This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Athanasia, Backyard Babies, Beorn’s Hall, Black Therapy, The Dose, Enisum, Enter 6, Fallujah, Noisem, Oozing Wound, Twisted Tower Dire, Venom Prison, Vile Creature and Wardehns.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Athanasia – The Order of the Silver Compass (Seeing Red/Rock Of Angels)
Athanasia are billed as a band consisting of ex-members of Five Finger Death Punch, Sebastian Bach and Murderdolls, but in reality this trio of musicians spent very little time in those bands. Band leader Caleb Bingham (guitars, vocals), was only with FFDP from 2005-2006, and never appeared on an album, so it’s practically a moot point.
On The Order of the Silver Compass, Athanasia want to create an album that blends traditional heavy metal with more modern aesthetics, as well as aspects of melodic death metal. Unfortunately, the songs don’t really present a cohesive style; instead bouncing around from traditional metal to power metal to death metal and back again, with little rhyme or reason. Neither the songwriting nor the performances really stand out.
Backyard Babies – Sliver & Gold (M-Theory)
Swedish rockers Backyard Babies have been very successful in their home country, with six of their albums landing in the top five of the Swedish album chart, and a couple of them going all the way to number one. Sliver & Gold is their eighth studio album.
It’s easy to hear why they are so successful in their homeland, and a bit puzzling why that hasn’t translated as much to the rest of the world. The songs are catchy and immediately memorable with hooks aplenty. Tracks like “Shovin’ Rocks” are in the hard rock vein, while others like “Simple Being Sold” add a punk edge without sacrificing any accessibility. The songs are compact and focused, most clocking in around the three minute mark, save for the six plus minute closing ballad “Laugh Now Cry Later.” It’s an enjoyable album that will hopefully help increase Backyard Babies’ profile on this side of the pond.
Beorn’s Hall – In His Granite Realm (Naturmacht)
In their relatively brief existence, the New Hampshire pagan black metal duo Beorn’s Hall have been prolific. In His Granite Realm is their third album in as many years.
Opening track “Distant Torches – Baldr’s Theme” adds some folk elements to the black metal, with acoustic guitars also making an appearance on “Old Men Of The Mountain” along with catchy, electric grooves. The songs are lengthy, most in the 10 to 12 minute range. They have a lot variety, moving from dense moments to rousing melodies to mellow acoustic sections. The production is on the low-fi side without being overly muddy, with vocals pretty low in the mix.
Black Therapy – Echoes of Dying Memories (Black Lion)
Italy’s Black Therapy perform a style of metal that has some similarities to Dark Tranquillity on Echoes of Dying Memories, their third full length. It has a dark melodic edge and the style is similarly addictive in nature. The emphasis is definitely on melody over death metal. It allows them to be a memorable and accessible act. This is very up-front metal that makes its presence felt via some strong riffing that will become ingrained in your brain. Strangely , the album stacks up some of its longest tracks near the beginning.
This is not the type of music that needs a lot of time to develop, however. It has a quick punch that hits the spot immediately, much like Dark Tranquillity do. The immediacy of the album is nice, but it does little new, a small fault in what is a very welcoming and powerful experience. You’ll find yourself entranced in these highly melodic songs that have that killer edge to them that makes them all the more memorable. Echoes of Dying Memories is a highly enjoyable experience.
The Dose – Saline (Index)
The Dose hail from L.A., but the duo of vocalist/guitarist Indio Downey (Robert’s son) and drummer/keyboardist Ralph Alexander draw heavily from the Seattle sound of the ’90s.
While not just a retro grunge album, their full-length debut Saline certainly draws influences from that era, especially tracks like “Despairadise.” There are modern rock elements as well, melding old and new into their own style. The title track and “Gone” are ballads, while “Rival” is an ominous, more up-tempo number. The production, courtesy of Keith Nelson (Buckcherry) is pristine, with Downey’s voice providing edge and emotion. The Dose are a band that will appeal to not only those who grew up on grunge, but those who weren’t even born during its heydey.
Enisum – Moth’s Illusion (Avantgarde)
After starting as a one-man project in the mid-2000s, the Italian atmospheric black metal outfit Enisum have been a full band for several years now. Moth’s Illusion is their sixth album.
It’s a very diverse effort, both musically and vocally. Tempos and intensities shift frequently, from straightforward black metal to quiet acoustic passages. They are able to do that without 10 minute songs, keeping things within the relatively brief confines of mostly four to five minute tracks. The vocals range from death metal growls to higher pitched rasps along with clean singing on songs like “Where Souls Dissolve,” the catchy “Petrichor” and the title track. The arrangements are creative and atmosphere abounds, making for a compelling listen.
Enter 6 take their time between albums. The Australian thrash trio released their debut back in 2000. 19 years later, two of the three original members remain, and they are finally issuing their sophomore album Black Dolphin.
Enter 6’s brand of thrash has the galloping riffs you’d expect, but they also slow down the tempo to mid-paced grooves from time to time. Tracks like “My Withered Hands” are sometimes chaotic and sometimes right in the pocket. They also inject progressive elements into the mix, an interesting contrast to the gruff vocals and unpolished production. It’s a creative take on a genre that can be very derivative.
