(Andy Synn brings us three more examples of British brilliance)
It feels like absolutely ages since I’ve written one of these columns, but – after double-checking – it turns out I actually did do one just last month.
For some reason my sense of time has been all out of whack this year, to the point where the days either feel like they’re rushing by (meaning I simply don’t have time to write about all the things I want to) or else have been slowed to a mind-numbing crawl (meaning the wait for new releases seems interminable).
My terrible time-keeping, therefore, is ultimately what’s to blame for this particular edition of “The Best of British” covering such a wide spread, as one of the album’s featured here has been out for almost a full month, the other was released a few weeks ago, and the third isn’t out until Friday, making for a mixed-bag of older, newer, and unreleased records for you to wrap your ears around.
Thankfully one thing that isn’t mixed is the quality, as each of these albums represents the very best work yet by each of the three bands in question. So let’s start the show, shall we?
HELPLESS – CAGED IN GOLD
When is a Grindcore band not a Grindcore band? When it’s Helpless!
Ok, that bit needs some work, I’ll admit, but the still stands, as while Helpless are most definitely a Grind band at their core, they’re not just a Grind band, and their new album isn’t shy about letting you know that.
This is made immediately apparent when “Wraiths of Memory” kicks in, as while the track is as short, sharp, and savage as anything else you might care to name (even it its just under two-and-a-half minute length makes it something of an “epic” by Grind standards), there’s also much more than meets the eye – or ear – going on, as the band unveil both a much more “blackened” side to their sound, reminiscent of early Anaal Nathrakh in its sheer, abrasive intensity, and a love of lurching, Death-Doom riffs and rhythms that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Asphyx album.
And if certain other tracks (“The Empty Gesture”, “Time Worship”, “Unseen Servant”) seem to err a little more towards “pure” Grind… at least at first… it usually doesn’t take much more than a quick scratch beneath the surface to reveal that there’s a lot more going on, whether that’s a bevy of unexpectedly hooky moments, or an array of eerie atmospheric interjections, or a series of pulsing passages of sinister, bass-driven swagger.
In fact, with that latter point in mind, you’ll likely be surprised by just how hard this album grooves at times, and just how dark it goes when it does, with the band’s doomier and more morbidly melodic proclivities taking centre-stage during tracks like “Single File” and absolutely crushing closer “The Great Silence”.
There are also quite a few other surprises to be found throughout this album, from massive moments of pure Death Metal riffage to sudden eruptions of Mathcore-esque chaos, but I think it’s best at this point to leave them to your imagination.
What I will say, however, is that right now it feels as though Helpless are on the cusp of making the same sort of transition which Wake made on-or-around Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow, or Full of Hell just prior to Trumpeting Ecstasy, having pretty much exhausted the possibilities of what can be achieved in their particular corner of the Grind-scene.
But that’s not a bad thing, as the terrible trio (guitarist Dan Couch now joined by Simon Walker on bass and Sam Trenchard on drums) have more than proved that they’re not willing to be caged – whether by gold or by genre-boundaries – so wherever they end up going next with their sound you can be sure I’ll be following them.
SIDIOUS – BLACKEST INSURRECTION
Sidious are one of those bands who, almost by accident, I’ve written about quite a few times now.
As such, I’ve got a pretty good handle on how they’ve developed as a band over the years, and while I wasn’t entirely blown-away by their previous album, Temporal, I do recall being impressed by their decision to strip-down down their sound and move away from the bombastic symphonic bluster of their earlier material in favour of a much more refined, riff-centric approach which helped give their music more body and bite, without sacrificing their more “epic” inclinations in the process.
And, as luck would have it, the band have continued down this pitch-black path on their third album, Blackest Insurrection, which finds them delivering an even more focussed and fearsome blend of riffs and wrath that kicks off with the torrential blasting and tortured melodic riffage of the title-track and then doesn’t let up or miss a step until the final notes of fantastic closer “Jewel of the Hadean Crown”.
Of course, while that’s all well and good in its own way (who doesn’t love an album of unrelenting blastbeats, I ask you?) Sidious are smart enough to know that a little bit of dynamic goes a long way, and have been careful to ensure that each of these seven tracks has something different to offer the listener, thus making Blackest Insurrection a more rhythmically and dynamically varied album than its predecessor… and all the better for it.
“Blood-Soaked Mist”, for example, is four minutes and forty-six seconds of grim grooves and hellacious hooks, while “Hailing Shards of Agony” pursues an altogether darker and doomier agenda, interspersed with eruptions of churning blastbeats and chattering riffage.
Mid-album highlight “Thy Palace Yond the Threshold” quickly distinguishes itself with some seriously infectious stop-start rhythms, cruelly catchy riffs, and impressively agile bass work, all wrapped around a brilliantly atmospheric mid-section, after which the magisterial “Thousandfold Will” stomps and swaggers with arrogant, imperious authority (especially vocally) and serves as another of the record’s major highlights.
As you may have guessed by now then, this is an album that actively gets better as it goes on, and thus the band arguably save the best for last, first hitting you with the moody, melodic menace of “To Know My Kingdom” and then sealing the deal with the… ahem… absolute gem that is “Jewel in the Hadean Crown”, which is arguably the most impressive, immersive, and ambitious track the group have ever put together, comprising layer upon layer of both subtle nuance and stunning power.
Quite simply, if you’re even vaguely a fan of Black Metal then you should give this album a listen ASAP.
TUSKAR – MATRIARCH
Tuskar may only be a duo, but there’s no denying the absolutely gigantic waves of sound they kick out on Matriarch, the pair’s long-awaited debut album (which follows on from a series of increasingly impressive and ambitious EPs).
As humongous as some of these riffs are, however, the gruesome twosome (Tom Dimmock – guitars, Tyler Hodges – vocals/drums) aren’t afraid to make you wait for the pay-off, as the outrageous opening title-track demonstrates, letting the listener sit and simmer in several minutes of slowly-building, slow-burn atmosphere before dropping the hammer… only to then pull the rug out from under you in order to hit you with a second, even heavier wave of suffocatingly sludgy riffage a few minutes later.
And it’s a testament to the pair’s keen sense of balance and build-up that – if you’re anything like me – not only will you be more than willing to wait for that promised moment of pure sonic gratification but you’ll actively end up asking them “please, can I have some more?” long before that second wave hits and knocks you flat.
It’s to the band’s credit though that they don’t just rely on this same trick to keep their audience engaged and, instead, elect to vary their approach a fair bit over the course of the album, from the twisty-turny, Mastodon-esque riffage that drives the upbeat “To the Sky”, or the moody, bluesy instrumental strains of “The Trees, The Trees, The Trees”, to the absolutely thunderous sturm und drang of colossal closer “Grave”.
The duo are always careful, however, to maintain certain threads of continuity – the strangled howl of the vocals, the dynamic juxtaposition of proggy melody and gargantuan, groove-laden riffs – between each song, which is what enables tracks like the raucous, propulsive “Into the Sea” and the sullen, lurching “Shame” to sit so neatly next to one another without anyone batting an eyelid.
I’ll grant you, what Tuskar have created here might not be 100% original – you can still see the shapes and outlines where they’ve incorporated some of their most obvious/prominent influences, for example – but they’ve definitely stamped their own sense of identity, their own sonic brand on it, all the same. And, really, what more could you ask for them than that?