This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Avandra, Communic, Concede, Dark Psychosis, Eternal Champion, Hjelvik, Ilsa, Jinjer, Killer Be Killed, King Ov Wyrms, Nader Salek, Omnivortex, Pain Of Salvation, pg.lost, Skelethal and White Magician.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Avandra – Skylighting (Layered Reality)
When we looked at Avandra’s last album a year and a half ago, it seemed the band couldn’t settle on an overall vibe – melancholic or upbeat? Here on the band’s third release, Skylighting, Christian Ayala’s vocals mesh more consistently with the music, creating a lush and expansive feeling throughout these seven songs, all created during the pandemic.
Ayala’s moody, smoky vocals still take center stage, and musically the band hasn’t changed that much, offering up a strong collection of well-arranged songs that would be best described as an expansive mix of post-rock, prog, and alt-metal. Ambient build-ups and hard-hitting passages are adeptly blended to create an intriguing album, and one that is another evolutionary step forward for Avandra.
Communic – Hiding From The World (AFM)
After a six year gap between The Bottom Deep and Where Echoes Gather, there was only three years in between that one and the Norwegian progressive/power metal trio Communic‘s latest effort, Hiding From The World.
Like previous Communic albums, this one has lengthy songs, with several approaching ten minutes. Each track has several twists and turns, incorporating influences of genres ranging from trad to groove to doom alongside the core of power and prog. Songs like the opener “Plunder Of Thoughts” and “Face In The Crowd” have some really heavy moments along with melody and groove. Mellower and progressive influences are at the forefront of songs such as “Hiding From The World,” but heaviness rears its head at times as well. There’s never a dull moment on Hiding From The World along with lyrics that deal with what we leave behind as a legacy when we die.
Concede – Indoctrinate (Petrichor)
After a couple of EPs and a split, Australian crushers Concede emerge with what they are calling their full-length debut, though Indoctrinate is only 22 minutes long.
In that short time frame they pack a wallop, delivering 15 songs that mix grindcore, hardcore and powerviolence into one lethal package. Most tracks are between 60 and 90 seconds long, shifting between dense grind, punishing powerviolence and groovy hardcore, all topped with frantic vocals. The songs burst with emotion and anger, sometimes chaotic, other times more measured. The outlier is the five minute closer “One With the Earth” with a slow tempo but equal intensity.
Dark Psychosis – The Edge Of Nowhere (Moribund)
Dark Psychosis are a one-man black metal group featuring the talents of Xaphan. Having played in early Michigan-based black metal groups Summon and Masochist, Xaphan is a pioneer in the USBM scene. The Edge of Nowhere, his third full-length may sound familiar to fans of the above-mentioned bands, but with greater maturation, hooks and experimentation.
The Edge of Nowhere seems inspired by the old guard of black metal—first and second wave bands such as Hellhammer, Darkthrone, Burzum, Bathory and Venom with nods to speed metal and thrash. The bass is up front and cold. There is a lot of gain on the guitars with solos layered over chunky rhythms. The vocals are mostly screeched, but there are droning moments and occasional demented, clean passages. Keyboard experimentation brings to mind Pink Floyd (he covers Syd Barrett’s “Late Night”) and Tiamat’s Wildhoney. The Edge of Nowhere sounds familiar but Xaphan’s take is refreshingly original.
Eternal Champion – Ravening Iron (No Remorse)
On Ravening Iron, Texas based epic metal collective Eternal Champion pick up right where they left off with their 2016 debut The Armor of Ire. As epic heavy metal has picked steam in recent years, Eternal Champion remain a torchbearer for the current state of the genre that includes Visigoth, Smoulder, Sumerlands and Atlantean Kodex among other recent bands.
Exploding out of the gate with “A Face In The Glare” lead singer Jason Tarpey fits the mold of the genre very well, bonus points for his barks from his time fronting Texas crossover legends Iron Age. The title track absolutely brings the trademark energy to the album, fast and furious riffs, epic soaring vocals and solos for days, true to form. From a purely heavy metal standpoint Ravening Iron is one of the best the genre has produced in 2020. Expect to see this on some year-end lists for sure.
Hjelvik – Welcome To Hel (Nuclear Blast)
After departing Kvelertak a couple of years ago, Erland Hjelvik formed the solo band Hjelvik. Welcome To Hel is blackened Viking metal with lyrics inspired by Norse mythology and history.
The melody of the songs is contrasted by Hjelvik’s harsh vocals. Tracks like “Thor’s Hammer” and “The Power Ballad Of Freyr” have memorable riffs and some catchy moments. The vocals are potent and emotional, with melodic singing on the closer “Necromance.” The arrangements incorporate different tempos and intensities, with a quality riff always right around the corner. There’s also a couple of guests: Matt Pike (High On Fire) and Mike Scalzi (Slough Feg). Welcome To Hel is Hjelvik emerging with his own style, and doing it with conviction.
