Lay Siege – Obolus

In what has been a constant stream of British metalcore and extreme metal releases so far this year Obolus the debut mini album from UK metalers Lay Siege, emerges as one of the most impressive. Though the release does not breakout with anything truly stunning, it powerfully indicates greater promise ahead and stands as a strongly enjoyable and commanding release which is heads above a great many of the similar veined releases to appear over the past few months.

Northampton based quartet Lay Siege since forming in 2010, have taken no time in becoming a force in the Midlands underground metal scene lighting up stages alongside bands like Devil Sold His Soul, Feed the Rhino, ACODA, Heart of a Coward, Carcer City, and While She Sleeps. This year will see them venturing further throughout the UK and into Europe which with the release of Obolus as their newest part of their armoury, makes it not beyond expectations to imagine them rising and growing higher in stature.

Obolus certainly marks them as a band with real strength in their sound and songwriting. As mentioned the release gives the suggestion of promise and greater things ahead but it is impossible not to recognise the musicianship and craft going on already. Starting with Explorer the album confronts the senses with towering riffs and titanic rhythms linked by intricate yet unexaggerated technical ability. The opener bundles through the ear with a greed and power to leave one gasping. The track is not rippling with originality but has a freshness and vibrancy which is open. Musically the song skirts through multiples avenues of ideas without lingering in any to make an unpredictable riot of sound.

The following storm The Ferryman worries and oppresses the bruises caused by its predecessor whilst treating the ear to further inventive melodic and imaginative creativity of the band. It attacks in a similar vein but with good variation under its surface to make for another excellent three minutes. Many have accused the release of having too much similarity across its length and one can understand that with the overall bruising encounter it offers but that just makes for an album which needs closer attention and focus than most to find its rewards and bubbling invention beneath the storm.

Snarling Teeth prowls and taunts the ear with more explosive rhythms from drummer Lewis Niven and hungry basslines from Dave Bartlett. The track has a Pantera/sludge groan to its weight which ignites a deeper infection, the vocals of Konrad Barrick splattering the ear with bile and tortured expression alongside the taunting mesmeric dark shadowed play of guitarist Jamie Steadman. All the songs loiter around the three minute mark and work well at that length, punchy and crisp in presence but this is the one time one groans as it lays down its last note, the pleasure it brings making one not only wanting but needing it to linger around much longer. The song confirms the thought that the delivery of Barrick maybe lacks enough diversity across the seven tracks, great though he is, but it is a minor issue here with the qualities of the songs but ahead might become a problem for some but we will see.

Glitches and Wastelands continue the bombardment and explosive engagement with equally impressive effect, the band showing further skill and spread of good ideas to their music. The dexterity and thought shown by the band in all aspects is striking and sets the band apart from other new extreme metal bands.

Obolus is a definite grower, a release which consumes and evolves within the affections at a slower rate than most but to a deeper effect. After a few plays the release drew full praise but as the album exposed its might more and more that positivity grew in to a full affection. Yes the album has limitations and hides its individualism a little too deeply but it also marks Lay Siege as a band with a mighty future if they progress and explore themselves even deeper.

Closing with the combative Solitary Confinement further crushing the senses, Obolus is a fine and impressive debut. Lay Siege is a band on the rise and we for one cannot wait for their next assault.

RingMaster 01/08/2012

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My Favourite Runner Up – Thoughts, Feelings, Actions EP

Easily backing up and building on their early promise Welsh pop punk band My Favourite Runner Up release their thrilling Thoughts, Feelings, Actions EP on August 6th. Well defined and impressively crafted the five track release is a stirring and vibrant release of fine songwriting and thrilling sounds loaded with even further promise.

Formed in 2006 the Aberystwyth quartet did not take long in grabbing attention with their Lostprophets, Mayday Parade Jimmy Eat World, and New Found Glory inspired sounds, the latter two bands still a strong reference when describing the sounds upon the new release. Recent years have seen the band sharing stages with a diverse wealth of artists including Cerys Matthews, The Blitz Kids, Kids Can’t Fly, I Spy Strangers, and Under The Influence. Their debut EP of 2010 recorded with Romesh Dodangoda, who returns to produced the new release, drew strong and highly positive response with the equally successful single taken from it receiving widespread national radio play. The band as evidenced by Thoughts, Feelings, Actions has reached a plateau of excellence and accomplished skill musically and in their songwriting but the release also indicates the band are still working towards their full potential to inspire thrilling anticipation for their future and UK pop punk.

