Review catchup Darkthrone, Odessa, Sons of Aeon, Hanging Garden, The Omega Experiment, Hatchet, Wolvespirit

You’ve heard all the excuses. All my kids got sick – one at a time – then I caught the lurgy. A few weeks of sinusitis where I was practically deaf, followed then by a week of (real) flu, then a holiday in Wales – has led to something of a backlog (and a convoluted sentence). I’m back now though and raring to go.

Time to face the backlog, some of which I’d heard before all the drama above, some I’ve just had a chance of listening to. But finally I get to tell you what I think of these records that have been piling up here. So without further ado, let’s have at it.

Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance
The duo of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto return for another batch of crusty old metal and punk, though the focus is much more on metal for this Darkthrone outing. There’s plenty of variety – from the pure cheese of power metal to much harder deathly offerings. While not the band’s best work there are plenty of moments to enjoy – particularly if you take the view that the Norwegian duo are actually taking the piss, of which there is plenty of evidence on the record.

Odessa – Carry the Weight
It’s metalcore, so obviously not really going to win many friends around these parts. But as metalcore goes it’s competent stuff. Some of Odessa’s riffing is pretty good, though the the bits where the poppy clean vocals come in make me want to hit the band over the head with a breeze-block with the word “cliche” painted on it. Probably a great record if you’re 13.

Sons of Aeon – Sons of Aeon
I should really like this album. After all Sons of Aeon guitarist Wille Naukkarinen name-checks bands such as Entombed, Cathedral, At the Gates and Carcass as influences. But this slab of death metal doesn’t quite work for me. I’m not sure why. There are great riffs aplenty, crunching vocals and drums that sound like they were played by a human. Yet I wasn’t gripped. I enjoyed every minute of listening to this album, but then never felt the need to listen to it again. Sadly. Fabulous album cover though – I’m a sucker for good photos of lighthouses. Anyway, I’ll probably give it another go, so perhaps you should too.

Hanging Garden – At Every Door
Now here we have a great record. Gothic doom merchants Hanging Garden return with a new album that evokes the eighties in a way that Sirenia used to (before they became complete toss). The Mission, Fields of the Nephilim and Sisters of Mercy fans can ditch those smiles and return to evocative, miserable gothic rock that makes you want to paint your bedroom black and kick a Bros fan. All joking aside this is a great album and one for fans of bleaker (though not necessarily heavier) metal, even Paradise Lost fans will find plenty to enjoy here too. One of the better releases I’ve heard recently, go buy it.

The Omega Experiment – The Omega Experiment
And now some progressive rock. Which version? Well the version that means the music is all twiddly. not the version that means this is music that progresses the genre. Clear? Well it’s okay I suppose. Some of the best bits evoke Kevin Moore-era Dream Theater, though it’s a much more ethereal album than those progressive metallers ever put out. The Omega Experiment is competent enough but it has too much of a wiff of a bedroom project about it. And for an album that is so heavily focussed on vocals, the vocals aren’t actually that great. But then you could say the same about Dream Theater. Perhaps this is a record for DT fans missing the band’s early sound, but then you could just listen to Images & Words again. The Omega Experiment is okay, er and that’s it.

Hatchet – Dawn of the End
I’m not sure if Hatchet are sincere or taking the piss, but whatever the case this is a fabulously indulgent homage to eighties Bay Area thrash. Actually that’s too broad. Let’s be clear, this is Hatchet pretending to be 1985 Metallica. There’s nothing subtle about the impersonation, though there are a couple of mistakes – the lead guitarist is actually too good to be Kirk Hammett, and the vocalist is trying way too hard to sound like a drunk James Hetfield. That aside I enjoyed the hell out of this record thanks to some fabulous riffing. If you’re a lover of chunky rhythmic guitar playing then buy this album right now. There is a really horrible misstep at one point when Hatchet think they can get away with ripping off Creeping Death – this really doesn’t work at all well – but otherwise this is a solid, fun, rocking album for fat old metal fans who miss the Metallica that wrote good songs (or lets be honest, had any Dave Mustaine material left to pilfer).

Wolvespirit – Dreamcatcher
Have you ever wondered what a decidedly average Deep Purple covers band would sound like if they had a female Biff Byford impersonator on vocals? Well wait no longer, Germany’s Wolvespirit are here to make your dreams come true. Shite.

A Response to Mumsnet, On Grief

I read a lot of rubbish on the internet. That’s part of my job. I’ve also developed something of a thick skin, I can even read YouTube comments without eating my own knees off.

But sometimes you come across something so idiotic, so fueled by stupidity and hate you have to comment. And in this case it was a Mumsnet thread about someone moving on and finding love again after being bereaved. I don’t know if my response in the thread will remain, so I post it below.

