Roundup – April 2018

My top picks from April.

If you’ve been with me since the beginning then you might remember the time I used to do a weekly roundup of my favourite artists and songs from the last seven days. Unfortunately due to a busy schedule I had to give that up, but now I am resurrecting it as a monthly roundup. I’ll aim to feature my top 3 albums of the month, what else I’ve been enjoying and other interchanging sections. Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy this first roundup!

 


 

Metalmance Top 3 Albums from April

We’ve been utterly spoilt by the releases this month. You have probably gauged from my recent reviews that it has been a hard choice to only pick 3, but here we go…

Link to reviews after each entry.

1. MØL – Jord. Release date: 13 April 2018.

molWhen I reviewed Jord back in March, MØL were relatively unknown but their blackgaze material completely blew me away and I’ve been besotted with the album ever since. Obviously I am not alone with this as the band have absolutely exploded this month with their single Bruma being aired by the likes of the BBC and Kerrang! Jord is possibly the best debut album you will hear all year; a passionate, mesmerising and incredible masterpiece. The band will be playing their first UK shows next month, so be sure to catch them then.

Møl – Jord Metalmance Review

 

2. VALIS ABLAZE – Boundless. Release date: 6 April 2018.

Boundless

These Bristolian tech metallers are always a joy to review and while reviewing the band’s debut album Boundless, it dawned on me just how hard VALIS ABLAZE have worked, and are still working, to get where they are today. They’re still at the start of their careers but they have put in the hard graft to build their strong foundations in the scene. Their admirable work ethic and impeccable song writing will only proper the band further. One of the most promising British bands around, Boundless is only the beginning.

Valis Ablaze – Boundless Metalmance Review

 

3. MIDAS FALL – Evaporate. Release date: 15 April 2018.

EvaporateSomething a bit different, MIDAS FALL chuck enchanting melodies and spellbinding soundscapes into one big melting pot, and out of it the glorious album Evaporate is born. Chilling and beautiful, it will appeal to a vast array of alternative fans, from post-rock enthusiasts, to gothic admirers. There are many fascinating components to their work making you eager to return to the record again and again. With only two members, they’re proof that less is more. Delightful stuff.

 

Midas Fall – Evaporate Metalmance Review

 


 

On the playlist…

Albums that were not released this month but have been on heavy rotation the past four weeks.

WITHIN DESTRUCTION – D E A T H W I S H. Release date: 30 March 2018.

Within Destruction

Everyone’s favourite Slovenians are back, and this time with a contender for extreme metal album of the year! After the beastly Void, it was always going to be a challenge to top this album – but somehow WITHIN DESTRUCTION have topped it with the absolute slamming deathcore masterpiece, D E A T H W I S H. Chock full with references of the impending extinction of man, it may be common lyrical material, but bloody hell WITHIN DESTRUCTION know how to execute it well. Add to that the sheer brutality that is on display here and you’ve got a winner.

 

HARM’S WAY – Posthuman. Release date: 9 February 2018.

Harm's Way

This has got to be one of my contenders for album of the year. Posthuman is an absolutely brutal output from hardcore mob HARM’S WAY. Completely unforgiving and utterly devastating from the get-go, Posthuman also features some industrial elements and irresistible groove. It’s not just hardcore, there’s also a power violence influence here too, akin to NAILS. This album is heavy, heavy, heavy but never, ever boring. Each track is an absolute fiendish delight to listen to and every hard-as-nails album which will be released this year will have to live up to this. Posthuman will be a challenging effort to beat.

 


 

It ain’t metal, but I like it…

ELEANOR MARSH – Splashes of Colour. Release date: 24 March 2018.

Eleanor MarshYes, I know it was released in March but I didn’t actually discover Splashes of Colour until this month. And I’m glad I did; ELEANOR MARSH is a talented singer-songwriter based in Suffolk and this charming album covers topics from heartbreak and love to travelling and the countryside. A beautiful folky stance coupled with a delicate song writing approach, results in a wonderful collection of heartfelt songs. MARSH’s voice and instrumentation has a gorgeous organic sound which makes it perfect for relaxed days and times when you need something gentle to listen to.

