Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Interview with GizzardFest organiser Chris Hardwick

Saturday November 24th sees GizzardFest taking place at the Trades Club in Rotherham with an outstanding lineup consisting of twenty great metal bands over the course of the day. It's a great thing for the local metal scene, right on our doorstep so it's one I've been more than happy to support. With that in mind, I spoke recently to Chris Hardwick, the man behind GizzardFest to get some insight into the festival and find out what goes on behind the scenes with an event such as this. Here's what he had to say......

Firstly, I’d like to thank you for taking part in this interview, I’d like to ask first what made you decide to start up GizzardFest to begin with?

No problem Paul. I appreciate you wanting to speak to me about GizzardFest, it's people like yourself giving me a platform to speak about the show which has really let it to grow, so I figure I owe you a thank you.

As for GizzardFest it was conceived by a local Rotherham promoter called Daniel Brown - he wanted some help doing a larger all-day show. Rotherham has the venues for these larger shows, but nobody was doing anything of the same nature as GizzardFest. Seemed a missed opportunity. This resulted in the first GizzardFest at The Cutler's Arms in Rotherham, a show which saw the Slomatics go from playing Psycho Las Vegas (a huge US festival), to then playing Rotherham, they really helped kickstart our event along with all the other bands that played - I'll be eternally very grateful to them for taking a chance on GizzardFest. It actually went surprisingly well, although I ended up being the financial risk taker for various reasons I won't bother going into, so this year was more me wondering if I could make the show larger pulling on the experience of the first one.

So far this definitely looks like it's going to be the case.

What’s the general vibe you’re aiming for with GizzardFest, are there any particular kinds of bands you look for?

It's a celebration of good heavy music played by some really awesome bands, who I believe all have amazing potential to go further than they already have. And some of these guys have gone far already, take Kurokuma the small stage headliner, they've done a European tour this year and toured Japan with Conan as well as releasing "Dope Rider", there are great things in their future I'm sure. 

Any of the bands that are on the bill are there because I personally dig what they're doing, there's no hierarchy to any of it. I've been to see every band on the bill with the exception of Geomancer, who I basically booked from the strength of their last LP, and their connection with Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings. I've aimed to represent every region of the UK to the best of my ability, but alas - I've missed many great bands, and not everywhere is being represented sadly.

Throw in the festival headliner Sunnata, from Poland and I think it makes for a particularly special event.

Is there a team of people involved with putting this on, or is it mostly just yourself?

Out in front it's just myself and Chris Bingham (from Psython) - I'm the more vocal party, but it's still involves the core team from the first GizzardFest in various different roles. My brother, James, he deals with the stage management (something he did professionally for years, but now it's his idea of fun) but he also helps me get places I need to be when I have had to travel. Richard Sayles who was the photographer last year is returning to take some snaps of the show, and new people have been pulled in like Danny T who's been responsible for the poster artwork, and Daniel Brown has a few contributions that he's working on also which hopefully will come to fruition, he's also contributed some great promotional ideas during conversations.

This year has also added The Trades staff, Richard, Mark, Sylwia and James have all been very helpful across the board in helping pull the event together. Which is great - as I'm getting to work with the number one venue in Rotherham, The Trades. It goes larger than that though, the general Rotherham community has been behind it - Riverside Records, and how could I forget The Bridge Inn which is situated next door to The Trades... I've done some interviews there, and they let me hang posters inside. It's this kind of support and cooperation within Rotherham which hopefully will serve the event well. People are behind it, and hopefully everyone will benefit.

What are the biggest challenges you face in organising an event like GizzardFest?

It's all about planning ahead, a lot of work goes in beforehand so that the day is a breeze. Lots of folks will just ad hoc on the day, which is fine for a small numbered bill, but would be chaos for an event like this. Everything is meticulously planned and communicating with that many people can be a hell of a challenge.

Everyone’s been great though this year, especially the bands who have been more than happy to help me with my requests.

Which aspects of organising this event have you most enjoyed so far?

