Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Review: Last Witness - Mourning After

 The rise of underground London hardcore mob Last Witness is one that's had it's difficulties, most notably the falling apart of the group before anything really began for them when their 2008 debut An Unfinished Lie was lost and abandoned. It's only following it's release 2 years later that the quintet decided it marked a time for them to get back on their feet. And it's a good thing they have as they've now come roaring back more realistically and brutal this time with their charming comeback release Mourning After.

 As opener The Void thunders into action, you get a basic and effective image of the overall musical impression of this album, that it is very much metalcore sounding it's most earthly, as in this style of music is played to sound it's roughest, in a way that upholds it's hardcore punk roots with a much greater respectability. The frenzied screeching of frontman "Theo" have the sound of vocal chords being dragged along sandpaper in the scorching ferocity, which really help characterize the unrefined fury and bile of Exorcism and Somnambulism.
 The hardcore performance is second to none in creating an atmosphere of absolute brutality, chaos and anomie. The immense spiraling riffs and pounding drumbeats found in Pan-Am Smile perfectly characterizes the songs sense of danger and exhilaration and the switches between the doom-laden slower passages and intense series of breakdowns found on Magnolia and the epic closer Marionette effortlessly reveals the groups chaotic nature in a form that is very real and heart-stopping with the simply juggernaut riffs from Bobby Daniels and Anthony Sykes.
 So to use a cliched phrase, Mourning After is very much an album of all killer, no filler. Last Witness make an astonishing effort in playing metalcore at it's most raw and most monstrous that will pound every listener into submission with it's balls to the wall brutality and relentless hardcore and bleak attitude. The return of Last Witness is very much a return that all hardcore enthusiasts can be grateful for. This is metalcore as it should be.

Last Witness' Mourning After is out now via Holy Roar.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Review: Primal Rock Rebellion - Awoken Broken

 Though the news of the collaboration has been around for some time now, the thought of a collaboration between Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith and former SikTh frontman Mikee Goodman is still pretty unreal. When I first heard SikTh and their juddering complex intense rush of metal, the only other group I could really think to compare them to were German technical death metal masters Necrophagist. The combination of that style with Maiden's more streamlined and powerful traditional heavy metal seemed unrealistic and just odd. But of course, to assume that supergroups are created only to bring together the respective styles of each other's bands is a stupid thing to do, and so Smith and Goodman's collaborative project Primal Rock Rebellion is something that really shows the pair stepping out of their comfort zones and trying something a little different, and genuinely awesome.

 Smith is without a doubt the musically most active of all six Maiden members and has formed various side projects in the past including groups that have specialized in more progressive territory, but never has anything that either of the groups members done anything that sounds so atmospheric and epic in it's structure and soundscaping. Primal Rock Rebellion's debut (and possibly only) release Awoken Broken succeeds in doing what every collaborative project should strive to do in that Smith's massive melodic riffs are instantly recognizable of the heaviest work of Iron Maiden, while Goodman's wild screeching vocals are reminiscent of SikTh at their most vicious but these musical featured are used in a way that is very different to their full-time groups. Tracks like No Friendly Neighbour and No Place Like Home have something of an industrial influence which the primary features of these musicians succeed in fitting into effortlessly, the same can be said for the layers of atmospheric sound and textures that give tracks like I See Lights and Tortured Tone that extra spacey progressive metal brilliance. It's certainly got the kind of sound you'd expect to hear floating around on the twisted collection of albums that was the Devin Townsend Project.
 And this buildup of atmosphere is what really kicks Awoken Broken into action as every moment manages to be very alive, exciting and well, downright weird at times. In a good way of course. But this skill makes Savage World and Search For Bliss songs that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Similarly, the albums title track and the dreamy "storytelling?" track Snake Ladders are packed with glorious weirdness derived mainly from Goodman's versatile vocal performance which are frequently thrilling. And when looking at the weirder aspects of the album even the forty-seven second interlude As Tears Come Falling From the Sky deserves praise for the fact that it is just... so completely mental. Listening to the entire album is worth it for that amongst many other things.
 So, Awoken Broken is an album that sees the minds of two different spectrums of metal come together and exchange various ideas and using them to do something a little more off-the-wall and not so predictable. There's a good chance it won't appeal to many Maiden fans since the powerful wailing of Bruce Dickinson has been replaced with an array of screeching and growling and fans of SikTh may find the lack of complex time signature switches and more work in creating atmospheric backdrops to be something of a disappointment, but the sense of excitement and racing adventure seen in the actual music itself as well as the experimental craze seen throughout is enough to make this album a dynamic fresh and awe-inspiring listen.

 Primal Rock Rebellion's Awoken Broken is out now via Spinefarm.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Review: Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

 Exhilarating! uplifting! adrenaline fueled! Filled with hooks! These are some of the many keywords that could never be used to describe Earth, the pioneers of the doom drone sub-genre. I first experienced them after none other than fellow out-of-the-ordinary music enthusiast Patrick posted a video link for Teeth of the Lions Rule the Divine from the Seattle quintet's debut Earth 2. The deceptive bastard put this link on my page writing above the video "Dig these phat beats yo." and of course, I played the song to check it out, only to be greeted by over twenty seven minutes of continuous repetitive riffs drenched in feedback and distortion. There were no phat beats. There were no drums. In many ways, the song sounded a little like the soundtrack of death and though it didn't feel quite as deathly and utterly bleak as when Sleep's Dopesmoker was casually posted on that same social networking site, the continuos guitar work just had the impression of slowly dragging it's listener into the depths of Hell. It was pretty good.

 Of course that was back in the mid-90's and since then, Earth have become a very different group, their 2005 comeback saw them reborn with a wider range of instruments including drums and musical influences. Of course to say that introducing more instruments and influences has made Earth's music more accessible is to say that my absolute inability to come up with a good "To say that..." joke and using this fact to stir laughs itself has given me a good sense of self-deprecatory humour. However, this addition of a wider variety of musical ideas has made the work of Earth a much more engaging and gripping prospect and this years sees the release of the second installment for last years Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light collection of songs, which continues to show the group being more mellow and less full-on. The songs are still guitar dominated and largely instrumental and played with an extreme lethargy, but it's with this that the group's immense atmospheric soundscapes manage to emerge. With it's simple arrangement of drawn out riffs, plodding basslines and cello backdrops, His Teeth Did Brightly Shine is filled with a mournful and desolate attitude. There is less drone found but rest-assured, Earth's sense of doom lives on strongly.
 And so, it goes without saying that this album is rooted in absolute bleakness and chaos. Listening to it does require a lot of focus and devotion and the thirteen minute epic Waltz (A Multiplicity of Doors) proves this with great ease. Seriously, cellos have got to be the most depressing instruments in the world. There is no way that it can possibly played in any way that would emit any sort of happiness or joy and it's really little wonder that the group have a full time cellist in the form of Lori Goldston because, something so depressing is essential for music so rooted in gloom as Earth is. Even the more swaggering closer The Rakehell doesn't really do anything to lift spirits even when Dylan Carson's riffs do manage to be effortlessly cool and rock n' roll at the time.
 So, if you're looking for something that's a little... grimmer than anything else I can only recommend checking out this album and in fact the entire Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Collection. Earth are incredibly effective at creating music with a brooding atmosphere, where an emotional impact is made without the requirement for any lyrics. Absolute focus and attention is needed for these sluggish jams to reach their full impact and listening to it isn't designed to be any kind of easy task, but if you want to see epic soundscapes reach some kind of charming formation, then look here and see that Earth have managed to use  atmospheres of doom in a way as innovative and epic as possible.

