Polanski – Between This And Hate
Location: Helsinki, Finland
When grunge showed up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, music critics across the board were quick to declare heavy metal dead; this, of course, proved to be false, and metal saw a re-emergence after grunge itself died out. Furthermore, if you listen close enough to grunge, particularly Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, you’ll hear that the bands maintained plenty of elements of metal; Soundgarden were quick to claim Black Sabbath as influences, while Kurt Cobain declared Celtic Frost to be a favorite band of his; even the godfathers of grunge, The Melvins, played a insanely heavy brand of rock that helped influence an the sub-genre metal known as sludge.
Polanski are a young band from Helsinki, Finland, that play a style of alternative rock/metal that is very much indebted to the grunge bands of the early 90’s. With their debut LP, Between This And Hate, Polanski manage to open a time-capsule and transport the listener back to Seattle, circa 1993 or ’94, when Alice In Chains and Soundgarden ruled the day. While there have been plenty of bands influenced by that sound (and more than a few bands that pretty much ripped it off), Polanski manage to make it fresh and relevant to today’s market, paying tribute to their favorite bands, while creating their own sound. Musically, Between This And Hate leans a little closer to Alice In Chains, sounding both dark and psychedelic at the same time, with vocals that are very reminiscent of Layne Staley’s; again, this has been done before, but never so effectively. “Left Behind” sounds like it could have been on Dirt or Facelift by Alice In Chains, with its slow, sludgy psychedelic guitar riffing and pained vocals; there’s even a fade out, which fades back in at the end of the song. There are plenty of faster, more upbeat tunes as well, such as “Give Yourself” and “Modern Child,” both of which make better Soundgarden songs than Soundgarden themselves have written on their last 2 or 3 albums.
The production is handled pretty well; grunge can come off as a bit dated to many people, but Between This And Hate’s production is absolutely top-notch. The vocals are pretty high in the mix, but they’re pretty powerful in the first place, so it’s not really an issue. The instruments are well mixed and, in keeping with the grunge tendencies, the highlight in the mix is the guitar. The jangly guitars overdubbed with the more aggressive riffing give the sound a suitably murky tone like the one heard on most early 90’s Seattle albums; again, with songs like the instrumental track “The Lid,” you can’t help but get the feeling this is from another time. Polanski’s ability to capture that classic sound and bring it into a modern setting is pretty impressive, and I don’t think it will be long before they start making waves in the mainstream.
Coraxo – Starlit Flame II
Location: Tampere, Finland
If I try to describe an album by a band that mixes death metal with electronic music, most likely your first conclusion would be industrial metal, probably something along the lines of Nailbomb or Fear Factory. In the case of Finland’s Coraxo, however, industrial isn’t an entirely accurate descriptor; with industrial music, the electronic element is meant to add a layer of “filth” to the sound, and make the music more abrasive. On Starlit Flame II, Coraxo’s second EP, the electronics are a bit more melodic, having more to do with synthesizers than with machine sounds. Think of the synthesizers you hear on the first Terminator soundtrack, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Initially, the synthesizers and aggressive death metal make for an odd listening experience, since you could almost separate the synthesizers from the rest of the music and make two different albums entirely. Melodically, the two sounds blend pretty well, once you get past the shock of it, particularly on the final track “Ghosts.” The electronics push the music into a more 80’s feel, while the heavy side of things are pretty modern sounding, along the lines of the Gothenburg death metal scene, though much more mid-paced. “Tangier” is an example of how odd the two styles sound together; about a minute into the song the synths shift into a Tangerine Dream-esque tone, mixed with the heavy crunch of guitars, and the high-pitched growls of the vocalist. Pretty odd sounding, but it certainly creates an impression, which I’m sure is the purpose in such an unorthodox approach to song-structure.
The production leaves a little to be desired, since the electronic bits seem to overpower the rest of the band in the mix. The riffs are good and crunchy, you can hear the vocals pretty well, but it all sounds like it’s underwater, buried under the synthesizers. Still, I have to give Coraxo credit for taking death metal in an interesting new direction, and with a little tweaking on the song-structure, and tightening the screws a bit on the production,I could see them paving the way for an entirely new sound.
Shadowsphere – Darklands
Location: Seixal, Portugal
Label: Sphere Music Media
One debate I hear pretty often is one that has been going on since the 90’s: what’s the difference between melodic death metal and metalcore? Where do you draw the line that separates, say, At The Gates or Dark Tranquility from Killswitch Engage or Shadows Fall? The issue is made all the more confusing by some of the originators of the Gothenburg scene, particularly In Flames and Soilwork, crossing over into the North American market, and incorporating elements of hardcore. Not all metalcore bands have breakdowns, and not all melodic death metal bands come from Scandinavia so, in the end, its largely left up to personal opinion.
