Time has passed since my last tape roundup. That's what time tends to do, if you really stop and think about it…
The fourth instalment of Demos All Around Me could just as easily have been called Sarlacc Productions Roundup… but it's not. The label is on a roll right now unearthing new and relevant acts across the spectrum of the established Metal styles, rooting out a few real gems along the way, too.
With a clutch of the more recent (and recentish) releases stacked precariously beside my hi-fi I felt it was high time I put metaphorical pen to paper and jotted down a few thoughts for posterity.
First up are the rather deadly Witches' Coven from the ever fertile Umeå, Sweden with their 'Fire Signs' demo.
Nothing new here really, just three tracks of damn excellent Heavy Metal in the new old mold. It has a brooding duskiness to its delivery lifted from Angel Witch's excellent comeback album, 'As Above, So Below', while the vocals bring to mind Horn Per of In Solitude fame. Mid-ranged vocals that opt for restraint over bombast, in other words.
Admittedly, as with In Solitude, that delivery takes a certain number of spins to really make its presence felt but when it clicks you wouldn't want it any other way. It adds regality to the otherwise fairly direct Maidenesque riffage.
So yeah, while anyone keeping up with the current movements within the Heavy Metal underground will be fairly familiar with their modus operandi, the traditional song writing has enough character and atmosphere to keep heads banged and fists raised.
Repeat spins guaranteed.
It would take a bolder man than me to wear a t-shirt with the words Lord Fist printed across its front but these Finnish boys put forward a pretty strong case with their killer 'Spark for the Night' demo.
Lifting their core sound once again from Angel Witch, but this time from the classic self-titled debut, these guys have energy in abundance. And riffs too. And vocal hooks! The works.
'Super Sailor' kicks the doors in and the band don't let you go for the next seventeen minutes. This is no nonsense, no frills, hi-octane hard rocking Heavy Metal where song is king.
Forget atmosphere or mood, this is distilled adrenaline that punches with a similar vigour to the mighty Enforcer, if perhaps not quite at that same level of craftsmanship just yet. Each of the four songs here has been trimmed of fat, sharpened to a dangerous point and wielded with intent.
The title track adds a welcome sprinkling of Thin Lizzy to a kind of folky, medieval vibe reminiscent of Dark Forest and Wytch Hazel. It's so bloody catchy…
This is nothing highly original either but it is hard to fault on any other level. It's the kind of music that is unsafe to play in your car. It WILL cause you to flip your wheels over a hedge.
You have been warned…
We swing down to the Southern Hemisphere next where Born for Burning's 'Woeful Souls' demo proves that the Aussies are not all about Death, Black and Thrash. Indeed, what we have here is a mostly impressive, if not always outstanding, three tracker of epic Doom.
'Three Black Towers' is a mighty opening gambit, Paul Hodgeson (for it is all the work of said individual) displaying his craft at its stellar best. It combines the might of Graven Rite's exceptional demo with the melodic nous of Griftegard.
Hell, there are even hints of old Metallica detectable in there.
Not shackled by Doom's more obvious rudiments, the song flies off into an up-tempo crescendo that has a thrashy Candlemass or Solitude Aeternus written all over it. It is an instant hit.
The following two songs are somewhat overshadowed in comparison, it has to be said. Also the dip in quality in the song-writing department highlights other niggling issues. The vocal production, for instance, is a bit odd. It's as if it was recorded on a shitty old mic causing Hodgeson's powerful delivery to be slightly muffled by distortion. The plastic sounding programmed drums also become a bit more apparent.
Actually, the second song, 'Under the Rain of Fire', acts as a comedown to the crescendo of the first and as such fits fairly well but the closing title track in particular sounds like an older number that was added to the demo just to flesh it out.
It simply hasn't got the same injection of epic song-craft as the others.
Still, this is well worth hearing as it hints at something truly incredible for the future and, in its own right, is very enjoyable.
Another change of pace now with the, um, Country Folk/ Soft Rock of Ashbury.
