This week’s reviews include releases from Black Label Society, Clamfight, Dark Hound, Faceless Burial, Frost Giant, Magnum, Mare Cognitum, Obscene, Revolting, Terror Universal and Yhdarl.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Black Label Society – Grimmest Hits (eOne)
With a title like Grimmest Hits, many may assume this is a compilation album, but it’s actually Black Label Society‘s tenth studio album. It’s the first BLS studio record for drummer Jeff Fabb, who has been with the band for a few years now.
It follows smoothly in the steps of 2014’s Catacombs Of The Black Vatican. Upbeat bluesy rockers with plenty of Zakk Wylde’s guitar wizardry are mixed with slower tracks that are sometimes soulful, other times more twangy like on the country flavored “The Only Words.” While his guitar chops have always been elite, Wylde’s vocals have gotten better over the years. There isn’t a lot of growth or innovation on the album, but it’s well executed, so Black Label Society’s legion of loyal fans will be satisfied with Grimmest Hits.
Clamfight – III (Argonauta)
Clamfight are an East Coast gem, their unapologetic sludge/stoner metal a must-see live throughout clubs in the Northeast. Five years after I Verses the Glacier soared too far under the radar, III makes the case for why that shouldn’t be repeated. Their third album expands their instrumental design with lengthier songs that allow for more jamming.
Within this jamming are stellar guitar solos, honed-in rhythmic bliss and a charging stance that pushes songs that occasionally go 11 or 12 minutes cleanly to the finish. The melodic temperament of the low-key “Eynhallow” is continuing evidence of the group’s deepening, layered songwriting.
Dawning the second album from the Tennessee band Dark Hound, brings a pure heavy metal flavor to the proceedings. The songs have energy and drive and push forward at a consistent pace. The album is traditional sounding and brings forth a natural flair that is welcome to behold. However, it doesn’t go in any overly interesting directions and this is a flaw. It needs to push the envelope more than it does and it thus ends up pretty standard sounding.
Within the context of that standard sound, there is a lot to like. The guitar riffs have bite and bring presence to the table. The songs have a swagger that could also be attributed to the stoner music genre, though the music is more traditional than that. The music has the right amount of passion and it comes up as a strong statement of music integrity. The song “Stripped Away” opens with a nice acoustic sequence that confirms the band’s passion. I just wish they would push things in a more interesting direction at times.
Faceless Burial – Grotesque Miscreation (Blood Harvest)
After its initial digital release last September, Grotesque Miscreation, the full-length debut from Australian three-piece Faceless Burial, is getting CD treatment courtesy of Blood Harvest Records. The record, which also includes five tracks plucked from their 2015 demo, is a robust offering of grim and groovy old-school death metal that thrives on crunching riffs, monstrous vocals, and a rumbling rhythm section.
A well-written press release connects Faceless Burial to death metal royalty, with references to the early Finnish and Tampa scenes, and then to veteran brutes like Immolation and Incantation. And sure, these shoes fit thanks to the trio’s natural chops and their adherence to evil-ass riffs that churn and plod against a dense subterranean backdrop. Grotesque Miscreation feels and sounds familiar, which could be a drawback, but the result is ultimately too mean to dismiss. A burly dose of no-frills malevolence with rad artwork.
Frost Giant – The Harlot Star (Transcending)
Frost Giant was started back in 2005, and after a couple of EPs are finally releasing their full-length debut album The Harlot Star. Their folk metal style has a European influence, but they hail from Pennsylvania.
While there’s plenty of grandiose folk/pagan metal on display with rousing lyrics and a combination of melodic singing and harsh vocals, there’s ample variety as well. “Curse of Doubt” incorporates intense drums and a more extreme style, while “An Exile In Storm” is an acapella mellow interlude. “The Forgotten Graves” is an epic 10 minute track that encompasses all the album’s various approaches. From folk to melodic death and even some punk/hardcore influences, it’s a wide-ranging and entertaining album.
Inside Metal: The Rise Of L.A. Thrash DVD (Metal Rock)
The Rise Of L.A. Thrash Metal is the third installment of the Inside Metal documentary series, following Pioneers Of L.A. Hard Rock and Metal and The L.A. Music Scene Explodes. Once again director Bob Nalbandian interviews those that were there, from big-name musicians to lesser known artists to journalists and other industry insiders.
