Picking up from where we left things last time, HIM were taking over the world; BAM MARGERA had helped them break out of mainland Europe into the UK and America, by introducing them to the MTV generation…their sales and fan base were on the rise, they were playing bigger stages at festivals, they were all over the charts internationally, Valo even won Metal Hammer’s prestigious Golden God award, and pandemonium couldn’t be sweeter…his infernal majesty had finally taken his rightful place upon the throne…but there’s an old saying; what goes up must come down and sadly, this began to happen sooner rather than later for HIM and it all came around the time of their next album…
In the September of 2007, two years after they hit their commercial peak, the band did a dramatic U-turn, ditched the radio-friendly pop-rock of “Dark Light” and opened up the gates of hell with their follow up “Venus Doom”…praised by critics for its experimentation and total change of direction, the band had embraced a new found sense of heaviness, channelling the likes of PARADISE LOST, with Ville reacquainting us all with his love of all things doom metal (As if the title wasn’t a clue already)…musically it was far heavier than anything they had ever done before, even their earliest work…the riffs, bass and percussion were all full of aggression and suffering…the deep tones of the album allowed Valo to truly hypnotise the listener with his impressive baritone vocal range, on times sounding truly demonic and chilling like on the title track, the lead single “Kiss Of Dawn”, also on the hauntingly beautiful prog-metal journey of “Sleepwalking Past Hope”…but no matter how harsh the band gets musically there’s always a delicately balanced track listing and this album was no different. From the brief, acoustic campfire ballad “Song Or Suicide” to the tortured lamenting of “Cyanide Sun”…this was Adams Family level Gothic romance and it was stunning…their rise in popularity even found the song “Passions Killing Floor” used for the original “Transformers” soundtrack! Despite the change in direction, they were still big, still in the charts, even getting Grammy Award nominations…but the fame came at a price…Valo had developed worsening alcohol problems which over time became more and more of an issue…plagued by exhaustion from the pressures of success, plus problems in his personal life, the writing and recording process took its toll on Valo and he damn near drank himself to death…until he was admitted to rehab. With the blurry oil painting depicting Venus, the goddess of love, now forever a reminder that in nearly dooming himself to drown in a bottle, Valo unwittingly perfectly encapsulated HIM's marriage of love and death, even if he was looking at her through beer goggles...I’m sure he appreciates the irony looking back 
Their success in America and mainstream popularity up to that point led the band to release their first and only (The bonus 6-track DVD footage with “And Love Said No” doesn’t count) live album; “Digital Versatile Doom”…released not long after “Venus Doom”, it was recorded as part of their rescheduled American tour at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. The tour and resulting live album was heavy on Venus Doom content but also featured several of the bands biggest singles to date, acting as an updated (Albeit live) version of their greatest hits…for those who were never fortunate enough to see the band live in person for whatever reason, this is essential, especially as it came with a DVD of the performance recorded as part of a 2-disk package…here you can get a real feel for the band; how tight they are as performers and how emotional the songs truly are on the raw environment of the live stage…not to mention Valo’s cheeky sense of humour mocking Linde for the amount of solo’s he has to play…
The trouble HIM faced for their follow up album was quite simply a matter of, where the hell do they go from here? They’ve just dropped the heaviest album of their career and Valo nearly did a George Best and put his liver through unthinkable punishment which nearly killed him…the answer? Another U-turn…yes this is where the band lost a lot of fans, as they began to yo-yo in style and lost a sense of credibility among the rock and metal community. In 2010 they released “Screamworks: Love In Theory In Practice, Chapters 1-13” (It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it) and Valo, again in his self-depreciating mentality dubbed it their DEPECHE MODE album…gone was the bleak bombardment of gloomy, doom metal…gone were the tortured wails of Linde’s guitar…in their place were gentle melodies and enough pop hooks to give Simon Cowell the horn…written and arranged with far, far more emphasis on Burton’s keyboard playing and a much softer song writing approach, HIM found themselves facing a lot of uncertainty…critics were again, generally in favour, praising experimentation once more and championing Valo’s song writing, but a lot of fans weren’t impressed. Many were confused at the direction and while though it retained plenty of HIM’s trademark melancholy, it lacked the bands usual depth and came across as all too synthetic. Even Valo had convinced himself that it was a failure upon release, but in honesty, it’s merely by their own already high standards…lead single “Heartkiller” was undeniably infectious and the majority of the tracks on the album followed suit; “Scared To Death” is quite possibly the sweetest thing the band have written since “Join Me”…while “Acoustic Funeral (For Love In Limbo)” does have a slight emo influence, which people were already moving away from. There were naturally tracks with a bit of attitude however, with the likes of “Shatter Me With Hope” and “Like St. Valentine” having the most bite, but they were a far cry from what had preceded them…before the album closed on the synth-heavy “The Foreboding Sense Of Impending Happiness”…possibly the lease HIM song HIM have ever written, but far from terrible. Ultimately this was a solid collection of commercially heavy pop-inspired alt. rock that sadly got lost in the shuffle…wrong place, wrong time with the wrong sound…from here on out things would slowly go downhill. 
