Horrendous – The Chills

The title of the new album from US death metalers Horrendous perfectly sums up the dark sinister content within. The Chills is a lingering invoking essence of blistering dark menace and pit sourced intent that devours and punctures the senses with venom and malice. Most of all it is a rampaging thrill of commanding riffs, insurgent blistering grooves and spiteful intensity to engage and excite any black heart.

Skewered with striking veins of Swedish and US death metal alongside doom essences the release delivers pretty much what you expect from an old school influenced band but Horrendous fuel it with essential rampant grooves and incisive razor sharp guitars. Formed in 2009 the band’s demo was recorded and sold on CD-R through the band’s Myspace page in the same year leading the band to the attention of Dark Descent Records who co-released the demo Sweet Blasphemies with Skeleton Plague Records the following year. With the initial limited amount of 200 copies sold out within a couple of months they made a second pressing, released early 2011 as acclaim and fans grew in a rapid rate. Anticipation for The Chill again released via Dark Descent Records has risen equally and with the constant assault of uncompromising riffs, pummelling rhythms, and darkly coated melodies all appetites will be surely sated. 

Opening track ‘The Womb’ slowly creeps in on a dark ominous trail of guitars and sinister chime like sounds to alert the senses before the track erupts into an onslaught of impetuous galloping riffs and piercing grooves. Spined by a strong deep bassline and ear slicing guitars the guttural spewing of guitarist Damian Herring drip through them with menace and venom from every growled word. Throughout the album the vocals are harsh and at times contrary to the music whilst in others the force thrusting the aural intensity deeper but always they effectively add to the intensity and grab attention.

Each track blisters the ear with intense aggression and caustic energy from the scorching acid of ‘Ripped to Shreds’ through to the ambient heat and malevolent instrumental ‘Sleep Sickness’. The album is solidly varied beneath the aural assault with tracks like the inspired out of control and desperate feeling ‘The Somber (Desolate Winds)’ with its colossal consumption of the senses and the corrosive guitar soaked ‘Fleshrot’ where Herring brings up his bile seeping innards vocally, just two examples of on the surface  similar violations brought forth by diverse creativity.

Two songs stand out to make sure the album is an essential visit, ‘Altars’ and closing track ‘The Eye Of Madness’. The first is an unrelenting determined buffeting of riffs and red hot guitars that incite and ignite limbs and senses alike.  The latter a wonderfully meandering almost experimental track from the band. A nightmarish bedlam of sounds and screams wrapped in hypnotic bass riffs and rhythms the song disturbs and invites in equal measure showing the band have much more to offer than straight forward old school death metal.

The Chills may not be groundbreaking or an album to inspire new directions within others but it and Horrendous certainly brings a raw freshness to the genre and give nine tracks of aural intense pleasure.

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RingMaster 18/12/2011

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Ani DiFranco – ¿Which Side are You On?

Twenty years since her debut album and across as many releases Ani DiFranco hits as powerfully and as accurately with her new album ¿Which Side are You On? as at any time in her long impressive career. Within it political and personal issues and subjects are addressed as always from DiFranco, her incisive vision and views veining what are fine and engaging songs that inspire and provoke without ever preaching. Released once more via her own Righteous Babe Records on January 17th the album is a vibrant thoughtful kaleidoscope of wonderfully crafted and thought out emotive expressions and music.

It has been over three years since previous album Red Letter Year of 2008 graced the world and in the time since DiFranco has found an even more direct and deliberate intent with her music that drives even deeper with a stronger openness though there has never been a moment she has been lacking in that area. A comment about the album from DiFranco herself neatly sums up the feel of the album. “I’m testing deeper waters with the political songs on this album,” she says. “I feel a little bit frustrated, politically desperate. After having written hundreds of songs over decades, I think, ‘Now what? How far can I go with this? Can you sing the word ‘abortion,’ can you sing the word ‘patriarchy’ – what can you sing and get away with? I guess I’ve been pushing my own boundaries of politics and art. Seeing what people have the ears to listen to. How big is my mouth? What can I get out of it successfully?”

