This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Astriferous, Avatar, Black Rose Maze, Brotthogg, Concrete, Faceless Burial, Gardner/James, Misery Signals, Onslaught, Orbit Culture, Ravened, Selbst, Selenseas, Slaves, Steve Von Till, Stillbirth, Temple Nightside, Terminal Nation and WoR.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Astriferous – The Lower Levels of Sentience (Me Saco Un Ojo)
Astriferous have a grimy and evil feeling on display on their debut EP The Lower Levels of Sentience. The songs contain small outbursts of energy and some slicing death metal riffing. This is very rudimentary death metal that has a somewhat classic style to it. The EP is over before you can really get attached to the songs and they seem to fly by at an incredibly fast pace. Still, it is a rough approach that works for bands like Obituary and it largely works here.
This music is a bit more basic sounding than even Obituary and finds the band playing a primitive style. At only four tracks and roughly twenty minutes in length one gets the feeling that the band could have fleshed out their music a bit more and allowed it to breathe. Still, for the short time it lasts, this is a very entertaining and fun outing for Astriferous. Add in a few more dynamic changes and the band could very well stumble onto something more worthwhile in the future. This is still an amusing listen with enough high points to make it something for death metal fans to check out.
Avatar – Hunter Gatherer (eOne)
Scream until you can’t anymore because Avatar’s latest release will have you hyped. For the last 19 years, Swedish metal band Avatar have put out eight other albums, but nothing quite like Hunter Gatherer before.
When you sit down to listen, I suggest you take it from beginning to end (and then backwards if you’re feeling frisky) because the track list not only reads like the chapters of a story book, but the album in its entirety plays like one too. Coming in hot with “Silence In The Age of Apes” and ending just as hard with “Wormhole,” this is the best tale told by Avatar yet. Whether you want power metal or melancholy sadness, there is an option for every metal loving maniac out there. Top track on this list has to be “Scream Until You Wake,” dead center of the album and balancing out the whole piece perfectly.
Black Rose Maze – Black Rose Maze (Frontiers)
Black Rose Maze is fronted by Canadian singer Rosa Laricchiuta, a contestant on “La Voix,” the Quebec version of The Voice. She has also been part of Trans-Siberian Orchestra since 2016.
Black Rose Maze is slick hard rock with radio-friendly hooks and memorable melodies. Laricchiuta has a smooth and powerful voice, evident on tracks like the Halestorm-esque “Let Me Be Me,” the rousing “You Can’t Stop Me” and the power ballad “Look At Me Now.” Her Trans-Siberian Orchestra bandmate Jeff Scott Soto guests on “Laws Of Attraction,” an appealing combination of one of rock’s best veteran singers and a very talented up-and-comer.
Norwegian ensemble Brotthogg return with their sophomore album, The Die Is Cast. Brotthogg have a progressive sound that includes melodic aspects of black metal and death metal. They take influence from legendary acts from their country such as Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Old Man’s Child and Sweden’s Dissection.
Keyboards are noticeable, but Brotthogg doesn’t overdo the keys. Keys are used more as an added effect to create an extra layer of atmosphere. Some of the keys have a progressive quality. Along with keys, guitar harmonies form a base to their melodic sound. Some memorable melodic solos occur on “Nokturne” and “Resurrection.” Vocally, the band alternate between a mid-range blackened growl and a shouted type that works well when they switch their lyrics to Norwegian. The album may be melodic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without fast drum beats. The Die Is Cast should satisfy fans of the aforementioned bands.
Concrete – Free Us From Existence (Black Voodoo)
Albany based hardcore unit Concrete have been bashing in skulls since 2014 and are putting out their sophomore release Free Us From Existence. Concrete’s music is very true to the band’s name; a slow build then it finally forms into a raw heaviness that envelopes the listener complete with some black and death metal tropes like on album opener “Executing Vengeance.”
Riffs pound the listener while in the pit and stomping around like a madman and the riffs change styles and speeds as they break up the vocal performance with aplomb. Concrete are here to be sure to free us from the daily pain of the mundane with fast and ferocious hardcore.
Faceless Burial – Speciation (Dark Descent)
Faceless Burial weave a gruesome pattern on Speciation, unrestrained from any torturous songwriting fallacies. There’s no set structure the group holds tightly to, letting each composition expand and contract based on nothing but intuition. It’s technical in the sense an album like Death’s The Sound Of Perseverance was; fluid without falling into a rut of one-upmanship between the members.
That’s not to say there isn’t some fantastic lead work going on, because there is. Whether it’s the rhythmic ruckus throughout the title track or the sky-high guitar solo on “Limbic Infirmary,” there’s something for every fan of a particular instrument. Faceless Burial doesn’t divert from their unrelenting death metal, not letting any extra pizzaz diminish its impact.
Gardner/James – Synergy (Pavement)
Former Vixen vocalist Janet Gardner has released a couple solo albums over the last few years, teaming up with guitarist/songwriter/producer Justin James, who is also her husband. For their latest effort Synergy, it’s billed as Gardner/James.
