(Andy Synn sticks his head above the parapet once more to let you all know about three of the best British albums of the last few months)
I honestly can’t remember the last time I did one of these “Best of British” articles. In fact, this might very well be the first one of 2021 (or, at least, the first one dedicated to full-length albums).
That’s not because these fair and fertile isles have suddenly gone barren – the new Osiah, for example, is a brutal, if not exactly boundary-pushing, slab of uber-aggressive Deathcore, while the debut record from Epiphanic Truth was/is a welcome shot of strangeness – but, for whatever reason, I’ve been finding myself more drawn towards artists and albums from beyond the borders of these green and “pleasant” lands.
Rest assured, however, I’ve still been keeping my ear to the ground, so to speak, and finally found the time (and the impetus) to write about three truly excellent examples of “The Best of British” in the form of the new albums from Atvm, Boss Keloid, and Code.
ATVM – FAMINE, PUTRID AND FUCKING ENDLESS
There’s a fine line, in my opinion, between weird and wacky.
The former is all about the strange and unusual, the intriguing and unorthodox, while the latter… the latter tends to feel much more contrived, as if certain bands/artists (and I’m sure we can all think of several examples) are simply acting up and acting out in a desperate bid for attention
Thankfully Famine… is more than just “weird for weird’s sake”, and never crosses over the line into overt wackiness, despite how outlandish and out-there and shamelessly, unrepentantly proggy (in the grandest sense of the word) it gets at times.
The fact that songs like electric opener “Sanguinary Floating Orb” and the rifftastic “They Crawl” are so clearly grounded in a firm foundation of “classic” Prog-Thrash a la Atheist, Martyr, Believer, etc (with, let’s face it, a healthy helping of latter-day Death and prime-era Voivod, as well as a near-lethal dose of Exodus and/or Metallica influence factoring into the equation too) highlights one key reason why the band’s music is more heavy than “hammy”, but there’s also the undeniable fact that these guys can really play too, and seem to know just how to integrate and exploit their considerable technical talents in service of the song(s), rather than simply as a way to show off their shred-happy skills.
Guitarist Tom Calcraft, for obvious reasons, initially pulls most of the focus, as his twisty-turny, choppy-chuggy riffs and spiralling, spacily-melodic leads are a big part of what gives the album it’s unique and unorthodox character, but for my mind it’s the impressive rhythmic interplay of Luke Abbott (bass) and Francis Ball (drums) which is the album’s secret weapon, as the duo’s ability to set the pace, switch direction, and stop on a dime, without missing a beat/note, is the real glue that holds this record together.
And it’s a good thing it does too, because Atvm clearly enjoy throwing a lot of varied musical ingredients into the mix alongside their Prog-Thrash, Proto-Death roots, from the spasming Jazz-Metal chaos which rears its head part-way through “Ⲁⲛⲋ-ⲟⲩ Ⲙⲁⲧⲟⲩ”, to the unexpectedly melodic (and unashamedly proggy) second half of “वाघनख [Vagh Nakh]” and the pure Pink Floyd worship which characterises the moody mid-section of the otherwise scorching “Squeal in Torment”.
But, no matter what this record throws at you, it still somehow all ties together due to the studied songcraft and attention to detail displayed on each and every track.
So whether you’re a fan of any (or all) of the bands mentioned above, or your tastes run towards more “modern” artists such as Revocation, Horrendous, et al, then make sure you make time to give this record a spin. It’ll twist your head right round and still leave you wanting more.
BOSS KELOID – FAMILY THE SMILING THRUSH
If there’s any justice in the world, then Wigan wizards Boss Keloid should find themselves right on the cusp of their long-awaited, and richly deserved, “breakout” moment with the recent release of their third album, Family the Smiling Thrush, which is a magnificently melodic, muscular, and multi-layered record which has a huge amount of potential to appeal to an extremely wide audience without feeling forced or formulaic.
And “multi-layered” is, indeed, the best way to describe the band’s sound, which, according to common consensus, is best described as Progressive/Stoner/Sludge/Metal and features an engaging blend of eargasmic elements – from the heft (and hooks) of classic Crowbar and the grungy grandeur (and psychedelic strangeness) of Soundgarden to the melodic and harmonic dynamism of Devin Townsend at his most serious and sincere.
