Album Round-Up (April 2020)

April 2020 Albums


As we start to see album release schedules become a bit less reliable, we've gotten a little bit nervous about knowing what's going to be quite around the corner. Thankfully there will always be albums to review however, and we've managed to gather together another eight to review from April. 

Make sure to check out playlist below for some of the albums and songs we missed here as well!

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Live Burial
Unending Futility (3rd April)

Live Burial- Unending Futility
Transcending Obscurity Records
WORDS: Ross Donald

FFO: Death, Possessed, Bolt Thrower

Unending Futility is the second studio album by English old school death metallers Live Burial, following on from their 2017 release Forced Back to Life. It is also a good name for the state the world is currently in...

It’s quite difficult to get a grip on the band’s true sound as a whole. While their core sound looks back to early death metal with nods to bands like Death and Possessed, the band does like to throw in different metal genres to the mix. Black and doom metal elements add up to a varied and unique sound throughout this record. They never go so far as to feel like an outright copy as they’ve definitely got their own sound.

Opening tracks‘Seeping into the Earth’ and ‘Condemned to the Boats’ have more of the old-school death metal feel while showing off the bands skills with their instruments. Frontman Jamie Brown unleashes his snarling range with some sick vocal lines, while both guitarists show off their riffing skills throughout. Drummer Matt Henderson must have a ton of energy with the amount of work he puts in here. Normally in these kinds of bands, the bass player doesn’t get much love, but here Lee Anderson has a chance to shine as the bass is super prominent throughout. He even has a solo here and there such as within the song ‘Swing of the Pendulum’, which reminds me of the bass playing of Iron Maiden's Steve Harris.

Other highlights for me include ‘The Crypt of Slumbering Madness’, which has a slower doomy feel to start with. Brown's growls then sound like a more demonic version of Death’s Chuck Schuldiner, and I can’t help but feel like there’s a bit of Lovecraftian inspiration here (something that I seem to be finding on the regular now). Another highlight is ‘Rotting on the Rope’, which is a nice longer track that adds some melody to the old school death metal sound. There's some great guitar work going on here; especially with the last 2 minutes that just sound utterly gorgeous. I could listen to it all day. ‘Cemetery Fog’ is an epic final track at almost 10 minutes long which hits us with one final blast of death metal mixed with doom and even a bit of thrash to send us on our way.

Overall I had a blast with this album. Any record that can take me back to the era of Death without sounding like an exact copy can’t be anything but brilliant. Every track here brings something different to the table, making this an easy album to replay over and over again. This is helped by the fact that the album has a comfortable runtime of 41 minutes as well. One of the better death metal albums I’ve heard all year, which will probably still be in my mind by the end of the year.

Tracks to check out: 'Seeping into the Earth', 'Crypt of Slumbering Madness', 'Rotting on the Rope'

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Testament
Titans of Creation (3rd April)

Testament- Titans of Creation
Nuclear Blast
WORDS: Ross Donald

FFO: Slayer, Overkill, Exodus

Titans of Creation is the 13th studio album from legendary thrash behemoths Testament and the first since 2016’s Brotherhood of the Snake. Testament has the distinction of being the last band I had the pleasure to experience in person before the whole lockdown thing kicked in, so my last gig memory is a near-whiplash experience at the Barrowlands (as can be seen here). I still thank them a lot for that.

Now as far as thrash albums go; whilst the genre can be limiting unless done right, Testament have always been one of those reliable bands that can come out with a good album to keep those of us who have a thirst for new thrash quenched with some damn good albums. Dark Roots of Earth from 2012 is the best example of modern Testament’s skills and Brotherhood of the Snake is pretty underrated as well. So how did this anticipated release fare? Unfortunately, not quite as well...

I do think that Titans of Creation is a good album overall, but it does have some issues that lessen the listening experience for me. For a start, it’s just way too long for what it is. I was a bit taken aback when I noticed that the album's runtime was 58 minutes, but I had faith that the band would be able to make it work. Sadly that didn’t pan out, as the album is a drag in places. As a rule of thumb, thrash albums really should only be around 30-40 minutes so going almost an hour is pretty risky unless you have something different to make the tracks feel varied. That doesn’t really happen here as it’s all pretty standard thrash that molds together and becomes forgettable by the record’s end.

