Nearly twenty years into this twenty first century of ours, and retro is once again the chicest tone in town. Fuzzed, bluesy guitars, seventies licks and threads, and an aching earnestness for a sound of yesteryear is where the coolest of cats are chilling. And down such alleyways we find Belgian quartet Black Mirrors and their impressive full length debut Look Into The Black Mirror (Napalm).
Adding the garage blues of Royal Blood to the laconic desert tenets of Queens of the Stone Age and topping it the impressive tones of Marcella Di Troia and her Joplinesque power and authenticity isn’t a bad place to start, and from such foundations only good things have flowered.
Stirring things up, ‘Moonstone’ is a restrained, winsome tale and ‘Till The Land Wind Blows’ adds some Americana to the mix, but it is in the garage blues of ‘Lay My Burden Down’, a track that calls to mind The Black Keys fronted by Lzzy Hale, that the Mirrors truly hit their niche. Last year’s Funky Queen EP has been expanded upon, and Black Mirrors have demonstrated class and songwriting dexterity across the ten tracks on display here to position themselves nicely in and amongst the Blues Pills and Avatarium’s of this retro world. [7.5/10]
Getting nostalgic, but for a wholly different era, are Lowlives, who introduce themselves with a self-released three track EP, Burn Forever; a trio of tunes hankering for that nineties, post-grunge alternative metal boom. And with a lead off track as strong as this title track, resplendent in a crunky verse and Bush baby of a chorus, they’re off to a strong start in establishing themselves. These days, the playing field is level, and if you can connect, tunes don’t have to be progressive or forward thinking, just good, and this combination of former members of The Defiled (Stitch D – now known as Lee Villain) and Amen (Luke Johnson – drums) clearly know their musical onions. Sonically reminiscent of the turn of the century, the first two tracks offer class and hooks, even if third track ‘Thieves’ doesn’t live up to the mark. As an introduction, this limited edition vinyl run of Burn Forever is a strong start to mark the L.A. collective out as ones to watch out for once we get to full-length debut album time. [7.0]
Still rooted in the nineties, but this time over on the wrong side of the tracks – and there is something reassuringly persistent about the regularity with which bands of this ilk set their stall out in the very basics of the sound and style – is Bruise who, it is no real surprise to say, sound exactly like you’d expect a hardcore band called Bruise to sound. No messing about, just straight down and pummelling, Grief Ritual (Unbeaten) is a Terror of an album that isn’t taking prisoners. With a hefty Slayer muscle to proceedings, ‘Penalty Awaits’ is the epic of the shortsharpshock bunch weighing in at just over three minutes, as musical diabolus is evoked before a slower stomp shakes the walls. This album knows its role, doesn’t outstay its welcome, does everything it should, and nothing more. [6.5]
The look back over the shoulder is even shorter for Wildways, a Russian five-piece, who just want to party like it’s 2009, metalcore is standing up and screaming, and breakdowns chunking in and around pop choruses is in (suicide) season. To be honest to them, times in the mainstream haven’t really moved on much from there, the assimilation and seeping in of Tech Metal algorithms and logarithms aside, and Wildways are building quite the following on their socials and in their homeland. While being more than a touch “metalcore one-oh-one”, nonetheless, Day X (Pale Chord) is an enjoyable ride of bellowed verses and hooky choruses, with ‘Sarah’ in particular sinking it’s claws in, implanting an earworm of significant proportions. [6.0]
Årabrot’s dalliances with sounds of yesteryear, however, are much more entrenched and established… theirs is a heritage stretching back over fifteen years that has always been rooted in the post-punk and experimental noise rock of the eighties; the caustic nature of Killing Joke and the artistic abrasiveness of The Birthday Party has never been too far away from the forefront of Kjetil Nernes work. By adding a Nick Cave backwash to the (ir)regular order of things on latest offering Who Do You Love (Pelagic), Nernes has established a unsettling tone to proceedings where the unmelodious dark poetry of a tale of morality is woven into jangling art rock n’roll (‘Maldoror’s Love’), that playfully sits at odds with servings of cathartic goth death rock, such as the twisted reworking of Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’. Årabrot is not a traditional vehicle, and by nature, Who Do You Love is not easy listening, yet it is smoothed and well-crafted enough not to be off-putting to strangers, or those already versed with the artist. [7.0]
And finally, oh Lord, what have we here…?! Desperation Finds Hunger In All Men (Heavy Hound) sees this Virginian quintet continue their impressive mission of melding two seemingly disparate cousins -Thrash and Sludge – into a cohesive and satisfactory whole that, while retro in tone and Sabbathian in grounding, is still staunchly interesting and different in a scene where swampy stagnation and adherence to types and tropes can often cause creative inertia. Not so for Lord with their fifth (and, by all accounts, final) offering.
With nods to Trouble and Crowbar and taking some progressive leanings from Anciients in and amongst their downtuned epic tales, Lord manage to be distinctive while engaging the curiosity all while remaining crunching and providing plenty of riff action down amongst the dead things of their swampen mire. The Rivera / Weurhmann guitar axis holds this hulking mass together, while ace in the pack, the rich timbre of Steven Kerchner’s baritone voice, adds a focal point of interest.
Their reliance on lengthier tracks, which is a trait that has predominantly surfaced on this album, does mean some of these works meander and at times the punch and snap brought by the thrashier sections gets lost, but there is enough diversity, heft, sludge, bulk, thrash and vocal intrigue to keep the brain from wandering too far down the lazy river of this fitting epitaph. [7.0]