BLUE PLANET II – LIVE IN CONCERT | 20.03.2019 | Newcastle Utilita Arena | REVIEW

BLUE PLANET II – LIVE IN CONCERT | 20.03.2019 | Newcastle Utilita Arena | REVIEW

Blue Planet II – 20th March 2019 – Newcastle Utilita Arena

Review by Neil Ainger

When you consider all of the awe-inspiring things that make the BBC documentary television series Blue Planet, and its sequel Blue Planet II, the incredible feat that it is, you could be forgiven for downplaying the importance of its score. The Natural History Unit of the BBC spent 4 years collecting a staggering 6,000 hours of underwater footage, diving to the depths of the planets oceans in 39 different countries and over 100 different expeditions, committing to film events unlike any that have ever been witnessed before. Having attended the Newcastle date of the UK tour of Blue Planet II: Live in Concert however, I urge you not to downplay its soundtrack. Composed by Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea and David Fleming for Bleeding Fingers Music, it is brought to the stage as part of a live concert tour by the City of Prague Orchestra and conducted by Matthew Freeman.

The crashing, powerful strings and the elegant, booming choir narrate some of nature’s most colourful and vibrant stories, presented on a huge 4K Ultra HD LED screen. Each scene, introduced by BBC Countryfile presenter Anita Rani, was shown without the familiar vocal commentary of the series’ narrator David Attenborough, which had left a lot of people wondering if the footage may lose some of its drama. The soundtrack however really did more than fill the void. Moray eels waiting beneath the water’s surface for prone Sally Lightfoot crabs, accompanied by an appropriately sinister and dangerous score, tells the viewer all they need to know when it comes to what may happen next, and the crabs speedily evading the attacks of advancing octupuses by running, skipping and leaping from rock to rock is met with a more light hearted whimsy and eventual triumphant tones as the crabs reach the safety of their feeding grounds.

Sitting front and centre, the gigantic screen fills the field of vision and is truly the most impressive way to view the incredible footage from the series, footage so full of beautiful colour and captivating in its own right that one does genuinely continue to forget that the score is being performed live in front of your very eyes by a 80-piece orchestra and choir.

As well as the Sally Lightfoot crabs, the daunting Portuguese Man-of-war with its stinging tentacles that hang 30 metres down below the surface of the water makes an appearance, as does the terrifying Bobbit worm and the in-flight battle for dinner between the puffin and the Arctic Skua. Some of the most impressive scenes from the series take centre stage and make it genuinely difficult to know exactly what it is we are supposed to be the most impressed by: the footage and the knowledge of exactly what went in to capturing it, or the gorgeous way in which its audio is brought to life. Blue Planet II: Live in Concert is a breathtaking achievement. It is a beautiful show.

As with the TV series, the tour also highlights the importance of plastic pollution and of protecting our oceans. The ‘Blue Planet Effect’ has been taken on the road and will hopefully therefore take its hold on even more families and in even more households. We share our planet with an estimated 8 million forms of life and yet do so much to damage it for all of them, ourselves included. You can perhaps credit the series with some small changes for the better already, but there is hopefully many more to come.

Neil Ainger selects his top 15 albums of 2018 – FEATURE

Neil Ainger selects his top 15 albums of 2018 – FEATURE

Neil Ainger selects his top 15 albums of 2018!

#15 Judas Priest – Firepower

I would never have imagined that this would make it on to any end of year list, nevermind my own. Why should it? Why should the 18th studio album from a band formed in 1970 have any place on an end of year list in 2018? I would expect it from only the laziest of reviewers.

I heard the rumblings before I experienced them for myself. I heard the talk of the new Judas Priest record and how good it was. I was recommended it once or twice. I didn’t particularly take much notice. I mean, by ‘good’ they mean it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be or it was acceptable for an 18th run around the block. I had no reason to believe otherwise.

Firepower was unexpected and unprecedented. There is a passion and a fire in Rob Halford’s voice that has no business still being there but it is oh so impressive that it is. The impact really is immediate and the title track is fresh, it’s exciting and it’s invigorating.

There’s not a lot that even needs to be said about this record. If you know Priest then you know what it sounds like and if you don’t then I’d say that ship has long sailed. However please do not underestimate this record. Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkners guitars sound slick and untamed, Halford’s vocals are as potent as they have ever been and I say with a completely straight face that Firepower stands shoulder to shoulder with any and every album Judas Priest have ever recorded.

#14 Winterfylleth – The Hallowing of Heirdom

While it is most certainly a significant departure, UK black metal heavyweights Winterfylleths sidestep into acoustic folk also doesn’t feel like much of a surprise.