Of course, everyone is going to hear things slightly differently, and have their own take on who Boss Keloid do or don’t sound like (honestly, if you name-dropped Clutch, Torche, or Mastodon, then I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you either), but the best thing about Family… is how, despite sounding a little bit like a lot of other bands… it still doesn’t sound exactly like any one of them.
It’s a unique, and vigorous, hybrid, whose stunning song-craft – whether it’s the gargantuan grooves and equally massive melodies of “Gentle Clovis”, the moody melodrama and proggy panoply of “Hats the Mandrill”, or the slinky Folk-Funk undulations of “Cecil Succulent” (to name but three of the album’s many musical delights) – and instantly impressive all-round performances quickly help the band stand out from the crowd (even more so than they already do).
Of course, the big question was always going to be… is it as good as their last one?
Well, the jury’s still out on that. But, while it does, in my opinion, lose a tiny bit of momentum/direction towards the end, the album’s added heaviness certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated, as every song features an impressive set of big, bombastic brass balls and a swaggering, fat-bottomed low-end that seems tailor-made for being played loud and proud at your next mass gathering (whenever that is going to be).
But despite having a hefty amount of junk in the ol’ trunk (seriously, don’t underestimate these guys) Family the Smiling Thrush is still an album that absolutely soars when it wants to (“gravity can’t hold me down!” as silver-tongued, iron-lunged vocalist Alex Hurst declares on extravagant opener “Orang of Noyn”), and one which will no doubt be making quite a few appearances, and several big waves, on various “Best of 2021” lists come the end of the year.
CODE – FLYBLOWN PRINCE
Looking back, it feels like we’ve been fans of underground Prog-Black architects Code for a very long time – practically since the very beginning in fact – and thus have followed their career with great interest (as well as no small amount of enjoyment) as they’ve weathered multiple member changes and evolved through several significant shifts in sound over the years.
Every album has been slightly (and sometimes not-so-slightly) different to the one which came before it, and if you take a step back and look at things from a wide enough perspective you can clearly see the smooth path of the group’s creative trajectory which took them from the punishing metallic strains of 2005’s Nouveau Gloaming to the moodily melodic moodscapes of 2015’s Mut (which, lest we forget, I pinpointed as one of the best albums of that year).
So it’s interesting to note that, initially at least, Flyblown Prince seems like something of a step backwards (though not necessarily in a bad way) from its predecessor, as the unexpectedly harsh and heavy assault of songs like the title-track, the mercilessly melodramatic “By the Charred Stile”, and the menacing, almost Marduk-esque “Rat King” (easily one of the best tracks the band have ever written, in my opinion), showcases a side of the band – a much more vicious and visceral side – that we haven’t seen or heard from in a long time.
Appearances, of course, are often deceiving, as each of these tracks also conceals (or reveals) a layer of wicked weirdness which lets you know that the group’s resurgent aggressive instincts haven’t totally overwhelmed their avant-garde intellect, and if (and it’s a big “if”) the opening chapters of this album really are to be considered a step back, that’s only because the band wanted to get a running start before the next big leap they’re about to make.
You see, with the advent of “From the Next Room” – whose blend of piercing melodies, proggy proclivities, and poignant, powerful riffage sounds like the collaboration between Anathema and Enslaved you never knew you wanted – Flyblown Prince suddenly settles into its final form, one which combines and coalesces all the previous eras and elements of the band’s identity, from the scalding grooves and scathing vocals of “Dead Stridulate Lodge” to the grim-faced grandiosity and tangled, thrashy riffage of “Scold’s Bridal” (another personal favourite), into one stunningly cohesive whole which ultimately culminates in the climactic, career-defining, strains of “The Mad White Hair” which, in itself, contains multitudes.
Mark my words, this is another album you’re going to be seeing/hearing/reading a lot more about over the coming months, and I fully expect to see it referenced prominently in all the various year-end summaries and round-ups come December. It really is that good.