This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from The Advent Equation, Avatarium, Awrizis, Dawnwalker, Deafheaven, Gama Bomb, Genus Ordinis Dei, Hadal, Hatebreed, Iron Maiden, Iron Mask, March In Arms, Mollo Rilla, Paradise Lost, Possessed Steel, Respire, Sarvekas, Serpents Oath, Soilwork and Undergang.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Advent Equation started out as an Opeth-lite act on their 2012 debut, Limitless Life Reflections, but eight years later, they have maneuvered away from that on Remnants Of Oblivion. The harsh vocals are almost eliminated entirely save for select spots, and the group has elevated their melodic sensibility to be the main factor in their music. It’s a decision that allows them to step out on their own with a less flashy version of progressive metal.
This is done by minimizing the lead work of the instruments, as it’s mainly the keyboards that get quick solos in, and shrinking the lengths of the songs. The shift also allows vocalist/bassist Margil H. Vallejo to get most of the spotlight, and his grounded performance is stellar. They can still go grandiose as they do on the two-part “The Creations,” which finishes Remnants Of Oblivion on a sobering high.
Avatarium – An Evening With Avatarium (Nuclear Blast)
The end of any year brings a plethora of live releases, reissues and compilations, with 2020’s dearth of concerts increasing the flow of such albums. Multiple live releases are reviewed this week, the first being Avatarium‘s An Evening With Avatarium.
The Swedish doomsters released The Fire I Long For in 2019, and this show was recorded on that tour in January in Stockholm. The nearly 90 minute concert includes five tracks from that album, with the rest of set from their other three studio albums. It’s well paced, with a nice flow of slower and more uptempo songs. Vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith delivers an excellent performance, showing emotion and power in her vocals. Fans of Avatarium should be well pleased with the band’s first live release.
Awrizis – Gears of Fear (Slovak Metal Army)
Awrizis‘ third full-length Gears Of Fear is a blend of melodic death metal with traditional death metal tendencies. The songs are harsh yet melodic at the same time. The closest comparison point would be Nightrage, but the band does sound a bit like At the Gates as well.
The overall sound is varied and constantly compelling. There is a groove to the tracks that is undeniable and carries them along nicely. The harshness of the band shows up at times to add some bite to the music. The songs could be made a bit more potent as the music has the ability to be forgettable. Still, the amount of good material to be found makes Gears of Fear a very fun and involving listen.
Dawnwalker released Human Ruins in 2018, which was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and best albums of that year. In search of new musical frontiers, Dawnwalker are back with Ages, a turning point in their music, which can define a new chapter in the band’s journey for years to come.
Human Ruins, with all its might and beauty, walked cautiously across a narrow line of multiple genres. But now Dawnwalker have broken all the traditions they followed on that album. Ages is a big step forward both in songwriting and production. Now all the genres that Dawnwalker have dealt with have a denser form and a stronger identity. The forceful signs of atmospheric progressive rock/blackened post-metal, as well as the simple yet complex structure in some special moments of the lengthy songs depict Dawnwalker’s successful attempt to expand their dramatic soundscape. Ages will remain a special work in the history of Dawnwalker, just like Human Ruins. With the difference that now their music has become more narrative and eloquent.
Deafheaven – 10 Years Gone (Sargent House)
In 2010, Deafheaven‘s first release was a four song demo with the lineup of George Clarke and Kerry McCoy. The band had planned on a tour this year celebrating the past decade, but with the pandemic instead are releasing a live rendition of the set they had planned to play during the tour.
10 Years Gone is eight songs and more than 70 minutes. It includes “Daedalus” from the demo, which was the first song they wrote. It fits well alongside more recent compositions such as “Glint” from 2018’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. 2013’s Sunbather is the most represented of their back catalog, with three songs from that record in the set. Recording in a studio instead of on stage in front of a live audience does make a difference in the energy, but the execution and hearing fresh approaches to older songs makes this a worthwhile endeavor.
