Editor’s Pick: Alex’s August 2020 Highlights

After a months absence, you probably thought you’d escape my incessant ramblings about riffs and the increasingly bizarre sub-genres and band names of that damned metal music; well, you haven’t. I’m back and I’m ready to push my wares…

#1 Orbit Culture Nija 

Image Credit: Seek And Strike

An album I fear will slip the minds of many whilst reviewing 2020’s musical efforts, and one that I have kept close watch over, Orbit Culture’s Nija strikes with both the captivation of metal’s brightest mainstream acts and the atmosphere and terror of a perturbing psychological horror. 

The record’s mix of melody and malicious intent, it’s a balance struck to the effect of those revered for mastering such a craft, reaching as far back as Metallica and as contemporary as Trivium or Gojira – these influences are worn on the sleeves but Orbit Culture’s own identity is never buried beneath them. Some tracks will opt for hurling every riff, tempo change and the kitchen sink at the listener, entrenched in spacious and ominous production, while others prefer a route of suspense and unease. This amasses into one of the year’s finest tracklists of modern metal, a benchmark – amongst the likes of Trivium’s What The Dead Men Say – for what pure, unbridled, cataclysmically heavy metal should sound like. Good luck topping that one guys. 

Rating: 9/10 

#2 Pain Of Salvation – Panther 

Image Credit: InsideOutMusic

In the past, I’ve never been drawn to concept albums for their inherent value as a ‘concept’ album, primarily due to ignorance but also a greater concern for music that sounds about as eloquent as a neanderthal banging a rock with a stick; I’d like to think I’ve opened my mind a little since then. When the prog-metal scene started making a fuss over the new Pain of Salvation record, an outfit famous for their string of elaborate concept albums, I thought I’d jump aboard the hype-train to see what’s what.

As it turns out, the ‘what’ I was looking for is pretty mesmerising. Frontman Daniel Gildenlow’s vision is indomitable and never appears half-baked, resulting in a consistent run of musical epics that become huge emotional and physical undertakings with innumerable curveballs in both its composition and elaborate narrative. Panther, their 11th LP, refreshes a worn narrative of social outcasts and the dissection of how normal our societal ‘norms’ are through a fictional backdrop of a world divided into dogs and panthers. The story, despite the odd wince-inducing lyric, is expertly composed, the music, equally as well-crafted and it coalesces into one of this year’s most densely packed musical compositions. Admittedly, the vocal styles, the unorthodox syncopation, it doesn’t exactly translate to easy listening but, with time, Panther reveals its true beauty. 

Rating: 9/10

#3 Biffy Clyro – A Celebration of Endings 

Image Credit: 14th Floor Records

Biffy Clyro has somehow managed to escape my all-seeing music radar – instead, I’ve been occupied with the other Scottish rock act Twin Atlantic – but their time of relative ambiguity has finally drawn to a close. I’m unsure if A Celebration of Endings is representative of the trademark ‘Biffy’ sound but I damn well hope it is.

Chock full of anthemic hooks, stadium-sized riffs and the powerhouse vocals of Simon Neil to tie things together, this record is an effigy of fun and effervescence. Then, laying the tricks of its sleeves bare with some less user-friendly metal-esque riffs and the odd orchestral arrangement, Biffy Clyro finds themselves as a solid jack of all trades; master of most. 

Rating: 8.5/10 

#4 Metallica – S&M2

Image Credit: Blackened Recordings

Metallica is the biggest metal band in the world. If that statement needs any affirmation then listen to S&M2 – the recording of Metallica’s second live unity with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. 

Their first date in ‘99 was enough to prove that hooking up a setlist of some of metal’s finest hits to the bombast of brass and strings is one you wish you would’ve written down on the napkin first – but this one packs a little more feeling. Sure every ‘tallica show is ‘special’ but, as it marks one of the last before frontman James Hetfield re-entered rehab, the background elevation of orchestra give Hetfield’s tearing refrains bitter realism. With hindsight at our disposal, S&M2 offers further instances of melancholy. Ennio Morricone, the mind behind The Ecstasy of Gold, now adopted as Metallica’s setlist opener, sadly died in June 2020, his revered legacy shining as the crowds chant the indelible melody and then, to pull the heartstrings of any member of the Metallica family, a rightful tribute to the band’s late bassist Cliff Burton with a reimagination of his solo Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth). S&M2 is many things. One of them being an indulgent couple of hours to give deserved fan-favourites some love but more importantly, it will stand to testify where the band has come from, and what makes them the band they are today.

Rating: 9.5/10 

#5 Bonus – the best of July 2020

Time managed to run away from me last month (I personally blame the heat and my desire for a good tan) so the stars unfortunately never aligned when it came to sharing the month’s cream of the crop. So here, in an understandably abridged fashion, were my favourites from June of 2020.

We had boundary-smashing, envelope-pushing rock in Phoxjaw’s debut, Royal Swan, fun-loving folk/power metal mayhem in the latest Enisferum effort, Thalassic, and a pincer assault from hardcore heroines Entry and Sharptooth in their newest neck-crunchers, Detriment and Transitional Forms respectively. July also saw the release of some musical leviathans, with hulking ambition on the part of anonymous black metal group Gaerea with their Limbo LP and progressive metallers Haken returning to form for another home-run on Virus. All in all, it was a damn good month for music.

Rating: Great/10

Honourable Mentions

  • Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape
  • HalestormReimagined (EP)
  • NugAlter Ego
  • Blues Pills Holy Moly!
  • Unleash The ArchersAbyss

By Alex Mace

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