 

Nervewrecker – Murmur

Release date: 1 May 2018.

It’s shaping up to be a good year for the breakthrough of British doom bands, with the likes of BOSS KELOID and GARGANJUA gaining momentum and releasing new material this year. Now you can add Norwich doom merchants NERVEWRECKER to our list of rising doom stars. Featuring members of DEITIES and THE BOY WILL DROWN the band are set to release their second EP, Murmur. Four tracks of slow and heavy doom absolutely batter the ears, with the stellar mixing and mastering by bassist Dave Klussmann providing extra clarity and a ferocious punch to proceedings. On the BONGRIPPER side of the doom spectrum, NERVEWRECKER are crushingly heavy.

The skull crushing starts with oodles of distortion in Glaciation and a devastatingly slow riff that the likes of ELECTRIC WIZARD would be proud of. Frontman Ed Bell groans and screams his way through the song and the EP, inflicting his tortured soul upon us meek listeners. This is one band you have to play loud and proud to feel their full, blistering effect. The static and distortion give the riffs a triumphant edge and the result is quite mesmerising.

Second track Dejected has quite a swagger to it. It sounds like it could be the beginning of a mucky hardcore song, it’s what I imagine CURSED or EMPLOYED TO SERVE would be if they decided to decelerate. With the repeating riff, HEY COLOSSUS springs to mind but the track sounds absolutely massive. There is a welcome break halfway through where the bass has a chance to rumble on and shine. The pace picks up and the song comes to a storming close. If NERVEWRECKER focussed their sound on an approach like this, they would become unstoppable.

The biggest riff of the EP bludgeons the brain at the beginning of Gateway. Feedback and resonance envelopes the listener in a spectacular doomy haze. Epic and atmospheric, NERVEWRECKER are onto a winner here with this song. This is doom metal x1000. Absolute perfection. If you think the band couldn’t get heavier, they’re going to surprise you six and a half minutes in. Truly unforgiving and devastating metal.

Four tracks doesn’t seem enough yet here we are at the EP finale, Covetous. Things come to a momentous close with psychedelic riffs and a captivating interlude that reminds me of ISIS or NEUROSIS. The word ‘heavy’ doesn’t seem to do Covetous justice. With a bewitching ending enabling the listener to wind down after an incessant pounding, it may take a little while to fully recover from the aural assault NERVEWRECKER thrust upon us. After writing an absolutely crushing EP, it will be interesting to see what direction NERVEWRECKER will head in for their debut album. I for one would love to see the band push boundaries with their song writing; the talent is there, the band just need to unlock it and run full steam. Promising stuff.

Boss Keloid – Melted On The Inch

Label: Holy Roar Records. Release date: 27 April 2018.

Holy Roar Records know a good thing when they hear it. Since the end of last year, the record label have signed the likes of MØL, GARGANJUA and BOSS KELOID, all of whom are on the verge of great things. The latter two also share a sludgy, doom style. With Melted On The Inch however, BOSS KELOID are veering towards a progressive multi-dimensional sound that 2016’s Herb Your Enthusiasm hinted at. This is, hands down, the best material the likeable chaps from Wigan have blessed upon us weary doom travellers. Six tracks of massive and expansive noises are sure to set BOSS KELOID amongst the ranks of British metal hopes. With Melted On The Inch, they’ve nurtured and fine-tuned their style. They sound like…BOSS KELOID.

Opening with the absolute cracker Chronosiam, it sounds like a glorious sea shanty. Vocalist Alex Hurst absolutely belts out as usual and it is cathartic to listen to his warbles. The production and mix leaves an organic rawness which provides a refuge of comfort in Hurst’s voice and the band’s psychedelic riffs. Very hypnotic in places, the song effortlessly flows from calm and brooding to loud and rapturous. An ambitious start to the album, Chronosiam is seven minutes of pure joy, it doesn’t seem quite right to use the word ‘doom’ here.

Tarku Shavel begins as quite a relaxed affair, but the chorus is absolutely storming. I really enjoy this aspect of BOSS KELOID, the quieter moments versus the bolder segments. Each delivered with confident aplomb. The verses have a gorgeous colour to them, sounding like sun-soaked days on a lengthy voyage. It is halfway through Tarku Shavel that shines. A large helping of psychedelic doom gives the song an exotic edge. Hurst once again interrupts our thoughts with his killer vocal delivery. An absolutely stellar tune.

