This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from All Hell, Axel Rudi Pell, Cave In, Combichrist, Distant, Diviner, Enthroned, Fetid, Ian Blurton, Infernal Conjuration, Jess By The Lake, Majestica, Misanthropic Rage, Motanka, Pelican, The Rods and Vulture.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
All Hell – The Witch’s Grail (Prosthetic)
Since their inception, the Asheville, North Carolina trio All Hell have been prolific, with The Witch’s Grail their fourth full-length in a five year period.
Numerous styles are on display, from black to thrash to doom to punk. All Hell write songs that are sometimes fast and catchy, other times more deliberate and extreme. “Tonight We Ride” and “Into The Trees” careen along at maximum speed with thrashy riffs, while “Where Devils Once Danced” has an ominous groove. Jacob Curwen’s harsh vocals give the entire proceedings an extra edge. While most songs are streamlined, the album closes with the 8 plus minute “The Invisible World,” their longest ever track with a lot of ebbs and flows that emphasizes the variety of the record.
Axel Rudi Pell – XXX Anniversary Live (SPV/Steamhammer)
Veteran German axeman Axel Rudi Pell follows up last year’s studio album Knights Call with a live release celebrating his three decade solo career. XXX Anniversary Live was recorded on his most recent tour. For the past dozen years, Johnny Gioeli (Hardline) has been Pell’s vocalist.
The setlist includes several tracks from Knights Call, but the band also revisits some earlier material, such as “Carousel” and the title track from 1998’s Oceans Of Time, Gioeli’s first with the band. The band is tight, with plenty of shredding and soloing from Pell. The double album includes 16 tracks and clocks in at more than 100 minutes. It’s a good representation and performance of the current era of the band.
Cave In – Final Transmission (Hydra Head)
Cave In hadn’t released a new album since 2011, with its members involved in various other projects. They had been working on a new record, but in March of last year, bassist Caleb Scofield was killed in an auto accident. The songs on Final Transmission were originally intended to be demos for the new record, and Scofield appears on all of them, playing bass on six and guitar on two.
Scofield had a hand in writing many of the songs, and after his death his wife found some lyrics in Caleb’s journal, which were used as the lyrics for “All Illusion.” The opening title track is a voice memo Scofield sent of a song idea with him playing acoustic guitar and humming the melody. With most of the lyrics and vocals recorded after Scofield’s death, vocalist Steve Brodsky’s performance on tracks like “Shake My Blood” are infused with a lot of emotion. There’s ample variety, from heavier tracks like “Night Crawler” to the spacey “Lunar Day” to the catchy rocker “Winter Day.” Knowing the circumstances behind the album makes it a heart wrenching listen at times, a poignant reminder of the skill and talent of Caleb and his bandmates, and the void left by his passing.
Combichrist – One Fire (Out of Line)
Industrial gears keep grinding on Combichrist’s ninth full-length, One Fire. Futuristic themes appear on tracks like the cyber-thrash infused” Guns At Last Dawn.” This track has a strong Fear Factory feeling, and features vocals by none other than Burton C. Bell. “2045” tells the future from the past through radio transmissions from 1945 predicting life a hundred years later (some predictions are very close).
Neofolk and symphonic instrumentation make “Bottle of Pain” a standout track in the middle of the album. It’s an unexpected, intense ballad with an indomitable spirit. Classic Dead Kennedys punk song “California Über Alles” underwent an industrialized transformation, while maintaining the tradition of Jello Biafra’s jittery vocal style. One Fire doesn’t quite hold the sway of previous album This is Where Death Begins, but still maintains the hard beat, space-age synth, metallic anger and cerebral atmosphere that fans have come to know on Combichrist records.
Distant – Tyrannotophia (Unique Leader)
Distant’s Tyrannotophia could be mistaken for a throwback to the late 2000’s/early 2010’s, when it seemed the primary concern of every new death metal band was how slow they could make their one-note breakdowns go. This is in the “brutal/deathcore” subcategory of the genre, which is apparently still in demand in 2019. Its merit, however, is questionable when there are death metal bands writing actual riffs that don’t need to go five miles an hour to hit hard.
But there’s an audience for this kind of music, and they will eat up the spin kick-friendly chugging that dominates this album. There are sparks of legitimacy on “The Enslavement” and “Inside Out” that give off an old-school vibe, which is something Distant might want to embrace more of going forward.
Diviner – Realms of Time (Ulterium)
Crashing in with their sophomore album, Diviner are back with a riff-heavy, pounding piece of Greek heavy metal. Realms of Time has all the raw edge its predecessor did, except the hooks are hookier and the songwriting is more mature. There’s a dark air surrounding this album and it really delivers all of the deep emotion it intends to.
