This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Azusa, Benighted, Calligram, Cordyceps, Dool, Drain, Gloom, High Priestess, Kool Keith, Lady Beast, Lord Vigo, Metal Church, Midwife, Ritual Dictates, Spell, Symbolik, Thetan, Wayward Dawn, Witch Taint and Wolfheart.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Azusa – Loop Of Yesterdays (Solid State)
Loop Of Yesterdays is the second album from Azusa, whose lineup includes vocalist Eleni Zafiriadou (Sea + Air), bassist Liam Wilson (The Dillinger Escape Plan), guitarist Christer Espevoll (Extol) and drummer David Husvik (Extol).
The diversity and constant shifts are evident from the opener “Memories Of An Old Emotion” and goes back and forth from intense thrash to ethereal pop. Azusa broach other genres as well on the album, from jazz-fusion to prog to hardcore. Testament’s Alex Skolnick solos on “Detach,” which shifts from chaotic to straightforward and back again. Eleni Zafiriadou’s vocals run the gamut from throat-ripping screams to reserved melodic singing. Though technically impressive, the songs also have emotional resonance and many memorable moments.
Benighted – Obscene Repressed (Season Of Mist)
The latest release from veteran French death/grinders Benighted is a concept album. Obscene Repressed tells the twisted story of a psychotic boy with oedipal issues.
Crushing death metal and grindcore drive the album, but Benighted insert quieter moments like the intro of “Brutus,” a brief jazzy interlude on “Muzzle” and groovy sections that give the dense songs room to breathe. Guests on the album include Cytotoxin’s Sebastian Grihm and Disbelief’s Karsten Jager. Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta lends his hardcore style to “Implore The Negative,” a definite contrast to the band’s usual brutal death vocals, but it works well. Some editions of the album also include a cover of Slipknot’s “Get This.”
Calligram – The Eye Is The First Circle (Prosthetic)
Members of Calligram come from all over the world, including the UK, Italy, and Brazil, but their singular vision is demented, hardcore-tinged black metal on their debut album, The Eye Is The First Circle. Though the lyrics are written and sung in Italian, the rasps are so inhuman that it would be hard to comprehend in any language. The first few songs are savage, with a barrier of discordant sound that isn’t chipped away by anything melodious.
That chipping away begins more in the superior second half of The Eye Is The First Circle, where the antagonistic sonic mannerisms are toned down for periods of subdued peace. “Anedonia” captures this direction very well, as does closer “Un dramma vuoto e insanabile.” As expected, these detours are temporary, eventually bringing back the mayhem in grand fashion.
Cordyceps – Betrayal (Unique Leader)
Cordyceps love brutal death metal, and they play it pretty well on Betrayal. If all a listener is asking for is 30 or so minutes of soul-devouring music, then Betrayal is a great use of time. Add in a grindcore legend like Napalm Death’s Mitch Harris, who provides additional vocals on a few songs, and the first studio album from Cordyceps seems to accomplish everything it sets out to do.
That does come at the sacrifice of any deciphering differences between these songs. Save for the obligatory introduction track, Betrayal stays on course and never moves an inch away from the path. The title track and “The Abyss” could be switched out of order with no repercussions to the album’s pacing, which is a consistent trait of the album. Betrayal is inoffensive death metal, which is a contradictory phrase in of itself.
Dool – Summerland (Prophecy)
The debut album from Dutch rockers Dool was well-received in Europe, and their second full-length Summerland finds the band further developing their sound.
Dynamic and melodic hard rock can be heard on songs like “Sulphur & Starlight” while more progressive tendencies move to the forefront on “God Particle.” Ryanne van Dorst’s vocals are emotional and varied. “The Well’s Run Dry” features spoken word vocals from Bolzer’s Okoi Jones, with appearances from Per Wilberg (Opeth, Spiritual Beggars) and Farida Lemouchi (The Devil’s Blood) as well. While there are catchy moments on songs like “Ode To The Future,” the album is also complex with more depth and texture than their debut.
Drain – California Cursed (Revelation)
It’s a feat for any band on a studio album to sound like they are having a great time no matter the subject matter, which is something Drain accomplish on California Cursed. Whether vocalist Sam Ciaramitaro is yelling about independence, boredom or rage, the group keeps the pep up on their crossover sound. With a majority of the songs in the two-minute range, there’s little maneuvering to do anything other than get in, destroy, and rush out.
Save for the acoustic guitar-led interlude “Hollister Daydreamer,” California Cursed is a mosh pit-friendly record. Brief lead guitar spats inject old-school flavor, especially the shredding that goes on during “White Coat Syndrome.” Then again, someone may just want tunes that’ll get legs flying during a live show, and that’s what “Feel The Pressure” and “Sick One” are for. California Cursed is a compact, relentless delight.
Gloom – Awaken (Slovak Metal Army)
The Slovak gothic metal band Gloom formed back in the early 2000s and released an album before disbanding in 2009. They reconvened about five years later, with Awaken their third album.