The opening of Peykruve reminds me of that hypnotic bass tone in Lung Mountain from Herb Your Enthusiasm. The first minute and a half is a spectacular instrumental which teases and soothes with its retro meanderings. Hurst yet again impresses, but it is the gorgeously retro instrumentation that steals the show in Peykruve. The band sound like PURSON in places, conjuring a psychedelic paradise with a combination of the irresistible organ and thumping doom riffs. Peykruve is a treat for the senses.

The organ is back for Jromalih but after the fantastic Peykruve I find this song a bit trickier to get into. The intro is a funky little ditty but for me, with the exception of Hurst belting out some killer choruses, the song doesn’t really go anywhere. Lokannok has a few interesting nuggets going on though. With groovy and whirring instrumentation, things really pick up with a fantastic riff and the signature blarings of Hurst that continue to ramp up.

Then all of a sudden we have reached the finale of the album, Griffonbrass. One of the shorter songs on Melted On The Inch, it gets the job done by giving BOSS KELOID the blistering send-off they deserve. The song seems to feature motifs from the album; from the rumbling bass and exotic guitar licks, to a cheeky bit of organ and a large dollop of Hurst. Bold and epic, BOSS KELOID are well on their way to getting their hybrid of metal launched to the masses. With oodles of appeal and a lush colour to their sound, don’t be surprised if the Boss hoss their way further into the metal community’s hearts.

Tesseract – Sonder

Label: Kscope. Release date: 20 April 2018.

One of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year is almost upon us, and if you’re a big TESSERACT fan like me, you might also be wondering how on earth they could top 2015’s Polaris. It always seems effortless for TESSERACT to evolve with each album and fourth album Sonder is no different. TESSERACT have now fully established themselves as progressive metal greats and this reflects in their sound and songwriting. An incredibly mature and focused approach is used for this album. With many rip-off TESSERACT bands on the scene, the group now need to avoid becoming a parody of themselves. Luckily they manage this.

I must admit, after hearing Smile when the band previewed it last year, I wasn’t enamoured at all. I had the same reaction during the first spin of Sonder, however I am a firm believer this often signals an album which grows over time. It is the effort of the digesting of the record after a few listens which rewards you with a superb album that just ‘clicks’.

Sonder kicks off with Luminary. Most fans might expect a twinkly intro, but this opener immediately packs a punch. Have they got your attention? Yes. During the melodic verse, there are some CALIGULA’S HORSE vibes but THAT chorus blows any soft vocals out of the water. An excellent start with some token TESSERACT motifs here and there, you’re on tenterhooks for more. Thankfully for us, more is what we get with next track King which is a right ol’ jewel in the crown. Hopefully you will have already heard this blistering single, but hearing it in context with the rest of the album creates an incredible, new experience. With this single, TESSERACT declare this is us, this is our sound, watch us evolve. TESSERACT are well past using screams to be heavy, but the screams on King do take it to the next level. The song is probably longer than it needs to be, but it is an outstanding track.

TESSERACT has always been one for atmospheric and broody songs but next track, Orbital is quite unlike anything the band have done before. A short song, but the instrumentation sounds colossal, yet really subtle. It is one to expand the imagination and I think it is truly beautiful and moving. It has to be heard to be believed. It merges into the next gem of the album, Juno. It is quite an upbeat, djent ditty making it one of the more memorable songs on Sonder. The lyrics tie in nicely with the name of the album; ‘sonder’ is a term coined by writer John Koenig to express the indescribable emotion we experience when we realise each of us are simultaneously living vivid and complex lives. It is this disconnection that Sonder hints at – the thought that something greater is happening within.

Beneath My Skin harks back to the glory days of One, with the build up of tension before the sweet release of a bit of djent. Old school fans will probably swarm to this track, but it does follow the more thoughtful and melodic approach the band are now known for. Mirror Image follows TESSERACT’s newer formula of straight-up melodic metal. Using less djent and incorporating more keys, it’s grown into one of my favourite songs on Sonder. After first listen, I completely overlooked it, but it has a charm about it which has enchanted me.

