This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Asomvel, Disparager, Enforcer, Fury, Isgalder, Kampfar, Lamb Of God, Lord Vicar, Myrath, Origin, Pectora, Ringworm, Stellar Master Elite, Sunn O))) and Sxuperion.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Asomvel – World Shaker (Heavy Psych Sounds)
The British band Asomvel have been around since 1993, but didn’t release their full-length debut until 2009. Their third album World Shaker features new vocalist Ralph Winter. He’s the nephew of original vocalist Jay-Jay Winter, who was killed in a car accident in 2010.
Asomvel’s sound is directly from the Motorhead playbook. The trio play fast, loud, simple hard rock/heavy metal. They don’t have Lemmy, but they do have Lenny (Robinson), whose guitar work propels catchy songs like “Payback’s A Bitch” and “Runnin’ The Gauntlet.” Winter’s vocals are smoother than Kilmister’s, but still have an edge. The raucous album flies by with minimal filler. It’s certainly derivative, but also very enjoyable, carrying the Motorhead torch proudly.
Disparager vocalist Christopher AhKao pours every bit of himself into the lyrics and vocal delivery of Existential Dread. He can go from tender to bitter in seconds, and the unknown about where his voice will go next drives out the best moments from this album. The band calls themselves “Brooklyn Metal,” and while the intent of that label is unclear, this is an original-sounding metal record.
The band draws from decades of music; a bit of ’90s alternative metal here, a splash of ’00s hardcore there, forming what is an album that skips from a low-key ballad to an eight-minute anthem. There’s a bit of disconnect at times with Existential Dread, as songs don’t mesh together as well as they should. It’s not an identity crisis per se, but Disparager doesn’t grab onto one idea long enough to master it.
Enforcer – Zenith (Nuclear Blast)
Swedish trad metal stalwarts Enforcer return with Zenith, their first album in four years with an album that firmly places them soundwise with an ’80s act like Def Leppard (particularly Pyromania on “Die For The Devil”).
Over the years Enforcer have owned the image of a band from yesteryear and in a time that features bands like Haunt and Spirit Adrift. The band has done a little more to differentiate their style from the others, complete with a ballad “Regrets” which is very indicative of the time period from which their sound hails. All in all the band has trended away from some of their harder edge and overall speed to be the epitome of hard rock/heavy metal, a move which makes sense but may push away some fans of their older material. A solid rock record overall.
Fury – Failed Entertainment (Run For Cover)
Fury perform a furious form of hardcore on their second full length, Failed Entertainment. I hear strains of Fugazi in their sound. The riffs fill up the building with an energy that is undeniable and have a groovy aspect as well. The songs are brief and to the point, so they don’t overstay their welcome and have the maximum amount of impact. This is a very potent recording that will grip you from the beginning and make you feel its presence.
Part of the downside of this album lies in the album’s length. You’ll wish you would hear more, even though the music is so effective for such a short period of time. It is also fairly straightforward and doesn’t stray too far from a standard path, which is a little disappointing. Still, this is solid hardcore and should be heard by all fans of the genre. The band seem to be enjoying their pursuits and this is a really important facet to the recording. Failed Entertainment a direct and to the point record that goes straight for the gut and succeeds.
Isgalder – The Red Wanderer (Naturmacht)
The lineup for the German pagan/black metal band Isgalder includes Dauþuz vocalist/guitarist Grimwald. After issuing an EP last year, The Red Wanderer is their full-length debut.
Keyboards provide depth and atmosphere to their brand of pagan metal. Tracks like “Funeral Fire” have a lot of melody in the music, but the harsh black metal vocals provide edge and aggression. They blend the grandiose and the brutal very well. The songs are lengthy, culminating in the 19 minute closer “Galthro,” an atmospheric instrumental that overstays its welcome by about 15 minutes. Prior to that though, the rest of the album delivers varied arrangements and compelling songs.
