This week’s reviews include releases from Archons, Bell Witch, Cyhra, Death Rattle, Europe, GWAR, Iron Monkey, The Kennedy Veil, Rig Time!, Savage Annihilation, Tom Keifer, Vuur and We Came As Romans.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Archons – Lords Of Light And Thunder (Self)
Undoubtedly, one of the main elements that makes Archons‘ music memorable is the riffs. All roads end to those powerful sludgy and chunky guitar chords, along with striking bass lines and high-powered drum parts.
From short song like “Dr. Pain” to the nine minutes epic “Mysterians,” San Diego’s trio Archons combine Crowbar-esque elements of doom and sludge metal with psychedelic rock, and even hardcore in Lords Of Light And Thunder. They create an epic atmosphere and pay hypnotic homage to retro metal music. Although Lords Of Light And Thunder doesn’t offer anything new, it is pure and gloomy yet enchanting and forceful.
Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore)
Mirror Reaper, an 83-minute, single-track behemoth from Bell Witch, is a daunting affair, a 900-page philosophy textbook in a row of disposable grocery store paperbacks. Even those used to the band’s knack for lengthy songs will be at a loss initially.
But don’t let the length be a deterrent. The death of former drummer Adrian Guerra weighs on this grand meditation on our existence, a sonic catharsis we are lucky to be privy to. Mirror Reaper is the most challenging metal album of 2017, yet is essential for anyone with the absolute determination to take this mammoth undertaking head on.
Cyhra – Letters To Myself (Spinefarm)
Cyhra are a new band, but its members are veterans of the Swedish scene. Originally a collaboration between ex-Amaranthe vocalist Jake E. and former In Flames guitarist Jesper Stromblad, they also brought aboard Stromblad’s former bandmate Peter Iwers on bass and current Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody drummer Alex Landenburg.
With Amaranthe, Jake E. had to share the spotlight with two other vocalists, but on Letters To Myself is the sole lead vocalist. The band’s sound combines the accessible pop metal of Amaranthe with the melodic guitar work of In Flames. The songs are catchy and radio-friendly with singalong choruses and soaring melodies along with some metallic crunch. Their lineup is impressive on paper, and they deliver on that promise with a well crafted and executed debut.
Death Rattle – Volition (Self)
Five years after their debut, New Hampshire groovers Death Rattle return with Volition. With so much time in between records, it gave the band ample opportunity to hone these songs.
You’ll hear influences of New Wave Of American Metal bands like Lamb Of God along with some thrashy sections. The guitar work is excellent, with memorable riffs and an ominous tone that delivers an ample supply of groove. And while there’s plenty of melody, Trey Holton’s intense vocals add extra extremity and brutality to the mix. Most of the songs have a deliberate pace, obliterating everything in their path.
Europe – Walk the Earth (Hell & Back)
The majority of the world remembers Europe primarily as the band behind the monster 1986 hit “The Final Countdown.” They had a string of successful albums that decade, riding the hair metal tidal wave to success before crashing back to earth (like the entire genre) upon the emergence of grunge.
The band got it going again this millennium, though, remaking themselves into more of a Deep Purple-style outfit. Walk the Earth is their seventh release in the 2000’s, and is a well-played collection of ’70s-inspired hard rock. There are no bona fide hits here, but Walk the Earth will satisfy fans of the band’s current stylings, as well as those who love the album-oriented rock of days gone by.
GWAR – The Blood Of Gods (Metal Blade)
The Blood OF Gods is the first GWAR album since the death of Dave Brockie (Oderus Urungus). Michael Bishop (Blothar) returned to the band a few years ago (he was formerly bassist Beefcake The Mighty) to take over vocal duties.
Visuals are a huge part of the GWAR experience, but they are also very solid musically. The album features a lot of styles, from doom parts on the lengthy opener “War on GWAR” to sleazy hard rock on “Viking Death Machine” to galloping thrash on “Crushed By The Cross” to heavy grooves on “Death To Dickie Duncan.” The lyrical concept is typical GWAR fare, with the album closing with the AC/DC cover “If You Want Blood (You Got It).” Oderus can never be replaced, but bohabs will be well pleased with Blood Of The Gods.
Iron Monkey – 9-13 (Relapse)
After a long hiatus, Iron Monkey return for their first album since 1998’s Our Problem and the first since the passing of vocalist Johnny Morrow in 2002. Guitarist Jim Rushby adds vocal duties. Seemingly the UK’s answer to Eyehategod, Iron Monkey might have been overlooked by the casual observer of sludge metal.