 Earth's Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II is out now via Southern Lord Records. The band will tour the UK in March with Mount Eerie and O Paon.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Celebrating 20 Years: Pantera - Vulgar Display of Power

 As the 1990s came into emegence, metal music seemed to be on it's hind legs. Only the thrash sound of Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica (who were about to drop the thrash sound for 1991's Black Album) and many more were the kinds of metal that were genuinely thrilling and epic as well as being to reach larger crowds. However, the kind of metal that was seen to gain a greater rising were the mass waves of glam metal and hair metal bands, all of whom reached large amounts of attention and stardom for essentially playing pop music disguised by some guitar riffs and pompous attitudes, while the rising of the more viscious and exciting black metal and death metal was recieving little attention or care. things looked grim. Metal was desperately in need of a group that could reach out to the masses of rock fans and simultanously deliver a performance that was raw, exciting and fresh. Otherwise the genre had no hope.
 And it was 1990 that saw this change come recklessly and wildly into place when Arlington quartet Pantera re-emerged with their fifth album Cowboys From Hell. This album would become a rebirth for the group and a rebirth for metal in general. It saw the group abandon their cringeworthy glam metal of old and return with a much rougher, dirtier and more extreme brand of metal. As guitarist Darrell Abbott transformed from "Diamond Darrell" into "Dimebag Darrell", Pantera charged forward with a full-scale assault upon a mass of unsespecting and delighted metal enthusiasts with the introduction of groove metal which saw the perfect marriage of pulsing thrash metal riffs and danceable hip hop rhythms. The previous glam metal releases meant nothing. This was their real debut. This was the real way to say hello to Pantera and a new dawn of heavy music that would give heavy music at it's most extreme a place in the mainstream world of music where it belonged.
 And then a year later, Nevermind by Nirvana topped the US Billboard 200 album chart and heavy rock music was given a newer rebirth once again in the form of grunge music, as the Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains all reached extreme heights of mainstream success. However, this meant that the world of metal was still left begging for more and the rise of groups like Machine Head and mainstream emegence of Sepultura meant more progress was made in the rise of groove metal. but ultimately, it was Pantera that a new generation of optimistic metalheads looked upon for a desire to continue to intense assault of revolutionary heavy metal as they had on Cowboys From Hell. Surely it was an impossible task. There was no way an album with the same kind of game-changing and reputable impact could be made, surely...

And of course, today fans of metal across the globe can celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the release of an album that ultimately did have the same kind of game-changing and reputable impact on metal as we know it. 1992's Vulgar Display of Power became one of the most influncial metal albums of the 1990s with it's influence remaining a prominent force today. As grunge rose at an astonishing rate and glam rock wasn't able to last the pace, frontman Phil Anselmo knew that it was a case of adapt or die and more changes were made for Vulgar Display of Power that metal music thrives on today. And most notably, the change in vocal style for this album is remarkable, the high pitched Judas Priest and the ridiculous cock rock style of spandex and poodle-perm hair was all banished, Anselmo shaved his hair and switched a much deeper guttural growl to give the songs a more monstrous delivery. And sure enough as he is first heard screaming "Revenge/ I'm screaming revenge again" during opener Mouth for War, it's obvious that mainstream heavy metal has once more become as evil-sounding and forceful as Black Sabbath intended for it to be in 1970. The influence of this album has stretched far and wide across the world of metal as we know it today. The group's sludgier performance, bleaker performances on tracks like A New Level and By Demons Be Driven manage to conjure up awe-inspiring atmospheres of pure morbid brutality while the more rapid hardcore punk delivery of Fucking Hostile and Rise are a rush of epic ecstasy and energy. Both elements of playing can clearly be identified when listening to Lamb of God or Mastodon, arguably metal's most widely regarded and celebrated groups of this generation. As well as this, there's the stomping, swaggering Walk, a song with such a simple groove from Dimebag and pounding bassline from Vinnie Paul that has become a heavy metal anthem. It's power that emerges through the no-tricks-just-riffs nature of the song is still felt today. It's still performed onstage during shows for completely different groups. Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet for My Valentine have performed it onstage together. Simply if you know modern metal, you know that song inside out.
 When speaking of the mentality the group had for the making of the album, Anselmo states that the idea of playing making the album was simply "playing metal with hardcore attitude" and it shows through the constant addition of the extra badass qualities that hardcore punk brings mixing itself with heavy metal traditions to create the kind of musical attitude that was unheard. It resulted in bleak and sludgy verse structures mixing with more in-your-face and frantic grooves during Live In a Hole and Regular People (Conceit) and most importantly, giving badass riffs to more emotional ballads. The closest anyone had got to doing such a thing was Guns N' Roses and they never had any immense breakdowns or deathly growling, like heard in This Love and Hollow. And these moments don't even divert from the pure emotion that emits from these songs, surely a sign of how strong they are.
 The emotional impact of Vulgar Display of Power is also a considerable force, both when listening and in hindsight. Though the performance is violent and aggressive, there's a lot of positivity to be found on the album. Rise is a song that calls for mass unity and brotherhood amongst mankind as Anselmo yells "Mass prediction, unification/ Breathing life into our lungs/ Every creed and every kind/ To give us depth for strength." In hindsight, this idea of brotherhood is something that makes this album so wonderful. It's the sense of brotherhood within Pantera that makes this album even more powerful a listen. Anselmo had fully settled into a group, having not joined until fourth album and unofficial Pantera album Power Metal and when listening to the album, it's quite clearly the sound of four guys kicking it together and having an awesome time without a care about what anyone else thinks. It's a far cry from the events in later years which saw Anselmo and Dimebag have a very public fallout in 2003, leading to the demise of the group and the horrific onstage murder of Dimebag a year later meant Phil was never given any chance to make any kind of reparations with his former partner in metal. So, when listening to Vulgar Display of Power, it's a warming callback of more glorious days, a true album which resembles friendship and brotherhood across musicians.
 So, Vulgar Display of Power is an album that's all about being as brutal and hardcore as possible in playing heavy metal and twenty years on it's still as heart-racing, punishing and tearing a listen as ever with raw energetic performances with genuine roughness, bile and vigor mixed with the performance. It's the album that has inspired a generation of groups, putting both nu metal and metalcore into action by mixing wiry, adrenaline filled hardcore breakdowns with in-depth more emotional heavy metal passages. It's a masterpiece of metal and though it is extremely likely that Pantera are never going to make any kind of return, albums like this mean their legacy will last forever.

 Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power 20th Anniversary Edition CD/DVD set will be released on 15th May via Rhino.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Review: InMe - The Pride

 What is there to say about Essex alt-metallers InMe? They've released a series of albums that successfully reveal their abilities in playing post-hardcore with a more streamlined and poppier edge, but the similar style and techniques executed by Funeral for a Friend, Fightstar and Biffy Clyro have left them being underrated and overlooked. Needless to say, a "thorough" listen-through of the group's back catalogue reveals them to have just as big a sound as their poppy post-hardcore peers, just not as big a fanbase. There's no knowing if the release of fifth album The Pride will allow the group's hook-filled hardcore to win it's way in the hearts of any new listeners but it does have the certain grandness of passion that reveals it's potential to do so.

