henry's scarred vocal suddenly seems completely out of place as the guitarists throw out whining riffs that would slot neatly into a Lostprophets or Bullet For My Valentine track. 'Terra Solaris', likewise, just doesn't emotionally connect at any point throughout it's torturous ten-minute run - on an album still loaded with enough gobbing punk attitude to fill a swimming pool, it's the equivalent of finding a kitten in a moshpit.

Repeated plays reveal the biggest disappointment to be Henry's refusal to open up his mono-pitched vocal range. If the band continue to soften the inner steel that has always marked them out, something will eventually have to give with that. When it does, this awesomely talented band will finally be able to come out of the closet and reveal their true colours. It will undoubtedly be a stunning sight, but that moniker will definitely have to go. Lightest Hour, anyone?

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/jan11reviews/cdreviews-dh.htm

Monday, February 14, 2011

Album Review: Turisas - Stand Up And Fight

There are those close-minded souls who are quick to pour disdain on metal that doesn’t rip their heads off and spit down their throats. Expansive melodic metal and, in particular, folk metal therefore often comes in for quite a rough ride, but this seems harsh on a band such as Finland’s Turisas who seem to pour their hearts and souls into recreating belting Viking tales of yore. Now if there was one set of characters who were more likely to rip your head off and spit down your throat than the Viking warriors then I’d love to hear about them.

Turisas delight in referring to their particular genre as “Battle Metal” (Hell, they named their first album it) and it certainly suits them to a tee. They play rampaging anthems that angry up the blood and their ardent fans, like their heroes, aptly turn up to shows wielding axes and baring skin ready for the fight. Such is their dedication you’ll often see them clad only in furs and facepaint (yes, even in the winter months), so they’re a pretty hardy bunch.

Their latest offering, Stand Up And Fight, which comes enveloped in a stunning Frank Miller-esque cover, picks up where 2008′s conceptual masterpiece, The Varangian Way, left off (in Constantinople actually), but moves quickly onwards to deliver stories that speak to us on several levels. “In general, the songs are much more universal and deal with topics that can be placed just as tightly into the modern world as in the 11th century Byzantine Empire.” explains frontman Mathias Nygård. “Stand Up And Fight has much more to offer the contemporary listener.”

From the opening volley of “The March Of The Varangian Guard” to the ridiculously catchy title-track (one listen and you will be humming it for weeks), it is clear that the production is cleaner, the orchestral touches have become more prevalent and there is plenty more pomp and circumstance being carefully slotted into place. It’s down to the fact that, for the first time, there are string and horn sections hand-picked from leading symphony orchestras to accompany the band’s regular offering of guitars, keyboards, percussion, accordion and violin, and that makes this music on an epic scale; the album seriously sports the kind of bombast that is usually only to be found in grand film scores.

“βένετοι! – πράσινοι!”, which roughly translates as “The Blues! The Greens!” (the two opposing parties of the Roman/Byzantine Senate), feels straight away like this album’s tonal piece – the keystone track that “In The Court Of Jarisleif” became for their last album. Comparing the two certainly shines a light on the changes that Stand Up And Fight offers. It’s a vast, mainly instrumental, piece that inserts you, not dancing a jig round a campfire as “ITCOF” did, but standing with mouth agape in a great echoing hall with fanfares firing off in all directions. It is, essentially, an invite to the coronation of Turisas and, if I’m honest, it feels a little overblown. There are hints of guilded Dragonforce and Within Temptation here where previously has stood the muck and brass of Korpiklaani and Finntroll. This theme continues with “The Great Escape”, as bowed strings lead the way, and for the tender, bitter tang of the operatic “End Of An Empire”, but the fighting down-to-earth spirit still cuts apart the rollicking sea shanty “Hunting Pirates” and, naturally, that killer title-track.

