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'First Last Contact'
(Occidental Records )

jools green

Jools Green

spectral darkwaves

The description by London's Symphonic death/doom outfit Spectral 'Darkwave of their debut album 'Last First Contact' reads: "A hi-def tour of human horror in sonic Technicolor" and one "that will unleash a journey into the many hells of mankind, with each song forming an exhibit in the grotesque gallery of human endeavour, weaving a tapestry of horror wrought on the cries of bereft mothers, nuclear strikes and epic orchestral flourishes." This a guaranteed way to grab my attention.

The band formed by twin brothers Dan on drums and Steve Kennedy on guitars and vocals in 2012, "To fuse the limitless possibilities outlined in early computer music, European and doom Metal, the band's grinding rhythms and twisted melodies deliver a crushing reminder of the depravities carried out in the name of human progress." The trio are completed by Jon Stokes on bass.

After listening to 'First Last Contact' it's great to be able to say that it has lived up to my initial expectations. I didn't have a strongly defined idea of what might be in store and I discovered the tantalizing description only scratches the surface of this ten track forty-one minute offering.

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The tracks are superbly composed, brilliantly atmospheric with dark melodies, great bass lines and a nice technical edge that is present enough to be interesting but not excessive. The drum work is complex when needed but never over powers and the keyboard/programming element adds a great spacey, psychedelic edge that still manages to remain delightfully dark.

Also, to my great joy, the vocals are superb, the growls at times have a touch of Randy Blythe to their intonation, but the cleans, which are not in too excessively in abundance, are amazing, not something I say often. On 'The Occident' and 'My Hand The Gravel' rather like a deep gothic croon, is the only way I can think to describe them.

On 'A Distant Dawn', the retro feel electronic opener will throw you as to what to expect next and 'Retake Mars!', after a gunfire sound-bite opener, expands into a punchy addictive grove punctuated with powerful vocal growls which dominate the track nicely and a second half solo lightens the dark mood whilst still maintaining the feel.

As well as the surprising cleans 'The Occident' has an exotic edge to the guitars in places, between the punchy pulsating riffing and is overlaid with haunting keyboards that sound like female vocals, a fascinating and hypnotic track.

spectral darkwaves

'Under Ebon Lash', also has an exotic eastern feel from the riffs and female vocal wails, a superb contrast against the rich vocal growls that despite their depth and rugged edge are surprisingly legible, the track is punctuated from midway on, with a great guitar work, in an otherwise darker slower second half with a great closing rally that takes you by surprise.

The opener to 'My Hand The Gravel' would fit well as the soundtrack to any horror suspense, it's evocative and dark, then you get a the second taste of those astonishing cleans which complement the harsh growls so well and this dark aspect is balanced by some hauntingly melancholic guitar work in the second half.

'At Midnight... Alchemy' is a superb, guitar led haunting mid album interlude.

The pulsating, punchy riffs return on 'Compound Vengeance', balanced with retro electronics and haunting backing vocals which may be electronically generated. Either way they are great and the result is both powerful and haunting. The second half becomes piano led, mellow and reflective but there is still that dark undercurrent, closing well with a sudden rise in tempo and pace.

'I Am Shadow' opens on a classic catchy repeat riff, chugging groove and repeat lyric along with those enigmatic harsh vocals, but the way it is interwoven with orchestration, keyboards and haunting backing vocals is what gives it such a unique feel.

Superb spiralling riffs and searing, brutal vocals dominate 'Mors Technica' with a haunting keyboards adding dark theatrical atmosphere. This album, in its entirety is very mentally visual.

Final and longest track 'To Feast On Milk And Oil' is slower and with dirtier riffing and I find myself being amazed again by not just the delivery of the harsh vocals but the powerful phrasing and intonation. There is also a great balance between female backing vocal wails, the exotic guitar elements and keyboards alongside the riffs and vocals, a powerful and compelling closing track.

'Last First Contact' was recorded over the course of two years and the level of time and care taken is very evident, an excellent and intriguingly unique first release.

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