This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from The Acacia Strain, Bedsore, Blackballed, Bulb, Carthagods, Chaos Over Cosmos, Drops Of Heart, Gaerea, Haxan, In Mourning, Judicator, Morse Portnoy George, Night In Gales, Temple Of Dread, Vaki, Valkyrie and Volturyon.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Acacia Strain – The Slow Decay (Rise)
2020 has taught me many things, one being that sticking ‘-core’ at the end of something is not always something to groan about. In some instances, it can lead to more innovation than the gatekeepers would have you believe. The Acacia Strain are one such instance. Hot on the tail of their 2019 EP release It Comes In Waves, the Massachusetts quintet returns with a backing ensemble of guest talents to see The Slow Decay’s dystopian vision to full fruition.
After an unsettling ascent, we break into action with Vincent Bennett’s harrowing cry “It feels like hell!” which is the cue for an ungodly breakdown of rattling riffage and clashing cymbals – an appropriate sign of the destruction to come. The Slow Decay rarely entertains the notion of putting on the brakes, but the band rarely falls into a habit of recycling their battle plans. Even without the twisted imagery the band penned for this apocalyptic narrative, The Acacia Strain deploy a plethora of tricks that, with the aid of featured vocalists like Jess Nyx of mortality rate fame, gives 2020 the brutalizing soundtrack it so clearly needed.
Bedsore – Hypnagogic Hallucinations (20 Buck Spin)
Bedsore stand in line with the likes of Morbus Chron and Venenum with their debut album, Hypnagogic Hallucinations. Their visceral sound is kept at bay using synths and organs to give the music a prog-styled psychedelic trance. It’s not unusual for the band to get sidetracked in this trance for lengthy periods, wandering as if in a daze. Only “Deathgazer” comes closest to being outright death metal, void of much of a melodic front.
The band doesn’t waste any chance to get in this front with opening instrumental “The Gate, Disclosure (Intro).” Though the center of Hypnagogic Hallucinations is gnarly death metal, it’s not where the band excels. They succeed more with fluid, multi-dimensional songs like “At The Mountains Of Madness” and “Brains On The Tarmac,” which gravitate towards eerie-sounding atmosphere that hides its grisly secrets beneath it.
Blackballed – Elephant In The Room (Metalville)
The British trio Blackballed are fronted by New Model Army guitarist Marshall Gill. Their third album Elephant In The Room finds the band with a new drummer. Marshall’s brother Leon Gill departed, replaced by Alex Whitehead.
Blackballed play straightforward blues-based hard rock. Tracks like “Someone Else’s Shoes” are driven by Gill’s bluesy riffs and solos, injected with hooks and melodies. The heavier songs are where the band shines, such as “Show Me The Light” and “Mother Earth.” The driving guitars and memorable riffs grab the listener. The mellower, more pop-oriented tracks aren’t as compelling.
Bulb – Archives: Volume 5 (3DOT)
Before he founding Periphery, guitarist Misha Mansoor released demos and playthroughs via fan forums under the moniker Bulb. He’s now in the process of releasing 110 songs from Bulb in 10 separate albums. He’s doing it in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent material in Volume 8 last month and releasing a different album every two weeks.
Archives: Volume 5, like the rest of the collection, is packed with Mansoor’s creative guitar playing. There are brief compositions like the barely 90 second “Notes To Self” along with lengthier, proggy tracks such as “Fuf” and “Not Enough Mana.” The songs are diverse and dynamic, showing both Mansoor’s songwriting ability and technical skills. Fans of Periphery should have an interest in checking out this early material. Next in line are Orchestral on August 7 and Archives: Volume 4 on August 21.
Carthagods – The Monster In Me (Flying Dolphin)
Carthagods are a band with an odd history. They lay claim to being one of the oldest metal bands from Tunisia, yet their self-titled debut did not come out until 2015. Here, after overcoming many music business obstacles, is the band’s sophomore effort, The Monster In Me. The album is a modern-sounding blend of power metal and radio-friendly fare, and features guest vocal performances from members of Epica and Dark Tranquillity.
The music on The Monster In Me is powerful and catchy, almost like a meaner version of Disturbed due to Mahdi Khema’s vocal style and, at times, like the accessible sound they are going for. Seven of the songs are like a blend of Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, and Disturbed, while the final song is a symphonic remix of “The Rebirth.” All in all, a fun and tightly-assembled collection of melodic heavy metal.
