This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aborted, Ayreon, Azath, Bismarck, The Black Dahlia Murder, Bombs Of Hades, Cemetery Filth, Funeral Leech, Hexvessel, Jarboe, Khora, Khemmis, Myrath, Oranssi Pazuzu, Rabid Flesh Eaters, Shards Of Humanity and Venomous Skeleton.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aborted – La Grande Mascarade (Century Media)
Belgian death metal veterans Aborted released the full-length Terrorvision in 2018. They have released EPs in between their last several albums, and that streak continues with La Grande Mascarade.
Opener “Gloom and the Art of Tribulation” begins with a spoken word part before the bludgeoning begins. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Aborted: songs that are technical and extreme with moments of melody. “Serpent of Depravity” shifts from straightforward to frantic and back again, with closer “Funeral Malediction” a relentless display of brutality tempered with brief glimpses of melody. The three tracks are all good, and will tide Aborted fans over until the next full-length arrives.
Ayreon – Electric Castle Live And Other Tales (Music Theories)
In 1998 Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s star-studded collective Ayreon released Into The Electric Castle. Twenty years later much of the original lineup gathered for several shows in Tilburg, The Netherlands to perform the album live as a rock opera. Lucassen, Anneke van Giersbergen, Damian Wilson, Edward Reekers, Edwin Balogh, Fish and George Oosthoek reprise their roles, with new additions Simone Simons, Marcela Bovio, Mark Jansen and more.
It’s a massive undertaking with dozens of musicians, with interesting staging and great performances from all involved. The songs are tied together by narrator John de Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Practice). In addition to the 18 songs from the album, the cast performs several songs from some of Lucassen’s other projects. There’s a The Gentle Storm song with van Giersbergen, a Stream Of Passion track with Bovio a Star One song with Wilson and a cover of the Marillion track “Kayleigh” with Fish. Ayreon shows are few and far between, and it’s great that this and other past concerts have been captured for posterity. It’s available in CD/DVD and Blu-ray.
Azath – Through a Warren of Shadow (Pulverised)
Hailing from Canada and the United States, featuring members of Begrime Exemious, Lord Gore and Draghkar, and with lyrics that focus on Malazan Book of the Fallen, Azath’s debut album Through a Warren of Shadow is constructed on familiar elements of old school death metal.
Rather than bringing any fresh ideas, the album focuses more on combining classic death metal atmosphere and structures with a mild but recognizable presence of black metal touches. Songs mostly revolve around blast beats, but with sudden tempo changes they make their way to death doom metal. This Immolation/Incantation-like musical visage gives Azath a powerful core which makes it a reliable start to the band’s career.
Bismarck – Oneiromancer (Appolon)
Norwegian sludge/doom outfit Bismarck are back, following up their 2018 debut Urkraft with Oneiromancer. The band melds influences as diverse as Eastern music, psychedelic, ponderous doom, and massive sludge in an effort to create a unique brand of metal. The blend of disparate styles makes for an uneven record, but at times it works brilliantly.
Closing track “Khthon” is a monumental effort, skillfully merging doom and sludge to create a gripping finale. The other four songs don’t quite have the same impact, but do further cement Bismarck’s style and show subtle refinement over their debut. This is a band heading in the right direction.
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous (Metal Blade)
The Black Dahlia Murder are easy to take for granted, releasing consistently good albums every couple of years or so, and always delivering the goods live. Verminous is their ninth full-length, and frontman Trevor Strnad makes the bold claim that this is the biggest evolutionary leap they have taken from one album to the next.
What’s immediately noticeable is how catchy the songs are, without sacrificing heaviness. Guitarists Brian Eschbach and Brandon Ellis bring the melodies that contrast Strnad’s harsh vocals. Slowing down the tempos a bit on tracks like “Sunless Empire” and “The Wereworm’s Feast” make them more memorable. There’s even a brief acoustic interlude before closing the proceedings with the diverse “Dawn Of Rats” that has both blastbeats and a glorious guitar solo. Verminous is streamlined at just over 35 minutes with minimal filler, reinforcing The Black Dahlia Murder’s position in the upper echelon of melodic death metal bands.
Bombs of Hades – Phantom Bell (Black Lodge)
In little over 15-minutes, Bombs of Hades have proved they’re more than capable of impressing on the smaller scales with a tightly-wound four track smack in the face that summons the cries of death metal, crust punk and classic heavy metal. The toll of the Phantom Bell EP is impressive indeed.