The album does start off well with the first few tracks though, with the singles ‘Children of the Next Level’ and ‘Night of the Witches’ bringing the goods with some damn fine riffage and some amazing solo work. The vocal work from frontman Chuck Billy is as good as ever and he really leaves his mark here. ‘WWIII’ presents a nice fast paced thrash track that also has something to say about nuclear warfare. ‘Dream Deceiver’ comes across as one of the catchier tracks with a bit of a lighter tone in comparison to the others, in addition to a nice big chorus as well.

It’s when we hit the slow and boring ‘City of Angel’ that the album starts to go downhill a bit. Between this track and ‘The Healers’, the album begins to feel like a drag as things start to go on for a bit too long. Most songs do feature some nice riffs and great solos but it’s not enough to make them feel like they belong here. At this point in the album, there is a track called ‘Symptoms’ that does stop this section of the album from totally falling apart as it provides some heavier riffs throughout that make it stand it out from the rest.

Thankfully the last couple of tracks bring back a bit of that momentum from the beginning of the album.‘Code of Hammurabi’ feels more like a classic Testament track with its catchy chorus and guitar moments galore, while ‘Curse of Osiris’ provides probably the fastest track on the album. The Slayer-like riffs end the album in a fun way which doesn't overstay its welcome, before the instrumental ‘Catacombs’ then finishes the album in style.

Again, I would say that this is a good album but a good chunk could have easily been cut here to make a more grounded record that you can play over and over again. As it is, I’d only recommend sticking with opening and closing moments of the album as they stand out the most.

Tracks to check out: 'Children of the Next Level', 'Night of the Witch', 'Dream Deceiver', 'Curse of Osiris'

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Violent Soho
Everything is A-OK (3rd April)

Violent Soho- Everything is A-OK
Pure Noise Records
WORDS: Joanne Gray

FFO: Smashing Pumpkins, Blink-182, Press Club

Australia can feel like a world away even at the best of times, but that’s all the more evident when you consider that Brisbane’s Violent Soho have only now just came into my radar on their fifth album Everything is A-OK. Especially since they are exactly the type of band I tend to really enjoy.

Let’s get this out of the way. Violent Soho sound uncannily like Smashing Pumpkins. There is a familiar quiet-loud dynamic and  that runs through the vast majority of this album, and Luke Boerdam’s drawling, nasally vocals could legitimately be mistaken for Corgan’s to those only somewhat familiar with the Chicago alt-rock legends. In fact, if one were to be harsh about it, you could say that Violent Soho are to Smashing Pumpkins what Bush are to Nirvana. But I’m not going to be quite so harsh myself, as I think this album offers more than simply copy-cat imitations.

For one, there is a distinctly punk rock ramshackle sort of quality in the delivery of songs throughout that injects a crucial sense of fun to what is normally rather poe-faced 90s alt rock. Strong self-titled era Blink-182 comparisons can be made in the guitar tones of ‘Sleep Year’ and ‘Pick It Up Again’, while there is an indie-punk jauntiness in songs like ‘Easy’ and ‘Pity Jar’ that reminds me of PUP. Although there isn’t an in-your-face Aussie accent like many of their contemporaries, it’s hard not to put Violent Soho in similar circles as bands like Dune Rats and Press Club when Boerdam snottily shouts out “There’s a baby boomer across the street and it won’t stop staring at me” in the album’s opening song. And that’s more than alright for me, personally.

There are a few songs here which offer another facet to the band which sees them move into more mature musical territories than they seem to have done in the past. ‘Canada’, ‘Slow Down Sonic’ and ‘A-OK’ offer another facet to the band which sees them move into more reflective and gentle territories than they seem to have done before. ‘Canada’ is a nostalgic yearn for simpler times that is sweetly wrapped in gently upbeat chord progressions. Hints of Americana are then evident in the album’s most mellow songs ‘Slow Down Sonic’ and ‘A-OK’ where acoustic guitars and slides accent some more reflective and bittersweet lyrical musings. There is a particularly surprising sense of poignancy in the latter song in particular, when considering Australia’s recent bushfires and current global events.