Gama Bomb – Sea Savage (Prosthetic)
The UK band Gama Bomb were part of the mid-2000s wave of rethrash bands, but unlike many of their contemporaries, have had staying power and are approaching their 20th year as a band. Their seventh album Sea Savage is inspired by maritime adventures and Victorian horror.
In addition to the nautical-themed storyline, Gama Bomb also insert songs about ’80s and ’90s movies. While there are plenty of galloping thrash riffs and gang vocals, Gama Bomb also inject elements of traditional metal, which fits the vocal range of frontman Philly Byrne’s potent falsetto. Gama Bomb have never been afraid to show a sense of humor, evident on tracks like “She’s Not My Mother, Todd” and “Miami Supercops,” which makes them one of the genre’s more entertaining and likeable outfits.
Genus Ordinis Dei – Glare Of Deliverance (Eclipse)
Glare Of Deliverance, the third album from the Italian symphonic death metal band Genus Ordinis Dei, is their most ambitious to-date. It tells the story Eleanor, a young woman persecuted by the Holy Inquisition. Each song has or will have an accompanying video to create a visual accompaniment.
The songs are dramatic and cinematic, with the extremity of death metal augmented and contrasted by the symphonic elements. Most of Nick K’s vocals are harsh, with some backing female operatic singing on tracks like “Edict.” The production is excellent, creating an expansive sound that skillfully balances the album’s subtlety and extremity. At 70 minutes it’s a bit long, but the songwriting and storyline are engaging enough to keep listeners focused throughout.
Hadal – December (Planet K)
Hadal return with their second act, appropriately titled December. The album conveys a sense of isolation and darkness that the last month of the year brings. The Italian band uses doom/death as their vehicle of expression. The group are relatively new, starting in 2009 and only releasing one album, 2017’s Painful Shadow, but their sound recalls the first half of the ‘90s output by Peaceville’s Big 3.
Peaceville’s Big 3 are a good reference point, but there is no confusing Hadal with those bands. Sure, this album contains dichotomous clean and harsh vocals, but Alberto has unique cleans. The pace is slow and guitars wax melodically and depressively, but there are moments of melodic death metal as heard on the title track and “Stormcrow.” Those who enjoyed this year’s output by My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost should do some digging to unearth this potent release.
Hatebreed – Weight Of The False Self (Nuclear Blast)
One of the lyrics in “Let Them All Rot” on Hatebreed‘s new album Weight Of The False Self says “give them what they want.” That’s what the band has been doing for nearly 25 years with their brand of uplifting but aggressive metallic hardcore.
Like their previous releases, this album is jam packed with cathartic anthems tailor made for the pit such as “Set It Right (Start With Yourself),” the blazing fast “Dig Your Way Out” and the menacing “Wings Of The Vulture.” Jamey Jasta’s trademark bark and the guitars of Wayne Lozinak and Frank Novinec propel the album. They don’t deviate far from their established path, but this batch of songs is energetic and memorable, with no letup in passion or intensity.
Iron Maiden – Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast: Live In Mexico City (Sanctuary)
Iron Maiden have released a ton of live albums over the years (at least 10), and there’s a good reason for that. They are one of the best live bands in the world, and there’s obviously a market for their live material among Maiden’s rabid fan base. Their latest live effort Nights Of The Dead, Legacy Of The Beast: Live In Mexico City was recorded in September of 2019.
The 100 minute show is a great mix of the classic hits you’d expect such as “2 Minutes To Midnight,” “The Trooper” and of course “Run To The Hills” along with some deeper cuts. The set includes several songs the band hadn’t played live in years or decades, such as “Flight Of Icarus” and the Blaze Bayley-era tracks “Sign Of The Cross” and “The Clansman.” When it comes to more recent material, “For The Greater Good Of God” from 2006’s A Matter Of Life And Death is included, but there are no songs from their most recent release, 2015’s The Book Of Souls. Bruce Dickinson and company sound fantastic, still giving the audience their money’s worth, and fans will enjoy this varied and entertaining show.