Actually - watching so many of the bands perform through the year, getting to know different members of the bands, and seeing some of those bands achieve amazing things. Hundred Year Old Man for example are just on fire, they couldn't have had a bigger year. They've still had time for me though, and that says a lot about the characters in that band. Same could be said about loads of bands on the bill - there's been little to no ego at all, and everyone is helpful - and that's a massive credit to the people in all the bands.

It's just as much the bands event also, they've been ace, every last one of them.

How easy, or difficult is it getting such a large and diverse line-up together for a one day event? Has it been easy getting the bands you wanted on board for GizzardFest?

Other than the fact I knew some of the line-up would inevitably change it's much easier to put together than you'd think. It's a matter of asking what bands need and making decisions based upon their requirements. I had a lot of the bands shortlisted after last year’s events for several reasons.
Sunnata was always going to be my first pick as the main headliner, so in many respects I organised everything from the date to suit their needs, and that seems to have worked out well.

Which bands on the line-up are you particularly looking forward to seeing yourself?

Genuinely, all off them. I've seen some of the bands several times this year, hell Witch Tripper are pushing towards double figures. Though if you were to say which do I think will be the most exceptional sets? I'd probably go with Sunnata & VOW for different reasons.

Sunnata are just that damn good as a band, and they've worked hard for it. VOW, well that's just the gear geek in me - a massive wall of amplification that you won't see at any other event like this and I think that alone will be quite spectacular, and super loud.

Though I know everyone performing on the day is going to bring their 'A' game. It's gunna be great.

Was it easy to find a suitable venue to host the event?

It could have been - but the Trades was there, and they're definitely wanting to break out of the Rotherham cover band cliché - and I'm more than happy to do my bit to help them. Let's just say that the Cutlers really wasn't the right venue for the event to continue to grow.

You’re charging just £10 for twenty bands, which is incredible value, but how do you go about covering your costs and ensuring everything and everyone is paid when you’ve got a line-up like this for a very low admission price?

I genuinely expect people to turn up - it's a good price for locals, and making the entry price good value is an incentive to people travelling to Rotherham for the show. I added up what I thought the average cost of the all day event like this would be to people, and going higher would be more likely to send people to other shows on the same date (24th November is a highly competitive date), or put them off altogether. Failing that I'll end up making a loss... Which sucks, and effects any future events but it's worth the risk to get people on board with the idea of an event like this. All the bands will get paid regardless, and they're due to be paid in line with how successful the event is.

The core GizzardFest team are basically doing this for the greater glory of Rotherham. We all want to turn the reputation of our town around, and we're willing to put the effort in to achieve this. We won't get anything, it all goes to the bands.

Has there been much interest so far with pre-sales?

Enough that I'm managing to sleep at night, but not so much that people shouldn't get out there and buy themselves a ticket. The numbers are in the realms of our initial projections and expectations, but there is always a massive run on tickets in the final weeks. The potential for actually selling out the event is always there, and ever increasing by the day, that said it's a huge venue with a massive capacity, so we'll just have to see.

How do you find the scene in Rotherham generally, is there a demand for metal shows there?

The Rotherham scene is weird, there are far too many cover band events that I just can't bring myself to care about.

I don't want that to be the future of music in Rotherham, or hell even the UK to become cover acts - I see too much of it, that's not to say that cover bands don't offer something. There's a space for it sure, but it shouldn't be all there is.

As for demand - I think it's there, but more expected to happen in Sheffield (which is does). If metal is going to keep going strong it needs events like GizzardFest and for people to take a shot on it and support it.

Have you put on any other events aside from GizzardFest, and would you consider doing it if GizzardFest goes well? 

Nope. It's not really a desire of mine. I fell into doing promotion. I have some idea's as to what I may execute in the future, but nothing set in stone. 

Where do you realistically see GizzardFest heading in the future, and what would you most like to happen both short and long term?

In some ways, if people want this kind of event - it'll get the support from music fans. That kind of thing will secure a more long-term future for the event... That said, I'm unlikely to do this again if the loss is so great because the demand isn't there. It's really about that for me.

