(Andy Synn turns in a trio of reviews for three recent albums of quite different styles and genres, united by their country of origin.)
Well ladies and gentlemen, here we are again, another opportunity for me to fly my nationalistic colours (which don’t run, let me tell you that) and gab on about a triptych of recent (or recent-ish) releases from my beloved motherland. As is traditional, we’ll be starting off the column with a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia”, so if you’d all please be upstanding…
All joking aside of course, most of you will know by now that I don’t really care that much for nationalist sentiment or blind patriotism, particularly when it comes to music. I like a band because I like their songs, not because we happen to have been born in the same country or geo-political sphere, and I have very little time or patience for the vagaries of scene politics or the type of person that thinks you have to support a band just because they come from the same place as you.
That being said, however, I do realise that such factors as geographical proximity and general exposure mean I’m much more likely to stumble across bands from the UK who are worth blogging about than someone living elsewhere on this big blue/green marble, so I feel a certain sense of responsibility to cover these bands when they pop up on my radar.
So here we go again, once more, into the breach!
XII BOAR – BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE TRICLOPS
We’re kicking things off today with the second album by rifftacular three-piece XII Boar (pronounced exactly as you’d think) which not only features some shamelessly fantastic Franzetta-esque artwork, but also some of the gnarliest, burliest grooves I’ve had the pleasure to encounter this year, grooves designed to get your head a-banging, your ass shakin’, and your fist pumping hard. And preferably some combination of all three.
If you’re a fan of High On Fire, Motörhead, Clutch, Corrosion of Conformity, or any other bands who worship at the altar of “the riff”, then you’ll be right at home here. It’s not that XII Boar sound exactly like any of the above bands – though their influences are obvious, the Aldershot groovemongers are still very much their own beast – it’s just that they clearly don’t give a damn about what’s “popular”, what’s “cool”, or what’s “trending”. They’re just here to rock, roll, and boogie on down, with the volume up high and with the beer flowing free. Possibly while riding a gryphon.
This isn’t a complete party album of course (though the harmonica and organ-infused “The Hustle” could definitely soundtrack a few nights of booze-fuelled shenanigans), as tracks like the metallic molotov of “El Mucho Grande” and the high-octane orgasmatron of “Penetrator” definitely go for a heavier, more aggro vibe overall, while numbers like “Strange Kinda Lonesome” and “Black and Blues” deal with the inevitable hangover and comedown from imbibing a little too much of the devil’s nectar.
But the most prominent sensation that you get from Beyond the Valley of the Triclops is… one of fun. Sheer, irrepressible, strap-yourself-in-and-turn-it-up, F-is-for-fuck-you, FUN.
Whether it’s the gleefully OTT swords and sorcery imagery which permeates swaggering closer “Triclops” or the epic “Abyssal Lord” (which more than justifies its 07:29 run-time with more riffs than you can shake a +10 mace at), or simply the massive amount of big, ballsy hooks which litter every track (I frequently find myself humming the main chorus refrain to the humongoloid “Beyond the Valley”, for example), this is an album with no greater ambition than to rock, and rock hard.
And, when it comes down to it, is there any greater ambition than that?
INVOCATION – ATLAS
For all my issues with much of the UK’s “Tech” scene (its cliqueyness, the formulaic, jack-of-all-trades approach to songwriting, etc.) it still puts out a blinder every now and then. A fact which, let’s be honest here, makes it no different from any other style or sub-genre… you always have to sift through the dross to find the real gold. Or at least some solid silver.
Such is the case with Atlas, the debut album by techy djent-core bruisers Invocation, whose energetic brand of punchy intensity and precision-guided power immediately puts them several steps ahead of their more by-the-numbers peers.
Of course it’s not without its faults, as the band do occasionally resort to some of the more commonplace clichés of the scene – such as an over-use of interchangeable stuttery guitar parts here and there, as well as the now de rigeur trope of “twinkly clean picked melodies over generic, pseudo-technical chugging” – and the heartfelt-but-hackneyed clean vocals on “Empires” and “The Blinded” (provided, respectively, by Exist Immortal’s Meyrick De La Fuente and Hacktivist’s Timfy James) feel like an exercise in basic box-ticking, making these tracks surprisingly (or predictably) the album’s most stereotypically nondescript numbers.
Still, once you accept and learn to expect the occasional stumble you’ll find a lot to love on this album. “Surface Detail”, for example, is a fantastic blend of atmospheric ambience and pulsating aggression that really shows what the genre can achieve when it’s not trying to pander to its audience, while the Benea Reach-esque “Thorns” and the concussive “Surrender Replacement” prove that Atlas is at its best when it’s at its heaviest and most pneumatic (although the double-bill of “Atlas (Ascent)” and “Atlas (Descent)” also demonstrates that Invocation – unlike many of their more self-congratulatory contemporaries – are more than capable of infusing their pounding Tech/Death/Core assault with some proggier sensibilities without patting themselves on the back in the process.
The real MVP of the album, however is vocalist Matt Duffy, who roars and rages his way through the album’s twelve tracks (which is probably a couple of songs too long, truth be told) like his life is on the line. In a style which can so often come across as a little rote and by the numbers, the sheer passion and integrity which bleeds through in his urgent, cathartic delivery never fails to add an extra sense of life and vitality to every single song.
This is definitely one for those who may have dismissed the modern Tech/Death/Djent scenes as too faddy and superficial. Because, despite a couple of minor missteps, Atlas is definitely the real deal.
UNFATHOMABLE RUINATION – FINITUDE
Ow, my ear-balls! That’s probably going to be the first reaction for many of you after pushing play on Finitude, the second album by London-based blastrophiles Unfathomable Ruination. Because this shit is absolutely brutal.
In fact, practically every track – from the barely controlled chaos of “Pestilential Affinity”, through numbers like the neck-snapping “Nihilistic Theorem” and penultimate blastastrophe “Pervasive Despoilment” – utterly punishes and pulverises you from start to finish.
I say “practically” because as unrelentingly heavy and gleefully extreme as this album is, it still finds time to play around with its own internal dynamic. Which is important, as we all know there’s more than one way to skin, butcher, and consume a cat…
As such, you’ll find that when the band switches from the blasturbatory self-abuse of the songs mentioned above to the gristle-chewing grooves of “The Ephemeral Equation” and “Inhuman Reclamation” things remain as monstrously depraved and destructive as ever, just in a slightly different way. While the catchy-as-syphillis “Neutralizer” even flirts with a surprising amount of eerie melody as it drives its thumbs into your eye-sockets.
And therein lies the secret to this album’s success. These tracks are still as heavy as a really heavy thing – almost unfathomably so – and still more extreme than words can say… but they all have their own identity. Their own sense of style. Ugly, filthy style. But style all the same. Everything may generally be turned up to eleven, but the band make good use of 9 and 10 now and then too.
It may not sound like much on paper, but it really helps give the songs a sense of structure and keeps them from descending into an impotent metallic mush.
Plus, these guys know how to RIFF. There’s no arguing against that. In fact Finitude is a perfect example of why a guitar is so often referred to as an “axe”. Because these riffs hack and slash and are quite probably a serious risk to life and limb.
The whole unholy orgy of shock and awe culminates in the titanic “Forge of Finitude”, which transitions from a massive, droning, sci-fi-horror intro into a nasty, slithering groove of leviathan proportions, before eventually erupting into a stomping, slamming, blasting, ground-and-pound assault on the senses that doesn’t let up until you’ve been pummelled into a barely recognisable mess of a human being.
This one sets a new standard for brutality in 2016. And you can take that to the bank.