Chaos Over Cosmos – The Ultimate Multiverse (Narcoleptica)
Chaos Over Cosmos have a very interesting progressive nature to their music. One can hear flourishes of the death metal of groups like Fallujah in their sound along with other tendencies that recall the progressiveness of bands like Anubis Gate. Add the different pieces and you have a truly original and invigorating piece of metal. The songs are almost mechanical sounding with vocals that alternate between clean and harsh types.
The amount of variety and strong riffing on the album make it a standout and one that progressive metal fans must listen to. It is futuristic sounding as well, which adds to the atmosphere the band displays. The inability to pin the band into the progressive or death metal genres shows that they have multiple sides and are well worth listening to. The spacey aspect of Chaos Over Cosmos push them forward into consistently new and invigorating avenues. The Ultimate Multiverse is a triumphant exercise in genre-pushing material.
Russia isn’t the first location many think of when it comes to melodic death metal yet Drops Of Heart are looking to dispel that thought with their sophomore album, Stargazers. They do their best to make a move in the subgenre, bringing in Soilwork’s Bjorn Strid for guest vocals on catchy single “Starlight.” That song, which was released a few years back, is one the band is banking on, even adding it as a bonus track sung in English (the album is sung in their native Russian).
It’s a great song, no doubt, though it’s just one of a few. Stargazers is mostly average melodeath, stifled by the group’s decision for the album to go almost an hour. The charred edges of “Knot” and the use of keyboards on “Lull” and opener “Echoes” attempt to break the album out of its dullness. Even with that, by Stargazers’ last third, it’s hard to be invested in songs that utilize ideas already tired by the album’s halfway mark.
Gaerea – Limbo (Season Of Mist)
After issuing their full-length debut in 2018, the Portuguese black metal troupe Gaerea have signed with Season Of Mist for their sophomore effort Limbo.
Lengthy compositions are the rule in the self described “cathartic black metal” songs on Limbo. Opener “To Ain” clocks in at over 11 minutes while the closer “Mare” is more than 13 minutes long. That gives the band plenty of room to explore various intensities and textures. They go from stifling black metal to ambient sections to regal mid-paced sections and back again, having no problem keeping the listener engaged throughout. They are also able to shift the emotional timbre of the songs from menacing to melancholy, making for an engaging release.
Releasing an album in the midst of a pandemic is challenging for all artists, unable to get out and perform their new music in front of a live audience. It’s even more challenging for newer artists such as Haxan, who will have to rely on online promotion to get the word out about their debut album White Noise until gigs resume.
The female Welsh trio play hard rock that doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, just potent rockers laced with memorable melodies and driving guitar. Tracks like “Nine Lives” and “Skeletons” nicely balance radio-ready hard rock with some grit and rawness. Sam Bolderson’s smooth vocals contrast the edgy guitars on songs such as “Grave Digger.” White Noise is the type of album with appeal to fans of hard rock, traditional metal and even classic rock.
In Mourning – Monolith (Agonia)
A decade has passed since In Mourning released their second full-length album, Monolith. Now, Agonia Records is reissuing the album by the progressive melodic death metal band. The album has much in common with fellow Swedes Opeth. This wasn’t always the case, as their earlier demos conveyed a gothic metal style.
Monolith weaves and winds in true prog fashion. While the group may introduce an effective groove or harmony, they add layers to accentuate these parts, especially during the hard thumping parts. The heaviness is tempered well with melody. The vocals are mostly growled, but there are clean vocals on “For You to Know” and “The Smoke.” Warm bass tones are also of note on the latter track. While their demos related more to their name, there are plenty of melancholy, doom-and-gloom passages, it’s just their progressive nature keeps a continuous flow so the songs never become downtrodden or tedious.
Judicator – Let There Be Nothing (Prosthetic)
Judicator return with their fifth studio album, Let There Be Nothing. Once again, the American power metal band have penned a historical conceptual album. This time they wrote on the topic of Belisarius, a sixth century Byzantine general. The album is a morality play that tells the story of his campaign to reconquer former Roman territories while confronting strife within.
Blind Guardian fans will relish the gripping story telling and John Yelland’s impassioned voice. Judicator seem more American to their German counterpart with a heftier guitar sound. “Gloria” is one of the better vocal tracks with a male/female dynamic. The album balances melody with concrete textures. Tracks like opener “Let There Be Light” and “Amber Dusk” feature melodious clean guitar intros that transition into heavier territories. Let There Be Nothing is a brilliant album that will increase historical knowledge while making necks sore.
