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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Album Review: Fir Bolg – Towards Ancestral Lands

For any one person to take it solely upon themselves to create music and get it heard is a victory for desire, dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness. Sure, eventually there is the potential for future help from management, a PR or a label, but all the way through there is only one who is creating the sounds. Dagoth is a member of the hallowed few to have achieved this and his band Fir Bolg is, by its very nature, a personal labour of love. It combines his passion for second wave black metal with his adoration of the Celts and their almost mythical tales of yore.

Mythology tells us that the Fir Bolg were an ancient race of people that ruled Ireland before the Tuatha Dé Danann. Their Irish name directly translates as “belly men” or “men of bags”, though it’s meaning is still the subject of some dispute. Quite why a Frenchman is so enamoured with their history is a little more baffling. However, back in 2006, Dagoth started work on creating the music and, seven years later, Towards Ancestral Lands is the result.

Early listens reveal that the emphasis of Fir Bolg’s long-desired debut album lies more with Dagoth’s black metal fervour than it does with his interest in rousing pagan folk music. It’s certainly a noteworthy combination but then this has been done before. Cruachan, Waylander and Primordial have led the pack out, but what is special about this particular one is Dagoth’s devotion to recreating the moves of his black metal forbears.

Although he has pulled in good friend Abaddon to perform the drum parts, he has written and tracked everything himself so it is very much a one-man concept. To this end, the music feels a little restricted by his own abilities. Due to it being extremely light on Celtic instrumentation (he does play bodhran and olifan, although you’d do well to spot them), Dagoth uses plenty of vocal power to plug any gaps. His gurgling vocals over simplistic pile-driving double-kicks and clanging guitar all come with a strong pagan twist à la Burzum but its the staple black metal riffs and lack of deviation between tracks that are most noticeable.

Underneath all the stomping about there are mythical tales of yore to convey and whilst much is rousing and tempestuous, there is plenty that gets lost amidst the gargled rants and scathing howls. One that stands out, “Strong Old Megalith”, comes with a simple, mind-raping riff and does a fine job of portraying the vast, immobile and timeless qualities of its subject matter, acting as a tonal standard-bearer for the remainder of the album. “Behind The Great Oppidum” is an avalanche of a track, the drum cacophony only giving way to allow Dagoth to roar maniacally and tear great lumps of flesh out his prey, whilst the thrashy “Blood Heritage”, pumps away like Devin’s “Juular” as the guitars throw down a series of Hatchet-esque riffs. “Banshees” and “Dun Aengus” are the first to truly impart that Celtic feel with crisp, acoustic stringwork playing a major role in setting the tone.

Star of the show here, the steady headbanger “Mag Tuired”, is the only track to really steal a march and actually grip you by the balls. Every sinew is strained and amidst the wall of vitriol and pulsing brain-veins the whole conceptual shebang slips into place. Whether intentional or not, the joy of Towards Ancestral Lands lies in its old-fashioned, uncomplex delivery. Shorn of any serious attempt at background soundscaping or degree of layering, the comedically heavy attack and ludicrously dark portent rises to the foreground. So yes, it may be wildly unoriginal and, at times, grindingly monotonous but it’s still a curiously enjoyable ride.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/11/fir-bolg-towards-ancestral-lands-schwarzdorn-productions/

Monday, November 25, 2013

Live Review: 36 Crazyfists, Armed For Apocalypse, Thera, Man The Machetes @ London Underworld 18/11/13

It’s late on a Monday night and The Underworld in Camden is packed to capacity. When they’re not crowdsurfing, cheering or chanting, this sea of metalheads are bouncing about like lunatics. Who cares that they may well have already seen this same line-up take the same stage just 4 days prior? So what if they have probably got early starts and another day of work waiting for them tomorrow? Who gives a shit about the cold and dreary weather waiting outside for them? None of these things have stopped them, because this community does not have time to rest. Not when their heroes are in town.

Rewind back a few hours and Norway’s Man The Machetes, surrounded by American bands and a British public, must feel a little overwhelmed. There’s probably only 50-odd people watching as they open up but, due to their fervour and lead vocalist Chris Iversen’s increasingly-desperate attempts to make contact with his audience, that number doubles as they progress through their set. Throughout they establish their monstrous driving rhythm and keep it churning away. Like animals they feed the machine with punkish enthusiasm and pistoning rock chops to create what is essentially constant motion in sound. The drum rhythms piston back and forth, the guitar chords kinetically swirl and those bellowed vocals connect like a series of rotating cogs.

