This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Amulet, Aseethe, Bethlehem, Black Label Society, Calyx, Entombed, Entrapment, Famous Last Words, Floating Worlds, Full Of Hell, Glassing, Haunt, Idle Hands, Lo-Pan, Necrosexual, October Tide, Paladin, Paul Gilbert and Vale Of Pnath.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Amulet – The Inevitable War (Dissonance)
Blasting forth with a fresh lineup, Amulet‘s sophomore record is an exceptional work of classic metal. The Inevitable War takes the band to new heights and offers what is sure to be a contender for the best classic metal album of the year.
There’s really nothing to dislike. The mixing is flawless, the band is exceptionally talented, and the music simply bleeds energy. Each anthemic chorus hits with a similar impact as classic Manowar, and the galloping rhythm section chugs away with the likeness of Iron Maiden. With five years separating The Inevitable War from the aptly-named The First, it’s evident that a lot has been going on behind the scenes, but The Inevitable War marks the return of these heavy metal heavyweights.
Aseethe – Throes (Thrill Jockey)
In their dozen years of existence, the Iowa doom band Aseethe have been prolific, releasing 9 EPs and splits along with a pair of full-lengths. Throes is the trio’s third full-length.
The emotional timbre of this one is wrath, after their previous album centered around hopelessness. The songs are lengthy and deliberate. The opening title track has heavy downtuned riffs and an oppressive feel. That’s contrasted by the opening section of “To Victory,” which begins with sparse, mellow guitars before the doom kicks in a couple minutes into the song. Drone is front and center on the instrumental “Suffocating Burden.” It’s an absorbing album with a lot of ebbs and flows that finds Aseethe exploring numerous styles, atmospheres and textures.
Bethlehem – Lebe Dich Leer (Prophecy)
The veteran German band Bethlehem have traversed various musical paths over the years, from depressive black to experimental to black/death. They have also had numerous lineup changes over the years. Lebe Dich Leer (“empty yourself by living”) is the second Bethlehem album to feature vocalist Onielar.
Her delivery is sometimes fierce and aggressive, other times reserved. She goes from screams to whispers to growls on “Niemals Mehr Leben” that also incorporates some industrial flavors among a varied atmosphere. “Wo Alte Spinnen Bruten” is the album’s longest and most varied track, incorporating everything from doom to death to ambient with numerous vocal styles as well. Bethlehem transition easily from experimental to straightforward on an album that’s eclectic while still managing to be cohesive.
Black Label Society – Sonic Brew 20th Anniversary Blend 5.99 – 5.19 (eOne)
In 1999 Black Label Society unleashed their debut album Sonic Brew. For the 20th anniversary of the album’s release, Zakk Wylde decided to reissue the record with some sonic enhancements. He says that the performances are a snapshot in time, they just added on top of what was on the original recordings. The result is Sonic Brew 20th Anniversary Blend 5.99 – 5.19.
After years with Ozzy Osbourne, Wilde was a known commodity, giving Black Label Society a nice head start. Sonic Brew was heavy and bluesy, with some southern rock flavor. “Bored To Tears” and “Born To Lose” were released as singles. The album originally charted in Japan, but it wouldn’t be until 2003’s The Blessed Hellride that they would crack the U.S. album chart. In addition to the sonic enhancements of the 14 original songs, the 2019 version of Sonic Brew includes a full band/piano version of “Spoke In The Wheel” along with an acoustic rendition of “Black Pearl.” Two decades later the album holds up well, establishing the base for a very successful career for BLS.
Calyx – Vientos Arcaicos (Iron Bonehead)
Calyx play medieval black metal in the vein of the first two Satyricon albums. The group hails from Spain, though, a country with its own history of “dark medieval times.” All titles and lyrics on their debut full-length album Vientos Arcaicos are written and sung in Spanish. Medieval themes are present from martial movements during the intro and preceding “Loarre.” “La venganza de las brujas” and “La Sima” feature hidromiel swinging metal riffs. Goblin shrieks and tremolo picking harmonize well during blacker moments. The title track has a touch of first wave black metal in the galloping rhythm near the two-minute mark, as does the black/speed metal attack on “Asedio Infernal.”
Calyx’s short-length recordings revealed greatness. The group proves the strength of these demos was not a fluke with Vientos Arcaicos. Vientos Arcaicos is for those who dream of ancient castles in ruin, armored soldiers marching into battle or cackling witches traveling on astral planes.
Entombed – Clandestine Live (Threeman)
Entombed original members Nicke Andersson, Uffe Cederlund and Alex Hellid celebrated the 25th birthday of Clandestine by recording the entire album in two acts—one with and another without the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and Choir. This review concerns the band set. The group plans to release the symphonic set on a later, undisclosed date.
Released in ’92, during the golden age of death metal, the signature maxed-out distorted, chainsaw guitar sound is given justice on the house recording. While some of the atmosphere and vocal cacophony are not present in the live setting—Morbus Chron alumnus Robert Andersson revisits many vocal nuances characteristic of the studio album. From death-n-roll solos to D-beats and grimy gallops—Clandestine set a standard most bands could not emulate. Clandestine Live isn’t the long-awaited studio album fans yearn for, but a good reminder of what the Swedish Hall of Fame band are capable of creating.