Despite these clear improvements, Diviner still sit comfortably as a fairly typical Greek heavy metal band. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it fails to hammer down any moments of awe to separate it far from the rest. Still, fans of bands like Firewind and Lightfold will have a blast with this record.
Enthroned – Cold Black Suns (Season of Mist)
Enthroned took attention away from Norway for a moment and placed it on Belgium with debut, Prophecies of Pagan Fire. Nearly a quarter century later and a long list of short and long-play recordings, the group return with Cold Black Suns. “Silent Redemption” and “Hosana Satana” offer fans early, enticing glimpses of the album. “Hosana Satana” is a speed burner that breaks down into rotund, sliding string play. Dynamics are often flat on the record, but “Silent Redemption” is most effective in its transitions, and features some of the more memorable sharp-string sounds.
“Oneris” and “Vapula Omega,” another preview track, represent the album’s downside. Guitars drone and dissonantly ring with many lull points. “Valupa Omega” builds in action but never peaks. Menthor’s double bass keeps this song and much of the album moving, but the sluggish tempos result in concentration loss throughout much of the album.
Fetid – Steeping Corporeal Mess (20 Buck Spin)
Portland based death metal band Fetid follow in the trend of their labelmates like Tomb Mold and Of Feather and Bone with a powerful and muddy debut. If you like the death metal to be old school feeling as though you are caught in a cavern with swirling guitar solos, you may love Fetid to scratch that vile itch for you.
A quick, down and dirty affair, Steeping Corporeal Mess barely eclipses the half hour mark, which is perfect for repeat visits to the void. 20 Buck Spin is one of the most diverse labels out there, and their death metal is particularly noteworthy. If you like their branch of the befouled, then Fetid flourish in this respect, too.
Ian Blurton – Signals Through the Flame (Pajama Party)
Ian Blurton is the epitome of a Canadian journeyman artist. He’s played in dozens of bands over dozens of years, produced/mixed scores of recordings, and generally been behind (or in front of) the scenes since the 1970s. After all these years, he’s put together his own hard-rocking band (Future Now) and released his first solo album, Signals Through the Flame. And the wait has been worth it.
Signals Through the Flame is a masterclass in hard rock/metal songwriting and production. The sound is warm and dense, like a more lustrous version of the early ’80s, and the songs are impeccably performed and arranged. Blurton has a great voice – a bit like a cross between Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction) and Myles Goodwin (April Wine). The album is loaded with slick, fun, memorable hard rock numbers and plenty of groove and swagger: in other words, the perfect summer soundtrack.
Infernal Conjuration – Infernale Metallum Mortis (Iron Bonehead)
There is a very abrasive death metal formula at the bottom of what Infernal Conjuration perform on their fourth full length, Infernale Metallum Mortis. The music is somewhat raw, but brings an unadulterated feeling of fun that is impossible to resist. The band has an evil aura that they bring forth as well. The music recalls early Morbid Angel in its purest form. This is really stripped down music that has a feeling of being really authentic to the classics of the genre. It has that basement sounding production, but is bolstered by really strong riffing that catches the attention of the listener.
An issue with the album lies in its simplicity as the fairly raw sounding music can only have so much of a redeeming quality. It eventually starts to sound the same and this is really unfortunate, as Infernal Conjuration have a lot of good ideas and absolutely lay waste to their surroundings. The might of the guitar riff makes its presence felt over even the solid drumming on the album and takes center stage overall. This is a quality death metal release.
Jess By The Lake – Under the Red Light Shine (Svart)
Jess By The Lake is the solo project of Jess and the Ancient Ones vocalist Jasmin Saarela, who steers away from the psychedelic aura of her other band for a gothic sort of rock style on Under the Red Light Shine. If Jess and the Ancient Ones is a drug trip that heads into a freak out, Jess By The Lake is staring out to the horizon during a sunset with a killer buzz illuminating the dimming sky.
This album is a showcase for Saarela’s vocal prowess, as she completely lets loose on songs like the title track and “Freezing Burn.” Closer “Interstellar” introduces spacey psych back in, a jam-heavy finish to the album a stark difference from the directness of the anthemic “Nightmare.” Under the Red Light Shine shares commonality with Jess and the Ancient Ones, but finds ways to deviate from that band’s established sound.
