This week’s reviews include releases from Abhorrent Decimation, Byzantine, Couch Slut, Divinity Compromised, Fate Unburied, Hexenklad, Make Them Suffer, Obscura Amentia, Prong, Rage, Rex Brown, Scalpel, Shattered Sun and Temple Of Void.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Abhorrent Decimation – The Pardoner (Prosthetic)
Abhorrent Decimation’s The Pardoner is an antsy sort of listen, seemingly always on its toes ready to pounce without any warning. Their death metal has its fair share of insistent momentum, though an ambient passage of dreamy guitars on “Votive Offerings” is a tasteful swerve.
The abundance of orchestral work, placed in intros and outros, gives beauty to the band’s indignant stance. An interesting next step would be to see them better incorporated into the main music, and not pasted onto the front or back of songs. That could be the push that puts Abhorrent Decimation above the rest of the fray.
Byzantine – The Cicada Tree (Metal Blade)
West Virginia groovers Byzantine have always been an underrated band. They have released some excellent albums over the years, but for various reasons haven’t been able to reach the level their talent warrants. That may change with their latest release The Cicada Tree. They have signed with Metal Blade Records after a couple of self releases, which should lead to more exposure and touring opportunities.
They have a good album to tour on. The Cicada Tree features sizzling guitar work from Brian “Hendo” Henderson and a diverse performance from vocalist Chris Ojeda. There’s ample heaviness with a combination of harsh and melodic vocals, but also a lot of accessibility. That contrast is typified on “Map Of The Creator,” which has both mellow acoustic parts and very heavy sections. Byzantine bring a different approach to each album, always moving forward, and that’s the case with The Cicada Tree.
Couch Slut – Contempt (Gilead)
No album in 2017 has made this reviewer as uncomfortable as Couch Slut’s Contempt does. It feels real, authentic, as if each guttural scream from vocalist Megan Osztrosits is a cathartic release of some past trauma. It’s hard not to believe every word she says, which makes for a riveting performance.
Contempt is a musical division. The first half is immediate and unnerving, while the second half has a funeral dirge level of pacing. Couch Slut play both sides with an ease of hand that is well developed for a band only on their second album.
Divinity Compromised – Terminal (Qumran/No Dust)
Divinity Compromised are a Chicago-area progressive metal band, and Terminal is their second album. The band features Lothar Keller (The Skull) on vocals, but the draw here is the music more so than the singing, with lead guitarist Jeff Treadwell delivering a stellar performance.
Terminal is a relatively modern-sounding album, with one toe dipping into the power metal realm. The songs are epic, heavy, and melodic, and draw from Dream Theater and Symphony X among other acts. The slip-ups on Terminal are the lyrics, which will sound dated in a few years’ time: “The Definition of Insanity” is full of sound bytes from last year’s presidential election, for example. But other than that, Terminal is a very solid prog metal release.
Fate Unburied – Logos (Sliptrick)
There is a definite taste of progressive death metal brought to the table here. Fate Unburied combine this with other styles for maximum potential. The music is harsh and melodic in nature, but definitely has a progressive flavor as well. This leads to music that is not unlike what Death has performed. Unlike that band, there isn’t as much of a hard-hitting aspect to the music, but rather one that explores different progressive avenues, including some wonderful instrumental numbers.
Despite the dynamics present, the band has the ability to put in their death and hardcore vocals to the mix. The entirety of the music is interesting and sounds very vibrant. Still, one wishes the band would scale the heights of the better progressive death bands out there. Instead they play music that seems to lack a definable identity.
Hexenklad – Spirit Of The Stone (CDN)
The Canadian band Hexenklad were formed by Sig:Ar:Tyr guitarist Michael Grund a few years ago. Their debut album Spirit Of The Stone blends folk and black metal.
The balance shifts between rousing folk and darker, more ominous black metal. The melodies are contrasted by the harsh vocals of Timothy Johnston (Eclipse Eternal). The lyrical themes are geared toward nature and personal enlightenment. The songwriting displays a lot of versatility, from the epic “At The Ends Of Existence” to the melodic “At Dusk” to the closing acoustic instrumental “An Offering.”
Make Them Suffer – Worlds Apart (Rise)
Australia’s Make Them Suffer were, at one juncture, neatly ensconced in the deathcore scene. On their latest and third full-length record, Worlds Apart, the band has left much of the burly chest-pounding to the wayside in favor of something much more melodic and nuanced. The symphonic element, also, to an extent, seems dialed back.
Behind a powerful, crystalline production, Worlds Apart serves as a hard-hitting and groove-heavy effort that shines on the strength of its instrumentation; the guitar work here is particularly effective. Vocally, the album will gear itself to a young fan base, with rosy lyrics and female refrains sure to sell extra tickets. At its worst, Worlds Apart rides the rim of emocore; at its best, the album rocks, grooves, and, on occasion, reminds of The Agony Scene. “Midnight Run” is a choice cut.