From the storming “Hjemkomst”, via the gang-chanted “Slagen” to their powerful lead single “Mageplask”, the bare-chested, bare-footed Iversen is the focal point. The rest of the band throw their instruments and themselves around the stage but he’s bridging the gap, across the tiny photo pit, to reach the crowd, then he’s on the railings at the side of the stage, then he’s in with the fans. “I’m coming in with you for this one” he warns as he vaults the barrier and proceeds to serenade his audience up nice and close. The crowd’s real-time reaction may have been muted, and at times horrified, but these five lads’ superhuman efforts won’t have been forgotten easily.

Ever growing to capacity for the headliners, the swell of fans who caught Thera, Crazyfists’ Alaskan buddies, will have witnessed a surprisingly gentile assault on the senses. Their emotive rockcore theatrics tonight divide the crowd nicely, with the bullying husband and wife vocal team pushing their soaring rhythms to some pretty interesting places. They may be a little rough around the edges tonight, with some of their more melodic touches getting lost in the ether, but for those that are finding it all a little light on substance there is a reward of a big, beefy groove near the end.

Armed For Apocalypse play the role of warm-up act perfectly. Their brand of filthy Californian rock and roll is right up the crowd’s street and the joyous reaction to their material is duly noted. Tonight, they pour on some pretty rocked-up grooves that bitchslap their way through to epic Unearth-esque soloing and down in to reach a triple-guitar, grinding, Crowbar-esque, sludge metal attack. With Kirk, Kyle and Nate all giving it the biggun’ on vocals, the fans begin to pit like demons and there is plenty of hair whips and vocal encouragement to keep them spinning.

By the time 36 Crazyfists take the stage, the place is rammed and the place is buzzing. Somewhere amidst the rabble of a million voices, a chant goes up and the band duly appear to a hero’s welcome. You’d have thought that being formed nigh on 20 years ago, this tight-as-fuck quartet of bruisers would be suffering from some kind of metalcore backlash by now, but their status as underdogs seems to endure and their desire to own the stage has remained. The hulking figure of Brock Lindow marks him out for he truly is one of the best frontmen out there. He wastes no time in telling this audience just what he thinks of them – a pause, a disbelieving stare and a simple “Monday night, eh? This is unbe-liev-able” is enough to have the crowd, his crowd, eating out of the palm of his hand. He’s a blur of motion as he swaggers back and forth across this small stage to reach out, fist-bump and hold out the microphone to his public.

A constant stream of thundersome classics like “Vanish”, “Turns To Ashes” and “Bloodwork” keep the circle pits swirling and the crowdsurfers coming but it’s their forthcoming newbies “Also Am I” and “Time And Trauma” that really get the tastebuds twitching. Driven, addictive and enduring, the songs tick all the boxes and judging by the reception they get here tonight, that forthcoming album is going to fly off the shelves. As the end draws near, Lindow gives it the big wind-up and like clockwork “Destroy The Map” drops and kicks off the biggest circle pit of the night. The reaction to “Installing The Catheter” and “Slit Wrist Theory” are like bombs going off and deftly these canny Alaskan bastards lay waste to an audience. Gasping for air, they exit into the bright lights of Camden Town like newborns, blinking and discombobulated.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/11/36-crazyfists-afa-london/

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Album Review: Motörhead – Aftershock

For those old souls who were seduced by the speed-happy, grime-slicked rock n’ roll of Motörhead in their heyday, but have lost touch since, Aftershock represents a fascinating opportunity to explore just how much of their trademark sound has changed over the years. The timing for a retrospective glance couldn’t be better since the trio of Lemmy Kilmister, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee, who currently form Motörhead’s longest-standing partnership of 20 years, have chosen album number twenty-one to reconnect with some of that old school bluster that has made them the legendary act that they are.

The first thing you’ll notice, when comparing the old with the new, is that the production values are through the roof. There are more layers on this thing than a prize-winning onion. Guitarist Phil Campbell gave us all a heads-up on this fact when he claimed in a recent interview that Aftershock definitely had “a growl to it” (“I slammed a load of guitars on there, I didn’t tune differently but I did go for a dirty sound”, he imparted). The enormity of all those tracks competing for equal power has helped Lemmy, now singing with reduced echo, to nestle within the band rather than dominate. His vocal may be a little flabbier, delivered at a lower register and somewhat less vitriolic, but it still comes with plenty of snarl and with a whole bag of gravel poured in. He sounds almost Joe Cocker-esque at times – a fact which shows up to greatest effect on their party-piece “Last Woman Blues”.