As with the rest of the album though, there is always a sense of positivity which shines through Violent Soho’s alt-rock meets indie-punk sound that has made this an album one I have returned to a fair bit since its release. This is a really satisfying album that just feels good to listen to, especially in current times. Sure, the SP comparisons are hard to ignore and may be offputting to some. But I find it hard not to buy into the fuzzy nostalgia and the juxtaposing sense of apathetic joy this album brings. Give it a try if you have a soft spot for 90s alt rock. Excuse me while I check out the rest of their catalogue...

Tracks to check out: ‘Sleep Year’, ‘Vacation Year’, ‘Lying on the Floor’

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Sugar Horse
Drugs (17th April)
Sugar Horse- Drugs
Sugar Horse
WORDS: Joanne Gray

FFO: Black Peaks, Conjurer, Depeche Mode

For the last few years, Bristol has been a hotbed for interesting music, and the hard-to-categorise Sugar Horse are another addition to that list. Following on from last year’s Druj, the band continue to move into dizzyingly diverse musical territories throughout this four track EP.

First up, you have the abrasive post-metal meets metallic-hardcore sound of opening track ‘Drugs’ that allows for comparisons to be made with bands like Conjurer and Black Peaks. Although the slightly mathy, angular low-end crunch and higher register screams from vocalist Ash Tubb linger throughout the song, it’s not long before things twist in unexpected directions. Around the 2-minute mark, a very quiet spoken word section interrupts the song. A false ending then brings about a more subdued, choral section halfway through which sees the intensity rises once again to end the song on a high.

Things then continue to twist and turn throughout the rest of the EP, starting with the remarkably gorgeous ‘Pity Party’, which throws in some gothy, post-punk melodies drenched in lush, shoegazing walls of noise. These gothier tones are brought even further into attention with the Cure/Depeche Mode-esque melancholy of the moody fourth track ‘When September Rain’, which slowly unfolds into scaling wash of reverberated choral voices and swirling guitars. The final track ‘Dogegg’ completes the impressive scope of sounds on offer with its high gain dirge of doom that leaves squealing feedback to batter your ears like The Dillinger Escape Plan at their most violent.

In the hands of most other bands, such an array of musical styles within a four track EP would sound like a complete mess. But Sugar Horse manage to just about hold everything together. I would largely put this down to the third track ‘Richard Branson in the Sky with Diamonds’, which brings a needed moment where the above sounds can coalesce satisfyingly. The opening shoegazing section has dark undertones which allow the Conjurer-esque slamming verses and the more melodic clean gothy vocals to emerge in the song’s gloomy moments of respite. Ending things on a huge scale with some heavy blackgaze vibes, the song is by far the achievement of this mad EP.

As a whole, Drugs is a sonically erratic release that sees Sugar Horse revel in their increased unpredictability. I can’t help but admire this boldness, even if I do think that it sails a bit close to the wind at times. However, if Sugar Horse can continue to experiment and expand in future longer releases, all the while managing to meld their disparate sounds together, I would put my faith in this band creating something truly spectacular. A band to watch, and one of the most interesting I have heard in a long time.

Tracks to check out: ‘Pity Party’, ‘Richard Branson in the Sky with Diamonds’

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The Rhubarb
Black Sun (17th April)

The Rhubarb- Black Sun
The Rhubarb
WORDS: Joanne Gray

FFO: Black Sabbath, Alice in Chains, Royal Thunder

Glasgow's own fuzzed-up doomsters The Rhubarb are a band who I've had a lot of interest in since I saw them live last year (when gigs were still a thing...). Taking heavy influences from bands like Black Sabbath, Sleep and Electric Wizard, the band's long awaited debut EP could sit comfortably within your stoner-tinged doom metal playlist of choice.

The first two tracks ‘Drag Me To Hell’ and ‘Part Time Suicide’ bring the super dirgy tones with all the fuzz and density you could want for this style of music. Throughout these tracks, Michael McConville’s awesome bass heavy tones he conjures for these songs sound chunky and full, but never lose their definition in the process. Another shout out has to go to drummer Jack Donnelly for providing some hard hitting beats and interesting fills to push along the changes in tempo through these songs. Although the instrumentals of this band are really cool though, the most interesting part of this band comes in the interplay between the two vocalists.