Let It Ride opens up the release with a stylish and confident presence. Instantly contagious and openly melodic the song takes no time in stroking the ear with busy guitar play and powerful rhythms. Vocally Christian Evans is outstanding; his voice one of the most agreeable to emerge in recent times and is well backed by the supporting tones of bassist Lee Walker and guitarist Andrew Towell. The song has an energy and eagerness which is impossible to refuse whilst musically the track is concise and persuasive in every area.

The strong start is soon elevated by best song on the EP in Our Time Now. The pulsating at times almost groaning bass of Walker leads the infection which is rife within the song, its heart and breath heavier and more aggressive entities. The band still brings smart melodies though to underpin the combative riffs with the guitars of Towell and Evans combining and exploring both aspects. The song punches with jabbing accuracy especially from the riffs and excellent beats of Thomas Carr to bring a distinct growl missing from the first and following songs, great though they are. This extra Billy Talent like roughing of the edges is outstanding and personally one hopes they merge in more of this in the future.

Next Start Living Today is an absorbing feast of melodic invention and hooks brought with an expressive and impressive touch. The song chugs along with an extra gear in its locker but still lights up the energies and emotions fully. After the quality of Our Time Now it at first feels a little subdued and less potent but it soon emerges as a strong and pleasing track to put one in their place.

The closing pair of Drawing Board and Separate Myself From Me without reaching the heights before still leaves one drenched in pleasure and deeply satisfied from ear to heart. Both have a bounce and irrepressible melodic wink to increase the contagion across the release with every member of the band allowed to express their skill and passion through the excellent production of Dodangoda.

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions is an excellent example of how good pop punk can be. It is inventive, diverse, and passionate with strong and imaginative songwriting at its core and shows My Favourite Runner Up as a band who can take the genre to new dimensions if they continue in this impressive and thoroughly enjoyable way.

Ringmaster 01/08/2012

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Oprich, Piarevaracien, Chur – Triunity

Triunity is the coming together of three Slavonic bands to contribute to a conceptual project to express historical solidarity of their Slavonic nations and kinship of cultural roots. The split album sees Russian band Oprich, Belarusian band Piarevaracien, and Chur from the Ukraine, offering a trio of songs each of Slavonic pagan/folk metal showing the unique features of their national heritage.

Released by Casus Belli Musica of Russia as a limited edition hand-numbered collection CD, the album is a strong and enjoyable release which without lighting strong passions still makes for some decent and rewarding sounds. The three bands are strongly established in their homelands and their promo claims in folk metal worldwide, though one feels as with us that this release will be an introduction to a great many to the bands. It is a strong introduction though with the bands sure to find further followers to their accomplished sounds. Though none of the three bands bring groundbreaking or jaw dropping moments to the album all nine songs leave good and satisfying impressions.

Oprich are first up with their stirring blend of brawling metal energy and mesmeric flute enterprise. Formed in 1998 the band with their dual vocal approach and the flute enchantment has gathered great acclaim through 2005 mini album split Wolfen Loyalty with Ukrainians Kroda and debut album North The Boundless as well as their live performances. Their opening track Up The Rivers Of The North immediately stirs the passions with its attacking riffage and infectious flute beckoning. The song storms with a torrent of artillery like riffs and impactful rhythms, the energy of the song persistently inciteful and the melodic elements fully enticing. Though at times the metal side and folk side feel like two distinct and unconnected elements they lay side by side with ease with the band making them work perfectly. Arguably the best song on the release it is musically anthemic and infectious whilst the vocals without being anything special do a good job, even better as combined group harmonies.

The following songs The Volga and the excellent North The Boundless do not quite live up to their predecessor but bring enough strongly crafted sounds and invention to make Oprich a band to investigate further. Musically they are impressive with only the vocals the less striking element but their metal sounds are easily accessible, enjoyable, and at times bordering glorious.

Mensk band Piarevaracien also use a pipe sound in their music though overall they are less metal driven. As with their companions on the release their songs are sung in their native language which always seems to add something extra for us. Formed in 2006 the band found strong success with their albums Торны шлях (pronounced as Torny shliach) of 2008 and Spoviedž Kryvi in 2011, both receiving re-releases, the latter as an English sung version. Their triplet of songs My Autumn, Morning, and Ashes, have a gentler and less intense presence than from Oprich. Each has a folk core which through the pipes floats through the air with a warmth and ambient glow whilst the guitars stroke the senses with a tender and caring touch. The standout song is My Autumn though all again leaves one satisfied if not openly inspired.

