I feel like I go through the motions every year, repeating the same diatribe, but this time, there is a minor change of circumstances, and even a little bit of excitement. After all, who knows what can happen next in this crazy time we live in? As the site, and ourselves by extension, enter a new decade, one that hopefully that leads to plenty of promise, and one that can only dismay us from the gradual doomsday scenario that the planet seems to be sliding into of late, we glance back one final time into the 2010s (the tenties?) and upon the last year’s worth of music. Compiling this list was somewhat difficult this time around, as I appear to have forgotten more incredible albums than I remember listening to. Even then, to get to the point of narrowing down a contendership of just ten albums, the list was very much disputed the entire time. Alas, the list was finally cemented, and here’s what delights 2019 provided my, and now potentially your, earholes.Continue reading
The debate between what constitutes the difference between a Neue Deutsche Härte band and an industrial metal band is a fascinating one. In fact, that debate is so passionate and hotly contested in certain pockets of the internet, it’s recommended reading perhaps along side this piece. For anyone not versed on their musical history, in its crudest definition, Neue Deutsche Härte tends to describe any German metal band, that sings almost exclusively in German and follows a musical template akin to Rammstein and Oomph! as the foundation of their sound. The label itself could be argued to be a product of its time, grouping the sounds of the emerging bands in the late 90’s/early 00’s with a media umbrella term, but its use is still insisted upon by not only German bands, but recent international ones too, inspired by the enduring legacy of those bands. Where Johnny Deathshadow enters this conversation, acknowledging that their vocals are predominantly in English, is that they are a German industrial band, with similar electronic flourishes to the genre’s progenitors, yet are not considered a Neue Deutsche Härte band despite Umbra et Imago being allowed a pass, carrying on their larger gothic roots and undertone in tandem. Start a petition if you must. Joking aside, and whatever your opinion on this argument is, it is this rich cultural phenomenon that Johnny Deathshadow both carries on, and sheds itself of, creating their own enticing sonic universe that wider Europe is starting to take notice of.
Though the band’s roots actually lay more in the Misfits and horrorpunk covers of pop songs, earning them the moniker of the ‘Hollywood Death Cult’, a decision mid-decade to incorporate larger industrial elements into their compositions, caused the band’s popularity to erupt in their native Germany. Bleed With Me, their first full-length album adorning gothic industrial metal was a huge success, swiftly taking them overseas in the process, but while the album was excellent overall, their vision still seemed somewhat in utero, and restrained. Three years later, that worry is completely eradicated. D.R.E.A.M. is a seminal work, refining a tremendous formula, but scaling the production to a grandiose stage that benefits vastly, and reintroducing elements of their punk and hardcore backgrounds to electric effect. Sugar Like Salt pips many of the album’s highlights as D.R.E.A.M’s finest moment, and showcases why this band could slowly take over the world.
A muscular synth arpeggio throbs and winds at the inset, with strokes of strings and distorted thumps programmed, lurking within reaching distance behind, prodding at the nerves of its listener but also cranking energy levels to a feverous intensity. As the drum sequence beats its last, live drums pounding a mesmerising groove ,and the heavy chugging of down-tuned guitar, mimicking that of an engine, break forth with the synth, a stampede of a rhythm that will fuel metalheads and dancers alike. Monotone vocals shortly strip out the guitar, a hint of malice gleaming in every syllable recited from the morose prose, yet it carries a certain infectiousness that you visualise crowds repeating. No sooner you absorb those biting words, a brief blasting of relentless, hell-for-leather hardcore style beats suddenly smacks you in the head, ferocious growls scratching at your eardrums, this unforseen display of attitude neatly opening up for the chorus vocal melody that bursts as a wave of elation. Reminiscent of Candyass-era Orgy hooks, this is an earworm with such a latch, you’ll be fighting it for days for a release, and D.R.E.A.M. is absolutely infested with them. Interplaying perhaps as the titular sugar like salt, this sweet-stung moment in a realm of obsidian cynicism brings out the best in the track’s often energetic dynamics. Tailor made for fetish clubs and mosh pits, Johnny Deathshadow’s crossover appeal has scarcely begun to be realised, with a unique appearance and a fearsome live and recorded repetoire in tow, these gentlemen have a scene firmly in the palm of their hands, and it’s only a matter of time before they put the squeeze on it.
