This week’s reviews include releases from Abyssic, Booze Control, Carmine Appice, Cold Colours, Dead Witches, Delain, Last In Line, Minors, Nasheim, Oculum Dei, Opprobrium, O.R.k., Pounder, Rhapsody Of Fire, Sanhedrin, Traveler, Vimur, Visions Of Atlantis and Walls Of Blood.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Abyssic – High The Memory (Osmose)
Abyssic contain former and current members of Norwegian luminaries Ihsahn, Borknagar, Susperia and Dimmu Borgir. This is a diverse list of bands, never ones to confine themselves to the conventions of Norwegian black metal, who came together for an atypical symphonic death/doom album in High The Memory.
The album is not without traces of black metal. The symphonies resemble Dimmu Borgir, especially the slow atmosphere of Stormblåst. “Dreams Become Flesh” ventures into Emperor territory. Mostly the record depends on a symphony of long, dark notes that intertwine and swell dramatically. Drummer Tjodalv (ex-Dimmu Borgir, Susperia) fills in the gaps between notes with rolls and fills, but occasionally busts out some double bass. The upright bass adds texture. Mellotron gives the album a cosmic quality. This is pure horror atmosphere. When the keys swell into crescendo, it’s like being sucked into a vortex of howling souls.
Booze Control – Forgotten Lands (Gates of Hell)
Forgotten Lands marks a decade of true heavy metal from the German group Booze Control. The band play a style of traditional metal comparable to N.W.O.B.H.M. Some of it may seem familiar to any fan of heavy metal. The winding guitar play of “Slaying Mantis” has a “Be Quick or Be Dead” feel. However, the ensuing palm-muting separates the group from Maiden. “Thanatos” features axe work in the vein of Judas Priest’s recognizable “Electric Eye” riff—one of the most referenced riffs in metal.
The vocals aren’t mind-blowing, but get the job done. The title track has some of the catchiest verse lines on the album. It works well with the band’s storytelling on tracks such as the title track, “Doom Over Sargoth” and the eight-minute “Cydonian Sands.” Booze Control aren’t reinventing the wheel with Forgotten Lands, but the song writing and composition makes a worthy predecessor to metal’s progenitors.
Back in the mid-’90s, legendary drummer Carmine Appice released a couple of Guitar Zeus albums that included contributions from tons of great guitarists. Those two albums have been remastered and are being reissued as one collection that also includes five new tracks.
Appice’s band of Kelly Keeling and Tony Franklin is really good in their own right, but then adding guitarists ranging from Brian May to Slash to Yngwie Malmsteen to Ted Nugent to Leslie West takes to another level. There’s such a variety of players, and like any compilation there are hits and misses, but the misses are few and far between. You get a lot of bang for your buck as well, with more than 2 hours and 40 minutes of material.
Cold Colours reside in Minnesota’s frozen confines. The bitter cold and lack of sun certainly play a role in multi-instrumentalist Brian James Huebner’s Northernmost album. “Terminal Winter” and “A Life Forlorn” suggest morose subject matter. The title track consists of four acoustic interludes. Woodsy and forlorn, each song delivers a sense of isolationism. The ensuing tracks relate a European gothic metal influence on par with Moonspell and Sentenced. These harmonies also bring to mind Paradise Lost. The slower parts and deliberation of his voice have a nostalgic, Paradise Lost-Gothic feel.
Huebner switches it up with Finnish flavored melodic death passages. This makes sense considering the parallels between Minnesota and Finland such as climate and geography. Minnesota has a large population of Finnish immigrants. Amorphis released Tales From The Thousand Lakes. Cold Colours is from The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Try not to fall through the ice listening to Northernmost.
Dead Witches – The Final Exorcism (Heavy Psych Sounds)
Two years ago, we loved Dead Witches’ debut album, Ouija. Since then, the band has undergone a couple of lineup changes, with Oliver Irongiant replacing the late Greg Elk on guitar, and Soozi Chameleone taking over from Virginia Monti on the mic. The formula remains the same, however: thick, heavy, distorted doom that dives headfirst into occult rock.
The Final Exorcism is one song longer than Ouija, but still a svelte 41 minutes. The songs are solid helpings of eerie doom, with plenty of fuzz on guitars, bass, and vocals, but the overall quality is a step down from the band’s debut. Chameleone’s vocals are both stronger and weaker than Monti’s, with a couple of songs not having the same conviction as others. Dead Witches have given us a good yet unspectacular offering.
Delain – Hunter’s Moon (Napalm)
In 2017 Delain released their first live album. It must have gone over well, because they are doing another one. Hunter’s Moon is available on CD and Blu-ray. In addition to the live set recorded in Utrecht in 2017 during the Danse Macabre tour, there are four new studio tracks.
One of the strongest of the new songs is the title track, a soaring symphonic number with a catchy chorus from Charlotte Wessels and some harsh vocals from guitarist Timo Somers. The live set is 10 songs, with opener “Hands Of Gold” featuring Celestial Season’s George Oosthoek. Nightwish’s Marco Hietala guests on six tracks, including “Sing To Me” and “The Gathering.” Hunter’s Moon captures a unique live show, and also gives a preview of their next studio album, a combination that Delain fans will enjoy.