Majestica – Above The Sky (Nuclear Blast)
The power metal band ReinXeed was started by Tommy Johansson (currently a guitarist in Sabaton) back in 2000. They released several albums, the last one in 2013. The group has now returned with a new name, Majestica, and a new album, Above The Sky. To handle drum duties on the record, they recruited Uli Kusch (ex-Helloween).
The songs are slick and melodic with symphonic elements, singalong choruses and everything you’d expect from a power metal album. Johansson is an excellent vocalist that has a lot of range and is able to hit the high notes. Along with Alex Oriz he provides memorable riffs and numerous guitar solos as well. Tracks like “Rising Tide” are augmented by the symphonic parts, but not overwhelmed by them because of the strong melodies. It’s a welcome return that starts a new chapter under their new moniker.
Misanthropic Rage – Towards The Greyscale Aphorysm (Gods Ov War)
Just over a year after 2018’s Igne Natura Renovatur Integra, the Polish avant-garde black metal band Misanthropic Rage are back with Towards The Greyscale Aphorysm, their third full-length.
They blend dense black metal with atmospheric moments and experimental sections. There’s a lot of melody on tracks like “The Noise Of A New Dawn” along with urgent riffs and brutal parts. As you’d expect from the title, “Nothing But Rage” is one of the more intense songs, but “Here Is Deeper, Here Is Higher” packs a punch as well with spooky spoken word vocals alongside the harsh growls. The expansive “The Traveller” has a moderate pace and moderate intensity, followed by the closer “Curse – Despise – Reject – Deny” that is crushing at times, before ending on a more mellow note. It’s an album with skillful songwriting and a lot of depth.
Motanka – Motanka (Napalm)
Motanka‘s self-titled debut is one of the most experimental metal acts I’ve heard in recent months. Called “mystic metal” by the band, the music in Motanka is an ever-changing mix of folk, modern and electronic elements, with even the distant black metal vibe thrown in. It’s hard enough to categorize each song individually due to the wide scope of influence that’s present in every one. Needless to say, this is a very dynamic album.
Between their aggressive highs and trance-inducing lows, Motanka effortlessly nail the transitional sections by weaving a rich atmosphere and utilizing some short instrumental interludes. However, as is the way with many atmospheric bands, it’s extremely difficult to take a great album into being an exceptional one. So, while the entire record contains a ton of variety and mysticism, it doesn’t deliver that lasting emotional impact to score it higher.
Pelican – Nighttime Stories (Southern Lord)
The veteran instrumental post metal band Pelican have released four live albums since their last studio effort, 2013’s Forever Becoming. It’s their second album with guitarist Dallas Thomas, and now with several years of experience and chemistry under their belts, are more cohesive.
The album begins on a somber note with the acoustic based ballad “WST,” but then the metal cranks up with the rousing “Midnight And Mescaline.” Pelican inject dense and chaotic moments on songs such as “Abyssal Plain” alongside catchy riffs. The emotional tenor ranges from upbeat on “Arteries Of Blacktop” to quiet and introspective on “It Stared At Me.” Pelican worked with producer Sanford Parker again, who helmed their 2003 debut Australasia. It’s a nice mix of some of the aggressiveness of their early material with the subtlety and dexterity honed by years of experience.
The Rods might be considered a bit of a footnote from the glory years of metal, and in my neck of the woods they were better known for giving us Carl Canedy, who plays drums for The Rods but arguably found more success as a producer of bands such as Exciter, Overkill, and Anthrax. Brotherhood of Metal is The Rods’ second album since 1986, and features the same trio as their early ’80s output.
Never will there be a more genuine homage to the metal of the early ’80s as Brotherhood of Metal. Canedy, David “Rock” Feinstein, and Garry Bordonaro have created an album that is nostalgic to the core. Every song is full of references to the past; band names, musicians, song titles, and even snippets of iconic lyrics pervade the music, making this a feast of Easter eggs for old-school fans. Despite the songs being cookie-cutter metal, the album is a silly but enjoyable romp through the past.
Vulture – Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves (Metal Blade)
A gloved hand holding a bloody knife outside an open tomb with red mist pouring out of it is the perfect cover for Vulture’s second album, Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves. Their affection for everything horror is obvious, whether it’s the creepy synths in a few intros or the imagery of gore-drenched blades and mutilated bodies that vocalist L. Steeler wails with screeching high notes.
His vocals give the proceedings a power metal touch, though the riffs are pure 1980’s-era thrash. These songs were written with the maximum quota of headbanging per minute in mind, though the breakneck guitar solos don’t hurt either. A frantic cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Killer on the Loose” is a suitable way Vulture ends Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves.