(Here we have another 2020 edition of Andy Synn‘s series of reviews focusing on music coming out of the UK, with another three albums on the table today.)
This year may have been a real motherfucker in many, many ways, but the music coming out of the UK has, arguably, never been better.
As a matter of fact, my shortlist for my “Critical Top Ten” currently includes three, possibly four, UK bands who’ve raised the bar for themselves, and the rest of the scene, with their latest records… one of whom I’m featuring here today.
So, without further ado, here are three artists/albums who represent the very best of British, two of which will be released this Friday, the other you’ll have to wait until the end of the month to hear in full!
BULL ELEPHANT – CREATED FROM DEATH
When we discovered anonymous Prog-Doom collective Bull Elephant last year we were instantly struck by just how unusual they were.
Until then none of us had ever encountered a band who fused the moody muscularity of Yob with the rugged riff-craft of Byzantine and the larger-than-life songwriting of Devin Townsend… let alone one who did so in service of a crazy concept album about a Nazi-smashing undead elephant!
Of course, since then the Necro-Mammalian Anti-Fascist Prog-Doom sub-genre has absolutely exploded, so it’s going to be a lot harder for the band to stand out from the crowd this time around…
Now, obviously, I’m kidding. Bull Elephant are still just as eccentric and extraordinary as ever, and still don’t sound exactly like anyone else out there.
Storyline-wise, part two of the band’s “nature vs nazis” trilogy finds the soul of our heroic post-mortal pachyderm reconstituted in a human body and forced to go on the run, accompanied and watched over by a giant, magic ape (and you thought things couldn’t get any weirder).
And the music has also undergone something of a metamorphosis, for although the soul of the band is unchanged, the body it inhabits is a little bit different, a little more versatile, and capable of a wider range of expressions and emotions.
Take the opening title track for example, which cycles through a mindblowing variety of stylistic twists and turns – from brooding, bombastic Doom to punchy Prog-Thrash to moody ambience to riveting, rippling melody, and back again – while also being, arguably, even catchier and more cohesive than the majority of the band’s debut.
Similarly, “Oneiromantic Rites” finds the group expanding their melodic mindset even more, with a greater emphasis on ruggedly emotive clean vocals, simmering, slow-burn riffs, and liquid, wah-drenched lead lines, while “Cult of the Black Sun Nemesis” doubles down on the fat-bottomed guitar grooves and ridiculously hooky, harmonised licks like some sort of fusion of classic Corrosion and Conformity and modern-day Mastodon.
That being said, the album’s more rock ‘n’ roll vibe doesn’t mean that Bull Elephant have given up all their power.
“Lebensraum”, for example, is a really nasty piece of work, with just enough moments of soothing calm to balance out its darker and more dissonant elements, while stripped-down thrasher “Perverted Science” owes a major debt to early Metallica in all their riff-hungry glory.
But it’s the sheer vibrancy and versatility of songs like “Last Defilement” and “Escape to the Arctic” (both equally capable of conjuring up some massive, doomy chords, laying down a barrage of strafing blastbeats, losing themselves in proggy contemplation, or kicking out some hard-rockin’, head-bangin’ riffs) which highlight where the band’s real focus lies this time around.
Closing with the outstanding “Wayfarer”, which channels elements of Crowbar, Khemmis, and King Crimson to craft a Prog-tinged Doom Metal anthem of epic proportions, Created From Death is an absolute triumph, front to back, and I can confidently predict that once you hear it – just like an elephant – you’re not going to be able to forget it.
INGESTED – WHERE ONLY GODS MAY TREAD
There’s a scene in 300, Zack Snyder’s heroically homoerotic adaptation of Frank Miller’s not-entirely-accurate retelling of The Battle of Thermopylae, where the so-called “God King” Xerxes attempts to woo Leonidas, leader of the Spartans, to his side by promising to make him warlord of all Greece… and all he has to do is kneel and swear fealty to his new master.
Listening to Where Only Gods May Tread, I can’t help but think that maybe something like this may have happened to Ingested at some point, that perhaps a certain someone approached the band with a similar offer, promising patronage, prestige, and a chance to perform on bigger stages, as long as they were willing to bend the knee, kiss the ring, or otherwise abase themselves publicly.
And, if something like this did occur, I imagine the group’s response would have been even less polite than Gerard Butler’s was in the movie…
Because one thing this record makes clear is that while Ingested may have abdicated their throne as “the true kings of UK slam”, they’ve only done so because they’ve set their eyes on an even bigger target – challenging Death Metal’s immortals and putting them to the test.
Opener “Follow the Deceiver” immediately throws down the gauntlet. Its riffs are massive. Its hooks are sharp. Its technique is flawless and its fury unrelenting. It’s the chiselled, platonic ideal of a Death Metal song without an ounce of flab or fat on its fighting frame.
