Monday, March 28, 2011

Branch Arterial - Voices Unknown

Branch Arterial
Voices Unknown
Independent Release

Although there’s always been a representation of progressive rock throughout the years, it’s only been within the last decade that acts such as Karnivool, Sleep Parade and Dead Letter Circus have really pushed the movement to the surface and shown the world that there’s more to Australian music than the staple rock and roll of days gone by.
With the growing success of the scene (Not to mention the acts mentioned above), it comes as little surprise to find more and more acts emerging from the underground to add their mark to the growing scene. And the latest name to add to growing numbers is Melbourne based outfit Branch Arterial.
Founded a little more than a year ago, the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Nigel Jackson, guitarist/vocalist Jason Worthy, guitarist Adam Hompas, bassist Ernie Carpanzano and drummer Darren Hurford) have played some high profile gigs alongside local acts such as Bellusira and Jericco, all the while spending time refining the songs and sound in the rehearsal studio in preparation for their recording debut.
Five months after announcing the commencement of recording, Branch Arterial has officially released their debut E.P. ‘Voices Unknown’. And quite simply, the band certainly hasn’t wasted their time in the build up to recording the real thing.
The band opens up the E.P. with ‘Emenala’, which is essentially a minute long introductory piece that quickly sets the scene for the remainder of the E.P. Right from the outset, it’s clear that Jackson has the vocals to pull off something like this off, and the band certainly know their way around a catchy chorus to suck you in from the word go.
With ‘Temple’, the band shows off the harder edge to their sound, with the song blasting out after a gentle intro. The production is a little dulled in places, but the strong sense of melody in the choruses, and the big guitar riffs more than make up for the initial lack of impact the song would otherwise make when performed live.
‘Devil In The Deep’ ups the energy levels and the heavier aspects of the band’s sound, with Jackson putting in a commanding performance where his higher vocals come to the fore, while ‘Sleep Sound’ and ‘Israel’ gently ebbs and flows, with the progressive aspect of the band’s overall sound primarily driven within the band’s musical backdrop.
The real highlight of the E.P. however is found the closing song ‘Gotham’. It’s here that the band really stretch out and take their sound to an entirely new level, with the song taking on several different feels and textures, without losing any of its character along the way.
Although you can clearly hear influences by A Perfect Circle, Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus throughout the six tracks on the E.P., Branch Arterial has put together quite an impressive debut effort, and who will undoubtedly continue to do so well into the future.

For more information on Branch Arterial, check out - http://www.myspace.com/brancharterial

© Justin Donnelly

Clagg - Lord Of The Deep


Clagg
Lord Of The Deep
Obsidian Records

Within the Australian doom/metal scene, Melbourne (Victoria) based outfit Clagg is certainly one of the more recognised bands doing the rounds, with the long running outfit earning their esteemed reputation through the release of four highly acclaimed studio efforts (2003’s self titled E.P., 2005’s ‘Let The Galaxy Burn’, 2007’s ‘Where Dead Gods Sleep’ and 2009’s ‘Lord Of The Deep’) and their crushing live performances.
It’s been two years since ‘Lord Of The Deep’ was first released (Through Sydney based independent label 666 Records), and with the album’s initially pressing having completely sold out, Brisbane based label Obsidian Records and Clagg have decided to join forces and give the album a second chance at greater exposure with a much needed re-release.
Over the years, Clagg (Who now comprise of vocalist Scotty, guitarists Tom and Vman, bassist/backing vocalist Sammy and drummer Tim) have evolved and shifted sound with every new release. And as you would expect, ‘Lord Of The Deep’ is no different in that respect. But while Clagg’s previous efforts have been quite strong and memorable, there’s no denying that the band’s latest effort is by far their best yet.
The opening track ‘Carrion’ is a sprawling sixteen minute behemoth of a track, and fairly typical of what we’ve all come to expect. Slow and brooding, the track isn’t big on tempo changes or speedier moments (Although there are notable changes of moods and speed in places throughout its entire duration), but does make up for some subtle contrasts in the textures the two guitars provide, its sheer heaviness when it does finally kick into gear and Scotty’s continual bruising vocal performance.
The two part title track ‘Lord Of The Deep’ is again another epic with a running time of close to sixteen minutes, and nothing short of a gamble for the band and the attention span of some listeners. But thankfully, the band provide plenty of twists and turns in both movements, with the two parts (The slow and funeral doom dirge of ‘Part I - They Dream Fire’ and the mid-paced and more instrumentally based ‘Part II - At The Rising Of The Storm’) linked by a common musical theme, but separate enough to stand out from one another.
The hypnotic old-school Black Sabbath swing within ‘Buried’ is a welcome diversion from the darker overtones of the two former tracks, with duel vocals adopted by Scotty helping give the song that extra bit of spice, while his clean vocals on the rather straight forward doom track ‘Harvest’ is something completely different and unexpected from the band, in a good way.
Bringing the original album to a close is ‘Devour The Sun’, which is by far the most intense sounding track on the album (Both in terms of Scotty’s rasping growls and the biting guitar sounds), and also another to boast a rare inclusion of a guitar solo.
As part of this re-release, Clagg have included a bonus cover of Iron Monkey’s ‘Big Loader’ (Which first appeared on their self titled debut from 1997), which the band has long cited as one of their biggest influences. As expected, the song does have a different feel from the rest of the album, but nonetheless is given justice in the band’s hands, and is a worthy addition to the album.
Some of the success of ‘Lord Of The Deep’ comes down to the band’s current line-up, some of it can be put down to song writing and the overall crushing sound they have throughout the album (Which can be credited to Blood Duster’s Jason P.C., who co-recorded, produced and mixed the album), and some comes down to plain consistency on the album from start to finish. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that ‘Lord Of The Deep’ is a huge release for Clagg, and one that fans of doom metal (Or Clagg for that matter) won’t be disappointed with one bit.