Completing the line-up is Chur from Kherson another band formed in the mid 2000’s. They lie somewhere between the previous two artists, their folk metal offered with a firmer energy and directness than from Piarevaracien but with an immersive melodic atmosphere and ethnic sound to be less aggressive than Oprich, though their second track Over The River, Through The Woods (A Swallow Flew) is a feisty charge which lights the senses with its eagerness and air bristling energy. A guitar and keys driven band, Chur are quite skilled at creating emotive atmospheres and expressive hearts to their songs as shown by the mentioned song which rivals for best on the album, and their other two, There On The Mountain and O The Spring Is In A Field. Their releases to date such as albums Brate Vitre (2006) and Lykho (2009) have all brought good acclaim their way and going by the songs on this release it is no surprise. Again as with all the bands to be honest vocally they take a little adjusting too with the twin or group harmonies outshining the solo deliveries but it is never enough to really detract from the songs.

Triunity is a good release to introduce three strong bands to further world ears even in its limited form. It does not set new standards but neither gives anything less than pleasure which is all one really asks.

RingMaster 01/07/2012.

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Nechochwen – OtO

From beauty to senses corrupting blackened metal, the new album from US Apalaci folk metal band Nechochwen is a striking and at times totally mesmeric release. OtO the third album from the band continues their exploration of Native American Indian heritage bringing an enthralling mix of irresistible classical guitar instrumentation in league with the shadows and malevolent atmospheres of black metal. It is a sound and album which at times is simply stunning and in others provocatively intrusive to create a release which leaves one deep in thought and emotion.

From West Virginia, the duo of Nechochwen (nylon and steel string guitars, vocals, hand drum, flute and lalawas) and Pohonasin (drums, bass) have drawn strong and unadulterated acclaim with previous albums Algonkian Mythos and Azimuths to the Otherworld. Both found their roots and source in the historic and ancient past but with OtO the band ‘focuses on the guidance our ancestors bring to us in modern times’, the album title able to be translated as ‘Ancestor’ in English. The band considers the album as a double EP, its journey having two distinct sides representing the two sides to man and his place on earth. Nechochwen in the promo says “Just as there are two sides to this LP, there are two sides to all of us. One is at peace with our surroundings and the other attempts to conquer them. This album is a tribute to the balanced, ancestral self.”

Released through Bindrune Recordings, the album opens with the glorious magnificence of Cultivation. The guitar persistently strokes the air with its melodic grace and imagination whilst underlying rhythms and energy bring a brewing shadow which though never realised tempers the light. The track has an organic warmth and presence which cups the ear with pure artistry but beneath are sounds and elements which offer a suggestion of things not quite as they seem. The musicianship as reinforced throughout the album is impressive and fully hypnotic.

The excellent start is immediately outshone by the following On The Wind, a piece which envelops and unleashes thoughts and indeed emotions from the off. The vocals harmonies are thrilling and with almost a dual between further rasping dark ones and atmosphere lighting back ground calls, the track is an emotive instigator. Once again musically the pair is immense with the guitar work of Nechochwen the man, especially magnetic to the ear.

Otomen’pe (Our Ancestors) and Haniipi-miisi (Elm Tree) continue the aural caressing and evocative ambience upon the senses. The first without finding the heights of the previous two is a gorgeous golden kiss upon the ear though vocally the spoken delivery is far less effective than the singing in the first songs. With more of the rich harmonies and lush melodic imagination the song further immerses one into an instinctive and almost primitive grace. The second offers a folk/acoustic weave which sparkles within its gentle atmosphere and touch. One assumes this is where the band would say the first side of OtO closes and though it has a caressing almost melancholic breath there does feel a transition at play as it progresses.

He Ya Ho Na and Pekikalooletiiwe (Instructions; an Exhoration) complete the album and turn the atmosphere on its head though the beauty which soaked the release to this point is still underlying and assuming in the less aggravated moments. The first with its core Native American chant charges the ear with an electrified black metal intensity and tone without laying a truly destructive hand on the melodic and tribal glory. It plays like another step in the change leading to the closing Pekikalooletiiwe. From an acoustic peace the track builds into a furious and near malevolent rage to ignite potent energies. It is an exhausting blackened dramatic joy to end on though maybe from personal tastes does not manage to reach the levels and impressive levels found by earlier songs.

OtO is an outstanding release which has a place for all musical tastes, its beauteous and aggressive extremes encompassing every musical heart. Though Nechochwen did not with OtO ignite the strongest fires within compared to some releases this year, it lit many more than most to make it very rewarding.

RingMaster 01/08/2012

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