Grave Lines | Fed Into the Nihilist Engine | REVIEW

Grave Lines – Fed Into the Nihilist Engine – Album review

Review by Neil Ainger

While handing over my money for a cassette copy of the bands debut full length Welcome to Nothing earlier this year, I told bass player Matt at their merch table that as long as the first track they played that night (in January at The Cluny, Newcastle with Black Moth) was on the new album that I’d be buying that too. I was enamoured with the near 15-minute album opener Failed Skin from the very first gentle notes that were played that night and it is just as astounding on the record. It is an absolute whirlwind of gentle, almost gothic rock that builds into blistering. stinging sludge. Its beauty really lies in the vocals of Jake Harding, which are as powerful as they are haunting.

It is very difficult to pin this album down with labels, whether it be doom metal or sludge but of course this is no bad thing. Fed Into the Nihilist Engine stands on its own merits, of which there are countless. The album is driven by skilled and expansive guitar work such as the rugged riffs evident on Silent Salt, the psychedelic and chaotic noise on The Greae or the gentler acoustics of Shame Retreat. Julia Owens’ drumming is a key, precise constant throughout and serves as the backbone of the record and the vocals, simply put, may just turn out to be the most elaborate, alluring and potent vocals heard on any metal record this year. At times warm and lenient and at times guttural and jarring, Harding excels where so many others fail. He is distinguished, he is original and he squeezes every last drop of desired emotion from every wretched note and from every tormented lyric.

The record is sludge metal on a grander, Amenra-style scale. It is intelligent doom metal that is measured and never repetitive. It is dark neo-folk that probes at the most dismal of human emotions. It is bleak and misanthropic, it is cloaked in misery and yet it allows for brief but frequent moments of gleaming light. There can be beauty in darkness too, if you choose to look for it.

 

EARTHLESS – Black Heaven – ALBUM REVIEW

Earthless – Black Heaven

Review by Neil Ainger

For the past 17 years the power trio from San Diego, California have been at the forefront of the modern day heavy psych scene, crafting long and complex instrumental psychedelic jams. The warped and roaming wizardry of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (Golden Void, Howlin’ Rain) and the unshackled and commanding drumming of the brilliant Mario Rubalcaba (OFF!, Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt) helps to harness the raw power of the Jimi Hendrix Experience while calling back to the likes of Leaf Hound, Flower Travellin’ Band and Amon Düül II.

Throughout their first 3 full length records, the band have offered mostly a series of instrumental cosmic jams between 15 and 30 minutes in length and very, very rarely have the band stepped outside of this formula – until now.

Four of latest release Black Heaven’s six tracks have Mitchell taking the mic and the longest track is just shy of 9 minutes in length. This is a very different Earthless and, as someone who loved the band exactly the way they were and never once pondered the introduction of vocals, I’d have to say the changes are very welcome. It certainly isn’t a case of out with the old and in with the new. Earthless, at their core, remain a tripped-out space rock band and Mitchell still wields his guitar with a swirling, abstract ferocity, however Black Heaven more clearly embraces a number of “classic” and blues rock influences and a more conventional approach with defined and organised choruses and verses.

One of the lead singles and the album opener, Gifted by the Wind, is reminiscent of the great Eddie Hazel ripping some killer solos over a Thin Lizzy track and the riff-heavy Electric Flame is a concise and incisive blues number that quickly spins out in to a fuzzy, euphoric trip the band have become known for.

Mitchell taking the mic is actually nothing new and while his vocal duties within Earthless have been very occasional, outside of the band he has frequented the mic. On Black Heaven his vocals are, at all times, authoritative and authentic. Rubalcaba’s drumming is as masterful and as dynamic as ever and with the wandering basslines of Mike Eginton (especially on the combustible title track) to complete the trio, Earthless’ greatest quality is perhaps their understanding and skill and I’d go as far as to say they have never sounded so tight. When you consider the switch to a more conventional approach, the embracing of a wider range of their influences into their sound and the more accessible nature of the record, it should attract fans of ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin just as much as those of Acid Mothers Temple and Boris and therefore should, you would imagine, be their biggest success to date.