For more information on Clagg, check out - http://www.myspace.com/clagg

© Justin Donnelly

Conflicted - Never Be Tamed


Conflicted
Never Be Tamed
Nightmare Records

Over the last three years, Canadian act Conflicted have certainly earned themselves a lot of publicity within the local scene, with the band taking out the award for Best Metal Band at the 2010 Toronto Independent Music Awards, as well as scoring three prominent awards at ImageFM Radio’s 2010 Annual Independent Music Awards.
With the band’s growing presence within the scene, and the slow building acclaim for their independently released self-titled E.P. and live performances, it’s not surprising to find the band being quickly snapped up by Nightmare Records, who have the honour of releasing the band’s debut full-length effort ‘Never Be Tamed’.
After a short introductory keyboard piece (‘After Too Long’), the five piece act (Who currently comprise of vocalist Jason Orton, guitarist Mark Owen, bassist John Kolodziej, keyboardist Ron De Coste and drummer Corey Stoll) quickly launch into the album’s title track ‘Never Be Tamed’. If proof were needed as to why Conflicted have generated such a buzz within the underground scene, then ‘Never Be Tamed’ provides plenty of it. From the biting guitar riffs, the neo-classical shredding solos, the atmospheric keyboards to Orton’s impressive range on the vocals (Which brings to mind Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens), Conflicted present listeners with a huge sound and demonstrate enough flair in song writing to make the song really stand out. In short, ‘Never Be Tamed’ is a killer opener, and a credit to the band’s abilities on all fronts.
On the mid-paced follow up effort ‘Victor(ia)’ allows keyboardist De Coste and guitarist Owen to showcase their trade offs between each other, while on ‘Fallen’ (The first promotional video clip filmed for the album) and ‘I Wish. I Remember’, the band further explore the progressive rock side of their sound with Orton fully showcasing his range and De Coste taking on a lead role in helping shape the direction of the songs varied tempos and moods.
The straight forward ‘The Hand Of God’ is easily another favourite with its heavy riff structures and catchy choruses, while ‘Stay’ and ‘Heat Me Up’ are worthy follow up efforts, with Orton’s performances on the pair by far his best on the album as a whole.
Steering more towards the neo-classical/progressive power metal side of things are ‘Alive’ and ‘Torment’, while the closing effort ‘Release’ seems to sum up all the different aspects and feels that make up the Conflicted sound all within the one track.
Although some of the song writing isn’t all that amazing, and the production a little too focussed on Orton rather than the band itself, overall it’s not all that surprising to see why Conflicted have had a lot of people talking. ‘Never Be Tamed’ is an impressive debut, and will appeal to those who have always wondered what Kamelot would sound like if they were fronted by a guitar wielding Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.

For more information on Conflicted, check out - http://www.conflicted.ca/

© Justin Donnelly

Feral - Dragged To The Altar


Feral
Dragged To The Altar
Ibex Moon Records

Initially starting out as a parody act (When the band were known simply as Valmer & Hook), Swedish outfit Feral have slowly taken on a more serious tone with their eventual change of name, and soon started to shed their black/death metal sound to take on a more death ‘n’ roll influenced direction.
Having laid down several demos, and touring throughout Europe as support to long running death metal legends Master, it wasn’t long before the five piece act (Comprising of vocalist Hook, guitarists Svarte Petter and Markus ‘Big Mac’ Lindahl, bassist Valmer and drummer Damien) were picked up by Ibex Moon Records, who have duly released the band’s debut full-length effort ‘Dragged To The Altar’.
Hailing from Sweden, and playing death ‘n’ roll, the first impression that springs to my mind prior to hearing a thing from Feral is the almighty Entombed. And sure enough, once you hit play and the band launch into the opening track ‘Once Inside The Tomb’, there’s no denying the comparisons between the two acts. But while Feral bear a striking similarity to Entombed, there’s enough subtle differences to distinguish the two from one another. Hook’s vocals are deeper and more bodied sounding than those of L-G
Petrov, while the overall production is a little cleaner than anything Entombed produced back in the day, without sounding too sterilised or removed from what many would consider the death ‘n’ roll sound represents.
The up-tempo ‘Altar Of Necromancy’ (Which originally appeared on Soulseller Records’ 2009 compilation ‘Resurrected In Festering Slime’), the slower paced ‘Judas’ and ‘Welcome To The Graveyard’ (Which the band filmed a promotional video clip for) are early favourites on the first half of the album, and demonstrate the band’s ability to provide plenty of variation on the album, while the trio of faster paced tracks in ‘The Curse Of The Casket’, ‘Behead The Crucifix’ and ‘Malevolent Summoning’ help ensure the band finish the album off in a truly killing manner.
If you’re looking for Feral to bring something new to the table, then you’ll most likely be disappointed with what’s on offer. But in terms of capturing the classic death ‘n’ roll sound of the past, ‘Dragged To The Altar’ is a true homage to the greats, and an overall grooving death ‘n’ roll blast from start to finish.

