Substratum (US) - (2018) Stratosphere - 8.5/10
Artist: Substratum (US)
Release: Stratosphere (2018)
Rating: 8.5/10

Earlier this month, I went to Seattle, Washington for the first edition of NW Metalfest. It's actually a reboot of the festival of the same name that was held in 1984, with bands like Metal Church, Sato (late Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr was in this band), Lipstrick, Strike, Bondage Boys, Mace, Overlord, and a couple of others getting a proper footing through Ground Zero Records' compilation album that was released that same year. Although only Metal Church really found success, the metallic fury of the Seattle scene was undeniable to those living there at the time. Of course, with the whole grunge explosion on top of it all, the underground talent was completely overlooked once again in favor of bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Never mind the fact that there were always plenty of great metal, rock, and punk bands alike originating in the city. Well, nowadays, thanks to the Internet and the wide networking of metalheads from all over the world, people are starting to realize how historically relevant to metal Seattle truly is, and with an ever-growing scene in this day and age that's been daring to flex its muscles in this musically deprived society — interesting that the so-called "grunge city" would turn out to pump hard iron and steel left and right.

That brings us to Substratum, one of the much newer metal bands making the headlines in the area and throughout many other metal circles. Well, bands like Enforcer and Skull Fist already made a name for themselves in the 2000s, so how does Substratum compare to other traditional metal bands coming out of the shadows? For one, they do more than just rely on gimmicks or third-rate songwriting to get through the whole ordeal. Instead of just being another one of those bands being all about the talk and no show, they put more focus on being vital songwriters, and even at that, they have a very interesting image. They're not trying to reinvent the wheel, but they give a fresh take on an age-old genre that's quite frankly been stagnating for many, many years. I don't wish to get into that subject right now. There's always a time and a place for that. I just want to tell you about my feelings on Substratum's music, anyway.

So, as of this review, the band's newest release, Stratosphere, is a six-song EP that drops exactly tomorrow, March 23, 2018 — I got my copy at NW Metalfest when I saw them, so I feel privileged to be able to own a soon-to-be-released copy of exactly thirty-four minutes of music that I'm sure will blow everyone's minds again. "Night Sweats" is your classic Judas Priest rocker that has a particularly neoclassical-influenced riffing style, which, once again, is very refreshing to hear. Amy Lee Carlson's singing is just fierce and full of attitude, giving the songs their half of personality. She's got great lows and mids, but she can still reach out those ear-splitting highs. Having been interested in Substratum since their self-titled 2015 demo, of which I was one of the first to review, I've always felt convinced of the band drawing influences from the likes of Chastain, Helstar, and Manilla Road. In fact, "To Tame the Burning Blade" reminds me a lot of mid-period Manilla Road, what with its complex structures that border on progressive metal in the vein of early Crimson Glory. "Sun Rider" slows things down a tad, reminding me of a hybrid of Iron Maiden's "Children of the Damned" and Omen's "Don't Fear the Night". The band also did a cover, this time being Satanic Rites' "Cast My Spell". Surprisingly enough, despite not being all that crazy about the album that it originated from, No Use Crying, the song turned out fantastic, and actually preferable over the original. The production and the fluid musicianship both were factors here. "Deadly Will" is more of a groovy rocker that doesn't break away from the traditional leanings of the other songs.

"Lost Shores" is more of the sentimental breed here. As I said about Carlson's vocal style, she adds a lot of emotion to Substratum's music, and she pulls it off easily. The song does pick up, albeit not as intensely, giving way to building unique atmospheres. I must say that the soloing on this song is really intricate and melodious. Both Johnny Haynes and Max Nazaryan truly deliver the goods with their riffs, the latter guitarist having joined the band just a few years ago, so you could tell right off the bat that the band's musical chemistry bonded tightly, as he does his part to bring cool ideas to the table. The rhythm section comprising of bassist Matthew Vogan and drummer Eric Smith helps to hold it all together real nicely, and you know that in order for there to be a coherent, driving tune, you need rhythm musicians that can deliver the foundations to a solid tune. The current personnel are just about right for what defines Substratum's musical core. I'm definitely pleased by the production style of this EP, which I'd say is even better than the last two albums' approach. The artwork is also great, illustrated by Starhammer Industries.

Substratum is a great band with solid musicianship, and they are great people in the flesh. In fact, this EP and their recent album, Permission to Rock, were kindly given to me by the band when I saw them for the first time. Definitely a band to support. Looking forward to seeing where their influences lead them to next time. Until then, listen to their evolving discography to get a good feel for their style. Support Substratum via their Bandcamp!

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One of the sickest US bands going!
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