Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light

Woods of Ypres

Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light
Earache
Whatever talk of this album there may be in future, the only certainty is that it will be forever overshadowed by the death of Woods of Ypres’ primary creative force, David Gold, who died prior to the album’s release when he was hit by a car whilst walking down Highway 400 in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, near the end of 2011. Their deal with Earache should have been the beginning of a new chapter in the Woods of Ypres’ story. Now, it’s almost certainly the epilogue, brought to a tragic, abrupt and premature end. Woods of Ypres were certainly lauded in the underground for their effective blackened doom metal, but that reputation and recent events alone shouldn’t have any bearing on whether the fifth Woods of Ypres album, ‘Grey Skies & Electric Light‘, produces the results that Digby Pearson foresaw upon signing the band to Earache.



There is no doubt that some purists will be disappointed with the band’s decision to largely ditch the blackened stuff for sorrowful doom, although ‘Adora Vivos’ provides a blinding mix of the two, an undeniably amazing moment occurring as Gold gnarls ‘under grey skies and electric light!‘. Whether you’ll enjoy much of the rest of the record is down to how much of the dark stuff you’ll be able to stomach. As it is, while lyrically it is one of the bleakest records I’ve ever heard, Gold conveys it very well in my opinion, and by and large gets its right. The largely concise tracklisting – compared to most doom releases, at least – gives each song a certain punctuality. They don’t get lost in bleak meandering – even the longest song on the record ‘Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)’ remains fully interesting throughout thanks to its progressive nature, merged into one song from the two parts that took up the promo version of this record.

Whether it was intended or not, ‘Grey Skies‘ reads an awful lot like a death note. Lyrically it’s one of the most striking albums I’ve ever come across, regardless of the events prior to its release. Through many of the tracks, there’s a real sense of closure, indeed finality – certainly not something that was intended to be so real. Yet you can’t deny how eerie some of the lyrics are, particularly ‘Back on the highway, under the moon, my final moments, still wondering about you…‘ (from ‘Alternate Ending’). There’s much more within that I won’t go into now by my word, its powerful stuff.

This was surely only to be the beginning of a successful relationship between Woods of Ypres and Earache which had the potential to bear many fruits. David Gold and Woods of Ypres were already revered before they signed with Earache and released ‘Grey Skies‘. This was to be the record that spread their name a little, to propel them to new heights/depths. Alas, what conspired that January evening was to cut any new promise short. Nonetheless, ‘Grey Skies‘ is a phenomenal album, a fitting epitaph to a band and a frontman who will surely take their place in cult metal folklore.
Peter Clegg
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Savage Messiah – Plague of Conscience

Savage Messiah
Plague of Conscience

Earache

British melodic heavy metallers Savage Messiah certainly generated themselves some welcome publicity when they announced they’d be giving their new album ‘Plague of Conscience‘ away for the price of your e-mail address just a couple of weeks ago, allowing their fans to taste the album prior to its official January 2012 release, ahead of the major press outlets and without resorting to piracy either. The move is nothing new (labelmates Gama Bomb did the same thing in November 2009 for ‘Tales From the Grave in Space‘) but its still bold to risk your album sales for free promotion and hope of added merch sales.

The promotion is something Savage Messiah could do with. They possess the same melodic metal abilities as the likes of Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium, etc. while maintain a slight thrash leaning that beefs them up enough to distinguish them from the pack. It owes more to Megadeth, Testament, and contemporaries like Evile musically than the more mainstream acts, and this gives them a good platform to work from. Unfortunately, ‘Plague of Conscience‘ doesn’t quite exploit the potential shown by the band. The groundwork was there on previous albums ‘Spitting Venom‘ and ‘Insurrection Rising‘, and despite its best efforts, I don’t feel ‘Plague of Conscience‘ goes far enough. There’s nothing much wrong with the songs, with some pretty enjoyable numbers like ‘Carnival of Souls’ and ‘All Seeing I’, and the guitarists are certainly on fire during the solo sections, but ultimately its all a bit too samey for the first nine tracks, as good as the tracks are in terms of quality.

It takes right up until the final song, ‘The Mask of Anarchy’, for Savage Messiah to truly spread their wings and attempt something different, even if its fairly indifferent within metal circles. At 8:37 in length, it has plenty of time to breathe and develop, starting as an acoustic ballad before shifting into heavy mode, back to acoustic, and then heavy again with some more impressive noodling. For me its by far the best track on the album, and leaves me questioning why they left such an approach late?

Plague of Conscience‘ is certainly more palatable than the majority of the radio friendly hard rock/metal frontline (although that’s not too difficult in itself) and they ought to be challenging them, putting themselves in the mixer and pushing onwards. Having not quite been swept up by thrash’s brief renaissance, ‘Plague…‘ for me represents an opportunity for Savage Messiah, with the right backing, to take the bull by the horns, and will certainly appeal to those looking to try something a little heavier and truer. But its not quite exceptional, and Savage Messiah may just want to take a few more risks in future to get ahead in this game.

