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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Album Review: Torche – Harmonicraft

Take a look at that gaudy, pink artwork. Flying cartoon newts (some friendly, that burp rainbows, and some not-so friendly, who belch dark clouds and lightning bolts) that fly around a sky dodging falling candies, chocolate bars and bubbles. I’m not even going to speculate on what that one down the bottom of the picture could be happily licking.

Compare it to their previous releases’ similarly cartoon-esque but most definitely bleaker pictures and you’re seeing images that clearly represent the band’s shift in musical styles. It’s true. Listen carefully to the sludge-infected monstrosity of their eponymous debut album and its much acclaimed follow-up, Meanderthal, which earned the band their “stoner/doom pop” label, and you can hear exactly how they came to arrive at this point and with that artwork.

I’m not going to beat around the bush any further. Harmonicraft is their cleanest, most melodic album to date and it’s release will continue to divide stoner, prog and post-metal fans in the way that have always sought to do. They begin as they mean to continue, with 2 and 3-minute walled sections of rumbling bass that jimmy along cyclical riffs fired through distorted guitars. The band’s sparkle and main selling point here is that from somewhere amidst it’s hammering crush is the echoing, clean vocal of Steve Brooks. In an even purer form than heard previously, Brooks is your upbeat guide through the heaviosity, firing out his minimalistic lyrics, serenading his audience through the thick and the thin. Be it via the medium of punk rock for “Walk It Off” and “Kiss Me Dudely”, the grunge-soaked swagger of “Reverse Inverted” and “Letting Go”, or the chugging rock n’ roll pound of “In Pieces” and “Skin Moth”.

The songs are still trench-deep and busy enough to make your ears pop when they throw in a sudden shift in depth. It’s the yank-up into the guitar arpeggios and neck-snapping drive of “Snakes Are Charmed” you need to watch out for. It’s one of those moments where you know a band has nailed down something truly special. The hairs are standing up on the back of my neck now just thinking about it. They almost repeat the trick with the slow, neck-snapping groove of “Roaming” and the catchy-as-fuck rotating riff of the title-track – I reckon this is what being trapped inside ’s own washing machine is like, going round and round with those soiled tour threads.

With its track-by-track homage to looped riffery, Harmonicraft is, undoubtedly, a mood album. You flick it on, it invigorates you for 38 minutes, and then you move along. It’s not something you can easily dip in and out of. Each track feeds beautifully on to the next as subtle shifts in rhythm mean you simply roll with every single one of its punches. The down side of course is that they will face rows of pointing fingers who don’t buy into such a concept. For instance, there are several moments where the song demands more from the band than they’re willing to give. It’s not the first time we’ve heard them proffering only one and a half minute tracks and it’s hard not to feel aggrieved when a track you dig crashes to a halt with a sense of incompletion; the wish left unfulfilled. Would it work if you stitched all the tracks together by a series of chord hangs? I doubt it. Done this way, it can leave you with the vague impression that you’re being pitched too. The nay-sayers will be suggesting that if they really are an ideas factory, then why do so many of their imaginings sound similar? Ah, the trappings of being so clever, so innovative and so skilled are that your public will always question your motifs and demand more of you.

So, sure, at first glance it may seem that are driving towards melding churning pop and gutsy groove together à la , yet deeper inspection shows they have also begun to loop back in on themselves. There are songs here that brush-up against the kind of moods that ’s current work is offering and given the frowning, doomier finale that lurks in “Solitary Traveler” and “Looking On” (think meets ), we can see they are still keeping all their options open. End of the day, whatever their critics may say, Harmonicraft is a genre-bending original and I’d recommend it any day of the week. Without bands like showing innovation like this, there’d be an awful lot of uninspired and uninspiring music out there.

Also online @ The NewReview

Friday, April 27, 2012

Album Review: Anathema – Weather Systems

This collection of brothers and friends, the Cavanaghs and the Douglases from Liverpool, have spent the last twenty-odd years receding from bellow to mellow and now instead of touring with war machines like Cannibal Corpse you’re more likely to find them gracing the bill with soft-hearted, introspective proggers like Paradise Lost or Porcupine Tree. Weather Systems, Anathema‘s ninth studio album is yet one more step towards complete purification and the final draining of their metal blood. Using similar methods to those used on their last release, We’re Here Because We’re Here, the band slowly add layer upon layer of emotion to reach that moment of true impact, and by doing so manage to make their point in the most subtle of ways.

