This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Art Of Shock, Baxaxaxa, Beneath My Sins, Brain Stem, Death On Fire, Def Leppard, Fool’s Ghost, Grift, Heaven Shall Burn, Hyborian, Malokarpatan, Myrkur, Neck Of The Woods, Nite, O Zorn!, Sweven, White Stones and Wind Of The Black Mountains.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Art Of Shock – Dark Angeles (Century Media)
L.A. based thrashers Art Of Shock pay homage to the city of angels on their debut album Dark Angeles. The record was produced by Mark Lewis (Megadeth, Cannibal Corpse), one of the genre’s most respected.
There are galloping thrash riffs galore, but Art Of Shock also incorporate slower, more traditional metal elements in sections of songs like “Declaration Of War.” Vocalist Art Geezar has a wider range than many thrash singers, giving the songs more variety. They show their punk influences with a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” delivered in a more ominous style than the original. Art Of Shock tread a well-worn musical path, but incorporate enough originality to make it interesting.
Baxaxaxa – The Old Evil (Iron Bonehead)
Baxaxaxa released a demo in 1992, split, returned in 2017, and now return with another demo EP, The Old Evil. Two demos in thirty years hardly seems impressive, but the raw production fits the German black metal group’s occult black metal aesthetic.
Infernal winds and organ keys instill a menacing intro. Keys provide an element of mystery to the trudging guitars of the first proper song “Sepulchral Winds Return.” The choppy guitars and quasi-clean vocals bring to mind Hellhammer, especially on this track. Much of the album runs at a doomed pace, but they push the tempo “In The Shadows They Lurk,” which sounds more akin to second wave black metal. “Bells of Charon” and the title track include gothic bell tolls. The distant, grainy production, delayed vocal reverberations, Mephistophelian guitars, eerie synth and organic drums create a primitive, mystifying product perfectly conveyed in the album title.
Beneath My Sins – I Decide (Pride & Joy)
For their second album I Decide, the French symphonic metal band Beneath My Sins worked with producer Fabio D’Amore (Serenity’s bassist), and signed with Pride & Joy Music.
Classical atmospheres blend with accessible melodies on songs like “Try” and “My Guardian Angel.” Emma Elvaston has the ability to deliver the genre’s standard operatic style as well as poppier, more mainstream vocals. There are also some male harsh vocals from time to time. There are numerous guests on the album from bands like Eluveitie, Visions Of Atlantis and Elvenking. More contemporary atmospheres blend with the symphonic stylings on songs such as “Your Muse” and “Temptations.” Though the songs are varied and expertly arranged, they could use more memorable hooks.
Symptoms Of Annihilation – Stage 2 is the second EP from Canadian death metal group Brain Stem. The EP is driven by an overarching concept about all the different ways humanity could come into extinction. This kind of apocalyptic topic is suited for the few frills or quirks that can be found in their music.
Their take on the genre leans into searing riffs, limiting the lead work to bassist Brad Fife, who gets several moments on these four songs to spread his performance out. The bass guitar leads, plus the blast beats on “The Unspoken Ire,” deviate from the mid-tempo pace the band keeps to. Symptoms Of Annihilation – Stage 2 provides 15 minutes of primal death metal.
With the advent of their debut two years ago and their sophomore release arriving just months later, Death On Fire haven’t been in the game long but they emerge into the decade with Ghost Songs, a title that has this skeptic of modern death metal conflicted.
I applaud the band for delivering their aims to push boundaries as, refreshingly, I’m treated to a death metal record of the modern era that remains destructive without relying on monotonous blast beats and instead displays great craft in the many well-meditated riffs and drum patterns on tracks like “Once Were Warriors” and “People Like You.” Ghost Songs, as a sum of its parts, isn’t enough to convert my tastes, however. Tim Kenefic’s vocals, while impressively fluid, lack a unique selling point to lead these audible assaults; a wound laid visibly bare considering Kenefic is placed so highly within the mix. A record that will undoubtedly resonate with hardcore fans, but not one that can coax me out of my established grievances with the sub-genre.
Def Leppard – The Early Years 79-81 (UMe/Virgin)
Def Leppard, members of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame class of 2019, have released two of the most successful albums in any genre in Pyromania and Hysteria. Those records sometimes overshadow the band’s first two albums, which are getting the box set treatment on the five disc The Early Years 79-81.
There are remastered versions of 1980’s On Through The Night and 1981’s High ‘N’ Dry featuring classic tracks such as “Hello America,” “Wasted,” “Let It Go” and “Bringin’ On The Heartache.” There’s also a 1980 live show along with a disc of b-sides and rarities including the three tracks from 1979’s self-titled EP. The final disc has several BBC recordings from 1979 and five live songs from the 1980 Reading Festival. Also including a written history of the band’s early days and being executive produced by frontman Joe Elliott, it’s a must own for fans of early Def Leppard. The remastered editions of On Through The Night and High ‘N’ Dry are also available individually on CD and LP.
