If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Axis of Metal.

Icycore – Wetwired

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 30 August 2009 0 comments

Icycore – Wetwired – 4/5

An album that has seen its way to regular play of late, another prog/power album from the illustrious Italian scene, flooding with such efforts of late; the ‘Dream Theatre’ comparisons are perhaps inevitable with particular note of the similar capabilities of the vocalist and the clean, clinical finishing of the guitarist making a notable appearance. Where they differ, however, is that they have gone one further step into unusual territory, taken their sound and infused it with an ultimately ‘sci-fi’ motif, retaining all the emotion of ‘Awake’ and catchy melodies of ‘Images and Words,’ leaving behind much of the stagnation that plagued their latter material.

Ordinarily I would be first to criticise the overrated abilities of James LaBrie (Dream Theatre), and whilst the tone used often feel remarkably similar the manner it is used is more varied. With less emphasis on hitting those high notes, he displays a great breadth of tone throughout the album (even throwing in the odd growl), going easy on the use of falsetto to create soaring melodies. Complementing this is the counter melody emerging from the guitars; often lightly distorted his time is devoted between supplying the chords maintaining the backing rhythm for the vocals and weaving riffs and solos between the lavish keyboard work. At no point does he feel incapable of showing his abilities, but with a focus on atmosphere and melody, as often as not choosing an electronic space-like tone as a clinically neo-classical, he lends a diversity that feels altogether fitting to the piece, fluidly integrated if not as overtly impressive as other contemporaries.

For me though, it is the keyboard use that well and truly steals the show; from the basic atmospheric synth backing, delicate classical piano capable of captivating you alone, or the hugely electronically toned riffs – whatever the rest of the instrumentation is doing, he seems to be supplying the bulk of the atmosphere for the track and performing a marvellous job at it. The bass can be heard, most notably when the guitarist is no longer playing chords maintaining the bottom layer of rhythm to sustain the track. The drums too maintain the pace as required, but feel overshadowed slightly in the production, not performing as perhaps they could.

At 68 minutes, there is a huge amount of variety in the tones and atmospheres produced – from the epic ballad ‘Hollow Man’ to the electro/thrash overtones of ‘Watchdog & Virus’ – and the cryptic lyrics displaying hints at the intentions behind each track, it ultimately results in an album that has a lot to take in, even for the largest prog enthusiast, and one that will likely take multiple listens to fully appreciate. Whilst there is little in the way of weaker tracks, at no point does it truly stand out and captivate you for the entirety of its duration, and therein lies my main issue with the album. They are clearly talented musicians, capable of producing something to be placed amongst the best, but this quite simply isn’t it

Amateur Transplants – Fitness to Practice – 3/5

Another one that has been on my list for far too long; this is a collection of comical covers and original works, largely focussing on their chosen career paths in medicine within London. Starting out as a local comical band, their rendition of “London Underground” (a cover of the Jam’s “Going Underground”) quickly saw them rise to fame; initially raising money for charity they have since gone to enjoy regular performances in the London area. Both Adam and Kay and Simon Biswas who make up the group perform vocals and keyboards, alternating with each other and aptly performing simple tunes to complement the all important vocals.

From a technical stand point the quality is pretty poor; the vocals from both members feel incapable of holding the melody as well as many other professionals, but serves the purpose of carrying the lyrics without detracting from the result. The keyboards show a distinct lack of variety, often using a basic piano whilst the other of the pair handles the vocals, it often feels bare and even the occasional use of acoustic guitar and saxophone sprinkled throughout its hour long run time can’t raise the standard in this regard.

But none of that matters, because if you’re listening to this for their musical abilities you’re listening for the wrong reasons; it is the delectable laugh-out-loud lyrics that will often send you reeling back hysterically, not in the least from their eponymous ‘London Underground,’ acting as the voice of the city against the incompetence of much of the staff complaining, but they don’t end there. Before this album is finished they will have explained why women can’t drive, destroyed any of your Disney memories, reminded you what you REALLY learnt in school and extensively ridiculed the northerners for being northern.

Unfortunately many of the more medically orientated tracks fall flat on those without the required background, and I fear that many not from the UK would be equally lost with some of the other tracks, but despite this issue the album deserves a listen for those gems where they have struck a comical genius. This never intended to become more than fun between friends, taking a humorous approach to dark subjects such as HIV, AIDS and Cancer; cocking up surgery, Tony Blair bastardising the NHS and ridiculous worthless new drugs they are forced to push, and it is here that they manage to do a superb job.

Highlights: Nothing at All, Disney Time, London Underground, Careless Surgeon, What I Went to SKL 4

SCUM – Gospels for the Sick

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 24 August 2009 2 comments

SCUM – Gospels for the Sick – 3.5/5

It seems that everything is being mixed with hardcore punk of late, resulting in a never-ending stream of ‘-core’ genres, largely resulting in an atrocity to the genre, so naturally when I discovered an artist that fuses black metal with hardcore punk (creating blackcore?), I think its safe to say I was apprehensive, but in truth there is one strong link between both genres: the message. Both are designed to be against the mainstream, promoting individuality and strength in ‘do-it-yourself’ demeanour, it is this that they tap into to provide the successful merging of styles. This isn’t a group of nobodies either, with Casey Chaos (Amen) handling the vocals, Samoth (Zyklon, Gorgoroth, Emperor) and Cosmocrator (Windir) dealing with the guitar duties, backed amicably by Faust (Emperor, Zyklon) on drums, this is an all-star line-up that quite simply means if there is hope for the genre, this is as good a group as any to prove it.

