In The Court Of The Dragon
At this point, every new Trivium album that comes out feels like an event. They’ve been long established as one of the premier names in metal today, willing to try and mix in some new styles even if can be a bit hit-or-miss, but always bouncing back afterwards in a meaningful and noteworthy way. Compared to a band like Bullet For My Valentine who’ve only made their onus placed on trendiness more apparent over the years, Trivium have the drive to create within metal that can always be respected, even on their weakest material. And right now, when they’re on their tenth album and at the crest of their latest wave, that couldn’t be truer, off the back of last year’s What The Dead Men Say that’s only further established itself as one of their best albums yet. Even despite some shakiness in the past, the upswing that Trivium are going into In The Court Of The Dragon with is colossal; the incredible artwork is a good first sign, and the fact it heralds another album steeped in high-grade metal classicism is another jewel added to Trivium’s already dazzling crown. They really do sound like a band on top form too, not only the shredding that’ll wind through seven-plus-minute tracks without even getting close to running out of steam, but in the firm bass work from Paolo Gregoletto that’s a perennially strong anchor, or Alex Bent’s drums that, even when not seamlessly dipping into passages of blast beats like on the title track, have such enormity and robustness. In typical Trivium fashion, the sound of this album is regal and rousing, between the throes of bombast that bulk up the hook of Like A Sword Over Damocles immeasurably, and the slow, deliberate build that makes the eruption of a track like The Shadow Of The Abbatoir so deliciously satisfying. Just in general, the confidence of a band ten albums deep ins unmistakable, and never sidelined into complacency either, as Trivium still have a clear hunger that makes their particular brand of metal—for as indebted to the classics as it is—still have a sharp, contemporary edge.
Even compared to their last album, that’s noticeably amped up here too. The fact that this has come out only a year-and-a-half after its predecessor comes as an example of true creative overdrive over anything else, even to the extent where Trivium have probably topped that album. There’s just something here that feels bigger and more willfully grand, where the interweaving of world mythologies into the band’s own combined lore and ongoing sense of bravado gives it so much vigour and importance when pushing forward. Matt Heafy is also on top form vocally too, in which he carries a similar portentous presence in both his cleans and screams that captures the album’s essence so well. The elements that make this feel like an important album are pronounced throughout, in the orchestral intro track composed by Ihsahn, to the production that’s a near-perfect blend of outward heaviness with a classically-minded finesse (see The Phalanx for the best example), to just the ease with which Trivium hammer out some of the best straight-up metal in the game right now. Their experience shines with a blinding incandescence, seldom misstepping or feeling outside their boundaries, but always having an excitement factor that’s so palpable. Where the old guard will keep pumping out this sound in rote routine, Trivium continue to operate with the hunger and verve that made them so striking in the first place, only now with a more mature outlook on their sound. It’s great to hear from front to back, the sort of metal that taps into exactly what makes the genre great and runs with it for miles. Even in the rankings of the hot streak that Trivium albums have been on recently, In The Court Of The Dragon is definitely up there as another benchmark release for a band who are no strangers to collecting them, and long may that continue.
For fans of: Lamb Of God, Metallica, Killswitch Engage
‘In The Court Of The Dragon’ by Trivium is released on 8th October on Roadrunner Records.
There’s a degree to which Ministry seem to be pushing their luck with this new album. They surely can’t have been oblivious to the reception that Amerikkkant received, in which the political ideologies were sound but the bloated execution was anything but, so trying again on Moral Hygiene doesn’t bode well from the start. It doesn’t help that Ministry’s deterioration has been easy to track as it is, more being known nowadays for their past influence on industrial metal, and for being little more than a mouthpiece for Al Jourgensen. And with all of those conflating factors in the wings comes Moral Hygiene, another utterly exhausting exercise of ‘political commentary’ that feels about as tired as Jourgensen sounds. That’ll come back later, but it’s totally befuddling how Ministry believe themselves to possess a real stake in engaging music, when any commentary or criticism is so boilerplate and surface-level. Once again, it’s not an issue of what’s being said—indeed, the rise of anti-vaxxers and Covid deniers since their last effort have only put another body in the firing line—but how nothing of what’s being said holds any weight outside of the bluntest possible messaging. It’s not even sloganeering or rally cries either, just another pounding collection of straightforward observations buoyed by the same strategy of sample collaging that was such a chore last time. It’s not even timely criticism for some of it either; you can tell this album was probably supposed to come out a lot earlier given the customary shots at Donald Trump and his political philosophies, and how ‘fake news’ is brought around once again to anchor Disinformation in a way that might’ve had more punch about four years ago. At least Ministry are trying to be on the right side of history, which is more than can be said for plenty of other alt-metal bands of their vintage or younger, but the engagement with the material just isn’t there for the most part, and it mainly feels like Jourgensen is spraying out shots in the right direction but with no potency to any of it.
