This week’s reviews include releases from Against The Grain, All Souls, Atomwinter, Frozen Crown, Harm’s Way, King Witch, Paara, Therion, The Ugly, Visigoth and Voodoo Circle.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Against The Grain – Cheated Death (Ripple)
Detroit speed rock demons Against The Grain return with their fifth album, Cheated Death. Like their previous work, this one combines blazing hard rock with more moderately paced grooves.
When they have the pedal mashed down to the floor they deliver thrashy metal with blazing guitar solos. Tracks like “Smoke” have a more classic rock vibe, while “Sacrifice” channels Motorhead. There’s even the bluesy ballad “Devils and Angels.” Against The Grain have a ton of influences ranging from rock to metal to punk, injecting bits and pieces of everyone from Metallica to Van Halen to MC5. Cheated Death will appeal to a wide variety of music lovers.
All Souls – All Souls (Sunyata)
All Souls are a new band, but their members have a long history, having met back in 1994. The lineup includes former Totimoshi members Antonio Aguilar (vocals, guitar) and Meg Castellanos (bass) along with Black Elk Wadsworth guitarist Erik Trammell and drummer Tony Tornay (Fatso Jetson.)
Their self-titled debut album has elements of metal, hard rock, desert rock and psychedelic. Rousing upbeat songs like opener “Party Night” are contrasted by mellower tracks like “Rename The Room.” They explore a lot of different textures and tapestries, from trippy psychedelic to edgy rock. Tool drummer Danny Carey makes a guest appearance on “Sadist/Servant.”
Atomwinter – Catacombs (Trollzorn)
German horde Atomwinter are back from a three-year layoff to deliver their third full-length record in Catacombs, a punishing slab of old school death metal inspired by war, the occult and other entirely metal subjects. Mid-paced pummeling blended with hammering death-doom is a pretty apt description here; no frills, plenty-of-kills death metal that stays true to the target sound and production.
It’s crunchy, heavy, and buzzes like a pack of rusty chainsaws, and while it’s not the most original of releases, the mix of grimness and catchy Swede-inspired chaos should probably get fans of Grave, Facebreaker, or even Asphyx relatively worked up. A raw and ragged good time that may got lost in the shuffle, but the genuine nastiness of it all makes up for its relative lack of ingenuity.
Frozen Crown – The Fallen King (Scarlet)
The Italian power metal band Frozen Crown was founded by Be The Wolf’s Federico Mondelli, who handles vocal, guitar and keyboard duties. The other vocalist is Giada Etro (Ashes You Leave).
The vocals are split fairly evenly, with Etro getting a little more exposure. Mondelli delivers both melodic and growling vocals. The band’s style is on the harder edge of power metal, but still with plenty of soaring melodies. There’s a definite Nightwish influence, but a couple of the uptempo songs like “Kings” have DragonForce elements with a lot of shredding guitars from Mondelli and 17 year old Talia Bellazecca. It’s a saturated genre, but Frozen Crown have the chops to draw attention.
Harm’s Way – Posthuman (Metal Blade)
Harm’s Way have a grip on the hardcore scheme of things. The music blends the groove and impact of classic Entombed with the rage of hardcore to craft a powerful experience, though not a particularly original one. The band sounds similar to recent bands like Trap Them, but with their own unique spin. It leads to many a poignant moment and a harsh breed of music for the listener of newer metal music.
The harshness of the album is certainly a strong point, but see when the band slows things down on tracks like “Temptation” for a good idea of the variety they bring to the table. The heaviness and weight of the songs is certainly a focus of the outfit, however. The overall experience is strong, but not one of the best you’ll hear this year by any margin. The music tends to be a little one-dimensional sounding in its abrasiveness. Still, there are enough compelling and punishing aspects to Posthuman to give it a recommendation, though only a moderate one.
King Witch – Under the Mountain (Listenable)
A lively performance from vocalist Laura Donnelly propels King Witch’s debut album Under the Mountain. Hearkening back to the early days of doom metal, where bands were still toying with the idea that slower was better, King Witch are dense and dangerous with their stifling songs.