The great thing about reviewing is, from time to time, you’ll witness growth…now, while all artists change and evolve from one album to the next (Well, I SAY all…AD/DC made a fortune on stagnation) nothing quite beats seeing a band in their formative years growing in sound, growing in style and more importantly, growing in confidence…back in 2014 in the early days of this blog’s existence, I reviewed a band by the name of DRIVEN in Fuel, Cardiff (I’ll never forget that conga line) and in the years since, I’ve witnessed them achieve so much in such a relatively short period of time. Having undergone a name change, and finding themselves signed to Spinefarm Records, IN SEARCH OF SUN (As they are now known) dropped a highly promising debut album by the name of “The World Is Yours” and grabbed a lot of people’s attention…now…in 2017 they deliver us the much anticipated follow up; “Virgin Funk Mother”…was the world truly theirs for the taking or were they ultimately searching for the sun at night? Let’s find out…
There’s no messing about with this record whatsoever as we open up with “Say It Like You See It” and we’re thrust into an infectious, groove-laden surge of riffs and funk-driven passion…the song writing, the musicianship, the delivery…it’s hard to imagine these were once just a couple of lads from London giving copies of their EP away for free just wanting to be heard, this is superb; this is anthemic…the sound here is positively huge and in ways it’s a blend of INCUBUS and YOUNG GUNS, a brilliant start this. “Bad Girl” follows immediately afterwards and while notably restrained compared to our opener it utilises a heavier, prog-fuelled guitar sound giving the track a more menacing tone as it maniacally reaches its more metal inspired crescendo…with the addition of MONUMENTS guitarist John Browne bringing a certain djent style, this is a lot darker.
Next up we have Ronseal…or at least it may as well be, as “Motherfunk” does exactly what it says on the motherfucking tin! Its super upbeat, super smooth and front-man Adam’s clean vocals are wonderful, he’s developed into such an equally charismatic and capable vocalist he really helps carry these songs effortlessly, while the guitar work here again from David, Rory and not forgetting bassist Faz, is top drawer; they’ve nailed it here again…funk has seldom felt so relevant in alternative rock music. “Never” ticks all of the same boxes with another bold chorus emphasising another impassioned vocal display, slower and emotionally deeper in tone with subtle power ballad qualities, this further highlights their song-writing capabilities…while “Mega Piranha”…well, it’s more metal in style but don’t worry about that, look up the film…it’s amazing…it’s no Sharktopus but it’s still amazing. Actually scrap this review lets go watch them both! I jest...there are a couple of weaker moments though, yet nothing that completely ruins the record…”Little Wolf” as an interlude is barely existent and while acting as a segue, it may as well have just been a lengthy track intro instead of being its own entity, it’s a little bit pointless, while closing track “Mon Amour” overstays it’s welcome. While a decent track for the most part, we hit the halfway mark and we slide into repetition, couple that with the rising level of distortion and feedback at the songs climax and it just becomes annoying rather than awe inspiring and it really, sadly closes proceedings on a dud note. That’s not to say however that this record is a failure by any means, not at all…the past couple of years has seen the guys really put the time and effort in and it’s clearly paid off, this is a totally different band to the wide-eyed aspiring metal heads I saw in Cardiff back in the day and they certainly aren’t looking back…in search of sun? This album is positively beaming…
