Discography Review | Beyond the Black

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

As mentioned last time out, I’ve fallen slightly behind. My previous entry saw me take a look at US stoner americana folksy proggy grungsters All Them Witches.  To make up for not doing a discography in April, I intend to do squeeze in an extra one somewhere. Partially because of this, I’ve opted for a band with only a couple of albums this time – Beyond the Black.

Background:  Prior to their booking at Bloodstock last year I had never heard of them. I listened to couple of tracks before seeing them there, and was blown away with how professional a band with just two albums to their name are. Their songs were catchy and they were accomplished musicians.  All that being said, it took me until recently to check them out again.


Songs of Love and Death– Songs of Love and Death

In the Shadows kicks things off. Immediately I’m thinking of Within Temptation a bit here. It’s a good, solid opener that tells you what BtB are about. Nice inclusion of flutes. Songs of Love and Death is a song that’s been in my head since Bloodstock and a genuine belter of a tune.  Musically it (and a few others on the album)  reminds me of the crunchy rhythm guitar/symphonic keyboard combo that bands like Nightwish and Avantasia utlise. Unbroken is the first ballad on the album and is a little disappointing. Things pick ack up with When Angels Fall. The sound switches between symphonic metal and a sort of contemplative acoustic melody that – for some reason – reminds me of Stone Sour’s Bother. Pearl in a World of Dirt has guest lead vocals from Hannes Brawne of Kissin’ Dynamite. It’s the second ballad on the album, and is the far superior. Acoustic guitars and the flute also make a pleasant return. I don’t what it is about Hallelujah, but it strikes me as a b-side (or 4th or 5th single from the same album). Maybe it’s because it came straight after two of their better tracks and it would have fared better elsewhere on the album? Running to the Edge ramps up the tempo and is one of their better songs – you can see why this closes their set. At this point, the album was on for a really good score. However, NumbDrowing in Darkness and Afraid of the Dark are all – whilst not bad in the slightest – a little bit by-the-numbers compared to the earlier songs. Fall into Flames is a bit better, and then we get their interesting take on Motorhead’s Love Me Forever to close.  It works really well as a piano centric tune and is a fune closer.

Overall:
No reinventions of the wheel here, but definitely an album that fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Avantasia would probably enjoy. As debut albums go, it’s pretty swish, if let down a little by a back end that doesn’t quite hold up to the scrutiny of the first half.

Score:
3

Favourite tracks:
Songs of Love and Death, When Angels Fall, Pearl in a World of Dirt, Running to the Edge.


Lost in Forever– Lost in Forever

Opening up Beyond The Black’s only other album to date is an absolute cracker of a title track. Lost in Forever takes the melody/catchiness of Songs of Love and Death and marries it to the tempo/urgency of Running to the Edge. Great stuff. Beautiful Lies is their second duet (this time with current At Vance and Masterplan frontman Rick Altzi), and it’s pretty darn good. Pearl in a World of Dirt sets a bar for BtB duets, and it almost matches it. Written in Blood isn’t quite on a par with the opening couple of tracks but it does have a solid, rousing chorus. Against the World is a power ballad that’s good-without-being-special. It could be a grower. Beyond the Mirror is similar to Written in Blood in terms of quality. It’s very easy on the ear and would make sense as a song chosen to extent a setlist as a ‘breather’ track between two more famous ones. Halo of the Dark is a strong album track that I suspect will be another to grow on me with multiple play throughs. If there were tiers to the quality of BtB tracks, Dies Irae would safely sit in the second top, just beneath their absolute best. A very catchy tune. Forget My Name is fine. Burning in Flames has a nice opening riff that reminds me, just a bit of contemporary Iron Maiden. The song itself isn’t bad, and the riff is better. Nevermore is a bit better.  Shine and Shade has a neat bit of folkish instrumentation incorporated into the earlier portions. The verses sound like this song should sound a bit more like a story being retold, or a saga, and the very simple poppy chorus takes a little away from it. Not bad though. Heaven and Hell takes a slightly darker turn and is one of the better tracks in the back half of the album. Love’s a Burden is a neat, brooding acoustic track that closes out the original edition of the album (the tour edition tacks on another 3-4 songs).

Overall:
Better than their debut, though suffering from the familiar issue of the back end of the album not being as strong as the first half. Still, the overall quality is up and they are going in the right direction. 

Score:
3.5

Favourite tracks:
Lost in Forever, Beautiful Lies, Dies Irae, Written in Blood




That wraps up Beyond the Black’s two albums. There’s some neat stuff on both, and fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Avantasia should definitely give it a whirl. If they ever manage to write a full album of the quality of the first halves of either of these, they’ll have created a syphonic metal classic. As it stands, it’s simply two good albums with great first halves.

 

Discography Revew | All Them Witches

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

Admittedly, I’ve fallen slightly behind! My previous entry saw me take a look at Armenian-American metallers System of a Down, back in March.  To make up for not doing a discography in April, I intend to do three between now and the end of June.