With their name and gothic style, you may expect nothing but slow, dirge-like songs, but that’s not the case. Songs like “Feel The Pain” are uptempo but not upbeat. “Everything Ends” is perhaps the album’s catchiest song. They do slow down the proceedings on the atmospheric “Fragments Of Life” and earnest “Epilogue.” No matter the tempo, the songs on Awaken are melodic and memorable. Martin Pazdera has the baritone voice and melancholy delivery that fits the style perfectly, and female backing vocals add variety.
High Priestess – Casting the Circle (Ripple)
The second album from L.A.’s High Priestess, Casting the Circle, is a mystical journey through doomy, psychedelic regions of heavy music. The music this trio of ladies conjures is spellbinding, bringing to mind anything from Black Sabbath to The Doors, all with a ritualistic style that draws you in and doesn’t let go.
From the ceremonial opening title track to the epic, 17-minute “Invocation” and the choral closing track “Ave Satanas,” High Priestess keep things interesting, enthralling, and, yes, spellbinding, alternating effortlessly from eastern-sounding jams to keyboard-driven heaviness seamlessly. The pacing of Casting the Circle is much like a ritual, building to a rapturous crescendo before collapsing in exhaustion. Highly recommended for fans of occult rock.
Kool Keith x Thetan – Space Goretex (Anti-Corporate)
Longstanding hip hop maniac Kool Keith has collaborated on a project with Tennessean noise project Thetan. He also brings to the fold his longstanding alter egos Dr. Octagon, Dr. Dooom and Black Elvis, who spend most of their time traveling across space and taking part in various sexual acts including one with a female police officer.
Keith as usual uses odd rhythms to back his equally odd lyrics and personas and it all works within the framework of Thetan’s evil electronics. The best way to describe Space Goretex is by way of one of the song’s titles: “Complicated Trip.” If you are a fan of Keith and his works as any of his many monikers you will enjoy this collab which also includes members of Three 6 Mafia, Dwarves and GWAR.
Lady Beast – The Vulture’s Amulet (Reaper Metal)
Pittsburgh’s Lady Beast return with their fourth proper album The Vulture’s Amulet and it rings true in the eyes and ears of the traditional heavy metal faithful.
Vocalist Deb Levine sounds fantastic with her gruff delivery, giving the music that much more of an edge, much like Sanhedrin’s Erica Stoltz. Plenty of other bands come to mind, whether it be classic era Judas Priest, Slough Feg, or Savage Master. You have a lot to like here. For fans looking for a well-oiled “Metal Machine” to dust off your tape decks to, Lady Beast will hearken you back to hard rocking days of yore.
Lord Vigo – Danse De Noir (High Roller)
Lord Vigo took their name from a character in Ghostbusters II. The German heavy metal trio’s latest, Danse De Noir is based in fantasy, if you consider how futuristic mechanisms are often paired with primal savagery in the literature canon. The album is based on the work on the Blade Runner universe. Movie samples provide interludes to help the group realize these ideas.
Musically, Danse De Noir is of the epic variety of heavy metal. There are references to classic heavy metal/NWOBHM such as the bass-fueled gallops on “At The Verge Of Time.” This track has some Dio moments including a monster riff that would have fit well on Heaven and Hell. Keyboards add a sense of the celestial. The vocals work in a mid-range and even take on goth sensibilities on “Between Despair and Ecstasy.” From the low-volume production to 1980s heavy metal riffs and analog noises, Danse De Noir offers potent fantasy and nostalgia.
Metal Church – From The Vault (Rat Pak)
Metal Church’s latest offering, From The Vault, is a compilation album containing tracks sung by latest singer, Mike Howe. Howe was the voice of the longstanding group in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and has been at the helm for the last five years. The album contains four new tracks, b-sides from the Damned If You Do sessions, cover tunes, alternate mixes and live tracks.
Other than the cover songs, which are primarily classic rock songs, the music found here is genuinely Metal Church. Howe’s screechy, delayed vocals shine on new track “Conductor,” while the early ‘80s speed metal riffing of Kurdt Vanderhoof and Rick van Zandt on “Above The Madness” relates some of the catchiest riffs for the new material. “Anthem To The Estranged (Live in Japan)” is one of the band’s classic ballads taken from Blessing In Disguise. From The Vault is a good collection of Metal Church songs, especially for fans of Mike Howe.
Midwife – Forever (The Flenser)
Musician Madeline Johnston lost a close friend, Colin Ward, in 2018, and channels that grief and sorrow into Forever under the Midwife moniker. The emotions on this album are as genuine as music can get, as if she is processing Ward’s passing minute by minute. Ward himself even appears, reciting a poem in the first half of “C.R.F.W.” Whether Johnston finds solace by the album’s conclusion is open-ended.
Feelings this raw can’t be laid down with radiant melodies or shiny beats; instead, it’s done with droning guitars and mournful ambiance. Her vocals are faint, repeated lines of internal chaos like, “How do I say it?/In every language?”, and “I don’t want to live forever/I can’t even say your name.” Forever is an uneasy listen, not only for its experimental style, but for the painful struggle echoed in every note played.
