This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Allegaeon, Atlas Pain, Black Sites, Chalice Of Suffering, Cosmic Putrefaction, Dawn Of Demise, Dead To A Dying World, Doombringer, Druids, Grand Magus, Heavy As Texas, Iced Earth, Jordan Rudess, L’Acephale, Pristine and West Of Hell.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Allegaeon – Apoptosis (Metal Blade)
There has been some turnover in Allegaeon‘s lineup over the past few years, adding vocalist Riley McShane for 2016’s Proponent For Sentience. New bassist Brandon Michael comes aboard for Apoptosis, the Colorado melodic death metal band’s fifth album.
Opening interludes are usually throwaways, but in its two minutes “Parthenogenesis” nicely sets the stage for what is to come: a creative combination of technical, progressive and melodic influences. They transition smoothly from intense technical sections to groove laden parts to prog flourishes. McShane’s aggressive growls are contrasted by catchy guitar parts, with clean vocals making a periodic appearance, such as “Tsunami and Submergence.” It’s an effective balance of technicality and melody that culminates in the 10 minute closing title track, a tour de force that showcases all Allegaeon have to offer.
Atlas Pain – Tales of a Pathfinder (Scarlet)
Set a course for fantastical, over-the-top brilliance, because Italian folk metallers Atlas Pain have prepared a world-capturing journey in their sophomore record, Tales of a Pathfinder. Like their first album, it contains a combination of folk melodies and different cultural themes accompanied by relentlessly energetic power metal beats.
There is one word that describes this album perfectly: epic. It’s flooded with synths, orchestrations, and sickeningly upbeat choruses, topped off with chugging riffs and rough vocals. Despite the folk influences, the underlying positivity is never far off, so there’s a limited amount of variety to behold. While it’s pretty straightforward, if you’re looking for an epic metal adventure, this is definitely for you.
Black Sites – Exile (Hoove Child)
Chicago’s Black Sites returns with Exile, their follow-up to 2017’s strong In Monochrome. If you were a fan of that album (and you should have been), you’re going to like this one at least as much. While the rhythm section has changed, guitarists Ryan Bruchert and Mark Sugar (also vocals) remain, and the songwriting is as strong as ever.
Much like we described in our In Monochrome review, Black Sites are a metal band with strong progressive tendencies. Audible influences on Exile include Queensryche and Voivod, as well as a brief nod to Killing Joke (but not Kiss!). Intricate and addictive, standout tracks like “Feral Child” and “Dwell Upon the End” showcase a band loaded with talent. Exile is one of April’s must-listen albums.
Chalice Of Suffering – Lost Eternally (Transcending Obscurity)
With a name like Chalice Of Suffering, you aren’t expecting happiness and glee, and they certainly bring the doom and gloom on Lost Eternally, their sophomore release.
The Minnesota atmospheric doom/death band play deliberate, melancholy and lengthy dirges. Their downbeat style has a lot of variety, even adding bagpipes to the opening track “In The Mist Of What Once Was.” There are also numerous guest vocalists including Woebegone Obscured’s Danny Woe and Demonic Resurrection’s Demonstealer, which adds even more diversity. If you have a case of spring fever, songs like “Forever Winter” will cure it in a hurry.
Cosmic Putrefaction – At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm (I, Voidhanger)
Cosmic Putrefaction comes from Italian musician Gabriele Gramaglia, who released a fantastic album back in 2017 with his The Clearing Path band. Compared to that band, Cosmic Putrefaction’s death metal has a directness to it that oozes primal rage through each note. There’s something almost endearing about how to-the-point At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm is, with song lengths hovering around the two-minute mark for half of the album.
This whiplash effect is tamed with songs like “The Ruinous Downfall” and “The Dismal Black Nothingness,” which slows the tempo and lets someone like Convulsing’s Brendan Sloan take lead vocals and a guest guitar solo spot (which he does on the former track). There are hints of the proggy undertones of The Clearing Path here, with piano flourishes on the second part of “The Outermost Threat.”