Faust is one of those drummers that always seems capable of outperforming other drummers in his field, not in his speed but for his willingness to add any number of fills of creativity, continually mixing up the style – just a little – to stave off sounding monotonous, and once again he proves this to be the case with an array of upbeat thrashing beats lavishly on display. The bassist is barely discernable through the rest of the instrumentation for the most part, but with the twin guitar work this absence doesn’t feel missed.

The guitars feel overtly punk in tone, more so than I would have expected given their background, largely consisting of hard hitting chord sequences that remain effective if perhaps not the most memorable, the odd solo thrown in for good measure; they vary nicely and perform well, blending with each other in a seamless fashion, if an unexpected one. Completing the line up is Casey Chaos, modern punk rocker with more attitude than vocal talent, he is certainly not the most capable from a technical stand-point but the anger and passion he gets out of each lyric is uncanny, but here feels underused. Having known him for his work with ‘Amen,’ many of the catchy vocal rhythms and hard hitting lyrics have vanished for what sounds like his B-material. Attempting a more blackened shriek that doesn’t entirely work, his efforts are still impressive if not what they could have been.

The production is nice and gritty, not too raw but a far cry from many over polished releases that become stripped of their intensity in favour of a ‘perfect’ tone. My main gripe here is that this doesn’t feel like Black metal at all. It is intended to be a merging of two styles to produce something unique but the result sounds like a bunch of Norwegians decided to make a punk album, which whilst not bad in the end, is something of a disappointment. Its fun to listen to for a while, and perhaps novel to think how the blackest of the black are performing punk, but gets forgotten all too readily as just another band that are good but simply not special.

Highlights: Protest Life, Throw up on you, The Perfect Mistake

Amen – Death Before Musick – 4/5

An album that has been on my ‘to-do’ list since the dawn of the blog, it comes as a particularly difficult one for me to review, largely due to the manner in which they came to my attention. It was following a particularly bad day that I decided on the spur of the moment to visit my local music venue and release some energy, undeterred by the as yet unknown to me band headlining. As fate would have it, Amen would be performing their fabled ‘Underworld’ gig, featuring a more pissed off Casey Chaos (lead vocalist) than ever before. Following the best part of a bottle of whisky drunk then thrown into the crowd (along with a couple of cymbals used as frisbees, smashed against the concrete pillars, a broken bass drum and two broken microphones) he reveals that he had just received news of the death of good friend Paul Raven (Killing Joke), and he too was working through his anger issues.

It is Casey himself that is truly on show here, writing all the material and recording all but the drums himself, with a vocal style much akin to that of Johnny Rotten, except in Rotten’s own words “far more pissed off than I ever was.” Raw and visceral he presents an uncompromising vocal spectacle that what it lacks in ability, oozes with powerful emotion unlike any other punk band I’ve heard, delivering the best he has to offer. With hard hitting lyrics that are instantly memorable (e.g. “Rise up and be discarded, Rise up to be misunderstood,”) it easily ticks the box requiring it to be anthemically addictive.

The drums maintain a basic back beat that feels prominent enough to assist the aggressive flow of the track without being too demanding. Unusually, the bass can also be heard supplying the base riff on the bottom end, worked underneath the layer of guitars providing a never ending supply of addictive riffs and chord sequences that sound every bit as pissed off as the vocals.

This is an artist that hasn’t stretched the mould to provide something innovative. In fact, they’ve done the reverse, taken a step back in time to release an album that would feel more at home in the soundscape of the Sex Pistols and Black Flag, simple and catchy it retains a certain punk brand of brutality that makes this album stand head and shoulders above the rest. This isn’t an album to listen to for something creative, this is one that you should listen to when down and in need of a release of excess aggression, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Highlights: California’s Bleeding, EXTERMINATE!, Fuck in LA

Congenital Hell – Into the Doom

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 23 August 2009 0 comments

Congenital Hell – Into the Doom – 2.5/5

And so it was through looking for any news on a new ‘Gallhammer’ release that I discovered this bizarre side-project of Vivian Slaughter, where she provided the lead vocals for Gallhammer here she presents a saxophone to the proceedings. Perhaps best described as an Experimental Sludge/Doom/Black type outfit, this needless to say had caught my attention, but sadly despite its absolute bizarre nature, becomes all too easily monotonous and forgotten.

The drums are one of the few aspects that feel consistent, displaying no flare but constantly maintaining a beat to keep the rest of the instrumentation in time, which is no small feat in itself. It is on top of this that the guitars produce for the most part basic riffs, at times becoming lost through the other instrumentation. The riffs that are provided could perhaps suffice for a 5 minute track, being interesting and relatively catchy with a thick sludge-like distortion, but when repeated for the best part of a 36 minute track, suffice to say it gets old well before the tracks conclusion.

The use of saxophone is done in a shrill manner, at times feeling like simple feedback and bringing into question whether she actually knows how to play, as for much of the tracks duration the rapid fluctuations in pitch seem random and sporadic, resulting in a chaotic tone over the perhaps more depressive backing atmosphere. The vocals, too, feel like another instrument to be utilised, displaying a raw high pitched blackened growl with production low enough to feel like a distant monotonously droning heavily distorted instrument.

With a run time of 66 minutes and 6 seconds, it all feels as though it’s something of a bad joke. I could perhaps see more to this if each layer presented their own interesting line throughout the track (e.g. Birushanah) but that simply never arrives. The result is a chaotic despair filled atmosphere that’s unconventional to say the least, but ultimately feels rather disappointing.

