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Monday, October 29, 2012

Album Review: Ill Niño – Epidemia

Ill Niño are one of those bands that you either like or loathe. Many believe their nu-metal bleatings should be sent packing back to the past where they belong. There are those, however, who like their hybrid sound and are simply happy to enjoy their headbanging grooves and funky rhythms; they are the folks who have decided not to pigeon-hole them and that’s a wholly admirable stance to take.

Anyone remember a song called “2012″? It lies forgotten by most, deep in the midst of 08′s Enigma. That song, in particular, struck a chord with me because it did the musical equivalent of grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking. With its tight, feisty metal licks wrapped around airy Latin pop rhythms, it served as my wake-up call to just how far this band could stand out from the pack. Well it’s 2012, folks, and Ill Niño frontman Cristian Machado clearly hasn’t missed the irony when he recently commented: “It’s 2012 and we’re all still alive. It’s time to redefine Latin metal.”

Epidemia, as a follow-up to Dead New World (an album that I felt carried too many mixed messages and one where the Latin rhythms no longer felt integral), is a work that focuses on the heavy. And when I say heavy, I mean fridge-in-the-face heavy. Machado’s “redefine” claim is played out by the fattening up of the band’s already-present industrial metal vibe. Tracks like “The Depression” with its heavy-duty pulse, “Eva” with that petulant bite and, the album highlight, the startlingly impressive “Invisible People”, really lay it on thick – they each carry an element of ’s rough-housing but always pull up short of instigating anything approaching their kind of crush.

To ram their renewed position of strength home the band clearly felt it necessary to draft in vocalist Frankie Palmeri of . He takes the mic for “La Epidemia” and together with Machado they litter the track with alien gargles, pig grunts and random blasphemy to accompany the sugary-sweet, affected harmonies – yes, those flirtations (with sounding auto-tuned) that remain the band’s weakest link. If I’m honest, it’s a step too far and the incompatible juxtaposition of rough and smooth is all a bit of a mess.

The old remnants of Latin rhythm, those few that they have left, come to light in absurdly brief snatches of mid-song bongo or Spanish guitar. Most of what matters has been sucked up by regulation blasts of snare, tom and kick-drum. You’ll also spot the occasionally gritty lyrics, although they show a certain naïvety with some. Particularly biting lines include “We are misery / We are suffering” as backing vocals to “Start a war / death wants more” (from “Death Wants More”) but scratch the surface and you get the oddly contradicting suggestion of “Nuclear surrender to relieve this shameful endeavor” (from “Escape”).

With a firm backbone, but still suffering from a lack of memorable bites, a penchant for grinding repetition and carrying plenty of non-descriptive baggage, Epidemia may walk the band in a vaguely new direction, but a quick glance back reveals them to still be a long march from their greatest moments.



Also online @ The NewReview (with 30-sec samples) =  http://thenewreview.net/reviews/ill-nino-epidemia

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Album Review: Texas Hippie Coalition – Peacemaker

Well howdy and welcome to the Lone Star State, y’all. If you’re into guns and Stetsons, cowboys and whisky, then you’re gonna just love Texas Hippie Coalition. THC’s frontman Big Dad Ritch has said “We want the people that love Molly Hatchet, ZZ Top, .38 Special, the Van Zandts and those bands that are growing older to know that somebody else out there is already waving the flag high”. Well, from where I’m standing they are doing a bang-up job with this new album, Peacemaker.

This classic rock meets Southern-fried swagger with heaps of riff worship is a big, bad sound that they have termed “red dirt metal” and it is sounding sweet. It’s a combination of Black Label Society’s sass, Monster Magnet’s power, Pantera’s pace and Hellyeah’s crazed edge. It’s an album built on simplicity, grunt and momentum; an album that gets exponentially craftier as time passes; an album that, save for a couple of tracks, is without flaw; an album that will inspire fierce headbanging, air drumming and shit-eating grins.

Let’s get that weak spot out of the way and get to the good stuff. “Think Of Me” is a mood-breaker; completely out of keeping with the rest of the album (THC have tacked it on at the end and I wish they hadn’t bothered). The rest is either no-frills fare like “8 Seconds” and “Sex & Drugs & Rock And Roll” or simply balls-out brilliant. Basically, if you dig the whole bad-ass cowboy shtick then be sure to hit up “Wicked”, “Outlaw” and “Hands Up” for their fat riffs and mean spirits; if you want to get your redneck on, then head straight on to “Paw Paw Hill” where Big Dad Ritch sings of “moonshine” whilst Wes Wallace digs out the bluegrass. Toothless grins all round, I believe.