I think the demand is there, so I'm taking the risk - and have built the best line-up I can. Some of the credentials these bands have, we're talking mainstream metal music press thinking very highly of these acts, couple that with the sheer talent on display - I feel it's fair to be certain anyone attending is going to come away with in the very least 3 new favourite acts, there's just so many rising stars performing. It'll be a day to remember for all that attend.

Long term, I'll only ever go bigger with GizzardFest. What does that mean? That means more larger international acts, and more larger UK acts. That'd be the long-term goal for me.

Which bands would you most like to have playing the festival in future, if you did this again?

Hmmmm... This is a tricky one. I've joked about booking Fu Manchu in the past, which to be honest isn't a completely stupid proposition. That said there's usually all kinds of exclusivity deals that are made which could preclude such a possibility from ever occurring. I have a list of really solid acts I'd love to work with, 1000Mods or Stoned Jesus would be a good one... In fact, Stoned Jesus could be perfect considering seeing those guys play to 50/60 people in Warsaw, Poland was what started me on this journey.

I'm keen to say this, I would want to book an Irish band, a Polish band and something else International if I was going to do a third GizzardFest.

Is there anything you’d do differently in future years, having had the experience of doing this so far this year?

I'm not sure if I'd do the band video interviews again, I'm really uncertain if they've paid off - it's been quite costly. 

I really don't know if that money and time would have served the event better by being placed elsewhere... As fun as they've all been to do mind. I always have a desire to do more, perhaps do a better job with the interviews. I really don't know, I've done so much more this year to push the event that I'm fresh out of ideas at this time.

The only thing I do know for sure is that GizzardFest will always take place in Rotherham.

Finally, I’d like to thank you once again for taking part in this interview, is there anything else you’d like to say or add before we finish?

No problem Paul, it's been my pleasure. Turn off X-Factor or whatever TV garbage you're watching, log off Facebook, and come to GizzardFest on November 24th, it's a tenner for great entertainment between 1pm -> 2am.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Album Spotlight: Forlorn Citadel - Songs of Mourning / Dusk

Songs of Mourning / Dusk by Forlorn Citadel is to be released in November as part of the Northern Silence Underground Series, which is aimed at giving new and as yet unknown artists a bit of a kickstart with the opportunity to get their music out in physical format. Forlorn Citadel is one of these artists and the album combines the two demos released so far into one release which will get a limited-edition CD run of 500 copies.

These two demos, individually titled Dusk and Songs of Mourning and originally released in 2017 and 2018 respectively are very different in style yet show considerable promise even though Forlorn Citadel is still in its formative years. Originally conceived as an ambient / dungeon synth project with the first demo being entirely in this style, Forlorn Citadel soon moved to incorporate black metal into the picture with the second and it’s this sound which forms the basis of where Solace (the sole member) plans to take the project.

I’ll talk about each of the two parts separately simply because they are very different and mark two different phases of the band. Dusk was the first demo released (although makes up the final part of this CD) and consists three short tracks of pure dungeon synth / ambient style music. What’s here is enjoyable and atmospheric, with serene ambient sounds combining with more solemn and dramatic medieval sounding parts to create a vivid yet calming atmosphere. In all honesty the only real thing that lets the Dusk part down in my opinion is it’s just too short to draw you in and immerse you fully in the sound. However, this was just the starting point for Forlorn Citadel and it serves well to showcase where the roots of the band lie, but it’s with Songs of Mourning where we really see this project take shape.

Released originally earlier this year, Songs of Mourning shows a much improved and much more confident sound, with the addition of black metal as a core ingredient as well. The atmospheric synths are still prominent, but we’re hearing a much more well rounded and fleshed out entity here. Synths may well be common in black metal anyway but given the origins of this band we see the synths employed with great effect and they make up a significant aspect of Forlorn Citadel’s sound, pinned together by the black metal framework. The essence of both black metal and dungeon synth is captured and comes out to the full, complementing each other well and anyone who is a fan of atmospheric black metal of this nature will find much to enjoy here.