Of course, some of that can definitely be down to the fact that he sounds about a million years old now, with the rest of the band not faring much better. There’s no requirement to be a technically gifted singer in music like this, but for the majority of the time, he either sounds completely shot or buried in the mix to the point of near inaudibility. That mix does proctor much hope either, where it’s generally top-heavy or battering that, once again, brings out Ministry’s nu-metal side in the least flattering way, with the occasional turntable scratches only making it more obvious. It’s not a particularly enlightening instrumental canvas to start with either, given that hooks feel in incredibly short supply if they’re there at all, and melody is confined to rare pockets for the most part. It all makes the album drag horribly, where there’s nothing of interest to latch onto, but also nothing so horrible that it’s worth flagging up too much. And that’s perhaps the most pointed issue with Moral Hygiene, in that Ministry’s attempts at demolishing the establishment and causing a stir swing between deep-rooted feelings of pedestrianism and complete emptiness. It’s not the worst thing in the world but in the rankings of genuinely incisive political music, it’s definitely down there, arguably made all the worse by the fact that this is their second noteworthy time in a row of doing this, and they’ve not learned a damn thing. And so what comes of it is another gigantic waste of time from a band that can pull off acerbic maximalism and literally nothing else at this stage, the absolute endpoint of screaming into the void and hoping that something will come from it. The best intentions in the world can’t save a creative manifesto like that, something which Ministry should’ve learned in 2018 before just repeating the process all over again.
For fans of: White Zombie, KMFDM, Fear Factory
‘Moral Hygiene’ by Ministry is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die
As one would expect from an emo band whose name requires its own postcode, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die make music meticulous designed to be dense and thought-provoking. It’s probably why they’re most known for their name than any real output, but even within emo, it does feel like they should garner more excitement than they do. They’re regularly great, after all, with a true creative impulse that works in favour of their built-in adventurousness practically faultlessly. And so, when that’s extrapolated beyond 18 months of global uncertainty where searching through inner turmoil has felt like the only norm, and when it’s subsequently rooted in a title reference to the Dark Souls series to compound that bleakness, The World Is A Beautiful Place… feel more equipped than most to turn pandemic angst and depression into something incredible. Even through the esoteric lyrics, that comes right to the surface when the weight of feeling trapped and continuously exploited by harmful systems permeate through tracks like Invading The World Of The Guilty As A Spirit Of Vengeance, or just having to live in a world where desperation feels like the norm on Infinite Josh. In many ways it almost feels like a companion piece to Spanish Love Songs’ Brave Faces Everyone, only somehow engulfed in the crippling ennui even further; where that album came out pre-pandemic, The World Is A Beautiful Place… have had the time and experience to marinade in total bleakness, and it shows in spades here. It rings out in David F. Bello and Katie Dvorak’s vocals too, where they might take the shape of the swelling instrumentals behind them, but the strain and stress behind the eyes is palpable, and it’s so potent throughout.
At the same time though, that aforementioned adventurousness hasn’t stopped, and rather than slink back into spartan reflection that the past year-and-a-half has inspired in so many (or hell, that a lot of emo in this vein slides into already), Illusory Walls is the cathartic cry of power and passion that’s so richly deserved and executed with gusto. For a start, The World Is A Beautiful Place… know how to capture the coldness and perennially wintry darkness of their sentiment, not only in the vast swathes of guitars that rush and crash against each other, but in embellishments of synths and strings to forge a drama and latent destructiveness where, on Queen Sophie For President or Died In The Prison Of The Holy Office, it’s probably about as enormous as emo can reasonably get. This is a huge album just on its face, but the moments of drama and shifting, tectonic might make that hit so much harder. Particularly on the closing pair Infinite Josh and Fewer Afraid—clocking in at about 16 and 20 minutes respectively—it’s hard to imagine where the creative force even comes from make songs like this that don’t feel self-indulgent or wasteful. The World Is A Beautiful Place… have always had a big physical profile, and Illusory Walls is definitely not only the most use they’ve gotten out of it to date, but easily its most exhilaring form. Rarely is there a second wasted or a moment spared in creating a visceral, explosive and downright powerful listening experience; there’s clear reality that’s been woven into these songs, and it shows immensely. Honestly, it’s hard to really say too much when Illusory Walls relies on the layers and nuances that only really come from listening, but when it’s incredible from the very first time and only gets better every time, that speaks for itself. An album this special deserves every bit of attention it can get.