The pacing of the entire album is flawless, as the band squeezes speedy jaunts and devastating, cement-heavy riffs together without hiccups. Time is made for acoustic guitars on “Ancients,” an ode to their Scottish roots and the mountainous landscape they are surrounded by. Under the Mountain is not an album to sleep on in 2018.
Paara – Riitti (Vicisolum)
Riitti is the sophomore release from the Finnish six-piece black/folk metal band Paara. From the opening track “Viimeinen Virta” it’s evident that it’s an album of contrasts.
There are only four songs on the album, but they are lengthy, ranging from nearly 7 to over 15 minutes. Songs that long give them plenty of room for the aforementioned contrasts. They blend mellow atmospheric folk with black metal. Sparse arrangements with melodic singing shift to groovy black n’ roll or icy traditional black metal. The lyrics are in Finnish. With such disparate styles, it could easily be a train wreck, but Paara make the transitions work well, resulting in an eclectic and diverse black metal album.
Therion – Beloved Antichrist (Nuclear Blast)
To say Beloved Antichrist is an ambitious album is a drastic understatement. The latest release from the Swedish symphonic metal band Therion is a massive three album, 46 song, three hour rock opera based on Vladimir Soloviov’s “A Short Tale Of The Antichrist.”
There are 30 different characters, with numerous singers filling those roles. It’s anchored by Thomas Vikstrom, whose theater and opera background makes him perfect for a project of this magnitude. Lori Lewis also delivers an outstanding performance. There are some metal moments, but classical music and operatic vocals dominate the proceedings. The music and arrangements flow very well and the production is impeccable, but more hooks and memorable songs would have taken it to the next level. Even with some lulls and the interminable length, Phantom Antichrist is still an impressive opus.
The Ugly – Thanatology (Vicisolum)
Having risen from the infamous and crushing world of the Swedish black metal scene, The Ugly are back again with their brand new furious artillery Thanatology, three years after the release of their second album Decreation. The Ugly were known as a thrash metal fused black metal act but things are a bit different on Thanatology.
With a lesser focus on thrash metal elements in Thanatology, The Ugly’s most recent songs are now more of Dark Funeral meet Marduk, with high powered blast beats and hyper dynamic guitar riffs, touched by dark, epic and sorrowful yet attacking melodies. Even though the album seems a bit long and monotonous at some points, The Ugly have brought a challenging and ambitious record, and indeed a must listen album which cannot be missed.
Visigoth – Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade)
This was a hard review to write, due to the fact that I was holding a sword over my head the entire time. Conqueror’s Oath is Visigoth’s followup to 2015’s highly successful The Revenant King, an album of heroic metal that drew heavily from bands like Grand Magus and Cirith Ungol. Not wanting to mess with a good thing, Visigoth repeat this formula here.
It’s hard to find much to dislike in this collection of well-written, infinitely enjoyable anthems, primarily dealing with warriors, traitors and conquerors. “Salt City” stands out as an odd duck, but is an homage to the band’s Utah base, so can be forgiven. The drums could also use a bit more punch, but other than that Conqueror’s Oath is a traditional metal tour de force.
Voodoo Circle – Raised On Rock (AFM)
Voodoo Circle were formed a decade ago by guitarist Alex Beyrodt (Primal Fear, Silent Force, Jorn) and also includes Primal Fear bassist Mat Sinner and drummer Francisco Jovino. Raised On Rock is the band’s fifth record, but Jovino’s first album with Voodoo Circle, who also have a new vocalist, Herbie Langhans (Avantasia).
The change in singers hasn’t altered the band’s sound. They deliver melodic hard rock/traditional metal with some bluesy influences. Beyrodt showcases guitar licks inspired by everyone from Ritchie Blackmore to Jimmy Page. Langham sings with power and emotion, and you’ll hear influences of vocalists like David Coverdale and Jorn in his delivery.