SOS Fest XII – Part I: Live at The Longfield Suite

Time for one of the highlights of my year, the rather excellent SOS festival. A festival envisioned 12 years ago by Lynne Hampson of Rocksector Records as an antidote to the plethora of family un-friendly festivals around at the time. Continue reading

Novembers Doom – Hamartia

A band like Novembers Doom could only come from a cold place, where nights are long and bleak and depression stalks you like some winged, fork-tongued creature straight from a Clive Barker novel. And if you’ve ever felt the wind blowing off of Lake Michigan in winter, you’ll know the cold, bleak Chicago from which Novembers Doom hails. Continue reading

Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

Infrared Horizon (Profound Lore) is a fine title for Artificial Brain’s sophomore offering. It’s cool in that sci-fi/horror kind of sensibility, but judging by the music other titles come to mind. I was thinking more along the lines of Machines of Hate, or Massive Ordinance Air Blast. The Long Island boys went in hard on LP number two. Hard like a cybernetic organism that just became sentient and is convinced that mankind is teetering towards obsolescence. Continue reading

Steel Panther – Lower the Bar

One of the nice things about a band like Steel Panther is that, like a box of chocolates, you always know what you’re gonna get. And with the Panther, you get the chocolate too; vocalist “Michael Starr” dips right in on the opening track of Lower the Bar (Open E), dropping this little nugget of wisdom: “Sometimes the back door is the only way in.” Continue reading

Woe – Hope Attrition

It’s not a bad time for the American Black Metal scene. Seems like every year we’re getting superb releases from upstarts and institutions like Leviathan, Krallice, Nachtmystium (RIP), Wolves In The Throne Room, Vattnet Viskar, and dare I say, Deafheaven. Woe, and their latest album, Hope Attrition (Vendetta) are no exception to this budding tradition. Continue reading

Trivium – Heart Of A Coward – As Lions – UEA, Norwich (UK)

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There’s a different feeling about a Trivium show these days. Packed to the rafters with a second generation of fans picked up since their refinement and reinvention on In Waves and the successful follow-ups Vengeance Falls and latest opus Silence In The Snow (all Roadrunner), the Floridian thrashers seem very comfortable in their skin. And with good reason, as since entering the second phase of their evolution they have found themselves, no longer chasing the ephemeral but secure with their sound and who they are.

And it is with this calm confidence and assurance that Matt Heafy addresses the throng, self-deprecating tongue never far from cheek. He gently chides the crowd for being passive between songs despite their enthusiasm during tracks, indulges in classic metal encouragement getting everyone to “sing the guitar part, like Iron Maiden” on a flawless ‘Strife’ (and everyone does), addresses theSpinal Tap-esque number of drummers they go through and mocks his own appearance around the Shogun era.

A secure leader, equally his vocals have never sounder better, as he delivers note perfect cleans across the board, while still dipping into some welcome aggressive harsher tones on the older material. Corey Beaulieu is clearly enjoying connecting with a happy crowd while ripping out a slew of metal hits,Paolo Gregoletto is a head-bobbing pocket-dynamo, chipping in with some great harmonies and a ruthless pounding undertone, and new sticksman Paul “Wanky” Wandtke brings the beat, looking every inch a Steel Panther, adding showmanship, power and humour from behind the kit.

 

And it’s the set that makes you realize just how many great tunes Trivium have under their belt at this stage of their career. Whether it’s the more vocal-led ‘Silence In The Snow’, or the machine gun ‘Rain’, the, um, anthemic ‘Anthem (We Are The Fire)’ or the mix of it all in mid-set highlights ‘Through Blood And Dirt And Bone’ and ‘Ghost That’s Haunting You’, they’ve now reached a consistent, slick and career-high level of performance in the live arena. Flanked by huge white skulls with glowing laser eyes, by embracing their classic heavy metal roots, by the time a bowel-punching ‘In Waves’, complete with every voice bellowing the title closes things up, Trivium have calmly proven they are what we always thought they’d be; an excellent heavy metal band.

Their supports are still in the process of finding their places in the world, with Jamie Graham clearly hungry to bully and cajole every youthful face in the venue to join their cause. Backed by mammoth slabs of head-punching excellence, like ‘Hollow’, ‘Turmoil I’ and ‘Turmoil II’, it’s a successful venture as Heart of a Coward prove last year’s stunning Deliverance (Century Media) belongs in larger venues. Meanwhile, As Lions deliver plenty of promise in an engaging and triumphant opener slot that sees a band with only one song in the public domain convert new recruits by their hundreds; Austin Dickinson a strong presence with a versatile and dominant voice backed by hooks, riffs and people waiting to lap them up.

The next time each and every one of these three bands heads anywhere near you, do yourself a favour and indulge in their quality live fare, you won’t be disappointed.
STEVE TOVEY

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Abbath – Abbath

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Immortal was (or is, depending on its new lineup getting anything off the ground) one of the most intriguing acts in extreme music. A great deal of fans consider them a Norwegian black metal institution with a string of classics under their belts. For others they’re that borderline Spinal Tap band that have some of the most ridiculous promo pictures and music videos ever captured. For real, Norway, the music is great and all, but some of the message can be lost when you willingly pose yielding a plastic axe.

Maybe that’s why some turned have turned to crime? Anything for the arts.

But I digress. It’s not breaking news that in 2015, Immortal was on ice again and a brief legal battle ensued over the band’s trademark. Multi-instrumentalist founding member Olve Eikemo (or as we know him) Abbath walked away and pledged to work on his own music. The result is Abbath (Season of Mist), an eight song exercise in creative freedom and avoiding ugly litigation.

