After taking a few weeks off for the holidays, we are back with our weekly collection of reviews. This week’s reviews include Avatar, Bloodshot Dawn, Elegiac, Heidevolk, Hell Bent, Leaves Eyes, Panphage, Scaphism, Shining, Sinistro, Summoning, Tankard, Trigger and White Wizzard.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Avatar – Avatar Country (eOne)
Using a fantasy theme partly in parody as a template for exceptional songwriting and instrumental execution, Avatar have created a bold aesthetic that turns hard music into a glorious Bohemian carnival on Avatar Country.
Visually, Avatar are exceptionally intriguing, yet Avatar Country features such clever musicianship, that we almost forget about the stylish face paint and hypnotizing choreography. Outstanding traditional and growl vocals thread together a colorful journey through soulful blues, thrash, groove and raucous honky-tonk, accented by brilliant guitar work in the form of huge riffs, massive bends, and superior patterning, often in harmonies we always dreamed of, but could never quite articulate. It could end up being my album of the year.
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation (Hostile)
After the UK death metal band Bloodshot Dawn‘s 2014 album Demons, I had a decent amount of expectations for their new album, especially since guitarist Jeff Loomis was to do a guest appearance on it. The band brings a great deal of melody to the table, but even it out with huge chops as well. The entire affair is a well rounded and effective melodic death album and starts the year off well for that genre.
This is really an improvement on the previous album. A lot of what is to be heard here has already been dealt with by other bands in the genre, but Bloodshot Dawn pull off their muse so effectively that you’ll be addicted from beginning to end. This is a very strong melodic death metal album that features inspired riffing and musicianship. Reanimation gets a hearty recommendation and a push to go check out the also excellent Demons album.
Elegiac – Black Clouds Of War (De Tenebarum Principio)
Hailing from San Diego, Elegiac is the raw and unforgiving project of Zane Young. With a stellar arsenal behind him flourishing at a speedy pace since 2014’s demo release, it’s safe to say Elegiac are making their names heard in the U.S. black metal underworld.
New album Black Clouds Of War is just as savage and uncompromising as previous efforts. It’s packed with pounding bomb-blasts and groove-laden old school stylings, with melodies both progressing sound and allowing songs to truly shine. Production is decent, though more aimed at fans of raw early black metal and Young captures that essence perfectly over the hour of music here. Standout songs include the title track and the acoustic beauty of “Ashwind.”
Heidevolk – Vuur Van Verzet (Napalm)
On their latest album Vuur Van Verzet, the veteran Dutch pagan/folk metal band Heidevolk have undergone some substantial lineup changes. They have a new vocalist, Jacco de Wijs, who shares duties with Lars NachtBraecker, who joined the band prior to the previous album. There’s also a new guitarist, Kevin Storm.
Their core pagan/folk sound is intact, with tales that live up to the album title, which translates to “Fire Of Resistance.” Some different twists are present as well as the new members make their presence felt. There’s ample melodies, memorable riffs and their trademark dual vocals, augmented by a choir on some tracks. Primordial frontman A.A. Nemtheanga also makes a guest appearance. Heidevolk nicely balance rousing upbeat pagan metal with more subdued folk elements.
Hell Bent – Hell Bent (Self)
Hell Bent fit their name well, as they appear to be hell bent on leveling ears with an icky form of crossover thrash on their self-titled EP. The rough production gives off the aura of a basement practice that just so happened to be recorded.
These six songs are sharp prods into the soul, commandeering short spurts of aggression with a second of space between each track acting as makeshift breaks. It moves at such a frantic pace that any sort of immediate connection is sacrificed. That can be remedied over time, though it’s more of a glancing intrigue than a serious revelation.
Leaves Eyes – Sign Of The Dragonhead (AFM)
Sign Of The Dragonhead is the first Leaves Eyes full-length since the exit of original vocalist Liv Kristine. Her replacement is Finnish singer Elina Siirala (Angel Nation).
The band’s symphonic metal sound is fully intact, with soaring melodies. There are a lot of classical influences, but tracks like “Across The Sea” have folk elements as well. The songs are focused and accessible, with only the closer “Waves Of Euphoria” stretching to epic lengths (8 minutes). As for Siirala’s performance, she has a tough job replacing someone who had been with the band since the beginning, but is a solid addition. Her soprano voice is clear and emotive, providing contrast to Alexander Krull’s harsh vocals. Last year’s Fires In The North EP was her first recording with the band, and helped prepare fans for the new Leaves Eyes era.
Panphage – Jord (Nordvis)
After three albums, Panphage has come to an end. Fjällbrandt has decided that Jord will be swan song for his one man project. The album title translates to “soil,” with the songs dealing with the death and rebirth of earth.
The songs are traditional black metal with plenty of tremolo guitar and some folk elements. Regal mid-paced sections give way to denser and more intense parts. Even though the riffs are simple and rather repetitive, shifts in tempo and intensity help avoid monotony. Melodic vocals in songs like “Skadinawjo” also provide variety. The production has the rawness you’d expect from the genre, but it isn’t low-fi. Whether or not Fjällbrandt resurfaces with a new project remains to be seen, but this is a fitting finale to the Panphage trilogy.