Ah the internet; such a wonderful invention…for professional procrastinators such as myself, hours of fun can be had on YouTube, laughing at DT rant on Arsenal Fan TV…reliving my childhood watching the likes of Continue? and AVGN playing retro video games…joining in with a healthy WWE debate with Oli Davies and Luke Owen on Wrestle Ramble…but on a more serious note, its allowed me to hear music that I otherwise really wouldn’t have heard if it hadn’t existed. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there have been PR companies and labels that have so generously forwarded me music from around the world, from Spain to Sweden, from Finland to France and beyond…even America, which is pretty damn cool, and it’s incredible to know that, even on the smallest scale, something you’ve done has reached out internationally in some capacity. I recently received an email with a private request off a band by the name of ZAIPH and I believe it’s a GTGC first, as they originally formed in Argentina! Yes, formed in San Francisco in the province of Córdoba by singer/keyboardist Nico Moroni, they released their debut album “Echlectic” back in 2011, but now, having relocated to Toulouse, France, they’ve found themselves working with Dan Swanö (who’s worked with the likes of OPETH and KATATONIA) for the brand new album “New Era”…have they found their missing prog puzzle piece? Let’s find out…
The album gets underway with “Tomorrow’s Promises” and a deep, social-political quote from the late THE BEATLES icon John Lennon…it’s in its own way revolutionary, urging society to wake up to the lies fed down to them by government and world leaders, for tomorrows promises are essentially false, and we fall for it every time we vote…musically it’s delivered with a hard dose of riff-fuelled metal; both guitar work and percussion is assertive here while vocally, Nico sings with a disdain and disbelief, before the prog-inspired qualities reveal themselves near the end with a gentle shift in tone and a piano-led fill, soothing the listener, before the guitar, steeped in melody reawakens like an epiphany; a strong start here. “Wild Beauty” is much slower to begin with and leans more towards doom-based metal in its morose tone…you can hear the likes of Opeth but also early PARADISE LOST too as the track rounds off with surging, deep, bass-driven riffs.
“Blow!!!” continues on from this and here you can sense that they’ve derived influence from rock and metal both old and new for a well-rounded sound; here for instance you can taste the classic style of early METALLICA but melodically you get a sense of GHOST layered within the tapestry of the track, while “Gates”, utilising a solid up-tempo rhythm, sounding energised and to a degree spacey, has elements of KILLING JOKE, resulting in an album highlight, yet on the flip-side but no less appealing, is the gentle, acoustic-led “Song Of The Mountain”, with its subtle native/tribal feel courtesy of wood instruments and pipes; it’s really quite enchanting, a welcome respite.
The good thing about prog-metal is essentially the open-minded approach to writing and playing, there are no real boundaries or restrictions, and the possibilities are endless when it comes to experimenting with sound, which is why this album is so rich in diversity…”The Butterflies Carrousel” , despite its initial ferocity transitions into an almost soft-jazz interlude…it’s got brass elements and is quite emotional, almost soulful, before we end rather conceptually with the double header of “Conscious Minds” and “13 Lunas”…touching upon the album art; the notion of interstellar, large scale Ouroboros..the infinite cycle of creation and destruction, it’s beyond our control and we must essentially accept it, free our minds of worry and live…cleanse ourselves mentally, the closing track fading out, as though a metaphor for letting go of negativity, setting ourselves free and it works very well. There may be a lot to take in upon the first play-through, but the depth here only makes “New Era” that much better with each and every listen. With their name taken from the 6th brightest star in the constellation of Orion, Zaiph are prepared to boldly go where, no sound has gone before. 
