This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aerial Ruin, Amberian Dawn, Big Scenic Nowhere, Clint Lowery, Fliege, Folian, Heathen, Leeched, Lonescar, Lordi, Moon Reverie, Necropsy, Panopticon, Paul Di’Anno, Reaper, Savage Hands, Serenity and Theory Of A Deadman.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aerial Ruin/Panopticon – Split (Bindrune)
A folk split LP between the well known Austin Lunn (Panopticon) and the lesser known Erik Moggridge (Aerial Ruin) can feel powerful at times, not that Lunn’s exploits in the field folk music are new. There was a heavy influence on Kentucky and the most recent full length The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness, whose back half was almost exclusively folk.
The LP starts with Aerial Ruin and Moggridge’s powerful voice. A dark feel to the music certainly helps to add an unexpected element to music that can appear simple on the surface level. Check out “Now Above” to see what I mean. Lunn’s half features a few covers including a great rendition of “North Dakota.” For fans looking for some dark folk music, this split is for you.
Amberian Dawn – Looking For You (Napalm)
The Finnish band Amberian Dawn have had various genre labels attached: symphonic metal, neoclassical power metal, melodic metal. On their eighth album Looking For You all of those are accurate, as is the description in press materials, “Melodic ABBA-metal.”
The Swedish pop legends knew how to write catchy songs, as do Amberian Dawn. Keyboards and hooks abound on memorable tracks like “Looking For You” and “Two Blades.” Capri Virkkunen’s vocals are versatile, able to have a pop sensibility, but also inject gravitas and technicality when needed. Angra’s Fabio Lione guests on the cinematic “Symphony Nr. 1 Part 3 – Awakening,” a dramatic song with excellent harmonies between the two singers. And it’s only appropriate Amberian Dawn cover the ABBA song “Lay All Your Love On Me.”
Big Scenic Nowhere – Vision Beyond Horizon (Heavy Psych Sounds)
Big Scenic Nowhere began as a collaboration between members of two legendary desert/stoner rock bands. Bob Balch (Fu Manchu) and Gary Arce (Yawning Man) began writing songs, and it quickly grew into a collective with contributions from numerous musicians such as Mondo Generator’s Nick Oliveri and Tony Reed, The Well’s Lisa Alley and Ian Graham, QOTSA’s Alain Johannes and former Opeth keyboardist Per Wiberg.
Vision Beyond Horizon has elements of Fu Manchu and Yawning Man along with some new pathways. “The Paranoid” is an uptempo punky track while songs such as have those fuzzy riffs and sun-drenched sound you’d expect. The various combinations of musicians make for a varied album, but the backbone of Balch and Arce who play on all tracks, gives it continuity. It’s an album that will appeal not only to Fu Manchu and Yawning Man fans, but to anyone that appreciates desert and stoner rock.
Clint Lowery – God Bless The Renegades (Rise)
Clint Lowery has always kept busy outside his main band Sevendust, whether it be embarking on side projects like Call Me No One, touring with Korn and Seether, producing other artists or writing songs for bands like Stryper and Godsmack. God Bless The Renegades is his first solo album. He sings and plays guitar, with Wolfgang Van Halen on bass and drums.
While there are plenty of songs that are in the Sevendust vein, Lowery also drew on influences of everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Tears For Fears to the Stranger Things soundtrack. “Kings” and “Alive” are hard rocking, straightforward singles, while “You Go First” slows down the tempo. Lowery’s guitar chops are well known, but on this album he shows he also has vocal chops to be a frontman. A lot solo albums go in completely different directions than the artist’s main project, and while God Bless The Renegades doesn’t do that, Lowery’s musical voice still shines through loud and clear.
The Invisible Seam is Fliege’s take on Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, giving the film’s motifs of death and the meaning of life a contemporary setting. The band pulls from a multitude of genres. The synths and drum programming give it an industrial feel, shrieks from vocalist Peter Rittweger drench the music in blackened fury, and the guitars have an ‘80s heavy metal expression to them.
All of that at once might seem too much, and it takes a few songs to get adjusted. Once that initial curve is passed over, it becomes very appealing. The use of melodic vocals leads to occasional harmonies with the harsh ones, the highlight being at the tail end of closer “A Light In The Black Pane.” Fliege have a distinctive debut with The Invisible Seam.
Folian – Blue Mirror (Anima)
Folian is the solo project of Portland, Oregon’s David Stephen Fylstra, and Blue Mirror is his debut album. On this record, Fylstra does literally everything, from writing to performing all instruments, recording and mixing. On Blue Mirror he dips into shoegaze, atmospherics, psychedelic ambiance, drone, and post-rock.
