In the fourth instalment of my ‘Unknown & Underrated’ series, I look at three very different bands, covering a wide range of genres. It is arguable that these bands are less unknown or underrated than others within the series but, from my perspective as a metal head in the UK, they are still in need of a lot more attention that they currently enjoy.
Moonspell – Irreligious
It depends where in the world you live as to whether Moonspell are considered ‘underrated’ or underground. In the UK, Moonspell are definitely in need of some more exposure and more love, hence their entry into this blog post.
This album was released in 1996 and has been in my collection for the vast majority of that time. On one of my early trips to MetalHeadz in Camden, I took a punt on a live compilation CD entitled ‘Out Of The Dark’ (check this out too by the way!). On that disc were two live tracks from a variety of artists including Sentenced, Rotting Christ, The Gathering and Moonspell. I have since taken most of these bands to my heart and based on the content of this disc, I was keen to get some Moonspell in my life. A trip to the flagship HMV store on Oxford Street provided me with the opportunity to purchase ‘Irreligious’ which drew my attention thanks to a rich and vibrant front cover.
Almost every single track on this disc is a Gothic metal anthem in my opinion. ‘Opium’ kicks things off in fine upbeat style, but then it never lets up, with ‘Awake’, ‘For A Taste Of Eternity’ and several other brilliant tracks to enjoy. And the whole thing culminates in one of the biggest metal anthems that I own – the marvellous ‘Full Moon Madness’. So melodic and so decadent all at the same time, it always features in playlists made up of my favourite tracks.
The songs are drenched in synths which give the album its atmospheric, theatrical and Gothic edge. Some of the synth parts are subtle, some are not and, in spite of the fact that it could sound cheesy or overly pretentious I think it really works and wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, it is the overt grandiosity that draws me most to the record.
I love the way the guitars come and go, crushingly distorted and wailing when they do enter the fray. The melodies are memorable to the point of getting permanently burned into your psyche and the rhythm section is undeniably impressive. In fact, the drum sound is one of the most appealing factors for me as the tom fills in particular are so damn powerful.
The whole thing is topped off by the fabulously rich, low tones of Fernando Ribeiro. He has such a distinctive approach that moves from whispered spoken word, to gruff growling via a decadent melodic croon. The whole thing is brilliant and it still beggars belief how this band are not better known in the UK. This needs to change. Now.
Darkane – Expanding Senses
Darkane are a technical thrash metal band from Sweden with progressive and melodic death metal aspects to their sound. Their albums are all slightly different in their approach and it is 2002’s ‘Expanding Senses’ that strikes the biggest chord with me.
Theirs is not a name known massively in metal circles and I think that much of this is down to the fact that they got unfairly lumped in with their melodic death metal compatriots around the turn of the millennium. Whilst everyone was checking out the likes of In Flames and Soilwork et al, Darkane were being somewhat overlooked. It is a shame because there really isn’t that much in common with these bands. This is a thrash metal band first and foremost. They utilise gruff vocals and their songs feature melodic choruses but that does not make them a melodic death metal band.
‘Expanding Senses’ is, from start to finish, fantastic. It is a heavy and aggressive thrash beast with an intensity that is hard to beat. The riffing is razor sharp, the solos clinical and both are fast-paced in the main. Then there’s the musical and compositional technicality, which is often jaw-droppingly good. Believe it or not though, this is not their most technical album.
To help balance out the aggression and technicality, the Swedes have injected a great deal of dynamic groove and melody to proceedings. When the pace slows, it is either to introduce a great headbang-worthy riff or to open the song out into a melodic chorus. The choruses are further enhanced by the vocals which transform from aggressive and gruff to a cleaner and more accessible approach. These vocals really make the choruses soar, many of which send a shiver down my spine, no matter how many times I listen to them.
This is a band that, if given a listen, is likely to appeal to a large number of metal heads. Thrash fans should love it, as should those who lap up a more intelligent brand of metal. And, somewhat ironically, there is certainly enough in the compositions to entice fans of melodic death metal as well. Hell, I discovered Darkane whilst exploring the likes of Soilwork and Dark Tranquillity and it was one of the best discoveries I made. Forget what you think you know about Darkane and give them a go – the chances are, they’ll impress you.
Fair To Midland – Arrows And Anchors
If challenging, eclectic, occasionally schizophrenic and melodic music is your thing, then you need to check out Texan quintet Fair To Midland. This band and this most recent album in particular was recommended to me by a couple of fans on Twitter and it proved to be a fantastic suggestion.
Normally, the description of modern alternative rock will not immediately attract me, but with Fair To Midland, it is different. Theirs is an undeniably modern brand of alternative rock but the whole thing feels different somehow – exciting, challenging and genuinely progressive. The core of the band is well-crafted and catchy rock but there is a welcoming quirkiness to the songs that keeps me coming back time and again for repeated listens. Including ambient, thrash, prog and straight-up metal elements, the album offers a heady and exhausting listening experience. Oh, and you can even add a bit of bluegrass and folk music to that list too. At their most bonkers, arguably on ‘Rikki Tikki Tavi’, there is a resemblance to the likes of System Of A Down thanks to the seamless blending of apparently disparate musical ideas.
What I like most is that however bizarre things get, it all comes back together through a magical vocal line or immediate melodic chorus. Take ‘Golden Parachutes’ or ‘Whiskey & Ritalin’ as perfects examples of what I’m getting at, albeit so ineloquently.
Atmosphere plays an important part in the music too, as well as the vocals of Darroh Sudderth, which are extremely impressive. In the main, the approach is clean and melodic, but do flit in other directions when required, further enhancing the eclectic qualities of this album.
If anything, their previous album entitled ‘Fables From A Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True’, is equally impressive, albeit slightly less heavy and crunchy overall. So, all-in-all, this is a band that requires your time and full attention. Give them that and you may just get blown away by something truly unique and exciting.