The Manchester band have always incorporated folk elements into their atmospheric and melodic brand of black metal and, with the release of the debut album from guitarist Dan Capps folk project Wolcensmen in 2016, this was perhaps the next logical step.

The transition is just seamless. The acoustic guitars are crisp and clean, the strings are heart-wrenching and divine and the moody, chanting vocals cloak everything in a surreal and warm glow. I can speak from experience when I tell you that there is no better companion than this album full of songs about English folklore for travelling through this beautiful country with the landscape falling past the window.

#13 Conjurer – Mire

“Brady Deeprose (guitars/vocals) has been quoted as saying, of their approach to making the record “Once you start thinking about songwriting in terms of genre, you’re automatically setting up barriers between parts” and this outlook is really laid bare. The band visit death, doom, sludge, black and beyond while some post-rock-style sections blend the frequent and abrupt mood swings of the record together seamlessly. At times the resulting sonic assault sparkles in an atmospheric glow, while always being destined to viscously return to depths of misanthropic bleakness and Converge-like violence.

Believe the acclaim and embrace the hype because Conjurer have created a debut album way beyond their years and the scary thing is that this band is only going to grow stronger with every show they play, and unless they show any signs of slowing down then the sky could really be the limit in the coming months and years.”

Read my full review here

#12 – Geomancer – Khatt Al-Raml

“The Geordie doom trio does not exactly shatter genre limitations entirely nor provide the most diversified and complex record you are likely to ever hear, but they do refuse to be labelled easily or at least accurately without doing them something of a disservice. Plenty of fans of stoner rock, post-rock, doom and sludge will find more than enough to hold their interest here and if we can put genres and labels to one side for a moment, hopefully most of them will be able to agree on one thing, and that is that with a debut album such as this, Geomancer may just be a band worthy of paying close attention to in the coming months and years.”

Read my full review here

#11 Desert Storm – Sentinels

“The growth in the band can be measured mostly by the track Kingdom of Horns. Beginning delicately with clean, ethereal vocals, the near 8 minutes that follow are an epic, melodic journey to every corner of the band’s musical make-up and back again, a journey the likes of which Desert Storm has never truly taken before.

Sentinels is the bands most accomplished, most skilled and, simply put, best record to date.”

Read my full review here

#10 Weedpecker – III

Polish band Weedpecker may, on the surface, appear to be a predictable outfit but in reality, their third album has proven to have depths that may be somewhat unexpected.

III is a space-rock record with laid-back and ethereal vocals that support some long psychedelic jams. Where the five tracks excel is in their patience and the space they are afforded in which to organically grow and expand. With such freedom to roam the band are able to expand, experiment and build. Every eruption of hazy, colourful, psychedelic fury is all the more impactful for its otherwise tempered pace that sets this band aside from some of stoner rocks more predictable and recyclable artists.

#9 Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It

Never a band to provide the expected or the straightforward, Rolo Tomassi have hopped between genres for over ten years now to the point where you never quite know what they have up their sleeves for their next outing. With their fifth full-length album, they have perhaps offered up their finest yet.

Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It begins with restful, uncomplicated melody. The vocals of Eva Spence are tender and warm. For those not familiar with the band’s history, all signs point to a lush, affectionate and toothless foray into some kind of dream-pop-tingled college rock record. By the third track, Rituals, however, the teeth are certainly baring with a guttural scream and a mathy, technical and ferocious clash of drums and guitars.

For the 53 minute duration, the album battles contrasting styles and takes unexpected and confusing turns through math-rock, prog-rock, hardcore, post-metal and punk and always finds a way to bring any violent momentum to a sudden halt as well as jolt an instrumental section back to life without a moments notice. Rolo Tomassi make gutsy and brave decisions and have the ability to ensure that every single one of them pays off.

#8 Midas Fall – Evaporate

Sometimes it takes a little while for a band to really find their feet and that’s how I feel about Edinburgh’s Midas Fall. There doesn’t need to be anything amiss with a bands output, it just takes that one record to exceed all expectations and make you realise what they were capable of all along. The bands 4th full-length record Evaporate makes such a statement and dropped with a rippling boom in April.

With its roots in ethereal post-rock and a backbone of synths-and-piano-laden progressive rock, Elizabeth Heaton’s voice is beautifully strewn amongst a delicate and graceful tide of elegant melodies and, at times, softly swirling guitars, that can lie dormant and peaceful whilst always feeling dangerously at risk of violently crashing ashore – yet never quite doing so.

