On paper, this UK-only contest could not combine two more dissimilar bands. Sludge vs djent? Oh lord.
Welsh trio Hark start the morning's music, and their debut full-length Crystalline is anything but typical. Sure, there's no better categorization for their music than sludge, but this isn't your modern-day stonerfest. Songs like Mythopoeia have more in common with vintage Soundgarden or some Tool demos than Baroness or Red Fang, and there's a snarling energy shot through the whole album, which is capped by the expansive longform jam Clear Light Of..., featuring Clutch's Neil Fallon. All in all, Crystalline is full of heart, and rewards multiple listens. Perhaps most impressive of all, Kurt Ballou produced it, and yet it doesn't entirely sound derivative.
While also excellent, UK djenters Monuments' second album The Amanuensis cannot possible escape the shadowy accusation of derivation or similarity. To listen to it and not think of TesseracT or Periphery is to admit that you've never heard TesseracT or Periphery. Some of this is understandable; after all, TesseracT and Monuments both emerged from the ashes of Fellsilent, and there's some shared DNA with Periphery as well. Still, the likeness is more than uncanny. All this bitching of course obscures the fact that this album is still extremely great, that the vocals and atmospherics expertly counterbalance the heavy rhythmic spasms. And the album's second half is arguably its better half, kicked off with the double hits of The Alchemist to Quasimodo. And yet, and yet, and yet... there's just not enough originality or heart or warmth here to really bring it home. The notes are all correct, but the music's just a little flat.
So, llongyfarchiadau to Hark! They go on to battle the winner of tonight's contest: Ancient Ascendant or Miasmal.