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.

Black Pyramid – Black Pyramid

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 30 October 2011 0 comments

Black Pyramid – Black Pyramid – 5/5

Do you crave Black Sabbath’s hook-laden old-school doom riffs? Are you a fan of Electric Wizard’s slow, grinding sludge? Do you covet the raw stoner riffage of Kyuss that sounds like it was recorded in the middle of the desert using a mondo generator? Then this is the album for you! Heralding from Massachusetts, Black Pyramid combines elements of all three aforementioned bands on this ambitious debut album, resulting in a colossal barrage of stoner/doom. Eastern sounds are also incorporated, in a more subtle and tasteful manner than Nile achieved, adding even greater depth to the weighty atmosphere that Black Pyramid have created.

Andy Beresky, the chief songwriter, lead guitarist and vocalist, is clearly the driving force behind the band. He sounds like Ozzy with a bad throat…in a good way. His deeper, coarser voice provides more of an edge than the cleaner vocals that are typical of doom: These would sound too thin if partnered with the leaden riffage of Black Pyramid. Although lyrics about the occult are very predictable in doom, the songs are well written and follow a continuous theme. Andy Beresky’s guitar playing takes noticeable influence from early Sabbath. This is especially prominent on the bluesy intro to ‘The Worm Ouroboros’. There is no filler here. If you think doom is supposed to be slow, this proves otherwise. Crushing riff after crushing riff slams your head to the kerb and stomps you into submission. A thick and fuzzy guitar tone, typical of stoner/doom, is used throughout. At the halfway point, an acoustic interlude, ‘Celephais’, is well placed to break up the album and keep the listener interested, not that there is any danger of becoming bored. While it’s the leads that make this album special, the bass and percussion are not hidden away. The bass is very audible and is crucial in the construction of Black Pyramid’s hefty grooves. The mid-paced drumming is delivered by Clay Neely, formerly of southern rockers Artimus Pyledriver.

Despite making an instant impression, this is very definitely an album that has grown on me with every listen, unlike other more generic doom that has ultimately become buried deep beneath the classics in my collection. My only problem with this album is that it is Black Pyramid’s only album. Unfortunately they split-up last month, after Andy Beresky quit. The only consolation is the release of a compilation of six great songs from demos and splits. That this is the best stoner/doom release of 2009 is not up for debate. It easily makes my top ten all-time favourites. Although there is nothing particularly original or groundbreaking here, had it been released during doom’s heyday it would surely be considered amongst the classics.

Bereaved – The Spirit Driven by Hate – 3.5/5

Not only is this a solid debut full-length album, ‘The Spirit Driven by Hate’ is one of the best death/thrash albums to be released from Japan. Despite the huge metal scene in Japan, few acts get any real exposure in the West. This is one of many albums that deserve our attention.

The album opens with the chilling intro ‘Apparition’, and then erupts into a thrilling onslaught of metal. Brutal from start to finish, 'The Spirit Driven by Hate' is also technically superb. The quintet from Tokyo has found a near perfect blend of death and thrash metal, full of well used blast beats. Bereaved plays its own take on extreme Teutonic-style thrash, with a modern twist. The fast, intense thrash riffing is layered with Gothenburg melodies and some impressive solos. Void of any repetitive, chugging songs (like Slayer surround their two or three good songs with on every album), most of the tracks are 5-6 minutes long, but never drag. Leo Wakiya displays solid, although for the most part unspectacular, death metal drumming with plenty of good fills to keep it interesting.

Japanese vocalists sometimes get a lot of criticism, because of the unusual accent when they sing in English. In the case of Bereaved, if you are only used to European/American death growls, Tetsu Haramura’s deep, rasping vocals may take a bit of getting used to. Although at times the vocals are reminiscent of metalcore, they really fit the music well and I found that they grew on me with every song. If you like death/thrash, you should get this album now!

Falloch - Where Distant Spirits Remain

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 27 October 2011 0 comments

Falloch - Where Distant Spirits Remain - 3/5

I have always steadily maintained that Agalloch are the present day Beatles, never mind the qualitative breadth between the two bands though, I'm talking about inspiring a whole new set of ideals in music which before them were certainly seldom attempted. If so far my words have been Greek to you so far then I suggest you go ahead and take a look at how many bands have jumped into the whole naturalist-esque post rock/metal bandwagon. Now of course taking influence from an artist is nothing to be critical about, Moonsorrow wear theirs proudly on their sleeves. But where Moonsorrow take influence from Bathory they remember to add their own touch on 90% of the things. Sadly that is not the case here.

And yet the score could have been higher, had originality been the only issue here. Hailing from Scotland these Brits play a kind of music that is at times indisputably beautiful and at others just plain awkward. Mixing post rock with Doom is fine and usually can produce wonderful results, but when you lump the two together without any sort of coherence, you produce a piece symbolical to a piece of clay unskillfully molded. It will have some delightful edges and shapes around it, but overall it just puzzles you to no ends. 

Song-writing is the major flaw on display here, sometimes the instruments going full throttle for intense playing and then completely dropping everything to an almost minimalist acoustic tone to display folklore elements. Had there been some coherence between the two phases, this record might just have elevated itself to brilliance the band’s potential displays. So the listener, in turn, is just lost at times in terms of where the track is going and this makes the majority of the album quite forgettable despite its appeasing moments. 

Thankfully the instrumental melodies prove to be the saving grace of this album. Where the instruments lack in coherence, they make up in skill. Now that doesn’t imply technical ability or fast solos but some very beautiful moments created in from of some magical riffs and mesmerizing acoustic interludes. Drums are at times barely noticeable but when the tracks kick into the more intense phases, they merge well with the rest of the band.