Like the first two Janet Gardner solo albums, Synergy blends the classic ’80s hard rock sound of Vixen with modern elements. Songs such as “You Can Kiss This” are heavy with shredding guitars along with a singalong chorus. “Rise Up” is mid-tempo and bluesy while “Say You Will” is the requisite ballad. There’s a lot of variety, and their strongest collection of songs so far with only minimal filler.
It has been a while since the last full-length from metalcore veterans Misery Signals. Ultraviolet is their first full-length since 2013, and marks the return of all the band’s founding members.
It’s the first Misery Signals album for vocalist Jesse Zaraska since their 2004 debut, and while there are plenty of nods to mid-2000s metalcore (tracks like “Old Ghost”), this isn’t a throwback album. The songs incorporate progressive and post metal along with crushing ‘core, creating an album with both bludgeoning power and subtleties. Zaraska’s vocal style is powerful and emotional, and the songs manage to embrace the band’s past while still pushing forward.
Onslaught – Generation Antichrist (AFM)
UK thrashers Onslaught got their start in the early ’80s, split for more than a decade beginning in the early ’90s, and have had tons of lineup changes over the years. The only constant has been guitarist Nige Rockett. Their latest album Generation Antichrist is their first since 2013, and features several new members.
The most notable change is at vocalist. Longtime singer Sy Keeler has exited, replaced by Dave Garnett (Bull-Riff Stampede). He fits in well with a gritty delivery that suits Onslaught’s aggressive approach. The production is modern, but the approach is old school with potent riffs and a plethora of solos. Closer “A Perfect Day To Die” is a nod to Motorhead, one of their early influences, and one of the strongest tracks on the album. Even with a lot of new members they aren’t breaking much new ground, but the flawless execution will satisfy thrash fans.
Orbit Culture – Nija (Seek and Strike)
Behind all the animosity, the belligerence and vehemence, metal often has the capacity to move people; to evoke feeling beyond the pumping of adrenaline. While it remains one of the most exhilarating and barbaric listens of 2020, Orbit Culture’s Nija sparks resonance with its listener that ranges from terror to sheer awe.
Masters of concocting atmosphere, Orbit Culture operate in a soundscape seemingly designed to scare just as much as it is to invigorate. Niklas Karlsson has grown to be one of the most intense vocalists in modern metal, his harsh vocals occupying such phenomenal heft while his clean delivery harkens to the indelible tones of Hetfield-esque thrash. Backed by some sheer animalistic warriors of sound, Karlsson and company charge through a tracklist of momentous proportion – a succinct 45 minutes of unbridled mayhem that finds pleasure in hurling curveballs into its volatile approach to songwriting. The show stopping 1-2 punch of “Behold” and “Open Eye,” the riff-laden neck splitter of “Nensha” or the rapturous chills of “The Shadowing,” the list of highlights is simply interminable. What Orbit Culture have crafted with Nija is simply magnificent, a fine showing of what modern metal can and should be; and quite easily one of the year’s finest.
Ravened – From The Depths (Jono)
Youth can get a band pretty far on its own, something Ravened use to their advantage on their debut album, From The Depths. This Swedish quintet is comprised of members in their late teens/early 20s, though there is no sense of inexperience in their performances. These guys are decisive with their metalcore, throwing in the occasional melodic death metal vibes on “Onyx” and “Foul Deeds.” Those tunes are downright fire starters, patches of immolation that burn mightily with the hunger of a band looking for a break.
Ravened would’ve been wiser to utilize more songs like that, as the majority of these are mid-tempo; stable yet unfulfilling. The attempt to go seven minutes on “Denial” almost lands solidly, as a good guitar solo near the end saves it. The less said about the melodic vocals, the better, though. Thankfully, they aren’t used much, as jagged screams are the preferred vocal method. From The Depths has some encouraging parts, coming off as the product of a group that needs a bit more songwriting polish and less filler.
Selbst – Relatos De Angustia (Debemur Morti)
Selbst is helmed by N, who is now based in Chile after starting in Venezuela. He handles vocals, songwriting and all instruments except drums, which were done by JPC from Gates Of Tyrant.
On his second full-length Relatos De Angustia, N has really sharpened his songwriting. There’s a global influence as he incorporates bits and pieces of black metal from across the world to create his own style. There’s the aggression of classic Norwegian black metal along with nods to various other European styles and even post black metal. The songs are mostly in the 5 to 7 minute range, allowing Selbst plenty of space to shift between tempos and textures without overstaying his welcome. He skillfully melds a variety of influences into a cohesive and compelling black metal album.
Selenseas – The Outer Limits (Rockshots)
Not a lot of Russian music comes my way, but here we are with The Outer Limits, a debut album of sorts from Moscow power metal band Selenseas. Of sorts, because it is a re-recording of the band’s 2017 debut, Za gran’yu vozmozhnogo, which was recorded in Russian. This time around, most of the instruments are re-recorded and singer Mikhail Kudrey, new to the band, lays down English vocals.