The title track seems to be the initial talking point about the album for most though there are many impressive and striking songs and elements within it elsewhere. ‘¿Which Side Are You On?’ is a stunning reworking of a song written in 1931 by Florence Reece, the wife of Harlan County, Kentucky union organizer Sam Reece. It has been covered many times most notably by Pete Seeger in 1967 and here has been revitalised and invigorated by DiFranco’s warm yet challenging interpretation. It is a song that will always be relevant in this world no matter the decade it seems and the rousing call to arms feel here provokes and inspires impressively. The track features Seeger on banjo and additional vocals and is as important now as it was in the times of its origin and around Seeger’s version.

The other eleven songs that make up the album are just as refreshing and successfully emotive and expressive. Opening track ‘Life Boat’ gives a wonderfully open and bare view and awareness from a period of life where innocence, naivety and discomfort go hand in hand. The song is visual inspiring images and evoking memories for all in some degree. Another personal stirring song is ‘If Yr Not’, its reflections and acceptance of the ageing process and the choice to embrace it without fear and negativity relevant again to all.

Political and social issues are treated to and given equal intensity and impactful power. Alongside the title track DiFranco hits deeply with the likes of the arresting ‘Promiscuity’ with its whimsical styled tune countering the non preachy ‘lesson’ of the lyrics, the mesmeric potent poking of government inaction within ‘J’, and in the album’s best track ‘Amendment’. This exceptional song is a slow burner that enters on a beckoning riff as DiFranco unveils her ‘announcement’, a deceptively crunching challenging track it wraps its encouraging arms around to inspire and guides to a confidence in the use of standing up with a voice and body, represented by the bold and sure stomp the track evolves into.

¿Which Side Are You On? is a stunning album that informs and reveals without ever demanding or imposing. Most of all though Ana DiFranco has released an album that musically is graceful and animated, a hypnotic pleasure whichever attack or approach she engages. The year is off to a real potent flyer.

RingMaster 28/12/2011

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Decaying – Encirclement

As warlike and aggressive as its theme Encirclement from Finnish metalers Decaying is a beast of a release stomping all over the senses with its shells of death/doom metal. Uncompromising and completely intent on pummelling the senses the album from the Helsinki trio is a brutal slab of simple but punishing death metal sounds.

Encirclement is a follow up to the band’s Devastate release which was made up of their two previous demos New Order and The Annihilator. Formed in the summer of 2010 by Matias Nastolin (guitars, bass, and vocals) and Olli Suurmunne (guitar) the bands previous album grabbed some eager critical acclaim, their old school styled death sounds and ferocity fuelling strongly positive responses. New line-up of Nastolin, guitarist Henri Hirvonen, and drummer Benjam Lahdenpää have unleashed an even mightier brute in Encirclement to surely ensure equal and greater enthusiasm and interest.

The album is themed by and influenced by war and battle, each track antagonistic and powerful as they bombard the ear with explosive and devastating riffs and intensity. The release opens with the ominous imposing instrumental ‘Initiation’, its muscular riffs and mid paced energy softening up the senses for the immense intrusions to follow. ‘Operation Citadel’ takes over to immediately consume beyond the ear with fearsome power and blistering guitars intrusions. The deep guttural vocals and delivery of Nastolin churn and twist with as much black intensity as the sounds, the combination bringing the essence of militant like combativeness forcibly forth.

Each track is a powerhouse that demands attention with over whelming malicious riffs, truculent rhythms, and pugnacious melodies from the guitars but the defiant display of ‘From the Cradle to the Grave’, the impressive and oppressive doom feel of ‘On the Path of Subjugation’, and ‘Public Enlightenment’ with its predatory opening and incessant rampage throughout, all stand out above what is a collection of pleasing heavy artillery from the band.

It is fair to say Decaying do not offer anything particularly new happily staying firmly within the realms of old school death metal but it comes with a freshness and subtle catchiness that lurks and teases behind the wall of noise and power. One could also suggest some of the tracks are a touch over long leading to an eagerness of what is next rather than wanting to hear out the song but that too shows that the band raise an eager appetite with each song so not really a flaw.

