(Andy Synn once again turns his attention to a trilogy of new albums from the UK)
It’s kind of weird being part of the UK Metal scene… but also somewhat apart from the UK Metal scene.
On the one hand, it means I don’t always get to know what’s going on, who’s popular, or which artists/albums I should be covering.
On the other… it’s also kind of freeing precisely because means there’s no one telling me who or what I should be writing about (for whatever reason) and no pressure to try and fit in with the crowd.
So while today’s edition of “The Best of British” covers a good mix of styles – Sludge, Hardcore, Death Metal – and runs the gamut from the relatively unknown to “the next big thing”, the truth is that, as much as I like to think I have a positive impact, these articles aren’t really written for “the scene”. Or even for the bands themselves.
No, they’re written for our readers, first and foremost. Because there’s a lot of really good Metal coming out of the UK these days, and I don’t want them to miss it!
KUROKUMA – BORN OF OBSIDIAN
I feel like there’s an obvious joke to be made about the fact that it’s taken slow-burning sludge-mongers Kurokuma almost six years since their debut EP to record and release their first full-length album, but I’m better than that (no, really, I am, I promise) and so have decided instead to take the high road and simply state that Born of Obsidian was certainly worth the wait.
Comprising five blackened and bleeding slabs of psychedelic Sludge Doom – all humongous riffs, heaving bass lines, and brutish, blood-curdling vocals – this is a record which is as morbidly hypnotic as it is monstrously heavy, where each and every track is positively dripping with enough sinister, mind-bending menace and haunting, hallucinogenic melody to stun a full-grown elephant.
The closest comparison I can make is with German Black/Doom duo Hexer – with whom Kurokuma also share a bit of an obsession with ancient Aztec rituals and mythology, as well as a healthy love of all things filthy and fuzz-soaked – as it really feels like the UK trio have developed a pretty unique take on things with this album, quite probably due to the fact that they really took their time getting here!
This is just as obvious, to me at least, during the gargantuan guitars and grimy grooves of epic, eight-and-a-half minute opener “Smoking Mirror” as it is during the shorter and more scorching strains of “Sacrifice to Huitzilopochtli”, which together demonstrate the band’s willingness to go to whatever extremes necessary to achieve their uniquely psychotropic vision, while the primal percussive patterns and ritualistic rhythms of “Jaguar” showcase just how moody and mesmerising the band’s music can be when it’s given room to breathe.
The group arguably save the best for last, however, with the climactic pairing of “Ololiuqui” and “Under the Fifth Sun” – the former a lumbering behemoth of grim, grinding riffs and booming, bowel-loosening bass-lines, the latter an eerie, anxiety-inducing dose of rippling drum work and prowling, proggy guitars, all topped off with some truly anguished ululations and abrasive vocalisations – which together bring the album to a suffocatingly dense, dizzyingly intense, close that immediately makes you want to listen to the whole thing over again.
TORCHBEARER – SOLACE
As the site’s “go to” guy for all things Hardcore (or Hardcore-related) it’s always a pleasure to encounter a new band who mean what they say, and say what they mean, and have the chops to back it up.
Case in point, the debut album from London Metallic Hardcore crew Torchbearer – think a chunkier, more metallic version of Shai Hulud blended with a bit of Every Time I Die at their punkiest and punchiest – is positively overflowing with both passion and conviction, and while the band definitely aren’t reinventing the wheel they’re still putting a damn good spin on it all the same.
It certainly helps that the quintet aren’t just trying to copy their influences wholesale but have clearly poured a lot of themselves and their experiences – the personal is political, and vice versa, after all – into each and every song, whether that’s the title-track’s angry meditation on loss, the searing condemnation of police brutality of “Never Forgive”, or the punishing parable about the perils of addiction that is “Dopesick”.
Of course, a good message is one thing, but it’s just as important that the music be just as good, if not better because – let’s face it – a lot of people (though the ratio is probably a bit more positive on the Hardcore end of the spectrum) don’t really pay that much attention to a song’s lyrics.
Thankfully songs like “Frostbite” and “All Out Warfare” hit hard, hit fast, and plant their hooks deep the first time you hear them, delivering a short, sharp shot of biting riffs, bombastic melodies, and brutish chugs, all topped off with an attention-grabbing mix of barking belligerence and snarling spite (plus the odd punky, clean chorus).
Sure, certain tracks are a little stronger than others – the aforementioned “Frostbite” and back-to-back blinders “Never Forgive” and “Dopesick” are honest-to-god anthems, while both the punk-tastic “Wolves & Sheep” and the uber-aggressive “4 Walls” provide a pair of prodigious late-album highlights – but there’s honestly not a weak song to be found on Solace.
VENOM PRISON – EREBOS
We’ve been fans of Venom Prison here at NCS since (almost) the beginning and have watched their rapid ascent from the minor to the major leagues (this being their first album on Century Media) with avid interest over the last few years.
But doesn’t mean we’re about to start going easy on them just because they’ve “made it” (whatever that means these days), as while there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Erebos is going to be the band’s biggest and most successful album yet – presenting as it does a more streamlined, and dare I say more accessible, version of their sound which in places recalls the the similar sonic shift which Carcass made on Heartwork – it’s definitely not perfect, and to pretend otherwise would be a disservice to everyone involved.
Most of the (thankfully relatively minor) issues come in the first half of the album, as while these five tracks generally comprise the more overtly “crowd-pleasing” material (unsurprisingly all three pre-release singles were drawn from this group of songs), certain elements – such as the oddly flat and affectless clean vocals in the otherwise solid “Judges of the Underworld”, or the ill-fitting finale of “Comfort of Complicity” (which almost sounds like it’s from a different song altogether) – occasionally feel a little forced to my ears.
That’s not to say this half of the album is bad by any means – personally I’m a big fan of both the massive, aggressive hooks of “Nemesis” and the unexpectedly moody and melodic curve-ball that is “Pain of Oizys” (which showcases a very different, and extremely intriguing, side of the band) – it’s just not always great.
By contrast, however, the second half of the record serves as a showcase for what is arguably the very best work of the band’s career, successfully marrying their more melodic ambitions and sharpened songwriting skills to some of the heaviest, hookiest, and downright nastiest riffs they’ve ever written, and I’d go so far as to say that there’s not not a single skippable moment between the start of “Golden Apples of the Hesperides” and the grand finale of epic closer “Technologies of Death” (arguably the album’s finest moment).
I could say more of course – such as how the unexpectedly effective, yet cleverly understated, use of synths/electronics in the album’s second half adds a whole new dimension to the band’s already rich fusion of Tech, Death, Thrash, and Hardcore – but I want to leave at least a few surprises for anyone I’ve managed to convince to pick up a copy of Erebos when it’s released this Friday.
Still, let me make one thing perfectly clear. While this album certainly has its flaws – and anyone claiming otherwise is either deaf or being disingenuous – it still represents a giant leap for one of the shining stars of the UK Metal scene, a band who clearly haven’t forgotten where they came from, but also won’t let anyone else tell them who they are or who they’re supposed to be.