This time around I’ve gone for American blues / neo-pysch / stoner rockers All Them Witches.

Background:  I have a handful of friends who rave about these guys. On the back of that, I recall checking out the odd track, but little of those tracks past generally enjoying them. After discovering that they are playing Sheffield this July, I sorted tickets for myself and a mate.


Our Mother Electricity–  Our Mother Electricity 

Heavy / Like A Witch kicks us off with an interesting vocal chant / hum, before giving way to a chilled out bluesy riff.  Instantly noticeable is the warm, retro guitar sound. This is a good opener, improved by the introduction of some tasty keyboard work in the back end. The Urn features some guitarwork that reminds me of Hendrix and Skynyrd, whilst the verses are almost pop-y in places.  A nifty tune. Bloodhounds is cloeser in style to the opener. It’s fine. Guns display some sleepier sounding vocals, which go hand-in-hand with the chilled vibe from the rest of the band. I really enjoyed the guitar work in this one. Good stuff. Elk.Blood.Heart sees thins slowed right down to begin with.  The guitars are scaled back a bit and vocals brought to the forefront more. This dynamic changes gradually over the course of the song, leading to a pretty sweet mini solo. One of the better tracks so far. Until It Unwinds sees the keyboards in a welcome return. Another track that begins quiet and sleepy at the start, but this subtly grows into a nice mid-tempo tune dominated by sort-of-proggy and a sort-of-miniamlistic central riff. In contrast to the previous tracks, Easy is a relatively simple little tune, and one of my favourites. Family Song for the Leaving leans a little more towards melancholy folk and Americana than most, and has a darker temperament. Right Hand closes the standard edition of the debut album. Electric guitars return. Song is decent enough, and the instrumental work towards the end of the song reminds me of Graveyard.

Overall:
There’s a sort of sombre, melancholy edge to the album, as well as a general vibe of lazy summer days. It’s very appealing and relaxing. Some of their instrumental work reminds me of Graveyard’s more melodic parts. In fact, if you told a group of melancholy folk singers to write songs whilst listening to Graveyard, ZZ Top and a bit of Springsteen, you might just end up with ATW’s sound. As an album, it’s pretty strong without having any tracks that must be replayed. A very enjoyable debut.

Score:
[3.5]

Favourite Tracks:
Elk.Blood.Heart, The Urn, Until It Unwinds


Lightning at the Door– Lightning at the Door

 The intro to Funeral For a Great Drunken Bird reminds me a little of post-rockers *shels or, more locally, Gilmore Trail.  The early guitar has heaps of fuzz. Spoken word lyrics arrive in the final third, enhancing the otherworldly sound that has been buil over the first few minutes. A good start. When God Comes Back features a sort of call-and-response opening between the vocals and crunchy, fuzzy guitars. This is a more straight up stoner rock track, and a step heavier than the stuff on their debut LP.  The Marriage of Coyote Women starts quietly, with a simple riff. The mouth organ adds just an extra something a band that already drenches its work in southern rock vibes. Ends up being a really cool blues tune. Swallowed by the Sea starts off like a sort of melancholy folk tune before kicking into a couple of minutes of heavier stoner rock fuzziness. There’s an ever so slight hint of doom here, amongst the methodical riffs. This track feels ever so slightly artificially extended, but I enjoyed it and its randomness. I wasn’t sure about Charles William at first, but it blossoms into a decent stoner rock track. The Death of the Coyote Women sees an up-tempo intro give way to a slower, more deliberate and chilled out tune – albeit with a subtly malevolent vibe. There’s a trippy haziness to the back half of the song that’s quite infectious. Romany Dagger is a pretty good little instrumental that predominatly features a combo of acoustic/southern guitar and fiddle. Mountain is a very deliberately aced song, taking five minutes to steadily build to a one minute finale. That last minute is excellent, and benefits from the build, though I do wonder if the balance should have been closer to four and two, or maybe just extending the track a little to give the closing riffs more time to flourish. Romany Dagger (Remended)  see us revisit the previously mentioned intstrumental, though it is tweaked here and there and extended by over a minute. There’s more depth to the sound too, with a slighlty discordant guitar swimming just beneath the folkish surface. Really good. Surface-to-Air- Whistle closes things out. Threatening to be a little more mainstream at first – cowbell alert! – it settles into being a catchy, mid-tempo intrstrumental stoner psych tune, that almost becomes space rock by it’s conclusion.

Overall: A little trippier and more hypnotic than the debut album. It’s also a little narrower in scope, almost like they have decided that bridging the gap between folk, psych and stoner/desert rock is sort of their calling. On a single playthrough I think they are still missing that outright killer classic but, by this point, there’s plenty of material to hold a strong as hell set together.