For more information on Feral, check out - http://www.feral.se/

© Justin Donnelly

Omision - In The Shadow Of The Cross


Omision
In The Shadow Of The Cross
Chaos Records

Omision is a band that was originally founded by vocalist/guitarist Heriberto Perez as far back as 1993, with the sole intention of banging out old school death metal. But despite his best attempts to keep the band active, the numerous line-up changes proved to be too much, and he soon put the band on hold in 1997.
Fast forward three years and Perez decided to reactivate Omision. Again, the band went through several line-up changes throughout the years, but through sheer perseverance, they continued to exist in one form or another, and even managed to produce two demos within that time (2006’s ‘Pile Up In The Morgue’ and 2007’s ‘Utopia Of Chaos’).
Within the last couple of years, things were looking up for Omision with what appeared to be solidified line-up (Joining Perez is ex-Incantation/Infinitum Obscure guitarist Roberto Lizarraga, Ignis Occultus bassist Ixca Lopez and ex-Sadistic Intent/Infinitum Obscure drummer Joel Marquez) and a deal with Asphyxiate Recordings about to be signed. But as fate would have it, the label folded before the band had a chance to release anything, and the Tijuana (Mexico) based outfit was once again back to square one.
But while the door was closed on one label front, it did open up another, with the band signing up with emerging Mexican label Chaos Records. And some ten years after reforming, Omision has finally unveiled their debut full-length album ‘In The Shadow Of The Cross’.
The best way to describe Omision’s music is old school death metal with a definite thrash influence. And a good indication for what’s in store for listeners over the course of the entire album can be heard in the opening title track ‘In The Shadow Of The Cross’. With the ominous sound of church bells, the guitarists slowly open up proceedings with a thrash-like guitar sound, before launching into a full-on death metal attack. Perez’s guttural vocal attack, coupled with the chaotic speed of the rest of the band, Omision put forth quite a damaging sound, with just the right mix of thrash and death metal to keep things varied and interesting.
Both ‘Your God’, ‘Fallen Angels’ and ‘Assault In The Vatican’ show that the band aren’t afraid to slow things down and allow some of the groovier and more atmospheric elements of their sound to take over from the heavier riffs, while tracks such as ‘Won’t Be Saved’, the pulverising ‘Pray’, ‘Seeking The Holy Throne’ and ‘The Downfall’ are pretty much the kind of death/thrash-like efforts you would expect from the band.
The sound is a little muddied in places, and the riffs utilised throughout the album don’t always have the crushing effect you would hope for, but for what it is, ‘In The Shadow Of The Cross’ is a solid album through and through, and should at least help the band get their name out after their lengthy stretch in virtual obscurity in the underground.

For more information on Omision, check out - http://www.myspace.com/omisionmx

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Haunted - Unseen

The Haunted
Unseen
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

You can’t help but admire Swedish melodic death metal/post-thrash outfit The Haunted and their willingness to change with every new release in order to break free from falling into the trap of simply rehashing the same sound time and time again. Much in the same way the band have gradually evolved and shifted direction over the course of their three previous releases (Namely 2004’s ‘rEVOLVEr’, 2006’s ‘The Dead Eye’ and 2008’s ‘Versus’), the band’s seventh and latest full-length effort ‘Unseen’ sees The Haunted further exploring regions well and truly beyond their more recent post-thrash sound, to emerge with what is undoubtedly their most daring piece of work to date.
With its heavy riffing (Courtesy of guitarists Anders Björler and Patrik Jensen) and thundering rhythms from the bass and drums (From Jonas Björler and Per M. Jensen respectively), ‘Never Better’ appears to be a fairly standard opener for The Haunted, with the song primarily rooted in a heavy thrash sound. But just when you thought you had The Haunted figured out, the band throw in something completely unexpected, and shatter any illusions of predictability. In this case, it’s primarily down to vocalist Peter Dolving, whose use of clean vocals within the choruses single-handedly alters the whole vibe of the song. Rather than relying purely on aggression, the song’s strength instead lies within its huge melodies, with the thrash-like influences relegated to a supporting role.
As different as the opener is, it doesn’t compare to the stark change of direction the band heads in with ‘No Ghost’. Moving more towards the Southern doom/stoner direction (By way of Corrosion Of Conformity meets Clutch), and a vocal performance from Dolving that’s equally unexpected, ‘No Ghost’ is the very definition of different for The Haunted, and definitely the sort of track that will bitterly divide fans.
After a somewhat eclectic start to the album, the band find a balance between Dolving’s strong up-front melodies and the band’s more mid-paced groove based thrashers on songs such as ‘Catch 22’, ‘Disappear’ and ‘Motionless’, while ‘The Skull’, ‘Them’ and ‘The City’, despite lacking the bite and venom of some of The Haunted’s more aggressive efforts, they do still manage to pack a punch, and prove to be the heaviest offerings this album has to offer.
Elsewhere, the remainder of the songs on ‘Unseen’ has quite an air of experimentalism about them, with the title track ‘Unseen’ veering into the realm of what A Perfect Circle might sound like if they took on a more thrash/groove metal influence, while the short acoustic based ‘Ocean Park’ is primarily a Dolving effort, and is along a similar line to ‘Infernalis Mundi’ – one of the bonus studio cuts from the band’s live C.D./D.V.D. ‘Road Kill’ package from 2010.
Towards the tail end of the album, the band manage to surprise with a rather catchy effort in the rockier sounding ‘All Ends Well’, before finishing things up on a bit of a darker and moodier note with ‘Done’ – a track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘The Dead Eye’.
Unlike some of The Haunted’s previous albums, ‘Unseen’ is by far their most varied and experimental effort to date, and one that does take time to fully appreciate.
Fans of The Haunted’s earlier efforts aren’t likely to get much out of ‘Unseen’. But for fans who have enjoyed the band’s output since reuniting with Dolving, ‘Unseen’ is a bold statement from a band who refuse to limit themselves musically, and who would rather challenge listeners (And themselves) over doing the same thing time and time again.