Now…I don’t have a PhD…or a master’s degree or anything of the sort, I’m just you’re average gothic chav…I squeeze my skinny jeans on one leg at a time. I’ve found challenges trying to use tin openers to be honest let alone trying to wrap my head around scientific / algebraic equations…so, luckily for me (And I say that with more than a sprinkle of sarcasm) we’re about to check out a band by the name of KLOGR. Pronounced “Kay-Log-Are” and derived from the psycho-physical law (S=KlogR) developed by Ernst Heinrich Weber (An experimental psychologist) and Gustav Fechner (A German philosopher)…the purpose of this four-piece Italian/American outfit (consisting of vocalist/guitarist Gabriele Rustichelli, guitarist Pietro Quilichini, drummer Maicol Morgotti and bassist Roberto Galli) is to explore human perception via means of stimulus and they intend on doing this with their new album “Keystone”, scheduled for release on October 6th. A real thinking man’s band or, pretentious prog-rock? I’m about to get a headache finding out…
The album opens up with “Sleeping Through The Seasons” and initially we’re given a hushed, gentle piano-led intro akin to a lullaby you’d find emitting from a babies cot mobile, which in itself is fitting…beginning in a dream-state, allowing life to pass you by without truly living, a total numbness of the senses, before it livens up with its riff-heavy offerings, chugging but restrained, more generic than djent, accompanied by Gabriele’s raw vocals…for the most part you can hear the influence of the likes of A PERFECT CIRCLE, but the chorus is considerably livelier, channeling the influence of ALTER BRIDGE here too, especially within the solo, it rounds off the track nicely and it gives it an extra air of quality, a decent start this. First single “Prison Of Light”, musically doesn’t differ a great deal…the bass heavy riffs carry the track as it plods along...another solo thrown in for good measure, it’s OK but the real essence of the band lies within the stories carried by their songs…here we find them lambasting the shallowness of the modern world, the importance of appearance and materialism an ever increasing issue in a generation too absorbed in aesthetics…
The generally slower, sluggish tone is pretty much consistent throughout though, as “The Echoes Of Sin” channels Gabrielle’s inner Maynard James Keenan with this stab at a hard rock ballad, aimed at the scaremongering culture of religion, you shouldn’t live in fear of failure, of divine judgement , before we go all conceptual via the double header of “Siren’s Song”…a brief but chilling interlude, leading onto “Dark Tides”…targeting environmental issues, the loss of marine life and the consequences mankind faces as we kill the ocean, while at the tail end of the album, we finish up on “The Wall Of Illusion”…concentrating on a self-imposed façade because of the harsh realities of life we aren’t strong enough to face…a psychological barrier held up by denial. Essentially, the narrative of this album, while it isn’t strictly a completely conceptual one, does highlight important issues and does so cleverly through solid song-based storytelling…the only real down fall is that musically, it’s almost holding back. The few solo’s that are included are very enjoyable but they don’t pick up the overall stagnancy of the record; it really can feel quite slow in places. Lyrically it’s from the heart, you can tell, allowing you to then appreciate this more…sadly the musicianship doesn’t live up to the same standard, often finding itself as middle of the road hard rock….which is a shame as when some of your inspiration comes from bands that also include TOOL and PORCUPINE TREE, you just can’t help but feel that instrumentally they played it a bit safe. Nevertheless, a decent album and an interesting one to digest…he says with an enigmatic smile. 
Inspired by the likes of DEFTONES, THE MARS VOLTA and GLASSJAW, Cardiff’s self-described avant-garde post hard-core death-pop maestro’s GHOSTS AS ALIBIS are more than just another heavy band from the valleys. Combining electronica with solid riffs and sonic dreamscapes, this Welsh 4-piece follow up their impressive début; “The Fine Line Between Coincidence And Fate” with their newest mini album, “Where The Desert Meets The Mountain”. Where has their journey taken them?
Kicking off with “The First Haunting”, we’re greeted with a short, chilling intro. It’s appropriately titled, the sounds of a wind-swept barren landscape, the faint crackle of a Geiger counter, some tortured screams, it really is rather haunting, a feeling of emptiness and desolation, before first track, “Wolves”, rips through your speakers like a rabid animal. It has its delicate moments with some soft guitar playing mid-track but ultimately, it’s a snarling, emotionally charged track full of bite.