Encirclement will find an enthused audience without doubt and its content will feed and satisfy their hungry demands easily. The album is an uncomplicated and honest storm of sounds without pretension or claims of being anything more than it is. The songs are to some extent similar to themselves but more so mighty and nasty with intensity that is direct and voracious and that can never be a bad thing from any release. 2012 is starting with a strong and potent release and Decaying giving firm indication they are a force to keep a close watch on.

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RingMaster 27/12/2011

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Toxic Holocaust – Conjure And Command

Those wishing the intricacies of meandering progressive sounds or the hypnotic yet unsettling discordance of djent wizardry or even the vast array of deliberately confused but masterfully conjured intensity of a Coilguns or Retox then look away. Oregon metalers Toxic Holocaust return with new album Conjure And Command and simply aggressive straight from the hip brutal metal that does what says on the tin. Exploding via Relapse Records the album just bristles and aggravates within the ear with the finest and rawest of heavy metal, thrash and punk energy. You know what you are going to get from the very first fierce uncomplicated note of the opening track and it never lets one down in satisfaction or stirring intimidating quality. Straight forward exhilarating metal for straight forward eager tastes.

Formed in 1999 by Joel Grind merging his love of classic punk and metal into a distinct and crushing sound, the band has kicked up a sonic storm with their previous three full lengths and Conjure And Command continue in similar vein. The trio of Joel Grind, Phil Gnaast (Zeller), and Nicholas T. Rage (Bellmore) have unleashed an album that shrugs belligerence as its muscular riffs and threatening sounds come forth angrier, heavier and with more spite than before but still is unmistakably Toxic Holocaust.  They do not offer anything vastly different from their previous releases and to some extent other like veined bands but you always know who you are letting loose when one of their tracks is bombarding the ear. As venomous as ever Grind’s swipes and attacks, his disgust at this poisonous world and the evil of man never veiled in any way. Conjure And Command is a very welcome no holds barred merciless attack on the senses.

Musically the band once more bring echoes of bands like Bathory, Venom, Municipal Waste and the likes of Total Fucking Destruction and Slayer, all toned and fused to their own impressive ideas to create metal that though abrasive is a joy to suffer. Opening track is ‘Judgment Awaits You’ and the title sums up the album’s sound. It judges with tumultuous riffs and caustic guitars challenging throughout the experience and very easy to ‘suffer’ when it sounds this good. 

The tracks come thick and fast never leaving a moment throughout the album for a breather. Each song is a distinct entity that offers variation and eager intent to punish though overall there is a similarity across the album that works, the similarity simply being Toxic Holocaust’s distinct sound. Tracks like the immense violence of the lead track and irresistible ‘Bitch’, ‘Nowhere To Run’ with dark intimidating riffs and vocal delivery reminding of early Killing Joke,  the menacing poisonous ‘I Am Disease’, and the punk thrash glory of ‘The Liars Are Burning’ with a groove that incites reactions stand out most impressively. The last of the four reminding predominantly of early punks and though not specifically the likes of Discharge and Agnostic Front come to mind.

Ending on the call to arms intent of ‘Sound The Charge’ the album is an enterprising demand on the ear with blissful chunks of thrash/metal aggression and a must for all who loves to be battered and bruised musically. Toxic Holocaust has returned to once more ignite the senses and release the primal instincts within.

RingMaster 21/12/2011

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Henry’s Funeral Shoe – Donkey Jacket

 

Take two men, a blues fuelled guitar, a set of firm and eagerly heavy drums plus expressively inviting songs and you have Welsh duo Henry’s Funeral Shoe and the second album Donkey Jacket. Too simple a description to be fair as there is much more to the band’s music and a thoroughly engaging and at times exhilarating experience it is too.

Brothers Aled (vocals/guitars) and Brennig (drums/percussion) Clifford return with the follow up to their highly acclaimed debut Everything’s For Sale, bringing forth more of their striking blues/southern rock/ garage punk mix though on Donkey Jacket they have moved it notable steps forward in creativity for a more rounded yet still slightly raw sound. From Ystrad Mynach, South Wales the brothers formed the band in 2008 inspired and influenced by their father’s vinyl collection whilst growing up, artists making the deepest impression including the likes of The Who, Peter Green, Robert Johnson and the Beatles.  Their music is open in its influences from artists and sounds alike but they are infused into their own ideas to create blues veined rock ‘n’ roll with psychedelic and eager garage punk urgency.