The songs on Blue Mirror range from mesmerizingly stunning (“I am You,” “This is the Place”) to complacent, as one might expect from the genres listed above. Even when caressing our ears with shoegaze or drone, you still need to enthrall the audience, and while Folian manage to do just that on a number of tracks here, not all of them connect. Fylstra does demonstrate a mastery of his instruments and the process, though, making this a promising debut.
Heathen – The Evolution of Chaos (Mascot)
During the mid to late oughts we were treated to an uprising of thrash metal old and new. Heathen, one of the lesser known bands of the past, with their technical aplomb, were one of a legion of thrash bands that made a comeback at that time along with groups such as Forbidden, Death Angel, and Metal Church.
What makes The Evolution of Chaos so important is that it showcases that for a band that slumbered for so long, they were also able to reach new career highs, something plenty of older bands have accomplished in the ten years since this release came out. “Dying Season” and “Undone” could be considered two of the best songs the band has ever released. The re-release comes with an additional song “Seasons In Purgatory” as well as a DVD with “making of” videos and a few others. If you missed this album the first go-around you owe it to yourself to finally check it out.
Leeched – To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse (Prosthetic)
If Leeched’s debut album You Took The Sun When You Left was an uncomfortable listen, their follow-up To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse is outright hideous. On their second album, the tempos grind to a halt and the feedback is dialed up. Each song will drag your ears up a hill full of jagged rocks. That sounds unpleasant, yet Leeched command a listener’s attention with a formidable blend of hardcore, death metal and noise.
There is no interlude or ambient break here like “Born in Sand” was on their last album. For over 35 minutes, Leeched stay in a negative mindset where the only way to combat personal demons is with a thick wall of sound. Though they do perk up on “Earth And Ash” and “Praise Your Blades,” the fiery energy of the lurching “Black Sun Ceremony” holds the most sway.
Lonescar’s debut album Lust For The End fits in a suitable spot between groove and thrash metal without either side being dominant. Coming from Texas, there are decades of bands doing this style they can draw influence from, but Lonescar go out on their own with a confident stride. The best songs parlay the thrash into the groove, with breakneck pacing stifled down with a chunky, bouncy riff.
“Revolution Now” is a strong example of this, with gang chants of the song’s title at its conclusion coming off like it was sung by a group of rebels. The tasteful use of guitar solos, pulled out only when it’ll benefit the song, is an appreciated move. Low-key guitar work on “Gluttonous To The Core” and “Self-Led” is a captivating tease that isn’t pushed on enough, something that would’ve catapulted Lust For The End to a higher level.
Lordi – Killection (AFM)
Finnish fiends Lordi have come up with a unique concept for their latest album Killections. It’s a fictional compilation album, with new songs recorded to sound like they originally came out between the ’70s and ’90s. They recorded songs in different studios with different technology and equipment to get the era-appropriate sound.
The two ’70s-inspired songs are the most unique sounding, using real Hammond organs and recording on tape. Most of the tracks are in an ’80s style, with a couple of ’90’s type songs. One of the highlights is the danceable “Zombimbo.” No matter what era they are emulating, Mr. Lordi’s distinctive vocals and their lyrical approach leaves no doubt that this is Lordi. It’s a fun concept, though the interstitial radio DJ parts are too long.
Moon Reverie – Moon Reverie (Rockshots)
Moon Reverie is the eponymous debut album from Italian guitar whiz Luca Poma and his new band. Poma has played with the likes of Uli Jon Roth, Vinnie Moore, and many others, and is now bringing his own vision to life in a classically-inspired hard rock/metal act that showcases slick songwriting and even slicker guitar wizardry.
The sound of Moon Reverie is akin to a very polished late eighties pop-metal style. Most of the songs here are slick and catchy, loaded with keyboards, soaring vocals, and more solos than you can shake a stick at. And there is no denying Poma is an amazing guitarist, as he more than holds his own here with his neo-classical flair. While the songs can be a bit dated, overall this is an easy-going, fun, and technically amazing release.
Necropsy – Exitus (Xtreem)
Formerly known as F.T.D. and Anxiety, and basically formed in 1987, Finnish death metal veterans Necropsy are one of the oldest bands hailing from Finland. After releasing numerous demos and EPs, Necropsy have returned with another EP, Exitus, the first release since their 2015 second full length, Buried in the Woods.
