This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include reviews of Alestorm, Atavistia, Behemoth, Blacktop Mojo, Bleed From Within, Centinex, Def Leppard, Deified, Grave Digger, Many Blessings, Mrs. Piss, Northwind, Paralysis, Solar Flare, Sorcerer, Toronto, Vandenberg and Xibalba.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alestorm – Curse of the Crystal Coconut (Napalm)
Ahoy! The world’s greatest pirate metal drinking crew is back, with eleven zany tales of debauchery and escapades. Curse of the Crystal Coconut is Alestorm’s sixth album, and the band seeks to up the ante here, with all manners of off-kilter instrumentation and hysterical lyrics. Finely-crafted power metal is the name of the game, with plenty of snazzy synth work and traditional instruments to boot.
Normally, one would consider something like Alestorm a gag band. But the fact is, these guys write some of the catchiest metal tunes going. Sure, lyrics to some songs (well, all the songs) like “Shit Boat” or “Chomp Chomp” are ludicrous, and Christopher Bowes’ delivery of them is more over the top than Jim Carrey’s acting, but we’ll all be damned landlubbers if it works wonderfully. Of course, what most of us really want is the special edition, featuring 16th century interpretations of these songs.
Though originally starting out as a solo project for musician Mattias Sippola, Atavistia have expanded into a full group for their second album, The Winter Way. Weaving through melodic death metal with prevalent use of orchestration, there’s a sense of each song being its own expedition through a world of mystique and wonder. This world takes about an hour to explore, as the songs are kept at or near 10 minutes on average, save for an instrumental opener.
That’s a lot of music, and the first few songs don’t exactly land their mark. Stick with it, and the second half of the album makes the bloated lengths manageable. The guitars amp up the soloing, the solid singing from Sippola gets more leeway, and the heavy usage of symphonic elements proves to be an advantage. Cut a song or two out of The Winter Way, and Atavistia would’ve had better results for their sophomore full-length.
Behemoth – A Forest (Metal Blade)
In 2018 Behemoth released the well-received I Loved You At Your Darkest, and earlier this year frontman Nergal’s side project Me And That Man released their second album. On that record one of the guest vocalists was Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth. He returns on the new Behemoth four track EP A Forest.
When many bands do covers, it’s basically a karaoke version with no originality. Not so here, as Behemoth give an entirely new twist on the Cure’s “A Forest.” The morose new wave track is given an ominous extreme metal rebirth with Kvarforth’s unhinged vocals. In addition to the studio and live version of “A Forest,” there are two new songs in the vein of the I Loved You At Your Darkest. The urgent and groovy “Shadows ov Ea Cast Upon Golgotha” and the regal “Evoe” are solid songs that whet the appetite for Behemoth’s next full-length.
Less than a year after the release of Under The Sun, Texas troubadours Blacktop Mojo return with the four song EP Static.
It’s a varied release. Opener “The End” is a rousing hard rock/grunge track while “Watch Me Drown” is bluesy and downtempo. “Leave It Alone” is an emotional, acoustic ballad and closer “Signals Gone” keeps the acoustic vibe with a bluesier twist. Matt James has a powerful and versatile voice, and while Blacktop Mojo don’t have the high profile of some of their contemporaries, this EP shows their brand of southern/classic/hard rock is an appealing one.
Bleed From Within – Fracture (Century Media)
In their decade-plus of existence, the Scottish band Bleed From Within‘s sound has evolved. Starting with more of a deathcore approach, these days the band blends metalcore, melodic death metal and groove.
Their fifth full-length Fracture continues their streak of one-word titles. The songs are crisp and well-produced combinations of heavy riffs and clever melodies, topped with mostly harsh vocals from Scott Kennedy with some periodic singing vocals. The strongest songs are when the balance is tilted toward the extreme such as “Into Nothing” and “Fall Away.” Trivium’s Matt Heafy provides a guest solo on “Night Crossing.”
Centinex – Death In Pieces (Agonia)
Established in 1990, Centinex are one of Sweden’s earliest death metal bands. The group has undergone many lineup and label changes. Bassist Martin Schulman is the only original member. These changes may partially explain the band’s change in sound from album to album. Death In Pieces, the third consecutive album released via Agonia Records, reveals another lineup change.
While one can find traces of the Entombed crew, Centinex albums are far too creative to be mere clones. Much of their career was spent on something more akin to Gothenburg. This time the group opts for groove that brings to mind Sweden’s Big Four, but with a touch of American death. “Sacrifice” contains riffs Obituary fans will salivate over. This is not a blast beat album, it is one of gritty, mid-paced grooves. Although Centinex have varied their style through out their career, Death In Pieces is consistent with their Agonia Records output.