All of the usual power metal tropes are present on The Outer Limits – fast, anthemic songs, epic-sounding keyboard flourishes, and rousing guitar solos. Kudrey’s vocals fit the music well. The complete package, while competent, doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and try as they might, Selenseas just doesn’t get the blood pumping like one wants when listening to power metal. A solid debut (again), but looking for more with their next release.
Slaves – To Better Days (SBG)
After years of developing the name Slaves for themselves (directly related to being “slaves” to drug addiction) the band Slaves are releasing a new album, To Better Days and a name change right along with it.
From the very first track after the album namesake intro, “Prayers” hits strong with lyrics that are contemplative and intricately delivered. Just like their albums in the past, To Better Days is another set of songs meant to make you consider life and everything you once knew. With a sound as distinct as their lyrical styling, Slaves did not come to play, they came to win. From “Witch Hunt” to “Clean Again,” the guys have no problem sharing their most intimate thoughts with listeners and that is what we love most. Keep a look out for an upcoming band name change to be announced after the release of To Better Days.
Steve Von Till – No Wilderness Deep Enough (Neurot)
Legendary Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till returns with his fifth true solo album (he also releases solo albums under the Harvestman moniker), No Wilderness Deep Enough. The album is essentially six melancholic, somewhat gothic Americana tracks underpinning Von Till’s poetic lyrics, as he waxes about humanity as a whole and our disconnect from the world around us.
Von Till’s vocals are aching, yearning, brooding, and heartfelt, lending expected weight to the material. Musically, the songs have been painstakingly composed with layers of piano, strings, and brass, with ambient and industrial arrangements. This is a very introspective album, one that is more fitting for bleak weather than summer, but a very rewarding experience nonetheless.
Stillbirth – Revive The Throne (Unique Leader)
Stillbirth have a prolific back catalog, but their musical role has become more known to the media in the last few years. Their seventh album, Revive the Throne, is a continuation of the success that began with 2018’s Annihilation of Mankind.
The release of three albums in three years shows that the band have figured out how to step strongly into the fusion of brutal death metal and deathcore. As the album cover points out, and as we hear the audio snippets from Gladiator, Revive the Throne is like a fierce battlefield with blast beats that collide with downtempo deathcore. Lukas Swiaczny deep growls are like a tiger in chains trying to attack fighters. Stillbirth play typical brutal death metal, but the extraordinary performances of the band, and of course, the clever integration of deathcore into the context of Revive the Throne have made it a highly dynamic and noticeable album. As Russell Crowe shouts, “Are you not entertained?” definitely the answer is yes, we are!
Temple Nightside – Pillars Of Damnation (Iron Bonehead)
Pillars of Damnation marks the tenth year for Aussie black/death group Temple Nightside. On the said album, the band goes for a cavernous style of death metal. The vocals seems to be erupting from some unseen abyss. They lie low in the mix and appear saturated with reverb. The guitar sound is also very low, riffs crunch away on the low end. The tones are of the buzzsaw sort, jagged and ripping.
The vocals are mostly of the guttural sort, and quite hard to hear low in the mix and saturated with effects. There are, however, parts consisting of blackened shrieks such as heard on “Blood Cathedral.” “Damnation” includes spoken lines and “The Carrion Veil” features whispers. Besides bone saw riffs, there are also disharmonic parts that give certain songs a twisted outlook. While the album has a blackened atmosphere, especially the vocals, the drum sound and riffs recall classic death metal like Incantation, Grave and Deicide.
Terminal Nation – The Holocene Extinction (20 Buck Spin)
Arkansan assailants Terminal Nation fire off some excellent hardcore by way of Swedeath on their debut The Holocene Extinction. With a guitar tone so heavy and buzz saw laden that their pit friendly dirges just seem to hit that much harder than is typical for the genre.
The speeds at which Terminal Nation can top out at border on grind on “Arsenic Earth” with blast beats to accompany the follow up breakdown in a great use of paradigm shifts to keep things interesting. Taking on subjects like the apocalypse and substance abuse like on “Orange Bottle Prison” it is clear that the band knows pain and that is felt throughout the entirety of the album; pure punishing misery. With the state of the country being the way that it is, Terminal Nation are welcome addition to the genre.
WoR – Prisoners (Bungalo)
WoR’s groove metal on Prisoners seems to be from a different era, as if they were cryogenically frozen in the early 2000s and thawed out this year. This could’ve come in the aftermath of bands that emerged following Lamb of God’s success with Ashes of the Wake. It may be a bit dated, but chunky riffs always have a place if they are handled as well as WoR does it.
They work their way through anthemic tunes with heavy subject matters, like “Freedom Suicide” and “Sirens,” with the latter bluntly calling out police brutality. Subtlety is not WoR’s forte at times, especially on songs like the one-note “T.G.S.O.A.T.” An unnecessary rendition of The Offspring’s “Come Out And Play” sours with its elongated breakdown in the middle section, which is the most hideous error in an album that avoids most of them.