And yes I'm not forgetting the vocals which are really the most interesting aspect on show really. Now on one hand, the vocalist has a good voice, no arguing on that, but I sincerely question their vocalist choice for the kind of genre they are attempting. This is critical because the band often compromise on the instrumental flow just to highlight his soft vocals. Perhaps that would explain for the extreme switching between the intensity levels of the music, but even then it’s not an apt excuse for the song-writing. It just shows how forced most of the substance is. I will say this for the Scots though, they have the talent and the potential on their side but this is a harsh lesson for anyone in music. Potential and talent is not enough to cut it. An average effort with some occasional shine but mostly it just leaves you bewildered.

Rainroom - And The Other That Was A Machine - 4/5

Weaving out interesting guitar riffs is no cake walk. If you doubt that, just ask Petrucci, he has been struggling with it since Dream Theater’s sophomore effort. But leaving that entire argument aside we come to Finland, the much acclaimed home of Metal and this time we find some fellows from Espoo indulging in an interesting mix of melancholic music.

My only regret is that I did not discover this band earlier because whilst they are not that unique, they definitely are displaying the desire to put out their own sound. This album whose name is a bit too long to say again and again is their second effort, and if I’m honest with myself, it’s a thoroughly engaging one. Like you would expect from any band attempting a mixture of death and doom metal these Finns mix their distorted guitar riffs well with some very clean lines, creating a mechanical but a very hypnotizing atmosphere.

To get deeper into the aesthetics of the album, I really have no idea what exactly the concept is being offered here. You can be sure one is being put together by the way the whole album comes together with some recycled riffs in later songs, and that is where some criticism must set in; the band carrying the right ideas but trying to be too expansive for their own good. Despite the themes they avoid the most dangerous trap of all; letting their music seem forced. Whilst the coherence comes together a bit uneasily at times, it still seems to be a natural transcendence rather than a tangled mesh. What really is the musical highlight of this work are the guitars with their ability to complement one another and mostly being able to keep interest in the song, even when going in there is an abundant repetition of riffs. So really the name of the album seems apt if you just concentrate on the sound these guitars create, at times scratchy, at times flowing and at times distorted.

The next most prominent part of the atmosphere is filled in by the drums and bass with the former following a varied selection of beats mostly echoing but feeling substantial enough to create steely atmosphere, and then what’s left is filled in subtly by the bass just about creating enough of a vacuum for this most absorbing mechanical experience. 

The only quirks I have with this work are the song-writing and the vocals. The latter often are drowned out by the intense playing of the instruments and whilst that’s not usually the worst thing, they often just feel like a drowning man coming up gasping for breath. Yes that did not mean literally but rather that the vocals can interrupt the flow of the instruments at times. As far as the song-writing is concerned, they can definitely improve in that department with the talent they have at their disposal.

So parting word, give this one a go. This has its roots from steampunk,Opeth and Insomnium but it really just melds everything and goes miles away from their bank. It sounds awkward at those rare moments but mostly its all very pleasing to hear.

Shadowside – Inner Monster Out

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 19 October 2011 0 comments

Shadowside – Inner Monster Out – 3.5/5

This is a band that have always felt to be on the cusp of greatness, and if you plunder the depths of this blog you'll find my atrocity of an early review attempt of their debut album “Theatre of Shadows,” and particularly my excitement at discovering a female vocalist displaying more ballsy rasp-laden lines than most men seem capable of, and pulling it off well. Her gender never becomes an issue and suits the music at least as well as any other, quickly dispelling any trace of a thought that she might try and pander to her femininity and sound like the plethora of Nightwish clones dominating the industry by roaring in your face. But it's been a long time since these Brazilians emerged from obscurity, and after their questionable (read: awful) second album (taking a lighter and thoroughly unsuited keyboard-centric approach to their sound) I felt it time to see how things have progressed, and it would certainly seem that they're back on track to prove to the world they deserve to be recognised. For one thing they've almost completely done away with the keyboards.

In fact, they've completely done away with gentle introductions altogether and open with a bang; a collision of crunchy riffs and powerful vocal lines fitting to the name “Gag Order.” In the four years since their debut they've been hard at work and the level of musicianship clearly shows that; more than the vocal lines which retain that balance between melody and aggression as well as ever, it seems that the rest of the band have stepped up to the plate. The drumming still remains delightfully near the forefront, delivering an array of beats fluidly changing as the track demands, and the bass is often is required to do more than just basic root notes to maintain the track's rhythm because perhaps the most remarkable improvement comes from the work of the lead guitars. There are more riffs littered about this release than ever before, and the complexity and detail in the solo's, shredding like never before and yet still displaying a sense of melody that suits the track at hand, adding a new dynamic to the music. They follow the old-school train of thought that a solo should be a song's highlight and rarely does it disappoint.

Sadly, the production feels a little too clean at times, the drumming coming off a touch too sterile, and whilst this isn't overly detrimental in more complex releases, in one so reliant on a simplistic melody and a heavy crunch it doesn't always pan out so well. The bass is on occasion too subtle and lost behind the chords of the guitar when you can often hear he's often doing more than just following them (listen out for the slap bass line in the chorus for “My Disrupted Reality”) and could benefit from being on more of a level pegging as the lead guitars where volume is concerned, allowing more potential for interplay between the two musicians. It also leaves much of the album – particularly during the chorus' – feeling just a little thin on the ground when the backing bass guitar and rhythm should be going into overdrive to give the song the support it needs; it leaves the vocalist feeling too bare, carrying the track entirely on her own shoulders, and as capable as she is, I hate the feeling that it sometimes gives that it's merely “Dani Nolden and friends” as opposed to a fully fledged band.

This is easily their most consistent release to date, feeling as though it might have taken them until this time to really find their own sound but are now comfortable in the style they've carved for themselves, much to the benefit of the release. Each member sees an improvement with every release that comes my way, and this is no different; it's harder hitting, heavier, and just as melodic as ever before, and whilst lacking the memorability of the best of their debut, never descends to the mediocrity of the worst presented there. On the cusp of greatness Shadowside remain, and all that's left for me to do now is await the next instalment for a band that feels as though their musical journey is only just beginning.