Black Heaven is out 16th March 2018 on Nuclear Blast Records

Earthless
Earthless

DESERT STORM – Sentinels – ALBUM REVIEW

Desert Storm – Sentinels

Review by Neil Ainger

With the release of 2015s Omniscient, I felt as though Desert Storm grew, though their output to that point was impressive in its own right. 2010s Forked Tongues was the first Desert Storm album I heard, having picked it up at a gig in 2012 where the band were supporting Karma to Burn.

The follow up in 2013, Horizontal Life, is not without merit either. There was something just that little bit different about their third release however. Whether it’s the better record of the three is up for debate but for my money it was just that little bit more accomplished, more focused. It was a band learning from their experiences and becoming more adept at doing justice to their explosive live shows in the studio.

On stage Desert Storm are loud and they are heavy. On stage Desert Storm carry with them an arrogance and a swagger befitting the meaty riffs and the gravelly tones of Matt Ryan’s voice which combine to create the sleazy, boozy and bluesy stoner sound the band have adopted over the last decade.

With Omniscient, the band continued down this path but were happy to stop off a little more along the way to reveal more strings to their bow and with the new release Sentinels, the band have simply taken one more step forward in this regard. Sentinels, simply put, is the band’s most seasoned and polished effort to date, as well as their most penetrative work lyrically.  

The opening track Journey’s End and the accompanying video explore the issues of mental health, depression and anxiety followed by Too Far Gone, which tackles alcohol abuse and addiction. Heavy topics for sure, set to heavy music. Journey’s End sports perhaps some of the band’s biggest and meanest sounding riffs yet and Too Far Gone breaks down into a blackened groove amid Elliot Cole’s frantic beats. Together, they really send the message that Desert Storm are still here and are still heavy however they’re not entirely unchanged in the three years that have passed between studio albums.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a fan of Desert Storm you won’t be pulling out your hair or penning any angry letters. The trademark bouncy, bluesy riffs of The Drifter sound as though they would fit perfectly on the band’s debut album and the likes of Gearhead, The Extrovert and Convulsion all feel very familiar. They do all however sound that little bit more fresh and full of colour, thanks in part to Jamie Dodd who recorded and mixed the album. His previous work with Orange Goblin is the perfect experience to make this band sound as heavy and as brutal as possible. The growth in the band can be measured mostly by the track Kingdom of Horns. Beginning delicately with clean, ethereal vocals, the near 8 minutes that follow are an epic, melodic journey to every corner of the band’s musical make-up and back again, a journey the likes of which Desert Storm has never truly taken before.

For a band that all have jobs also, it’s kind of hard to imagine where they get the time to put out four records in 8 years and to tour as often as they do. Desert Storm work hard, seemingly in all aspects of their lives, and their work ethic is not without reward. Sentinels is the bands most accomplished, most skilled and, simply put, best record to date.

Sentinels is released 16th March 2018 on APF Records.

Desert Storm - Sentinels

CONJURER – Mire – ALBUM REVIEW

Conjurer – Mire

Review by Neil Ainger

Conjurer are a band that have been making a name for themselves the tough way, through hard work and touring. Following the release of their first EP ‘I’ in 2016, the band hit the road at every opportunity and were met with praise and open arms seemingly everywhere they went. Frustratingly, I was never able to attend a local show whenever the band came through Newcastle, and at Damnation Festival in Leeds I was able to see the extent of the praise the band are receiving when I simply was not able to even get anywhere near the stage on which they were performing. Conjurer, many will tell you, are the real deal.

Conjurer - Mire
The 4 piece from Warwickshire have created such a stir over the last 18 months or so that they already feel like a trusty piece of the UK extreme metal furniture and it is actually rather odd to think that this is the band’s debut full-length release, because it sometimes feels as though they have been around for much longer than they have. At times a band can take a few records to find their feet, and other times a debut album can become so anticipated that it’s very difficult for it to be anything other than a disappointment. On this occasion, neither of these scenarios is true of Mire.