As mentioned earlier, when I first heard Smile last year I wasn’t blown away at all. However, hearing it on Sonder has made me appreciate it a lot more. A great deal happens in this song and once again Dan Tompkins pushes himself to be on of progressive metal’s best vocalists. With a couple of strong songs at the beginning of Sonder, the album also needed two strong closers to anchor it. Smile provides one and the finale, The Arrow provides the other. Normally TESSERACT like to have a lengthy conclusion to proceedings but The Arrow is really short in comparison at two and a half minutes. It was important not to drag Sonder out and luckily this final track keeps it short and sweet with a killer melody and twinkly instrumentation. Eight songs might not seem enough but I do genuinely think TESSERACT made the right decision here. Sonder is a terrifically solid body of work. I don’t think it will progress to being my favourite TESSERACT album, but album of the year..? Well, it wouldn’t be impossible.

Midas Fall – Evaporate

Label: Monotreme Records. Release date: 27 April 2018.

The long, dark nights of winter are hopefully behind us…but it’s almost a shame as MIDAS FALL would be the perfect soundtrack to a cold, crisp night. Elizabeth Heaton and Rowan Burn are the masterminds behind this Scottish duo and they are a prime example of less is best. There is a beguiling sense of enchantment with fourth album Evaporate. You scuttle to the edge but are quickly absorbed into the chilling beauty of Keaton’s vocals and the progressive post-rock soundscapes.

The album opens with the mesmerising Bruise Pusher which really captures the heart early on. The dark broodiness reminds me of AEREOGRAMME’s Nightmares and a little of A Warm Place by NINE INCH NAILS – you know, that glorious sprawling texture that sounds like an oncoming storm. The atmosphere is stifling yet has a deceiving simplicity to it. Keaton’s vocals are perfection and it sounds like she is potentially a more talented vocalist than she lets on. This somehow adds to the duo’s charm and mystique.

The title track is another strong song, starting with strings before some tasty synth. Their pulsating electronics are reminiscent of a more reserved ZOMBI or the soundtrack of AXIOM VERGE. Keaton’s voice drives the song but it is the rumbling bass and piano motif which hypnotizes the listener further. In Soveraine it is Keaton who dominates. It is a low-key affair but we can fully appreciate the range of Keaton’s vocals in this track, from her whispers to her bolder projections. It’s a stunning piece.

Glue has to be one of my favourite songs on Evaporate. The heartfelt lyrics and beautiful melodies are accompanied by super slick instrumentation and spectacular electronics. It is probably the ‘poppiest’ track on the album with its lyrical content, but it is one of the more memorable ones. An absolutely gorgeous song it is now coupled with an equally attractive, animated music video. After the groovy electronics of Glue, next track Sword To Shield is a reserved and modest affair. The opening melody reminds me of Carl Espen’s Silent Storm (yes, the Norwegian Eurovision entry in 2014, and yes, it is a compliment) which might give you an indication of the hushed tones and intricate melodies on display in Sword To Shield. There is more orchestration too which adds to the beautiful and serene tones.

Dust And Bone has a glorious, nostalgic tinge. A bit of 80s/90s vibes with a bit of Bjork and Madonna thrown in. It’s another brooding track with post-rock undertones, ending on a high with instrumentation which wouldn’t sound out of place on albums by 65DAYSOFSTATIC or MAYBESHEWILL. It is more of an acoustic affair on Awake with the guitars sounding like aural equivalent of the first glimpses of sunlight through the canopy of a forest. This track has another old school vibe to me, sounding like a hushed FLEETWOOD MAC or a shy Kate Bush. The quieter moments of MIDAS FALL are often the most outstanding.

The same can be said for In Sunny Landscapes which could be a spectacular finale for a folky album. It just grows and grows into a beautiful bloom, shining in the sunlight. Keaton truly shines here. Burn’s twinkly guitars and the piano and cellos create an irresistible, uplifting mood, it is a delight to the ears. The mood shifts dramatically in Lapsing; a dark horse of a track, it could end up being a favourite for some. With PORTISHEAD vibes, Keaton sounds like she is singing on an über cool Bond soundtrack. It’s an incredibly mesmerising song, with its modest beginning to its melancholic hooks. An absolutely dark gem of a track, it’s one I keep returning to again and again.