#7 Floex and Tom Hodge – A Portrait of John Doe

There are collaborations that are driven by demand, others as a result of a lack of individual potency. Floex (a.k.a Tomáš Dvořák) and Tom Hodge however, are a partnership seemingly made in heaven and the result is a focused and effectual project that was three years in the making.

The piano-driven, inventive, glitchy electronic ambience is beautifully arranged with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and transformed into an avante-garde, orchestral, modern-classical crossover on a huge, soaring scale.

Very ambitious a project it may be but when crafted over time with such obvious care and consideration, A Portrait of John Doe is an endearing and hopeful record full of beautiful arrangements and compelling positivity.

#6 Jo Quail – Exsolve

Oh, Jo Quail. Do the words really exist to accurately describe her ingenuity? After witnessing her astonishing support set for Mono earlier in the year, I sat down to absorb her latest triumph, Exsolve.

Armed with a heavy-duty electric cello and an array of pedals, watching her loop and layer melodies and harmonies into gradually ascending, grander compositions is nothing short of transfixing and with her fifth album she has truly outdone herself.

Assisted with guest performances from guitarists Nik Sampson and Dan Capp as well as vocalist Lucie Dehli, Exsolve is possibly her most left-field and inventive work to date. Classically trained but anything but conventional, Jo explores epic, symphonic pomp with as much ease and expertise as minimal, downtrodden, depressive industrial and post-metal. This is a record that is perfectly accessible while being so intricate and demanding of close attention as to be extremely difficult to completely and appropriately absorb every vital and stunning moment.

#5 Khemmis – Desolation

Denver doom quartet Khemmis followed up 2016s Hunted in June with the aptly titled Desolation. While Hunted and its predecessor Absolution could arguably be more neatly filed away as doom metal, Desolation is not quite so easy to categorise. It is, at its core, still a riff-heavy traditional doom album but the band definitely take more of a shift toward conventional heavy metal.

Dominated by crisp and clean emotional vocals, chugging, thunderous riffs and plenty of guitar solo’s the band channel the energy and flamboyance of NWOBHM-era bands while injecting blackened moments of aggressive growls and bleakness.

While certainly taking risks musically, Khemmis have managed to find a comfortable balance where Desolation seems to stay true enough to their two previous releases that garnered so much attention so as not to alienate, yet took enough strides forward as to keep things interesting.

#4 Bast – Nanoångström

2014s debut record, Spectres, from Londoners Bast, was a shot of adrenaline. It’s meaty, ugly doom/sludge was fresh and inventive and it was a record that really stood out that year. After a long four-year wait, during which time they would head out on the road with some of the genres big hitters such as Conan and Pallbearer, Bast returned with Nanoångström and in doing so became a heavyweight of the genre in their own right.

The record is divided into six chapters of long and experimental works that dance expertly between genres, from brooding doom, to fierce sludge, to atmospheric black metal. Never becoming tired or lazy, each sudden and explosive shift in direction and tempo feels essential and pivotal. The instrumentation, which is the albums greatest strength, is gleaming and shimmering and backs up every move it makes, no matter how optimistic or unexpected.

#3 Grave Lines – Fed Into the Nihilist Engine

“The record is sludge metal on a grander, Amenra-style scale. It is intelligent doom metal that is measured and never repetitive. It is dark neo-folk that probes at the most dismal of human emotions. It is bleak and misanthropic, it is cloaked in misery and yet it allows for brief but frequent moments of gleaming light. There can be beauty in darkness too, if you choose to look for it.”

Read my full review here

#2 Earthless – Black Heaven

“This is a very different Earthless and the changes are very welcome.

It certainly isn’t a case of out with the old and in with the new. Earthless, at their core, remain a tripped-out space rock band and Mitchell still wields his guitar with a swirling, abstract ferocity, however Black Heaven more clearly embraces a number of “classic” and blues rock influences and a more conventional approach with defined and organised choruses and verses.”

Read my full review here

#1 Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Enclosed in complete darkness, curtains drawn, alone and eyes closed I have pushed play on an album time and time again since its release and immediately felt at ease. From the very first beats of Singularity, time has seemingly slowed to the crawl of a much more manageable pace. I have been able to feel tension leaving my body and fears dissipate. It is a powerful sensation and something I experience less frequently as I age. That unique, emotional connection that I can make only to music. Music can make us happy, it can make us sad, it can inspire and motivate. It can heal and repair. It is the latter that has tied me to this record this year, as if I were desperately clinging to it like a life raft until the storm can be weathered. It is not just a record I have become a fan of but one I have depended on during the most stressful and traumatic year of my life.