Brady Deeprose (guitars/vocals) has been quoted as saying, of their approach to making the record “Once you start thinking about songwriting in terms of genre, you’re automatically setting up barriers between parts” and this outlook is really laid bare. The band visit death, doom, sludge, black and beyond while some post-rock-style sections blend the frequent and abrupt mood swings of the record together seamlessly. At times the resulting sonic assault sparkles in an atmospheric glow, while always being destined to viscously return to depths of misanthropic bleakness and Converge-like violence.

Opening track Choke offers a slow burning introduction to what lies ahead with repetitive, chugging sludge riffs and restrained, minimal drum beats before taking the first of many sharp turns of pace and hinting subtly at the album’s probing and exploratory nature.

The longest track on the record, Thankless, clocking in at 8 and a half minutes, immediately launches into a fury of driving blastbeats yet swerves through melodic choruses backed by clean backing vocals and back again with an expertise you won’t find on many debut efforts.

All of the differing influences perhaps converge best during the brilliant Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash. For over 7 expansive minutes the band’s ability to intelligently craft charming melody, interrupted by sudden and impactful brutality, while blending tight and technical instrumentation, is expertly encased in arguably the band’s most profound statement to date.

Believe the acclaim and embrace the hype because Conjurer have created a debut album way beyond their years and the scary thing is that this band is only going to grow stronger with every show they play, and unless they show any signs of slowing down then the sky could really be the limit in the coming months and years.

Mire is released 9th March 2018 on Holy Roar Records

Conjure Bandcamp store

DESERT STORM talk about Sentinels LP and tour plans – INTERVIEW

Neil Ainger talks to Desert Storm about Sentinels LP and tour plans

I first saw Desert Storm live in Trillians, Newcastle with Karma to Burn and Druganaut in 2012, and then again with a similar line-up at The Cluny in 2014. You’ve shared stages with countless other great names in metal now. Who’s been your favourite to play with so far?

Ryan – They were cool shows for sure, Karma To Burn are always fun. We’ve had cool shows with Orange Goblin, Honky, Corrosion of Conformity and Weedeater to name a few. 

Your fifth album Sentinels is released on March 16th, your first release on APF records. Having been playing the hell out of it this past week I’d have to say this is your best, heaviest and most assured record to date. What can you tell us about the writing and record process and everything that went into making it?

Chris B – We set out with the intentions of creating a more consistent sounding, consolidated body of work. Lyrically the album touches upon more personal issues and subjects closer to us. Lyrics like this help people relate a bit more I think, as perhaps some of the issues they are dealing with too.

Ryan – Musically the album was written the same way we have always worked. Starting around a guitar riff myself of Chris has conjured up and if the rest of the band are enjoying it, we end up jamming it and adding more ideas until we have some kind of structure. Whilst the music is being rehearsed Matt will sit writing lyrics and contemplating vocal melodies….these will all be laid down last. 

As for recording most of the record was recorded with Jamie Dodd (Orange Goblin) in Hackney London at Flesh and Bone Studios, except Journeys End! We wrote this after and really wanted it on the album, but recorded that in Oxfordshire at Wordworm studios (where Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath sometimes records) with Steve ‘Geezer’ Watkins.

Opening track Journey’s End and the accompanying video touch on addiction, mental health and suicide. Are these issues important to you as a band?

Chris B – I think mental health is an issue that we all resonate with as a band and something that needs to be recognised. 

Ryan – It was a way of creating awareness, which is very important. Many people suffer from issues such as depression, anxiety, paranoia etc, including some of us personally. It’s important people can relate and seek help if required.

It’s no surprise that the new record sounds as brilliant as it does considering it was recorded and mixed by Jamie Dodd. Given his work with Orange Goblin, he must really understand what it is you’re aiming for?

Chris B – It was a really fun process working with Jamie Dodd, as he challenges to push ourselves of be more creative with our production, without being too intrusive.

Ryan – Yeah Jamie was great. It’s always nice when you work with an engineer that is also willing to suggest ideas to help bring some tracks to life. 

