Review: Esprit D’Air’s Constellations

One of the things I really enjoy about running UK Scumscene is getting sent records like this. Esprit D’Air are a Japanese metal band based in London who make the sort of music that should be coming from more established J-metal acts like Coldrain and The Gazette. Yet Constellations is only their first long-player and it sounds absolutely enormous.

Esprit D’Air take a broad range of influences into their sound. Constellations sounds like a blend of post hardcore, metalcore and trancecore, meaning you get an album that sounds like Blood Stain Child mixing it up with Girugamesh.

Now if the alarm bells are starting to ring because of the amount of sub-genres listed with the word ‘core’ in the title, then you’ll be pleased to know that while Esprit D’Air love to pound a single-chord riff, there’s enough variety and melody in these songs to keep them engaging. Songs like The Hunter manage to draw from post rock to create a delicate and tuneful middle-eight and there’s so many outstanding guitar solos to choose from that you’re a little spoilt for choice.

As with most metal in this style, Esprit D’Air’s big focus is on massive, stadium-sized anthems and Constellations is wonderfully consistent in delivering them. Starstorm sounds like a future rock club classic in the making, Guiding Light has the sort of sing-a-long quality you’d want from your favourite arena rock band and even when things slow down for penultimate track Reminisce, you’re still treated to an absolute monster of a riff.

While this sort of metal heavily draws from pop music for song structure, Esprit D’Air manage to drop in some nice progressive elements. You often find the first half of any song on Constellations is where you most frequently revisit riffs and melodies, while it’s the second half where things get a little weird. The aforementioned The Hunter does this with its post rock middle eight and Ignition is another track where the final half builds to a wonderful crescendo full of impressive guitar solos. It’s just enough variety to keep Constellations fresh and not as derivative as a lot of Japanese metal releases.

Esprit D’Air’s Constellations is a wonderfully accomplished debut album that’s full of massive anthems that stand toe-to-toe with the more established J-metal acts. The band also manages to add enough of their own love for progressive music and post rock to make the album stand on its own merits. If you like anthemic, sing-a-long pop metal full of massive riffs and soaring vocal melodies then you can certainly rely on Esprit D’Air to become your new favourite band.

8/10

Esprit D’Air’s Constellations is released on the 30th of June 2017 and is available to pre-order from the band’s Bandcamp page right now.


Review: Cult Cinema’s Cosmic Horror II

Cult Cinema return with the second volume in their trilogy of concept EPs about being abandoned in outer space and despite a change in producer, this is a direct follow-up to their previous Cosmic Horror EP that continues with their frantic post hardcore sound.

The main difference with Cosmic Horror II is we get a more substantial offering this time around. While the first EP felt like a taster of things to come, this release feels more like the main event. Across these four tracks we’re treated to an outstanding display of versatility as Cult Cinema blend hardcore with moments of delicate ambience and harrowing black metal. You’re not just getting heavy music on Cosmic Horror II; you’re also getting a cohesive piece that takes you on a journey that ebbs and flows wonderfully. There’s an awful lot more to Cult Cinema than just playing fast and screaming.

Structurally it’s actually quite similar to Cosmic Horror I. The EP starts with a vicious one-two assault in the form of Bad Blood and Midnight Man before closing with the gargantuan Labyrinth of Solitude. This seven minute monster of a song slows things down and focuses on creating a disparate and terrifying atmosphere that matches the concept of the record perfectly. It’s largely instrumental as well which adds another string to Cult Cinema’s already varied bow.

What’s really interesting is how naturally this volume of the Cosmic Horror trilogy follows the first. Playing it directly after the original reveals an obvious connection that adds some additional context to this record. It works well enough on its own, but partner it with the original EP and you create something very special and bizarrely consistent considering the change in producer. By the time the third volume comes around I can imagine Cult Cinema will have created a long-player that will also deserve to be played sequentially with its previous volumes. Multi-volume records aren’t exactly a new concept but it’s fascinating to watch Cult Cinema’s Cosmic Horror come together in such an organic way.

Cosmic Horror II may be a smaller part in a larger release, but as it stands it marks another bold step forward for Cult Cinema who continue to showcase their violent yet beautiful song writing. Cosmic Horror II is the sound of a band who understand that heavy music is a hell of a lot more powerful when you create contrast and juxtaposition and once again the results are fantastic. By the time this trilogy comes to a close we should have a real highlight of modern post hardcore to enjoy and that in itself is very exciting.