Score:
[4]

Best tracks: The Marriage of the Coyote Women, Romany Dagger (Remended), Surface-to-Air Whistle


Dying Surfer Meets His Maker– Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

 Call Me Star sets the scene with a somewhat upbeat sounding acoustic intro. This gives way to a minimalist riff that takes us to the track’s conclusion. A nice intro for what’s to come. El Centro is another track that has pockets of minimalistic repetition. There’s a sence of foreboding that comes and goes throughout the track. One of my favourites across their discography so far.  Dirt Preachers sounds more like it’s ‘meant to be a single’. It’s short-ish, catchy and straightforward. Saying that, they sort of subvert this a little in the finale third with a drastic downturn in pace and darkening of the tone, This is Where It Falls Apart flows on smoothly from the previous song. The tempo is slowed right down for the blusier intro. The mouth organ returns! This ends up being a very pleasant dream-like tunes, threatening to venture into post-rock territory in places. Mellowing is a minimalistic acoustic tune that almost acts as a bridge between the songs either side of it. It’s good in it’s own right. Open Passageways is a nice little tune. Instrumental 2 (Welcome to the Caveman Future) is a short bluesy psych rock tune with some funky sound effects. Cool tune. Talisman starts off quite simply, but becomes this catchy full-bodied epic tune. Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters  continues straight on. Flirting with the boundaries of post-rock, space rock and psych, this is a fantastic closing track and one of my absolute favourites of theirs.

Overall: The first album where I’ve thought that, not only has the whole album come together without any hitches, but they have some genuinely cracking tunes. This is simply a brilliant, almost longform piece that should be listened to in a single sitting – and listened to many times. 

Score:
[4.5]

Best tracks: El Centro, Talisman, Blood and Sand / Milk and Endless Waters


Sleeping Through the War– Sleeping Through the War 

Bulls starts off pretty chilled and, for around three or so minutes, is almost dream-like and hazy. Around the halfway mark everything kicks in. Decent opener. Don’t Bring Me Coffee is a sort of a blusier, fuzzier take on Nirvana’s flavour of grunge. Quite catchy and could be a grower. Bruce Lee is fairly catchy and a more straight up rock sounding track. I could see it being used live to break up some of their more cerebral tunes. 3-5-7 is a moody and steadily paced track. It’s also a step-up from the past few tunes. Am I Going Up? sees us return to the disciplined riffery that I have taken a liking to. There’s a sort of hypnotic vibe throughout, elevated by a drone-like use of keyboards late on. A good track that I think will get even better on replaying. Alabaster has a sort of jazzier blues intro and quickly becomes quite an interesting proggier psych track. It’s also the best and most interesting track so far. Cowboy Kirk is a song of two halves. It beginning with a sort of free-ish and interpretive but of work, before settling down into familiar bluesy fuzz territory. Though not on a par with Alabaster, this is good stuff. Internet is a downbeat bluesy epic that sort of descends into a low tempo jam. Excellent.

Overall: There’s a grungier vibe to this album (more obvious in the first half than the latter). Whilst I don’t dislike the songs, I think the second half of the album, which veers towards a sort of hybrid sound of their two previous albums, is much the stronger. If the entire album was like the back half, it would threaten to be their best, as opposed to vying for 3rd. 

Score:
[3.5]

Best tracks: Alabaster, Internet, Am I Going Up?



 

That wraps up my whistle-stop tour of All Them Witches. I’ve really enjoyed this particular listen through – definitely one of the best.

I think they are at their best when they are chanelling themselves into hypnotic, proggy minimalism, though their forays intro blues and, on the first album at least, folky americana make for a unique sound that oddly feels familiar. I think their grungier stuff shows promise, but probably needs a little work to get it up to the standard of the rest of what they offer. This is a minor criticism though.



As mentioned at the beginning, I’ve gotten slightly behind, so I’ll try and bash through a couple of short discographies in June.


Metal 2 the Masses Sheffied | The Grand Final

After six first round heats and three semi-finals, last night was The Grand Final of the Sheffield branch of the Metal 2 the Masses competition at the Mulberry Tavern.

It had been a fantastic tournament up to this point, and the final did not disappoint.


Aonia

https://www.facebook.com/aoniauk/
Symphonic / Power / Operatic Metal
Winners of Heat 1
Runner-up in Semi-Final 3

Being first on can be a bit of a curse, but the extended sound check allowed for the septet to have their strongest sounding performance in the competition. It was nice to see uniformity in the stage apparel across the band too, and the light up corsets were a neat touch. This was a great start to the evening, from a band that’s now pretty much the complete package.

Delirium

https://www.facebook.com/DeliriumOfficialbandpage/
Rock
Winners of Heat 3
Winners of Semi-Final 2

I’ve seen these guys a number of times in the past eighteen months or so and they rarely disappoint. Whilst tonight they don’t quite reach the heady heights of their earlier round performances, this phenomenally talented trio still impress on-lookers with their funky brand of rock’n’roll.

Sobriquet

https://www.facebook.com/sobriquetband/
Alternative Metal
Winners of Heat 2
Runners-up in Semi-Final 1

It’s worth remembering that this entertaining alt. metal outfit were a last minute stand-in in the second week of the comptition. They took the opportunity by the horns and rode it all the way to the final. Performance wise, after a bit of a shaky start they nailed the last three tracks and put on a very enjoyable, energetic show. I can’t wait to see how these guys progress from here.

