(Andy Synn continues his occasional series in which he devotes attention to new releases by UK bands, here presenting a trio of reviews and music streams.)
Despite the fact that these days I exist more on the periphery of what one might loosely describe as “the scene” here in the UK, I’m still very much on a mission to talk/write about some of its best and brightest stars, and hopefully expose them to a whole new audience in the process.
And while each of the following bands has been featured here at NCS before (some more than others), this isn’t so much a case of favouritism as it is an acknowledgement that all three continue to make extremely compelling, attention-grabbing music, and their latest albums are no exception.
DE PROFUNDIS – THE BLINDING LIGHT OF FAITH
Taking the long view of De Profundis and their career, a cynic might suggest that the band’s refusal to stick to a particular sound is indicative of a lack of identity, and that their latest foray into a more consciously “Old School” Death Metal approach displays a worrying willingness to change their style to fit with the times/trends.
For my own part, however, I prefer to look at the band’s history so far as one of slow but steady evolution, rather than an attempt to game the system. After all, bands grow, bands change, and some bands choose to embrace this more than others.
Supporting this view is the simple fact that, ever since they first began stripping down and fine-tuning their approach, the quintet have come across as far more confident and far more comfortable in their own skin, and the music itself has steadily become more organic, more fluid, and just generally more naturally dynamic, in the process.
As you might imagine then, The Blinding Light of Faith showcases a band more at home with who they are than ever before, with songs like the beautifully brutal “War Be Upon Him” and the storming “Godforsaken” demonstrating a heavier (pun intended) focus on aggressive riffs and hard-edged hooks, to their everlasting benefit.
Of course the leads and solos (of which there are still a great many) continue to incorporate both proggy melody and blistering technicality (check out “Bastard Sons of Abraham” for a prime example), as does the ever-elusive, always intricate bass work of Arran McSporran, but even here it feels like the band have chosen to purposefully simplify their approach ever so slightly and, in doing so, largely avoided the tendency to over-write which plagued their previous releases.
I’ll grant you, it’s not the most unique sound in the world – fans of Death, Edge of Sanity, and even Dismember will be more than familiar with the building blocks making up songs like “Martyrs” and “Beyond Judgement” – but it’s undoubtedly one that fits the band much better than anything they’ve tried on before, and they’ve clearly gone to great lengths to try and add a dash of modern flair to it while still sticking close to their roots.
So while not every single song is a home-run (opener “Obsidian Spires”, for example, is solid enough, but quickly overshadowed by the tracks which follow it), for the most part The Blinding Light of Faith sounds like the product of a band with a fire in their belly and a gleam in their eye, a band who still have something to say and something to prove, and should hopefully introduce them to a whole new audience.
KING GOAT – DEBT OF AEONS
Conduit, the debut full-length album by Brightonian quintet King Goat, was one of the biggest and best surprises of 2016. And, if memory serves, it was so good that it only narrowly missed out on being named one of my Critical Top Ten of the year.
Overflowing with doomy grandeur and progressive glamour, it instantly made a name for the band in all the right circles, while also setting a ridiculously high bar for them to live up to next time around.
And, it has to be said… it feels like they’ve fallen a little short of that bar with Debt of Aeons.
Don’t get me wrong, when taken entirely on its own terms this album is still a winner, whose ballsy, bombastic backbone and bleak, brooding undertones blend together nicely into an evocative stew of dramatic doom and gloom, rich in both moody melody and metallic menace.
However, the decision to pursue a somewhat more “traditional” Doom Metal approach on this album, at the expense of the more overtly proggy vibes of its predecessor, seems to have robbed the band of some of their initial “wow-factor”, and blunted some of their impact, to the point that, where it once felt like the group were all set to forge their own path, now they’ve largely fallen back into a sound that’s a little too similar to many of their peers and influences, and which doesn’t allow them to stand out from the crowd as much
But while the similarities to Candlemass at their most epic and extravagant are hard to ignore, aided and abetted by some subtle shades of Primordial at their most classically doomy (not only does King Goat singer Anthony Trimming possess a similarly towering singing voice to Alan Averill, but on this album he also experiments with some rougher, harsher vocal styles, as can be heard on both “Rapture” and “Doldrum’s Sentinels”), to dismiss Debt of Aeons as a mere derivative of other artists would be to do it a massive disservice.
For while it may not be as inspired and incisive as its predecessor, it’s still more than capable of delivering the goods when called upon to do so, and it helps immensely that the titanic closing number, “On Dusty Avenues”, is one of the album’s major stand-outs (alongside the absolutely masterful title-track and the previously mentioned, and utterly fantastic, “Doldumr’s Sentinels”), ending the album on an impressively high note which reminds you exactly what these guys are capable of when firing on all cylinders.
SVALBARD – IT’S HARD TO HAVE HOPE
For whatever reason, many Metal fans still seem to think that any form of Punk or Hardcore influenced music lacks the necessary artistic merit to make any sort of “serious” statement, beyond vague calls for brotherhood, tolerance, positivity, etc (all of which, to be clear, are laudable enough, but not always satisfying to listeners looking for something a little deeper or, I daresay, a little darker).
But, be that as it may, one thing this type of music does have in spades is a sense of unbridled passion and unwavering integrity that’s hard to beat, and almost impossible to fake – and it’s that passion and integrity which underpins Svalbard’s second album, It’s Hard to Have Hope.
One thing worth noting is that the subtle Black Metal influences which peppered their debut have been toned down somehwat this time around (the atmospherically intense and blast-fuelled “Pro-Life” being the most obviously “blackened” number on the album), with the band’s sound now perhaps best characterised as a blend of searing Post-Hardcore and soaring Post-Rock, with an added metallic edge included for extra bite and flavour.
It’s definitely not lacking in riffs or riotous energy, though, as firebrand opener “Unpaid Intern” immediately demonstrates in a brilliant blaze of driving guitars and galloping drums, followed in quick succession by the cathartic vocals and haunting ambience of “Revenge Porn” and the brazen belligerence of “Feminazi”.
If you haven’t gathered, the quartet wear their politics and convictions right out in the open in an outspoken and unapologetic manner. And while this might prove a little off-putting for some people, for me the sight and sound of multi-talented vocalist/guitarist Serena Cherry (the band’s not-so-secret weapon) confronting issues of sexual assault, corporate greed, and bodily autonomy in such a fearless and forthright manner is an integral part of the band’s allure.
She is, however, occasionally guilty of putting the message before the medium, and every so often drops a slightly jarring lyrical clunker (with “How Do We Stop It?” being the worst offender in this regard), electing to use an overly blunt and inelegant turn of phrase where a more nuanced or metaphorical approach would arguably have served better.
This really is a minor nitpick though, and should in no way impede your enjoyment of the album, particularly when tracks like the mesmerising “For the Sake of the Breed” and the utterly enthralling “Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead” are easily amongst the best things the band have ever produced.
Oddly enough, despite being the least “Metal” of all the albums featured here, this one is most definitely my favourite, and I sincerely hope it catches on with a few of our readers in the same way it has with me, as Svalbard deserve all the support and attention they can muster going forwards.