9/10

Cult Cinema’s Cosmic Horror II is out now and available to download direct from the band’s Bandcamp page.


Review: Regurgitate Life’s Obliteration of the Self

Sammy “Twelve Bands” Urwin returns with a new Regurgitate Life long-player entitled Obliteration of the Self and it marks a significant change in sound that’s entirely a product of the addition of a live drummer in the form of Daryl Best from technical hardcore act Eulogy.

If you’re not familiar with the multitude of different guises that Sammy Urwin appears under, Regurgitate Life started as a solo project to allow Urwin to express his love for death metal. The project shares a similar level of heaviness to another Urwin project, (and Scumscene favourites) Oblivionized. The main difference between the two is that Regurgitate Life’s music adheres to its time signatures and isn’t so freeform as a result.

This isn’t to say that Regurgitate Life are a very straight-forward band when it comes to song-writing. Melodies and riffs rarely appear twice in the same song and each track on Obliteration of the Self follows a progressive structure that naturally moves towards its destination, with all the force of a runaway locomotive. This is extremely heavy music, full of constant double-bass drumming, low-end growls, blast beats, amp destroying riffs and flourishes of tremolo-picking.

Thankfully the song-writing always shines through the melange of death metal techniques and every song on Obliteration of the Self shows a level of precision musicianship that moves exactly as you’d expect it to. Special mention has to be given to Daryl Best who doesn’t sound like he’s trying to keep up with Urwin’s virtuoso guitar performance, but actually compliments it with a stunningly varied and incessant performance of his own that will certainly appeal to fans of Aghast.

The record also knows exactly when to give the listener a breather. Tracks like The Great Divide, House on the Cliff Face and Ownlife show moments of respite that never sound forced, but enable the music’s drop back into blast-beat territory to carry even more impact. It’s not exactly a light-and-dark contrast because this is a pretty dark album throughout, but it shows awareness that the music could have become exhausting without a little down-time.

Obliteration of the Self is a natural step forward for Regurgitate Life and the addition of live drums has made this a more cohesive package as a result. Urwin has admitted in the past that his programmed drum patterns are often a little unruly and near impossible for a real drummer to perform, so having a force like Daryl Best in the band has had such a positive impact on the music. Obliteration of the Self is a brilliant death metal record that showcases two musicians firing on all cylinders and is a “must listen” for anyone who can appreciate music this unrelenting.

8/10

Regurgitate Life’s Obliteration of the Self is out now and available to buy from Truthseeker Music on limited edition digipak CD.


Review: Monolithian’s The Waning Moon

The mighty Monolithian have finally returned and they come baring a new 26 minute mini album called The Waning Moon. The blackened doom two-piece still manage to floor me with their enormous, devastating take on doom metal and with The Waning Moon they’ve even managed to cross over into new and unfamiliar territory.

However, before we get to said territory, opener Crone kicks things off and reminds us exactly what makes Monolithian one of the best low tempo metal bands out there. This 6 minute monster of a tune has a preposterously huge riff and a pounding rhythm that will certainly get those invisible oranges raised high. But then we get to the middle eight breakdown and the entire song steps up a notch with a black metal attack that will fuel a serious mosh pit or two. Crone is the sort of song that only Monolithian can make and it’s one of the strongest openings of any doom release.

But what have we here? The next song Nyarlathotep sees Monolithian reaching parts unknown; a reserved, psychedelic take on desert rock that’s expansive, atmospheric and hugely welcome. Monolithian once again manage to prove that despite being only two members strong, they still have a lot of ideas in reserve that can push their music into exciting new territory. It’s here where the album begins to show more variety in the song-writing and it proves that Monolithian are more than just a band who play slow, crushing doom flourished with fast bits.

The rest of The Waning Moon showcases the more familiar Monolithian sound of doom paired with black metal but now with the aforementioned exploration of desert rock, creating devastating slabs of sludgy, bass-lead metal that manages to sound utterly gargantuan. The scale of Monolithian’s music on The Waning Moon is verging on ridiculous, but it’s delivered with such confidence that it’s almost impossible not to lose yourself in.

