(Here’s another edition of Andy Synn‘s continuing series focused on the review of records recently released by bands from his native land.)
Isn’t it great when things just kind of… line up on their own?
Case in point, just last week I was thinking that it was about time to put together another edition of “The Best of British”, especially with new albums from both Scordatura and Svalbard on the horizon.
But, here’s the rub, I didn’t have a third band lined up to round out the article. That is until a passing comment clued me into the fact that Scottish Post-Sludge trio Bosphorus were also set to release their long-gestating debut album this Friday, making for a killer triumvirate of new records all scheduled to come out on the same day.
Like I said at the start – isn’t it great when stuff just falls into place?
BOSPHORUS – SLOW BURN
Glaswegian trio Bosphorus have been percolating their sludgy brew for quite some time now. In fact their last release before this one was the four track In Shadow EP in 2017.
But, as the album title says, some things just benefit from a Slow Burn.
With its fuzzy, sludge-soaked riffs, atmospheric, post-metallic song structures, and moody, grungy grasp of melody, this is the sort of album that positively throbs with life, all the way down to its pulsing percussion and oscillating undercurrents of strobing synths.
This is immediately apparent during the hypnotic heart-beat of opener “Silhouette”, whose cyclical, circadian rhythms and ragged exhalations establish a pounding presence in your bloodstream that just seems to get louder and more overwhelming as the song goes on.
Then there’s “Strain of Thought” whose post-Neurosis, punk-inflected Post-Metal vibes, develop into something far proggier and more psychedelic during the song’s second half, with the strange synths and strained melodies taking on an even bigger role, after which the title track adopts an almost Isis-meets-Soundgarden approach (trust me, it’ll make sense when you hear it) that shifts from ambient to aggressive over the course of eight emotional minutes.
“Weapon” is arguably both the most straightforward and the proggiest song yet, marrying a bevy of metallically-enhanced Post-Punk rhythms (reminiscent, oddly enough, of recent Enslaved) with a brooding, sci-fi atmosphere akin to Cult of Luna circa Vertikal/Mariner).
Which, I think we can all agree, is high praise indeed.
As striking as the increasingly prominent (and increasingly impressive) synth work in “Weapon” is, the rough-hewn melodies and sombre clean vocals of “Cold Comfort” are, if anything, even more attention-grabbing, the song flipping your established expectations on their heads by pursuing a simpler, and more sombre, path which, nevertheless, contains multitudes within its simmering, doom-laden confines.
Last, but by no means least, “Crooked Path” finds the band doubling-down on the neurotic synth work without sacrificing the bombastic riffs in the process, resulting in a genre-amalgam I can only refer to as Electro-Sludge (patent pending).
It’s a perfect way to end an album whose blending of both the electric and the organic, the sludgily metallic and the subtly melodic, strikes a tentative, tenuous balance between the familiar and the exotic in a way I haven’t heard since the last time I listened to Dying Sun.
You know what they say, a Slow Burn is the best burn. And this just proves it.
SCORDATURA – MASS FAILURE
Raise your hand if you agree that Scordatura are one of the heaviest, nastiest, bands currently operating out of the UK?
If your hand isn’t up I can only assume one of two things. Either you’re totally unfamiliar with the band’s punishing previous works, or you’re just begging to be subjected to a beating.
That not-so-subtle Dying Fetus reference there should give you some inkling of what to expect from the band’s third album, namely a neck-wrecking, gut-churning, bowel-loosening bombardment of jagged riffs, technical twists, and gruesome, glass-gargling gutturals that floats like an atom bomb and stings like a beast.
That being said, Mass Failure isn’t just nine-tracks of shameless Dying Fetus worship (not that I’d complain it if it was), as the band also draw influence from a number of other Death Metal deities too, with the beefier, burlier riffs of “Disease of Mind” and “World Devoured”, for example, erring closer to the Cannibal Corpse school of groove ‘n’ gravitas, while the blast ‘n’ slam, sturm und drang, of killer cuts like “Skin Trophy” and “Mass Failure” clearly owes a big debt to classic Suffocation.