Highlight: Solitude

Masaki Project

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 17 August 2009 1 comments

Masaki Project – Universal Syndicate – 4.5/5

Occasionally something will come my way completely out of the blue and astound me, as this instrumental album has. An experimentally inclined heavy metal band featuring most notably the bassist Masaki (Animetal), accompanied by fellow guitarist Syu (Animetal, Galneryus), this is perfect marriage between the two instruments, combining “Marco Sfogli’s” (Marco Sfogli, Magni Animi Viri) sense of melody with “Mark King’s” (Level 42) funk sensibilities. This is not a simple ‘shred’ album, this is an album filled with emotions and melody, with experimentation into more electronic (‘Technopolis), Jazz (Buzz Bullets) and ambient tones (Winter Rose), their core sound always retains that essential upbeat addictive quality.

It’s not uncommon to find artists with a virtuoso amongst their ranks, heavily relied on to perform neo-classical material which all too often becomes tiring. Add a second virtuoso to the mix and you could easily find yourself with an extremely monotonous affair, but this never occurs; both are clearly very talented musicians, capable of performing with blistering speed without ever feeling redundant; it never feels as though they are playing quickly for the sake of it. Meandering in between one another seamlessly, both guitarists perform their own lines, and whilst the guitarist often takes dominance the bassist can be heard at all times.

The guitar work fluctuates between slower melodic riffs and the more upbeat neo-classical, feeling fairly progressive in the manner it flows between the chorus lines and constantly varying riffs, often with a light Power-esque air to them but not incapable of working with the bass in providing a heavy metal groove. The bass often proves himself the match for this work, not only in speed but diversity too, lending delicate touches, funk-filled bass rhythms and hard hitting rock riffs to the proceedings.

Impressively, the drums always manage to keep up with the pace set by the leaders of the pack, and whilst left little room to breathe expertly maintain the beat. The occasional use of keyboards (often mimicking other instruments) feels well utilised to polish off an already impressive album. I was long since curious as to what the clearly capable musicians from Animetal – a band that almost exclusively performs metal covers of popular anime theme tunes – were capable of, and this album doesn’t disappoint.

Highlights: Chaos of Beauty, Down, Buzz Bullets, Sin of Envy, Swallowed

Masaki Project – Modern Day Crossover

If that wasn’t enough, I also managed to obtain a copy of their debut album. Whilst the lines didn’t feel as gripping as in ‘Universal Syndicate,’ much of the tone remains similar; there is still that same experimental nature to them, still that careful marriage between the two instruments. Simply, neither feels as strong, but may nonetheless be a worthy addition for fans.

Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 14 August 2009 0 comments

Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate – 4/5
[Link Removed Due to Complaint]

If you told me that ‘Madness’ were to release an album a decade since their last attempt, and twice as long since their last success I’d probably grumble and assume it to be terrible; but it isn’t. In fact it’s probably the best album they’ve ever done; gone are the catchy insanity of ‘Baggy Trousers’ or ridiculous lyrics of ‘House of Fun,’ for a more mature style. With serenading melodies; it captures the essence of the East End, transporting you on a guided tour through the poor side of the city of London.

Standing at easily the longest track in their entire back catalogue, the progressive epic ska track from where the album derives its name was a risky endeavour, but ultimately paid off as their greatest strength, leaving behind the comfortable shackles of their ‘glory days’ almost three decades ago they have emerged as adult musicians, still capable of providing a fun tune to get swept up by, with the vocal talents of local Londoner Suggsy, perhaps starting to show his age, delivering a strength of lyrics that more than compensates.

With perhaps less use of brass instruments than before, they nonetheless make an appearance, emphasising certain passages beyond others and adding a touch of flair to the proceedings. The drums are consistent yet simple, and the guitars well utilised without being too prominent, and the numerous other instruments that appear feel well suited to the track at hand. Despite this, it is the vocals and piano that take the spotlight however, the latter supplying no shortage of ‘jangly’ madness tunes, everything is seamlessly woven together, each providing their own line that contributes to the end result in true jazz style.

This is an artist that has always had the issue of releasing albums with filler material, but here each track feels so carefully worked, with attention to each detail as it unfolds in an almost progressive manner, from the pop-opera of a title track to the old romantic ‘Sugar and Spice;’ the Russian toned ‘Berkenwell Polka,’ to the loud and proud ‘We Are London,’ there are addictive easy to listen to tracks here from start to finish that only improve on subsequent listens. An intellectual Madness; who’d have guessed?

Highlights: the Liberty of Norton Folgate, Clerkenwell Polka, Idiot Child, On the Town

Dandelium – The Last Awakening

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 13 August 2009 0 comments

Dandelium – The Last Awakening – 3.5/5

An album that has been I’ve had snucked away for a while now, it is one that I had difficulties placing into any specific genre; certainly symphonic in nature, it feels neither overtly neo-classical in nature, nor does it feel suited to the term ‘rock,’ but rather an odd progressive blend of the two. Performed by the one Spaniard (though he has now recruited a full line-up), it is slightly reminiscent of the delicate tones found in the likes of ‘Nightwish,’ but with the absence of any form of vocalist the comparison finds itself abruptly coming to a halt, the focus instead firmly on the instrumentation, carefully worked to harmonise with one another.

