This week’s reviews include releases from Abkehr, Below, Divine Element, DragonForce, Fire From The Gods, Godhunter, Hell Or Highwater, Kalopsia, Lo-Ruhamah, Loss, Morass Of Molasses and Somnium Nox.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Abkehr – In Asche (Sentient Ruin)
German duo Abkehr deliver a punishing debut of cataclysmic proportions. Cold, bleak and unrelenting in its assault, In Asche hearkens back to the glory days of raw basement black metal, evoking influences of early Darkthrone and Ash Borer to name a few. Their collective misery for mankind manifests itself into utterly vile ambiance which crawls its way through the blackened cacophony of four abhorrent and thoroughly despairing movements.
Crashing incessant blastbeats meet icy venomous riffs all set to forboding empty soundscapes with hideously shrill vocals lamenting a nightmare of hopelessness. For fans of stripped-back and straight-forward metal blazing with tradition and enveloped in a blanket of oil-black darkness.
Below – Upon a Pale Horse (Metal Blade)
Sweden’s Below are a five-piece doom outfit that aim for the epic end of the spectrum. Upon a Pale Horse is their second album, following 2014’s Across the Dark River. A big draw for this band is the singer Zeb, whose vocal stylings are like a theatrical Geoff Tate, and much like on their first album he nails his performances again here.
Across the Dark River was chock full of guitar-heavy doom, with plenty of riffs and solos to keep ardent metal fans satisfied. Upon a Pale Horse expands the envelope of what Below can do, by offering us both faster and slower songs where doom is still the genre of influence, but classic metal is at the fore. This album is a step up from their first, and needs to be checked out by all metal fans.
Divine Element- Thaurachs of Borsu (I, Voidhanger)
Divine Element enter a fantasy world of medieval scale on Thaurachs of Borsu. The album is based on a novel Ayloss, of Spectral Lore fame, wrote. Ayloss, who handles the guitars, bass and synth instrumentation, is joined by vocalist Antonis and session drummer Hannes Grossmann.
With grand charm and waves of harmonic guitar leads, the album has a feel of a blackened sea shanty. This is inviting on a different level compared to the dense aesthetics of Spectral Lore. The band properly sets up the enthralling quest as lived through the eyes of a battle-hardened solder.
DragonForce – Reaching Into Infinity (Metal Blade)
Seven albums into their career, there aren’t any big surprises on what to expect from a new DragonForce album. Extraordinary guitar work from Herman Li and Sam Totman along with soaring vocals and epic arrangements have become their trademark. That’s also the case on their latest effort Reaching Into Infinity.
It’s the third album for vocalist Marc Hudson and the first studio release for drummer Gee Anzalone. Slickly produced by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia), it’s an album with both technical wizardry and memorable melodies. It also includes DragonForce’s longest song to-date, the eleven plus minute “The Edge Of The World,” an epic track with serious shredding and some growling vocals from Hudson. Like most DragonForce releases, this will hit the spot for fans, no matter what the critical response is.
Fire From The Gods – Narrative Retold (Rise)
After Narrative was released last year, the Austin, Texas band Fire From The Gods are issuing an expanded version of that disc called Narrative Retold. It includes a couple of new tracks and an acoustic song.
FFTG have a distinctive style, blending metalcore with accessible melodies and adding elements of rap and reggae. Frontman AJ Channer has a powerful melodic singing voice and has the versatility to rap and deliver screaming vocals. His lyrics cover political and socio-economic topics. One of the new songs on this edition is the album opener “The Voiceless,” an instantly memorable track and the best on the record. It’s an eclectic release from a band with a unique sound and voice.
Godhunter – Codex Narco (Battleground)
Codex Narco, the latest EP from Godhunter, follows a period of lineup turbulence for the group. They emerged from it with an experimental mind frame, allowing electronic manipulation, spoken word recordings, and less demanding vocals greater leeway.
The method of consumption for this EP is as a whole, as that makes the numerous interludes valuable instead of serving as undeveloped ideas. There are interesting riffs within these short pieces that could’ve been shaped into something fully-fledged. The metalized cover of Tegan and Sara’s “Walking with a Ghost” is a bold decision that may divide listeners, but that kind of risk-taking is commendable.
