Axiom – Metathesis EP

Release date: 25 October 2019. Self-release.

Instrumental, progressive metal can be a bit of a minefield, with some bands attempting to rip off pioneers such as ANIMALS AS LEADERS and INTERVALS, but ending up sounding like a band who fail at attracting a vocalist. Luckily, Birmingham trio AXIOM bring a refreshing stance to instrumental prog which is typically dominated by guitar noodling. On the same sunny edge of the prog spectrum as CHON, AXIOM also incorporate some awesome, funky bass to keep things retro and upbeat. The best thing about debut EP Metathesis though? It was all recorded live within 24 hours and it makes for an energetic and organic production!

Opening track Slumber builds up gently to a wonderfully steely riff. The title is apt as the instrumentation conjures the image of a ride through a cityscape at night. The neon lights are reflected in the dazzling riffs, with bold, slap bass accompanying the super slick guitar. Being recorded live makes the drums sound natural, with the cymbals providing a cascade of crashes which almost sound like fireworks amongst the metallic crunch. The melody throughout the verses is delicate enough to avoid being a long-winded guitar solo. After a couple of minutes Slumber launches into a striking wall of loud rock which the likes of MAYBESHEWILL would be proud of. A storming start.

Lead single Believe is easily the most charming track on Metathesis with its twinkly notes and fun bass hooks. Considering there’s only three members being recorded, the sound is huge, with oodles of energy. The riffs shine bright while the drums maintain the upbeat rhythm. After a groovy first half, it erupts into a progressive ruckus we haven’t seen since the likes of ARCANE ROOTS. Things escalate to a heavy, triumphant break before resorting back to the funky barrage of riffs. Serious progressive rock with a cheeky twinkle in the eye is the best way to describe AXIOM’s delivery and it is irresistible.

Scared is a sublime and heavy offering compared to its predecessors. A fluid, bass riff provides the foundation of a dreamy sequence before the guitars provide the sharp edge. With heavy riffs throughout it is outrageously rocky but somehow seems ballsier as it’s wholly instrumental. The hooks are stellar in every song on Metathesis but Scared boasts catchy hooks as well as a deeper depth to its overall sound. Seriously impressive stuff with only a live recording, it proves AXIOM’s quality as a band.

EP finale Serpentine gets even heavier and is definitely the most ‘metal’ track on Metathesis. The opening melody is a bold, metallic treat which lapses into a softer interlude. This is only the quiet before the storm as the riffs get heavier and crazier. The bass attempts to keep some civility to it but soon joins the assault. The last minute is a bludgeoning farewell and ends the EP with an impact. AXIOM bring the fun, groove and addictive hooks with Metathesis. In a time where bands try to out-tech each other, it’s reassuring that a band like AXIOM can still bring progressive goodness with plenty of heart while keeping the writing honest. Every track on Metathesis is a solid slab of rock. We can be confident that AXIOM will deliver a top-notch full-length. Watch this space.

Soulsplitter – Salutogenesis

Release date: 18 October 2019. Self-release.

Any form of artistic collective is bound to be chaotic and beautiful, Funnily enough, these two words easily describe Salutogenesis, the debut album by German progressive troupe SOULSPLITTER. The group consists of four members, but involves other musicians and artists to fulfil their creative vision. Expanding the collaborations pays off as Salutogenesis is a sprawling mass of intense and emotive rock. Incorporating different musicians and styles makes SOULSPLITTER exciting and unpredictable, with the music taking ambitious twists and turns. Salutogenesis takes a few good listens to process, like any good prog record should. I don’t even know if I’ve digested the album enough to write a review which does it justice, but let’s give it a go.

Opening track The Prophecy heralds the beginning of the madness. With a string arrangement akin to the accompaniment for a baddie at the ballet, The Prophecy is a raw concoction of organic instrumentation and unnerving spoken word. The chilling piano introduces the haunting soundscapes which are scattered across Salutogenesis. The Transition sees the start of SOULSPLITTER being at their progressive best. Full of energy and jazz elements, it’s a track full of interesting nuggets which never becomes too overloaded. An ambitious song at over eleven minutes, it ‘transitions’ from upbeat jazz to STEVEN WILSON-esque melancholy courtesy of the female guest vocalist and the musical brilliance of Trautonia Capra. If you have a friend who doesn’t know what modern prog is, show them this song.