 The Pride reveals itself as an album that seriously accentuates the brilliance of streamlined post-hardcore music, being a collection of epic-ly crafted songs that succeeds in encouraging people to headbang and keep them in a state of hypnosis, while keeping an energetic hook filled melodic power.
 This allows this sense of mainstream gloss is present and gives tracks like A Great Man and Silver Womb  an extra sparkle to go along with juddering melodies and pounding riffs from frontman Dave McPherson. These songs are breathtakingly uplifting, and Halcyon Genesis, boasting lyrics such as "And I know now, my best days are ahead of me", features one of the most beautiful and uplifting choruses of the year so far. Although, there is a lot to choose from when considering this. The Pride is filled with massive sing-along choruses guaranteed to raise the spirits of anyone listening.
 This sense of uplifting joy and love of hooks is even seen in the likes of Reverie Shores  and Escape to Mysteriopa which showcase the groups more prog-based elements - something that InMe have always brought uniquely to the table in this world of modern poppy post hardcore bands. As sweeping synthesizer backdrops form together with the pounding hardcore riffs, the result is irresistibly dreamy and hypnotic in it's brimming charm.
 So, a decade into a somewhat unnoticed career in music and InMe have still got it. They are still wonderfully powerful in their playing of streamlined post-hardcore music and still understand hooks as well as creating lush soundscapes. This is an album that could allow this group to witness the grander scale of being a UK rock band and gain the kind of fan numbers that are truly deserving.

 InMe's The Pride is out now via Graphite Records. The band are on tour now with LostAlone.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Review: The Menzingers - On the Impossible Past

 Since 2006, The Menzingers have proven themselves a worthy source for wonderous, blissful punk rock of a classic sort that bursts with brightness and positivity. When they were signed to Epitaph Records last year, the labels founder and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz stated "These guys play the kind of pure punk rock that I grew up with." And with this genuine image of warm kind-natured punk, the Scranton quartet use their loving force to fuel their third album On the Impossible Past. It is basically a punk masterpiece, musically and lyrically. Let's lose ourselves in overwhelming charm.


 With On the Impossible Past, the lyrics are created using a more intense biographical style that is supposedly drawn from personal experience of growing up with friends and familiy and all the different situations wether they be upbeat or filled with pessemism. And as opener Good Things sees frontman Greg Barnett open with the lines "I've had a horrible time/ Pulling myself together/ I've been closing my eyes to find/ The old, familiar failures." you just know that this will be an album of tales from someone that has lived a life worth writing songs about and has seen the highs and lows of living life to the full. The Obituaries repetiton of "I will fuck this up/ I fucking know it" shows a sense of charm in it's absolute tragedy and self-pitying bitterness.
 When lead vicals are handled by guitarist Tom May, song matters take a more uplifting turn, which really sees the biographical reflective tone to their music come out as Gates sees loving memories take up the songs content as May croons: "It's not hard to fall for a waitress/ When you both smoke/ Smoke the same cigarettes/ You'll get seated as diners lovers/ You'll get to check that Scranton's for the better." They make the song as romantic as they do realistic, with a simple tale of love and life fills listeners with warm emotion that one may simply get encapsulated in.
 Musically, the effort of The Menzingers is stunning as well. The band is gifted with the ability to simply write uplifting catchy hard rock songs. There's hints of pop punk, but it's a battered sort of pop punk. The type that has a greater blues influence, a greater soul influence perhaps. More than anything, it's the type of music that has "Bruce Springsteen influence" written all over it. Tracks like Burn After Writing and I Can't Seem to Tell are filled with infectious hooks and distortion drenched riffs all over them. The folky style of heartland punk also aids in giving this album a much rawer, earthly sound overall. And this natrual element only boosts the poetic beauty that the lyrics have to offer.
 So, this is an album that is created using wonder, warmth, punk rock passion and beautifully wriiten lyrics as it's main ingredients. The Mzingers manage to keep things energetic and grand while producing a more intimate and wondrous atmosphere with their lyrics. To end this, I can only think to use the inevitable saying of "Punk's not dead!" and the performance of The Mezingers is evidence of this.

The Mezinger's On the Impossible Past is out now via Epitaph. The band will tour the UK in May with The Bouncing Souls, Red City Radio and Leagues Apart.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Review: Sleigh Bells - Reign of Terror

 Just how do you describe the kind of music Sleigh Bells make? You could call it "industrial pop", you could call it "digital hardcore", at times maybe "acid pop" would be a good term, but I think it would be most credible and respectable for me to say "if the phrase 'super-hyper-fun-awesome' had a sound" because, if it did then it would be the colourful assault of dynamic synth infused power pop mixed with industrial and hardcore rock and metal influence that the Brooklyn duo deliver. The ideals of former Poison the Well guitarist Derek Miller and former teen pop star Alexis Krauss for making music have not changed much since 2010's Treats but with their second release Reign of Terror this songwriting power is still strong and the spirit of awesome still resides in their deranged musical craftsmanship.

 What rides high on this album is just an overwhelming and overpowering sense of ecstasy found in almost every aspect of the music. Whether it's Miller's sonic and frenzied post hardcore riffs which can even get a little thrashy, seen on the likes of Born to Lose and Demons, or the trippy and shimmering array of synthesized backdrops which in their immense dynamism and effective layering techniques makes these electronic moments the standout sections themselves, seen best in Comeback Kid and Leader of the Pack or the warm and inviting vocals of Krauss which at times have the extra sense of cuteness that makes one's head want to explode, seen in her unleashing of more punk based yelling in Crush or more seductive crooning seen in Road to Hell and You Lost Me. There can certainly be no denial that this is an album bursting with positivity.
 The arrangement of the songs in their production and songwriting is breathtaking. Miller and Krauss manage to take the normally sinister and brooding structures of the pounding industrial metal and post-hardcore reminiscent to Nine Inch Nails or Big Black and give it a schizophrenic and deluded gloss-over with shiny poppy synthesizers filled with their own awesome intricacies and listening back to them always allows for something new to be discovered. The layering of all these synthesized magnificence and sonic riffs allows for genuinely noisy and heavy playback with genuine aggression in the mot positive way possible.
 So, Reign of Terror is probably the most awesome I've heard pop music being altered sound. The sparky cutesy melodic pop music mixed with an influence of more industrial elements gives the music a sound that is genuinely fresh, dynamic, powerful and is simply bursting with upbeat energy and ecstasy.

 Sleigh Bells' Reign of Terror is out now via Mom+Pop. The band will tour the UK in March with Charli XCX

Review: Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour

 Modern blues rock is a genuinely wonderful thing to hear. It's a style that has one a place in the hearts of many listeners of more mainstream music, while also being cool in the eyes of genuine rock fans. It's one of the few styles of music that manages to sound simultaneously fresh while revealing a classic influence as well. Anyway, in this subtle rise of celebrated blues rock acts one of the latest groups to make their mark is Southampton's Band of Skulls whose 2009 debut Baby Darling Doll Face Honey brought together the best of old-school blues rock with a chilled atmosphere of the best modern day alt rock. Anyway, this blissful array of rock is gracefully continued in 2012 as they come thundering back with their second album Sweet Sour.

