This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Blasphemer, Dirty Shirley, Doomraiser, Grey Skies Fallen, Jorn, Kirk Windstein, Konvent, Marko Hietala, Midnight, Nero Di Marte, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Revolution Saints and Temperance.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Blasphemer- The Sixth Hour (Candlelight)
Italian technicians of brutal death metal, Blasphemer return with their thirdfull-length The Sixth Hour. The group pull off elite death metal, from top to bottom. It’s not just fantastic in their musical visions, but also lyrically as they present a concept album based on humanizing Jesus Christ.
While Blasphemer still offer plenty of technical precision, being technical seems to be less of an aim than previous albums. This record offers a brooding, black/death perspective. The Sixth Hour has plenty of speed. However, “Blessed Are the Wombs That Never Bore” changes the mood with a short acoustic interlude. Also, the ending of “The Robe of Mockery” fades with clean-yet-dark harmonies. The band pick right back up with bewildering speed on the following track “Lord of the Lies.” “Hail King of the Jews” features furious chanting that could fit right in on a Nile album. With The Sixth Hour, Blasphemer set a high the bar high for death metal releases in 2020.
Dirty Shirley – Dirty Shirley (Frontiers)
Dirty Shirley were formed by legendary axeman George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob) and up and coming singer Dino Jelusic (Animal Dive, Trans-Siberian Orchestra). The lineup also includes bassist Trevor Roxx and drummer Will Hunt (Evanescence).
The band’s self-titled debut delivers a substantial dose of ’80s infused hard rock/metal with some ’70s and ’90s influences sprinkled in. Jelusic has a bluesy voice reminiscent of Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale. Lynch does plenty of shredding, but incorporates subtle elements as well, such as acoustic moments on “The Dying” and the twangy closer “Grand Master.” The songs are mostly mid-tempo, giving Dirty Shirley a laid back vibe.
Doomraiser – The Dark Side Of Old Europa (Time To Kill)
Italy’s Doomraiser trudge in with their fifth full-length The Dark Side Of Europa. Doomraiser are exactly as they sound: crushing, dominating doom metal. Expect long, drawn out songs and passages, with airy vocals to carry out the thundering riffs.
There’s a strong Black Sabbath and Candlemass vibe from these guys, which is always welcome and they do enough to maintain their own identity rather than just being a copycat. Vocalist Nicola Rossi is an interesting one as he possesses a distinguished tone and echo effects complement his notes, but he also lets out these sinister growls that seemingly come out of nowhere. The guitars carry a low-fi sound as the riffs trudge through the mud and the middle tracks, which combine to take 18 minutes of play time, “Tauroctony (The Secret Cult Of Mithras)” and “Terminal Dusk” are hypnotizing as I found myself zoning out in the midst of listening. Highly competent doom metal, give it a look!
Grey Skies Fallen – Cold Dead Lands (Xanthos)
In terms of notoriety, Grey Skies Fallen may not be the first name that comes to mind when someone thinks of a death/doom group, but they’ve stuck with it for the 25 years or so they’ve been in existence. Cold Dead Lands comes six years after their fourth album, The Many Sides Of Truth, and has the band down from a five-piece to a trio. It’s also the first album they’ve written without a keyboardist in the group, which puts more of an emphasis on the doomy riffs.
The death metal aspect of Cold Dead Lands comes across in the sharp harsh vocals from vocalist/guitarist Rick Habeeb. He mixes in a considerable amount of melodic tones as well, both of which are admirably performed. Most of the music is mid-tempo, though drummer Sal Gregory squeezes in some hyper beats at times. The gloomy accentuation the keys provided to their earlier material is missed here, but Cold Dead Lands ushers in a new era with the same stout conviction.
Jorn – Heavy Rock Radio II: Executing The Classics (Frontiers)
In 2016, Jorn released the covers album Heavy Rock Radio. He’s gathered another bunch of his favorite songs to record on the second installment, Heavy Rock Radio II: Executing The Classics.
Like his first covers effort, this one also includes a variety of material. There are ones you’d expect such as Deep Purple’s “Bad Attitude” and Dio’s “Mystery” that are right in Jorn’s wheelhouse. There are more surprising choices like Bryan Adams’ “Lonely Night,” Don Henley’s “New York Minute” and Peter Gabriel’s “The Rhythm Of The Heat.” No matter whose song he is singing, Jorn Lande infuses it with his own distinctive style that helps differentiate these covers from the original versions.
Kirk Windstein – Dream in Motion (eOne)
Dream in Motion is the debut solo album by NOLA scene pioneer Kirk Windstein (Crowbar, Down). Fans of both bands will find similarities in what he offers with his namesake band. It has the markings of Crowbar, but only in the sense of melodies. Dream in Motion doesn’t contain the chugging or the hardcore breakdowns of Crowbar. The album isn’t a sludge album. It’s more of a melodic doom album based upon bluesy, southern riffs. The dynamics are more subtle than a Down or Crowbar album.
Most of the vocals are without the gruffness of Crowbar. “Dream in Motion” has a dreamy effect in the delayed vocals. These smooth vocals work well in tandem with clean guitar such as heard on “Once Again” and “Enemy Inside.” His cover of Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” sounds very close to the original. Dream in Motion showcases Windstein’s best singing voice. Even though it’s Crowbar light, he puts forth his best harmonies.
Konvent – Puritan Masochism (Napalm)
The Danish band Konvent play a very heavy form of death/doom on their debut album Puritan Masochism that is highly caustic in nature. The music is punishing in a way that very few bands from this genre demonstrate. There can be comparisons drawn to the likes of Nailed to Obscurity or a slightly less morose Draconian, but Konvent’s music is more punishing than either of those bands.
