METALMANCE RETROSPECTIVE: Cancer Bats

My thoughts on their spectacular back catalogue.

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CANCER BATS  are one of those reliable bands in heavy music. Spouting the grooviest hardcore punk of this century, the band have been shouting and raging for over a decade now. With a fiercely loyal fanbase the ‘BATS have always been close to their supporters and this always adds to their element of fun at their live shows. And what gigs they are! They’re the band I’ve seen the most and it’s always an incredible experience. Five times I’ve seen them and I’m hoping to make that six when I see them at Chinnerys in Southend next month. They crossover many styles and audiences, having oodles of appeal in different scenes. They recently released their sixth album The Spark That Moves as a surprise and it’s stirred all sorts of nostalgia in me. To celebrate the band making a triumphant return I have compiled a retrospective on their back catalogue and included my thoughts and favourite tracks of each album.

Birthing The Giant – 2006

Birthing The Giant

I feel like I’ve grown up listening to CANCER BATS the past 12 years. I first heard of them when Rock Sound magazine featured Golden Tanks on one of their cover mount CDs. I remember listening to this track over and over again in my GCSE Art mock exam, and loving the grooves and energy so much. I then heard French Immersion on a Hassle Records sampler and I knew I just HAD to buy Birthing The Giant the next time I made a trip to my nearest HMV. They instantly became my new favourite band. Despite the fact I cold never imitate Liam Cormier’s yaps I would always shout along and bang my head. I found them so heavy, yet extremely catchy and Scott Middleton’s riffs were so addictive I was completely besotted. I mean, 100 Grand Canyon anyone? You never know whether to dance or to mosh and that’s the beauty of their music.

Favourite track: Pneumonia Hawk. To be honest it could easily be one of the others I’ve just mentioned but this song has a special place in my heart. Still one of the most crushing songs live, CANCER BATS always reduce venues to rubble with this song. Throw in guest vocals from George Pettit from ALEXISONFIRE and you’re onto a winner.

Hail Destroyer – 2008

Hail Destroyer

CANCER BATS recently played four shows at The Underworld, Camden to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this absolute masterpiece. Every song is a gem in its own right with fan favourites being the devastating Sorceress and the fast-paced Pray For Darkness, both absolutely slay live and nothing compares to the poison Cormier spits during the former. The reissue a year later features their incredible covers of TEGAN AND SARA’s So Jealous and THE FAINT’s Agenda Suicide. Both of which are still some of my favourite covers to date.

I think the reason why young people related (and still relate) to Hail Destroyer is the fact it’s a collection of anthems that provide optimism and solidarity. At their live shows they make everyone feel like one big family and that sticks with fans forever. The raucous energy in the recordings are reflected in their live shows which results in utter chaos. I saw CANCER BATS three times while they toured this album and I almost suffocated at one, and blacked out at another. Utter madness.

Favourite track: Harem of Scorpions. One of THE most underrated CANCER BATS songs and one which I’ve never seen them play live. It has a powerful message which resonates with me and a lyric from this is one of my favourites of all time;

“And the greatest thing you’ve ever done, is made yourself truly happy. Not doing it for anyone, it’s your life to live as you choose.”

Couple this with incredible riffs and a guest appearance from RISE AGAINST’s Tim McIlrath and it’s an unstoppable track.

Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones – 2010

Bears Mayors Scraps and Bones

Named after the members’ nicknames, I always felt with this album Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, CANCER BATS started to go in a sludgier direction. It’s not quite as fast and aggressive as Hail Destroyer which disappointed me initially, but listening to this album now I think I’ve totally taken it for granted. Still heavy as hell and catchier as ever, you’ve got the classics We Are The Undead, Fake Gold, Black Metal Bicycle and Snake Mountain to tickle your fancy. Groovy riffage runs throughout and of course the cherry on the cake is their cover of BEASTIE BOYS’ Sabotage. This cover further propelled them into the mainstream and rightly so, it’s a fantastic cover but I still get annoyed when people say it’s their favourite CANCER BATS song. I think the band have a whole wealth of material that surpasses this, but it is a great example of what CANCER BATS are all about; groovy, punky-hardcore that’s hella addictive and easy to enjoy.

Favourite track: Scared To Death. I think this is three minutes of perfection. So much happens in this song yet it sounds a tad more reserved than shoutier efforts. The way it all tumbles out from the get-go instantly captures your attention. I absolutely adore the pure metal riff after Cormier says “Ask me now I’d say I do”. JUST SO METAL. And let’s not forget we all tried to copy Cormier’s “uh uh – uuhh” but never sounded as cool. CANCER BATS always manage to write one-line anthems and this song has one too;

“I wanna kill everything I fear”.

