26 Nov 2015

Hard Action - Sinister Vibes [Full length] (2015, Svart Records)

Leather-rocking biker music with everything it entails
Everything about this band screams "we're one of those seventies hard n' heavy clones from Sweden that land somewhere in the midst of a circlejerk consisting of early Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy and Girlschool". The promo shots feature sunglasses, denim, beards and a bandana. The cover presents wrecked guitar equipment and a stylish seventies design. Songtitles like Watch Me Burn, Cut to the Bone and Dead Dogs really do the trick. It's a sure thing, right? Well, no, not really.

These Finnish bad boys - a veritable super group to say the least, consisting of fine musicians from Speedtrap, Forced Kill and other prominent Finnish bands - may be sporting the mandatory seventies hard rockin' biker dresscode, but these motorcycles carry them to far punkier territories. When they're the punkiest they sound like a head-on collision between a flashier Ramones and Danzig-era Misfits on speed. When they're the heaviest, Airbourne and a slew of other hard rock bands come to mind.

"It's tough to compare Hard Action to any one band or scene because they borrow so much."

There's really no defining moment on Sinister Vibes, the band's debut album. With no real highs or lows to set the bar, the tracks come off as being nothing but a case of explosive nostalgiarrhea. It's tough to compare Hard Action to any one band or scene because they borrow so much. To put it bluntly, they sound like every aviator shade-wearing biker cop on Earth had an unlubricated orgy on top of a giant heap of Gibson guitars and Marshall stacks.

It's not that Sinister Vibes is a boring mess, it's just that this particular style has been done better by other bands, and it seems mostly like a group of already established musicians wanting to cash in on the recent resurgence of popularity in the genre. It's entertaining enough, and it's certainly listenable with its hookless chords and flashy shredding, but ultimately nothing really stands out. Hard Action is in many ways to hard rock what Speedtrap is to speed metal: A crash course in all the tropes and an entirely by-the-numbers experience going top speed through a wall of nostalgia. 6/10 guitars.

1. Dead Dogs
2. Chosen Few
3. Cut to the Bone
4. Night Moves
5. Deadweight (Cut Me Loose)
6. Watch Me Burn
7. Hey You
8. Sinister Vibes
9. Gun Point
10. No Lesson Learned

HARD ACTION on Facebook
HARD ACTION on Bandcamp
SVART RECORDS official site

21 Nov 2015

Death Hawks - Sun Future Moon [Full length] (2015, Svart Records)

Consistently ambitious and well-crafted nature-rock
The Finnish folk and rock scene has many gems hidden to the rest of the Western world. If you're not acquainted with the progressive grooves of Sammal, the ecclectic ramblings of Paavoharju or the laid back finesse of Riitaoja, all I've got to say is get going! One of the many surprising acts that the land of a thousand lakes has to offer is Death Hawks, a group which has been consistently releasing albums and touring Europe since 2010.

While the morbidly titled debut from 2012 hinted at sun-powered seventies-gone-modern psychedelia through compository valleys and mountains alike, and the self-titled follow-up from the year after flew among the stars on a hypnotically interstellar space rock trip, the Finnish group's third album - Sun Future Moon - opts for a greater scope than the preceding releases.

The dreamy ambience that Death Hawks has integrated into their sound on the previous album features strongly on Sun Future Moon, contributing with alluring synths, smooth bass and wistfully effective guitars and strings right from the start with the first offering of organic folk rock "Hey Ya Sun Ra".
"Sun Future Moon... ...elaborates on the sound and style they found on their two earlier efforts..."
No doubt about it, Sun Future Moon rings like a true Death Hawks album and showcases a band still going strong in terms of songwriting on their triennial album. While Sun Future Moon shows what we already know the band is capable of, it also elaborates on the sound and style they found on their two earlier efforts, and is - like nature - in an ongoing state of evolution. The A-side of Sun Future Moon provides a stern, traditional approach, while the B-side is a bit more on the daring side of things. As an example "Dream Life, Waking Life" comes off as a Riders On The Storm-esque psychedelic lounge piece, while the follow-up track "Heed the Calling" has late sixties earworm written all over it. And next, airy pop track "Wing Wah" takes over, followed by a fragile composition of spaceous guitar ambience akin to Black Sabbath's Planet Caravan.

The captivating bass play of Riku Pirttiniemi has, to my great pleasure, been promoted to a more prominent position, driving forth the lingering synths and gentle instrumentation with a sense of instinctual purpose. As usual Tenho Mattila's sax, synths and keys are juxtaposed against Teemu Markkula's more tenacious vocals, with the percussion provided by Miikka Heikkinen returning to a more traditional rock-setup, as opposed to the more tribal sounding rhythm section of the self-titled sophomore album. In many ways Sun Future Moon has succeeded in becoming a colourful amalgam of every essential element of Death Hawks. 8/10 guitars.

1. Hey Ya Sun Ra
2. Ripe Fruits
3. Dream Machine
4. Behind Thyme
5. Seaweed
6. Dream Life, Waking Life
7. Heed the Calling
8. Wing Wah
9. Future Moon
10. Friend of Joy

DEATH HAWKS official site
DEATH HAWKS on Facebook
SVART RECORDS official site

26 Jul 2015

Gouge - Beyond Death [Full length] (2015, Hells Headbangers)

Kolbotn, Norway, is perhaps best known for fathering Darkthrone. With Gouge, there's really no semblance to those legends, turning more towards an American style of thrashing, grinding, old schooling death metal in the dirtiest style imaginable.

