This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Dark Numbers, Destrage, Diamond Head, Earth, Emil Bulls, Epectase, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Kull, Martyrdod, Nocturnus AD, Rendezvous Point, Siamese, Soto, Stormhammer, Tanith, Vale and Widower.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale. For more information on our writers, go here.
Dark Numbers – If It Was It Would Be So (Nadine)
Portland, Oregon’s Dark Numbers are a new band, but their members are veterans of the scene with experience in numerous other bands. If It Was It Would Be So is their debut.
It’s an eclectic album, driven by downtuned riffs. Opener “Middle Night” is sludgey, with some nice acapella vocal harmonies at the end. “Flament” is more experimental, with spoken word vocals from Natalie Lucio buried in the mix. In addition to doom and sludge, Dark Numbers incorporate the aforementioned experimental and avant-garde along with some progressive touches. Saxophone is prominent on the closing track “The Mariner.” Lucio’s vocals are multi-faceted, from spoken word to soft crooning to powerful singing. It’s a very dynamic release with twists and turns around every corner.
Destrage – The Chosen One (Metal Blade)
The Chosen One, the fifth album from the Italian progressive metalcore band Destrage, was meticulously created. It took them a year to write, creating and discarding immense amounts of material before honing in on the eight tracks that made the final cut.
Balancing mosh-worthy riffs and progressive forays, Destrage bring some different things to the table this time around, from alternate guitar tunings to a baritone saxophone. Catchy guitar parts and melodic singing shift to harsh growls and unpredictable parts. “Hey Stranger!” is fairly straightforward and accessible, while “The Gifted One” has numerous ebbs and flows. Destrage’s brand of metalcore is engaging and creative, managing to be clever without pretension.
Diamond Head – The Coffin Train (Silver Lining)
For most people, Diamond Head were simply a footnote in the history of the NWOBHM. Lightning to the Nations is widely considered an extremely influential album, most notably by Metallica. Success has eluded the band, but they’ve occasionally popped up with new material, most recently 2016’s good but not great self-titled effort. Virtually the same lineup (aside from bass guitar) is back now with Coffin Train, the band’s eighth album.
Coffin Train is an admirable step forward in all facets. Guitarist (and sole original member) Brian Tatler has amazing chops, with memorable riffs and killer lead breaks, and Rasmus Bom Andersen is an amazing vocalist here, taking these songs to a whole other level. And the songs? They range from good to stellar, with no filler anywhere. Add in the vintage, sweet ’80s production, and you’ve got a banger of a heavy metal album.
Earth – Full Upon Her Burning Lips (Sargent House)
For their latest album (and first standalone studio effort since 2014), Earth have been pared down to a duo. Founder Dylan Carlson handles guitar and bass duties, with Adrienne Davies on drums.
Earth have dialed back the effects and soundscapes this time around, delivering a very straightforward album. The opening 12 minute opus “Datura’s Crimson Veils” sets the stage, with deliberate, repetitive riffs and subtle guitar parts that add spice and variety. The pace throughout is generally slow, with the band amping up the heaviness on tracks like “The Colour Of Poison” and emphasizing a softer sound on songs such as “Descending Belladonna.” An hour long, slow paced instrumental album isn’t for everyone, but for those who appreciate Earth’s subtle brand of psychedelic/post rock it’s an immersive and mysterious experience.
Emil Bulls – Mixtape (AFM)
Since I first heard metal covers of video game themes on YouTube as a kid, they’ve become so overdone that I’m exhausted by the thought of them. It’s not often that they’re done well beyond the usual double time/distorted guitars/throwing it into a minor key formula, so I was very wary of this album. However, German metallers Emil Bulls have struck the perfect balance of originality and sticking to the source material in their latest record, Mixtape: a 14-track cover album of hits from the ’90s and ’00s.
Whether it’s Destiny’s Child or Billy Idol, Emil Bulls’ version is an all-around improvement. Rather than just tweaking a couple things and calling it a metal cover, the band masterfully crafts a metal atmosphere quite naturally without forcing it. Honestly, if you had never heard these songs before (which you definitely have), they’d sound like originals. But, it is a cover album of pop songs, so Mixtape can only score so high.
Epectase – Astres (I, Voidhanger)
The French pair of musicians that make up Epectase: Avitus and Vague, use the sinister energy of black metal as a starting point on Astres. That point trails off into more experimental/progressive arenas, with each of the five songs either near or over ten minutes. Cold ambiance, extended sections without vocals, and the occasional rousing melodic wail gives Astres strong legs to justify its extensive song lengths.
