Ghost – Prequelle
Nothing inspires a good argument between metalheads more than bringing up Swedish occult rockers Ghost in conversation. Love them or hate them, Ghost are taking over the world, and their fourth full-length Prequelle is their biggest album yet. Born for stadium and arena shows, Prequelle is their most concise and direct offering, and very much a pop album. The more complex side of Ghost’s musicianship can still be heard in tracks like ‘Faith’ and especially instrumentals ‘Miasma’ and ‘Helvetesfonter’, but otherwise Ghost have tightened up their sound with their cleanest, most polished production yet.
Many of the songs here are focused on deadly hooks and catchy riffs, with those vintage sounding synths still working to great effect. ‘Rats’, ‘Pro Memoria’ and ‘See The Light’ are amongst Ghost’s very best songs, which will get stuck in your head, with guitar work nodding back to classic Ozzy Osbourne solo material. The vocals in particular sail across the album with glossy reverb and plenty of memorable lyrics to sing along to. In some ways, Ghost may have dumbed down their sound a tad, but their quest to sound like a metal ABBA has been fully realised, making Prequelle an epic, theatrical delight.
Prequelle is out now on Loma Vista Recordings. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Limb – Saboteurs Of The Sun
Limb‘s debut release on London label New Heavy Sounds was their 2013 EP Gift Of The Sun, a gritty, fuzz-heavy celebration firmly set in the sludgy riff rock camp. While there’s an obvious link to that here in the title of their third album, Saboteurs Of The Sun, themed around earth’s annihilation and destruction, it’s so far removed sonically that it could be mistaken as a completely different band.
The four-piece have shifted the goalposts by incorporating elements of psychedelia and prog into the colossal riffs that made their previous albums so enjoyable. The guitar sound is jangly rather than thick and dirgy, which complements the atmospheric use of synths, with singer Rob Hoey’s gruff and often Lemmy-esque vocals adding the heaviest components. Opener ‘Wych Elm’ sets the tone of the whole album, with a spacey intro blending perfectly into a hammer blow of a hard rock headbanger, its catchy chorus instantly engaging. Fans of Limb’s older material will enjoy the sludgier vibes on offer on ‘Love Has No Name’, a foot-to-the-throat bruiser that’s sure to be a live favourite.
It’s the variation between tracks that makes the album perfect for repeat listens, and you get the feeling that by moving further to the outskirts of the doom/stoner/sludge scene that Limb have matured into a band with their own voice, and in the process have created an album far more nuanced than previous efforts.
Saboteurs Of The Sun is out now on New Heavy Sounds. Purchase here.
Words: David Brand
Svalbard – It’s Hard To Have Hope
Racist asshat Tommy Robinson may have gone and got himself arrested this week, but it can still be hard to have hope these days. British quartet Svalbard aren’t shying away from that truth. In fact, they’re not shying away from anything. Their second full-length album takes inspiration from some of society’s darker corners – from revenge porn and the patriarchy to wage theft and pure-bred pets – and refuses to beat around the bush.
There’s no poetic ambiguity here, simply critical issues being addressed through unbridled angst, and the ingenious orchestration of the music behind it helps these messages get delivered with the utmost impact. Each song barrels forward with a punk-rock momentum, but the surging power of extreme metal is always present, and these tracks so frequently blossom into much more. Cascading melodies sprinkle an air of post-metal into the proceedings, usually complementing the steam-rolling drums and venomous vocals rather than replacing them for airy interludes, as many self-proclaimed “experimental” metal bands often do.
This is as musically creative an album as you’ll find in the modern metal scene, but the band’s songwriting prowess serves a higher purpose, as they use their voice to speak up for those facing injustices. Call them “sjw metal” all you want – they’ll take it as a compliment.
It’s Hard To Have Hope is out now on Holy Roar. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Wayfarer – World’s Blood
World’s Blood is an album content to take its time. The third album from Wayfarer can often feel glacial in its folk/black metal, especially during the more sparse build-up sections. And yet, it rarely feels like it is meandering; instead, it’s an album that requires time not just to build an atmosphere, but to build a world, in a way that has more in common with a novel than most other records. Much like Panopticon‘s discography, World Blood is very much a North American black metal album, with its themes never being shown overtly, but hinted at and expressed through song titles (such as ‘A Nation of Immigrants’).
All of which would count for little if the music weren’t up to par, but World’s Blood is an album of excellent atmospheric black metal, with the folk sections providing the all-important sense of contrast, as well as some drum patterns that recall Neurosis. Rather than the cold forests of Norway, Wayfarer conjure images of dusty, hot plains and vast distances. Full of charisma and character, it is a hugely distinctive release, and an impressive one too.
World’s Blood is out now on Profound Lore Records. Purchase here.
Words: Stuart Wain
Petyr – Smolyk
Fronted by Tony Hawk’s son Riley, it’s worth stating from the outset that Petyr aren’t a vanity project. Plenty of homework has gone into Smolyk, their debut album, to please even the most bonged-out flare-sporter, so let’s talk turkey.
