This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Awake At Last, Gygax, Hollywood Vampires, Howling Sycamore, Lightning Born, Lunar Shadow, The Meads Of Asphodel, Memoriam, NervoChaos, Organectomy, Ravensire, Skelator and Superstition.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale. For more information on our writers, go here.
Awake At Last – The Change (Outerloop)
After releasing an EP in 2016, Delaware hard rockers Awake At Last emerge with their full-length debut, The Change. They have been generating a buzz, with a lot of satellite radio airplay.
Their music is perfect for rock radio, with ample heaviness, catchy hooks and singalong choruses. Heavy guitars are augmented by some atmospheric electronic elements. The title track, which features Spencer Charnas from Ice Nine Kills, is one of the record’s strongest tracks, with songs like “More Than Animals” and “Still Breathing” not far behind. Quality songs and their attitude of positivity make Awake At Last a refreshing addition to the hard rock scene.
Gygax – High Fantasy (Creator-Destructor)
Since bursting onto the scene in 2016, California’s Gygax have become darlings of the hard rock/metal scene – at least, among those who love both Thin Lizzy and Dungeons & Dragons. Eric Harris and team love to write tight, melodic numbers loaded with guitar harmonies and lyrics about adventurers and monsters. Their first album, Critical Hits, showed up on a treasure trove of year-end lists, and their follow-up, last year’s Second Edition, was nearly as strong.
Maintaining such a torrid songwriting pace doesn’t always work out, and High Fantasy isn’t quite as strong as its predecessors. It’s still a highly entertaining album in its own right. The songs are loaded with energy, great musicianship, and standout lyrics, but High Fantasy is missing those instant classics that the first two albums had. Don’t let that hold you back, though! High Fantasy is a worthy addition to Gygax’s arsenal, and receives a +2 energy bonus for rocking hard.
Hollywood Vampires – Rise (earMusic)
The Hollywood Vampires lineup is both rock and Hollywood royalty. Fronted by Alice Cooper, it also includes guitarists Joe Perry (Aerosmith) and Johnny Depp. Rise is their second album, and includes more originals than their debut, which was mostly covers.
Speaking of rock and Hollywood royalty, the track “Welcome To Bushwackers” features guests Jeff Beck and John Waters. The album has a lot of variety, from the expansive 7 minute opener “I Want My Now” to the bluesy “The Boogiemen Surprise” to the gothic “Mr. Spider.” The Hollywood Vampires have strong songwriting chops, and this album really fleshes out their style and sound. There are some cover songs as well, such as David Bowie’s “Heroes” that’s sung by Depp, along with the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died” and Johnny Thunder’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” that Perry sings. It’s an entertaining and enjoyable album.
Howling Sycamore – Seven Pathways To Annihilation (Prosthetic)
Just over a year after their debut, the progressive trio Howling Sycamore are unleashing Seven Pathways To Annihilation. The band was formed by Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath, Aborym) and also includes vocalist Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys, Broken Teeth, Watchtower) and drummer Hannes Grossman (Triptykon, Hate Eternal).
The complex songs are a bit lengthier this time around, but still maintain interest throughout. The musicianship of the three members on their own is excellent, but is taken to the next level with guest appearances from guitarists including Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia) and Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) along with saxophonist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) lending his distinctive sound to the closing track “Sorcerer.” McMaster delivers a strong and varied performance, displaying his wide range and numerous styles. Seven Pathways To Annihilation finds Howling Sycamore expanding their musical range and vision.
Lightning Born – Lightning Born (Ripple)
Corrosion Of Conformity bassist Mike Dean has a studio in Raleigh, North Carolina and worked with most of the musicians that later became his bandmates in Lightning Born.
Their self-titled debut album is doomy and bluesy, driven by Erik Suggs’ (Demon Eye) heavy riffs and pays homage to the early days of doom. Tracks like “Silence” and “Oblivion” are moderately paced, while “You Have Been Warned” and “Salvation” move more briskly and have more of a rock vibe. Vocalist Brenna Leath has a powerful set of pipes and a lot of versatility, especially evident on songs such as “Wildire.” It’s a crowded genre, but Lightning Born have what it takes to stand out.
Lunar Shadow – The Smokeless Fires (Cruz Del Sur)
Lunar Shadow’s second album, The Smokeless Fires, is unapologetic about its epic heavy metal stance, even if it isn’t the rage in metal today. They do avoid the typical fantasy-leaning lyrics, as this album is personal in its thought patterns. There’s a real human element to the struggles the characters in each of these seven songs go through, emoted by the boundless range of new vocalist Robert Rottig.
Whether intentional or not, The Smokeless Fires comes off as a three-act structure: beginning in the midst of madness, cooling off with some lower-intensity numbers that includes a touching piano ballad, and finishing off with songs that tip the scale with their aspirational drive. Each act layers onto the next one, and though these songs have their individual appeal, Lunar Shadow’s vision is clearly on more than just a bunch of singles awkwardly tied together.
