Heart of a Coward: Hope & Hindrance

Two years in its creation Hope & Hindrance the debut album from UK metallers Heart of a Coward has been the focus of much eager anticipation. The media and fans alike have been waiting with at times a less than patient gait but the mightily impressive release more than justifies the saying that all good things come to those that wait, and does it with a formidable and explosive collection of bruising anger fuelled defiant and intense tracks.

Formed in 2007 the Milton Keynes based quintet of guitarists Carl Ayers and Steve Haycock, bassist Vishal V Khetia, drummer Christopher Noddy Mansbridge (ex-Enter Shikari and Fellsilent), and ex-Sylosis vocalist Jamie Graham, has fired up much attention and enthused acclaim for their muscular mix of groove metal and metalcore through their live shows, an early demo plus the Collisions EP both 2008, and The Dead Sea EP the following year. It is arguably with the addition of Graham and Mansbridge last year to the band that interest rose even more acutely to ensure an eager definite waiting audience for this first album.

Hope & Hindrance badgers and rampages through the ear from the opening full heart beat of first song Motion through to closing intense cranial investigation of Break These Chains. The album challenges and consumes the senses with tumultuous riffs, technical skill, and ingrained melodic grooves that attach themselves with a compulsive attraction. It is testing and provocative but equally inspiring and infectious. As the opening song also shows the album and band is strikingly inventive. Motion descends on the ear from distance as it invites itself in to then  explode into venomous and  acidic melodies that drip from the violent intent that spines the song. With technical intricacies spawn from the likes of Meshuggah and Uneven Structure the track manipulates and convinces submission whilst the vocals of Graham passionately growls and aggressively spews out lyrics that are as caustic and invoking as their delivery. The balance the band brings between the intense nature of the music and the intelligently crafted progressive and melodic technical invention is perfect making each song a rounded and fully satisfying experience.

As the album moves through its slices of stirring tracks it twists and turns constantly making for a release that is varied and never predictable. From the excellent All Eyes To The Sky with its thoughtful and emotive melodies, the wonderfully abrasive Nightmare, to the Deftones flavoured Light, the album leaves one searching for cover but equally breathless and grinning from the pure power and striking craft that pours from each song. The third of these three songs is a slow brooding creature that consumes with a  dark grace whilst veined with a building ominous tone which is never allowed free rein at any point. The track is majestic and an inspired break from the raging intensity elsewhere.

It is hard to pick a highlight from this persistently high quality release but Around A Girl (In 80 Days) definitely makes a good shout for it. The song plays against and with the insidious intensity that takes the ear by force with smoothly compelling vocal and warm yet sharp harmonies. As always there is never a moment of complete safety from the adversarial intent and sounds but the band knows how to temper this with imaginative skill as the corrosively urgent We Stand As One shows.

Hope & Hindrance is an excellent album that endorses and elevates all the hopes and expectations that were laid before its arrival. Heart of a Coward has stated with strength and the undeniable proof of their album that they are a band that should and surely will become a major part of UK metal.

RingMaster 24/04/2012

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Outcast: Awaken the Reason

As we go into the fourth month it is increasingly becoming apparent that the choosing of an Album of the Year when December closes its darkened eyes is going to be a task and a half, the amount of impressive contenders already building up into a formidable challenge even this early into 2012. Well that was until French metalers Outcast stole a march on everyone with their staggering new album Awaken the Reason. The release is truly immense in sound, power, and invention. It is a disruptive and addictive maze of ingenuity and invigorating ideas, a maelstrom of unpredictable diversions, senses twisting manipulations, and a beast of intriguing mischief and heightened intensity. It is simply brilliant, an album that sets the heart on fire, sends the mind racing, and triggers deep emotions to an orgasmic conclusion.

      Outcast is like an alchemist come sonic chef. The band takes ingredients from previous inventions, as well as flavours and spices borne in musical recipes elsewhere to turn them with their own special ingredient of imagination, into something completely and stirringly new. Awaken the Reason is an explosion of innovation and a seemingly chaotic tapestry of sounds, a mighty journey that challenges, hypnotises and offers something new on each quest taken within its pulsating metallic walls.

The Parisian band formed in 1998 and originally under the guise of Overlander, started grabbing attention from the French underground scene with their death metal tinted thrash flavoured debut 4 track CD The Source Of All Creation in 2002. March 2005 saw the release of First Call/Last Warning, a ten track album blending the power of Swedish thrash metal with the intensity of death metal whilst bringing in passion fuelled melodies. The current line-up of vocalist Wilfried Fagnon, guitarists Jean-François Di Rienzo and Nicolas Soulat, bassist Clément Mauro, and Mathieu Santin on drums, was established in 2007, the quintet releasing the second Outcast album Self-Injected Reality a year later and the emergence of a diverse and technical sound alongside their enflamed melodies that has evolved wonderfully in Awaken the Reason.

