This week’s reviews include releases from Acherontas, Atrexial, Death Of Kings, Doyle, Dream Evil, Eighteen Visions, Great White, Jorn, The Pod, Primal Fear, Satanarchist, Tengger Cavalry, Vallenfyre and Wednesday 13.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Acherontas – Amarta (Formulas of Reptilian Unification Part II) (W.T.C)
Riding the same hermetic bat out of hell as fellow esoteric serpents Nightbringer, Greece’s Acherontas have released their follow up to 2015’s impressive Ma-IoN (Formulas of Reptilian Unification). Amarta (Formulas of Reptilian Unification Part II) is an altogether blacker force than its predecessor, further pushing boundaries to reveal the scope of their dark art.
There are plenty of strong tracks on display, full of blistering drums and teeth-pulling riffs. Though I’m a sucker for blast beats, the real standout is the title track, which is more meditative and soulful with truly consuming passages that sweep you into their magick. Grim, impassioned and flowing with intricate nuances, Amarta will go down as their most triumphant release to date.
Atrexial – Souverain (Godz ov War)
Souverain, the full-length debut from Spanish trio Atrexial, is the aural representation of a sheer 20-story cliff. It’s huge, imposing, and all but void of hand or foothold. Yes, finding anything to grab onto—anything of significance, mind you—is a frustrating chore on Souverain. The riffs are big, the drums rumbling, and the vocals menacing, but the lasting impact? Fleeting.
Certainly of the same camp as Behemoth, these Spaniards are not lacking in scope or ambition—get a load of those keys. The record is undeniably grand, and when the group merges for some of that good ole blackened death metal majesty, oh how the speakers will shake. It’s unrepentant, evil, and often quite distressing, but also uniformly even in its execution. Has Hellraiser lost its mojo?
Death of Kings – Kneel Before None (Boris)
Kneel Before None, the debut full-length from Atlanta’s Death of Kings, rises from manic energy, a source of limitless potential that almost goes unrealized. The first half of the album is shaky, the group trying to find their footing. By the time the exhilarating momentum of “Hell Comes to Life” flashes on, it’s a powerhouse the rest of the way.
A few of these song have been distributed in one way or another in demo or EP form, but added experience has made them finely tuned on Kneel Before None. The band is defiant through all nine songs, never compromising their thrashy antics.
Doyle – II: As We Die (Monsterman)
II: As We Die is the second album from Doyle, the band started by Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. There have been a couple of lineup changes since their 2013 debut. Frontman Alex Story (Cancerslug) is a holdover, with this being the first Doyle album for bassist Brandon Strate and drummer Brandon Pertzborn (Black Flag).
Doyle’s unmistakable guitar style and tone drives the album, with a diverse performance by Story, who alternates smooth melodic singing with aggressive harsh vocals. The songs are diverse as well, ranging from slow paced doom to moderate sludge to uptempo thrash, with the common thread being the dark lyrics.
Dream Evil – Six (Century Media)
Everything about Six is everything that heavy metal should be. Once. Sweden’s Dream Evil, fronted by the vocalist with the devilish Adam Ant makeup, Niklas Isfeldt, and captained by genius Fredrik Nordström, have crafted a pure slice of power metal. Searing guitar solos from Mark Black pepper the album on nearly every track. The songs are Kindle-ready e-text examples of hockey arena anthems. The production is such commercial confectionary that it vies with Fristedt’s guitar as the choicest truffle in the candy box.
There is a glaring blemish amid all this stone-cold commercialism. Like a quarter-sized zit on Kate Upton’s face when she shows up at the door as your prom date, there is no way to ignore the lyrics on Six. The Goteborg guys have unleashed the worst stink pile of song words heard on record in… maybe ever. There is so much right about this record that it’s gut-wrenching to point out the wrong. It’s useless to discuss “Six Hundred and 66” or “Creature of the Night.” The songs do their anthem duty and the lyrics smash the bus into the wall. What an awesome noise and shameful wreck.
Eighteen Visions – XVIII (Rise)
The influential California metalcore band Eighteen Visions split after their 2006 self-titled album. A decade later, they have reunited for XVIII. Their lineup includes vocalist James Hart, guitarist Keith Barney and drummer Trevor Friedrich. Bassist Mick Morris passed away in 2013, and one of the tracks (“Live Again”) is a tribute to him.
Toward the end of their initial run, 18V moved more toward rock and away from metalcore. XVIII revisits their roots with passionate harsh vocals from Hart and a lot of heavy guitars. There are some melodic vocals that add a nice change of pace, but intensity and heaviness dominate. They aren’t reinventing the wheel, but the emotion and skillful musicianship will resonate with the band’s existing fans and introduce them to a whole new generation.
Great White – Full Circle (Bluez Tone)
After Jack Russell’s Great White released an album earlier this year, the original incarnation of Great White return with Full Circle. It includes founding guitarist Mark Kendall along with longtime members Audie Desbrow (drums) and Michael Lardie (guitar, keyboards). Bassist Scott Snyder has been in the band for nearly a decade, and they are fronted by Terry Illous (XYZ).