But, of course, a good opening gambit can only carry you so far, so the band then up the intensity another notch with “No Half Measures”, where it’s not just the hammering drums and thuggish, chugging riffs you have to worry about, but also the snarling, growling, gargantuan vocals of frontman Jay Evans, who has never before sounded quite as vicious or as venomous as he does here during the song’s central “Fuck your gods! Fuck your kings! Fuck your bastard martyrs!” refrain.
The group also have a few new tricks up their sleeve too, each clearly and cleverly designed to trip up any prospective opponents at the vital moment so they can deliver the killing blow.
“Impending Dominance”, for example, drops back into some slammy, Suffocation-inspired grooves before unexpectedly manifesting a harder-edged take on Behemoth’s malevolent melodic grandeur, while a number of the songs – “The List”, “Dead Seraphic Forms”, “Black Pill”, “Forsaken In Desolation” – find the band embracing an increasingly blackened and technical style reminiscent of Hour of Penance at their brutal best, while still remaining distinctly Ingested to the core.
The real surprises, however, come in the form of “Another Breath” – where a splash of 28 Days Later, a dash of Kirk Weinstein, and a dose of pure heaviness combine to create one of the darkest and most devastating tracks of the band’s career – and titanic closer “Leap of the Faithless”, where the band throw absolutely everything they have at the listener, rumbling riffs and bastard-heavy breakdowns, lashing leads and morbid melodies, shuddering slams and stuttering blasts, over the course of nine monolithic minutes.
Make no mistake, if this album hits its intended target we’re going to see that not only have Ingested written their own ticket to immortality, but that even those who claim to be gods can be made to bleed.
LUNA’S CALL – VOID
Way back in 2016, when we first wrote about Prog-Death princes Luna’s Call, I remember receiving a bit of backlash for not being quite as excessively effusive about their debut, Divinity, as some other sites were at the time.
Now, the reasons for this were twofold.
For one thing, I often find that a lot of other writers (and readers) tend to be a little over-generous with their praise, especially when it comes to homegrown heroes, so I always try to be a little more balanced and objective whenever I can.
For another, I knew… I knew… that these guys were capable of more. Much, much more.
And now, a little over four-and-a-half(!) years later, this belief has finally been vindicated.
By doubling down on the Prog side of their sound (without abandoning their Death Metal roots), the Lincoln-based quartet have created something truly magical here, beginning with the scene-setting, Cynic-esque introduction of “Merced’s Footsteps”, before moving quickly and confidently into the cinematic, subtly symphonic, intricately indulgent Prog-Death of “Signs”, whose complex, creative fretwork is comparable to the best of Akerfeldt, Ihsahn, Wilson and Swanö.
If “Signs” didn’t already make it clear, Luna’s Call absolutely excel at crafting extravagant, long-form Prog-Death arrangements which cycle through multiple movements – from rapid-fire riffery to synth-tinged grooves to doomy darkness, from moody melodic minimalism to gorgeous, gleaming grandeur to bombastic blasting – without ever losing the central thread which guides the listener through this ever-twisting, ever-turning labyrinth of sound.
This well-learned, hard-earned talent for balancing diversity, dynamism, and drama, is what makes the powerful, progged-out riffs, ostentatious orchestral opulence, and transcendent technicality of “Solar Immolation” just as immersive and engaging as the seamless shift from pure Prog to raging Death Metal during “Locus” (which also showcases some of the album’s most brilliant bass work) or the twisted Tech Death riff-fest of “In Bile They Bathe”… even though the latter two tracks together still don’t quite equal the former’s titanic, thirteen-and-a-half minute run-time!
As unashamedly OTT as this album can be (which extends, by the way, to its eye-catching artwork, which is a real feast for the senses), the band also clearly grasp the importance of contrast and flow to the success of their sound, which is why the first half of the album culminates in the poignant, photo-realistic proggery of “Enceladus & The Life Inside”, and why the soothing instrumental interlude of “Silverfish” serves as a perfect penultimate pause prior to climactic closer “Fly Further Cosmonaut”.
And what a closer it is, delivering some of the album’s heaviest, hookiest, most extreme, most elegant, and most potently proggy material over the course of just over nine majestic minutes.
Wearing both their influences and their ambition out and proud upon their sleeves, Luna’s Call have produced an album of such astounding confidence and creativity that it’s clearly one of the stand-out releases of 2020. In fact it might just be the best example of Progressive Death Metal – with an emphasis on the “Progressive” part – I’ve heard since Serdce’s fantastic, but fatally underrated, Timelessness. And that’s not something I say lightly.
So don’t let this one pass you by. Because I absolutely guarantee that it will be making an appearance on multiple “Best of…” lists at the end of the year. It really is just that good.