This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Ataraxie, Bergraven, Buckcherry, Children Of Bodom, Holding Absence, Indestructible Noise Command, Kings Destroy, Meadows End, Mystifier, Omicider, Pterodactyl Problems, Ringare, Saver, Tesla and Tyr.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ataraxie – Résignés (Xenokorp)
Résignés is an eighty-minute, monolithic slab of down-tempo death metal. Ataraxie require the entire time, and two languages, to tell their stories. Simple bass lines, guitar harmonies and even cymbal beats create themes to construct and deconstruct. Sluggish tempos seem like an afternoon with Sisyphus, but harmonies extend and enhance paces. Intensity builds to fast crescendos, and then falls to stillness and slumber.
Drummer Pierre Sénécal creatively fills gaps between long notes, while keeping songs moving. Jonathan Théry brings all the psychosis together with tormented howls, abysmal groans, ala Autopsy and Disembowelment, and tormented cries. The mammoth riff initializing “People Swarming, Evil Ruling” is one of the most memorable parts on the album. “Les affres du trépas” reveals despair-driven ring outs comparable to My Dying Bride’s As The Flower Withers. Ataraxie’s song sculpting abilities on Résignés reveal why they’re considered one of France’s elite doom bands. The 80 minutes may seem an Odyssey, but worth the journey.
Bergraven – Det Framlidna Minnet (Nordvis)
It has been nearly a decade since the last Bergraven album. For a long time mastermind Par Stille was the only member, bringing in session musicians. For their fourth album Det Framlidna Minnet he has added his Stilla bandmates Andreas Johansson (bass) and J. Marklund (drums) to the lineup.
Bergraven’s brand of black metal is experimental and avant-garde. Tracks like “Allt” blend traditional elements with progressive tangents and even some saxophone. The songs are generally lengthy and unfold deliberately. “Den följsamma plågan” is one of the standouts, beginning acoustically before the groove and more extreme parts take precedence. The penultimate song “Till priset av vårt liv” is the album’s longest at nearly 11 minutes, its pace moderate but its variety dramatic. The album is intricate and meandering, but the road it leads down is a rewarding one.
Buckcherry – Warpaint (Red)
There has been some upheaval in Buckcherry since their last album, 2015’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. Frontman Josh Todd recorded a Josh Todd & The Conflict album, released in 2017. After a couple of lineup changes, Buckcherry have returned with Warpaint, their eighth full-length.
Buckcherry have always been able to write catchy, memorable hard rock songs, with a string of hit singles on their resume. That’s still the case, with numerous potential radio bangers such as the opening title track, the aptly titled ballad “Radio Song” and the urgent rocker “Bent.” Todd’s unique voice and the band’s swagger and sleazy edge gives Buckcherry a different vibe and sound than the typical radio-friendly rockers.
Children Of Bodom – Hexed (Nuclear Blast)
Finnish melodeath veterans Children Of Bodom have had a pretty stable lineup over their more than two decades, with four of the five members remaining from the beginning. They have had a lineup change for their latest album Hexed, with longtime rhythm guitarist Roope Latvala replaced by Daniel Freyberg (Naildown).
COB are firing on all cylinders, with frontman Alexi Laiho bringing his usual first-rate guitar work. Songs like opener “This Road,” the catchy “Under Grass And Clover” and the vicious “Kick In A Spleen” deliver the band’s trademark style, bringing ample variety if not much innovation or exploration. They close with a re-recorded version of “Knuckleduster” from their 2004 EP Trashed, Lost and Strungout. It’s a streamlined effort with a lot of quality songs.
Holding Absence – Holding Absence (SharpTone)
Holding Absence hail from Cardiff, Wales. They have been around since 2016, and the post hardcore quintet are issuing their self-titled debut album.
The songs on Holding Absence are atmospheric and earnest. Vocalist Lucas Woodland alternates between melodic singing and harsh vocals, with the clean vocals much more prevalent. He does well at both styles, though his singing a bit more distinctive and dynamic. Tracks with mostly melodic singing like “Your Love (Has Ruined My Life)” and “Like A Shadow” are infectious and accessible. It’s a crowded genre, but Holding Absence are promising newcomers.