Def Leppard – London To Vegas (Eagle Rock)
Fans of Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers Def Leppard may not be able to see them play live this summer, and if that’s the case, there are a couple of shows in the London To Vegas collection to tide them over. The 2 DVD/4 CD set includes two concert films: Hysteria At The O2 and Hits Vegas: Live At Planet Hollywood.
The band’s debut at London’s O2 arena in December of 2018 saw them play their smash hit 1987 Hysteria in full plus some other hits such as “Rock Of Ages” and “Photograph.” In 2019 they played a residency in Las Vegas, with Hits Vegas including the songs you’d expect along with some deeper cuts like “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”, “Paper Sun” and “Promises” and acoustic renditions of tracks such as “Let Me Be The One” and “Two Steps Behind.” There’s bonus material as well, including the “Hysteria: Then And Now” documentary. With nearly 50 songs from throughout their career, London To Vegas is a pricey but worthy purchase for Def Leppard fans.
Deified‘s EP Anthrobscene has a nice mix of thrash and death metal tendencies blending the groove of thrash with the aggression of death metal to the highest potential point possible. The music has harsh vocals, but more simplistic groove oriented structures that point towards the thrash genre. A reasonable comparison is bands like Sylosis and Revocation, although I believe this album has more of a death metal component than does either of those bands.
The entire affair is a fun listen, but doesn’t live up to some albums from either of the subgenres it tries to copy. It thus feels like it isn’t quite living up to its potential. Still, the songwriting is very solid and the musicianship is crisp enough leading to a fulfilling overall experience. This is one of those hybrids that is successful enough at combining two genres in an interesting and effective manner. Fans of the two genres mentioned should definitely check out England’s Deified.
Grave Digger – Fields of Blood (Napalm)
Twenty albums in and the progenitors of German power metal are still churning out records. Since 1984’s debut Heavy Metal Breakdown, Grave Digger have gone through numerous lineup changes, and even band name changes. Through it all they’ve plugged away, with singer Chris Boltendahl being the only original member. He long ago shed his Udo Dirkschneider rasp, favoring a rougher delivery.
Like many of the band’s past albums, Fields of Blood once again deals with themes of medieval Scotland and William Wallace. Odd for a German band to be obsessed with Scottish culture, but there you have it. Through twelve songs here, Grave Digger plug away in competent but unspectacular power metal fashion, churning out anthem after anthem about war, clans, and freedom. In small doses it is effective, but Fields of Blood wears out its welcome before the record ends.
Many Blessings – Emanation Body (Translation Loss)
Ethan McCarthy is a busy man fronting extreme bands Primitive Man and Vermin Womb, while also being one of the driving forces in the Denver underground music scene. He has also found the time to put together his one man noise act Many Blessings.
On the surface it is less abrasive as his other music. It also showcases a particular kind of pain and uncertainty that he had yet to delve into. Many Blessings set a mood that has an uneasy, almost unsettling atmosphere allowing your mind to wander, think and consider the unknowns in this world. In these uncertain times, we need this kind of music to let our minds expand, but also to remind us that we are not out of this yet and that uncertain feeling goes far beyond the music.
Mrs. Piss – Self-Surgery (Sargent House)
Mrs. Piss began when Chelsea Wolfe and Jess Gowrie (Horseneck) toured together during the cycle for Wolfe’s 2017 album Hiss Spun. Wolfe handles vocals and guitar, with Gowrie on guitar, bass, drums and programming on Self-Surgery.
The songs are heavy and go in a few different directions. “Knelt” is slow and doomy while “Nobody Wants To Party With Us” goes from electronica to punk. There are relatively straightforward numbers like “M.B.O.T.W.O.” along with more adventurous songs such as “You Took Everything.” There are 8 songs, but most are relatively short, with the whole album clocking in at under 20 minutes. In that short time Mrs. Piss explore everything from doom to industrial to punk to noise.
Northwind – History (No Remorse)
Greece’s Northwind return with History, their first full-length in 33 years! This is some good old fashioned traditional heavy metal and keeping in line with their tributes to their heritage. 1987’s Mythology focused on the Greek gods, and History, you guessed it, centers on Greece’s epic past. Northwind even recorded this effort in the same studio as Mythology.
The guitars possess a warm feel and singer Thodoros Doulamis fortifies a commanding presence like a general on the battlefield regaling the triumphs of Greece. Steeped in the flavors of past greats like Uriah Heep, and the Ritchie Blackmore led Deep Purple and Rainbow, this is riff-centric heavy metal and the rambunctious “Pyrrhos The Eagle” and wailing “King Alexander The Third” will keep the old heads coming back for more. Welcome back guys, and don’t stay away another 33 years!
With their second album Mob Justice, Paralysis manage the right amount of East Coast hardcore and thrash metal together in a style that could only come from a band from the Tri-State area of the United States. Quick spurts of guitar soloing are attached to each song, usually leading to a ground-shaking breakdown. “Yet I Stay” extends the guitar soloing a bit longer in a flashy display that isn’t commonplace elsewhere on the album.
Paralysis use synth outros and sampling on a few tunes, but besides that, it’s a foot firmly planted in crossover thrash. The band keeps the album at a steady uptick pace, though the 30 minutes the album takes to finish leans close over the edge of monotony. They know when to stop before a good thing goes too far.
Solar Flare have all the potential to make a good power metal album but, sadly, their self-titled debut is not that album. Looking past that interesting (we’ll leave that there I think) cover art, what we find is the basis of good power metal that is ultimately consumed by its damning production and general inconsistency.
As mentioned before, Solar Flare call upon the well-worn power metal blueprint with the genre’s mainstays of soaring vocals, galloping riffs and striking solos all wrapped in the warmth of euro-synths making due presence. Relying on the good book, however, doesn’t save the record from its unholy production. At times, the drums sound as if they’re 1,000 miles from the mic in a vat of treacle while lead and rhythm guitar are respectively swamped under other instrumentation or just sound muddy. I’m left despondent because, besides the unflattering production and the odd ambiguous riff, Solar Flare have the energy and the presence to coalesce into something greater; give these guys time to age and I’m sure it will happen.
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent (Metal Blade)
Hailing from Sweden and playing epic doom, it’s no surprise Candlemass comes to mind when describing the sound of Sorcerer’s third album, Lamenting Of The Innocent. The Candlemass comparison becomes more apparent with a guest appearance by Candlemass vocalist Johan Langquist. His duet with Sorcerer’s Anders Engberg combined with guest Svante Henryson’s cello produces a harrowing melodic song in “Deliverance.”
“Hammer of the Witches” has a “Children of the Grave” Black Sabbath guitar similarity. The organ at the end of “Path to Perdition” is the perfect soundtrack to descend into the fiery pits of hell. “Dance with the Devil” features grandiose choirs in the beginning and mournful, Opeth-like twin guitar harmonies near the end. The guitars on “Condemned” realize the song’s doomed scenario. Bitter harmonies, dank atmosphere and dreadful stories of witch hunts make Lamenting Of The Innocent a menacing work.
Tøronto – Under Siege (Dying Victims)
Swedish speed metallers Tøronto (nope not from Canada) charge in with guns blazing on their debut EP Under Siege. This isn’t some normal four track EP, either. This Swedish assault packs in eight bursts of fire for a rapid 22 minutes.
Tøronto ooze that dirty, rolling in the mud type metal. I wouldn’t be surprised if singer Eddie Flawless gargled a bottle of Jack before recording the vocals. Steeped in unrelenting speed with a mish-mash of riffs and blasting drums, some of the songs are hard to distinguish from one another, but it doesn’t matter as this a full-on barrage of barbaric metal. This Swedish unit does sneak it some melody with the solos and the smirk ridden “Frostbite Bitch,” “Ride The Rails” and “Fire In Sight” will sure be a swift kick in the ass for the complacent listener. Bring on the full-length!
Vandenberg – 2020 (Mascot)
Back in the early ’80s the Dutch hard rock band Vandenberg released three albums and had a minor hit with “Burning Heart.” 35 years after their last album, guitarist Adrian Vandenberg (Whitesnake has put together a new lineup with vocalist Ronnie Romero (Lords Of Black, Rainbow), bassist Randy van der Elsen (Tank) and drummer Koen Herfst (Epica).
Vandenberg’s former Whitesnake bandmates bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne) and drummer Brian Tichy (Foreigner) guest on a couple of tracks. Though the production is modern, the songs embrace the bluesy hard rock of the ’80s. Romero has an impressive set of pipes, put to good use on songs like “Hell And High Water” and “Ride Like The Wind.” They have re-recorded “Burning Heart,” and Romero’s vocals give it more emotional heft than the original.
Xibalba – Años En Infierno (Southern Lord)
Hardcore with a death metal edge and a doomy groove make Xibalba a unique beast on Años En Infierno. They sound like a more pained Crowbar with Spanish language song titles and vocals from beyond, while expressing social injustice through their music.
The beginning of “Corredor De La Muerte” certainly has the underpinnings of Bolt Thrower’s “Through the Ages” as it connects two other verses of absolute misery. The whole package is wrapped together quite nicely with artwork by the legendary Dan Seagrave, which gives the listener a proper gateway with which to enter this crumbling and desolate edifice. If you dig vile hardcore, mixed with the best parts of death metal, then let Xibalba be your guide.