The Waning Moon is a hugely successful burst of down-tempo aggression that sees Monolithian drawing on even more varied influences to great effect. It’s been hugely engrossing watching this band go from strength to strength on every release and if The Waning Moon is anything to go by then Monolithian’s next long-player will be an essential doom purchase.

9/10

Monolithian’s The Waning Moon is out now and available to buy direct from the band on limited edition purple vinyl.


Review: The Brood’s The Truth Behind

London-based grind-metallers The Brood have dropped one hell of a debut with The Truth Behind. This 33 minute monster sounds like Carcass battling it out with Hatebreed and it absolutely delivers a level of savagery fitting of that analogy.

Now this isn’t a particularly smart album and it was never going to be when it has such song titles as Barbie Voorhees, Free Range Meat and Mindfuck. The Brood have a very specific goal with their music and that is to make the heaviest, fastest metal imaginable. While it’s not exactly as creative as similar sounding crossover acts like Corrupt Moral Altar, The Brood’s song-writing is certainly effective and if you like grindcore then you’re certainly in for a treat.

The Brood’s music isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. We’ve got low-pitched, grunty screams throughout, a near-constant abuse of double-bass drumming and blast-beats and it’s all drenched in a healthy dose of blistering guitar work, full of chunky riffs and tremolo picking. Thankfully, The Brood have the chops to meld their noise into a cohesive package that moves exactly as you’d expect it to and lets you get your mosh on in a thoroughly satisfying way.

While most of the faster songs on The Truth Behind clock in at around 2 minutes, The Brood do manage to show that even when they’re making the loudest racket possible, they’ve got enough ideas in them that they can write some longer-form songs like Lobotomized, GIL and Mud Doll Factory. These tracks showcase more of a metallic hardcore sound that is flourished with elements of grindcore and it makes for the most varied and exciting songs on the album. The Brood might be a heavy band, but they certainly know exactly where to focus their anger with satisfying results.

The Truth Behind isn’t going to win many awards for originality and The Brood do run the risk of finding themselves lost in a sea of similar grind bands, but thankfully their song-writing is robust enough to carry their debut album for its entirety and it makes for one nasty beast of a record. The Truth Behind has enough solid grindcore barnstormers on it to deserve your attention and it’s a great starting point for a band certainly that have the capability to step things up a notch on their next release.

8/10

The Brood’s The Truth Behind is out now and can be bought on CD directly from the band’s Bigcartel page.


Review: The Tidal Sleep and Svalbard’s Split 7″

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It’s a double-dose of glittery yet aggressive post hardcore from Germany’s The Tidal Sleep and Bristol’s Svalbard on this extremely dense slab of wax. The two bands complement each other amazingly well making this a surprisingly cohesive release that betrays its split format.

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The Tidal Sleep’s Are You Ok? is a very interesting and progressive track that isn’t afraid to get weird and spacey in its middle eight. Bursting out the gates with a venomous punk rock fury, the band get wonderfully introspective for a lot of this track and it makes for a bizarrely pleasant and atmospheric experience that distracts from the fact the band were just screaming their lungs out a minute ago. As the song slowly builds itself back up for the final attack, it explodes with one final burst of energy and it’s absolutely magnificent. This is a fantastic offering from The Tidal Sleep that deserves to be heard.

8/10

SVALBARD

Open the Cages is another monster of a song from Svalbard, complete with shimmering guitar leads and an absolutely relentless and exhausting pace that shows no sign of the band slowing down. It also does that patented Svalbard build to a monstrous and uplifting crescendo that’s full of hope, despite the visceral nature of the music on display. Svalbard haven’t put a foot wrong for the entirety of their career so far and this release is just another example as to why they’re one of the most exciting bands in the UK right now. Svalbard have no right churning out songs as good as this for a 7” split and it’s satisfying to know they didn’t phone this one in and save themselves for a larger release.

9/10

Despite being a brief listening experience, this a brilliant split 7” that fans of post hardcore should not be sleeping on. Both bands put forward fantastic songs that are well worth your time and the production quality is magnificent throughout, making the entire release sound absolutely massive. Again, it’s wonderfully surprising that such a small release like this can contain such quality.

The Tidal Sleep and Svalbard’s split 7″ is out now and available to buy through Holy Roar Records.