The two-part ‘Unforgettable’ is something of an ambitious introduction; the first part weaving an upsurging, acoustic guitar arpeggio (an instrument you’ll hear plenty of) around Vincent Cavanagh’s velveteen vocals, and the second a piano-led, melancholic boy-girl duet which brings in more of Lee Douglas’ high-pitched, crystalline singing. Sitting up front the tracks feel like a bit of a sore thumb; the kind of demanding songs that would be far easier to swallow further down the playlist.

The rising panic of tracks like ‘The Storm Before The Calm’ and ‘The Gathering’ certainly get the heart racing. The former features an abrupt change of tack, lifting the pace under a deluge of white noise and programmed industrial touches, and the latter needs the reassurance of a few sideways glances at the bigger picture. It gets them by rubbing shoulders with ‘Lightning Song’, whose violins and acoustic guitar tug at the heartstrings only to walk us – smack! – into the punch of a muted electric guitar strike.

With each track linking back to the central theme, the album forms one steady circuit of the bases to form an enigmatically absorbing home run. You’ll identify with the central character of the piece when he picks up the baton, running with it across the dark inferences of tracks like ‘Sunlight’, ‘The Beginning And The End’ and between the hackneyed monologue of a near-death experience that weighs heavy upon ‘Internal Landscapes’.

Everything is, of course, open to interpretation, but having recently suffered a family bereavement I couldn’t help but see the album as the slow death of a confused and pained soul; a record that I found in some ways upsetting, as the emotions are still raw. Some of the lyrics may be honest but they seem to cut so deep. Viewed at different moments, though, the music proves complex enough to contain a less brutal side and offers several rays of light, so I may come to take comfort from it in the future.

Weather Systems is most certainly a bold move by the band, an attempt to lay bare, with honesty, the emotions that emanate from the subjects of loss, regret, pain and death. As singer Daniel Cavanagh has rightly pointed out, “This is not background music for parties. The music is written to deeply move the listener, to uplift or take the listener to the coldest depths of the soul”. A mission most definitely accomplished.

Also online @ TLOBF

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Album Review: North Atlantic Oscillation – Fog Electric

Somewhere in between the two land masses of Iceland and the Azores, far out to sea, there is a series of fluctuations in air pressure which kick-start a phenomenon known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. It dictates the strength and direction of storms across the surrounding areas and is, naturally, of great interest to European weather girls and boys (or, more obtusely, meteorologists). Why you’d want to name your band after this oddity is beyond me, but at least now you can point at the telly when you spot rubbish weather combined with westerly winds and say “Ooh, look, that’ll be the NAO” and all your chums will be impressed.

When I first encountered this Edinburgh duo (they expand to a quartet for gigs), between the releases of their Callsigns EP and their debut Grappling Hooks, they had rallying hook-laden rock bursting forth from upbeat electronica. Quite how they got from that outstanding and giddying introduction to this soft-hearted, ambient psych-cum-prog shoegazing is a puzzler. But here we are all the same. The busy re-structuring with multiple instruments in action, sometimes all at once, combined with Tony Doogan (Super Furry Animals, Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian)’s tight, dynamic production has left the already-hazy, multi-layered vocals relegated somewhat – and that’s a shame.

The front-end of Fog Electric is most startling, as peeking softly through the backwash from the determined force of ‘Soft Coda’, the tracks ‘Chirality’ and ‘Mirador’ emerge like two pieces of rotting driftwood. With their synth sweeps, high-pitched vocals and twinkly, jazzy washes, memories are triggered of some of the quirkier tracks by those artsy, twee ’90s pop-rock bands like Teenage Fanclub, Jellyfish and Scritti Politti. But nothing can quite prepare you for the atrocity that is ‘Empire Waste’. Those almost gentle beginnings and endings are blown away by thoughtlessly tacky programmed beats as the eloquent vocal is stuffed through the gaping maw of some vast computer, emerging as a volley of robotic bleatings.