The band’s bluesy hard rock sound is intact. The songs are melodic and radio-friendly (“Let Me In” would have been a huge hit back in the day), but pack some bite as well. Ilous has a great voice with a lot of range, able to sing very smoothly and also adding some grit and soul when needed. They reunited with super-producer Michael Wegener, who also produced their debut album back in 1984. It’s a winning combination, resulting in an album that’s rooted in the ’80s, but is not stuck there.
Jorn – Life On Death Road (Frontiers)
A year after their last release (the covers album Heavy Rock Radio), Jorn return with Life On Death Road. Frontman Jorn Lande has several new band members this time around. It includes three members of Primal Fear: guitarist Alex Beyrodt, bassist Mat Sinner and drummer Francesco Iovino (drums). Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline) handles keyboards and production duties.
Even with the changes, Jorn’s sound remains consistent. It’s the bluesy hard rock/metal they’ve been delivering for years. Lande’s voice is as potent as ever, and Beyrodt provides excellent guitar work. The lyrics aren’t always profound, but the melodies are memorable, the production pristine and the musicianship first-rate.
The Pod – The Pod (Accident Prone)
The Pod is the solo project of MAKE guitarist/vocalist Scott Endres, a way for him to add an electronic/ambient side to doom metal. This self-titled effort is a sonic puzzle, lingering pieces shaped and fitted until a haunting picture is revealed.
Fourteen minutes of crawling, drone-inducing music builds around “The Analeptic Ritual,” the instrumental album landmark. It’s a lot to take in, though Endres skillfully raises tension minute by minute before the eventual sinister denouncement. It’s not the only standout track, but it’s the one that deftly encompasses the best parts of The Pod.
Primal Fear – Angels Of Mercy: Live In Germany (Frontiers)
The veteran German band Primal Fear have been around for two decades now, but had only released one previous live album back in 2010. Angels Of Mercy: Live In Germany was recorded in Stuttgart and is available on CD and Blu-ray. The DVD includes some extra videos along with a tour documentary.
Four of the 14 proper tracks are from their latest album, 2016’s Rulebreaker. The rest of the songs span their career, going back to 2001’s Nuclear Fire. Frontman Ralf Scheepers still sounds great and can hit those high notes. The set flows really smoothly and the band’s performance is excellent. They’ve always been underappreciated in North America, and this album/DVD is a good representation of the appeal of Primal Fear.
First Against the Wall is from Satanarchist, a Portland duo known for their time in the overlooked Spectral Tombs. With this band, they put a burnt crusting over some nasty black metal, sounding like devious punks acting out after hearing Darkthrone’s Sardonic Wrath.
Unfortunately, the songwriting is uneven. “Silver Ships of Andilar,” a cover of a Townes Van Zandt ballad, could’ve been a chance to give a timeless country tune a crafty twist, but the group strips any soul away in favor of aggression and drags it on for seven minutes. These two guys have a seamless musical chemistry, but the songs don’t quite resonate.
Tengger Cavalry – Die On My Ride (M-Theory)
With so many interchangeable and generic sounding bands out there, one with a unique style and sound like Tengger Cavalry really stands out. They have been very prolific over the past few years, releasing several live and studio albums and EPs. Their latest effort is Die On My Ride.
It features traditional Mongolian folk instruments along with metal guitars. Some tracks are acoustic and folk-tinged while others rock a bit harder. Frontman Nature Ganganbaigal sings with a unique baritone style, but shows versatility and a higher range on songs like the accessible “Ashley” and memorable “The Frontline.” His lyrical approach is different this time around as well, with a greater focus on personal topics. The result is an album that still has plenty of the traditional sound they are known for, but pushes forward into new realms as well.
Vallenfyre – Fear Those Who Fear Him (Century Media)
Vallenfyre have had a couple of lineup changes since their last album. Vocalist/guitarist Gregor Mackintosh (Paradise Lost) and guitarist Hamish Hamilton Glencross remain, but drummer Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates, The Haunted) and bassist Scoot have exited.
Even with the turmoil, Fear Those Who Fear Him is Vallenfyre’s strongest album to-date. Fast, groovy death metal is contrasted by more deliberate and crushing doom. They really amp up the tempo on tracks like the blazing “Nihilist,” while songs like “Merciless Tide” have a slower pace. Death metal is the main course, but doom, crust and grind provide tasty side dishes. Lyrically, they have evolved from intensely personal on their debut to more universal, global and even political. Fear Those Who Fear Him is a powerful and varied album that vaults Vallenfyre from a side project to a force to be reckoned with.
Wednesday 13 – Condolences (Nuclear Blast)
In the spirit of the times, Wednesday 13 gives a kooky slant on death, a cheesy report on violent intentions and a carnival of mean-spiritedness, all hurled at you like a 46-minute bout of projectile vomiting.
Condolences does not curse you with dirty vocals and wicked guitar, but brings hammer movie hoots atop a groovy-ghoulie rhythm. Mister Joe Poole, or Wednesday 13 down at the coven cave, belts out a goth vibe while sounding like a sober Lemmy. Condolences gets right to the best song on the album ‘What The Night Brings’ after 54 seconds of silliness, and then speeds along for a nice booster shot of Halloween.