Review: Bast – Spectres

We’re told not to judge a book (this is a CD, but run with it) by its cover, but when it comes to Bast’s debut release, I’d positively recommend it. Sporting some of the most divine cover art I’ve seen in years, Spectres delivers far beyond all expectations. Recorded by Conan’s Jon Davis, a heavy slab of doom was obviously expected, but what revealed itself was far more multi faceted than that.

Blending doom themes with strong black and trippy influences, Bast comes across as the beautiful bastard son of Electric Wizard, EyeHateGod and Dopethrone. Creating a continual changing atmosphere rather than a series of disconnected tracks, Spectres is a huge wedge of sound. While only featuring five tracks, with the shortest clocking in at 6:41, this feels far more of a monolithic release than a standard album.

‘In the Beginning’ is a masterclass in how to build a song – opening with a tangibly bleak, sparse arrangement, we’re soon pushed into a rolling blackened landscape that continues to spiral with the addition of Bryan’s raw vocals. As the album progresses, Bast’s skilled way of blending genres becomes more and more apparent. While ‘Denizens’ has moments of old Sabbath-esque guitar work, it’s soon set against a ragged landscape of stripped-back psychedelia, then into black territory, then back again.

While the title track of Spectres is more familiar black/doom fare, the clarity of the track is perfectly balanced. It must be said that the production on this album is flawless. With so many of their peers choosing to present their music as though it’d been captured through floorboards on a child’s tape recorder, being able to hear all elements blended perfectly is something of a breath of fresh air. That isn’t to say that all tracks have been polished to within an inch of their lives; ‘Psychonauts’ is a fine example of that. It seems to be an unwritten rule that any doom release without a nine minute instrumental won’t be worth listening to; with ‘Psychonauts’ clocking in at 9:36, they’ve more than passed the test.

‘Outside The Circles’ closes the album with a far more chilled vibe than that of its contemporaries. Indeed, it’s the sort of song everyone needs to veg out to and try to take in the sheer enormity of Bast’s undertaking.
To pin any track down as being of a particular genre or heading in one direction is as easy as fitting a moose in a phone box. As soon as the listener gets comfortable, Bast take a sudden turn and you’re taken down another street. That isn’t to say that too many cooks (or genres) have spoilt the broth, rather that every change, however large or small, seems effortless.

With bands such as this, it’s an unwritten rule that a review must close with some well-worn, garish hyperbole such as ‘this album is like a thousand hammers smashing you in the jaw’ or ‘they make you want to kill your mother and play riffs atop the corpse’. So to put it plainly and honestly, Bast’s debut album is stunning. Spectres is an utterly beautiful creation that will far eclipse the recent works of their peers. I want more.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: We Are Fiction – One For Sorrow

Where to start? We Are Fiction have an album out, and you need it.

I must begin by saying that, although I try to be objective when reviewing new music, this may be the most horrifically biased review you read all year. I love We Are Fiction. Their 2009 EP was fun and filled with a kind of youthful rage and snarkiness that can’t be mimicked with age. Then came the obligatory big clean vocalist change; lineup changes are inevitable in young bands, and it’s no wonder so many musicians derail their creation before tapping into its real potential. But thankfully this was not the case for WAF. Cue a more streamlined sound, considered lyrics and a far more complimentary vocal blend. The We Are Fiction on ‘One For Sorrow’ is older, more polished and with a clear direction. That isn’t to say that the album is over-polished and dull (like some of their peers’ recent efforts), rather the energy, boundless optimism and infectious hooks have increased tenfold. This is powerful, home-grown music as it should be. Not a string of watery riffs and lyrics based on their tattoo potential. You need this album.

