(Andy Synn has again compiled reviews and streams of new records by bands from the UK.)
It was last week, I think, when I stumbled across another one of those weirdly throw-away lists purporting to feature “ten of the best up-and-coming UK Metal bands”.
Intrigued, and hopeful to discover some new names to help promote in turn, I gave the article a click, only to find that pretty much entire list was made up of bands who were already pretty well known, or made up of ex-members of other bands who’d previously received a fair bit of hype, and/or mates of the band responsible for the article in the first place.
Not only that, but pretty much every band featured played some variant of Death Metal/Deathcore, and clearly all came from a very similar clique. And while I get that it’s not always easy to think of other bands to recommend at the drop of a hat, the UK Metal scene is such a rich and vibrant cesspool of metallic morsels that this seems like a missed opportunity.
Not that I’m necessarily any better. Chances are you’ll all have heard of at least one of the bands I’m about to recommend. But, hopefully, over the course of the last 11/12 months I’ve presented a solid (though far from exhaustive) cross-section of the versatility and variety that represents “the Best of British” in 2019.
HARROWED – CHAOTIC NONENTITY
Who here likes Metallic Hardcore? If your hands are up… get ready to throw them down to a soundtrack of pure, in-your-face, pull-no-punches aggression courtesy of Kent three-piece Harrowed.
Fans of Trap Them, Norma Jean, Venomous Concept, or pretty much any band whose ethos is punk as fuck and twice as heavy, will find a lot to love on tracks like brute force, blast-fuelled opener “Stark Terrors” or its more sickeningly groovesome companion “Postmodern Prison”, but the Harrowed boys also have no struggle standing out from the crowd during songs such as the deceptively catchy “One Hundred Years” or the slower, sludgier strains of “Disconnexion”.
What really helps make this album stand out, in what is already a pretty crowded field, is the songwriting, which strikes a keen balance between primal spontaneity and calculated intent. Every track clearly has a purpose, a direction, and an end-point in mind, but the way each one gets there seems to depend entirely on whatever mood the band were in (pretty much always a bad one) at the time of writing/recording.
The brutish, bass-led grooves of “Inauthenticide” float like a butterfly and sting like a son of a bitch, whereas the moody, menacing stomp of “Derelict” goes low and slow and right for the gut. “Living Unknown” is all harsh hooks and howling vocals. “Coward” is a sub-two-minute blast of grinding fury. And “Disused Limbs” is a chunky chugathon as cripplingly heavy as the nastiest Death Metal band.
Culminating in the methodical madness and barely calculated chaos of the title track – equal parts manic frenzy and brooding ambience – Chaotic Nonentity hits hard, hits fast, and hits you in all your most vulnerable places. It’s an album with no wasted space, no pretension, but which still finds new ways surprise you even while it’s bludgeoning you into submission.
OPIUM LORD – VORE
I’ve read some surprisingly mixed reviews for this particular album, which, now that I think about it, probably shouldn’t be thatsurprising, as while Vore is definitely one impressively bleak and barbaric slab of pure, sludge-drenched Doom, it’s that very bleakness, that sheer nihilistic nastiness, that’s probably proving so off-putting to some listeners.
Not that you’d know it from the chiming, melodic opening to “WWCD”, which at first teases you with shimmering, Post-Metal chords, before building to a squall of oppressive noise that acts as a perfect introduction, priming you for the obnoxiously heavy riffs and ugly, lurching rhythms of “Lead Magnet”.
Calling this song (and this album) “heavy” would be under-selling it. But it really, really is. Disgustingly so.
But then so are “Centurion” and “Suture”. The latter in particular is one of the most monolithically heavy things I’ve heard in ages, possessing some of the album’s darkest, doomiest riffs and a thrumming bass line thick enough to anchor an aircraft carrier.
“Sherwood is Connector” is a slow build, slow-burn towards soul-crushing catharsis that will probably appeal to fans of fellow British bruisers Coltsblood immensely, while “Columbia” (which, fittingly, features a cameo from Yob’s Mike Scheidt) is a classic game of two halves, the first of which is a piece of strangulated, Sabbath-esque drone, the second of which is a riffmonger’s delight, packed to the gills with chunky, chugging, gut-churning guitars.
It all concludes with the caustic cauldron of nihilism and nastiness that is “The Gift”, whose six-and-a-half snarling minutes also showcase some devilishly dynamic minimalism and subtly atmospheric melody, as a way of tying the whole album together in one climactic, cathartic statement.
As I said at the beginning, I can see why some people may not have connected with or fully appreciated this album. But for a certain type of person (you know who you are) this is pretty much guaranteed to worm its way under your skin and lay down some seriously gnarly roots if given the chance.
UNFATHOMABLE RUINATION – ENRAGED & UNBOUND
Undeniably the “biggest” name here (“biggest” being very much a relative term), Unfathomable Ruination have been on the cusp of a major breakthrough for some time now.
That breakthrough, of course, should have come a few years back, when the band released the almighty Finitude, whose blend of incredible power and unexpectedly innovative songwriting rightfully earned it a place in the list of 2016’s best albums as produced by yours truly. But, for whatever reason, it didn’t quite push the band to that next level of success the way it deserved to.
Hopefully Enraged & Unbound will finally put the band over the top and get their name on the right lips, as although it’s not quite as bold and ballsy as its predecessor, it possesses an even more focussed form of brutality that makes it easier to pick up, and just as hard to put down.
That’s not to say the band have dumbed down or stopepd trying to push themselves by any means – both “An Obsidian Perception” and “Maniacal Disillusion” could give pretty much anything from the previous album a run for their money – but more that they seem to have zeroed in on precisely what sort of riffs and what sorts of hooks will have the most immediate impact this time around.
Whereas Finitude often reminded me of a more British, more brutally technical, version of Cattle Decapitation, Enraged…features a slightly more stripped-down, straight-for-the-throat approach, meaning songs like the neck-snapping title-track and the even catchier “Codebreaker” feel closer to the hyper-adrenalised assault of Aborted and Benighted (fittingly the frontmen for both bands pop up on “Occulta Violentiam” and “Defy the Architect” respectively).
And while this ultimately means that this record isn’t the shock to the system that its predecessor was (something which I don’t lay entirely at the band’s feet, as I’m not sure they quite understand how they captured that much lightning in one bottle) it still delivers more than enough punishing power and pinpoint accuracy (particularly on phenomenal closer “Protoplasmic Imprisonment”) to prove that Unfathomable Ruination can shred, chug, and slam with the very best of them.