Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Stemage – Zero Over Zero

Lots of great stuff to get through before the Christmas break and, being a little behind with on-line reviews, I'm going to attempt to work through the build-up of records and websites needing reviewing in slightly shorter, but then again a tad snappier, entries over the next three weeks.

This one has come in from the Silent Uproar label; it's a concept album based on George Romero's zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. Now, big confession time: I've actually never seen this film, in fact my horror movie watching probably starts and finishes with Hammer, though of course I'm familiar with its concept – it does mean however that I'm listening to this record as a standalone album rather than juxtaposing it with the source inspiration material.

Step back a moment, then. Stemage is Grant Henry, also responsible for Metriod Metal, originally envisaged as a solo-project with Henry playing all instruments and programmed drums and with the resulting soundtracks being made available for free download but later developing into a proper band affair. Stemage though seems pure to the original Metriod Metal approach in that it notes itself as being "all songs written, performed, and engineered by Grant Henry.

"Most 'guitar albums' are lead albums," contests Henry. "This is a rhythm guitar album – I think. It's a wild rotation of rock genres that have inspired me over the years and it's a love letter to Romero in the end – inspired by Dawn of the Dead. It's definitely a guitar album – muscular, grinding, oppressive and powerful. Throughout many of its twenty instrumental tracks what most strikes me as a comparison as to where to place this record is to want to file it as though it's a lost instrumental Killing Joke album, shorn of Jaz Coleman's apocalyptic declamations and so reliant on Geordie Walker's distinctive guitars to convey that sense of malevolent urgency. Zero Over Zero feels like that, a conflagration of metal and grunge with a spiky attitude. Other tracks, 'Illogical Hell' for example which can be found in acoustic form on the Stemage website, are reflective, are ones that pause for a moment and gather thoughts, but the relentless drive of this record is full-on and highly dynamic stuff.

I imagine it captures its inspirations enormously well – I love the way that the tracks are almost all bullet-point sharp and laid out with titles that are akin to DVD chapter indicators - but no matter that I can't definitively make that connection since the strength and density of the music is totally compelling in any case.

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