 It doesn't take long for the group to reveal the full extent of this talent for bringing together the hard hitting impact of classic hard rock and the tender subtleties of indie rock and tracks like the opening title track and Wanderluster are reminiscent to the works of The White Stripes, The Black Keys and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, as rough, rustic guitar riffs from Russel Marsden and thumping drumbeats from Matt Hayward presents a joyful rock n' roll power shining through the delicate indie rock backdrop which is simply entrancing in it's ethereal serenity.
 The combination of these two elements of blues rock is wonderful enough on it's own but the moments of the album which are focused one particular element are breathtaking enough on their own. When the sole focus of the music is the hard rock element we find tracks like The Devil Takes Care of His Own and You're Not Pretty But You Got it Goin' On both having a reminiscence to Queens of the Stone Age, the latter sounding like the group in their prime, the former in their Era Vulgaris... era but both packed with adrenaline nonetheless. The lead vocals of bassist Emma Richardson and scuzzy guitar solo found on Lies also boosts the group's rock n' roll credentials. Sounding reminiscent to The Kills, Lies is pretty much successful in epitomizing "cool".
 Similarly, focusing on the more gentle moments of blues is crucial in this album as well, as tracks like Navigate and Hometowns are delivered with a simple and delicate acoustic led backdrop which listeners will lose themselves in effortlessly, plus the dual harmonies of Marsden and Richardson are both incredibly beautiful. The performance in the albums closer Close to Nowhere is also delightfully sweet, with songwriting and arrangement clearly done with an influence to The Velvet Underground's more peaceful moments.
 But, ultimately, what Sweet Sour does is continue to prove that the combination of classically influenced blues rock mixed with modern indie rock and garage rock is a style of music that can be celebrated with great ease and enjoyment. A lot of guitar work has a reminiscence to Led Zeppelin and The Who and various other classic rock masters and the stellar shimmering production and entrancing delicate vocal performances gives these songs a greater laid back atmosphere. And if swaggering rock riffs and chilled out attitudes aren't representative of the spirit of the blues staying alive in good health, I don't know what is.

 Band of Skulls' Sweet Sour is out now via Electric Blues Recordings. The band are on tour of the UK with Broken Hands.
  

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Review: Hit the Lights - Invicta

When Ohio's Hit the Lights first came to prominence in 2006 following the release of their debut This Is a Stick Up... Don't Make It a Murder they were an instant hit, their single Bodybag being a delightful work of pop punk which was probably the most fun anyone has made a song about a death threat sound. Most press that followed the band was extremely positive and the general belief that emerged was that the group were likely to become one of the forerunners of the next generation of pop punk. But somehow, for the group, such a prospect wasn't appealing enough and instead for their third album Invicta the group have decided to make a collection of anthemic stadium filler rock songs. Which would work. Except none of these songs are very anthemic. And aren't likely to fill up any stadiums anytime soon.
 
 For this album, Hit the Lights have followed in the footsteps of fellow once-destined-for-pop-punk-revolutionaries Yellowcard when they released last years hugely disappointing When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes which featured a collection of generic feel-good rock anthems with little sense of soul or intimacy attached to them. I'm pretty sure the only people who were attracted by that album were easily amused pre-teens who listened to them as a mains to claim they were a fully credible listener of rock music. Maybe I think that because the Youtube videos of the songs featured backdrops with photos of islands and dolphins out at sea with lyrics appearing in shimmering pink words. It had the tackiness of such a person attached to it. Anyway, this Hit the Lights album seems to be destined to go the same direction as Yellowcard.
 There's a lot of nice pop rock playing on the album. Songs like Gravity have massive hooks in choruses and cynics to the album cannot argue it's ability to be catchy. If stadium rock can do one thing it's big choruses and the production throughout the album is pretty stellar - if the group is going to move into the big time league of pop rock groups they may as well have a grander sound.
 And that's the biggest problem of the album. When playing simple pop punk, Hit the Lights gave a very bold, simple in-your-face performance that left a lasting impression and was filled with a certain passion. With all this extra grandness comes... extra blandness. The vocal performance of Nick Thompson throughout the album is extremely generic and has little emotional properties and leaves little impact on listeners. Plus the lyrical content of the album basically means Invicta could be called Motivational Posters With Riffs! I promise you that this album does start off quite catchy amongst this blandness but as you listen further on, the blandness becomes unenjoyable and listening to each song... feels more like a task.
 So in Hit the Lights' attempt to increase the maturity of their sound, they've only resulted in creating bland rock albums that will only be appreciated by blander radio stations that don't believe in "edgy". There's nothing in the way of any soulful passion, just attempts to sound grander and more pretentious. The only positive things that can really be found in this album is there are still a decent amount of poppy hooks but when listening one of the main thoughts going through my head was "I bet these songs would sound so much better if they were to be re-worked musically and lyrically by A Day to Remember. They are truly the forerunners in modern day pop punk and even then, they've made their success through mixing it with metalcore. Invicta is another album that proves that pop rock is in a bad state right now and has no way of gaining any real respect from any genuine music enthusiasts. Seriously Hit the Lights, stay young and fresh. Keep pop punk healthy. It's in dire need.

 Hit the Lights' Invicta is out now via Razor & Tie. 
 
 

Review: Marmozets - Vexed

 The other day, my friends and I found rising punk quintet Marmozets to be one of our many targets of casual ridicule and mockery. Not even from listening to their music or anything. Just because we saw a picture of the group cheerfully posing and coming to the conclusion that the band definitely has an average age of twelve. Sometimes we do cooler things when we hang out. Anyway, this dynamic punk crew have already made a fairly big impact with the release of their debut EP Passive Aggressive to much approval and praise. Second EP Vexed sees the group continue their own take on punk. Only this time it's done with truly schizophrenic insanity.

 Essentially, Marmozets deliver an entire spectrum of punk music with great ease and opener One Man Wolfpack reveals this effortlessly mixing giant choruses with infectious hook, which reveals a talent for creating pop punk music mixed with the much more aggressive, structurally complex and unrelenting fury revealing a strong influence from some of hardcore music's most unforgiving acts such as Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan or Rolo Tomassi. Basically Marmozets have managed to create mathcore with hooks and melody which is no easy task.
 The performance across the EP is relentless as the band choose to tear their way through the seven tracks as violently as possible and crunch, growl and pummel their way through the journey. The guitar work of Jack Bottomley and Sam Macintyre reveal their ability to play with intensity and technical skill as tracks are filled with juddering structural patterns and time signature switches reveals their ability to be more rhythmically complex which, above all else in impressive for people who are at an age of starting their first year in high school.
 Also impressive is the vocal performance of frontwoman Becca Macintyre who unleashes her furious growling with immense fury and passion which is at times comparable to the leviathan growling of Rolo Tomassi's Eva Spence. Plus during the group's more melodic moments her cleaner vocals manage to be more prominent, which are actually very pretty. Well, as pretty as punk chanting can get.
 So, Marmozets seem to be getting a lot of hype and a continuously larger following as we speak and with the talent of taking complexity and melody, mixing it together and still managing to sound wilder and more over-the-top than any fellow peers makes this an understandable cause. This EP has the sound of the be-all-and-end-all to punk music. And we still have to brace ourselves for an album of insanity!