Released via Listenable Records on April 4th this metal/progressive jewel is set to place the band firmly in the eyes and ears of the world. If the likes of Uneven Structure, Texture, and Meshuggah get your juices dribbling, Awaken the Reason is an essential must, but there is so much more within the release and its creations. The progressive metal Outcast unleashes has essences found in the likes of Between the Buried and Me and Circles, the aggressive uncompromising intensity they grip the ear with can be heard from the likes of Bloodsimple and especially vocally Society 1, whilst the sheer eccentric and unpredictable conjurations remind of bands like Five Star Prison Cell. All this is disassembled and designed into something wholly unique and wholly Outcast.

The album breaks out with the opening frenzy that is Elements, the track taking no time in sending splintered acidic melodies and grunting riffs through the ear whilst seeking and filling every corner of the senses with progressive meanders seeded in insanity and upon an intimidating metallic vein. Flitting through chaotic changes and detours the song never sits still or leaves one time to grab a deep breath, its driven manic evolution surprising and pure temptation from beginning to end.

Every aspect of the band and songwriting is at a staggering height, from the manipulative guitars that mesmerise and exploit with intrusive riffs, the acute and scorched melodies that sear the senses with innovational skill, through to the uncompromising yet stunningly and attentively crafted rhythms. Adding vocals that bring a caustic menace and expressive added texture to the brilliantly conceived constructs of sound, the likes of Abysmal, the epic A Solace from the Shade, and the metal wildness of Isolation, emerge as the astonishing results.

     Awaken the Reason – Part IV: When Dawn Brings Clarity slows things down with a beautifully atmospheric piece of music, the haunting ambience and piano/string grace striking at a personal level as it transports one to a lonely shore and mind. It finds a climax that unravels within a distorted cloud to turn to the best track on the album in Spin Angular Moments. The track blisters the ear with stupefying acute explosions of melodic insurgency and uniquely structured provocative rhythms and malignant toned growls and power. The senses are then blindsided by wonderful progressive invention before succumbing once more to the psychotic nature of the composition. It plays like the continually shifting mind of a madman, a glorious ingenious kaleidoscope of warped brilliance.

There is not a weakness on the album as the likes of What Would be my Final Commitment? and the closing Awaken the Reason – Part XI: Reprise prove. Mixed by Jochem Jacobs (Textures) and mastered by Alan Douches (Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan) Awaken the Reason is truly a masterful and magnificent feast. Outcast have probably escaped the attention of a great many until now but with this stunning album that is just about to change.

RingMaster 31/03/2012

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Hypno5e: Acid Mist Tomorrow

This review of the new album from French experimental metalers Hypno5e has been one of the hardest to write. Acid Mist Tomorrow is immense, a true masterpiece and master class in ingenuity, imagination and technical ability of musicianship and songwriting. The problem with writing about it is where to begin, what to concentrate on, and how to present in written form all the qualities and startling imagination and originality within its stunning soundscapes. To try and understand the album and its workings leaves one bordering confusion, its stunning invention and conjurations difficult to get a handle on. Thankfully the band had no problem during its creation and has been borne a release that stands astride genres, thoughts, and boundaries, its innovation seamless and unfailing. The album is organic and instinctive despite so many attention grabbing elements and that makes the release so much more impressive and incredible.

Des Deux L’une Est L’Autre the debut album from Hypno5e in 2007 made the world sit up and soak the release in acclaim though it is fair to say the band still did not find the recognition worldwide that they and the release deserved. In some ways the release was ahead of its time and only in the past couple of years have others caught up with the invention and imagination the band inspired. Of course now they have got there they find that the men from Montpellier have moved on and with Acid Mist Tomorrow have set new heights and ingenious musical experiments to aspire to. The quartet of Emmanuel Jessua (lead vocals/guitar), Thibault Lamy (drums/percussions), Cédric Pages (bass/backing vocals), and Jonathan Maurois (guitar) have returned with a matured and more defined craft in their composing but still it is no less barrier flipping and eccentrically adventurous. They do not allow limitations of any design to stand in their way or restrain musical ideas however off kilter they may appear, they just embrace and explore them as Acid Mist Tomorrow proves.

