This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Arkona, Bethledeign, Conjurer, Death Wolf, Dreamlord, Headsic, Horrified, In Human Form, Officium Triste, Oath Of Cruelty, Oni, Palm Reader, September Mourning, The River, Sharone and Skullcrush.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Arkona – Age of Capricorn (Debemur Morti)
Age of Capricorn is the seventh studio album and second on the Debemur Morti imprint for Polish masters of the black arts, Arkona. It is similar to their previous album Lunaris. While the band seems to have raised the RPMs, they still look to keyboards to generate ethereal, hypnotic passages. Sometimes the atmosphere produced is isolated, other times the band layers it on top of the blasts and tremolo picking.
“Stellar Inferno” is an eight-minute journey through various soundscapes including a mirage-like intro narrated by inhuman voices, a dissonant bridge, gossamer organs, and a blasting barrage that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The title track moves violently but finds that shimmering key sound in the middle. The ambiance of “Towards the Dark,” including choir keys near the grand ending, fully live up to its descriptive title. Age of Capricorn is a bluntly barbaric and hauntingly beautiful album.
Bethledeign – Iconography Of Suffering (Edgewood Arsenal)
The debut album from Virginian death metal group Bethledeign was supposed to come out a while ago; as in, almost 15 years ago. The eight songs that make up Iconography Of Suffering were written back in the early-to-mid 2000’s and were being recorded before the band split up. Members of that band went on to form Construct Of Lethe (which has itself gone through multiple names), though these songs have sat in the vault until now.
Former member of Bethledeign, guitarist/bassist/vocalist Tony Petrocelly, re-recorded the album with a new lineup and revived the Bethledeign name for this release. That’s a lot of backstory for an album that’s as straightforward as death metal gets. No gimmicks or tricks; just 30-odd minutes of maniacal music that could’ve been written anytime between 1990 and now. This brute mentality is endearing enough to garner a jolly mark of approval this holiday season.
Conjurer/Palm Reader – Conjurer X Palm Reader (Holy Roar)
This EP is a split between a couple of promising young British bands. Conjurer impressed us last year with their debut, Mire, while Palm Reader are a Nottingham hardcore punk unit with some EPs/singles to their credit. Here they each take on a couple of songs from their influences, to strong effect.
Conjurer open with two cuts, Mastodon’s “Blood and Thunder” and Slipknot’s “Vermillion,” quite different songs that are effectively executed. Palm Reader, a little more belligerent in their delivery, give us “Tire Me” from Rage Against the Machine, and “Circles” from Thrice. All told, this split is a fun, slamming quartet of covers that fans of any of these bands will enjoy.
Death Wolf – IV: Come The Dark (Blooddawn)
After releasing their first three albums in quick succession, the Swedish band Death Wolf waited five years for IV: Come The Dark. That’s understandable, as the members have other obligations. Marduk’s Morgan Hakansson handles bass duties in the band, with vocals from Nixa’s Valentin Mellstrom.
The band’s sound is inspired by deathpunk groups like Samhain, raw and ominous but with plenty of hooks. Tracks such as “Empower The Flame” are driven by memorable guitar riffs that blend punk and metal. You’ll hear some goth flavors on slower songs like “Funeral Pyre” and “Serpents Hall.” They even incorporate acoustic guitar on “Into The Woods.” Death Wolf show a lot of versatility while still keeping a cohesive sound.
Dreamlord – Disciples Of War (No Remorse)
Dreamlord‘s full-length debut Disciples Of War has been nearly 25 years in the making. The Greek thrashers formed back in 1995, have had numerous lineup changes and issued several demos over the years, most recently in 2007.
They combine galloping Slayer-like thrash with traditional metal. Songs like “Out For Blood” have both biting riffs and soaring guitar solos. The songs are mostly in the five minute range with extended instrumental sections for the band members to display their chops. The production could use a bit more punch, but the musicianship is top notch.
Headsic – Last Light… (Dark Time)
There is a melodic death metal feeling to Headsic, even though the band echoes more recent In Flames over Omnium Gatherum or Insomnium. The vocals on the Swedish band’s full-length debut Last Light… are very core sounding and go through screamed loud sections and somewhat cheesy softer ones. The music is meant to be accessible and in this regard it succeeds quite admirably.
The songs will become ingrained in your mind. However, the music lacks some complexity and is slightly cheesy sounding. It does go for a mainstream sound, however, so some of this is to be expected. The songs have a nice punch to them that gives them the proper impact. The album has a thrash feel to it as well that leads it to have some other influences other than simply melodic death metal. Overall, Last Light… is a very good recording.
Horrified – Sentinel (Testimony)
UK death metal collective Horrified are here with their sizable EP, Sentinel. It continues their great sound from their previous LP Allure of the Fallen, where you get a taste of progressive sections mixed with the sounds of modern death metal conventions and excellent songwriting.
The bass is high in the mix and Dan Alderson’s vocals are of the dry throat variety. With a 30-minute EP and six songs this could have been a full length, but it is a good taste of the level of musicianship that Horrified have been providing for the better part of a decade. For fans of Horrendous, Asphyx, and melodic death metal.