 Marmozets Vexed is out now.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Review: Goatwhore - Blood for the Master

 Ah, Goatwhore. A band with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. From a glance one would say they've become kings in the American underground metal scene, largely because they're one of the few groups that have actually gained some mainstream success. I discovered them when their 2006 album A Haunting Curse appeared on iTunes' "Listeners Also Bought" section for Cannibal Corpse's Kill alongside Decapitated and Job for a Cowboy. If you're not big on death metal, these bands will probably all sound the same. If you're big on the genre, you'd probably look at that selection of artists and thing "Quite a diverse mix there." At first I was a little reluctant to buy their stuff because of their name. I don't think anyone would be able to look at me and suggest that I have any decent sense of sanity left if I had a band called "Goatwhore" on my iPod. Then I thought about it for a bit and my reaction was "Social consciousnesses... Hahahahaha!" and played Alchemy of the Black Cult Sun on repeat for the next week. So, I've really gotten to know their fiery, evil brand of metal that really defies all kind of genre labeling other than just saying that it's extreme. And you'll all be happy to know that that's the way they've kept it for their fifth release Blood for the Master.

 Certainly fans of the underground metal scene will be glad to see that Goatwhore have done nothing to altar their sound to gain more mainstream credibility. There were accusations last year of Ohio's Skeletonwitch, a band that deals with similar matters musically and lyrically having done that with their latest release Forever Abomination when they simply with a thrash-based sound, to the dismay of many worshipers of underground metal. I thought the album was brilliant myself, but you could see that a wilder more uncontrollable and evil force is required to truly ignite the Underground scene and as Blood for the Master's opener Collapse in Eternal Worth instantly hammers listeners in with it's rapid-fire thrashy riffs and the deathly growls of Louis Benjamin Falgoust II, you know the New Orleans quartet are riding hard on the trail to destruction with this album. It shows the group have no time to waste in setting listeners up for what lies ahead. There's no need for any kind of ambient sections that were occasionally present on 2009's Carving Out the Eyes of God.
 So Blood for the Master presents a very unrefined, in-your-face delivery of a eclectic range of metallic influences. Jagged thrash metal riffs are a permanent feature, Falgoust's vocals range from his monstrous death growl and his higher pitched screaming, giving him the sound of the American Dani Filth. And of course, Sammy Duet's guitar work reveals an influence from Venom effortlessly, so their black metal credentials are on a permanent high. Goatwhore are a difficult group to categorize and the best term that describes their music is "Blackened death metal". It's a term that's also been used to describe the likes of Behemoth and Annal Nathrakh but it sounds like a term that was created in a confused panic from the people at the record labels.
 This kind of thing shouldn't be worried about though, maybe we can just call it "metal" and agree that the sound of Goatwhore is definitive metal. Or not. Because it would be cool to see definitive metal being a little more dynamic than what Goatwhore have on offer. I mean, if there's any band you don't want to see completely revolutionize their sound and start acting experimental and look into the use of electronic elements and so on, it's got to be the bands that play with a traditional death metal influence (I can confidently say that I am the only person in the world that enjoyed Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus. Please don't hurt me.) but when listening to Blood of the Master, there is often a sense of predictability lurking in one's mind with each new track on offer. Parasitic Scriptures of the Sacred and Death to the Architects of Heaven are both played in a way that they could  now be described as a "Goatwhore standard" with the continuous repetition of a series thrash riff with a major structural change in the middle before returning to the riff that kicks things off. Also interesting is the fact that Beyond the Spell of Discontent has the exact same riff as Between the Immense and the Dead, the bonus track of the group's 2009 effort.
 Overall, this album serves as a mixed bag of metallic goods offering major influence from differing styles of traditional metal, but with little variation on their tracks and constant similarities, there's little to be found on this album that hasn't been present on their previous works. Still, you just know that if Goatwhore made any kind of more streamlined or experimental changes, they would definitely lose a good amount of devoted followers and their devotion and ability to give their sound a more brutal, in-your-face presentation must be praised. So for now, the New Orleans quartet can maintain their throne in the underground scene. But don't expect to move any higher any time soon.

Goatwhore's Blood for the Master is out now via Metal Blade.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Review: Romans - Cravatte Nere

 Fellow Kerrang! readers, surely you must have had your attention captured in witnessing the first photograph of Birmingham alt-rockers Romans which featured frontman Tom Sivell dressed in Roman centurion uniform and having slaughtered his fellow bandmates. He was literally a Roman. It suggested they would be a band that would play with a sense of fun, adventure and ability to play extreme. Their debut mini-album Cravatte Nere however, suggests the total opposite. It's really difficult to find anything to this collection of songs that makes this band really extreme, unique, dynamic or fun in any way.


 Let's take some time to reflect on bands that play in a similar ilk to Romans, because the style of music's major rise to mainstream popularity means that the Brummie quartet will be carried off in the rising as well. 2011 saw groups that take their love of indie rock and mixes it with the more melodic alternative rock bands like Thrice, Weezer and Taking Back Sunday and an influence from post-hardcore acts like At the Drive-In and Refused. Last year witnessed many bands in this manner rise to considerable sucess with the likes of Twin Atlantic, Deaf Havana and We Are the Ocean all releasign albums which gained chart success along with You Me At Six's Sinners Never Sleep which saw the group take an influence from this style rather than the pop-punk influence of old. In 2012, this style of rock is continuing to expand with Watford rockers Lower Than Atlantis signing to Island Records. Lower Than Atlantis are going to be huge this year and I want to get behind the hype. I think musically they're very good but I cannot get past the horrible vocals of frontman Mike Duce so they're on the whole unenjoyable. Anyway, this is all filler material, but it's required to make this post look bigger because frankly, the music on Cravatte Nere is so unremarkable and uneventful, they're's little to say about it.
 I mean, that's not to suggest that they're totally bland because there is a talent on this mini-album for creating strong melodies like the hooked up Something Biblical whic shows something of a frenzy being stirred as they play and the more complex rhythmic patterns found in Two and Rolling and Rome Sweet Rome showing a greater amount of thought put into the structure and flow of their songs. Plus there's a much wider range of influences and a ceartain blues inspired style of songwriting is found in melancholic ballad Barriers while the violent post-hardcore adrenaline is found most effectively in Coffee. There's even a greater influence to the more widely rcognised classic hard rock with various guitar riffs sounding reminiscent to the guitar work of Malcom Young.
 But, even with all this, Romans simply sound... lacking. Nothing more to it than that. All their songs lack that certain extra oomph that Twin Atlantic and Young Guns thrive on. But there's not a whole lot that this band does that keeps listeners genuinely gripped and excited even in their ever-chaging and surprising musical nature. It just comes with the ability to be flat out dull and unpleasant.
 So, while this mini-album reveals the initial signs of talent and potential from the Birmingham bunch, there is definitely room for improvement. What makes bands like Romans so engaging is their ability to thrill, to entice and to make listeners want to stop everything they're doing purely so thay can listen and rock out. Romans are yet to find the ability to do any of these things but perhaps with an extra dose of heaviness and distortion to their playing they can be come a group of more epic proportions. Anyway, everyone else seems to like them and they're probably going to become huge in the next few months or so and I'll look like the fool for hating them at first.

Romans' Cravetter Nere is out now.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Review: Pilgrim - Misery Wizard

 Sometimes, certain types of music have to stay in an underground dwelling. Most music that hits the mainstream with flying colours earn their place their for the snappy, hook filled and sickeningly upbeat nature. Sometimes it all gets a bit much and the best choice is to simply start digging until you find yourself completely surrounded by underground territory. And here you can find music that has the exact opposite of the general qualities regarding this mainstream sound. You will find music that is horrendously slow, requires total focus and depth when listening and is filled to the brim with absolute bleakness and despair. It's something we like to call Doom Metal and there are always fantastic acts to be found practicing the genre with more bleakness to be found with every new band. And droning their way from the gates of Hell to a rise in recognition amongst the underground in 2012 are Pilgrim, whose debut release Misery Wizard is an impressive force of unrelenting depression.