Review: Cult Cinema’s Cosmic Horror I

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Cult Cinema have returned with a new focus and the first part in a high concept series of EPs that focus on the loneliness of outer space. Cosmic Horror I is the band’s first EP in over five years and also marks the debut of a brand new line-up that brings some interesting changes to the band’s sound.

While the band’s debut EP Iscariot certainly had some very interesting things going on, it was a little more straightforward in its song structures. That record was heavily entrenched in a darker and more brooding hardcore sound and while that certainly returns on Cosmic Horror I, there’s just a more consistent approach to delivering those ideas in a more effective and cohesive way.

Opener Glass Coffin lurches in with a moody yet glittery shower of guitar that hides the onslaught that’s about to ensue. By far the most hardcore-sounding track on the EP, Glass Coffin is a fast-paced assault that lends its sound more heavily to post hardcore and screamo. This means we get a more varied and textured showing from Cult Cinema that sees them experimenting with progressive song structures, guitar leads and blast beats to great effect. It’s very much akin to the sort of noise bands like Svalbard and Terrible Love are making and it’s a great and natural direction for Cult Cinema to follow.

Closing track Distress Signal takes Cult Cinema’s new found love of varied texture and applies it to a slower and more drawn-out song that brings in a lot of atmosphere to the band’s sound. Distress Signal does an amazing job of sounding like a harrowing and forlorn tale of abandonment complete with an absolutely terrifying and stricken vocal performance.

The only real problem with Cosmic Horror I is that it’s all over far too quickly. Both tracks are such a sumptuous and enticing appetiser that it feels too abrupt when it comes to a close after only two songs. It’s certainly got me excited to hear more from the new and reformed Cult Cinema, but in hindsight it might have been nice if the band just held on a little bit longer and put something together that had a little more to offer.

Regardless, this is a minor quibble with an otherwise fantastic return from one of the UK underground’s best acts. Cosmic Horror I is a bold step forward for Cult Cinema that showcases a sound with an increased scope that has me begging for more. I’m lucky that the band is heading into the studio to record the follow-up next month then, eh?

8/10

Cult Cinema’s Cosmic Horror I is out now and available to buy direct from the band’s Bandcamp page.


Review: A Cunning Man’s Practical Applications of Theurgy

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A Cunning Man is the one-man metal project of Ged Cartwright who previously fronted Scumscene post hardcore favourites Teenage China. This new project is extremely high concept stuff; a progressive and symphonic metal project that simply shouldn’t be coming out of the mind of one man.

Practical Applications of Theurgy is such a dense EP that it inspired me to do some background reading on a lot of the references in the song titles. Each track contains a name that appears in The Grimoire of Pope Honorius, which is a 1760 text that was made to be read during mass. Whether or not this is actually the influence on Cartwright’s lyricism remains to be seen, but the fact that I was even intrigued enough to find some meaning in this monumentally enormous sounding EP is a true testament to how interesting A Cunning Man’s music really is.

From the first track Honorius & the Choral Forecast, the listener is assaulted with a symphonic metal attack that’s heavy on blast beats and ethereal strings. Think of a melding of Dimmu Borgir, Between the Buried and Me and Periphery and you’ve got a good idea as to how wild this all sounds. Cartwright’s virtuosic vocals are placed front and centre and rightly so; the man’s singing is nothing short of staggering with its beautiful, lilting melodies permeating every song. It’s a huge amount to take in for a first track and if there’s one criticism to be levelled at this track then it might be a case of over-egging the pudding.

The next two tracks actually reign in A Cunning Man’s tendency to throw every influence under their belt into the mix. A more considered introduction leads the listener along carefully before the instrumentation picks up and when it does it never gets overindulgent. Closer Juratus & the Sulfur Psalm also follow a similar structure and it allows the impact of A Cunning Man’s crescendos to really shine. There’s more of a post rock influence on these tracks that remind you of prog bands like TesseracT, as they show less outright visceral metal like on the first track.

Practical Applications of Theurgy is an extremely unique and almost overbearing symphonic metal release from one of the most gifted Scottish musicians I can think of. This is an extremely accomplished first offering from A Cunning Man and while it sometimes veers dangerously close to being a little too dense for its own good, the song-writing shines brighter and makes for a record that’s more than the sum of its parts. A Cunning Man have an awful lot to offer over these 3 tracks and I’m very excited to see where the project goes in the future.

