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Posts Tagged ‘Anathema’

Time now for round 3 of Spinal Tapdance’s look to the regrettable past.  Apparently I have just as little pride as I have shame, but there you are.

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Morgion, Cloaked By Ages, Crowned In Earth (2004)

Real shame about Morgion's split, actually

After a five-year hiatus, Morgion returns with the latest chapter of their highly atmospheric melodic doom mélange.  Cloaked By Ages… is a relatively more reserved affair than 1999’s Solinari, and as such, it never quite reaches the same visceral heft that made Solinari such a satisfying record.  However, what Cloaked By Ages… sacrifices in heaviness, it more than makes up for in subtlety and atmosphere.  This is not to say, of course, that Morgion has gone soft, for there are plenty of moments of that glorious doomy crawl punctuated by some truly deathly vocals.

Rather, on Cloaked By Ages… it is clear that the heaviness is no longer what characterizes the band, and that it is instead just one of the moods they are apt to utilize from their ever-broadening stylistic palette.  Nowhere are these tendencies more clear than on the album’s brilliant opening combination of “A Slow Succumbing” and “Ebb Tide (Parts I & II).”  Throughout the course of these two tracks, Morgion runs the gamut from morose twin guitar harmonics reminiscent of My Dying Bride, to positively plodding doom melodies, to soaring clean vocals, to passages of gentle atmosphere, highlighted by gentle acoustic guitars and other organic sounds.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album tends to tread too-similar ground, and as a result, the album’s latter half is much less memorable.  On “Cairn,” however, Morgion manages to effectively but not blatantly mime Judgement-era Anathema.  Though the album ends up sounding awfully similar throughout, these American doomsters (though you wouldn’t know it by listening – they’ve clearly steeped themselves in British doom) have nevertheless fashioned a thoroughly contemplative album.  If you’re looking to be transported to a sun-soaked clearing in a deep, dark forest, throw on a pair of headphones and let Morgion take you away – you just might find it blissful.

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Probably not as painful to read as that Cradle Of Filth review, and unlike with that one, I still stand by my impression of this (sadly final) album from Morgion.  Ah well.  We may be done with the past, but etc, etc.

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So, although Spinal Tapdance’s Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010 will post in three installments over the next few weeks (in addition to the Top 20 also appearing at MetalReview), this was such an excellent year for heavy metal that I just couldn’t bear calling it quits at 30.  So, perhaps to whet your appetite for the Real, Official Top 30, I present Spinal Tapdance’s 25-album strong Honorable Mentions list.  This list is only somewhat loosely organized, and in lieu of the traditional straight description of why the album smokes one’s face off, I will instead be penning a haiku for each contender.

The astonishing caliber of heavy metal represented on this list should be some indication of the strength of this year’s output, so read on, and take heart – there’s more yet to come!
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1.  Alcest, Écailles de Lune


Shoegaze and jangly
black metal is so soothing;
why am I crying?

2.  Horseback, The Invisible Mountain

Slow songs, long songs; songs
ride one groove forever, but
are fucking awesome.

3.  God Dethroned, Under the Sign of the Iron Cross

Faster than last one,
less epic but still rad, Re:
War to end all Wars.

4.  Early Graves, Goner

Fast, short, furious
grinding madness breaks your face –
Hail, fallen comrade.

5.  Ehnahre, Taming the Cannibals

Alien noise and
modem vocals make this one
venomous and odd.

6.  Black Anvil, Triumvirate

No nonsense metal
that gives no shit ’bout genres;
bang your goddamn head.

7.  The Howling Wind, Into the Cryosphere

Ex-Thralldom guru
makes a grim ascent to the
ceiling of the world.

8.  Weapon, From the Devil’s Tomb

So many riffs, so
little time to catch my breath
from so many riffs.

9.  The Secret, Solve et Coagula

Grind and black and doom
and ambient noise from the
most boot-like nation.

10.  Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere

Epic black metal
by nationalists, but hey!,
they are from England.

11.  Salome, Terminal

“Let’s play some slow riffs,
then put a tiny demon
on the mic – shit yeah!”