Archelon

https://www.facebook.com/Archelonband/
Post-Metal / Sludge / Doom
Runner-up in Heat 5
Winners of Semi-Final 3

Archelon were the first part of a sludgey hypnotic double header of doom. These guys have been consistently one of the better bands in the tournament, and they continued that trend with a monstrously heavy set. Their consistency is all the more impressive to say they were performing without their bass player!

Ba’al

https://www.facebook.com/baalsheff/
Post-Metal / Sludge / Doom
Winners of Heat 6
Runners-up in Semi-Final 2

Ba’al had a tough act to follow, but they saved their best performance of the tournament for the final. Their mid-tempo brand of sludgey doom got many heads banging, including my own, as they knocked it out of the ballpark.

Arkdown 

https://www.facebook.com/ArkdownOfficial/
Metalcore / Contemporary Metal
Winners of Heat 5
Winners of Semi-Final 1

One of the most popular bands of the tournament, these energetic contemporary metallers drew the closing slot of the evening. Unphased by the excellent bands playing immediately before them, they proceed to slam through their pitworthy setlist with great confidence.

Guest Headliner:
Regulus

https://www.facebook.com/regulus.band/
Stoner Rock / Hard Rock / Heavy Psych
Winner of Metal 2 the Masses Lincolnshire 2016

It’s always a pleasure to watch one of the more talented bands from our area, and they were a perfect choice for guest headliner. If you’ve not seen them live, you’re truly missing out on a cracking stoner rock act.


The Result


I thought it was a tough choice for the judge to make, but I agree with the decision to name Ba’al the winners. They saved their best performance for the final, and were the best band on the night. Congratulations chaps!

For the record, I had it being between them and Archelon, but there could have been argument made for other bands too.

It was also noted that two other bands on the evening (not named) are being put forward as potential acts to fulfill other slots on the Bloodstock bill.


A Few Final Words


Thank you to everyone that’s been reading and sharing my blogs on the tournament. It’s been a pleasure doing them, and I’m sure I’ll do the same again next year. Before I sign off, I just wanted to congratulations Jake, Craig and the Mulberry staff for putting on a very enjoyable, fair, and diverse tournament.

A quick shout out to all the finalists: Aonia, Delirium, Sobriquet, Archelon, Ba’al, Arkdown. You guys all put on a heck of a evening and I wish you all the best.

There were also some cracking bands that didn’t quite make it all the way, and I just wanna give a quick shout out to a few that I was particularly impressed with:

Bovidae
https://www.facebook.com/bovidaeband/
Probably the band with the most pure talent in the tournament. They were ever so unlucky to not make the final (lost a tie-breaker to Ba’al for second place in the semi-final – oh how different the final would have been!). I’m glad they got as far as they did and I really hope they enter again next year.

Gorilla Warfare
https://www.facebook.com/GorillaWarfare/
One of the most fun bands of the tournament. I had the pleasure of seeing their last show of their current incarnation recently, and I look forward to seeing what arises from their ashes.

Sour Tusk
https://www.facebook.com/Sourtusk/
Loud, brash and talented two piece stoner rockers that were unfortunate to have been drawn in what was probably the toughest opening heat. I hope they try again next year, as I’m fairly sure they’d have made the semi-finals had they been in a different heat.

I also think NormaliserElecorn, Grandmother Suplex and The Mechanist have loads of potential, and I hope they’ll all consider entering again next year.

Whilst we’re doing awards/lists, I may as well list my favourite sets of the whole tournament – because who doesn’t love a good list?

My favourite sets of the tournament – in no particular order:
Delirium – Heat 3
Bovidae – Semi-Final 2
Ba’al – Final
Archelon – Semi-Final 3
Aonia – Semi-Final 3

There’s been some quality performances / shows, and credit where it’s due, Jake, Craig and that gang have put on a great tournament.  I hear plans are already underway for next year’s offering!

Speaking of next year, I can’t wait to see which bands enter. Selfishly speaking, I hope some of the other kick arse bands from our region – such as Skyligers, Deltanaut, Firegarden and Deadblondestars – put themselves forward for it.

And that’s about it, I think. Congratulations once more to Ba’al, and thanks to everyone for entertaining me for the past couple of months! Cheers!

Metal 2 the Masses Sheffield | Semi-Final 3

Last night saw the Mulberry Tavern play host to the last remaining semi-final in Sheffield’s branch of the Metal 2 the Masses tournament.

There were no withdrawals this time around, so we had a full slate of six bands vying for the two remaining places in the final.

As before, fan vote counted for 25% of the final score, with the judges making up the remainder.


Grandmother Suplex

Opening up proceedings were the punk metal quartet from the Peak District. They’d qualified second from Heat 3 and were one of my dark horse picks.

