Switchtense – Switchtense

Portuguese metalers Switchtense do everything right on their self titled second album, jamming it with mind scorching melodies and grooves whilst pummelling the recipient with wall crumbling riffs and senses numbing intensity. Unrelenting, powerful and intrusive it occupies every corner of the senses as it levels all resistance to its overwhelming violent energy. Despite this and the fact it is a mighty fine album there is still the strong feeling of disappointment and the impression there is much more within the band and their creativity that was left untapped. It seems strange praising the album highly whilst still being dissatisfied enough to feel a little ‘let down’, but for all the great assets and craft the album brings forth and there are plenty, it lacks that uniqueness and adventure to make Switchtense what could have been a classic.

Switchtense were formed in 2002 by vocalist Hugo Andrade and Rui Caria, and with further additions striking out with their heavy trash/metal brutal sounds. 2005 saw guitarist Nuno Pardal join the band and their debut EP Brainwash Show recorded and released. The following year the band doubled their guitarist quota with Neto being added to the ranks and all the time shows, tours and festival appearances with the likes of Napalm Death, Textures, and Caliban spreading the band’s name, sound and reputation. In 2007 drummer Xines joined and the next year the band entered the studio with producer Daniel Cardoso to record Confrontation Of Souls, the debut album being released via Rastilho Records in the February of 2009. More stage sharing with bands such as Soulfly, Devildriver, and Hatesphere marked the rest of the year and into 2010, Switchtense lighting up more and more metal toned ears.

The band’s follow up album to the further acclaimed Confrontation Of Souls was recorded again with Cardoso during February and March of 2011 and available again through Rastilho Records, the release sure to enforce the strong fervour and respect they have accumulated over previous years. Switchtense hits the mark with its Lamb of God, Slayer and Hatesphere like relentless assault sending rushing rhythms and formidable riffs directly through the ear with surety and determination to involve every aspect of the listener in its colossal rampage. From opening track ‘Concrete Walls’ right through to the overwhelming closer ‘Awaiting The Downfall’ the album is relentless in its intensity. As mentioned earlier everything is as it should be, malicious and devastating in power and caustically venomous melodically, and each track tremendously enjoyable and satisfying.

Songs like the partly anthemic  ‘Face Off’ and the continuously badgering ‘Unbreakable’ send enthused reactions throughout the senses easily equalled by the likes of ‘The Legacy Of Hate’ with its evil  intent  and the album’s best track ‘This is Only The Beginning ‘,a song full of potent and dangerous eager energy. The album brings track after track of fine metal and thrash fervent sounds that do nothing but please making Switchtense a very strong and agreeable release. For all of this though as said before there feels like something is missing, the inner spark from the band to elevate the album and themselves to the higher echelons of the genre.

The album is excellent that is the notable thing to take on board it just also seems like a missed opportunity for the band to really explode outward. As the release plays it often teases and suggests it is about to erupt into something devastatingly special but always just holds back to create a thrilling album but not the exhilarating one it could have seemingly been. To be fair it still impresses far more than the majority of releases brought forth this year and leads to strong anticipation for the next release from Switchtense, when they may really take metal by the scruff of the neck.

RingMaster 06/12/2011

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Ex Norwegian – Sketch

To be honest though Ex Norwegian are new to these ears the biggest surprise was that they are not a British band but from Florida. They deliver a wonderfully varied sound and collection of songs on second album Sketch and the three bands whose apparent influences ooze from within the music are The Beatles, The Kinks and XTC, not only in sound but composition and lightness of touch. Add being named after a Monty Python sketch one would swear the Miami Beach band were British. What is clear and blatantly obvious though is that Sketch is one wonderfully quaint and vibrant release, a pick-me-up for each and every day whatever the mood.

Ex Norwegian was formed in 2008 by vocalist Roger Houdaille, creating the band to realise his songwriting as it became a more serious element in his life. It did not take long before the band’s first song ‘Something Unreal’ was unveiled on Myspace which swiftly led to an invite to perform at the CMJ convention in New York. The band strongly impressed then and through 2009 with the release of their debut album Standby via Dying Van Gogh Records and a tour promoting the release drawing even more acclaim. Sketch was created at the end of the tour and self released by the band in June 2010. Lacking label support at this point plus the absence of finance the band eventually came to the end and the album wonderfully brought forth by Houdaille, drummer Arturo Garcia, guitarist Lucas Queiroz, bassist Nina Souto, and vocalist Michelle Grand, sadly basically dormant.

Luckily December 5th sees Sketch re-released with again Dying Van Gogh Records picking up the album to give it a national and international release. As the label picked up the album Houdaille decided to reform the band, picking up bass duties to add to his vocals he was joined by the returning Lucas Queiroz and Michelle Grand plus new addition drummer Alex Ibanez. With shows to support the re-release and a planned EP of new songs in early 2012 Ex Norwegian are surely on the restart of a definite rise for the band and their great sounds. 

A grumbling bass throb opens up first track ‘Jet Lag’ to be replaced within seconds by an alternative pop sound that entices, teases and wraps itself around the ear like an old friend. The chorus is an instant sing-a-long which is surrounded by infectious melodic indie guitars and hooks. The extra touches like keys and an eager trumpet blast adds to the pleasing and engaging sounds. The song immediately lets you know the important thing about the band, they know how to surprise and intrigue with unexpected twists and sounds whilst still making it instinctively and invitingly accessible.

The bouncy ‘Smashing Time’ with deep beats and emphatic melodies carries on the irrepressible sounds and joy. Another contagious array of seductive hooks and melodies the song leaps eagerly into the ear and in an album of constant highlights is the brightest track offered.

As mentioned the songs and sounds are strongly varied though all have the distinct Ex Norwegian flavouring, from the excellent dual vocal ‘Mind Down’ delivered with the pop excess of Klark Kent, the Kinks spiced gentle mesmeric sway of ‘Seconds’, and the Pixies toned ‘You’re Elastic Over Me’ nothing is predictable but always sunny, vibrant and intriguing. ‘Sky Diving’ and the strolling ‘Upper Hand’ have a definite Andy Partridge feel from the Skylarking era of XTC whilst the sophisticated groves of ‘Acting on an Island’ shimmer with a 60’s pop feel.

The album ends on the Monkees meets The Pixies tease of ‘Girl With The Moustache’ and its crying out to be loved melodies. Sketch is a blissful display of varying tempos and arrangements, diverse directions and off balancing creativity, as well as cascading and sumptuous melodies that drip with siren like appeal. The album is immediate proof why the return of Ex Norwegian is one of the most important moments in indie music this year and those to come.

RingMaster 06/12/2011

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