Put together, the combined release does an excellent job of showcasing just what Forlorn Citadel is about, as well as acting as a landmark to show where this band is at now and where it came from. Songs of Mourning may well be the stronger of the two parts, but the Dusk tracks are an essential part of this too given that without them you’d lose half of the current make-up of Forlorn Citadel’s sound. I think when all is said and done, the main thing Songs of Mourning / Dusk accomplishes is it leaves you hungry for a full, proper album. It’s a solid release in its own right but also a great appetiser for the upcoming main course and that is something I really look forward to hearing, and I guess this is part of the intent behind Northern Silence’s Underground Series.

This really is a great start, and if you’re a fan of black metal, dungeon synth and ambient music this is worth getting hold of as it plays on the strengths of those genres and makes the most of the common ground shared by them, and as such the music presented will appeal to most people who like those styles I expect. Being honest, I think Forlorn Citadel is a band we’ll hear great music from in the future and hopefully will be a band recognised for doing so. Watch this space folks.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Album Spotlight: Manes - Slow Motion Death Sequence

We’ve seen boundaries pushed in black metal pretty much since the origins of the genre, we’ve also seen a good number of bands shatter those boundaries completely. Bands such as Ulver, In The Woods, Arcturus, and Solefald may have cut their teeth in the Norwegian black metal scene but have since gone on to achieve much more by moving beyond it. Manes are another such band, formed in 1993 and performing black metal up to and including their album Under Ein Blodraud Maane. In 2003 they took a radical departure with their album Vilosophe, heading in a more avant-garde direction and have continued on that path ever since, polarising the opinion of fans in the process as tends to happen.

Cut to 2018, and Manes have returned with their latest album Slow Motion Death Sequence, released
on August 24th via Debemur Morti Productions and it’s likely to be no less divisive amongst metal fans but hopefully it’ll find a dedicated audience who will appreciate what Manes are doing here. I can easily list some of the styles Manes incorporate in their sound, including but not limited to metal, electronica, trip hop, industrial, ambient, alternative rock and pop, frankly though that list is about as relevant to the sound as a list of ingredients in a cake recipe is to how the cake tastes when you’re eating it. Suffice to say, Manes see genres not as templates but as tools to create something entirely of their own, and what they’ve come up with here is something pretty special indeed.

“Endetidstegn” lays the groundwork to Manes’ latest musical vision, the initial minimalistic electronic beats and subdued moody vocals are joined by layer after layer of sound with guitars, drums and additional female vocals coming in and the song gradually building up to a powerful crescendo. There’s a stark contrast between the restrained opening parts and the dramatic conclusion of this song, highlighting the full range of sounds and emotions Manes produce on this album. It’s a great start and a springboard to what comes later, it’s soon apparent that Manes have far more tricks up their sleeves. There’s “Scion” next, with a lighter, more upbeat approach, I’ll admit at first it took me a while to warm to this particular song with the vocals coming across as jarring at first but after a couple of plays I came to appreciate it a lot more. It’s a strange thing with this album, on first listen there’s a deceptive air of simplicity and accessibility, just enough to entice you in further, after a few spins though you really come to appreciate the true depth of the music on offer here and how meticulously crafted everything is. Repeated listens are essential, the fourth will sound very different to the first.

I won’t describe every song on here, each song on Slow Motion Death Sequence is unique in its own way though and there’s some real gems to be found. “Last Resort” is one of my personal favourites, the early parts settling comfortably into familiar sounds, perhaps reminiscent of In The Woods in places as well as recent Anathema. Come the five-minute mark though this song really bursts into life, with a blast of guitars backing up powerful female vocals with raw emotion pouring out. It’s simply breath-taking and standing bang in the middle of the album serves as a real peak to some already epic sounds on either side. There's some dark moments too, “Poison Enough For Everyone” is a much bleaker and more depressive affair, with the downbeat almost spoken vocals backed up by distorted synths soon spiralling into a Reznor-esque anguished style.