Hell Or Highwater – Vista (Spinefarm)
Six years after their debut, Hell Or Highwater return with their sophomore full-length Vista. The band was formed by Brandon Saller when Atreyu went on a hiatus, but continue on even after Atreyu’s reunion.
Hell Or Highwater play accessible, radio-friendly hard rock. Tracks like “I Want It All” and “Walk Out In The Rain” are catchy and memorable. They change things up from time to time, such as on the retro-tinged “Lighter Than Air” and the subdued “Blister.” Saller has an expressive delivery, good for earnest mainstream rockers and also for darker, funkier tracks like “Dame.” There’s not a bit of filler in the album’s dozen songs.
Kalopsia – Angelplague (HPGD)
An important thing that is now clearly noticeable in the New Jersey death metal band Kalopsia is they band have entered a new chapter of their career with their brand new third album Angelplague.
Their musicianship has gotten stronger along with the songwriting which sounds more mature than their two previous albums. With songs mostly around 4 to 5 minutes long, Kalopsia have made an intelligent move. Technically have revamped their music by building it upon ferocious brutal sounds but adding major melodic guitar work. That makes Angelplague filled with groovier, catchier songs, making it Kalopsia’s best release to date.
Lo-Ruhamah – Anointing (I, Voidhanger)
Though Lo-Ruhamah’s second album Anointing can safely be called death/black metal with little resistance, there’s a disjointed style to their music that gives off an almost proggy aura. This isn’t a straight rush of dissonance to the temple, but a meticulous force with no particular set of rules.
They’ll be blazing by, the group’s admiration for despair and spiritual tension obvious. Then, quite likely with no warning, a pivot into a refined, mid-level tempo happens. It’s prevalent in five-minute jaunts like “The Corridor” and “Lidless Eye,” though compact compositions like “Charisma” do it just as well.
Loss – Horizonless (Profound Lore)
Funeral doom is not easy music to listen to. If you made it all the way through Loss’s 2011 debut Despond, you know what I mean. This is music made for crushing souls and sucking hope out of the world. It’s an ordeal for the band to play, and an ordeal for us to listen, but when it’s done well, oh boy does it get you.
Horizonless ups the ante from Despond in every way. The band says Horizonless will take the listener even further beyond the realms of hopelessness, and they’re right. These are massive, ponderous, death-filled dirges that suck the air out of the room. But not only are the songs and ambient segues nightmarishly dark, they’ve been meticulously constructed and produced, giving us one of the best-sounding, written, and performed doom albums of the year.
Morass of Molasses – These Paths We Tread (HeviSike)
These Paths We Tread, the full-length debut from English trio Morass of Molasses, is a tricky beast. Bluesy, hard-hitting, and well put together, the record delivers stoner rock with a metallic edge, groovy and grumbling and quick to temper. And if one can tolerate the bipolar vocal duties of Bones the Beard, whose choices range from excellent to awkward, this album may very well prove an under-the-radar winner.
Clearly a strong and varied singer, Bones summons MJK, Danzig, Matt Hyde, and even Marilyn Manson. Impressive, no doubt, but these likenesses are often too glaring and then, on occasion, shaky in execution. The music, while sometimes innocuous, is managed deftly, with the guitars allotting enough space for the rhythm section to create ample mood and hypnotic atmosphere. It’s all professionally done, and the opener “My Leviathan” rules, but these guys are still a work in progress.
Somnium Nox – Terra Inanis (Transcending Obscurity)
After forming in 2016, the Australian atmospheric black metal band Somnium Nox emerge with their debut album Terra Inanis, which translates to “empty earth.”
That’s an apt title for the style and sound of the album. After starting with a mellow, acoustic intro, the intensity begins. “Soliloquy Of Lament” alternates between dense black metal with screeching vocals buried deep in the mix, majestic and melodic sections, and the aforementioned acoustic parts. That’s the case with the album’s other two tracks as well. There are a lot of ebbs and flows in each 9 to 10 minute song. 30 minutes is enough to satisfy with overstaying their welcome. It’s an intriguing and dynamic debut that shows skillful songwriting skills that fans of atmospheric black metal will appreciate.