Iron Mask – Master Of Masters (AFM)
Iron Mask was founded nearly two decades ago by guitarist Dushan Petrossi as a side project to Magic Kingdom. Over that time, the neoclassical power metal band has actually released more albums than Magic Kingdom and has become an established band. There has been a revolving door of vocalists over the years, with Mike Siembrouck from Belgian thrashers After All behind the mic on the band’s seventh album Master Of Masters.
Siembrouck’s approach suits the band well. He sings with emotion, range and power, which fits Iron Mask’s dramatic approach. There’s plenty of guitar wizardry from Petrossi with a lot of soloing and memorable riffs throughout. Songs like “Revolution Rise” are melodic and relatively straightforward, while tracks like the 9 minute “Nothing Lasts Forever” has lengthy instrumental breaks and more twists and turns. There’s an effective balance of shredding and hooks.
Pulse of the Daring was recorded two years ago, but March In Arms, a South Dakota epic metal outfit, spent a lot of time sprucing things up to the point they were happy with their second album. Now they deliver ten tracks of anthemic war-themed material that is sure to please fans of traditional metal.
Anchored by the strong, heroic vocals of Ryan Knutson, Pulse of the Daring is an album on par with some of the year’s best epic metal from the likes of Megaton Sword, Eternal Champion, Wytch Hazel and Spirit Adrift. Great production and performances show March In Arms to be a band loaded with talent and potential. It’s late in the year, but don’t let this one pass you by.
Mollo Rilla – Viva El Camino (Seeing Red)
Viva El Camino is the sophomore releases from Ohio rockers Mollo Rilla, following last year’s self-titled debut. This quartet worships at the altar of Queens of the Stone Age, pledging their hearts to the vibe of desert and stoner rock. Laid-back in both groove and vocals, Mollo Rilla’s music will bring back summer feels as we move into the dead of winter.
The QOTSA love extends a bit too far, with many of the songs overtly aping that band, and singer Marco Ciofani’s voice being a near dead ringer for Josh Homme’s. Still, there are some swell tunes here, including “The Raven,” “Night Fang” and “Rage the Day.” Viva El Camino is a fun ride; Mollo Rilla just have to break free of their influences a little.
Paradise Lost – Draconian Times 25th Anniversary Edition (Music For Nations)
In the early ’90s Paradise Lost emerged, helping develop the death/doom genre. By 1995 they were well established on the scene and released their fifth album Draconian Times. Its quarter century anniversary is being celebrated with a reissue.
The album saw them incorporating more gothic elements. There are some really catchy songs like “Hallowed Land” and “The Last Time,” but the record is still infused with melancholy and darkness. That includes clips of Charles Manson on “Forever Failure.” They channel a morose Metallica on songs such as “Once Solemn.” There have been previous reissues of the album, but this one includes a second disc of rarities. There are four live tracks, eight demos and a cover of the Sisters Of Mercy song “Walk Away.” PL completists will want this version, and Draconian Times is well worth owning if it’s not in your collection yet.
Possessed Steel – Aedris (Temple Of Mystery)
After releasing two EPs, Toronto, Canada’s Possessed Steel offer their first full-length album, Aedris. The four-piece play an epic style of heavy metal mixed with Canadian-style progressive thrash and speed metal. Guitar solos are abundant and intricate. Powerfully poised mid-range clean vocals collide with occasional black metal shrieks to narrate each chapter of this fantasy tale.
The album is mixed well with the bass up front and popping. The bass solo near the end of “Spellblade” sets forth a real banger of a galloping riff. “Keeper of the Woods” starts with a riff from the page of Iron Maiden. The band’s armored movements are reminiscent of Manowar. For all the album’s heaviness there are lighter passages shown in instrumental interludes such as the slumbering piano notes of intro “The Dreamer,” and the folk acoustic guitar of “Forest of the Dead.” The progressive blend of traditional metal and superb song writing results in Aedris being an infectious and unique listen.
