Tag Archives: reviews

Riverside: ID.Entity

Released: January 20, 2023

 Personnel

  •  Mariusz Duda: vocals, basses, electric and acoustic guitars
  • Piotr Kozieradzki: drums
  • Michał Łapaj: keyboards and synthesizers, Rhodes piano and Hammond organ
  • Maciej Meller: electric guitars

 Tracklist

  1. Friend or Foe?
  2. Landmine Blast
  3. Big Tech Brother
  4. Post-Truth
  5. The Place Where I Belong
  6. I’m Done With You
  7. Self-Aware

 Bonus Tracks:

  1. Age of Anger
  2. Together Again
  3. Friend or Foe? (single edit)
  4. Self-Aware (single edit)

 Algorithms. Influencers and Curated Lives. How to Change Your Life in Ten Words or Less. Memes. Monetization. Tracking. Filters and Avatars. Targeted Ads. Conspiracies. Expectations versus reality. Who is real and who is not? How much control over our lives do we really have?

With ID.Entity, Riverside’s 8th album, Mariusz Duda and his bandmates explore these themes: negotiating virtual realities, hanging on to one’s identity and self, fighting the ubiquitous and implacable presence of the data collectors and algorithms that tell us what we should want, trying to deal with the polarization and angry echo chambers of the online world.

We get some hints from the outset that things are different: the cover is by Polish artist Jarek Kubicki and it thrums with life. This is not the dark, sombre palette of the covers of most of the previous albums. Bright, fragmented shards of colour fly out against a stark white background; we can glimpse shadowy figures in the background. Does this new vision reflect what is inside? Continue reading Riverside: ID.Entity

The Albums of 2022

It’s that time again, when, along with many other people, I maunder on about some music I heard in the past year. I’m not sure how many albums I did hear altogether, definitely more than the dozen I talk about, but I don’t make notes unless for some reason the album gets my attention long enough to play it more than once. A lot of albums don’t get that far. A lot of albums I don’t manage to get all the way through even once. I’m sure there is a lot of music that I have missed — there always is, mostly due to time constraints, and mood constraints, and the inability to listen to everything that gets recommended by various friends, musicians, and algorithms, but I do try.

 Anyway, what follows is the music that did catch my attention sufficiently for me to revisit it. I think there is less variety than usual: metal and post-metal dominate, but there is a surprising amount of prog considering my general disdain for the modern form of the genre, some ambient/electronica, and a bluegrass album. I’d heard of every band on the list except for one, and that one proved to be one of the best discoveries for a long time. I found a couple of albums simply because it struck me that the band had been awfully quiet lately and maybe I should check what they were up to.

In terms of ranking… I’m beginning to wonder whether I should bother: at least, for anything not in the Top 3. I did a little research, looking back on my previous lists to see what albums had actually stood the test of time. It wasn’t quite as bad as I feared: for most years, a lot of my top picks have turned out to be albums that I still play. Not all years to be sure, and not all albums, but enough for me to continue to trust my own judgment. So take the top 3 as the top 3, and the rest in more or less rough order, as in — the ones near the bottom are less interesting than the ones near the top.

Continue reading The Albums of 2022

Blowing the Dust Off: Flying Doesn’t Help by Anthony More

I started this project near the time I started my blog, but … I didn’t get very far with it. The intention was to revisit albums I own that are old, or obscure, or need more exposure — or maybe just to remind myself how good they actually are. It is a fair assumption that any album that appears here is one that I think has some merit, and who knows? Maybe someone reading these will find a new favourite.

This is the fourth album in the series. The others are here, here, and here. I hope you will check them out.