I always feared CANCER BATS would crumble under the pressure of the success of Hail Destroyer but I needn’t have worried.

Dead Set On Living – 2012

Dead Set On Living

I don’t know how many times I skipped back to the intro of this album but R.A.T.S still sounds bloody HUGE. Probably one of the biggest sounds CANCER BATS have ever made, yet I feel this is the album which always gets overlooked. I think one reason for this, and this is only my personal opinion, is that the band sound a bit detached from their fanbase on this record. It’s a bit more of a straight-up metallic hardcore output but it’s got a few more doomy influences, such as the song The Void. You got some classic Middleton riffs on Drunken Physics and Rally The Wicked, but I find the album is missing an ‘anthem’. New World Alliance or R.A.T.S could arguably be treated as such but they’re not as in your face as previous efforts. All in all, this is till a very interesting and well written record, listening back to it now I feel like I’m listening to it for the first time.

Favourite track: Old Blood, because once again Middleton becomes extremely close to stealing the show with his riffing. I think the feel of this song harks back to their early days, with a little more balls. The gang vocals give it a cool hardcore feel and the energy is infectious.

Searching For Zero – 2015

Searching For Zero

This is probably the album I’ve connected with the least. That’s not exactly a criticism but I thought CANCER BATS had lost some of their oomph with Searching For Zero. I always thought this album was more doom metal than hardcore and the old school mix effect made it hard for me to digest. Songs like All Hail and Beezlebub still had a groovy riff and that CANCER BATS charm but tracks like Dusted and Cursed With A Conscious were always lost on me. It was interesting to see when they toured this album, the audience was no longer punk rock kids, but the band’s old school fans who had grown up into fully fledged adults. The gigs were still crazy but not as [cancer]batshit crazy like I was used to. I was always worried this album spelled the end of CANCER BATS but luckily, I was wrong…

Favourite track: True Zero. This song didn’t really ‘click’ with me until I saw them play it live. I’m not a massive fan of the verse and the overuse of reverb but it’s stupidly catchy and Cormier’s grit during the chorus is absolutely captivating. There are still glimpses of old CANCER BATS in this song and that’s what I always clung on to.

The Spark That Moves – 2018

Precision 12 Inch Jacket Template

When CANCER BATS surprised the world with the release of The Spark That Moves, I was a little apprehensive to give it a listen after the disappointment of Searching For Zero. I needn’t have been concerned because The Spark That Moves is clearly the best thing CANCER BATS have done since Hail Destroyer, and I’m not alone in this belief. The Canadian group have returned to their old roots and kicked all doubt out the window. Each track also has a unique music video to accompany the album which makes this record an audio and visual treat for all music fans. The energy and pace reflects that of their earlier albums with tracks like Brightest DaysRattlesnake and Can’t Sleep sounding like they wouldn’t be out of place on Birthing The Giant and Hail Destroyer. From the opening riff of Gatekeeper, you are hooked. This album is also the first record for a while CANCER BATS have got guest vocalists involved such as Jenna Priestner of MOBINA GALORE on Rattlesnake (the first female vocals on a CANCER BATS record?) and the amazing Chris Hannah from PROPAGANDI on the last track, Winterpeg which is just a fabulous finale. An all round fun album that has brought CANCER BATS to the forefront of hardcore punk again.

Favourite track: Bed Of Nails. I absolutely adore how this track begins, from the vocals to the groovy riff. This song actually ends up featuring some of Cormier’s ‘melodic’ vocals which emphasises the heavier lyric of “Before I die I’ll live forever”. CANCER BATS sound like they have got their mojo back and the anthems are back in full force.

 

 

Svalbard – It’s Hard To Have Hope

Label: Holy Roar Records. Release date: 25 May 2018.

The Bristolian quartet SVALBARD are proving to be a gem in the British metal scene. It’s Hard To Have Hope, the band’s second album is sure to propel the band further in high esteem. A band who do not shy away from tough topics, it would be easy to fall in the trap of focussing on the song titles and lyrical content, but the band’s music is just as hard-hitting. So much aggression AND passion has been poured into this album, I genuinely think it’s going to blow everyone away.

