Heavy Music Headquarters Album Reviews: Week of February 23, 2018

This week’s reviews include releases from Armored Dawn, Black Wizard, Blackwulf, Chris Bay, Dead Empires, Esoctrilihum, Fight The Fight, Funerary Bell, Huntsmen, Kaoteon, Necropanther, Tengger Cavalry, Thundermother, Treedeon, Usurpress, Vojd, Wake and We Sell The Dead.

The ratings are on a 5 star scale.

Armored Dawn - Barbarians In Black
AFM Records

Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black (AFM)

Last week, one of Brazil’s best known bands Angra released their latest album. One of the younger generation of Brazilian power metal bands, Armored Dawn, are releasing their second album Barbarians In Black this week.

Their style is traditional power metal, with soaring choruses and bombastic guitars. They do deviate from time to time, such as on “Survivor” that has more of a hard rock vibe. The songs are well-constructed with atmospheric keyboards and ample dynamics. Vocalist Eduardo Parras is versatile, bringing a lot of different approaches to the table, some more effective than others. The production is pristine, there are hooks galore, and there’s a lot for power metal fans to sink their teeth into.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Black Wizard - Livin’ Oblivion
Listenable Records

Black Wizard – Livin’ Oblivion (Listenable)

Canadian stoner metal stalwarts Black Wizard return with their fourth album Livin’ Oblivion. These guys can flat out play; plenty of flash is there to go along with their catchy riffs. The band sounds a bit like the Sword with a different lyrical emphasis. Black Wizard prefer to look at the imperfect human condition as opposed to examining themes in mythology.

“Poisoned Again” is a highlight as well as the closer “Eternal Illusion.” Livin’ Oblivion is a solid entry to the scene in 2018 and another winner from British Columbia; a true hotbed for metal in recent years. Catch them on tour with fellow countrymen Anciients across Europe.

Rating: 4
(Tom Campagna)

Blackwülf – Sinister Sides
Ripple Music

Blackwülf – Sinister Sides (Ripple)

For their third full-length record, Cali-based heavy rockers Blackwülf are releasing Sinister Sides, an eight-track mash-up of classic rock, traditional steel and desert-cruising stoner rock. This ultimately leads to some pretty innocuous tunes, far from ‘sinister,’ but the results are professional and, more often than not, liable to much replay value.

A strong heavy rock album ultimately requires a strong vocal presence, and Alex Cunningham leads the charge with a clean and soulful performance, one that is further elevated by the exemplary lead guitar work and effective rhythm section. While the band’s cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” steals the show, a song like “Blind to Fate” is a solid example of Blackwülf doing what they do best.

Rating: 4
(Evan Mugford)

Chris Bay - Chasing The Sun
Steamhammer/SPV Records

Chris Bay – Chasing The Sun (Steamhammer/SPV)

Chris Bay is the frontman of the veteran German power metal band Freedom Call. Over the years he has written songs that don’t quite fit with what the band is doing. He’s gathered those tracks for his first solo album, Chasing The Sun.

This is not Bay singing Freedom Call songs with a different lineup. The album is much more mainstream and accessible. “Move On” has ’80s influences like INXS and the Psychedelic Furs with a darker, more ominous feel. “Radio Starlight” is straight ahead rock, with a singalong chorus. “Bad Boyz” is a little more aggressive with some bluesy riffs, but still catchy. It wraps up with the mellow ballad “Love Will Never Lie.” While there are a couple of duds, Bay shows a lot of different sides that clearly sets this apart from a Freedom call record.

Rating: 3
(Chad Bowar)

Dead Empires – Designed to Disappear
Silent Pendulum Records

Dead Empires – Designed to Disappear (Silent Pendulum)

Dead Empires perform a very caustic take on the metal genre. Their music is dissonant to the maximum possible level. It is also really spastic, making for a sort of weird recording overall. It has plenty of shifts and turns, but maintains a noisy framework overall. This makes for a varied and interesting platter. However, it’s not the most pleasing sounding album in the world and the overall effect upon the listener is strange, but not altogether welcome.

Instead, we’re left with an album that lacks continuity and consistency. There are still a number of interesting sections to derive from this music as it develops and consumes you. The somewhat odd tone of the album is both a positive and a negative for the band as they traverse their unique soundscapes. While it gets off to a strange start, things change around “The Summertime Song” as they try a more traditional sounding song and it is followed up by the more normal sounding final track “Designed to Disappear.” These are more standard moments, but still don’t alleviate the overall strange taste that the album leaves in your mouth.

