Reviews Round-Up August 2020
• GÖSTA BERLINGS SAGA – ‘Konkret Musik’
• TIDES FROM NEBULA – ‘Live Sessions 2020’
• MAD MAX – ‘Stormchild Rising’
• VICIOUS RUMORS – ‘Celebration Decay’
• GRUPPE PLANET – ‘Travel To Uncertain Grounds’
• MERCURY CIRCLE – ‘The Dawn Of Vitriol’
Despite now being in their twenty-first year, Swedish instrumental quintet GÖSTA BERLINGS SAGA still aren’t likely to qualify for the ‘Household Name Of The Year’ award, although their strident eighth album ‘Konkret Musik’ (InsideOut, 24 July) should hopefully begin to redress that injustice. ‘Konkret Musik’ is a challenging and adventurous slab of progressive metal, composed of twelve, relatively short and wholly attention-grabbing compositions which almost seem determined to redefine the word ‘audacious’. It’s punchy and powerful, with steamrollering synths and growling guitars, and songs like ‘To Never Return’ (released as a video – https://youtu.be/MS2B3yVVcRA ) and ‘Släpad’ offer the relentless pulsating groove of a dystopian future. Or, as drummer Alexander Skepp suggests: “It’s fragments of things that could inspire you as you get on with your everyday life. It’s like the soundtrack to whatever you’re up to, whether it’s renegotiating your mortgage or shoplifting beer...” ‘Konkret Musik’ is also weirdly addictive, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself giving the album multiple back-to-back spins.
TIDES FROM NEBULA’s ‘From Voodoo To Zen’ was my favourite album of 2019, and to combat these “unprecedented times” (© any politician you can think of) the Warsaw-based band have self-released ‘Live Sessions 2020’ (1 June) which you can pick up via their Bandcamp page (https://tidesfromnebulaofficial.bandcamp.com/album/live-sessions-2020). It’s not their first venture into putting out live-in-the-studio material and, naturally, it does draw heavily on its predecessor with just two songs – ‘The Lifter’ and ‘We Are The Mirror’ – coming from earlier outings. But it’s expertly played, sounds wonderfully sublime, and makes you wonder just how talented this band is to be to recreate material like this in a live environment.
SPV have been keeping their powder dry during the long lock-down summer but will be unveiling a number of heavy-hitters over the coming months, starting with MAD MAX and Vicious Rumors. ‘Stormchild Rising’ (21 August) is Mad Max’s fourteenth studio album and in passing harks back to their 1985 ‘Stormchild’ album. Time certainly hasn’t dented the attack of the Mad Maxmen and ‘Stormchild Rising’ sees the German quartet in almost rude health as they roll out another clutch of engaging and amiable melodic rock songs. Eminently accessible and refreshingly familiar, the twelve-track opus – the running order is completed by a German-language version of single ‘Ladies & Gentlemen’ complete by children’s entertainer Detlev Jöcker and a choir of munchkins – features all the band’s trademark hooks and melodies, topped off with Michael Voss’s enchanting vocals. Just to keep things even more interesting, Voss and his baandmates Jürgen Breforth, Axel Kruse and Thomas Bauer invited a few guests to this particular party: Rainbow’s Ronnie Romero lends his voice to sparky opener ‘Hurricaned’, Rough Cutt’s Paul Shortino adds some authenticity to the band’s stunning cover of ‘Take Her’ and Stryper’s Oz Fox pops up with a neat little guitar solo in ‘The Blues Ain’t No Stranger’.
Another exceptional and consistent band, VICIOUS RUMORS return after a four-year absence with a new album and a new frontman but still boasting the same aggression and technical intricacy fans have come to expect from them. As with so many of its predecessors – and this is a band with a trophy cabinet full of truly great albums – ‘Celebration Decay’ (also 21 August) is a masterclass in metal, burnished with the experience that you associate with such mainstays of the genre. All thrillers and no fillers, ‘Celebration Decay’ is a storming festival of delights, with the galloping riff of ‘Arrival Of Desolation’, the furious ‘Cold Blooded’ (cracking solo!) and the frenetic ‘Masquerade Of Good Intentions’ just a few of the many highlights the album has to offer. Joining guitarist and Vicious Rumors’ visionary Geoff Thorpe and his long-term ally and drummer Larry Howe on the band’s thirteen studio album are frontman Nick Courtney and guitarist Gunnar DüGrey, with guest bassist Greg Christian (Trauma and ex-Testament) completing the rhythm section. Robin Utbult has since been recruited to fill that vacancy, meaning that as soon as the world returned to normal Vicious Rumors will hopefully be off the leash once more.
Available only as a limited edition LP or download, GRUPPE PLANET’s ‘Travel To Uncertain Grounds’ (Lifeforce Records, 7 August) is an instrumental foray into sound and texture. The Germans are happy to let their music do the talking for them so aside from revealing that they are a “four-piece electronic / bass / guitar / synth / drums / ambient / swell / instrumental band from Jena / Berlin / Hamburg,” and that the band’s members also perform in Heaven Shall Burn, Décembre Noir, Dÿse and A Dog Called Ego, Gruppe Planet are as enigmatic as they are proficient. ‘Travel To Uncertain Grounds’ is quite a varied outing although overall it falls more heavily into the ambient arena, with long, unhurried, almost hypnotic compositions aiming to envelope the audience rather than overwhelm it. The closing third of the inexorable nine-plus-minute ‘Unfold’ bucks that trend, certainly, and the bullish and unforgiving ‘Bullhead’ certainly gives little quarter, but overall Gruppe Planet come to embrace you with subtlety rather than engulf you in soundscapes.
MERCURY CIRCLE is the brainchild of Jaani Peuhu (Swallow The Sun and Hallatar, amongst others), an extremely talented guy who’s perhaps better known as a producer / songwriter but who also likes to get out front whenever he can. Freewheeling writing sessions with no preconceptions and no boundaries has led him to what he calls ‘new doom’ – “dark metal infused with powerful synth / electro waves and doom” – and Mercury Circle’s debut EP ‘The Dawn Of Vitriol’ (The Vinyl Division / Noble Demon, 14 August) offers up thirty-odd minutes of opulently layered but ultimately unforgiving darkness, bleak yet at the same time consoling. To bring his vision to life, Peuhu, who handles vocals, guitars and the programming on the EP (as well as, naturally, producing it), has assembled a band of some quality, and Mercury Circle features Hanging Garden’s Jussi Hämäläinen (guitars, synths and vocals), Juppe Sutela from To /Die /For (guitars), Sleep Of Monsters’ Ande Kiiski (bass) and Swallow The Sun’s drummer Juuso Raatikainen. Hopefully, this is just the start for Mercury Circle, and this particular dawn will be followed by a dark, new day...
© John Tucker August 2020