Starting with a topic most of our generation can unfortunately relate to, Unpaid Intern is as angry and aggressive you feel when you’re confronted with the pessimistic job prospects of today. What I find exciting about SVALBARD is their ability to avoid being pigeonholed. Hardcore is present, as well as post-rock riffs and black metal musings…and that’s just the beginning. I think this diversity hopefully predicts the longevity and accessibility of the band, as they will comfortably flow from one scene to another and it’s sometimes the crossover bands who achieve the most awesome things. Unpaid Intern is a perfect example of what SVALBARD are all about.

The dual vocals of guitarists Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan have a nostalgic KYLESA feel about them. I’ve always thought Cherry sounds a cross between Laura Pleasants and WALL OF JERICHO’s Candace Kucsulain. One of the most unforgiving female vocalists around, Cherry often steals the show on this record with her screams and hushed vocals. The latter can be heard at the beginning and end of second track, Revenge Porn. If the subject matter wasn’t so serious I would dare to call this song beautiful. A disgusting yet current topic, this song is complimented by the equally damning approach the band take with their delivery. A black metal influence is strong here, with its soundscapes and hectic drumming. Comparisons to OATHBREAKER could easily be made here but you can understand why label mates MØL will be joining SVALBARD as support for a few of their forthcoming shows, as they both have that glorious post-black metal sound.

Feminazi?! continues the black metal feeling with the drums and riffs sounding like WINTERFYLLETH and ENSLAVED. It is quite spectacular and once the middle eight kicks in you will be well and truly under SVALBARD’s spell. After two strong opening songs, this track keeps up the pace and gives It’s Hard To Have Hope a further, darker edge. Things slow down a notch with the opening of Pro-Life?!; Cherry sounds like she is channelling her inner MYRKUR, but things accelerate again in the usual black/post metal manner. The laidback moments shine and emphasise the heavier parts.

Next track For The Sake Of The Breed is one of the album’s highlights for sure. It rages HARD. It charges, drops, crashes and has the most brilliant pacing, bringing back those KYLESA vibes again. Things take more of a post-hardcore turn with How Do We Stop It? There is something about this song that feels different to the others. There’s less urgency but the emotions feel deeper, giving the track a heightened aura of importance. Similar can be said for Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead; the pace and delivery is modest and eerily mesmerising, but bursts of determination crash through with triumphant riffs and passionate vocals. This could be a dark horse to be fan favourite.

The album finale Iorek is an entirely different beast. It is an instrumental wonder, taking influence from post-rock and even indie, it provides light to the dark intensity of the record. The bright riffs create shimmering soundscapes and shine hope on the darkness. It provides a stunning conclusion to an incredible album. The organic production of It’s Hard To Have Hope ensures the gritty tunes retain their rawness. Beautifully constructed and executed, SVALBARD have potentially made a modern classic. The British underground scene is bursting with potential and SVALBARD are worming their way to be the cream of the crop.

Broken Girls From Affluent Backgrounds – Fiction Will See Us Through

Release date: 25 May 2018.

Ever feel nostalgic for the glory days of GRATITUDE and CIRCA SURVIVE? Well luckily BROKEN GIRLS FROM AFFLUENT BACKGROUNDS fill that void. With second EP Fiction Will See Us Through, they will hopefully attract a larger audience with their stunning and heartfelt post-rock and ambient-infused rock. The four piece from Phoenix, Arizona write irresistible melodies with twinkly riffs and poetic lyrics that make you lust for the days of NIGHTMARE OF YOU.

Opening with the blissful Bridges, the melodies resonate like those of CIRCA SURVIVE. The mesmerising riffs are very MINUS THE BEAR, giving a sun-drenched feel to proceedings. A very well executed track, it’s a good taster of the quality work that BGFAB offer.

Next track Ghosts of Self might possibly be my favourite track on the EP. The shoegaze tones are to die for, with bands like MY VITRIOL and SILVERSUN PICKUPS springing to mind. The music may seem quite simple, yet it is so beautiful and charming it is impossible not to appreciate what BGFAB are doing here. The production isn’t too polished and that’s exactly the right approach as the songs are so organic and precious that if they were overworked they would lose their innocent charm.

Long Lost is a bit of a belter. With a soaring chorus and its brooding verses, it’s a gem! The atmospheric guitars sound like the more melodic end of MAYBESHEWILL and with the rumbling bass and accompanying drums it is all a winning combination.

Exit Sign is especially blissful. The opening sounds like the love child of MINUS THE BEAR and OPEN HAND and it continues to be absolutely perfect. The hushed vocals and shoegaze guitars sound like the soundtrack to a daydream. If there was an aural equivalent for a cheeky snooze in the sunshine, then this would be it.