For fans of: Foxing, The Hotelier, La Dispute
‘Illusory Walls’ by The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die is released on 8th October on Epitaph Records.
It’s probably easier to want to like Arkells than actually do it. They’re definitely offer a stronger version of ultra-commercial indie-pop and even weave a bit of insight into it at times, but that makes some of their more predictable, laurel-resting moments hit with an even more clattering thud. To be fair though, especially in the case of Blink Once which relies on that predicatability a lot, Arkells at least have the awareness to avoid the turgid, saturated nothingness of an Imagine Dragons; for as blanketed in production gloss and safety as they are, tracks like One Thing I Know and No Regrets do have some propulsion behind them. It probably says more about the state of indie when that’s a noteworthy benchmark to clear, but Blink Once will avoid abject boredom pretty swiftly when it wants to, buoyed by Max Kerman’s booming vocals that are easily the most impressive element here. ‘To a point’ does still stand though, given that the indie generic-ness hasn’t gone away, or rather, it’s been notably exacerbated since 2018’s Rally Cry. Where that album could make do with how overworked it was, there’s no such luck here, where the lumpiness and lack of any real warmth is expected from the K.Flay collaboration You Can Get It, and extended by Swing Swing Swing and Years In The Making.
Granted, Arkells at their worst are more tolerable than most of the similar swill, but that still doesn’t mean this is good or that it deserves much of a pass. Arkells can and have been a lot better than this, an album which feels as though it’s defined by compromises and a lack of desire to show much imagination. Even the writing, which has regularly been an area in which this band have punched higher than a lot of others, feels staid and shackled to indie-pop tropes about relationships that have no defining characteristics outside of the voice singing them. It’s rare that Blink Once ever catches the attention or offers more than pleasant background noise, a lot of which is swiftly forgotten the second it’s over like so much of this wallpaper often is. Where Arkells once had a bit of character and charming personality, that’s largely been astroturfed for a safe, secure indie-pop listen that both cuts down on their better qualities, and shines a spotlight on the underwhelming ones that were there to begin with. Given that Arkells are barely a presence outside of their native Canada, it’s probably not a giant loss to many, but it’s still disappointing considering some of what came before.
For fans of: Imagine Dragons, Walk The Moon, American Authors
‘Blink Once’ by Arkells is out now.
The evolution of blanket has been fascinating to watch, both from the perspective of frontman Bobby Pook’s post-Me Vs Hero efforts being so vastly different in post-rock, and in just how much longevity has come from it. They’ve never been a huge band, but blanket’s material has always had a tenacity behind it, to where an embrace of in vogue heaviness on their sophomore album Modern Escapism bears the stamp of forward momentum that’s always been present. Furthermore, it makes sense that album centrepiece In Awe comes as a collaboration with Loathe’s Kadeem France, given how clear of an influence their expert blend of loftiness and crushing, seismic lows has had here. The faint screams that colour the back of Romance against Pook’s similarly mid-level phasing give that impression, as does the ramped-up intensity of White Noise and The Last Days Of The Blue Blood Harvest, a technique that might peak early in terms of true rafter-testing heft, but its reverberations can still be felt in blanket’s swooping post-rock dynamics. The Deftones comparison is also well-placed in that regard, albeit viewed through a lens that still feels mostly indebted to post-rock in how gauzy and shimmering the production is, and how blanket’s command of atmosphere is more engulfing overall. The sound of this album is wonderful in general, but it’s the extent to which blanket have beefed up their sound that pushes it over the top and makes it truly enrapturing.