And allow me to immediately answer your query; it’s not as awesome as Battles in the North or Sons of Northern Darkness. And nor does it have to be. Since he is no longer under the weight of the Immortal legacy, Abbath is free to explore other things, namely his love of classic metal sounds. With Abbath’s death croak and drummer Creature peppering songs like ‘Winter Bane’ and ‘To War’ with double bass and the occasional blast beat they fall under extreme metal, but the structures are as traditional as they come. There’s even a sweet cover of Judas Priest’s ‘Riding on the Wind’ added as a bonus track.

But the Kvlt faithful need not worry, it’s not all New Wave of British Heavy Metal worship. ‘Eternal’ has enough blast beats to thaw any frozen heart and ‘Fenrir Hunts’ is highly reminiscent (in the best way) of the blackened death metal that Behemoth has been expertly brewing as of late.

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And even for those who are too stubborn to appreciate Abbath because it doesn’t say Immortal on the cover or isn’t grim enough, they should respect that Abbath decided to step down. Why? Because he dropped the legal horseshit that would’ve jammed all parties involved and likely split the Immortal name into two lesser collectives. Need proof? What do you think about the recent work from Entombed A.D. or Queensryche and whatever Geoff Tate’s project is called?

8.0/10

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HANSEL LOPEZ

Viathyn – Cynosure

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I think it says something about me that the phrase “Progressive Power Metal” ranks considerably higher up the list of music I’m interested in than “mates band” does – though let’s face it, mates bands are usually shit. I’m not quite sure what it is that it says (other than “shit taste, nobber”), but it’s always with enthusiasm that the triangle of play is hit on an album of that ilk. It also says something about Progressive Power Metal that it is quite possibly the uncoolest of uncool subgenres to date. So uncool it hasn’t even become cool through its uncoolness.

If you consider that insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results (Wikipedia can’t make its’ mind up if Einstein or Franklin should be attributed the source quote – it was probably neither) then the white coat is being sized up for me right about now, because by now that wave of enthusiasm should really be a cynical mistrust. Because it’s rare. Rarer than a 20 year old buxom beauty queen genuinely loving a rich octogenarian with a dodgy ticker that the potential and promise of Progressive Power Metal actually delivers.

There are two traps Progressive Power Metal bands fall into – being overly prog but without fully understanding the dynamics and nuances of the genre and end up boringly noodling with some helium-vocalled loon in a flowered shirt thinking he’s the reincarnation of Michael Kiske. Alberta, Canada’s Viathyn avoid that trap with consummate ease. Phew. But don’t wipe that brow just yet, because, no, they dive headfirst into the other trap… That they’re actually a Power Metal-lite band who love a bit of twee, and the prog bit is a misnomer. Have they never seen Spinal Tap? Those “folky” bits…? Stonehenge more like it.

With one metallic bear-trap having wrenched their first leg off, they’re soon left without a leg to stand on, as the jaws of trap two snap down thigh high (obviously catching the nadgers too, cos this is fucking testicle-less) as there is very little that’s vaguely memorable. Part of it is because Tomislav Crncovik is a vocalist as unremarkable and indistinct as the music he writes, but in the main because the album is a loop of double bass drums and inane leads  interspersed with underwhelming vocals and less dynamic movement than a dead fish. Though ‘Countess of Discordia’ and ‘Three Sheets To The Wind’ at least have choruses that differentiate from the verses.

Look, Viathyn can clearly play blah blah blah… Who cares? Their album is boring and uneventful. And I like this sort of stuff. Get A Sound Of Thunder‘s latest instead. Also, if you’re self-releasing an album through Bandcamp at least put some fucking band/album details on there, will you?

 

4.0/10

Viathyn on Facebook

 

STEVE TOVEY

The Contortionist – Language

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There must be a written rule in the official guide to playing in a Tech/Progressive metal band: “Must suddenly lose and replace your vocalist.” Indianapolis’ own prog magicians The Contortionist are the latest to fall to the vocalist trapdoor with Jonathan Carpenter leaving the fold. The follow up rule must surely state that the replacement is considered a better build than the previous (until they eventually depart as well). Well in the case of new vocalist Mike Lessard (Last Chance To Reason), that sentiment rings very apt.

Starting off as lot more ferocious prospect on their debut full length Exoplanet, The Contortionist have morphed and adapted into something a lot more beautiful and thought provoking. Language (eOne) in fact shows a much greater maturity in songwriting with a rich cauldron of inspiration. Opening with the hypnotic passage ‘The Source’, it creates an air of ambience and weightlessness before moving into a drifting variety of Djent reminiscent of DispersE. From here it moves from jazz tinged randomness through splatterings of heaviness back to softer moments, all managing to flow with cohesion.

The real show stealing performance however comes from Lessard who delivers a tremendous feat of versatility, managing to acclimatize to each and every style from his trance like delicate notes when the music is at its most frail to a fierce bark at its most aggressive, and all with superb technique.

Yes, The Contortionist may have fallen to the Tech Metal vocalist issue that makes Spinal Tap look secure with drummers; but here the change has only elevated them further. Language should prove a real benchmark for progressive metal in terms of its limitless capabilities and should appeal to both fans of tech metal, and the likes of Sound Of Contact and the likes of Riverside.

This is one special band.

 

9.0/10

The Contortionist on Facebook

 

CHRIS TIPPELL