Kampfar – Ofidians Manifest (Indie)
When Kampfar released Mare, their fifth studio album in 2011, they unveiled their new musical face. A change in the shape and songs’ compositions continued in their two subsequent albums and led them to their peak of the career. While Mare and Djevelmakt utilized more folk/classical-driven melodies, Kampfar’s brand new album Ofidians Manifest is more closely aligned with 2015’s Profan in terms of compositions.
Ofidians Manifest, which extends the way of Profan, follows a colder and darker atmosphere, with songs that are rooted in routine Norwegian black metal music, while influenced by modern elements of this genre due to a stunning production. Songs continually move between the simplicity and complexity of songwriting, classicality and modernity, violence and delicacy. Kampfar have blended emotions together and given each song its ultimate emotional, epic pace.
Lamb Of God – Ashes Of The Wake (Epic)
2019 marks the 15th anniversary of Lamb Of God‘s third album Ashes Of The Wake. It is being re-released digitally and on double vinyl. In addition to the original album, there are four additional songs: the b-side “Another Nail For Your Coffin” and three previously unreleased demos.
Ashes Of The Wake took Lamb Of God to the so-called “next level,” debuting at number 27 on the Billboard 200. It’s still their best-selling album, garnering gold status. The title track includes guitar solos from Alex Skolnick (Testament) and Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth). “Another Nail For Your Coffin” is a potent track with some interesting melodic guitar parts, definitely not a throwaway, and it’s always interesting to see how songs evolve from demos to the final version. So even if you already own Ashes Of The Wake, the extra material may still pique your interest.
Lord Vicar – The Black Powder (The Church Within)
Twelve years after the proliferation of his namesake band, the former Reverend Bizarre riff master Lord Vicar returns with his fourth solo album, The Black Powder. Said album strikes a balance between groovy, upbeat stoner-doom jams (think Pentagram or Cathedral) and slower, ringing chords. Acoustic and clean melodies also appear. Seventeen-minute opener “Sulfur, Charcoal and Saltpeter” encapsulates all of these qualities. Ten-minute closer “A Second Chance” features a droning, My Dying Bride-type lamentation that builds into up-tempo grooves, which closes the album in a similar fashion as “Black Lines” and “Impact.” “Nightmare” showcases acoustic melodies and heavenly vocal choirs.
Up-tempo moments provide diversity and dynamics. The guitar’s distortion brings heft to these parts, too. However, the slower, darker passages work best. The dark atmosphere suffocates. The Black Powder is not quite as good as Fear No Pain, but maintains a continuity of sound and quality fans expect from Lord Vicar.
Myrath – Shehili (earMusic)
Shehili kicks more ass than the Sahara on a windy day. This should really come as no surprise, though, because Myrath’s albums routinely contain nothing but quality, emotion, and a tasty Arabic spice. Huge melodies continuously take the stage and are supported by a dangerously tight rhythm section. The strings and orchestrations carry epic and mysterious melodies, combining seamlessly with the coarser metal elements to make each song ring with brilliance. On top of that, the mixing is clean, balanced, and allows each of the many parts to be appreciated.
This Tunisian troupe commands a staggering amount of skill, but perhaps the most impressive is frontman Zaher Zorgati and his ludicrously proficient vocals (which can go from soaring ululatuon to a powerful belt on the drop of a dime). Pump this energy into lively arrangements, and you get a vivid, dance-inducing Eastern brand of power metal.
Origin – Abiogenesis – A Coming Into Existence (Agonia)
Abiogenesis – A Coming Into Existence is a compilation of pre-Origin material and a remastered version of their 1998 EP A Coming Into Existence. Founding member Paul Ryan handles all the instruments and vocals on the Abiogenesis side of the release, which consists of eight songs written in the early ’90s when Ryan was in other bands. The death-grind technique contrasts with the technical death metal Origin would become known for.
