Ba'al

In Gallows By Mass

A year after their formation in 2016, Sheffield post-metal band Ba’al recently dropped their debut EP, In Gallows By Mass. Made up of Steffan Benham (vocals), Nick Gosling (guitar), Richard Spencer (bass), James Magennis (drums) and Tom Arnold (guitar), they are taking Sheffield by storm and their new EP shows exactly why.

Specialising in long and progressive tracks, Ba’al’s music is quintessential of modern sludge metal. Opening the record is the powerful ‘Black River’, showing with its weighty guitar riffs and double-pedal drums that Ba’al are ready to compete with more established metal bands. The layering of voices creates an emotive side to the track and this is particularly prominent when it falls into half-time towards the end. 

The second track, ‘One Under The Sun’, starts with a much lighter sound, showcasing Benham’s powerful vocals. Ba’al show both darkness and light in their music and placing this track between two heavier ones highlights this very well. Emphasising their vintage metal sound, 'One Under The Sun' is a real highlight of this EP. 

The final track, ‘Days Of Yore’, sets down a repetitive four-note riff, followed closely by Benham’s vocals. This leads us into the main body of the track, which shows Ba’al’s distinctive sound, texture and tempo changes, and their effective songwriting. In Gallows By Mass is a strong statement from this relatively new band and it leaves you wanting more.

Alex Burns

Nabihah Iqbal

Weighing of the Heart

For her debut album, Weighing of the Heart, Nabihah Iqbal drops her alias Throwing Shade in favour of her birth name, a creative decision weighted with symbolism in light of the spiritual themes that underpin the work. The title and cover art allude to an ancient Egyptian ritual of religious judgement and Iqbal’s lyrics are embedded with meditations regarding life and meaning, explored poetically and often with a level of abstraction.

‘Zone 1 to 6000’ is reminiscent of William Blake as it details the bustle of crowds on an average night in London, crowds that have lost their sense of purpose and stagnate in unquestioned routine. Similarly, ‘Something More’ touches on this perceived sense of spiritual malnourishment, but again akin to the great romantic poet, Iqbal seems to suggest that salvation can still be found when engaging with the more transcendental aspects of human existence: love, dreams and music.

But despite implied social criticism in the lyrics, the instrumentation on this album is resolutely tranquil, rather than biting. The vocals are anything but intrusive, almost whispered behind the unconventional medley of pensive guitar riffs, synths and dance beats, which are elegantly brought together. Tracks like ‘Eden Piece’ are completely devoid of lyrics and seem to encourage the listener to reflect on their own life, their own thoughts of existential unrest, which stalk us all like shadows through our daily lives, but to our detriment often go unaddressed.

Liam Casey

Neil Landstrumm

A Death, a Mexican and a Mormon

There’s no stopping electro champions CPU, with techno stalwart Neil Landstrumm the latest notable artist to drop a four-track EP for the Sheffield-based label.
The Scottish producer has a rich history of producing high-quality electronic music going back over 20 years. In what’s been a highly productive year, his latest release is as good as anything he’s released in that time.

As you’d expect from Landstrumm, all four tracks are superbly produced and will sound just as good in the warehouse as they do in your headphones. The curiously titled A Death, A Mexican and A Mormon kicks off with a respectful nod to South Yorkshire’s bleep and rave heritage. ‘Tomorrow People’ places the classic Phuture acid house track ‘Spank Spank’ alongside fuzzy deep basslines, with the seminal Asterix and Space warning to “watch ya bass bins” sampled throughout. The high-class low frequency techno manoeuvres continue with ‘Chrome and Ferric’, a track that has an infectious dub rhythm lurking in the background, giving it a momentum reminiscent of London dub techno pioneers Bandulu.

‘Sahara’ brings the electro edge to the EP, with a dreamy metallic arpeggiator workout that competes with sirens and bleeps for attention. ‘The Chemical Con’ kicks off with a menacing low burn bassline that flashes back to the golden era of rave with a sublime modern twist. Again, bleeps return to good effect as the track builds upon ‘Sahara’, making for another superb foursome of quality electronic excursions for the South Yorkshire imprint.

Andy Tattersall

Visible Cloaks

Lex

Hot on the heels of this year’s full LP Reassemblage comes Lex, a 'mini-album' which sees Portland two-piece Visible Cloaks advance many of the motifs of their last release. Where their peers have gotten more aggressive in their programming, or thrown back to the minimalist drum patterns of early house, Spencer Doran and Ryan Carlile have instead hewn a more serene path, partially composed with randomised computer software but with a noticeable human touch arranging what the fates throw up. It makes for a curious mix of the entirely synthesised and the vaguely acoustic, from the fluttering cacophony of voices and strings on opener ‘Wheel’ to the Music for Airports-ish angelic choir on ‘Transient’.

Reassemblage had its discordant moments, breaks amongst the shimmering pad hits and choral chimes, but Lex more fully embodies a kind of zen-like meditative space, with MIDI instrumentals redolent of flowing rivers, wood blocks and plucked strings. Like the post-Yellow Magic Orchestra output of Haruomi Hosono, the songs on Lex sound simultaneously alien and au naturale.

Sweeps of low-frequency oscillation run like river brooks beneath synth washes and computer-treated vocals, while percussive interludes rustle in the undergrowth. Perhaps a bit hippy-dippy and new age for some, but c’mon – you need to come down some time. Self-care music, but no less daring for it.

Tom Baker