There’s much more I could say about this album, suffice to say it’s one of the most unique and rewarding albums I’ve heard all year. It’s hard to draw reference points but from a metal perspective I’d say if you’re a fan of In The Woods, Solstafir and / or later Anathema stuff this will be right up your street, even though the metal aspects are only a small part of what Manes are doing here, you’ll hear more Bowie influence than Black Sabbath. Ulver would be an obvious comparison too, more because they share a similar path and spirit of adventure though rather than with the actual sound, they’re very different bands and it’s unfortunate that fans seem to have been less kind to Manes than they were to Ulver. It is sad that albums like this will often be judged negatively simply by not being “metal”, whereas in fact bands like Manes are producing outstanding original music of a high calibre in a world where innovation is much harder to find and most things have been done before. Hopefully that can be appreciated regardless of whether this is your cup of tea or not. At the end of the day I can draw all the comparisons you want, tell you what’s going on in here but simple fact is Manes stand proudly in their own place with Slow Motion Death Sequence, this is an incredibly strong, rich and rewarding album and for me I’ll go out on a limb and say that in a few years time I fully expect to be looking back on this in the same way I look back on La Masquerade Infernale and Perdition City now. Incredible stuff, give it a chance.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Album Spotlight: Ulykke - Angantyr

So, here’s a surprise, Angantyr is a Danish one-man band I came across way back, probably around 15 years ago if I recall correctly, through the album Kampen Fortsætter. It was an excellent if quite raw release, I’d not kept track of the band for a good while though, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a new Angantyr album arrive unexpectedly in my inbox. Now Angantyr started out as a synth / ambient project in 1997 then quickly became a black metal band, with Ynleborgaz being the man behind it all. He’s released a few albums over the years, but aside from the recent Foragt EP this is the first release since 2012 and also marks the 20-year anniversary since Angantyr’s first demo. The album is titled Ulykke and is set for release on March 30th via Northern Silence Productions.

If you’re a fan of Angantyr, chances are you’ve got a fair idea what to expect, no frills, no nonsense orthodox black metal in the classic 90’s Scandinavian style. You’ll also expect a certain level of quality, in spite of the rawness of some of Angantyr’s previous works what’s always stood out is just how well written and performed the music actually is. This is crucial to bands playing this style, especially now in 2018. After all, Ulykke breaks no new ground nor does it deviate much from its course for just shy of an hour, so if you want to get and more importantly hold people’s attention you’ve got to be top of your game. Angantyr, thankfully, is just that. The potential shown in those early albums has really come to fruition here, 20 years of experience and a considerable amount of talent, not to mention a huge improvement in the production department makes Ulykke an incredibly strong album and a first-rate example of how traditional black metal should sound and still be relevant in today’s era.

Simply put, Ulykke manages to be a captivating and spellbinding album from start to finish, made so by the fact that musically Angantyr knows how to do pull this off and knows how to keep you hooked. On the surface it may sound like just another black metal album, as you listen though the riffs and the outstanding guitar melodies set the path and lead you on an enthralling trip for the 59-minute duration. In terms of the actual songs, there’s little point isolating the tracks individually and you’ll find most of the variety on the album comes within each song as opposed to being radically different from one to the next. Each song though is well put together and packed with ideas, no one part outstays its welcome but avoids being cut short either, and the seven songs here could each be considered as one leg of a much longer journey. Ulykke is fairly upbeat as black metal goes, the harshness and intensity are there in just the right amount but there’s bucket loads of melody employed as well as an entrancing atmosphere which, in spite of the harshness of the style still has a serene, majestic and uplifting quality. Without deviating so much as to be labelled “melodic” or “atmospheric” black metal, Ulykke still manages to be both.

