August to October 2023 Listening

Between summer holidays and general worky madness, my listening habits have been a bit spotty lately. This has been further compounded (in a good way!) by getting my first wireless headphones (Heavys!), which has allowed me to try a bunch of stuff that I haven’t gotten around to listening to before. So rather than tackling a few things relatively in-depth, there’s been a lot of one-off listens. This exciting episode will be more of a recap of what passed through the ether and into my ears via the wonders of bluetooth…

Bruce Dickinson - Tyranny of Souls

The Chemical Wedding is often described as the best album Iron Maiden released in the 1990s. I, for one, loved it from start to finish, and it cemented Bruce firmly in the camp of “People Who Are Too Talented For Their Own Good, Damn Them”. In 2005, he released Tyranny of Souls - and I just kind of missed it. Why did I miss it? No particularly good reason really. So with a new set of headphones and an internet connection available at work one day, I thought it was time to address this imbalance in the (metal) Force and gave it a spin.

There are riffs aplenty, and Bruce, as ever, sounds unique and powerful. Mars Within sets a spooky tone before things kick into gear properly with Abduction. The guitars are crunchy, and the leads are tasty. There’s even a brief hint of double-bass drumming! Soul Intruders follows it, and it’s here that things starts to lose a bit of shine. A relatively uninspired song aside from the solo, it just doesn’t stick in my head once it’s finished playing. Kill Devil Hill just drifts off partway through the song, fading out without leaving much of an impact. And this theme keeps repeating for most of the album. The songs just don’t hold much interest once they’ve finished playing, there’s no urge to go back and listen to them again, no drive to air guitar furiously as Roy and Adrian lay down solos.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Navigate The Seas Of The Sun is a genuinely good song, capturing some of the essence of what made The Chemical Wedding such an essential release. Slightly contrary to what I wrote earlier, some of the solos are good, although they are often brief, and they’re not generally enough to elevate the songs to the levels we’ve come to expect from Bruce and company.

As is often the case, the main issue here is that after the double-whammy of Accident of Birth and The Chemical Wedding, this was always going to struggle to match them. So it’s not surprising that it doesn’t. It’s just there, and I don’t feel any great need to return to it. For a lifelong Maiden fan and Bruce admirer, it’s a bit disappointing really. Hopefully The Mandrake Project will be more interesting overall.

Sodomisery - Mazzaroth

Ah, who doesn’t love a bit of Sodomisery1? Having formed in 2015 with a relatively cringeworthy band name, I wasn’t sure what to expect here. Then again, everyone was saying the same thing about the name, so I tried to go in with an open mind. And I’m glad I did!

Opener Coming Home starts off with blast beats aplenty, then settles into a mid-paced riff-fest. The music sounds epic, and the production really lets the individual performances stand out. Acoustic passages and clean vocals all make an appearance, but none of them feel out of place, bringing back memories of the effortless songwriting that made early Opeth so essential. And all of that in the first track!

Psychogenic follows on and while it’s similar to Coming Home, it’s varied enough that you don’t feel repetition setting in. Keyboards are used to add atmosphere, and they never overstay their welcome. Third track Delusion is catchy as fuck, with a chorus that’ll stick in your head long after the album has finished. While the tail end of the album is slightly less exciting than the first half, it’s still great from start to finish.

I can’t say I’d ever heard of them before this, but given how good Mazzaroth is, I’ll be checking out their earlier release and keeping an ear out for what comes next.

Witherscape - The Inheritance

One of the foundational laws of heavy metal from the 90s onwards is that Dan Swanö is $DEITY. There’s pretty much nothing he can’t do - sing clean, growl as if he’s pursuing you across the underworld, play drums and guitar, and make music sound better than anyone out there. When Witherscape’s The Inheritance emerged in 2013, it paired him with Ragnar Widerberg, a relatively unknown guitarist. With some new cans to hear the music through, I was eager to see how it sounded a decade on.

The answer, unsurprisingly, is “fucking fantastic”. As soon as the album begins with Mother Of The Soul, you know who you’re listening to. The vocals are unmistakable, the riffs are heavy and melodic, and the production is flawless. Ragnar’s searing leads are not just random noodling, but epically memorable and air-guitarable. He plays for the song, rather than to show off, which is a refreshing change. The song has it all - melody, aggression, acoustic moments, and the overall sense of Swanö-ness.

Astrid Falls follows on, with keys making a bit more of an appearance here. Dan is not afraid to use them, and manages to stay just on the right side of the border between tastefulness and overindulgence, a line far too often crossed by others. The third track, Dead For A Day, is my favourite on the album, and has a chorus so catchy, it’ll be stuck in your head like honey in your beard.

The album is trim at 43 minutes, never outstaying its welcome. By the time the melancholy strains of The Wedlock Observation have drifted into the piano outro of the title track, you’re left realising that you’ve just finished listening to one of the best albums of the 2010s. If you haven’t listened to this, stop what you’re doing and do it now. You’ll be thanking $DEITY that you did.

Gimli, Son of Glóin - Entire Discography

Well this one was unexpected! After listening to the new UADA on Spotify, it randomly sent me into a track from Gimli, Son of Glóin, a grindcore band from Southampton in England. With 2 albums in their discography (The Most Noble Adventures of Erebor’s Finest Son in His Quest to Butcher Orcs & Save the World and At Last; Durin’s Mightiest Son Returns to the Field of Battle with Axe in Hand and Glory in His Heart!), you can guess what you’re going to get.

When you start listening to songs with names like My Body Is Ill-suited for This Pursuit Across the Plains of the Horselords, Foully Seized by the Hands of a Pointy-Eared Elvish Princeling and The Ever-Changing Attitude of Dwarves to Aerial Combat, you’ll quickly find out that your guess was 100% accurate. Blast beats, more blast beats, grindcore riffs galore, and numerous samples of Gimli himself, all adding up to an experience that will literally have you laughing out loud while banging your head hard.

It’s fast, noisy and fun. It would go off in a live setting somewhere. It’s cheap as chips on Bandcamp. And most importantly, you can listen to both albums nearly 10 times in the time it would take you to watch the shorter version of The Fellowship Of The Ring. You deserve to listen to them at least once.

Other Random Listens

  • UADA - Crepuscule. A good listen all in all, although it’s obviously no Devoid Of Light.
  • Sulphur Aeon - Seven Crowns and Seven Seals. They seem to have lost a lot of the overwhelming horror atmosphere that marked their earlier releases. What’s left is good, but a definite step back IMO.
  • Alkaloid - The Malkuth Grimoire. Awesome tech death, with the title track and Cthulhu standing out as rifftastic numbers that you’ll want to listen to on repeat.
  • Cradle of Filth - Existence Is Futile. I mean, yes, it’s fine, and yes, it’s Cradle, so it’s clearly not bad. It’s just not as memorable as their earlier outings, and I’m unlikely to return to it anytime soon.

  1. Especially on a Sunday! ↩︎