In Human Form – III (I, Voidhanger)
Do you like modern progressive metal? How about black metal? Jazz? ’70s classic/prog rock? Those are pretty wide-ranging styles, and yet In Human Form, a quintet from Massachussets, play exactly this crazy mix. III is their third album, and even though it only contains three songs, it is 48 minutes of mind-bending, genre-flexing metal.
III opens in blistering black metal fashion, but quickly shows its other skins with atmospheric moments, jazz breaks, plenty of mellotron and keyboard, and saxophone solos. In Human Form have dropped a very compelling album in our laps. The song lengths don’t make it easy on the listener, but patience and perseverance yields some excellent music that the adventurous amongst us will truly appreciate.
Officium Triste – The Death Of Gaia (Transcending Obscurity)
The long-running Dutch death/doom metal band Officium Triste have had a couple of lineup changes since their last album back in 2013. However, three original members still remain for their sixth full-length album The Death Of Gaia.
After a quarter century, they know how to contrast harsh vocals with melodic arrangements. Melodic vocals appear from time to time on songs such as “Losing Ground.” They also add instruments like piano, cello and violin that add atmosphere. Guest vocals on a few tracks provide even more variety. They transition smoothly from thick riffs to gentle hooks, bringing both crushing heaviness and delicate melodies.
Oath of Cruelty – Summary Execution At Dawn (Dark Descent)
Opening with “Pounding Hooves of Shrapnel” coupled with the pounding drums, Oath of Cruelty take hold. With their adoration of all things thrash, specifically with a Teutonic touch and some Brazilian bits thrown in as well from the late ‘80s; fans of Sodom, Kreator, and Destruction’s original LPS will find themselves quite at home. The production also lends itself to albums like Persecution Mania, Terrible Certainty, and I.N.R.I. among others and it is incredibly well executed.
With song titles like “Stabbing Forth with Invincible Damnation” it is amazing this album isn’t of European or South American descent, but those titles fit the genre to a “t.” Vocalist and guitarist Dave Callier owes a lot of his sound to Tom Angelripper with a sound as though he is gargling a mouthful of blood and Matt Mayhem’s drums will continue to pound through your head beyond this albums’ near 30 run time. Summary Execution At Dawn is one of the best albums of the year and a tremendous throwback.
Oni – Alone (Metal Blade/Blacklight)
Much like Conjurer, modern prog metallers Oni showed promise on their debut, 2016’s Ironshore. Think of a slightly heavier, more head-banging version of Between the Buried and Me, and you have an idea of what Jake Oni and his band are aiming for. Alone is just an EP, but it’s still nice to see something new from the band.
The five songs here stick to the same style as Ironshore, although Oni sound tighter and more polished here. Josh Wilbur (Trivium, Gojira) produced Alone, giving it plenty of aggressive sheen. This is a very solid EP from a promising act, and it makes me look forward even more eagerly to their next full-length effort.
The River – Vessels Into White Tides (Nine)
Vessels Into White Tides, The River’s first studio album released this decade, squeaks in before the start of another one. Their third album comes with a new vocalist, Jenny Newton, and an abundance of mournful doom metal. Newton’s vocals are understated, not powering over the exhaustive riffs, but fitting the melancholy nature of the group’s music. The first two songs are double-digit behemoths, lurching like a person with nowhere to go and nothing worth living for.
From that point, the album opens into the kind of heartbreaking beauty that the genre can offer. Acoustic guitars and a violin make the low-key “Open” a charmer, and the closing instrumental “Tides” stuns with its orchestral weight. Newton’s role on the stringed instruments pays off on these two songs and adds dynamics to the group that extend beyond just being another “heavy, yet sad” doom metal outfit.
September Mourning – Volume III (Mortem)
L.A. based hard rockers September Mourning are following up their 2016 full-length Volume II with a four song EP Volume III. It includes two brand new songs along with two singles that were released earlier this year.
September Mourning combine hooky hard rock with industrial and electronic elements. Vocalist Emily Lazar incorporates a variety of styles and approaches. From melodic singing to singsong to some aggressive moments on songs like “Unholy,” she changes things up throughout. All four tracks on the EP are memorable, whetting the appetite for their next full-length.
Sharone got her start as a solo artist a few years back, eventually putting together a band and releasing her debut in 2017. Reflection is the Denver artist’s third full-length.
The songs could be described as gothic hard rock. Songs like “Cold” and “Marionette” are guitar driven and uptempo. Ballads such as “Turn Back Time” incorporate piano into the mix. There are similarities to Evanescence, especially on the slower tempo songs. Sharone has an expressive vocal style, but also has plenty of power when needed. The songs have interesting arrangements and a lot of depth while not neglecting hooks and melody.
Skullcrush – Archaic Towers Of Annihilation (Redefining Darkness)
When a band is named Skullcrush, there’s not a lot of mystery on what type of music they’ll be delivering. Following an EP last year, the Arizona death metal band emerge with their full-length debut Archaic Towers Of Annihilation.
And while plenty of skulls get crushed, the album is more than non-stop bludgeoning. Skullcrush shift tempos from glacial to rocket fueled and adjust intensities as well, giving songs like “Overthrown” and “Nightmares For The Blind” ample variety while not compromising on brutality and extremity. Fans of old school death metal will appreciate these up and comers.