Fallujah – Undying Light (Nuclear Blast)
After the departure of Alex Hofmann in 2017, it was thought that the future of Fallujah’s musical vision would be uncertain. When the cover of the new album Undying Light was released, predictions came that the band have chosen a new style for their music which some of their fans will not be pleased with, but Undying Light proves them wrong.
Fallujah’s fourth studio album shows how they have reached maturity in their music. They have created an extraordinary atmosphere from the intersection of technical/progressive death metal with elements of deathcore, which it is still evident in their music along with a bit of djent. It’s completely cinematic, with songs that are made with layers and depth and the musicianship and performance of the band members who are undoubtedly at the peak of their artistic career. Undying Light is strikingly reflective of all Fallujah’s history, which will be remembered as a glorious effort.
Noisem – Cease To Exist (20 Buck Spin)
When Noisem burst onto the scene a few years back, their combination of death and thrash was an old school breath of fresh air. Cease To Exist, the band’s third offering, helps to remind fans of theirs what kind of extreme fury that Noisem circa 2019 can bring to the game. Album opener “Constricted Cognition” wastes absolutely no time in making the band’s intentions known; fast and furious riffs and songs of a modern grindcore length all hit at full speed.
Think of Noisem as being a thrash metal band that is the Napalm Death to Power Trip’s modern day D.R.I. If fast and furious is the name of your game, other than Misery Index you would be hard pressed to find a more angry representation for Charm City than these guys. They are just hitting their stride and we the listeners are along for the ride.
Oozing Wound – High Anxiety (Thrill Jockey)
Simply put, Chicago, Illinois trio Oozing Wound have but one rule regarding its musical output: that it slay. And slay it does, seemingly with little effort, as was evidenced in the mere 24-hour recording time of the band’s critically-lauded 2013 debut, Retrash. Now, a handful of years and a few (great) albums later, Oozing Wound are poised to loose their fourth full-length upon the metal masses. It’s called High Anxiety, and it is glorious.
Oozing Wound are often touted as a thrash metal band. This is a little misleading, as they are an amalgamation of thrash, hardcore, noise, punk and even (gasp) pop sensibilities. All combined, the end result is frenetic, bombastic, fresh, and when taking the lyrics into account, hilarious and thought-provoking. Far from cookie-cutter “throwback” thrash, Oozing Wound are doing their own thing and that, dear reader, is what I’d call successfully “slaying.”
Twisted Tower Dire – Wars in the Unknown (No Remorse)
Traditional heavy metal vets Twisted Tower Dire have been together for 25 years, but Wars in the Unknown is only their sixth album, and first since 2011. With a steady lineup since 2007, the band is locked in with their patented delivery of epic, heroic power/traditional metal.
Wars in the Unknown picks up where their last album, Make it Dark, left off. Galloping, thunderous, boisterous songs with epic subject matter are the order of the day. With songs like “And the Sharks Came Then” and “Light the Swords on Fire,” you know you’re in for a fairly high dose of cheese, but Twisted Tower Dire play it with such unabashed conviction that one can’t help but raise your fist and pound the air in time to all these anthems.
Venom Prison – Samsara (Prosthetic)
Exhausting is one description of Venom Prison’s sophomore album Samsara, but that’s not a diss on this top-notch record. In this case, exhaustion is a release, as the band is utterly relentless in ways only hinted at on their Animus debut back in 2016. Lyrics dig into more personal grounds, portraying the misogynistic, hateful world through the weathered eyes of vocalist Larissa Stupar. Her message never wavers: there is no happy ending worth searching for.
Even if there was, the savage death metal on Samsara wouldn’t allow it to come to life. Venom Prison have upped their songwriting since their first album, with fantastic guitar solos and low-key moody passages that hint at a progressive sonic mentality. The overall longer song lengths make this possible, though no amount of muted restraint sabotages the bitter attitude of Samsara.
Vile Creature – Preservation Rituals 2015-2018 (Prosthetic)
The Canadian doom duo Vile Creature independently released two albums and an EP. They have now signed with Prosthetic Records, who are packaging 2015’s A Steady Descent Into The Soil, 2016’s A Pessimistic Doomsayer EP and 2018’s Cast Of Static And Smoke into the double disc compilation Preservation Rituals 2015-2018.
Vile Creature’s music unfolds at a glacial pace driven by plodding, crushing riffs. Their songs are really long, with the shortest track around 9 minutes. Their lyrical content is sometimes socio-political, but they also released a sci-fi concept album. Cast Of Static And Smoke is the most engaging of their material, with tracks like “Circuits Bending And Breaking” having a quicker tempo while maintaining the thick guitar sound. It ends with the 17 minute spoken word “Audiobook.” They bring a unique perspective, and it will be interesting to hear what they bring to the table for their first Prosthetic album.
Wardehns play sludge metal as if they were disguised as a hardcore band on Now Cometh The Foul. The groove that sludge metal is known for is certainly available. However, it’s pressed down by bruising riffs designated for speed. It never gets to thrash levels, but Wardehns are not resigned to some sort of timid momentum. There are songs that follow the sludge metal template, but they are not the norm.
A few songs fool around with acoustic guitars, including the charging opening instrumental “Crustacean.” Their inclusion doesn’t diminish the frenzy that surrounds much of Now Cometh The Foul, which is heightened by each of the trio trading off vocals at certain points in each song. This tight vocal chemistry is worth exploring by the band if they choose to do so moving forward.