Entrapment – Imminent Violent Death (Dawnbreed)
Entrapment have a debt to Entombed on Imminent Violent Death, their fourth full-length. Their music is similar to Entombed’s early albums, though the band does a pretty good job incorporating their own sound for our listening pleasure. The songs have that groove that made Entombed such a draw on their first couple albums. There is a strong death metal presence and it infects every pore of the work.
It is an album for the classic fans of the genre as there is that old school presence to the disc. Still, even with the vicious riffing, the album comes up a bit generic sounding. Don’t get me wrong, Entrapment are very good at what they do. The songwriting is top notch, the musicianship is very solid and the songs go by very quickly. On the whole, this is a strong album of death metal that’s a throwback to the classics.
Famous Last Words – Arizona (SBG)
After the release of their third full-length The Incubus in 2016, the post hardcore band Famous Last Words went through some difficulties and were unsure about their future. After some lineup shifts, they have pared down from a quintet to a quartet and re-emerged with the EP Arizona.
Frontman Jeremy “JT” Tollas is the lone remaining original member, with longtime guitarist Evan Foley also taking on rhythm duties, and previous rhythm guitarist Tyler Myklebust moving to bass. The band’s music is still catchy and accessible with Tollas incorporating both melodic and harsh vocals. Lyrically, though, they are taking a more personal approach. The five tracks on the EP have moments both heavy and catchy, a nice balance that whets the appetite for their next full-length.
Floating Worlds – Battleship Oceania (Pride & Joy)
Greek band Floating Worlds have been around for over twenty years, but Battleship Oceania is only their third album. This time around the symphonic progressive metal band are gracing us with a concept album detailing the adventures of a legendary battleship and its crew. Perfect subject matter for this style of music. The closest band out there to what Floating Worlds attempt here would be the bombastic prog of Avantasia.
The songs on Battleship Oceania are full of pomp, with tons of keyboards and plenty of variety in song styles. Jon Soti’s voice at times is like a cross between Geoff Tate and Tobias Sammet. While there are a few gems on this album, namely “Captain Evil” and “New Mission,” Battleship Oceania suffers from awkward pacing (the first two songs are a symphonic intro and a ballad) and bloat (12 songs clocking in at 72 minutes). When it’s good it is quite good, but paring things down and rearranging the material would be a boon here.
Full of Hell – Weeping Choir (Relapse)
Full of Hell waste no time in following up 2017’s Trumpeting Ecstasy, as Weeping Choir opens with “Burning Myrrh” and pure unadulterated fury. The band continues to experiment with doom elements on “Armory of Obsidian Glass.” For a powerviolence/hardcore band it takes up nearly one third of the album’s run time, but it adds in a layer of crushing guitar tone and in its latter half it crescendos into a surprising amount of emotion and speed.
One of the more blunt tracks that is a grinding hardcore romp on “Downward. Drummer Dave Bland in particular is a battery beast and this track is no exception to the rule. Fans of the band’s last album will be happy to hear that they are continuing along the same path musically and 2019 is better for it.
Glassing – Spotted Horse (Brutal Panda)
On Spotted Horse, the trio that makes up Glassing can be outright mean with their riffage, then piece together a stark ambient song, bringing it all back with a hardcore stomp. The shifts can be a bit intimidating upon first listen, as the band doesn’t offer a training guide to the listener. Their stone-faced sonic demeanor intensifies the ever-present jammy vibes, where vocals are sidelined for instrumental savagery.
Beauty is not something that would seem to be associated with Spotted Horse, but Glassing somehow pull it off with the subdued tempos of “The Wound is Where the Light Enters” and “Coven.” The feedback is gone, and the production opens into cleaner-sounding melodies. It’s not done enough to lose its effect, though it makes up the best parts of Spotted Horse.
Haunt – If Icarus Could Fly (Shadow Kingdom)
Even though their debut was less than a year ago (followed by an EP a few months ago), Haunt have already released their second full-length album. Clearly, the band have wasted absolutely no time in dishing out yet another hefty serving of late-’80s speed metal, and they don’t even suffer a bit for it. If Icarus Could Fly is genuine, energetic, and super heavy.
Nearly all of the guitar solos fly with musical madness. The vocal effects and crunchy guitars are sometimes reminiscent of Ozzy, but Haunt manages to steer clear of derivative tropes, instead driving hard with relatively inspired riffs. The short run time allows the album to run relentlessly throughout its entirety, making If Icarus Could Fly a lean, mean, metal machine.
Idle Hands – Mana (Eisenwald)
After an EP last year, the Portland, Oregon traditional metal/gothic band Idle Hands emerge with Mana, their full-length debut.