Peter Clegg

Download ‘Plague of Conscience‘ here (e-mail sign-up required)
Officially released on Monday 23rd January, 2012

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Savage Messiah giving ‘Plague of Conscience’ away for free from tomorrow!

Yes, you read that right – Dave Silver of UK heavy/thrash metallers Savage Messiah announced on YouTube yesterday that the band’s new album, ‘Plague of Conscience‘, will be available as a free download via the Earache Records website from tomorrow (Wednesday November 23rd)! The album is not scheduled for a physical release until Monday January 23rd, 2012, but the band have offered fans the chance to get in there before the journalists get hold of it.

Once again, Earache and their roster prove to be ahead of the curve, with Savage Messiah following the recent free album giveaways by label mates Gama Bomb and Wormrot. All you need to do is to head to http://www.earache.com/savagemessiah and prove your e-mail address – and the album will be yours.

See frontman Silver’s announcement below. Be sure to pick it up and spread the word!

Peter Clegg

Evile – Five Serpent’s Teeth

Evile
Five Serpent’s Teeth
Earache

The new wave of thrash has reached its apex. Such was its love affair with the first wave, it was bound to reach a crescendo fairly quickly, and so it has proved. For some, it came and went too quickly; some still stuck in the 80’s simply didn’t deliver, some didn’t get the credit they deserved, and a few seized upon the thrash ball and ran with it, to reap the rewards for simple awesomeness or for daring to bring the genre up to date. That paragraph is, as a mega thrash fan, equal parts heartbreaking, true and triumphant.

Evile certainly fall in the latter camp. I feel priviledged to have seen them in Huddersfield during their unsigned days because to have watched their rise into the metal stratosphere bestows a feeling of pride and awe. Having tracked them from the ‘All Hallows Eve‘ EP through to 2009’s ‘Infected Nations‘, I was certainly looking forward to the next step in their career, although admittedly with quiet optimism, as I found ‘Infected Nations‘ to be a bit of a grower. I needn’t have been so cautious.

Whereas they hinted towards a move away from thrash on the previous record, ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth‘ sees Evile fully reembrace the thrash spirit with added groove and dynamic. The ten songs here are among the finest you’ll find anywhere all year. The proof is in the pudding – the opening salvo of the title track and ‘In Dreams of Terror’ attack and strike with razor-sharp precision, the latter in particular possessing quite the shred. Straight away you’ll also notice vocalist Matt Drake’s increased vocal prowess, an instant sign of the work gone into making this record.

Lead single ‘Cult’ slows down the pace to a midpaced groove. A stab at organized religion, Matt Drake’s wider vocal range really makes this song possible. It’s accessible but without sacrificing any verve – it’s hard not to sing along to the chorus of “all we ask is that you join our…cult!”, before rocking out to the main riff the next. It’s an anthem in the making. Collectively, they’ve fully harnessed the slower grooves and become a much more intelligent beast. The album continues to excel as it continues, the progressive angle of ‘Xaraya’, which gradually builds over the course of the song, culminating in another searing guitar solo from lead guitarist Ol Drake, and ‘Origin of Oblivion’, one of the finest all out thrash songs of the resurgence, charging through out before hitting a slightly slower groove at the end to the defiant shout of “I will not become machine!”
 
Proof of the elevated maturity of the band is evident particularly as the album reaches its climax. After the ripping assault of the first seven songs, ‘In Memoriam’ is a largely acoustic number throughout, featuring the Drake brothers’ father, and ex-Pilgrym guitarist Tony, and a fitting epitaph for their former, late bassist Mike Alexander. The bass riff is one he frequently played during rehearsals and feels extremely poignant. No doubt Mike’s death hurt Evile, but equally no doubt it strengthened them as a band.

The album closes with two more knuckle-grinding thrash numbers, and its ‘Descent Into Madness’ that particularly stands out. If this was Bay Area in the 80’s, it’d be held as a classic, cos the first half if an absolute rager. It gets really interesting when bassist Joel Graham, on record with Evile for the first time, gets the spotlight with a little bass solo to finish the song. It obviously owes to Cliff Burton but its bloody great to see.

Expectations were certainly high for this album and not only. have Evile met them, they’ve blown.them out of the water. Naysayers will still argue there’s too much Metallica influence, but that’s negligible. Hand on heart, if this had been the 80’s we’d be hailing this as a genre classic – it certainly has that feel about it, such is the quality of the material. Let’s ensure that in 2036 we’re still talking about this album. I also make no apologies for labelling ‘Five Serpent’s Teeth‘ a thrashterpiece. Because any album you can’t fault despite several listens has got to be worth the recognition.