With a history stretching back to the seventies, this duo peddle some fairly tame Rock on their 'Out of the Blue' demo. I mean, it's catchy. It's nice! It rocks… kind of…
This is the sort of stuff you'd expect to hear coming out of some redneck's truck in the Deep South. Possibly before being sodomised.
I'm not exactly painting a pretty picture but it is actually OK. I'm nowhere near as fanatical about these guys as some seem to be but I can appreciate it. It's catchy and well written and would be great fun live after a heap of pints. The guitar playing has to be highlighted as the solos are fantastic.
It's a bit light and highly cheesy but the song 'Searchin'' is, despite all that, pretty darn (tootin') cool. It sounds like something else and I can't for the life of me pinpoint what it is; a classic radio hit from the 70s or 80s.
It's more Neil Diamond than King Diamond is what I'm saying.
You'd be advised to maybe give these boys a youtubing before proceeding as this is very much at the lighter end of the spectrum, but if you're in the mood for something chilled out that isn't entirely divorced from Rock N' Roll you may well find something here to enjoy.
It’s time to scour the earballs once again with some proper nasty Death Metal from Israel's familiar sons, Sonne Adam.
Trying to lay your hands on their 'Armed With Hammers' 7″ a few years ago was a pain in the hole and it is long gone at this stage. Luckily Sarlacc have the fortune of re-releasing it on tape for those of us who missed out first time around.
With a fantastic debut album and a couple more EPs under their belts since then, not to mention a crushing recent live show over here, they have proven themselves to be at the front of the current wave of Death-heads.
The songs presented here sound fantastic, if perhaps a little bit more direct in approach and not as engulfing production-wise as their later material.
Tom Davidov is a master at wrangling perplexing riffs out of his six strings while maintaining a dim, dense Doom vibe throughout. His powerful vocals must be noted, too. Low belched growls accentuate the alternately hammering/serpentine nature of the music, calling to mind Necros Christos at their most Doomed.
The structures shift like desert sand, never letting you gain a firm foothold. The gears shift almost imperceptibly and the notes slide away from you at every unforseen turn. It's unpredictable music and not a lot of bands that aim so low and so slow can claim that.
Not only is this a relevant artifact that maps the early steps of one of the best UGDM bands on the go, it is bloody savage in its own right.
Get it or get out.
Saving the best for last? Maybe so but the competition has been fierce. We are finishing on an undeniable high note here, either way.
Apostle of Solitude will be a name familiar to anyone who has been following the Doom scene over the past decade. Indeed, it rang a bell with me and it was only after a bit of head scratching (read: internet snooping) that I realised I had one of their albums before. And I traded it! Silly me…
Their excitingly named 'Demo 2012' has just been released and I don't know if my ears were blocked up with wax the last time I came across these guys or if they have improved exponentially in the meantime but the three songs on this tape are fucking incredible. They really are!
Thick syrupy riffs backed by dense bass lines and powerful drum-bashing are topped off with vocals that, admittedly, took two or three spins to make sense. Initially they sound a bit thin on top of the weighty music but actually, the melodies are so damn good they'll eventually hook you right back in.
Imagine, if you will, an alchemical blend of early Warning (ie. the demos and 'The Strength to Dream'), a wall of sound approach akin to Solstice's 'New Dark Age' and Orodruin, particularly around the vocals. Yeah, it kicks arse.
While all three songs here are great the undisputed highlight is the Slough Feggily titled 'Die Vicar Die'. It is insanely good.
The guitar work is true to the Doom template but injects so much feeling and character that it gets the hairs standing on end every time. Emotive, melodic singing then just takes it right over the edge. The first half is all emotion and weight while the second half is simply Heavy Metal perfection with the repeated refrain of 'die Vicar, die'! Who could argue?
How lucky are we to have a handful of dedicated labels, such as Sarlacc Productions, right on our doorstep, willing to sniff out the best of the best within the underground on our behalf. We are truly spoiled and I will drink to that.
– Andrew Cunningham ::: 20/08/13