From his humble beginnings playing keys for Imogen Heap in 1998, collaborating with Brian Eno and touring the world with Coldplay, Jon Hopkins journey to this, his fifth solo record, has been one of twists and turns. When it seemed as though his career as a solo artist may never truly get off the ground, Hopkins could have easily found himself earning a solid living as a producer. This could have even proven to be a fruitful path to take. Those first beats of Singularity therefore are an immediate relief.

Hopkins makes very grounding and human music, taking sharp turns from energetic techno and percussive IDM to joyful, gentle piano music. The lead single from the record, Emerald Rush, is a euphoric and sparkling floor-filler. Neon Pattern Drum is driven by ferocious, glitchy beats. The real beauty in Singularity however, is it’s rapid ascension followed by it’s gradual and steady decline into a minimal and transfixing state of beautiful solo piano, as contained in the unwinding Echo Dissolve and the perfectly tempered Recovery which plays out the record. This is a record that does not simply end but slowly winds down to a complete halt and, for me, the journey is one of tranquillity that is worth the ride time and time again.

Grave Lines | Fed Into the Nihilist Engine | REVIEW

Grave Lines | Fed Into the Nihilist Engine | REVIEW

Grave Lines – Fed Into the Nihilist Engine – Album review

Review by Neil Ainger

While handing over my money for a cassette copy of the bands debut full length Welcome to Nothing earlier this year, I told bass player Matt at their merch table that as long as the first track they played that night (in January at The Cluny, Newcastle with Black Moth) was on the new album that I’d be buying that too. I was enamoured with the near 15-minute album opener Failed Skin from the very first gentle notes that were played that night and it is just as astounding on the record. It is an absolute whirlwind of gentle, almost gothic rock that builds into blistering. stinging sludge. Its beauty really lies in the vocals of Jake Harding, which are as powerful as they are haunting.

It is very difficult to pin this album down with labels, whether it be doom metal or sludge but of course this is no bad thing. Fed Into the Nihilist Engine stands on its own merits, of which there are countless. The album is driven by skilled and expansive guitar work such as the rugged riffs evident on Silent Salt, the psychedelic and chaotic noise on The Greae or the gentler acoustics of Shame Retreat. Julia Owens’ drumming is a key, precise constant throughout and serves as the backbone of the record and the vocals, simply put, may just turn out to be the most elaborate, alluring and potent vocals heard on any metal record this year. At times warm and lenient and at times guttural and jarring, Harding excels where so many others fail. He is distinguished, he is original and he squeezes every last drop of desired emotion from every wretched note and from every tormented lyric.

The record is sludge metal on a grander, Amenra-style scale. It is intelligent doom metal that is measured and never repetitive. It is dark neo-folk that probes at the most dismal of human emotions. It is bleak and misanthropic, it is cloaked in misery and yet it allows for brief but frequent moments of gleaming light. There can be beauty in darkness too, if you choose to look for it.

 

EARTHLESS – Black Heaven – ALBUM REVIEW

EARTHLESS – Black Heaven – ALBUM REVIEW

Earthless – Black Heaven

Review by Neil Ainger

For the past 17 years the power trio from San Diego, California have been at the forefront of the modern day heavy psych scene, crafting long and complex instrumental psychedelic jams. The warped and roaming wizardry of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (Golden Void, Howlin’ Rain) and the unshackled and commanding drumming of the brilliant Mario Rubalcaba (OFF!, Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt) helps to harness the raw power of the Jimi Hendrix Experience while calling back to the likes of Leaf Hound, Flower Travellin’ Band and Amon Düül II.

Throughout their first 3 full length records, the band have offered mostly a series of instrumental cosmic jams between 15 and 30 minutes in length and very, very rarely have the band stepped outside of this formula – until now.

Four of latest release Black Heaven’s six tracks have Mitchell taking the mic and the longest track is just shy of 9 minutes in length. This is a very different Earthless and, as someone who loved the band exactly the way they were and never once pondered the introduction of vocals, I’d have to say the changes are very welcome. It certainly isn’t a case of out with the old and in with the new. Earthless, at their core, remain a tripped-out space rock band and Mitchell still wields his guitar with a swirling, abstract ferocity, however Black Heaven more clearly embraces a number of “classic” and blues rock influences and a more conventional approach with defined and organised choruses and verses.

One of the lead singles and the album opener, Gifted by the Wind, is reminiscent of the great Eddie Hazel ripping some killer solos over a Thin Lizzy track and the riff-heavy Electric Flame is a concise and incisive blues number that quickly spins out in to a fuzzy, euphoric trip the band have become known for.

