This week’s Heavy Music HQ album reviews include Airrace, Enuff Z’Nuff, Imperial Domain, Lurk, Mad Max, Massive Wagons, Nachash, Primal Fear, Sinsaenum, The Spirit, Transient, Ultraphonix and Vardan.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Airrace – Untold Stories (Frontiers)
Known primarily as the band that introduced us to an 18-year old drummer named Jason Bonham back on their 1984 debut Shaft of Light (their only record until 2011, and one that I still own), Airrace are trying to capitalize on the ’80s hard rock/metal resurgence with Untold Stories, their third album.
Of the 1984 lineup, only founding guitarist Laurie Mansworth remains, but he was always the heart of the band, and the songs crafted on Untold Stories are classic AOR hard rock like Journey and Foreigner. For the genre, all the songs on Untold Stories are superbly written and performed, and catchy as heck. Airrace have given us an excellent summer soundtrack.
Enuff Z’ Nuff – Diamond Boy (Frontiers)
If you are looking for rich throwback to the sweet glam of yesteryear, Diamond Boy is your record. Chip Z’Nuff handles the vocals quite well, and ex-Ultravox singer/guitarist Tony Fennell helps cement a sound that has been rather nondescript for some years. This album is defined by beautiful harmonies Beatle-esque songwriting hooks, always ornate, yet often predictable.
Standout tunes would be “Where Did You Go” and “Fire and Ice,” though they made the right choice featuring “Metalheart” as the first single. It does not seem that this incarnation of Enuff Z’Nuff quite captures the charm of old hits like “New Thing,” but the record as a whole is rock solid.
Imperial Domain – The Deluge (Inverse)
At the apex of the Swedish death metal movement in the 1990s, there were an abundance of groups trying to get that Edge of Sanity or At the Gates attention. Imperial Domain came up around that same time, and though their name never resounded as widely as the two mentioned before, they had a nice run of two albums before breaking up in 2005.
They reunited a decade later and recorded The Deluge, their first album in 15 years. That space of time hasn’t dulled their melodic death metal, which is fluffed up with classical acoustic guitars and prevalent keys. Their consistent mid-tempo riffs beg for a faster break now and again, but their bountiful songwriting justifies the restraint. The Deluge is a solid comeback album for a band given a new life for a new generation of listeners.
Lurk – Fringe (Transcending Obscurity)
Finland’s Lurk are best described as heavy – not in the traditional sense, but in the bludgeoning, relentless sense. Fringe is the band’s third album, and further cements their reputation as a force within the doom world. Combining a fair amount of black, death, and sludge into their repertoire, Lurk keep things interesting through all eight songs.
The variations in vocal delivery are one standout point on Fringe, with a variety of well-executed harsh vocals present. K. Nurmi pummels his drums (and us) into veal cutlets, while the guitars and bass add to the overall massive sound. At no time do we lose interest in the songs, making Fringe a standout blackened doom effort.
Mad Max – 35 (SPV/Steamhammer)
Similar to Airrace higher up in this column, I’ve got Mad Max’s solid 1984 effort, Rolling Thunder, in my record collection. Unlike Airrace, Germany’s Mad Max have released a number of albums over the years. And again like Airrace, only one member from that 1984 band remains, singer/guitarist Michael Voss.
35 is a solid ’80s metal effort, with slick sound (Voss is an in-demand producer), excellent musicianship, and a solid, varied vocal performance from Voss. Not all the songs hit home (“Beat of the Heart” and a bonus cover of Dokken’s “Paris is Burning” stand out), but 35 is still an enjoyable romp down memory lane for us old-timers.
Massive Wagons – Full Nelson (Earache)
Hailing from the UK, Massive Wagons perform a fairly straightforward form of rock music on Full Nelson, their fourth full length release . The catchy choruses come along with the territory and the music is very infectious. The sound is somewhat mainstream, but able to weave in enough nuances to elevate it above many rock releases.
There is definitely the influence of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd on Massive Wagons’ sound as it has a bit of a Southern feel to it. The music is certainly uplifting and has a feel good vibe to it. Though it feels so good, it’s still lacking a bit of depth and could use more intricacy in the arrangements. The songs are still addictive in their pristine form and the guitars are crunchy and full of life. If this music was made a bit more complex it might be more successful, but as it stands this is a solid hard rock record.
Nachash – Phantasmal Triunity (Shadow Kingdom)
After an EP a few years back, the Norwegian black metal trio Nachash re-emerge with their full-length debut Phantasmal Triunity. Although a new group, their lineup includes veterans such as drummer Tiller (Celestial Bloodshed, Omega).
While there are old-school influences in Nachash’s sound, they are not a retro band. Their brand of black metal has some death influences, with a lot of ebbs and flows in tempo and intensity. The riffs are somewhat repetitive, but catchy enough that you don’t mind, especially on songs like “Apex Illuminous.” There are long instrumental sections that showcase those riffs, and the vocals are more death than black. The production nicely balances the band’s rawness with a fuller sound.