Highlights: Habitchual, My Disrupted Reality, Waste of Life

The Project Hate MXCXCIX – Bleeding the New Apocalypse

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 18 October 2011 1 comments

The Project Hate MXCXCIX – Bleeding the New Apocalypse - 4/5

Let me start off by saying this was a release I was tentatively excited for, because this studio band that constantly seeks to improve itself has gone through a few changes, the likes of which haven't been seen since their long-time vocalist Jonna Enkell first replaced Mia Stahl that preceded her, and now it seems she too has flown the Project Hate nest to work on her ambient solo project (Siren On, already up on this blog). The replacement is no stranger to me either, having first heard her powerful vocal work in 'Witchbreed,' and whilst impressive right from the start her style is markedly different, and thus comes my concern. Their greatest strength in the past has come from the glorious juxtaposition between the sweet and innocent vocals amidst a demonic chaos, literally defining the concept of the 'Beauty and the Beast' vocal style and doing it like none other.

There's no point in lying, I am a big fan of Enckell's vocal style, but I must give credit where it's due, and the simple fact is that the addition of Ruby Roque to the fold seems as natural a fit as I could ask for. She's done more than just deliver epic, ethereal soaring vocal lines on cue like nobody else I could name, but she's changed the entire dynamic of the band; everything flows together so well, capable of using her energy to maintain the momentum of the piece and build up over time to long crescendo's rather than the – by comparison – disjointed transitions between the two very different styles. And when the music finally does break, it's not merely to an electronic interlude as before but often displays a third option; a gentler darkness filled with what at times sounds like half an orchestra gone into it's construction, building up once more until the bowels of hell are once again unleashed upon the listener, twisting and turning and giving way when you expect it to jolt upwards, the aggression vanishing without a trace at a moments notice.

This is not the sort of release you can take in with a single listen. None of their releases are, in fact, and this is probably one of the easiest to quickly become accustomed to despite most tracks clocking more than ten minutes, which between the almost progressive nature of the unrelenting guitar work flowing from end to end before throwing in a trance passage is really saying something. More than any singular element it feels as though everyone has improved their game; the guitars at first made me thought there was another new addition, but it's simply that he's broadened his range from the usual mid-paced aggressive passages into an almost doom-like territory, and has really outdone himself across the board, even if it occasionally feels as though there are fewer solo's than in some of their previous work, though this never becomes much of an issue. It's always conjured demonic imagery but the keyboards and orchestral elements have gone to work more than ever at creating an atmosphere that doesn't just focus on the morbid, creating a sense of looming darkness; storm clouds gently floating overhead, becoming more prominent and noticeable up until the point that it rains fire down on its unsuspecting victims.

In fact, just about the only thing doesn't feel up to scratch is the drumming work, which in the past has always cemented itself as a companion piece in its own right given enough time. It's not to suggest the new drummer is a slouch compared to his predecessor, only that perhaps he hasn't quite settled fully into the complex and demanding rhythm's the music sometimes requires, just feeling a little too rigid when dealing with the otherwise steadily flowing manner of the tracks, and needing just a little nudge to mix things up a little as things proceed. Considering half the line-up has changed, that this is my only real complaint is very promising for this bands future. Though they have undoubtedly changed there is never a question that it still sounds like Project Hate, but in doing so they've managed to diversify their sound and broaden their horizons. There are deep growls complemented by high pitched growls, a greater versatility to the intensity of the clean vocal lines – even if she doesn't do the soft and gentle lines as well as Enckell managed to – and between the orchestral and the electronic, the result is that the whole 'metal opera' compositions have so many new avenues to explore. This is perhaps not their best work, but certainly suggests that a real gem is on the horizon.

Highlights: A Revelation of Desecrated Heavens, Bring Forth Purgatory

Von Hertzen Bros. - Stars Aligned

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 14 October 2011 1 comments

Von Hertzen Bros. - Stars Aligned – 4.5/5

When a guy in a bar cracked out his MP3 player to see my thoughts on a band he reckon I wouldn't know the result was... well it was "Porcupine Tree." Taking this as a challenge he professed “you'll never have heard this one, NOBODY outside of Finland knows them,” and he was right, and this is the result; a prog rock band comprised primarily of three brothers – and where the band derives its name – on guitars, vocals and bass, bringing in help for the drums and keys. Known only in their native Finland, they've since spent the last few years vying to get internationally recognised, and with music like this it must surely only be a matter of time. Citing influences such as Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, it seems intriguing that the result doesn't quite fit, instead harking back to the glory days of Yes, Rush, Queen and Genesis, a style I must confess doesn't always do it for me, which perhaps attests to the wealth of talent on display.

Singing entirely in English, they never fail to provide vocal lines that dare anyone not to sing alongside their catchy hooks and chorus lines, readily drawing comparisons to pop music. But despite the inherent ability to get their melodies stuck inside your mind, the pop comparison largely stops there; it never feels quite as simple as that, and at times can get downright complex when all the intersecting lines are considered, and yet throughout it all the focus remains on the composition with no regard for the speed or 'showing off' their prowess. It's all down to the way everything manages to synchronise in perfect harmony; solos galore amidst such soothing vocals never lacking just enough bite to them to keep them interesting; melodic 'shredding' and folk overtones; heavy hitting rock riffs grooving along into Floyd-esque, almost ambient interludes, and a plethora of other influences somehow integrated into the overarching compositions that seamlessly flow from one point to another, be it within the track or the context of the album in it's entirety.

And it is indeed so melodic that it's all to easy to find yourself entering a trance like state, letting the music flow over you in waves, absorbing more of the atmosphere created subconsciously than consciously until the music breaks and demands your attention once more, and that can be slightly worrying. That such a large extent of the album can be so readily ignored; entire tracks, if not necessarily bad, certainly not equal to the high standard set by others, can be forgotten in the album's midst, it calls into question the replayability of the album as a whole. The best albums in the genre are as ever flowing as this, but is filled with so much at every moment, every twist and turn of the track that you can listen to it a dozen times and still find something new nestled in its depths. By comparison, this is a shallow offering with some vague and clich̩ ideas, if performed to perfection. It feels like they're holding back Рthey have the musical ability, that much is at times made abundantly clear Рtrying to make it as palettable to as many as possible, simplifying tracks when they could easily have added a touch more depth to them. Fans of the classic 70s prog with plenty of pop like harmonies will find much to their liking with this, but I can't help but shake the feeling that they could do better.