The finale of Fiction Will See Us Through is suddenly upon us in the form of Blind Spot and it is a bit of a slow burner which takes a couple of listens to fully appreciate. Featuring the title of the EP in the lyrics, it’s a reminder of the poetic prowess of the band. At times it feels a little like JIMMY EAT WORLD which is always a glorious thing. The ending is a fantastic post-rock soundscape which brings the EP to a spectacular close. You may find yourself sitting there dazed, wishing it wasn’t over so soon . That’s the beauty of a fantastic record. With Fiction Will See Us Through, BGFAB are teasing the world with the magical tunes they have the ability to conjure. More please!

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.

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.

Møl – Jord

Label: Holy Roar Records. Release date: 13 April 2018.

I’ve already said it once this year, but I’m going to say it again – Denmark sure has its finger on the pulse of metal at the moment, and their latest export MØL can be added to the list of hottest bands to watch. MØL are blistering yet charming in equal measures. Their brand of ‘black shoegaze’ is nothing short of mesmerising. At times it sounds like the torture of a soul, but other times it sounds oddly soothing; you’re swept up in a whirlwind of dark emotion, then you’re set down in an array of screams and twinkly instrumentation. On paper it shouldn’t work, but it does. MØL have a winning formula with debut album Jord and hopefully they’ll stick to it.

The word ‘jord’ means land/earth and this nicely translates to the sprawling mass of heaviness MØL supply. Shoegaze provides the foundations while black metal influences are firmly rooted in, but the blooms are the spellbinding cascades of feeling MØL conjure. A perfect example of this is opening track Storm. Easing in with a scattering of bold notes, the song soon blooms into a huge wall of sound. The amazing blackened screams of frontman Kim Song Sternkopf are mixed brilliantly with the triumphant guitars. It oddly sounds like black metal indie but it’s far more ambitious than that. The ‘calmer’ moments of the song sound a tad KVELERTAK but the ending rings and resonates in a glorious haze.

The surreal and beautiful Penumbra is a standout track, with its fast riffing and drumming and soaring instrumentation. It sounds like the lovechild of EASTERN FRONT and EDITORS; an unusual but winning combination for sure. The middle eight showcases the band’s ability to pen a tranquil metal tune, before bursting with that black shoegaze sound you’re already falling in love with. For me, the vocals and riffs create an overwhelming atmosphere of feeling, they just hit an emotional nerve. This feeling continues with Bruma, an absolutely spectacular tune of massive proportions. Yes, the heavy breaks are impressive, but the quieter moments provide a mesmerising depth. MØL only need to strike one note and they have filled the mind and soul with an glowing warmth.

Vakuum starts as a straight-up metal track, with the extreme influences coming to the fore, but beautiful guitars interrupt the beastly ruckus to stamp that fantastic shoegaze sound all over it. This steps up a notch with Lambda, a beautiful instrumental piece that fans of MAYBESHEWILL and PELICAN will adore. This post-rock masterpiece enables you to reflect for a moment; it is quite quite a neutral song but has such a strong ‘colour’ you still find yourself swooning along.

The instrumental interlude is soon shattered by the WINTERFYLLETH-esque Ligament. The relentless pace and gut-wrenching screams gets the heart pumping but your pulse is allowed to slow down a bit when the melodic riffs sneak their way in. MØL both ignite and soothe the soul, it’s a wonderful combination. Ligament is the longest song on Jord but it is in no way a slog to get through. It is not easy to predict what shape the song will form, but there is an unexpected, yet nicely executed element towards the end. I won’t spoil it for you, it is one song you will have to indulge in yourself.

It’s tricky to describe Virga without using an oxymoron, but this song is morbidly upbeat. The screams aren’t the most optimistic yet the riffs are so uplifting your spirits can’t help but be raised. The drumming at the end reminds me of One Time For All Time-era 65DAYSOFSTATIC, providing a sense of warming familiarity. MØL do not follow a routine, unlike your typical metal form of screams/clean/sceams/clean. There is no soft/heavy/soft/heavy and this unpredictability of it makes it exciting. This also stands true for the title track, which is also the finale of Jord. The beginning has quite a techy start with its heavy riffs and dark groove. The first half has a menacing ambiance whereas the second consists of surreal melodies and a spellbinding climax. Before you know it, Jord has come to an end and you’re left awestruck and eager for more. Eight tracks might not seem enough for such an impressive release, but it works in MØL’s favour as they don’t out-welcome their stay. Jord is is a spectacular debut album and you can’t help but feel curious about what the band have up their sleeves for album number two.