Peter Clegg

Review: SSS – Problems To The Answer

SSS
Problems To The Answer

Earache
 
SSS were originally part of the spate of thrash bands that Earache Records signed as thrash metal once again gained a head of steam and briefly rose back to the fore. Some called it ‘The New Wave of Thrash Metal’, some called it ‘Thrash 2.0’, and detractors simply called it re-thrash. Meh. I could care less for snidey labelling. Or indeed labelling at all. But while Evile and former labelmates Municipal Waste have gone strength to strength and emerged dangerously close to mainstream waters, SSS have remained slightly under the radar and haven’t quite taken off in the same way – a shame, as they deserve at least as much recognition. That said, they’ve stuck to their uncompromising crossover thrash and continue to do so again on album number three.
It starts off pretty well, opener ‘The Kill Floor’ bringing in Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway on guest vocals to provide a great riotous 2-minute plus romp. The tracks then come thick and fast, and SSS sound just as pissed off and nonplussed as ever, with some insane musicianship on all instruments (‘Sick Pleasures’ and the instrumental ‘Future Primitive’) and combative songs such as the 5-second ‘Direct Action’, and ‘Here Comes The Neighbourhood’, in which Barney appears with his trademark roar once again.
Its not all same old, same old; SSS do try a couple of new things with some whispered vocals from Foxy in ‘Man Against Man’, and closer ‘Strangenotes’ is the band’s longest song to date, another instrumental that sounds hardly like crossover thrash but even shows hints of progression, as it recesses into a quieter, but unsettling, piano-driven middle section before returning to the main riff towards the end. It could well be the soundtrack to wandering lone through the creepy streets of a dispirit inner city suburb somewhere in rundown Britain – that middle section alone gives off that vibe.
Problems to the Answer’ deserves repeated listening. Particularly as long time SSS fans might be taken aback slightly by the forays into instrumentals, and there’s a few more punkish riffs as opposed to shredding thrash. The songs aren’t all as fast and furious as they were on ‘The Dividing Line’. That said, ‘Problems…’ is definitely a grower and in actual fact, SSS have managed to carve out a cracking album with a few experimental forays that don’t compromise their style, free of gimmickry. Hopefully, this will be the album that might inspire more thrash fans around the world to pay SSS a little more attention.
Peter Clegg

Review: Wormrot – Dirge

Wormrot
Dirge

Earache

For the uninitiated, Singaporean trio Wormrot are proof powerful of how musical discovery has evolved, and indeed the mysterious way in which it can work. After receiving positive attention on top metal and grind blogs, Earache Records supremo Digby Pearson only went and illegally downloaded their debut album ‘Abuse’, and after giving it a spin, decided to approach the band and offer them a deal with Earache. Wormrot accepted, and the rest will go down in history.


The buzz spread so quickly regarding new album ‘Dirge’ that typically, someone couldn’t resist sharing it with everybody way prior to release. So Earache and Wormrot did the bold thing and offered it as a legal free download, with the added incentive of merchandise. It was a clever move by both the band and the label in an effort to stay one step ahead.

So what of the record itself? Holy balls. 25 tracks, all over and done with in 18 blistering minutes. The opener, ‘No One Gives A Shit’, starts the album with a slow, almost sludgy build-up for the first 35 seconds…and then in come Arif’s vocals, and before you know it, ‘Dirge’ has hold of you like a Rottweiler viciously ragging about a hapless tennis ball. It offers little respite, ‘Deceased Occupation’ being a welcome change of pace, now that you’ve been flung from one place to another. But then it’s back in the proverbial jaws straight away. Not that it’s all totally serious – songs such as ‘Butt Krieg Is Showing’ and ‘You Suffer But Why Is It My Problem’, aggressive as they are, display a fun element to Wormrot and they’re undeniably having a blast on this record.

Musically this is tight and precise, an unrelenting barrage of blastbeats and shredded riffs provided by drummer Fitri and guitarist Rasyid. Arif’s vocals are savage and coursing with venom throughout, shifting between different styles throughout. They blend together perfectly well, creating one unholy maelstrom that’s impossible to escape. Despite the rapid delivery of each song, ‘Dirge’ seamlessly flows from one track to another and the slowdowns that do occur are brief but perfectly timed. The brevity is unreal – one song finishes, straight onto the next one. There’s barely time to catch a breath here, yet despite that relentless pace, it will hold your attention throughout. So many bands can fall into the speed trap and bore the listener to death. But Wormrot have this down to a fine art – so it’s no small wonder why their stock has risen so quickly.

I actually chuckled when I first saw the title ‘Meteor To The Face’. But that’s exactly how this album feels. So swift, so instant, a crushing blow to the senses, both physical and aural. Yes, it’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s done so well, and it only serves to further cement Wormrot’s status as one of the top grind bands out there right now.
Peter Clegg
‘Dirge’ is available for free download via Earache’s website, in exchange for your e-mail address. You can also pay for either a digital or physical copy.