Highlights: Gloria, Angels Eyes, Always Been Right

Editors Note: The more I listen to these guys, the more awesome they become. Score bumped half a mark in reflection of how its grown on me.

The Pax Cecilia – Blessed are the Bonds

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 12 October 2011 0 comments

The Pax Cecilia – Blessed are the Bonds - 4.5/5

The Pax Cecilia, from Brookville, plays a brand of post-rock that takes influence from rock, metal, classical and ambient music. I strongly recommend them to fans of Maudlin of the Well. Blessed are the Bonds, their second release, couldn’t be further from the clutches of the dreaded sophomore slump: It is an immaculately composed epic. This album was available to stream online and they were offering to send out copies of the album at the cost of an optional donation. I didn’t even get through a whole song before ordering my copy, as I could instantly tell that I liked it. I didn’t listen any further, as I wanted to wait to hear the album in its entirety on my hi-fi, to do it justice.

It didn’t arrive until some considerable time later, so I had forgotten all about it. When I opened the parcel I had no idea what it was. It came in a brown card digipack, with an unusual design of owls and a heron printed on it. The insert was a folded piece of paper with further unusual artwork, but still no band name. The inside of the case had a track listing and title ‘blessed are the bonds’. The same title was on the disc also. I assumed I had randomly been sent a self-titled demo by a band called ‘Blessed are the Bonds’. Intrigued, I put on the CD and sat back expecting some low production demo. I was blown away. It wasn’t until later that day that I realised this was in fact ‘The Pax Cecilia’, after I went to throw away the envelope and a small card fell out with their website address on it. The card also contained a very refreshing message, “…the greatest gift you could give us in return is to share our music with others…” (As well as doing this, I donated $10).

Blessed are the Bonds is far more unique than your average post-rock. At times the music is reminiscent of ambient black and folk metal, yet metalcore and hardcore influences are also present. The soft, clean vocals are quite beautiful, with the singer never straying from his fairly limited vocal range (as so many singers do, to their detriment). -core vocals are used at times, but sparingly and tastefully. I was surprised at how well they actually work, heightening the emotion (which is conveyed exceptionally well throughout, both by vocals and instrumentation), and not sounding in any way whiny or annoying.

The album opens with ‘The Tragedy’, a soothing and simplistic ten minute intro that starts with a piano melody, followed by the introduction of soft strings and almost whispered vocals. The second track, ‘The Tomb Song’, continues in the same vein, but slowly builds up reaching a powerful climax of unexpected heaviness. After two piano driven songs, the third is much more guitar oriented. This results in The Pax Cecilia finally unleashing their true ferocity, after 20 minutes of taunting the listener with relative control. There is no let-up until ‘The Hymn’, which closes the album serenely with an acoustic guitar and harmonized vocals.

It is emotionally draining yet uplifting, leaving me feeling calm and upbeat after every listen. Imagine you are sailing on a calm ocean, when a colossal storm breaks out. After the turmoil subsides the ocean feels that much more tranquil than it did before. This makes it perfect for an evening in or a lazy afternoon. For a self-produced album, complete with a case and artwork that at a first glance appears individually homemade and hand-drawn, the sound quality is incredible. Upon hearing this, I was relatively new to post-rock, so I could not compare it to anything similar or judge its originality, but it remains to this day my favourite post-rock album.

‘Blessed are the Bonds’ is available for free download (optional donation), at:

Blood Ceremony + Purson (Live Review)

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 10 October 2011 7 comments

Live from the Mondo Water Rats, 10/10/11

Blood Ceremony – 3.5/5

And this is one gig I very nearly missed; a poorly advertised performance from a band whose debut lingers still somewhere in the depths of this blog, at a venue I had never even heard of, but it didn't seem too far off the beaten track. With no real expectations in store, I found the place which as it turns out is just the back room of a small pub, with a half decent stage and room for probably fifty or so spectators. Not that it was full when I arrived. In fact when I wandered through I found little more than the support band, Purson, and their manager standing nearby. Fortunately, this was not to be the entire attendance of the gig, and was merely the stage rehearsal I'd stumbled upon, with the real deal to come in just a few moments.

I feel a little bad commenting on the support act as what was made quite clear in the opening moments is that this isn't a band who have the greatest amount of experience under their belts. Barely past their teens, their lack of confidence on the stage to truly engage the audience rings out quite clear: this a band still finding their feet – as later confirmed by the vocalist, who pointed out they've only been around for three months! – and the fact that they currently still feel so amateur makes it rather difficult to judge. They could go on to be a 'tour de force' in the live industry, they could find themselves floundering despite garnering a greater deal live performances under their belt. At this stage it's simply impossible to really say as a year down the line things could easily be completely different, but if their first release ends up being as strong as the music performed here then this is definitely one I'll be keeping a close eye on.

As for the main band, they definitely felt the benefit of performing to such a small crowd. There's little in the way of frills or banter; there's no synchronised movements or stage pieces, and ordinarily this might be something of an annoyance (that they did little to acknowledge the audience) but somehow here it doesn't feel so bad. The continuous flow of music helped maintain the atmosphere; something that if they suddenly chirped up and started spouting how happy they were for people to have gone to see them would have been destroyed, but somehow after the final song had been sung, I didn't quite feel satisfied. It's not always the 'mark of a great performance,' leaving you wanting more, it simply felt a little short; as though they'd gotten out a bit later than expected and were left with not enough time to play enough material as they otherwise could have. Their respect for their fans is certainly pleasant to see, coming out to meet the crowd and actually talk to them – I don't mean this 'thanks for coming' shake your hand to a fake smile and them walk away quickly, but actual conversations – and is sure to be a benefit in their future, but performance wise there's little to it either way. I'm not disappointed, nor am I ecstatic at the spectacle I've just seen, I'm merely content until the next time.