 I know nothing of this band they keep a strong sense of anonymity with stage names that aren't even worth questioning - their frontman is known only as "The Wizard", their bassist "Count Elric the Soothsayer" and drummer "Krolg Splinterfist, Slayer of Man" - and we know nothing of how they may speed their time, but I think I'm going to hazard a guess and suggest their spare time is spent with heavy drug usage and classic Black Sabbath records. There is no room for any glass-is-half-full natured ideals on this album. Tracks like Astaroth and the near-eleven-minute title track are filled with stretched out riffs that trudge along at snails-pace, which mixed with the subtly wild uncontrollable drumming of Splinterfist, which reveals a real influence from Bill Ward and the phantom-like howls of The Wizard give the songs a spacey, haunting and ultimately hopeless atmosphere that is so filled with absolute doom and despair that it gives me the impression that listening to the new Earth album is going to be an uplifting and heartwarming experience. (I'll listen to that album soon. Maybe when Spotify does what it's meant to do and... store music... when I need it.) Really though, this Sabbath influence is everywhere on this album and sometimes it can be difficult to find any kind of riff on this album that doesn't sound like the intro to War Pigs repeated for ten or so minutes.
 Sometimes the music Pilgrim makes isn't just the sprawling sound of death. Quest and Adventurer see the trio unleash the wonderful stoner groove, the kind of musical technique that never gets old or unfashionable and it makes these tracks genuinely badass as they tear their way into the depths of oblivion in a manner much more brash and extreme as The Wizard begins to add to the atmosphere, letting devilish growls take form and reveal a true metallic evil in their distorted assault.
 So, it's six tracks long but that's more than enough album space for Pilgrim to unleash the monolithic beasts within them delivering an ultimate spaced out sense of doom and spellbinding bleakness to all those needing their optimism to receive a severe beatdown. It's classically recorded, contains the musical sound of getting dragged into the pits of fire and brimstone and is rooted in complete doom. This album is the sound of the end of everything.

 Pilgrim's Misery Wizard is out now via Metal Blade.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Review: Orange Goblin - A Eulogy For the Damned

 It's been a while since we last heard from one of the UK's most reliable sources for stoner rock, Orange Goblin, with their last album Healing Through Fire was released in 2007 and saw the band taking some time away from music to find some better paid jobs to help support families, something of a tragic sign regarding the music industry's harsh effect on underground rock bands that are that bit more deserving. Their departure was to the dismay of many stoner rock fans (I love the way I try to present myself as someone who knew about them in 2007. Let's not kid ourselves; my music taste in 2007 was godawful.) And since then, as I've followed the path of stoner rock in my constantly-growing love for the genre, I came across some of their stuff with great delight. So to a see a glorious return in the form of their seventh album, A Eulogy For the Damned is a joyful thing for myself along with all my fellow stoners.

 Perhaps the time away has been a positive experience for the group, we'll never know that, but what that has done is given the group five years to think of a new album and they actually seem to have used that time well, which has been seen as a rarity in some groups. A Eulogy For the Damned is essentially an album with ten tracks, each track containing what would be viewed as many people as rock and roll and heavy metal perfection as opener Red Tide Rising kicks off proceedings with driving stoner grooves played with immense passion and rapid fury from guitarist Joe Hoare and frontman Ben Ward. It reveals the group playing with a greater strength than ever before, with the boozy, trippy atmospheres kept totally intact.
 It's the deadly stoner groove that is unleashed with unrelenting power whenever possible that makes this album so overwhelming in it's quest for pounding listeners into oblivion. Whether it's in tracks like Stand for Something, the mellower Save Me From Myself, or the actually danceable Return to Mars, (which at times has a more hook based and catchy rhythms suggesting a Van Halen or Faith No More influence was put into this album) which use the groove in a more uplifting style, using it to present a heavy blast of colour and positivity or in the darker tracks such as The Fog and Death of Aquarius in which the dramatic and sudden increase in rapidity of the groove in the former and the transition to an eerie single riff accompanied by eerier whispered chanting in the latter give the album very prime moments of... pure evil. Pure awesome unrefined evil.
 More importantly, this album is filled with some wonderful rock n' roll swagger. The muscular riffs with a progressive sense of thunder found on Acid Trial, the crunching, adrenaline packed rhythm of The Filthy and the Few, and the awe-inspiring, soulful solos accompanied by equally soulful backing harmonies heard at the end of the album's closing title-track are all excellent examples of the best moments where you can literally hear the heart of rock n' roll beating intensely to the levels of it having some kind of major cardiac arrest. In a good way. And no Orange Goblin album would be complete without a clear influence from Motörhead, pretty much the kings of rock n' roll swagger being identified in most areas of the album. It's most identifiable in Bishop's Wolf in the rapid fire riffs fired out into a filthy atmosphere of grit and drunken aggression. Somewhere, Lemmy downs a tumbler of Jack Daniels with pride knowing his influence is being truly fulfilled by another British band as awesome as his own.
 So, if you're feeling your music is in need of a little more awesomeness and truly awe-inspiring psychedelic wonder, A Eulogy For the Damned is the perfect place to look. It sees Orange Goblin playing extreme rock and roll and heavy metal sounding as close to perfect as this music has ever been heard. The stoner grooves are central in this role of achieving ultimate extremities and power and it's even done with a lot of heart and soul put behind it. It shows rock and metal at it's most real and honest with results that cover an entire emotional spectrum with ease and perfection and a delight for all enthusiasts of rock and metal music. Orange Goblin could just represent the unrelenting, determined spirit of rock n' roll's quest to fight on in the face of impossibility. And they do it in the best way possible. This is quite possibly music at it's most real.


 Orange Goblin's A Eulogy For the Damned is out now via Candlelight Records. The band will tour the UK in April with Grifter, Dopefight, Church of Misery and Slabdragger.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Exploring The Underground: The Swansea Hard Rock Scene

 I recently had the pleasure of getting to chat with Gethin Woolcock, the frontman of Swansea stoner rockers Prosperina, whose debut album Faith In Sleep is an album of undeniable brilliance with great passion put into their performance and as stoner grooves and frantic grunge riffing comes together to create adrenaline fueled rock songs and slower songs with a greater sense of grandness and beauty. When listening to this album, it made me realise that if stoner rock is the music of the underground, then I'd have to try and dwell there more often.
 So, Gethin and I recently became friends on Facebook and chatted a bit, before I was informed that Prosperina's residence of Swansea is full of similar bands with a similar style all with an underground dwelling. Needless to say, I had to know more, because when you listen to Faith In Sleep, it's pretty obvious that the band performing are going to know a thing or two about playing in the underground music scene and the other bands that play there, so we had a chat about such matters. Who the best bands are, what it's like to play to a devoted following of Swansea residents and thoughts on the music industry and the state of mainstream rock music. As we chat Gethin is waiting for Prosperina's first music video for their adrenaline packed Trees Have Eyes to be uploaded and giving me some bands to check out but suggests that we do a question-and-answer style chat so I can find out about life in the Swansea Hard Rock Underground Scene. And thus, what happens next is something that resembles the very first Ramblings of a Rock Fan interview.

You seem to know your way around the Swansea underground music scene pretty well. Would you say that Prosperina have become giants of the scene?