Yet the white flag is spared as ‘Savage With Barometer’ rises above its scarred, ever-present soundscape to wrap a meaty bassline around a cajoling set of cymbals, and brush a determined eloquence onto the surface of the piece. ‘Expert With Altimeter’, with its slow build to something more instantly recognisable (think E.L.O. meets Editors) follows suit with 4-4 beats, rock rushes and peaked vocal harmonies. Then, treading gently down once more to the shore to stand in the ebbing surf, the piano-led drift of ‘The Receiver’ and the sublime acoustic guitar backing of ‘Downhill’ leave us becalmed; contemplative once more.

Even though the album’s subject matter, according to singer Sam Healy, concentrates on “searching for meaning in a scientific, post-religious world”, the oceanic theme is ever-present, following the band through the lyrics, album and song titles. It proves that despite this new injection of chaos, they are still following the same compass-bearing in their heads. Yet everything about this album feels as if it contradicts this. Even the little programmed gimmicks – a vinyl pickup rip here, a spot of tinnitus-inducing warble there, all of merely passing interest – mostly seem disconnected from the music.

It’s been a bold effort by the band to step out of their comfort zone and they should be applauded for scoring one or two broadside hits, but there are far too many disappointing splashes for us to realistically believe that they didn’t get too self-absorbed in their project and, consequently, a little bit carried away with themselves. Maybe next time out, they’ll aim for a sunnier destination we can all reach and, at last, we’ll be able to enjoy a share of their treasure booty.

Also online @ TLOBF

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Album Review: Skyharbor – Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos

For a landmass as vast as India, a country with over 1 billion people living in it, the number of times you come across one of their metal bands isn’t all that often but there is now a rapidly-growing scene. The furore surrounding New Delhi’s is indication that the world stage is primed and ready for the floodgates to open. Why have been one of their breakthrough acts isn’t clear, but their global sound and the fact they have sunk their teeth into such a vogue genre must be factors.

Nailing a worldwide release for their double-disc debut album, Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos, can’t have been the smoothest of rides (“four years of epiphanies and disappointments” according to brainchild/guitarist Keshav Dar) but it’s easy to see how they got there in the end when you see which label they are gracing (Basick) or cast your eyes down the number of international guest appearances. Also bear in mind that these contributions are from guys who offered their help, not vice-versa. Guys like ex- vocalist Dan Tompkins, whose pin-point tone is so obviously the key to the door-lock and consequently ends up singing on 80% of the album, and guys like ex- axeman Marty Friedman who contributes to two tracks.

The majority of the content is made up by the Illusion disc and, honestly, it’s a delight to finally hear a modern progressive metal record that is happy to dip its toes in the waters of djent, but doesn’t feel the need to obstruct the flow of the songs with incessant levels of palm-muted hammering or flood you with wave upon wave of ambient wash. The band has allowed for a very organic writing process. Left unencumbered by heavy-handedness or complex mathematics the natural rhythms are left to flow and create instantly recognisable patterns. The production has followed suit and swapped hard, angular tones for a softened, more emotive backline that has put the vocal upfront and undominated. “Dots” is a straight-up joy, “Catharsis” is a brilliantly-layered puzzle with an undemanding solution, and “Celestial” burns with unambiguous, anthemic ambition (listen out for Friedman’s blistered, falling riff and ’s Vishal J. Singh’s quixotic solo).

Any pent up anger that comes from holding back their instincts is released within the howling confines of Chaos. The band rip into the music with vigour, winding up the pace of their attack and rolling around in distortion and syncopation like pigs in muck. Sunneith Ravankar () is let loose to roar almost continuously through “Trayus” and “Aphasia”, but it is the split-personalities of “Insurrection” which invigorate the most as, like a spinning compass, the befuddling rhythm finally settles on a direction, both in its more turbulent and calmer guises. Throughout Chaos you get the sense that the heart of the album is still there, latent in the background, desperately fighting to burst through the surface as and when it can. And yet I am left with mixed-feelings about this segue into crushing heaviness. There are several bands who have mastered this kind of polyrhythmic, invasive bedlam already, so whilst it provides a deathly foil for the life-giving properties of it’s sister disc, to some extent it feels a little like the band are laying out their abilities to merely impress; an over-exaggerated evil, perhaps?

