Valis Ablaze – Boundless

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

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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.

Cabal – Mark Of Rot

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 23 February 2018.

The Danes sure have their finger on the pulse of metal these days, with the likes of GHOST IRIS and VOLA, but now an expulsion of the darkest matter is spreading from Copenhagen. This darkness goes by the name of CABAL, a band who sap all the doom and evil from black metal, death metal, djent and hardcore and mutilates it further to forge its own hybrid of brutality. CABAL will unleash this brutality in the form of their debut album, Mark Of Rot, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed EP Purge.

The rot begins with False Light, a raw and chuggy dark mass of metal. CABAL start as they mean to go on. Expelling the evilest of filth, it snuffs the flame of any hope or optimism you may possess. A blackened masterpiece ensues with Nothingness; an organ from Hell resonates before blastbeats and black metal riffs rip the breath from you. Featuring the vocals of THY ART IS MURDER’s CJ McMahon, you can guage the putrid violence this track belches. Much like the title of the song, you feel the spiralling void of nothingness threatening to consume you.

Blackened Soil is a bit of a ballsier affair. Throwing a myriad of styles in the air and constructing a song with the order of whatever plummets to the ground first, is the best way to describe this track. Beginning on the techier end of the spectrum, an eruption of hardcore occurs before a theatrical black metal break. All the while, blackened deathcore and the heaviest djent lurks round every corner, a morbid delight for the ears. This can also be said for the next offering, Rah’Ru. Starting like an opus by FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE, the atmosphere builds and endures during these four minutes of intensity.

Halfway through Mark Of Rot we are exposed to the devastating Empty. Two and a half minutes of terrifying ambience and the doomiest and blackest riffs, the brooding darkness is stifling. It demonstrates how CABAL can carry the weight of its menace in an instrumental. The vocals spit venom with avengence in Unworthy however, commanding your attention and willingness to obey.

The pace quickens with Blinded, a suffocating track of constant assault. Relentless in its attack, when you think you can make a break for it, you’re dragged back to the depths by its monstrous breakdown. The song seems to merge into the next track, Whispers; a curious mixture of tech, black metal, hardcore, all cut up and meshed together like some sort of Frankenstein’s monster.

Birds crow at the start of The Darkest Embrace; an unsettling yet groovy effort. The crowning glory is the guest vocals of Filip Danielsson from HUMANITY’S LAST BREATH. Much like Danielsson’s band, this song is spine-crushingly heavy. With its whirring riffs and atmospheric flourishes, it’s an absolutely massive beast. It has an air of SHOKRAN halfway through but it once again burrows into the depths of djent. An absolutely colossal track, Danielsson brings an extra layer of darkness to CABAL’s gloom.

This all leads up to the spectacular climax of Mark Of Rot – its title track. This is an epic finale of disturbing layers of sound and punishing vocals. It deceives you with its simplicity but it once again catches you off guard with its unnerving instrumentation. Fading out with an eerie shroud of doom, you may find yourself turning on all the lights once CABAL’s ritual is complete. This album is not for the faint hearted.

The Royal – Seven

Label: Long Branch Records. Release Date: 31 March 2017.

Since releasing their debut album Dreamcatchers in 2014, THE ROYAL have slowly been causing a stir in the European metalcore scene, and now hopefully with the band’s first label release Seven through Long Branch Records, this group of promising Dutchmen are set to take the scene by storm. Seven continues where Dreamcatchers left off, but things sound a lot sharper, more structured, and vocalist Sem Pisarahu has definitely found his vocal niche with this release.

To kick off proceedings, Thunder storms in with riffs galore, and soon enough we’re back amongst THE ROYAL’s safe clutches. With this opening track, the band’s confidence oozes through the speakers, with bold tones and an urgent presence, the song soon gives way to one of the album’s highlights, Feeding Wolves. Featuring Carlo Knöpfel of BREAKDOWN OF SANITY this song features a lot of exciting elements; elegant riffs which soon erupt into a crushing mass of tech riffery and catchy lines which are destined to be firm favourites for fans to shout along to. Unapologetically heavy, yet diverse enough to remain interesting, this track sets the milestone for the remainder of the album.

The third track, single, Wildmind maintains the band’s infectious energy and features one of the album’s most memorable riffs. It is becoming apparent THE ROYAL are definitely ones to watch, with their mix of a bruising foundation, topped by piercing guitars and crushing vocals. This variety is worked to create an interesting and unpredictable bag of metalcore. Creeds and Vultures surprises the ear with tech riffs that border on the djent, along with an unexpected acoustic middle-eight and a triumphant outro. A truly impressive track in terms of seamlessly mixing all these components together, THE ROYAL confidently demonstrate they are still unfazed by including acoustic and orchestral parts, as any fan of the debut album would be familiar with.

This continues with the piano opening of Counterculture, the second single taken from Seven. With a desperate message, the band storm their way through the song, once again with killer riffs and a hardcore attitude of camaraderie. A thought provoking song about the state of the world, this message has time to sink in during the album’s atmospheric interlude, appropriately named…Interlude. This is soon interrupted with the whirring riff of the title track, which is an example of the band’s leaning towards the more tech side of metal.

Life Breaker and Thalassa are chock-full of tech influences, with both songs of course containing signature killer riffs, you can just assume by this point that the remainder of the songs will also plentiful in the riffage department. Indeed, closer Viridian needs something special to offer to put the tech metal cherry on top of THE ROYAL’s metalcore cake. And it certainly delivers; a fast-paced, energetic number, it is the perfect counterpart to Thunder, nicely sandwiching all the riffs and screams between two solid tracks of THE ROYAL goodness.

A seriously blinding effort, Seven will hopefully propel THE ROYAL to the forefront of the burgeoning scene. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for this promising lot and how the band evolves for future releases.