Bonus: Not Above Evil—Always Darkest Before (2016)

Not Above Evil—Always Darkest Before (2016)

Not Above Evil—Always Darkest Before (2016)

Details

Written by Not Above Evil with Damien Levette (tracks 4, 5 and 9). Mixed and mastered by Daniel Mucs. Drum recording at Big City Jacks Studio. Engineered by Martin Corral.

Bandcamp | Facebook | Encyclopaedia Metallum

Band

  • Sideeq Mohammed—Vocals and bass
  • David Gwynn—Guitar and vocals
  • Daniel Mucs—Percussion

Tracks

  1. When the day comes
  2. Adrenaline
  3. Unleashed
  4. Fibre and sinew
  5. Elevation of the form
  6. The close
  7. Doors and desolation
  8. Compression
  9. Turning over
  10. And the skies return

Review

About a year ago I reviewed Not Above Evil’s second album  The Transcendental Signified (2011). I was impressed

“This is definitely a keeper for me. […] This is an album that I would seek out to listen to, not just not-skip-over if it came on random play. Good work Manchester metallers! ” (85%)

I kind of got that right. Three-piece melodic death metal outfit Not Above Evil hail from both Manchester, UK and Stockholm, Sweden.

In October, drummer Daniel Mucs messaged me on Twitter asking if I’d like to hear the new album. A few weeks later a CD metaphorically dropped through my letterbox. (It actually arrived at reception and I picked it up from my in-tray.)

Thanks to the madness that is wardennial work in a university hall of residence, the CD has been sitting on my desk teasing me for the last six weeks or so. What was I thinking?! I should have stuck it on straight away, because it’s brilliant!

“When the day comes” (track 1) begins quietly . I forget this every time and end up turning up the volume and getting a fright when the drums kick in about 20 seconds in. After that it’s a stately plod to the end. There is a slightly ‘doom’ feel to the song as it trundles along at around 76 bpm, but that gives it weight and it’s by far the heaviest thing that I’ve listened to all day.

“Adrenaline” (track 2) speeds things up a bit, with a straight forward, barked vocal and thundering tempo. The song breaks down about half way before building from a terrific riff that you can’t help but bang your head to.

“Unleashed” (track 3) has a horror feel from the start. Like the souls of a thousand death metal vocalists are trying to communicate something. This track lasts until about three-quarters of the way through before shaking things up a little. Then it’s back to the original riffs until it’s over the finishing line.

“Fibre and sinew” (track 4) begins with a delicate and harmonised guitar lick that sounds very old school Testament – someone has been listening to their copy of The New Order (1988) – before punishing the listener with another slice of modern, hi-gain over-driven death metal.

“Elevation of the form” (track 5) sees Mucs pounding about every drum on his kit as the song builds up to a no-holds-barred rich-sounding riff. It’s by far one of my favourite tracks on the album and they kept it for half-way through.

After such a huge song, it seems quite natural that the next track, “The close”, should be short, instrumental and contemplative. There is no indication on the sleeve notes, however, who the keyboardists/pianist is.

“Doors and desolation” (track 7) resets the proceedings to the to the original programme and we’re back into a fairly standard death metal offering.

Then just as you suspect the album may just see itself out with a few album fillers, the stop-start magnificence of “Compression” (track 8) begins. It has a slower, looser feel, but like the opening track it’s really heavy. It’s definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album.

“Turning over” (track 9) opens with a tremendous bouncing riff and drums that could summon an army of the dead. Not Above Evil demonstrate  yet again that they are not a one-trick pony when it comes to song writing. They introduce new elements and riff after riff that twists the song in different directions. It does follow a bit of a pattern though with the song quietening in the middle, heading off on an interesting meander before returning to a pounding riff.

Finally, “And the skies return” (track 10) closes out the album in style. Like the opening track this has a feeling of grandeur, but it soon steps aside to let out the churning, maniac of a riff that it has clearly been trying to control. Towards the end of the song, the guitars slow down and wail, and the song walks over the finishing line at a steady pace. Like that scene of the soldiers entering the sports arena towards the end of Black Hawk Down (2001).