Dawn of Demise – Into the Depths of Veracity (Unique Leader)
If you know Dawn of Demise very well and you’ve followed their music from the beginning, you surely know that the Danish death metal band’s music has always been based on fatal violence and groove. A Force Unstoppable and Rejoice in Vengeance are good examples of this. But when we listen to Into the Depths of Veracity, unlike previous albums, it seems that something does not sound right.
You can still feel brutality, especially when it comes to Scott Jensen’s impressive vocals. You have numerous blast beats and countless solid guitar riffs. But when the groove you were expecting to hear was removed due to the mediocre production, none of those points are as sharp as they should be. Production on Into the Depths of Veracity is flat and has no depth and cannot hold Dawn of Demise’s powerful components together while the band try to keep their fans immersed in the music at all times.
Dead to a Dying World – Elegy (Profound Lore)
The emotional and tonal upheaval of a song from Dead to a Dying World is an act very few bands can pull off as well as they do, and this technique is fine-tuned on their latest album, Elegy. Structured as a narrative, with three 10-plus minute epics and an equal number of shorter tunes, Elegy includes outside musicians like Jarboe and Bell Witch’s Dylan Desmond without shortchanging the members of the band.
The sorrowful notes of a viola, the back-and-forth between vocalists Mike Yaeger and Heidi Moore, the meticulous songwriting; all back from their last album, Litany, but with a more accomplished sonic design. The ebbs and peaks these songs go through put the band’s unpredictable nature—the push of black metal receding into a beautiful melody—at the forefront of their excellent third album.
Doombringer – Walpurgis Fires (Nuclear War Now!)
Doombringer have a raw vibe that is very prominent in their sound on their second full length Walpurgis Fires. Though not the best produced, the band gets their sound across quite well. They sound highly like a combination of Celtic Frost with a blackened thrash outfit like Destroyer 666 and a death metal act like Morbid Angel. The repetitive raw riffs really have a lasting impact upon the listener. However, the basement sounding production certainly doesn’t help their cause and they come off feeling under-produced. Vocally, there is a lot to be desired as well.
The songs are highly headbang-able though they get mired in the raw sound the band is going for. This is certainly entertaining, but it is held back by a rough sound. The Polish band’s blackened death music is fiery and somewhat evil in sound. Songs like “Sworm to Malice” have a strong groove to them that fit nicely within the bigger picture of the album. It’s unfortunate the songs sound so raw because they would be better with a pristine production. Overall, this is a good album, but nothing more than that.
Druids – Monument (The Company KC)
While the original Druids date back to ancient Celtic cultures, these Druids have been around for a decade or so and hail from Iowa. Monument is their third album.
This band of Druids play stoner metal with doom and psychedelic stylings. Trippy upbeat psych shifts to thick, downtuned riffs and back again. “Mirrors Of Trigon” has tempos ranging from glacial to galloping. The vocals are diverse as well, with both aggressive growls and laid back singing. The five songs breeze by in under 30 minutes, a solid collection of stoner metal.
Grand Magus – Wolf God (Nuclear Blast)
Warriors and gym rats around the world rejoice, for we have a new Grand Magus album on our hands. Whether you are whetting your sword or pressing your bench, this is the music for you. Grand Magus have been delivering epic battle metal for over 20 years, and Wolf God is their ninth album – and is exactly as expected.
Wolf God is built around the almighty riff, with songs like “A Hall Clad in Gold,” “Spear Thrower,” and “He Sent Them All to Hel” being built around fist-pumping riffs. Aside from the orchestral opening track, every song on Wolf God serves to inspire listeners to feats of heroism. It’s as strong an album as their well-regarded 2012 release The Hunt, a thoroughly enjoyable collection of heroic metal anthems.
Heavy as Texas – Heavy As Texas (Crunchy Western)
I want to see Heavy As Texas live. Now. They seem to have everything, and the industry adjectives apply. Tight. Proficient. Bad-Ass. Surprising. Every player here, especially guitarist Marzi Montazeri (Exhorder), is a superior musician, and they all bring it. The best song on the record is the funky “King of Fools,” but all the cuts are incredibly engaging.
That being said, it seems the band’s biggest strength might play as its disability, depending on what you are looking for in your metal. Every song has multiple themes. If you like jumpstarts, fantastic, but if you want linear continuity, they make it tough to sit in that pocket. Drummer James Goetz is phenomenal. He’s also rather mechanistic, and if you tire of snare runs, you’ll bail on the record. Overall, the choral hooks are superlative, but they are sometimes buried in the schizophrenia. Thumbs-up for me.
