This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Bear Mace, Bull Elephant, Cancer, Deathcave, Fermentor, Fixation, Halestorm, Into Eternity, Kamelot, King Buzzo, Malus Votum, Moonspell, The Oracle, Primitive Man, Rope Sect, Season Of Dreams and Visceral Violation.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Death metal doesn’t come as straightforward in 2020 as it does in Bear Mace’s Charred Field Of Slaughter. In case that comes off as an insult, it’s actually a top compliment for their second album. For 35 minutes, they create the kind of infectious, over-the-top music the genre shines at doing. Songs about rotted flesh, weapons of mass destruction, and bears (yes, bears) shouldn’t be this toe-tapping catchy.
Whatever preference of traditional death metal one enjoys can be found on Charred Field Of Slaughter. Relentless and without mercy? Try the roaring closer, “Brain Rot.” A nasty guitar solo over head-snapping riffs? “Rogue Weapon” will do the trick. A sense of looming peril in the air? That’s where “From the Sky Rains Hell” comes in. This album is whiplash in compact form.
Bull Elephant – Created From Death (Eat Lead And Die)
After issuing their debut last year, the anonymous UK collective Bull Elephant continue the storyline of that album with Created From Death. It combines World War II with supernatural elements and even zombies.
Musically, Bull Elephant are a doom/death band. With most songs in the 5 to 6 minute range, there are a lot of shifts in tempo and intensities. Tracks like “Oneiromantic Rites” blend downtuned riffs with melodic singing and mellow moments. Harsh vocals are front and center on songs such as “Lebensraum,” with melodic vocals and quiet passages also making an appearance. “Perverted Science” is intense the entire way through. There’s no shortage of variety on Created From Death, part two in what’s supposed to be a trilogy of albums.
Australia’s Cancer perform a dreary, yet moody form of black metal that relies on its depressive aura to carry it along. The songs on Opioid, their second full-length, are somewhat harsh, but melodic enough to be listenable. Vocals alternate between screams and shrieks and complement the music fairly nicely.
This is music that will resonate with its downtrodden feeling and become ingrained in your brain. The musical performances and songwriting lead to a climax of dreariness towards the end of the album. Songs become more epic and the album builds up steam as it progresses. Opioid is entertaining and well conceived, but could use an injection of a more absorbing overall sound. Regardless, most black metal fans should eat this up easily. It is a well put together album of dark black metal music.
Deathcave – Smoking Mountain (Satanik Royalty)
On Smoking Mountain, Deathcave send nods to doom’s past (the finish to “The Road” has shades of Black Sabbath’s self-titled anthem) while acknowledging all the years that have passed since then. They aren’t a thrash band but get close to those tempos several times on the album. The trio’s specialty is being in a downcast mood, sullen about the future of not only humanity, but nature itself. It’s a grim message fragmented into five gargantuan tracks.
The second half of Smoking Mountain has Deathcave bringing in several guest vocalists, including Black Breath’s Neil McAdams and ex-Botch/current Narrows singer Dave Verellen. Their contributions are strong, though the clear favorite is Holy Grove’s Andrea Vidal on “The Seer.” She sings over rancorous guitar feedback, as it transitioned into a wonderful spot of harsh/melodic vocal interplay. It’s a sublime moment on an album brimming with furor.
The partnership between guitarist Adam Wollach and drummer Dylan Marks in Fermentor goes back before the previous decade. This long-term chemistry makes for thrilling, confident instrumental death metal on their debut album, Continuance. This is technicality without ego, with neither member showing the other one off. They are on equal footing with their proficiency at their respective instruments.
Sometimes, it’s Wollach’s callous riffs that get the attention. Other times, it’s the fierce fills from Marks that takes a song over. They keep these songs in a manageable time range, none of them being a burden to enjoy. Like the latest album from a band like The Chasm, Fermentor set an example of how death metal doesn’t need lyrics to be evil.
Fixation – Global Suicide (Indie)
While extreme genres are what Norway is known for, there are plenty of more accessible and mainstream bands that hail from there as well. One of them is Fixation, whose debut EP is Global Suicide.
The lyrical topics are heavy, as they address subjects such as mental health and the climate crisis. The music, though, is accessible hard rock. Atmospheric synths add depth to the melodic and catchy tracks. “Bloodline” is the heaviest of the four songs, with some more aggressive vocals sprinkled in. The EP shows promise and will help put them on the map, but to break through in such a crowded genre they’ll need to do more to differentiate themselves, which they certainly have the potential to do.
Halestorm – Reimagined (Atlantic)
Between full-lengths, Halestorm have released several covers EPs. They take a different approach on Reimagined, a six song EP that revisits previous songs and as you can figure out from the title, reimagines them.
