HardReviews 3
by Martin Popoff

Fatal Smile - Neo Natural Freaks

Hard to believe it's been four years since this hugely under-rated Swedish act's killer Beyond Reality album, but in that light, it's no surprise the band's sound has changed a fair dose. Neo Natural Freaks is a dirtier, more layered, louder, and less traditionally heavy metal album. Down-tuned riffery is more to the fore, making these similarly bluesy and still superlative songs sound heavier across the board than the nimble constructs on the classic debut. Lead single Learn-Love-Hate is a good example of this, and also an example of how vocalist H.B. Anderson has raised what was already a high-flying game: this guy's got a big, southerny voice, great enunciation, a croon and a growl and a presence of a smashmouth rock star. Locomotive Breath and Jorn are worthy touchstones to the gulden metal he and the band produce (and maybe even Candlemass, come Quiet Chaos). If the record starts a bit on the unwieldy, slow side, things pick up for Practise What You Preach and personal fave Dead Man Walking, on which Y's molten guitar tone carries the jagged day with pride. Again, friggin' Anderson does a bloody cool Jorn Lande, throwing in a vibrato and some Ian Astbury vibes. The album closes with a huge sledge of a song in 11th Hour, which rocks heroically at a number of speeds, all the while Y. underscoring the new, low-down and meaner direction of the band with Neanderthal chords stacked just right. It's an epic not of epic length, and a fourth or fifth on the album that finds a hugely memorable chorus trumping what was already a remarkable verse. Bloody cool, all told - I mean, I'd never call this a power metal album, but weirdly, it plays out that way, these songs sounding like the sludgier slower things you would find on a good power metal album. Powered up nu-doom perhaps? I dunno... but what I do know is that Fatal Smile have proven themselves a professional and inspiring band worthy of a big US deal to go with their GMR situation back home.
Rating 8.5

The Ocean - Aeolian
(Metal Blade)

Like Opeth, Germany's The Ocean has twinned a mellower album with a massive mastiff of a rocker, Aeolian being the venomous uptake to '04's Fluxion. Aeolian reads like the accessible Six Feet Under of artcore, the band birthing cogent, logical metal nuggets that sound like slowed-down Meshuggah with a rich, full-bodied recording. All manner of hardcore luminary is touched upon but then efficiently dispensed with, including the likes of Dillinger, Mastodon, Isis, Cult Of Luna, (guest stains by Coalesce's Sean Ingram and Converge's Nate Newton reinforce the living in this oeuvre). But there's an anchoring as well, out of say Morgion and Mindrot/Eyes Of Fire and old metallic Neurosis. Meta's vocals are a great googly hoary roar from the North - he sounds like he means it, like he's pushing both air and ideas, unlike so many dry, wheezy - and frankly very easy to execute - death barks these days. Sure, the rhythms are both complicated and distracting, but usually they manage a groovy swirl, due to their mid-paced nature and again, the huge, boomy, warm production values. Painful, braying, bratty and scattered... these words often apply to so much flyoffthehandlecore bands, and the contrast of that pencil-armed bunch to this measured and thus leaden and rumbling approach clearly puts a band like The Ocean in a graver and greater grave.
Rating 8

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