For more information on The Haunted, check out - http://www.the-haunted.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Hour Of The Wolf - Decompositions Vol. 1


Hour Of The Wolf
Decompositions Vol. 1
Think Fast! Records

Formed out of the ashes of hardcore/metalcore act Life In Pictures (Who in their six year existence managed to produce 2003’s ‘Songs From The Sawmill’ E.P. for Limekiln records and 2005’s ‘Sign Of The Spyglass’ full-length for Clockwork recordings), Prescott (Arizona, U.S.) based punk/rock outfit Hour Of The Wolf has spent the better part of the last five years keeping themselves busy with a host of E.P.’s and split releases to their name, as well as maintaining a presence on the live front with tours alongside well known acts such as Terror, Against All Authority and Bleeding Through.
Surprisingly enough, the five piece act (Who comprise of vocalist Lance, guitarist/vocalist Addison Math, guitarist Hank, bassist Pat Callaway and drummer Dustin ‘Sweat’ Phillip Hanna) have decided to re-release their entire catalogue of E.P.’s, split releases and one off recordings over two full-length efforts. The first release from the projected comprehensive two disc anthology from Think Fast! Records have finally arrived under the self depreciating banner of ‘Decompositions Vol. 1’.
Hour Of The Wolf open up this compiled effort with ‘Domestic Wild’, which is a brand new track, and one that well and truly gives the album a rocking start to proceedings. Part rock and part punk, Hour Of The Wolf certainly have a different sound to most within the scene, but one that definitely stands out for all the right reasons with its unbridled energy and use of infectious melody within a hard rocking/punk rock framework.
The next nine tracks are lifted from the band’s debut 2006 E.P. ‘Power Of The Wolf’ (Which was originally released through Limekiln Records), which songs such as the fast paced and metallic sounding ‘Eat You Alive’, the rocking drive of ‘Spit It Right Back’, ‘Wild Man’, ‘Burn It’ (Which clearly sounds reminiscent of AFI in places, particularly on the vocal front with Lance adopting a very Davey Havok-like approach within his phrasing of the choruses) and the band’s note for note cover of Black Flag’s ‘Fix Me’ standing out as the E.P.’s stronger efforts.
Finishing up the disc is a collection of three previously unreleased covers. Much like their take on ‘Fix Me’, the band’s rendition of The Nerve Agents’ ‘Fall Of The All American’ and Kid Dynamite’s ‘Breakin’s A Memory’ are fairly true to the originals, and slot well against the band’s own material. It’s only their version of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ that falls a little short of expectations, with the recording quality sounding quite raw and bootleg-like.
Putting aside the closer, ‘Decompositions Vol. 1’ is a fantastic release from start to finish, and a true collectors item for fans.
Hour Of The Wolf is hands down one the most enjoyable punk/rock act’s I’ve heard in years, and one I’ll definitely keep an eye out for well beyond the release of ‘Decompositions Vol. 2’ towards the tail end of the year.

For more information on Hour Of The Wolf, check out - http://www.myspace.com/hourofthewolfaz

© Justin Donnelly

Lekamen Illusionen Kallet - The Second Wind


Lekamen Illusionen Kallet
The Second Wind
Nordvis Produktion

In 2007, it was announced that after three highly acclaimed releases, Swedish black metal/rock outfit L.I.K. would disband for good, leaving S. Sandström (Otherwise known as Stoif or Graav) to focus on his other project Lönndom. But after four years of inactivity, Sandström has once again resurrected the project (Which has now been expanded to Lekamen Illusionen Kallet), and with the aid of session drummer J. Marklund (Who’s also a member of Sorgeldom, Whirling, Kaos Sacramentum and Grifteskymfning), returned with the band’s fourth full-length effort ‘The Second Wind’.
As you would expect, and as hinted by the slight change of moniker, ‘The Second Wind’ does show a change of sound and direction from where the group last left off. And while most will no doubt embrace the new look/sound Lekamen Illusionen Kallet, some fans may be a little disappointed with the group’s latest effort.
Lekamen Illusionen Kallet’s sound isn’t exactly the easiest to describe, and no doubt there are many interpretations of the band’s sound. But in some ways, you could say that they sound a bit like Darkthrone at their most minimalist, but with a definite gothic rock influence taking place of Darkthrone’s obvious punk influences. It’s far from the best of descriptions, but then Lekamen Illusionen Kallet are not one of the most conventional bands on the scene either, with the sound of their latest release drifting in and out of genres throughout its eight tracks. But if there’s one thing that has to be made clear, it’s that Lekamen Illusionen Kallet isn’t by any means a black metal act. No, Lekamen Illusionen Kallet is more a band that takes influences from the scene (In production sounds and moods), and then utilises influences from other genres to make a sound that’s far from easy to pin down.
While Lekamen Illusionen Kallet is a hard band to nail down, one thing is certain – ‘The Second Wind’ is nothing short of a disappointment. Without comparing it to their former releases, what disappoints most about ‘The Second Wind’ is its ratio of strong tracks to weaker ones. Diversity is one thing, but the bizarre shift in style and tempo gives the album an inconsistency and makes you wonder if Sandström knows exactly what he was trying to achieve with a resurrected Lekamen Illusionen Kallet.
While not everything on the album makes a huge impact, tracks such as ‘Death Breeder’ (Probably the most death n’ roll sounding track on the album), ‘Insjunken’, ‘A Filthy Ride’ (Take ‘80’s hard rock and give it a Darkthrone production and vocal delivery, and you’ll know what to expect here) and the closing instrumental title track ‘The Second Wind’ are the definite picks of the album.
‘The Second Wind’ isn’t terrible, but it does sound confused and scattered for the most part, and will therefore only find its audience in those specifically on the look out for something a little more obscure or left of centre.

For more information on Lekamen Illusionen Kallet, check out - http://www.myspace.com/lekamenillusionenkallet