It’s a very modern take on post-rock too, not just in the skews towards its influences, but in the feels and vibes that blanket sew into their compositions. After all, it’s not like an album decrying technology and cultures of instant gratification is a novel concept, but at least blanket feel equipped to really dive into what that can offer. As such, they know when to tap into the coldness and slate-grey absoluteness on The Mighty Deep’s solemn acoustics or the monolithic Violence, but also find a moment to let the light seep through the cracks on the closer Last Light. As much as the title’s escapism can be seen as a fantasy, it’s not an unattainable one, and blanket find a way to embody that across the progression of the album in such a well-crafted way. It doesn’t hurt that, on every instrumental front, there’s a surging, stirring depiction that gives the album its huge quantities of force, and blanket’s willingness to experiment and ease to test the pliability of their boundaries hits that marker even more. And thus, in a genre like post-rock that can be notoriously reliant on navel-gazing masquerading as depth or beauty, blanket have avoided that entirely through having genuine resonance and dynamism that always pays off. Just like their spiritual brethren in Loathe, it’s an example of how heaviness and elegance aren’t mutually exclusive in the slightest, with Modern Escapism being the newest standout work at the very front of the pack.
For fans of: Deftones, Loathe, This Will Destroy You
‘Modern Escapism’ by blanket is released on 8th October on Music For Nations.
Let Me Do One More
When illuminati hotties released Free I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For last year, the buzz around it felt significantly stronger than for just another DIY project. For one, Sarah Tudzin has a fair presence already as a producer and engineer, but the album itself had a smartness and wry sharpness that surpassed so many in the indie-punk sphere trying similar things. It also serves as a fitting comparison to where Let Me Do One More appears to be going, in terms of rounding off some its predecessor’s scrappier edges without losing the wit that was so instrumental to it. Her writing style is the most obvious boon, in taking the familiar scenario of a relationship caught in limbo and infusing it with a keen lyrical edge that allow Mmmoooaaaaayaya or u v v p to strike a lot more swiftly and forcefully. She’s got a rather unique voice to go alongside it too, more so in the inflections and contortions that’ll make her sound more cartoonish in the most interesting way possible, without forgoing a more standard indie-punk sweetness that still has a lot to offer on a track like Cheap Shoes. It’s a pretty reliable way to squeeze more out of a delivery that might otherwise feel like it’s offered all it can, and it’s a snappier way of doubling down on the quirkiness that can sometimes be too prevalent for its own good in this genre, but works a lot more here. Tudzin is just that uniquely single-minded as a presence and can pay it off handily across the board.
The sound, meanwhile, isn’t quite as routinely interesting or dynamic, but it’s by no means bad either. Outside of dalliances with alt-country on u v v p and slower indie-rock towards the album’s end, Let Me Do One More is rooted in the traditional indie-punk range of sounds, albeit a bit less dry than some of its contemporaries can be. The likes of Pool Hopping and Joni: LA’s No. 1 Health Goth owe more to pop-punk and garage-rock in their energy, and they’ve got that warmth to them that makes them so much more likable overall. It’s a mere retooling rather than an out-and-out reinvention, but it makes a difference nonetheless, and Tudzin’s own elasticity as a performer slots inside them nicely. There’s also the same earthen tones to the production that still ensures those ties to the source remain, probably the least pliable element of the whole package, but it does work to keep things moving, especially when it picks up such a good sense of momentum in its first half. In general, Let Me Do One More doesn’t succumb to the predictability that a lot of contemporary indie-punk is saddled with, simply through being a bit more playful and exuberant with where it’s coming from, and having a creative powerhouse like Tudzin at the helm to keep the freewheeling charm moving. It’s definitely a variant of the sound that’s easier to get behind; it’s more lively and electric, and has a more prominent excitement factor that, even on this one body of work, Tudzin is clearly itching to show off even more.
For fans of: Remember Sports, Charly Bliss, Diet Cig
‘Let Me Do One More’ by illuminati hotties is out now on Snack Shack Tracks / Hopeless Records.
Kowloon Walled City
It says a lot when Piecework feels so unlike anything else right out of the gate. That’s always been Kowloon Walled City’s M.O., in a fractured, primal take on noise-rock and doom that finds its closest lineage being generally peripheral at best, but there’s a feel to this new album that exceeds even that, and in a noteworthy way. It’s a combination of factors—the cracked, deconstructed arrangement and the almost artless vocal admonishments of Scott Evans—and topped by the grief of the frontman upon losing his father to make it all the more striking. ‘Touché Amoré gone doom’ might be a glib quip, but it’s not that far off in this sense; the primal, interpretable lyrics and delivery bear a sore, naked persona that fights to survive the crushing weight forced upon it, where it isn’t so much singing as brusque shouts to beat its way out of the bleakness. And like so much of the hardcore and post-hardcore that Kowloon Walled City can be traced into on Piecework, there’s an unmistakable thrill to the extent in which that’s pushed, and how rigorous and volatile it all feels to a fault. This is an album that’s constantly on the cusp of either total implosion or combustion, both in its presentation and its themes, and it can be genuinely thrilling to watch that play out as it does.