Photograph by me. Re-use as you please, just please properly accredit the source.

Phew – Phew

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 5 October 2011 0 comments

Phew – Phew - ?/5

Sometimes I listen to something so batshit insane, so absurd that I can't even decide whether or not I like it let alone what on earth to call it. This music is Avant-Garde beyond the normal Avant-Garde; it's a musical paradox that both fits under no genre ever made and yet somehow exists. It's like some sort of weird musical black hole that plods along, and you just know it would have to be a Japanese chick who would come up with it. At best it sounds like some bizarre Japanese form of Krautrock in the same vein as Kraftwerk, or glitch-like in the manner DAT Politics are (except not), and it comes as little surprise that she had some Krautrock musicians help her with this release. Most of the time it just sounds like a girl spacing out, tilting her head to one side and with a completely blank expression imagining the theme tune for “The Magic Roundabout.” To call this experimental is putting it mildly, and this is probably going to be one of the most difficult reviews I've ever had to explain.

If I had to call it anything I'd probably go with “anti-pop,” and yes I'm fully aware I'm making that name up; it's as though someone asked her if she wanted to be a pop musician and she responded by laughing maniacally and after an awkward pause broke the silence by doing an Egyptian dance whilst throat singing. Her vocals aren't cutesy or even melodic. They're blank and expressionless and yet even in her dead lines a weird atmosphere comes across, as though she's completely void of all emotion inside; a blank canvas that has no desire to be filled. Everything seems to have been constructed with the sole purpose of sounding as difficult to describe as humanly possible; as completely anti-mainstream as can be imagined. There's almost some sort of folkiness to the proceedings but matched with the electronic backing it just doesn't quite fit. There are African drums at some stages, piano lines at others and glitch-like electronics at others; saxophone lines and samples of what sounds like gunfire and miners thrown in for good measure. It's all constructed on such a slow paced and minimalist scale that I often want to refer to it as ambient but even that description falters.

And yet somehow it's all tethered to her hypnotic vocal lines; these horrendous vocals that sound like a drunk girl at a karaoke bar that believes herself a great singer yet sounds like a drowning cat. They really are awful, and if they weren't they simply wouldn't work in this release; in an album this dissonant and off the wall, what good would ordinary vocals do? They change pitch in a manner you would never expect and are completely erratic in behaviour; they're warbly and all over the place – which works particularly well with the nonsensical electronic beats and guitar work – and never seem to have any semblance of following the rhythm behind it. It's impossible to adequately rate because I need to gauge it's success at what it's trying to accomplish, and if it's intention is to sound as bad as possible, then do I write it as an awful release? Or one that accomplishes it's intended goal perfectly? This is almost like a B-Movie; you know it's going to be bad and yet for some reason you still find oddly enjoyable to listen to. This is an album that at just over half an hour long completely baffles me, and as a proud scout of the Avant-Garde, that doesn't happen often, let alone by a release now thirty years old. Do I recommend it? Only if you don't mind a musical mindfuck.

Highlights: Signal, Mapping, P-Adic

Redemption – This Mortal Coil – 5/5

It would be very easy to take one glance at this album and decide that they're late on the 'dark direction' bandwagon; after Symphony X puts out “Paradise Lost;” Adagio's “Archangels in Black;” Zero Hour's “Dark Deceiver;” Into Eternity's “Incurable Tragedy,” and I'm sure I'm missing plenty of notorious prog bands that have all recently released their darkest material thematically to date. And changing your sound in such a manner has always been met with mixed success, many of the above gaining as many new fans as losing old ones, but with Redemption it's not that simple, because since their last album some rather dramatic news has befallen our lead songwriter: he was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer that doesn't look pretty. Fact is, statistically speaking, there was a very good chance he wouldn't be around long enough to write another album (though after his ordeal he has since gone into remission, though is keeping a close eye on it's possibility of return. I'll be adding links to his blog as well as an essay he wrote on the subject of the disease).

I've always sensed that he drew immense influence from his own life in the construction of his work, and such profound tragedy can't not affect his song writing – hell the clue is in the album's name. Take a glance at the names of any of their back catalogue; “The Fullness of Time;” “Origins of Ruin;” “Snowfall on Judgement Day;” and you'll note that this is not a band to squander their titles on something that rolls off the tongue without evoking questions and swirling thoughts about their implications. “This Mortal Coil” is no different, and as with so much of their work the lyrics leave upon the listener such a strong impression that when you finally take it all in it's hard not to be moved; lines such as “Pull the marrow from my bones and then destroy it/I can will myself to overcome this all/Give me everything you've got, I defy You/I will break you and will laugh as you go down” - (Stronger than Death) making their mark, and not because they're necessarily poetic. This album is not just another album in a discography, it's a chronicle of his fight against this disease and all the thoughts that come with it.

But this isn't a poet we're talking about here, it's music, and if the overarching compositions weren't up to scratch then nobody would be paying attention at all. For the unprepared it all comes as a bit of a shock; the theme far more bleak than before has made it's impact on the tone of the tracks, and whilst still distinctly 'Redemption' it feels like they've moved on from their previous sound, whether to the listeners preference or not. There were times where I felt Ray Alder, the vocalist, needed to divert from his clean vocals and add a touch more aggression to the proceedings; a bold rasp or roar to work with some of the darker passages of the new material, and as a consequence of requiring a more powerful back beat there are times when the bass and drums feel as though their playing beneath their abilities, but these are all minor complaints when put next to the quality of the material taken as a whole.

