This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from …and Oceans, Axel Rudi Pell, BlackLab, Chronus, Cryptic Shift, Forgotten Tomb, Goden, Green Carnation, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, Holden, Kult Of The Skull God, Mean Messiah, Naglfar, Secrets Of The Moon, Sojourner, Thy Despair and Winterfylleth.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
…and Oceans – Cosmic World Mother (Season Of Mist)
The Finnish symphonic black metal band …and Oceans released four albums in the late ’90 and early ’00s before disbanding. They reformed a few years ago to play some shows, and decided to record new material. The current lineup only includes two original guitarists and a third guitarist that joined the band in 2001 that’s now the bassist. The new vocalist is Finntroll’s Mathias Lillmans.
The 2020 version of …and Oceans returns to the black metal style of their early material, reducing (but not eliminating) the industrial influences and keeping symphonic elements front and center. The songs on Cosmic World Mother are ferocious and biting, but have depth and atmosphere as well. Tracks like “Five of Swords” are dense and pummeling while also melodic and atmospheric. You’ll hear some electronic parts on songs such as the title track that add some variety to the extremity. Lillmans delivers an excellent vocal performance and fits in perfectly.
Axel Rudi Pell – Sign Of The Times (SPV/Steamhammer)
Guitarist Axel Rudi Pell has had a long and prolific career. Sign Of The Times is his band’s 18th studio album in 31 years, plus there have been several live albums over the years as well. Pell and bassist Volker Crawczak have been there since the beginning in 1989, with vocalist Johnny Gioeli (Hardline) on board for more than 20 years.
It’s exactly what you’d expect from a Pell album: great guitar work along with lots of hooks and melodies. This album has a lot of catchy, memorable tracks such as “Gunfire” and “The End Of The Line.” Since they release a new album every two years like clockwork it’s easy to take Axel Rudi Pell for granted, but Sign Of The Times is one of their stronger albums in a while with an arsenal of quality songs and really good musicianship.
BlackLab – Abyss (New Heavy Sounds)
Abyss is the second full-length from the Japanese doom duo BlackLab. Yuko Morino handles vocal and guitar duties, while Chia Shirashi is behind the drum kit.
Thick, fuzzy riffs propel the album forward in a haze of smoke and feedback. Opener “Insanity” has typical doom metal tropes and clocks in at over 8 minutes long, but BlackLab put their own twist on the genre with punk and hardcore influences that give it a unique sound. “Weed Dreams” is the catchiest song on the album, while “Forked Road” is the punkiest. Morino’s vocals run the gamut from clear melodic signing to harsh screams and everything in between, though 90’s style punk rock is her prevalent delivery.
Chronus – Idols (Listenable)
Chronus’ sophomore offering, Idols, teeters between the realms of “great” and “good” which, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly the worst parameters to be stuck within. Far better than the realms of “unpalatable” and “egregious,” right? Opting for the route of accessibility, Idols is a fervent display of heavy metal denoted, no less, by Sebastian Axelsson’s vocals that serve as a patent nod to Ozzy with a dash of Mastodon’s Brent Hinds. Your tolerance for Ozzy worship will be a decisive factor here.
If the vocals really are your tipping point then so be it; it’s at your loss. Why? The record’s first stint is more than enough proof, with no shortage of crunching riffs, seismic drum beats and a small portfolio of irritatingly good choruses. Sadly, by the time we return after half time it’s clear Chronus are attacking the plate with the same set of cutlery as the homogeneity of melodies and licks do lend themselves to anonymity amongst the track list. Never stooping below anything other than “good,” however, Idols wraps things up with its decisive title-track. There is room for improvement but Chronus do more than enough to keep this head banging.
Cryptic Shift – Visitations from Enceladus (Blood Harvest)
After releasing numerous singles, EPs and demos, which can be considered as an introduction to the book that is supposed to narrate the band’s current concepts, British technical thrash/death metal band Cryptic Shift are set to release their debut full length sci-fi themed concept album Visitations from Enceladus.
Visitations from Enceladus opens with the epic 25 minute long “Moonbelt Immolator” that comprehensively describes the entire complex structure of the album. Songs clearly and powerfully portray the intersection of highly technical death metal and thrash metal, to form complex cinematic scenery. And this complexity stems from the fact that Cryptic Shift give these two worlds an epic and exciting sight with the strong presence of psychedelic and experimental tonality. With terrific songwriting and stellar performances, Visitations from Enceladus is more like a clamorous soundtrack to one of Ray Bradbury’s unwritten stories.