For a first album, Epectase have no qualms about subverting any expectations of what a black metal band should be. “Solar Winds/Climax” has no traces of the genre’s conventions anywhere, surrounded by an almost new wave-ish vibe. A piano shows up on “La Dédale des Astres et des Âmes” and closer “La Mer Pourpre” spends almost half of its 18 minutes in an ethereal haze of soft guitars. These aspects help give Astres considerable appeal.
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Veleno (Nuclear Blast)
The Italian symphonic death metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse have undergone some changes since their last album, 2016’s King. Vocalist/guitarist Tommaso Riccardi and guitarist Cristiano Trionferra have departed. Francesco Paoli, who has done vocals in the past, shifts from drums to vocals/guitar for this album. David Fochitto (Stormlord) is now the drummer, with Fabio Bartoletti (Deceptionist) added as a second guitarist.
Even with the lineup shifts, the band’s sound is still consistent, blending crushing death metal with orchestral elements. Fleshgod Apocalypse used actual orchestral ensembles instead of relying on technology. The production allows the subtlety of the orchestral parts and choirs to shine through without tempering the extremity of the death metal sections. Operatic vocals from
Veronica Bordacchini on tracks such as “Monnalisa” add even more diversity. Songs like “Sugar” shift from intense death metal to grandiose, cinematic and dramatic sections and back to technical death. Sometimes relentless, other times atmospheric and melodic, Veleno begins a new era for the band on a very strong note.
Kull – Exile (Black Lion)
We go from symphonic death to symphonic black metal. Kull were formed by four of the five members of Bal-Sagoth along with vocalist Tarkan Alp (Dyscaphia).
Originally planned as the seventh Bal-Sagoth album and with 80 percent of that band, Exile obviously follows Bal-Sagoth’s musical pathways. Prominent keyboards from Jonny Maudling complement his brother Chris Maudling’s guitar. And while there are dense, symphonic parts throughout the album, Kull also incorporate straightforward metal in small doses from time to time, which actually gives the orchestral parts even more impact. “A Summoning To War” is very dramatic, while “Pax Imperialis” is faster and more intense. Kull do an excellent job of maintaining Bal-Sagoth’s legacy while moving forward with a new vocalist that help give them their own identity.
Martyrdöd – Hexhammaren (Southern Lord)
Swedish hardcore veterans Martyrdöd return with their follow up to the powerful List, a benchmark album from a country with a storied history in extreme music. Hexhammaren showcases all the best parts of the band with their heavy metal badges worn squarely on their collective chests.
The album, which keeps up a blazing pace really hits its stride at “Nästa Syrien” and never looks back. A song that starts out like a slow march and then charges forward with riffs that draw in the listener’s emotions. The band doesn’t need to fly at Mach 5 to truly soar, their attack is about sonic balance and they do it well. This isn’t as consistent an affair as Elddop and List, but it is a worthy addition to your hardcore collection.
Nocturnus AD – Paradox (Profound Lore)
In 1990, Nocturnus released The Key, a seminal death metal record that matched its sci-fi mystique with prominent keyboards. That doesn’t seem so unusual now, but in 1990, that was almost unheard of. Three decades later, the sequel to this album, Paradox, has come to fruition. Nocturnus AD is the product of original Nocturnus drummer/vocalist Mike Browning, plus members from his After Death project he formed in the early 2000s.
Paradox is not just pointless hype meant to sell albums, but a legitimate second chapter that continues the story from The Key. The keyboards are front and center, Browning’s distinguishable bark is still sharp, and the guitarists trade off solos with technical mastery. Sure, Browning is the only member who was involved with The Key’s creation, but Paradox feels like the Nocturnus album that should’ve came after 1992’s Thresholds.
Rendezvous Point – Universal Chaos (Long Branch)
Rendezvous Point have progressive metal in their grasp on their second full-length Universal Chaos. The music has many different shades and paints an atmospheric picture. Despite being reasonably complex, the songs have a wonderful accessible vibe to them that makes them even more appealing. The music is sort of dark in a manner similar to Nevermore or Anubis Gate, though they are highly different than those bands.
The band even changes it up a bit to bring an alternative vibe on “Unfaithful” that is similar to Nine Inch Nails. Overall, there is a lot of variety on this disc and has some big powerful moments that stick out from the rest. Still, the album loses a bit in terms of the simplicity that it uses. However, the music has the right mood to attract an audience and is very colorful and vibrant. This makes it worth listening to alone. Universal Chaos comes recommended to fans of the progressive metal genre.