The songs are fairly catchy, but lack the appropriate atmosphere to really take them to the next level. Still, the songwriting here is perfectly competent and makes for a very coherent collection of songs indeed. As a death/doom unit, they are very cohesive and the guitars in particular have a strong presence to them. This is a solid collection of songs that could have been made even better with more atmosphere injected into it.
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart (Nuclear Blast)
2020 is shaping up to be a big year for Nightwish fans. The band’s latest studio album is due this spring, and vocalist Marko Hietala is releasing his debut solo release Pyre Of The Black Heart. It’s the English version of the album that was issued in Finnish last year.
The point of a solo album is to explore sounds different than your main project, and Hietala embraces this. While there are some straightforward metal songs like the opener “Stones” and some beautiful ballads such as “The Sound Of My Father,” you’ll also hear a lot of other influences. Keyboards add an ’80s vibe to “Star, Sand, and Shadow,” while “Runner Of The Railways” has folk elements. The 7 plus minute “For You” has acoustic moments, while piano takes front and center at the beginning of “I Am The Way” before the song kicks in. Hietala has a potent voice with a wide range that’s on full display on Pyre Of The Black Heart.
Midnight – Rebirth By Blasphemy (Metal Blade)
Cleveland’s resident Venom worshipers Midnight return with their fourth album and Metal Blade debut, Rebirth By Blasphemy. The label change hasn’t exactly changed the band’s course which much like a track of their debut is three thing:, lust, filth and sleaze.
Right from the subtle intro, “Fucking Speed and Darkness” is Black Metal-era Venom sprinkled with Motorhead’s take no bullshit mentality. If this is your first foray with the band, let this serve as a trial by fire, and in true Midnight fashion they will pour more gasoline on it, too. If a good old-fashioned romp with the dark lord is what 2020 called for, then Midnight have delivered on all fronts with one of their most consistent releases to date, right up there with their stellar debut. Don’t sleep on this one, Satan sure didn’t. You don’t want to disappoint him, do you?
Nero Di Marte – Immoto (Season Of Mist)
Experimental post metal isn’t a style destined for mainstream popularity, or even widespread popularity within the metal genre, but that’s not the goal of bands like Nero Di Marte. More than five years after their last release, the Italian band returns with Immoto.
The songs ebb and flow from dense and cacophonous to serene and subtle. Nero Di Marte give themselves plenty of room to work, with most tracks clocking in between 10 and 12 minutes. Songs like “L’Arca” are urgent at times, meandering at others. The 13 minute title track is the album’s longest and most experimental with a lot of diversity. At 67 minutes Immoto a lot to absorb, and is one of those records that takes several listens to fully appreciate.
Cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne has been keeping busy as a member of The Visit, Kamancello, and Musk Ox, in addition to performing live with Leprous, but Worlds Within is his first proper solo album. The ten-track effort, which should be looked at as one giant 40-minute movement, is crafted entirely by Weinroth-Browne with only a cello and effects pedals at his disposal. It’s an intimate proceeding, one that can expertly simmer up the tension.
Though divided up, the album is really five songs, as some are split in half (and “Tumult” is spread across four parts). This isn’t a traditional “classical” album, though it progresses like one. The mindful, unhurried pace of the “Unending” tracks that bookend the album makes the “Tumult” section more thrilling when the speed of the performance rises. Worlds Within gives Weinroth-Browne a sonic canvas for his innate abilities.
Surgical Strike – Part Of A Sick World (Metalville)
Germany’s Surgical Strike come in with a fierce power punch on their debut full-length Part Of A Sick World. While this may be their debut, these guys actually started up in 1993 and issued two demos before splitting up and then reformed in 2014. Germany is their home, but the music takes on the sound and bounce of the Bay Area greats.
Singer Jens Albert has a distinct tone reminiscent of Steve “Zetro” Souza and there drum rhythms and surging guitars that will draw comparisons to Exodus. Part Of A Sick World contains many anti-government tracks and warnings of Big Brother watching all of us; topics that fit in perfectly with thrash and while I could easily drum up Surgical Strike as a solid, yet unremarkable act, the soloing and lead guitar playing keep me coming back for more. There is keen use of melody to set it apart from the rapid, straight-ahead riffing. There is some bona fide talent here, don’t let this album slip under the radar.
Revolution Saints – Rise (Frontiers)
Rise is the third album from Revolution Saints, who are fronted by Deen Castronovo (Journey, Bad English). Night Ranger’s Jack Blades handles bass, along with singing lead on a few tracks. The trio is rounded out with guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio).
Having been in bands with countless radio hits, it’s no surprise Revolution Saints know how to write catchy songs. From the infectious opener “When The Heartache Has Gone” to the hard rocking “Rise” to the power ballad “Closer,” the album is packed with memorable tracks. Both Castronovo and Blades sound great, and having two talented singers adds variety to the proceedings. It’s a bit ballad-heavy, but an enjoyable hard rock album nonetheless.
Temperance – Viridian (Napalm)
The Italian symphonic/melodic metal band Temperance are on a new record label (Napalm) for their fifth studio album Viridian. It’s their second album with vocalists Alessia Scolletti and Michele Guaitoli. Guitarist Marco Pastorino lends vocals as well.
The songs are intricately arranged with a lot of atmosphere and bombast with no shortage of hooks and memorable choruses. Guitars drive the the music, but keyboards are prominent as well. The vocals are pretty balanced between Scolletti and Guaitoli throughout the album. In addition to alternating vocal lines, they do a good job harmonizing on songs like “Let It Beat” and the title track. The production helps showcase the dynamics of the songs.