Fool’s Ghost – Dark Woven Light (Prosthetic)
There are albums that are meant for particular moods or times of the year; in the case of Dark Woven Light, it’s definitely not a summer day on the beach sort of album. Fool’s Ghost want their first album to be pulled out when the clouds are out, and the temperature is more crisp than balmy. The duo of Nick and Amber Thieneman drift in and out of the songs with a mix of gentle energy and tangible weariness.
This is a low-key album, which is not a negative. Fool’s Ghost let their dreamy, wistful music wrap over a listener instead of throwing it in their face. Dark Woven Light may not be listened by the average metalhead on a regular basis, but for those situations where the stark weather matches one’s mood, it’s a great sonic accompaniment.
Grift – Budet (Nordvis)
Compared to his other projects, Erik Gärdefors, the mastermind behind Grift, has a different approach to this musical project. While he focuses on the roots of Scandinavian black metal in his other bands such as Arfsynd and Orcivus, in Grift he concentrates more on human emotions and conditions and composing passionate emotional folk-driven ambient black metal pieces.
On Budet, Gärdefors once again incorporates Scandinavian folk music’s gentleness and elegance into the main context of his music and uses black metal as a secondary element to express his musical vision. Somewhere in the middle of the album, the somber yet epic ambient track “Väckelsebygd” illustrates the cornerstone of Grift’s music. It adds an utterly dark, emotional texture to the previous songs and connects them to the rest of the album. Seemingly with the goal of completing the essence of the two previous albums, Syner and Arvet, Grift manage to delight the listeners at many moments with Budet.
Heaven Shall Burn – Of Truth And Sacrifice (Century Media)
In the current era of singles and short attention spans, double albums are quickly becoming much less common. The veteran German band Heaven Shall Burn are issuing Of Truth And Sacrifice with 19 songs clocking in at nearly 100 minutes.
The band’s first release in nearly four years spans a variety of styles from melodic death to metalcore to deathcore. You’ll even hear industrial/electronic elements on “La Resistance.” It’s an aggressive and passionate album with harsh vocals from Marcus Bischoff, but there are a lot of melodic moments as well. On the lyrical side, Heaven Shall Burn addresses topics such as anti-racism, anti-fascism and animal rights. They blend epic songs like the nearly nine minute “Expatriate” and “The Sorrows Of Victory” with compact tracks such as “Truther.” Even with so much material, there’s a surprisingly low amount of filler, keeping the listener engaged throughout.
Hyborian – Volume II (Season Of Mist)
As you can probably guess from the title, Volume II is the sophomore release from the Kansas City band Hyborian. The concept of tales about The Traveler continues from Volume I, and vocalist Martin Bush even wrote a novel that chronicles the origin of the character and acts as a companion piece to this album.
The music on the album starts with a strong sludge/stoner metal base, adding progressive elements along with heavier sections and melodic moments. You’ll hear influences of bands like High On Fire, Baroness and Mastodon on songs such as “Sanctuary” and “Expanse,” but Hyborian have their own approach that sets them apart. The songs on Volume II are very catchy (in both riffs and melodies), even as they shift tempos and intensities on a regular basis. It’s a strong successor to their debut, and should raise Hyborian’s profile in the stoner metal genre.
Malokarpatan – Krupinské Ohne (Invictus)
Slovakian band Malokarpatan return with their third album, Krupinské Ohne, the successor to 2017’s Nordkarpatenland, complete with more blackened heavy metal and songs I cannot begin to pronounce or spell. Think Mortuary Drape with more heavy metal structure, or maybe Master’s Hammer’s production quality or even the enigmatic Root as rituals and incantations swirl abound.
If Midnight are the more fun and less serious side of this metallic merger, Malokarpatan are the folky side which could be played at a ritual sacrifice, complete with excellent melodic soloing all around. The opening 13 minute epic “V brezových hájech poblíž Babinej” will hook you for a massive exodus for the better part of an hour. If you didn’t know Malokarpatan before this album, as fans of black metal, heavy metal or a combination thereof, you will now. This is their best yet.
Myrkur – Folkesange (Relapse)
Amalie Bruun has made a name for herself in black metal under the moniker Myrkur, but here on Folkesange she turns the tables on us, delivering twelve poignant, delicate folk songs deeply rooted in her Scandinavian heritage. Myrkur keeps things traditional here with the inclusion of nyckelharpe, mandola, and more, but adds a lush, modern sheen to the production.
