Review: Naga – Hén

Naga - Hen reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK black, doom and death metal zine

When you think of the Italian musical canon, bone-crunching and gratingly scuzzy doom metal are not high on the list of stylistic attributes often associated with the Italian musical output. Scratch beneath the surface though, and you’ll find the Mediterranean nation is adroit at spawning some downright hellish bands whose aggression is festered by a socio-political landscape in a perpetual state of tumult. The country may seem to possess a low profile in comparison to its European mainland cousins in regards to its output of confrontational bands whose repertoire lays in the realm of the aurally destructive. However, angry music is alive and well in Italy, especially in college towns where the country’s youth search for mediums in which to vent their fury at the incompetence of the self-serving political elite.

Recorded in Naples, in the shadow and ever-ominous presence of Mt. Vesuvius, Hén is a monolithic slab of down-tuned bulldozer riffs and thirteen-minute tracks that drag the listener through several stages of aural attrition. Despite Naga consisting of just three members, they produce tracks with fuzz several inches thick that is both impregnable and all-consuming. A swampy palette is sliced intermittently by shrill screams and vicious gurgles from noise-mongering guitarist/vocalist Lorenzo de Stefano, the exact nature of his vitriol obscured by contorted gargles to such an extent that whether his vocal barrage is delivered in Italian or English is a matter of ambiguity.

Sabbath-inspired riffs are dispensed with the venomous scourge of Toni Iommi. This is, if the hero of heavy metal had stubbed his toe immediately prior to recording the take and vehemently attacked his six-strings with a uniform derision. Hellish power chords are enlightened with discordant open-note stabs whilst some riffs remain employed for several minutes at a time, grinding down the listener with a pummelling monotony. Such monotony is amplified by the languorous pace at which the lumbering riff-machine advances, rarely diverting from a stoic plod that seems to sit at the perfect BPM to enact the ritual of supremely stoned head-banging.

The album’s namesake, ‘Hén’, indicates The One: the divining principle that rules over the entirety of reality. It is what Becoming implies. Although it is dubious whether any divine affinity can be extracted from Hén, the album itself practically forces listeners to stare directly into the abyss, inducing a state of existential uncertainty through its endlessly repeating sludge from which the only salvation can be found in the self. Hén is a record with enough outward malevolence to constitute a satisfactory casual listening experience. However, it is only when you fully immerse yourself in the pulverising scuzz that the record provokes a reaction that transcends the usual rhythmic bodily twitches into notions that offer insight into the nature of one’s true self.

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3 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Red Seas Fire – Confrontation [EP]

Red Seas Fire - Confrontation reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands metal, alternative and hardcore zine

There’s a little bit of a gap in the UK metal scene at the moment. Tech-metal is constantly on the rise and fall, metalcore maintains a consistent presence and otherwise, it’s a bunch of bands who’ve been around for years and years. Of course, there’s your radio-friendly Bring Me The Horizon-esque sound too, but very rarely is there anything that blends all of this together to create something that’s diverse enough and heavy enough to please a number of different camps – well, now that Chronographs have gone all alt-rock, that is. Red Seas Fire have risen forth as a true contender, and Confrontation is an exciting, progressive and thrilling record.

‘Tyrants’ begins slowly, with haunting, echoing melodies, before leading into a powerful, atmospheric verse laden with ambient synths. The rough vocals are just on the right side of unrefined, yet still maintain a great degree of control. The switch to clean for the chorus is so unexpected, and Robin Adams sounds like a young Chester Bennington – you know, before Linkin Park got horrifically boring. The abrupt segue into ‘The Gold Room’ feels visceral, with a few hints of ‘core influence rearing their heads alongside the complex riffs. Each song is so tightly constructed, with perfect structure and a formidable rhythm section – highly impressive for such a young band. The touches of electronics throughout the record are just perfect, and the production levels are incredibly high while still maintaining a raw and instinctual feel. ‘The Grand Escape’ provides an ideal centrepiece to the EP, with a heavier reliance on synths than previous tracks, before the record finishes on the completely clean ‘Compass’. Remaining clean the whole way through lends a power to the track that it might otherwise lack, and it’s the perfect way to end the EP, as heavy bass contrasts amazingly with really sweet incidental guitar.

Red Seas Fire are absolutely ones to watch this year. Confrontation is part of a much wider vision, and will be combined with predecessor Exposition and forthcoming EP Resolution to create a complete full-length. Now available for free on Red Seas Fire’s website, Confrontation deserves your full and rapturous attention.

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4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: A Werewolf! – Because Why Not?

A Werewolf - Because Why Not reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - Worcestershire punk, rock and alternative zine

Because Why Not? is a very apt name for the debut EP from Worcestershire mathrock duo A Werewolf! The entire record is a whistle-stop tour through genres and musical styles to complicated rhythms with crazy, crazy film quotes thrown in. I’d like to say that if you’ve got a record in front of you with a song called ‘Chop Yourself Off at the Knees and Pretend You’re Tom Cruise’, you kind of know what you’re getting into but with Because Why Not?, you totally don’t. And that is not a bad thing at all.

The record starts off intense. ‘Hellbent on Duck Slaughter’ is the mathiest track of them all, and if you’re not into crazy riffs bordering on the wrong side of jazz, then this will probably put you off for life. However, listen closely and you’ll find that there’s an incredibly full sound coming from these guys, despite the fact that they’re a duo. It’s all completely instrumental, and in most cases, this works. In tracks like ‘Come At Me Bro’, which are less complex, vocals are missed somewhat, but that punk edge instils a great sense of fun anyway.