Whichever song you pile into there’s always Nygård’s deep, emotive vocal to guide you along, a vast ocean of extravagance and drama lying behind it and rich, orchestrated strata and choral harmonies blasting through it. Only the most ardent of haters could truly fail to see the potential for this music to be coupled with an all-singing all-dancing stageshow but, having said that, here’s hoping they bring it back to the pit for the next album because this one feels a little too much like they’re trying to plunder Broadway rather than the battle-hardened spirits of their fanbase.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/turisas-stand-up-and-fight

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Album Review: Crowbar – Sever The Wicked Hand

The importance of showcasing great technique by combining it with intricate song construction seems to be paramount to survival in today’s modern metal scene. Many newbies appear to come with craft and execution pre-loaded, yet always seem to be forever searching for a personal identity and often turn to over-complicating their sound to find it. Sadly, in many instances, what their music is basically lacking is true grit and it leaves one lusting after something more base; an enduring sound that beats with a primeval heart. Crowbar are reliably one of those bands that I always turn to when this desire takes hold and with tracks like “Isolation (Depression)” and “I Only Deal In Truth” to show off, from their new album Sever The Wicked Hand, they have produced probably their sludgiest, shit-kicking fix of an album ever.

It’s been six long years since their release but, joyously, it’s a return to the Broken Glass days and that deep, thought-obliterating groove that plugs their music directly into your soul. That’s a fine base to be kicking off from but there’s more. By gathering members of Soilent Green, Goatwhore and Kingdom Of Sorrow around him, Kirk Windstein (Down/Kingdom Of Sorrow) now has pretty much a finger in every pie of the Deep South’s sludge metal community and, consequently, there is most definitely a wider range of tracks on show, from songs with an aggressive, fast attack to melodically-heavy numbers and subtler release come-downs. There’s also the fact that songs like the throbbing “Cleanse Me, Heal Me”, “A Farewell To Misery” with it’s chiming opening and chanting oratorio, and the splitting hardcore of “The Cemetery Angels” (featuring the line “You gave me wings and took the sky away” coming direct from an Alcoholics Anonymous book) indicate that the now sober Windstein is keen to use the album as a way of releasing his own inner demons. “I’m not dead yet and have been sober for four months, and I have this whole new outlook on life and a brand new spin on everything”, he explains. We do certainly benefit from this extra infusion of passion which evocatively drives the whole thing forward.

The opening three tracks leave you feeling emotionally spent as they batter about inside your skull with “Liquid Sky And Cold Blade” building up a brutish dirge so complete you’d swear that, if it were a sparring opponent, you’d collapse with exhaustion from repeatedly unleashing shots before it fell to the canvas. Following, “Let Me Mourn” has that Alice In Chains lament-fueled groove that Crowbar slip into occasionally where the vocals team up and the guitars pluck upon an invisible elastic doom. It bears a striking similarity to “Coming Down” from the Lifesblood For The Downtrodden album in that it chugs so hard it’s as if it’s sobbing itself dry. By the time “Echo An Eternity” rolls around you’ll be picking up odd traces of progressive dark rock as walking patterns over gunge-slicked guitar oddly bring Ihsahn’s latest opus to mind.

What Crowbar have taught us with Sever The Wicked Hand is that they have again proven themselves to be a class apart, finding the perfect middle ground between technique, structure and, most importantly, gentle variation within a consistent construct; a band that we can always rely on to produce brilliant simplicity of delivery at a time when metal has never been more complex.

Also online (with preview samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/crowbar-sever-the-wicked-hand

Monday, February 7, 2011

Gig Review: Twin Atlantic @ The Haymakers, Cambridge 25/01/11

The rise and rise of Glasgow’s Twin Atlantic continues unabated. Taken at face value, you’d say they were happily stomping along in the footsteps of Ayrshire’s Biffy Clyro, but the differences between the two bands are just as marked as the similarities are. Listen carefully and you’ll realise the Weegies are actually the more musically creative ones these days.

Despite this, you’d be a fool not to believe that the fact both bands aren’t afraid of banging out songs in their own Scots brogue, coupled with the “incestuous scene” (as frontman Sam McTrusty refers to the world of Scottish alt-rock), has only helped to boost their fanbase.

After watching their mini-album Vivarium released to rave reviews, Twin Atlantic are on the brink of releasing their first full-length and this European tour of the smaller, barrier-less venues may just be their last chance to truly connect with each individual supporter. At this rate, six months down the line, who knows what size stage they’ll regularly be playing on.

