|EXTENDED PLAY: Bite-Sized Chunks Of Musical Mayhem|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Sunday, 18 December 2016 05:00|
For many years, the EP – or ‘Extended Player’, to give it its full title – was a criminally overlooked format. But, of late, it has made something of a deserved comeback, as bands face the challenge of continually producing new material but often not being able to commit to the cost (or time) of recording full-length albums.
It’s a format which Über Rock has championed: hell, we have a ‘Top Five EPs’ category in our annual end-of-year writers’ poll – but, as a busy website, it is often difficult to justify devoting space to the more miniature format. So, in a new – and what will probably (with our reputation) be an irregular series – feature, I gave a listen to some of the EPs that have crossed my desk in recent weeks. I start in my native Belfast…
CROSS EYED MARY – ‘Nil By Mouth’
These Belfast bawbags re-introduced themselves to mainland audiences when they returned, albeit with a revised line-up, to the stage of Hard Rock Hell last month. With an unusual triple guitar/double vocal approach, their dense sound in grungy and gunky, very much drawing on the tradition of frontman Kevin P Prior’s beloved Guns N Roses, while lyrically exploring the darker side of life. Lead track ‘Tate’s Avenue’, for example, is an interesting retelling of Prior’s more youthful adventures in search of certain illicit substances. The use of two rhythm guitars adds a depth to their sound which many bands ploughing a similar vein lack, while they use a lot of what could be seen as conflicting time changes. The band have some interesting ideas and approaches to what they do, but unfortunately this second recorded offering is let down by a shamefully muddy production.
CURSED SUN – ‘The Amygdala’
Mid-Ulster metallians Cursed Sun are a totally different prospect altogether, fitting more into the Lamb Of God/Machine Head/Pantera school of groove metal, while also drawing in aspects of thrash, especially on the rhythm guitar lines and double kick drum patterns, with edges of old school death metal, most notably on Jones’ acerbic, acidic lead vocals. This is the band’s third EP (they also released a full-length album, ‘Premonitions’, back in 2012), and their experience is reflected in the maturity of this four-tracker, both in terms of the songwriting, with its use of multiple layers blended together with an eerie simplicity, and the performances of the five members. The guitars hum and buzz like chainsaws, the drums batter and bruise, the harmonies are huge and Jones’ vocal just slaps you around the face like a wet mackerel before giving you the tenderest of cuddles. The highlight is the towering title track, which just summarizes everything Cursed Sun are about, with its twists, turns and massive changes in both atmosphere and tempo throughout. Great stuff from one of Northern Ireland’s most exciting bands.
DIRTY THRILLS – ‘Devil’s Wine’
Over to London now and another complete change in tempo – and an EP that is only available at the band’s shows… Dirty Thrills plough the same retro Seventies blues-meets-southern country rock furrow that the likes of Rival Sons and Blackberry Smoke tread so successfully. Opener, and lead single, ‘Lonely Soul’, is a sprawling, laconic, drawling ballad, which characterises the overall feel of this rare moment of graceful elegance from these normally dirt-under-the-fingernails rockas. It serves to showcase the richness of Louis James’ voice, while Jack Fawdry’s slide guitar interjections over the beatbox style rhythm are beautifully managed. A sparse harp introduces the equally sparse riff to ‘Feeling’, which has just enough of a juke-jive under it to get your hips wiggling, while ‘Is This Home’ is another stripped-back slice of Americana folk-blues, while Aaron Plows’ thrumming bass gives just enough of a heavy undercurrent to ‘No Resolve’ to counterpoint the lament of James’ Plant-esque vocal. Closer ‘Rabbit Hole’ is another pure blues workout, with the emphasis on the spaces between the sounds and another superb delivery from James, who really stretches the upper end of his register for the first time. The overall result is the sort of thing to which you kick back on the sofa with a nice glass of wine and a whiskey chaser of a Sunday evening.
DRAKONIS – ‘As They Rot’
Back to Northern Ireland and the normally quiet city of Lisburn, which has been developing a reputation in recent years for producing rather noisome hallions. Drakonis have been kicking around for a while, but only got around to releasing their debut EP this past Halloween. As has been reported in these pages, this black/death metal quintet possess a huge sense of theatricality with their live shows, with a sense of dark drama brought to every show they play. It’s also something they’ve managed to capture on this hugely impressive three-tracker. The fact that the band features Saul McMichael and Lee McCartney of Waylander in their ranks is reflected in what would seem the otherwise surprising maturity of the songwriting, not least in the sense of structure. This is exhibited right from the off with ‘All Is Still’ (which has actually been kicking around as single for quite some time now), which starts and ends with great use of atmospherics, cornerstoning a hugely professional-sounding exercise in demonic brutality. ‘Abundance Of Sin’ really draws out the ferocity of McCartney’s blastbeating and double kick work, while Steph Dickey’s dense bass work lurks just underneath the surface like a hammerhead shark just waiting to devour an unsuspecting surfer. And the title track is, quite simply, an epic and masterful exemplification of the genre at its best. Throughout, Cass Cassidy’s vocals are hugely impressive, possessing the right degrees of grimy grimness, dankness and moodiness, sounding like he has gargled with sulphuric acid beforehand. As I said above, this is a hugely impressive and mature debut, and essential listening for all black/death metal fans.
