This edition of short reviews take in some very interesting stuff, including one of my favourite releases of the year (which is it? Read on to find out!). It also features a split that, though I find it flawed musically, I can’t help but want to emphasise how much I love it for what it tries to do, and how important it will be to some people. There’s a real mix of the underground and bigger names, with three of the six releases being put out without label support.
So, this month, we have melodic punk; crusty powerviolence; not-actually-war-metal; noise rock; thrash/heavy metal; goth-laced metal that all-but resurrects the spirit of Sister; and blissful blackgaze. Enjoy!
Waxjaw / Sap – Split
A split between self-described Queercore band Waxjaw and anarcho-punks SAP, this tape is a study in contrasting styles – and not just between the two bands. Waxjaw’s brand of punk makes use of both melody and raw edges, with hard rocking cathartic moments sat alongside more “jangly” sections. It’s a little reminiscent of the likes of Hot Water Music crossed with 90’s indie-emo, with a nakedly emotional edge and lyrics about queer identity, mental illness, and surviving sexual assault. The only down-side is the vocals on first song ‘Maddy and Me’; when both vocalists sing together, the result ends up sounding rather off-key. But, other than this, it’s hard to find fault – if you can relate to the lyrics, then this is music that could practically save your life, and I can’t help but love it.
SAP’s side is a much heavier proposition, with elements of powerviolence, 80’s anarcho-punk, and crust all thrown in to the mix. The songs are presented as a single, continous stream, which works to their benefit. The result is that they feel like a non-stop barrage of righteous rage, the kind that makes you want to dance and excise your demons through whatever means necessary. It’s raw both musically and emotionally – as with Waxjaw’s side, there’s a sense of emotional bloodletting and catharsis throughout. It’s all very DIY, very underground, and pretty damn great.
Prophets of the Apocalypse – War Metal
Know what’s confusing? When your album of one genre shares a title with a different genre of metal. War Metal, the debut EP from one-man band Prophets of the Apocalypse, isn’t a war metal record at all. Instead, it’s classic thrash through-and-through, touching upon those points where thrash, speed, and American power metal all coalesce in to one sound. It’s a bit rough-and-ready, and clearly the work of someone whose primary instrument is the guitar, and this works to the EP’s advantage and disadvantage. Killer leads and solos abound, and there’s some very strong riffs too, fairly high in the mix; sometimes at the expense of other instruments, and some of the song-writing could do with a bit of editing, especially on the almost eight minutes of ‘Storm the Gates’. But there’s a charmingly raw energy about War Metal that makes it almost impossible to dislike, and makes it overcome whatever flaws it has.
War Metal is available on CD direct from the band.
Årabrot – Who Do You Love
Label: Pelagic Records
If you’re like me, then you’ve possibly been put off checking out Arabrot before because of the size of their discography, and a lack of relatively accessible entry points. But don’t let this put you off Who Do You Love; in fact, the album should represent a perfect opportunity to become familiar with the noise rock band. This is noise rock as possessed by the almost religious fervor of Killing Joke, or the world-ending apocalyptic love of later-day Swans. Who Do You Love was recorded in a former church, and this is one of those rare albums where such an unusual recording environment has had a noticeable effect on the results.
And when I say that it’s noticeable, I mean that Who Do You Love sounds like the foretelling of some grand event; the kind of music that is at once intensely personal and universal, its repetitive noise rock structure creating a feeling of ritual and worship. Yet it is never in service of a higher power, save that of love and life itself. This is music for confronting your deepest, most personal fears, for finding catharsis in the realisation that we are ultimately all the same, tapping into a universal realisation. Filled with friction and tension, Who Do You Love may not be a sonically easy record to listen to; but its spirit ensures that it is utterly captivating and revelatory.
Osmium Guillotine – A Million To One
Just look at that artwork! One look at it, and any seasoned metal fan will know what to expect from Osmium Guillotine: heavy/thrash metal, torn right from the 80’s, that revels in the excesses and inherent absurdity of the genre. That’s what A Million to One delivers, but with a few unexpected twists.
For one, the album opens with its longest track. The opening title track is an eleven-minute would-be epic, that has more than a hint of Maiden’s Powerslave to it. Yet it never reaches the heights it is striving for, making it a weak opener. Things get better from there though, with songs like ‘Slay the Guillotar’ and Motorhead tribute ‘He Played Rock ‘n’ Roll’ being delightful blasts of metal energy – albeit ones that are a little raw. ‘Metal Man’ is a relatively decent attempt at a ballad similar to Strange World or Remember Tomorrow, and therein lies the problem. A Million to One is an album that shows promise, but it’s in need of some editing, and for Osmium Guillotine to put across more of their own identity. Too many of the best riffs are so clearly lifted from the likes of Maiden and Priest that the temptation to just listen to those bands instead is hard to resist.
Idle Hands – Don’t Waste Your Time
Sister by In Solitude was an album that, in some corners of the underground, left quite a mark, and that the band split seems to be mourned more and more with each passing year. Yet, in Idle Hands, our prayers for a successor of comparable quality may have been answered. Though relatively short, Don’t Waste Your Time is an EP filled with the splendor of gothic heavy metal, tapping into the same sort of Sisters of Mercy-meets-Judas Priest formula that Sister did.
For the uninitiated, what does this mean? It means that Don’t Waste Your Time is a record laced with melancholy and melody in equal measure, with the brooding darkness and catchy hooks of 80’s goth rock complimenting perfectly the sheer joy of classic heavy metal. It may sound like a contradictory pairing on paper, but one listen to songs such as ‘Can You Hear the Rain’ or ‘I Feel Nothing’ will win you over. This is very exciting, and I can’t wait for Idle Hands to put out a full length. This may be my favourite EP of the year.
An Autumn for Crippled Children – The Light of September
Label: Consouling Sounds
An Autumn for Crippled Children have been playing post-black metal/blackgaze for longer than the term has existed – with first album, Lost, being released a year before Deafheaven’s Roads to Judah emerged – yet they’ve never really got the same kind of attention as many of their peers. If that doesn’t change with The Light of September, it’s no fault of the music. An Autumn for Crippled Children have long embraced the idea of blackgaze as “pretty” music, and that’s clear throughout The Light of September, with the album containing gorgeous shoegaze atmospheres, post-punk tension, and blissful melodies.
Each song is concise – the longest only just breaks the five minute mark – making the songs feel more like post-punk or shoegaze songs topped with black metal shrieks than actual blackgaze. Due to these relatively short lengths, you don’t get the same kind of emotional build-ups as you do with, say, Deafheaven or Bosse-de-Nage (Further Still exempted). Instead, The Light of September throws the listener straight into blissful pools of light, full of hope and the promise of salvation, to the extent that the shrieked vocals are the weakest part of the album, such is the extent to which they contrast with the music. Fans of previous albums will be delighted, as this sees the band continue to build upon the sound they have already established, and anyone who appreciated the hopeful yet melancholic nature of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love will always want to spend time with The Light of September.