Tonight they’re keen to break out new material, despite the album being several months from release, and open with ‘Edit Me’. It’s a raging torrent of rock attitude with a solitary, yet effective, stop-gap lurking in the middle that fires the crowd into action.

They step off the pedal for the chiming epic ‘What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?’, which allows us time to take a look up and marvel at McTrusty’s chiselled features, newly-cropped hair and stubble. His energy isn’t to be found wanting either and he’s keen to impress upon us how delighted he is to be there. “This is our first time in Cambridge and we’re blown away by how many of you have come out”, he grins before describing the city as having “a nice little community”.

The other band members seem a little squeezed on this tiny Haymakers stage with bassist Ross McNae and classically-trained guitarist Barry McKenna often disappearing behind the cumbersomely large speaker stacks. Lurking at the back, the moustache and striped t-shirt combo of drummer Craig Kneale is almost cartoonish – think Popeye, Animal (The Muppets) and Ron Mael (Sparks) all rolled into one. As the quartet batter out their more well-known songs like ‘Human After All’, ‘Better Weather’ and ‘Caribbean War Syndrome’ those gathered move from a respectable stance of quiet appreciation and head-nodding to mouthing lyrics, whooping and fist-clenching.

McTrusty lifts his game further by evolving a deliberate, vicious twitch before delivering his more potent lines (“Blow these fuckers away!”, for instance, from ‘Caribbean War Syndrome’) and, for ‘Audience And Audio’, sinking to his knees to lash out a solo. “Shhhh!” he playfully admonishes, during a break between songs, before following with “This is the warmest/drunkest day of the tour so far” as if those two perceptions go hand-in-hand. Someone responds by shouting if he wants a drink, to which he appreciatively orders “a JD and coke”. It seems they are connected after all!

Each song feels more vital, more anthemic in a live venue. It’s a joy to witness the multiple nuances like McKenna’s electric cello (and his jumping around while playing it), McTrusty’s basic effect of tapping his guitar lead on the connector (to create the on-off buzz that opens the show-stopping ‘Lightspeed’) or the harrowing emotion that sits on the players’ face as they perform their subtler numbers. This all builds to create an unstoppable force, so when they unleash another newbie, the smoother, less anarchic ‘Apocalyptic Renegade’, the crowd are happy to greet it as one of their own.

As a parting gift, McTrusty dedicates the final song, their trump card ‘You’re Turning Into John Wayne’, to McKenna’s passport offering us the information that they’re heading to Germany now and their are seven of them, but only six passports. “You make up the punchline”, he quips before bringing the house down with the line “Have you lost your latitude and longitude?” I’d like to think those who took a risk and ventured out tonight won’t think so.

Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/01/twin-atlantic-the-haymakers-cambridge-250111/

Album Review: Ultraphallus - Sowberry Hagan

Those Belgian noiseniks Ultraphallus are rashly experimental. Their challenging, sensory warfare sits on the crossroads where the paths of Nadja, Bleach-era Nirvana, Sunn O))) and Kong all meet up. Now, if that sounds like quite an odd collection of names to stick into one sentence you’d be right. But then actually getting to grips with the abrupt track-by-track changes of direction of Sowberry Hagan is a task in itself. Whether they’ve been brave or stupid is ultimately your call, but hopefully I can help with that.

The album was recorded on a Liége farm in just four short days. Four days of instrumental speculation with banjo and saxophones popping up amidst layers of white noise, samples and field recordings. Listening to the whole shebang you’d have to hope that it wasn’t a working farm. The cockerel wouldn’t get a look in!

Ripping through a multitude of techniques they assail us with a spot of white noise, not unlike a grotty recording of a macabre horrorshow, for ‘Pathological Freemind Verse’ before obliterating us with bawled punk as into the the snapping maw of ‘Right Models’ we go. Dropping tempo to settle into their more familial groove of badgering doom, vocalist Phil Maggi begins to psych us out with his best unhinged lunatic impression for the soul-sucking ‘River Jude’ and then menacingly half-whispers in our ear through the plonk-a-thon ‘Indians Love Rain’.