The title track opens the impressive event and within the first two minutes brings such diverse elements into a glorious spread for the senses to immerse into. The opening seconds finger the ear with tense yet provocative touches before firmly gripping with stomping riffs and a hardcore vocal delivery.  These step back not long after as the melodic mellowness of the band swells and envelopes the ear with a warm smooth caress, though the weighty brute of sound is prowling and waiting just below the surface. Soon they merge and combine into a bewitching unsettling beast, their perfect sounding union leaving the senses unsure whether they are being violated or made love to. Through ten minutes of glorious imagination the song twists and pulls the senses though a journey of unpredictable wizardry, grinding riffs, rousing and  intoxicating melodic manipulation, and persuasive atmospheric  enchantment.

To be honest words do not do justice to the song or album, it really is impossible to portray what inspired treasures lay within its pulsating walls. The emotion packed Six Fingers In One Hand She Holds The Dawn – Part II steps up next to tear the heart into a hundred grateful and satisfied pieces. Following on from the brief emotive introduction of Part 1, the piece mesmerises and holds the hand as it unveils a deep and impassioned elegance, the song laying its heart before the ear. Once captivated the track bursts into a ferocious nightmare with an intensity that invades every pore and synapse. It is stunning and adventurous with plenty of what would be for any other band distracting interludes and detours that do not work but from Hypno5e it is challenging but natural and seamless.

The rest of the album is just as amazing and inspiring so the suggestion is to go investigate yourselves what is one of the finest albums to be unleashed in a long time, and just note that the other tracks Story Of The Eye, Gehenne (Parts 1 through to 3), and Brume Unique Obscurité (Part 1 and 2), also leave only deep rooted adulation and awe inspired acclamation in their wake.

It is fair to say Hypno5e will not find a willing home with everyone but if the likes of Uneven Structure, Gojira, and Textures get your juices excited Hypno5e and Acid Mist Tomorrow will have you leaking all over the place.

RingMaster 20/03/2012

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Spawn of Possession – Incurso

Having heard impressive things about Swedish technical death metal band Spawn Of Possession there was an added intrigue about the eagerness that accompanied the venture into the new album from the band, Incurso. One can read a never ending flow of words in praise but it is only when the sound and creativity hits you that you understand the height or depth of a band or their release. Nothing indicated the stunning and immense power, uniqueness, and pure imagination that were to unfold as Incurso laid its wizard spawn artistry and ingenuity upon the ear. First listen has one staggering under the sheer weight of diversity and inventiveness not to mention the all consuming intensity, but given further attention and shared experiences the album becomes part of everything, as potent as breathing and as lingering as death.

       Incurso is the third album from the band and their debut on Relapse Records. The five year wait has been long for their fans to endure and an unpredictable time for the band with multiple line-up changes sine predecessor Noctambulant. Last year saw the combined might of guitarists Jonas Bryssling ( last remaining band founder) and Christian Müenzner (Obscura, Ex-Necrophagist, Ex-Defeated Sanity), bassist Erlend Caspersen (Deeds Of Flesh, ex-Blood Red Throne), drummer Henrik Schönström (Unmoored, ex-Torchbearer), and former drummer Dennis Röndum who moved to fronting the band with his inspired vocals, emerging and together conjuring and album which not only sets the senses aflame but manipulates and toys with them like maniacal puppeteers.

It really is hard to describe the majesty and incredible technical skill as well as the pure organic feel the band creates on the album. Incurso is a release that hits you instantly but also takes time unveiling all of its qualities and deeply rooted additive grip. Whether listening to it for the third or thirteenth time something new finds its way into the ear bringing each listen a surprising and new experience taken with a close hearted friend. Repeating dreams or nightmares offer something new with each venture into your sleeping state, Incurso does the same bringing new shadows and light with malicious twists each and every time it fingers your senses and consciousness.

The release opens with instrumental Abodement, a piece which is for them relatively straight forward but opens up the ear with a skilled musical weaning before taking one into the maelstrom of intrusive delights ahead. Where Angels Go Demons Follow takes no time getting down to business, its guitars slicing through the ear with crafty intricate skill and maximum venom whilst the slightly reserved rhythms rather than blast its victim wears them down with incessant niggling. The bass plunders the nerves with intimidating riffs whilst Röndum spews out his intent and words with the blackest malevolence. Combined they pilfer the senses of feeling until they lie numb and shell shocked under the intense testing. This is only the second track; you can imagine how one feels as the closing threat of Apparition takes its leave.

As songs like The Evangelist, a track which spatters the ear with intensive rhythms and provocative riffs whilst meandering through scorched diversity, and Deus Avertat rupture and expel a sonic beauty and devastation upon every corner of the mind and body, the album just grows in greatness and more power. The second of these two songs courts the mind with acidic intrusions whilst leaving it with bruised contusions from its unrelenting complex and sophisticated senses blowing conjurations. From beginning to end the album ignites and fires up so many emotions and thoughts to match its vast cacophony of ingenious creativity, songs like Servitude Of Souls and No Light Spared as triumphant as those already mentioned.

