Reviews Round-Up January 2022
• HANGING GARDEN – ‘Neither Moth Nor Rust’
• CELESTE – ‘Assassine(s)’
• LIMERICK – ‘On Tour’
• MORBID JESTER – ‘Until The Battle Is Won’
• NORDIC GIANTS – ‘Symbiosis’
A new release from HANGING GARDEN is always a treat. ‘Neither Moth Nor Rust’ (Lifeforce Records, 21 January) is a six-track twenty-five minute EP which continues in the direction of last year’s ‘Skeleton Lake’ album and which ably displays the Finns’ versatility and diversity. Of the five new tracks on offer (the EP wraps up with a remix of ‘Field Of Reeds’ from ‘Skeleton Lake’) it’s the title track which makes the most immediate impact, the interplay between vocalists Toni Toivonen and Riikka Hatakka creating a heightened tension against the sweeping, melodic yet demanding instrumentation. ‘The Last Dance’ is a less forgiving, heavier composition (although still imaginative in its structure and delivery), dominated by Toivonen while the quasi-ballad ‘And Leave All Love Behind’ sees Hatakka taking more of the vocal lead. The piano instrumental ‘The Raven Portrait’ is an exquisite piece, and ‘On The Shore Of Eternity’ pretty much brings all the elements together in a climatic tour-de-force. An amazing body of work...
Video clip: ‘Neither Moth Nor Rust’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN059oUobLU
Uncompromising and brutally beautiful, ‘Assassine(s)’ (Nuclear Blast, 28 January) is the sixth full outing for Lyon-based CELESTE. Formed back in 2005, the French four-piece pretty much defy categorisation with their almost unique melange of styles and genres but, as is to be expected from them, the music is heavy, relentless and unflinchingly bleak. Lyrics are once again sung (or barked) by bassist/vocalist Johan Girardeau in his native tongue, which renders the likes of ‘Nonchalantes De Beauté’ – in which drummer Antoine Royer hammers out intricate and impressive patterns to back the song – and ‘Il A Tant Rêvé D’Elles’ even more impenetrable and darkly menacing. The mid-order instrumental ‘(A)’ allows some time to catch your breath, but the second half of the ride is as adamant as the opening clutch of tracks and rounds off with ‘Le Coeur Noir Charbon’, a song as pitiless as the coal black heart of the title. Majestic, and slightly unnerving.
Video clip: ‘Des Torrents De Coups’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmRIfUw1ymo&t=3s
Despite their name, LIMERICK have nothing to do with Ireland, nor pithy five-line poems. Nor, despite its name, is their album ‘On Tour’ (Golden Core, out now) a live release, but is instead the label’s latest offering in their unending quest to shine the spotlight on lost gems from Germany’s early Eighties’ music scene. Originally formed in 1978, the five-piece band recorded a self-financed 7” single ‘Hard Work’ b/w ‘Alaska Nights’ two years later, and 1982 saw the release of their sole album. Featuring twelve originals (the CD re-issue also adds the single as bonus tracks), if it wasn’t for the fact that the vocals are in German ‘On Tour’ could be a prime-time NWOBHM rarity. It’s more rock than metal, for those who care about such distinctions: something like Ethel The Frog might have sounded had they been born on the other side of the Rhine. I have no idea how the band came by their name, but the guitar-laden title track and the Quartz-sounding ‘Lucifer’ are amongst the jewels worth exploring.
From the same geographical stable, but working some ten years later, come MORBID JESTER, whose debut album ‘Until The Battle Is Won’ (Golden Core, out now) was recorded in April 1994. Presented with an eye-catching Ken (Manowar) Kelly cover which literally screams its metaldom loudly and proudly the album was probably an anachronism at the time, being straight-down-the-line metal in a period when such things were distinctly unfashionable. Boasting well-constructed songs guaranteed to appeal to a very specific audience – nothing on offer here was ever likely to trouble the Hit Parade! – and some beautifully delivered guitar solos from the fretboards of Thomas Strömmer and Mario Bücker the self-financed album only had a limited release which possibly stymied their very obvious potential. Three further albums were to follow, keeping the name alive, but songs like ‘Revenge’ and the speed metal tinged ‘In The Night’ indicate that Morbid Jester should have been more than just a footnote to the German metal scene.
Nordic they might be, giants probably less so; but mysterious duo Rôka and Löki – aka NORDIC GIANTS – have created a symphony of delights with their latest album ‘Symbiosis’ (independent release, 4 February). The eight tracks showcase a beautiful collection of largely instrumental, piano-led compositions, with the pair covering most bases (keyboards, bowed guitar, drums, horns etc) aided by a few outside contributors and guest vocalists Alex Hedley and Freyja who take centre stage in ‘Faceless’ and ‘Spheres’ respectively. To put a tag on the material, it’s largely ambient, but to dismiss ‘Symbiosis’ so lightly really does the album a disservice. The songs are incredibly deep, multi-layered and thought-provoking, imbued with highs and lows, light and shade, and, most importantly, power and passion. This emotional roller-coaster makes ‘Symbiosis’ an immersive and almost spiritual experience: the breath-taking ‘Convergence’ being a case in point. And clever arranging means that the longest songs, ‘Philosophy Of Mind’ and ‘Infinity’, both seven-and-a-half-plus minutes long and each equally entrancing in their own ways, bookend what is a quite captivating body of work. Nordic Giants are on tour in the UK in February.
Video clip: ‘Faceless’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1ocmxMYI94
(c) John Tucker January 2022