I’ve read some nasty, vindictive, unloving rubbish in my time, but some of the stuff in this thread is unbelievable.

“Men often do this, they are selfish and weak” and the like. How men don’t grieve for long How they can’t possibly look after children for themselves and need someone else to help them. How they need to get someone on the rebound.

Perhaps I am lucky. Lucky that my late wife didn’t have a single friend like some of you. Lucky that her friends were so full of love for her and her children (the twins who were born the day before she died) that they were delighted when I met someone else. Delighted that we are about to celebrate five years of happy marriage with our own gorgeous three year old along with our older twins. Lucky that my late wife’s family also gave their blessing.

Lucky that people understood these things happen. That you can love again. Truly love. Not just get someone on the rebound. Not just cynically find someone to look after your children because men are pathetic weak creatures, so pathetic and weak we need a whole website section about what useless wretches we are.

Perhaps in some of the deepest dungeons of this world there is physical and emotional pain deeper, more savage and destructive than having your beloved torn from you the day after they make your dreams come true. I doubt it. I doubt there is any pain in this universe that I could feel that would ever be worse. I doubt I will ever be free of the echoes of that pain. It will be with me forever.

But for heaven’s sake some of you. You selfish posters who would rather talk about how weak men are than appreciate the love within them.

Pardon me if I met someone when I wasn’t even looking. Pardon me if we genuinely fell in love for the two people were were and not the storm of pain going on around me. Perhaps I should have ran away from that love when it came because the happiness of shallow, selfish, idiotic, no nothing, fake friends who think they are more important that the matters of one’s own heart.

Pardon me if I fulfilled the promise my late wife made me swore, that if anything happened to her I shouldn’t avoid falling in love again. That I should embrace love again if it found me.

Much of this thread is an insult. An insult to my late wife, to me, my wife and to the many of us who have suffered so greatly but found happiness again. I’m sorry we can’t fulfil your wish to be miserable in our pain forever. How very thoughtless of us.

And thank you to many of you kind people in this thread, those who see that people can love again. They can form meaningful and happy relationships even under the strangest and hardest of circumstances. You give me hope for the human race.

I think perhaps my days as a Mumsnet blogger may be numbered.

Cross Purposes

Once again the subject of wearing crosses in the workplace has reared its head again following the government’s decision that there is no automatic right to wear one.On this rare occasion I agree with the government.

The sort of people who get annoyed by this kind of thing have already been getting worked up about it. How can we show we are Christians, they demand of the government, if we can’t wear our execution-based jewelry?

Here of course is the irony. The sort of person who needs a bloody great cross to show that they are a Christian, the sort of person who rants and raves about their rights to wear a cross, needs a heck of a lot more than a piece of jewelry to convince anyone they have anything to do with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Let me put it this way, my late mother needed nothing no personal adornment to show people she was a Christian. She lived in a way, and treated others in a way, that left nothing unclear. She didn’t need to wear a cross. Christians shouldn’t need a cross to demonstrate their faith.

But my real argument in supporting the government decision comes down to our idea of freedom of religious expression. This is a valid human rights issue – and our society allows people to express their religion even when there may be other legal conflicts. For example Sikhs are allowed to ride motorcycles without a helmet. Religious observance is protected by our laws.

But wearing a cross is not a religious observance. It is not a sacrament. There is no Biblical command to wear such an item – in fact one of the main features of Christianity was the removal of ritual, religious costume and the like. Christianity doesn’t require a temple, special magic underwear and the like.

Besides, so many people wear a cross as a jewelry item with no religious relevance to them that little meaning is conveyed to anyone by wearing one. Wearing a cross is at best meaningless, at worst among the militant Christian cross wearing types, a warning to others of what an asshat they are.

I see no reason why workplace rules on the wearing of jewelry should be different for Christians. The wish to wear a cross is not about religious observance. It is about certain types of people proving exactly what kind of man/woman they are, and not quite in the way they imagine.

Omnium Gatherum – Beyond Review

Only February and already the competition for album of the year is already in full swing. Harry has the great pleasure in reviewing the new Omnium Gatherum album Beyond.
Here we are so early in 2013 and already we have what will likely be the best heavy metal album released this year. It was on their fourth album – The Red Shift – where Omnium Gatherum began to break free of their influences and define their own sound. The follow-up – New World Shadows – took that a step further.

New World Shadows was a great album that really showcased the band’s progression but sometimes lacked momentum and cohesion. Don’t get me wrong, New World Shadows was fantastic, but Beyond is even better. The riffs are stronger and more memorable this time around and each song feels like a finished piece of work rather than a collection of brilliant ideas not quite gelling perfectly.