Their album debut, released on respected label Hells Headbangers, is about as graceful as a car crashing at a hundred miles per hour against a flock of devoted christians. The count-in of the opening track 'Wretched Passion' is about as classic as it gets. In that way the demented Norwegian death metal duo portray their convictions rather vividly at an early stage. Paying tribute to the legends of early American extreme metal, Gouge represent a state of mind that's all about combining riffs designed to be played at insane speeds with equally fast drumming. Since this hasn't been tampered with to the point of musical regurgitation in ProTools, this means it sounds a bit sloppy. Just like it should.

When you aim for the legacy of the likes of Repulsion, Impetigo, Autopsy and Master, slowing down once in a while may not always seem to be part of the equation. But without the contrast between fast and slow, the faster, thrashier parts don't stand out as well. Tracks like 'Butcher Attack', 'Devil's Debt' and 'Morbid Curse' do this adequately, but they are the exception to the rule it would seem. The fist-fight riffs are forcefully captivating, but it all gets a bit much over the course of the half hour Beyond Death lasts without slower parts to mediate the sonic chaos that is Gouge.

While I enjoy grinding death metal as much as the next guy, I also like when neckbreaking speed is juxtaposed with slower, churning sections. Maintaining an evil atmosphere by speed alone is tough when the majority of the riffing is savagely simple, and the longer tracks - especially the title track, which also serves as the closing track - are easily the best on Beyond Death. Whether the band's debut is beyond anything but a respecting homage to the groups that started it all I'm not too sure, but it is a fun listen nonetheless, even if it doesn't quite soar to modern classic status. 7/10 guitars.

1. Wretched Passion
2. Breath of the Reaper
3. I Smell of Rotten Death
4. Blood Feast
5. Putrefaction
6. Butcher Attack
7. Morbid Curse
8. Malady Macabre
9. Uncontrollable Madness
10. Chaos and Horror
11. Devil's Debt
12. Beyond Death

GOUGE offical facebook
Hells Headbangers official site

24 Jul 2015

Symphony X - Underworld [Full length] (2015, Nuclear Blast Records)

Introducing Symphony X should almost be unnecessary. Symphony X have been a mainstay in both the progressive and the power metal scene for many years now, each album reaping heaps of great reviews and praise from critics and listeners alike. Their reach is far and wide, spanning neo-classical, progressive and groovy compositions. Fronted as always by the immensely talented Russell Allen, Underworld is an album that needs only a few listens to convince.

Disregarding the quality or lack of the same of Russel Allen's many collaborations and appearances, including Jørn Lande, Ayreon and Adrenaline Mob, Symphony X will always feel like the vocalist's true home. His variation between gruff Anselmo-ish vocals and higher melodic vocals are in focus on almost each and every track, leaving no doubt that he is as essential a part of Symphony X's music as guitarist and main songwriter Michael Romeo. Where 'Iconoclast', the band's previous album, dealt primarily with mankind's promethean relationship with modern technology, Underworld has returned to the more mythological subjects as the albums from earlier in the band's career.

Though not among the initial singles, the track 'Charon' feels like one of the strongest tracks on their ninth album. There are several strong tracks that I for one will be listening to for years to come, including 'Nevermore' and 'Kiss of Fire'. Symphony X are masters of the power ballad, and of course there is one on Underworld as well. 'Without You' is as strong a ballad as ever, but Underworld lacks the lengthy prog display of power that most have come to associate closely with the group. Almost every album up until now has had one of these tracks, but 'To Hell and Back' is the best we've got this time around. A mighty track, but not quite akin to the masterpieces like the Divine Wings of Tragedy and the Odyssey title tracks.

In many ways Underworld feels like a mix of the band's three previous albums, combining the neo-classical progressiveness of The Odyssey, the lofty compositions of Paradise Lost, and the heaviness and powerful groove of Iconoclast. You always hear talk of "the difficult second or third album" when talking about a band's career. Never the impossible ninth album. Most bands have lost their flair long before reaching that point, and in that way it's refreshing to hear Symphony X release such a powerful and well carried-out album more than twenty years into their endeavour. Their output has been incredibly consistent quality-wise, and while Underworld may not be in their top 3, it comes incredibly close. Closer than many bands could ever hope to achieve this late in their career. This is unmistakingly Symphony X as we know them. 8/10 guitars.

1. Overture
2. Nevermore
3. Underworld
4. Without You
5. Kiss of Fire
6. Charon
7. To Hell and Back
8. In My Darkest Hour
9. Run with the Devil
10. Swan Song
11. Legend

Symphony X official site
Nuclear Blast official site

13 Jul 2015

Sangus - Vengeful Brutality [Demo] (2013, Self-released)

Holding high the tatteret banners of thrash-encrusted black metal are Sangus of Rhode Island, USA. Vengeful Brutality seems a fitting title for the kind of furious black metal ablaze with the naked flames of crust punk that we find under their moniker. But the intensity of the raw abrasions comes at the cost of the atmosphere often found inherent in black metal, gambling with the wholesomeness and entirety of the debut, often making it a cacophonous mess of blasting drums and hostile guitars.

It is neither sophisticated nor majestic. Rather, it is clandestinely concrete, dirty and almost graphically visceral. Without any of the subtleties of black metal, and with all the hard-wired tropes of crust, the general thinking seems to be "go fast or go home", and as such Sangus makes a convincing case of what a bulldozer going 100 mph would sound like. For a 10-minute dose of face-blasting black-thrash-crust, look no further than Vengeful Brutality by Sangus. 6/10 guitars.

1. Bonecollector
2. Gaspipe
3. Si Brucera

SANGUS official Facebook page