Being first on in a competition such as this is always abut  bit of a tough ask, but they put on a solid set, with a fair few catchy riffs in their high energy performance.

As an aside, I think these guys would go down great a ‘party starting’ opener (alongisde someone like Gorilla Warfare).

Aonia

There’ve been surprisingly few melodic / ‘true’ / classic metal bands in the competition so far, but these talented midlanders made up for it.

It had been all the way back in Heat 1 when we last heard the from Aonia, but the wait was worth it. Their riffy style of operatic metal brings Iron Maiden jamming with Nightwish to mind, and I think the description does them justice.

A small point worth noting about their set – they had to re-jig it to accomodate for them being down a guitarist for the evening. Thankfully, they worked their wizardry and, unless you knew better, I don’t think anyone would have been the wiser. It was an assured performance.

Archelon

The first round performance from these post-Conan sludgesters was a candidate for my favourite to date.

They went and topped it last night.

A slight re-jigging of their set meant that a couple of tracks (where one of the guitarist doubles up as a second drummer) were moved to the end of the set (they’d opened with it last time) and it worked a treat.

There’s a fantastic brooding malevolence to their set, with heavy minimalistic riffery in each ten minute epic. If the end of the world has a sountrack, Archelon would curate it.

Crucifixiation 

The runners up from Heat 2 has the unenviable task of being next on.

In all honesty, I had thought their performance in the heats could have been tighter, but they upped their game last night. The set was tight and energetic, and a few small pits were more than deserved.

Key to their populairty was frontman Danny. He has an infectious and amiable personality that, combined with his seemingly boundless energy, helps generate a great presence. Despite brutal death metal not totally being my bag, he was a big reason I actually really enjoyed thier set.

IMRD

We’d last seen In My Restless Dreams’ hard rock, nu metal, hardcore, post-hardcore hybrid attack in the 4th Heat, after which I had them down as ones to watch.

Like Aonia earlier, these guys were also playing minus a guitarist. Again, like Aonia, they managed to transition their songs to a single guitar exceptionally well.

This was a good, assured set, and I can definitely see bigger things in the future for these guys.

Suffer in Anguish

Deathcore isn’t really my thing, but this West Yorkshire quintet won me over with their great performance in Heat 6.

They rounded off the evening with a similarly strong performance, ending once more with the heaviest cover of Sepultura’s Roots that you’re likely to hear live any time soon.

Guest Headliner: Master Charger 

Whilst the judges were totting up the score, Nottinghamshire based stoner trio Master Charger played a very entertaining set. Despite knowing little of them beforehand, I found myself headbanging to pretty much every song. Sound wise, they played a sort of dirtier riffy Clutch-style stoner rock/metal, with a hint of Sabbathian doom sprinkled in places.


The Results


Semi-Final 2 had been ridiculously tight, even requiring a tie breaker to decide second place. There was no such controversy here, thankfully.

Archelon were unanimous victors, scoring first place on both fan and the judges vote. Deservedly joining them in the final are Aonia, who came second, ahead of Suffer in Anguish and IMRD. If I recall correctly, whilst the gaps between the final band scores wasn’t huge, there was no room for doubt on the final placings.

So, once again, congratulations to Archelon and Aonia. They will join ArkdownSobriquetDelirium and Ba’al in what is an insanely talented final.


The Final


The final is set for Saturday 29th April, with an early start (I think doors may een be as early as 5pm, but I’ll have to double check).

Six amazingly diverse and talented bands will take to the stage and one of them will be chosen by Bloodstock’s representative to fill Sheffield’s place on the Hobgoblin New Blood stage at the festival’s next iteration, this August.

(I’m actually hoping that a second band might get chosen to play the Jagermiester stage, but I have no idea how Bloodstock determines which qualifying zones they give the additional spots to).

Once the six finalists have rocked everyone silly, the always excellent Regulus will play a guest headliner slot. After that, we’ll get the announcement of the winner, followed by an afterparty DJ’d by Metalsammlung. What more could one ask for on a late April weekend?


I just wanted to say a quick thanks to those people who have been reading and sharing this blog.

I’ve only really been doing it as something to keep a track of how things are going and to help describe how the events have gone to friends who couldn’t make the shows.

Thank you.

Metal 2 the Masses Sheffield | Semi-Final 2

Last night saw the Mulberry Tavern play host to the second of three semi-finals in this year’s Metal 2 the Masses tournament.

With Mothcob’s last minute withdrawal we were left with five interesting and diverse acts.

Just a reminder on the scoring system – punters were given sheets of paper with the bands’ names on and, upon the conclusion of the final set, we had to rank the bands from 1st to 5th. This would be average out and would account for 25% of the final grade (with the remaining 75% coming from the judging panel).


 

Horizontal Faults

Soul Shredder’s unfortunate withdrawal meant that this Doncaster-based metalcore quartet got another bite at the cherry.

Whilst I still think these guys are a little raw, they did put in a performance in keeping with the theme of the semi-finals – that is, they upped their game from the first round. There’s definitely some potential here.