Heaviness ensues with the utterly brilliant The Moloch. The tracks prior have had raw instrumentation whereas this offering boasts raw emotion. The harsh vocals and surreal piano notes collide with the heavy riffs for a WITHOUT WAVES-esque chaotic prowess. Easily one of the strongest songs on Salutogenesis, The Moloch will remain with you for a long time to come. The Maze‘s haunting melodies are some of the most bewitching on the record. Dipping into progressive heaviness which DISTORTED HARMONY would be proud of, SOULSPLITTER also venture into a theatrical climax. The passion of expression pours out of every outlet, creating an overwhelming, yet euphoric intensity. The Sunset provides another mesmerising instrumental interlude before we plummet into the second half of the album.

The Dream is blissful post-rock with classical instruments and jazz weirdness. The title is very apt as the mood is very surreal and other-worldly. Music should always have the ability to transcend you, and SOULSPLITTER achieve this with aplomb. The heavy sections are astounding but it is the ending which elevates the album to a phenomenal highlight. Absolutely breath-taking. It would take a lot to match The Dream, but SOULSPLITTER go down a different route for The Eye Of The Cyclone. Any eye of a storm will be the calmest moment and this is beautifully reflected on the stripped back artistry of this track. The male and female vocals are sublime and the piano is some of the most moving on Salutogenesis. It makes for a spellbinding penultimate track.

Album closer The Sacrifice is as ambitious a finale you could expect from a progressive album. Channelling old school prog tendencies and fresher approaches, SOULSPLITTER have created a colossal tune which would satisfy prog fans both young and old. With strong CALIGULA’S HORSE vibes, The Sacrifice ends Salutogenesis on a resounding high. SOULSPLITTER are exactly what progressive music should be about and their collaborations enhance the diversity of their sound.

In a time where new bands try to feature scene legends on their songs for some street credibility, it’s refreshing to hear under-represented talent in SOULSPLITTER’s work. The collaborations never detract from the progressive foundations, each component compliments the other. With other prog bands turning to pop for inspiration, SOULSPLITTER are turning to the arts and it’s incredibly inspiring and reassuring. This is the beginning of something special.

Singularity – Place of Chains

Label: The Artisan Era. Release date: 11 October 2019.

Technical death metal is experiencing such a heyday this past year or two, it’s been hard to keep up with all the quality releases. Here’s another for you though, Arizona’s SINGULARITY are releasing a contender for tech death album of the year with Place of Chains. Their first release since 2016, their absence has been well worth the wait as the band are now stronger than ever. The blackened and symphonic elements of their music is definitely one of their greatest strengths and adds a dramatic flair to their brutality.

It is the symphonic Bellum which kicks off proceedings. This instrumental opener is not quite as elaborate as SEPTIC FLESH or FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE, but it’s still enough to set a futuristic and other-worldly tone to get you in the mood for a technical romp. The pace quickens as Victory or Death bludgeons the senses with the ferocious drumming, fiery riffs and punishing vocals. The track also demonstrates the beastly range of growls SINGULARITY have to offer. Throw in an extra punishing riff and you’ve got a winner.

The menacing Sisyphean Cycle begins with a blackened riff and atmospherics alongside unsettling, whispered vocals. The blackened symphonies escalate in an ABIGAIL WILLIAMS style before the verse batters its way in. The beastly blackened breaks in the track make their brand of tech death irresistible. Things get really techy on Ritual of Regret with the symphonics matching the chaotic speed of the opening riff. The monstrous pace is not speed over substance, oh no, each second is dripping with fascinating depth and a myriad of textures, making this track an incredible feat.

Consume and Assume proves that the faster the riff, the better the song. However, the slower sections brilliantly contrast, making the pummeling riffs sound even more unforgiving. The blackened symphonics return for the stunning first minute of Desmoterion. This song boasts such dark depths, it is its own monster. Blackly bewitching, SINGULARITY’s savagery will have you in their clutches. With the addition of an acoustic refuge, this track is a rollercoaster of light, dark and downright evil. Serpentes, Eternal continues this violent monstrosity with such blackened vigour you’ll be praying for a small glimpse of light. One of the strongest songs on Place of Chains, it is its dips into blackened brutality which dims the prior highlights.