Gethin Woolcock: "Swansea seems to have a track record with hard rock, metal and doom bands and I could go into my opinions on why that is but I'll spare you! There were many that came before us, many alongside us and there's also a shed load of great bands coming up through the ranks. A list of some of the great bands the city has produced in fairly recent history might read in no particular order like this: Sigiryia, Goatboy, Taint, Tabularasa, Acrimony, Suns of Thunder, Lethargy (although they're technically from Neath down the road!) TOTSO, Bomb the Sun, Dead Wolves, .... Shall I go on?? There's just too many and I'll kick myself cos I've probably forgotten to include about 5 or 6! So in conclusion, Giants? No, I think we're just doing our own thing and working hard at it - There's a Welsh saying 'Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg' which basically translates to 'repeated smashing breaks the rock'... Prosperina has been through quite a lot of ups and downs in recent times but has managed to pull through somehow!"


Sounds really cool actually. So you clearly know the whole life of playing the underground scene. It can't always be fun and games though...

Gethin: "Any musician will tell you that it's never that much fun lugging 4x12 cabs around in the rain but the buzz I get from the show is so huge though that it beats any of the downers that go along with it! We're rocking a killer line up right now - it's very raw and aggressive on stage as opposed to the old line up which was a bit more layered and ethereal sounding - we're peddling more adrenaline nowadays!"

I noticed a truly ethereal and adrenaline-filled sound when listening to Prosperina's album. That must be amazing to play onstage at shows...

Gethin: "Yeah, it's getting better with every show too, Owen [Street, bass] and Yo Yo [Walsh, drums] are phenomenal. They've just both absolutely got it when it comes to ability. Owen pulls out every last ounce of aggression on stage and Yo Yo seems to have never-ending energy reserves which suits me cos I have to sing which means I'm glued to the mic stand for a fair bit of the set."

 At this point Gethin sends me a link to some music by fellow Swansea rockers Tabularasa. So I visit their Facebook page and check out Valley Run, so we talk a little about the music...

Me: Valley Run is awesome. It makes me thin of a lot of modern grunge bands only actually enjoyable. It's just really good hard rock!

Gethin: "Yeah Valley run is cool as fuck man- I think Devil woods is my favourite - Killer turnaround for the chorus - Undeniable!"

Some mad riffing in the song. I bet it's fucking killer live! Also their about section "RIFFAGE" is epic! Pretty much sums things up.

Gethin: "Riffage indeed! Yeah - they're great live. Super tight, I always joke that we're crossbred cos there's been loads of two-ing and fro-ing between us over the years with members leaving rasa for prosps and then vice versa."

Oh, cool. So that must mean there's no love lost between members if there's any kind of split...

Gethin: "We're all mates so it's fine..."

So does that mean that in the underground scene there's a real sense of togetherness, where everyone knows each other, just like in the kinda stereotypical image of the underground scene?

Gethin "Sometimes - it depends on how frequent the gigs are - a few years ago we used to play out loads together, there was a core of bands who were always out and about together - if my memory serves me it was always Us, Bomb the Sun, Suns of Thunder, Buffalo kings, Tabularasa, Lethargy, Dead Wolves and sometimes Screamin Eagle. It's kinda died off a bit lately but there's always hope for another spark to fly out of the fire and ignite it again. There's also lots of newer good bands (some of which contain members of some of the bands in our peer group) coming through like Buffalo Summer, TOTSO, 3 Piece Freaks and Nucleus (who are prob the youngest at around 17-18). Everybody knows everyone else, we usually frequent the same pubs so yeah I guess there is togetherness in a way."

So, as I hoped to hear from you the Swansea Underground scene is booming. When you said a lot of big Welsh bands suck at the moment [Something that we discussed before entering "official interview territory"] do you think that manages to put a lot of people off the Welsh scene at the moment?
In the same way that there's never really been that in-depth a look into the Scottish Underground scene because all we ever seem to do now is produce indie bands that sound the same.


Gethin: "I just think that the music infrastructure down here in Wales seems to have only really got as far as Cardiff which makes it tough for bands in Swansea and further West to get shows and progress in terms of getting their music out there and creating a buzz - there aren't many promoters and precious little venues that want to put on original hard rock - the ones that could do it are either too scared to take on the risk of having an empty venue if nobody turns up or they are busy touting the latest pre-packaged tour sewn up with the bigger agents. Not many of the locals bands would be that arsed about playing with any of the higher profile bands that get to Swansea because most of them are on a different wavelength to what's going on around here. You do get the odd one or two - we were lucky to bag hometown supports with Russian Circles (whilst they were on a UK tour with Tool) and Oceansize. They were nights to remember - the Oceansize one was the first ever Prosperina gig and I am a really big fan of them so it was a pretty good memory for me! The Swansea underground scene has some of the most talented individuals (I'm talking multi-instrumentalist guys with great taste and ideas etc) but it could really do with a little leg up somehow.. I think there's a despondency that develops from not being able to get decent shows. It's no secret that the music industry is totally fucked right now and while 'broken Britain' may be the perfect breeding ground for new and original talent it eventually needs some help to get out of the petri dish and into the playground."


  And with that, the interview was wrapped up. I really took in Gethin's words about life playing in an underground scene. About the kind of friendships made, the ups and downs of touring and performing and the hardships for musicians with a really genuine talent for creating very real hard rock with a genuine sense of soul and some recognition would really help to make things take off for them and get people more into the underground scene that has been hopelessly ignored. So, I decided my best choice was to take a look at some of the bands Gethin mentioned and see just how awesome the Swansea Underground hard rock scene really is. The answer? Extremely awesome. I found myself exposed to musicians with incredible talent making music that is essentially hard rock and stoner rock perfection. So here are some of the best. Some are still active, others are split up, all are worth checking out right now. Here are some of the best underground hard rock bands from Swansea:

Acrimony - Stoner doom sounding at it's most earthly, Acrimony are probably the best known groups out of the range of groups I listened to, having been nominated by Kerrang! for best newcomer award during the 90's stoner rock explosion and gaining something of a cult following. They deal specifically in epic, drawn out stoner grooves filled with spaced out grandeur with devilish riffs with influences from Tony Iommi and Brant Bjork identified all over the place, seen best on 1996's Tumuli Shroomaroom, it is truly the sound of stoner rock come to life. When they split in 2001, it was to the dismay of many fans, but these rockers were far from done, there was more that they could do together...

Sigiriya - ... And in 2009, members of Acrimony did just that by coming back together to make a new group. Named after the ancient rock fortress in Sri Lanka which is hailed the 8th wonder of the world, Sigiriya couldn't have come up with a more accurate moniker. The play with the monolithic force and heaviness of the ancient structure with as guitarist Stu O' Hara delivers pounding stoner grooves with an unforgiving force with wailing sonic guitars with a mission to deliver their relentless blasting as their astonishing sound is accepted as a true wonder of the world. Check out their 2011 album Return to Earth.


Goatboy - Though they split up some nine years ago, it's no excuse for Goatboy's eclectic mixture of blues, hip-hop, drum n' bass, soul and stoner rock to be ignored. Their debut Superlube and 2002 mini-album Dook of Oil displayed this mix of styles outstandingly. When asked to describe their sound, one unnamed pundit simply stated: "Goatboy sound like the Beastie Boys fucking Elvis in the ass with James Brown and The Propellerheads wanking in the corner." Not the most charming of reviews but accurate enough for us to settle with.