Capturing the slight drawling feel that Layne Staley delivers at his bassier moments, Se├ín Macguire’s voice manages to deliver a laidback, yet haunting quality that is similar to Alice in Chains’ self-titled album. Over my years of seeing local doom bands, I’ve found that the lack of contrast between the low end riffing and one droning type of vocal can become slightly monotonous over time, but thankfully The Rhubarb have something a little bit different to provide a new take on the subgenre. Throughout this EP, Macquire’s vocals are played up against the higher voice of bassist Hannah White. Reminding me slightly of Royal Thunder’s Miny Parsonz, White has a slightly ethereal and bluesy psychedelic quality to her voice that- when combined with the vocals of Macquire- provides a more melodic slant on the sound. Wielding some killer, slightly off-kilter dual vocal harmonising though, the slightly unsettling and doomy nature of bands like Alice in Chains is definitely not lost here, and The Rhubarb are one of the better bands to utilise this sound in quite a while.

This vocal approach is put more firmly on display over the course of the second half of this EP, where there is a slight change in musical direction. ‘The Waters’ is a bluesier affair which sees the slower riffs and steady rhythm act as the background for some soulful vocals. As the track progresses, the interlocking vocals are multi-layered to give the impression of a church choir. This fits really well within the slightly swampy delta blues feel of the song and gives us a moment of respite after the first two riffy tracks. A good track to just get lost in, for sure. These mellower vibes are then fully realised with the closing song ‘I’d Do Anything For You’, which goes in another direction once again. For the first and only time in the EP, clean guitars make an appearance. The dreamy chorus effects in the two guitars present here swirl around one another in a fashion that reminds me of bands like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind at their most spacious points. Although I do think the track maybe takes a little too long to get the nice distorted section and solo at the end, this is a nice track and an effective way to close of this surprisingly diverse EP.

In short then, The Rhubarb are a band to keep an eye on over the coming months. Their take on doom metal in the overcrowded local scene is a refreshing one, and I’m really excited to see how they can continue to expand on their unique sound in a longer release.

Tracks to check out: 'Drag Me To Hell', 'The Waters'

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The Smith Street Band
Don't Waste Your Anger (17th April)


The Smith Street Band- Don't Waste Your Anger
Pool House Records
WORDS: Joanne Gray

FFO: Bruce Springsteen, Spanish Love Songs, Sorority Noise

In the years since 2017’s More Scared of You than You Are of Me, Melbourne’s The Smith Street Band have had their fair share of publicity. The band’s international reverence within indie-punk circles reached an all-time high, while the relationship struggles of frontman Wil Wagner shocked and polarised at the same time. It is hard then, not to view the follow-up album Don’t Waste Your Anger within the context of such contrast.

Taking a different approach from their more defiant and punky last album, Don’t Waste Your Anger hammers home on the band’s honest and introspective approach to songwriting. The swelling opener ‘God Is Dead’ lets you know that this is going to be an album that pushes Wagner’s now notorious emotive Aussie warble to the max, and you can just imagine a room full of people screaming along to the song’s colossal climax at the end.

The album’s next two songs ‘Big Smoke’ and ‘I Still Dream About You’ further prove that the band are disciples of the Springsteen school of thought with their punchy power chords and heart-on-sleeve lyrics of nostalgia and longing. The addition of backing vocals and keyboards from new bandmembers Lucy Wilson and Jess Locke really complete the band’s sense of scale and catharsis too. I would put ‘I Still Dream About You’ up alongside the last album’s ‘Death To The Lads’ as being TSSB’s biggest song to date. That chorus is one hell of an earworm. Although the later songs ‘The End of the World’ and ‘Profiteering’ don’t quite reach such sprawling heights, the retro synths and guitar effects bring comparisons to heartland rock back to the fold.