Iced Earth – Enter The Realm (Century Media)
Exactly thirty years after Iced Earth issued the Enter The Realm demo, Century Media have reissued the six track EP for the first time on vinyl. While the group matured and progressed, Enter The Realm is their foundation. Jon Schaffer’s brilliant guitar skills—melodies, palm mutes, gallops—and writing prowess are on display for the first time. Here he found his signature melodies, palm-muted chugging and gallops.
Iced Earth enhanced most of the tracks listed here for their self-titled debut LP. While these tracks are strong, the group improved considerably with Night of the Storm, and arguably peaked during Matt Barlow’s years. Gene Adam projects his voice with creativity, but didn’t possess the feeling of Barlow or high range of Tim Owens and Stu Block. Unlike many groups, Iced Earth improved several albums into their career. Still, Enter The Realm is an essential piece of heavy metal history that deserves to be heard on vinyl.
Jordan Rudess – Wired For Madness (Music Theories)
Less than two months after Dream Theater’s latest album was released, keyboardist Jordan Rudess is issuing his latest solo album Wired For Madness.
It begins with the progtastic, “Wired For Madness Pt. 1” that showcases Rudess’ keyboard wizardry along with some heavy guitar. There’s about 9 minutes of instrumental before vocals kick in. That’s followed by the even more epic “Wired For Madness Pt. 2” which is more than 22 minutes long. The rest of the album has songs of more traditional length. Rudess handles many of the vocals, though James LaBrie guests as does Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci. In addition to the prog you’d expect, Rudess incorporates other styles as well, such as the bluesy “Just Can’t Win” that features the legendary Joe Bonamassa along with a brass section.
L’Acephale – L’Acephale (Eisenwald)
L’Acephale released their first two albums in quick succession back in 2008 and 2009. While they have issued some splits and EPs since then, a decade has elapsed since their last full-length. L’Acephale was a long time in the making, recorded over a six year time frame in numerous locations.
It’s an ambitious and avant-garde album with lengthy songs and a lot of atmosphere. They are grounded in black metal with icy riffs, blastbeats and aggressive vocals from Set Sothis Nox La. However, there are a lot of non-metal moments as well, such as spoken word and melodic singing. “Gloria In Excelsis Mihi” is acoustic based with female vocals, very mellow and atmospheric. From the punishing “Runenberg” to the ominous “Sleep” to the epic 19 minute closer “Winternacht,” it’s an album with a lot of ebbs and flows and a surprise around every corner.
Pristine – Road Back to Ruin (Nuclear Blast)
While Pristine’s 2017 album Ninja garnered only an Honorable Mention in our Best Of list, it was this writer’s #2 album of the year. This Norwegian classic/blues rock quartet plays exactly what one would think when seeing those genres mentioned, but the key is they write fantastic songs, and perform them wonderfully. To say Road Back to Ruin was one or my more anticipated releases for 2019 would be more than accurate.
Pristine waste no time getting us engaged, as “Sinnerman” roars out of the gates in hard-rocking fury. All 11 songs on Road Back to Ruin are impeccable, from the Rolling Stones-like “Landslide” to the Harvest-era Neil Young-ish “Your Song,” and the roiling psych-blues of the epic “Blind Spot.” It’s all capped off with a vocal performance that firmly cements Heidi Solheim as the preeminent vocalist (and songwriter) in all of rock music.
Seven years after their debut, Canadian power thrashers West Of Hell return with Blood Of The Infidel. Drum duties were handled by Ash Pearson (Revocation, ex-3 Inches Of Blood).
West Of Hell have plenty of old school influences, especially evident when they crank up the thrash. Tracks like “Chrome Eternal” have more thrash, while songs like “The Machine” emphasize traditional and power with less thrash. “Dying Tomorrow” is the most unique song on the record, driven by acoustic guitar. Vocalist Chris Valagao (Zimmers Hole) is versatile, able to belt out power metal style vocals along with death growls. He has a distinctive sound that helps give the band a unique identity.