The presentation is ultimately what makes it though, where the cacophonous rumbles of guitar and bass have an almost unbridled force, but relish in moments of silence and negative space to only enhance the bleakness that flows through them. Hooks are very few and far between, but this isn’t an implacable or inaccessible listen either, almost entirely because of how Kowloon Walled City use their space and have such a deft command of it. It enhances the dejected, weathering feeling of the album more than anything else, similarly with a production style that’s not too concerned with precision instead of forging such a dense, ironclad atmosphere. And across the board, that’s something that Piecework nails, particularly in Ian Muller’s tar-like bass that rings so much heavier when punctuated with dead air the stark blackness of everything around it. Again, this feels entirely like Kowloon Walled City’s own concoction, probably because no one else would have the command to pull it off like they do, nor the knowledge of how to so expertly craft an album that’s definitively wallowing in the underground mire, but is infallibly engaging and intriguing at the same time. This is exactly the sort of out-of-the-blue, one-of-a-kind find that’s always a joy to have around, possibly the only time ‘joy’ is liable to be attributed to Kowloon Walled City and that’s meant as a tremendous compliment.
For fans of: Touché Amoré, Helms Alee, Whores
‘Piecework’ by Kowloon Walled City is released on 8th October on Neurot Recordings / Gilead Media.
Naraka make the sort of metal where the approach to ‘genre fusion’ is taken to mean just piling more stuff onto the base rather than forming any sort of blend. Symphonic death metal is already a loaded starting point, and piling on elements of industrial production and the occasional glances at black-metal yields a maximalist listen only bulked out further by a runtime that feels about twice as long as it actually is. That’s not to automatically dismiss In Tenebris as bad though; indeed, for a debut, it’s impressive how accomplished Naraka sound already, both in sound and vision. The symphonic touches aren’t the most elaborate or sweeping but they don’t sound cheap either by any means, and the industrial casing does boost an already meaty death metal tone for that quasi-cybernetic finish that’s always appealing in metal like this. The production is a bit on the unwieldy side, only seeming to amp up the density and leave barely one corner of air free to breathe in, but it’s clearly the result Naraka were aiming for. This is metal firmly lodged in the ‘bigger is better’ mindset, seldom pulling punches and always looking to maximise both its mountainous and cavernous angles. Outside of some more tasteful interludes, In Tenebris wears its hugeness proudly, and it’s honestly warranted in most cases, if only because Naraka fall into their roles with minimal fuss and maximal brutality.
However, it does get to a point where you wonder if that’s it, to which the answer is usually a resounding “yep, pretty much”. By the time the fourth track Of Blood And Tears ends, with an operatic contribution from Veronica Bordachinni that isn’t even a unique album feature itself when it’s replicated by Lindsay Schoolcraft on Mother Of Shadows, Naraka basically show their entire hand and spend the rest of In Tenebris’ runtime trying to keep the momentum rolling. They aren’t unsuccessful, it does need to be said, but when so much is crammed into every crevice, rather than giving it room to build and unfurl across the entire body of work, the subsequent assault just isn’t as compelling. At their core, they aren’t pushing any boundaries within death metal, be that in lyrics or compositional style, so to just unleash everything they have with an unquenchable brute force makes this pretty exhausting and drawn-out to get through. There’s also the fact that Théodore Rondeau isn’t a hugely distinctive vocalist; he fits with what the band are doing, though he himself can simply contribute to the barrage that is this entire album. And for some, that’ll probably be more of a selling point than an issue, but right now, Naraka aren’t really gripping in the way that a band with so many composite parts could. Especially when the ideas do poke through, it’s workable, but it’d be nice if that was all the time rather than just here and there.
For fans of: Cradle Of Filth, Gojira, Carcass
‘In Tenebris’ by Naraka is released on 8th October on Blood Blast Distribution.
Words by Luke Nuttall