(Andy Synn once again graces us with reviews of three more bands from his beloved homeland)
So I should probably begin this article with a quick mea culpa.
After making such a big deal about how the last edition of “The Best of British” was the first one in a worryingly long time, I had originally intended for the follow-up to hit the site within a week. Two at the most.
But, as you can guess, life got in the way, and my best laid plans went “aglay”, as the great poet once said.
Still, better late than never, right?
After all, I’m of the opinion that each of these albums – warts and all – fully deserves some coverage here at NCS, and since it’s unlikely that anyone else from the crew is going to be able to fit them in, it looks like it once more falls to me to tell you why you should check out the new albums from Axecatcher, Bossk, and Urne.
AXECATCHER – TOOTH OVER CLAW
If you’re looking for something to wake you up and get you through the week, then may I recommend the searing shot of pure adrenaline that is Axecatcher’s debut album?
From the headlong, heart-racing gallop of the opening title-track, to the bombastic, rifftastic strains of surprisingly moody closer “Vehemence”, Tooth Over Claw is a record positively overflowing with aggressive energy and an electrifying sense of urgency, one which doesn’t skimp on hooks or groove, even as it’s raging and flailing and lashing out in a veritable whirlwind of slashing hooves and gnashing jaws.
To say that songs like “Unbloodied” and “Cliffracer” are pretty furious, borderline feral, in fact, would be something of an understatement, as both these tracks go straight for the throat with an intensity that reminds me early Zao or Integrity, while “Swarm” is all thrashy momentum and nasty riffs which, when mixed with an extra dash of punky melody, recalls the best of Every Time I Die at their punchiest and most primal.
Sure, the vocals are a little ragged around the edges at times, and every so often it almost feels like the entire record is going to come flying apart at the seams, but that’s all part of the band’s charm – this isn’t an album that’s been primped and processed to sterile perfection, it’s a short, sharp shock of spit(e) and vinegar that came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum and… well, you know the rest.
It’s not just a one-note, one-trick pony either though, as the band are impressively adept at keeping the dynamic loose and lively, even when it feels like they’re going full-throttle, hell-for-leather, the wrong way down a one-way road (with their headlights off).
The aforementioned “Cliffracer”, for example, is part helter-skelter thrill-ride, part head-banging groove-monster, that switches up its fighting style part way through, while the second half of the album – where the band seem to have stuck all their longer (relatively speaking) tracks – showcases a not-unwelcome amount of variety, from the bass-heavy grooves and chattering chuggery of “Engines to Dust” and the propulsive, punky vibes of “Crash”, to the cutting riffs and catchy, stop-start hooks of “The Drowning”, without neutering the album’s savage bite.
So if you’re the sort of person who enjoys the synthesis of Metal and Hardcore even more than, say, the union of peanut butter and jelly (not hard in my case, I despise the stuff) then do yourself a favour and give this a listen. You’ll only have yourselves to blame if you miss out.
BOSSK – MIGRATION
I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll end up saying it again, but some albums… some albums are transitional albums… albums which represent not the next stage of a band’s evolution but which are more of a waypoint along an as-yet-unfinished journey.
And that, to me, is what makes the title of Bossk’s new album, Migration, so appropriate, because these seven tracks seem – to my ears at least – to capture the band still in motion, still in migration, from one stage of their sound to… whatever’s next for them.
This is particularly obvious when you juxtapose the impressive way the album begins – shifting from the striking, ambience-drenched intro of “White Stork” into the heavily Cult of Luna inspired strains of “Menhir” (whose massive riffs and moody atmospherics are topped off with vocals by CoL’s own Johannes Persson, just in case you wondered whether the band were cognisant of the comparison) – with the even more intriguing way in which it ends.
And, oh, what a phenomenal, and absolutely fascinating, ending it is, as the pulsing beats, and shimmering soundscapes which underpin the wordless yet captivating strains of “Unberth” suggest a future for the band more aligned with the synaesthetic, cinematic approach of Nordic Giants than with any of their past or present Post-Metal peers.
In between these two poles, however, the rest of the album exists in something of an uneasy liminal state, with “HTV-3” in particular – a track so heavily indebted to Cult of Luna on the one hand, yet so reliant on the vocals of Palm Reader’s Josh McKeown on the other, that it never really feels like a Bossk song – coming across as somehow slightly less than the sum of its parts.
And yet, penultimate track “Lira” actually does feel like a natural progression of the group’s own sound, one which extends the dynamic, drama-infused instrumental work from their earliest releases in an even more cinematic (there’s that word again!) direction, while still maintaining an impressive amount of heaviness to boot.
Ultimately, and I know this might be controversial, especially in light of some of the much more (some might say excessively) positive takes I’ve seen elsewhere, to my mind Migration really does feel like a transitional piece of work, one that will likely make more sense in hindsight, but which right now feels a little incomplete.
But while that undoubtedly makes for a slightly frustrating listening experience – especially considering we don’t know how long we might have to wait to hear an entire album in the vein of “Unberth” – it’s also a frequently fascinating one, where you can occasionally catch a glimpse of the band’s next incarnation struggling to break out of the husk of its old self.
And who doesn’t want to stick around and see how that turns out?
URNE – SERPENT & SPIRIT
One thing I’ve had to chuckle about, while reading all the feedback surrounding the release of Serpent & Spirit, is what great lengths people will go to in order to avoid mentioning that word.
But, let’s face it, for every one person out there contorting their brains into unwieldy shapes to call this record “Stoner-Thrash” or “Prog-Sludge”, or whatever else they can come up with to avoid speaking its name, there’s going to be ten more who take a listen to this and go “oh yeah, that’s some tasty sounding Metalcore”.
Because that’s what it is, and there’s no shame in that.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely both a Thrashy and a Sludgy aspect to the band’s sound, which shouldn’t be surprising really, considering that two of the band’s members also served time in both Chapters and Hang the Bastard, but there’s no denying that Serpent & Spirit definitely errs more towards the former than the latter.
And while this might disappoint some people, the fact is that Urne have clearly put a lot of work into this promising, albeit flawed, debut in an effort to remind people that “Metalcore” isn’t a dirty word… especially not the way they do it.
At its strongest – such as during the chuggy grooves and chiming melodies of “The Palace of Devils and Wolves” or the rifftastic sturm und drang of “Desolate Heart” – the band’s sound eschews the poppy polish and tepid predictability which has, over the last decade or so, come to give this style a bad name, in favour of a rougher, riffier approach reminiscent of Monolith/Dormant Heart era Sylosis (especially the band’s more High On Fire inspired material) and Ascendancy/Shogun period Trivium (with the latter similarity becoming even more prominent/dominant during the majestic, Metallica-esque instrumental strains of “Memorial”).
That being said, Serpent & Spirit isn’t quite all it could be. The clean vocals, for example, come across as quite strained and flat (particularly during the opening title-track and the otherwise excellent “Moon & Sky”), while the second half of the album, especially the generic Stoner swagger of “Envy the Dead” and the moodier, more atmospheric “Memorial: Sing Me to Rest”, almost sounds like the product of an entirely different band altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, the trio’s versatility is impressive – on paper, at least – but in this case it comes at the cost of the album’s overall cohesion and undermines both the momentum and identity which the band had only just begun to establish.
Thankfully, however, they’ve saved their best until last and the proggy Thrash-core of “A Tomb So Frail” not only ends the record on a real high note (more like this please) but also showcases just what they’re capable of (and what they’ll hopefully be capable of even more of in the future) when all their elements and influences are aligned just right.