The other half of the songs here go in more experimental directions. With varying results. ‘Dirty Water’ and its slightly dreamy and whimsical Sgt. Pepper-esque piano, brass instruments and layered vocals, is an interesting premise in theory. But it just doesn’t work here, as Wagner’s plodding vocals here sound like the song’s being played at half-speed in torturous fashion. Skip. ‘Losing It’ is a more down tempo tracks where Wagner’s opening low vocals make the songs feel quite tedious, before it then picks up slightly in the second half. Most successfully, the indie-folk campfire acoustic tune ‘It’s OK’ strikes a bittersweet tone that suits its musical tone really well. ‘Heaven Eleven’ then adds some slightly dancey new wave synthlines and rhythms in the second half that give the song a pleasant and hopeful feel. This one might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I dig it.

The final track ‘Don’t Waste Your Anger’ then brings together the album’s main lyrical themes of nostalgia and reflection, while looking to a more hopeful future where anger is put into musical creativity. Continuing Springsteen synths and a swelling build to another shout along chorus sees the song and album end in a really satisfying way. Until the song comes back around for another odd couple of minutes, that is… Swirling noises and echoing vocals accompany an out of place acoustic line that just ruins the entire feel of the song. What was the band thinking when they put this in here? Sigh…

In all in then, Don’t Waste Your Anger probably won’t live up to its predecessor in the eyes of most people. Although the album’s highest moments are plenty and they are hard to argue with, there is too much controversy and too many odd moves here that makes it a slightly patchy affair. As with the situation The Smith Street Band find themselves in more generally, it’s a case of swings and roundabouts. But I would strongly insist that it's a ride worth experiencing.

Tracks to check out: 'God Is Dead', 'I Still Dream About You', 'Heaven Eleven'

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Cirith Ungol
Forever Black (24th April)

Cirith Ungol- Forever Black
Metal Blade Records
WORDS: Ross Donald

FFO: Dio, Iron Maiden, Angel Witch

Forever Black is the fifth studio album by fantasy metallers Cirith Ungol and is their first release since 1991’s Paradise Lost. 29 years is quite the time gap... For a bit of background then, the band broke up in 1992 due to unresolved issues with their new record label. The band finally reformed in 2016 and have been playing multiple gigs and festivals, to raise anticipation for a brand new record ever since.

The whole situation feels eerily similar to Sacred Reich who went over 20 years without a release before bringing out Awakening last year (my review of which is over here). With their release, they retained a classic sound with their production job, making it sound like they had released it decades ago. It’s quite the same situation with Cirith Ungol here as there is a nostalgic 80s feel with the minimalist production, while thankfully never compromising the sound of the tracks. I also love the cover art as it appears to display a warrior returning home from a far off war, but all the while knowing that his skills may be needed again. A nice bit of symbolism for the band themselves there. 

While I think the entire album is a damn fine one, it really excels with the first tracks on offer. The short instrumental introduction of ‘The Call’ provides the feeling that a battle of epic proportions is about to take place; especially with that haunting sounding of a horn at the beginning. This then leads into the first proper track ‘Legions Arise’, which sounds like the battle has now actually begun to rage on. It’s a good fast-paced song to get the adrenaline going and it prepares nicely for the tracks still to come. As an Iron Maiden fanboy, the galloping throughout the song sounds reminiscent of their early days, and this put a smile on my face. ‘The Frost Monstreme’ was one of my favourite tracks though, with its searing opening riff that’s still stuck in my head like an arrow from an archer. It then starts to sound a bit like Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ with a nice beat to go with the verse. There’s some very Sabbath-like riffs in the song too, with the one in the middle sounding very similar to Sabbath’s ‘Electric Funeral’, bringing a sound of the 70s to the album alongside the 80s.

While I did enjoy the full album due to the magical guitar work on display and lyrics that fans of fantasy will lap up with great delight, I did wish there had been more energetic tracks similar to the opener ‘Legions Arise’ to really keep the pace up. Instead, what we get here are quite a few slower tracks. While I don’t have an issue with the actual sound of these particular songs, a bit of better pacing would have added to the experience. This is especially true with ‘Fractus Promissum’, which starts off with a nice, groovy riff that sounds like it’s about to burst into something massive but it ends up feeling like the band is holding back. A real shame since this could have ended up being a big highlight for me. At least the final track 'Forever Black' does give one last bit of proper energy to end things on a high note though.