Angantyr’s sound most certainly benefits from the focus and singular vision Ynleborgaz has for his music. I’ll admit I’ve always loved the diversity of black metal, and the dynamic between bands who experiment and push new boundaries alongside those who firmly resist change and stick strongly to tradition is something which keeps the genre interesting. Angantyr has staked a flag firmly in a specific point and refused to move from or look outside that, uncontaminated by current trends and outside influence and for Angantyr this works extremely well. The focus is channelled firmly into this vision, and the result is something which has a refreshing purity to it. That really stands out on Ulykke, some bands playing this style might sound like they’re emulating the 90’s, Angantyr here sounds like it IS the 90’s and for all intents and purposes you could easily be convinced that’s where Ulykke is from. It’s rare to hear that on this level in all honesty, and it’s one of the key strengths of this album.

In summary then, I’d say Angantyr is far better than a band playing traditional 90’s Scandinavian black metal in 2018 has any right to be. If you don’t like that style, there’s little here that’s going to convert you I’ll admit. If you do though, you’re in for a treat with this one. It’s not always about pushing boundaries, experimenting and trying different things, with music like this it’s about performing and enjoying the style of black metal you love, sticking to your guns and keeping the black flame burning. Angantyr has a clear vision of the target, has drawn, aimed, delivered and firmly hit the bullseye with this one. If you’re into this band, Ulykke is a much welcome return after a six-year wait. If you’ve never heard Angantyr, now is a good time to find out why this band has picked up a cult following over the years. No nonsense, no frills, just first class black metal exactly how it used to be, and one I can happily recommend to anyone with any degree of liking for this style.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Album Spotlight: Insurrection - Spreading The Disease

It’s been a while, but the Sine FM Metal Zone blog returns today with a look at the album Insurrection by Spreading The Disease. They’re from Kent, formed back in 2014 by bass player Steve Saunders. So far their output has consisted of the EP Viral, which received much critical acclaim, and now Insurrection, their debut full length album which came out last year. They describe themselves as a modern metal band, list bands such as Slipknot, Machine Head, Pantera and others as influences, and with Insurrection they certainly seem to have impressed a fair few people and made a decent impact.

There’s certainly no denying the passion these guys show here, the tracks here are bursting with rage and energy, there’s a hell of a lot to like about this band for sure. The heaviness is there, meaty riffs and grooves plough forward and bring a sense of fire and passion throughout Insurrection, you’ve got some fierce vocals too from Connor Russell Snyder, the yells and screams delivering the raw aggression and complemented by decent clean vocals interspersed throughout. If you’re a fan of modern metal you’re going to find Insurrection ticks all the boxes for sure, and certainly the younger metal audience are going to lap this up. It does everything you want it to on that front. However, the same can be said of a lot of bands in what is becoming an incredibly saturated scene and depending on your point of view to hear of a “modern metal” band listing the influences they do will typically evoke one of two reactions. Either chomping at the bit, or rolling your eyes in your head thinking jeez, not another. You could be forgiven for the latter of course, and you’d be pleasantly surprised when Spreading The Disease prove you wrong though, as they’ve delivered a strong debut with the raw aggression you want from a contemporary metal album yet showing enough maturity and diversity to impress all but the most jaded of cynics.

I think what I like most about this album is that they’ve drawn on so many different influences that come together to deliver their music the way that they do. They’ve got a very clear vision in how they want their music to sound, but they’ve got a fair few tricks up their sleeve in how they go about delivering that. Metalcore and hardcore fans will find much to enjoy, particularly in the early songs, opener “Find My Path” and “Words Unspoken” for example. You’ve also got a healthy dose of thrash showing through as well as punk spirit and influence showing through in a lot of the songs, both in the riffing and Connor’s vocal style at times on songs such as “Spreading the Disease” and “Greed” for example. The band do ease off the throttle on “Can’t Let Go” and we hear female vocals paving the way for a great solo which even gives nods to prog and doesn’t sound out of place, even a dash of funk on "Brexit Wounds" too. “Save me” has to be a real highlight of the album where Spreading The Disease really let rip and tear at you full force and I imagine it’s ferocious live too. Another highlight is “Whores of War”, clocking in at six and a half minutes but brings together so many of the strong points of this band in one song and serves as a good taste of what they can really do.