Flying Doesn’t Help

Released 1979

Personnel:

  • Anthony Moore: Lyrics*, lead and backing vocals, keyboards, guitars and electronics
  • Bob Shilling, Chris Slade, Robert Vogel, Charles Hepworth: Drums
  • Festus, Sam Harley, Matt Irving: Bass
  • Laurie Latham: Sax and mouthharp, backing vocals
  • Edwin Cross: Backing vocals

*Lyrics to “War” by Peter Blegvad

 Tracklist:

  1. Judy Get Down
  2. Ready Ready
  3. Useless Moments
  4. Lucia
  5. Caught Being in Love
  6. Timeless Strange
  7. Girl It’s Your Time
  8. War
  9. Just Us
  10. Twilight (Uxbridge Rd)

 Anthony Moore (his surname sometimes appears as More) is a British experimental composer and producer, although he has spent most of his career based out of Germany. He along with his school friend Peter Blegvad were briefly members of the British experimental avant-garde collective Henry Cow, but they soon left and in 1971 formed the avant-pop trio Slapp Happy, along with Dagmar Krause. Slapp Happy released several albums, a couple in collaboration with Henry Cow, but their eccentric and minimalist style, along with the fact that they refused to play live, caused the record labels to largely avoid them.

 By 1977 Anthony Moore had returned to a solo career (he had recorded a couple of minimalist solo albums in the early 1970s); over the decades he has worked with Pink Floyd, Richard Wright, Kevin Ayers, Trevor Rabin, and Julian Lennon, and released a few more albums of his own.

Continue reading Blowing the Dust Off: Flying Doesn’t Help by Anthony More

Heart Attack: Negative Sun Review

Released: June 10, 2022

 Personnel:

  •  Chris Cesari: Lead guitar, keyboards
  • Kevin Geyer: Vocals, guitar
  • Christophe Icard: Drums
  • William Ribeiro: Bass, vocals

 Guest: Rafał “Rasta” Piotrowski (Vocals on Track 6)

 Tracklist

  1.  Rituals
  2. Septic Melody
  3. Wings of Judgement
  4. World Consumption
  5. The Messenger
  6. Twisted Sacrifice
  7. Bound to This Land
  8. Take Your Pride Back
  9. Negative Sun
  10. Jesus He Knows Me

 Heart Attack is a melodic thrash metal band from Cannes, France, who have been around since about 2007. I first heard them a few years ago and was struck by their combination of strong melody and brutal heaviness; I liked them well enough to get their 2017 album The Resilience. And while that album is very good, for this new one they have really stepped up their game.

Negative Sun is an album of crushing riffs and brutal drums, and maybe some of the best metal vocals I’ve heard. Compared to the previous album, the songwriting has become very tight and focused: enormous wall-of-metal is surrounded by a sophisticated handle on melody, almost orchestral at times, and head-bangingly heavy all the way.

 The album starts out with “Rituals”, an instrumental/folk-ish intro, and their instrumentals can be quite deceiving: slow and lush — but wait for it. With “Septic Melody” they kick into high gear and never let up for the rest of the album. There are ten tracks over 45 minutes, so the songs are short and to the point, but they still manage to fit a lot of killer songwriting into each track.

The best tracks for me are “The Messenger”, anthemic and dense, with choral growl vocals over powerhouse riffage, and “Take Your Pride Back” with its monster chorus. I find “Twisted Sacrifice” (featuring guest vocals from Decapitated’s “Rasta” Piotrowski) and “Bound to this Land” slightly less memorable — but that may be because the best tracks are so strong. The album ends with a cover of Genesis’ “Jesus He Loves Me”; the original is satirical enough, but turning it into a thrash metal song is just the icing on the cake <throws horns>.

This is my favourite album of the year so far. Heavy and unpretentious and full of massive riffs and earworms, I have not yet tired of playing it. These guys are hugely good, and while they seem to be getting attention in the European metal press, they deserve to be a lot better known on this side of the world. Hopefully they will make it over for some festival or another.

 

 

 

 

Porcupine Tree: Closure/Continuation

Released: June 24, 2022

 Personnel:

  •  Steven Wilson: Guitar, bass, vocals, piano
  • Gavin Harrison: drums
  • Richard Barbieri: keyboards, synths

 Tracklist:

  1. Harridan
  2. Of the New Day
  3. Rats Return
  4. Dignity
  5. Herd Culling
  6. Walk the Plank
  7. Chimera’s Wreck

 Bonus Tracks:

  • Population Three
  • Never Have
  • Love in the Past Tense

 It is fair to say that, amongst a certain fan base, the most highly anticipated album of 2022 has been the new one from a newly resurrected Porcupine Tree. It is a slightly revised PT, however: for … reasons (given in various interviews from both sides if you are interested), Colin Edwin is not part of this version of the band, so Steven Wilson takes care of the bass playing. In recent interviews Wilson has also insisted that he never explicitly claimed that PT had ceased operations, and while this may be technically true, he spent a lot of the intervening years avoiding and redirecting questions about the band’s potential future, so the claim comes across as somewhat disingenuous, at best.