Mitchell taking the mic is actually nothing new and while his vocal duties within Earthless have been very occasional, outside of the band he has frequented the mic. On Black Heaven his vocals are, at all times, authoritative and authentic. Rubalcaba’s drumming is as masterful and as dynamic as ever and with the wandering basslines of Mike Eginton (especially on the combustible title track) to complete the trio, Earthless’ greatest quality is perhaps their understanding and skill and I’d go as far as to say they have never sounded so tight. When you consider the switch to a more conventional approach, the embracing of a wider range of their influences into their sound and the more accessible nature of the record, it should attract fans of ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin just as much as those of Acid Mothers Temple and Boris and therefore should, you would imagine, be their biggest success to date.

Black Heaven is out 16th March 2018 on Nuclear Blast Records

Earthless
Earthless
DESERT STORM – Sentinels – ALBUM REVIEW

DESERT STORM – Sentinels – ALBUM REVIEW

Desert Storm – Sentinels

Review by Neil Ainger

With the release of 2015s Omniscient, I felt as though Desert Storm grew, though their output to that point was impressive in its own right. 2010s Forked Tongues was the first Desert Storm album I heard, having picked it up at a gig in 2012 where the band were supporting Karma to Burn.

The follow up in 2013, Horizontal Life, is not without merit either. There was something just that little bit different about their third release however. Whether it’s the better record of the three is up for debate but for my money it was just that little bit more accomplished, more focused. It was a band learning from their experiences and becoming more adept at doing justice to their explosive live shows in the studio.

On stage Desert Storm are loud and they are heavy. On stage Desert Storm carry with them an arrogance and a swagger befitting the meaty riffs and the gravelly tones of Matt Ryan’s voice which combine to create the sleazy, boozy and bluesy stoner sound the band have adopted over the last decade.

With Omniscient, the band continued down this path but were happy to stop off a little more along the way to reveal more strings to their bow and with the new release Sentinels, the band have simply taken one more step forward in this regard. Sentinels, simply put, is the band’s most seasoned and polished effort to date, as well as their most penetrative work lyrically.  

The opening track Journey’s End and the accompanying video explore the issues of mental health, depression and anxiety followed by Too Far Gone, which tackles alcohol abuse and addiction. Heavy topics for sure, set to heavy music. Journey’s End sports perhaps some of the band’s biggest and meanest sounding riffs yet and Too Far Gone breaks down into a blackened groove amid Elliot Cole’s frantic beats. Together, they really send the message that Desert Storm are still here and are still heavy however they’re not entirely unchanged in the three years that have passed between studio albums.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a fan of Desert Storm you won’t be pulling out your hair or penning any angry letters. The trademark bouncy, bluesy riffs of The Drifter sound as though they would fit perfectly on the band’s debut album and the likes of Gearhead, The Extrovert and Convulsion all feel very familiar. They do all however sound that little bit more fresh and full of colour, thanks in part to Jamie Dodd who recorded and mixed the album. His previous work with Orange Goblin is the perfect experience to make this band sound as heavy and as brutal as possible. The growth in the band can be measured mostly by the track Kingdom of Horns. Beginning delicately with clean, ethereal vocals, the near 8 minutes that follow are an epic, melodic journey to every corner of the band’s musical make-up and back again, a journey the likes of which Desert Storm has never truly taken before.

For a band that all have jobs also, it’s kind of hard to imagine where they get the time to put out four records in 8 years and to tour as often as they do. Desert Storm work hard, seemingly in all aspects of their lives, and their work ethic is not without reward. Sentinels is the bands most accomplished, most skilled and, simply put, best record to date.

Sentinels is released 16th March 2018 on APF Records.

Desert Storm - Sentinels

CONJURER – Mire – ALBUM REVIEW

CONJURER – Mire – ALBUM REVIEW

Conjurer – Mire

Review by Neil Ainger

Conjurer are a band that have been making a name for themselves the tough way, through hard work and touring. Following the release of their first EP ‘I’ in 2016, the band hit the road at every opportunity and were met with praise and open arms seemingly everywhere they went. Frustratingly, I was never able to attend a local show whenever the band came through Newcastle, and at Damnation Festival in Leeds I was able to see the extent of the praise the band are receiving when I simply was not able to even get anywhere near the stage on which they were performing. Conjurer, many will tell you, are the real deal.

Conjurer - Mire
The 4 piece from Warwickshire have created such a stir over the last 18 months or so that they already feel like a trusty piece of the UK extreme metal furniture and it is actually rather odd to think that this is the band’s debut full-length release, because it sometimes feels as though they have been around for much longer than they have. At times a band can take a few records to find their feet, and other times a debut album can become so anticipated that it’s very difficult for it to be anything other than a disappointment. On this occasion, neither of these scenarios is true of Mire.