Their songwriting has, in keeping, slackened a little from their “live fast, die young” approach, yet Aftershock doesn’t balk at the opportunity to occasionally bare its teeth – a definite sign of improvement over some of their more recent efforts. By turns, it maintains a happy balance between the rough and the smooth offering up a more eclectic mix of speeds to tune into. It’s definitely a little bluesier with sharp stabs of rock n’ roll thrown in as opposed to their usual fare of greased-up biker grind. Their lyrical ethos hasn’t strayed far but there are less of those quintessential gritty, hammer-down powerplays. The end results have produced songs like “Dust And Glass” – a fine example of a band with their seats fully-reclined and with one wrist on the steering wheel. However, fear ye not. The classic Motörstomp and skidding Motörgrind rhythmic structures are still present and correct – “Queen Of The Damned”, with its thundering bass, is a grown-up “Ace Of Spades” whilst “Going To Mexico” has all the “lads on tour” rock and rumble of a real oldie like “Stay Clean”. What we’re left with is a band that has moved away from that early period Hawkwind-esque scratched-up, scrawling live-geared sound that marked them out as heroes, to one that is capable of doing it all and giving us a crisp, rich-sounding and well-defined recording that will slay when they hit the stage.

Considering Motörhead have been on slow-down over the past couple of years (Lemmy’s long-term health problems recently resulted in him being fitted with a defibrillator), so a record of this quality is quite a shock to the system (pun intended). “Coup De Grace” bristles with energy, the bass ramming through into each grungy chorus whilst the hectic drive and fiery riffing of “End Of Time” sends us kicking and screaming into the monstrously joyful rock rhythm of “Do You Believe”. Wonderfully, “Lost Woman Blues” takes the pace back and piles on the smooth groove as Lemmy and Phil treat us to the ultimate in cool whilst “Silence When You Speak To Me” sees Phil laying on the wild solo and ten-foot chug whilst Lemmy stares us out and tells us just who’s boss – “You may say no but not to me / Silence, Silence”.

Essentially, what Aftershock offers is a thoroughly enjoyable romp over fourteen solid tracks. Consistently solid, the album starts strong and finishes stronger as stonkers like “Lost Woman Blues”, “End Of Time”, the sweet boogie of “Crying Shame” and the swagger of “Keep Your Powder Dry” are big and ugly enough to keep you coming back for more. Over recent years, there can be no doubt that their albums have all had their weaknesses with only Inferno really able to stand shoulder to shoulder with classics like Overkill, Ace Of Spades, 1916 and Bastards. Aftershock may not have come from the same dark hole that spawned those bad boys, but as a statement of intent, it’s right up there with them.

Also online @ The Line Of Best Fit = http://thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/motorhead-aftershock-141482

Friday, November 8, 2013

Album Review: Exivious – Liminal

My first experience of Exivious finds me questioning my relationship with metal and my own expectations of metal – at what point does something stop being metal and start being something else? The reason for this self-analysis is due to the Dutch instrumental collective’s attempts to “amalgamate jazz fusion with metal”. Previous attempts to unite the genres of jazz and metal have given us mixed results. From the marmite chaos created by bands like T.R.A.M. via the varied assortment of modern tech, djent and prog bands through to Ihsahn’s own morbid musings and the maniacal black jazz of Shining. Exivious lean far heavier on their jazz leg than they do on their modern metal leg, whilst their Encylopedia Metallum-suggested “death metal” leg appears to have been well and truly amputated. Think T.R.A.M. plus Chimp Spanner plus ambidjent fiend Cloudkicker and you’ll have a rough idea of what Liminal sounds like.

The smooth groove of jazz fusion tends to throw all sorts of spanners into the works and I’m quite willing to sit here and quote 70s jazz groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report at you all day, but as a metalhead writing for a metal website, I feel duty-bound to write with my horned metal hat on, rather than my equally brassy jazz one. What Liminal offers is plenty of accessible rhythmic grooves and overlapping guitar noodling but a vast dearth of songwriting passion. One thing, this type of music has to do is grip you emotionally and it’s missing that vital edge. Tonally, you can switch on and drop out because there is little variation of strength here. All too often, Exivious eschew aggression or, conversely, restraint and, as a consequence, the “starbursts of noise” and “breathless interludes” that they claim to have created are few and far between.

“One’s Glow”, for instance, happily pootles along, seemingly without any particular destination, as an overlapping funk guitar and powerful thumbed bassline providing little more than a backing track. “Deeply Woven” brings with it a slightly chunkier heartbeat that is part-Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, part-T.R.A.M., providing an opening platform for the lead guitar, then sax, to skiddily warble their way up and down the scales – the result is unsettling jazz that throws you from pillar to post. “Triguna” and “Entrust”, despite struggling to ever fully kick off, show potential and as such are possible growers. The nail in the coffin here, though, is the gut-wrenching key change that lurks in “Open”, which only emphasizes just how clunky the construction is – everything from the insipidly warm riff to the patchwork of chugs.