Illusion is far more beguiling and there is one particular work of art that sums up everything that is brilliant about Blinding White Noise. With intertwined rough and smooth layering pouring like colors out of “Maeva”, it’s a composition that, whilst forming just one more mountain top in a rolling range of peaks, is a piece of music that seems to transcend faceless labels. You simply couldn’t get away with calling it a “track” or a “song” without doing it an injustice, so I haven’t. At its core lies a series of spine-tingling change-ups that provide the platform for Tompkins to soak us in gloriously sweet emotion. His magnificent tone and eloquent words seem such a fitting place to end this review, so I’ll hand you over to him… “It’s so damn hard to let go / But take a chance / And survive, come together, embrace life / This is India!”

Also online @ The NewReview

Friday, April 20, 2012

Album Review: Tombstones – Year Of The Burial

Hailing from Norway, Tombstones refer to their music as Norweedian Doom which doesn’t give you much of a clue to quite how dark and dirty they are actually prepared to get. They are purveyors of chillingly doomy, stoner-riddled sludge. They roll around in the stuff releasing noxious emissions left, right and centre.

Following the unleashing of Volumes I and II, Year Of The Burial is their third album in four years, so they aren’t slow in dishing out slabs of bollock-jangling power and this is like listening to Acid King meets Acid Witch with a good dose of Bongzilla’s weighty grunt thrown in.

With dissonance and sustain applied in biblical amounts, each blissed-out down-tuned chord strike gently warps and twists but never quite reveals itself. The qualities of that mile-thick buzz are best heard in the opening long down-strokes of ‘Egypt’, a track that sidesteps from an epic crush into a stone-cold driving groove.

Whether they’re zoning out for the slow burns like ‘Quintessential’ and ‘Unveiling’ or gently chugging along for the rollers like ‘Sabbathian’ or ‘Silent Voice’, that buttock-clenchingly deep buzz rumbles ever onwards; the unstoppable force. It’s a sound that just seems to improve exponentially the higher you wind the volume up. Set it to “deafening roar” if you want to really rattle your windows.

If you suddenly become aware of someone shouting at you, it’s probably not Mrs Haggis from No. 74; rather, it’s the lead vocalist. Sounding like he’s standing alone at the back of some vast cathedral, Bjørn-Viggo Godtland’s cries out to the rafters, summoning forth any and all evil spirits from their hiding places. His crystal-clean wails are strangely stark against such a mucky foreground, and you’d probably be able to understand him, if it weren’t for the lavish amounts of reverb that have been applied. Recorded live in an Oslo studio in the midwinter, it’s the little indiscretions and that sudden contrast that leaves you feeling, wonderfully, like you’ve stumbled on a forbidden, gothic black mass.

Somewhat disappointingly, the tracks do all seem to blur into each other after a while, but the stoner swagger of the title-track is a solid attention-grabber. It steps up the pace to awaken the guitars from their reverie and, as they cough out malignant riffs, Godtland drops pitch to a sneer and spits forth black wads of dread. Venomous and bristling with murderous intention, it’s a vaguely-cosmic, grim venture into yet more dark corners.

At a miserly 39 minutes, it does feel a little short. It takes that long to settle into the sluggish pace of the songs, so all too quickly you stumble on the classic denouement, ‘Sabbathian’. It features a steadily hammering chug-and-chant that carves its way through, predictably sourcing the creator of heavy music for one last heavy-lidded, disembodied ramble down the dark path. Strangely, it’s the perfect finale for an album that, by beginning slowly and ending with plenty of bang, serves as a fitting tribute to glorious doom in all its multiple forms.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =  http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/04/tombstones-year-of-the-burial-soulseller-records/

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Album Review: One-Way Mirror – Destructive By Nature

Hands up who likes cheese. We all like cheese, right? We have our favorites too, possibly a mature Cheddar, a gooey Brie, some holey Emmenthal or a few slices of burger-lovin’, good-old processed American. The stuff is so moreish it deserves its own food group.