The drums form the main backing layer, present through all but the softest of the piano passages, produced entirely by programming they maintain the beat of the track without ever being too heavily in focus, and the result is one that works remarkably well. Complemented by an unusually prominent bass, it forms a core rhythm for many of the passages, providing a multitude of deeply distorted riffs, maintaining a backing riff for the guitars to work from, or acting more prominently where the guitars are absent.

The guitars too are worked well to add to the sound produced, providing their own riffs and maintaining the flow of the track as it unfolds. Despite this, the keyboards clearly take most of the spotlight, performing far more than simple chord sequences, adding bombastic classical tones, delicately melodic passages and addictive riffs. Often layering piano harmonies over string tones, they show an excellent variety of pace and styles, even if perhaps they at times seem to overuse the strings.

The result is certainly an intriguing one, and certainly shows promise for the future, but all too often gets lost with the other tracks. There is a lack of distinguishing features on many tracks, the techno feel to ‘The Last Awakening’ or the emotional and majestic tones in ‘Life Will Go On,’ exemplifying what this artist capable of offering, but there simply isn’t enough ideas presented to sustain its unique tone. With a full line-up (including a soprano vocalist I believe), needless to say I’m intrigued to discover what the future has in store for them. Those with an interest in symphonic or classical music, not afraid of a plentiful amount of hard rock guitar tones may find much to enjoy here.

Highlights: Bleeding Ascension, The Last Awakening, Life Will Go On, Soul Hunter

Smorzando - Smrad

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 10 August 2009 1 comments

Smorzando - Smrad - 5/5

One of the many Black Metal bands that I was introduced to by Adam in the last few weeks and, in accordance with what I have come to expect, one of the better albums that I have heard in my life. This Swiss Black Metal/Ambient act is one of the more unique that I have come across and has an equally obscure and unique sound. Smrad is the band`s first album to be released and, hell, was it a good one.

The first thing that draws attention on the album is the low-fi production. It is very muffled, not to the level of being unintelligible, but to an extent that it has that underground feel that many Black Metal listeners seem to yearn for. It gives a very "raw" impression in that it sounds unprocessed and this contributes to the overall success of this release. This is music stripped to the bare bones, with no pretentious wankery to spoil the raw emotional value of this masterpiece.

This is not to say, however, that the musicianship has the same low quality that the production has. One gets the impression that the bandmember(s) (I couldn`t find out how many bandmembers there are) are very competent musicians, never neglecting the music for a second. The guitar has a sweeping, speedy brilliance to it, powering the inevitable onslaught of the music in gusts of tremelo fury punctuated by more "unorthodox" sequences where the guitars can suddenly be used to create a sound similair to that of a mandolin or keyboard and then, just as abruptly, the more "basic" tremelo riffs take over again, the trasition feeling always natural and well-timed.

The drums never feel forced, as is the case in many Black Metal bands, but rather form a very steady base for the music to expand upon. My only complaint is that the production has rendered the drums almost inaudible at times, but that is only a minor complaint as the overall impression is left almost untouched.

Effects are also very aptly used to convey particular emotions, for instance the gloomy effect of the muffled speech in the final song. Keyboards can also be heard in some sequences, creating a doom-ridden ambience that begs tears from even the most apathetic of listeners. Then there`s the vocals: not spectacular, but ideal in every regard. Evil-sounding, despairing screeches provide the perfect narrative "cherry on top" to the deeply emotional structure of the songs on "Smrad" and, even though you cannot hear what the vocalist is saying, you get the impression that you grasp every word of it.

I rarely encounter an album this close to perfection, but this album is everything that Black Metal ought to be: painful, emotional, sad, loud, passionate and bloody fantastic.

Beyond Twilight – The Devil’s Hall of Fame – 4.5/5

One of my past favourites released this last decade, a prog band that uses their talent in an atmospheric manner, remarkably different from many other artists who play the genre. Not least of which is the often slow pace, the twisted snarling vocal lines and the sci-fi themed keyboard work; this isn’t another jovial upbeat piece of neo-classical wankery, this a dark sci-fi horror, almost as much gothic/doom as the more power-esque style of thinking, and through it all the tracks meander seamlessly down dark roads and soft emotional lines; this is creative, unique, and brilliant.

The drums spend most of their time working in the back with the bass, and whilst both can be discerned, it is their work that forms to the foundation to work from. Often slower in tempo, they manage to suit the music wonderfully, and whilst not the most creative of forces presented here do more than is required of them, and allow the additional layers of instrumentation to form the tracks melody. The guitars too spend most of their time performing basic chords and riffs, providing an appropriately sci-fi toned core rhythm for the track. Whilst the absence of prominent solo work is made a little disappointing, his presence is constantly noted and at no point feels as though more should be done – everything is made to flow without getting dull, and given the option of an out of place obligatory solo that feels detached, or lack of a solo, it is the latter that will often take my preference.

With the vocal talents of ‘Jorn Lande’ (Masterplan) at the helm for this debut album – and unfortunately, his last with ‘Beyond Twilight’ – his unusual vocal manner goes a long way in differentiating them from the pack. Whilst capable of soft emotional lines, it his snarling, almost falsetto, vocals that lend a twist in the style, perfectly suited to the ‘killing you with a smile’ tone much of the music takes, and his diversity in tones and the success they are performed constitutes one of the main highlights on offer. The second highlight being the main musical genius behind the project manning the keyboards; whilst they are gratuitously used throughout the album, the manner they are utilised is almost more akin to a lead guitarist, supplying atmospheric rhythm through passages of all tempos, through the evil and gentle, lending as much an atmospheric space-like presence as a neo-classical one. Even despite the manner they are lavishly added, they never feel tiring or repetitive, using a range of tones to their full potential that feels all too natural to ever be considered a negative aspect of the music created.