Yet all these “yee-fucken-has” are a front for the songs you really need to pay attention to. Songs like “Don’t Come Lookin’” and the startlingly classy title-track are both dark and venomous rollers. The former has a hint of Jon Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory about it (back when he was at this storytelling best) with enigmatic lines like “Left town in a stolen Corvette / That lawman, He hasn’t caught me yet” and “And when that man in blue comes askin’ questions of you / You tell him that I was dead / I had no idea there was a price on my head”. The latter tells a story of bloody violence from the point of view of the gun. Both show more lyrical guile and promise than, I doubt, even THC realise. These are serious groovers; crafty little bastards that will stick to your skull like glue.

I’m quite aware that the majority of you blood-lusting, corpse-painted metalheads will view this red dirt metal as anachronistic, generic toss, but for those of you on downtime looking for a crushing driving album, look no further than Peacemaker. Stick this on, ready your middle digits and fucken floor it. Now, go on, git outa here.



Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/10/texas-hippie-coalition-peacemaker-carved-records/

Monday, October 22, 2012

Album Review: The Sword – Apochryphon

As time marches on, are a band that seem to be developing more and more roll in their rock. They’ve always been -worshippers first and foremost, but lumps of and are beginning to appear in their work more often. Previous release, Warp Riders, was loaded with bass crunches, galloping rhythms, and plenty of power-riffing – the kind of music that encourages lots of arm windmilling and power-stances.

Apochryphon may initially venture down the same path with chuggers like “The Veil Of Isis”, “Arcane Montane” and the album’s requisite show-stopper “Cloak Of Feathers” (reminiscent of both 2008′s “Maiden, Mother & Crone” and 2010′s “Tres Brujas”), but it soon becomes apparent that the band have been tweaking their sound. It seems the change of label and drummer (Jimmy Vela replacing Trivett Wingo), a variation of lyrical approach (“not as much storytelling … songs about real-life subjects” according to frontman J.D. Cronise) and a more suitable variation of tempo, has inspired to integrate elements you’d associate more readily with bands like or .

It’s a welcome shift in their dynamic. Take “The Hidden Masters”. It’s a track that starts out marking out the rolling blues of , before winding the power up to become a steady nodder; one with a menacing chorus of “Your gilded houses will give no shelter, when the heavens fall / Your sacred domes will give no answers, when The Masters call”. “Dying Earth” cosmically warbles in, steadily marches us forward and hammers home a similarly bleak story, whilst “Execrator” sticks it back in “chug mode” but, essentially and hauntingly, switches to a laconic delivery to reveal its dark messages – “You. Are. Nothing”.

These songwriting changes have allowed the band to concoct a winning formula; a beautifully-structured change-up that gives their music very real hooks to snag you with. Suddenly, the songs seem inescapably short rather than dangerously lengthy. Further expansion of tracks like “Seven Sisters”, with its magnificently experimental edge and jerky structure or the hypnotic title-track with its synthesized wanderlust and fiery spine, is a campaign I feel I could get behind. But, then again, perhaps that would be over-egging an already perfectly decent pudding.

In my mind, Apocryphon represents ’s finest hour. The band clearly approached this one with a fully-formed idea of what they wanted the release to achieve and they have succeeded in every respect. It’s a brilliant continuation of the more dynamic style they established on Warp Riders, yet it is, without doubt, an album that stands apart from it. Most importantly, it re-establishes the band’s natural curve of progression and, fully ten years after first forming, marks them out as essential listening.



Also online (with sound) @ The NewReview =  http://thenewreview.net/reviews/the-sword-apochryphon

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Album Review: Stolen Babies - Naught

“Hey John, catch!” Wooah, curveball. As all reviewers know, you’ll occasionally get tossed a few of these and, when this happens, it’s usually a good idea to set your mind to open nice and early.

If I had to name one gaping blind spot, it would be the one where female vocalists collect. My ballooning collection carries very little of them, so I knew immediately I’d be coming at from a weakened position. I do, however, have some experience of avant-garde bands and know not to instantly view them as pretentious. If you find yourselves holding bands like this at arms length you are clearly missing the point of them. They have this tendency to spring out and surprise you when you least expect it, so you do have to watch them like a hawk. Of course, quite possibly, they provide your best opportunity to stop living in a box and learn something about music solely designed to make you think outside of it.