 

Ba’al

These post-metal/sludge/doomsters were the winners of Heat 6 and one of the bands I’d touted to do well in the semi-final.

I was not left disappointed, with the band putting in one of the performances of the tournament to date. They also debuted a new track, and it fit into the set perfectly.

My neck still hasn’t recovered from this set!

 

Bovidae

One of the bands that made it through the very first heat, this super talented trio brought their brand of avante-garde instrumental jazz metal back to the Metal 2 the Masses.

I wasn’t sure if it was possible for them to up their game from the previous round, but they somehow managed it. A fantasic, technically difficult performance certainly raised the eyebrows of those that had yet to see them.

By this point it was evident we were going to be in for a close finish at the end of the night.

 

Outta Peak

I have to be in the right mood for pop punk, and it’s not usually my go to thing. Whilst Outta Peak aren’t strictly and squarely in that genre, it certainly makes up the backbone to their ‘Pop Mosh’ sound.

As for their performance last night, it was pretty good – probably on a par with their pretty tight Heat 6 set and the crowd received them warmly. I think that, on a different night, they’d have probably gone down a bit better. It probably didn’t help them that they had to follow two of the best sets of the competition to date.

 

Delirium

After comfortably winning Heat 3 (coming first with both the judges and the crowd), I was interested to see how these fresh faced rockers would do against a different selection of bands (some with very healthy followings).

By the time they took to the stage, they must’ve realised just how insanely tough this semi-final had been. This didn’t phase the youngsters at all thouh, and they put in another assured ahead-of-their-years performance.

Their brash confidence was highlighted with their decision to drop a Taylor Swift cover into their set. Somehow, someway… it worked. The crowd loved it, and them.

 

Guest Headliner: Infall 

I’m not the biggest metalcore fan, but this tech / metalcore quartet put on a good show for the crowd whilst the votes were tallied.


The Results


 

I have it on good authority that this one was tightDelirium came first, booking a place in the final in a couple of weeks.

Second place actually results in a straight tie between two of the acts. After tie-breaking procedures were enacted (I believe the scores were recounted after removing the lowest scores given), Ba’al triumphed over Bovidae by a single point.

Commiserations to the latter, who put on a stellar performance, and I really hope they give it another go next year (I think they’d have probably qualied from Semi Final 1, but that’s the way these things go sometimes).

So, congratulations to Delirium and Ba’al who get to strut their stuff before the Bloodstock representative in two weeks time.


Semi Final 3


 

Our last semi-final takes place tonight, and features: AoniaCrucifixiation, Grandmother SuplexIMRDArchelon and Suffer in Anguish. 

All of them are quite unique, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they respectively bring to the table. I’ll be back with my thoughts on that soon.

Metal 2 the Masses Sheffield | Semi-Final 1

This was the first of three semi-finals that the Mulberry Tavern will be hosting. Each semi-final contains six bands, with two from each progressing to the six-way final at the end of the month.

The scoring system has been changed for the semi-finals. Instead of a one wristband = one vote, everyone was handed a sheet of paper with all six bands’ names on, and we were asked to rank them from 1st to 6th. The judges would then use the time allocated to tot up the scores (fan vote accounting for 25% of the final score this time around).

I’ll probably go into individual descriptions a little less from here on out, as a lot of what went before was on the style of the band.

One Year Dead

The post-hardcore group drew the short straw and were up first. They opted for a cover of Killing in the Name this time out and, while some of the crowd go into it, it didn’t do much for me. Something else that I noticed was that, in the heat there a memorable/pretty cool moment where one of the vocalists got everyone to sit down for a particular tune – for some reason they decided not to do it this time out. They also seemed to finish quite early (by my count, they only did around a 23 minute set, when allocated 30). However, despite all the niggles of the above, I did think this was a stronger actual performance than the one they did in the heats.

Arkdown

The general vibe seems to be that these guys are one of the early favourites. In the heats, I mentioned that, whilst they weren’t hugely tight, they were more interesting than your run-of-the-mill metalcore act. Well, I’m pleased to say that this performance was tighter than their first round showing.

The Mechanist

Talk about a band upping their game! These guys were very unlucky not to get through from their heat outright (Normaliser unfortuantely had to pull out, so these guys got another shot). I had enjoyed thier first round showing, and thought this was even better. One notable absense this time around was the slightly elaborate lighting rig they had in the previous round (which was very cool!) – I’m guessing it may have been a rental?

Gorgeous Morgue

A band that polarised our group first time around, and did so again here. These horror punks were, for me at least, a lot better this time around.

Gorilla Warfare

The theme of the evening was that everyone upped their performances from the previous round, and Gorilla Warfare were certainly one of the bands where it was more noticeable. Whilst I’d enjoyed their first round set, there was something inherently better about them in this semi-final – like everything just ‘clicked’.