8/10

A Cunning Man’s Practical Applications of Theurgy is out now and available to download direct from the band’s official Bandcamp page.


Year End: The 10 Best Albums of 2016

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10) Raging Speedhorn

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Raging Speedhorn released a new album in 2016! Holy shit! And it sounds like a direct continuation of the sound on How the Great Have Fallen! And Frank is back in the band! Raging Speedhorn’s return with their 5th long-player Lost Ritual certainly quashed any worries that their previous album Before the Sea Was Built might have instilled and it’s absolutely fantastic to have them back on top form. The kings of sludgecore have finally returned.

9) Aliases – Derangeable

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“Derangeable is a welcome addition to Aliases very limited library and it’s pretty safe to say that if you were a fan of the band before, then this was certainly a record worth waiting for. However, if you’re well versed in tech metal then you’ll certainly notice the similarities to SikTh and while you’ll probably never ask yourself, “why am I not just listening to SikTh?” you’ll certainly wonder if there wasn’t more the band could have done to differentiate themselves a bit.”

Click here for the full review.

8) Rash Decision – Headstrung

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“Regardless, Rash Decision have managed to churn out 17 minutes of hardcore punk perfection on Headstrung and if the new material doesn’t quench your hardcore thirst then there’s another 19 minutes of songs for you to indulge in, thanks to Seaside Resort to Violence being on the B side. Rash Decision are an immensely enjoyable hardcore punk act that don’t have too many strings on their bow, but thankfully the ones that are there do the job perfectly.”

Click here for the full review.

7) Karybdis – Samsara

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“Karybdis have put together a smorgasbord of metal subgenres and masterfully fused them into a sound that is exclusive to the band. Samsara is a metal album that heavy music fans will be championing for years to come and it establishes Karybdis as one of the UK’s best metal acts.”

Click here for the full review.

6) Iron Witch – A Harrowed Dawn

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“Iron Witch have certainly spent a long time getting to this record and at only 6 tracks long it is a bit slight for a long-player, but those years of writing and touring have turned them into a well-oiled, doom-making machine and A Harrowed Dawn is the realisation of all their achievements so far. This is easily the best and biggest sounding Iron Witch release to date and an essential purchase for any doom fan.”

Click here for the full review.

5) Let It Die – The Liar & the Saint

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It feels like I’ve been waiting forever for Let it Die to put their efforts into a long-player and with The Liar & the Saint the band have finally delivered. In typical Let it Die fashion it’s as heavy as a tonne of bricks to the skull and faster than a cat belting it across the room after having its tail stepped on. The Liar & the Saint is a relentless assault of hardcore punk and grind that demands you’re moshing for its entirety. Let it Die certainly didn’t disappoint on their debut album, but was there really any doubt?

4) The Infernal Sea – The Great Mortality

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“The Infernal Sea’s The Great Mortality is an album that you simply must own if you like metal. The Inferal Sea have absolutely mastered their craft and turned in one of the most satisfying black metal releases you could possibly want. It’s heavy, it’s memorable and it’s pretty much essential if you enjoy metal.”

Click here for the full review.

3) Sunwølf – Eve

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“Eve is another monstrous achievement for Sunwølf. It’s an album of uplifting highs and crushing lows and despite the simplicity in the song-writing and how long the songs can be, everything is crafted with atmosphere in mind. Sunwølf songs will only linger if the atmosphere requires it to and thanks to the simplicity of the song-writing, the band also put focus on their melodies. You wouldn’t think an album like this would be so memorable but thanks to the focus on melody and atmosphere, it’s very easy to find yourself playing Eve repeatedly without even noticing it. Eve is a beautiful album that makes you appreciate good song-writing and if you’re a fan of post rock then it’s an essential purchase.”

Click here for the full review.

2) Wode – Wode

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“Wode’s debut self-titled album is a fantastic achievement. Every element of the band’s song-writing has been so carefully crafted and sculpted to maximise the impact of their music and it makes this album one of the most approachable black metal releases I’ve ever come across. If you’re a fan of heavy music in general then Wode’s self-titled album is something that has a much broader appeal than most underground black metal and it’s a release I’d thoroughly recommend.”

Click here for the full review.

