(Andy Synn focuses once again on a trio of recent or forthcoming releases by UK bands, this time selecting material from Craven Idol, Synaptik, and Telepathy.)
What a veritable smorgasbord of metallic delights I have here for your delectation. Though, with the joys of Brexit coming up, I suppose I won’t be able to use words like “smorgasbord” for much longer, lest I be declared a traitor to the crown…
Anyway, putting the politics and pontificating to one side, here are three stellar slabs of UK Metal for you all to savour – the throat-ripping Black/Thrash of Craven Idol, the epic and extravagant Prog-Metal of Synaptik, and the intricate instrumental storytelling of Telepathy.
CRAVEN IDOL – SHACKLES OF MAMMON
Old-School without being self-consciously “retro”, pitch-black thrash merchants Craven Idol – comprising long-time vocalist/guitarist Vrath and bassist Suspiral, alongside new guitarist Obscenitor and new drummer Heretic Blades – are, silly pseudonyms aside, seemingly less concerned with just paying tribute to the sound of their forebears (unlike some bands I can mention…), and far more focussed on what new (and nasty) things can be done with the “classic” elements of Thrash and Black Metal.
Kicking off with the riotous riffage and frantic drum work of brutally efficient opener “Pyromancer” and its similarly furious follow-up “A Ripping Strike” – both of which find Vrath screeching and shrieking his lungs out atop a visceral procession of writhing tremolo runs, crackling chords, and vicious, barbed hooks – Shackles of Mammon sees the group refining their sound while simultaneously injecting some welcome variety into their approach, melding virulent strains of blackened belligerence, thrashy energy, and scorching melody, into one cohesive whole.
Track three, “Black Flame Divination”, is a straight-up, take-no-prisoners barnburner dedicated to the unholy power of the riff, that whistles past at an absolutely breakneck pace, leading into the more-than-aptly-named stomp and strut of “The Trudge”, which aims for a mid-paced, Bathory-esque metallic march… and hits its target dead centre…. before going full-on blastbeat blitzkrieg in the its second half.
“Dashed to Death” begins its life in dour and doomy fashion, but quickly goes on to flex its thrashier muscles in a punishing display of taut, wiry riffage and punchy percussion, topped off as always with Vrath’s vile, venomous invective, before “Mammon Est” – possibly my favourite track on the album, and most certainly the most “pure” Black Metal song here – stabs and slashes its way into your eardrums with reckless abandon.
The blistering drumming and tangled, razor-wire riff work of “Hunger” push things in a slightly more chaotic direction, the quartet going hell for leather in a frenzied orgy of ugly, uncompromising aggression and sadistic, slithering melody, after which the climactic “Tottering Cities of Men” slows things down (at least, at first) to an oppressive, doom-laden crawl redolent of Dissection at their darkest and dreariest, before pumping up the volume and picking up the pace in an explosion of thrash-injected, hate-fuelled savagery, flinging malice and vitriol in every direction.
This is one heck of a sophomore statement by Craven Idol, one which offers no quarter, and asks none in return. Pick it up and get wrecked as soon as you can.
SYNAPTIK – JUSTIFY & REASON
Criminally underappreciated beyond these shores (despite this album being picked up for distribution by California’s Divebomb Records) Norwich-based Progressive Power-Thrash quintet Synaptik are one of the UK metal scene’s hidden gems, and their dynamic fusion of tumultuous, Tech-Thrash riffs, dramatic melodies, and fluid, progressive song structures should by rights appeal to anyone who considers themselves even a passing fan of bands like Nevermore, Into Eternity, and Evergrey.
Take, for example, stunning opener “The Incredible Machine”, which combines taut, hi-tech guitar work, rapid-fire drums, and cleverly catchy rhythms – not to mention one truly fantastic multi-layered, multi-part chorus – into one stunning package.
The individual talents of the band are, of course, absolutely impeccable (with particular credit going to the powerhouse performance of drummer Pete Loades and the stunning vocals of singer John Knight), but collectively the group, and their influences, make up far more than the mere sum of their parts, and this song in particular is well on its way to becoming one of my favourites of 2017.
The first half of “Human Inhuman” fuses pulse-quickening grooves and nimble, Rush-influenced fretwork to another effortlessly infectious chorus, which makes an instant impact without sacrificing an iota of intelligence or integrity in the process, before eventually making way for a truly spellbinding lead/solo section that lifts the song to an even higher level of consciousness.
By way of contrast, “Conscience” initially finds the bad slowing the pace down and indulging their progressive proclivities a little more, particularly when it comes to the flowing tapestry woven by guitarists Jack Murton and Ian Knight.
That being said, the song doesn’t suffer at all as a result, nor is it entirely bereft of heavier moments, frequently displaying some surprisingly dark and doomy tendencies which contrast nicely with John Knight’s emphatic and emotive delivery.
Knight’s vocals initially dominate “White Circles”, with the track’s softer opening giving him a chance to display the more sedate and sombre side of his repertoire, but things quickly pick up with a significant injection of almost unreasonably hooky, and surprisingly heavy, riffage, the song then moving back and forth between solemn, piano-tinged minimalism and soaring, provocative Power-Thrash, building to a far heavier second half of chattering, chug-friendly riffs and spiralling solo work.
Culminating with the catchy complexity of “Esc Ctrl” – twitching, off-kilter guitars and shining, steel-clad hooks melded into one immensely impressive display of hard-hitting, forward-thinking Prog Metal – Justify & Reason is the sort of album that deserves every bit of praise and acclaim it receives… and more!
TELEPATHY – TEMPEST
One thing you’ll probably immediately notice after pushing play on Tempest is just how lush this album sounds.
Seriously, the mix and master here is about as perfectly balanced, simultaneously dense and spacious, as you could possibly hope for.
Just take a listen to the scintillating strains of “Smoke From Distant Fires” – which balances reverberating depth and crystalline clarity with moments of rough-textured heaviness in a truly electrifying, dynamic fashion – if you don’t believe me!
Speaking of “dynamic”, while the sudden spasms of blastbeat-led intensity that punctuate several of these songs – such as the melancholy “Celebration of Decay”, the ferocious “Apparition”, and colossal closer “Metanoia” – stand in stark contrast to the patient and profound power which is the band’s usual stock in trade, they also serve a greater purpose, redesigning and reinvigorating every song in which they’re deployed through the sheer precision and potency of their delivery alone.
Now, there’s been a fair amount of hype about this album floating around over recent months, much of which, as it turns out, is richly deserved (though I think labelling it as potentially “one of the greatest Post-Metal albums ever recorded” is pushing things a little).
It’s not perfect by any means of course. For all the ways in which the album cultivates tension and atmosphere, there are still more than a few moments where it’s a little too easy to let your mind wander, meaning that certain parts of certain songs drift by without leaving much of a lasting impression – though thankfully these sections are kept to a minimum due to the band’s keen grasp of form and structure.
One of the most intriguing things about the album is the wholly unexpected choice to include vocals on the sombre “Echo of Souls” – a decision which proves to be both a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because, rather than utterly overwhelming the track with their presence, these anguished howls turn out to be yet another instrumental (pun very much intended) addition to the band’s arsenal… and a curse because their very success leaves you curious as to what some of the other tracks might sound like if a similar approach were employed…
Still, it’s best not to dwell on what could have been, particularly when the majority of these songs – like the phenomenal “Water Divides the Tide” – are as intense and immersive as they are.
So if you’re looking for something expressive, eloquent, and evocative, which communicates (almost) entirely without words, then look no further.