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement (Agonia)
The Italian black/doom metal trio Forgotten Tomb have been around for over 20 years now and were one of the pioneers of depressive black metal. For their latest album Nihilistic Estrangement they took an old-school approach, using some vintage analog recording techniques in the studio. Their goal was to give the record a timeless sound.
The six songs on the album are lengthy, ranging from about 5 to 9 minutes each, with Forgotten Tomb able to hold the listener’s interest throughout. The arrangements are compelling, with tracks like “Active Shooter” having lots of twists and shifts, but also memorable riffs and hooks, expertly blending black and doom metal. Groove rules the day on “Distrust3” while black metal influences are in the forefront on closer “RBMK.” The title track with hints of post metal is the record’s most melancholy song. It’s a well-rounded and balanced album.
Goden – Beyond Darkness (Svart)
Goden could be considered a spiritual successor to death/doom luminaries Winter, with guitarist Stephen Flam and keyboardist Tony Pinnisi involved. Beyond Darkness comes to us 30 years after Into Darkness, an early masterpiece of the at-the-time fledgling subgenre. With Winter’s future plans uncertain, this album may be the closest we get to a continuation of their debut. Winter and Goden may share members, but their mannerisms are different enough to avoid one sounding like a retread of the other.
While Winter dwelled in grim aesthetics, Goden have a mystical/otherworldly shape to it. The production values may be better than they were three decades ago, but Flam’s thick riffs are still undeniable. Beyond Darkness goes all-in on its concept, with multiple spoken-word interludes and instrumentals adding up to a chunky 76 minutes. Some snipping would’ve been useful, as the album’s unwavering lurch is too much of a good thing.
Green Carnation – Leaves Of Yesteryear (Season Of Mist)
Fourteen years after their last studio album, Norwegian prog legends Green Carnation return with Leaves Of Yesteryear. The current lineup of the band includes founding guitarist Tchort and longtime vocalist Kjetil Nordhus (Tristinia).
The album has just five songs, but most are lengthy. The opening title track has progressive tendencies, but also memorable riffs and catchy melodies. The centerpiece of Leaves Of Yesteryear is the 15 minute opus “My Dark Reflections Of Life And Death,” a re-recording of the song from their debut album. The reworked track runs the gamut from quiet and introspective to heavy and more progressive than the Journey To The End Of The Night version, and Nordhus’ interpretation of it is outstanding. The album concludes with a mellow version of Black Sabbath’s “Solitude.” It’s a welcome comeback that captures the magic of their early records while breaking new musical ground.
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – Nostalgia for Infinity (Glass Castle)
The fifth album from London duo Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate, Nostalgia for Infinity, is a monstrous epic, eleven songs over seventy minutes, and is as ambitious as much of their other work. Malcom Galloway and Mark Gatland write songs with a strong ’70s classic progressive rock vibe – most similar to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here stylings.
Several songs here are inspired by Alastair Reynolds novels, and others by Galloway’s grandfather’s time in World War II. The album is heavy on atmosphere, and while Galloway may not be the world’s most technically gifted singer, he writes sublime material and delivers it with passion. Joined at times by Kathryn Thomas on flute, Nostalgia for Infinity is a lush, expansive, and beautifully assembled prog rock album that fans of the genre will love.
For Holden, much attention on Ursa Minor will be given to the gargantuan 15-minute instrumental “However Small, However Hidden.” Plopped center in the album, it’s a lofty risk for a band (which has a vocalist) releasing their debut album. They pull it off, with enough compositional shifts to make the piece rumble along without any hitches.
The other four songs on Ursa Minor may not reach as far as “However Small, However Hidden,” yet they offer a steady variation on sludgy doom metal. “Emperor Of Maladies” raises the ante with an unrestrained conclusion that revels in its quick pace. It’s the perfect end to the album, if only the inconsequential outro “The Way It Was And Will Be” didn’t follow it as the real ending.
Kult of the Skull God – The Great Mangini (Rockshots)
The Great Mangini is Italian trio Kult of the Skull God’s debut release, and features eleven short and sweet hard rock tunes that manage to seem both classic and modern at the same time. Led by charismatic vocalist Lord Kalidon, Kult aim to “save the world from mumble rappers and auto-tuned pop stars,” and while I’m not sure if they succeed, they’re entertaining as heck trying.
Every song on The Great Mangini is a catchy rocker, full of hooks and singalong choruses. Slick production tops it all off, making this a very easy album to dig. There are no wheels reinvented here: Kult of the Skull God are more than happy to just write solid hard rock songs, and they do a great job of it.