The early ’80s L.A. thrash scene spawned some of metal’s biggest bands (three out of the “Big 4”), even though the Bay Area would eventually be seen as the Mecca of the genre. The film is narrated by Megadeth’s David Ellefson, and includes interviews with dozens of people ranging from John Bush (Armored Saint/Anthrax) to Ernie C (Body Count) to Dave Lombardo (Slayer) to Lars Ulrich (Metallica). It’s an extremely entertaining and historically important look at the birth of thrash from those who helped build and popularize it. Part two of the film is set to be released later this year.
Magnum – Lost On The Road To Eternity (Steamhammer/SPV)
British hard rockers Magnum have been around since the early ’70s, with a hiatus from the mid ’90 to early ’00s. Original members Bob Catley (vocals) and Tony Clarkin (guitar) are still around, and their latest album Lost On The Road To Eternity sees the addition of keyboardist Rick Benton and drummer Lee Morris.
At 70 years old, Catley still has a great voice (metal fans might know him from his appearances on the Avantasia albums) that’s expressive and emotional, and he has plenty of power as well. While packed with hooks and memorable melodies, the songs are fairly lengthy (most in the 5 to 7 minute range) with some progressive influences. A track or two probably could have been excised, but Magnum still manage to maintain their momentum throughout. Even with 20 albums under their belt, Magnum are still underrated, especially on this side of the pond.
Mare Cognitum – The Sea Which Has Become Known (I, Voidhanger)
Masterminded by American multi-instrumentalist Jacob Buczarski, Mare Cognitum has made its name known in the vast world of independent atmospheric black metal. Debut album The Sea Which Has Become Known was originally released back in 2011 digitally followed by a tape release. Now, untouched and in its original form with zero remastering the album has been granted a CD reissue complete with new artwork.
Songs voyage through cosmic black metal and starry blackgaze in “Lustrate” to blast-beating death metal such as “Vehement Coalescence” and album closer “The Immortal Plague.” The Sea Which Has Become Known was the first giant leap for Mare Cognitum and remains just as significant as it was six years ago. Now a new generation will discover the immeasurable talent of Jacob Buczarski.
Obscene – Sermon to the Snake (Horror Pain Gore Death)
Obituary are one of the bands at the forefront of early death metal. You know who else was? Edge of Sanity. Dan Swano was a visionary that looked beyond the limits of what death metal could be. Now imagine if a John Tardy impersonator sang on Nothing But Death Remains and that’s Obscene’s Sermon To The Snake EP.
That may seem like a high compliment, but it’s just a reminder that those bands’ albums are readily available to stream/download/purchase. That’s a better option than listening to a band try their best to resurrect a sound driven into the ground ten years ago.
Revolting – Monolith Of Madness (FDA)
One of the greatest elements in Revolting’s music is they always point to Sweden’s golden years of death metal. They admire and emulate that era, where the bands combined old school death metal with a significant amount of guitar melodies.
Monolith of Madness is Revolting’s sixth studio album, and more like the fourth installment of three previous albums, where songwriting and production of the albums are following the same patterns. With no complexity in the songwriting, the songs are mostly constructed on haunting and catchy melodic riffs. That and the band’s powerful performance is another reason for making Monolith of Madness an absolute enjoyable album.
Terror Universal – Make Them Bleed (Minus Head)
Are masked bands making a comeback? If they are (and with the way the world has been heading so far in 2018, it’s a real possibility), Terror Universal attempt to head the pack with their debut Make Them Bleed.
Their formula of edgy—yet polished—riffs, frightening screams, and smooth choruses is one that’s been heard way too many times to count, yet Terror Universal find a way to make it more than a retread. They put in a good effort on Make Them Bleed, if you look past the cringe-inducing lyrics and forced attempts at mainstream radio airplay.
Yhdarl – Loss (I, Voidhanger)
Yhdarl’s Loss is a tense bundle of depressive black metal spiced with some rumbling doom/drone. The three songs on Loss range from 15 to 20 minutes, the piercing discontent of each cascading into hopelessness. Reflections of better days long gone frame portions of songs into something resembling beauty, if that beauty was doused in kerosene and set on fire.
An artful piano outro on closer “Sources – Nihil” doesn’t provide relief, but instead reinforces a forlorn emptiness that settles in early on Loss. It’s never easy to compose dreary songs this long, yet Yhdarl keep the tempos varied enough to ease in even the most hesitant listener.