This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from 16, Blight, Death Courier, End, Exhumed, Gridfailure, Gruesome, Make Them Suffer, Mount Cyanide, October Falls, Ormskrik, Powerwolf, Re-Armed, Sarpa, Sorge, Witches and Witnesses.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
16 – Dream Squasher (Relapse)
Long running So-Cal sludge collective 16 have a penchant for turning negativity into sonic misery. On their eighth album, appropriately titled Dream Squasher, their superb combination of sludge and hardcore punk comes at you in full force, perfectly displayed by the opening 1-2 punch of “Candy In Spanish” and “Me & The Dog Die Together.”
The former is a slow sludgy dirge while the latter is a speedy hardcore piece; this combination helps to really showcase the band’s range in style. “Agora (Killed By A Mountain Lion)” opens with a bluesy harmonica section followed by a song that channels the band’s own version of blues, taking he form of slow downtrodden riffs and vocalist Bobby Ferry’s unique grunts and rasps. For fans of Eyehategod, Crowbar, and anything else sludge.
Blight – Temple Of Wounds (Svart)
Blight took their time releasing their first album, Temple Of Wounds. The Canadian group formed in the late 2000s and worked on a string of demos and EPs before getting to their debut full-length. This decade of creating shines on Temple Of Wounds, as the band confidently implements their occultist black metal with conviction. The album takes a few songs to get itself in place, but by the seven-minute “Before The Monolith,” Blight’s vision is clearer.
That tune features all the best aspects of the band, like the way they subvert a mid-tempo rage into a calmer lull, complete with deep melodic chanting. It’s a scenario they use several other times on the album, upping the wildness of the guitar riffs when necessary. Temple Of Wounds is a good effort from Blight that could’ve been a showstopper with one or two fewer songs.
Death Courier – Necrotic Verses (Transcending Obscurity)
Grecian death metal group Death Courier emerged in 1987, making them one of the earliest metal bands to come out of Greece. The band released several demos, an EP and their debut full-length album Demise in 1992. They split in ’93 and returned in 2009. Necrotic Verses is their second album since the return.
Necrotic Verses reveals a band that has modernized but retained their core sound. They rarely take their foot off the pedal. Ilias Iliopoulos’s blasting drum beats makes this clear from the first beat on the opening title track. George Petousis’s guitars have a jagged, fuzzy edge yet his notes are recognizable. Billy Soulas’s vocals are absolutely putrid. He sounds as if he’s singing with a mouth full of worms. “When Death Fits To Skin” has groove similar to Pestilence with the speed of Vader and Malevolent Creation. Necrotic Verses proves Greece isn’t just a source for black metal.
End – Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face (Closed Casket)
Featuring current and former members of Counterparts, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Fit for an Autopsy, Misery Signals, Shai Hulud, and Reign Supreme, End introduced the world to their music with their acclaimed debut EP, From the Unforgiving Arms of God, which portrayed the intersection of hardcore subgenres. End have continued the successful path of their debut EP on their first full length and also took a step beyond that success, a little more intensely this time.
Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face is extremely chaotic. End haven’t changed the look or feel of their music, but all that is happening on this album narrates the expansion of the scope of their music to extreme metal. End add tones of mathcore and blackened post-metal touches that guide the shape of the songs to a striking world of highly dynamic hardcore pieces. Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face includes a collection of musical ideas from the bands that the members of End come from, and it is masterfully written, played and produced.
Exhumed/Gruesome – Twisted Horror (Relapse)
Relapse Records labelmates Exhumed and Gruesome have teamed up for a split EP. Splits are nothing new for Exhumed, who have participated in more than 15 over the years. This is Gruesome’s first split.
Veteran death/grinders Exhumed deliver three intense tracks, playing at warp speed much of the time, especially on “Buried To Die,” but changing up the pace periodically. Gruesome contribute two songs, but they are longer than Exhumed’s, so both have about 10 minutes of running time. Gruesome switch tempos from glacial to galloping on both “A Mind Decayed” and “Led Into The Dark.” Gruesome are relative newcomers, having been around for 5 years or so, but hold their own with the 30 year vets Exhumed on this split.