Indestructible Noise Command perform thrash metal in a very modern sense, but with an old school twist. This is partially because their music spans the ’80s and recent years over their five full length releases. Terrible Things has razor sharp riffs. The music has nods to the eighties, but also has a groove reminiscent of more modern thrash tendencies. This style is welcome to hear as there aren’t a lot of bands playing thrash like this at the moment. The band really goes crazy and unleashes the riffs in a impactful fashion. The problem with the disc lies in how there is nothing overly progressive or interesting to be found here.
The music really is straightforward, but this method suits the band perfectly. They have a straight up thrash appeal that will make you get excited over the songs. The music is aggressive, but not overly so an brings huge chops to the table. The brash style of performance can be seen from the title track which crushes everything in its path. I just wish the band would experiment a bit because this music has the ability to feel a bit generic. Terrible Things is still one of the better thrash releases I’ve heard recently and will nicely fill in the hole in the genre at this moment.
Kings Destroy – Fantasma Nera (Svart)
On their fourth album Fantasma Nera, New Yorkers Kings Destroy enlisted producer David Bottrill. He has a diverse portfolio, having worked with everyone from King Crimson to Tool to Muse to Godsmack.
The result is an album that’s not as doom based as some of Kings Destroy’s past work. You’ll still hear plenty of downtuned riffage on songs such as “Unmake It” and “Seven Billion Drones,” but also more accessible rock based songs like “Barbarossa” and the post-grungy “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse.” They are equally adept at ’70s flavored throwbacks, ’90s vibes and modern styles, making for a wide ranging album spanning multiple eras.
Meadows End –The Grand Antiquation (Black Lion)
The Grand Antiquation is Meadows End‘s fourth full-length vision of symphonic death metal, complete with metallic groove. The Swedish band compose majestic symphonic passages with a touch of the gothic similar to Dimmu Borgir or Therion, while the groove recalls Scar Symmetry and Orphanage. “Devilution” opens the album dramatically with choir keys, militaristic drumming and a rich harmony for the backdrop of the chorus. Tommy “ReinXeed” Johansson of Sabaton plays a soaring, bluesy lead.
One of the more epic tracks, “Her Last Sigh Goodbye” shows Johan Brandberg project his voice in more of a shouting manner—different from the usual growls and deep screams. The female vocals and catchy harmonies on “The Insignificance of Man” create a hard contrast when Daniel Tiger’s blast beats arrive. The Grand Antiquation relates a modern sound with a slick production. Depending on one’s outlook in metal, it may sound too polished, but accessible, nonetheless.
Mystifier – Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia (Season of Mist)
Brazilian black/death cult Mystifier return with their first release in 17 years, Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia. Each track is a sonic ritual of blackened shrieks, death growls and spooky interludes. Some vocals have a ceremonial quality like the throaty, witch doctor variety and group chants on “Witching Lycanthropic Moon.” Noises bounce between speakers in a cold vortex on the last minute-and-a-half of the ending track “Chiesa dei Bambini Molestati.”
The group stick with a blackened death metal sound, but include moments of thrash, speed metal and doom. The bass is upfront. Drum beats usher tempo changes, from mid-tempo old school Cannibal Corpse-style blasts to the barbaric, tribal kettle drums on the doomy title track. Mystifier show continuity on Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia. With only five full-length releases over a thirty-years span, these ideas haven’t been convoluted by oversaturation. Mystifier are still one of the best extreme metal bands in South America.
When a band names their first song on the album “Hostage in the Pit,” as Omicida do on Defrauded Reign, their intent is immediate: music that gets crowds moving and bodies flying. In that regard, Omicida’s single-minded thrash metal does the work. The vocals are commandments screamed to the masses, the guitars spark fretboard fireworks, and the songs barrel ahead with little subtly. A few cleaner passages break up the mayhem, though never for more than a few dozen seconds.
Originality is not Omicida’s strong suit, as they ape bands of the past throughout. Hell, they even directly lift Slayer’s “South of Heaven” introduction onto “Unborn,” complete with the deafening drum fills. That’s really the most audacious example of blatant copying, though doing something like that proves that they have a way to go before making their sound less derivative.
If the band name and album title aren’t complicated enough for you, how about the list of genre’s Toronto’s Pterodactyl Problems encapsulates on their debut LP, Esoteric Hobbies? Hard rock, metal, punk, jazz, Canadiana, classical – you name it, these guys are incorporating it and for the most part, to successful effect.
Pterodactyl Problems are a band that most often succeeds when embracing their hard rock, metal, and pop-punk roots. The hot rockers on Esoteric Hobbies are almost all instant classics – these guys can blow things wide open when they want to. Where the album loses steam is in series of mellow songs that remind one of the Barenaked Ladies, and on an album with 13 tracks, it’s easy to pick a few that could have been left off.
Ringarë – Under Pale Moon (Iron Bonehead)
Ringarë play black metal with ambiance and atmosphere. The two-man group’s debut album Under Pale Moon recalls classic artists of this sub-genre including Burzum, Summoning, and early Dimmu Borgir and Emperor with the ambiance of Mortiis and Neptune Towers. Likpredikaren’s voice has a youthful Ihsahn quality to it, and is buried in the mix like early Emperor. His vocals are secondary, though, to the floating, mystical ambiance. No neo-classical shred here—keys and guitar that rise, fall, separate and congeal with heavily distorted guitars.
Under Pale Moon is a mood album with hypnotic effect. The album’s repetitive nature drills these minor harmonies into your skull, but it’s easy to mentally drift with little progression. “Through Forest and Fog” features some of the best keys on the album, but the eighteen minutes of some notes over and over leads to mental drift. The atmosphere is transcendent and darkly beautiful, but the songs can drag on repetitively.
Saver – They Came With Sunlight (Pelagic)
The silence between each note is where Saver find comfort on their debut album, They Came With Sunlight. Hate-filled feedback proceeds over riffs packed at maximum heaviness, as they never break free of any tempo considered toe-tapping. These songs are the kind of head bangers that strain the neck slowly over time. Synths are used to eerie effect on tunes like “Dissolve to Ashes.”
The shortest song is right under six minutes, so the fact that they are invested in stretched-out instrumental jams is expected. They Came With Sunlight is at its prime as a singular piece; there are no real “hit singles” here, but the album is a dynamic trip that squeezes the air out of everything it touches.
Tesla – Shock (Universal)
It’s hard to believe it, but Shock is only Tesla’s eighth proper studio album. After four classic releases from 1986-1994, things cooled down for these hard rock vets, and their output has been uneven in timeliness and quality. They still have a knack for hooks, but here on Shock they overplay their hand slightly by rolling out a very mellow record – of the twelve songs, only a few are bonafide fist-pumpers. Far more of the cuts are ballads or whimsical acoustic numbers.
Tesla are embracing the past by touring with Def Leppard, much like they did in the 1980s, and they’ve taken that collaboration a step further by having Phil Collen produce Shock, with poor results. There’s an attempt to dilute the band’s sound here with more commercial accents, including Def Leppard’s trademark big backing vocals (which are oddly buried in the mix), but this production just serves to take the band out of their comfort zone, resulting in another mixed bag of songs, much like their last couple of albums.
Tyr – Hel (Metal Blade)
For the first decade or so of their career, Faroe Islanders Tyr were very prolific, issuing seven studio albums between 2002 and 2013. After a more than five year gap, they are back with Hel.
This time around the songwriting duties were spread around a little more than usual, adding some diversity. Their progressive folk sound is intact, though the approach is more epic than their past few albums. They mix soaring metal tracks with English lyrics alongside folkier ballads like “Ragnars Kvæði” and “Álvur Kongur” that are sung in Faroese. It’s an ambitious effort with a lot of depth, though at nearly 70 minutes overstays its welcome by a song or two.