On their 2018 release ‘Necroshiva’, Kazakhstan’s Zarraza really tightened up their blend of thrash and groove metal. The album, although centring around a couple of tried and tested styles and obvious influences, was incredibly well produced and came loaded with impeccably played riffs. On the best tracks, elements of Lamb of God jostled against bits of Slayer, which resulted in something incredibly powerful, especially when dressed with a dirty hardcore-tinged bottom end. In terms of their abilities with a riff, this underground act were now on a par with French metallers Backdawn, and Atlanta’s Bless The Dead. This tight and mean approach carried the following year’s ‘Rotten Remains’ where the arguably more professional band set about revisiting and re-recording some of their earlier DIY recordings, again with brilliant results.
Alabaman riff merchants Embr have been cranking out heavy grooves since 2015, but the release of their ‘1823’ full length on the New Heavy Sounds label really helped to elevate their profile. The album’s selection of intense riffs combined with a clean-ish female vocal presented a brilliant contrast between pure doom and great melodies, suggesting talents that could not only rival the UK’s own Witch Charmer, but possibly even help fill the massive void left by the much missed Black Moth. A filler free forty minutes, ‘1823’ is the kind of metal album that deserves to be heard by everyone.
The close of 2020 brought something of a surprise when, completely out of the blue, Embr shared a covers EP via Bandcamp. ‘Idolatry’ brings together four classic tracks from four classic 90s bands – a couple of which can be heard with new ears once redressed in Embr’s heavier clothes.
In the hands of inspiring musicians looking to have a little fun, a covers album can be a wonderful thing. From Sandie Shaw’s ‘Reviewing The Situation’ in 1969 (an LP that was happy to boast the world’s first Led Zeppelin cover), to Bryan Ferry’s 1973 release ‘These Foolish Things’ and Powerman 5000’s ‘Copies, Clones & Replicants’, some of the best covers albums are ones that show artists unafraid to remake songs in their own image.
The idea of a punk band covering an entire album is hardly a new phenomenon. In the 90s, Screeching Weasel, The Queers, The Vindictives and Mr. T Experience recorded their own fairly faithful versions of the first four Ramones albums. Thinking a little more broadly, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes thrilled the masses with their themed albums and pop punk heroes MxPx punked up material as diverse as Bryan Adams, Dave Alvin and The Proclaimers on their ‘Cover To Cover’ releases. Yes, indeed… The “punk cover” has become a staple of the scene.
The ubiquity of the punk cover doesn’t stop this album by Ontario punks The Vapids being hugely entertaining. With half the punk world wanting to pay tribute (either directly or indirectly) to Joey and Johnny’s groundbreaking blueprint, it is somewhat refreshing that these Canadian punks would want to pay homage to their own home grown heroes, and so, ‘Teenage Heads’ – originally released in 2002 – finds the band hammering through the ten numbers from Teenage Head’s self titled debut LP from ’79.
Indonesian Junk are one of those bands that, on the surface, have seemed to get better over time. Their self-titled debut album was a bit of a mess with rough production values. Hampered further by a sloppy vocal, it was the kind of record that would only ever find love among the most die-hard garage rock fans. Their second LP featured much sharper songs which truly showed a band with great promise and their third release (2018’s ‘Darkness Calling’), although essentially a stop-gap EP, demonstrated a world of sharp riffs and even sharper attitude. It resulting in a release that truly – and finally – showed Indonesian Junk to be a riff-heavy trio that could take on New York Dolls at their best. With 2019’s full length ‘Spiderbites’ more than keeping up momentum, it seemed as if Indonesian Junk had really hit their stride.