Jukka Pelkonen’s vocal performance is phenomenal. So many death metal vocalists nail aggression, but few manage the pathos and sadness that Jukka achieves. And while on Brave New Shadows the vocals didn’t always fit mood of the song here on Beyond there’s no such problem.

Meanwhile the performances by the rest of the band are just as strong. It’s wonderful in this age of drum replacement and invisible subsonic bass to hear a metal band play with a proper rhythm section. The bass is upfront and present in the mix, defining movement, offering melodies – rather than a subsonic afterthought echoing the guitars. The drumming is equally strong and there’s fabulous atmospheric keyboard work by Aapo Koivisto too.

Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (the best heavy metal album ever recorded) achieved something unique in that Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s guitar solos felt less like solos and more like integral parts of the song storytelling, the logical step in the progress of the song and the conduit to the rest of the track. These were important melodic statements, not mere breaks for the singer while the guitarists show off.

And here on Beyond this all too rare feat of guitar storytelling is achieved by Markus Vanhala and Joonas Koto. Kudos to the duo for tempering flash guitar pyrotechnics with more thoughtful and memorable melodies. It’s a pleasure to hear this beautifully melodic guitar playing on a modern metal album.

And a modern record it is. Beyond boasts a shimmering production that allows every member of the band a chance to shine. I keep saying beautiful, a strange description of heavy metal you might think, but Beyond is genuinely a collection of beautiful melodic songs. The word progressive may get bandied about but Beyond is not really a “prog” record in the modern sense, there are no twiddly meanderings from the beaten path. It is progressive music in the true sense of a band striving to exceed their previous endeavours and create something new – yet most of the songs are relatively simple in structure, deriving their emotion, beauty and brutality from the power of the song-writing, performance and musicianship.

Opening track LuoTo introduces melodic themes that we return to in album’s closer White Palace. Between them we get straight ahead rock tracks like The Unknowing and baroque influenced stomps such as In the Rim. There are catchy tracks like The Sonic Sign, and crushing brooding heavy songs like Nightwalkers. Who Can Say begins as an ethereal track with clean vocals and builds into something very powerful. And White Palace – the final track – gives us ten minutes of perfection that sums up the hard work on the rest of the record. This is an extremely good heavy metal album, and as fine a musical statement as a band could make.

If you love heavy metal you must buy this record.

Omnium Gatherum’s Beyond will be released on February 22nd in Finland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland; February 25th in rest of the Europe and March 5th in North-America via Lifeforce Records.

Cult of Luna – Vertikal Review

Is it post-rock or is it heavy metal? When is a carrot not a carrot? Is the new Cult of Luna album any good. Grumpyrocker Editor Harry answers at least one of these questions. Hopefully not just the one about the carrot.

It’s not really metal, I’ve seen written. It features many of the tropes of metal, but it isn’t metal. But if Cult of Luna’s epic – yes epic – new album Vertikal is not metal then Black Sabbath isn’t metal, and that means there never has been any metal. Suddenly the carrot isn’t a carrot and nothing makes sense.

Sorry. I have a banging headache. Coherence isn’t my strong point this morning. Can we start again? Wait a moment while I find some paracetamol.

Taking direct inspiration from sequences within Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis, Cult of Luna’s Vertikal offers the sprawling, beautiful, haunting soundscape of a dystopian future.

Not that you have to be familiar with Lang’s film to fully appreciate Cult of Luna’s achievement here. The brooding science fiction soundtrack – from moments so minimalistic that we have barely a sound to others of crushing doom riffing and screamed vocals – is an emotional journey of itself.

The synth work often recalls Vangelis’ wonderful Blade Runner soundtrack. But it’s the rhythm section that takes things to the next level. The importance of bass guitar in post-rock/metal can’t be underestimated and the low end rumble’s integration with the percussion gives Vertikal its momentum, preventing the the slower sequences from stopping any progress.

Joined by powerful guitar riffage and those very metal vocals we have an album that at times is quietly beautiful if unsettling and in parts throbbing with classic metal guitar. Cult of Luna’s great achievement in Vertikal is bringing all this work together into a cohesive whole.

The twin punch of I: The Weapon and Vicarious Redemption is one of the finest double acts you’ll find on a modern album. But the album is strong across the board. Like many ambient post-rock/metal albums you’ll find nods to the giants of the genre – Pink Floyd. But Vertikal isn’t a softly softly album, it retains that power and that anger you might expect from Roger Water’s finest moments, not the sleepier elegiac passages of Gilmour/Wright collaborations. Anger isn’t the only emotion featured within. The often brutal picture of the future painted by Vertikal is brought to a more human and emotional end by the final track Passing Through. A fine end to an excellent album.

2013 is already shaping up to be an excellent one for fans of progressive music. Cult of Luna has set the bar very high with Vertikal. The first essential album of the year.