Rating: 3
(Adam McAuley)

Esoctrilihum - Pandaemorthium
I, Voidhanger Recordings

Esoctrilihum – Pandaemorthium… (I, Voidhanger)

Esoctrilihum is comprised of only one member, yet the depths the band goes through with their blackened death metal is commendable. Each layer of Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas to Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness) unveils an atmospheric anomaly, forcing the album further into a solitary sonic tomb. The claustrophobia sets in right from the onset, the muddy, raw production radiating through each piercing note.

Esoctrilihum challenge the listener to engage in this environment for almost 70 minutes, a herculean task not made easy by the music’s coarse volume. It’s not often that “too much content” is a negative for a band, but that’s what Esoctrilihum runs into on their second album.

Rating: 3
(Dan Marsicano)

Fight the Fight - Fight the Fight
Blacklight Media/Metal Blade Records

Fight the Fight – Fight the Fight (Blacklight/Metal Blade)

When the initial ten seconds of a band’s first album has a vocalist screaming profanity while consumed with getting the catch phrase “fight the fight” over, things can only go up from there. And they do for Fight the Fight, who recover from a feeble opening impression.

These guys are in their early twenties, and there’s a sense of them trying to figure themselves out on this eponymous record. They want to be the tough dudes on the front line with the forceful “This Is War” and “Fight the Fight,” but then want to show their tender emotions on “The Other Side.” It makes for a unstable debut.

Rating: 2.5
(Dan Marsicano)

Funerary Bell - Undead Revelations
Saturnal Records

Funerary Bell – Undead Revelations (Saturnal)

Finnish occult black metal band Funerary Bell always have something interesting and charming in their music. While the band’s image is mostly focused on occultism, horror and mysticism, their music deals with all things old school, making a dark and bewitching imagery. Funerary Bell’s debut The Coven didn’t give the band enough credit and attention, but it was a proper start for their career.

Undead Revelations is a huge improvement in songwriting and production. They display a tangible maturity in writing more complex songs but still follow the simplicity of old school metal, using long melodic guitar solos assembled on a massive medley of rhythm guitar harmonies and unpolished harsh vocals. It all delivers a delightful blackened heavy metal, which Funerary Bell have claimed what their music really is.

Rating: 3.5
(Arash Khosronejad)

Huntsmen – American Scrap
Prosthetic Records

Huntsmen – American Scrap (Prosthetic)

It’s difficult to pigeonhole the debut album from Chicago’s Huntsmen. Maybe take parts of High on Fire, Neil Young, Neurosis and Swans, blend them together, and see what comes out. The focus here is on drama and narrative pertaining to the paradox of American pride, and the band does an excellent job with both.

Clean acoustic tracks mix with harsh, almost industrial climaxes, all with a definite doom feel. Throbbing feedback interlaced with emotional clean vocals and the occasional harsh screams conveys a sense of the apocalyptic, which matches with the subject matter. Is it perfect? No, but give this album a shot and see if it resonates.

Rating: 4
(Mike Huck)

Kaoteon - Damnatio Memoriae Kaoteon – Damnatio Memoriae (Self)

Kaoteon are a duo from Lebanon who have now relocated to Amsterdam. For their sophomore album Damnation Memoriae they recruited Obscura bassist Linus Klausenitzer and Marduk drummer Fredrik Widigs as session musicians.

They play blackened death metal with fury and anger exemplified in the album title, which is a Latin phrase meaning “condemnation of memory,” erasing someone from history and designating them to oblivion. Much of the album is blastbeat driven, intense and chaotic, but they change things up, periodically easing the tempo back into a moderate groove. They’ve made a quantum leap from their debut in songwriting, musicianship and production to become a potent force.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Necropanther - Eyes Of Blue Light

Necropanther – Eyes Of Blue Light (Self)

After their 2016 debut was inspired by The Terminator, this time around Denver deathsters Necropanther pay home to Dune on their latest album Eyes Of Blue Light.

While their brand of death metal has ample heaviness and extremity, it is also infused with a lot of melody. It’s provided by the guitars, as the vocals are death metal growls. The band members have a lot of versatility, with experience in numerous genres ranging from power to NWOBHM. Those varied influences help shape the album beyond straightforward death metal, making it a much more interesting listen.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Tengger Cavalry - Cian Bi
Napalm Records

Tengger Cavalry – Cian Bi (Napalm)

The New York based Mongolian folk metal band Tengger Cavalry have a unique and instantly identifiable sound. They have released numerous albums over the past several years, with Cian Bi being their first for Napalm Records.

Metal guitars blend with traditional Mongolian instruments for a mix of heaviness and atmosphere. Nature Ganganbaigal’s vocals showcase everything from throat singing to growls to melodic singing. Their songwriting chops on this album are especially sharp, with focused songs (mostly in the three minute range) that are very dynamic and diverse. “Our Ancestors,” the thrash/folk “Chasing My Horse,” the rousing “A Drop Of The Blood, A Leap Of The Faith” and the laid back “Just Forgive” are some of the highlights.