On the surface you’ve got a blisteringly intense full on metal album which holds its own on a crowded scene, but you’ve also got a band which can go much deeper and inject their music with a personality entirely of their own, and this becomes more apparent on repeated listens. If there’s any downside to this album I’d say it’s mainly down to the fact that there’s a lot of unrealised potential here. Spreading The Disease stretch far in many directions and are certainly ambitious. However, while I can’t quite put my finger on exact points there’s times where you think that they occasionally miss the mark or more accurately they sometimes fall short of what you really know they can do. That’s no bad thing, it leaves them somewhere to go, this is a debut album and as debuts go it’s an incredibly strong release, but I did occasionally get the impression that they’re trying a lot of different things here and some of it didn’t have the impact it could have. As I say, this is far from a negative point as it didn’t make me enjoy this album less so much as make me curious as to what we may hear from this band in the future.

In summary then, a great debut, and it’s worth checking Insurrection out if this sort of thing floats your boat, and even if not it’s one well worth giving a chance, you may be pleasantly surprised by Spreading The Disease. They’ve lit the fire here, I’m sure it will burn even more brightly in years to come.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Album Spotlight: No Stars Upon the Bridge - Hallatar

I’ll be completely honest, I’ve done a fair few album reviews over the years on here and on other platforms and few albums have been as difficult to begin to write about as this one, Hallatar’s debut album No Stars Upon the Bridge. This is partly down to the circumstances surrounding the formation of Hallatar, and partly down to the sheer emotional weight of the music here and what it represents. It’s not something I can sit here and review in a conventional sense, it is however something I can gladly simply write about and just tell you about and hopefully draw your attention to and share with you all the same.

If you aren’t already aware, Hallatar is a band formed by Juha Raivio, guitarist from Swallow the Sun and Trees of Eternity, and began after the tragic death of Aleah Starbridge, Raivio’s partner and vocalist for Trees of Eternity who passed away from cancer in April last year. Raivio had collected together Aleah’s writings and poetry, and having gone to a very dark place spent a week writing the music which, combined with Aleah’s writings would then form Halllatar’s debut album. He invited Amorphis vocalist Tomi Joutsen and former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick to record this music with him, who both immediately agreed to do so without hearing so much as a note of it, and so Hallatar was born.

Slow, melancholic doom makes up the core of Hallatar’s sound here, tipped with a rawness that really hits home the raw emotion laid bare on this album. Opener song “Mirrors” showcases this from the off, with sorrowful guitars setting the tone early on but it’s when they drop out and Tomi Joutsen’s vocals kick that this really hits home. His vocals literally scream pain here, offset by cleanly sung lamenting segments which add to the overall effect of this opening song, which goes through many different phases and contrasting elements flooding the listener with mixed yet powerful emotions. This devastating opener is followed by “Raven’s Song”, one of the spoken word tracks on here, with Draconian vocalist Heike Langhans lending her voice to these parts as well as singing alongside Joutsen on the haunting “My Mistake” later on. In places we see that Hallatar can and do adopt a more accessible and conventional approach, third song “Melt” is a classic gothic death / doom song, subtle keys enhancing the overall effect of this one, while “The Maze”, later on is quite the opposite, a very bleak and desolate piece which has to be one of the darker moments on the album.

One thing you notice about Hallatar is the synergy and chemistry between the musicians involved, the line-up is impressive on paper alone with the calibre of the musicians involved but in practice it’s literally poetry in motion. Aleah’s words brought out and set to the music of Raivio, Joutsen capturing his pain and raw emotion with one of the most powerful vocal performances I’ve ever heard him deliver, and Gas Lipstick’s drumming which, while restrained, adds drama and emphasis to Hallatar’s sound in just the right way. Heike Langhans does her part brilliantly too, her voice being naturally suited to the music here as well as to reciting Aleah’s poetry, and bearing a close resemblance to the voice of Aleah herself. Chemistry is important for any band, but here everybody has come together for this unified purpose and they give it absolutely everything they have.