Siamese – Super Human (Long Branch)
Siamese, originally known as Siamese Fighting Fish, are a Danish pop metal band, with the emphasis on pop. Super Human is their fifth album.
The album is filled with radio-friendly songs that have catchy hooks and singalong choruses. Opener “B.A.N.A.N.A.S. gives a wink to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” while “Ocean Bed” and “Not Coming Home” injects a little heaviness. The 9 songs have no filler and whiz by in just over 30 minutes. The guitar heavy songs are the strongest, with poppy electronics watering down some of them. Though there are some metal elements, this album will appeal more to rock and pop aficionados.
Soto – Origami (InsideOut)
If you listen to hard rock or metal, you have heard Jeff Scott Soto’s voice. The man has fronted over a dozen bands, and guested on scores of albums. The man is versatile, equally at home belting out metal anthems and hard rock ballads. Soto is the moniker given to his heavier, more metallic project, although here the band does include some songs that are more of a hard rock nature.
Origami is Soto’s third release; ten slick metal songs featuring some blistering guitar work and Soto’s charismatic vocals. While the songs are well performed (despite some dubious drum production), the only number that really stands out is an excellent cover of Michael Jackson’s “Give in to Me” to close the album. Origami is a solid but unspectacular slice of modern, slick metal.
Stormhammer – Seven Seals (Massacre)
Stormhammer are here with a reinvented sound and new vocalist on their seventh album, Seven Seals. After six albums, you’d think that maybe it’s all downhill from here, but, as so many bands prove time and time again, metal gets even harder with age. Seven Seals is a riff-heavy mixup of different metal genres, which makes for a dynamic experience that has plenty to offer.
While the primary undertone is undoubtedly power metal, the absence of keys and lack of refinement gives Seven Seals a heavier, grittier, rawer feel. This, combined with a hefty death metal influence (most apparent in “Your Nemesis” and “Deal with the Dead”), allows for some truly colossal moments. A few of the tracks are very straightforward and there’s almost nothing exceptional here, but this is a really solid record.
Tanith – In Another Time (Metal Blade)
Russ Tippins of NWOBHM legends Satan comes to showcase his hard rock skills with a new NYC based outfit called Tanith. It’s a band with dual vocal duties, shared between Tippins and the powerful Cindy Maynard with an overall sound that will take you back to the ‘70s.
Both songs from their prior Citadel EP make their way onto In Another Time along with new tracks like “Under The Stars” and “Dionysus” evoking bands such as Thin Lizzy in the process, if only the dual lead guitars were replaced with vocalists. This shifting vocal dynamic is unique to this style of hard rock and makes Tanith feel all that more special. Tippins and fellow axeman Charles Newton navigate instrumental passages with beautiful harmonies before they dive headfirst into some fat riffs and hooks. This is a fun an exciting new rock band that any fan can enjoy.
Vale – Burden of Sight (The Flenser)
Vale use their home of Oakland, California as inspiration to the pervasive side of humanity shown off on Burden of Sight. There’s a lot of injustice in this world, and the album title could be a metaphor for the toll put upon us by seeing this injustice. This message is firmly planted with vicious intent by the black metal Vale push out, a near-raucous pace occasionally restrained by electronics-driven outros on most of the songs.
These outros play off the interconnection between each of these six tracks, and the album is better off for this kind of structuring. “The Guilded Path” and “Grief Undone” stifle the tremolo-led madness for slow reflection, forcing the listener to get a clear glimpse at the horror vocalist Kate Coysh describes. Though the horror is based in reality, it’s digestible thanks to Vale’s to-the-point mentality on Burden of Sight.
Widower – Cataclysmic Sorcery (Black Market Metal)
Widower, a black/thrash metal band from Austin, Texas, maul its way through the nine songs on their debut album, Cataclysmic Sorcery. The “sorcery” in question is one derived from the hearts of the impure, the soulless bound to the spirit of pure evil. The band has spent the better part of the decade gathering themselves for this first album, with several EPs and demos to build from.
The finish product is a blur of blackened lunacy with the free spirit of thrash charging it forward. There’s a portion of this album around the halfway mark when the band is in full riot mode, with guitar solos screeching out a powerful war cry. The last three or four songs tweak this mode slightly, with lengthier compositions emphasizing varying tempos. Widower doesn’t allow this to replace the vigorous onslaught of Cataclysmic Sorcery.