© Justin Donnelly

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Emerald Sun - Regeneration

Emerald Sun
Regeneration
Pitch Black Records

Formed in 1998, Emerald Sun is a melodic power metal act that hails from Greece, and has to date released two full-length efforts (2005’s ‘The Story Begins’ through Encore Recordings and 2007’s ‘Escape From Twilight’ through Limb Music Production).
In the four years since their last release, Emerald Sun has undergone a bit of a line-up reshuffle, with vocalist Stelios ‘Theo’ Tsakirides and bassist Fotis ‘Sheriff’ Toumanides joining the established line-up of guitarists Johnnie Athanasiadi and Teo Savage, keyboardist Jim Tsakirides and drummer Bill Kanakis. Aside from a change of guard, Emerald Sun has also moved labels; with the band signing up with Cyprus based label Pitch Black Records for their third full-length effort ‘Regeneration’.
If you weren’t aware of where Emerald Sun hails from, you could be forgiven for assuming that the band originated from Germany after giving the opening track ‘We Won’t Fall’ a run through. From the heavy keyboard presence, the melodic tandem guitar work and Tsakirides’ vocals that closely resemble Klaus Meine of the Scorpions, Emerald Sun are clearly aiming for a sound that closely adheres to the Gamma Ray/Helloween/Stratovarius mould of power metal, and they’ve certainly achieved their objective.
The fast paced follow-up track ‘Theater Of Pain’ picks up where the opener left off, with the band adopting the genre’s trademark relentless double kick drum work and the faster paced riffing that mimics their idols, while ‘Where Angels Fly’ lies somewhere between the two former tracks in sound and construction with its mid-paced heavy metal groove.
From this point, it’s fairly clear what the band have on offer for the remainder of the album, and that’s sadly more of the same.
‘Starchild’, which is preceded by the short introductory piece ‘Regeneration’, is good, but a little too formula-like to be genuinely original, while the band’s attempt at humour in ‘Planet Metal’ just comes across as cheesy.
‘Speak Of The Devil’ is one of the more solid sounding efforts around the latter half of the album with its catchy chorus structures and heavier guitar presence, but the obligatory ballad ‘Chasing The Wind’ and the rather bland and directionless twelve minute epic ‘Fantasmagoria’ just don’t have sufficient impact to really stand out as anything out of the ordinary.
And as for the band’s cover of Bonnie Tyler’s 1984 hit ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, well the female vocals do add a bit of contrast to the song. But aside from that, it’s pretty much by the numbers.
Emerald Sun aren’t a terrible band, and ‘Regeneration’ is far from a failure, provided that you’re a fan of melodic power metal, and are happy to hear the same thing time and time again. Personally, I’ve heard this all before.

For more information on Emerald Sun, check out - http://www.emeraldsun.gr/

© Justin Donnelly

Neuronspoiler - No One’s Safe


Neuronspoiler
No One’s Safe
Independent Release

Having played in a variety of outfits over the years within the thriving underground London metal scene, the five members that make up Neuronspoiler (Vocalist JR, JR, ex-G.O.D./Headless Cross guitarist/vocalist Dave Del Cid, guitarist Stanley Long, ex-Mercy House/Headless Cross bassist Heray Rios and ex-Serpent Sins drummer Tim Barclay) decided to come together in 2009, with the aim of combining their passion for classic heavy rock and traditional metal to create something new and exciting.
And on the strength of the band’s five track debut E.P. effort ‘No One’s Safe’, there’s no denying that the young group have certainly achieved their objective.
The opening track ‘The Outcry’ (The first promotional video clip filmed for the E.P.) is an impressive start to the E.P., with the band revealing a bit of a Megadeth influence with their dual riff work and shredding solos. But outside of the obvious, JR’s powerful voice provides a touch of classic heavy rock to the mix, which compliments the overall melodic edge of the song throughout. The clash of styles might sound a little strange, but somehow Neuronspoiler manage to make it all sound so natural. While the follow-up track ‘Lost Brother’ is a solid enough number with some interesting riffs and solo work, but it does lack a little in the song writing department around the choruses.
As if to reinforce the flaws within the previous song, the instrumental piece ‘Cataclysm’ is a genuine stand out number with the guitarists showcasing their seamless blend of classic metal (Including some subtle N.W.O.B.M. vibes evident) with thrashier influences, with the band demonstrating their skills on their chosen instruments, and their ability to write a song that doesn’t rely solely on chorus hooks.
‘Updated Subjugation’ is again another different direction from what the rest of the E.P. has to offer with its darker and moodier vibe and use of atmospheric passages to emphasise the huge choruses and killer riffs, while the closer ‘Words, Words, Words’ (The second promotional video clip filmed for the E.P.) returns to the Megadeth like melodic thrash territory of the opener to finish the E.P. on a high note.
If there’s one flaw with ‘No One’s Safe’, it would have to be the lack of one clear direction and sound over the five tracks on offer. While there’s no denying that the production (Handled by Misha Nikolic) maintains an evenness over the entire disc, the mood and style of the songs does jump a little from track to track, which gives the impression that the band themselves haven’t quite managed to find their own sound and style.
Despite the absence of a unified direction, Neuronspoiler have managed to produce a great E.P. with enough potential to make me eager to see what they’ll come up with in the future.

For more information on Neuronspoiler, check out - http://www.neuronspoiler.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Royal Thunder - Royal Thunder