’ new album, Naught, is unsurprisingly hard to pin down. It’s like trying to grab a loose hamster. Just when you think you’ve got hold of the bugger, he gives your hand a nip and dives under the sofa again. These Californian kooks are clearly happy making their music as unpredictable and as fresh-sounding as they possibly can. Consequently, to try and give you a clue to their sound, I’m forced to try throwing a few uber-vague band names at you to see if one sticks.

Taking a pinch of , not to mention that band’s love-child , a dose of the and a brief scattering of cabaret acts like and , are able to conjure up a twisted, scattergun approach to album construction. Their music flicks from conjuring snatches of 80s and 90s UK pop for tracks like “Birthday Song” (reminiscent of ’ “Happy Birthday”) and “Second Sleep” ( meets ) to tossing out -esque grunge-cum-punk for “Don’t Know”, “Splatter”, “Dried Moat” and “Prankster”.
Lead singer Dominique Lenore Persi throws in a phlegm-affected snarl (a la ’s Eva Spence) to provide the charge for the bruising dips that lurk in “Never Come Back” and “Mousefood” with their industrial grit, whilst a shocking oblique turn awaits at the “Swimming Hole” as the band lounge inside the cartoonish mind of Danny Elfman. Honestly, it’s like something straight out of Tim Burton’s wacky cinematic world – think Coraline or The Nightmare Before Christmas and you’ll have the perfect song to accompany either soundtrack.

Cramming that little lot in and expecting a natural rhythm to somehow stitch the album together was, of course, asking a little too much. Essentially, Naught is just a hotch-potch assortment of hairem-scarem hits (notably “Prankster” and “Don’t Know”) and misses (dull loons like “Grubbery”, “I Woke Up” and “Splatter”) but, having said that, every single track on the album demands your full attention in the same way that every part of the garish crisis of an album cover demands your full attention. came in with a bang and, so long as somebody’s still listening to them, they are going to be in your face and waving their arms about.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/stolen-babies-naught

Friday, October 12, 2012

Album Review: Lower Than Atlantis – Changing Tune

From albums that feature symbols of a violent and poor upbringing (a smashing television and hands holding pocketfuls of shrapnel), have chosen to represent their move to a major label (Island Records) with a foetal elephant floating in space surrounded by a dizzying array of eyes. “The new album is our version of a 70s acid trip,” says vocalist Mike Duce, “and the artwork is what we feel best represents that idea.” Looking at it, I have never been more nervous to spin the disc inside.

With track-titles like “Cool Kids”, “PMA” (presumably Positive Mental Attitude) and “Showtime”, I needn’t have worried. In a nutshell, Changing Tune represents a collision of candy-coated pop sensibilities with their more familiar, lyrically-introspective, punk rock ethos. The band’s steady manoeuvering to a position of strength based around a lightning-quick BPM and anaemic lyrics backed by cloying aaaah’ed choruses is even more noticeable here than it was for sophomore album World Record. Suddenly, LTA are more than they are . Viewed in one light it marks a growing up of sorts for Watford’s finest; a gentle mellowing of delivery from their raw, feisty beginnings. Of course, viewed in another it might be seen as a deliberate move to a more mainstream sound in an attempt to secure more sales, particularly seeing as it comes with a generous laquer of glossy production applied.

Essentially, “Love Someone Else” and “Go On Strike” are vapid, over-simplistic, day-glo pop-punk songs with a single, undeniably strong hook. If these are intended to be the equivalents of addictive, thought-provoking tracks like Far Q‘s “Taping Songs Off The Radio” or World Record‘s “Beech Like A Tree” or “(Motor) Way Of Life” then it suggests a dearth of quality material – honestly, writing three albums in three years was pushing it anyway.

It’s the slightly darker, edgier tracks that deserve more of your attention – the crafty, minor-chord rebukes of “Wars With Words”, the abusively fuzzed-up guitar riff of “Normally Strange”, the jagged rock of the compulsive “PMA”, and the thinking man’s ballad “Scared Of The Dark”. Interestingly, with those tracks out of the way, the album ends by twisting up the band’s pop-punk dial again and again they begin to drift from their defining identity. Depending on whether you dig the style you’ll either come out of “Cool Kids” and “I Know A Song That Will Get On Your Nerves” covered in sweat or, like me, bashing your head against the wall.