When it comes to music though, if it’s cheesy there’s plenty of folks are gonna turn their noses up and walk away. Perhaps, it’s their die-hardened old school, true or cvlt moralistic standpoints, perhaps it’s the fact that cheesy music tends to come with a whole charade of gimmicks that puts them off (e.g.; bands that wear coordinated outfits or those that sell weird, often vaguely pornographic, merch), or perhaps they’ve been burned in the past by former musical loves turning bad on them. They may even have had a sense of humor bypass. Me, I love cheese and think it’s almost essential to have a couple of cheesy bands in your collection. Hell, stick on some lounge or some nu-metal and you’ll find me swinging from the nearest obscenely-ornate chandelier.

This, naturally, brings me to the enigma that is those crazy Frenchmen . Having previously reviewed the band’s eponymous debut, I thought I knew what was coming with their latest effort, but was a little shocked all the same. With Destructive By Nature, there’s still plenty of cheese on show here – even that sumptuous artwork looks like squeezy-cheese. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of the stuff; a pastiche of yellows, off-whites and blues; a cloud of faint aromas that suddenly burst into noxious whiffs. It’s heavier than before and they’ve most certainly expanded their overt range of production and post-production techniques. The whole focus here is on the incredible diversity of vocal styles booting you regularly in the ears ranging from single, double and treble-layered vocal, gang and crowd chants, obscured sections, electronically-tweaked gargles, fuzzed bits, bass-boosted parts, grunts, screams, cleans and scratched on/off versions. Trust me, if you had a you’d want to have it in their studio, so you could, without hurting the bands feelings, pull the kind of incredulous faces you will be pulling when you hear this. It’s along the lines of getting chewed on by for doing a impression.

Take the opening few bars of the album as an example. Put simply, they use it to introduce themselves. Literally. The kick-drum pads out the timing… “One!” (crowd roar) “Way!” (crowd roar) “Mirr-or!” (crowd roar). Cue big electronic sample and in bursts Rouxel’s full drumkit. Cheesier than a ball of edam. Oh, and they’ve got a press release to match – “This album is not unlike shrapnel as it will embed itself in your system upon explosion. Some songs will make the fans bang their heads while others will simply decimate them altogether”. A wonderfully ludicrous claim and, I’m sorry, but I beg to differ.

This all feels like a bit of a step backwards. I kept listening for the addictive qualities that tracks like “Destination Device”, “As You Are Now”, “Empty Spaces” or “Sockracer”, from their debut, had in spades. That “stand up and pump your fist” hook or the “sing your heart out” anthemic lyrics to kick in, but I kept coming up with shoulders shrugged and bottom lip protruding. The groove through tracks like “Face To Face” and “Straight Into The Wall” have a sinister underbelly but there’s just no firey contents inside whilst the stinging bitchslaps of “Soupracer” and “Deadly Shores” is all fire and no subtlety. It’s almost like, by creating reverberating highly-strung walls that dive into charred chugs and by boosting Perdicaro’s rumbling bass-drive, they’ve lost the ability to punch out kick-ass lines to go with it. The verses are virtually obliterated by theatrical posturing and there’s no simple-structured switch up from there, meaning that the choruses come and go without sticking in your noggin.

They do have a bit of a crack at mixing it up. The uber-heavy thrash that blisters the surface of “Wasted Years” is a welcome addition, there’s a memorably pained howl in the verse of “Inner Symphony” and there’s a couple of sweet soaring choruses in “Unexpected” and “Made In Vain”, where their softer side comes through. Sadly though there’s just too much overlap and too much filler here. It’s a shame as they suckered me in with their yummy debut, where the contrast between rough and smooth, hook and drive, was pretty much bang on. If you’re new to OWM then, remember, the whole thing takes some getting used to (and this certainly improves with age) but if there’s nothing that grabs you on that first spin, it’s unlikely you’ll return for another nibble.