Anyone dubious as to how effectively keyboards can be utilised within music cannot have heard this album. The inventive lyrics, clearly carefully thought out only serve to further distinguish themselves from contemporaries. In fact, there are few real comparisons that can be made for these Danish musicians. Perhaps best summed up by the title, Welcome to the ‘Devil’s Hall of Fame.’

Highlights: Hellfire, Shadowland, The Devil’s Waltz

Birushanah – Akai Yami

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 4 August 2009 0 comments

Birushanah – Akai Yami – 4/5

Curious as to whether to include this artist, relenting in the decision that ‘Sludge’ seems the most appropriate fit; this is an artist that can be experimental if nothing else. Combining no shortage of traditional Japanese instruments in their lavish chaotic sound, the bare essential for the genre are all here. The frantic high pitched cries of the vocalist, the maniac let loose on the drums and the dual bass and guitar harmonies, often overshadowed by the percussion.

Built around two tracks monolithic in length, we see the slow rise in tension and pace resulting in the inevitable crescendo, like slowly cycling to the top of a hill only to completely lose control in a fit of chaos as you roll down the other side. In an unusual change in style, more often that not it is the bass keeping the pace – not the drums; laying down the thick backing he can often become lost in the more chaotic sections, readily laying down a sustainable slow rhythm for the slow rise in tension. This is frequently worked in harmony with the guitars, laying a similar style of riff or short interludes, working around the bass work adding short snippets of inspiration though are often the least prominent aspect here.

Instead it is the combination of drums and percussion that seems to be most notable in this line up; the drums at no point merely performing a generic beat, constantly varying yet maintaining that consistent tempo, more creative than overtly passive or aggressive. The percussion too is – if anything, too – prominent in the line up, adding a unique oriental-folk-like twist to the proceedings. The rasped vocals whilst many will likely find annoying fit perfectly, contrasting with the slower more meandering passages and in keeping with the hard hitting doom-tone clung to throughout.

It is not merely the unconventionality of their sound (make no mistake about it, there is literally nothing like this that I have heard before) that results in drawing the attention, but it’s the slow build-up in pace, the constant flow of aggression as each aspect slowly becomes more frantic. You can hear the chaos on the horizon, but it often takes far too long to emerge. Many of the riffs, as intriguing as they are, get tiring well before the tracks conclusion. The dissonant rhythms that occur in the title track around 8min 30, and in ‘Kairai’ at about 17mins, by far were more impressive than much of the rest of the track. Nonetheless, this is a bizarre spectacle into the oriental side of sludge, and I simply hope they push that aspect even further in subsequent releases.

Birushanah - Touta [EP]

So I got my hands on their EP in case anyone was interested in more by this artist. Doesn't feel as strong or chaotic as the full length, but for the most part delivers on some more weirdass music. Production is as good, and the two tracks are shorter than most the stuff on the full length.

Rye Wolves – Oceans of Delicate Rain – 3.5/5

A largely instrumental piece, the more I listen the harder I find it to pin to a specific place. With a deep sludge basis, it combines a psychedelic post-rock structure and technical, fluid format, to yield a constantly varying pace, filled with crescendos, sudden transitions in tempo and bombastic crashing of instrumentation; it is a very apt album title. The coming and going of the tempo like the sloshing of waves crashing against you, the slow calm before the storm hits in all its fury, there is a constant tempo fluctuation with plenty of time signatures lending an erratic and unpredictable element that can rapidly change.

And its this incredible sense of motion that lends this album much of its strength, more than a well performed integration of tempos, this truly is fluid in its constantly changing manner, the unpredictability of frequent changes in bass, volume, tempo and aggression, each instrument changing instantaneously to lend a new feel to the passage at hand. With a thick prominent bass work engulfing you in a wall of sound, the panic-stricken guitars squealing over the top, with a touch of Albini-inspired noise rock added to the proceedings they add an additional layer interspersed at unconventional intervals, furthering the unpredictability of the passage.

The sparse vocals are rather monotonous but far enough back to allow the instrumentation to reign supreme, keeping up the chaotic fear-riddled tone, but none of the instrumentation feels as well performed as the overall composition; the manner each instrument works with each other, seamlessly shifting in styles is nothing short of remarkable, and lends itself to allow the listener to completely immerse themselves in the sound they have created.

Except perhaps they’ve succeeded all too thoroughly; the manner this album is constructed is effective enough that its not difficult to imagine yourself aboard a large sailing vessel, slowly crashing your way through a storm in the middle of the ocean, 20 foot high waves all around you. The guitars representing the overall mood of the crew, felt through the thick, bassy sloshing waves, whilst the captain barks orders to you and the other crew members, and everywhere you look there is nothing but more ocean. That’s the same here, as unpredictable as the turns are, you always know the next ones coming, and you know what its going to ultimately sound like before you’ve heard it. For all their variation it comes off a blur, each track sounding identical to that which came before it, and it can eventually become monotonous and tiring.

Disbelief – Shine

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments

Disbelief – Shine – 4.5/5

How do you match the unconventionality of ‘Kludde;’ a mixture of black metal and sludge? Welcome to the other side of the extreme spectrum; an atmospheric blend of Sludge and Death Metal. A merging of styles, the sludge groove making a prominent appearance through the thick atmospheric bass, providing a demonic mid-paced mood filled with despair ridden emotional vocals and cleaner guitars layered on top. This is groove riddled ‘Cult of Luna’ without those annoying slow monotonous sections, a (early) ‘Amorphis’ blended with ‘Bolt Thrower’, or ‘Fen’ if they took lessons from ‘Eyehategod’ on how to sound downright dirty.