 At any rate, huge excitement, hopeful caution, and downright cynicism accompanied the announcement of a new Porcupine Tree album and tour. Still, whatever one’s opinion about the reasons for the reunion, one thing was true — the singles that were released in the months preceding the album were not disappointing.

Continue reading Porcupine Tree: Closure/Continuation

The Music of 2022 So Far

Well, it’s already May, and I haven’t updated the blog for a while.

What is new and exciting so far? There are a few new things to be sure, but not very many have caught my attention. I haven’t really had the time to dig in and listen to stuff, let alone search out new things.

That being said, some singles have hit in anticipation of new albums:

 Porcupine Tree: “Of the New Day”

Steven Wilson and crew follow up the first single from 2021 with this one, much slower and more contemplative, but still managing to sound like a mash-up of earlier Wilson solo albums and Porcupine Tree — which is not to say that it is a bad or derivative song. It is not. Maybe not as instantly compelling as “Harridan”, and a bit more of a grower, but the two singles together suggest the upcoming album may be a pretty good one, whatever the reasons for its release.

 

Killing Joke: Lord of Chaos EP

There are two new tracks on this EP, and a couple of remixes of things from 2015’s Pylon. The new tracks are “Lord of Chaos” and “Total”, and these are worthy follow-ups to the angry melodic industrial post-punk of Pylon. It is, however, not clear whether a full-length album is to follow.

 

Decapitated: “Cancer Culture” and “Hello Death”

Technical death metal from Poland, beat-and-riff-heavy, relentlessly energetic, reminiscent of beloved early albums. “Hello Death” stands out because of guest vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk (Jinjer) who adds a whole level of richness with her soaring clean vocals, in opposition to Rafał Piotrowski’s angry growls.

 

Kellermensch: “6705”

The angst-ridden Danes are back after several years, with a new album in the works, due to be released on May 27th. The single is very much in the vein of songs from 2017’s Goliath: darkly melodic and orchestral, dealing with loneliness and broken relationships. Christian Sindermann’s plaintive voice may be an acquired taste, but it does fit the mood of the songs.

 

Shearwater: “Xenarthran” and “Aqaba”

Jonathan Meiburg has been busy: he released his first book last year (the very excellent A Most Remarkable Creature — a book that has nothing at all to do with music) and is still promoting it; and he also managed to finish the latest Shearwater album (The Great Awakening) which will be released in June. The album was released to crowdfunders early this year, so I have been listening to it for quite some time now.

 The singles give a taste of what the album is like. Slow, contemplative, rather more acoustic than the previous album, and it can sound deceptively sparse, but it isn’t really. It hearkens back to earlier albums: in fact, “Aqaba” has very much the feel of “The Snow Leopard” from Rook, and if you know that song, you know that is not a bad thing at all.

 

Mariusz Duda: “News From the World”

 This song does not presage a new album, but winds up the Lockdown trilogy of albums that Duda composed and released over the past two years. And it is an interesting song to end with; rather than being more of the sparse, jittery electronica of the Trilogy, it is dense and analog, with the three-part structure common to Duda’s best Riverside or Lunatic Soul tracks. It is certainly full of electronic washes and soundscapes, and it even begins in a deceptively Lockdown-ish way, but soon a slightly jazzy bass riff and actual drums take over. Piano dominates the middle third, before heavy rolling bass-and-drum riffs return. There are bits reminiscent of Lunatic Soul, and Eye of the Soundscape; it is by far the strongest track of the entire Trilogy, probably because this is where Duda’s strengths lie. I could stand a whole album like this.