One final task awaits. Having consumed Changing Tune it is now time to go back and challenge Duce’s view of it. The only parts of the album where I can recognise anything that can be connected to “a 70s acid trip” are perhaps the two-chord “Prologue”, which comes replete with a dislocated echo chamber vocal, the gnarly verses of “Normally Strange”, and the odd, notably brief, inclusions of reverberating feedback, twittering birds and whalesong. Perhaps Duce is letting us in on some massive in-joke (it wouldn’t be the first time). I mean, even these moments would be better described as peculiar anomalies rather than hint at anything particularly mind-mangling. If conjured the title Changing Tune to highlight they had moved towards a more predictable end-product then they can consider it a mission accomplished.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/lower-than-atlantis-changing-tune

Friday, October 5, 2012

Album Review: Whales And Aurora - The Shipwreck

Lately, there’s been an awful lot of both creaking ocean-themed concepts and atmospheric hardcore albums knocking about and this little beauty hammers both of those increasingly prevalent events together. These points might lead one to believe that Whales And Aurora are fans of emotionally visceral bands like Devil Sold His Soul or Amia Venera Landscape but having checked out their list of influences it appears they are more likely to listen to blissed-out rumblers like Lento, Mastodon and Russian Circles. Ignoring the incendiary wailing, the Italians’ The Shipwreck certainly lives up to that premise with the band cutting no corners and sinking their teeth in for long, rotational runs to strengthen their musical structures.

Maximum volume and total immersion is required to fully appreciate the band’s efforts here, although blissful sonic drifting is made difficult and, suprisingly, the culprit isn’t Alberto Brunello’s vocal. Andrea Segnini Campesato’s snare mic has been wound up a tad too loud (trust me, you won’t miss its intermittent, aggressive “pop” sound). Instantly recognisable when it’s pounding upon the creaking bones of “Achieving The Unavoidable”, it happily sits deeper in the mix when the swathes of bottom-end cut in through the rougher sections of “Recounting Words”.

The tracks tend to rely on repeating chords which ride over peaks and through troughs, true forces of nature, but every now and then the more experimental edge of the band rises to the fore. It can be found attacking us though the monotonously crashing chord strikes of “The Aground Hard Ship” and sending our minds spiralling with the mesmerically chiming, twinkling strings of the glorious “Abandoned Among Echoes” and the somewhat clunkier “Awakened By The Aurora”.

The combined and varied musical backgrounds of the band has led to an interesting mixture of pleasure and pain; never quite tearing you apart they manage to crush and soothe in equal measure. There’s a depressive quality that settles over the listener like a cowl (the blackened gloom of “Floating On Calm Waters” is the maritime equivalent of a death march), yet the tanker-sized riffs that power the beast are from an entirely different place. The Shipwreck may not ultimately prove to be their greatest achievement, but Whales And Aurora’s waves of attack are something that just have to be experienced to be believed.

Also online (with score and links) @  Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/10/whales-aurora-the-shipwreck-slow-burn-records/

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Album Review: Axewound – Vultures

The trouble with supergroups is that they don’t tend to last and their shows and material only appear when their multitudinous commitments allow for it. Throw in the point that there is a tendency for their work to be seen as something of a gimmick, or the fact that their sessions together might well receive less than each band member’s full attention, and it’s a wonder how any supergroup ever makes it past the conceptual stage. Just imagine the scheduling nightmare that bands like , or must have – getting their shit in order must drive them nuts!

Of course, as consumers, there’s little that compares to the buzz that accompanies the announcement of a new supergroup. Imaginations can run wild at the potential of “this vocal” with “that bass” combined with “those guitars”. Such was the thrill when were first announced to the public. The concept was always going to live or die on just how well its constituent parts would gel. Throwing ’ Liam Cormier’s screaming punk vocal at ’s Matt Tuck and ’s Mike Kingswood and their carefully-placed shreds and smooth guitar tones was a big risk. Add bassist Joe Copcutt and drummer Jason Bowld into the package and you get a lot of eager faces banging at the venue gates and, with debut album Vultures, music shop doors and online windows.