Lead single “The Great Art Disaster” kicks in with an ever so slightly nu-metal feel, it’s a bit quiet and in all honesty, the vocals overlaying the track can sound somewhat disjointed in places, it doesn't always match up. There’s a slight prog-rock influence carrying the track, it has its moments and ends better than it starts, but as a whole it’s a tad disappointing. “This Time We Caused Earthquakes” on the other hand is a much stronger offering and would have been, in my opinion, a better choice for a single, one of the records highlights, before we finish up on the title track, a near ten minute mammoth of a song. It’s lavish and bold but at the length it is, struggles to hold your focus for the duration and ends up appearing to go on a bit, which is a shame as it’s delivered well.
In the long run, what’s clear is GAA aren't afraid to dive in at the deep end, they play with a sense of adventure and seemingly thrive on pushing themselves musically. This new mini album shows signs of promise from these young technical musicians, leaving only a few areas to sharpen up on. The desert may have met the mountain, I guess now it’s just a matter of how high GAA can climb. 
Check out Ghosts As Alibis on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GhostsAsAlibis
"Where The Desert Meets The Mountain" is released August 11th.
“Mathcore” or “Mathrock”…one of many ridiculously named sub-genres invented for the soul purpose of categorising and pigeon-holing bands to cater for target audiences. Terms such as this are thrown around all too frequently these days, and ICARUS THE OWL are one band to be labelled in such a way. There’s no real need for it, essentially the band are quite simply a progressive alternative indie-rock band, but their use of time signature changes, off-kilter melodies and poly-rhythms sets them apart from your run of the mill rockers. Having formed in 2009 in Portland, Oregon, ITO have been honing their craft and fine tuning their brand of catchy thinking man’s rock, and have recently released a brand new self-titled album.
Beginning with “Ignore Check Engine Lights”, we’re greeted immediately with the powerful vocals of Joey Rubenstein, delivering a strong melodic performance over some fine, intricate playing from guitarist A.J and drummer Rob, a great start.
“Dethroned” carries with it a more up-beat punk-pop feel. It still hints at the technical musicianship that the band are renowned for, but is an easier listen all round, more accessible for the casual rock fan, while “The Monster Within” starts with a flurry of intense drumming, before fleeting in and out of tempo’s and key changes.
“Flint And Steel” is quite a soft number in contrast to its name, lots or harmonious, lingering vocals, with the chorus only slightly picking up allowing for some fine pop-rock enjoyment. The drums driving this song forward yet feeling almost restrained at the same time, the occasional flurry breaking free from the subdued feel of the song, creating an interestingly layered listen. Finally then, we’re greeted with the last track on offer; the 8 minute + monster of a song “The Pharmacist”. It’s a slow builder, highly dramatic and full of intensity, but that doesn't last too long, as we soon find ITO playing around with tempo and pitch, taking full advantage of the length of time the song gives them to indulge in their unique preferences for key changes, it’s epic and artistic in equal measure.
Whereas it’s a bit of a given that you won’t find Icarus The Owl being played by many (if any) mainstream music outlets, you can’t deny the bands ability to turn seemingly complicatedly structured songs into catchy, heavy pop melodies. This new album is right to be self-titled, as it perfectly captures what Icarus The Owl are all about. It’s an album this four piece should be proud of, and it’s also an album that you really should listen to. 
Download: "Dethroned", "Flint And Steel"
"Icarus The Owl" is available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/icarus-the-owl/id797827090
When you mentally piece together your standard band, you generally envisage four key members; vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer, but what if you decided to half that and take an unconventional route? Well that’s exactly what THE FIRE AND I have done and it hasn't hindered them in the slightest. Formed in Bathgate, Scotland, Gordon Love and Hooligan Sadikson, using just a bass guitar and a set of drums, deliver an intense onslaught of hard, raw indie rock, and show the world that yes, less can indeed mean more, and back that up with the brand new album; “Double Kamikaze”
Opening instrumental track “Devil Damned Thoughts” is a groove-laden, dark, bluesy piece, and like it’s title suggests, sounds like the inner turmoil of one’s fragile state of mind, full of frustration and is a great start to proceedings, while the following title track takes things up a gear with some almost punk/thrash drum playing before Gordon’s vocals finally make an appearance. Clearer than expected but by no means crystal, like a rough copy of DRENGE.
“Coming Loose” is a gentler affair, with its bass sounding like it owes a lot to artists such as THE CURE, it’s an altogether more stripped back effort with far smoother vocals, which is poles apart from “High Flyer Suicide” in every aspect. There’s a doggedness at its core, the duo not concerned with sounding polished or not wanting to take anything away from the sound, its rock ‘n’ roll as was intended.
“Still Under” is again stripped right back and acts as an interlude is some ways, despite the album having an actual interlude prior to this song. At less than two minutes long, it’s morose and almost gothic in its sense of melancholy, like a modern take on JOY DIVISION. “Full Effect Intake” and “Bitten” snap you back into consciousness with their lively displays, leading up to the final track; “Washing Over”.
“Double Kamikaze” is a fitting title really, in the sense that it’s highly unorthodox for a rock band to just utilize bass and percussion and play as a duo; it’s a risk that’s paid off however, and goes to show that if you’re serious about your art, in this case music, you can achieve what you want to achieve without having to conform to any rule books or templates. The sound may not be all too innovative, but it’s inspiring none the less. [6.5]
"Double Kamikaze" is available now on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/double-kamikaze/id819306888
Check out The Fire And I on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thefireandi
It has to be said, that Wales produces a vast array of diverse and interesting bands and artists at a near continuous, consistent rate. It doesn't matter where you go in this country, there’s always a great up and coming band right around the corner, be it the likes of Reaper In Sicily,Recluse, Counterhold or My Favourite Runner Up…no matter what your taste in music, you will find something you like. One of the newest on the scene are Cardiff’s own Octavians. 2013 saw this group of young rockers record and release their debut EP, “From One Minute To Another” independently, produced by Jon Constantine at Op:ec studios. Let’s take a minute to check it out.
A self-described alternative rock band, inspired by artists such as LOWER THAN ATLANTIS and TWIN ATLANTIC , Octavians play a kind of off-kilter indie prog-rock, blended with dashes of melody in a style seemingly older than their teenage years. At just 16/17 years of age, Sam Baker (vocals, rhythm guitar) Ieuan Lewis (lead guitar), Zac Read (bass) and Alex Tabero (drums) are definitely ambitious creatively. Opening track “Among Others” is a prime example of this, coming at you in small bursts musically, the occasional guitar or bass lick, before a more, free flowing chorus section. Ieuan displaying some promising, skilful playing towards the end of the song.
“Against The Wall” is a shorter track at just under 3 minutes long, more straight forward sounding with a more basic rock feel to it, some nice blues style undertones and some almost jazz infused bass playing, it’s all rather slick. “In Circles” is a bold indie number, emphasis on a big chorus and an even bigger dramatic climax, before final track “Take Me Away From Here” strips everything back completely. The solitary acoustic guitar alongside Sam’s vocals creating a come-down effect, slight similarities to Jeff Buckley in places, with the addition of meatier segments giving the track a more dynamic appeal.
All in all, for a debut, it’s a decent effort. Granted, no matter who you are, your first release is going to point out one or two areas that need ironing out here and there, but that’s music, it’s all a learning and developing process. In the case of Octavians I will be honest and say the main issue is the strength of the vocals. In some places they can seem slightly strained and/or fragile, but as I said earlier the guys are still only young and there is plenty of time to develop and grow. They already have the confidence and instrumental skill, give them time. Anything can happen from one minute to another… 
Find the lads on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/weareoctavians
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Gavin J Griffiths, a.k.a GavTheGothicChav, lover of new music and supporter of bands. Inspired by a mixture of horror and comedy, and fueled by a blend of alcohol and sarcasm...if you're singer / in a band and would like a review written up, please do get in touch via the email address at the top of the page and I'll get back to you ASAP. Much love x