Welcome to the latest edition of “Freeloader,” in which we review albums that you don’t have to feel like a douche for downloading for free. Today Satan Rosenbloom recognises the calibre of several bands from the United Kingdom with the honour of a review, free of pretence.

Black Sabbath. Iron Maiden. Venom. Napalm Death. Carcass. Cathedral. Name a heavy metal sub-genre, and chances are there’s a British band that pioneered it. So how do the heavy Englishmen of today shape up? Do let’s see, shall we then!

Hesper Payne – The Strange Tale of Samuel Gonzalez EP (Works of Ein)
I lauded Hesper Payne’s last full-length, Unclean Rituals, in a previous edition of Freeloader. My ardor for the Newcastle upon Tyne psychedelic doom band burns undiminished on this follow-up EP. The band has changed next to nothing about its queasily heavy sound, and that’s all for the better – it’s not often that you encounter a band that balances superlative riffing with atmosphere as perfectly as Hesper Payne do here. It’s the atmosphere that makes this band unique, a smeary bog of dissonance and humid keyboard fogs and all manner of groans and grunts, through which guitarist/vocalist Brooke Johnson hurls massive slabs of stone every which way. So many doom bands paint in industrial greys and blacks. Hesper Payne’s palette is far earthier, more naturalistic, streaked in dirt brown and moss green and dried blood red.

The backdrop to “Ospreys Jar” constantly morphs in concert with its riffs, which veer from “Where the Slime Live” elephantine to Cathedral-esque lysergic, but remain supremely heavy throughout. The two longer songs are the true tests of Hesper Payne’s approach, and the band shines when its dynamic doom has the chance to air out. Johnson’s lyrics are something special too, far more narrative-driven than most metal lyrics. In the title track, Hesper Payne narrate the tale of a curious young chap who follows the path of his Panamanian uncle into a mysterious Northern England cove, where an ancient race of Pangaean creatures shows him things he does not wish to see. Consider it Hesper Payne’s equivalent of Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” except there’s no glory offered to God in the end, just this ominous pronouncement: “What happened in the darkness / Will never bear witness / Seeking treasure in knowledge / Only led them to their doom.” The band doesn’t just tell us that. They let us feel it ourselves.

(4 out of 5 horns up)

Name your price for The Strange Tale of Samuel Gonzalez EP here.

Jaldaboath – Hark the Herald EP (Death to Music)
Of all the bands that James Fogarty has been a part of – Meads of Asphodel, Ewigkeit, Old Forest, Bombs of Enduring Freedom – Jaldaboath may just be the quirkiest. The band’s 2008 debut EP Hark the Herald, reissued in digital form in 2011 by Fogarty’s anti-label Death to Music, is a total delight. The jaunty flagon-swinging metal of bands like Alestorm and Korpiklaani is often yuk-inducing for its silly grandiosity and nothing else. Jaldaboath’s major-key modes and medieval flute/trumpet lines (all synthetic, natch) offer plenty to smile about, but the lo-fi home recording keeps it refreshingly under-the-top. We’re peering straight into the ancient English mythology-obsessed brain of Mr. Fogarty and Co., with no filters or production niceties getting in the way between Jaldaboath and our enjoyment of their “Teutonic Templar Thrash.” If it’s not exactly the Holy Grail of heavy folk music, Hark the Herald at least helps restore the good name of glory metal.

(3.5 out of 5 horns up)

Download Hark the Herald here.

Red Seas Fire – Red Seas Fire (self-released)
Isn’t it amazing to think that an entire subgenre of heavy metal could be born of a single rhythm style? Granted, Meshuggah’s spasming morse code stutter may be the only thing that all djent bands have in common. But Periphery, TesseracT, Chimp Spanner and Animals As Leaders tend to get lumped together all the same, ready to be embraced or dismissed in toto. UK five-piece Red Seas Fire will do nothing to dissuade djent proponents or haters from their respective positions, as the band’s approach is fairly canonical – bend space/time with jittery seven-string stuff and accompanying growls, splice in some seraphic singing, add electronic frippery for atmosphere, keep the production clear and crisp, wash, rinse, repeat.

Lead guitarist/producer Adam “Nolly” Getgood is an absolute beast of a musician, and a tasteful shredder (no surprise that he’s been a touring guitarist and bassist for Periphery). Scattered around Red Seas Fire’s eponymous debut are moments of headbanging bliss – “Timeframes,” especially, is packed with riffs destined for djent Valhalla. And yet these compositions are so fluid that they’re nearly frictionless. The reason Meshuggah towers above its minions isn’t just because it’s a better band. It’s because there’s a palpable sense of danger in Meshuggah’s music, something that’s lacking here. From the standpoints of talent and versatility and production quality, Red Seas Fire reach most of the high bars set by the exemplars of the djent subgenre. But the band could use an infusion of balls, some of that cold, brutish intensity that you’d think would be a natural byproduct of its robot-fucking rhythm style.

(2.5 out of 5 horns up)

Download Red Seas Fire here.

XII Boar – Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof (self-released)
Considering how instrumental British rock bands like the Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zeppelin were in introducing America to its own blues tradition, it’s no surprise that a UK band like Hampshire’s XII Boar should be so good at hard-grooving, southern-fried, electric pentatonia as they are on their Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof EP. The release sounds like it crawled straight out of the Louisiana swamp, dried mud and bad attitude intact. Rollicking numbers “Smokin’ Bones” and “Slamhound” are solid slabs of biker metal, featuring as many “licks” as they do riffs and offering up sassy boogie throughout. But while XII Boar can do spitfire stoner metal with the best of ‘em, they really set themselves apart when they’ve got the time to let that rolling stone gather some moss. The six-minute “Hellspeed Viper” races between High on Fire steamrolling and bottom-heavy doom, with guitarist Tommy Hardrocks’s leads spitting grease and prog fireworks; “Triclops” recalls recent Red Fang by excavating deep, soulful hooks from underneath mounds of dirt. XII Boar swing hard and knock it out of the park here. Producer Adam Pollard deserves special mention for recording the whole thing with sterling clarity without sacrificing an ounce of grit.

(4 out of 5 horns up)

Name your price for Split Tongue, Cloven Hoof here.


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