Primal Fear – Apocalypse (Frontiers)
Last year the German power metal band Primal Fear marked their 20th anniversary. For two decades Ralf Scheepers (ex-Gamma Ray) and company have delivered consistent, quality albums. That’s also the case with their twelfth studio album Apocalypse.
Soaring power metal with catchy melodies is periodically injected with quicker paced speed metal to create a more intense but still accessible style. “New Rise” gallops along at a blazing pace, while tracks like “The Ritual” slow down the pace while increasing the groove. Scheepers delivers a varied performance, sometimes gritty, other times smooth and powerful. Ballads like “Supernova” are a good showcase for his voice. Apocalypse has a lot of variety while never straying far from Primal Fear’s established sound. The deluxe edition includes three bonus tracks and a DVD with videos and a mini-documentary on the making of the album.
Sinsaenum – Repulsion For Humanity (earMusic)
Repulsion For Humanity is the sophomore full-length from Sinsaenum, whose lineup includes Joey Jordison (ex-Slipknot), Frederic Leclerq (Dragonforce) and Sean Zatorsky (ex-Chimaira). The participation of Attila Csihar (Mayhem) was limited on this album to some backing vocals and lyrics due to other commitments.
That means death metal is front and center, with aggressive vocals from Zatorsky, melodic guitars and a dark atmosphere. There are some extended instrumental solos/jams on tracks like “Final Resolve.” Incorporating that within songs works much better than having an instrumental between every vocal track, which is what they did on their debut. Once Human’s Lauren Hart guests on “Sacred Martyr,” which blends extremity with some clever guitar work. At more than an hour it’s a bit long, but more cohesive and consistent than their debut.
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex (Nuclear Blast)
The German black/death metal band The Spirit self released Sounds From The Vortex last year. It caught the attention of Nuclear Blast, which has signed them and is giving the album a wide release.
The quartet, who go by their initials only, deliver a fairly straightforward style of blackened death. However, they change things up, mixing shorter tracks like “Cosmic Fear” with more epic songs such as the seven plus minute “The Clouds Of Damnation.” Crushing death metal and regal black metal combine into a brutal amalgamation of extremity. The tempos are generally quick, but they downshift periodically to avoid monotony. At 38 minutes, it’s a focused effort with minimal filler.
Transient – Sources of Human Satisfaction (Six Weeks)
Grindcore is a noisy genre, where violent music is played with a feral stance. Transient know this well, but up the ante on Sources of Human Satisfaction by bringing in Eric Wood of Bastard Noise. Those who have heard Wood’s main project will welcome the reliance this album has on sound manipulation and programming.
Wood’s contributions are mostly delegated to intros/outros, a connection that molds the 20 minutes of music into a sonic hellscape. When he squeezes a few mechanical bangs into the songs themselves, the effect is jarring for how quickly they come and go. The disjointedness of his involvement hinders Transient’s hooky appeal on the less frantic material.
Ultraphonix – Original Human Music (earMusic)
At age 63, it would be understandable if legendary guitarist George Lynch slowed down or scaled back, but he’s busier than ever. In addition to Lynch Mob, he has also recently recorded a couple of albums with Stryper’s Michael Sweet, and his latest project is Ultraphonix. The lineup includes Living Colour vocalist Corey Glover.
Their debut album Original Human Music has a hard rock base, but expands beyond that. There are a lot of bluesy elements along with funk, prog and even jazz. Both Glover and Lynch have distinctive styles, which work well together. Lynch knows when to bring the guitar front and center, and when to blend into the background. Glover gives a passionate performance on tracks like “Walk Run Crawl,” and has a more laid back style on songs such as “Wasteland.” While there are some elements of their other bands, Ultraphonix also pushes things in different musical directions.
Vardan – Unholy Lightness Summer (Moribund)
The remarkably prolific Italian one-man black metal artist Vardan churns out multiple albums per year. Unholy Lightness Summer is already his fourth full-length of 2018.
His 31st album overall takes a step back from black metal and enters the realm of ambient/atmospheric rock. There are extended instrumental passages, a lot of keyboards, some clean vocals, and only periodic glimpses of metal, mostly in the harsh vocals. There are three lengthy tracks, including the 21 minute “Unholy Lightness Summer Pt. 2.” While Vardan’s metal fans will be able to appreciate the album, it will also appeal to those whose interests are more in the darkwave and neo-folk genres.
Various Artists – It Came From The Abyss (Volume 1) (Dark Operative)
It Came From The Abyss (Volume 1) is an interesting and varied compilation. The 14 tracks include covers, rarities and demos.
The first half of the record features metal and hardcore bands such as Power Trip covering Prong’s “Brainwave” and The Dillinger Escape Plan’s rendition of Black Flag’s “Damaged I & II.” There are three tracks from Iron Reagan, along with Integrity, Doomriders and Bleach Everything. The compilation also includes more mainstream acts like The All-American Rejects. It gathers some hard to find tracks in one place and features a wide variety of styles.