The drums are perhaps the least impressive in this line-up, providing no shortage of rhythms and beats, supplying the occasional fill they do more than what’s required of them but all too often feel overshadowed in the end result – but not by being too far back in the production; they come through prominently assisting in supplying the atmosphere, instead its just the wealth of rhythms provided by the other instruments that draws focus away from them. The bass comes through loud and clear and bears the brunt of the responsibility in creating the backing atmosphere, thick and deeply distorted he performs riffs that complement the guitars without simply following them and creating the base rhythm to work from.

Layered on top are cleaner guitars performing thick chord based riffs or thinner ‘twangy’ riffs, juxtaposing the altogether thick tone, cutting through to supply an additional layer of instrumentation. Couple the guitars with the vocal work, working the lower mid-range in an emotionally drawn out manner, it results in a tone of despair somewhere between the most depressive of the doom genres and the more melancholic death metal outfit. Perfectly suited to this particularly unique style they provide a sense of emotion sustaining it for multiple listens, adding to the atmosphere already produced.

It is more than just the individual instrumentation here, the manner in which the combine complements each other, fitting seamlessly each track feels like a solid entity rather than perhaps disjointed as other artists can. It’s not the most technical piece, but it succeeds in maintaining an emotional feel whilst simultaneously providing an addictive sludge groove. With only a couple of sub-par tracks letting it down, and the lack of variation in the tempo – particularly with regards to some of the riffs – this remains one of the stronger discoveries in this special.

Highlights: No Control, Me and My World, Honour Killings

Kludde – In Den Vergetelheid – 4/5

Up until this album if someone told me of artist that combined the icy feel of raw black metal with the thick doom filled riffs of sludge I would have given them a funny look (much as I’m expecting you have on your face about now), but that is precisely what these Belgians have accomplished. Starting out as a black metal band there are still clear remnants of that fact in their thick, deep atmospheric riff work, complemented by high pitched breathy shrieks. Add in a dash of baroness’ prog influence (particularly in the lengthier tracks) and you get some idea how this artist pulls of such a unique style.

In some regards this seems like a style that shouldn’t work, and indeed we can clearly hear almost a battle between both sides, each vying for control as it seamlessly transitions from a slow doom-like pace to thick, aggressive tremolo riffs which – if not for the deep pitch – wouldn’t feel out of place in most black metal tracks, but a common ground is found in the use of a thick atmosphere. With a prominent bass sustaining much of the background tone, working much as keyboards do for many symphonic BM acts, he performs with the slow and simplistic drums heard maintaining the pace of the passage at hand.

Displayed on top of this are two distinct guitar styles complementing one another; the deep and bombastic chord based rhythmic guitars supplying a stream of sludgy melodies, working closely with the bass work, transitioning between a slower and hard hitting pace and use of tremolo riffs, they could easily seem bland alone, but for the manner in which they combine with the far thinner toned, almost delicate natured guitars. Juxtaposing much of the other instrumentation they lend a certain flare of variety to the proceedings, at times presenting an additional layer to take over from the vocals, which in turn perform with a breathy, mid-ranged howl proving to maintain the high performance shown from the rest of the group.

In terms of individual instrumentation, nothing in particular stands out as being anything less than good – perhaps not excellent, but good certainly. Instead the main drawback I find is oddly an unexpected one; there is little that stands out as being particularly memorable. Unquestionably unique, capable of providing an unusual merging of styles I find myself simply wanting more; more of the soaring vocal lines he contently restrains to allow the instruments to meander, more of the psychedelic thinner toned riffs to juxtapose the all too infrequent addictive sludge-like riffs, too often adopting the blander and simpler tremolo. The length feels appropriate, but it simply feels they could have layered more on top of one another, proven their abilities more thoroughly in this time period. It’s by no means a bad album, but just feels lacking compared to what it easily could have been.

Crowbar – Sonic Excess in its Purest Form – 4.5/5

The last of the essentials; there are many that could go here, (Eyehategod or Iron Monkey to name a couple) but this is an artist that never stopped producing music. Keeping to their tried and tested formula of bone crushingly slow bass riffs, rasped vocals and slow grinding drum beats; they tread a fine line between being slow-paced and simple without getting repetitive, maintaining a thick atmospheric aggression without belying that essential southern-rock groove, and once again they have succeeded in treading these lines remarkably well.

No instrument individually performs any outstanding duty, but rather they work in unison to produce a free form track, slowly evolving into climaxes and crescendo’s galore. The bass bringing in the bottom end, he often finds himself adding impact to the tones of the rhythm guitar and remains fairly lost in the end result. This bass excess is followed up with the guitars, often fleshing out the tone and providing some of the dirtiest sounding riffs the genre has to offer, occasionally the lead guitar producing a second layer to the fold, often the music not requiring it.

Intriguingly, the vocals feel unique in style, coming off naturally in the deep rasped emotional splendour, grinding through the thick backing, as if slowly pushing onwards against a monolithic tide created by the guitars and drums, which bring further creativity to their sound. Frequently changing the beats slightly each time they are played, and with no fear of the bass drum, the tempo may allow for a limited creativity but he provides a shining example of how it should be done.