One could not say Donkey Jacket is particularly unique but its defined variety and expressive songwriting and music more than stands the band out from the similar aurally adorned crowd. From the opening hearty blues rock of ‘Be Your Own Invention’ with its loving guitars and acute melodic energy through to the closing emotive ballad ‘Across The Sky’, the album intrigues and envelopes the ear to great satisfaction.

Every song offers up variety and a heartfelt passion whatever its guise, the twosome feeling their songs as they bring them to life for us.  Each track comes with well written and unpredictable cycles though the band never make things complicated leaving each track impossible to simply gloss over or let slip by the ear. The strongest tracks on the album show its varied content. The southern blues of ‘Love Is A Fever’ with a fine rock start is impressive as is the wonderful gothic darkness of ‘The Walking Crawl’ with its slight but lingering discordant tendencies reminding of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. The albums best track by far though is ‘Dog Scratched Ear’, a song incessant in attack and beckoning energy that is spined by a vibrant and mesmeric resonating riff.  It refuses to be ignored, demanding and getting full attention with its garage punk flavours and firm direct rhythms.

Recorded by Tim Hammill in Wales and mixed in Detroit by Jim Diamond the release features guest appearances alongside the duo’s own flavoursome skills. The reefabilly tinged ‘Bottom To The Top’ features John “Ned” Edwards, a long time collaborator of Van Morrison on slide guitar and mandolin, whilst elsewhere sees the contributions of Pete Hurley, the bass player for the legendary seventies Welsh band Lone Star, and Justin Beynon of the Broken Vinyl Club on piano. Donkey Jacket is a lively affair that never dulls the senses or lets them drift off elsewhere. It might not be breaking new grounds but it is an impressive and at times smartly inspired release. Rich in freshness and fun Henry’s Funeral Shoe have given an album that feeds the senses and warms the heart, a perfect tonic for those long winter days and nights.

RingMaster 17/12/2011

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Pixel Vs Nanobot – Self Titled EP

To say that the debut EP from Belfast based band Pixel Vs Nanobot is impressive is one of the bigger understatements of the year; it’s vibrant, expressive and essential sounds making one of the strongest debuts from any band in a long time. The three track self titled EP is a fresh hypnotic little beauty that fuses flowing emotive electronic sounds with an attitude soaked feral punk urgency, the trio of songs snapping at the senses whilst caressing the ear.

The threesome of Shauna Donaghy (vocals, synth), Cahir Doherty (bass, vocals), and Oran Heron (drums, vocals), in their short time as a band has already mesmerised Northern Ireland, fans and the media with their dramatic and exciting live performances. The band impress every time they take to the stage garnering praise and eager attention and from the very beginning they wowed people, for example their sound making such a mark on the organisers of the Belfast Calling’s New Blood 2011 showcase that they asked the band to play twice, covering both Spring & Airbrake and the Limelight in one day, as well as having them headline the following New Blood showcase. This is the effect the band’s great sounds and ability has and with the release of the new EP they are set to reach far beyond their own surroundings. 

The growing attention and acclaim for the band also led to interest from producer Rocky O’Reilly (Oppenheimer, In Case of Fire, And So I Watch You From Afar) who offered the band a recording at his Start Together Studio in Belfast, the result the stunning Pixel Vs Nanobot EP. The first notable and captivating thing about the band’s music is the clever and well throughout blend of soaring synth led electronic weaves that wrap themselves around the ear which Donaghy conjures up and the thumping incessant dirty punk sounds generated and thrust forth by Heron’s commanding and energetic beats alongside the belligerent menacing basslines from Doherty. This is a combination that not all can pull off to give every aspect of the music strong clarity and the space to spread their creative fingers as here. Mesmeric though it is the addition of the amazing vocals of Donaghy completes and takes the music on to further irresistible and deeply impressive levels. Her voice has the firmness to demand attention whilst taking the songs to glorious heights giving wonderfully emotive sensations.