Albums

At this point most of the albums I’m interested in are in the future. I’ve only picked up three new ones to date:

 Author and Punisher: Krüller

 Author and Punisher is the nom de plume of one Tristan Shone, industrial musician who takes the genre descriptor literally: he builds machines that make industrial music. No guitars or drums on his stage, just huge metal contraptions that he works with hands, feet, and voice, to produce enormous swathes of massive sound. He came to my attention a few years ago via the Spotify algorithm, back when it seemed to actually work — for some reason it suggested I might like this stuff.

It was not wrong. Author and Punisher makes brutal, dense, angry electronic noises, at least at his best. I’m not sure, alas, that Krüller is his best: this album sees his material somewhat more melodic, and less brutal, and somehow less effective. For me, only “Centurion” really stands out as indicative of what he can do, perhaps followed by the title track.

 

Amorphis: Halo

 The Finnish folk metal masters have released an album that is very reminiscent of Under the Red Sky, and that is fine with me, because I liked that album very much. These guys present deeply melodic and heavy folk metal, full of catchy riffs, and really the best part of these songs is how well Tomi Joutsen switches between growl vocals and a rich clean tenor voice throughout the songs. He’s one of the best in the business at that. This is a nice and easy album to listen to, head-banging all the way.

 

Marillion: An Hour Before It’s Dark

Marillion, the long-standing neo-prog outfit, is a band that never did much for me. The level of adoration from many of my friends does lead me to occasionally try out yet another Marillion track, just to see if something has changed — and since I tend to find Fish and Hogarth both annoyingly mannered vocalists, it shouldn’t really matter what album I pick. Pretty much every attempt has resulted in a bemused “meh”.

So yeah, I was rather surprised (as were most of the people I know when I mentioned it) when I actually took to the new album. I can’t remember why I listened to it — I think I just liked the cover — and somehow, despite Hogarth’s nasal whine, the album itself works. Now it is not one that is ever going to make my all-time best list by any means — it doesn’t have that kind of depth or thoughtfulness or originality — but it is certainly accomplished, smooth, with some pretty lush moments. It is a good album to put on and just play.

And no, I won’t be attending any Marillion weekends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best Album of 2021: Shriekback — 1000 Books

Released to crowdfunders: December 2021

General release: January 2022

Personnel:

  • Barry Andrews: keys and vocals
  • Martyn Barker: drums
  • Carl Marsh: guitar and vocals

Guests:

  • Scott Firth: bass on 2, 3, and 6
  • Wendy and Sarah Partridge: backing vocals

Tracklist:

  1. Space in the Blues
  2. Unholiness
  3. Portobello Head
  4. Slowly at First Then All at Once
  5. Good Disruption
  6. Everything Happens So Much
  7. Different Story
  8. 1000 Different Books
  9. Wild World

“A book read by a thousand people is a thousand different books.”

 Sometimes you hear an album and you like it right from the get-go, and you always like it but it never really gets under the skin. Sometimes you hear an album and you think it’s great, but after a while the urge to hear it disappears and never really returns. And sometimes you hear an album and you think … well, that’s okay. But something makes you return to it. And return to it. And then you realize — this is great, in that sneaky, deep-down long-lasting way, an album you know is not going to wear out its welcome. Such is 1000 Books.

I had been a huge fan of Shriekback back in the day, their Jam Science and Oil and Gold albums being among my very favourite things from the 80s. They had some hits, too: “My Spine is the Bassline”, “All Lined Up” – classic 80s club tracks, as good as anything from back then. But after a while I stopped paying attention even though they had (in one form or another) been sporadically releasing albums over the years. They reappeared on my radar around 2015 with the album Without Real String or Fish (reduced from a quartet to a trio) which I liked well enough to encourage me to continue watching them and buying the (mostly crowd-funded) albums since.

 1000 Books is their 16th album, and it hits on all cylinders. More than any of the other albums over the past few years (for me, anyway), it evokes most strongly the Shrieks of the 80s, in their heyday: that dark new-wave funkiness, bass-heavy and smart as hell (with some of the tastiest drumming I’ve heard in years), updated to the new century with a deep maturity.

There is not a weak song on this album. Starting with the electronic smoothness of “Space in the Blues” with its eerie winding background guitar solo, through the funk of “Unholiness”, to the contemplative distorted lament of “Wild World” we are taken on an immersive, thought-provoking journey, and the production is absolutely outstanding, probably the best I’ve heard for years.

