This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Crystal Ball, Damn Your Eyes, The Drippers, Eradikator, Excuse, Finsterforst, Freedom Of Fear, The Giraffes, John 5 and The Creatures, Licence, Mylingar, Narnia, Neurosis and Jarboe, The Offering, Riot, Russian Circles, Sons Of Famine and Total Hate.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Crystal Ball – 2020 (Massacre)
To celebrate their 20th anniversary, melodic heavy metal veterans Crystal Ball have revealed 2020. It’s a compilation album containing ten songs from their first decade’s discography and ten songs from their second, with each song being either re-recorded, remastered, reimagined, or completely revamped. The music created from a blend of hard rock and heavy metal that Crystal Ball play is truly a timeless genre, so what better way to keep its lifeblood flowing than by giving some of their greatest hits an upgrade?
If you have never listened to Crystal Ball before, this is the perfect opportunity for you to jump into their stuff. Every singalong chorus is catchy and their glam metal riffs are good enough for both your metalhead uncle and your “cool” single aunt who peaked in 1988 but remains single to this very day. Additionally, the light synths are mixed into the background with perfection, giving the whole thing a nostalgic feel. And don’t even get me started on how sick the solos are. Long story short, this is how you do a compilation album.
No one will have to damn their ears listening to Damn Your Eyes and their latest full-length, Kill the Outside. The eccentric attitude of the foursome translates to ten songs that go from brash, raging cuts (“Punk Fuck” and “Tree Line”) to introspective acoustic jams (“Slower”). Utilizing so many musical avenues allows the band to test out different styles, most of which are to their benefit.
However, they don’t skimp on the kind of groove bands like Machine Head and Down channel in their respective works. Opener “Ascension” finesses this groove alongside counteracting vocal melodies. The middle of Kill the Outside is where the band’s arching direction hits its sweet spot, with a trio of songs that bounce between each of the aforementioned ideas with aplomb.
The Drippers – Action Rock (The Sign)
Rocking and rolling through without breaking a sweat, Sweden’s The Drippers sure know how to leave an impression on their debut full-length, Action Rock, a very apt title for this fast and furious record. This is raw rock ‘n’ roll that doesn’t overstay its welcome; only two of the 11 tracks clock in at over three minutes!
No need for ballads or any of that nonsense; The Drippers are straight ahead, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll that will remind of fellow countrymen The Hellacopters and old-timers like MC5. Some variance in the riff and rhythm department could help though, as a couple times I thought I was hearing Motörhead’s “Overkill” because tracks “Bottled Blues” and “White Light” sound very similar to that classic song. Much ferocity and enjoyment gleam from the debauchery of “Feldman’s Exit” and the 90 second smash of “Finskt Blod”. Fun debut and love the energy, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Eradikator – Obscura (Divebomb)
A lot of metal history was created in Birmingham, England, which has spawned countless bands over the years. The current generation of groups from there includes Eradikator, whose third album Obscura is a concept record about the different stages of grief.
And though the subject matter is morose, the songs are generally uptempo traditional metal with some thrash influences. Tracks like “Poisoned To Sorrow” have melodic choruses and blazing guitar solos. They turn up the grooves on “Hourglass,” while slowing down the tempo on “Eyes Of Old” and closer “The Siren Song.” There’s plenty of variety, from introspective ballads to furious rockers.
Excuse – Prophets From The Occultic Cosmos (Shadow Kingdom)
Since bursting onto the scene with their 2013 demo, Finland’s Excuse have slowly made their way up the ladder with two EP releases and now comes their debut full-length, Prophets From The Occultic Cosmos. The Finns have brought blistering, varied thrash metal and should please any fans of the genre.
Coming in a breakneck speed reminiscent of Canadian thrash gods like Razor and Sacrifice, these guys launch into long, drawn out tracks with a hint of melody thrown in. Vocalist Oskar Lindström sings with a solid rasp and at times sounds like he’s coming from another dimension! The closer, clocking in at over 10 minutes, is an awe-inspiring thrash roller coaster of tempos, acoustic breakdowns, and monumental soloing. By far the star of this journey, but full-on bangers like “Blade Of Antichrist” and “Sworn To The Crimson Oath” will have you remember the old days fondly, but also pushes the genre into the next level. Impressive debut!
Finsterforst – Zerfall (Napalm)
After a covers EP in 2016, the German band Finsterforst have returned to composing their own material on their fifth full-length Zerfall The band is known for lengthy songs, and have continued that here with the six tracks clocking in at nearly 80 minutes.
The eclectic arrangements incorporate pagan, black, post and folk metal. Atmospheric moments are contrasted by grandiose black metal, with each track having numerous ebbs and flows. Harsh vocals and blastbeats shift to clean singing. Orchestral and folk instruments co-exist on tracks like “Zerfall,” and though the song structures are complex, there’s still a lot of memorable melodies. The album culminates with the epic 36 minute closer “Ecce Homo” that’s sometimes cinematic, other times extreme, and maintains interest throughout, which is an impressive feat.
