This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include reviews from Babylonfall, Bullets And Octane, Cirith Ungol, Dark Forest, Elder, Helfro, I Am Destruction, Lovebites, Negative Thought Process, Reek, Together To The Stars, Total Fucking Destruction, Traveler, Ulcerate, Victoria K, Warbringer, Werewolves and The Wizar’d.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Babylonfall – Collapse (Inverse)
When a band’s first album is almost an hour long, and when that hour is melodic death metal, it’s evident that they didn’t want to ease into their introduction to the world. Babylonfall go big with Collapse, and while the album lags in the middle, a punchy start and stirring conclusion keeps Collapse from matching its title.
Babylonfall play up the “melodic” part of the subgenre, with emotive singing and smooth guitar solos. Only opener “Murder Of Crows” and penultimate track “Burning Daylight” get into the grittiness, hovering strictly in death metal terrain. A draw to Collapse is the significance of an up-and-coming act with no fear in their expressive sound.
Bullets and Octane – Riot Riot Rock N Roll (Bad MoFo)
With a band name like Bullets and Octane and a record called Riot Riot Rock N Roll I was prepped for a saturated 30-minutes of copy-paste hard rock that wouldn’t dare go beyond constructing a chorus that does something other than repeat the title 50,000 times. I was wrong, but it wasn’t entirely for the better.
In regard to production, they’ve stayed diligent to hard rock’s rather depleted sleeve of tricks: guitars have a gorgeous richness, bass is planted in support with a soulful hum and the drums pack all the necessary wallop. So, when the cards are dealt in the expected manner it does summon a fair bit of oomph, derivative though it may be, with B&O’s main hook being Gene Louis’ vocals that lean on the Lemmy Kilmister side of the spectrum to give this beaten horse one more kick. Weirdly, despite the band’s efforts to paint this as another “no b.s.” hard rock record, plenty of tracks including “Give Me a Reason” and “Rooftop Tear” resonate better as bad pop-rock tracks. The genre needs variety, but this isn’t what I had in mind.
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black (Metal Blade)
Cirith Ungol are back with Forever Black, their fifth proper album and first new material since 1991’s Paradise Lost. They’ve always a bit of an oddity especially with Tim Baker’s unique vocal style that fits the band almost as well as the late Terry Jones fit Pagan Altar.
Toeing the line between doom metal and the fantasy elements of power metal, Cirith Ungol are a tremendously fun band with tracks like “The Fire Divine” and “The Frost Monstreme” immediately hearkening the listener back to the two strongest albums the band has released in King of the Dead and One Foot In Hell nearly 40 years later. This is career revitalization on par with the best comebacks of all time, this is Cirith Ungol!
Dark Forest – Oak, Ash & Thorn (Cruz Del Sur)
Dark Forest’s Oak, Ash & Thorn reveals telling cover art. Among the imagery are various soldiers from England’s past guarding an opening under the roots of a great oak. The roots swirl outward from under the passageway to form Celtic symbols. These images form the basis for the themes of English folklore and magic found on Oak, Ash & Thorn, which was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill.
Although the band are named Dark Forest, the cover art is quite colorful. Dark Forest create epic heavy metal, but there isn’t a since of gloom and doom that pervades this style. Each song is hopeful and melodic, although the guitar harmonies are often heroic. Their sound could be compared to Bruce Dickinson’s solo albums or his second go with Iron Maiden. Oak, Ash & Thorn is an upbeat, triumphant album, but not in a violent, armor-smashing sense.
Elder – Omens (Armageddon)
Every year I try to splurge on vinyl copies of my favorite albums. It can be expensive, as shipping to Canada is usually more than the album itself costs. But in 2017 I got a copy of Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World, one of that year’s best releases. To say that Omens, the American progressive stoner outfit’s fifth album, was high on my radar this year would be an understatement.
Omens continues the extended song length style the band is known for, but with far less focus. The five songs average eleven minutes in length, and each is home to a number of great ideas, primarily in line with Pink Floyd psychedelia, but aside from the near-brilliance of “Halcyon” the sum is lesser than its parts. Omens is a jam session that really needed to be fine-tuned before recording.
Helfro – Helfro (Season Of Mist Underground Activists)
For a country with a population of under 400,000 people, Iceland has a surprising number of quality black metal bands. You can add Helfro to that list. After an independent release of their self-titled debut in 2018, it is getting wider exposure via Season Of Mist, along with an extra track.
Helfro can be dense and relentless with waves of blastbeats and frantic vocals. It can also be regal and mid-tempo with some clean vocals on tracks like “Hin forboðna alsæla.” The ebb and flow between aggression and atmosphere makes for a compelling listen as the music shifts easily between extremity and more accessible sections. The lyrics are in Icelandic. It’s a quality debut that fans of black metal bands like Dark Funeral should enjoy.