Brady Deeprose (guitars/vocals) has been quoted as saying, of their approach to making the record “Once you start thinking about songwriting in terms of genre, you’re automatically setting up barriers between parts” and this outlook is really laid bare. The band visit death, doom, sludge, black and beyond while some post-rock-style sections blend the frequent and abrupt mood swings of the record together seamlessly. At times the resulting sonic assault sparkles in an atmospheric glow, while always being destined to viscously return to depths of misanthropic bleakness and Converge-like violence.

Opening track Choke offers a slow burning introduction to what lies ahead with repetitive, chugging sludge riffs and restrained, minimal drum beats before taking the first of many sharp turns of pace and hinting subtly at the album’s probing and exploratory nature.

The longest track on the record, Thankless, clocking in at 8 and a half minutes, immediately launches into a fury of driving blastbeats yet swerves through melodic choruses backed by clean backing vocals and back again with an expertise you won’t find on many debut efforts.

All of the differing influences perhaps converge best during the brilliant Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash. For over 7 expansive minutes the band’s ability to intelligently craft charming melody, interrupted by sudden and impactful brutality, while blending tight and technical instrumentation, is expertly encased in arguably the band’s most profound statement to date.

Believe the acclaim and embrace the hype because Conjurer have created a debut album way beyond their years and the scary thing is that this band is only going to grow stronger with every show they play, and unless they show any signs of slowing down then the sky could really be the limit in the coming months and years.

Mire is released 9th March 2018 on Holy Roar Records

Conjure Bandcamp store

DESERT STORM talk about Sentinels LP and tour plans – INTERVIEW

DESERT STORM talk about Sentinels LP and tour plans – INTERVIEW

Neil Ainger talks to Desert Storm about Sentinels LP and tour plans

I first saw Desert Storm live in Trillians, Newcastle with Karma to Burn and Druganaut in 2012, and then again with a similar line-up at The Cluny in 2014. You’ve shared stages with countless other great names in metal now. Who’s been your favourite to play with so far?

Ryan – They were cool shows for sure, Karma To Burn are always fun. We’ve had cool shows with Orange Goblin, Honky, Corrosion of Conformity and Weedeater to name a few. 

Your fifth album Sentinels is released on March 16th, your first release on APF records. Having been playing the hell out of it this past week I’d have to say this is your best, heaviest and most assured record to date. What can you tell us about the writing and record process and everything that went into making it?

Chris B – We set out with the intentions of creating a more consistent sounding, consolidated body of work. Lyrically the album touches upon more personal issues and subjects closer to us. Lyrics like this help people relate a bit more I think, as perhaps some of the issues they are dealing with too.

Ryan – Musically the album was written the same way we have always worked. Starting around a guitar riff myself of Chris has conjured up and if the rest of the band are enjoying it, we end up jamming it and adding more ideas until we have some kind of structure. Whilst the music is being rehearsed Matt will sit writing lyrics and contemplating vocal melodies….these will all be laid down last. 

As for recording most of the record was recorded with Jamie Dodd (Orange Goblin) in Hackney London at Flesh and Bone Studios, except Journeys End! We wrote this after and really wanted it on the album, but recorded that in Oxfordshire at Wordworm studios (where Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath sometimes records) with Steve ‘Geezer’ Watkins.

Opening track Journey’s End and the accompanying video touch on addiction, mental health and suicide. Are these issues important to you as a band?

Chris B – I think mental health is an issue that we all resonate with as a band and something that needs to be recognised. 

Ryan – It was a way of creating awareness, which is very important. Many people suffer from issues such as depression, anxiety, paranoia etc, including some of us personally. It’s important people can relate and seek help if required.

It’s no surprise that the new record sounds as brilliant as it does considering it was recorded and mixed by Jamie Dodd. Given his work with Orange Goblin, he must really understand what it is you’re aiming for?

Chris B – It was a really fun process working with Jamie Dodd, as he challenges to push ourselves of be more creative with our production, without being too intrusive.

Ryan – Yeah Jamie was great. It’s always nice when you work with an engineer that is also willing to suggest ideas to help bring some tracks to life. 

The tour for the record has begun. You’re off around Europe and have more dates back in the UK in July and August. What can fans expect from the live shows?

Ryan – Yes, currently in Czech Republic whilst we do this interview! The tour has been great and the new material is going down very well! Selling a lot of the new record too! Everyone can expect very loud riffs and lots of the new tracks in the set, as well as old stuff!

Another big UK support tour announced very soon for June as well. Keep your eyes peeled!