What pushes their work beyond many others is more than just the simple instrumentation, the addictive crunch of their melodies, but the underlying emotion behind the music, the pains of living, and struggling to overcome it. They don’t dwell on pity, they don’t whine about it; instead they face their hardship and press on. This isn’t an album by musicians who have forgotten their way, or some cheap shot at the successes of their past, this is a sludge band who were there at the beginning and have yet to stop. ‘Eyehategod’ and ‘Iron Monkey’ may have both had great successes in the past, but crowbar still proves they have plenty more tricks up their sleeve.

Highlights: Awakening, In Times of Sorrow, It Pours From Me, Empty Room

Orange Goblin – Healing Through the Fire – 4.5/5
{Link Removed at Request}

With a slow release of the wah-wah before the first deep bass-filled riff, this spends no time getting you knee deep in stoner bliss, and with more than 10 years under their belt they have little in the way of a bad album to their name. They are called the kings of the UK stoner scene with good reason and this – their 6th full length release – is as good as any place to start. What they lack in uniqueness they make up for with no shortage of addictive bass lines, vocal melodies and blues-rock solos to sink your teeth into.

Wailing on the drums with no shortage of beats, he retains a perfectly suited beat that is unafraid to use the full extent of the drums in front of him; no cymbal abuse or snare in every line, he can be heard through the instrumentation, coming through loud and clear for the climactic passages where the music requires it. Supplemented with simple yet effective bass lines that are perhaps all too readily lost at times, they nonetheless supply that all important thick doom laden backing tone.

The vocals come rough and ready with a deep rasp soaring above the instrumentation to provide their addictive chorus lines, demonstrating plenty of versatility in pitch his prowess is only superseded by the guitars. With constant presence they display a thick crunchy tone, supplying riff after riff of melodic magic and no shortage in solos, his blues-rock crunch lending a much welcome rhythm to the proceedings that despite not being the most technical or original style of material, will at no point fail cease to become any the less addictive.

And that would be the intention with this release; there was never the notion of breaking new ground here, no pretence of being ‘better’ than the rest. Instead they came out to produce a piece to bang your head to, and with no shortage of style they’ve succeeded in doing just that. This is an artist that has spent time perfecting their art and this simply release clearly proves it.

Highlights: The Ballad of Solomon Eagle, The Ale House Braves, Hounds Ditch

Cavity – On the Lam

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Cavity – On the Lam – 4/5

Whenever discussion of the ‘essential’ sludge artists emerges, this is one artist that never gets a mention and I can’t figure out why. They were amongst the first in the early 90s, unique enough to stand out from the crowd, and yet embodying everything that should be savoured within the genre; from the deep doom like bass to the punk attitude in the vocals; the thundering drums to crunchy guitar riffs. This is one of the originators of the genre, and remains one of the best within it.

With a bassy distortion thick enough to have fellow sludge pioneers ‘Eyehategod’ blushing, the bass layers on the addictive doom-paced riffs lavishly throughout the proceedings, unafraid of laying down a rhythmic groove to form the core of the track. Combined with the dissonance of the guitars, with a tremendous variety of pace, even on occasion utilising feedback to produce a rhythmic unpredictable chaos to the proceedings, he spends most of his time laying an upper layer to the track, a unique higher pitched harmonising rhythm to complement to the hard hitting bass work.

Unfortunately, this album isn’t without weakness; the drumming often feels incredibly basic. Hard hitting and prominent, it nonetheless feels unenthused, and too content to allow the other instrumentation take over. This complacency feels out of place in the otherwise thick despair-ridden dirty tone. The vocals are aggressively rasped, sparingly used and frequently battling to be heard over the thick toned cacophony of the bass, performing admirably in his quest to be heard.

This artist has a small discography, each album different from the last and each with a notable flaw. Here the drums feel rather basic, in ‘Supercollider’ it is the vocals that suffer, and in ‘somewhere between…’ the pacing – the latter feeling weaker than the former – but despite these issues, there isn’t a particularly weak album in their back catalogue; something of a rare feat. This may not be the best sludge album to have been made, but it was written by what should be known as one of the better sludge bands to have existed. Probably one of the most underrated sludge acts.

Highlights: Boxing the Hog, Sung From a Goad, Sweat and Swagger

Fen - The Malediction Fields

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 3 August 2009 0 comments

Fen - The Malediction Fields - 4.5/5

Combining roaring, thunderous black metal with more delicate and soothing post-rock elements, Fen create an atmosphere unlike any other. The vocalist, known as The Watcher, and the bassist known as Grungyn, were in another UK black metal act called Skaldic Curse, where their sound was more traditional rather than “post-black”. The main inspiration, according to the band is the place in which they grew up – the Fens region in England. These mysterious landscapes and desolation which they know so well are the main force behind the lyrics and atmosphere of “The Malediction Fields”, and that becomes apparent after a few listens. Their sound can range from soothing and dreamy post-rock with soft, clean vocals to crushing atmospheric black metal with ghastly roars and growls just in one song (see “Colossal Voids” for a good example of this).

The production on this album is decent, not raw and fuzzy but rather slightly clouded and echoing – definitely appropriate for the kind of music they make. On this album, we hear the band using clean vocals for the first time. On “Ancient Sorrow”, there were some clean vocals, but they were just in the background of the music for ambiance. Here, we hear very soft vocals performed by The Watcher that are more quiet and further back in the mix. It is not notably high-pitched or deep, rather somewhere in between. Some may say the singing is weak, but I think it compliments the rest of the music perfectly. The Watcher’s growls and harsh vocals on here are very intense and piercing, causing the music to have a booming and echoing sound. The guitar work on this album is often ethereal and chilling, with mysterious, deep and melodic riffs and the bass is not often noticeable, but still important in tying it all together. All of the instruments play a very important role in the atmosphere of the music, and the keyboards and ambiance, along with rather impressive drumming tie it all together successfully.