Gridfailure – Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II (Nefarious)
The prolific experimental project Gridfailure return with Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II, the latest in the five album concept series. This installment deals in grim themes ranging from societal collapse to nuclear warfare to pandemic contagion.
It’s very eclectic and diverse, defying genre descriptions with the use of traditional instruments along with more unusual ones such as accordion, theremin and didgeridoo in addition to field recordings. Ambient soundscapes are sometimes peaceful, other times filled with tension and chaos. Vocals are buried deep in the mix. Atmosphere and emotion drive the avant-garde and experimental compositions, with numerous guest appearances from members of bands such as Vastum, Chrome Waves, T.O.M.B., Deadbird and more.
Make Them Suffer – How To Survive A Funeral (Rise)
Prior to their last album, the Australian band Make Them Suffer had numerous lineup changes. They have the same lineup this time around for their fourth full-length, How To Survive A Funeral.
Like previous albums, Make Them Suffer blend fierce metalcore/deathcore with atmospheric and symphonic elements. Sean Harmanis’ growls and yells take center stage on tracks like “Fake Your Own Death” while keyboardist Booka Nile adds some melodic singing on “Bones.” She has a larger role on songs like “Erase Me,” “The Attendant” and “How To Survive A Funeral,” and those tracks that have more balance are where MTS really hit their stride.
The Toronto trio Mount Cyanide are a relatively new band, but their members have a lot of history together. They have known each other for a quarter century, with vocalist/bassist Nick Sewell fronting the stoner rock band Biblical for the past decade.
While there are some doom elements in Mount Cyanide, they also mix in old school black metal and some atmospheric post metal stylings. That makes for songs that are sometimes dense and extreme, other times mid-paced and groovy. The instrumental “Hidden Entrance” has a mellow, atmospheric beginning before picking up about halfway through. That leads to the strange, spoken word vocals of the experimental “Late Riser” before the groove and harsh vocals resume on “Futurewretch.” The dramatic shifts in styles stretch the limits of cohesion, making for a sometimes disjointed listen, but there’s something new around every corner.
October Falls – A Fall Of An Epoch (Purity Through Fire)
A nice array of folk inspired atmospheric black metal is composed on October Falls‘ fifth full-length album A Fall Of An Epoch. Their music draws comparisons to the likes of Fen, Panopticon and Drudkh, all while maintaining its own distinct identity. The music is fairly fiery in nature and has a good degree of feeling. There is also a nice interspersion of acoustic moments to break up the chaos and provide appropriate break periods.
The songs have a melodic aspect, but are also somewhat raw in a nature. This is highly comparable to the works of Fen, but I find the music on this album a little more interesting than that band’s. This is because there is a relatively good use of dynamics that adds to the diversity of the music. While the music is slightly on the raw side, it is always compelling and immersive. Fans of the bands previously mentioned should find a lot to like with this release.
Ormskrik – Ormskrik (Fysisk Format)
A quick glance at Facebook shows only a few hundred fans for Ormskrik. That might change soon, though, once people get their hands on this stellar debut of blackened thrash metal. Although still very young, this Norwegian quartet show an unexpected depth of songwriting maturity to go along with very convincing chops. Enlisting the assistance of heavyweight producer Daniel Bergstrand certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Equal parts thrash, groove, and black metal are stirred together to create an amazingly vital album, and vocalist Gjøran Bårdsen takes things up a notch on every tune with his ear-shredding roars. The eleven songs presented are aggressive neck-breakers that a young Metallica would be proud of. Ormskrik are a thrash band ready to leave a mark on the genre.
Powerwolf – Best of the Blessed (Napalm)
Suffice to say that if you like Powerwolf, you will love Best of the Blessed. This marks their first greatest hits record after just over 15 years of being one of power metal’s heaviest hitters, the tracklist running as a fervent justification for such hefty celebration.