Unfortunately, we’ve already reached the finale of the album, Howling At The Clouds. It has echoes of the earlier tracks of the album, bringing Evaporate full circle. It has a brooding expanse with post-rock components, along with synths and spellbinding melodies. MIDAS FALL are pretty hard to pigeonhole, but that’s part of their charm. Definitely on the NORDIC GIANTS end of ‘metal’, MIDAS FALL are one of those appealing crossover bands that you can rely on when you’re craving something a bit calmer. Evaporate is a charming masterpiece, both chilling and warming. It’s got enough interesting dynamics to make you return time after time.

Temples On Mars – Self titled

Label: Primordial Records. Release date: 6 April 2018.

TEMPLES ON MARS – a name inspired by advanced ancient hieroglyphs that were allegedly created with the assistance of extra terrestrial entities, who also supposedly were responsible for the construction of temples on the surface of Mars. This concept has been translated audibly in first track Bon Voyage, with futuristic atmospherics, space-age commentary and an enticing, yet simple motif repeated throughout the song. We are being led on a journey and TEMPLES OF MARS are our pilots on our prog rock odyssey.

The second track Gods & Kings bursts in with stratospheric radio-friendly riffs. Frontman James Donaldson croons along, yet when the chorus kicks in you could be forgiven for including him with the otherworldly entities the song title suggests. An absolute cracker of an opener, our progressive troupe from London are already threatening to break the mould and launch themselves to be their own colossal entity.

TEMPLES ON MARS continue their massive sound with the delightful Afraid Of Living and its hypnotic riff. Blending loud and proud guitars with catchy melodies, the band run the risk of becoming dangerously addictive. The same can be said for next track and lead single, So In Love With Your Drug. It’s a catchy beast that’s more radio friendly than prog rock, with the cheesy key change at the end of the song, but a highly memorable tune all the same.

When I listen to this album I occasionally think I’m listening to a band from Australia, as their prog drenched rock reminds me of bands such as THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, DEAD LETTER CIRCUS and even KARNIVOOL. Fifth track, How Far Will You Go demonstrates a darker side of TEMPLES ON MARS that is reminiscent of the more brooding songs by the bands just mentioned. I think How Far Will You Go is a little gem on this self titled record; it has quite a cold ambience compared to the catchiness of previous songs, making it an edgy yet rewarding listen. Don’t worry though, the big riffs and catchy lyrics return in leaps and bounds on Death In The Afternoon.

There is something nostalgic about Make No Bones, in fact there is a sense of familiarity which runs through the whole album. TEMPLES ON MARS have already achieved THAT sound which hopefully means this album could end up becoming a timeless classic later down the line. With this song however, it does make me think of THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT again and even DORP (remember them?) and just that general warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you listen to a good song.

The beginning of Black Mirror is a curious one. With its beautiful, proggy intro, it is soon accompanied by a heavy and chuggy riff which sounds more metalcore than anything. Donaldson’s vocals soon provide some light to this darkness. It is a very interesting song as these elements continue to battle it out for the duration of the song. Suicide Tiger also becomes a curious listen; with its mesmerising and brooding first half. As it starts to gain momentum I hear echoes of CAESAR’S ROME and Back To Oblivion-era FINCH. TEMPLES ON MARS somehow manage to nail a slow-burning song as well as an up-tempo rock hit.

When I review an album I like to give it a couple of listens to digest it before I can form an opinion on it. This morning I woke up with When Gods Collide in my head, so that is a very good sign that this album had ‘clicked’ with me. And who can blame me with the ridiculously charming melodies and catchy chorus. If this doesn’t become one of the hits of the album then I’ll despair. Definitely more on the ARCANE ROOTS end of things, this song has ‘winner’ stamped all over it. Next track Dining With The Devil doesn’t quite match up to its predecessor but it is still one hell of an impressive track. Its ambitious length (8 minutes) and its proggy interludes maintain your interest through its diversity of styles and unpredictability, oh and of course its MUSE-esque breaks.