Obscura Amentia – The Art Of The Human Decadence (Sliptrick)
Italy’s blackened goth creatures Obscura Amentia return with The Art Of The Human Decadence, a long gestated follow up to 2012’s Ritual. The duo play a depressing brand of blackened doom metal with rolling drum patterns and seductively despairing riffs to the devilish rasp of female vocals cutting through the bleak cry of instruments. Guitars buzz with high tremolo picking and though capable of drawing you into its web, they can fall on the repetitive side as the album generally follows the one tone.
Standout tracks include “Agony” and the haunting instrumental outro “Ananke” and its use of plucked strings and ambiance. The Art Of The Human Decadence is a thoroughly decent album with outstanding musicianship.
Prong – Zero Days (SPV/Steamhammer)
Prong have been on a creative roll over the past several years, releasing a new album every year since 2014. Zero Days is the latest addition to their extensive catalog, and features the return of bassist Mike Longworth, who was previously in the band from 2003 to 2006 but never appeared on a studio album until now.
Frontman Tommy Victor’s creative well shows no sign of going dry, as he continues to write memorable songs that span genres from groove to industrial to hardcore to thrash. There are singalong choruses, headbangable moments, progressive flourishes and grooves galore. Victor also produced the album, which sounds crisp and heavy.
Rage – Seasons Of The Black (Metalville/Nuclear Blast)
The German speed/power metal band Rage have been around for more than 30 years now. Vocalist/bassist Peter “Peavy” Wagner is the lone member from band’s classic era, with Seasons Of The Black being their second album with the current lineup that also includes guitarist Marcos Rodriguez (who delivers several searing solos) and drummer Lucky Maniatopoulos.
They retain a classic speed metal sound with blazing guitars, memorable melodies and Wagner’s distinctive vocals that are melodic but with a bit of an edge. Though the vibe is classic, the production is modern, thanks to a mix and master provided by superproducer Dan Swano. Rage follow the template established by past albums, delivering what their fans want and expect.
Rex Brown – Smoke On This (eOne)
Since the demise of Pantera, Rex Brown has played with Phil Anselmo in Down, and most recently has been part of Kill Devil Hill. Smoke On This is Brown’s first solo album, and he wears a lot of hats including vocals, rhythm guitar and bass.
Brown plays old fashioned rock and roll. Some songs have a ’70s vibe, others are more fuzzed out and psychedelic with a ’60s flair. Heavy guitars abound, but there are acoustic driven tracks as well. From southern rock to British pop, Brown draws from numerous influences. When it comes to singing, he does a serviceable job. His raspy baritone fits right in with the raw, heavy songs and manages to pull off ballads like “One Of These Days” as well. There are some metal moments, but hard and classic rock are the predominant styles.
Scalpel – Methods To Delusion (Self)
In some ways, Methods to Delusion continues the path of Scalpel’s debut album Sorrow and Skin, with old fashioned rhythm guitars along with loads of melodic guitar work rides on the massive layers of ferocious drumming. But this is not the end of story in Scalpel’s second album.
Methods to Delusion is completely structured upon a chaotic experimental atmosphere, which leads the sound of the album to be labeled as avant-garde death metal or even as mathcore at some points. Scalpel keep their Brutal Truth-esque grindcore part of their music quite interesting where the band successfully have blended all those borrowed old school elements with modern ones to fill Methods to Delusion with many enchanting, blistering moments.
Shattered Sun – The Evolution of Anger (Victory)
An album may take a couple of spins before becoming a member of the voices in your head, such as it has been while experiencing Texan crew Shattered Sun’s The Evolution of Anger. It’s one part metalcore and three parts melody, underpinned with the right drams of heaviness to offset the wicked grams of melodic Mexican mud.
Anger is the drug. The evolution of anger into a finer understanding of the reasons that made you so mad, draws the The Evolution of Anger into the main vein that supplies the need to hear more. The voices in your head evolve into the riffs infused in “Keep Your Eyes Shut” and “Out For Justice.” Producer Mark Lewis (Fallujah, etc) knows how to handle Marcos Leal’s harsh vocals while letting Jessie Santos and Henry Garza help flesh out the melodic choruses. Pay attention to Daniel Trejo on main axe. In this addictive album, let Shattered Sun carry you on the waves of their thoughtful headiness.
Temple of Void – Lords of Death (Shadow Kingdom/Hells Headbangers)
Pounding percussion instead of relentless blasts combined with a top shelf guttural vocal performance gives Temple Of Void a drive that most death metal bands can’t match. This is a powerful band, I suspect, somewhat reined in by the constraints of the recording. “Graven Desires” is outstanding in the context of what is a very strong album, bringing unsettling gothic melodies against the crushing bass and drums and an outbreak of epic metal vocals. That takes us to “Shadow of the Deceiver” for the stark and foreboding finish.
As most evident in these songs, Temple of Void have an underlying sense of theater that drives their music, which I would love to hear pushed onward in their work. A band with a command of metal dynamics this strong can only impress if they work to those strengths in the future.