(Andy Synn would like to remind you that while his country may be regressing, their music scene definitely isn’t)
In case you haven’t been keeping up with the news, the good ol’ UK is currently, well… fucked… especially when it comes to international relations and trade with other countries.
Thankfully, however, our homegrown music scene is as strong as it’s ever been, which is why I’m here today to recommend three recent releases which are well worth importing into your ears.
And I won’t even charge you anything for the privilege.
LVCIFYRE – THE BROKEN SEAL
Reliability, it seems, can be something of a dirty word, especially in a music scene which purports (or, at least, pretends) to value progression and innovation so highly.
But when a band like Lvcifyre has been cleanly and consistently hitting it out of the park, EP after EP, album after album, year after year, then you start to see that reliability is no bad thing.
If you’re familiar with the group’s previous work at all then you probably won’t be surprised to hear that The Broken Seal is another nine tracks of filthy Black/Death fury in the veins of bands such as Teitanblood, Angelcorpse, Azarath, etc, which, nevertheless, find Lvcifyre biting and clawing and scratching their way to the head of the pack in a way that quickly makes them stand out from other, similar blackened filthmongers.
Maybe it’s the extra edge of discordance present in every twisted, Morbid Angel-esque riff or gnarly, neck-snapping rhythmic contortion – just enough to coat the blade, not enough to blunt its impact – or the unexpectedly effective melodic touches woven into tracks like “Black Beneath the Sun” and “Wolves of the Great Dark” (two of the album’s many stand-outs), or perhaps it’s the surprisingly clear and crushing (albeit still nicely dense and dirty in all the right places) production which allows each instrument a chance to find its own place, and its own space, in the overall mix, in order to maximise the album’s aggressive impact and sonic intensity.
Whatever it is, there’s no denying that The Broken Seal has it – that special spark, that inner fire, whatever you want to call it – with the result being that, for an album clearly fuelled by hatred, there’s honestly an almost obscene amount to love here, from the gruesome, gut-wrenching riffage to the screaming solos, from the severed-jugular vocals to the all-out spectacular drumming.
Not only that, but for a band whose modus operandi appears to be “take no prisoners, show no mercy” there’s a surprising amount of nuance and, dare I say it, hooky songwriting bubbling away underneath the surface, especially on tracks like “Headless Rite” and “The First Archon”, which successfully hit that sweet spot between the sheer intensity of Hate Eternal and the sinister melody of Sulphur Aeon.
Closing with the occult gloom and gargantuan riffage of “Black Mass”, it has to be said that The Broken Seal is more than just another “reliable” entry in the band’s already blistering back-catalogue, it’s the sound of the group ascending (or should that be descending) a whole new level (of hell).
MASTIFF – LEAVE ME THE ASHES OF THE EARTH
Now, we all know that first impressions are important, so if this is your first encounter with UK Sludge-core sadists Mastiff all I can say is… hold onto your fillings, it’s about to get a bit lairy.
That being said, when I first got a chance to spin Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth, the band’s highly anticipated and eagerly awaited follow-up to 2019’s absolutely crushing Plague (which I also wrote about) my initial reaction was… well, let’s go with “nonplussed”.
Mostly because as good as songs like dramatic, doom-laden opener “The Hiss” and the chunky, chug-driven “Repulse” (not to mention the brutish, balls-to-the-wall grind ‘n’ groove assault of “Fail” and Midnight Creeper”) actually were, they didn’t really seem like that much of a step up from what the band had done before.
But this impression was quickly dashed, smashed, and kerb-stomped into oblivion the second I heard “Beige Sabbath”, because this is the moment, as they say, that “business finally picked up”.
There’s just something about this one – maybe it’s an extra dose of electricity (though perhaps “anxiety” might be an even better word, because the song’s intensity is absolutely panic-inducing) or maybe it’s the blunt-force focus of the songwriting, which locks the frenetic frenzy of the band’s grindier inclinations into an even more logical and lethal attack pattern – that makes it feel like a bigger deal than the four tracks which came before it.
Similarly “Futile” finds the band sounding bigger and more brutish than ever before – while I name-checked Nails, Nasum, and Napalm Death on Plague, there’s just as much Crowbar, Coffins, and Celtic Frost here too – while the twin-headed sonic terrorism of “Endless” and “Scalped” deliver the same sort of Doom-meets-Death-meets-Hardcore heaviness which made the most recent Xibalba such a monster, demonstrating that by speeding up some parts, and drastically slowing down others, the Hull heavyweights have successfully captured an even more extreme (and extremely dynamic) version of their signature sound.
Concluding with the absolutely humongous “Lung Rust”, which sees the band embracing their doomier side more than ever before (yes, even more than on “Black Breath”) and, in the process, quite possibly producing the song of their career, …Ashes of the Earth delivers an ending which more than puts to rest any of the early doubts I had about whether Mastiff were going to be able to improve on their previous releases. They most definitely have. And we are all in a lot of trouble…
SUGAR HORSE – THE LIVE LONG AFTER
I know there are some people – heck, maybe you’re one of them – who find the use of comparisons, the very idea of comparing one band to another in a review to be, at best, a little distasteful and, at worst, downright disgusting.
But sometimes it’s unavoidable (I didn’t intend to use any at all in the previous review, and look what happened there) because they can be a very useful tool to put people in the right sort of headspace regarding what to expect from, and how to get a read on, an album they’ve not yet heard.
Of course they can also set up false expectations that can ruin a listener’s enjoyment too… so, knowing that I’m very conscious of what can happen please understand that when I say that, at its very best, the music of Sugar Horse – equal parts Sludge and Shoegaze, Pop-Rock and Post-Metal – sounds like the hybrid offspring of early Biffy Clyro and latter-day Amenra I know that’s setting a very high bar.
It’s not, however, an unreachable one, especially when tracks like “Shouting Judas At Bob Dylan” (five majestic minutes of rippling rhythms, rumbling distortion and haunting melodic minimalism) and “Fat Dracula” (all supple, sinuous bass-lines and sharp, snappy percussion) showcase just how seamlessly the band blend hooks and heaviness, proggy intricacy and poppy immediacy, into such a thrillingly cohesive whole.
Not that I’m saying that The Live Long After is a perfect album by any means – it’s probably, truth be told, a little too long for its own good, and the pacing in the middle also feels a little off (there’s enough space for either the dreamlike “Phil Spector in Hell” or the more dynamic title-track, but not both, in my opinion) – but when it all comes together you get the sense that there’s almost no limit to how far these guys could go.
“Terrible Things Are Happening As We Speak”, for example, is a sublime six-minute study in introspection and subdued intensity, whose calmest, quietest moments help ensure that it really earns its heaviness when it finally comes, while “The Great British Death Cult” manages to be both nerve-jangling and life-affirming in equal measure, the interweaving of mangled riffs and moody melodies, snarling shrieks and crooning cleans, somehow managing to find a sliver of hope amidst the horror of our everyday apocalypse.
Ultimately, as the album’s opening and closing tracks – “I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…”, “…A Las Vegas Showgirl” – collectively (and effectively) communicate, Sugar Horse are already ready to be headliners, at least in their own minds, and with music like this (the finale in particular is an absolute monolith of a song) I don’t think it will be long at all until we get to see them taking top billing on bigger and better stages.