Anyone who has followed the smoke will spot Sleep in the opening seconds, and indeed there’s an abundance of touchstones roaming around. ‘Sunrise Double’ calls up Graveyard and Kyuss with a caress from Quest For Fire, and there’s a vibrant strand of Hawkwind vibrating through the album as a whole. It’s not that heavy a record, but that’s not really the point. The over-arching design is one of weighty psych rather than blind skull-caving riffs, and the wigged-out, rough-as-balls lead-trade on ‘Salt Lake’ is as much of a tip of the hat to Earthless as anything. ‘Grease Em All’ is ace; full-blown acid rock barely keeping itself in check.
There’s a lot to dig here. Sure, some of the pieces outstay their welcome a bit and the vocals are slack as a bag of ties, but if you’re burning through the desert in a van playing this at crazy volume it’s banging, and as that’s clearly how it’s been written, you should cock it an ear.
Smolyk is out now on Outer Battery Records. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson
Neurosis – Pain Of Mind Re-Release
The godfathers of atmospheric sludge metal, Neurosis reissue their long out of print debut album Pain Of Mind, originally released in 1987. Neurosis began life as a hardcore punk band, leaning into crossover thrash. Pain Of Mind takes strong influence from Discharge and D.R.I.. This incarnation of the band features original and still active members Scott Kelly, Dave Edwardson and Jason Roeder, but Steve Von Till and Noah Landis hadn’t joined the ranks yet.
It’s fair to say that Neurosis hadn’t quite become masters of their craft at this stage, and didn’t leave a huge impact as a hardcore band. But it is fantastic to see that this and the similar follow-up album The Word As Law have been given the same deluxe remaster treatments as their classic records to follow, on their very own Neurot Recordings label. If Neurosis have carried anything over from their early punk days, it is their ferocity and their uncompromising attitude. The album as a whole feels a little muddled and dated now, but tracks like ‘Self Taught Infection’, ‘Training’ and ‘Bury What’s Dead’ are certainly enjoyable and full of rage. Who could know this band would go on to be true pioneers!?
Pain Of Mind Re-Release is out now on Neurot Recordings. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
The Flesh – Dweller
Made up of members from Blood Diamond and Herder, The Flesh have had a difficult birth. Not because they’re in other bands, and not because a first record always has teething troubles. Hailing from the Netherlands, the quartet have chosen to go down a crusty path on Dweller, instead of the sludgy doom-ride of their day jobs, and it hasn’t gone according to plan.
Something about this eight-tracker doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it’s the utterly crushing bass sound that stands out too far, or the fact that the guitars are so timid by comparison. It could be the overbearing drums, or the confused, papery vocals, but the biggest part of it is the songs. In all honesty, by ‘Salax’, your listeners’ attention has gone elsewhere, mostly due to this record not being engaging enough. There’s bits of The Secret, Terra Tenebrosa, Cursed, Entombed and all sorts in here, but the overall effect is ill at ease with itself.
The bands from which this line-up originates ply a stiff trade in quality doom, and while it’s understandable that the members within want to spread their black wings a bit, Dweller is average. A genuine shame, but everyone here can write a tune, so the next one should be wicked.
Dweller is out now. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson
Candlemass – House Of Doom
Despite comprising just four tracks, doom legends Candlemass have managed to cram a fair amount of variety into new EP House Of Doom. Cynics will most likely question its intention given that it was written as a soundtrack to a new casino game (cause why not?), but as a theatrical band who’ve always been keen on hefty doses of delightfully unashamed cheese, it’s hardly compromising their “artistic integrity”, or whatever.
Following 2016’s Death Thy Lover, these compositions continue to peddle the polished epic doom for which Candlemass are much beloved. The opening title-track and its successor, ‘Flowers Of Deception’, are fairly upbeat for a band so synonymous with the term “doom”, but delight in quality riffmanship and manage to stay just short of becoming oversweet melodrama. The same can’t exactly be said for ballad ‘Fortuneteller’, in which frontman Mats Levén’s breathy performance takes centre stage, for better or worse. It’s a shame that’s the last we hear from him, as his delivery largely fits the band’s dramatic tone, even if it lacks the operatic highs of ‘The Well Of Souls’, but closing instrumental ‘Dolls On A Wall’ is an enjoyable slab of Iommi worship sure to please any riff advocate.
Though it’ll pain doom aficionados to admit it, their best work may be behind them at this point, but Leif Edling and co. certainly still know their way around a hook. Bring on the impending full-length.
House Of Doom is out now on Napalm Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Trautonist – Ember
In a metal scene in which artists are combining seemingly disparate genres left right and centre, the once pioneering movement of blackgaze can occasionally seem less astonishingly creative than it once did. But, as Møl showed earlier this year, there are certainly still new avenues to be explored, and it’s fair to say that German duo Trautonist aren’t afraid to seek them out.
In fact, the band set out their alternate approach from track one of this, their second album, unafraid to show their black metal influences but also open to a calmer approach that’s content to leave the blistering blastbeats in the background. Indeed, ‘Fire And Ember’ plays like a melancholic rock track, oddly serene and easy-listening with celestial vocals that seem so far removed from the primitive shrieks of black metal’s icy heart.
The journey forward is so pleasant and care-free that the more directly metallic influences of the track’s second half, and its follower ‘Vanish’, creep up on you more than they do pop out of the speakers like a horror movie jump scare. Even at its darkest, though, this is some of the most amiable post-black metal there is. It’s charming, alluring and deeply atmospheric.
Ember is out now on Pest Productions. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr