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Album Review

Heaven Shall Burn – ‘Of Truth and Sacrifice’ [Album Review]

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For the past four years, German extreme metal masters Heaven Shall Burn have been on a creative journey unprecedented in their long career. Of Truth and Sacrifice, their eagerly-awaited ninth studio album, is a labour of love; the band stepped away from the music industry cycle to take their time and pour their emotions into composing and recording without deadline pressures. The result, to be released on 20th March, is a double album with nineteen tracks and almost one hundred minutes of music. Has their bold undertaking paid off?

A portentous instrumental introduction, “March Of Retribution,” announces the enormous scale and vision of this album. The band defined their concept first; the complexity of the notion of truth in an era of fake news and hypocrisy, versus the sacrifice required to get to the real truth and overcome the dumbing down of mankind. With the first half of the album dedicated to Truth, and the second to Sacrifice, the overriding mood is one of angst-ridden fury. The frenetic pace is punctuated with moments of poignant reflection, but the song titles alone (“La Résistance,” “Terminate The Unconcern,” “Weakness Leaving My Heart”) make it clear that this music is not about bitter disenchantment with the modern world – it’s a call to arms.

Heaven Shall Burn are no strangers to musical collaboration, having released several split albums and charity singles with other bands. But this time they have broadened their collaborative horizons further. They partnered with composer Sven Helbig (Rammstein, Pet Shop Boys), and the electro-industrial influence is striking in “Ubermacht” and “La Résistance.” They also brought in classical influences with renowned conductor Wilhelm Keitel, orchestrating string sections in “Expatriate” and several other tracks. There are also synths, piano, and clean singing in “The Sorrow Of Victory,” all of which add up to give the album a cinematic feel. The band has also just released a German-language documentary, ‘My Green Heart In Dark Times,’ which is being shown in German movie theatres and will be included in limited-edition versions of the album. Combined with the iconic cover art from Eliran Kantor, Of Truth and Sacrifice is truly a multi-media event.

But does it still sound like Heaven Shall Burn? The group’s core sound is characterized by heavy-artillery double-kick drumming, ultra-dense rolling riffs, and those signature alto guitar melodies, so subtly woven into the fabric of the music that their simple brilliance creeps up on you slowly. Not forgetting, of course, the unremitting anger and passion of Marcus Bischoff’s growl. Heavier than melodic death, more layered and sophisticated than metalcore or deathcore, Heaven Shall Burn is somewhere in between, with thrash and punk references too. And fans of this sound will not be disappointed, because Of Truth and Sacrifice is essentially a natural progression of the sound HSB has honed over their most recent two albums, Veto (2013) and Wanderer (2016). The band was not tempted to overdo the electronic and classical innovations, and out of nineteen tracks, fifteen can be described as heavy and up-tempo, with the trademark HSB sound.

There are some stand-out tracks; “Protector,” the first single to be released, is an exhilarating End Times anthem that gets more beautiful on every listen. “Children Of A Lesser God,” the first song they wrote for this album, is filled with Gothenburg melodeath catchiness, and there is gorgeous guitar work on “Eradicate.” Heaven Shall Burn has always been keen on covers, and there’s a suitable addition here with their version of Nuclear Assault’s prophetic 1989 ecological warning “Critical Mass.” The slow and poignant intros, outros and interludes do nothing to temper the aggression – indeed there is so much heaviness that these thoughtful moments work well to break up the unremitting intensity. They also force the listener to consider the message, which is no doubt the aim.

Because Heaven Shall Burn has always been a political band, and the years have not softened their stance at all. Since their beginnings in the late ‘90s they have been known for their straight-edge lifestyles, support for animal rights, and vocal opposition to injustice and intolerance. This album is their most passionate yet, with Marcus’ voice a boiling cauldron of emotion. Titles such as “Stateless,” “Expatriate,” and “Thoughts and Prayers” – that vacuous statement uttered whenever a mass shooting occurs in the U.S. – are just some of the profoundly contemporary references in this album. For “My Heart And The Ocean,” Heaven Shall Burn partnered with Sea Shepherd to make a video plea for marine conservation. The lyrics to “Protector” are terrifying in their apocalyptic imagery (“This is the very end… I am the last resort…”), and there is no forgiveness for the guilty (“..no amnesty for their felonies..”), but there is hope and resilience too (“I am your shield and sword.. this new dominion will be born”). The final brooding outro track is a wall of grim determination: “your spirit is still strong within you, and our enemies will face you through my words and by my deeds, finally I know that all this pain is just weakness leaving my heart.”

It’s tempting to be cynical about an album of this length – surely it’s self-indulgence to have this many tracks? But for fans, it’s a gift, filled with surprises, and moreover there’s an impressive coherence to all of this. Musical, lyrical and thematic motifs are linked throughout. For example, the unsettling discordance of the tremolo guitars in “What War Means” are referenced later in “The Sorrows Of Victory,” in a clever musical link between the two sides of the album. A story is being told here, and it rewards multiple listens, as new layers are discovered. Heaven Shall Burn has reached a stage in their career where, instead of resting on their laurels, they have used their success to push creative boundaries and deliver a message. The band is back on the festival circuit this summer with a tour planned next year, and these anthemic new tracks are going to be formidable additions to their powerful live performances.

Of Truth and Sacrifice Track Listing:

Disc One:
1. March Of Retribution
2. Thoughts And Prayers
3. Eradicate
4. Protector
5. Übermacht
6. My Heart And The Ocean
7. Expatriate
8. What War Means
9. Terminate The Unconcern
10. The Ashes Of My Enemies

Disc Two:
1. Children Of A Lesser God
2. La Résistance
3. The Sorrows Of Victory
4. Stateless
5. Tirpitz
6. Truther
7. Critical Mass
8. Eagles Among Vultures
9. Weakness Leaving My Heart

Run Time: 1:37:36
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Record Label: Century Media Records

Album Review

Blind Channel – ‘Exit Emotions’ [Album Review]

While ‘Exit Emotions’ (Century Media Records) contains many of the tropes from the golden age of nu-metal, it still feels refreshing. Blind Channel continue to move from strength to strength.

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Blind Channel ‘Exit Emotions’ album artwork
Blind Channel ‘Exit Emotions’ album artwork

Cast your minds back to 2021; it was a dark time for humanity, with the entirety of the world still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, countries going in and out of lockdowns, and the entertainment industry being brought to its knees. Yet, in the midst of all of this, mankind fought on, with some events managing to take place. One of these was Eurovision, which has delivered, over the years, some incredible winners and given lesser-known artists global recognition. 2021 saw Måneskin take the crown, but on their heels was Finland’s own Blind Channel in sixth place with their song “Dark Side.”

The Finnish nu-metalers already had a handful of records to their name but it was Lifestyles of the Sick and Dangerous that contained their aforementioned Eurovision entry and made the world really sit up and take notice. With its mix of metal, hip-hop, synth and a touch of glam, it was a breath of fresh air from the European region better known for its output of, let’s say, the (much) heavier side of metal.

With Exit Emotions, Blind Channel now have their eyes focused on bigger things. Whilst they have broken through to the mainstream beyond their borders, it’s not enough for the six-piece, as they explore what it means to truly be on the global stage.

Exit Emotions kicks in hard with “Where’s the Exit,” with its distorted nu-metal beat laced with some techno elements followed swiftly by distorted vocals mixing rap and metal styles seamlessly. Dual vocalists Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen bounce off each other in a symbiotic way, indicating how in tune with each other these guys can be. “Where’s the Exit” feels like it throws everything the band can portray at the wall from their varying influences, and while, on paper, a mix of metal, rock, hip hop, techno, and synth, if difficult to get right, Blind Channel nail it with absolute precision. Several songs on this record follow this formula, like “Deadzone,” “Wolves of California,” and “XOXO” (amongst others), and if the entirety of the record kept to this, whilst fun to listen to, it would run the risk of becoming samey. Thankfully, Blind Channel does mix things up throughout.

Blind Channel, photo by Christian Ripkens

Blind Channel, photo by Christian Ripkens

Keeping it Surreal” maintains a relatively heavy approach but dials it back a tad to give the hip-hop elements more of a chance to shine and deliver a more emotional element with the band, highlighting the surrealness of their current position. This is followed by the extra-emotional “Die Another Day.” The tune opens with a piano melody and slows the entire pace of the record, and moves into ballad territory. Hokka and Moilanen are accompanied by RØRY, ensuring the sensitive lyrics portrayed are emphasized to the max. Despite the relative negativity of the lyrics, the trio somehow makes this extra melancholy tune drive forward positive feelings.

Exit Emotions is a great follow-up to Lifestyles of the Sick and Dangerous, and although it contains many of the tried and tested tropes of what was delivered in the golden age of nu-metal, it still feels refreshing. The band has gone from strength to strength since their respectable placement at 2021’s Eurovision, which demonstrates they have lots more to offer than just their hit song “Dark Side.”

Read our interview with Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen at last year’s Download 20.

Exit Emotions Track Listing:

1. Where’s the Exit
2. Deadzone
W3. olves of California
4. XOXO
5. Keeping it Surreal
6. Die Another Day
7. Phobia
8. Happy Doomsday
9. Red Tail Lights
10. Not You Bro
11. Flatline
12. One Last Time… Again

Run Time: 35:15
Release Date: March 1, 2024
Record Label: Century Media Records

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Album Review

The Western Civilization – ‘Fractions of a Whole’ [Album Review]

The Western Civilization delivers expressive vocals and a wealth of stylistic aromas with an existential richness on ‘Fractions of a Whole.’

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The Western Civilization ‘Fractions of a Whole’ album artwork
The Western Civilization ‘Fractions of a Whole’ album artwork

It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Applied to Texas-based indie-rock outfit The Western Civilization, the adage refers to the chemistry between Rachel Hansbro and Reggie O’Farrell, a chemistry on display in their recently released album, Fractions of a Whole.

Speaking about the album, Hansbro says, “The new songs were inspired by the amazing people who are part of my chosen family. Reggie has always been good at reminding me of the positive things. (He is) another voice saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.’”

Reggie O’Farrell and Rachel Hansbro first met while playing in separate bands. A friendship developed, resulting in two albums and performances at the Vans Warped Tour, SXSW, Halifax Pop Explosion, and, most importantly, an artistic alliance that survived a variety of obstacles.

Revolving around Hansbro and O’Farrell, The Western Civilization is a collaborative project with a rotating cast of musicians and collaborators who expose the actuality of Aristotle’s dictum.

The album opens with “Noctambulism,” a floating, folk-rock song with hints of Americana flowing through it. Driven by a sparkling piano topped by the voices of Hansbro and O’Farrell merging, the melody wafts and undulates like drifting clouds across the sky.

High points embrace “Bible Verses for Kids,” which reveals elusive Celtic flavors, a bit like The Cranberries. A rolling snare gives the rhythm a galloping motion as layered harmonies infuse the lyrics with choir-like textures verging on grandness.

A personal favorite because of Hansbro’s deliciously casual vocals, “Fool” resembles a child’s nursery rhyme reimagined as indie-rock – dreamy, drawling, almost discordant vocals riding over loose, garage rock harmonics. The imperfect, raggedy feel of the tune makes it wondrously genuine and gratifying.

Proselytism,” the closing track, travels on light, migrant surfaces as Hansbro’s soft, breathy vocals imbue the lyrics with subtle, eccentric whimsy, a kind of didactic reflection.

Expressive vocals, along with a wealth of stylistic aromas, invest Fractions of a Whole with an existential richness.

The Western Civilization in 2022, photo by Jack Potts

The Western Civilization in 2022, photo by Jack Potts

Fractions of a Whole Track Listing:

1. Noctambulism
2. Stitches (read our song review)
3. Bible Verses for Kids
4. She’s by the Sea
5. If You’re Lucky
6. Fool
7. My Mess
8. The Snake and The Saint
9. The Ocean’s on the Rise
10. Proselytism

Run Time: 42:18
Release Date: February 16, 2024
Record Label: Independent

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Album Review

Two Faces West – ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ [Album Review]

Two Faces West knows how to play blues rock. On ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ they’re at their best when pumping out nasty, swaggering, trash-laced melodies.

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Two Faces West ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ album artwork
Two Faces West ‘Postcards From Lonely Places’ album artwork

Denver, Colorado-based blues rock trio Two Faces West released their debut album, Postcards From Lonely Places, in the middle of last year. The album’s title discloses a singular theme: stories of American lives and the daily grind of life experienced, in all its glories and defeats, tragedies and triumphs.

Produced by Glenn Sawyer and Rich Veltrop, the album was initially intended to be an EP but grew into an album after a change in personnel.

The band explains, “If Postcards From Lonely Places seems like a stylistic mess, it probably is just that. This album was originally conceived as a 5 song EP and slated for release in early 2020. Vince Carmellini joined Two Faces West in 2019, and the new line-up decided to write five additional songs. The result is a group of songs with essentially a very dynamic group of songwriters and players, with different flavors and moods.”

Made up of Kurt Ashmore (vocals, guitar, sax, banjo), Mick Knudsen (drums, vocals), and Vince Carmellini (bass, organ, vocals), Two Faces West’s sound merges rootsy blues rock, rock, and hints of funk into what the band calls ‘crankin’ rock and blues.’

Of the 12 tracks on the album, entry points include opener “Ain’t Got a Clue,” riding a funked-out rhythm topped by skiffing guitars and dramatic flourishes of braying brass. Because of its familiar, irresistible funk flavors, the song grabs listeners’ attention.

Rolling out on a cool drum shuffle, “Vegas at 3AM” features dark, dirty guitars giving off grimy tones as Ashmore vocals imbue the lyrics with cautionary timbres. The mood of the song conjures up suggestions of ZZ Top, especially in the solo section, highlighted by sleazy, virtuoso licks.

Hot Tamale Baby” ramps things up with its scorching textures of galloping blues-rock, radiating retro-infused energy. A personal favorite because of its muddy, growling guitars and Elvis-like vocals, reminiscent of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Brand New Suit” struts the pure essence of down-and-dirty blues rock.

Another grinder, “Moonshiners,” travels on a deep, gritty bassline and Mitch Mitchell-like percussion as Ashmore’s raspy vocals give the lyrics the dangerous savors of whiskey bootleggers. Whereas “Dirty Ol’ Man” snarls and grimaces on murky, sliding guitars that ride an austere, pummeling rhythm.

Freedom,” a live track recorded at The Bluebird in January 2020, recalls the grand live performances of Humble Pie, oozing low-slung, smoldering, bluesy surfaces and a jam band atmosphere.

Two Faces West knows how to play blues rock: they’re at their best when pumping out nasty, swaggering, trash-laced melodies.

Two Faces West, photo by Perks Photography

Two Faces West, photo by Perks Photography

Postcards From Lonely Places Track Listing:

1. Ain’t Got a Clue
2. Vegas at 3AM
3. Hot Tamale Baby
4. The Ballad of Jerry Davis
5. Rocks Like a Country Song
6. Mountain Sunrise
7. Brand New Suit
8. Moonshiners
9. Late Night
10. Spinnin’ Circles
11. Dirty Ol’ Man
12. Freedom (Live at the Bluebird 01/02/2020)

Run Time: 56:33
Release Date: June 16, 2023
Record Label: Independent

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