This week’s Heavy Music HQ album reviews include releases from Ambush, Aronious, Code Orange, DeadRisen, Dirt Woman, Ergodic, Human Impact, Huntsmen, Mare Incognitum, Necrophiliac, Rotting Kingdom, Sicarius, Smoulder, Spectral Lore, Stitched Up Heart, Stonus, Tomorrow Is Lost, The Unity and Vulcano.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ambush – Infidel (High Roller)
Infidel, Ambush’s third full-length offering, proves that it’s hard to go wrong with the weathered heavy metal formula of sky-high vocals and hot batches of rapturous guitar solos; a double-edged sword that coats the record’s third act in homogeneity.
Infidel is born from Ambush’s diligence to revive a lost age of heavy metal and to varying degrees this aim doesn’t go unfilled. The opening batch of tracks – the title track and “Yperite” being highlights – strike with vigor, beleaguering the ears with euphonic cries from vocalist Oskar Jacobsson who elevates Infidel’s soundscape to soaring heights. Despite the band’s auspicious blueprint, the record’s steel dulls as the track list expands. There may be a slew of engaging solos and choruses, but these are bookended by verse riffs and beats that lack the heart of the era that Ambush attempt to rescue from the past. Nevertheless, the LP retains an uplifting charm that’s difficult to shake once you’re under its spell.
Aronious – Perspicacity (The Artisan Era)
When Aronious released Truth in Perception in 2014, it showed how the Wisconsin young bloods have a deep understanding of the technical/progressive death metal genre. They have once again shown that admirable vision in a new work, Perspicacity.
Perspicacity depicts the impressive combination of the two mentioned genres. Compared to Truth in Perception, Perspicacity has a slightly different production, making the album sound closer to an atmospheric opus. The songs on this album are three to five minutes long, which in an overview, turn into one integrated long song. But when you have 13 songs in one album, there’s a risk that your album will get a little boring. However, Aronious have created an impressive journey with astonishing musicianship and stunning wild dynamics. The problem of being overly long aside, in the end, Perspicacity is a meticulous and thoughtful attempt by Aronious, which sounds like they’ve composed a philosophical work.
Code Orange – Underneath (Roadrunner)
Code Orange ascended to the proverbial “next level” with their last album, 2017’s Forever, which landed on numerous year-end lists and garnered the band a Grammy nomination. That has made Underneath one of the year’s most anticipated releases.
Each album finds the band evolving, and this is no exception. There’s passionate hardcore with increased industrial elements and contrasting harsh and melodic vocals. You’ll also hear everything from noise to punk to goth to rock at various points on the album. They smoothly shift from pummeling repetition to more dissonant and experimental moments. It’s an ambitious effort with a lot of depth and complexity in the arrangements that unfurls a bit more with each listen. “Autumn And Carbine” with vocals from Reba Meyers is perhaps the most straightforward and accessible song on the album, and it’s followed by “Back Inside The Glass,” one of the record’s most brutal. Underneath is full of contrasts and emotion, a compelling and constantly shifting album that meets or exceeds all expectations.
DeadRisen – DeadRisen (AFM)
The name that may draw progressive metal fans to DeadRisen’s self-titled debut is Symphony X bassist Mike LePond. LePond’s playing is crisp and audible, and he uses that space to wow a listener with a proficient performance. His lead work on “But You” is gripping, and he adds a little Cliff Burton flair to the otherwise unspectacular cover of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”
The rest of the members also put a spark in the music, as Rod Rivera’s lead guitar is infused with a Latin flair and vocalist Will Shaw’s wide range is explored. Most of the album moves as if something is chasing the band and catching up second by second, though an attempt to simmer down on “Reach For The Sun” has a great Deep Purple (circa Burn era) vibe. DeadRisen’s self-titled album excels at pristine power/progressive metal.
Dirt Woman – The Glass Cliff (Grimoire)
Power and greed have stifled the world we live in, a sober fact Dirt Woman express through stoner/doom metal on their debut album, The Glass Cliff. Three of the five songs are 13-minute giants, moving along like sloths in a haze. An uptick in pace at the finish of closer “Starhawk” aside, this material keeps on a fuzzy trip that doesn’t rush the deliberate tension.
For an album that goes almost an hour, there’s a gripping force to The Glass Cliff that makes the time float by. The dual harmonies from guitarists Zoe Koch and Gabe Solomon are constantly held up by the mallet-like execution of Avery and Kearny Mallon (handling drums and bass guitar, respectively). Koch’s vocals are hard to hear at some points, but her solid range gives an airlessness to the unimaginable power this album has behind it.
Ergodic – Ergodic (Self)
Ergodic play a fairly interesting form of progressive death metal in the three songs on their debut self-titled EP. The North Carolina band shifts through a number of different passages to make for a compelling and interesting release. The songs are very technical, yet well written and very nicely structured. The overall feel of the album is forward thinking yet structured enough to be palatable by all fans of the death metal genre.