Last In Line – II (Frontiers)
Last In Line were formed after the death of Ronnie James Dio by former Dio members Vivian Campbell, Vinny Appice and Jimmy Bain along with vocalist Andrew Freeman. Days before their debut album was released in 2016, Bain passed away. The band carried on with Phil Soussan (ex-Ozzy) on bass duties.
As you’d expect, II has Dio influences. However, this time around Last In Line travel much more down their own musical path as well, such as the bluesy “Blackout The Sun” and the funk infused “Gods and Tyrants.” Freeman has a powerful set of pipes that’s effective on both ballads like “The Unknown” and upbeat rockers such as “Electrified.” The musicianship is stellar, with an extremely tight rhythm section and some outstanding guitar work from Campbell.
Minors – Abject Bodies (Holy Roar/Deathwish)
A little more than a year after the release of Atrophy, the Canadian band Minors return with Abject Bodies.
After the relatively straightforward opening instrumental, the chaos begins with “Consumed.” Minors move between frantic hardcore and slower, doomy sections. Tracks like “Meanderist” are noisy but moderately paced, while songs like “Boneyard” have more urgency. Tempos are constantly shifting, as they incorporate sludge, experimental and punk moments into their sound. It makes for an interesting 30 minute ride through a plethora of styles.
Nasheim – Jord Och Aska (Northern Silence)
There is a very moody black metal style to be felt on Jord Och Aska. The Swedish band Nasheim give the songs a long run to build up into something more interesting on a couple of the three tracks on their second full length. The result is a journey through atmospheric areas that are one of a kind and interesting to the core. The music is almost trance inducing, bringing a very folk like vibe to the table. The songs are often very beautiful, which is not something you usually expect from the black metal genre. Alas, all is not perfect and the fact that this is only three tracks prevents it from having the impact it could have.
Still, this is mesmerizing enough music, especially considering that the vocals do not make too many appearances. Instead, we have a mostly instrumental album that has thick riffs that beg to be heard on further occasions. The music Is sweeping and grand, yet subtle enough to have a pretty effect on the listener. Too bad there weren’t more tracks and that they would develop quicker, because this is very interesting music. It is black metal that has style and substance and ultimately will win the listener over.
Charlotte North Carolina’s Oculum Dei cover many extreme metal bases on their debut album Dreams of Desire and Torment. “Involuntary Pandemic” alternates death metal groove and growl with black metal savagery. “A Mist of Heaven Inside of Hell” is a gothic masterpiece complete with female vocals, piano and speed blasts. Some of the guitar sounds on “A Cold Winter’s Plight” even resemble Amon Amarth.
The lyrical topics are often religious themed. “Kingdom of Hell” is about the literal Hell, while album intro “Pandemic” and first proper song “Involuntary Pandemic” are connected in their hatred towards Christianity and its matrix of control. “Ghosts in the Corridors” deals with the hell of the mind. Oculum Dei’s blend of black and death metal works. The phrasing and closeness of the guitar and vocals is one of the album’s best qualities. Some of the tempo changes are abrupt and exciting. Dreams of Desire and Torment is not a paint-by-number black metal album.
Opprobrium – The Fallen Entities (High Roller)
It has been a while since there has been an album of new material from the veteran Louisiana death/thrash duo Opprobrium. Brothers Francis (vocals, guitar) and Moyses Howard (drums) return with The Fallen Entities, their first new album in more than a decade.
There’s an old school feel, but the arrangements are complex and compelling, making it sound anything but retro. Songs like “Creations That Affect” shift between fast thrash and more moderate and groovy death metal sections. Francis supplies a plethora of memorable riffs along with gruff but understandable vocals. The songs are pretty focused, with “Throughout The Centuries” a little more on the epic side in both length and feel. The Fallen Entities is a welcome return for a band that may not be a household name, but are well worth checking out by death/thrash fans.
O.R.k. – Ramagehead (Kscope)
Ramagehead is the third album from the prog supergroup O.R.k., whose lineup includes members of King Crimson, Porcupine Tree and others.
The band’s versatility is evident from opener “Kneel To Nothing,” which shifts from prog to arena rock, thanks to the vocals of Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari that go from understated to pure rock star. It’s one of the highlights of the album along with “Black Blooms,” which features guest vocals from System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian. It’s begins as a sparse piano and acoustic guitar based ballad before kicking into a soaring rocker. The entire album expertly balances progressive, experimental tendencies with old fashioned hooks and melodies.
Pounder – Uncivilized (Hells Headbangers)
Exhumed’s Matt Harvey doesn’t need any introduction for his fine work in the field of death metal, however you may need to do a double take to recognize him front a traditional heavy metal band. Pounder put out an EP Faster Than Fire last year as well as took part in the very first Decibel Beer and Metal Fest in L.A. last December.