While some tracks such as the anthemic ‘Sail On’, soundtrack to a thousand break-ups ‘My Dreams Are Haunted’ and too-perky-for-words ‘The Worst Of It’ have been released prior to the album launch, this doesn’t alter the fresh enjoyment of the album. ‘A Thousand Places to Sleep’ kicks off proceedings with a deliciously old school (if you’re my age, at least) riff that compels you to move from the first lick. But a catchy hook isn’t enough; we get our first masterclass in blending harmonies in melodic post-hardcore. This is Alexisonfire with a library card; rage swaddled in poetic sincerity. ‘Bright Lights’ is fun; designed for crowd interaction and ridiculous dancing. Come tour season, venues will fold to this song. ‘Mansion House’ (presumably named after the cheap-yet-delicious alcoholic drink, rather than the tube station) is very much in the same vain- a fun, party-ready song filled with opportunities to headbutt your mate and throw some terrifying shapes. ‘Forget About Me’ is a delightfully unexpected musical interlude that proves We Are Fiction don’t only write songs to hurl yourself across the room to.  A gentle piano-led introduction builds to a frankly beautiful denouement; a sound so full and rich that you’d fight the compulsion to bathe in it. ‘Old Wounds’ is a blend of We Are Fiction’s trademarks; familiar guitar tones blend with mellow harmonies, all layered over impressively controlled rougher vocals (calling them ‘shouts’ or ‘screams’ hardly does it justice) to ensure a firm fan favourite.

‘Tilt’ shows off vocalist Phil Barker’s rougher range amazingly; his natural tone would be envied by many large hardcore bands, and when layered over Marc Kucharski’s ethereal vocal melodies, the whole sound becomes far greater than the sum of its parts. Slap bang in the middle of ‘Tilt’ is a guest vocalist, and the start of your new favourite collaboration.  Xidus Pain, a Peterborough-based hip hop artist, stomps in with a rap that you’ll rewind the track to learn. They don’t slip into TRC territory, but the blending of three vocal stylings is so pleasing that you’ll be hard pushed to do anything but grin from ear to ear. But one of the true highlights on One For Sorrow is the bafflingly titled ‘Wladyslaw’. For the most part; it’s a stripped down track; Kucharski croons over gentle instrumentals. That is until the heart-shattering chorus of ‘I never got the chance to tell you how much I love you’ blasts through the comfortable simplicity of the track and even the most casual listener hangs on every last word they sing.

One For Sorrow shows a phenomenal range of songwriting talents and musicianship. We Are Fiction have created a beautiful monster, ready to be adored by fans and envied by peers. Regardless of age, gender or musical taste, this album will provide the soundtrack to part of your life, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

5 out of 5 high fives!

Opium Lord – The Calendrical Cycle (Prologue: The Healer) [EP]

2013. For a while, I despaired. If we weren’t enduring an influx of faux post-hardcore ‘haircuts over content’, we were standing back as kids forgot how to breathe between growls and perfected their sporty-spice-style high kicks. Where was the passion, the conviction, the direction… the brutality? The big names in doom and hardcore continued to do no wrong, but I was longing for something new and hungry to burst onto the scene and blow the dust from my CD shelves. The answer was simple; Leeds-based hardcore-centric TDON records were scooping up some corkers and were ready to drip-feed us some gold. Don’t get me wrong, I love doom, I love sludge, I love anything that sounds like gargling brick dust, but I was long bored of stoner-centric lyricism and imagery. There’s more chance of me fitting a moose up my arse than touching a bong, so as much as I appreciate so many ‘insert ‘bong’ into bandname here’ acts, I often feel a bit of a wall develop as I delve deeper into many bands’ releases. Thankfully, Opium Lord seem to have shunned the ‘let’s put a goblin, planet or decapitated woman in there’ bandwagon and have come up with a brutal, bleak, heavy and gorgeously compelling sound all of their own. There are no cop-outs, no cheap laughs, no novelty imagery and no lull in each song’s aural assault.