Also online @ The NewReview =  http://thenewreview.net/reviews/one-way-mirror-destructive-by-nature

Monday, April 16, 2012

Album Review: Heart Of A Coward – Hope & Hindrance

Back when were a raw old-school thrash-cum-metalcore tour-de-force; back when Jamie Graham was crushing all with his death metal vocal and his uncanny ability to work a crowd into a frenzy, no-one could have foreseen just how musically far apart the band and their frontman could end up. Now, without him on board, have honed their thrashier roots into a more technical, more melodic, altogether glossier end product, and seemingly stand worlds apart from the band that Graham has now joined, . And yet, here amongst the mathematical grousing of the guitars, the portentous breakdowns and Graham’s indignant howls, there are moments where the singer steers his voice back to a familiar nagging attack to match his new bandmates’ switch up to swaggering ‘core or shredded thrash; he’s definitely moved away from, but clearly hasn’t forgotten, his roots.

’s debut album has been almost two years in the making, with the band jumping through more hoops than a San Diego dolphin, but at last the finished product is upon us and it certainly seems keen to impress. Let’s just say Hope & Hindrance (a clear reference to their multiple tribulations), covers many, many bases. Take “Shade”, which grabs at a piece of everything leaving the track bulging with content. The shadow: the spitting bellow of Graham’s “You’re nothing but a fucking traitor / Suffer, bitch”. The sparkling ray of light: his soaring cleans (re-recorded by Graham after original second vocalist Timfy James left mid-recording) – “What have you become? / You’re nothing.”

More shade. There’s that aforementioned, antagonistic thrash, plenty of gang chanting trying to wedge itself into your memory banks and maniacal progressions a-plenty; progressions of the sort that seem happy pitching Graham’s thick death vocal into wailing guitar, and that into epic soundscaping. Follow that up with some -esque hammer, as palm-muted battery meets Graham’s agonized, lycanthropic baying, for “Nightmare” and you’ve stumbled on the album’s dark heart. Of course, that all walks hand in hand with the hardcore fury, gang chants and crushing breakdowns that lurk within the monumental crush of “Around A Girl (In 80 Days)” and the first four machine-gunned minutes of “Break These Chains” (before it fully loses the plot for the remaining three and resorts to the equivalent of a slowly-recycling brick in a tumble dryer over a looped playback of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene).

More sparkle. There’s the twinkling riff that melts the heart of the title-track and the sudden bursts of -ish dappling that fall at regular intervals throughout, mostly when you least expect them. Also, the dedicated ambient wash that the, appropriately titled, “Light” offers and the soft-touch melodics that litter the crystalline, wickedly-barbed choruses of “All Eyes To The Sky” and “We Stand As One”. I’m still struggling to believe how well Graham combines that mellifluous clean tone into the impressively cantankerous grot that more regularly flies from his gob, but for some reason it all seems to gel effectively.

Word of warning: this album definitely needs a fat-assed sub-woofer and plenty of volume to really blossom. I discover this after listening to it for the first week with naff iPod ear buds. Imagine my surprise then when I finally run it through my big-balled sound system. The opening rumble of “Motion” (this may have been retitled “Killing Fields” by the time you get it) makes the crockery rattle before dashing it all to the ground as Graham’s scarred roar kicks in. And, with the line “Smoke, mirrors, we won’t get out a-LIVE! We won’t get out a-LIVE! We’ll never be the S-A-A-A-AME”, I’m in pieces with the china.

Certainly, Hope & Hindrance is eager to please. Of course, the problem with all this to-ing and fro-ing between stylistic content is that the music takes a long time to bed in. It’s certainly a grower this one. I’ve been playing with it for a couple of weeks now and I still haven’t found its true value. It’s got heart, though, and like the recently-released debut by , it’s bursting with potential. Yes, this baby packs more punch than a Klitschko brother and the balance between its light and dark sides is, pretty much, bang on. Sure, there’s still plenty of rough edges, fine and dandy for a debut, but if they can tighten their belts and nail the songwriting by upping the riffage quotient, applying a touch more gusto to the choruses and giving their vessel a more purposeful sense of direction, they’ll be true lionhearts in this reviewer’s eyes.