Mean Messiah – Divine Technology (Slovak Metal Army)
The Czech band Mean Messiah have a very interesting industrial flavor to their music. There is a lot of variety and they incorporate a number of different types of rhythms to make their second-full length Divine Technology as compelling as possible. It must be noted that some of the more melodic moments nicely recall the likes of Devin Townsend, such as the opening song “Interment Of Ashes/Hello Again.” There are some harsher moments, but also more streamlined ones to add to the impact of the release.
Jiri Willander’s drumming in particular is solid and adds a nice backbone to the rest of the instruments. The tracks are very catchy and have an immediate impact on the listener, though they have the ability to sound somewhat generic at times. Still, this is a worthwhile collection of songs that is mostly industrial, but incorporates elements from other genres as well, such as post-metal. I would be interested to see where this band goes in the future, as they have formed a nice blueprint with Divine Technology.
Naglfar – Cerecloth (Century Media)
Naglfar are one of Sweden’s finest melodic black metal exports, right alongside Dissection and Vinterland. It has been eight years since a new Naglfar album, luckily it has given the band enough to hone their craft on Cerecloth, their seventh full-length release.
Right out of the gate the 1-2 punch of the title track and “Horns” gives you plenty of punishment in lock step with beautiful melodic arrangements. Nary a second is wasted on this disc; they are either setting up for a face-melting section of raw speed or breaking in some beauty among the chaos. If you want a primer in this unique and dark subgenre in 2020, Naglfar have laid the foundation for you.
Secrets Of The Moon – Black House (Prophecy)
Secrets Of The Moon started as a black metal band. Over time, they’ve added elements of doom and gothic rock/metal. While their last album Sun was mostly a goth metal album, there were still blackened residuals. Five years later, we find Secrets Of The Moon completely stripping away the black metal in favor of a purely gothic album.
Doom riffs and up-tempo drumming brought more life to their last couple of albums. Crossing genres like doom, black metal and goth made these albums more unique than a simple goth rock album. This is not to say Black House doesn’t have its charm. Much of the music is somber and brooding and there are big hooks. “Don’t Look Now” is one standout track with its ethereal keys and vocal hooks. The title track contains more catchy refrain coupled with devilish hard rock guitar. Black House has its moments, but it seems like a step back creatively.
Sojourner – Premonitions (Napalm)
Sojourner’s third full-length Premonitions stirs folk, black metal, death metal and classical into an atmospheric soup. The international group mixes voices, too, from raspy black metal to grimy growls to serene, female vocals reminiscent of Amy Lee of Evanescence in tone. In some parts each vocal style carries the music alone, while in others the clean and harsh voices are paired in harmonious opposition.
Keyboards, piano, tin whistle are heard alone or paired with drums, guitar and bass. Guitars often churn or chug as a background rhythm, while a harmony floats above. Tin whistle and piano instill “Fatal Frame” with a strong sense of mystique. “The Deluge” has the hallmarks of other tracks with harmonies played on top of the hard rhythm, but the galloping rhythm makes this one of the catchiest and heaviest songs. Premonitions is both gloomy and gleaming. It captures the majesty and melancholy of nature and is another brilliant example of the beauty in darkness motive.
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation (Rockshots)
Ukraine’s Thy Despair roar in with full-length debut The Song Of Desolation. Sitting at a prompt ten songs and 42 minutes, this symphonic metal band leans more toward a Gothic tone and environment with dueling vocals between the operatic Elin and the guttural Nephilim.
Thy Despair are more in-your-face as compared to others genre as the guitars take center stage and the use of the harsh vocals is prevalent and at times the music takes a hardened death metal approach, which is just fine to these ears. With a thick production sound, the symphonic elements are used more as an accent to the music, rather than dominating the majority of the tracks. It’s still full on heavy metal and thankfully this Ukraine act hasn’t forgotten that. Robust cuts like the aggressive “War” and the tearful “Burned By Love” show the potential this band has. Very interested to see how they further develop and definitely recommend checking out!
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn (Candlelight/Spinefarm)
After showing their mellower side on 2018’s acoustic/folk album The Hallowing Of Heirdom, the UK black metal band Winterfylleth bring back the brutality on The Reckoning Dawn.
That’s evident from the crushing opener “Misdeeds Of Faith” with bludgeoning drums, icy riffs and piercing vocals from Chris Naughton. “A Hostile Fate (The Wayfayer Pt 4)” has dense sections along with some grooves, while “Absolved In Fire” has an engaging acoustic intro before the black metal kicks in. It’s a varied and memorable track. Winterfylleth shift smoothly between regal mid-paced sections and oppressively heavy and fast parts throughout the album, making for a compelling and enjoyable listen.