Review: SCIMITAR – “Where Darkness Dwells”… Posted: 28/03/2018 by Philip Morrissey
The beginning of particular musical genres usually is succeeded by a spate of bands emerging in its wake. Like plants sprouting in the aftermath of the first rays of summer. As the pioneering bands make their mark, many others will be encouraged to follow in their wake. This continues in turn until the movement eventually fizzles out or is replaced by another. It also transpires when said movement has a new leash of life. Such an occurrence took place just over ten years ago when a new era of thrash metal became all the rage. For all the legitimate and hard-working bands, many others attempted to cash in on the popularity, diluting its potency. Many bands who cropped up in that spell are now split up or moved into other territories. The scene here in Ireland was no different. The flood of bands operating reached a thresh-hold and something had to give. We, unfortunately, had to say goodbye to a number of outstanding contenders such as Mass Extinction, Raging Conflict, Twisted Wrath, Petrochemical Accelerator, Cursed Earth, Era Vulgaris mand more. Considering the amount of thrash bands that have existed here, the amount still going is somewhat low.
One band who have been knocking around for a number of years are Scimatar. Having formed in Antrim in 2011, they were initially a duo designed for writing music together. To help push on to the next level, a vocalist and bassist were recruited. This then led on to a well received self-titled demo the following year. By which time they had begun playing live. The first tentative steps out occurred at the Warzone in Belfast with plastic swords in tow. They have subsequently shared the stage with the likes of Exhumed, Evile, Inferno, Axegressor, Onslaught, Sodom, Arnocorps, Hellbastard, a number of Bloodstock Metal to the Masses and more. Whilst the live action was taking place, the band released ‘The Act of War’ and ‘Plague in the Vatican’ EP’s in 2013 and 2014. Both of which displayed a growing ability in terms of musicianship and song writing. The past year has been equally busy, on and off the stage. They toured Scotland with Disposable and Sodomised Cadavar, played Trashersaurus Fest in Norwich, did a national tour as part of Northern Beasts with Shrouded and Zombified, along with a number of supports for album launches.
One of which was their own debut LP release in August of last year. How does it rank though? Opener, ‘Sands of Sorrow’, might be considered to be a bit of throwaway track. Not particularly but slightly inconsequential as most short instrumentals are. A few shimmering snares occur over a couple of interesting riffs. Has that mystical feel to it. It begins to gain in pace before the end. ‘Hinterland’ is where it properly begins. There is no lack of pace to this particular track. Straight off the bat, it kicks into a Celtic Frost style grunt, prior to pacy riffs and crashing drums. The vocals are extremely gruff and raw upon showing up, with a real Lemmy feel to them. Quite how Jonny Gray’s throat is not ripped at the end, he could only know. A brief guitars and drums interlude shows up before delving into a chanted style chorus. The players then dive back into another instrumental piece. It is by no means polished but has that intensity which characterised the best of the German old school of Kreator, Sodom and Destruction. It begins into a slower segment, with plenty of weight behind it. It is mainly driven by the drums and bass, with a couple of guitar lines coming through. One designed for the head bangers in the crowd. The vocals are re-visited before a proper thrash out to the end. ‘Cursed City’ has no let to it either. Drums and guitars are to the front with the former having a real rhythmic quality to them. Credit to John Thompson. The vocals retain that rawness as before possessing the sense of Venom or Celtic Frost. Plenty of double bass kicks from Ryan Atkins in the background. A snare drop provides a curt gasp of air before another blasting piece. The vocals return, albeit with more intensity and a higher pitch. It contains an air of frenziness over the chorus parts. A widdling guitar solo by Thompson breaks out, backed up with the drums and bass, with impressive melody and variety. Drops back into a series of screams as the guitars and drums maintain their weight. The main vocals return in their unhinged style before the track ends with the sound of feedback.