The closing song, “Dreams Burn Down”, deserves special mention and has to be the one which really shows the essence of what No Stars Upon the Bridge is about, and it features the ethereal vocals of Aleah Starbridge herself. It’s a much calmer and more subdued piece than most of the other songs yet no less evocative, and possesses a calming serenity which we can only hope will be found by those Aleah left behind. It’s essentially to be Aleah’s swansong, and is the perfect epitaph and closing moment on this album.

No Stars Upon the Bridge then, is an album forged from anguish and sorrow yet also from love and beauty, and you’ll hear that reflected here. It is a tough album to listen to, and it’s not really one you will sit down and put on to “enjoy” as you would most other albums, nor would you realistically expect to. It is, however, a powerful and moving epitaph which captures a very raw snapshot of a moment in time, with shared grief inspiring its creators and driving them towards the purpose of sharing Aleah’s legacy with the rest of the world. As metal fans we’re used to hearing dark music, but I’ve rarely, if ever, heard anything which sounds quite as real as this album, it’s honest, raw and lays everything wide open for all to see, and we have to admire the courage of all involved in choosing to share this with all of us. It really is something special and succeeds in its purpose admirably, and is one I’d highly recommend.

RIP Aleah Starbridge (1976 - 2016)

Friday, 1 September 2017

Album Spotlight: HATRED - Psython

You may remember the interview done with Psython not too long ago on this site, and while it’d be fair to say that while Psython are a band who have been flying under people’s radar so far, they’re also a band which, when you notice them, you really take notice. Their last album Outputs was released last year and was very well received and rated by people who heard it, and this write up coincides with the release of their second album HATRED (Hopelessly Aware That Rage Engenders Despair). It’s been played on both the Dark Side of Metal and the Metal Mayhem shows on Sine FM and shows Psython once again channelling raw energy, passion and rage but this time in a much tighter and more focused manner. If you enjoyed the last album, this one takes what made that one good and takes it to the next level.

Opener “Jörmungandr”, there’s no two ways about it, is an absolute stormer, and is quite possibly the best thing I’ve heard from Psython yet. Fast, frantic yet distinctive riffs kick this one off and it’s not long before vocalist Bing Garcia tears into the fray, screaming his lungs out with a fury that I’ve not seen from too many people. The main thing you notice with Psython is these guys are full on intense, full throttle flat out balls out METAL going straight for the throat, and on top of this they can actually play to boot. It’s a lethal combination, there’s some outstanding musicianship going on here, each song packed full of killer riffs, frenzied solos and lots of little twists, turns and flourishes propelled forwards on a wave of raw passion and energy, and Psython really are at the top of their game on this.

It could be said that some songs on HATRED stand out more than others, which is the case to a point but it’d be more accurate to say that some songs take a couple of listens to fully appreciate while others deliver the payload immediately. The opener certainly sees the band playing an ace early on, songs such as “Battery Life” or “H.A.T.E.” take a no frills no nonsense approach too and will be an instant fix if they’re on your wavelength. You’ve then got songs such as “Chai Latte” or “Ten Pounds” which weren’t quite as impressive initially, at least not for me, then after a few listens you’re hearing things in them you didn’t notice before and you realise that there’s much more to these songs and the album than is immediately apparent. It adds depth to the album, I’ve played this a fair few times now and I’m still hearing new things each time, and expect to continue doing so. It’s worth mentioning the closing track, “Old Man”, a near ten minute slow and sludgy brooding epic that’s the polar opposite of pretty much everything you hear before, yet somehow seems the most fitting way to end this album.

Metal is a very diverse beast these days, something I hope is reflected on the shows we put out here at Sine FM. Amidst the many different subgenres and different paths the genre has taken over the years though, there’s bands which stay bang in the middle in the middle and get to the core essence of what made metal great to start with. Psython are one of those, they do everything you’d want a great metal band to do and if you like that raw, hard hitting no nonsense approach this one will hit the spot nicely. They’ve certainly impressed around this neck of the woods anyway, and the band describe their sound best themselves in the language of God’s own county. Reyt metal. Reyt?

- Demoniac