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As we once again entertain the televisual feast based around the annual desire of the great British public to discover an automaton, a voice to trot out insipid ballads and musically bereft, vacuous songs at the behest of the X Factor, it’s with relief in my heart, I’m offered a collection of albums this month, the antithesis of such aural flotsam. 

The Band of Holy Joy – How to Kill A Butterfly – [Released October 28th]

Over the years, Britain has produced a legion of musical eccentrics, men and women unprepared to bow and scrape to tradition, instead, preferring to voice their thoughts, anguishes, loves and inner feelings through off kilter and on occasions disturbing compositions. Once such man is Johny Brown, who left Newcastle, made the journey down the A1 to London, forming a devilishly dark, folk based outfit named The Band of Holy Joy back in 1984.  The last twenty seven years haven’t been easy, strife within the ranks almost pre-requisite, leading to a number of line up changes, although we find in 2011, original drummer William. J. Lewington rejoining at a time TBOHJ chooses to produce some of their finest material.  “How to Kill A Buttefly” proves a challenging album on a number of fronts, subject matters could be described as contentious and certainly the lyrical aspects are on occasions disconcerting, although always compelling and frequently profound. Within “The Repentant” amongst the message of a potentially dying planet, Brown’s almost ghoulishly spoken conveyance proclaims “I stagger to the centre of town, scratching..... scratching.....scratching........scraping my balls, trying to get to the bowels that are filled to the brim  with the abominations of filth, ” outlining this an album not for the faint of heart.

Although a traditionally Northern English aspect pervades, conversely, Brown’s delivery invokes memories from above the Border and another true individualist, Alex Harvey, similar passion and intensity within his vocals especially apparent on opening track “Go Break the Ice.” It’s not however Brown alone who stimulates the listener’s attention, the band provides haunting, atmospheric backing, adding to the unconventional aura around this collection.  Closing track “A Clear Night, A Shooting Star, A Song for Boo” proves the defining moment, a song eschewing the virtues of a more natural life without electronic gadgetry as Brown’s voice induces near trance like obedience, finding myself deeply ensconced, fully accepting of his naturalist vision, looking for the nearest river or pond in which to immerse myself. I could perhaps argue subject matter relating to environmental issues clashes perversely with the Lepidopteral murder within the album title and especially the collection brought to light from “The Observers Book of Birds Eggs” although in this instance, to argue against the mind of a seven year old child may appear slightly churlish and hopefully education ultimately won out. Music requires the Johny Brown’s of this world, non conformists to progress and expand their and our minds or we find ourselves adhering to the mainstream blueprint. God forbid that ever becomes the case.

Exit Ten – Give Me Infinity

Everything about the 2nd album from Reading based outfit Exit Ten is massive.  Massive riffs, massive rhythms and in Ryan Redman, gargantuan vocals.  A change in direction since 2008’s debut, “Remember the Day” Exit Ten aiming straight for the arenas, with a sound designed specifically for that purpose. In the grand scheme of things, Arena Rock is something which would have me quickly hitting the skip button, although in this instance there’s something particularly enamouring about Give Me Infinity. Epic on a major scale, utilising the loud, quiet and quiet, loud ploy to great effect, more drops in fifty two minutes than apparent during parachute training day at the local airfield.  On the majority of occasions, Exit Ten hit the rock epicentre absolutely spot on, “Curtain Call’s” monster riffage with atmospheric keyboards and formidable drumming adding sonic density, the perfect backdrop for Redman’s impressively powerful voice.  “Drama” another perfect paradigm, snaking intro and rhythm guitar before the immense chorus, Redman given full rein to vocally detonate.  In true stadium fashion, a more subtle and softer approach transcends within “Eye’s Never Lie” providing that lighter and mobile phone in the air moment, occasions at gigs where a tear rolling down the cheek is brushed away by numerous males, explaining to their partners, dust must have somehow entered the eye.

Not quite everything works, “Lion” proves slightly tedious and lyrically banal, “You will see the lion in me,” a more than slightly familiar analogy. In general however, “Give Me Infinity” proves a particularly fine example of how stirring and lavish rock can sound when structured correctly, played and sung with true fire, passion and gusto. If anything, just the band name lacking in similar grandeur.

Not Above Evil – The Transcendental Signified

In the world of Manchester metal, Not Above Evil prove the most punishing and therefore least accessible of the current cornucopia of bands from the city, certainly not the initial route for a genre novice to walk.  Stumbling across opening track “Crossroads” could only create confusion and disorientation, the death rasp of Sideeq Mohammed accompanied by ever changing tempos driven via the guitars of David Gwynn and Damien Levette underpinned by Daniel Mucs machine gun drums requires a proficient understanding of the intricacies and nuances. If comparing rock and metal to classical music, Exit Ten would be the more melodic uplifting compositions of Handl, whilst Not Above Evil a modernist view, exemplified by Gorecki. 