‘Sleepy Hollow’ contains a few snare hits, before building into slow and careful riffs. Atkin’s drumming is on peak form here. The guitar tone is more on the melodic side, building towards atmosphere rather than speed or weight. It has a feel of ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ about it. Especially when you build in the Eastern sounding riffs and percussion. It steadily begins to grow in weight as it develops incorporating some thrashy breakdowns. Gray’s vocals arrive and retain the same rusty flavour as before. The vocals lead into a faster segment as they delve down the path of the headless horseman. A few snare hits led into a flat out segment with wailing guitars and propulsive drums and bass. Excellent lead lines on the former. A couple of screams and blast beats are thrown into the mix. The vocals return in a somewhat lower fashion. Could possibly be over-dubbed at points. The playing slows down to leave fade-out to the end. ‘Behead the Beast’ throws us right back into the pace and intensity of before with drums and riffs to the fore. A brief guitar solo takes place between the vocals. It harks back to that gloomy and bleak feeling from before. The playing starts to really gain in speed now. Effects are applied to the vocals yet again. Whether it is backing or over layering. Away from all that, there is great strength in them. It builds into a great solo from Thompson backed by great drumming with plenty of fills on show. Another short instrumental piece happens with pounding drums and sharp riffs. A woop by Gray leads into more of the same. A few guitar lines crop up here and there but the riffs are strong generally.
In ‘Unholy Forger’, toms bang away in the background in a high-paced and heavy opening. The riffs are nice and tight and drumming is concise. The speed might drop slightly, but the weight is sustained. It leads into the vocals and a change has taken place. Effects have been applied to twist and distort them into something decidedly more unpleasant and hideous. A howl is emitted amidst a blistering section of playing. Gray’s main vocals crop up again and they are of the same fashion as before. It has the similar feral style as Slayer demonstrated as their most intense. Some cracking drumming is on display here by Atkins. It is just a pity the mix does not really do it justice. The vocals increase in spite and aggression as the chorus lines are repeated over and over. This is all set against screaming guitars and pounding drums at the end. ‘Back to War’ features fast paced drumming and bass work over a more melodic guitar solo. Yet again there is massive buzz off Lemmy to the vocals. Meanwhile, the guitars have that buzz-saw quality to them harking back to the German school, and the drums hammer away incessantly. Only the bass fails to really make an impact. During the chorus section, the standard vocals are used along with a harsher set. This sets up for a decent contrast. This crops up yet again later leading us into a proper guitar solo. It contains a wealth of peaks and dives thrown into the mix, along with plenty of melody also. It kicks right back into the maelstrom again soon enough. The chanted responses are appropriate given the title. A scream and it fades out.
Surprisingly, it then contains two bonus tracks. The first is a faithful enough cover version of ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead. And there is nothing particularly wrong with it. It might be slightly throwaway but there is enough of passion and commitment thrown into it. Many bands have covered it, especially since the recent deaths, but it demonstrates the fearlessness possessed by the band. And one that they have as a main part of their live set. The second is a live version of ‘Scimitar’ from their recent Thrashasaurus performance. It harks back to their debut E.P. It is a decent track but its strength is neutered by a poor recording of it. It come across like it was just ripped from a Youtube video of it. I would have preferred to have had another original track included on the album but that’s just me.
Some might consider these last two numbers spoil the overall flow. It shouldn’t really. The six original (other than the intro) tracks contained within really give weight to their ethos and ability. The band have managed to capture the spirit and element of their live performances, along with top notch musicianship. It embodies much of the German bands as said before, but also those like Overkill, Onslaught, Sepultura, Exodus, M.O.D, and more. Its not perfect. The mix comes across as being lacklustre in places. It affects the vocals at times and holds back the weight of the drums elsewhere. In addition to that, Chriz Baird’s bass is almost unidentifiable in the barrage. And he is a decent player when it emerges through. But it is a highly enjoyable listen nonetheless. One can hear where they are going with it. Their rawness should not be construed as being dumb or simplistic by any means. It gives a feel of the vigor and excitement present at the time of recordings. It bodes well for the future hopefully.
Reviewed by Philip Morrissey.