Royal Thunder
Royal Thunder
Relapse Records

Originally released independently back in late 2009, Atlanta (Georgia, U.S.) act Royal Thunder’s debut self-titled E.P. has been given a renewed chance of reaching a wider audience via a re-release from Relapse Records. Relapse Records in recent years have branched out and tried their hand at diversifying their roster with some musical acts outside their tried and true extreme foundation, and picking up Royal Thunder’s debut is certainly well and truly proof of the label’s broadening tastes.
Although lumped within the doom/rock genre, in truth, Royal Thunder (Who comprise of vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz, guitarist Josh Weaver and drummer Jesse Stuber) don’t sound remotely close to that description. Instead, the band sit comfortably somewhere within the lo-fi blues/indie rock genre for the most part, with some subtle dark classic rock influences to help them stand apart from most.
Despite its unimaginative title (‘Intro’), the short introductory piece that opens the album proves a rather strange and unpredictable setting for the E.P., with Parsonz’s hypnotic mantra building over the sounds of waves lapping up against the side of a boat. It all sounds quite haunting and captivating, without giving the listener any real idea of what of what to expect from the rest of the E.P.
It isn’t until ‘Sleeping Witch’ where Royal Thunder finally gets to truly reveal what they’re capable of, and it’s really something. Starting off with the slow tempo of a loose blues framework, ‘Sleeping Witch’ progressively builds in atmospherics and loudness of the instruments, before climaxing in an almost heavy stoner rock sound. Although simple in structure, it’s the trio’s use of atmospherics and Parsonz’s captivating vocal range and approach that provides the song its heart and soul.
The up-tempo southern rock edged ‘Mouth Of Fire’ is definitely one of the album’s livelier efforts, making it a definite stand out cut, while ‘Low’ sees the band crank out the song’s rocking riffs with a lo-fi approach, with much of the song’s upfront appeal emerging from Parsonz’s multi-layered vocals throughout the stunningly infectious choruses.
‘Grave Dance’ is a moody number that once again ebbs and flows with moments of heavy riffs and atmospheric passages, all the while strung together by Parsonz’s captivating voice and harmonies, while ‘Hotel Bend’ maintains a brooding vibe throughout its duration.
Finishing up the E.P. is the lengthy ‘Deacon’, which initially starts off in the same manner as ‘Hotel Bend’, but eventually transforms midway through to allow the heavier side of the band’s sound to flourish more and more before taking over towards the tail end.
If you overlook the genre brackets, the associated acts the label they’ve signed to and listen with an open mind, you can’t help but see Royal Thunder’s debut effort for what it really is - a haunting piece of dark beauty.

For more information on Royal Thunder, check out - http://www.myspace.com/royalthundermusic

© Justin Donnelly

Turisas - Stand Up And Fight

Turisas
Stand Up And Fight
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Although debuting with the strong effort in ‘Battle Metal’ (2004), it was with their sophomore effort ‘The Varangian Way’ (2007) that Finnish act Turisas really managed to stand apart from the crowd, and forge a sound that was different enough from others within the for progressive/folk/metal movement. Now, three years after the release of their live D.V.D. ‘A Finnish Summer With Turisas’ (2008), Turisas (Who now comprise of vocalist Mathias D.G. ‘Warlord’ Nygård, guitarist Jussi Wickström, bassist Hannes ‘Hannu’ Horma, violinist Olli Vänskä, accordion player Netta Skog and drummer/percussionist Tuomas ‘Tude’ Lehtonen) are back with their third full-length effort ‘Stand Up And Fight’.
Much like the difference between their first couple of releases, ‘Stand Up And Fight’ represents another departure from their sound of the past, and one that may take a bit of getting used to by some fans.
The opening track ‘The March Of The Varangian Guard’ is obviously a continuation of where the band last left listeners, with the song stylistically treading the similar ground of their familiar sound. But while there are familiarities, you can’t miss the greater prominence of the orchestral elements within the band’s sound, and the overall crisper production values this time around.
It isn’t until the second song ‘Take The Day!’ gets underway that you see just how much Turisas is willing to push their sound, and really put some distance between themselves and fellow leaders within the progressive/folk/metal genre (Such as Finntroll, Eluveitie, Ensiferum and Korpiklaani). On ‘Take The Day!’, Turisas take influences from ‘80’s stadium hard rock, symphonic metal and Viking metal, and blend them altogether to emerge with a sound that’s quite catchy (Especially with Nygård sticking primarily to his clean vocal style), and overall nothing you would generally associate with Turisas, sound wise.
‘Hunting Pirates’ is O.K., but loses its appeal after a few spins with its cheesy sea shanty sing-a-long chorus, while the title track ‘Stand Up And Fight’ (Which is also the first single from the album) just sounds too flat and lifeless to excite much.
The album does pick up with the cinematic/orchestral based ‘βένετοι! - πράσινοι!’ (Which translates from Greek as ‘Venice! - Green!’), while the guitar driven and heavy ‘The Great Escape’ is a true stand out cut on the album.
‘Fear The Fear’ and the epic ‘End Of An Empire’ are further examples of Turisas pushing their sound into new regions with the melodic aspect of their song writing being combined with a greater orchestral accompaniment. But while some of the tracks mentioned before weren’t entirely successful, these two tracks fare much better with repeat listens.
Finishing up the album is ‘The Bosphorus Freezes Over’, which is another cinematic piece with some interesting choral work, but still feels a little short on ideas to keep it interesting throughout its entire running length.
On ‘Stand Up And Fight’, Turisas have tried out some new ideas, which is commendable and welcome. But unfortunately, not all of their ideas work, which leaves the album sounding quite patchy in places.
For me, ‘The Varangian Way’ still stands as Turisas’ strongest effort. But if Turisas continue to develop the ideas heard throughout ‘Stand Up And Fight’, I believe that the Finns still have an even stronger release in them for the future.

For more information on Turisas, check out - http://www.turisas.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay - Devolution


Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay
Devolution
United Guttural Records