Conclusion

Not Above Evil certainly seem to be finding their voice but it is in the slower, more progressive numbers like “When the day comes”, “Elevation of the form”, “Compression” and “Turning over” that I feel they have most to say. The song writing is layered and complex and, essentially, very interesting. More like this please.

If you are into heavy music, definitely check out Not Above Evil. Definitely another keeper for me.

Review score: 90%

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Stampin’ Ground—A New Darkness Upon Us (2003)

Stampin' Ground—A New Darkness upon Us (2003)

Stampin’ Ground—A New Darkness upon Us (2003)

Details

Produced, engineering, mixed and mastered by Andy Sneap. Recorded in the summer of 2003 at Backstage Productions, Derbyshire.

Encyclopaedia Metallum | Facebook

Band

  • Adam Frakes-Sime—Vocals
  • Scott Atkins—Guitar
  • Antony “Mobs” Mowbray—Guitar
  • Ian Glasper—Bass
  • Neil Hutton—Drums

Tracks

  1. A new darkness upon us (intro) (instrumental)
  2. Don’t need a reason to hate
  3. Behind the light
  4. Killer of society
  5. Dead from the neck up
  6. The cage
  7. Bear the scars
  8. Betrayal has a face
  9. Pain is weakness (leaving the body)
  10. Unmarked grave
  11. Ashes to scatter
  12. Mantra of a dying world (outro)

Review

I’m running hugely behind on reviews this autumn and for some reason I really thought  I had already written this review. Probably because I’ve listened to this album more than probably any other album I’ve reviewed during this project. It sat in my car CD player for weeks. Last.fm tells me that I’ve played 90 Stampin’ Ground tracks in the last 90 days; they are my fourth most-played band in the last six months.

This was one of those albums that hit a chord with me on my first play through. Stampin’ Ground from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire here in the UK play fusion of hardcore and thrash. Imagine Exodus, Slayer, Hatebreed and Biohazard forming a supergroup and you more or less have their sound down to a tee.

A New Darkness Upon Us (2003) is the band’s fourth, and to date, last full-length album. According to Encyclopaedia Metallum the band formed in 1995 then took a hiatus from 2006 until 2014 when they reformed. I’d definitely love to hear both their back catalogue and whatever they might release next.

Conclusion

Keeping with my tradition of writing really short reviews for the albums that I love most, I find myself writing the conclusion already.

This is an album I could listen to on repeat for days – and have done. While the album isn’t entirely perfect, I can’t but give it a full 10/10: the flaws just don’t seem important enough to quibble over. I can see me listening to this album for a long time yet.

It is discoveries like this one that makes me love this project and probably is why I am running behind on reviews (it’s currently early October): I just don’t want it to end.

Review score: 100%

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Details

Recorded and mixed by S. Vrath at Pulse and NLE Studios between7 December 2006 and 7 May 2007.

Encyclopaedia Metallum | Bandcamp

Band

  • S. Vrath—Vocals and bass guitar
  • A. Satyruss—Guitars
  • J. C. Volgard—Drums and backing vocals

Tracks

  1. Astral assassins
  2. Shattered idols
  3. Pray to war
  4. Spires to ashes
  5. Suffering the conquered
  6. Holocaust (Bathory cover)

Review

England isn’t particularly renowned for its death metal bands. Scythian appear to have come to put a stop to all of that. And to be fair, given that this is only their demo (they have since been signed to a label) they did a pretty decent job of it.

On Encyclopaedia Metallum this release received two reviews, both gave it 100%. What did I think about it, well, a little history first, I think.

The Scythians were a nomadic tribe of Iranian Eurasians who dominated the central European steppes (from modern Czech Republic in the west to central China and south Siberia in the east) from around the 9th to the first centuries BC. They were amongst the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare.

As a demo this is an impressive release. The production is great, it doesn’t sound too tinny (which is my biggest criticism about many a metal album), there is a depth to the sound and enough bass to get a sense of how powerful they might sound live.

