Our final batch of reviews for 2017 includes releases from Asking Alexandria, Autopsy, Black Wail, Deathcult, Eye Of Nix, Grafvitnir, Hamka, Iamsin, Nupraptor, Obscure Burial and Sar Isatum.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria (Sumerian)
Frontman Danny Worsnop had an acrimonious departure from Asking Alexandria a couple years ago and went on to release a solo album and a record with We Are Harlot. After a one album absence, Worsnop returns for the band’s fifth album, a self-titled effort. Being a high profile band and this being a very anticipated album, the mid-December release is odd timing, with the chance of being lost in the holiday shuffle.
Their style is more hard rock than metalcore these days, with accessible songs like “Rise Up” and “Into The Fire” ripe for radio play. Worsnop delivers a varied vocal performance, from melodic crooning to more aggressive styles. They incorporate some electronic influences as well, and the hip-hop flavored track “Empire” includes rapper Bingx. Asking Alexandria are a better band with Worsnop, and this album delivers what fans expect, plus pushes into some new territory.
Autopsy – Puncturing the Grotesque (Peaceville)
Autopsy deliver yet another EP and their first new material following 2015’s Skull Grinder. Puncturing the Grotesque’s album art is fitting as it is awash with disgusting imagery. The titular track is one that is reminiscent of their nearly punk metal days of Acts of the Unspeakable,
It is a style very different than their mainstay of death/doom but it is also one that Chris Reifert and company also excel at. The EP also includes a cover of Bloodbath’s ‘Fuck You!’ as a part of their recent split 7” to close things out. This material is a good abbreviated sign that Autopsy are going strong in 2017.
Black Wail – Chromium Homes (Rhyme & Reason)
After previously releasing a couple EPs, New Jersey’s Black Wail continue the shorter form template, unveiling the EP Chromium Homes.
Upbeat stoner metal is the main course, complemented by side dishes of doom, blues, psychedelia, hard rock, prog and even a little taste of southern rock on the title track. Tempos and intensities shift often, avoiding monotony and repetition. The EP closes with a dynamic and doomy version of the Beatles “Norwegian Wood,” an interesting twist on a classic song. They are getting more exposure with each release, and Black Wail have the chops to rise up out of the stoner metal masses.
Deathcult – Cult Of The Goat (Soulseller)
More than a decade after their debut, the Norwegian black metal band Deathcult returns. The lineup for Cult Of The Goat includes vocalist/guitarist Skagg (Gaahlskag, ex-Gorgoroth), bassist Hoest (Taake, Gorgoroth) and drummer Thurzur (Infernal Manes, ex-Taake). Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar also makes a guest appearance.
Their brand of black metal, while aggressive and fairly raw, incorporates ample groove with a surprising amount of melody. Tracks like “Ascension Rite” embrace traditional black metal tropes, but also more expansive and atmospheric elements. The ten minute “Devilgoat” is a good representation of the album, with ominous grooves, chaotic black metal, harsh vocals and some strange interludes.
Eye of Nix – Black Somnia (Scry)
Vocalist Joy Von Spain delivers a standout performance on Eye of Nix’s second album, Black Somnia. Her draconian shrieks are matched up with hypnotic singing that she evenly switches between. It’s a firm support for the blackened blitz of a song like “A Hideous Visage.”
The noise manipulation done to the intro on “A Curse” (a revamped version of a song from their 2013 demo) is a good way to act as a builder upper, something the band excels at on these songs. Black Somnia is top-notch atmospheric doom funneled through a grimy grate.
Grafvitnir – Keys To The Mysteries Beyond (Carnal)
The Swedish black metal band Grafvitnir have been prolific over the past few years, releasing a new album every year from 2014 through this year’s Keys To The Mysteries Beyond.
Their fifth album takes a traditional approach to the genre, both musically and lyrically. The songs are icy slabs of tremolo picked guitars, blastbeats, feral vocals and low-fi production. Variety is provided by things like the sparse instrumentals “Crossing The Abyss” and “Journey Into Storms” and some atmospheric intros. It’s pretty standard black metal, but well executed.
Hamka – Multiversal (Fighter)
More than a dozen years ago the French power metal band Hamka released their debut album. The only remaining members for their sophomore release Multiversal are vocalist Elisa C. Martin and guitarist Willdric Lievin (Fairyland).
They play soaring power metal with some folk influences that provides some uniqueness. The songs are packed with hooks and memorable melodies along with symphonic elements that add depth and atmosphere. Martin is a versatile vocalist, going from mellow crooning to aggressive and edgy singing. The production is pristine, and though clocking in at nearly an hour, the songs are compelling enough to maintain interest throughout.
Iamsin – Kings & Queens (Inverse)
Iamsin doesn’t do themselves any favors having the title track to Kings & Queens as the opener, awkwardly shoehorning crisp melodic vocals into a Lamb of God ripoff. One is not like the other, though the band eventually settles into a melodeath/metalcore style.
The vocals, from the passionate highs to the screaming fits, prop up the mundane music that, at almost 50 minutes, lacks the legs to hold up that length. It’s that growing problem in contemporary metal of stacking the top half of the album with the jewels, leaving the back half to sputter on with meager results.
Nupraptor – The Heresiarch (Shadow Kingdom)
Nupraptor, a solo project of White Hornet’s Matt St. Our, performs a very distinctive form of doom. There are the thick and grimy riffs one would expect from this genre in an easy to digest manner. The speed of these songs is fairly slow, but not to the point of drone doom. This can be heard on “The Fall of Christ”, which is moderately paced. The album acts as a nice companion piece to Pallbearer’s Heartless from earlier this year, though it doesn’t surpass that album.
Instead, Nupraptor stick within their own created confines and craft some wonderful to behold doom metal for the masses. Though the music is interesting, there is always a feeling that similar music has been done better by other bands. The idea that bands like Candlemass have performed a better version of these tunes remains ingrained in the listener. Still, the music is strong enough to hold its own and remains a strong option for fans of doom metal.
Obscure Burial – Obscure Burial (Invictus)
Obscure Burial are a Finnish death metal act and their music is inspired by American death metal bands such as Necrovore, early Death and early Possessed along with many influences from the early years of Sepultura. On their self-titled debut full length they have delivered some fine slabs of death metal that reflect those classic death metal tunes.
While Obscure Burial hearkens back to death metal classics, it also has undertones of seminal black metal, resulting in filthy and murky occult death metal. Raw guitar sounds, dirty and brutal drumming and screaming vocals rather than guttural or deep growls, along with unpolished and crude production make Obscure Burial a dark, devilish and intense record.
Sar Isatum – Shurpu (Exalted Woe/Death Portal)
When you think symphonic black metal, Colorado probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. However, that’s where the Denver trio Sar Isatum hail from. Their name translates to “King Of Fire,” with their debut album Shurpu, which is a purification by fire.
Even though fire is a big theme, the music is icy and cold. The arrangements are very well done, blending dense and oppressive parts with more regal and moderate parts. The symphonic elements add plenty of atmosphere without overpowering the basics of the songs. Compact songs like “Chenoo” are contrasted by longer, more epic tracks such as the opener “Sar Isatum.” They sometimes play with an urgency bordering on chaos, other times slowing down to a ponderous pace. It’s a skillful debut that symphonic black metal fans should take note of.