Editor’s Pick: Alex’s October Highlights

October has been hellish at best. With the looming hurdles of insurmountable deadlines encroaching on my every waking minute and the danger of sneezing, spluttering, anti-maskers around each corner – I’ve had little time to dish out as many dedicated listening hours as I’d usually like. So instead of being able to have given each month’s contender its entitled first few spins, this month’s list comprises of the records that really stood out on the first journey from side A to B…  

Tallah – Matriphagy 

Image Credit: Earache Records

Like it or not, the sounds of nu-metal are making a triumphant return and by god does Pennsylvanian quartet, Tallah, make a case for it. With the bloodline royalty running through Max Portnoy’s every kick and chop and the rabid, maniacal barks of YouTube bred vocalist Justin Bonitz showing every ounce of his numerous shapes and styles – Matriphagy is a starting gun for metal’s next revival era. A loosely linked narrative that follows the accounts of a boy who killed and eat his mother after years of psychological and physical trauma (a concept affirmed by the record’s name), each element of Matriphagy – be it the disorientating layers of riffs, Bonitz’ imposing delivery or the primitive nature of Portnoy’s skins – screams of something wonderfully vile. It’s rare when music can truly get ‘under the skin’ but Tallah has emerged as savagely putrid as they needed to be. 

Rating: 8.5/10

Skeletoon – Nemesis 

Image Credit: Scarlet Records

If the album art doesn’t look like some JRPG final boss fight, are you even doing power metal correctly? The answer is no but the endearingly named Skeletoon ticks that box with a giant neon-purple shirtless celestial bloke being the first taste of Nemesis’ extra mature cheesy goodness. Like any good power metal, the lyrics are bombastic, the performances wound tight, the guitar solos make jaws drop and there’s a general sense of invigoration that tricks you into thinking you could run a marathon or put your fist through a wall – but Nemesis’ sleeves are far from empty. Setting the band apart from your average horned-helmet wearing mead-drinkers, Skeletoon truly outdoes themselves on account of their vocal harmonies. As specific and as inconsequential as it may seem, the sheer number of times a track like Starseeker, Brighter Than 1000 Suns or Cold the Night (they should probably hire a new ‘song name guy’) rose to goosebump levels of intensity were countless. Power metal is a subgenre that has evolved at a staggeringly slow pace, so when bands like Skeletoon just do that little bit extra to protest the grain, it’s a wild breath of fresh air. 

Rating: 8/10

Neander – Eremit 

Image Credit: Through Love Records

Of course, every rule has its exceptions. In the case of Eremit, the sophomore LP from German instrumental heavyweights Neander, I managed to give the ol’ play button a fair good beating before the word ‘deadline’ had become a part of my daily vocabulary. Eremit is a cold album. Temperature is rarely something captured in music but it’s nigh impossible to avoid the images of frozen wildlands and frostbitten acres as Neander slowly unravels their musical heft across a six-part, 40-minute odyssey. Emotionally, too, Eremit finds itself as surprisingly resonant. As the band capriciously blends facets of doom, black and ambient metal, the harmonic tremolo riffs coupled amidst gentle acoustics do well to paint a scene of dread and pull at whatever heartstrings are most vulnerable. The subtle struggle between light and dark, fully realised through a gritty and spacious production, makes for one of this years’ instrumental highlights. 

Rating: 9/10

Hellripper – The Affair of the Poisons 

Image Credit: Peaceville Records

Instead of forcing myself to fall in love with black metal, I’ve had a much more leisurely experience (if you can really call it that) being enamoured by blackened thrash metal – the speed and energy of Bay Area thrash’s early years tinged with the gnarl and gristle of black metal’s bite. The Affair of the Poisons (no I don’t know what that means either) is the third full-length release from Scottish one-man-band James McBain and it essentially flies off the plate without a hitch. Sticking to a succinct thrash ‘n’ bash of 30-minutes, Hellripper comes laden with riffs aplenty, fuelling each of the record’s eight high-tempo hits with a fervent energy that feels lost on the modern era of thrash. It’s true that there aren’t too many new ideas here and it certainly wouldn’t be difficult for songs to begin to blend, but it is the passion and Hellripper’s noble cause for ‘fun’ that keeps The Affair of the Poisons standing head and shoulders above its shortcomings.  

Rating: 8.5/10

Beabadoobee – Fake it Flowers 

Image Credit: Dirty Hit

A record that I have given a criminally low level of attention, the wonderfully intimate grunge-pop of Beabadoobee’s Fake it Flowers stopped me well within my tracks upon its first spin. Bea’s efficacy for moulding palettes of big, anthemic grunge-pop hits whilst retaining the modest beginnings of her breathy bedroom pop origins is a charming testament to her musical and commercial evolution. Fake it Flowers, however, loses no sight of the rawness behind it all. The harder cuts like Care and Charlie Brown have discernable bite despite the accompanying feel of slacker rock blasé, whilst the album’s more emotionally-driven moments like Sorry find no issue in giving your heartstrings a run for their money with Bea’s vocals being particularly crushing. It, sadly, has its follies tucked away here and there, with some drastic and overbearing compression appearing on the odd track, and a few songs coming across a little one-note or unfinished. While not perfect, it’s a solid start to what should be an exciting journey for this ever-intriguing new voice. 

Rating: 8/10

Mors Principium Est – Seven 

Image Credit: AFM Records

Melodic death metal is slowly creeping up within my genre rankings. Being tirelessly picky when it comes to the hub of cookie monster vocals and blast beats that is ‘death metal’, throwing in a touch of love for the often mistreated grace of melody never goes amiss. Mors Principium Est and their sixth effort…Seven (couldn’t have waited a few more years lads?) taps directly into the crux of melodeath with its enormous riffs, acerbic growls and a repertoire of catchy hooks and indulgent guitar harmonies to make a blooming prog-head blush. It’s a truly well-versed arsenal with the obvious but welcome neck-breakers like Lost in a Starless Eon and Rebirth, the longer, less ‘point A to B’ cuts like Master of the Dead – to give Seven its breadth – and even moments that borrow from the wailing book of power metal with orchestral notes giving light to the dread on A Day For Redemption and March to War. Like in the case of Hellripper’s own entry to the list, nuance is not Seven’s most standout feature but the tight songwriting and blockbuster performances give little reason to give it a miss if you’re even the slightest bit impartial to all things hard and riffy. 

Rating: 8.5/10

By Alex Mace

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