I Am Destruction – Nascency (Unique Leader)
I Am Destruction’s debut album Nascency gets off to an uncomfortable start with a woman hoarsely screaming at full volume as a man tortures her to death. It’s a prolonged sample, arguably a bit too long, but the band settles in pretty quickly on the next track, “Propogated By Abnormality.” This is music that doesn’t hide its purpose of causing as much physical pain as possible to a listener, due to all the head swinging and foot tapping that’ll be going on.
The passionate guitar solo on “Gehenna’s Beckoning,” as well as the sheer magnitude of the closing title track, make the album worth going all the way through, even if those tracks are sidetracked by bloated intro songs that precede each of them. Nascency didn’t need one instrumental, let alone two (opener “Primo Incisum” makes it a close three, largely being instrumental save for the sample and some wordless grunts).
Lovebites – Electric Pentagram (JPU)
Electric Pentagram is the third full-length studio album from the Japanese heavy/power metal band Lovebites, following last year’s live release Daughters Of The Dawn – Live In Tokyo 2019.
The all-female quintet’s brand of power metal is on the more extreme side of the genre’s spectrum, in the vein of bands like DragonForce. Songs like “Holy War” have searing riffs and symphonic atmosphere along with soaring melodies from Asami. While keeping the tempos mostly at a blistering pace, Lovebites ease off the throttle periodically on tracks such as “Golden Destination” and “A Frozen Serenade.” Songs such as “Dancing With The Devil” lean toward traditional metal with big hooks. That makes for a record that’s varied with a lot of memorable songs.
Negative Thought Process – Hell Is…Much Better Than This (Hibernacula)
Hell Is…Much Better Than This, the latest EP from Negative Thought Process, is a skyscraper inferno compressed into less than 10 minutes. This nihilistic nightmare has no time to spare, with closer “Force Fed Life” the lone song to exceed two minutes. In fact, no other song even makes the 90-second mark, as these UK crust punks get their beating in and escape in a flash.
There’s not much more to this EP than being as antagonistic as possible, but with that mentality comes a bountiful of uncontrollable, supercharged energy. The songs are over so quickly that a repeat play is needed. Then another one, and then another, until 40 minutes have gone by with only an earache and a grin left behind.
Reek – Death Is Something There Between (Testimony)
When it comes to being in multiple bands, Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Megascavenger, Ribspreader, etc.) has one of the longer lists. His latest project Reek finds the guitarist teaming up with Wombbath’s Haken Stuvemark, who handles vocals and guitars on Death Is Something There Between.”
They play old school death’n’roll inspired by bands like Entombed. The music is fast and raw, with the vocals low in the mix. Stuvemark and Johansson’s guitar work is front and center, with dirty riffs and plenty of groove. The songs are streamlined and focused, with only “Foaming At The Mouth” approaching the five minute mark. For those who appreciate the style and sound of early ’90s death’n’roll, this will hit the spot.
Together To the Stars – As We Wither (Northern Silence)
Just a year ago Swedish post-black metal duo Together to the Stars released their debut An Oblivion Above, which was definitely one of the most remarkable albums of 2019, and now they’re back with their second album, As We Wither. It’s an album that seems to take the form of the debut, but some noticeable changes may have put the album in risk.
While keyboards play an intangible but important role in the underlying structure of TTTS’ music as before, most of the songs are still vastly based on emotional, multi-layered guitar works. Unlike the previous album, the pale presence of post-punk touches can be heard in a few moments, and the unpolished sounds of instruments have been implemented in a way that bring raw and cold atmosphere to the heart of the album. While these changes can make it an uncertain work, TTTS have perfectly incorporated passion and emotion into the layers of As We Wither.
Total Fucking Destruction – …To Be Alive At The End Of The World (Translation Loss)
Though drummer Richard Hoak will always have an association with his past project Brutal Truth, it’s with Total Fucking Destruction where the grindcore luminary gets to be ambitious. …To Be Alive At The End Of The World begins with the antithesis of grind in the title track, a psychedelic journey that has shades of a song like “Last Night I Dreamt We Destroyed the World” in it. Same goes for their maniacal take on “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Between those two songs is the kind of quirky, minimalistic grindcore the band has been involved with for over two decades. A jaunty cover of Big Boys’ “Sound On Sound” speeds up the original version’s stealthy pace, and 20 seconds is spent screaming into the microphone on “Yelling At Velcro.” Nothing else on the band’s fifth full-length quite reaches the title track, but those that like their grindcore a bit off-center should be entertained by …To Be Alive At The End Of The World.
