Hangman’s Chair – Banlieue Triste

The ten tracks of the fifth album by Hangman’s Chair, Banlieue Triste (Spinefarm) clock in at a wee bit over an hour. The title track ‘Banlieue Triste’ opens the album. It was an odd choice. It’s almost three minutes of maudlin slow-moving fare. It gives you no indication of what’s to come. To wit, if I were a casual listener, I’d switch it off and that would do a disservice to the rest of the album. Banlieue Triste, the album, is best described as atmospheric angsty Sludge. The second track ‘Naive’ more encapsulates the overall sound of Banlieue Triste: the music sounds as if it’s in an echo chamber. This production choice enhances the listening experience as it impacts the depth of the music. The listener feels just a tad “off”. There is a constant unnerving expansive feel to every song. Continue reading

Rolling Through The Universe – Lethe

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The arenas of sludge and doom metal are ones that have become ever more crowded, at a considerable rate it seems in the last few years and with a greater air and influence of Prog. In fact, since the likes of Neurosis and possibly even Yob took Prog rock influences into the gritty sound of doom there have been a plethora of like minded acts, most notably with Mastodon who took this thinking and rocketed to the top runs of the metal ladder. Thus it proves the unenviable task for the likes of stalwarts Rolling Through The Universe to make an impact on the scene, even though they show considerable prowess.

The band’s third album Lethe (Hidden Temple) sees Eric Wallace move from bass to second guitar and the introduction of new bassist Leon West and drummer Noah Leen, and with these changes seems to have come a more melancholic tone. Previous album Machines In The Sky (Hidden Temple), despite its overriding doom traits also showed vivid, melodic tinges which gave it an almost uplifting feel, whereas on Lethe these aspects, although still present appear increasingly buried. Instead Lethe focuses more on slower and noticeably heavier riffs and passages; proving more straightforward and perhaps easier to digest, yet still atmospheric.

Over their career Rolling Through The Universe have shown they are more than competent enough a group, but the problem lies in the overcrowding of the genre and making an impact. With Lethe’s more linear feel it’s difficult to see how it will truly stand out from the crowd. Fans of the genre will definitely find plenty to take from this, but sadly nothing they haven’t already encountered numerous times.

 

6.0/10

CHRIS TIPPELL

Undersmile – Anhedonia

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There’s something unnervingly sweet and endearing about Oxford quartet Undersmile. Comprising two very loved-up couples, there’s also a folkish offshoot, Coma Wall; and a winsome charm to Taz Corona-Brown and Hel Sterne, the female half of the outfit, which belies their stage personae as zombiefied, brutally-defiled dolls. But the music…

The band’s torturously slow style is given a creepy quality by the ladies’ dual vocals: drawled intonations, atonal yet harmonic; expiring breaths emanating from the diseased, throttled, heavily-painted mouths. Near-feathered drums and thrumming bass notes accompany at a measured pace. Sound dull? Far from it. Anhedonia (Black Bow Records) is bloody hypnotic, because you’re waiting for the explosion; a squealing lead winding itself around booming yet crawling rhythms, riffs to crush buildings and barking screams that chill the soul.

The sorrowful opening to ‘Sky Burial’ houses the first employment of the cello which has so awakened the already urgent yet pregnant Undersmile sound, adding a SubRosa-esque quality which is the jigsaw’s missing piece. The accompanying latent chants keep the attention firmly fixed until the brief but spectacular shows of savagery, full of the weight and anger of a protective bull elephant, burst forth. This is the only track to fall under ten minutes, so the uninitiated may feel more comfortable bringing butties and a flask. The already converted, however, will have no such need.

The voices of ‘Song of Stones’ are delicate, honeyed yet shamanic incantations befitting the subject matter, enlivened by brief yet poignant cello/lead duets toward the apocalyptic, brain-dissolving convergence of power. Utterly terrifying Sludge sequences within ‘Atacama Sunburn’ complement the eerie, ghoulish softness and closing melancholy they counter; whilst that folk link is evident in the highly charged, mournful crush of the incredible ‘Aeris’.

Despite the more ponderous sound being the template this is haunting, sinister, sometimes brutal yet downright sexy stuff. It boots debut full-length Narwhal (Future Noise) to the sidelines with its increased flow and depth, and will ensnare the senses of all who encounter it. The hostile quickening and psychotic intonations of metronomic closer ‘Knucklesucker’ is a boiling coda to a remarkable achievement.

8.5/10

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PAUL QUINN

Desert Storm – Omniscient Masters

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If the adage “times flies when you’re having fun” has any sort of current validation then Oxford’s Desert Storm must be having quite a lot of fun as this is, almost unbelievably, their third album. Following a debut record, Forked Tongue (independent/self-released), that showed a huge amount of promise, a second album (Horizontal Life) (Blindsight) that pretty much said “yes, they know exactly what they are doing: more please”, the band’s bluesy, riff hungry, gnarlier-than-you take on southern influenced blues/sludge rock suggested a band with its heart and its head in deepest Missouri as opposed to the English home counties.

For this third album, the enigmatically titled Omniscient Masters (Blindsight), the word “experimentation” occasionally springs to mind, although, worry not, the departures are more nuanced than truly startling- they haven’t gone all One Direction on us, for example. Omniscient Masters is the sound of a band feeling like they need to stretch their creative legs a bit, whilst continuing to deliver slab after slab of riff-tastic blues rock.

To these ears, Omniscient Masters is an album that owes something of a creative debt to Orange Goblin. As any fool know, there’s not much wrong with that and so it proves on the splendid and splendidly titled ‘Collapse of the Bison Lung’ which is stirring and heavier than a lead and iron sandwich. You won’t need a post-graduate qualification to know what ‘Queen Reefer’ is all about and ‘Outlander’ is dirtier than a post festival wardrobe. So far, so familiar and so very welcome. There is a very Anglo-Saxon sense of humour running through ‘Nightbus Blues’ and its very recognisable tales of that 4am walk home from a session too far will doubtless be familiar to many readers although I’m less sure how well this translates to an international audience.

Those highlights apart, the rest of the album is not quite up to scratch and, as a long time watcher of the band, I worry that this is going to end up as a missed opportunity. Omnisicient Masters is good but it’s not great and I so wanted it to be great. I rate this band; they’ve got a certain something that is genuinely worth championing. I can’t help but think that with a bit more work and a producer like, say, Andy Sneap working with them, we would have had a little bit more judicious editing and a bit more forensic focus on the execution; as it stands, Omniscient Masters is ok when it should have been K.O. Plenty of credit for the experimentation, but points deducted for the execution; a veritable curate’s egg, then. If your curate is a metal head, of course.

 

7.0/10

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MAT DAVIES