There is never a slow moment in this entire release; there is never a point where the track isn't shifting or doing something, whether using keys to build the atmosphere, delivering some of the most emotional vocal lines in the genre or demonstrating that all three guitarists – I am of course referring to the bassist as the third guitarist here, who proves between the solo's and slaps that he's just as worthwhile member as any other guitarist – can shred with the best of them, feeding into one another to create an entire powerful instrumental aspect. There's no shying away from using riffs, and at many points it would be considered gratuitous wankery if for the fact it didn't fit the tone of the music so perfectly every god damn time. It's as though every member has their own voice, and even if they aren't necessarily speaking, they can screech their thoughts through weapon of choice, swaying from solo's reminiscent of Symphony X going full pelt, into passages that almost feel as though they could fit on a Pink Floyd album.

This album has been spinning for no short amount of time – in fact I managed to write another review in between listening almost constantly to this one for about a week now – and at 71 minutes, each moment filled with poignant lyrics to absorb, solo's to swoon to and atmospheres to breathe in deep, there's an awful lot to take in. This is one of those albums that will grow on you as you come to learn it's nuances and realise the shocking truth of his plight; tussles with whether he did something to deserve this cruel fate, depression to the point of giving up, melancholy as he ponders how short life truly is and summoning the strength to persevere on; it's an emotional journey like nothing else they've done. And it's remarkably consistent on top of all this, even after number of listens I still haven't come up with clear cut favourite tracks like I have with the rest of my Redemption collection, and yet as impressive as each track is on its own it is when they flow together that they find themselves working best, contrasting each other and flowing in this epic journey of trauma. If this isn't the best release they've ever done it's bloody close.

Highlights: Blink of an Eye, Dreams from the Pit, Noonday Devil, Let it Rain, Perfect, Stronger than Death

Van Dyk explains his condition
Van Dyk's Cancer Blog

Machinae Supremacy - A View From The End Of The World

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 4 October 2011 1 comments

Machinae Supremacy - A View From The End Of The World - 4/5

One of my very first reviews for this blog was a collection of this bands unsigned material; it always felt as though they were destined for greatness, and after offering a whole host of material for free it was only a matter of time of before someone else realised their potential as well. You see, Machinae Supremacy may on the surface may appear to play rather standard power metal; you have your solos, clean vocals, and a heavy hitting backing that alludes to the classics of the European scene, but mixed amongst it all is their ace up the sleeve, and the reason they refer to themselves as “SID Metal.” SID is a sound chip that gained notoriety for just how well it performed in the Commodore 64, which for those not up to par on their computer lingo means it's all 8-bit. Were talking Super Fucking Mario Metal here.

But when they finally landed that elusive deal, things began to take a turn for the worse. The music was always on the cusp of being just a little too catchy, too reliant on it's rock like hooks to keep it interesting, and as they trod down that road of mainstream accessibility it all felt too pop-inspired. There was no grit under their collective teeth, it all felt a little too complacent, too slow paced, and with only a few stand out tracks a large quantity of it just felt as though it was merely filler material. Until now. It would seem the band has finally begun to agree with me and have removed themselves from the flashing lights of their fancy recording studio to return to the origins, their DIY ways, and it may have taken half a decade but it finally feels as though this is the album they should have exploded out with right from the very start.

It's not all sunshine in this release though. The vocalist still sports what can only described as an 'unconventional' tone that is likely to turn some off; he doesn't deliver swooping epic lines as much as a mid ranged, almost grunge-like drawling lines; the drumming is rather basic and adds little to the proceedings besides a beat that, admittedly feels oddly fitting to the electronic tone and catchiness that – like previous releases – still feels like is being relied upon for replayability purposes. There's also the matter of diversity, a number of early tracks feeling a touch too similar to one another, and then the latter suddenly begins to take a slightly more 'alternative' route, mixing up different idea's that can be somewhat hit or miss, and certainly don't flow too well this far down the track listing (even resulting in one tracks that sounds almost like something “Diablo Swing Orchestra” would come up with).

Make no mistake though, this is still a Power Metal album right to the very core, if perhaps one with an unconventional way of doing things. Their use of chiptune is more than just a cheap gimmick, it actually is used in the compositions of the music to the extent that it feels like another instrument, and one that they simply wouldn't sound right without. The guitars still feel suitably 'heavy' with the bass making himself far more known than I ever remembering him doing in the past, the solo's shred with a speed and ferocity that are only matched by some of the tasty riffs that are put on show, the lyrics begging to be sung as you become mesmerised by the work they've done. It feels as though they've really pulled out everything they had to offer for this release and it shows in the compositions, and even with the third act of the album it's still probably the most consistent release they've done. This is what Genghis Tron is to Grindcore; what Blood Stain Child is to melodeath; yes it's catchy, yes its electronic and no it probably isn't for everyone, but I'll be damned if they haven't got me all excited about them again.

Highlights: A View From the End of the World, Force Feedback, Shinigami, Crouching Camper Hidden Sniper

Crippled Black Phoenix - I, Vigilante

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 2 October 2011 0 comments

Crippled Black Phoenix - I, Vigilante - 4.5/5

Supergroups. I am not a fan of them, never have been so if you come to me and start drooling about Dan Swano and Mikael Akerfeldt collaborating I might possibly slap you out of annoyance. Perhaps it would be more accurate to comment that I do not get hyped up about “supergroups” performing. Mostly their collaborated efforts are more consistent in hype than substance. 

So Crippled Black Phoenix apparently is an exception to my generalization stated above, and a wonderful exception they are. Hailing from UK, consisting of members from bands like Mogwai and Electric Wizard, this bunch proceeds ahead to create a musical project that seems to be equipped with almost every aural emotion known to mankind. Do not expect me to print out a genre for these guys; they simply play a fusion of too many things, with prominent roots in rock and ambient styles. Now I,Vigilante is another addition to a pretty impressive lineup (to my surprise), because I was not expecting this band to have a large discography. “Supergroups” seldom do, but I suppose these guys were actually a lot more serious about combining their musical talents rather than creating hype. And to be entirely frank, I Vigilante backs this up a hundred and ten percent.