After such a fun journey through prog and rock, TEMPLES ON MARS needed a suitable finale to terminate the voyage…and it doesn’t disappoint. With more samples like the first track, it comes full circle; almost like the first and last tracks are bookends for the record, containing the prog-rock package within. It will be interesting what TEMPLES ON MARS pull out of the bag for album number two. Will they go more prog or more rock? We’ll have to wait and see but no doubt, like their namesake, it will be out of this world.

Valis Ablaze – Boundless

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 6 April 2018.

You may remember Bristolians VALIS ABLAZE were featured twice on Metalmance last year; the first time being a review of their stunning EP Insularity, then the second time being a review of their impressive performance at Tech Fest. This year is destined to be an incredible year for the tech metallers; having signed to Long Branch Records, supporting legendary acts such as SIKTH and now releasing their hotly anticipated debut album, Boundless. VALIS ABLAZE have seriously stepped up a notch and are bound to set the British tech scene – ahem – ablaze.

The parallels to TESSERACT cannot be ignored as the opening notes in Afterlight ring. Vocalist Phil Owens is coming to the fore here on Boundless, demonstrating his talent that was only hinted at on Insularity. This is true for the remainder of the band too, VALIS ABLAZE sound more confident which has resulted in a solid body of work. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The band aren’t just a TESSERACT rip-off, yes the influence is there, but there are also nods to so many other genres and bands. Afterlight sounds similar in style to other British progressive hopefuls, BRUTAI. Instantly with this first song the massive production propels VALIS ABLAZE into the stratosphere, with the irresistible melody raising the emotion higher. The song flows seamlessly into the second offering, The Crossing, a brooding track which blossoms halfway through into a proggy joy.

This joy carries on with third track, and arguably the masterpiece of the album, Lumen. Beginning beautifully with a blissful piano melody and rumbling bass, the song explodes into a memorable tune. Every instrument has its part with many dynamics and interesting riffs, courtesy of Tom Moore and Ash Cook, providing a rich depth that their EP was lacking in parts. If you are unable to appreciate this song then you don’t deserve the rest of the album.

The TESSERACT-esque notes are back again in Evade, but they soon evaporate when the killer riff and drums crash in. Evade ends up being one of the heaviest songs on the album, making it an unexpected delight. An unexpected twist occurs again with Hex, with the vocal melody having an enjoyable pop stance amongst the guitars that are akin to the likes of MONUMENTS and DEITIES.

The start of The Static Between Us has an ambitious drive to it, which then spans out into a NORTHLANE-esque sprawl. Another bruiser of a track, The Static Between Us packs a punch. When you think you are safe in their melodic clutches, VALIS ABLAZE soon shatter the illusion.

Faster Than Light marks the first of the guest appearances. This impressive slab of metal features the disgustingly talented SITHU AYE, who assists in kicking things to the next level. Everything about Faster Than Light is spot on; the riffs, the melodies, the pace… you can understand why the band are gaining quite quite a reputation. The same can be said for next track Frequency, which features the band’s long term friend – and producer of Insularity – DREWSIF. It is an exceptional track, oozing with a maturity that is rare to hear on a debut album. VALIS ABLAZE are nurturing their sound and are not afraid to threaten the world with the promise of something special.

The penultimate track of Boundless is also the first single off the album, Paradox. I have to admit I have found this song difficult to digest and it still has not fully ‘clicked’ with me. Personally, it doesn’t sound as focused as other songs on the album. Having said all that, it is still a strong song but it just doesn’t quite match the calibre of the others.

Reece Fullwood of MASK OF JUDAS and EUMERIA guests on album finale, Reflections. His awesome guitar playing compliments the song beautifully and quite frankly, steals the show. Boundless is brought to a spellbinding close with a stellar melody and riffs, with the last notes resonating in your end until the very end. An absolute stunner of a debut, VALIS ABLAZE have been patiently honing their craft, perfecting every detail, before bestowing it on the world. If the band haven’t cemented themselves as rising stars of the British scene by album number two, then Metalmance will be stumped as to why. VALIS ABLAZE’s potential is indeed…boundless.