Morse, Portnoy, George – Cover To Cover Anthology (InsideOut)
Back in 2006 Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George released Cover To Cover and then in 2012 they released Cover 2 Cover. Now in 2020 Morse, Portnoy, George are issuing Cover To Cover Anthology includes those two albums along with a new covers release Cov3r To Cov3r (also available separately).
The newest collections finds the trio putting their spin on tracks ranging from David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” to Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” to Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream.” For some reason they cover two different Squeeze tracks: “Black Coffee In Bed” and “Tempted.” The first two volumes also saw them covering a range of eras from the ’60s to the ’80s, with the ’70s being their sweet spot. Covers aren’t everybody’s bag, but these musicians have outstanding chops and there’s a variety of eras and styles represented.
Night In Gales – Dawnlight Garden (Apostasy)
Dawnlight Garden is one of those albums that is persistent within its genre, without being repetitive in comparison to works past. Anchored to true metal but fascinating on its own, Night In Gales utilize various layers of classic metal composition in Dawnlight Garden to create an experience that is not just nostalgic, but still relevant to metalheads of the current era.
Steadily involved in the metal music scene since 1997, Night In Gales are a German, melodic death metal band that host more than vast amounts of talent. Cohesive execution showcases a clear bond between the members of this band, cementing the shared love for a dramatic, progressive sound. Every track featured on Dawnlight Garden, from “Atrocity Kings” all the way through “The Bonebed,” could easily be used for an epic music score, whether it be action packed or science fiction.
Temple of Dread – World Sacrifice (Testimony)
Formed in 2017 by Markus Bünnemeyer, and featuring Slaughterday’s Jens Finger on vocals, Temple of Dread are more like a tribute band, in an absolute good way, paying homage to the fathers of old school death metal. Just a year after releasing Blood Craving Mantras, Temple of Dread offer World Sacrifice, which revitalizes the band’s musical might.
Like their first album, but with more originality and more personal music ideas, Temple of Dread delve into the history of European and American death metal once again. They implement their personal ideas in the form of Dutch and American legends, like Morgoth and Obituary, and they have done it with influential performances. When World Sacrifice merges with a sharp and modern production, both the texture of old school sound is preserved and the vitality of a modern death metal flourishes.
Väki – Kuolleen Maan Omaksi (Redefining Darkness/Saturnal)
Hailing from the [in]famous Finnish black metal scene, if Väki’s 2017 debut EP, Kirous was the starting point of the band, Kuolleen Maan Omaksi attaches great importance to the nature of Väki.
Although the Finnish black metal scene itself has a unique sound, Väki has potential influences from Swedish black metal. Kuolleen Maan Omaksi contains lengthy songs, each lasting between 7 to 9 minutes. The band give themselves enough time and space to spend time building turbulent, cold and dismal atmospheres. But what keeps this atmosphere in the background are songs that are heavily vocals-driven; to the extent that the narrative flow of the album relies on vocals rather than the melody and atmosphere. Basically, Kuolleen Maan Omaksi may not be a big deal for many, but for many others, the strong influences of Dark Funeral and Setherial would be appealing and exciting.
Valkyrie – Fear (Relapse)
Old-school rockers Valkyrie have been around for nearly twenty years, and including Fear have four albums under their belt now, but they may be best known as the band featuring former Baroness guitarist Pete Adams. Adams and his brother Jake form the crux of Valkyrie, and if you’re looking for similarities to Pete’s former band you won’t find many here.
The music on Fear is standard hard-rocking ’70s-style fare that makes one think of Tesla. Think of nearly any early hard rock band of that era, from ZZ Top to Free and everything in between. A groovy rhythm section backs up the Adams brothers’ twin guitar attack, and while the songs come across as engaging jam sessions, Jake Adams is not the strongest presence behind the mic, which further reinforces the feeling that one is listening to some good buddies rocking out at the local tavern.
Volturyon – Xenogenesis (Vicosolum)
The Swedish death metal band Volturyon have a new vocalist for their fourth album Xenogenesis. Finnish growler Mikko Voutilainen steps in for Tobias Netzell (In Mourning).
The bludgeoning commences right out of the gate with “Bloodspattered Banner.” Volturyon transition smoothly between galloping uptempo riffs and groovier, more mid-paced sections on songs such as the title track and “World Pandemic.” The groove carries through all of “Memoirs From The Morgue” while “The Demiurge” is more chaotic. The vocalist transition is a smooth one, with Voutilainen showcasing a variety of growls and unclean vocals.