Note: This is an edited version of my review, following the release of a PR statement regarding the recording of the album. The original appears online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/heart-of-a-coward-hope-hindrance

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Album Review: Ufomammut - Oro: Opus Primum

Doom is a genre which, to the untrained ear, can seem so simple and yet remains so complex that it has prompted Wino, one of doom’s most prolific artists, to claim it took him “15 years just to stay in tune”. One of the more expansive exponents of the genre, Ufomammut, have been eking out their laconic anthems of oppressive dread and invigorating power since 2000. This time around the Italian demons of doom and their unidentified flying mammoth (“mammut” being the Italian for “mammoth”) are back with a bold double-album release, the second part of which, Oro: Opus Alter, is due for release later in the year.

All of the band’s albums have a theme and Oro is no different. With a double meaning, encapsulated in its title, Oro combines the Italian palindromic word for “gold” and the Latin translation of “I pray” or “I speak”. The album itself delves into the concept of knowledge, power, fear and the human mind’s ability to distil those emotions into the kind of expensive bling you might find dangling from Mr. T’s bulging neck.

From the very first sounds of their aircraft powering down for ‘Empireum’, and the initiation of a steady speaker-to-speaker series of thrums and warbles, we are sucked from our burnt-out husks of lives and cast adrift into our own warped psyches by the music. The track builds from this point through emerging tom-thuds and snare-rolls, walking us down the spine of a twinkling riff, until we reach a battering crescendo of distortion, white noise and eventual overload.

Blacker, more menacing and far less captivating than the above are the tracks ‘Aureum’ and ‘Infearnatural’. The former drags us backwards through mud before hammering fuzzball chugs and dying vocals at us for 12 minutes or until we scream for mercy. It’s the more dastardly twin of those corpse-painted souls Primordial performing to the badgering rhythms of St. Vitus. With so many false endings it doesn’t seem to want to die, no matter how many times we hit it. The latter treads the same path with an even more sinister, all but obliterated, loop of spoken words.

‘Magickon’ returns to reprise ‘Empireum”s central riff, driving it through a couple of key changes, buzzing us back into oblivion. Hidden deep in the background are a series of vocalisations, a second track which only seems to become apparent when it begins to whine as it slowly sets about eating its own form. With ‘Mindomine’ venturing further into a wasteland of psychedelics, as monastic chanting leads us back towards Ufomammut’s penchant for cosmic drone, it’s something of a relief to spy the glowing exit sign.

Repeated plays allow a deeper connection to the changes of mood, the whole lysergic journey revealing itself as a maniacal descent into hell and back. Certainly, the message regarding the strengths and fundamental weaknesses of the human soul are potently clear. Despite my many reservations against repeating such a trip, it’s a message that I, somewhat worryingly, look forward to revealing further when they bring us the second half of the story.

Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2012/04/ufomammut-oro-opus-primum/

Monday, April 2, 2012

Festival Review: Hammerfest IV - The Hammer Of Thor

Hammerfest Four: The Hammer Of Thor. As you can imagine with a title like that it’s got to be the work of men who’ve worn far too many animal furs and supped too much mead for their own good. It comes as no surprise then, to learn that the event is the work of the UK’s “metal-as-fuck” print (and online) magazine Metal Hammer and the organizational team behind the Hard Rock Hell festival. What they’ve invented and honed over the years is an event that is more than just a music festival. With the luxury of a roof over your head, minimal security constraints, multiple bars and ample recovery periods free from having your ears obliterated (should you so need them), strangers, of all ages, come to be united by their love of heavy music (and, inevitably, heavy drinking).

Within minutes of arriving, I hear brain-mangling tuneage blasting from the cracked doors of every visible chalet, I witness Captain America wrestling Spiderman to the ground and I’m soon being followed by a ten-foot Satan, a built dude dressed like the front-cover of ’s The Hunter and a rather attractive young woman on stilts, seemingly being eaten by an alien. It’s hard not to be moved by such scenes of complete metal immersion.

It’s not long before I’m banging my head along with the rest of my brethren as (3.5/5) let loose a volley of earth-shattering bottom-end groove from the depths of the on-site pub, the Queen Victoria (otherwise known as the third stage). The beer flows as an array of beards, of varying lengths, bob up and down with their owners and horns are thrown to the sky. Moving on to (4/5), I quickly find myself reeling around the main stage pit as vocalist Mark Hunter peers down at his people, belching forth tracks from the band’s stunning new album The Age Of Hell. As the “Year Of The Snake” digs down to its earth-shaking dropped breakdown, the crowd slo-mo crunch together and time folds in on itself. It’s the peak of their show but, as it comes mid-set, it leads to the band coasting from here onwards.