1) Slabdragger – Rise of the Dawncrusher

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“The UK is spoilt for great sludge as Slabdragger are competing with other brilliant acts like Limb, Gurt, Monolithian and Opium Lord, but Rise of the Dawncrusher sets a new standard for UK sludge metal. Slabragger have written a follow-up so utterly devastating that it demands your attention. Slabdragger, man; what a band.”

Click here for the full review.


Year End: The 10 Best EPs of 2016

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10) Cold Summer – Fight to Survive

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“Regardless, Cold Summer have finally hit their groove on Fight to Survive. This is an extremely bold and fearless record that sees all the pieces of the Cold Summer jigsaw puzzle fit together comfortably. If fist-pumping, anthemic post hardcore music is what you crave in life, then Fight to Survive is an EP you can rely on.”

Click here to read the full review.

9) Conjurer – I

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Despite making a name for themselves in the UK underground’s live circuit for what feels like ages, Conjurer finally released their debut EP this year and it’s fantastically difficult to categorise which is always a fun job as a music critic. This EP is a seriously challenging slab of metal that draws on so many different elements from genres as wide and diverse as death metal, classic rock, black metal and doom metal. Conjurer manage to sound like Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me and Deicide running at each other full pelt across a room with the resulting impact birthing whatever Conjurer are.

8) Wren – Host

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Wren continue to impress us with their huge, atmospheric take on doom metal. Host may be only 4 tracks long, but there’s an awful lot of music to indulge in. This is a creepy and forlorn take on doom that intersperses the music with elements of post rock to create a truly desperate and bleak tone that permeates the entire record. If you’ve been looking for a doom release that could probably make you emotionally well up, then Wren will certainly deliver that. Host is a really unique record from a band who are doing something very interesting with this genre.

7) Terrible Love – Change Nothing

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“Terrible Love’s Change Nothing is an incredible debut from a band that comes with a lot of expectation and they absolutely deliver. This is a remarkably accomplished start to a band’s career that I hope lasts for a very long time.”

Click here to read the full review.

6) Nembutal – Pay to Die

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When bands put out releases like this I always get tempted to just write, “FUCK” and leave it at that. Nembutal’s follow-up to their 2014 demo is about as no-nonsense as hardcore punk records come. The goal of every song on Pay to Die is to play as loud and fast as possible and it just so happens that Nembutal are bloody excellent at doing both. Nembutal’s music has about as much depth as a roadside puddle, but if you enjoy your hardcore punk being played with as much energy as the human body can muster then you absolutely have to listen to Pay to Die.

5) Allfather – Bless the Earth With Fire

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“Allfather have evolved significantly since their debut EP and with Bless the Earth with Fire we see the band writing more diverse and interesting songs that complement the shift towards sludge metal. It also rocks like a mother fucker.”

Click here to read the full review.

4) So-Crates – v1

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“Overall, v1 is an accomplished and intense debut from an extremely exciting new band. If you’re a fan of post hardcore and math rock then you’ll find a lot to love here and despite some niggles regarding the production, the song-writing really does shine bright and offer a record that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Click here to read the full review.

3) Underdark – Mourning Cloak

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Nottingham’s Underdark exploded out the gates with a black metal release that’s scarily accomplished for a first drop. Mourning Cloak is a wonderfully textured and beautifully structured EP that betrays how heavy it is. The ebb and flow of every song on this record is so gloriously natural and well placed that there’s a dream-like quality to the music that’s at juxtaposition with all the screaming and double-bass drumming on offer. Underdark are a very special band that instantly have my attention and have me begging for more.

2) Watchcries – Watchcries

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Another EP that took me by complete surprise, Watchcries’ debut self-titled EP is never short on ideas. This 3 track offering of metallic hardcore fuses itself with elements of death and black metal and instantly grabs you by the collar and gets right in your face. Watchcries have no interest in nuance; this is a band who are itching to make the most visceral and aggressive metal they can and if this debut is anything to go by then their next record might actually kill you.

1) Razoreater – Vacuum of Nihil

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“Vacuum of Nihil is a loud, noisy, racket of a metal EP and it contains Razoreater’s finest work to date. This band has only managed to get more ferocious with every record and still manage to find new ways to assault your ears. Vacuum of Nihil might have been a long time coming but when Razoreater deliver a record as disgustingly vicious as this it makes you realise that it might have all been worth it. This is an essential UK metal release.”

Click here to read the full review.