BLACK MOTH, GRAVE LINES and FAMOUS DAVID – Feb 2018 – Newcastle Cluny – REVIEW

Black Moth, Grave Lines and Famous David – 12th February 2018 – Newcastle Cluny

Review by Neil Ainger

Little is known of opening band Famous David and for good reason, as tonight was their first ever gig. Warming up a crowd light in numbers on a cold Monday night is no easy task and Famous David seemed to embrace the opportunity. It’s hard to define their set in terms of a genre as the band dipped in and out of post-punk, garage and psychedelic rock at will. Being hard to define is not a slight or a negative for any band and identity will surely come with experience. The band brought their set to a close amid a boiling heavy psych haze that sent me back to the bar with a little less of a feeling of the Monday blues. The fact that I found at the bar a tap takeover from Magic Rock only helped alleviate it further.

“Isn’t that the guy from Sea Bastard?” my friend asked as London/Brighton based Grave Lines took to the stage. I assured him it wasn’t, confident I was right. Guitarist Oli doesn’t exactly blend into a crowd and their appearance at Byker Grave festival at The Globe may have been almost four years ago but given we took our place directly in front of him with nobody to obstruct our view I think I’d remember that. Well, my hideously troublesome memory has beaten me once more as a quick search the next day has well and truly proven me wrong. Despite being a fan of Sea Bastard’s miserable brand of doom for some time, Grave Lines were new to me and how I wish I had been aware of them before now.

Their support set consisted of three tracks (albeit long ones), two of which were from their forthcoming LP entitled Fed Into The Nihilist Engine and as the gentle, almost slowcore-like opening notes in the first tracks leisurely and lengthy opening few minutes build in to an epic, aggressive and hypnotic fury I was immediately enamoured with it. Jake’s vocals range from mournful and melancholic to vigorous and forceful and the mood can suddenly change at any given moment, never offering the listener an opportunity to become comfortable and disengaged, never wavering in its intensity. Between the frantic and at times obscure guitar work, the remarkable vocals, Matt’s irate bass playing which only helps to add a further weighty dimension to the misanthropic murk, and Julia’s precision drumming, often seemingly playing as if she were independent to the rest of the band whilst simultaneously holding every single piece of the band’s sound together like a strong glue, Grave Lines are truly transfixing and immobilising and I urge anyone with an interest in doom and sludge to listen to the album when it is released. There is just no way it isn’t going to be something very special.

Fair play to Black Moth for welcoming such a strong band on tour with them because they really were a tricky act to follow. Black Moth, luckily, are no slouches. Their nine-date UK tour taking place to promote the band’s latest release Anatomical Venus, offers fans their first taste of the new material. The new album, they claim, will be their heaviest offering to date and tracks like Moonbow, with it’s psychedelic and garage rock influences, are played loud and at pace. It’s been about five years since I last saw Black Moth live and in those five years the band have been hard at work, releasing 2 full-length albums and sharing stages with the likes of Orange Goblin, Karma to Burn, Monster Magnet, Pentagram, L7 and Sisters of Mercy! The result is that Black Moth appear to operate like a well-oiled machine. Prepared and refined the band ooze positivity and are prepared with between-track quips and laughter.

Vocalist Harriet Hyde’s voice is authoritative and inviting and she has the presence on stage to match, dedicating new track Sisters of the Stone to her guitarist Federica as well as strong female role models the world over. It’s difficult not to engage with the band’s affable nature and they sound terrific. The dual guitars pinch and bite and the vocals ease their way through the mix with little to no resistance. Tracks like Tumbleweave, and especially Looner, from 2014s Condemned to Hate, sound somewhat more vicious on the live stage, Blackbirds Fall from the band’s first record, 2012s The Killing Jar, is every bit the slick, well-rehearsed crowd pleaser it should be and the new material is sounding fresh and full of promise. Some of the more untamed instrumental sections suggest that the claim to be heavier than ever may just prove to be true. There may be no shortage of a certain kind of female-fronted stoner metal and if that’s your thing there are plenty of bands out there to choose from. If Black Moth are going to ensure that they set themselves apart, it will be in the range of influences they bring to the table and a desire to continue moving forward. At the point of writing this I am yet to hear their latest release, but if this glimpse into Anatomical Venus is anything to go by then that may just be exactly what they have done.

DUNES EP 2 – REVIEW

DUNES EP 2 – REVIEW

Dunes EP 2

Review by Neil Ainger

Dunes released their first EP only last year. Short and packed full of energy, the release showcased the Newcastle trios brand of compact and infectious desert rock. The grainy guitar tones and thunderous drumming, as well as a keen sense of melody, are somewhat reminiscent of large parts of the Queens of the Stone Age catalogue.