(3/5) follow up by ducking from goth-rock melodics into brooding doom and back again whilst, on the second stage, late additions (3/5) dish up lashings of make-up and hairspray to go with their mile-wide stances and classic rawk. It’s not my cup of tea but the choons have got balls and, out front, there’s a sprinkling of gurning faces, so they must be doing something right. Headlining tonight, (4/5) are clearly here to bring tha noize (sorry) and frontman Joey Belladonna works the gathered masses like a pro. A blazing “Indians” is the moment when the seated-VIPs can no longer resist and arise to begin rocking out with those who have been throwing shapes and hurling bodies for the duration.

With the excellent (4.5/5) whipping up a storm of comedy and metal, those who survived the headliners begin to filter through and the lunatic quarter of Hammerfest begin to show their faces. Grown men in foil-covered cardboard boxes wade into the pit prompting plenty of laughs and pointing fingers as cries of “what the fuck is that?” hail from vocalist “Dr. Rabid Hell” (yes, really). One minute the band are lashing us with “Blacken The Everything”, a classy, post-apocalyptic powerhouse of a track, the next they are unleashing “Robototron” which reduces us to tears and has us dancing in squares. Even (3.5/5) can’t top that, so I slip into the shadows to seek out the refuge of my chalet and my mattress.

As the sun rises on scenes of carnage, I find myself transfixed by men, still drunk from the night before, headbutting each other, one leaping from great height onto a stack of mattresses, and a few hardy souls swapping it all for a brisk walk along the nearby wind-blasted beach to scrawl rude pictures and words into the sand.

Back with the music and the blundering wake-up call comes fittingly from a duo called (3/5). Their first note is a foghorn in my cochlea. It threatens to empty the pub in one foul swoop, but it’s not long before “He Who Strums & Shouts” is settling into a devilishly heavy groove. (4.5/5) pick that vibe up and churn it into a barrage of driven, technical metal. Yet it is the fragmented vocal exhortations of vocalist Jhon Isaac that really fire this band into life. They initiate all manner of contortions to Isaac’s body and face, they inspire wild hopping from foot to foot and prompt bassist Simon Edwards to lead the crowd into taking part in the shenanigans. By the storming “One Day”, we are bellowing the word “spatula” back at the band, giving ourselves whiplash and grinning from ear to ear.

Over on stage two, (3.5/5) keep the party going with plenty of gruff screams à la Angela Gossow from the back-arching vocalist Somi Arian, whilst the main stage is padding its way through the uninspiring power metal of Germany’s (2.5/5) and the sleep-inducing, crown-of-thorns agonizing of Hell (2/5). That is until the devoted hit the battering ram that is (3/5). Losing something in translation from the smaller stage, tonight they only really connect with the anthemic “Guardians Of Asgard” whilst the majority of tracks tend to lose their identity amidst an impenetrable wall of echoing guitar.

Wonderfully, (5/5) correct the balance as Benji Webbe orchestrates a packed house to swing their shirts above their heads, turn themselves into jack-in-the-boxes and dance until they drop. Ragga metal becomes a true force tonight, not just something to cleanse the palette, and, inevitably, it’s the bucking grooves of debut album Babylon that litter their set. From “Selector” and “Set It Off” to “Nobody” and “Pressure”, the build to the encore is one pile-driving monster to the next. By the time they sign off with the gargantuan “Stand For Something”, cosying up to ’s “Breathe”, and the bullet-to-the-brain that is “Warning”, the crowd have melted into puddles and the world is on its head.

What a finale then to the most wild of weekends. The music may have finished us off but it was the sense of fun that will have us writing next year’s event in our diaries. The knowledge that those attending will be freely opening their chalet doors and inviting us inside to discuss their love of music is the key. There can be no doubting here, that the organizers have succeeded in marrying the word “metal” to the word “community”.

Also online (with more photos) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/show-reviews/hammerfest-iv-prestatyn-uk