 But more than this. One of the outstanding features of the band has always been the arcane, allusive, and hugely literate lyrics, words that can stand on their own but are actually there in service to the music. A band can count itself lucky if it has one decent lyricist — Shriekback, remarkably, have two: both Carl Marsh and Barry Andrews write lyrics, with equal facility, and the album retains a consistency of vision and feel even though the lyricists are different song to song. They are among the best in the business. (They also share the the vocal job between them).

 1000 Books came along very late in the year, and in fact the actual release to the general public did not happen until January 2022 (although originally meant to happen before
the end of the year), which technically makes it the first new album of 2022 — but to hell with it. This album is SO good that it takes the top spot for 2021. Maybe it will do the same for 2022.

You can preview the album on the band’s music page:

https://shriekback.com/music

 

Album Review: Are You There by Michał Łapaj

Released: July 2021

 Personnel:

  • Michał Łapaj: keyboards
  • Mick Moss: vocals (tracks 2, 3)
  • Bela Komoszyńska: vocals (tracks 4, 6)
  • Artur Szolc: drums

 Tracklist:

  1. Pieces
  2. Flying Blind
  3. Shattered Memories
  4. Shelter
  5. Where Do We Run
  6. Fleeting Skies
  7. In Limbo
  8. Unspoken
  9. Surfacing
  10. From Within

 A few years ago, Michał Łapaj, the keyboard player for the Polish band Riverside, announced that he was working on a solo album, much to the excitement of the fan base. Then followed an extended silence during which we heard almost nothing about it. Presumably the announcement was somewhat premature given the logistics of actually making an album; but finally, here it is.

 While we waited, Łapaj offered us some teasers: a single, and some “jam sessions”, available on Bandcamp and his Youtube channel, showcasing his love of analogue synths and keys, and demonstrating his mastery of emotion and atmosphere. These are things that fans of Riverside already knew — Łapaj joined the band in time to appear on their second full-length album (Second Life Syndrome), and his presence provided the final element to the “Riverside sound”: the rich keyboard soundscapes and melodies that underpin all the albums. So I think it came as a bit of a surprise when the announcement of the album’s release included the information that there would be guest vocalists, and lyrics, and not just instrumental pieces.

 Are You There features two guest vocalists: Mick Moss, of the UK project Antimatter, and Bela Komoszyńska, of the Polish art-rock band Sorry Boys. Artur Szolc (of the Polish collective Inspired) provides drums and percussion. There are also guitars here and there, but there is no information (that I have seen yet) about who provides them. So big question is: we know Michał Łapaj can compose great sweeping ambient mood pieces, because he has demonstrated this over the years. Can he write more conventional songs?

 The answer is an unqualified Yes! Indeed, he can.

Continue reading Album Review: Are You There by Michał Łapaj

Mariusz Duda — Claustrophobic Universe

Released April 23, 2021

Personnel:

  • Mariusz Duda: pianos, keyboards, synthesizers, and all other sounds

 Tracklist: 

  1. Knock Lock
  2. Planets in a Milk Bowl
  3. I Landed on Mars
  4. Waves From a Flat Earth
  5. 2084
  6. Escape Pod
  7. Lemon Flavoured Stars
  8. Claustrophobic Universe
  9. Numbers and Denials

 Last summer, during the first phase of the pandemic and some version of some lockdown that we all hoped would end the problem, Mariusz Duda took a break from working on Lunatic Soul to create a brief album of jagged electronic sounds, that he called Lockdown Spaces. It is not clear whether the plan for a trilogy originated with the first album or if the idea came later, but here we are: Claustrophobic Universe is the second instalment of what will be a trilogy that explores Duda’s early musical love, electronica.