Although releasing three full-length efforts and a couple of splits, Czech Republic based grindcore/death metal act Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay decided to call it a day in 2008 after eight years together, with members pursuing the newly founded Spineless Fuckers. But after two years, Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay have once again reformed with a new line-up (Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay/Spineless Fuckers’ vocalists Reef and Milcunt are joined by guitarist Motorak, Japka bassist Pyjus ‘Had’ Vypitkowicz and drummer Zahradnik), found a new home on United Guttural Records and put together a new release in the form of ‘Devolution’.
The best way to describe Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay’s sound to those unfamiliar with the band’s past efforts is pretty much your standard grindcore, but with a decidedly quirky slant in terms of vocals and in the song writing. Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay has never been the kind of band who concerns themselves with what is generally expected from a grindcore/death metal act. Instead, the band simply do what they want, and damn the consequences. This approach has worked O.K. for the band in the past, with their material at times sounding a little hit and miss in terms of consistency. And as you would expect, ‘Devolution’ too is a mixed bag, with the band’s bizarre sense of humour and warped song writing providing its fair share of strong and weaker moments.
After opening up the album with an edited piece of Clint Mansell’s haunting orchestral instrumental ‘Lux Æterna’ (Which was featured in the 2000 film ‘Requiem For A Dream’, which has been suitably re-titled to ‘Requiem For A Fury’), the band get the grind underway with the pulverising ‘Rumiste DC’. In typical fashion, scratching and hip hop influences are incorporated into the track, which as strange as it sounds, actually works quite well.
In a completely new twist, the title track ‘Devolution’ is filled with a variety of vocal performances (Everything from pig squeals, guttural growls and some off note clean gang vocals) that match the somewhat schizophrenic musical landscape within the song, while ‘Guys Who Are Falling In The End’, ‘Machinka’ and ‘Doctor From Mountains’ seamlessly blend grindcore, hardcore, and death metal alongside an assortment of different vocal approaches that render the songs indescribable in the genre sense.
With Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay back, it’s not all that surprising to see that ‘Devolution’ has quite a few older tracks re-recorded throughout the album. And while some purists may find the vocals and the overall production a little too far removed from the originals, for newcomers, tracks such as ‘Languish’, ‘Sea Of Weakness’ and ‘Lamentation’ definitely stand out as some of the album’s stronger and more straight forward efforts.
Also worthy of a mention is the band’s cover of Cock And Ball Torture’s ‘Heterosexual Testosterone Compressor’, which the band has given a new spin to.
If ‘Devolution’ has some issues, it’s that the humour can get a little lost sometimes on the listener, and that the recycling of older material gives the impression that the band were keen to get something new out to fans as quick as possible. But despite the small issues, ‘Devolution’ is a solid release overall, and one that fans of quirky grindcore should find worthwhile tracking down.

For more information on Mincing Fury And Guttural Clamour Of Queer Decay, check out - http://www.mincingfury.wz.cz/

© Justin Donnelly

Noisear - Subvert The Dominant Paradigm

Noisear
Subvert The Dominant Paradigm
Relapse Records

When it comes to grindcore bands, you can’t go past Relapse Records’ ability to consistently deliver the goods with just about every signing they’ve offered up. And as expected, the label’s latest signing of Albuquerque (New Mexico) outfit Noisear maintains the high standard we’ve come to expect.
Noisear (Who comprise of vocalist Alex Lucero, Ex-Gridlink/Kill The Client/Enemies Of Inertia guitarist/vocalist Dorian Rainwater, guitarist Thomas Romero, bassist/vocalist Joe Tapia and Kill The Client/Phobia/Gridlink/Enemies Of Inertia drummer Brian Fajardo) are no strangers to the underground grindcore scene, with a string of split E.P.’s, vinyl only releases and one full length release (2008’s ‘Pyroclastic Annihilation’) to their name - all of which have been met with high acclaim. And rightfully so too, as Noisear is easily one of the more thought provoking and forward thinking acts within the grindcore scene. And if any evidence was needed to prove this point, one only needs to listen to their latest effort ‘Subvert The Dominant Paradigm’.
Unlike a lot of grindcore acts who favour a thicker and muddier sound, the production on ‘Subvert The Dominant Paradigm’ is quite crisp and clear, which immediately gives Noisear a sound that separates the band from others, and also gives the thirty tracks on the album an edge that many grindcore albums lack. Another important factor that makes this album enjoyable is the band’s vast array of riffs on offer, and their willingness to vary the tempo (Regardless of how slight) from one track to the next. This combined duality shown throughout the album allows the band to showcase their technical proficiency, as well as allow the listener to grab on to the more groove based moments on the album, without losing any of the core ingredients that make up the traditional grindcore sound.
In terms of highlights, selecting out individual stand out moments within ‘Subvert The Dominant Paradigm’ is somewhat of a challenge given the quality of material on offer. But at a push, tracks such as chaotic opener ‘Breaking Bad At The Mulberry’ (Which features some killer drumming from Fajardo), the ever-shifting ‘Gestapolis’, the deathly grind of ‘Inevitable Extinction’, the catchy ‘Information Highway To Hell’, ‘Slave’, the Brujeria-like Spanish sung ‘Almas Por El Infierno’ (Which translates to ‘Souls Of Hell’), ‘Contaminant Of The Earth’ and Napalm Death-like blast of ‘The Blackened Sea’ stands out as definite favourites.
The only other track worthy of singling out is the appropriately titled ‘Noisearuption’ that finishes up the album. At twenty minutes long, and comprised solely of a short introductory rant (Courtesy of Peet Koff) and a continual wave of noise effects (With contributions from Jay Randall of Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Bastard Noise fame), ‘Noisearuption’ isn’t going to appeal to many, let alone get many repeat listens. But for those with an ear for the more avant-garde side of things, the track certainly does have a hypnotic groove beneath its noisy exterior.
‘Subvert The Dominant Paradigm’ is a great addition to the grindcore scene, and an album that’s sure to garnish plenty of praise for Noisear. All in all, this is one must have album for grind fans.