The Calendrical Cycle (Prologue: The Healer) is merely a two-track EP, but delivers more in nine and a half minutes than many other bands do in a career. ‘Heroin Swirls’ feels heavier than lead, but rolls along with an unexpected groove, similar to early Sabbath… after an acid bath and a nervous breakdown. Vocally, we’re in a drone-free zone, with vocal lines often spat like poison darts or audibly torn apart. The whole EP is comfortably unnerving; the thick bassline holds you to your seat, while the vocals flay themselves apart. ‘Street Labs’ however, is on another level. With vocals taking a slightly black-metal turn at times, an often simplistic underlying riff quickly turns a slow, dragging break into a pounding, throbbing earth-shaker of a track. ‘Street Labs’ is vicious, powerful and impossible to sit still to. It’s easy to close your eyes and feel as though you’re bathing in the raw edges of a sound much larger than you’ve ever known.

Opium Lord are heavy, honed and as subtle as a brick to the chest. While we wait for the full album to manifest itself, The Calendrical Cycle will certainly do nicely as a stopgap.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Introducing: Fort Hope

When neon-coated electro-hunks My Passion called it a day after seven glorious years, my synthy little heart was well and truly broken. I, like many others, had taken My Passion to heart and spent most of my disposable income shadowing them around the country from show to shining show. So, when the inevitable ‘we’ve moved onto pastures new’ statement surfaced, I was left with two blisteringly good albums, a stack of promo CDs, good memories and a huge, swirling, lyric tattoo. When My Passion were good, they were phenomenal; their throbbing synths and roaring choruses could make the dead dance. After a Kerrang! cover, some lucrative support slots and a delightfully homoerotic ‘golden tour’ (shirtless guys and gold body paint; you had to be there), it seemed that My Passion’s upward trajectory was to continue indefinitely. But then came the silence, the departure of long-standing guitarist John Be (and subsequent employment of Andé D’Mello) and two small festival sets. Kerrang! soon moved on like the fickle mistress it is; shifting its focus towards other visual-centric bands such as Yashin and Fearless Vampire Killers. My Passion ended their reign, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a death rattle. A disappointing performance at Hitchin’s Rhythms of the World festival (where the sound quality could be replicated by placing a bucket on your head and throwing yourself down an elevator shaft) was followed by a prolonged period of silence and then the inevitable; official split via social media. A statement of clichés, followed by a slew of sad emoticons; this wasn’t the crazy hammer-to-the-heart group I fell in love with.
But then came the cryptic tweets; January 13th was a big day. I, like many others, held my breath and hoped for something other than the announcement of yet another small clothing line. Thankfully, the ‘big reveal’ was Fort Hope; a new, far more radio-friendly project from four previous My Passion members. Essentially, everyone except former lead vocalist Laurence Rene. Rene’s absence in Fort Hope is very much the elephant in the room, and I hate to be the arsehole to point it out, but here we are. Was Laurence ostracised, or was his DJing his true passion? (pardon the pun). Was this the reason for My Passion’s demise? The internet is alive with presumptions and conjecture, all of which is hard to ignore. Before one even clicks on Fort Hope’s ‘play’ button, it’d be easy to presume that this would be My Passion 2.0. Same synths, different day. Five seconds in and your preconceptions are not only shattered, but thrown into a blender and strapped to a passing horse. Fort Hope are, in the nicest way, the antithesis of all that My Passion was. Gone are the incomprehensibly bizarre lyrics, gone is the heavy electro influence and gone is the relentless, upbeat dance element. The keyboards have been packed away with all previous pomp and ceremony. Everything has been stripped back to pure, raw musicianship; this isn’t so much as a rebirth as an entirely different beast.
‘Control’ is the only track widely available online, and although it can’t speak for the rest of their music, it certainly acts as a showcase of all Fort Hope’s individual talents and the burgeoning potential of them as a collective. Featuring previous My Passion members in their usual positions (Andé D’Mello – Guitar, Jamie Nicholls – Drums, Simon Rowlands – Bass), the most noticeable difference is with Jon Gaskin. In My Passion over the years, he set his hand to drums, guitar, keyboards/synths and finally, singing. Gaskin is a veritable polymath in the music world. He can turn his hand to seemingly any instrument with impressive results, yet his true talent was made all the more evident in My Passion’s final album ‘Inside this Machine’. Gaskin’s added vocals lifted the entire album. His enviable natural tone and control was made to shine, not to play second fiddle to another vocalist.
In Fort Hope, or more directly, in ‘Control’, his voice is presented raw and naked and is, surprise surprise, bloody fantastic. ‘Control’ begins with exposed vocals, but soon weaves itself an iron web; beautiful and delicate, but strong and well crafted. The track retains its Gentle and tentative sense, but begins to command attention with each bar and phrase. As the song progresses into a thundering chorus, parallels can be soon drawn with the stylings of Young Guns and Mallory Knox. While they all possess a similar sound, ‘Control’ bears a sense of maturity and sincerity that’s hard to replicate. The melody is catchy as hell, the lyrics are well considered and the simple guitar line couldn’t be sweeter if it was remade at Cadbury’s. Finally, and refreshingly, the bass and drums are used as perfect devices to fatten up growing verses and rousing choruses. The falling harmonies in the vocal line ‘out of control’ are so powerful, but so perfectly measured, that any band caught listening would soon find themselves with an attack of the green-eyed monster. Instrumentally, everything is equal; there are no indulgent trills, fills or solos. There really is no fat to trim.
If there ever was a perfect way to rise from the ashes, then Fort Hope not only achieved it, but tore it up, made sweet, sweet love to it and put it on a plinth. If ‘Control’ is the shape of things to come, then I think we might just see the creation of the world’s new favourite band.