 Lockdown Spaces was created in about two weeks, and it shows. Claustrophobic Universe took more time and, well, it shows. The album continues the minimalist trajectory started byLockdown Spaces: even though both rely heavily on programmed sounds and synths and electronic instrumentation, Claustrophobic Universe is a more nuanced album, more carefully considered, more textural, at times edging towards industrial. Along with the digital pulses and anxious rhythms there are analogue bits and pieces creeping in: piano, voice, small percussive sounds. The tracks are either constructions of jittery synth-beats, or leaning towards ambient (“Waves from a Flat Earth” versus “I Landed on Mars”, for example), but Duda cannot escape melody: even in the most spare, programmed tracks, little melodic themes trickle through, repeating and weaving in and out among the beats. Some of these tunes are on the edge of familiarity — it wouldn’t surprise me if he has reworked older ideas and I just haven’t identified them yet.

There is a lot of repetition in these songs; themes and rhythms bounce back and forth, and move from track to track, a fitting reflection of the overall idea of the album: confined as many of us are to four walls and a restricted physical space, we seek escape from the internet-filtered reality and distorted facts into universes of our own making, and yet this too can be constrained. We bounce between the two of them.

 Notable songs include “2084”, which reflects the feel of the first track “Knock Lock”, both beginning with hollow programmed percussive rhythm, but then ”2084” develops into a bouncy little melody. The title track starts with a warbly hypnotic piano and synthesizer melody that weaves its way through the whole song, draggy and with deliberate drop-outs, imperfect, rising to choppy percussion and back again, some breathy sounds — there is a sense here of striving to escape but not quite making it. The last track (“Numbers and Denials”) is downright rock ’n’ roll. Okay, not really, but it starts out heavy, chugging nicely along, before it fades away into echoey keyboard plinks and white noise.

 My favourite track so far is “Escape Pod”, a rather beautiful diversion after all the jittery distortion and processed noises of the previous songs. Starting with an actual piano melody it gathers momentum with drums (I’m sure they are programmed but they have a nice hefty feel), a throbbing repetitive bass rhythm, small percussive noises — a lovely, almost soothing song. It is reminiscent of material from Eye of the Soundscape.

 With Claustrophobic Universe, Mariusz Duda has demonstrated that the breadth of his creativity goes well beyond what we have heard from him so far. This is nowhere near the heavy prog of Riverside, the lush, melodic sounds of Lunatic Soul, or even the electronic ambience of Eye of the Soundscape. Lockdown Spaces was a hint; Claustrophobic Universe takes it to the next level and proves that he can create and develop music that draws from a rather different source than his main projects, or at least draws from it differently. I don’t think it is quite as accomplished as Lunatic Soul or Riverside, but he’s been at those a lot longer. it certainly makes one look forward to what he will do with the third instalment.

 As befits music based on digital noises and early musical influences, the releases are initially available as downloads, by streaming, or on cassette. Full physical releases will become available after the trilogy is complete.

The Music of 2021 So Far

It isn’t really fair to compare this year to 2020 — that year the world changed so fundamentally, affecting all aspects of our lives, that it is probably best left as an anomaly. There were so few albums that really caught my attention, it was almost musically a non-existent year. I know there were good albums, and a couple of them were even very good, but honestly I didn’t have the desire to explore.

 However, I am pleased to announce that I’m ready to start digging in again, and 2021 is shaping up to be much more interesting. It is certainly a much heavier year — out of the 8 albums I’ve spent time with (7 of which are mentioned here; one will be reviewed shortly), four of them are flat-out headbangers, or at least in that territory. The others cover industrial, post-metal, electronica, and pop. Soon-to-released stuff is also going to be at the heavy end of the musical spectrum.

 So let’s get started. The order is more-or-less by release date:

 Frontline Assembly: Mechanical Soul

 2021 marks 35 years of industrial/EBM legends Frontline Assembly, and January saw the release of Mechanical Soul. This is an album of dark synths, distortion and huge dense industrial noise, post-apocalyptic in theme, maybe heavier than 2017’s Wake Up the Coma, with Leeb’s heavily processed vocals emphasizing the cold, distant feel. There are ten original songs and one remix. The album starts well: the first three tracks charge along, featuring relentless beats and throbbing synth, pausing for the somewhat more contemplative “New World”, but by track 7 it is clear that Mechanical Soul has lost momentum and isn’t going to get it back. The tracks become somewhat conventional and not particularly interesting. However, “Barbarians” is a bit of an attention-getter, a slow drum-based buildup into a thick sweeping chorus, with a strange, highly-mannered vocal delivery. I like it. The album ends with a remix of “Hatevol” from Wake Up the Coma. The overall feel, unfortunately, is of an album that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.