Freedom Of Fear – Nocturnal Gates (EVP)
After releasing an EP in 2015, the Australian quintet Freedom Of Fear emerge with their full-length debut Nocturnal Gates. Their primary genre is death metal, but also utilize melodic death and prog.
They show they aren’t the typical death metal band in the opener “The Consciousness Of Misery” that begins and ends with bludgeoning death metal, but is broken up by a mellow section that includes saxophone. Every one of the four proper songs includes a laid back interlude, an interesting twist that doesn’t slow their momentum. The melody in the melodic death parts comes from the guitars, as Jade Monserrat’s vocals are harsh growls and shrieks. At just over 30 minutes, Freedom Of Fear impress with their debut and as with all good entertainers, leave the audience wanting more.
The Giraffes – Flower of the Cosmos (Silver Sleeve)
Brooklyn hard-rockers The Giraffes boast one of the more unique styles I’ve heard this year. Their punk-tinged, surfer dude take on hard rock is cheeky and charismatic, due in no small part to the suave vocal cords of Aaron Lazar, who comes across as an uber-cool Dave Matthews crossed with Josh Homme. Sound interesting?
It is, and to complement Lazar’s vocal prowess the band has put ten catchy tunes together on Flower of the Cosmos. Angular guitar riffs, cool choruses, and all-round feel-good vibes permeate the album, with songs such as “Can’t Do This in Your Head,” “Fill up Glass,” and “Raising Kids in the End Times,” Flower of the Cosmos is one of the coolest records of the summer.
In addition to playing in Rob Zombie’s band for the past 15 or so years, John 5 has released many solo and side project albums throughout his career. Invasion is latest from John 5 and The Creatures, whose members also include bassist Ian Ross and drummer Logan Miles Nix.
While mostly instrumental, there are some vocals, such as on “I Am John 5,” a electronic and funky track that also features shredding from the song’s namesake. There are some relatively straightforward songs like the bold “Midnight Mass” along with funkier numbers such as “Zoinks!” and the appropriately title “I Like The Funk.” They turn up the twang on “Howdy” and “Cactus Flower.” It’s a versatile effort from one of the most talented guitarists in the business.
Licence – N.2.O.2.R. (Metalopolis)
The title of Licence‘s second album N.2.O.2.R. in spoken form is “Never Too Old To Rock.” Those of us who remember the ’80s very well appreciate that sentiment.
The German band celebrates the ’80s on the album with sleazy riffs, big hooks and vocals from Jacky Coke that are melodic but have an edge. The production is modern, but the vibe hearkens back to arena rock’s heyday. “Hot4Ever” features guest vocals from Maverick’s Richie Diver that add an Accept vibe. There’s also a cover of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” that’s been metaled up. Grab a lighter and some hairspray and relive your misspent youth with Licence.
Mylingar – Döda Själar (20 Buck Spin)
Mylingar operate under a veil of secrecy, their members unknown and the only personal fact about them being that they hail from Sweden. There’s nothing secretive, however, about the ghastly noise of their sophomore album, Döda Själar. They partake in the most dissonant form of black/death metal, as the album takes on a shock-and-awe sonic approach for 40 minutes.
Opener “Obalansen” starts in mid-song, jolting the listener into the proceedings as if the band were too impatient and couldn’t wait to obliterate. Sometimes, the production can’t handle it all, with the drums buried in the mix, but the band keeps songs moving at a pace that would stun many other groups. If an album of beastly growls and buzzing notes seems appealing to you, Döda Själar is a good option.
Narnia – From Darkness to Light (Sound Pollution)
In the second album since their hiatus, the Christian power metal outfit Narnia have returned with From Darkness to Light. Compared to pretty much all of their previous albums, From Darkness to Light dials the neoclassicalism down to a point where it’s nearly non-existent. Additionally, Narnia have traded a good portion of their power metal energy for heavier riffs, a bit more variety, and a more prominent prog influence. They still have some killer ’80s synth tones, though, so I’m not complaining.
Aside from a few mediocre tunes, such as “You Are the Air That I Breathe” and “Has the River Run Dry,” From Darkness to Light if full of quality tracks, from reflective acoustic runs to super pumped-up bangers. The album’s highlights lie in it’s opener and “From Darkness to Light (Part 1),” which is found near the end. Both display a huge dynamic range and leak a contagious energy that’ll get you hooked on the album for a while to come.