Overall, this is an album I can quite easily recommend, as it breezes by in about 37 minutes with no real bad tracks to speak of. While the pacing could have been improved to compliment the few slower songs, there’s still a lot to enjoy here. Fans of ripping 80s guitar solos with throwbacks to the likes of Dio and Iron Maiden in particular will have a grand time. I’m certainly interested in hearing the back catalogue now.

Tracks to check out: 'Legions Arise', 'The Frost Monstreme', 'Forever Black'

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Trivium
What the Dead Men Say (24th April)


Trivium- What The Dead Men Say
Roadrunner Records
WORDS: Joanne Gray

FFO: Machine Head, Metallica, In Flames

For better or for worse, Trivium have spent much of their career moving from one style of metal to another with each album release. Until now. With their ninth album What The Dead Men Say following on from the widely acclaimed The Sin and the Sentence, the band make their smallest jump since Ascendancy expanded on 2003’s From Ember To Inferno.

After the appropriately named instrumental opener, ‘IX’, the title track brings forth stomping riffs and Gojira-esque pick scrapes before speeding into thrashier terrains that look back into the band’s past. Throw in a confident and commanding mix of screamed and clean vocals from Matt Heafy, some progressively minded playing from the rest of the band and a hooky chorus, and you’re onto a winner here. And that’s something which can be said for much of the album that follows too.

The riffs of ‘Catastrophist’ and the mid-section of ‘Amongst The Shadows & The Stones’ have slight touches of In Waves’ chugging groove metal sound while ramping up the musical heft. The blast beats and tremolo picking on the latter song expand upon the last album’s hints towards extreme metal. ‘Sickness Unto You’, ‘Bending The Arc To Fear’ and ‘The Ones We Leave Behind’ then have similarly progressive moments to those on Shogun. No easy feat considering that album is up there as one of the band’s best moments to date. A particular shout out has to go to drummer Alex Bent too, who continues to prove his excellence and value as a member of this band on this release.

Fans of Trivium’s early material who long for the melo-death inspired riffing and lead lines will also be happy with some of the songs here as well. Mentioned earlier, ‘Sickness Unto You’ builds from its epic clean opening to a Metallica-esque chuggy thrasher which then unleashes a chorus that could fill arenas. Such nostalgia for mid 2000s metalcore is most thoroughly sated with the previous track ‘The Defiant’ though. The Iron Maiden-meets-In Flames melodic lead lines and solos hits a sweet spot that Ascendency could reach at its highest points. Further proving that this song is one of the album’s highlights, the soaring key change towards the end of the track is a complete triumph that will be a joy to experience in the live environment.

Unfortunately, some of the album’s other choruses aren’t quite so strong. ‘Scattering the Ashes’ appears to build up to a mammoth chorus that never comes, and instead falls a bit flat as a result. ‘Bleed Into Me’ is a gentler, more stripped back song that puts most of its focus onto a lackluster “As it bleeds into me, let it sink in for you” line that makes it feel like a bit of an underwhelming Silence in the Snow B-side. After a good few listens, this song hasn’t really improved for me either. ‘Catastrophist’ is a much better example of a huge chorus, but it is similarly let down by the simplistic “catastrophe/catastrophist” lyrical dynamic that ends up feeling a bit clumsy and ham-fisted for a song that wasn’t written by Five Finger Death Punch.

With all of that in mind then; where this album tends to fall short from The Sin and the Sentence in terms of some of its melodic delivery, this is mostly compensated by a further drilling down on sheer metal riffage and technical ability. While I’d personally take the last album over this one, it’s still pretty damn close. As such, this is another damn solid Trivium album that sees the band bring together many of their best attributes in a (mostly) successful manner, while sounding more confident in themselves than ever. If you’ve ever liked this band, there will be something for you here.

Tracks to check out: ‘What The Dead Men Say’, ‘The Defiant’, ‘Sickness Unto You’, ‘The Ones We Leave Behind’

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Thanks to Ross for his contributions to this round-up of April's albums and thanks to you for reading! Feel free to check out our playlist of our favourite songs this month below or leave a comment below to tell us which albums you have liked over the month. Be sure to give us a like/follow on the socials if you like our content. As always, we're open to contributions/submissions so you can always get in touch as well. 

Cheers!


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