There is one cover song, “I Will Always Love You.” It takes pipes to sing that song, which Lzzy Hale definitely has. The arrangement is sparse, letting Lzzy’s vocals be front and center. The highlight of the EP is “Break In,” taking the track from 2012’s The Strange Case Of… and turning it into a duet with Evanescence’s Amy Lee. It’s powerful and emotion. The other four tracks are mostly mellower interpretations of songs such as “I Miss The Misery” and “I Am The Fire.” As with the Reanimate cover EPs, Reimagined is an entertaining stopgap as fans await the follow-up to Vicious.
Into Eternity – The Incurable Tragedy (M-Theory)
Into Eternity’s fifth album The Incurable Tragedy is being reissued by M-Theory on vinyl. It was the last album to feature vocalist Stu Block. Block would go on to front Iced Earth. The album is a concept album about man struggling with the reality of his incurable cancer diagnosis.
“Prelude to Woe” introduces the album through intense acoustic guitar and melodramatic keys. “The Incurable Tragedy I” and part two are other heartfelt tracks of lush melody. Block shows tremendous range throughout the album including the soaring notes on “Indignation.” For all the vocal accolades Block receives, founding member Tim Roth’s guitar play is equally deserving of praise. “One Funeral Hymn For Three” shows his shredding capability, rapidly tapping scales with the best of shredders. The Death influence shows on this track’s guitar play and growling vocals. Exceptional musicianship and a balance of heaviness with melody make The Incurable Tragedy a tremendous album.
Into Eternity – Into Eternity (M-Theory)
M-Theory is set to reissue Into Eternity’s self-titled debut album, originally released independently in 1999. It sounds like a developmental album. It has all the hallmarks of an Into Eternity release, but some of the players were different and the production wasn’t as fine tuned. The 2020 edition includes three bonus track demos.
Band leader and guitar shredder extraordinaire Tim Roth handled the vocals. He sings with a lot of passion but doesn’t have the Dream Theater-like voice Chris Kroll had on Buried in Oblivion or the vibrato and falsetto of Stu Block. Some tracks like “Speak of the Dead” feature both clean and growled voices, although the clean vocals seem to dominate the album. The music is a mix of acoustic melodies, keyboard atmosphere, guitar agility and death metal brutality. Into Eternity may not be at the level of later releases, but it’s an IE album, through and through, something that should be owned by all their fans.
Kamelot – I Am The Empire – Live From The 013 (Napalm)
It has been awhile (14 years) since American symphonic metal veterans Kamelot released a live album. As they toured in support of 2018’s The Shadow Theory, they had a special show at the 013 in Tilburg, Netherlands that included several special guests.
Available in CD, Blu-ray/DVD, vinyl and digital, I Am The Empire – Live From The 013 features 19 proper songs and is around 100 minutes long. Lauren Hart (Once Human) reprises her appearance on “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)” from The Shadow Theory, and for the first time live Delain’s Charlotte Wessels sings “Under Grey Skies” from 2015’s Haven. Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz appears on three songs including “Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife)” with Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd. The band sounds great, the crowd is really into it, and the setlist is varied. That combination makes this one highly appealing to Kamelot fans.
King Buzzo – Gift of Sacrifice (Ipecac)
Melvins frontman Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne is back with his second acoustic solo offering, Gift of Sacrifice. This time around, he is joined on the upright bass by Mr. Bungle/Fantomas/Melvins Lite’s Trevor Dunn. And as expected, we are gifted with an eclectic and catchy batch of tunes.
Gift of Sacrifice alternates effortlessly between earworm hooky acoustic pop and shuddering weirdness. Dunn’s noodling bass playing and Buzzo’s alarming synth patches push many of these songs into the Twilight Zone. The best example is an odd mashup of Kiss’ “Shock Me,” retitled “Mock She” here. Equal parts laid-back groove and shambling noise, it showcases what the entire album is about. If the term “catchy weirdness” strikes a chord with you, go grab this album.
Malus Votum – Tradition (Lunar Apparitions)
Tradition is an apt title for Malus Votum‘s debut album. Though they are a new band hailing from the U.S., their influences are Norwegian black metal. The duo has plenty of experience, being current of past members of bands including Panzergod, Oppressive Descent and Cryptic Edifice.
The album is four tracks long, but there’s plenty of material. The songs range in length from 6 to 10 minutes. That gives them ample time to develop and unfurl and display everything from ambient parts to the typical black metal blastbeats and icy atmospheres. The production is murky and vocals tend to be low in the mix. While there’s nothing new or unique about Malus Votum’s style, the execution will make it appealing to fans of the old school.
