Valis Ablaze – Render

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 19 July 2019.

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This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for from VALIS ABLAZE. After reviewing their EP Insularity back in 2017 and then their debut album Boundless last year, I’ve always had high hopes for these Bristolians but they were yet to reveal their full potential. Render, the band’s second album to be released through Long Branch Records, showcases a band who have finally hit their stride. After numerous line-up changes and career defining shows, Render is the sound of VALIS ABLAZE ready to unleash their powress and put their stamp on the progressive scene in 2019.     

Mesmerising riffs and an alluring depth entice the listener with opening track Neon Dreaming. This track also introduces what their previous material lacked a little bit – ‘oomph’. This confident appeal oozes through the rest of the album. Second track Hollow Heart is a prime example of VALIS ABLAZE’s newly found vigour. This glorious track is the best single the band have released to date and is an absolute belter. The staggering climax and triumphant riffs fill our hollow hearts to the brim.          

The Convincer is an interesting beast. The jerky riffs and shimmering notes are shadowed by a dark undertone, yet the devastating chorus will make the track one which you’ll remember for a while. Speaking of memorable tracks, Ascent is an absolute corker of a song. The upbeat and infectious energy which punches at the beginnng is unlike anything we’ve heard from VALIS ABLAZE before and it’s flippin’ fantastic. The cheeky screamed vocals raise the song even higher. This track shows how versatile vocalist Phil Owen has become with his incredible vocal talent. If you think Ascent cannot get any better then the inclusion of MASK OF JUDAS’ Sam Bell just tips it over the edge. Absolutely outrageous.   

After that triumph, next track Saturation provides a haunting and offbeat song which makes for a perfect interlude for an album full of unexpected twists and turns. States of Decay is another dreamlike and modest track which has stuck itself in my mind considering it’s quite laidback. The quirkiness continues with Infinite World with its opening notes which might deceive you into thinking you’d accidently skipped to ANIMALS AS LEADERS. The track continues with fresh energy and a few surprises; the 3 minute mark will blow you away. I’ll say no more.

Album finale Elevation is a mini masterpiece. The band don’t mess around here; immediately there is an impact at the beginning followed by a fast-paced chorus with a commanding energy throughout. The song elevates (sorry) with the breathtaking performance by Danish beauty WHITE DOVE, whom provided guest vocals during the band’s Tech Fest set last year, so I’m thrilled she’s back on a recorded track for Render. This conclusion is a stunning effort by VALIS ABLAZE. 

Render is the band’s biggest achievement yet, each song has its own vibe and own story to tell. If they’ve improved and progressed this quickly between albums, just think of what VALIS ABLAZE will be capable of by album number three! If you’re still yet to check out this band (I’ve been blogging about them enough) then don’t wait any longer!       

Ghost Iris – Apple of Discord

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 22 February 2019.

Denmark’s GHOST IRIS never disappoint do they? 2017’s Blind World was a superb album and I had no doubts in my mind that the band’s third record Apple of Discord would be anything but spectacular…but bloody hell this record blows everything the band have ever done out of the water. This record is insane!

Apple of Discord begins with the title track, an instrumental song with a classic GHOST IRIS riff and a huge and crisp production. The dreamy riffage is soon obliterated by the absolutely storming The Devil’s Plaything. If there is one thing to note about this album it is frontman Jesper Vicencio’s vocals and how his cleans have become utterly colossal. His outstanding vocals plus the cheeky djent and the intense breakdowns make The Devil’s Plaything an excellent choice for a single. The track and Apple of Discord as a whole sounds a lot more serious and intense than their previous work, and even though there is a decent dollop of melodic passages, it all feels a lot heavier in general.

The riffs are another level on this album and next track Final Tale is no exception from the rule. It is a darkly groovy beast heightened by the catchy chorus. GHOST IRIS have oodles of appeal and seem to be channelling everything that works into a brilliant and concise record. The chunky riffs continue in After The Sun Set Pt. II which will certainly get a few bodies moving when played live. A proper bouncy and ferocious number with an epic chorus – this track is pure fire. 

Beauty in Expiration is already potentially my favourite song of 2019 so far. There is a real ISSUES edge to it in terms of melodies. A brilliantly executed track, Vicencio’s vocals reach new heights and the instrumentation is perfect to say the least. It has the right balance of skull crushing riffs and delicate notes. Everything is just spot on. The same can be said for The Rat and the Snake which is one of the heaviest songs on Apple of Discord with its crushing CABAL-esque atmosphere. This is GHOST IRIS at their most brutal and it’s a truly thrilling experience.