FROM RUST – ‘Lost Sense Of Life’
Down to the southwestern corner of the UK now and the county of Somerset – home of my favourite tipple, cider… and, on this occasion, not my favourite sub-genre. Yes, regular readers will know I’m not exactly a fan of metalcore – and that’s exactly what this young five piece purvey on this, the debut EP they have spent two years crafting in between some pretty impressive touring schedules. Leaving aside my personal feelings on this particular style of music, it has to be admitted that it is a professional enough little offering: five tracks of exactly what you would expect – ferocious guitars, plenty of blastbeats, solid rhythms and an in-your-face screaming vocal. There is a good sense of groove and melody to tracks such as ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Predictable Pain’, with the latter also making some good use of atmospherics, especially in the build up to Jake Searle’s snarling vocal, and there’s enough obvious songwriting ability to ensure that this opening salvo from this young band certainly won’t be the last they fire.
INDIGO BONES – ‘Indigo Bones’
Another change of location, from the Atlantic shore to that of the North Sea, and in musical direction, with this garage rock trio from Hull and their self-titled debut offering, who spin what they describe as “tales of hedonism, love and debauchery”. And certainly Messrs Chris Welburn, Marty Hoyle and Mark Swan draw very much on the British sleaze rock tradition of the likes of the Dogs d’Amour, The Quireboys, The Wildhearts and their various offshoots. There’s plenty of fuzz on the riffs, and equal amount of glunky strut and swagger on the libidinous likes of opener ‘Vertical Sleep’ and ‘Delicate’, which bounces itself off the walls of UR’s studio as it tries to shrug off the effects of a night on the old JD (no coke, no ice, just straight up whiskey brother). ‘Silver Nosebleeds’ sees a surf-meets-zombie rock vibe introduced to both Welburn’s guitar and Swan’s base respectively, and is a song which most definitely would stand proudly alongside anything any of the earlier referenced bands have produced in their own storied careers. Closer ‘Elastic Patient’ is a suitably energetic slice of pure garage punk mayhem which is the ideal curtain closer on this brilliant debut. Hey Ginger, Spike and Tyla: there’s a coupla new kids on the block: check yer backs!
STORM HARBOUR – ‘Storm Harbour’
Across to the shores of the Irish Sea now, and Stockport-based upstarts Storm Harbour and this spirited slice of energetic pop punk, which actually brought a smile to my face as I sat listening to it at coming up to midday on a Saturday, as the sun streaming through my studio window reflected the youthful enthusiasm displayed by these five still-wet-behind-the-ears lads. They’re not exactly re-inventing the pop punk formula – everyone from Green Day to Fall Out Boy to The Wonder Years have been doing it this way for years – but what Storm Harbour bring to the table is a devil-may-care attitude of “you know what, we fucking enjoy it and we hope you do too”. Well, yeah, I enjoyed this one: it is infectious, and it was difficult to resist my New Rock-clad feet tapping to the hugely catchy choruses of opener ‘Backbone’ and ‘Persistent At Best’: let’s hope these kids have the persistence to keep at it ‘cos, hey, it’s good clean fun and a smile-inducing listen.
TRIGGERMAN – ‘Atomic Rock Number 79’
Our little trip around the Über Kingdom brings me neatly back to where I started and my home shores, where the riff most definitely holds sway – especially when the mighty Triggerman are in the house! Hailing from the northwest of this particular corner of the Überverse, the boys heave into sight with the slow build of ‘The Drift’, which combines their characteristic blend of doom, stoner and, above all, big ass RIFFS with a pumping, thumping grind which serves as a rare instrumental precursor to the behemoth of aural intensity that is to come. Bap’s characteristic snarling, spitting, unsung vocals quickly jump into the mix on ‘Stone The Philosopher’, his rhythm guitar combining with the density of Dixie’s deceptively complex bass work and Rory’s laconic drumming to add maximum effect, before Niall briefly steps to the fore with his winding lead guitar melody. ‘Rat Race’, with Bap’s almost rap-scatted lyrics, epitomizes the effect of listening to Triggerman both live and on CD: it’s like being run over by a nuclear-powered bulldozer, but makes the experience so enjoyable that you get up, turn around and scream “do it again muthafucka”. If you haven’t got your head banging and your horns in the air within seconds of a Triggerman riff grabbing you by the gonads, then they’ll send ‘Big John’ round to shag yer ma…
So, there you have it. A wee trip around the Über Kingdom of rock to bring you a diverse variety of just some of the EPs we receive on a regular basis. I already have a drawer full of shiny new discs all ready for the next instalment. So, until then, all of the above EPs are out now. Details on how to obtain them are on the bands’ Facebook pages... go check ‘em out. Go on... stop reading and go...