If there were more songs, we might get a better idea as to the band’s overall vision, but this is still a very solid collection of songs. Ergodic manage to maintain solid songwriting in their tracks that go into very technical portions time and time again. The album could be more innovative, but the songwriting and theatrics make for a collection of songs that is worth hearing.
Human Impact – Human Impact (Ipecac)
With the demise of Unsane, their guitarist extraordinaire Chris Spencer helped to gather members of Cop Shoot Cop and Swans to form Human Impact. Their eponymous debut sounds like an amalgamation of its component parts with Spencer’s vocals and excellent guitar work, electronics and samples courtesy of Jim Coleman, Phil Puleo’s drumming and Christpher Pravdica’s bass work.
“November” kicks things off with a slow march and dissonance as the band slowly forms around the bass and electronics, eventually becoming a well-oiled machine. For fans of noise rock in general, there is enough history to hook you with the fact that the band is better than the sum of its collective parts to keep you wanting more.
Huntsmen – Mandala of Fear (Prosthetic)
Chicago’s Huntsmen landed firmly on our radar two years ago with their unique debut, American Scrap. Their blend of doom, prog, post metal, and heartland rock was vibrant and original. Now they return with the massively ambitious Mandala of Fear, a double-LP concept album in which a soldier’s combat mission goes wrong and she struggles through a variety of obstacles.
More metallic and progressive than American Scrap, Mandala of Fear is an 85-minute opus which sees Huntsmen ratchet up their songwriting and emotion. The album is beautifully produced and the performances here, especially Ray Knipe on the drums, are superb. Newest member Aimee Bueno is sparingly used, which is a shame, and unfortunately, the album suffers under its own weight – three of the first six songs, and four in total, are instrumental, and while they may add to the narrative when accompanied by the 32-page graphic novel, here they serve only to throw us off the scent of what is almost a sterling album.
Necrophiliac – No Living Man Is Innocent (Xtreem)
Formed in 1988, the Spanish death metal outfit Necrophiliac released their debut album in 1992. They split up a year later. Nearly three decades after Chaopula – Citadel Of Mirrors, four of the band’s original members reunited and are issuing No Living Man Is Innocent.
The opening track “Piper Leading Innocence” shows the band’s versatility, varying tempos from a brisk death metal cadence to slower, doom-laden sections. That’s the case for the rest of the record as well, as they shift the pace and intensity on a regular basis. While their debut was streamlined, the 2020 edition of Necrophiliac is exploring lengthier song structures, like the 8 plus minute “Inhabitants Of The Red Forest” and the closing title track. It’s a worthy comeback from a band many modern day death metal fans might not know, but are certainly worth exploring.
Rotting Kingdom – A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow (Boris)
There’s a heart-wrenching beauty to death/doom when it’s done right, and Rotting Kingdom find that place on A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow, the first album from this Kentucky-based quintet. This is an album where pain is currency, hopelessness is the product, and dejection is always on sale. The exchange between these three is where the emotional core is centered, and vocalist Anton Escobar makes sure a listener resonates with every grunt and scream that punctuate each syllable.
The use of stripped-back guitar on the title track and “Sculpted Into Life By The Hand Of Death” adds to the downbeat moods. There is rage included, no more so than the old-school vibes of “Absolute Ruin,” which blazes by in half the length of most of these songs. Its emotional release is instant, a feat not offered by the torturous drip the rest of A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow goes for.
Sicarius – God Of Dead Roots (M-Theory)
Sicarius hail from California, but many of the black metal band’s influences are from other parts of the world, taking inspiration from classic groups ranging from Bathory to Rotting Christ to Darkthrone. God Of Dead Roots is their sophomore full-length.
Their brand of black metal pays homage to the early days of the genre, with icy riffs and bludgeoning beats. While raw and aggressive, the production isn’t a low-fi muddle, giving Sicarius a sharp edge. Tracks like “Open Fire” and “A Practiced Hand” are compact, while songs like “Nekromanteia” and “Scythe Bearers” are more expansive and varied. The combination of songwriting and attitude make God Of Dead Roots a potent black metal album.
Smoulder – Dream Quest Ends (Cruz Del Sur)
Hot on the heels of their 2019 full-length debut, Canada’s Smoulder are wasting no time issuing this new EP, Dream Quest Ends. Epic heavy metal with humming guitars in the mold of newer acts like Eternal Champion and older legends Grand Magus and Manilla Road, this EP is a great continuation of the positive momentum set forth with the debut. The Manilla Road comparison is no accident either as a rousing, enchanting cover of “Cage Of Mirrors” is featured here and the late Mark Shelton would be proud of the effort.