“Astral assassins” (track 1) opens with an eerie soundscape for 50 seconds before launching into a fabulous double-kick-drum-led riff. However, no sooner had I uttered the words “Oh… I like that” out loud, the band hit the Tasmanian Devil button and they upped the pace and went all-out thrash-style mental on the track. They bring the pace back to that opening riff about three and a half minutes in, and that’s where I think they are best and the heaviest. I like fast, thrashy music. But in those few moments they sound heavier and nastier than almost anything I’ve ever heard.

“Shattered idols” (track 2). Ah, good! They’ve been listening. It opens with a doom-like riff that chugs away at the bottom end, and then… no! They’ve done it again. Someone has flicked the switch from 33 to 45 rpm. For the majority of the song, however, they play around riff that grinds away like some kind of underground drill boring through granite.

And so the rest of the demo goes with Scythian morphing from thrashing moments of breakneck speed to ponderously heavy moments of doom-laden riff upon bouncing doom-laden riff. The music sounds like a fusion of death, thrash, black and doom metal. And for the most part it really works.

The final track is a cover of black metal Bathory‘s “Holocaust” (from their Blood Fire Death album, 1988). It has an authentic early thrash/black metal production to it, which is nice, with the bass levels rolled back a bit.

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed this. It doesn’t quite the spot for me but there are some brilliant moments that genuinely made me smile when I heard them for the first time. I’d certainly be interested to check out their newer material on Bandcamp.

Review score: 80%

Open The Skies—Conspiracies (2007)

Open the Skies—Conspiracies (2007)

Open The Skies—Conspiracies (2007)

Details

Produced by Mark Daghorn, Karl Groom, and Open The Skies. Engineered by Mark Daghorn and Karl Groom. Recorded at Red House Farm and Thin Ice Studios. Mixed by Karl Groom at Thin Ice Studios. Mastered by Dave Aston at The Digital Audio Co.

Band

  • Josh McKeown—Vocals
  • Steve Lumley—Guitar and vocals
  • Kieran  Brannigan—Guitar and vocals
  • Jamie Willis—Bass
  • Chris Velissarides—Drums

Tracks

  1. Intro
  2. A silent decade
  3. Fear has no voice
  4. Keiko’s last smile
  5. He spoke of success
  6. Interlude
  7. Silhouettes on street corners
  8. Change
  9. So season two
  10. Just for you
  11. Yours faithfully
  12. We could have had it all
  13. A second from insanity
  14. Reduced and charming

Review

Open The Skies sounds to me to be very much in the post-nu-metal, post-emo “screamo” or metalcore genre. They seem to have a foot in both hardcore punk and metal. In the early 80s a similar fusion took bands in the direction of thrash, these days it seems to lead them into the realms of metalcore.

After an initial twenty seconds or so of sound effects this album blasts into life with a terrific pounding riff, a tremendous over-driven guitar tone, and a nice melody. After that sadly the album peaks a few songs in and, with a few exceptions, the album sees itself out with a collection of homogeneous, screamo-by-numbers tracks.

“A silent decade” (track 2) pretty much contains everything that could be really great about this album. It has power, it has delicacy, it has the riffs, it has dynamics, it has a fusion of clean and screamed vocals. “Fear has no voice” (track 3) follows a similar winning recipe. The highlight for me in this song is the stop/start bouncing passage where the band sings as a chorus.

The trouble with much of this album is so much of it sounds the same. For example, listen to “So season two” (track 9) and then jump to almost anywhere in “Keiko’s last smile” (track 4) and it sounds as though you are on exactly the same song. Which is, of course, a credit to the guitar tuning, the recording engineering and mixing, but it doesn’t really make for a particularly interesting album.

And it’s not just those two songs. You can quite easily jump between tracks and you begin to see the whole album as modular. It’s like a box of audio LEGO pieces that can be interchanged between sets.

“Interlude” (track 6) is a rather beautiful short song that breaks the homogeneity. But after that break it’s back to the recipe.

Another break to the advertised programme is “Yours faithfully” (track 11) which is an acoustic song that reminds me in equal parts of early Manic Street Preachers and Soul Asylum.