Radicus – The Bigger Noise

Every now and again, I’m introduced to a band through a support slot or an online recommendation and I find myself genuinely embarrassed that I hadn’t stumbled upon them before. Recently, this took the form of the Peterborough based post-hardcore act, Radicus. Sitting somewhere between Set Your Goals and Alexisonfire, they have an upbeat and fun quality to their music that proves to be almost unbearably infectious. With pop-mosh acts such as A Day to Remember more often being the order of the day with young gig-goers, Radicus are hard to place, but a real breath of fresh air.

Radicus’ 2010 album The Bigger Noise should really be required listening for anyone who likes their music loud, bouncy and fun. Take the album opener, Family Fortunes; the Against Me!-esque frenetic energy pushes along the vocal lines into peaks of fist-pumping harmonies. The vocal stylings are distinctly punk, but stay on the cleaner side of the road. That is until oDeJay God kicks in, when harmonies go into overdrive, and ferocity gets pumped up to a new level thanks to the inclusion of Phil Barker – vocalist in TwoBeatsOff favourite, We Are Fiction. oDeJay God is by far the stand-out track on the album; anthemic and frenetic with moments designed for throwing yourself into a stranger at a gig. My Legacy (The History to Come) takes a far different tack. While guitar riffs and drumsticks fall fast and sudden, like some upturned Jenga set, the whole tone is far more serious and genuine. Unaccompanied, yelled, sentiments are delivered so very punk-esque that it hurts. The Spark II however, takes the band back to a far more Americanised tone, with all the delivery and dynamism of a young Sum 41. Regardless of this, the repetitive chorus and simplistic vocal breaks are a mark of genius, born of fist-bumping and the suggestion of pits. 2 Legit 2 Quit is probably the most uninspiring song on the album; that’s not to say that it lacks merit, but it bears few notable differences from Radicus’ general sound. The bassline however is one of the heaviest on the album, juddering through the punk sensabilities like a greased juggernaut. MVP is a real ‘filler’ track in the nicest way possible. It’s thickly layered, manic and a blueprint for the perfect song to get an audience jumping. Business As Usual (BAU)’s climbing guitars and throbbing drums provide one of the greatest instrumentals on the entire album. Lyricism and vocal delivery aside, the riffs are what makes it as catchy as herpes in a dockside whorehouse. The album concludes with Let them Try, a more punk inspired offering with enough gang vocals to satisfy the most attention-starved listener.

With understandably low production costs and a commendable do-it-yourself attitude, Radicus are a band that are easy to respect and even easier to adore. If only they could manage to snare a wider listenership, I’ve no doubt that they’d achieve a far higher and much deserved level of recognition – one that they completely deserve.

4 out of 5 high fives!