For more information on Noisear, check out - http://www.myspace.com/noisear

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Feeder - Renegades


Feeder
Renegades
Big Teeth Music Limited/Shock Entertainment

For many years, London based three-piece rock outfit Feeder couldn’t seem to put a foot wrong with the charts consistently filled with group’s hit singles, and each of the band’s first four album releases (1997’s ‘Polythene’, 1999’s ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’, 2001’s ‘Echo Park’ and 2002’s ‘Comfort In Sound’) helping to establish Feeder as one of the U.K.’s biggest hard rock acts. But despite the ever growing success in the early years, it was clear that Feeder (Who since 2002, have comprised of vocalist/guitarist Grant Nicholas, bassist Taka Hirose and drummer Mark Richardson) weren’t interested in making the same album over and over again, with 2005’s ‘Pushing The Senses’ and 2008’s ‘Silent Cry’ showcasing a far more mature and mainstream sound. Needless to say, both albums weren’t all that well received by either fans or critics and as a consequence, all but finished the band’s long running stint in the spotlight and the charts.
Compounding the band’s flagging album sales was the dissolution of The Echo Label (The label decided to no longer release albums, and instead would exist purely as a copyright exploitation company), and the departure of Richardson to take part in the reunion of his former band Skunk Anansie.
Without a label and a drummer, Nicholas and Hirose took the opportunity to try something new, and alongside with newcomer Karl Brazil (Drummer for British band Ben’s Brother), undertook two short U.K. tours under the pseudonym of Renegades in support of two independently released E.P.’s earlier in the year (‘Renegades’ and ‘Renegades 2’, both of which were released through their own label Big Teeth Music Limited). Both the tours and the E.P’s released under the Renegades alias were primarily geared towards the band’s attempt to reconnect with their roots, and shake off the expectations of existing under the name of Feeder. The idea is certainly a novel one, and while the effect hasn’t been quite what the band had hoped for, their seventh full-length effort ‘Renegades’ – the first of two album’s Feeder plan to release this year – is certainly a vast improvement on the band’s last two efforts.
Although remaining true to the slower pace that has become a familiar trait of Feeder’s more recent works, the opening track ‘White Lines’ is at least a return to their heavier sound, with Nicholas once again revelling in huge guitar grooves and feedback alongside Hirose’s rumbling and thick bass sounds. It’s not the perfect opening track for the album, but things do pick up with the up-tempo and lively first single ‘Call Out’, which is undoubtedly one of the strongest and more classic old Feeder sounding songs to emerge in some time.
The title track ‘Renegades’ and the short and fast ‘Barking Dogs’ are rocking efforts that reveal a slight punk edge in amongst the band’s trademark guitar driven sound, while ‘Sentimental’ is easily the heaviest thing they have released in years, even if the catchy choruses are somewhat downbeat and secondary to the thick guitar tones.
Although starting off strong, ‘This Town’ and the awkward ‘Left Foot Right’ come off as ideas that really fail to hit their intended target, and are by far the album’s weakest efforts. Surprisingly enough, the ballad like ‘Down To The River’ is an absolute stunning effort, even if it sounds more in line with the direction the band took with ‘Silent Cry’ a couple of years ago.
The driven ‘Home’ recalls the bands ‘Polythene’ era in both sound and feel, followed closely by the pop/punk like ‘City In A Rut’, while the appropriately coined closing number ‘The End’ brings the album to climatic close.
In terms of livening up things, the band’s step back towards a more guitar driven sound as Renegades has certainly worked. Gone is the rather slow and plodding feel of the last two albums, and welcomed back is the energy and vibrancy of the band’s earlier material. But despite their step forward, it would seem that on the lyrical front, Nicholas has taken a few steps back, with some of his lyrical efforts on ‘Renegades’ well below the standards previously set.
Overall, while ‘Renegades’ is far from what you could honestly say is a Feeder classic (‘Comfort In Sound’ in my mind is the last Feeder effort to attain that high achievement), it’s at the very least a fun listen, and an escape from the generally dull direction heard on the band’s last two releases.

For more information on Feeder, check out - http://www.myspace.com/feederweb

© Justin Donnelly

Hinder - All American Nightmare


Hinder
All American Nightmare
Universal Republic Records/Universal Motown Group

It wasn’t an overnight success upon its release in 2005, but three years after, Hinder’s sophomore effort ‘Extreme Behavior’ managed to achieve triple platinum success in the U.S., making the Oklahoma outfit one of the hottest acts on the hard rock scene. As expected, with such a meteoric rise in such a short time, the band’s follow-up effort ‘Take It To The Limit’ (2008) failed to recreate the same success, even if the album did manage to sell enough to reach gold status on the back of a few hit singles.
With the underwhelming reaction to their last release, Hinder (Who comprise of vocalist Austin Winkler, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Joe Garvey, rhythm guitarist/pianist/backing vocalist Mark King, bassist/backing vocalist Mike Rodden and drummer Cody Hanson) have taken time out to rethink their sound and direction, change producers (Long time producer Brian Howes has been replaced by Kevin Churko) and return with their latest effort ‘All American Nightmare’ – an album that has the band claiming its their strongest yet.
The first thing that hits you about the opening track ‘2 Sides Of Me’ is the heavier sound the band has gone for this time around. The upfront guitar sound is a welcome change of tact, and Winkler’s rawer vocal presence compliments the rockier atmosphere the band is clearly aiming for.
The first single/promotional video clip from the album ‘All American Nightmare’ manages to retain the heavier vibe of the opening track in places, but retains enough space to allow an undeniably huge hook around the chorus to stand out, while the semi-acoustic southern rock semi-ballad ‘What Ya Gonna Do’ (The second single from the album) has clearly been crafted to catch the ear of the masses with its repetitive lyrical prose and huge sing-a-long chorus.
The acoustic/hard rocking ‘Hey Ho’ is a bit of a failed experiment with its cliché lyrics and hip hop references, while the addition of strings to the power ballad ‘The Life’ inevitably ends up sounding reminiscent of the safe territory that Nickelback have successfully been mining for years. But while the album does have a few misguided efforts, Hinder does manage to produce some really strong efforts as well, namely with the guitar driven ‘Waking Up The Devil’, the not so subtle stab at today’s pop stars in ‘Striptease’ and the band’s tribute to the ‘80’s on ‘Put That Record On’.
Hinder haven’t totally reinvented themselves on their fourth effort, and the same issues that plagued their former albums (Cliché lyrics and predictable song writing) still blemish here. But overall, ‘All American Nightmare’ is a solid release from the band, and at least manages to entertain more than it disappoints with greater consistency. In other words, if you’re a fan of the band’s earlier albums, you’ll find Hinder know exactly what you want to hear, and duly deliver.

For more information on Hinder, check out - http://www.hinderonline.com/

© Justin Donnelly