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2016, probably not just in my own personal opinion, has been a fantastic year for music releases so far depending on how far you’re willing to commit yourself to the kaleidoscopic universe out there. To name but a few of my favourites would include The Qemists, Youth Code, Autopsy Boys, All Hail The Yeti, Mask of Bees, Lowflyinghawks, Amplifighters and Weekend Nachos, and at this point, some music media outlets would like to take the chance to reflect on what has already come before and sum things up in a handy little list for you. The Soundshark isn’t some music media outlets. What The Soundshark has done has compiled a list of 30 forthcoming releases in 2016, of varying genres, and from mass appeal down to the underground to better illustrate why 2016 will remembered as a truly incredible year of music. There could be your new favourite band waiting here or an album announcement by that band you like you may have missed, who knows?
Let’s begin shall we?
Let it be said that some things carry on the way they started. In Bullet Height’s case, it carries on the sonic storm previously began by debut single Bastion in February, heading towards potential live dates in the near future and a forthcoming album tentatively inbound for the year’s close. But Bullet Height’s roots date back much farther. Circa eight years ago to be precise. For Pure Reason Revolution, the former band that frontman Jon Courtney had a significant hand in, after the success of their opus The Dark Third and subsequent departure of violinist James Dobson, their songwriting took a turn in a more electronic based direction, birthing second studio album Amor Vincit Omnia; an album that transformed the band’s sound from an atmospheric progressive rock opera, into a punchier, synth-injected rock hybrid, with scaled down but still ever-present progressive leanings. This evolution was completed on third and what would become final album Hammer And Anvil, which in my opinion remains one of the most underrated albums of the decade, and would be the only Pure Reason Revolution album to be published by Superball Music, whom the band signed with prior to its distribution. Pure Reason Revolution were to disband in 2011, a year after Hammer And Anvil’s release.
Fast forward some five years later, elements of the sound encapsulated from Amor Vincit Omnia and Hammer And Anvil, the revival of the partnership with Superball Music and the union of Jon Courtney and IAMX keyboardist and vocalist Sammi Doll in Europe’s second biggest capital, brought together Bullet Height, a duo whose talents can equal the exhilarating and electrifying nature of their music. Though quiet for several months since being hotly tipped as one of the bands to keep an eye on in 2016, the emergence of second single Hold Together is a swift reminder of what whipped up the frenzy and excitement in the first place, and an excellent point of entry for anyone curious about the diversity of electronic rock.
And a reminder and point of entry none more swift and excellent than the blasting of intense volcanic guitar tones, dark and deep synth throbs and a incredibly forceful percussive pattern. Such is the impact and ferocity of the introduction here, that it relegates Bastion to a mere nursery rhyme in comparison. If your eyes weren’t open before, they certainly will be. The cavalry is quietened for the vocals to take centre stage, the warm hum of synth hovering below and the drums remaining as imposing a presence behind them. It’s here we’re also treated to the luscious vocal harmonies that Jon and Sammi are capable of conjuring. Each individual voice has its own powerful merits, but together it produces an intoxicating sensation yet still a hint of menace which serves the aggressive instrumentation well throughout. Especially as it reaches the pre-chorus, where against a thunderous series of drum kicks and synth throbs that devolve into shrieks, adds that extra edge to twist the tension into a truly explosive chorus. Hitting with the accumulated musical force of a tempest, the guitars, synth and drums decimate anything in the immediate vicinity, with vocals picking up a soaring pop sensibility which sounds eerily calming considering the annihilation unfolding before you. The result however is unfathomably satisfying. A quick glitch from the synths and a drum fill later, and you’re thrown head first back into the carnage. Nuances like additional fury vented on the microphone, jagged guitar you can feel the volatility of, synths expanding and growing in character and ambience and even solo moments of formidable gritty synth stabs all keep the soundscape an unpredictable thrill ride all to the very end. Hold Together is much less a song and more an event; a shockwave of inconceivable artistic and musical vision which can be experienced as both punishing and piquant. It almost seems as if Bullet Height had a crack at their own personal Manhattan Project, and boy did they nail the execution. This duo have the chemistry, talent, uncompromising attitude and simply immeasurable ambition to solidify their status as one of the most awe-inspiring bands in the world at this moment, with the potential to supercharge their electronic rock engine into one of the planet’s all-conquering live acts, just around the corner. The world is theirs for the taking. If they don’t destroy it first.