This method continues on the EP, which has a full band behind the straightforward brutality of the four songs. Long out of print, A Coming Into Existence gives Origin fans a glimpse into a band still finding their footing in the death metal realm. There’s palpable anger radiating through these tracks (some of it admittedly juvenile, with excessive cursing on “Lethal Manipulation (The Bonecrusher Chronicles)” the most blatant example). Regardless, it’s great to have this EP available again without having to spend hundreds of dollars for an original copy.
Pectora – Untaken (Mighty)
If any band in 2019 can come close to the embodiment of pure, traditional heavy metal on a debut, it just might be the Danish band Pectora. Untaken is their first album, after an EP a couple of years ago, and these guys take their revered ’80s influences, crank the volume and passion up, and make it their own. If the band sounds like anything, it might be a bit like Metal Heart-era Accept, with some influence from hometown heroes Pretty Maids seeping in.
There are some stellar, anthemic songs on Untaken, and the title track opens with what might be the best opening salvo of the year. The only hint of weakness is in Kenneth Steen Jacobsen’s rather limited vocals – which aren’t exactly bad, but do keep Pectora from landing a year-end list-worthy album here. Still, this is some excellent heavy metal, and a wonderful debut.
Ringworm – Death Becomes My Voice (Relapse)
As a young person, summoning anger and energy is easy. Nearly three decades into a career, it can be more challenging to do so, but Ohio crushes Ringworm have no problem bringing the passion and aggression on Death Becomes My Voice.
The opening title track has about a 90 second moderate intro before the bludgeoning begins. Thrashy metallic hardcore blazes along with potent vocals from the man with the best nickname in metal, Human Furnace. While a lot of the songs have quick tempos, Ringworm vary the pace on tracks like the more deliberate “Acquiesce” and “Separate Realities.” That makes for a well-rounded album with ample brutality, but also groove and melody.
Stellar Master Elite – Hologram Temple (Unholy Conspiracy Deathwork)
There’s a lot going on both musically and lyrically on the German black/doom metal band Stellar Master Elite‘s fourth album, Unholy Conspiracy Deathwork. Lyrically, they deal with the consequences of the development of evolution and technology, with influences of Phillip K. Dick’s stories and theories about androids.
Musically the album is very dense, with keyboards and electronic elements augmenting the icy guitars. There are straightforward songs like “Freewill Decrypted” alongside lengthier and more experimental numbers such as “Ad Infinitum.” They expertly mix uptempo black metal with slower, doomier sections. The album culminates in the 15 minute closer “Tetragon” with an atmospheric beginning, an intense middle section and a drone style ending. It’s a complex yet engaging album.
Sunn O))) – Life Metal (Southern Lord)
It has been a few years since the last studio album from the veteran drone doom duo Sunn O))). Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley recorded their latest opus Life Metal at Steve Albini’s legendary Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. They went old school and recorded it on tape.
The album consists of four massive tracks, ranging from 11 to 25 minutes in length. They brought aboard the Icelandic musician Hildur Guðnadóttir to provide vocals, cello and haldorophone. The song “Troubled Air” includes a pipe organ. Each song develops slowly, immersing the listener in waves of sound. They meander from peaceful atmospheres to rumbling drone, a mostly instrumental style that’s certainly not for everyone, but for those who appreciate the style, Sunn O))) will take you on a rewarding aural journey.
Sxuperion – Endless Spiritual Embodiment (Bloody Mountain)
Valdur drummer Matthew has his hands in various one-man projects, including Sxuperion, which are releasing their second album, Endless Spiritual Embodiment. Mixing the war machine of death metal with a cosmic ambient interface, this album isn’t resigned to just being a blast fest. The word “atmosphere” doesn’t just mean a few seconds of synths or a clean note on a guitar, but has a definitive weight behind it that puts dimensions into each song.
Matthew is already known as a premier drummer based on his time with Valdur, so that component of Sxuperion is obviously top-notch, but he also can write a strong riff. Closer “Endless Embodiment” has a riff halfway through that’s glorious, one that seems to have been building up for the 30 minutes it takes to get to that point. Before then, it’s a jaunt of haunting ambiance, explosive percussion, and surgical dissection of the senses.