For ‘The Red Print’ (a track where the level of cotton wool disorientation will have you trying to un-pop your ears throughout) the band seem determined on drowning the dying guest vocal of Eugene Robinson (Oxbow) beneath the surface of a boiling ocean of sound. He manages to heave himself up to deliver a line, then splashes around a bit, until they drag him back under. This goes on with him re-emerging just breathless moments later until, agonisingly, he finally disappears beneath and we enter an underworld of psychedelic warblings.

The album as a whole is, at first glance, an exercise in various claustrophobic techniques. Adeptly, Ultraphallus smother us with the pillow of neurotic drone (‘Torches Of Freedom’), try to strangle us into submission with hedonistic, industrial doom (‘Suspense Bird/Human’), or break our spirit with fistfuls of discordant sax over scathing noise (‘Cinghiale’). And if they’d left it there, we’d be initially thrilled but ultimately unfilled. By presenting escape routes through the likes of ‘Right Models’, the banjo and birdsong 12-second blast of ‘The Crumbled’ and the grunge-tastic riff that inhabits ‘Golden Fame’, the whole experience becomes something else: an exhilarating thrill-ride into the unknown that makes our hearts beat faster and gives us a feeling of light-headedness as neurones fire us into something approaching happiness. Sowberry Hagan is justifiably, heroically brave.

Also online (and officially recommended) @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/02/ultraphallus-sowberry-hagan/

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Album Review: The Bridal Procession - Astronomical Dimensions

The Bridal Procession are a band transformed. In three short years, they have been through a whole catalog of line-up changes which has resulted in them morphing from playing run-of-the-mill deathcore to peddling overtly complex, gothic death metal; a band with a penchant for juxtaposing aggression with melody by integrating rich orchestration and dark, apocalyptic elements into the mix.

For Astronomical Dimensions, their debut full-length, it is apparent that this Parisian quintet (including their live drummer) have managed to draw a couple of very influential moths to their flame. We have Alexander Dietz (guitarist for Heaven Shall Burn) responsible for tracking and Tim Lambesis (lead vocalist for As I Lay Dying) handling the mixing with Daniel Castleman at his own studios. No doubt, these names have prompted others like Alan Douches at West West Side and the Siege Of Amida label to get involved. The result is a pretty gobsmacking package.

At the time of writing, without the information to hand, I’m assuming it was probably the case that their go-to guy, Junior Rodriguez, was the drummer on the album but, with all the big names involved with the project, you’d love to believe that someone like Tim Lambesis stepped up. Whoever sat behind that kit is one talented individual. The oblique changes of rhythm, the multitude of different fills, the tom-rolls and, especially the rimshots (hats off to the production team who must have spent ages adjusting the levels to inject the right amount of warmth into them) are top-notch. In fact, if you listen carefully, each band member wears their impressive technical ability like a badge of honor. At times, there’s almost too much to going on at once and the sentiment of the track gets lost – the drummer’s too busy pounding out another complex fill just as the synth dribbles out another ludicrously epic lead.

“Shroud Of The End” is the perfect track to showcase their sound – a kind of death metal opera reminiscent of something Winds Of Plague or The Breathing Process might venture into. It is divided between emotional synth sweeps that climb to whining peaks and a throat-scouring attack (vocalist Steve Garner spewing forth cutting lyrics pinpointing modern societal collapse) behind a battering ram of guitars. All around this focal point orbits a proclivity to dip into the more progressive side of things. Take the four-minute instrumental title-track, oddly reminiscent of The Ocean’s recent output, or “Pillage The Scavenger” which chimes in with an Eluveitie-esque folk metal intro and trudges out, having donned Primordial’s corpsepaint, a fully-fledged war machine.

Like a volcanic mud bath, in its angrier moments, Astronomical Dimensions has enough sulphuric passion steaming from it to speak directly to you, sending shivers up your spine as it bubbles and bursts forth from the speakers. However, there’s an awful lot of overly eccentric, ephemeral gloop to wade through to get to that moment of clarity. The Bridal Procession have promise by the truckload that should be realized once they consistently manage to better integrate their theatrical page-breaks into their brutally punishing, horror story.

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