Respire – Black Line (Church Road)
Respire have stated two points on their Bandcamp that clearly identify the band’s musical character, charisma and message. The first is “orchestral post-everything collective,” Which refers to their genres of music. The second is “we are not defined by the ugliness of this world, but by the beauty in our hearts, strike your match and set fire to that which rots us all.” This second statement characterizes the musical message of the new album.
If Respire were looking for the meanings of human sorrows, hardships and salvation in the gloomy atmosphere of their 2018’s Dénouement, on their new opus Black Line this atmosphere has largely given way to brighter and more triumphant horizons. The melancholic, resonant tone of Respire’s music is still present on this album, but a stronger presence of strings-driven post-rock pieces combined with post-black metal tunes has made this horizon clearer. Black Line is like a soul cleanser, a therapy wrapped with deliriousness and emotions and it echoes the success of Dénouement.
Sarvekas – Of Atavistic Fury & Visions
Sarvekas are a Finnish duo with their aim set on melodic black metal on their Of Atavistic Fury & Visions EP. For 23 or so minutes, there’s the usual assortment of blackened menace to wade through, with the drums set to explosive levels and the screams kept super raspy. It’s in the guitars where melody factors in, as there’s clear intent to not just sink the music under repetitive tremolo-picked riffs the whole time.
That comes out in a song like “Where No Man Has Trodden,” in which the middle section weaves a tapestry of stringed harmony that eases up on the bitter vibes the rest of the song dabbles in. This approach also works on “Hexenpyre,” coming off the devoted intensity of opener “Dark Spiritual Devotion.” Of Atavistic Fury & Visions introduces Sarvekas to black metal fans with great promise.
Serpents Oath – Nihil (Soulseller)
In the hypothetical war between heaven and hell depicted in the cover art to Nihil, Serpents Oath have sided with Lucifer and rejoice as it succeeds in infiltrating the gates of heaven. Evil runs through the 12 songs on Nihil, interspersed with haunting interludes that keep the mood solemn even in their short parts. The band is unflinching with their black metal, keeping it proper to the genre conventions as possible without sullying the nihilistic tendencies.
If the first few songs are any indication, it seems that Serpents Oath have one tempo: blazing fast, and stubbornly stick to it. That’s not the case once the album hits its middle, as songs like “Malediction” and “Into The Abyss” get their grips into meaty riffs. They even sneak in a tuneful chorus on “Serpents Of Eight.” With how this year has been going, it’s difficult to resist a wicked album like Nihil.
Soilwork – A Whisp Of The Atlantic (Nuclear Blast)
After issuing the well-received Verkligheten last year, Soilwork return with the EP A Whisp Of The Atlantic. Even though it’s labeled as an EP and has just five tracks, at 37 minutes it could be considered a full-length.
The centerpiece of the album is the opening 16 minute title track. It’s the most ambitious song Soilwork have composed, and it works well. It runs the gamut from intense death metal with harsh vocals to progressive sections with melodic singing from Bjorn “Speed” Strid. The other four songs are more typical Soilwork fare in style and length, with nary a dud in the bunch. Much more than a stopgap release, A Whisp Of The Atlantic is an important addition to the band’s discography.
Undergang – Aldrig I Livet (Dark Descent)
Danish death machine Undergang are back for their fifth filthy full-length foray into the death metal lexicon with Aldrig I Livet, which translates to “never in my life.”
With music as vile as the album art, the band gets things going with a pair of tracks that both clock in under two minutes, channeling a combination of early era Carcass and plenty of death metal styles with a heavy emphasis on the Finnish scene. Bands like Convulse and Rippikoulu come to mind in both the tone of the former and the doom elements of the latter. If Undergang were already on your radar, this is all for you. Aldrig I Livet is a killer album just over half an hour and a mix of slow, disgusting and frightening death metal, hopefully giving 2020 the horrible death that it deserves.