Penultimate track Dead Receptors is a beautifully ferocious track with the most striking drumming heard so far. The intimidating delivery of this track is not for the faint-hearted and strengthens the band’s case to be new legends in the tech death scene. After your ears are truly assaulted by the relentless Dead Receptors, album finale As Dark As This Nefarious Night continues SINGULARITY’s blackened voyage. Finally the bass joins its comrades into the mix and gives a glorious OBSCURA twang to proceedings. If Place of Chains has battered you into the ground then this closer will put you out of your misery for good. The dramatic chants provide such a spectacular climax, the haunting conclusion will leave you stunned and at the band’s mercy.

Place of Chains is set to launch these tech death nobodies to the forefront of the genre. Some bands can’t execute symphonic extreme metal without sounding like they’re using atmospherics to hide lack of substance. If you take the symphonics away from SINGULARITY you would still be left with one of the most brutal releases of the year. Place of Chains sees a band who have grown in confidence of their talent, to the extent that news of their unbelievable riffs are spreading like wildfire through tech death forums. Believe the hype. SINGULARITY are coming for the tech death crown.

Rivers of Nihil/Black Crown Initiate/Møl/Orbit Culture

The Dome, London. 2 October 2019.

Considering the show is starting early on a weeknight, there is still a generous crowd gathering for Swedish death metal troupe ORBIT CULTURE who are opening the show. Their riffs thump enough to get the audience in the mood for a night of blistering metal. However, it’s not until the band play new single Nensha that things start to get interesting. Once the band get more material and live experience under their belts then maybe they will have more of an impact.

It’s reassuring to see so many members of the audience wearing MØL tshirts tonight. Knowledge of their stunning live show has been spreading and there are many curious onlookers this evening. Front man Kim Song Sternkopf has not lost an ounce of his power and energy on this mammoth tour and is as captivating as ever. Screaming every word with such passion and intensity is incredibly moving as a spectator. A short spell in the crowd enables some fans to scream along with Sternkopf and everyone wants part of the action. The band play tracks from their debut album Jord – with the blackgaze sounding as equally superb and moving in the live setting. Guitarist Nicolai Busse Hansen is the contemplative counterpart to Sternkopf’s fiery persona, and the guitar notes shimmer over the crowd. Their live show is quickly becoming legendary. Surely we are due a MØL headline tour next?

After MØL stunned us into silence, it’s the turn of progressive death metal heavyweights BLACK CROWN INITIATE to pummel us into submission. Driving fans wild by playing the majority of their debut EP Song of the Crippled Bull and other older gems, the crowd were going fanatic! New song Years in Frigid Light sounds immense live and was lapped up gratefully by fans. Bassist Nick Shaw and guitarist Ethan McKenna spend the set flexing their faces making damn-good-riff expressions while drummer Sam Santiago proves he might possibly be an actual machine. Andy Thomas amazed with his impeccable voice, while front man James Dorton sounds as colossal live as he does on record, his penetrating growls commanding the crowd. With their long-awaited new album rearing its head soon, you can expect to see more (hopefully) from these prog death titans.

It’s been an epic night so far with MØL and BLACK CROWN INITIATE providing headline-worthy sets. RIVERS OF NIHIL had hard acts to follow but, my word, they were phenomenal! Listening to last album Where Owls Know My Name in full is always a treat, but hearing it in full live…? Nothing short of sublime. Throw in numerous spots by a real life sax man (a headbanging one at that) and you’ve got yourself an other-worldly experience. Front man Jake Dieffenbach is extremely striking in his unusual attire but his roars are formidable. With extremely brutal circle pits and a wall of death, the crowd were running riot. Being one member short tonight (guitarist Jon Topore was unfortunately in hospital) didn’t deter the band from delivering one of the tightest sets I’ve seen all year. After selling out The Dome and getting the whole venue moving, it won’t be long before RIVERS OF NIHIL sell out bigger venues. Watch this space.