To get to the album itself, it is a very transcendental piece of art with chunks and bits of a lot of variance thrown in. If you compare the production in this record with the one in 'A Love of Shared Disasters,' this one has a notably cleaner quality, but note that I say “cleaner” here comparatively, because the atmosphere and the mood of the album is very much like that of a classic 80’s record. That is no criticism though; in fact it proves to be a flourish for the album taking in view the aesthetics the musicians aim to express here. Now to get to the songwriting itself, the band display skills and plenty of them. There are lots of different things on offer here from political/nationalistic criticism to just satiric humor. Sound-wise, the listener is treated to a feast both qualitatively and quantity wise, whether it be the crisp playing of the lead guitar over the thick atmosphere, the sublime passages by the piano and the cellos or just the catchy drumming on display that make you bob your head as you try to sing along to the songs. One of the biggest highlights of the album is how the two guitars differ in their tone yet always complement each other in their sound, one providing the sound as dense smoke while the other seemingly cutting through it like razor wind; being melodically hypnotic but catchy and simple.

Do not let this fool you though, there is enough technical brilliance mixed with catchy songwriting to make the piece intricate but – and that’s a big but – take for example the track 'Bastogne Blues,' which should have your attention and heart clenched with its emotional soldier’s speech intro. The true beauty of this song lies in the band’s versatility to blend all the different instruments being played and weaving it together to architect something seemingly simple. The playing is not something for one to drop their jaw but one to close their eyes get in the mood and listen. On the opposite side of the tempo’s spectrum, the band shows the ability to accelerate when they feel like it. This is also showed in 'Burning Bridges' and in 'Troublemaker' (part of it). The essence of the music is primarily on the fusion and mergence of styles, tastefully going into phases of just hypnotic playing of nothing but the piano and the cello.

So we have “shoegazing” moments, “80’s rock” moments and yes, “Victorian era” bits all thrown in together to create a most lucid but dense aural experience. Let’s also give props to the vocals “Of a lifetime,” which were unquestionably splendidly done by Charlotte, she should sing more to be entirely honest. And whilst we are on the subject of vocals the mention of Mr. Volk must ultimately come in and this is where the only criticism of the album steps. Don’t get me wrong, the man is a good vocalist overall but he really needs to make his vocals more prominent on this record, no scratch that, on this band’s works. This is actually more awkward at times because the talent is apparent but because he is not “loud” enough; his whole vocal performance often sounds like just high slurs and background noise with the instruments. This becomes more of an issue when the members play in unison and he has to sing along in that maze of sounds.

However to sum it all up, that is the only flaw present in this magnificent piece of art. The band really is flexible, diverse and consistent throughout the album, maintaining the listener’s interest in the song with their tasteful use of the instruments and just about bordering it with enough technicalities to express their thoughts in a more unique manner. So yes this is definitely one act to keep the lookout for when they come touring near you, and this is definitely one album you should consider adding to your collection whether you listen to Black, Jazz or some unknown genre of unholy amounts of frostbitten Metal-ness.

Live from the Camden Underworld, 1/10/11

Redemption – 2.5/5
Kingcrow – 3.5/5

This is one date that has been in my diary for months; the same show that saw me tell my close friend that I “couldn't make it” for his birthday drinking session, for Redemption are fast becoming one of my favourite progressive metal bands. They have an ability that the more you listen, the more drawn into the music you become, and announcing their second ever trip to my immediate vicinity, I'll be damned if I'm waiting another half a decade for this opportunity to swing by. And with half the band standing by the merch and contently talking away to passers by who recognised them (mostly ageing metal heads, some of whom brought along their kids who STILL looked older than me) things were shaping up to be a good night.

Kingcrow – an Italian band I don't really know – managed to pull a performance just on the cusp of being 'good,' lacking just some element to give them some sort of edge and really get the crowd's enthusiasm into overdrive. And despite the number of instruments used throughout, managed to rely on their own hands more than any backing track; every musician – bar the drummer – somehow finding his way to a microphone at some point in their moderately lengthy set (for a support act), a commendable feat I've seen others cheat on in the past. And without a bad note played between them all it has to be weighed that the audience were by and large not here for them. The fact that the small crowd showed them their appreciation throughout goes to prove that they succeeded in preparing the crowd for the musical magic to come.

And indeed, the musical magic did arrive, but the commendation here is largely to the music itself and not the performance; the band screwing up their own tracklist somehow, the occasional slip up on a complex and quick solo – understandable if perhaps disappointing given musicians of their calibre – and a vocal performance that doesn't quite match up to the recorded article (which is more to say how fantastic his vocal performance was there rather than suggesting he performed badly here). The major problems, however, all stem from what seems like their attitudes going into the performance; the vocalist could be seen reading his own lyrics not only in preparation but DURING a song, and banter between the musicians and the audience was kept short to “because we're pressed for time” and “if we had more time we'd normally do this.”

Which wouldn't be an issue if they were in any way shape or form, actually pressed for time. When the lights finally came up at around 10pm I thought I must have missed that the clocks had changed; that they'd gone forward an hour, and as I left perplexed and reality dawned on me, I began to feel a little cheated. That it felt like they were rushing through their material just so they could leave a little bit sooner, and that they didn't really want to be there. Speaking to Nick Van Dyk, chief songwriter for the band, prior to the show, he jokingly commented that “he's just glad anybody showed up.” If the band complains about being there on every leg of the tour then I can't say I'm surprised; I don't regret going to see the performance, but I'll certainly not be eagerly anticipating the next.

Photograph by me. Re-use as you please, just please properly accredit the source.

Live from the Camden Underworld, 19/5/11

D - 4/5

And so we come to the small venue in Camden, long since host to rock and metal bands alike offering up a bitesize serving of D live from Japan - their only UK stop on this European Tour - and all the expenses involved in their travelling included, any money made to go to aid the Japanese relief effort. Despite a notable lack of audience banter, understandable given their lack of English fluency, they still managed to learn more than enough to get the crowds jumping, fist pumping, chanting, clapping, flag waving, dancing, swaying and banging their heads in almost perfect unison; feats reserved for the upper echelons of showmen and really highlighting the fact they should be playing for an audience of 2,000 rather than the couple of hundred that actually reared their head.