Uncivilized is a continuation from that EP in a full length and it is complete with singalong choruses and chants and fist pumping action that more recent bands like Sumerlands and Visigoth help to establish as a thing for traditional metal bands from the U.S. No, those bands didn’t write a song called “Fuck Off and Die,” but we can’t expect Harvey to completely eschew his death metal leanings completely, can we? Who would think that the year’s first must have trad metal album would come from such a nontraditional guy? Harvey’s songwriting prowess, rhythm section and gusto puts Pounder on the map and with aplomb.
Rhapsody Of Fire – The Eighth Mountain (AFM)
The long-running Italian symphonic power metal band Rhapsody Of Fire have now had that moniker longer than they were Rhapsody. The Eighth Mountain is their first album of original material to feature vocalist Giacomo Voli (who also appeared on 2017’s Legendary Years collection of re-recorded songs).
It’s an ambitious effort that features the Bulgarian National Symphony Orchestra along with a choir. The songs are epic and atmospheric, with Voli’s voice providing ample power to not get lost among the symphonic elements. The songs are dramatic and cinematic with shorter tracks like “Rain Of Fury” and lengthier songs such as the nearly 11 minute closer “Tales Of A Hero’s Fate” that includes narration from actor Christopher Lee. Even with lineup changes Rhapsody Of Fire remain one of the symphonic power metal genre’s elite bands.
Sanhedrin – The Poisoner (Cruz Del Sur)
The Poisoner is the sophomore full-length from the Brooklyn trio Sanhedrin, whose lineup includes vocalist/bassist Erica Stoltz (Amber Asylum, Lost Goat), guitarist Jeremy Sosville (Black Anvil) and drummer Nathan Honor (Vermefug).
Their sound has a lot of classic metal and rock to it, hearkening back to the ’70s and ’80s, along with heavy, more modern sounding tones. Both the music and Stoltz’s vocals are very dynamic and varied. The soaring 7 plus minute opener “Meditation (All My Gods Are Gone)” has numerous ebbs and flows while “Wind On The Storm” starts fast and never eases up. While not easy to categorize, Sanhedrin’s music is easy to enjoy.
Traveler – Traveler (Gates of Hell)
Traveler’s self-titled record is an illuminating debut album, a signal that traditional heavy metal has not gone the way of parachute pants. These guys may be better believing that the 1980s are still going on, as their sound is dated far before the most extreme forms of metal became commonplace. The band aims for immediacy over anticipation, bolting each song out of the starting point with a dogged mentality.
The only song that avoids this method, “Mindless Maze,” only lasts a minute before jamming in ripping guitar leads and gritty high-ranged vocals. When the band names a song “Speed Queen,” there’s no hidden message within it; the tune is fast and unapologetic about it. Traveler make it easy to get glued to their retro technique given a jolt of gleeful life.
Vimur – Triumphant Master of Fates (Boris)
Even though Vimur have been active in some form or another since 2006, Triumphant Master of Fates is only their second album. It follows five years after their Traversing the Ethereal Current debut, so they aren’t in the game of releasing aimless, low-quality material. The care given to each of these black metal songs is evident, as they carefully retain raw qualities without becoming unlistenable.
The band gets comparisons to groups like Dissection and Immortal, which are not inaccurate claims. On a song like “Nuclear Desecration,” you can sense the chilly overtones from the furthest European regions. Placing that alongside a moodier, slower-tempo vibe in a “Our Dearest Hopes Lie Buried Here” offers an appetizing contrast. If Vimur need five more years to put out another top-notch album out like this, let them have it.
Visions Of Atlantis – The Deep & The Dark: Live At Symphonic Metal Nights (Napalm)
The Austrian symphonic/power metal band Visions Of Atlantis have been around for nearly two decades and issued a half dozen studio albums, but had never done a live album. On the heels of last year’s The Deep & The Dark comes The Deep & The Dark: Live At Symphonic Metal Nights.
Eight of the eleven proper songs (there are a couple of short instrumentals as well) are from The Deep & The Dark. As they were opening for Serenity during that tour, their set was limited to around 50 minutes. The songs translate very well live, with the musicianship of the album along with that live energy. Clémentine Delauney is front and center, with the tour being vocalist Siegfried Samer’s swan song and the first for his replacement Michele Guaitoli. It would have been nice to have more of a career spanning setlist, but it captures the current era of the band very well.
Walls Of Blood – Imperium (Metalville)
Guitarist Glen Drover has been in bands in numerous genres, from Megadeth to Queensryche to King Diamond. His latest project Walls Of Blood is power metal with prominent guitar and a bevy of guest vocalists.
Among those lending their talents to Imperium are Drover’s Eidolon bandmate Nils K. Rue, Chuck Billy (Testament), Todd La Torre (Queensryche) and Tim “Ripper” Owens. Walls Of Blood’s brand of power metal is heavy with some thrash influences and potent singing. La Torre’s “Discordia” is one of the record’s strongest cuts along with “Blood Sacrifice Ritual” with vocals from Firewind’s Henning Basse, who sings on three of the album’s ten tracks. Even with numerous vocalists, the album still has a cohesive sound.