Hold Together is out right now at all respectable music retailers as a digital only single. You can pick up their previous single Bastion at the same music retailers also. The band are in the process of gearing up for live dates in their native Berlin which are yet to be announced, but certainly worth keeping an eye out for. Bullet Height’s debut album has been pencilled in for a release in Winter 2016 which no doubt you’ll hear more about in the coming months. And for a taster of what’s to come as well as back story for the band’s formation, check out this short documentary on them.
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Human nature is an unusual and difficult thing to predict at the best of times. It sees the worst in humanity, being driven to inflict pain, misery and suffering upon one another or even to be as cruel as to end another’s life, for whatever goal or reason that consumes you. But it can also bring out the best in our species, to love, cherish and show compassion to another, to share an experience or a memory that leaves an everlasting impact on the recipients, that can last for the rest of your days.
I had already made the joke at Sophie’s Earthquake’ expense regarding a girl creating an earthquake that ultimately costs the lives of our fellow man. Only to have that theory shot down not long after, once the band contacted me themselves saying the name was actually derived from having the rehearsal space underneath the drummer’s house, whom wife is called Sophie. Least I seem to recall that’s where the name came from. The story’s all here anyway. But this goes hand in hand with what’s already been said about human kindness. After the original article focusing on their EP, they were incredibly generous enough to offer me an exclusive listen to an unmastered demo, taken from their forthcoming album, the demo now known as Fatima and Flood respectively. I had never been given such a moment of privilege in my entire life, and was truly humbled by this experience and will continue to be forever grateful for.
Four to five months later, Sophie’s Earthquake’s debut album was released on Christmas Eve just gone. Titled The Flood, it carries on their psychedelic- meets-grunge approach, but in the gap between their EP and the album, the band have truly blossomed and evolved their sound into some musically jaw-dropping compositions. Although Fatima and Flood were conjoined upon my first listen, they were separated for the album’s release but still retain that sense of awe and excitement I felt upon that twelve minute extravaganza of smoky ambience and blazing guitar work in full instrumental glory. Despite being released very late last year, for fans of music with a chasm-like depth of atmosphere and scale, you need to listen to this album.
My pick from The Flood, personally has to be Zero Distance. The Alice In Chains-style tone has morphed into a more ominous, urgent sounding presence, lying in the shadows. It certainly sounds far more abrasive and threatening than any moment of their previous work, likely down to the distortion on the guitar. The beat of the war drum drum hasn’t changed however, but it didn’t need to. It was already a gratifying percussive force and complimented the swirling atmosphere beautifully. Here, against the tone of an oncoming storm, each thump of the skins is another footstep closer to something landscape-changing. Upon the beat becoming regular and that snare serving as warning shots, you can feel something electric building up further and further into time. Throughout you also get the warm rumblings of bass, providing an additional layer of groove or thickening the overall atmosphere, just when chaos seems around the corner. Echoes of a voice wailing in the distance lead in the blues-soaked vocal chords, that do undeniably have a resemblance to the late Layne Staley. While we given the impression the band were unsure at first whether to include vocals in the bulk of their songs, the decision and startling confidence behind the delivery speaks volumes.