It’s all rather criminal when you consider that there are beautifully-constructed songs lurking within. “Alphaform”, for instance, is a rhythmically-static and richly-layered, multi-part creation. From the inherently addictive riff that drives it, to the soft-souled breakdown it’s worth checking out. Fans of the stormchasing blockbuster Twister with its Mark Mancina-composed, Eddie & Alex Van Halen-performed end credits will know what to expect. Similarly effective, “Movement” is an expansive, wildly imaginative dream, whilst “Immanent” adds grit and verve with a jagged bottom line and, opposing it, a lead with a mischievous sense of purpose about it. These three are, without doubt, written as straight-up post-rock numbers to offset the braggadocio of their brethren – as such, they divide the album, irreparably, into two separately-impacting halves. Looks like I’ll need both those hats after all!

Liminal, a word that implies an edge or threshold, seems like an ironic title when you consider that the technically-proficient Exivious, in both their post-rock and jazz fusion forms, appear to operate within a confined range. Their music rarely ventures down to the heavier end of the spectrum nor can it be described as a manifestly soft touch. Rather, it consists of a recumbent, middle ground approach to songwriting. Considering other tech-happy, fleetingly ambient bands like Tesseract, Uneven Structure and even Textures (featuring former band member Stef Broks) find room within their structures to bring both the hefty and the ethereal, it seems unusual that an instrumental band, sans vocalist, would not. Hypothetically, they’d have more room to explore these edgier qualities – especially if metal was a desired territory of theirs, right? Laid-back, undoubtedly self-indulgent but strangely intriguing, this may be metal but not as we know it.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/11/exivious-liminal-season-of-mist/

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Album Review: Spirits Of The Dead – Rumours Of A Presence

A quick glance around reveals just how far this modern obsession for all-things retrospective has come. From the re-emergence of the flared trouser or a penchant for all things eyeball-meltingly fluorescent to our longing for the foods we grew up with or the analogue sounds that so inspired our forebears.

Throwing in their two penn’orth, the suitably-monikered Spirits Of The Dead have gone for the latter and have set about exploring their own heroes’ musical echoes. This latest album of theirs has emerged laden with strong psychedelic and lush folk elements. It reeks of all things Floydian and Zeppelian. Its propulsive drive wraps itself around the subjects of death and the sea, drowning us in an incandescent tapestry of lyrics. But does it stand out from the sudden crowd of like-minded groups that has formed, all of them seemingly staring over their shoulders?

Having preciously dipped my toes in the melting pot of their 2008 self-titled debut and emerged with my pinkies dripping of King Crimson, Dead Meadow and Black Sabbath goo, I can assure you that they haven’t watered down their music any. Whilst this may start with the sun in its eyes, it quickly finds some shadows in which to lurk. In fact, the deeper you venture, the more inventive and impressive their music becomes. Naturally, everything within is enveloped in a warm, fuzzball production, like it’s been wrapped in cellophane and kept near the radiator for several decades.

Openers “Wheels Of The World” and the more expansive “Song Of Many Reefs” offer up big, meaty mouthfuls of 70s folk rock that echo the silken, pulsating rhythms of goliaths like Fleetwood Mac, Zeppelin and Emerson Lake and Palmer. A step back and “Golden Sun” hones the nostalgic vibe, removing the harsh, top-end chime of the guitars to leave a tone that glows with gentle proggy touches. The thick, spongy bass within provides the finishing touch – a comforting, warped groove to bolster the craftily-hooked chorus.

They haven’t fully shaken off their inability to keep the music flowing throughout. The staggered drop-off into the album’s mid-riff is a little off-putting leaving the listener struggling to connect the dots and continue their journey. “Dance Of The Dead”, a seemingly unfinished one-riff lope, spends its woefully-brief minute-and-a-half simply rising and falling like a ship lost at sea, and “Rumours Of New Presence” chaotically splits its focus, frogmarching us from a spacey, Hammond-dominated number into a dark, panic-stricken Sabbathian march.

Thankfully, the final trio of the “Red Death”, “Seaweed” and “Oceanus” are all tracks worth hanging in there for. The former is full of menace and obeyance to the forefathers of doom, with vocalist Ragner Viske giving it the full stoner growl and Ole Øvstedal’s chords shaking the ground like falling rocks, whilst the latter couplet tout an acoustic hush and a psychedelic vocal warble that thrust the soft tones of America’s “A Horse With No Name” at the majesty of early-Tull to really drive home their more folky leanings.

So, yes, it’s an album that may not be faultless, but quibbling over such small things seems a little petty when you consider the quality of the remainder. Spirits Of The Dead aren’t just copying their idols here, like retro giants Graveyard and Witchcraft they are paying them the greatest tribute by reinventing these quadrageneric artistic touches to fit a thoroughly modern template.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/11/spirits-of-the-dead-rumours-of-a-presence-the-end/