12.  Kylesa, Spiral Shadow


“Hey, ‘member the 90s?”
“Fuck you, this is still metal.”
“‘kay, let’s jam some more!”

13.  Electric Wizard, Black Masses

Like that time you got
stoned and joined a cult but then
fucked and played some doom.

14.  Celestiial, Where Life Springs Eternal

Funeral doom is
more like ambient when it’s
this fuzzed, nature-y.

15.  Vasaeleth, Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin

You like death metal,
right? So, go live in a swamp
and kick ass at it.

16.  Aborym, Psychogrotesque

Classy shit, even
though the cover art is the
worst thing ever, yo.

17.  Sailors with Wax Wings, Sailors with Wax Wings

Pyramids dude, how
did you get these sweet people
to jam with your band?

18.  In Lingua Mortua, Salon des Refuses

Jittery and black
and smooth (with sax); better than
Vulture Industries.

19.  Cough, Ritual Abuse

A better ‘lectric
Wizard album than ‘lectric
Wizard did for years.

20.  Twilight, Monument to Time End

Call this the Atlas
Leviathan, if you want –
texture, ‘pocalypse.

21.  Coffinworm, When All Become None

Such a mean-sounding
band, but in all the right ways
(not a vagina).

22.  Anathema, We’re Here Because We’re Here


Twinkly emo songs,
or the truest sad music
your dumb ears can take?

23.  Father Befouled, Morbid Destitution of Covenant

Incantation, plus
Immolation, plus choirs and
other shit is boss.

24.  Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty

Make death/grind, add your
own sound effects, then try to
keep count: you will fail.

25.  Void of Silence, Grave of Civilization


Dude from Axis Of
Perdition sings like Roman
God; plus, epic doom.

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Stay tuned for more end-of-year coverage from your pal here at Spinal Tapdance.  Cheers!

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The Dead, Ritual Executions (2010)

Claustrophobic avant-sludge doom/death with jaunts into funk? Yes, please.

Australia’s The Dead self-released their sophomore album Ritual Executions last year.  2010, however, sees them freshly signed to India’s newly-launched Diabolical Conquest Records, with Ritual Executions getting a remastering job, updated artwork, and seeing a proper label release.  A murky hybrid and death metal and doom is the order of business for this Australian trio, but we’re not talking the doom/death of early Peaceville mopesters Anathema, Katatonia, Paradise Lost et al; instead, this is more like the dank, doomy, crypt-like death metal of early Incantation, or the quicker moments of legendary gut-wrenchers Disembowelment (though, in all fairness, if Incantation worship is your cup of righteous tea, the new Father Befouled album out on Relapse ought to be destination one).

The album starts off with a slow dirge of a song in “Burn Your Dead,” with a pleasantly thick, skull-rattling bass tone on the arpeggio riffs.  Vocalist Mike Yee demonstrates some abominably deep, guttural death tones, which are mixed in such a way as not to overpower the music, but still somewhat higher in the mix than many similarly-pitched vocalists, in a manner which verges on the comprehensible.  The closing sections of “Burn Your Dead” utilize an effective rhythmic compositional style to drone out with – a measure of 4/4 time followed by a measure of 3/4 time.  It’s a fairly simple tool, but it demonstrates that some deliberate thought has gone into the crafting of these tomes of death.

If you’ve picked up on that, though, later track “Centurian” is a bit of a let-down, since it, too, boasts that same meter (though in a somewhat more straight-forward 7/4 attack) for pretty much its entire duration.  The vocals also become somewhat monotonous as the album wears on, although not so much that they detract terribly from the masterful display of grooving, doom-tinged death metal.

The production isn’t quite gritty or fuzzed-out enough to push this album into sludge territory, but some of the songwriting veers in the direction of booze-drenched misanthropy.  There are a few frustrating quirks to the drum production, though.  The hi-hat has got a weird buzz to it, and the kick drum could stand to be mixed a little higher.  Still, it’s not overly clean, and although it rings somewhat hollow, the drum production still sounds like a real person pounding away on a real kit.

The album works effectively as a whole because of the band’s strong compositional skills, and the smart sequencing of tracks to alternate between trudging epics and more in-your-face, aggressive death metal blasts.  Some of the quicker tunes like “Cannibal Abattoir” show a very sprightly, almost jittery style of drumming (particularly in the snare drum work), which is occasionally reminiscent of a slightly less-busy Brann Dailor from Mastodon’s early work (think Remission or even Lifesblood).  I’m also not sure if it’s just because I’ve been listening to too much Kylesa lately, but I swear that some of these faster moments have a similar psychedelic feeling in the riffing.  At any rate, if the prospect of this type of doomy, well-composed death metal with non-obtrusive psychedelic touches gets your blackened heart all a-flutter, then you would do well to check this album out.

The funk drumming breaks in “Born In a Grave” are a bit jarring, but ultimately provide an interesting contrast to the more standard death metal signifiers used throughout.  The latter sections of this song, however, have some great, cavernous echoing effects to match the atmosphere of patient, plodding doom, and actually turn this track into one of the album’s highlights.  The build-up and eventual release around the five-minute mark (“BOOOOOORRRRRN…IN A GRAAAAVE”) is absolutely fantastic, and leads me into a near-apoplectic fit of wanting to smash furiously anything within reach.  Hide the china.

Other excellent moments include the groovy riff and breakdown around 1:30 into the title track, which is seriously crushing.  Think of the bulldozing momentum of Bolt Thrower or Asphyx, and you’re well on your way to grasping the effect of concrete slabs dropped repeatedly on your head.  The closing track “Death Metal Suicide” is a quite interesting change of pace, offering up another set of pretty funky grooves, especially in the drumming.  Whatever else you may think of it, it’s an extremely bold choice, playing a ten-minute long, funk-influenced instrumental jam to close out one’s album in a genre as frequently myopic and orthodox as death metal.

Some of the more avant-garde moments on this disc recall queasy death metal savants Gorguts (circa Obscura, primarily) and Portal, the latter of which may be more than a coincidence, as Ritual Executions was remastered by Aphotic, one of the guitarists from Portal.  The Dead don’t ever quite reach the same level of otherness (or what-the-fuck-ness) as either of the aforementioned bands, but it’s clear that they are drinking some of the same fetid water.

In general, the mélange of styles offered on this record ends up meshing rather well into a unique death metal whole.  Fans of the already-mentioned unsettled death metal acts Portal and Gorguts may find much to enjoy here, as will fans of the more strictly deathly side of doom/death metal.  One of the primary references which continues lurching into mind is Lasse Pyykkö (of Profound Lore’s Hooded Menace, as well as Phlegethon, Vacant Coffin, Claws, etc.), fans of whose should flock to this Australian cult with morbid glee.  Diabolical Conquest Records have found themselves a real winner of an album here, and I will be eagerly following future releases from this grimly determined band.  If Tom G. Warrior is to be believed, and only death is real, then get yourself a copy of Ritual Executions for a sledgehammer dose of heavy fucking metal reality.

Overall rating: 80%.  “BOOOOOOORRRRN…IN A GRAAAAAVE!!!”  Doesn’t get much better than that, friends.

More information on Diabolical Conquest Records is available at their website, where you can also order a copy of Ritual Executions.

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Anneke van Giersbergen & Danny Cavanagh, In Parallel (2010)

Ceremony of (Non)Opposites

The operative word here is warmth.  This 2010 release presents recordings from two small (and quite intimate sounding) shows played in the Netherlands in early 2009 by Anneke van Giersbergen (of Agua de Annique, and ex- of The Gathering) and Danny Cavanagh (Anathema).  The sound is clean, simple, and yes, warm, as the two singers trade off singing songs from their separate concerns, as well as a handful of well-selected covers.

The instrumentation throughout is primarily acoustic guitar (with both Cavanagh and van Giersbergen playing), with Cavanagh’s occasional piano accompaniment.  Followers of either of these two singers’ bands know well enough that these folks have been circling the world of Metal with only the widest of orbits in recent years, but that’s not really the point.  Metal is a wide church, and these two friends are among the most golden-voiced ever to have graced its quietest rectories.

