(Andy Synn continues his desperate attempt to cover everything he missed last year)
One thing I’ve been trying to get across with these “Unsung Heroes” posts is just how varied and versatile “the scene” is.
Case in point, today we’ve got a triptych of grungy, melodic grooves (Blind Tendril), blast-driven brutality (Carthage), and angst-ridden artistry (Dreamwell), which should provide something for a wide variety of tastes… and maybe even tempt some of you to experiment with something you wouldn’t usually listen to.
Who knows? All I can do is put the music in front of you. Whether you give it a chance or not is entirely your choice!
BLIND TENDRIL – α
Blind Tendril were a late entry to my yearly listening slate (since α only came out on 05 November) but the Greek/UK quartet were a more than worthy addition, as their debut album has a lot to recommend it.
That being said, it’s also “a lot” in another way… in that it’s 72(!) minutes long, and back-loads several of its biggest (and not necessarily best) tracks at the end of the album, making it a bit of a slog to get through the whole thing (and I have nothing against long albums, per se, it’s just that this is definitely one case where less would be more).
Still, we prefer to accentuate the positive here at NCS, and while α would have benefited greatly from the band being more willing to self-edit (a common issue with many first-time full-lengths), it’s still a strong, albeit flawed, first offering from a band with a lot of talent and potential.
With a sound indebted to both the Stoner Rock grooves of Kyuss and the grungy grandeur of Soundgarden – as well as the hooky melodic proggery of latter-day Mastodon – there’s no denying how compellingly catchy tracks like “Dead Tree” and “Genetic Freaks” (two of the album’s early highlights) are, with the band’s penchant for big riffs and vibrant vocals combining to produce both an instant impact and a long-lasting effect not dissimilar to the dearly-departed, and highly-underrated, Fall of the Leafe.
Of course, at this early stage in their career the group still tend to wear their influences a little too blatantly at times – both “Idiotsyncracy” and “Νόστος”, while damn good tracks, strongly recall Life of Agony‘s grungier period circa Soul Searching Sun, while “Hanging By a Thread” gives off some major Therapy vibes, and “Σώμα” owes far too much to Tool – but there’s no denying that the band are good at what they do.
Sure, a few key cuts would arguably improve things immensely – lose “Hanging…”, “Brace”, “Σώμα”, and maybe even “Death-Washed”, and you’d be left with a really strong 45 minutes of music, which would also allow the album’s two longest cuts, “Down Below” and closer “The Machine” to stand out even more – but this is still a good, occasionally great, first step from Blind Tendril, and one which will hopefully lead to bigger, better things in the future!
CARTHAGE – SICILIAN WARS
Of the three artists featured here, Carthage are the only one we’ve written about before, back when yours truly reviewed their debut album, Punic War! in October of 2018.
And while it’s been a little while since the band’s first salvo, they’ve clearly spent the intervening years training and preparing for the next stage of their campaign, Sicilian Wars, which is arguably even heavier and even more aggressive than their debut.
Of course, the fundamentals of the band’s sound – rapid-fire riffs and bone-rattling bass-lines, barbarous blastbeats and bestial growls – haven’t changed, but whereas their first album had more of an Hour of Penance/Hate Eternal feel (with perhaps just a dash of Deathcore-ish flair thrown in now and then), their second release has much more of a Defeated Sanity/Dying Fetus vibe, eschewing what little polish the band’s sound previously possessed in favour of an even more brutal and jagged-edged assault on the senses.
I’ll grant you, the overall lack of melody (there was precious little of it to be found on their previous material, and even less here – with the discomfortingly dissonant title-track being perhaps the outstanding exception in this regard) makes for a somewhat unrelenting experience – which can be both a good thing and a bad thing – but by keeping things short, and by doing their best to make sure the songs stand out from one another (even if they’re not always 100% successful) the Carthage crew are careful to play to their strengths.
But, let’s face it, if you’re into this kind of music – whether listening to it or making it – then you’re probably not into it because of its subtle nuances. No, you’re here for the kind of blasting brutality and arthritis-inducing riffs you only get in songs like “Battle of Himera” and “Tauronemium”. You’re hungry for the lurching rhythms, gurgling gutturals and nerve-jangling bass work of tracks such as “Himera in Ashes” and “Abacaenum”. And if that’s what you’re after then, trust me on this, Sicilians Wars most definitely delivers.
DREAMWELL – MODERN GROTESQUE
Emo. Screamo. Post-Hardcore. Whatever I call this, chances are it’s going to alienate some of our readers.
But, then again, maybe I’m selling them short. After all, history has shown that our audience is often a lot more open-minded than I give them credit for (what can I say, I’m a cynic), and have proven themselves more than willing to look beyond the genre tags and judge each band based on the quality of their music, not their genre.
Either way, those who do take the time to dig into this one will find one exceptionally good album (there’s a reason it snuck its way onto my “Great list, after all) that doesn’t so much wear its heart out on its sleeve as it does thrust it, raw and bloody and dripping with wounded emotion, right into your face.
Capturing the seething tension between melancholy melody and anxiety-inducing intensity, and capable of switching from delicate to discordant at the drop of a hat, it’s a wild ride, make no mistake, but not a reckless one, as the band are clearly always in full control of their faculties, even as they balance on a knife-edge between catharsis and collapse, and it never feels like they’re just throwing ideas at the wall.
Rather, every song, every element – from the ethereal energy and artful guitar work of “Painting Myself A Darker Day” and the punchy riffs and proggy rhythms of the Envy-ish”Sayaka” (potentially a song-of-the-year candidate, to my ears), to the creative clash of angst and introspection that is “You Dreamt of Me. I Dreamt of a Mountain of Salt” or the sublime, subtly Svalbard-esque title-track – has its own particular place and purpose in the greater whole, resulting in an album which is, to use a hoary old cliché, far more than just the sum of its parts.
So if you’re looking for an album which manages to be both compelling and cathartic, one which both challenges your expectations while simultaneously tugging at your heartstrings (the lyrics in particular are both bruisingly, brutally honest and poignantly, painfully poetic) then give this one a chance. I doubt you’ll regret it.