 

 Steven Wilson: The Future Bites

 At this point the fact that Steven Wilson is a pop musician should come as a surprise to no-one save the most recalcitrant of old Porcupine Tree fans. His last few solo albums have been moving rather slowly away from his prog roots, throwing in pop songs amongst the more familiar proggy stuff, but with The Future Bites he has made almost a complete break. Wilson digs into 70s-era disco, funk, and pop to craft his purest evocation of these ideas yet. And frankly, he has done an excellent job of it — there is no denying his abilities as a deeply-experienced craftsman. The main release is a straightforward 9 songs and just over 40 minutes long, not an album with much room for epics or for showcasing guest-musician chops, but this is not an album that aims to do that anyway. Almost all the songs are on point, relatively short, with the exception of the overlong and self-indulgent “Personal Shopper”. Well, nothing’s perfect. The highlight of the album (for me) is the superb “12 Things I Forgot”; if Wilson was trying to create a great pop song, he nailed it.

 However, as musically divergent as this album is from the past ones, I don’t find it has much changed in terms of the overall impression it leaves. He is still playing it very safe: there is nothing particularly adventurous here, nothing to grab the attention, nothing deeper than the catchy tunes and great production.

 Thematically, the album was styled as an ironical (if not cynical) examination of modern online consumer culture and behaviour, and it was hyped with singles, B-sides, box sets and extras, some things being released over the weeks before the official album hit. The fan base did not disappoint, jumping all over it. I have never really been a fan of Steven Wilson the lyricist, not finding much challenge in anything he has written, but the songs here are even more simplistic than usual: the message of the album was demonstrated far more effectively by the fans themselves than anything Wilson wrote. Maybe that was the point.

 

Ronnie Atkins: One Shot 

The Nordic veteran of melodic hard rock and charismatic front man for the venerable Danish hard-rock/metal band Pretty Maids has released his first solo album. It is everything one would expect with that musical legacy: solid heavy rock, polished and professional, showcasing his 35+ years songwriting and performing experience. Atkins is joined by old friend and current PM member Chris Laney as producer, and several guest musicians including former PM members Alan Sorensen on drums and Morten Sandager on keys.

Atkins blasts his way through 11 heavy-duty tracks, his voice sounding as dense and powerful as always, and as always the songs are stuffed with hooky melodies and riffs, and catchy lyric turns of phrase. It does cover most of the expected styles — from heavy rockers to more sedate ballads; my favourite tracks are probably “Scorpio”, and “Before the Rise of an Empire”, monster songs reminiscent of the thunderous hard-rock of Pretty Maids.

One does want to love this album. Ronnie Atkins has struggled with lung cancer, being diagnosed with it, treated for it, declared free of it, and then diagnosed again in Stage 4, all in less than two years. It is hard to imagine the kind of emotional and psychological toll that must have taken. It is also understandable that he would need to do something that may be his last chance for anything music-related. Between the pandemic and the cancer, Pretty Maids have been unable to tour their last album (released in late 2019), and as much as one hates to say it, it is unlikely they ever will.

 It is a very good album. Alas, it is not a great album. It is hard to fault it: polished and accomplished, it achieves exactly what it aims to do, but I think it gets in its own way with its sheer earnestness and sincerity, and some of the tracks have a slightly rushed feel to them. However, given that this may well be the last chance Atkins gets to express these ideas and say what he needs to, it is a minor complaint. 

 

The Horrors: Lout 

A satisfyingly heavy industrial metal effort from some guys I’d never heard of before, who have released a short EP of three tracks. This is a departure from the rather smoother, shoegazey sound of the previous album, even though hints of this direction are in there. If you like the thundering machine metal of Author and Punisher, or the rougher end of 3Teeth, you’ll probably like this.  At just over 11 minutes long it is more of a teaser than even an EP, but I’m definitely interested enough to watch for a full-length effort if one is forthcoming.