Iron Monkey tend to operate at a bit of a faster speed than their brethren from across the pond, but their music is still enough to make you feel uncomfortable. This style of sludge is one carved from the tablets of old and still retains many elements of hardcore punk at its core. The band sounds muddied by design and the tuning reflects that as well. 9-13 may not be the classic album that Our Problem was, but Iron Monkey are still a force to be reckoned with in 2017.
The Kennedy Veil – Imperium (Unique Leader)
California crushers The Kennedy Veil have undergone some lineup changes. Their third full-length Imperium features new vocalist Monte Barnard (ex-Fallujah live) and bassist Tyler Hawkins. There are also some high profile guests, including The Black Dahlia Murder’s Trevor Strnad and Aborted’s Sven de Caluwe.
Their style of death metal ranges from dense, frenzied extremity to more moderate and groove laden songs. Heavy guitars and a potent rhythm section are front and center, but the added atmospherics augment their sound with depth and emotion. This time around they dialed down the technicality a bit in favor of aggression. That gave them freedom to explore different approaches, more blackened but no less brutal.
Rig Time! – War (Innerstrength)
Angry, incensed, furious, pissed—Wisconsin trio Rig Time! are straight-up mad about delivering their second full-length record in War. Some odd skin of hardcore and sludge wrapped around a nu-metal mannequin, the band rely on simple, hard-hitting riffs intent on ramming the listener into the ground. Unfortunately, their aim is a bit off and the results, well, a bit too predictable.
Make no mistake: Rig Time! play heavy, groove-centric music, and the robust production keeps things at a constant threat level. But when the riffs and vocals start reminding of early Korn, well, it’d probably be best to just turn on “Ball Tongue” or something. In the end, War is a lot of bark and very little bite.
Savage Annihilation – Quand S’abaisse La Croix du Blasphème (XenoKorp)
French trio Savage Annihilation, the latest roster addition to upstart XenoKorp, play a decidedly direct, dirty, and ’90s style of death metal. Their second full-length record, Quand S’abaisse La Croix du Blasphème (which roughly translates to When the Cross of Blasphemy), hears the band eschewing track count for track length and doling out six tracks of barbaric, no-frills extremity.
Around since 2002, Savage Annihilation are clearly no strangers to the death metal scene, and their style is a non-stop barrage of ugly riffs and battering drums. Fans of modernized death metal might cringe at the evenness of it all, but the band’s will to bleed must be honored – this is devilish, trend-forsaking brutality. On a side note: considering everything else is in French, why don’t they just go by Annihilation Sauvage?
Tom Keifer – The Way Life Goes (Cleopatra)
Tom Keifer is known to us old-timers as the front man for ’80s hair-metal act Cinderella. The Way Life Goes is his 2013 solo outing, which was his first recording of any kind since Cinderella’s 1994 album Still Climbing, is getting a re-release in deluxe packaging from Cleopatra. Included here is the original album (14 tracks), along with several bonus songs and a DVD.
I haven’t seen the DVD, so can’t comment on it, but The Way Life Goes is a nondescript gathering of relatively mellow country-tinged blues-rock. Really, there are two good songs here, the catchy “Fool’s Paradise” and the excellent “The Flower Song.” The songs that have been added as part of the deluxe edition” a duet with Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale on the old Cinderella classic “Nobody’s Fool” and a rousing rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends,”– are the best part of the package.
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities (InsideOut)
Vuur are the new group featuring former The Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen. Since leaving The Gathering, she’s been busy with her solo career and collaborating with Devin Townsend on his own solo music. With In This Moment We Are Free – Cities, she gives recognition to the various places she has traveled as a musician.
Each city has a progressive anthem, with sublime vocals overshadowing the routine songwriting that lacks surprises or knockout tracks. At over an hour long, the album doesn’t have the consistency to maintain that time, though van Giersbergen’s astonishing range keeps this debut record from falling apart.
We Came As Romans – Cold Like War (SharpTone)
We Came As Romans have had a lot of commercial success, with their last two albums peaking at numbers 8 and 11 on the Billboard 200 chart. For their fifth full-length Cold Like War, they are on a new record label, SharpTone.
As on past records, they skillfully blend intense metalcore with more accessible post hardcore and hard rock. Songs like the title track and “Two Hands” have both catchy melodic singing and aggressive yelling. Electronic parts have become part of the metalcore template, with “Encoder” and a couple others heavily utilizing those elements. They haven’t compromised at all on the heaviness, while the melodic sections are catchier than ever.