The sheer pleasure of listening to this album is not in the revelation of any hitherto-unexplored realm of sound and expression; this album proceeds so winningly because of its striking comfort and familiarity.  Some might argue that such conventional attributes are antithetical to the project of heavy metal, but then again, one can only listen to so much powerviolence or harsh noise before retreating to sunnier climes.  Which is to say, certainly every Skullflower fan could use a little Sonata Arctica in their life from time to time.

Most of the songs sung by van Giersbergen are from her Agua de Annique project, although The Gathering’s “You Learn About It” (from 2003’s Souvenirs) gets a stirring reading.  The set also opens with a delightful version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” and later features van Giersbergen leading a beautiful rendition of Damien Rice’s great song “The Blower’s Daughter.”

This latter track is one of the most interesting here, because van Giersbergen sings the male lead, with Cavanagh joining in to harmonize where Rice’s version adds female vocals.  I have a sense that a bit more playing around with ‘who sings what’ could have yielded extremely pleasant results – van Giersbergen singing Anathema’s “Are You There?”, for example, or Cavanagh singing Agua de Annique’s “Day After Yesterday” – but this borders on churlish quibbling.

The Anathema songs are primarily taken from A Natural Disaster, with only “One Last Goodbye” digging (slightly) deeper into their past.  One small disappointment, then, is that there is essentially 100% overlap between what Cavanagh plays here, and Anathema’s 2008 acoustic release, Hindsight.  Still, these are powerful songs, and they lose very little when featuring just guitar and voice.  “Flying” is particularly notable for what sounds like Cavanagh accompanying himself with a delay pedal.  It’s tough to pick out exactly what’s going on, but towards the end, I can hear three, or maybe four separate guitar lines winding round and round themselves.

My only complaint (well, I suppose it’s really more of a suggestion) is that with these two fantastic singers playing together, I feel like they could have actually sung together a bit more frequently.  When they do harmonize with one another (as on “The Blower’s Daughter” or Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”), the timbres of their voices work sweet magic, and thus feels rather underutilized.

In sum, this record is a real treat for fans of either singer, and an especial treat for those (such as myself) who are fans of both.  Don’t expect anything earth-shattering here, though, as this really does play like good friends getting together to run through songs whose memory is imprinted in the callus of the finger, and the familiar vibration of a particular note.

This album, I will say again, is above all else warm: this album is a broken-in leather arm chair in a hearth-lit study; it is a glass of ruby red wine; it is a walk along the river with old friends, where the words and meanings are only figural, gestures at an unspoken bond.

Overall rating: 80%.  Old friends / Sat on their park bench like bookends…
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In Parallel is out now on Aftermath Music.  Find it here, or maybe somewhere else.

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Nostalgia is a funny thing.

Whether we understand it as a fetishization of the past, or a wistful historicization of one’s own present, there is no denying the ability of our brains to gather up disparate circumstances and stray thoughts into these gauzy-edged bundles of nostalgia.  I think this might be part of the reason why one of our reactions to nostalgia is always some form of embarrassment; nostalgia represents one of those many mental states which escape the realm of our mastery.

Nostalgia, in some ungraspable way, targets us at precisely those points of our character which our pride and self-consciousness have worked so assiduously to protect.  You might even say that nostalgia is the anti-irony, or at least that which destroys irony’s pretense to humorous detachment.

Thus, I don’t expect that one need be a devoted Proustian to recognize the ability of the smallest thing to send one off in transports of fond or fell recollection, and that this ability is both an asset and a ridiculous nuisance.  An asset, because it mythologizes our own lives and grants them a heightened significance through tactile memory; a nuisance, then, because of the way it taunts and reminds us of those good and glorious days, never again to return.

Anyway, the point of all of this maudlin rambling is really just to segue into something that I’ve been feeling somewhat nostalgic for recently; namely, the absolutely blind acquisition of new music.

It used to be – “back in the good old days,” of course – when I was starting to explore more types of music (my early teenage years being largely devoted to ), that every now and then I would be browsing through a record store (early on, more likely to be a Best Buy than anything more street-cred-worthy, but hey, I grew up in the suburbs, so cut me some slack) and would come across something completely random and unknown to me, and just buy it anyway.