Ritual Dictates – Give In To Despair (Artoffact)
It has been five years since 3 Inches Of Blood broke up, and eight since their final studio album. Their members went their separate ways, but Justin Hagberg and Ash Pearson (Revocation) formed Ritual Dictates. Hagberg handles vocals, guitar, bass and keyboards while Pearson plays drums and wrote most of the lyrics.
The duo blends a variety of influences into Give Into Despair. There are short, intense songs in the death/grind vein, along with more traditional sounding tracks with rock influences. Vocals range from melodic crooning to intense growls. There are several guests on the record, including their former bandmate Shane Clark, who plays acoustic guitar on the title track. “Poisonous Proclamation” starts out extremely intensely with galloping riffs and harsh vocals before Danko Jones adds some melodic vocals and the groove kicks in. It’s a varied and enjoyable debut by Ritual Dictates.
Spell – Opulent Decay (Bad Omen)
Opulent Decay just might be the perfect name for Spell’s third album. The Vancouver, Canada trio specialize in psychedelic old-school heavy rock rife with occult influences. If you’re looking for reference points, look no further than Ghost or Blue Oyster Cult. But while Ghost may rely a bit too much on gimmick, the boys in Spell rely on strong songwriting and enthusiastic talent to drive their point home.
Eerie hooks, reverb- and delay-drenched vocals, and larger than life guitar solos permeate the ten tracks on Opulent Decay. The pacing and dynamics of these songs keep us enthralled throughout, with hardly a weak spot to be found. Spell sound convincingly like they’ve entered our speakers directly from a time machine set to 1974, and it is wonderful.
Symbolik – Emergence (The Artisan Era)
It took nine years for Symbolik to return with Emergence, the follow-up to their debut EP Pathogenesis. By keeping the original lineup and the addition of a new guitarist, Symbolik have returned with full force to put an album on the counter that can undoubtedly be considered as high point of the band’s career.
Emergence, Symbolik’s first full length, is a technical/melodic death metal monster. You may have heard songs with these structures before, but Symbolik have so delicately stacked layers of highly technical music that they seem to have created fresh compositions. Melodies are mixed with a classical music tonality and have created neoclassical overtones in the basic layers of the songs. The band’s performance on Emergence is stunning, and the dynamics of the music are extremely ferocious and unpredictable. This is where you hope it won’t take another nine years for Symbolik to release a new album.
Wayward Dawn – Haven Of Lies (Mighty)
After their 2018 debut album, the vocalist for the Danish death metal band Wayward Dawn departed. For their sophomore effort Haven Of Lies they decided to have guitarist Rasmus Johansen and bassist Kasper Szupienko Petersen assume vocal duties.
The band is young, but their influences (groups like Obituary and Death) are straight out of the old school. Songs like “Sophomania” and “Abhorrent Ridicule” have a direct, bludgeoning style, with changes of pace and style such as the acoustic instrumental “Bliss” help avoid monotony. Producer Jacob Bredahl (Hatesphere) does a good job blending those old school influences with modern sounds to create a compelling death metal album.
Witch Taint – Sons of Midwestern Darkness (Tee Pee)
Sons of Midwestern Darkness was a really unexpected debut release for me because it delivered what I was not expecting, largely because Witch Taint‘s lead vocalist Dave Hill is also a comedian. He has been involved with sitcoms and other bands like Sons of Elvis and Valley Lodge. I figured the album would have a very evil cult sound, but these are in fact highly infectious and accessible tunes. Witch Taint are serious about the music, but there are humorous interludes and lyrics.
I had a lot of fun with Sons of Midwestern Darkness and it seems the band seems to be having fun as well. The music mostly features a groovy sound that is very appreciated from this listener. If I could take the music a bit more seriously, it may have a bit more bite to it, but it’s still a very enjoyable listen.
Wolfheart – Wolves of Karelia (Napalm)
Blood, murder, warfare, blizzards, wolves. Not only is it the recipe for the worst birthday party ever but it’s also what you can expect from melodic death metal heavyweights, Wolfheart on Wolves of Karelia, their fifth venture back into the wilderness of Nordic Finland. It’s a deftly balanced barrage on the ears, the vivid scenes of battle among snow-laden landscapes brilliantly imagined through a soundscape of stately riffs, haunting lead lines and triumphant synth keys that makes for a truly epic arena for Wolfheart to unleash hell.
The tracklist holds few surprises; it’s Wolfheart doing what they do best. You have your selection of multi-faceted skull-crushers, like “Reaper” or “Born From Fire,” that ebb and flow with the faintest of warnings, but these are tempered with the delicate instrumental interlude “Eye of the Storm.” It’s arguably not an accessible record, with the brutality of the monotone vocals being hard to get behind, but it will keep existing fans feeling at home in this glacial war zone.