The tour for the record has begun. You’re off around Europe and have more dates back in the UK in July and August. What can fans expect from the live shows?

Ryan – Yes, currently in Czech Republic whilst we do this interview! The tour has been great and the new material is going down very well! Selling a lot of the new record too! Everyone can expect very loud riffs and lots of the new tracks in the set, as well as old stuff!

Another big UK support tour announced very soon for June as well. Keep your eyes peeled!

MASTODON | RED FANG | RUSSIAN CIRCLES – December 2017 – Northumbria Uni – REVIEW

Mastodon | Red Fang | Russian Circles – 6th December 2017 – Northumbria Uni

Review by Neil Ainger

I hate to lean on an old cliche but I am reminded of the saying that ‘good things come in threes’. Not a saying worth putting any stock in, of course. For starters, there also exists the saying ‘bad luck comes in threes’ and for that matter, if we believe there to be any real meaning in sayings such as these, good things also ‘come to those who wait’ and ‘come in small packages’. On this particular evening, however, good things almost certainly came in threes when Mastodon rolled into town with two heavyweights in tow.

The significance of the occasion was not lost on the majority of those coming out to see one of heavy metals current big hitters and a very healthy number of people ensured they were on time to catch Russian Circles kick the night off early on.

I feel as though bands that play post-rock and post-rock metal are often handed support slots because they set the tone for the rest of the evening. A kind of slow-burning and easily digested introduction to proceedings.

To make such claims about Russian Circles, however, would be nothing short of an insult. Delicate, fragile and effortlessly intricate one moment, as they slowly build a precisely crafted atmosphere, and chaotic the next as they tear it all down to the ground with intense and explosive riffage. The instrumental trio from Chicago are worthy of so much more than their quick half an hour set on this evening.

Red Fang from Portland, Oregon are no strangers to opening for some heavy hitters. Serving as the support for Opeth and In Flames will teach you all you need about working some big tours I’m sure. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the stoner riffers are about as professional as you could ask for, rifling through track after track while never forgetting to engage the audience and have a little fun.

Red Fang are a welcome reminder to those amongst us attracted more closely to the gloom and the doom that metal can be fun, while not sacrificing any credibility. Charging through favourites such as ‘Hank is Dead’, ‘Blood Like Cream’, ‘Wires’ and ‘Crows in Swine’, the crowd were full to capacity and primed and ready for the closer ‘Prehistoric Dog’ which landed predictably well.

By the time Mastodon took the stage there was barely a space to fill, made only too apparent by the arduous task of battling one’s way to the bar or to the toilets. With their two most recent albums making the top 20 in the UK and the top 10 in the US, the shift towards more commercially friendly music in recent years has been notable.

In fact, Mastodon have shown a real skill for writing compact, hooky, dare I say pop songs. The setlist on this evening was understandably dominated by tracks from the latest record, ‘Emperor of Sand’, with ‘Sultans Curse’, ‘Show Yourself’, ‘Precious Stones’, ‘Steambreather,’ ‘Roots Remain,’ ‘Ancient Kingdom’ and ‘Andromeda’ all featuring. Opinion is likely divided, but I feel the new material blends effortlessly into the fabric of a live Mastodon experience. Some of it perhaps lack the punch of a ‘Colony of Birchmen’, which was met with nothing but a positive energy, the tech-metal trademark sound of the likes of ‘Megalodon’, which sent the pit a few paces in front of me in to overdrive, or the complexity of the 13 minute ‘The Last Baron’, the closing track to the bands progressive metal masterpiece ‘Crack the Skye’ and a somewhat odd but welcome choice to open the show.

Mastodon are a band that haven’t forgotten where they came from and while the albums ‘Remission’, ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Blood Mountain’ are certainly not represented in the way they once were, the tracks that do make the cut offer the perfect balance to both remind us of where they have come while celebrating where they are. By the time the band close the set with eternal favourite ‘Blood and Thunder’, the pit has had a decent workout for the evening.