Traveler – Termination Shock (Gates of Hell)
Traveler‘s new album Termination Shock is an energetic display of traditional metal. It is an album that has a very gleaming presence that would also point it towards the power metal genre. The band’s second release shows a band coming into its own and making its own brand of traditional metal its niche. There is a sweetness that recalls Crimson Glory and shows that the band has some strong ties to the past. There is also the charisma that recalls the earliest of Iron Maiden material in as fun a manner as possible.
Add a slightly more modern punch and we have a band that has stumbled upon a nice formula with their music. There is still room for improvement, however. The style is somewhat standard in nature and shows little in the way of innovation. This is the biggest problem with the album. It is still a great addition to the traditional metal genre that shows solid songwriting and performances. Fans of that genre will find this to be a fulfilling experience.
Ulcerate – Stare Into Death And Be Still (Debemur Morti)
The New Zealand tech death trio Ulcerate have been around for nearly 20 years now. Over that time they have established themselves as a potent force in the underground. Stare Into Death And Be Still, their sixth album, explores the concept of death reverence.
While there’s still plenty of extremity and technicality on this album, Ulcerate bring more atmosphere and melody to the table this time around. Top-notch production gives the songs a powerful sound, whether it’s drummer Jamie Saint Merat’s rolling fills and powerful blasts or guitarist Michael Hoggard’s memorable riffs. Hoggard also brings a melancholy vibe to songs such as the title track. Dynamic is a good way to describe these songs, with tracks like “Exhale The Ash” shifting between crushing heaviness and glimpses of melody. By blending extremity and introspection Ulcerate have pushed their musical boundaries and reinforced why they are one of the genre’s best.
Victoria K – Essentia (Rockshots)
Australian singer/songwriter Victoria K has generated a lot of YouTube views with covers of songs by groups ranging from Iron Maiden to Kamelot. She has also released a couple of original singles, and has put together a full band for her debut release Essentia.
The music on Essentia is in the gothic/symphonic metal arena, very dynamic and emotional. Victoria K’s voice is similar to Amy Lee’s, and you’ll hear an Evanescence influence on some songs, along with groups such as Nightwish and Within Temptation. “Surreal” has some Middle-Eastern flair, while the power ballad “Mist Filled Sky” really showcases Victoria K’s vocal range and various styles. Sheri Vengeance (Black Like Vengeance) provides harsh vocals to a few songs including “Matrix,” adding some variety. Eluveitie’s Michalina Malisz guests on “Shroud Of Solitude.”
Warbringer – Weapons Of Tomorrow (Napalm)
The late ’00s and early ’10s saw a resurgence of thrash metal. Many of the wave of new bands that appeared during that era quickly disappeared. A few have been successful for the long haul, and one of those bands is Warbringer. Even with numerous lineup changes over the years, they have consistently released quality albums. That continues with Weapons Of Tomorrow, their sixth studio album.
And while you can hear the influences of classic thrash bands, Warbringer have modern touches as well. Riffs from guitarists Adam Carroll and Chase Becker fly quickly and furiously. Frontman John Kevill has the thrash delivery down pat, whether it’s rocket fueled tracks like “Unraveling” or more moderately paced songs such as “Defiance Of Fate.” There’s a nice blend of lengthier numbers like the 7 minute “Heart Of Darkness” and more streamlined songs such as “Power Unsurpassed.” While they don’t change dramatically from album to album, Warbringer always keep things interesting with top-notch songwriting and excellent musicianship.
Werewolves – The Dead Are Screaming (Prosthetic)
The Dead Are Screaming is an example of a band’s album title being a better description than any press release can provide. Like the visceral beasts they’re named after, Werewolves are merciless with the death/grind on their debut album. This trio from Australia ravages anything and everything, pulling flesh from their mouth as they smile over the mess they’ve caused. Their brute delivery leaves no questions over their intent.
The album starts out with a frantic jump and further exacerbates that. Werewolves get stronger deeper into the album, saving the most vicious material for the last three songs (“Gnaw Their Bones,” “Irate,” and “Showering Teeth”). The final ten minutes of The Dead Are Screaming is a master class in brutality, one that metal fans should take note of.
The Wizar’d – Subterranean Exile (Cruz Del Sur)
Australian doom metallers The Wizar’d return with Subterranean Exile, their first album in seven years with their worship of Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General, among others. Vocalist Ol’ Rusty certainly takes a unique approach to the vocals sounding like an insane wizard himself and surrounded by wonderfully melodic and doomy riffs.
“Wizard’s Revenge” and “Master of the Night” are the perfect storm of a cloaked figure chanting during a ritual moving in slow motion around a gigantic flaming pyre. The old school doom aesthetic has been more than achieved here and for fans of doom metal with something slightly different to offer, you will find a home with The Wizar’d.