Heck, even the production feels like a slightly more modernised take on those infamous ’90s-era nasties which formed the foundation of the scene, especially the drums, which are powerful but not over-processed, so that you can still hear the natural ping and snap of every beat and every fill, while the twitchy twang of the bass occasionally gives things an almost Atheist or Pestilence feel.
Of course, this slavish devotion to the Death Metal canon is both a blessing and a curse in some ways.
Because while “Nothing But Dust” could give early Cryptopsy a serious run for its money, and cacophonous closer “Collapse of Humanity” could go toe to toe with Defeated Sanity at their brutal best, it’s pretty obvious that there’s nothing particularly new to hear here (there’s even a tantalising bit of Cattle Decapitation style melodic grindery in “Immense Atrocity”), just a reworking and a rearrangement of influences and ingredients that we’ve all come to know and love already.
And what’s wrong with that, I ask you?
To be brutally (and I do mean brutally) honest with you, I’m not always looking for cutting-edge innovation when it comes to Death Metal… just a cutting edge… and it seems churlish (and dumb) to criticise the band for failing to innovate when that’s clearly not their intention.
Let’s face it, Scordatura aren’t trying to be revolutionary. They’re just here to mark their territory.
And, in that respect, Mass Failure is a massive success.
SVALBARD – WHEN I DIE, WILL I GET BETTER?
There’s something really special about being present at the moment when a band finally becomes the best possible version of themselves.
And, as someone who appreciated both their previous albums (both for the sheer spontaneity of their debut and the more expansive songwriting of their second album) it pleases me to say that When I Die, Will I Get Better? represents that moment for Svalbard.
There’s a lot of different factors, which combine to make this not only the band’s best album, but the very best realisation of their identity yet, the most obvious of which is how their signature blend of Post-Rock atmospherics, Post-Hardcore dynamics, and Post-Black Metal bite, just feels even more natural and organic this time around.
A big part of that, from my perspective, can be attributed to the group’s decision to embrace their influences even more – leaning into the obvious Alcest-isms of a song like “What She Was Wearing”, for example, while also embracing the Explosions In The Sky-esque elements of “Listen to Someone” and the ebullient, From Autumn to Ashes style energy of “Silent Restraint” – instead of denying them and, in the process, carving out a distinct and unique space for themselves that bridges the gap(s) between them.
Ok, perhaps it’s not a wholly unique space – brilliant opener “Open Wounds” certainly has a bit of an Astronoid vibe to it… not that I’m complaining – but it’s certainly one which has allowed Svalbard to expand and explore their sound (compare, if you will, the blast-driven intensity of “Throw Your Heart Away” to the lilting, dreamlike progression of “Pearlescent) and reach new heights in doing so.
This willingness to let each song breathe on its own terms may also be responsible for the sense that the quartet are even more of a cohesive unit this time around (though there’s a chance I might have the direction of cause and effect reversed there), especially when it comes to the interaction and interplay of guitarists and co-vocalists Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan, whose punky partnership sounds more vital and visceral (both vocally and lyrically) than ever.
On top of all that, there’s a real paradox at the heart of this album where, on the one hand, the raw emotion – equal parts fury and frustration, tenderness and tension, venom and vulnerability – on display throughout tracks like “Click Bait” and “The Currency of Beauty” feels almost like the product of a brand new band, one who have only just discovered what they’re capable of.
But, at the same time, the way in which these songs are put together, every part in just the right place, all working in harmony to build a greater whole, speaks volumes about the group’s hard-fought and hard-earned experience, resulting in a record that feels simultaneously both youthful and mature, wild yet weathered.
Whichever way you look at it, When I Die… is a cohesive, cathartic, career-defining release from a band who truly deserve all the attention and acclaim they’re getting right now. And then some.