Neurosis & Jarboe – Neurosis & Jarboe (Neurot)
This collaboration album between Neurosis and Jarboe was an oddity back in its initial release in 2003, and the same holds true in this 2019 re-issue. The two come from different backgrounds—Neurosis with their progressive sludge and Jarboe with the experimental noise/electronics of Swans—and the tugging of both sides provides each to explore sounds neither tried before. This meant tempering the volatility of the former and putting a metalized spin on the latter’s body of work.
“Erase” is the closest thing to a metal song on here, with the distortion turned up on Jarboe’s vocals and the riffs laced with a bite missing from songs like the acoustic-led “Receive” and the synths prevalent on “Within.” Even with the unevenness of the material, time hasn’t diminished the risks taken on this collaboration by all the musicians involved.
The Offering – Home (Century Media)
After self-releasing an EP in 2017, Boston’s The Offering caught the ear of Century Media, and are unleashing their full-length debut Home. It was mixed and mastered by the prolific Fredrik Nordstrom (Opeth, Arch Enemy).
The Offering have a lot of influences, and they are all on display. Traditional and power metal are evident, with soaring melodies and blazing guitar solos, but they also have an extreme side where you can hear their black, death and thrash leanings. Industrial, nu-metal and hardcore also make appearances in the mix. There are heavy sections that are very modern, with harsh vocals that are balanced with melodic choruses. “Ultraviolence” is one of the record’s heaviest tracks, while “A Dance With Diana” has some mellower moments. Vocalist Alex Richichi impresses throughout with a variety of deliveries, approaches and textures. This an ambitious debut with a lot of twists and turns and technical prowess.
Riot V – Live In Japan 2018 (AFM)
Riot got their start in the mid-’70s, and the New York heavy/power metal band’s most notable release was 1981’s Fire Down Under. The band’s founder, guitarist Mark Reale, passed away in 2012, and the current band, now called Riot V, has no original members. Bassist Don Van Stavern and guitarist Mike Flyntz have been in the group since the ’80s, with the rest of a more recent vintage.
The DVD/CD Live In Japan 2018 features 23 tracks than span the band’s career from the beginning through their most recent studio album, 2014’s Unleash The Fire. They also play 1988’s Thundersteel in it’s entirety. Vocalist Todd Michael Hall has a powerful voice with a wide range and delivers the songs with conviction. The band sounds great, with the diverse setlist plus Thundersteel making it a very desirable release for Riot fans.
Russian Circles – Blood Year (Sargent House)
Chicago’s Russian Circles are one of instrumental post-metal’s heavy hitters. From 2006’s Enter on up to 2016’s Guidance, it’s been hard to find fault. But with cross-town rivals Pelican releasing a great album in their own right back in June, the stakes are high for this trio’s seventh full-length, Blood Year. Lucky for us, the band is up to the task.
Blood Year is a direct and hard-hitting album. Aside from moody side A and B openers “Hunter Moon” and “Ghost on High,” (which I wish was a fully-formed song), the music here is heavy, pummeling, and dramatic. “Quartered” and “Arluck” are powerful, while a couple other tracks are morose yet intense. “Arluck” doesn’t really fit the album’s mold, but is a solid song nonetheless, maybe just in the wrong place on Blood Year. Overall, this comes across as one of the band’s strongest releases in an already formidable career.
Sons of Famine – As Razors Gnaw Like Wolves (HPGD)
Formed after the demise of CorpseVomit, and rising from Chicago, Illinois, blackened death metal act Sons of Famine have prepared their first full length album As Razors Gnaw Like Wolves, a 30 minute death metal-infused black metal opus.
As Razors… consists of 9 tracks, and its pillars are solidly based on early to mid-’90s blackened death metal foundations, but the addition of a mild but sensible balance ties the band’s traditional musical structure to modernity. Melodic guitar parts are balanced with savage death metal riffage and in many moments, the extensive guitar solos ride on top of the music and push the album upright. The impressive performance of Matt McClelland as the vocalist is another important point of the album. Although Sons of Famine are based in the United States, their music resembles some Swedish black/death metal veterans. Fans of Necrophobic and Dissection will absolutely enjoy it.
Total Hate – Throne Behind A Black Veil (Eisenwald)
The spirit of ‘90s Norwegian black metal is alive in Total Hate. The German group’s fourth full-length recording Throne Behind A Black Veil follows thorny impressions left by bands such as Gorgoroth, Satyricon and Darkthrone.
This influence is most apparent at the beginning of “Thou Shalt Kill (Killing Spree Unleashed)” and “Lunatic Beast. Guitars convey icy cold messages such as the tremolo picking on the title track and the melodic fade out on closer “Venomed Seed.” “Death Raid Apocalypse” has an old school hardcore feel that brings a touch of diversity to the second wave of black metal homage that rules the record. Throne Behind A Black Veil won’t receive a medal for originality. Total Hate pulls it off well, though, and considering how those classic bands mostly stepped away from this sound decades ago, there is still a need for albums like this one.