Not even 12 months later and the band are back, offering their latest release and second EP. The new release offers much of the same as far as style goes. Still compact, EP2 boasts another 5 tracks that walk the line between desert and stoner rock while expanding on what came before it.

While describing the guitar tone as grainy was no insult, the new material bites that bit harder and with a little more clarity. The result is a release that continues the knack for writing contagious choruses while packing a more explosive punch.

Opening track Everything is OK is a ray of light. Upbeat and defiantly positive, it encompasses the bands approach to easily-digested and irresistible hooks with a pop sensibility, laced with biting stoner riffs. There’s even a rather superb use of hand-clapping.

Seapig is probably the most melodious track on the record, with a tuneful chorus and subtle vocal harmonies before the band break it down into a groove and perhaps their meanest riff to date. There is more groove to be found on Simian Circus along with a furious, machine-gun-like bass and Black Bridge is textbook, brooding, Kyuss-style desert rock.

Bringing the record to a close with the pacy, psychedelic outro to Illegitimate Hulk I’m left to conclude that while the latest EP is very much a continuation of the first, it’s the result of a band growing in ability and fine-tuning their craft, in capturing the energy of their live performances on record and in showcasing their strengths in the studio. EP2 suggests that when the time comes for a debut full length, the strides forward taken here should help to ensure that it is as good as it can be and personally I can’t wait to hear it.

Dunes EP 2 is out now available on CD and download here

 

BLACK MOTH talk about their LP and UK tour – INTERVIEW

BLACK MOTH talk about their LP and UK tour – INTERVIEW

Black Moth head out on a headline tour this month

Neil Ainger spoke to Dom McCready to find out more.

I first saw you live at Download Festival in 2013. Since then you have shared bills with Orange Goblin, Karma to Burn, Monster Magnet, Pentagram, L7 and Sisters of Mercy to name just a few! What does it mean to you to play with such great, experienced bands and what do you learn from it?

It’s definitely a fantastic experience, especially when some of those bands we have loved since we were kids. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when you look back on some of the bands I’ve played with. I guess what you learn from it is how to play on bigger stages and an overall professional approach to playing shows, you need to adapt to be successful. You also learn that even if you play a song a million times and you’re bored of it, ultimately it’s about what you fans want to hear and you still have to put your all into it.

Black Moth Gobinder-Jhitta
Black Moth (Photo by Gobinder Jhitta)

For someone who may be new to the band, how would you describe your sound?

Heavy, melodic, fuzzed up riffs n roll.

You often seem to be compared to various doom or stoner bands such as Blood Ceremony and Windhand but with the two prior records, The Killing Jar and Condemned to Hope, there are noticeable influences in garage, psychedelic and punk rock as well isn’t there? Who would you say Black Moth are influenced by?

Black Moth have so many influences it’s almost absurd! The thing about us is we all have very different musical tastes, my thing is mostly Death and Black Metal as well as Blues. Dave loves his prog rock and good time classics. Fedi loves her 70 and 80s classic rock as well as Thrash metal and Funk. Jim is a massive Grunge kid as well as loving hip-hop and Harriet listens to all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff. We never approach a song with the intention of making it sound like a certain genre, we just do what makes us happy and I guess all of our various influences spill out!

You’re starting to get some press for the new album Anatomical Venus. Can you tell us about the record?

It was recorded at the Nave studio in Leeds by the incredibly talented Andy Hawkins and it was mixed by Russ Russell. A lot of Harriet’s lyrics on this album are talking about the heaviness of the female experience. In the past, we haven’t really embraced the gender thing and certainly stayed well away from anything political. But this time I think Harriet just needed let out a lot of the thoughts that had been tormenting her for the past few years. I would hope that compared to our earlier work it is an evolution and that we have become better songwriters and musicians.

You’re just about to head out on the road. 9 cities in 9 days. What can people expect from this tour?

You can expect the heaviest Black Moth live show to date. We will be playing mostly material from the new record, which is really exciting as we’ve been sitting on this stuff for quite a while! See you on the road!

Black Moth can be seen in Newcastle on the 12th Feb and around the country on these dates.

7th February: Hope & Ruin, Brighton
8th February: Boston Music Rooms, London
9th February: Rebellion, Manchester
11th February: Garage Attic, Glasgow
12th February: The Cluny 2, Newcastle
13th February: Mama Roux’s, Birmingham
14th February: Fuel, Cardiff
15th February: Waterfront Studios, Norwich
16th February: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds