(In this article Andy Synn combines reviews of three fine, stylistically divergent albums released in 2019 — by Bull Elephant (UK), Dimaeon (Netherlands), and Triangle Face (UK).)
Ok, Ok… I promise this will (probably) be the last time I go on about albums from last year that you and I may have otherwise skipped over or missed out on.
After all, it’s getting towards the end of February now, and the deluge of new releases and upcoming albums is really starting to ramp up, so if I don’t want to fall behind (any more than I already have done) then I really need to start focussing on 2020.
But I couldn’t let these three artists/albums pass by without making a bit of fuss over them, as while I didn’t get around to covering them when they were first released, I’ve spent quite a lot of time listening to them all recently, and needed to share my enthusiasm with you!
BULL ELEPHANT – BULL ELEPHANT
This potent slab of proggy/sludgey, subtly doomy and ever so slightly thrashy metallic mayhem was originally brought to my attention by the good folks over at AngryMetalGuy, so you have them to thank for its appearance here. [Editor’s intrusion: Mr. Synn must have slept through this post about Bull Elephant right here at NCS.]
But don’t go celebrating them too much, as they’re also the ones to blame for the delays in me getting around to listening to it properly, as they roundly failed to mention the heavy Ocean Machine-era Devin Townsend vibe which abounds throughout this album, and if they’d said something about this I’d probably have gotten around to it far sooner!
Of course these comparisons to Hevy Devy (including, though not limited to, the fact that the album’s central concept – a reanimated African elephant wreaks bloody vengeance on the Nazi occultists who summoned it – is both patently ridiculous and ridiculously potent) aren’t the only thing which this album has going for it.
For one thing, the thick, sludgey riff work and meaty, menacing growls on tracks like the title-track and the enigmatic “Communion” recall the very best of Yob, while the thrashier, deathlier elements (see “Construct of Chaos” or “Corrupted Truth” for some prime examples) remind me of both Byzantine and Entombed at key points.
But it’s those comparisons to the ol’ Canucklehead which continue to jump out at me, as not only does the group’s use of spacious melody and richly harmonised riffage also showcases a very similar knack for combining arty atmosphere with simple, but oh so effective, hooks, but the band’s unnamed vocalist (or one of them at least, as their line-up is still a mystery) frequently employ the same sort of raw, rough-edged melodic croon that first brought Devin to the world’s attention.
Still, there’s a lot more going on here than just a pure pastiche of other artists, and it’s to their credit that, despite all these comparisons I’ve already made, Bull Elephant have crafted themselves a distinctive style and sound all of their own, one which makes full use of every single colour and shade of their creative palette.
From the mix of rolling, doomy riffs, chunky, chugging rhythms, and evocative melodies that makes up eponymous opener “Bull Elephant” (whose multifaceted vocals run the gamut from deep, growling gutturals to shameless, Halford-esque high notes) all the way to the frantic thrill-ride of OTT closer “Dread Reactor”, there’s not a moment of this album that feels unnecessary or out of place.
Every single idea, no matter how odd, and every single influence, no matter how obvious (or how subtle), just adds to the record’s overall richness and helps immerse you even deeper in the weird and wonderful world which the band have crafted here.
As the old saying goes, “good artists borrow, great artists steal”, and I can pretty much guarantee that Bull Elephant will have stolen a few hearts and minds with this one!
DIMÆON – VOID
Cutting right to the chase, the second album from this Dutch quintet ploughs an interesting Progressive (Death) Metal furrow somewhere between a less technically ostentatious, but still impressively intricate, version of Allegaeon and the proggy riffology of Ihsahn’s solo work.
That’s not the be-all-and-end-all of the band’s sound by any means, and while parts of tracks like “The Quantum Suicide Machine” and “Dystopian Monument” also put me in mind of Disillusion as well, the truth is that, while these similarities are undeniable, Dimæon are far from derivative.
That being said, the opening track, “Het Lijk Van Ons Bestaan” (that’s “The Corpse of Our Existence”) doesn’t necessarily make for the best introduction to the band’s sound.