Sobriquet

Ah yes, the band that turned up at the last minute to fill in in the second heat, and went on the to win that evening’s tournament. Well, it was more of the same from them this time around, with a very energetic performance that got the crowd going. The only slight criticism I had – if any at all – was that the singer’s volume range varied so much and so often that it was difficult for sound production to get the levels right. Still, I enjoyed them massively.

Guest Headliner: Scream Blue Murder

Sort of a contemporary metal / metalcore act, from Coventry. I’ll be honest, I was flagging a bit by this point (and not wholly my thing), but the crowd seemed to enjoy them. They also had some cool lightboxes tht lit up whenever the singer stood on them, so they can have some mad props for that.


The Results


Somewhat to my surprise, Arkdown were announced as the winner, with Sobriquet also progressing. I heard it was quite close between them, The Mechanist and Gorilla Warfare.

For me, I had those four as my top four, but I had it: Sobriquet, Gorilla Warfare, The Mechanist, then Arkdown.

Still, this was a tough and, more importantly, very entertaining semi-final.


The Remaining Semi-Finals


Semi-Final 2 takes place on Good Friday (14th) and features: BovidaeHorizontal FaultsDeliriumMothcobBa’al, and Outta Peak.

This is the one I’ve branded the group of death, and features three of the bands that most impressed me in the first round – namely Bovidae, Delirium and Ba’al. The other three are all different genres to both each other and those previously mentioned, so should make for a very healthy competition.

Semi-Final takes place the following night (Saturday 15th) and features: AoniaCrucifixiation, Grandmother SuplexIMRDArchelon and Suffer in Anguish.

Six very different bands, and an evening’s competition that’s too close to call. Archelon were one of the ‘group of favourites’ from the heats, but literally all six bands impressed me in their own ways last time out.

Both semi-finals should have guest headliners, though their identities have not yet been published.

Discography Review | System of a Down

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

This is my entry for March 2017.

My previous entry saw me take a look at Californian alt-metallers Tool.

This time around I’ve gone for another alternativel metal band in Armenian-Americans System of a Down.

Background: As with any self-repsecting metal head, I know around four or five tracks really well from a combination of music channels and club nights over the years. Despite this, I’ve rarely listened to anything beyond their singles.


System of a Down – System of  a Down

Suite-Pee has an interesting, stripped down shred to open, before giving way to quite a catchy riff. Track is quite chaotic; not bad. Know has some tasty drums in the intro, but otherwise a more straightforward tune. Sugar didn’t overly do anything for me. It starts off pretty heavy, before dropping into a relatively minimalistic riff. Last thirty seconds are like an entirely different tune. The quieter intro to Suggestions was a pleasant change. The song reminds me of a less refined take on Devin Townsend’s Vampira in places. Spiders is a bit more mainstream,  and has a more thoughtful tone. There’s also a subtle malice the adds a few layers, and this is the best track so far. Despite the somewhat jazzy intro, DDevil seems little more than filler. Soil has a nice riff, but it otherwise didn’t do anything for me. War? has a better riff, and is a bit better as a song (without being special). Mind has some nice build up over the first few minutes, but it’s a track that’s more interesting than good. Peephole starts with some sci-fi sounding samples before morphing into something like a macabre heavy metal circus / theme park. CUBErt is a short and catchy one. It’s also the much better of the two sub 2 minute tracks. Darts starts off catchy enough, but loses it’s way a bit. P.L.U.C.K. rounds things off. It has a nice bass intro, before a riff (that very, very vaguely reminds me of Gojira) kicks in. Not a bad tune.

Overall [3]

At forty minutes, it somehow seems a little long; it’s almost like this was an EP that was expanded to make LP length (or an 8 or 9 track album forced to be 13). That said, there’s nothing overly wrong with the album, and they certainly have plenty of original ideas. However, there’s a distinct lack of actual killer tunes by this point. There’s some tasty riffs here though.

Best tracks: Spiders, Peephole, CUBErt


ToxicityToxicity

A staggered, sort of minimalist intro kicks off Prison Song. Once it kicks in, the track follows a similar pattern to those of the debut album particularly – sporadic timing changes abound. Unlike on the debut, these changes are handled much more smoothly here, and are less jarring. The song itself is a decent enough protest tune. Needles is more of the same, but a bit better. I quite like the little interlude a couple of minutes in. Deer Dance starts off pretty solid, before becoming more interesting by the softer interlude. Pretty good. Jet Pilot has probably one of the speediest intros to date, whih gives way to a relative slow and malevolently sounding verse. The track jumps between these two styles throughout. It’s decent enough, and I could see it being a decent filler track when placed between two more popular tracks. X is a much more straightforward track, and I really enjoyed it. Chop Suey! is the ultimate SOAD track and a heavy metal classic. Bounce is pure silliness! In a way, it’s sort of a breath of fresh air after the super seriousness that’s mostly been up to this point. Forest has a really good opening riff. Another of their more traditionally laid out tracks, and one of their better efforts. I really dug the main, driving riff. Atwa is similar to Jet Pilot in the sense that it flits between two distinct tunes, but this does it much better. Science has a tasty, crisp guitar sound and a cool, driving riff to open up. The rest of the track sounds like a ‘standard’ SOAD track, but with much more memorable guitar work throughout. Shimmy seems to b a collection of short, catchy riffs with a few lyrics thrown over the top. Catchy. Toxicity is another SOAD classic, and one of the better examples of Serj’s more melodic vocal work. Psycho is mostly pretty good, before an excellent thirty second instrumental closes things out nicely. Aerials Arto provides an excellent denoument to their bst album.

