Mastiff – Plague

Label: APF Records. Release date: 1 February 2019.

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Listening to MASTIFF has finally put to rest my thought of what hellish sounds would be summoned if COALESCE wrestled with NAILS. If you’re after some sludgy hardcore with a powerviolence bite, then look no further than Plague, the hardcore merchants from Hull’s first release for APF Records. Much like the breed of dog MASTIFF share their name with, this band are a big and heavy beast, with aggressive howls you would not want to hear by yourself at night.

If the savagery of their work wasn’t brutal enough for you, then their lyrical content might give it the edge. Plague draws from the misery of the country and their disgust at the false humanity and deceit pouring from social media. Add to this the fact the album was recorded in one room and with no tracking at Studio 94 in Hull, and you get the idea of the relentless ferocity MASTIFF so unforgivingly unleash.

The band kick things off with Hellcircle, an aptly named track as the opening minute sounds like resonance from the bowels of Hell itself. When things get going it simulates the image of NAPALM DEATH having a scrap with MALEVOLENCE. Very nasty. Things slow down a notch with Bubonic,  which features an irresistible blackened element to the opening riff. There is a glorious sense of KYLESA from the middle onwards with the aggressive grooves and doomy stance.

The suitably titled Brainbleed mirrors how it would sound being bludgeoned to death by NAILS while CROWBAR watch on. The sobbing from the end of the track leaks into Quarantine, a swampy and suffocating ode to darkness, filth and suffering that the likes of LEECHED would be proud of. Lead single Vermin belches and vomits much of the same but with such an infectious groove it will catch like the plague.

Torture does what it says on the tin. A notoriously noisy and slow affair at the beginning, it gets you in a firm headlock before it pummels you silly for the duration of the last minute. Absolutely glorious. Much like Weep, a violent steamroller of fury crushing all in its wake. Definitely one of the more straight up ‘hardcore’ offerings on Plague, this track is stupidly heavy and violent.

The final nail in the coffin is Black Death, a disgustingly slow track of NERVEWRECKER proportions. What is most terrifying of all is this track was recorded in one take. Only bands who sell their souls attempt that feat now these days right? Considering Black Death is a staggering 9 minutes in length, that is a devilish achievement. In a scene full of over-produced, shiny and over-polished music, it’s so refreshing to hear a gritty, raw and unforgiving record. You can be sure Plague will be my soundtrack to the impending apocalypse this year.

Soilwork – Verkligheten

Label: Nuclear Blast. Release date: 11 January 2019.

I am delighted that one of my first reviews of 2019 is that of SOILWORK’s forthcoming album Verkligheten. This will be the band’s eleventh album and it feels like a long wait since their last release, 2015’s fantastic The Ride Majestic  (the longest gap between SOILWORK studio albums to date). One thing that SOILWORK fans and critics alike always comment on is how the Swedish melodic death metal group always evolve and release stellar albums even after two decades in the game. Even their rarities album Death Resonance had better material than some of their contemporaries (not naming names). But after such a long time between albums and with vocalist Björn Strid and guitarist David Andersson also playing in Swedish hard rock band THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA, does SOILWORK stand the test of time in 2019?

We’re introduced to the album by its title track opener, a slow-burning yet mesmerising instrumental which gets Verklighteten going at an unexpectedly slow pace. Thankfully second track Arrival blows the cobwebs away with its blistering, blackened intro. SOILWORK are back in business! It’s clear The Ride Majestic was a springboard for this stellar song. The big chorus is backed up full textures of sound. It’s glorious how energetic and alive this song sounds.

Bleeder Despoiler is the ultimate groovefest, like Stabbing the Drama 2.0, but it is Full Moon Shoals which provides the first surprise of the album. It is a lot more on the metallic side of SOILWORK than expected, but also with a big, cheesy chorus making it one of the band’s most poppiest offerings. Strid somehow gets away with it because his vocals are always top-notch.

The intro of fifth track The Nurturing Glance is richly melodic and the old school verse continues the metallic tinge to proceedings. As expected, there is another storming chorus but it is the melodic riffs which steal the show here. Having said this, When the Universe Spoke steals all the attention away. This is a song which is equal parts melodic and ferocious. It’s a fresh and heavy SOILWORK which provides a dense centre to Verkligheten. It was a good choice having this track in the middle of the album to prevent it sounding samey.

Unfortunately Stålfågel doesn’t keep the energy up with its classic metal infused melody. The Wolves Are Back in Town brings things back to more of an old school SOILWORK sound, but it is Witan which provides one of the more interesting tracks of the second half of Verkligheten. Witan has a subtle symphonic element to it which takes it to the next level, but the groove is irresistible.

After the forgettable The Ageless Whisper, SOILWORK deliver a corker of a tune with Needles and Kin. The instrumentation ramps up with this song, with the new drummer Bastian Thusgaard really coming to the fore here. Add some guest vocals by Tomi Joutsen from AMORPHIS and you’ve got a winner.

Last album The Ride Majestic ended on a spectacular finale, so I was expecting Verkligheten to also have an exhilarating conclusion. However, we are instead presented with You Aquiver, which despite its catchy melodies and charming riffs, doesn’t feel like a fitting closer for such a celebrated band. It leaves me wishing the album finished with the previous song. 

Verkligheten is still a really enjoyable album, but it loses momentum halfway through. Despite this, and to answer my question posed at the start, SOILWORK continue to prove doubters wrong. Yes they sound a bit mellower on this album, but they do not sound stale and past their sell by date just yet. They’re still churning out enough interesting ideas to remain relevant and if they can stay a head up above their peers there’s no reason why we couldn’t enjoy SOILWORK for two more decades.

Master’s Call – Morbid Black Trinity EP

Release date: 25 January 2019. Self-release.

Nothing better than starting the year with some British black metal and 2019 is no different. Wolverhampton’s dark metal troupe MASTER’S CALL is kicking off the year in extraordinarily devastating fashion with their debut EP Morbid Black Trinity . The three intense tracks encompass the darkness of faith, body and spirit, but this dark side of faith hits closer to home for the band. Frontman Shayan was born in Iran, where metal and anti-religious lyrics are considered blasphemous and are banned. Despite the risk of jail and even execution, Shayan continued to write and perform black metal until he moved to the UK in 2011 to pursue his freedom as a metal musician. Judging by the quality of his work and his fellow bandmates’ writing on Morbid Black Trinity, MASTER’S CALL is truly a huge gain for the black metal scene.

The evil of the world is the main influence for opening track From Once Beneath the Cursed. Storming in with a metallic riff DARKTHRONE would weep at, MASTER’S CALL belch their horror upon the ears with their riffs of malice and grit. There is an air of CATHEDRAL to the vocals especially, but the relentless pace and outflow of delicious evil pools in your ravenous lugholes until you get your fill of darkness.

Second track The Spire Cranes represents the towering holy buildings that shadow the people oppressed by their faith. Like the subject matter, this track is of a colossal nature, and the only things being oppressed is the light and hope during this morbid anthem. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the band do not shy away from old-school black metal elements, but they deliver such elements with a modern attitude and a massive sound.

Third and final track My Eyes Are The Night is from the perspective of a hunter who preys on vulnerable victims and manipulates them to sacrifice themselves for the false hope of a greater existence. It’s clear where the inspiration for this track has manifested from, but is executed in such a way with blistering passages, that makes the powerful message resonate more. The stunning, blackened riffs carry the song and ensures the EP is brought to a mesmerising close. Brilliant stuff, expect to hear more of MASTER’S CALL in 2019!