Where A Werewolf! truly shine though is in their more post-rock sounding tunes – ‘Psycho Scientist vs Super Massive Giant Swan’ and ‘Sanka Ya Dead?’ both feature jangly guitars and incredibly tight drums with a more laidback feel than the rest of the record – slowing down slightly truly enables their talent to shine through. However, they’re still highly exciting when they’re playing more frenetic stuff – ‘I Have To Return Some Videotapes’ effortlessly mixes funk and metal with those complex time signatures with awe-inspiring effect. It’s probably not the kind of stuff you’d just stick on in the background, and nor should it be – Because Why Not? deserves to be dissected and digested and to be appreciated fully.

Because Why Not? is ambitious and it’s completely mental, but most of all, it’s great fun. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re willing to try something a little different, you’ll have struck gold with A Werewolf!

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4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Dearist – Get What You Want [7"]

Dearist - Get What You Want reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK indie, rock and alternative zine

Dearist is the new project from Kyoto Drive’s singer and bassist, Adam Binder. Do not let that sentence instil you with fear – Get What You Want is no superficial, throwaway pop-rock record. Instead, it’s two tracks of soaring, atmospheric goodness, more akin to alt-rock titans Anberlin or 30 Seconds To Mars (when they’re having a good day). Indeed, Get What You Want is a promising debut and could be the beginning of something very exciting.

The eponymous track immediately signals a massive break from Kyoto Drive’s previous style. Downtuned riffs and a storming verse take precedence over saccharine guitar lines, the lyrics aren’t just about girls any more and the choruses reach new, anthemic heights. Dearist have hit on a totally massive sound, and it’s not all smoke and mirrors either – there’s a few cool effects coming into play here and there, but most of it is just through crafting straight up rock stompers. ‘Just Let Me Know (All Over Yet)’ continues along the same road as its predecessor, but introduces some beautiful piano to the mix. It’s not the lead single, but it’s the stronger of the two tracks; it perhaps lacks the immediate punch of ‘Get What You Want’ but instead, playful riffs abound throughout the verses and Binder’s breathy vocals float gently over a chorus that builds and builds into a fantastic mid-section that Jared Leto would be proud of.

Get What You Want is an intriguing debut and hopefully, a sign of things to come. I for one am awaiting Dearist’s forthcoming full-length with genuine excitement – July can’t come soon enough.

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4 out of 5 high fives!

Top 10 Songs of Spring

Forget the Saharan sand and the air pollution, spring is here! It’s like summer’s support act – not quite the big deal, but not bad all the same. Most of the time, anyway. So, my music taste tends to change with the season; my horrorpunk has (for the most part) been set aside for darker times, and I’m ready to approach something fresher. Here’s a bunch of songs that are the perfect lead-in to happy spring days.

10) Against Me – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
I haven’t been able to stop listening to this record since January, but the eponymous track on Against Me!’s storming sixth album is the most fantastic wake-up call. Laura Jane Grace has got some heavy shit to tell us, and she’s going to do it in style.

9) Asian Kung-Fu Generation – Rewrite
This was the opening track to a season of FullMetal Alchemist, which I totally burned through during an Easter holiday back in high school. But it’s easy to see why songs like these get chosen to lead in a story that’s as much about adventuring as it is about kicking demonic ass – because they’re really, really catchy.

8) Blink 182 – Aliens Exist
Enema of the State. What an album. Blink 182 usually makes it onto my summer playlists rather than my spring, but ‘Aliens Exist’ has just a touch of desolate paranoia that I can’t help but adore. Also, the Tom, Mark and Travis Show version is beyond perfect.

7) Eisley – Drink The Water
It’s impossible to listen to an Eisley album without falling into some state of perfect bliss. Every track is beautiful, and ‘Drink The Water’ from Currents is no exception. All of their songs are like fairy tales, and if you’ve never tuned in before, go right ahead and be amazed.

6) Fall Out Boy – Just One Yesterday
Save Rock And Roll is full of great vocal lines, but this song takes the chocolate-smothered cake with cherry on top. The guest vocals from Foxes are just sublime. Roll down the windows and belt it out down country roads for maximum effect.

5) Fidlar – West Coast
Surf-punk is one of my favourite things in existence, and by extension, Fidlar are pretty high up on that list. ‘West Coast’ is a massive song, totally singable and Henry Rollins makes a cheeky appearance in the video for no apparent reason.

4) Kevin Devine – Just Stay
Possibly my favourite Kevin Devine song, ‘Just Stay’ is a beautiful mix of country sensibilities and second-wave emo feelings. Simultaneously uplifting and crushing, just like spring tends to be with sunshine and showers.

3) Northstar – Like AM Radio
Who doesn’t love a bit of 2004 emo from Alabama that sounds like it should have come out of Long Island? I don’t know anyone, that’s for sure. Pollyanna is still a great record, and ‘Like AM Radio’ is its crowning jewel.

2) Allison Weiss – One Way Love
Allison Weiss is 100% adorable, 100% awesome and one hell of a talented songwriter. And I think that’s all I need to say: listen to the track and discover for yourself.

1) Andrew McMahon – Synesthesia
Andrew’s solo tour last year was incredible, and so was The Pop Underground, his first solo EP. Jack’s Mannequin doesn’t really count. If you like soft synths, sweet piano and Andrew’s dulcet tones (who doesn’t?), then this record is a must.