Overall [4]

Without counting the trio of heavy metal classics that Toxicity contains – the title track, Chop Seuy!, Aerials – SOAD’s second album was already a step up on their debut. The more manic tracks have smoother timing changes, and there are some pretty flipping catchy tracks.

Best Tracks: Chop Suey!, Aerials, Toxicity, Atwa, Forest


Steal This Album!– Steal This Album!

Chic ‘N’ Stu is a silly, yet catchy opener. Innervision and Bubbles are both easy on the ear and somewhat catchy. Decent. Boom! and Nüguns are a little better, without being anything special. A.D.D.  is the first track on the album to really show some of their trademark aggression more prevelant on earlier work. Mr. Jack is the only track on the album over four minutes, and it uses the time fairly well to give some build up. Unfortunately, the lyrics are forgettable. I-E-A-I-A-I-O is the only track off this album they’ve been playing of late, after as an opener. It’s a little nonesensical, but it’s an entertaining tongue-twister. 36 is short (46 seconds) track. Pointless. Pictures has a nice bass intro, and is otherwise fine. Highway Song is a track I enjoyed as something to listen to in the background whilst doing other things. Fuck the System is somewhat catchy, but otherwise nothing special. Ego Brain has a nice acoustic intro (and maybe a melotron?). It theatens to be a great tune, but never really nails it. Thetawaves is forgettable, but Roulette is a really good, simple acoustic track. Streamline has a tasty riff or two and a decent closer.

Overall [3]

Apparently there is some conjecture as to whether this should be included, due to it being considered something of a polished up outtakes and b-sides collection. However, most official reviews/record sites list is as official, so I’m counting it. As for the album itself, take away the best three or so songs, and it’d struggle to be more than above average. I think there’s enough here to just call this a good album, but it’s far from a great one.

Best tracks: I-E-A-I-A-I-O, Highway Song, Roulette


MezmerizeMezmerize

Solider Side (Intro) is a one minute long moody and melancholy acoustic piece. It’s a scene setter, and runs into the start of B.Y.O.B. The latter is a modern classic that blends heavy shredding with an almost pop-like chorus. It’s their best post-Toxicity era song. Revenga has a tasty galloping riff that dips in and out of the duration. Song itself is not bad, enhhanced by said riffage. Cigaro is a bit odd. Radio/Video is a quite enjoyable example of SOAD’s passion of juxtaposing heavy and soft verses/choruses. This Cocaine Makes Me Like I’m On This Song is decent enough, but doesn’t stand out. Violent Pornography is a cracking tune, and a favourite in nightclubs around the time of it’s release. Question! was one of the singles. It’s not on a par with the ‘big’ tunes, but it’s good enough. Sad Statue‘s opening riff is a sweet callback to the main B.Y.O.B. riff. A good album track. Old School Hollywood is a little different, employing some synthy keyboards and vocal distortions. Kind of sounds a bit cheesy. Lost in Hollywood is a quiet, more refelctive tune and I quite enjoyed it.

Overall [3.5]

A very easy to listen to album, with a handful of cracking tracks peppered across its 36 minute run time. Not quite up to the sustained quality of Toxicity, but certainly their second best album up to this point.

Best tracks: B.Y.O.B., Violent Pornography, Revenga


Hypnotize– Hypnotize

Attack has a heavy, intense opening. As per SOAD, it gives way to a softer verse that they keep coming back to. It’s fine. Dreaming is mostly chaotic, but is actually at it’s most appealing in during is calmer middle section. Kill Rock ‘n’ Roll is somewhat forgettable. Hypnotize, for some reason, to me sounds like a twisted heavy metal lullaby. I enjoyed it, and I think it’s comfortably the best track on the album by this point. I don’t think much of the next couple of tracks, though Stealing Society is better than TentativeU-Fig is a bit more interesting than the two of them. Holy Mountains is one of their moodier and more reflective tracks. It’s also, comfortably, one of the better tracks on this album (though that isn’t saying much). Vicinity of Obscenity is silly filler, and She’s Like Heroin is worse. Lonely Mountain isn’t bad, and Solider Side is fine.

Overall [2.5]

A handful of pretty good tunes can’t help disguise that this is their weakest album to date. There’s too much filler (or worse) to be able to recommend it. Play the recommended tracks and leave it at that.

Best tracks: Hypnotize, Holy Mountains, Lonely Mountain



 

That rounds up my tour through System of a Down’s discography. For the most part, things are fine to good, with the much better Toxicity an obvious standout.