It’s a solid piece of moody Prog-Metal, yes, but is somehow less than the sum of its part (in particular the use of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator is clearly meant well, but completely kills the track’s momentum, and it never really recovers until right before its end).
Thankfully, the album immediately comes to life with the advent of “The Insurgent”, whose choppy Prog-Death riffing and gritty, glass-chewing vocals help the song develop a real sense of urgency and energy which means that, when it finally transitions to a more melodic and progressively-structured format, the change feels earned rather than merely inevitable.
And while “Rain” also feels, like the opener, a little bit superfluous in the grand scheme of things, the aforementioned “The Quantum Suicide Machine” trades in a little bit of heaviness for an extra dash of melody and moody atmosphere, while still maintaining more than enough metallic bite to please even the most jaded listener.
The second half of the record is, surprisingly, even stronger than the first, and is where the Ihsahn comparisons really come to the fore, both in the intricate layering of bombastic, down-tuned riffs and proggy melodies and the vocals of new singer Nikky Sriamin, whose cathartic snarl has, by this point, developed a sinister rasp worthy of The Black Wizard himself.
Whether it’s the topsy-turvy Tech-Prog attack of “Dissolve”, or the explosive transformation from morose, moody melody to dense, dramatic riffage which characterises “Waves”, the back half of Void really does showcase just how much promise and potential this reincarnated version of Dimæon have.
Even the ridiculously catchy and stunningly heavy strains of “Transcendence” (which, due to a guest appearance from saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby feels even more like a Death Metal version of you-know-who) is more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet, despite the obvious sonic parallels with other, more famous artists.
So while they may not have quite achieved their final form just yet – although the grand finale of “Dystopian Monument” manages to take the best bits from various other artists without sounding exactly like any of them – there’s more than enough here to suggest that Dimæon have stumbled upon a formula that could, with a little more development, take them very far indeed!
TRIANGLE FACE – SENTINELS OF PSEUDO-REALITY: INTERPRETATIONS OF MAELSTROM
Last, but by no means least, we have yet another anonymous (well, semi-anonymous, as the band members do have names, although I doubt very much that Mr and Mrs Krippling actually named their child “Gary”) collective from the UK, and they’re by far one of the most absurd and outlandish sounding bands I’ve heard in quite some time!
Across these eleven tracks the listener is subjected to a brilliantly bizarre barrage of savagery and surrealism that rarely, if ever, stays still or proceeds in a predictable manner.
Whether it’s the abstract, Akercocke-esque riffs of “Nevü Þöt”, the Strapping Young Lad style chug and churn of “Đü Plåman”, or the irritatingly catchy stomp of “Ecsédinglé Gød Bráks” — and these are just the first three songs mind you – the triangular trio continually keep you guessing, switching between Death Metal, Black Metal and Grind at the drop of a hat, while also throwing in splashes of lurid doom and twisted technicality at seemingly random (but clearly calculated) points.
It’s not a perfect album by any means – there’s so many warped and wacky ideas being thrown around at all times that it’s inevitable some of them won’t stick – but when all the chaos coheres properly, such as during the dissonant deviance of “Divizibl”, the punishingly heavy (yet artfully atmospheric) “Flat Trïangl Yúnivürs”, or the eerily unsettling “Mizüre Prism”, it’s practically impossible not to get swept up in the band’s madcap energy and gleeful disregard for convention.
On reflection, the one band that Triangle Face most remind me of is those underrated Tech/Prog groovemongers in Agonyst (who, or so I’ve been told, might not be quite as dead as they appear), in that their madness always has a method, and their weirdness never overwhelms their willingness to just get down and dirty and riff out when the moment calls for it.
Of course, I wouldn’t put TF quite on the same level as the other bands mentioned here, not just yet anyway, as there’s definitely still a sense that they’re not always in full control of some of their more chaotic or convoluted moments, and certain songs (or, at least, certain parts of certain songs) definitely seem to want to push when they need to pull, meaning that the various disparate elements which make up their sound occasionally end up fighting against one another.
And yet… this is such a weirdly compelling album, one which continually zigs exactly where you expect it to zag, again and again, that once you pick it up it’s incredibly hard to put down!