Switching from sinister whispers, to a soulful, whiskey-coated croon, to a melancholic but empowered bellow to make you tremble where you stand, the vocal projection has been elevated to another level from past material. And transferring such passion into a darker, brooding progressive journey, only enhances the experience. The moving cries of lead guitar harmonise with groove of the bassline, giving one last moment of calm and stability in the sonic landscape, before the inevitable gear switch, triggered by the sudden emphasis on bass driving the tempo. It becomes a manner of waiting. Power chords are left to wail and ring into the night, while drums intensify and diminish just as quickly, teasing that pay-off. It is left down to an almighty yell, for all the instruments to unite in one hurricane-force gust and unleash the unstoppable psychedelic force they possess. In tone, the atmosphere sits more in a dark and stormy night than a haze-infused trip, so the moment doesn’t explode as such, but it doesn’t make the guitar soloing any more stellar and spectacular. Bass plays a crucial part in making this a real special moment, the prominent deep grinding away, adding more than a substantial yin to the guitar’s yang, while drums keep pounding hard and inject some subtle rhythmic nuances to the pace. Towards the final furlong, this truly is a moment of pure rapture and a moment to lose yourself within. One tremendous drum performance, the continual bass siege and one last blues-touched anti-war slogan, we come to a close.
Aside from being some of the absolute nicest gentlemen I’ve ever had the opportunity to reach out to, Sophie’s Earthquake are killer musicians and deserving of a higher pedestal to put their music on. The Flood is a fantastic debut album, taking what made them a fascinating prospect and fleshing it out above and beyond what was thought they were capable of. Far darker in mood and tone than could be anticipated, but full of intoxicatingly good musicianship and songs, that are enjoyably progressive but can keep you guessing too.
The Flood and their debut EP are only available to purchase on their Bandcamp page, for very reasonable prices might I add, while physical copies are currently in the planning stages. Their website is also under maintenance. as of the time of writing. Sophie’s Earthquake will no doubt also be touring shortly, so keep an eye on their social media.
Which you can do so by clicking this link here and giving them a great big thumbs up:
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I don’t know if those who are reading this right now are into science much, but if you ever need a go-to name for a band or musical project, chemistry more often than not, will not fail you. Alkaline Trio kinda leaps out at me straight away as the most well-known example of a chemical reference in mainstream music, as well as my personal favourite Bullets And Octane, but lurking deep within the realms of the musical underground, there are many names derived from the periodic table of elements, chemical reactions, biological chemistry and so on and so forth. Sometimes that name can stand out so much, it starts to become educational. In the origin of Formalin’s name however, it’s not only scientifically educational but culturally educational, if you are familiar with the works of a certain Damien Hurst. Formalin, is also known as formaldehyde solution, of which formaldehyde is responsible for Hirst’s notorious shark exhibit being preserved for as long as it has been. Sorry, you came here for music, not A Level Science. But the synthesis of formaldehyde into formalin, shares a common property with the band itself, in their music is obtained through the synthesis of wavelengths and frequencies to create a aesthetically darker electronic pop hybrid. The production duo from Berlin are a growing name on the European electro-industrial scene for their fusion of clean, air-tight percussion and gritty but entrancing synth lines, all drizzled with a little sleaze for dancefloor seduction. There are some nuances from EDM and commercialised dubstep in there too, just to give a little harder edge and sharpness to the electronics, but there’s a whole realm of lavish future-pop melodies to take command of the exquisite rhythms and atmosphere. This year’s Supercluster is a testament to how crisp every note, beat and vocal comes across from these gentlemen, and by far one of this year’s most enchanting synth-driven albums. The empowering Above The Sun is perhaps the strongest case for this argument, its deep, penetrating drum pulse powering the architecture and precision of each synth layer for maximum effect. Some sparkle, some twitch, some scream and shout, and some throb, but all thread together to move your body in ways you had no idea it could. Of course this all plays into the hands of the vocals which speak directly to your aural channel, playing the devil’s advocate if it were, persuasive in tone but with a devious intention. There’s true substance in the Formalin recipe, a dazzling but ocean-deep formula, complete with the marvels and menaces of the marine kingdom to boot. The duo from Berlin are providing a sterling addition to the electro-industrial underground, produced with laser-precision calibre and with an addictive sensibility that deserves to breach forth into the spotlight.