Anyone prepared to extend a toe for an initial dip into the shadowy waters, “Nexus” the most straightforward, traditional song structure.  Behind Mohammed’s purgatorial delivery, we uncover a more melodious aspect to the four piece incorporating an uplifting, almost euphoric intro and accompanying clear-cut rhythms, less apparent in the other seven compositions. For those with inherent appreciation however, once again Manchester produces a Death Metal collection worthy of the highest esteem, complexities highlighting musicians prepared to push and extend themselves to the limits.  Elaborate riffs and patterns, enhanced by blistering solos, provide perfect accompaniment to debut album “Deification” emphasising Not Above Evil’s position in the high echelons of U.K or even the worlds metal acts.

 dEUS – Keep You Close

Although vocalist and lyricist Tom Barman from Antwerp’s dEUS suggests new album “Keep You Close” shies away from their previous “Very loud, in your face sound,” elements contained within this collection are definitively upfront, demanding attention.  Whilst perhaps not epic on the scale of Exit Ten, we immediately discover a grandiose aspect to the music of dEUS, the title tracks use of strings, echoing the soundtrack work of John Barry.  The tracks here were given extensive road tests prior to recording and further cultivated through live rehearsals.  That approach completely apparent throughout, and although “Dark Set’s In” or “Twice elaborate further on the lavish inherent nature, the production never becomes overtly polished or distracting.   An excellent lesson in less is more, which many bands would benefit from heeding. 

Apart from the superficial “The End of Romance” inclusive of exasperating spoken word delivery, Deus with “Keep You Close” provide an albums worth of indie rock, far more palatable and endearing than many more recognisable names recent tortuous musings……Kasabian, take note.

Flashguns – Passions of a Different Kind

 Speaking of Indie Rock, I’ve been anticipating the arrival of the debut album from Flashguns, ever since I heard “Racing Race” earlier this year, a brilliantly minimalist, opaque piece of work, fronted by the wonderfully fragile vocal of Sam Felix Johnston which builds and builds before slipping away to a compassionate conclusion. Undoubtedly one of my tracks of 2011.  “Passions of a Different Kind” opens however in completely different and more blatant style, “Sounds of the Forest” merging feedback and vast riff into an intro which proceeds a rollicking and twisted, distortion filled song, seemingly at odds with Johnston’s voice, although ultimately providing the perfect accompaniment.  Unfortunately, what lies between these two pieces of virtuosity is less interesting as we enter more lacklustre Indie territory, even when the distortion pedal is again floored during “No Point Hanging Around.". “Passions of a Different Kind” is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, completely listenable and enjoyable. As a whole however, not providing enough of the defining factors, which surround the staggering heights of “Racing Race” and “Sounds of the Forest” to provide Flashguns with a luminosity and incandescence to shine brighter than many within the overpopulated genus of Indie.

The Cubicle -   It Ain’t Human  - [Released November 7th]

Liverpool has a developed a regular habit of throwing up dirty, raw and ultimately breath taking bands who incorporate the sound of psychedelic blues.  The Loud a recent example and delve back to debut albums from both The Zutons or The Coral, a similar vein initially mined  by the now more mainstream Scouse outfits. Second full length outing from The Cubicle, “It Ain’t Human” also takes a lead from the blues, adds a further sprinkling of real, not manufactured, R “n” B before tossing a completely current constituent into the mix, producing a dynamically, delectable eleven tracks of primeval proportions and while the influences of amongst others, Don Van Vliet or Tom Waits are apparent, they never overtake.  From the opening bars of “Dirty Shame” or second track “Rag Time Army” (an ode to the band themselves?), The Cubicle’s music resonates through your mind and body, Alex Gavaghan’s pealing guitar and Craig Bell’s brooding bass lines especially, add the eddying Hammond organ or a plaintive piano and knotty rhythms, enough aural food is offered to fulfil the most voracious of hungers. Conversely, a more gentle, humane approach infuses within “Falling Down,” and “Paper Walls” or even more predominantly “Are We Just Lovers,” Dan Wilson elongating the heartstrings elasticity almost to the point of no return, his hankering, quavering vocal, close to breaking, questioning raptly “Are we just lovers now, are we not friends, are we just lovers now, til the bitter end.”       

Now I’ve never seen The Cubicle play live, but listening to “It Ain’t Human” suggests this to be the ultimate platform to experience their bounteous talents.  I’m totally convinced of a spectacle, the gruff, growling nature of Dan Wilson’s vocal raises the image of a blood thirsty, carnivorous predator prowling the stage searching for carrion, rather than a shy retiring herbivore, anchored shyly to a mike stand. Very much analogous to The Band of Holy Joy, we need to embrace The Cubicle as that most British of institutions, a startlingly great band, with more than a hint of the foible about them, for which we should be eternally grateful.

To download any of the above albums, do not under any circumstances undertake the pointless exercise of visiting    

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