The release starts with ‘Shadows’ and from its first note the EP is one exhilarating ride. The track starts with a synth that reminded of very early Stranglers and when the deep grouchy bass comes in that feeling is even stronger. The synths soon expand and swell into wider graceful atmospheres whilst still switching back and forth to keep the song enjoyably unpredictable. ‘This Is My’ takes over with an electronic flow that reaches out to find and fill every corner of the senses. A slower pace and expressive song that slowly builds to the ignition of an anthemic chorus led by Doherty’s quickening prowling riff. From the atmospheric start to the big ending the song is a heady mix of Letters and My Preserver.

In The Pink’ completes the release with equal satisfaction and dynamic creativity. The most urgent of the songs it pulsates within the ear as it runs at pace and deliberate intent into the senses to light up and excite the heart. The synths offer an early Mute sound with a touch of OMD against the punk spices of original Blondie and Siouxsie and The Banshees attitude, wonderful stuff.

There are really no negatives that can be offered about Pixel Vs Nanobot’s EP. Perfection is an impossible state but the trio has come as close as anyone to find it musically. The EP is just a thorough joy and pleasure with the heart pleasing melodies and electronic sound tapestries alongside the stirring punk attitude and aggression offering something for all. 2012 had better watch out here comes Pixel Vs Nanobot.

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RingMaster 16/12/2011

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The Haunting – Beyond These Doors

Though not quite veterans US hard rock/heavy metal band The Haunting has been around for just over a decade and is still relatively unknown outside of their homeland but with their latest album Beyond These Doors the chances of that changing are greatly raised. Displaying a straightforward blend of rock, metal and punk the Californian quartet have released an album that is simple pure rock ‘n’ roll without any complications or pretence. Uncluttered and direct Beyond These Doors just parties in the ear with heavy riffs and clean dark melodies that are as engaging as they are punchy.

Formed in 1999 by lead guitarist Randy Korstick and drummer Jessie “2 Feathers” Melendrez, The Haunting gained their current line-up the following year with the addition of vocalist/guitarist Raven Celata and bassist Mike Gjede. Two demos in 2000 and 2002 started gaining them attention alongside shows but it was not until 2009 that the band entered Dinky Music studio in Corona, California to work on and subsequently release their album No One’s Innocent. 2010 saw them spend the whole year writing and working on its follow-up Beyond These Doors to be released earlier this year with the singles from it ‘Crank Up the Amps’ and ‘The Loser in Me’ leading the way. 

The songs on Beyond These Doors are generally themed from horror movies and carry an attitude that challenges you not to like them but no one can win that test with the eager and addict forming tunes on offer. Musically the band is a hybrid of Misfits/Ramones punk metal, Alice Cooper classic rock, and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers rock ‘n’ roll. The clean simplicity of all those bands in league with ear catching instantaneous riffs and hooks that demand attention combining into an irresistible mix.

The first track ‘Crank Up the Amps’ opens on a definite Heartbreakers type sound, its open rock ‘n’ roll directness eager to have fun. As the track declares “We got a rock ‘n’ roll party tonight” that is what it delivers without any qualms. The early Misfits toned ‘Creation’ takes over with Celata’s slightly Danzig like vocals and striking guitars teasing and taunting with riffs and razor sharp solos.  The song, as is eventually revealed across all songs on the release, is never going to offer up the intricacies of progressive guitars and complicated rhythms from a Mastodon or the rampaging violence of a Brutal Truth but honest music that is just as definite to excite with its dark compulsive rock sounds.

Each song is an intriguing and appeasing slice but ‘The Loser in Me’ with a sound bringing strong flavours from UK 70’s punk, another Misfits spiced burst of catchy rock in the shape of ‘The Knife’, and the addictive ‘Two O’Clock In The Morning’ blessed with more rock ‘n’ roll harking back to Johnny Thunders and a touch of New York Dolls, stand out from what are ten thoroughly enjoyable and fun tracks.

Beyond These Doors to be honest has nothing particularly new about it but that is its big positive in many ways. It’s bringing in of obvious influences which every metal fan will find something to reminisce over, but used in the band’s own dark themed and joyful horror homage is an inviting and deeply satisfying result. The Haunting may still be a band that has still to enter your shadows but once it does their wicked rock ‘n’ roll grip will feed your heart for a long time to come.

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RingMaster 15/12/2011

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