Curiously, the closing track “Reduced and charming” (track 14)  seems to be more in keeping with the first couple of tracks than the filler in the middle, including an all-band-singing-in-chorus section.

Conclusion

Despite its very promising opening this album suffers primarily from a lack of ideas. I think this album could have benefited greatly from being significantly shorter, compiling the best ideas into few songs and focussing on those.

As it is most of this album sounds like the same song sung with eight sets of lyrics. If I feel compelled to listen to this album again I may simply create my own EP from the six remaining songs that hold some interest for me.

I believe that this is Open The Skies’ debut album. As debuts go it is certainly promising. The musicianship and song-writing are certainly strong, in my opinion the music could just benefit from a few more ideas and variety.

Review score: 60%

Not Above Evil—The Transcendental Signified (2011)

Not Above Evil—The Transcendental Signified (2011)

Not Above Evil—The Transcendental Signified (2011)

Details

All music written, performed and produced by Not Above Evil. Engineered, mixed and mastered by Daniel Mucs. Released on independent label (self-release?) in September 2011.

Band

  • Sideeq Mohammed—Vocals, bass
  • David Gwynn—Guitar
  • Damien Levette—Guitar
  • Daniel Mucs—Drums

Tracks

  1. Crossroads
  2. Legion
  3. Capture the dawn
  4. Against the tides
  5. Nexus
  6. Death and transformation
  7. As the curtain falls
  8. The duel

Review

I’m glad I generally take two or three listens of an album before I review them, because it really took until my third or four listen through to really begin to appreciate the quality of this sophomore full-length release from Manchester melodic death metal band Not Above Evil.

The album clocks in at an old school 44 minutes 10 seconds—short enough to fit on a single side of a TDK D90 cassette! It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and if anything leaves you wanting more.

While there is nothing particularly inspiring or genre-changing about the album it is a solid album with some pretty decent musicianship, production and song writing.

Vocals are gruff and growly but they have some depth and don’t get in the way. The guitars have a melodic bite to them, the bass guitar sits back nicely in the mix and the drums cut through nicely.

It’s great to see such quality from an independent British release.

Conclusion

This is definitely a keeper for me. It took a few listens for it to finally grab my attention but I was rather preoccupied with other bits and pieces during my first few listens.

This is an album that I would seek out to listen to, not just not-skip-over if it came on random play. Good work Manchester metallers!

Review score: 85%

Koreisch—This decaying schizophrenic Christ complex (1999)

Koreisch—This decaying schizophrenic Christ complex (1999)

Koreisch—This decaying schizophrenic Christ complex (1999)

Details

Recorded in the year of your Lord MCMXCIX [1999] in Sheffield, north England. Calculated Risk products. Catalogue number: Risk #3.

Band

  • Koreisch — Lyrics, music, noise, tape hiss, backward programming, experimentation and improvisation

Tracks

  1. Justification by faith
  2. Forced attrition
  3. Submerged Tao fixation
  4. A premonition of life’s erosion
  5. 1 inch stab wound
  6. Caress this violation
  7. Eclectic powder burn
  8. Preordained incarceration
  9. The Kevorkian solution
  10. Evolution through pessimism
  11. Archaicathodemission
  12. 4,000 years of suppressed dissection
  13. Bleed like Christ
  14. The eating of food sacrificed to idols

Review

Encyclopaedia Metallum classifies Koreisch as “doom metal/grindcore”. But not in the traditional sense are they. While this album contains elements that lean in the direction of doom and grindcore, it is predominantly an experimental album.

I think I have only one other CD in my collection that comes close to the experimentation that permeates this release and that’s Faith No More / Fantômas / Tomahawk front man Mike Patton’s 1996 album Adult themes for voice.

My four year old, Isaac describes the music as “naughty music”. He said while cowering in the corner of the room, through hands protecting his face. “Put it off! It’s horrible!” he exclaimed.