Shadowsphere are a Portuguese band that play a form of metal that fits into the aforementioned grey area; while there are plenty of thrash elements in their sound, the heavy-yet-melodic bits are equal parts At The Gates and As I Lay Dying. Darklands is a re-recording of the band’s first full-length, released back in 2004, this time with a much better production, and slightly updated take on some of the old tracks. Had this particular version of Darklands been released back in 2004, I have no doubt in my mind that Shadowsphere would have become a household name. The guitar work is fast and furious, with a less than subtle Gothenburg influence in its sound, though I’d say the execution is much more true to the original sound than that of many of the North American bands that claim to be influenced by it. Vocally, I’m reminded of Meshuggah and Carnal Forge, which are effective and aggressive, while still being clear enough to the lyrics without much difficulty. There’s a bit of a vampire theme in the lyrics, with multiple sound clips from the 1990’s film, Bram Stoker’s Dracula; I don’t know what it is about vampires, but it seems everybody liked using the imagery in their bands back in the early 2000’s. The sound clips are used pretty effectively, such as on the track “At The Graves,” which starts out as a moody, mid-paced tune, which dips its toe into the realm of metalcore, in the vein of early Atreyu.
Seeing as the kids have moved on from this sound in favor of deathcore and “djent,” it’s unfortunate that Darklands wasn’t released with this excellent production 10 years ago. Still, Shadowsphere make for a pretty compelling listen, and fans of Shadows Fall or Unearth will certainly enjoy this record. I dare say Shadowsphere play this sound better than many of their contemporaries.
Red Hills- Pleasure of Destruction
Location: UkraineLabel: Metal Scrap Records
Red Hills bring the usual tropes of melodic death metal, particularly from the In Flames side of the audio scale. They’ve got drums firing off uncontrollably with the double bass, heavy guitars with a little fuzz in their sound up front and, oddly enough, a guitar playing some crystal clear riffs in the background, seemingly ready to break into a solo at any moment. Screams are the primary weapon of choice for the vocalist; unfortunately they have a very airy quality to them and lack any real weight. On occasion some growling is used in unison with the shrieks, which improves the quality quite a bit as it covers up their weaknesses. When either the growls or screams are on their own, however, it seems that the singer can’t muster up the vocal power for them to have an impact.
To be blunt, Pleasure of Destruction feels rushed. Whether it’s from being a full album and only clocking in at twenty five minutes, or the non-stop breakneck pace that the music is constantly played at, there is just a certain lack of content. There don’t seem to be any ideas backing up the music, as the singer times in at the same moment on basically every track, making for a predictable experience. In the instrumental side of things, depth and the development of the sound are often sacrificed for sheer speed; it’s as if the band was constantly yelling at each other to play faster and faster with no clue as to what direction they wanted to take, just careening through the audio plains, not taking any time to smell the roses.
At the end of the album there is an interesting instrumental track where the band calms down a bit from their frenzied pace and develops some unique sounds, but it comes much too late and your brain will still be trying to figure out what the hell flew past it in the last twenty minutes. While hard and fast playing is always enjoyable, it does require some planning and preparation and not just charging in head first hoping for the best, as the results will most likely be messy and bland, like poorly made mac n’ cheese.
POMSTA – Sledgehammer
Label: Metal Scrap Records
To put it plainly, groove metal is very American, with Pantera being (at least arguably) the fathers of the genre, followed by many other American acts like DevilDriver and Machine Head. POMSTA, from Ukraine, bring the usual sounds of the genre, but also a little something extra that most likely won’t be heard in American acts.
While POMSTA may stick to the typical style of groove metal in the mid-tempo brutality of the guitar, the crashing of the drums, and the unclean vocal stylings, they do put their own unique twist on it. At the halfway mark of the album, the English language is thrown out the window and replaced with Ukrainian; even though I don’t know what they said, the switch works in the band’s favour, since the vocals pack more punch than their English counterparts. There is also a strong emphasis on keeping the songs concise and hard-hitting, which is accomplished, for the most part, and leaves the listener in anticipation between tracks.
For the band as a whole, there seems to be some influence from the heavier parts of Machine Head’s The Blackening. This is especially evident in front man Sergiy “Flash” Nechytailo, who goes from his slow, low, guttural vocals to manic screams and shouts, to even some short clean passages, all appropriately matched to the step of his bandmates. The band’s strength shines through in their synergy with one another, particularly in the relationship between the guitarist and the bassist. It’s not uncommon for the bass to be overshadowed by the might of the guitar, but in Sledgehammer the grooving rhythm of bass stays strong throughout and lays the groundwork for the rest of the band to shred upon.
POMSTA may not be ground-breaking, but they do have a feel of maturity about them that becomes evident in the short and sweet structure of their music. It’s refreshing to hear a band implementing the culture of their homeland, especially in the lyrics; it could even do the band well to try and mix together the English and Ukrainian lyrics. Overall, Sledgehammer is a solid effort from a band with decent potential.
That’s it for us this time. Come back next week.. on Wednesday, we promise.