The Meads of Asphodel – Running Out of Time Doing Nothing (Godreah)
As unconventional a metal outfit as there ever was, The Meads of Asphodel return with Running Out of Time Doing Nothing, their first album in six years. The experimental nature of their music is hosted in a black metal shell, but they run the gamut of musical instruments and styles over the course of a record.
Metatron’s vocals make him sound like the specter of death at all times, seemingly acting as the Vergil to our Dante, leading us through the annals of insanity on tracks like “I Am Oblivion, Deep Trenched In Forever.” The more straightforward songs like the title track and “Cockroach Marionettes” still hit some of the emotional highs from James Tait’s riffery and atmosphere. Toeing the line between black metal, Middle Eastern music and everything in between, if you like your extreme metal extremely different, there will always be The Meads of Asphodel.
Memoriam – Requiem For Mankind (Nuclear Blast)
Requiem For Mankind is the third album for the death metal band Memoriam in just over a two year period. It has been a prolific beginning for the band whose lineup includes former Bolt Thrower members Karl Willets (vocals) and Andrew Whale (drums).
Last year’s The Silent Vigil wasn’t as well-received as their debut (this site gave 2/5 ratings to both albums). This time around they amp up the heaviness, while maintaining a moderate pace throughout most of the record. There’s a lot of straightforward death metal, but they do change things up with tempo shifts on tracks like “In The Midst Of Desolation.” After nine songs of aggression, the album ends on an introspective note with the instrumental “Internment.” Memoriam have taken elements from their first two albums and made Requiem For Mankind their strongest album so far.
NervoChaos – Ablaze (Hammerheart)
Brazil’s NervoChaos have a sound that is similar to early Sepultura on their eighth full-length Ablaze, but there is more to it than that. One can hear faint echoes of early Suffocation in the band’s sound, which contributes to the death metal aesthetic. There really is a combination of thrash and death metal, aggressive and abrasive with a heavy emphasis on the buzz saw guitars that take the forefront in the music.
Vocals are shouted and fit the music nicely. It is somewhat straightforward sounding and doesn’t do anything particularly special to make up for this fact. The fact that the band sounds like Sepultura helps them out a bit. The album made enough of an impact on me because of the bite of these songs.
Organectomy – Existential Disconnect (Unique Leader)
Two years ago, Organectomy created one of the best albums of that year, Domain of the Wretched. The album was packed with brilliant ideas and moments that are not abundantly seen in the brutal death metal scene. Now, two years later, Organectomy have returned with a new album to try and repeat the success of their debut album, but…
Existential Disconnect is as brutal as the first album. Guitar riffs continue to be complicated, solid and groovy like before and you can hear breakdowns throughout that contribute to the destructive power of the album. But even though the band’s intention is to approach the classical components of death metal this time, this move seems to make them a little conservative. The remarkable ideas of the first album are now blurred and Organectomy merely attempted to just create a brutal and catchy atmosphere, which made Existential Disconnect a typical album and a step backwards for the band.
Ravensire – A Stone Engraved In Red (Cruz Del Sur)
Portuguese epic metal band Ravensire return with their third album, A Stone Engraved In Red. This quartet loves to write classic metal songs, and with song titles such as “Bloodsoaked Fields” and “Smiting God,” you know exactly what’s in store: powerful, anthemic metal that offers no apologies.
Musically, Ravensire hit more than they miss here, with some serious dual guitar attacks, epic-length songs, and punchy, aggressive production. The cheese factor does not overshadow the high quality of the songwriting, but what does hold the album back from true success is the sketchy vocal performance of bass player Rick, whose vocal style gives the impression of always being just slightly off. It’s a style that will make or break the listener’s experience.
Skelator – Cyber Metal (Gates Of Hell)
Seattle based Skelator have been around for more than two decades, but haven’t been overly prolific. Cyber Metal is their fifth studio album, and first in five years.
Even though they formed in the late ’90s, their sound is firmly rooted in ’80s speed metal and NWOBHM. The songs move at a quick pace, influenced by everyone from Judas Priest to Saxon. Strong moments are offset by cheesiness, but tracks like “Cast Iron” and “Highlander” ultimately satisfy. Vocalist Jason Conde-Houston, the lone remaining original member, has a wide range including some ear-piercing falsetto parts. In addition to the music being from that era, the lyrics have a lot of ’80s subject matter as well. While derivative, it is an undeniably catchy album.
Superstition – The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation (20 Buck Spin)
The advancements made in recording music has made it common to hear metal albums that seem too overproduced. There’s something to be said about an album like Superstition‘s The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation, which seems determined to go far the opposite way of that. This grimy debut from a band featuring two members of Vanum (who put out an excellent black metal record earlier this year) could’ve been unearthed from a decades-old grave.
Save for a few ambient interludes heavy on the feedback and keyboards, this is unabashedly primal death metal. The band establishes their intentions on first official track “Highly Attuned Beasts of the Dark” and stays in that lane until the lengthy dissonant outro on closer “Charnel Pleasures.” The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation is untainted by modern sensibilities, letting its rancid stench permeate without interruption.