Exitus features four songs that are generally mid-tempo and very rarely revolve around the familiar, fast death metal beats. In addition, the guitar riffs on Exitus are bulky and heavy again, and Tero Kosonen’s resonant growls opens the door to a remarkable work. Also when Necropsy get involved in the use of somber melodies in “206 Motives,” the EP’s atmosphere breaks for a few minutes and they create a magnificent threnody. That’s why, in many moments, Exitus becomes a rogue and wicked death doom metal monster.
Paul Di’Anno – Hell Over Waltroop – Live in Germany (Metalville)
The first voice of Iron Maiden, Paul Di’Anno recorded Hell Over Waltrop – Live in Germany in 2006. It’s only now being released to the public due to an error by the monitor crew. With help from modern technology, producer Thomas Mergler was able to save the old recordings.
Di’Anno played the set with his German band, Phantoms of the Opera. The ensemble played 14 tracks, which ranged from his time with Maiden to Di’Anno originals. The sound quality is spectacular as is Di’Anno’s voice. There was always aggression in the Maiden songs, which are rendered even more hostile here with rougher, deeper tones. He shows his punk roots with covers of The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” and a metallic version of Alex Harvey’s “The Faith Healer.” Unfortunately, Paul Di’Anno has announced his last show. If Hell Over Waltroop – Live in Germany is the last thing he releases, it will serve as a fantastic testament to a true metal legend.
Reaper – Unholy Nordic Noise (Iron Bonehead)
Reaper unleash their debut album, Unholy Nordic Noise via Iron Bonehead. The album follows last year’s demo release, Ravenous Storm of Piss. Coming to us through Iron Bonehead means another black metal release, this time the black/speed variety.
Reaper’s bullet-belt styled black/speed attack recalls other Nordic bands such as countrymen Gehennah and Norwegians Nocturnal Breed, a touch of Destroyer 666, not to mention the true first wave bands—Venom, early records by Sodom and Slayer. The vocals have a croaking quality similar to Abbath. The production is a throwback. Nothing clean here, sounds as if it were recorded in a dungeon, which fits the evil vibe. The album begins with a brooding, ominous acoustic intro that also follows the album out. Unholy Nordic Noise is a straight-forward riff attack containg12 songs with a running time of just under a half-hour that will guarantee denim and leather brandishers to bang their heads.
Savage Hands – The Truth in Your Eyes (SharpTone)
The Truth in Your Eyes, the full-length debut from the Maryland band Savage Hands has a strong metalcore influence similar to Bring the Horizon. The music on is mainstream, but not to the point where it becomes grating. Instead, the tracks are catchy and infectious. There is a sweetness to the sound and it adds to the quality of the tracks. The music is involving and features a number of accessible segments that are easy to digest and listen to.
Songs like “Break the Ice” are memorable and feature a number of portions repeated over again. The issue with the disc lies in its mainstream nature, which is too generic at points and doesn’t completely catch your attention. Beyond this criticism, this was a very fun experience that I was glad to listen to. Savage Hands have hit the spot and delivered an ultimately enjoyable experience. If they add more complexity to their songs they would be even better.
Serenity – The Last Knight (Napalm)
The new album The Last Knight from the Austrian symphonic power metal band Serenity was inspired by the life of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. The band has focused on a lot of historical figures over the years such as Napoleon, Marco Polo and Galileo.
The album’s stage is set with the cinematic opening title track that’s mostly instrumental, before the bombast kicks in. Heavy guitars and atmosphere envelop songs like “Set The World On Fire” and “Keeper Of The Knights” with catchy melodies at the forefront. Hooks make the songs instantly memorable, but there’s a lot of intricacy in the arrangements that give them staying power. Georg Neuhauser’s voice is strong and pure, convincingly delivering tales of the life of a compelling historical figure.
Theory Of A Deadman – Say Nothing (Atlantic)
Canadian hard rockers Theory Of A Deadman have been one of the genre’s more successful acts, with numerous successful singles including chart-toppers like “Bad Girlfriend,” “Lowlife” and “Rx (Medicate).” That momentum continues on their seventh studio album Say Nothing.
The lead single “History Of Violence” already landed in the top five of the U.S. rock chart, and the record is packed with several other potential hits. The band’s lyrical approach has matured recently, with topics this time around addressing issues including domestic violence and the political divide. And while there are moments of darkness, frustration and anger on the album, it’s not a downbeat record. TOAD show you can talk about serious issues in the context of memorable, radio-friendly rock songs. The album ends on a positive note with the empowering “It’s All Good.”