Formalin’s three albums, this year’s Supercluster, 2012’s Wasteland Manifesto and 2010’s Bodyminding are all available from most respectable music retailers. A select few of their tracks are available on Soundcloud for your listening pleasure and they are due to be touring later this year too.
For some reason or other, hurricanes are allowed to have perfectly acceptable names to identify them. Does it seem less threatening? Hardly, if Hurricane Katrina has anything to go by. It only seems to be hurricanes that we focus on really, but maybe there’s time for a change of sorts. Say for example, landslides or earthquakes. We can take a landslide somewhere in the world and call it Jennifer. Because I decided Jennifer was a suitable name for a landslide. Joking aside for a moment, natural disasters are serious matters and have cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives, so for what reason does saying an earthquake belongs to a girl by the name of Sophie? Well judging by the sheer potential of a three track EP and sounding an awful lot like if Alice In Chains became a stoner band, you’d want to personify the power behind your earthquake. Stemming from jam sessions between three musicians from Germany, whose appreciations lie in grunge and psychedelic, the base of their songwriting ability lies in the sledgehammer of distorted guitar, with, or without vocals which can drift off into a spellbinding haze backed by prominent drums, very much the definition of an incantation. Final song La Ira De Los Tres very much focuses on an acoustic build up for three minutes that soothes into a plane beyond our physical one, before the electric guitar takes over for the remaining six minutes for a slugfest of riffs and pure exhibitionism that captivates for every minute that goes by. For an EP from 2013, Sophie’s Earthquake sound remarkably polished, no doubt as a result of the five years spent honing and experimenting with different guitar effects and sounds in that time. The gear switch between psychedelic release and a grungy, guitar free-for-all, and the quality of both sides of their sound, very few bands around have replicated and likely never will. Maybe this earthquake belonging to a girl emphasises the free spirit and the shades of devastation that can happen, which when married become a potent musical formula for success.
Sophie’s Earthquake’s EP is available on a digital pay what you want basis on their Bandcamp page, or there are vinyl copies of the EP also available too on Adansonia Records’ webstore. The album Zero Distance is expected to be out around December this year, so keep an eye on this one. Please give what you can if you have enjoyed this band, they are currently in the process of recording, and that process is expensive so every little helps.
P.S. I asked the band later on where the name came from, turns out they used to practice in the drummer’s basement, whom his wife was called… Sophie. Their story is better than mine.
Unless I missed a memo over the last few years or so, metalcore doesn’t really appear to be a thing any more. Well, at least from the thrash-influenced perspective, as more and more bands pile on from the hardcore bandwagon, some even evolving into the visceral deathcore movement. Metal has left me jaded nowadays, as the trend seems to emphasise brutality in your music, in guitar tones and how much venom and vengeance you can saturate your lyrics with, bores me. In my personal opinion, there’s very little innovation any more, as clones after clones emerge and dump themselves on top of the landfill. So when metal bands that are flashier, play faster and hark back to a time when proficiency on your instrument was key, it opens a window on a stagnant genre climate.Germany’s Wild Zombie Blast Guide are no doubt obsessed with the living dead and modern society, but they reinvigorate that spirit of thrash metal that many recent bands seem to be ignoring. There’s some interesting ideas such as backing samples and the inclusion of a banjo in one song, but then they also trope into a few modern cliches such that sub-bass explosion that seems to be the equivalent of the Black Plague. Yet there’s a healthy camaraderie and optimism in their message, despite their subject matter. The switching of vocal styles between hardcore superstar, guttural death metal frontman and gang chants in the same song is also refreshing to hear, as highlighted by Birds Of Prey. In between tasteful electronic gasps for breath, some killer guitar chops and an anthemic chorus, the song is a testament to skill-based guitar-orientated music, played at such a pace, it could rattle spinal discs out of place. 2014’s Salute The Commander is a celebration of all that is good about metal, and is life-affirming to boot musically and mentally.
Salute The Commander and their 2012 self-titled debut can only be found on their Bandcamp page for a reasonable asking price.