(Sooner than anticipated, Andy Synn brings us yet another installment of this series, which focuses on reviews of new records by UK bands — and you’ll find three of those here.)
Remember how I said I had enough collected material for three separate “Best of British” columns (including the one I/we published on Monday)?
Well, I wasn’t lying, and today’s edition features three bands who, in all likelihood, should drum up a lot of interest from our readers.
In fact I’m hopeful that, if you like one of these bands, you’ll like the other two as well!
BLIND MONARCH – WHAT IS IMPOSED MUST BE ENDURED
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here… because the debut album from Sheffield Death/Doom quartet Blind Monarch is one devastatingly bleak, distressingly brutal listening experience that will shake you to your very core.
Comprising four titanic tracks of massive, malevolent riffs and primal, punishing percussion, all topped off with a morbid array of visceral vocals which switch between a gruesome, gut-wrenching growl and a savage, throat-scorching snarl as the situation requires, What Is Imposed Must Be Endured is far heavier, far more confident, and far more competent, than you’d expect from a debut, but that’s clearly a tribute and testament to the time and effort which the band put into its creation.
Opener “Suffering Breathes My Name” is thirteen minutes of tortured distortion, droning darkness, and scalding vocal venom that gets its gnarled hooks into you nice and quickly and then proceeds to dig itself deeper and deeper under your skin, after which “My Mother, My Cradle, My Tomb” unleashes its gigantic grooves and stunning, slow-motion drum work without mercy or restraint, even as it finds time for a mid-song breather of brooding atmosphere and haunting ambience.
The beginning of the self-titled “Blind Monarch” also embraces a more patient and penitent approach, before eventually exploding into a staggering, zombified lurch that’s as cripplingly heavy as anything you’re likely to have heard this year, eventually culminating (after a surprisingly moody, melodic solo section) in a grim, fuzz-filled finale.
The album’s fourth and final track, “Living Altar”, favours an even more atmospheric approach, at least in the beginning, as it’s almost five minutes before the first distorted guitar rears its ugly head. Not only the longest, but arguably the darkest and doomiest song on the record, it’s a more than fitting finale for an album which strongly suggests that Blind Monarch could well be future contenders for the crown of the UK Doom scene.
EVEREST QUEEN – DEAD EDEN
Continuing on from the doomy theme established by the previous entry, the long-awaited debut album from Everest Queen is both sludgier and more progressive in outlook than you might have expected (though the gorgeous, colourful artwork should probably have been a clue), with a big emphasis on big riffs, big hooks, and bruising rhythms that owe a fair bit to US masters like High on Fire and Mastodon.
Following the scene-setting instrumental introduction of “Into the Bleeding Hollows”, the album kicks off properly with the impressively powerful “Blood That Binds the Illiad”, which establishes that Everest Queen are in possession of both a very clear vision and some serious ambition.
The sombre melodies of “Crooked Husk”, for example, contrast nicely with the song’s humongously heavy riffage (and stunningly aggressive conclusion), while “Neptune’s Gates” leans more into the Post-Metal/Post-Sludge side of things by adding an extra layer of atmospheric weight to the proceedings, with “Vessel of the Flesh” building on this further by exploring some more progressive and creative instrumental alleys.
And while the relatively short, sharp Sludge-Rock rhythms of “That Which Only Fire Can Cleanse” don’t do all that much to distinguish themselves, “Grave Dweller” is undoubtedly one of the most effective and adrenaline-pumping tracks on the album, after which the title-track wraps things up in compellingly doomy, mesmerisingly moody, fashion.
So while it may not be an outright masterpiece on its own (not every track being an absolute grade-A slab of metallic meat… although most are), Dead Eden suggests that Everest Queen, if they’re able to keep on developing and refining their sound, might just be on the cusp of creating something truly special in the very near future.
LATITUDES – PART-ISLAND
As the most well-established band featured here (Part-Island being their fourth album) it’s unsurprising that Latitudes are easily the most polished and professional act of the three, but what will probably be surprising – both to new listeners and to existing Latitudes fans – is just how achingly tender, not to mention vocal-focussed, so much of this record is.
Don’t get me wrong, when Latitudes want to go hard, they’re perfectly capable of doing so. Witness, for example, the driving, dramatic riffs of “Dovestone” or the percussive, blast-driven intensity of “The Great Past”. It’s just that, by creating more room for the melancholy croon of vocalist Adam Symonds, the band have opened up their songwriting even further, embracing their more ambient, acoustic, and shoegaze influences in the process.
This is instantly made clear on daring opener “Underlie”, whose chiming acoustic guitar strings and plaintive vocal melodies recall the most stripped-back and vulnerable moments of Anathema and Devin Townsend, and it’s only in the latter stages of the track where the band elect to introduce the more traditional Post-Rock/Post-Metal side of their sound.
It’s a bold move, but one which speaks to the boundless confidence the band clearly have in this record, something which only becomes more obvious during subsequent tracks like “Moorland is the Sea” and “Fallowness”, where the layers of cinematic melody and soul-stirring atmosphere slowly but surely build into a shining example of what this album has to offer, where its heaviness and impact is not necessarily measured in the amount of decibels or beats per minute but in the long-lasting impact it leaves upon its listeners.
Concluding with the eloquent, effortlessly expressive strains of the ten minute title-track, which showcases the band at simultaneously their most vulnerable and most visceral, their most dreamlike and their most dynamic, Part Island is the sound of a band stretching their wings and throwing caution to the wind and, as a result, producing what is easily their finest work yet.