I got a sneak peak at them back in June when they hit the UK’s Download Festival. My expectations for just where this particular collaboration was headed panned out pretty well. They gave us petulant, direct metalcore peppered with cleans and screams all underpinned by hefty double-kick and scattergun fills. The surprise for me with the album, if there was to be any, is the nature of the emotive crooning they decided to actually throw out there. Back then, wedged into a vast tent filled with thousands of people, it didn’t seem so obvious but here, with what is an obscene level of production slapped on it, it sticks out a mile. “Cold”, ugly and unyielding at every turn, and the somber orchestral ballad “Collide” are great examples of songs where the lead and backing vocals work against each other (the line “When these two worlds collide / There’s nothing left to hide” seems particularly apt), and “Post Apocalyptic Party” and “Church Of Nothing” highlight just how easy it is for the slick riffs, chord holds, slimy guitar tones and blasé song construction to suck the fervour out of these songs.

On the flip side, the title-track (featuring an unseemly, tacked-on Synyster Gates’ solo) and the thrashing “Victim Of The System” peel back the varnish and simply rip it. Head-banging, air-guitaring fury from beginning to end. Cormier nails it as the backing vocal stays suppressed to allow him to remain unsweetened. Tracks like this and the hammering drums and skidding strings of the -esque “Destroy” prove this band could conceivably have a future if they keep away from descending into the more predictable metalcore formulas.

Essentially, with the two main protagonists, Cormier and Tuck, pressing hardest of all, Vultures (not to be confused with ’s 2012 debut City Of Vultures) is more likely to appeal to the posse than fans. If you like disco rhythms to accompany your breakdowns, you’ll probably eat this for breakfast. For anyone who fancies something a little more visceral, slightly anti-establishment and with a handsome degree of integrity (all of which Tuck promised would be), view this as a project that Tuck needs to “man up or shut up” for or that Cormier needs to ditch in a hurry.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/axewound-vultures

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Album Review: Mortor – Shoot ‘Em Up

Welcome to . No, not Mordor, you numpty. This band have absolutely nothing to do with Tolkien or his expansive works of fiction; they have zero to do with the Land of Shadow; they are not where the fires of Mount Doom burn, and they have zip to do with the Eye, the Mouth or any other facial feature of the dark lord, Sauron. Instead, they have everything to do with the “Mor” of and their pig-grunting lunacy and the “Tor” of “” and their balls-to-the-wall thrash metal. I can also hear much of the denim & leather greaseball sound of in Shoot Em’ Up, their sophomore album, breaking up the steady flow of ripples that comes from their straight-up hammering crush. With those guys for heroes, these Canadians were always destined to form a band with the name .

Stuffed full of jagged, hammer-on, hammer-off ragers like “Under The Flag”, the blistering title-track and “Infidels” – tracks that come loaded to the gills with rumbling bass, furious speed metal and almighty Corpsegrinder-esque burbles – Shoot ‘Em Up is a no-frills assault on your lugholes. Yank up the volume and the vibration it generates at the bottom-end of your aural range is mesmerising. This thing is an absolute beast of an album. “Clusterfuck”, for instance, adds flesh to the dripping, glutinous form of the bog-monster that the early tracks outline. As the track notches down the pace, you can actually feel its feet thudding on the ground as it advances upon you, a muddy trail pooling behind as it lumbers on. This is one foul stench you cannot escape.

“Trigger Happy” has jerking rhythms and guitar leads that begin to introduce other more anthemic -esque elements. There’s hints of that battle metal drama about moments like this and it’s brother “Locked And Loaded” that just induce more and more panic into the mix. Those guitars go a bit over the top in places, but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? And don’t get me wrong this is one fun album. It absolutely refuses to take itself too seriously and that is ultimately its saving grace. If it had made even the slightest attempt to hide its weak spots, Shoot ‘Em Up would be rendered instantly redundant. There is no black metal masking here (although “Days Of Our Knives” does flirt with breaking that fourth wall), no self-absorbed progressive elements to rub your beard knowingly to. Oh no. With track-titles like “Whiskey Surgery” and the utterly loco “Let’s Deflagrate” you can be sure this is all about having a good time.

Certainly, this kind of hammer-down tomfoolery has been practiced before (it kept reminding me of , and for varying reasons) and don’t be fooled into thinking that there is a wild degree of track-by-track diversity. However, if you dig the sound of ten people playing drums at once and a farm animal for a vocalist you’re going to be all over this. It all boils down to your personal preference: you can take the 44 seconds of galloping, driven crush that constitutes the “Intro” and be left gasping for air and gasping for more or, alternatively, you can listen to the full 47 minutes and be slowly bludgeoned to death by madmen with lop-sided grins and inflatable hammers. The choice, as they say, is yours.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/mortor-shoot-em-up