Imagine the likes of Obscura, Gorod, Uneven Structure, and Meshuggah boiled down to a puree and then added to something distinctly different and you get Spawn Of Possession. Incurso is a monstrous beast, and as it annihilates and blisters the senses with its technical brutality and sophisticated creativity it takes them into new realms and pleasures, lighting them up and eager for more and more of its violations. The album hits hard and fast inviting you to spend more and more time in its devious arms, but the delights it gives when you succumb are beyond measure, try it!

RingMaster 09/03/2012

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Uneven Structure – Februus

The anticipation for the debut album from French progressive metalers Uneven Structure was tempered a little when finding out how long Februus took to create. Actually it was not the time taken as that shows care and the element of perfection in the band that has to be a good thing, it was reading the quote from guitarist Aure Pereira who commented on the album “We have been constantly re-writing Februus over the past two years with the aim of turning it into something really special and soulful. We wanted to be sure that we had put the best of us in it and I think we’ve been successful at doing that.” It was the ‘constantly rewriting’ part that raised a little concern as any artist in any medium knows and finds there comes a point where something is finished, it is at its height and continued work upon it simply takes the subject further away from its envisaged finality. Of course now one regrets doubting the sextet as Februus is a masterpiece of creative songwriting and its stunning realisation.

Formed in 2008, the Metz based band released an EP a year later called 8 (available as a free download in its entirety from the band’s official website) and immediately drew acclaim and eager enthusiasm for their debut which is released via Basick Records October 31st.  Februus is a concept album spanning across two discs dealing with evolution, the passage from nothing to a beings completion. A bold effort for the first official release for any band but as the time spent on it shows Uneven Structure push and stretch their skills, ideas and songwriting until they achieve their intent. As good as 8 was there is a marked leap in quality and levels with Februus , their progressive metal and djent polymetric rhythms and riffs fluid within the astonishing ambient and atmospheric soundscapes. Expectation was of sounds loaded with Meshuggah/TessaracT type polyrhythmic layers but though they are prominent they fuse within the intelligent melodic tapestries and ambient passages, from this is where the real power of the release lies.

 Februus is one of those fine albums that have an instantaneous connection as well as containing substantial textures and intriguing corridors to explore on each subsequent visit. It is a flowing album from the opening aggressive ‘Awaken‘ through to the closing ‘Finale’ on disc 1, each track merging into another with seamless elegance and effect but still making each song distinctively separate. From this the album works as a single experience or in its individual parts, though the greatest satisfaction is from experiencing Februus in its entirety. As mentioned ‘Awaken‘ strikes intensely before unveiling its melodic might and the impressive vocals of Matthieu Romarin, in a release of only highs he is one of the most triumphant elements, his voice and delivery a perfect balance between harsh and clean.

The opener flows into ‘Frost’ a darkly toned track with taunting riffs and a less violent attack though just as intimidating in it’s different attack. The trio of guitarists in Jérôme Colombelli, Igor Omodei, and Aurélien Pereira, who also provides ambient flows with synths throughout the release, unleash stirring and emotive sounds that make the song and Frebuus more than an aural experience. Romarin again fills the song with a perfect mix of light and dark over the forceful rhythms from bassist Benoit Friedrich and drummer Christian Schreil, in a band of talented musicians he really is imperious.

Tracks like ‘Hail’, ‘Awe’ and ‘Quittance’ enflame the senses with their startling construction and unique sounds, the band the instigators of imagery and emotions with their thoughtful and original arresting compositions. The two ambient fuelled instrumentals of ‘Exmersion’ and ‘Limbo’ are as striking as any other song and effective in making a respite to the intensity though both carry their own strength, especially the latter with its haunting and disturbing feeling of sensing something is there but impossible to touch or clearly view. This leads into the album’s best track ‘Plenitude’ which is the realisation and conclusion as it joins ‘Finale’ of the concept within Frebuus.

The production from guitarist Igor Omodei is impeccable with every element, sound and intricacy openly heard but still an even part of the overall mixture. There are no obvious flaws to Frebuus and with its depth and uniqueness it is at the head of the best releases this year. The second disc contains three tracks running 30 minutes of ambient sounds that run on from the first disc’s closing track and conjures up more imagery as it plays in the mind and senses. If there is one album to make a deliberate b-line to this is it, Uneven Structure has set a new standard for melodic metal with their debut and will surely make a lot of bands reassess their own sound and approach.

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RingMaster 26/10/2011

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