Consisting of two new tracks plus the Manilla Road cover and rounded out the by three songs on their 2018 demo, the new cuts hit all the right spots with a stellar magnitude of riffs and dueling solos and straightforward vocals by Sarah Ann (whom you might recognize from Sam Dunn’s BangerTV). The title track is among the best they’ve created so far and “Warrior Witch Of Hel” should go over well in a live setting. Take notice, this beast is worthy of attention!
Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum – Wanderers: Astrology Of The Nine (I, Voidhanger)
Two of the premier acts in atmospheric black metal, Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum, reunite for a split release that expands upon their last split, Sol, by going further into outer space. With the sun as the conceptual theme for Sol, Wanderers: Astrology Of The Nine uses the nine planets as inspiration. Each band picks a planet to revolve a song around, collaborating for a two-part closer on Pluto.
There is nothing held back from either band, with a running time that almost exceeds two hours. Listeners aware of these bands won’t be surprised about that, and those with the patience to dig into the split will be rewarded. The closer is a stunning finish, the first part an ambient, synth-laden trek before bellowing into the endlessness of infinity with confident, blackened stride in the second part. Wanderers: Astrology Of The Nine sets another high benchmark for both bands.
Stitched Up Heart – Darkness (Red)
The L.A. band Stitched Up Heart have been around for a while, formed a decade ago by singer Alecia “Mixi” Demner. They released their full-length debut Never Alone in 2016, which spawned several rock radio singles. Darkness is their latest release.
They blend hard rock and alt metal into songs that are melodic and catchy, but also have an edge. There are a plethora of potential singles, from “Lost” (featuring Godsmack’s Sully Erna) to the title track to “This Skin.” Demner’s vocals are mostly melodic, and especially showcased on ballads such as “Bones.” Electronic elements are added for depth throughout, but are more at the forefront on songs like “Warrior” and “My Demon.” There are similarities to groups like In This Moment and New Year’s Day, but Stitched Up Heart bring their own style to the table as well.
Stonus – Aphasia (Electric Valley/Daredevil)
Cyprus might not contain deserts, but the spirit of the southwest is alive and well on Aphasia, the full-length debut from Stonus, whose band name alone should confuse none as to the musical style they cultivate. Over the course of seven tracks, which includes an obligatory intro, the quintet deliver a booming and reverberating display of heavy rock that could be used to educate the unsullied on precisely what to expect from a stoner rock record: big bass, fuzzy riffs, heavy drums, psychedelia, decent vocals, and tempos altering between a lazy float and rolling rapids.
It’s Kyuss meets Truckfighters meets Black Sabbath meets Wo Fat and probably someone else, and while that lazy assessment does the reviewer no great favors, the mélange of traits possessed by said bands comprise the Stonus sound rather neatly. Diogo Soares’s beautiful cover art serves as a welcome introduction to Aphasia, which, in spite of its familiarity to its ancestors, is an ambitious and often very pleasing stoner-psych journey aided by its muscular sound and presentation.
Tomorrow Is Lost – Therapy (Eclipse)
Like Stitched Up Heart, Tomorrow Is Lost are a female fronted hard rock/alt metal band releasing their second full-length album. But Tomorrow Is Lost hail from the UK, and the sound of Therapy has a bit more swagger.
Tracks like “Wildchild” and “White Noise” are relatively straightforward and guitar driven with ample hooks that are tailor made for rock radio. Cass King brings a lot of different vocal styles to the table, from an airy, pop delivery to an edgier, more rock style. The production on Therapy is completely modern, but the songs have a combination of classic and contemporary sensibilities and construction, which will appeal to a wide variety of hard rock fans.
The Unity – Pride (SPV/Steamhammer)
Pride is the third album from the German band The Unity, whose lineup includes Gamma Ray guitarist Henjo Richter and drummer Michael Ehre along with four former members of Love.Might.Kill.
Their songwriting continues to mature, leaning toward traditional metal with bombastic riffs and soaring melodies. Songs like “Line And Sinker” and “We Don’t Need Them Here” are instantly memorable, with minimal filler throughout the dozen songs. Gianbattista Manenti gives his best vocal performance to date, showing power, range and texture. The Unity impress on this album, and fans will be happy with the bonus disc, which includes live versions of four songs from their first two albums along with a studio track.
Vulcano – Eye In Hell (Mighty)
Formed in 1981, Vulcano were one of the first heavy metal bands in Brazil. 34 years after their raw thrash debut full-length album Bloody Vengeance, the band aren’t showing any signs of slowing down with Eye In Hell.
Eye In Hell is comparable to Possessed’s latest album Revelations of Oblivion. Vulcano straddle the line between death metal and thrash. Eye In Hell is a clinic on how to speed pick and hammer the drum kit, although the band temper speed with plenty of concrete mid-tempos. The clang of the bass is noticeable and even gets isolated for short lines on the dirgy title track and “Dealer of My Curses.” The vocals range from a Tom Angelripper sort of delivery to full on growls during parts of the title track. Denizens of the underground will hail Eye In Hell as one of the best thrash albums of 2020.