It serves as a taste to come for the fifth full-length being recorded this year and suffice to say that Stålhammar and company have left a delightful aftertaste. The palette is soured only slightly by the grating main riff of closer “Lungs” but this can be overlooked courtesy of the diligent and diverse songwriting embedded into tracks like “Bridge of Sighs” and “Kamikaze” that explore elements of groovy hard rock and unwinding progressive metal, all of which is played on what can only be described as a horde of angry bees. I’ve never been familiar with the band’s back catalog, so whether or not this is more meat for the grinder, I couldn’t say, but what I can say is that you need to listen to Phantom Bell.
Cemetery Filth – Dominion (Unspeakable Axe/Boris)
There’s a distinct Florida death metal vibe to Dominion, the first full-length from Cemetery Filth. It may not be a coincidence that the four musicians who make up the band all reside in the Southeastern part of the United States. It’s not unimaginable that these guys could’ve opened up for the likes of Deicide or Obituary in the early ‘90s. Their music fits that sort of niche; rancid and pushy without losing the groove.
There’s some interesting rhythm-related maneuvering going on throughout Dominion, as bass guitarist Devin Kelley gets several chances to lead the proceedings and drummer Chris McDonald is a fills machine on top of his blast beating. The album moves hurriedly, which keeps the listener engaged, though the elongated nine-minute title track stumbles Dominion to its conclusion.
Funeral Leech – Death Meditation (Carbonized)
There’s an undercurrent of dread stifling the light out of Funeral Leech’s debut album, Death Meditation. This requiem of death/doom is not the kind of joyous music to clear our minds of the current global crisis, yet feels oddly appropriate as a sonic representation for the horror and uncertainty around us. Those keen on the genre will find Funeral Leech’s delivery to be the right level of gloom without sacrificing the spastic edge death metal offers.
The lead guitar is kept to a minimum, as progress is made in workmanlike riffs and not flashiness. Songs that go seven and eight minutes don’t slink along like that, as the tempo shifts are subtle enough to maintain consistent movement. Death Meditation represents death/doom with a dreary grandeur.
Hexvessel – Kindred (Svart)
Hexvessel’s fifth album Kindred is a diverse offering of soundscapes, moods and styles. It is a combination of “wyrd” folk, avant-garde movements, psychedelia and blues. The album has an earthy/pagan outlook. The band is Finnish, although it was founded by English/Irish singer/songwriter Mat “Kvohst” McNerney. McNerney is known for diversity in the projects he’s taken part in including Me & That Man, Beastmilk and Norwegian black metal bands Code & Dødheimsgard.
“Billion Year Old Being” kicks off the album with a combination of folk and ‘60s-style psychedelia that brings to mind The Doors and King Crimson. “Demian” is steeped in the type of blues McNerney that brings to mind his time in Me & That Man. “Bog Bodies” and “Phaedra” both contain solemn brass, the latter track is driven by foreboding percussion and Nick Cave-ish narrations. “Family” is a brief instrumental of relaxing acoustic guitar. Melodious, foreboding and mystifying, Kindred is rich in mood and diverse in instrumentation.
Jarboe – Illusory (Consouling Sounds)
Jarboe is perhaps the most prolific artist many of you will never have heard of. In addition to being part of the seminal Swans and performing with Neurosis, she’s collaborated on dozens of other projects and still managed to find time to release 36 solo records, the latest of which is this one, Illusory.
Illusory is a languid, atmospheric, and at times hypnotic journey. At seven songs and thirty-seven minutes, it is a short album, and the songs don’t really lead anywhere. Jarboe’s voice remains as magnetic as ever, transcending the material at times. Recommended for fans of Jarboe or the more mellow side of Swans output.
Khemmis – Doomed Heavy Metal (Nuclear Blast)
Any day you get a new release from Khemmis is a good day, even if that release is just an EP. That’s the case with Doomed Heavy Metal, a six-song platter from Denver’s leading metal export. A mix of old, new, and live material, it’s a nice little tide-me-over until their next full-length.
Covering Dio songs is usually a recipe for disaster, but Khemmis’s version of “Rainbow in the Dark” is doomy and gloomy enough to make it interesting. Add in a couple of rare singles from a few years ago, including the band’s excellent interpretation of “A Conversation with Death,” and one live song from each of their albums, and you’ve got a fun EP that fans will love.
Khora – Timaeus (Soulseller)
There’s no shortage of guest musicians that join Khora’s trippy debut, Timaeus. Almost every song has an outside presence, including Dodheimsgard’s Vicotnik (“Existence”) and Finntroll/Moonsorrow keyboardist Henri Sorvali (“De Vetus Ad Novum”). Speaking of keyboardists, Khora have an affinity for the instrument, as there are almost half-a-dozen keyboardists brought in from all over the metal universe.
The use of all these keyboardists instills a symphonic demeanor that enables the psychedelic vibes of a song like “Sempiternal.” The last few tunes on Timaeus put a halt to the driving pace with a creepy, effective lurch. Closer “Void” is the sonic equivalent of walking through an abandoned, fog-covered town ala Silent Hill 2. Its eeriness is appealing, something that could’ve been worked better into the first half of Timaeus.
Myrath – Live In Carthage (earMusic)
Last year the Tunisian band Myrath released Sheheli, which was very well received. After five studio albums, the time was right to release their first live CD/DVD Live In Carthage.
The DVD has the entire concert, with a couple songs omitted on the CD. The opening track on the CD is a studio version of “Believer” featuring Deep Purple’s Don Airey on keyboards. The concert setlist has three tracks from Sheheli including the first two songs of the show. The rest are taken from throughout Myrath’s catalog, with songs from every album except their 2007 debut Hope. Myrath have a potent live show, blending bombastic metal with Middle Eastern folk elements and progressive sections. Frontman Zaher Zorgati sings with power and emotion and the band’s musicianship is spot-on, making for an entertaining show.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi (Nuclear Blast)
For their latest album Mestarin Kynsi, the Finnish band Oranssi Pazuzu have signed with Nuclear Blast, one of metal’s bigger labels. Even with a larger platform, they remain as experimental and inscrutable as ever.
The six tracks are all lengthy, in the 7 to 10 minute range, each with a different perspective and vibe. Oranssi Pazuzu start with black metal, then expand their sonic palette by utilizing everything from prog to noise to psychedelia and even krautrock. Songs like “Tyhjyyden sakramentti” shift from subdued to chaotic to avant-garde. The music is constantly changing, twisting and reforming into something unexpected. It can be challenging listen at times, but a smooth and hypnotic experience at other times. It takes an adventurous listener to appreciate Oranssi Pazuzu, and if you haven’t immersed yourself in their music yet, this is a good time to jump in.
Rabid Flesh Eaters – R.F.E. (Self)
Though they’ve been around since the ’80s, R.F.E. is only the second album from the Texas speed metal troupe Rabid Flesh Eaters. As you’d expect from the band name, the music on the album is chaotic and raw.
The eight songs on the album include three Rigor Mortis covers (“Die In Pain,” “Contagious Contamination” and the instrumental “Welcome To Your Funeral”). In addition, the title track includes the final performance of Rigor Mortis/Warbeast vocalist Bruce Corbitt, who passed away last year. The late Mike Scaccia, also a Rigor Mortis member, solos on “Lycanthrope.” Rabid Flesh Eaters do a nice job on the covers, and the originals are old-school speed metal played fast and loose.
Shards Of Humanity – Cold Logic (Unspeakable Axe)
Impressive lead guitar work and a nonstop mentality to their death/thrash sound are the standouts of Shards Of Humanity’s Cold Logic. Though the ten tracks together are under 35 minutes, there’s enough snazzy guitar solos to fill an album far longer than that. Whether it’s the twisted bliss of instrumental opener “Cosmic Shield” or the multifaceted peaks in the 90-second solo on “Demonic Crystallized Intelligence,” the guitars maintain their excellence the whole way through.
If mind-bending guitar solos aren’t a listener’s forte, then the seismic riffs on a fiery cut like “I’ve Seen Death” will be effective. Cold Logic is direct in its execution, only using interlude “Into The Realms Of Lower Astral” as a way to add peculiar noise to their brute-like barrage. Besides that, the album is an adrenaline rush packed into manageable sonic pieces.
Venomous Skeleton – Drowning in Circles (Everlasting Spew)
Venomous Skeleton perform fierce and raw death metal. The tracks on Drowning In Circles recall the likes of early Morbid Angel in their delivery and show much promise. The music rolls along at a medium rate with hyper riffing to bolster the songs. The songwriting is fairly solid considering that this is the band’s first full-length album. The tunes have a punch to them, which is undeniable and heightens the aggressiveness of the album nicely.
There is very little to dislike here, but the album does sound a little primitive. This is, regardless, a very solid piece of music that packs a punch. It also has an evil feeling that adds to the aura of the band and makes them even more devastating. I had a lot of fun listening to the album and that is always important from a death metal release.
Oransssi Pazuzu are indeed one of extreme metal’s most unique and adventurous outfits. While most usually lump them in the black metal genre, which is about as close as you can get, it’s really a maelstrom of industrial, woozy psychedelic passages and grooves that keep you transfixed. No big time lead guitar shredding – here the guitar is as much part of the overall atmosphere as every other instrument. I have their four studio album and can’t wait for the newest one.