To be fair, I did play him perhaps one of the creepiest tracks on the album “The Kervokian solution” which sounds like a series of Jurassic Park dinosaurs break through a plate glass window while a motorbike purrs in the background, only to discover themselves in a choir rehearsal.

The album is a hotchpotch of noise, hiss, screams and shouting, blasts and riffs. It’s more art than music, at times it feels like it’s almost verging on therapy.

Conclusion

The compact disc itself has a white label with a black ink scribble. This seems to be also a perfect analogy for the music it contains.

It’s certainly not an easy listen, and as much as I appreciate what they’ve done I’m not sure I would choose to listen to this terribly often.

Review score: 50%

 

Joe Pesci—At Our Expense! (2009)

Joe Pesci—At Our Expense! (2009)

Joe Pesci—At Our Expense! (2009)

Details

Music recorded at The Afternoon Gentlemen’s Practice Rooms, Leeds, April 2009. Vocals recorded at Unit 28, Newcastle, June 2009. Mixed and mastered by Dan Pesci. Released on Bones Brigade Records. Limited to 500 copies.

Band

  • Stu Bartlett — Vocals
  • Dan Pesci — Guitar and vocals
  • Rich — Drums and vocals

Tracks

  1. Sticking my carbon footprint up your arse
  2. Stagnate
  3. I’m not a pessimist (it’s just that we’re all fucked)
  4. Scorn of humanity
  5. Beating Robert Mugabe to death…
  6. Hyper-real
  7. The old stats test
  8. Funkhouser
  9. Mindless zombified fucks
  10. Wasting your life in a dead end existence
  11. Cure vs profit
  12. Despair is setting in
  13. Brain-dead beer bong, is Stino’s epitaph
  14. Plato complex
  15. Be quick or be dead
  16. Project 2501
  17. Smelly John Pierre

Review

Hailing from Newcastle upon Tyne, England, grindcore band Joe Pesci  (I’m guessing) take their name from the American actor, comedian and musician of the same name (Joseph Frank Pesci).

I’m not entirely certain what I think about that. Surely there are an unlimited number of names they could have chosen: Plateaux DepartmentHuglfing, or Automated Refraction System for example.

Talk about grindcore and it won’t be too long before you stumble on Napalm Death who really laid the groundwork for the genre, and ex-Anthrax / ex-SOD / ex-Nuclear Assault bassist Dan Lilker’s outfit Brutal Truth. There are a couple of acts you wouldn’t want to have to follow.

It’s clear that the band didn’t have a massive budget (not a judgment, simply an observation—not everyone can pick up a mainstream record label recording studio bill). The production is quite raw, quite punk-y — which may attract some, and alienate others. It does mean, though that the volume balance between the various film audio clips that are scattered throughout the work isn’t consistent with the music that follows. It doesn’t bother me too much but I imagine that it may annoy some.

(Having got this far in writing my review I have report that the album has already finished. All 17 tracks. Back to the start again…)

I read on a blog somewhere that when the album was sent to be mastered the rough mix was burned to CD rather than the final. Sure, it might have been nice to have a little clearer production but what we have still conveys the attitude and the skill required to write and record such a technical, heavily distorted, down-tuned, throat-ripping album.

And so to the music. It’s grindcore. It’s British, high-speed, blast-beat-happy, growl-tastic grindcore. If the song titles are anything to go by then I imagine the lyrics are humorous (but all I can hear is “Waaah! Wah!”). There are no microsongs, as such, but the shortest track is 38 seconds and the longest 1′ 22″.

There are some really nice riffs like the one that opens “Funkhouser” (track 8) and “Smelly John Pierre” (track 17). And a lot of just-get-me-through-the-track blasts of noise and shouting. But hey! that’s grindcore.

Conclusion

I’d quite happily listen to this album. It’s the kind of music that I do rather enjoy going to sleep to (note: not because of). It’s a little bit ‘high-pitch shouty’ for my liking—I prefer a good solid, deep roar, but it’s not out of keeping with the rest of the music.

The one thing I don’t really get are the audio clips from films. I just find them a little distracting, but I guess each to their own.

Review score: 70%