This album is near perfection. The only real notable drawback here is that the drumming is barely audible at times (mainly during the intense climaxes). The crashing of cymbals is all that can be heard during these parts, and I think the power of these crushing climaxes would be heightened by more a more noticeably aggressive sound out of the drums.

Highlights: Colossal Voids, Exile’s Journey, A Witness to the Passing of Aeons, Bereft

Do Me Bad Things – Yes!

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 1 August 2009 0 comments

Do Me Bad Things – Yes! – 3.5/5

Its not often I come across an artist that I enjoy that is palatable to those with less ‘metallic’ taste, but as obscure as this artist may appear they seamlessly fuse all the styles and genres presented. In the wake of the recent post-punk revival, this 9-piece band (yes, nine members) take more than the heavily blues influenced indie-rock sound in the same vein as the White Stripes, often infusing a bass laden groove with the vocal style of both hard rock and soul, adding a splash of solo’s that would make the likes of AC/DC proud, described as “the missing link between ‘The Scissor Sisters’ and ‘Led Zeppelin’,” it retains a unique flare throughout that feels altogether natural, despite the frequent change in pace and tone.

The drums are consistently worked, and whilst do little to show his prowess maintains a prominently heard and constantly changing beat forming the base layer to work from. With keyboards that all too often gets lost behind the other instruments, occasionally making their presence known, ‘filling the gaps’ in their sound and assisting in a smooth flow. In a similar fashion, the bass too feels often lost behind the other instrumentation. Much of the rhythm is carried by the guitars, with an array of simplistic – often chord based – riffs, with no shortage of melodic solos they assist with the other instrumentation in producing a thick and atmospheric, sometimes funky, other times bluesy, platform for the vocals to launch from.

And with five vocalists to choose from, you can be sure of plenty of diversity. With two (sometimes three, depending on the track) female vocals adding choral work in a soul-filled, almost gospel manner, harmonising with the other vocals it ends pleasant little touches to the track produced. From the higher-pitched Nicolai wailing in the more rock-orientated tracks, performing aptly if not remarkably so, to the deep and gravely blues-laden smooth vocals of Mark Woods, both feel overshadowed by the talents of the female lead of the group. Like a softly spoken ‘Aretha Franklin,’ she emerges with an emotional bite, rarely missing a note she sustains many of the slower tracks almost single handed.

There are a number of tracks that don’t quite hit the mark, but the sheer diversity in the style of tracks presented here; when everything does come together it’s a joy to listen to. With a particular preference for the more upbeat blues-rock laden material, this debut album would unfortunately come to be their last, and with little recognition outside of the country this is one artist that may all too shortly become forgotten entirely.

Highlights: Time for Deliverance, Sprezzatura, The Song Rides, Mollys Wood

VICTORY - Don't Get Mad-Get Even - 2/5

In the same vein as my last review, this is yet another project featuring the axe carving of one Herman Frank. Discontented with the heavier than thou pounding of ACCEPT, Frank decided to jump ship and focus on a more Americanized sound with VICTORY. Comprised of seasoned veterans of the scene, the band reeked of melodic metal potential. Unfortunately, the self titled debut was an awful outing and contained a terrible performance by TED NUGENT cohort Charlie Huhn on vocals. Well, this sophomore effort ramped up the effort, and while not a great improvement, it did start to reveal the upside of where this band was headed.

Huhn's vocals this time around are improved. Suitable for the music featured on this album, a little raspy,with enough oomph to carry the meager requirements of this particular style of "hair metal". And that's really what this stage of VICTORY is, a firmly North American style of hair band rock album. Hampered by a dull production, the album thumps along as Huhn spouts every cliche in the party rock rule book. And I say "thump" very seriously, as this album plods and thuds along with very little change in velocity.

A major root cause for the meandering lope of the album is the standard, unexciting 4/4 signatures that Fritz Randow lays all over the effort. Normally an innovative and busy keeper of back beat, Randow seems stifled and base throughout the mediocre hard rock contained within. I'm at a loss as to what the thought process was concerning his restrained performance, but it relegates the album firmly in dinosaur clod rock territory. Disappointing.

The real reason to check out VICTORY is of course the arch guitar work of Frank himself. The first thing one notices is that he puts in an uncharacteristic "shred' style of playing. Overblown solos are flashy, but usually uninviting. He does show up with some monster riffing, as in the sturdy Not Me, the speed metal Are You Ready, and album closer(and best track) Running Wild. But for the most part, it is one of the most uninspiring performances of his diverse and heady career.

Not the best album in the VICTORY catalog, "Don't Get Mad-Get Even" might satisfy the most die hard of '80's style party rock fans, but ultimately falls flat due to the emaciated song writing, '80's style production, and dated hair band conventions. Think commercial ACCEPT(the awful Udo-less "Eat The Heat" in particular), mid tier KEEL, or standard KROKUS in terms of touchstones. A failure yes, but a few shards of light give hope for better efforts, and indeed, the band would go on to create some fetching melodic metal highs.

Highlights - Running Wild, Not Me, Are You Ready


Blog Archive


Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

Author's credit is given on all posts.