Rating: 4
(Chad Bowar)

Thundermother - Thundermother
Despotz Records

Thundermother – Thundermother (Despotz)

There has been a lot of upheaval in Thundermother. Four members departed, and founding guitarist Filippa Nassil recruited three new members (vocalist Guernica Mancini, bassist Sara Petersson and drummer Emlee Johansson) for the Swedish band’s new self-titled album.

They don’t miss a step. The album is packed with aggressive hard rock songs that have memorable riffs and catchy choruses. Mancini is a powerhouse singer with a bluesy sound that’s part Grace Slick, part Lzzy Hale and all swagger. She’s able to dial it back on ballads like “Fire In The Rain,” croon on songs such as “We Fight For Rock N Roll” and belt it out on tracks like “Won’t Back Down.” Thundermother have emerged from a period of uncertainty with an impressive comeback effort.

Rating: 4
(Chad Bowar)

Treedeon - Under The Manchineel
Exile On Mainstream

Treedeon – Under The Manchineel (Exile On Mainstream)

The German band Treedeon have come a long way since forming as an acoustic duo several years ago. They became a trio prior to releasing their debut, and their second album Under The Machineel is another behemoth of noise and fury, as far from acoustic as you could imagine.

Arne Heesch and Yvonne Ducksworth both handle vocal duties, mixing harsh yells and screams with melodic singing. The music ranges from plodding doom to uptempo sludge with a healthy dose of noise rock added in. The album concludes with the epic 16 minute “Wasicu,” which moves at a glacial pace and includes extended instrumental sections. While meandering at times, the album still manages to be compelling.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Usurpress - Interregnum
Agonia Records

Usurpress – Interregnum (Agonia)

Usurpress were always known as a death metal act, playing with the common ideas of Swedish old school death metal. However, on their newest album Interregnum, Usurpress have broadened their musical horizon and have put out an intensively different release which could be a total game changer for the band.

With an outstanding opener “A Place in the Pantheon,” packed with loads of melodies and elements of progressive music which can be heard at many moments of the album, Usurpress quickly determine the path of the new album’s music. With strong usage of keyboards, Usurpress have added depth and textures to their death metal pieces, linking it to sludge metal and gothic rock (“The Vagrant Harlot”) motifs to make Interregnum as their most powerful albums to date.

Rating: 4
(Arash Khosronejad)

Vojd – The Outer Ocean
High Roller Records

Vojd – The Outer Ocean (High Roller)

The Swedish band formerly known as Black Trip are back, this time as classic metal act Vojd. What has changed? Aside from the drummer, merely a short jaunt back in time to the more “classic” days rather than “traditional.” Think of Thin Lizzy instead of Saxon.

Can they pull it off? To a certain degree, yes. There are a lot of fun tracks here, notably “Delusions in the Sky” and “Heavy Skies,” the former being very Thin Lizzy-esque while the latter is an excellent traditional metal cut. The Outer Ocean does well with its goal, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

Rating: 3
(Mike Huck)

Wake - Misery Rites
Translation Loss Records

Wake – Misery Rites (Translation Loss)

A decade or so together has only made Wake sound more oppressed on Misery Rites. The group has learned how to allow their crusty grind to disintegrate into seedier territory, where a drop in speed doesn’t mean they’ve lost their touch.

When before songs would barely squeak past two minutes, now Wake feel comfortable enough to go seven minutes on the excellent closer “Burial Ground.” Primitive Man vocalist Ethan McCarthy lends his howl to a few songs, helping the intensity grow exponentially. Misery Rites is an untamed stampede of noise wrapped into less than half an hour.

Rating: 3.5
(Dan Marsicano)

We Sell The Dead - Heaven Doesn't Want You and Hell Is Full

We Sell The Dead – Heaven Doesn’t Want You and Hell Is Full (earMusic)

We Sell The Dead are a new band, but their lineup includes a lot of veteran musicians. They are fronted by Spiritual Beggars/ex-Firewind singer Apollo Papathanasio along with guitarist Niclas Engelin (ex-In Flames), bassist Jonas Slattung (Dromriket) and drummer Gas Lipstick (ex-HIM).

The band is inspired by Jack The Ripper, and say their music sounds like if heavy metal had existed in the 19th century or if Jack The Ripper had joined a modern metal band. That may be the case lyrically and visually, but their sound is traditional metal with power metal and progressive influences. The songs are dramatic and dynamic, with bombastic tracks like “Imagine” contrasted by more subdued songs like “Too Cold To Touch.” The musicianship is first rate and the vocals excellent, with their experience elevating this above the typical debut.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

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