Moonspell – The Butterfly Effect (Napalm)
As Moonspell embarked on a more experimental phase in the late ’90s, albums like Sin/Pecado and 1999’s The Butterfly Effect were not as well received as their first two albums. More than two decades later, The Butterfly Effect is being reissued.
While there were plenty of gothic elements on the album, Moonspell brought in more industrial and electronic influences. Tracks like “Butterfly FX” and “Soulitary Vice” have a ’90s vibe with both harsh and melodic vocals. In addition to the original album, this reissue includes new remixes of “Lustmord” and “Angelizer.” With time to reflect on the album, it’s evident the Depeche Mode meets Marilyn Manson/Rob Zombie approach was an interesting one with potential, but with only a few truly engaging songs and too much filler, it is one of the weaker releases in their impressive catalog.
The Oracle – Hypogeum (Repose)
Though The Oracle’s Hypogeum is an instrumental ambient record laced with electronics and various effects, there’s a dark energy consistent with black metal. It’s not in the tempos or the manner the music is delivered, but from the grim tones that seem to ooze from every note performed. This is electronics-driven, interspersed with guitars and percussion.
On “Akeldama” and “Bethlehem A.D.,” all of these come together in a diabolical symphony. This symphony may have a narrow appeal, but its appeal can hold onto a listener very tightly. Hypogeum is not a giant piece of music or something that needs to be heard in one go-around, but it is suited better for that compared to random tracks on a playlist or a piece-by-piece approach.
Primitive Man – Immersion (Relapse)
Denver sludge/doom unit Primitive Man return with their third album Immersion, the follow up to the chaotic Caustic, a painful and frightening listen. Starting with “The Lifer” you are met with violent and glacially slow-moving passages and Ethan McCarthy channeling his inner demons to continue to envelop the listener in this group’s collective madness.
The band has been able to deliver their kind of chaos in a bit more of a bite sized manner much like their debut Scorn as Caustic’s latter half tended to drag on with extra-long noise tracks. “Menacing” is another powerful song steeped with depressive atmosphere and demands to be experienced in a cold and dark basement for maximum effect. If you want an album that is both frightening and accessible, you will want to check out Immersion, the best combination of their previous work that Primitive Man could deliver.
Rope Sect – The Great Flood (Iron Bonehead)
You could record the greatest material of your career but, without the supportive framework of robust production, you’ll often be starting on the back foot. Deathrockers Rope Sect emerge with their debut The Great Flood with this regrettable caveat to plague its opening moments of doom ‘n’ gloom rock anti-anthems.
The band seemed to have taken social distancing measures a little too seriously, with the drums often sounding miles from their recording mic with the odd cymbal clash that lands awkwardly in earshot. Inmesher’s vocals, too, pose their own issues. When the band truly embraces its doom-laden DNA, his languid and thoughtful delivery feels right at home – verging on being moving. Yet, when the tempo picks up for The Great Flood’s more energetic tides the vocals fall behind and serve only to drag down the intended impact. Being a debut, however, I remain hopeful for the future as the band’s proficiency for earworm riffs and a general interest in keeping things fresh saves Rope Sect’s first full-length outing from being a mere medley of misery.
Season of Dreams – My Shelter (Pride & Joy)
The mastermind of power metal outfit Season of Dreams is A Taste of Freedom’s Jean-Michel Volz. On debut album My Shelter, Volz is joined by vocalist Johannes Nyberg, who also contributes keys, and Nyberg’s brother John on lead guitar. Through fourteen tracks spread out over more than an hour, the band aims to craft compelling power metal.
Sadly, My Shelter is more of an exercise in what not to do in power metal. Sure, by nature it is an over-the-top subgenre, but Season of Dreams are simply in over their heads. The drum programming and mix makes no sense, vocals are way too over-dramatic, and the songs themselves are repetitive, with the same outdated synth patches and arrangements throughout. Back to the drawing board for these guys.
Visceral Violation – Carnival Cannibal (HPGD)
Visceral Violation formed in Beltsville, Maryland in 2010, but it took ten years for them to release their first studio album. With eight songs and around 20 minutes of running time, Visceral Violation’s debut Carnival Cannibal shows the band’s thirst to delve into seminal brutal death metal.
A quick look at the two demos released before this album reveals that Visceral Violation have been dealing with a limited range of songs over the years, as most of these songs have been repeated in those two demos and this album. However, in songs that are all two minutes long, Visceral Violation try to have the attention of their audience by taking them to the early days of brutal death metal. Nothing remarkable happens on Carnival Cannibal, but let us give them the credit they deserve at this point, because the fans of early Broken Hope and Suffocation will definitely find charms in this album that will please them. But let’s hope they come back with a more cohesive work in the future.