Scaphism – Unutterable Horrors (HPGD)
Scaphism is supposedly a method of torture dating back thousands of years involving boats, milk and honey and insects devouring a person alive. This writer will leave it to the reader’s imagination to figure out how all of that comes together.
If your band is named after something that grotesque, the music has to follow suit, and this four piece from Boston lives up to that terrifying death on Unutterable Horrors. This is heavy laced death metal, unburdened with any sort of flashy form that would compromise its villainous intent. The salacious hunger for blood by Scaphism is expressed in the most primal method possible.
Shining – X – Varg Utan Flock (Season Of Mist)
There are two Shinings: the jazzy Norwegian one with the saxophone and the Swedish black metal one with the controversial frontman. This is the latter. X – Varg Utan Flock is the latest release from Niklas Kvarforth and company. There have been a couple of lineup changes, with bassist Marcus Hammarström coming on board and drummer Jarle “Uruz” Byberg returning to the fold after an eight year absence.
Like every previous Shining studio album, this one has six songs. There’s the usual instrumental (the solo piano piece “Tolvtusenfyrtioett”) with five other lengthy tracks. And even though things like the number of songs may be predictable, the music is not. Intense black metal with harsh vocals is contrasted by mellow acoustic sections with melodic crooning from Kvarforth. There are some killer guitar solos as well. Beauty and brutality comfortably co-exist in a diverse album ranging from introspective prog to savage black metal.
Sinistro – Sangue Cassia (Season Of Mist)
The Portuguese doom band Sinistro really step up their game on their third album Sangue Cassia. That’s evident from the opening track “Cosmos Controle,” an 11 minute epic that’s the album’s longest song. They combine sludge, doom, ambient moments and post metal elements into an elegant auditory tapestry.
The music is emotional and atmospheric, moving at a deliberate pace through dynamic and varied compositions. The star of the show is vocalist Patricia Andrade, whose crystal clear tone runs the gamut from spoken word to reserved midrange to all out belting. From the heavy “Abismo” to the more accessible and mellower “Nuvem,” she effectively conveys a variety of styles and emotions. Even though it’s nearly an hour long Sangue Cassia grabs the listener from the opening notes and never lets go.
Summoning – With Doom We Come (Napalm)
Austria’s Middle-Earth metallers Summoning return for a triumphant follow-up to their 2013 release Old Morning’s Dawn. With Doom We Come is a new chapter in their Tolkien inspired catalog and guardians Protector and Silenius have delivered another fine piece of atmospheric black metal.
Summoning’s sound is unmistakable, though one criticism of this new album is that it is rather formulaic with a lot of repetition. There’s no real deviation from their sound, so there’s nothing new to offer upon the initial listen. Songs tend to feel ‘samey’ until further listens unveil deeper intricacies. For future releases it would be nice to hear heavier paced songs, but for the next few years With Doom We Come will stand with their best, encapsulating everything fans could want in a Summoning album.
Tankard – Hymns For The Drunk (AFM)
Of the “Teutonic 4” thrash bands (Sodom, Kreator, Destruction and Tankard), only Tankard brought a ribald sense of humor to their music. Going strong since 1982, Hymns For The Drunk is a greatest hits album that covers the band’s five albums released between 2002 and 2010.
Don’t let that sense of humor deter you: Tankard can play with anyone, and while their music isn’t going to stand out from the crowd (aside from lyrics), these guys are no slouches. With songs like “Need Money for Beer,” “Slipping From Reality” and “Stay Thirsty,” we get some of the band’s best 2000s output.
Trigger – Cryogenesis (Hellfire)
Trigger, from Australia, perform a very melodic take on the metal genre. The melodies on their full-length debut Cryogenesis are candy coated and easy to digest. However, there is enough complexity to make this a worthwhile metal effort. Dig beneath the surface catchiness and there is a good deal of depth to be found with this album.
Trigger straddle the line between melodic death metal and metalcore quite well, although the vocals are clean and would point this towards the metalcore side of things. Regardless, this is more interesting than most of what can be found in either genre and worthy of being heard no matter what genre it falls into. Though it’s very exciting, Cryogenesis isn’t perfect and has the ability to become somewhat generic sounding. Still, there is a huge impact and sound to the band that is impossible to ignore.
White Wizzard – Infernal Overdrive (M-Theory)
White Wizzard have had wholesale lineup changes since their last album. Bassist Jon Leon is the sole remaining member from 2013’s The Devil’s Cut. However, two of the three latest additions were in the band previously, including vocalist Wyatt “Screaming Demon” Anderson. Guitarist James J. LaRue also returned to the fold after a seven year absence. The newcomer is drummer Dylan Marks.
Infernal Overdrive blends a classic NWOBHM style with more aggressive moments. Guitar solos abound, as do melodic choruses and catchy riffs. While tracks like “Pretty May” are focused and concise, there are a few longer tracks like “Voyage Of The Wolf Raiders” and 11 minute closer “The Illusion’s Tears” that add progressive moments to the Maiden influences. Anderson has a powerful set of pipes, and this is an excellent return to form, even though it drags on a bit too long.