Now, in all likelihood, I’m sure I had some sort of unformed estimated-guess-work cranking itself out in the back of my mind, but still, these were, for all intents and purpose, bands whose names were totally foreign to me, and whose music I had never encountered.  You can sort of picture me, then, as an awkward, teenaged version of the compulsive, inveterate gambler, clutching a palmful of sweaty tickets at the horse track, always more and more sure that the next one was the one, this next one will be the last one, the big one, the promised one.

Which is to say, I imagine that in some small way I became addicted to the thrill of discovering new and wonderful music, no matter the attendant risk of shelling out hard(-ish)-earned money on some total fucking bullshit (Papa Roach, I still haven’t forgiven you for coaxing me into buying that first record of yours…).

Here’s a brief list, then, of some of the more notable albums that I can remember purchasing with absolutely no prior knowledge of what fresh hell or new bliss was in store:

– Cradle of Filth, Bitter Suites to Succubi.  I know, I know; for most of the metal community out there, this is hardly something to crow about.  I can absolutely fucking guarantee, though, that every metalhead out there has a gateway band which, no matter how embarrassing your complete love affair over them may seem in retrospect, was still the band responsible for opening new vistas of musical possibility.  Cradle of Filth was that band for me* – they were the first extreme metal band I saw live, and this was on a tour where Nile opened for them (Black Seeds of Vengeance had just come out), which fostered a huge interest in death metal.

*Well, after Metallica, I guess, which played a similar role much earlier on, but I suspect Metallica played such a half-initiatory role for many kids, inasmuch as they received widespread radio play.  Metallica wasn’t quite the band to tip me into extreme metal, though, which probably has a lot to do with timing; by which I mean, basically, that getting into Metallica circa 1996 or so (as it was with me) is a hell of a lot different than getting into Metallica circa 1982.

– Anathema, Judgement.  I picked this one up, actually, at the same time as the Cradle of Filth record, which had just come out in Europe, where I was traveling at the time.  I’m pretty sure this was at some major chain-type place (HMV, maybe, but this was quite some time ago), and, though the fog of adolescent memory is not to be trusted, I’m fairly sure there was a whole Peaceville highlighting display endcap there, with all that great early 90s death/doom stuff, plus the At The Gates reissues that Peaceville was doing at the time.

– Godspeed You Black Emperor, Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.  Holy shit, was this one of those finds which just blew me the fuck away.  I’m pretty sure they just hooked me with the relatively simple cover art.

– Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, No More Shall We Part.  So, sure, it’s probably like the most emo-est of all the emo Nick Cave albums, but it completely rules, and I can’t believe I hadn’t listened to any Nick Cave before buying this record.

– Jimmy Eat World, Clarity.  Fuck you, this album rules.

– Dream Theater, Scenes from a Memory.  Can you say “game changer”?  I should probably confess that when I was considering buying this album (from my local Best Buy, I definitely remember), I had a pretty good hunch that this was a metal band.  At that point, though, I wasn’t quite canny enough to think of things like checking to see what record label had released an album (though since DT was on a major, I guess it wouldn’t have done much in this case).

– Opeth, Blackwater Park.  Again, based on the artwork, I had a slight inkling (but certainly a desperate hope) that this might be heavy metal, but really had no idea the total and utter ass-kicking that awaited.

– The Dresden Dolls, The Dresden Dolls.  At this point, I was getting a little more sophisticated, because I remember hearing that The Dresden Dolls were going on tour opening for Nine Inch Nails, and that their album was out on Roadrunner, which I knew, by that point, was a metal label.  Someone dogmatically looking for metal, however, would have obviously found him- or herself sorely disappoint with this punk cabaret act (who totally kick your ass and mine, and pretty much established all the right bona fides by covering Black Sabbath – “War Pigs” – and Fugazi – “Blueprint” – when I saw them live a few years back).