Myrkur’s vocals are ethereal and heartfelt throughout, and the songs have a resonant, expansive feel to them. The combination of stellar, modern production and traditional instruments and vocals works wonderfully. In the midst of a multitude of metal releases, Folkesange can serve as a welcome palate cleanser, but it is too early to determine the album’s staying power.
Neck of the Woods – The Annex of Ire (Pelagic)
The Annex of Ire is the Vancouver, Canada band Neck of the Woods’ second album, and sees them continuing down the extreme progressive metal highway with no regard for others. Think of a hardcore-tinged, death metal-soaked version of Between the Buried and Me or Gojira, and you’ve got a handle on this album.
The music on The Annex of Ire is varied, propulsive, and hard-hitting, even when thinking of brief acoustic passages. There’s a ton of intricacy for progressive metal fans, yet at times the guitar solos possess a sort of classic metal feel to them. Musically, Neck of the Woods have nailed it here. Perhaps the only area of improvement would be the inclusion of clean vocals to offset Jeff Radomsky’s excellent but unvaried hardcore delivery.
Nite – Darkness Silence Mirror Flame (Creator-Destructor)
Take charging traditional heavy metal and throw raspy vocals on top of it, and what comes is an album like Nite’s Darkness Silence Mirror Flame. The poisonous vocal delivery pushes Nite’s debut into the arena of black metal, though the music is stuck in the 1980s in the best way. Kinetic guitar harmonies and galloping bass fuel the throwback style, as it’s clear these guys know their metal history.
Even the well-trodden ballad territory is given a pulse on “Bright,” as the band erupts into a delightful tempo uptick. It’s a change for an album that commits to stellar lead guitars and rousing climaxes yet falls into a rigid template by the album’s last third. The padded compositions allow the spotlight to fall on a top-notch song like “Bright.”
O Zorn! – Your Killer (Seeing Red)
O Zorn! formed a few years back, released a demo and album, had some lineup changes and now emerge with their second full-length Your Killer. The trio recorded the album at Foo Fighters legendary 606 Studio.
Downtuned riffs are the engine that drives Your Killer. Tracks like “Casket” shift from mid-paced doom to quicker sludge metal, while songs like “Bandini Mountain” keep the tempo deliberate and crushing. They go back and forth when it comes to length, stretching some songs out to the seven plus minute mark while keeping others in the three minute range. No matter if they are meandering through a variety of styles or efficiently blazing through a compact song, O Zorn! always keep things interesting.
Sweven – The Eternal Resonance (Ván)
Prior to the demise of Morbus Chron, they released the excellent Sweven, breaking from the more traditional death metal they had been playing previously. The album was a progressive metal masterpiece, but was unfortunately the band’s dying breath.
Six years later a resurrection has taken place and in a relatively quiet fashion, founding Morbus Chron member Robert Andersson and former live member of the band Isak Koskinen Rosemarin are joined by Jesper Nyrelius to form a band named Sweven after the legacy of old. What The Eternal Resonance sounds like is a spiritual successor to Sweven with plenty of allusions to Human and Testimony of the Ancients. “Mycelia” is gorgeous and well worth the price of admission. Expect to see this on a lot of lists later in the year.
White Stones – Kuarahy (Nuclear Blast)
When Opeth had some downtime after the Sorceress tour, bassist Martin Mendez formed the death metal band White Stones. Their debut album Kuarahy is named after his birthplace in Uruguay. Mendez handles guitar and bass duties, with Vidres A La Sang’s Eloi Boucherie on vocals and Jordi Farre on drums.
The songs written by Mendez are an interesting combination of various Opeth eras along with some different elements. The vocals are harsh, and along with death metal the songs have a lot of prog in their DNA. The prog is front and center on songs like “Drowned In Time” and “Guyra” while grooves are more prominent on “Rusty Shell” and “Taste Of Blood.” You’ll also hear Latin influences and some blackened moments. Mendez made the most of the opportunity to do some songwriting and explore his musical roots.
Wind Of The Black Mountains – Black Sun Shall Rise (Moribund)
Along with associated Michigan acts Masochist and Summon, Wind Of The Black Mountains were one of the earliest black metal bands in the United States. Band founder Tchort may have died in 2006, but his dark vision lives on through Moribund’s reissue of WOTBM’s 2002 sophomore album, Black Sun Shall Rise.
Black Sun Shall Rise is a barbaric offering deeply entrenched in the second wave of black metal. However, it contains aspects that were characteristically Michigan black metal. Some of these aspects such as the many stop-and-start tempo changes had more in common with death metal. Still, the screeching vocals are much higher than death metal. Also, the guitar solos are very much Michigan. Many of the notes are picked in the tremolo fashion of second wave black metal. It’s easy to see why Black Sun Shall Rise was so influential, not just because of the roots they laid down, but also the dark vibe they created.