A lot bands blend goth with doom, but mixing traditional metal with gothic elements is less common. Idle Hands play mostly uptempo songs with twin guitar melodies and a lot of memorable hooks. They do slow things down from time to time on songs such as “Don’t Waste Your Time” and “It’ll Be Over Before You Know It.” Gabriel Franco’s emotive vocals have an ’80s new wave style with a lot of similarities to singers like The Cure’s Robert Smith, but with a slightly lower pitch. Tracks like “Cosmic Overdrive” and “Give Me To The Night” have heaviness, guitar solos and melodies that you’d expect from NWOBHM, but the vocals give it a very distinctive sound. The album flies by in 40 minutes with minimal filler, a very impressive debut.
Lo-Pan – Subtle (Aqualamb)
It has been nearly five years since the last full-length from Lo-Pan, although the Ohio hard rockers did issue an EP in 2017. Subtle was produced by Grammy winner James Brown (Foo Fighters, Ghost).
Lo-Pan are versatile, playing heavy rock with some stoner flavor on songs like “10 Days,” featuring doomy moments on tracks such as “Everything Burns” and showcasing psychedelic sections on “Khan.” No matter what direction the music goes, the potent, soaring vocals of Jeff Martin give the band a distinctive sound. Subtle is a well-rounded effort that will appeal to fans of numerous genres.
Necrosexual’s music is black, as is their humor (probably their coffee, too). The Philly band’s sophomore LP The Gory Hole Overture In F# is humorous where many horror/satanic bands are not. Just read the title of the album. From the dungeon-ish production to the vocal delivery and guitar sound, there is no doubting their love for early black metal, especially Venom. Shades of Mercyful Fate and Destruction appear during falsetto projections on the anthemic track “Necromutants Ride Through Hell.” Black Widow’s early ‘70s occult rock jam “In Ancient Dayz” received a metalized reworking truly fitting to The Necrosexual’s style.
Necrosexual aren’t the first band to take influence from the fathers of black metal, but probably the first of this ilk to make necrophilia puns or professional wrestling promos. The Gory Hole Overture in F# is a fun listen. It has a Ted Bundy kind of charm.
October Tide – In Splendor Below (Agonia)
October Tide‘s history dates back to the mid-’90s. The current incarnation of the Swedish melodic death/doom outfit only includes one member from that era, guitarist Fredrik Norrman. In Splendor Below is the group’s sixth album.
There have been some lineup changes since 2016’s Winged Waltz. Mattias Norrman moves from bass to guitar, and the two Normans provide excellent guitar work on the album. Melodic leads and solos are contrasted by Alexander Hogbom’s harsh vocals. This album has death metal front and center, though there are still melancholy atmospheres and doom moments. Each song is lengthy enough to have an effective musical and emotional arc without overstaying its welcome. Tracks like “Stars Starve Me” and “Guide My Pulse” expertly blend the melodic and the extreme.
Paladin – Ascension (Prosthetic)
Okay, here’s one of the more interesting debut albums of the year. Atlanta, Georgia is home to Paladin, a quartet that may be hard to pigeonhole. Thrash? Sure. Power metal? Definitely? Black metal? Yep, it’s in there. Melodeath? Of course. It’s a lot to cram into Ascension, but somehow Paladin manage to pull it off.
Face-shredding riffs power all the material on Ascension, at times razor-sharp and technically stunning, at other times simply primeval and fist-pumping. No less than five vocals styles are employed throughout, all of them on point. And speaking of on point, the songwriting here is top-notch, especially for a debut album. All eleven tracks are strong in their own right. Paladin just might have the most enjoyable power-thrash album of the year here.
Paul Gilbert – Behold Electric Guitar (Music Theories)
It is rare we get a chance to hear a perfect record, especially one with no overdubs, repeat, no overdubs, yet Paul Gilbert (formerly of Mr. Big and Racer X) with Behold Electric Guitar, succeeds in giving us the best instrumental album since Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior. Part jazz, part metal, part blues, this charming, intricate twelve-song masterpiece is an absolute treasure for the listener.
Besides the superior shredding and phenomenal song arrangements, the first noticeable feature is the way Gilbert, during the more melodic instrumentals, makes the guitar actually sound like a singing voice. It is wonderful and uncanny. The progressive flavor of the record in its entirety is never pretentious nor so complex it just sounds like “math.” Instead, it is inventive, surprising, and ultimately satisfying. Prior fans of Paul Gilbert rejoice. New fans, welcome.
Vale of Pnath – Accursed (Willowtip)
Vale of Pnath’s Accursed EP is their first new material since their 2016 sophomore album II, and puts an emphasis on the orchestral side of the group. The technical precision is still there, especially in the rhythm section, but the solos have been deprioritized for a riff-centric experience, with the occasional lead. This gives the electronics/symphonic sounds more of a presence, including an instrumental intro track and an interlude.
The lineup isn’t the same as their last album, with a new bassist and guitarist in play, but their performance is seamlessly integrated into Vale of Pnath’s Lovecraftian world. These themes haven’t diminished in the years since II, and so hasn’t the band’s impressive musical feats of tech death/black metal.