– Rosetta, The Galilean Satellites.  This is probably the most recent (and maybe one of the only in recent years) example of making a more or less blind purchase of an album.  The fact that this was pretty much a blind acquisition is corroborated by the fact that I didn’t discover until months later that these two discs were actually meant to be played simultaneously, rather than as one album of jammin’ post-whatever-metal and one album of static, weird ambient bits, and space noises.  I still kinda like it that way, though.

So, yeah, I’m guilty of being totally nostalgic and self-indulgent about this.  Finding these remarkable new (to me) artists was a fantastic thrill, which felt all the more personal and triumphant because there wasn’t really anyone to share the credit.  It was just me, stomping around a few places in the Twin Cities (that’s Minnesota, folks) with my palpitating heart and my pockets full of as much disposable income as I could come by, and then racing home, and breathlessly ripping through the packaging and putting it on the stereo and, I’m sure, muttering futile and fevered incantations that my time and money would not have been wasted.

The whole point is, this doesn’t happen any longer.  I’m sure there are a whole mess of factors influencing this.  I’m older, so I’ve just been listening to and reading about music for a lot longer by now.  I’ve basically taught myself a ton of the history of various genres, so I can understand how you get from Blue Cheer to Black Sabbath to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to Metallica and Megadeth to Morbid Angel to Emperor to Anaal Nathrakh, and on and on.  Apart from brand new bands, it’s pretty unlikely that I come across an act that I know absolutely nothing about, or at least can’t make a few educated guesses based on what country they’re from, what label they’re on, what their songs are called, and whatever else.

This points, obviously, to another major difference: the ubiquity of great reference sources on the internet.  I’m obviously not old enough to bullshit you with some story about “the time before the internet,” but I was going through this phase of adolescent music exploration in the mid-1990s, when painfully slow dial-up connections and, y’know, like GeoCities and shit were the currency of the day.  I probably could have found more information than I had at my disposal if I had really tried, but I just didn’t have the sheer breadth of information at my fingertips that I do today.

A corollary to that, then, is that the music industry itself is so massively saturated these days.  This is an old and tired refrain, I know, but what it essentially means is that, precisely because there is such a massive amount of information available, I am exceedingly unlikely to take a risk on buying up something about which I have literally heard nothing.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the prevalence of music downloading, which I don’t really want to get into; suffice it say, though, that when I started buying music on my own, you didn’t really have the ability (or, at least, I didn’t have the technological sophistication) to download an album wholesale to see if you might like it.  It seems likely that no one accustomed to the instant gratification world of downloading can ever really have that same thrill, that moment of anticipation where you wait for the music to peal out of your speakers, tolling out the worthiness of your instincts.

I’m sure there are a number of other factors contributing to this nostalgia, but the bottom line is, I’m pretty bummed out that I will probably never feel that same way about going out to purchase new music.  I suppose I could try to artificially recreate some of those earlier circumstances, but that, I fear, is the great lure of nostalgia, and the only reward for which can be nostalgia’s poisonous doppelganger, disappointment.

I’m embarrassed now, not just by the sheer joy I remember experiencing, but also by how much I miss that feeling; and also, moreover, by the pure, unadulterated consumerism into which I wholeheartedly threw my adolescent self, and am now eulogizing like some herald of a great extinction.

I guess if there’s anything useful to be gained from dwelling on nostalgia, it’s that no matter how mortifyingly embarrassing your current self may find aspects of your former self, there’s no getting to the one without going through the other.

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Alright, you heartless metal bastards, this morning I’m asking you to please take five minutes out of your otherwise busy schedule of chortling at this here ridiculously awkward photo op (courtesy of MetalSucks) from thrash’s Big Four or suffering quick-onset carpal tunnel from trying to learn your favorite Necrophagist tune to watch this live video of England’s own Anathema performing the magnificent song “Everything” from their latest album, the long-awaited (and much-delayed) We’re Here Because We’re Here:

If you’ve got even the littlest sliver of a soul, I expect after you’ve finished dabbing your eyes that you’ll march straight off to order your very own copy of this wonderfully emotive record.  I expect I’ll have a right proper review of the album posted here eventually, but suffice it to say, it’s fucking epic and completely beautiful.  How’s about a US tour one of these days, lads (and lady)?

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