D's wide appeal is evident from the plethora of rockers, punks, goths and Visual-Kei fans who all got themselves dressed up for the occasion - a mixture that is a sight in itself - but none more so than the theatrical outfits of the band themselves. The frontman mysteriously hiding behind his elegant black cape, but the show was really stolen by the amusing antics of the bassist and lead guitarist in their feminine dresses; the more masculine former making sure to flash plenty of leg and blow kisses into the crowd whilst the one you'd be most likely to try to pick up at a bar and get halfway to the bedroom before you realised they had a penis could often be seen frantically bobbing up and down and screaming into the microphone.

D's live performance is one of those cases of the music sounding far better live, without any undue muddiness between the instruments and rarely a note being missed. Complete with an extended drum solo, they managed to make a lethargic crowd move to the music, and whilst not reaching the energetic peaks of others, show a genuine sense of wanting to be there to perform, and not just to try and make some money or advertise themselves. Between the free signing session after the show and the translated lyrics in the CDs being sold, they certainly weren't rushing into this tour haphazardly and their appreciation for their fans prove to me beyond any doubt that this could be one to watch in the next few years.

Live From, London, Islington Academy, 2/10/11

Versailles - 3/5

I should really start out by pointing that I really do love this band. I know they aren't anything special from a technical aspect, but something about the combination of the outfits for their persona's, the concept that they've created – even if I can't understand the details – and the combination of using choral and orchestral passages intertwined with the standard power metal fare is something I love when Adagio did it with “Underworld” and I still love it here. So you'd probably expect my inner fanboy to start ranting and raving about how undeniably awesome they are, how you're a fool for not wanting to see them, and how the entrance price was worth it just to see a pretty little hair on Hizaki's pretty little head. But to be honest, it feels a little... commercial

It starts out with an announcement that security will take your phone if its seen out – a little bit harsh – but really what they're trying to let you know (and I was “let know” three times before we got to the performance) is that there is absolutely no photography. I didn't even see a professional allowed to take a few snaps, and my immediate reaction was “A band of blokes dressing in drag is afraid an amateur photographer will make them look bad!” It can't be the new outfits, they've had a photoshoot; they didn't sneak in any new material, it's purely to preserve their image. It just seems unnecessary and a bit silly. There's also a problem with the marketing of it all; whilst on one hand when you see the likes of the choreographed twirls and synchronised guitar movements; the colour changing roses being waved – sold at the merch stand for an extortionate £15 a pop (a poster would set you back £10, a CD: £30 {bumped during the show from £20} and a zippo lighter £60!) – it's visually impressive but again feels like a way of marketing it, not dissimilar to the way your average pop band is paraded around for its fans. It somehow feels just a touch sterile, and it wouldn't be until the very end when Hizaki, the guitarist, got a little too excited and decided he wanted to try and crowd surf after the encore that I finally saw something that felt like it wasn't merely staged.

But despite this, I don't blame the band in the slightest. Being signed to Warner Music Japan – a large music company even over there – there is always the classic tale of a big label having their thumb in every pie, and here it just feels like they're doing what they can with a bad hand. The classical music that precedes the performance can't have been a popular choice, though certainly is a fitting one conducive to the atmosphere, and despite selling the roses they never once ask you to raise them, even if there are obvious points, so there's no pressure or guilt if you don't fork out for the gimmick. And since the choreography doesn't cost anything it's hard to really fault them too much on that, even if it removes much of the spontaneity of the performance which for me separates the musicians from the performers, but they still retained an excellent stage presence. The four all moved around the stage, danced, interacted with the crowd – not just leaving it to the vocalist either – and had no problem whatsoever in getting an exuberant and perhaps a little too easily excited audience moving en masse.

The new bassist is – dare I say it – possibly better than our dearly departed Jasmine You, and whilst there were some sound issues (slight feedback and the whole performance could have done with having the volume taken down, just a notch, to correct this issue, and actually would have made their performance all the clearer to hear), they were minor enough and easily corrected for the prepared with ear plugs. The question I think I always ask myself at the end of a show is “would I go again?” And yes, I probably would, but then I'm a bit of a sucker for Hizaki. Really this is a show that only die-hard fans will truly get the most out of.

Live from Relentless Garage, London, 23/9/11

Onslaught - 4/5
Gama Bomb - 5/5
Nightlord - 2.5/5

It's been twenty years since Onslaught have headlined a show in the UK, and they haven't exactly made their triumphant return all that easy on themselves. Time, for one thing, has not been kind to this posse of ageing headbangers, many have gained a significant amount of weight over the years – though one of the guitarists is a new arrival, not that you'd notice – and all the drugs and booze has aged the lead guitarist quite significantly. It doesn't help matters that they had the vocalist from Acid Reign announce that no, they aren't reforming and we could all fuck off, but Nightlord ARE, and were playing their 3rd show in 17 years as a last minute surprise. And that's all before Gama Bomb came out, known for their live antics and on stage energy to wear out the youthful crowd before the headliners could even appear.

As they approached the stage, the youngsters that looked like they'd only really arrived for Gama Bomb anyway - and being the on stage tour de force that they are, I don't blame them - stepped back from the front and a flock of guys in their late twenties and early thirties forced their way forward, and it only took a couple of tracks for them to realise that they probably should have fought for that front row view they previously occupied. You see, whilst Onslaught don't have the vigour of youth on their side, I'll be damned if they don't know exactly what a crowd wants; plenty of riffs to bang your head to, solo's to jump in the pit for (and not a single HXC dancer in sight! Huzzah!) and enough banter to make the crowd feel a part of an experience rather than just watching them play an album from start to finish. That they pulled it off at all after what came before seems somewhat miraculous, but they did more than that. They delivered a message: "We're Back"

Photograph by me. Re-use as you please, just please properly accredit the source.


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.