The energetic Heaven Was Pure Hell is a triumph from beginning to end with its huge and catchy melodies and savage breakdowns. The tech fury continues with the brilliant Cowardly Pride. This track wouldn’t sound out of place on Blind World but its awesome melodic death leanings make it more like Blind World 2.0. GHOST IRIS surpass themselves once again with Magenta Moon which is a perfect modern metal song with a brilliant pace and lift to it. The uplifting riffs with the blistering breakdowns creates a masterpiece of a track full of striking contrasts.

Album finale Virus is well and truly an infectious track. A fabulous bouncy and groovy riff greets you before the brutal vocals threaten to tear your face off. It’s a good ol’ stomper which provides a monumental conclusion to a phenomenal album. GHOST IRIS are and remain one of Denmark’s most talented metal bands, but their crossover appeal and incredible talent demonstrated with Apple of Discord will surely threaten the big players worldwide.

The Five Hundred – Bleed Red

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 17 August 2018.

If you’ve been following my blog since its beginning you may have seen I namedrop THE FIVE HUNDRED here and there as I have reviewed a lot of their contemporaries and it’s hard not to compare certain bands to this promising Nottingham mob. However, the band’s contribution to the British tech scene is only set to get bigger. If you read my Tech Fest review you will know THE FIVE HUNDRED absolutely smashed their set and the new music they are about to unleash unto the world is HUGE. Their previous EPs Winters and The Veil have a dark and brooding techy vibe to them but with their debut album Bleed Red the band are ready to take risks and it’s gonna pay off!

The album kicks off with the title track but on the first listen you’re flabbergasted at this progression in sound. Who is this band?! This track is a bit of a departure from the darkness of their older material. Bleed Red is larger than life and possesses a confident sound, its energy is infectious and boundless. The LAMB OF GOD-like gang vocals were an unexpected opener. Can we also talk about how much vocalist Johnathan Woods-Eley has improved? His melodic vocals always carried the EPs but with this first track he’s utterly surpassed all that he’s done before. THE FIVE HUNDRED project themselves as a truly unstoppable force.

Second track Smoke and Mirrors is possibly my favourite on the album, purely because of its incredible KILLSWITCH ENGAGE-esque vibes. The guitars and gigantic melody would not sound out of place on As Daylight Dies. It’s one thing wearing your metalcore influences on your sleeve but you also have to deliver. Luckily THE FIVE HUNDRED do, the song is absolute gold. The triumphant riffs, the sheer passion, the crushing breakdown… this is a winner. Trust me, this song is one you’re going to have stuck in your head for hours.

More delicious riffs greet us at the beginning of Buried. The verse reminds me of something MATCHBOOK ROMANCE would conjure, that kind of irresistible, melodic darkness. There’s a hint of TESSERACT here and there with the ambitious moments, and you know what, Woods-Eley pulls it off. Oblivion is another stomper, the screams and lyrics are IHSAHN worthy. THE FIVE HUNDRED have always managed to create a certain mood with their music, like there is an underlying darkness present. This has always given their music an edge. Although it’s not quite as evident in Bleed Red, a starker contrast is made between the bold moments and the brooding passages.

The Noose proves to be an absolute belter. Older fans may claim the band are selling out for a quick buck but no way. THE FIVE HUNDRED is now a more focused entity who has pulled its collective strengths into a blistering release. This track actually ends up being one of the grooviest and one of the heaviest on the album. The Noose has it all.

Reclusive and Seduced by Shadows make up riff city, both accompanied by more superb vocals and memorable choruses. But it is The Narcissist which is the standout track in the second half of the album. A sombre piano plays which is soon joined by atmospheric electronics and this gothic edge remaining throughout. I was trying to avoid liking this song to MOTIONLESS IN WHITE but The Narcissist definitely has that electronic sense of doom and mystique. The metallic guitars and big chorus also adds to the dramatic tone completing this mammoth of a track.

If you are wondering what the heaviest track on Bleed Red is, then look no further than I Am The Undead. As you can probably tell by the ghoulish song title, this song is demonically heavy. Those groovy riffs never let up, ensuring your head will bang for all eternity. The sheer brutality of this track sounds like the aural equivalent of being scalped. THE FIVE HUNDRED have always had their disgustingly heavy moments but this one obliterates them all. With all darkness there comes light and I Am The Undead is contrasted by Circles, the album’s finale. A melodic and brooding track, there are some unexpected doom riffs and mesmerising melodies. They started Bleed Red with a bang and decided to close the album with a stunningly epic track. THE FIVE HUNDRED may not be boasting the most original material but their talent and drive and progress between releases is something to be desired. A band who are constantly growing and constantly improving, THE FIVE HUNDRED remain one of Britain’s brightest metal hopes. I’m already looking forward to album number two.

 

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.

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.