As best-of albums go, Best of the Blessed is certainly worthy of the label. It’s no minuscule 10-track tease, with a stately 16 songs that boast an impressive lineage from across the high priest’s seven studio albums with some numbers like “We Drink Your Blood,” “Saturday Satan” and (of course) “Resurrection By Erection” receiving a 2020 touch-up. BOTB may not delve into the deeper cuts but it’s face value breadth, plus 14 monstrous live track recordings, promises assured smiles for any loyal member of the wolfpack. This is essential listening for fans, veterans and newcomers alike, and while it may not be too many moons before these wolves unleash hell once more, we have a solid reminder as to why that’s something to look forward to.
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum (Black Lion)
The Finnish melodic death metal band Re-Armed have been around since the early 2000s, but it took them a decade to release their first full-length. Ignis Aeternum is their fourth album, and first in nearly four years.
Their brand of melodeath incorporates symphonic elements, augmenting the songs without overwhelming them. The arrangements are compelling, and the harsh vocals effective. The melodic singing isn’t as strong, but is serviceable. Tracks like “Resistance” and “Words Left Unsaid” are catchy and melodic with excellent guitar work. The symphonic elements give Re-Armed and expansive sound without sacrificing any heaviness or aggression.
Sarpa is the project of musician David Baxter, who handles all instruments and vocals on the band’s debut album, Solivagus. Baxter’s musical dexterity comes alive in the jazzy keys, acoustic interludes, and flaming guitar leads added to the band’s progressive black metal. There are no conventional songwriting patterns followed, making any instances where Baxter veers away from black metal a treat.
It’s good that he does this, as a few of these tunes head near the 10-minute mark, with “Triad Of Might” exceeding it. They work to varying degrees, though the middle of the album does far better compacting ideas into a digestible length. Even when there are instances where songs drag, Solivagus is never dull.
Sorge have a patient philosophy with their music on their self-titled EP debut. Each of the four songs stays glued between six and seven minutes, throwing around sludgy stoner metal with haze as thick as a brick. The inclusion of synths heightens the noisier attributes of the band, with the last few moments of “A Horse In Turin” going full-on black metal.
For the most part, this EP focuses in on a fuzzy kick, complete with guitar solos that span from soulful highs to straight-up shredding. All throughout, vocalist/guitarist Joshua Gerras provides strong passion with his singing, though he leaves that off to the side when the group goes into one of their many instrumental breaks. Sorge begin their career with a sharp statement thanks to this EP.
Witches – The Fates (Fysisk Format)
Witches lay claim to being the first French band to feature harsh female vocals. You may not have heard of them, though, despite the fact that they formed in 1986: The Fates is just their third full-length album in thirty-four years. But if death-thrash metal is your cup of tea, you’ve come to the right place.
The Fates flies by at a furious pace, with the nine songs rarely cresting the three-minute mark. The album is a feast of blast beats, maniacal guitar work, and hellish vocals courtesy of Sibylle Colin-Tocquaine. The vocals may be off-putting to some, and the breakneck pacing and template of the songs here rarely deviate, but if you’re looking for some insanely fast and nasty death-thrash, you needn’t look any further than Witches.
Witnesses penned an album that we can relate to in these times. Doom II is a concept album about a sea-born plague. As the title suggests, it’s a story suitable for doom metal’s foreboding long-ringing chords. New York City’s Witnesses bring us exactly that, but there is much more to their vision than a typical album of this genre.
Doom II actualizes the suffering of those sick at sea. There is a quietness that suffuses the album. During these moments the guitar is silenced, while other instruments such as keys, soft-spoken vocals, sounds of a creaking ship, an EBow, and mild drums add to the tension. The guitars, and a couple of speed bursts, release the tension. Kody Ternes’s voice is not a growl or a high pitched wail, his voice is more of an emotive style. Doom II is superbly arranged album with a story hits pretty close to home.