 

Rob Zombie: The Lunar Insertion Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy 

 Well, Rob Zombie. I suppose it was inevitable that at some point one of his solo albums and I would cross paths. I’ve managed to avoid his movies so far, not really being much of a horror fan, but I’ve not actively avoided his music — I just hadn’t come across any by accident. At least until Spotify, when a track from this album appeared in the Release Radar list, and I tried it, and found it interesting enough to flag for follow-up.

 It is a good album. Heavy and well-written, pulling from all over the rock past from what I can hear — working in funky bits and jazzy bits and country bits and bluesy bits and plain old classic rock n roll bits, but it is not a pastiche. His band is guys who’ve been with him for ten to fifteen years, and you can hear the cohesion. The arrangements are tight, the tracks varied (and relatively short– some so short they better serve as intros to the song that comes after), and it is very musical and accomplished.

The vinyl comes with a densely-illustrated book that resembles the sort of thing you created when you were bored in high school: jam-packed with lyrics, odd photos, collages and bad pencil drawings, vaguely reminiscent of Robert Crumb with references to sex and horror, and about as 70s as can be without actually being from 1976. I have no idea what any of the songs are about, if they are about anything, and I probably won’t explore too deeply. It is a pleasantly surprising album, so I’ll enjoy it on its own merits.

 

Kauan: Ice Fleet 

 Kauan, a Russian outfit now based in Estonia, have released a lovely album of intensely atmospheric post-metal/doom metal. It acts as the soundtrack to a tale of Russian ships frozen in the ice of the Arctic, lost and rediscovered (is it based on a true story? It is hard to find out); a premise not new to the band, as apparently their 2015 album Sorni Nai evoked the ill-fated Dyatlov Expedition. It also forms the backdrop for a tabletop role playing game developed around what is essentially a horror story. The deluxe version of the release comes in iceberg-blue vinyl and includes the detailed storyline and instructions for the game.

The music is intensely atmospheric, sweeping and lush: tracks drift along, before erupting into heavy melodic metal, and then back into gentle soundscapes. Even though there are 7 listed tracks, they merge into each other — there aren’t really breaks between them, so the album feels like a single entity. It isn’t completely instrumental either — there are delicate soprano breaks and harsh growl vocals along the way, but they contribute to the overall instrumental-like atmosphere rather than detracting from it. I’ve been moving away from post-rock (or maybe I didn’t really embrace it as enthusiastically as I thought I had), but this is an album that does manage to keep one’s interest.

 

The Quill: Earthrise 

 The Quill are a heavy/stoner rock outfit from Sweden, established back in the early 1990s, and another of those bands who should have a bigger following than they do. They came to my attention when their last album Born From Fire turned up in Spotify and which I liked very much. That album showcased an uncanny ability to channel good-ol’-boy southern bluesy rock; while Born From Fire was pretty good, the new album ramps it up to a whole new level.

 Earthrise is pure, exhilarating rock n roll, tinged with a bit of blues and stoner, channelling almost everything that was great about classic heavy rock. The album blasts through track after track of monster bass lines and relentless guitar riffage (compliments of Roger Nilsson and Christian Carlsson respectively), anchored by solid drumming (Jolle Atlagic), and fronted by singer Magnus Ekwall’s perfect rock n roll delivery. It is relentlessly headbanging — even the “slow” numbers are solid rockers. The album kicks into high gear right from the first word from Ekwall (“Hallucinate”), and it’s sheer pedal-to-the-metal after that, until the end of the 9-minute “Evil Omen”, after which the album does lose some momentum.

This album is crazy good. Earthrise sets the bar all other albums this year are going to have to get over. Incandescent hard-rock nods to Sabbath, Zep, just about everyone, and yet this sound is fully their own, fully embraced, as if it was the first time anyone had done it. It is upbeat, enthusiastic, and delivered with a huge dose of confidence and aplomb. At the moment it is the best album I’ve heard this year.

 

 

Upcoming:

 Mariusz Duda: Claustrophobic Universe (April 23) (2 singles released) — watch for a review next week

Gojira: Fortitude (April 30) (3 singles released)

Gary Numan: Intruder (May) (3 singles released)

Michał Łapaj: Are You There (June 18)

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster: summer (1 or 2 singles released)