Taint: With their fiery explosion of the best of classic rock and the best of vigorous punk rock fusing together, Taint became dynamite on the early 90's D.I.Y scene across Britain. They may have split last year, but left an immense legacy on other underground acts in Swansea that had hardcore flowing through their roots as their two albums, 2005's The Ruin of Nova Roma, 2007's Secrets And Lies and final release All Bees To the Sea showed the group maintaining their hardcore integrity whilst venturing into more progressive territory. The combination is truly breathtaking.



Tabularasa - The ultimate thing that the rise of grunge and stoner rock taught us that if you keep things simple and just rock the fuck out, it normally has the best sound. It's something that Tabularasa have clearly absorbed as they just floor it and it is killer! And the best part is even in this very pure and unrestricted hard rock, they still manage to make music as gripping and atmospheric as any band that may rely on synthesizers or anything of the like. Nah, I'll have the gravelly vocals of Matt Williams and frantic groove riding riffs any day. Check out their latest release "Born in the Barn".


Suns of Thunder - As Oldman Haystacks opens with a mass buildup of spacey sounds before slick basslines of Chris "Bossman" James, fuzzy guitar shredding and grooves and the snarling rough vocals of frontman Greg "Peck" Bombroffe you come to realise this is one of the best combination of heavy metal, blues and pure rock and roll you may ever hear, as the performance of the group sees the venture through varying flowing structures, getting more of an alt metal respectability with thrashy shredding and even the odd breakdown. In terms of stoner metal, Suns of Thunder are the real deal.

Lethargy - Lethargy are sort of the odd ones out here as they reside not in Swansea but instead the small town of Neath, a small town where Admiral Lord Nelson once stayed and where former cricketer Richard Grant and pop star Bonnie Tyler were born. That's the most interesting things good old Wikipedia could tell me. And with a different area comes a different style as Lethargy's music has a much greater kick of adrenaline with a greater influence from traditional heavy metal, used to full throttling force. The talent of their latest album Purification has already been recognised by Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines, the latter stating "Lethargy deliver an exciting, emotionally charged performance promising great things to come!" And any publication featuring the mighty Dom Lawson can't be wrong.

Bomb the Sun - Of course, Swansea's music scene isn't without it's attitude of prolonged melancholy and the bluesy belting hard rock of Bomb the Sun provides it effortlessly. Sounding like Queens of the Stone Age on a downer, the group keep their sound chilled out and slow paced and it really characterizes the dirty trippy vibes that the underground stoner rock scene has to offer, even during the funner moments of off-piste jamming. Where can you go wrong?




Dead Wolves - Sadly departed in 2010 with lots of amazing memories behind them, Dead Wolves took everything that made classic heavy metal great, mixed with the ferocious growling that resembles classic black metal and given a psychedelic and doomier turn on it's head to result in a sound truly resembling of musical bleakness and their album Born Dead proves this effortlessly. Well, with their main description being "DOOM CRUNCH DOWNTUNED DRONE" their accuracy and belief in what they do cannot be denied in any way.

T.O.T.S.O. - The group's made up of former members of Tabularasa, Bomb the Sun and Dead Wolves, who were all looking for something to do and came together in their state of being dropped from a band and realised that they were The Ones That Slipped Out of their respective groups. And so, they joined together to use that irresistible stoner groove in a more rapid punk inspired style to deliver more upbeat nature with an influence from the best in mod rock and indie rock today with a result that is truly blissful and celebratory. Their EP Slippin' Out is promised for release soon, until then check out their songs Somthing Kinda Mexican and Wolf Whistle.




 So, what can I say? Listening to the works of underground hard rock and stoner rock bands of Swansea is a musically entrancing and overwhelming experience. These musicians operate professionally in distorted riffs, pounding drums and an ability to create grandness in their playing. I don't know if writing about them like this will bring in new fans to the groups but that would be really awesome for the groups if you did go and check out some of their songs, go like them on Facebook, tell them they're awesome, I don't know stuff like that, because music like this is the real sound of rock and roll, and though I am quite partial to a lot of the more polished mainstream Welsh rock and metal acts, bands like Suns of Thunder and Tabularasa blow them out of the water. So, if you're in an underground band from another region of you have a lot of other fellow bands by your side, let me know, because I always dig getting new bands to listen to.

 Thanks again to Gethin Woolcock of Prosperina for allowing me to interview him, your insights and knowledge and experience of playing in the underground rock scene is truly epic. Make sure you pick up Faith In Sleep which is out now via Maybe Records and be sure to check out what all bands and other bands on the scene have on offer. Keep on rocking Swansea! 



Review: Caliban - I Am Nemesis

 I was actually really surprised when I fist discovered how long German metalcore quintet Caliban had been around for. I first came across them when journeying through Youtube looking for new bands and found some of their songs gathered in with the likes of We Came As Romans, Capture the Crown and Spies Like Us. So I figured they probably formed together around 2007 or something and gone an opposite direction from their peers by choosing a more traditional manner of making metal rather than the whole inclusion of trancey synthesizers and auto-tune. But, it turns out they've been around since 1997 and have released eight albums, the latest of which I Am Nemesis is a continuation of group's more violent and brutal take on horror punk. So nothing new then.

 Nothing new indeed. Caliban have effectively managed to shape their own definitive style of playing and when listening to a lot new metalcore acts of this generation such as The Devil Wears Prada, The Word Alive and even (groans) Attack Attack! a similar musical style to the past works of Caliban, so it's seems unlikely that they would totally revolutionize their style now. Jeez, they're not Korn! But the seriously hard hitting and devastatingly brutal impact of their music cannot be denied and it's still more prevalent than ever on I Am Nemesis. And thus, meaty breakdowns from Denis Schmidt and Marc Görtz are found on... pretty much every track alongside the deliriously evil vocals of Andreas Dörner which are filled with astonishing amounts of crude and unrefined bile. So, while there isn't a song on this album that doesn't involve a display of unforgiving forceful breakdowns and relentless rage, sometimes we can find riffs to be more thrashy and straight heavy metal based than others like Edge of Black and Dein R3.ich featuring driving that also carry with them the group's greater punk mentality.
 So, the basic work of the album is simply a powerful array of pounding breakdowns and epic punk riffs delivered as brutally as possible, which is awesome. More interesting on this album are the kind of effects that go on beyond the metalcore. They manage to be some of the really captivating moments of the album. Moments such as the synthesizer usage across Broadcast to Damnation with it's trancey backdrops and usage of the effect where the music is slowed down before transcending into another breakdown. I don't know the technical terms for it. Bring Me the Horizon and Asking Alexandria make good use of the technique, which suggests that Caliban may have looked at the modern peers as an influence during the making of this album. The synthesizer usage also appears in the form of usage of samples, which leads to the album's highlight on Davy Jones, which takes place just past the three minute park, which is actually indescribably incredible to hear. I won't give away what happens but if you love heavy drops to come out out of nowhere, then you're in for a treat. This Oath contrasts from this using a genuine symphonic backdrop to their insanity-filled metalcore in a similar vein to Bleeding Through, who are very much their America's answer to Caliban.
 So, Caliban have brought nothing new to the table with I Am Nemesis, but there is still a truly epic metalcore performance to be found. The album is alive in it's sheer insanity and furious delirium with which these songs are delivered with lot's of additional moments that create a more atmospheric and grand approach to the listening. So, prepare yourself for absolute intensity as you listen to this album, but chances are you won't be too surprised by what's on offer.


 Caliban's I Am Nemesis is out now via Century Media.