Ilsa – Preyer (Relapse)
Preyer is the sixth full-length from the D.C. death/doom metal band Ilsa. While the songs have different lyrical subjects, the overarching inspiration is Sean Sellers, the only person executed in the U.S. for a crime committed under the age of 17 since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.
Tracks like “Moonflower” and “Mother Of God” have doom as the prevalent style with moments of death metal, while songs such as “Shibboleth” have quick tempos and a lot of groove, driven by Ilsa’s three guitar attack. No matter the musical approach, Orion’s fierce harsh vocals add extra edge to the proceedings. The band shifts smoothly between styles, making for a varied yet cohesive album.
Jinjer – Alive in Melbourne (Napalm)
Since 2012, Jinjer have carved out a well-deserved space in their own obscure space of progressive metal and hardcore with an estimable catalogue of invariable influences. It was about time we got a live album. Alive in Melbourne is beyond a satisfactory answer to the void; it’s a complete and utter riot.
Marrying material from across the chapters of their discography (Micro, Cloud Factory, King of Everything and Macro), Jinjer provide 17 tracks of seamless chaos. For a live album, everything you’d desire is here. The production is phenomenal, with the planet-sized riffs retaining the momentous weight they carried when they were first plucked from the strings, the backbone of bass and drums give intriguing little fills and counter melodies whilst Tatiana – the band’s crown jewel – is given the limelight she deserves. Her vocals dominate the tracks through the angelic and earworm-laden cleans to her grotesque gutturals that compliment the gristle of the band’s catalogue of filthy breakdowns. While the album is certainly bittersweet, the recording depicting some of live music’s final hours, it serves as a great treat to die-hard fans and a wholesome tribute to the band’s meteoric rise from new kids on the block to one of metal’s household names.
Killer Be Killed – Reluctant Hero (Nuclear Blast)
The term supergroup is an overused one, but in Killer Be Killed‘s case, it is completely appropriate. Six years after their debut, Max Cavalera (Soulfly), Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan), Troy Sanders (Mastodon) return with Reluctant Hero. It’s the first album for drummer Ben Koller (Converge), who joined the band shortly after the release of their self-titled debut.
The three vocalists complement each other very well, from Cavalera’s distinctive guttural style to Sanders’ gritty melodic croon to Puciato’s versatility, all anchored by Koller’s rock solid drumming. There are some extremely catchy songs like “Left Of Center” alongside more aggressive numbers such as “Filthy Vagabond” and lengthier, more intricate tracks like “From A Crowded Wound.” The album concludes with the mostly mellow and introspective title track. The chemistry between Killer Be Killed’s members is evident, able to mesh their considerable skills into a powerful collective.
King Ov Wyrms have gone through various lineups over their lifetime, though their debut album, Lord Ov Thornes, is the sole product of musician Michael Sanchez, who has been with the band since its inception. Sanchez is hands on with this album, not only performing all the instruments and programming, but producing, mixing and mastering it as well. The only thing he didn’t seem to do for this album is the cover art.
With one musician at the helm, Lord Ov Thornes is Sanchez’s vision through and through. This vision is firm death/black metal, with drum programming giving an already icy sound an extra burst of frost. The songs can become a wall of imponderable noise that skirts by on aggression alone. That’s what makes the antithesis of that, the bubbling tension of closer “Ascendance Of A Continual One,” a prime instance of an outlier being a main highlight.
The new Nader Sadek EP The Serapeum features members of Nile (Karl Sanders), Serpents Rise (Dereck Roddy), Perversion (Mahumud Gecekesu) and more. The EP is aggressive and has a forward thinking mindset, but it has a Nile vibe. It has a slight Middle Eastern feel, but it is the brutal approach that largely reminds of that band. Fending off a relatively sparse production, the songwriting is pretty good.
Over the short running time, we are treated to a variety of tempo changes. However, the songs are fairly standard in sound and never achieve anything overly innovative. The result is an EP that is entertaining enough, but never does anything completely compelling. As such, the EP gets a moderate recommendation and gives the hint to check out some of the artist’s other material instead.
Omnivortex – Diagrams Of Consciousness (Concorde)
Technical death metal packed with smashing grooves is what Omnivortex offer on Diagrams Of Consciousness. The groove this Finnish group gets into on these nine songs is heavy enough to turn cement into dust. Being entrenched in tech death means a plentiful supply of savvy guitar work that’s supported by high-quality drumming.
Though not labeled “progressive,” Omnivortex throw some of those influences into Diagrams Of Consciousness. The inclusion of acoustic guitars to portions of “Last Bearing” and “Chasm” gives depths to their music, as does the leap into mammoth songwriting like the 11-minute closer “Diagrams Of Consciousness – Parallel Universe.” Though the band only formed in early 2019, their debut album has all the parts in place to make waves in the tech death genre.
Pain Of Salvation – The Perfect Element Pt. I (Anniversary Mix 2020) (InsideOut)
In 2000, the Swedish prog band Pain Of Salvation released their third album The Perfect Element, Pt. 1. They were planning on playing the album in full at this year’s ProgPower Fest, but the pandemic made that impossible. The album is now being reissued.
It has been remixed and remastered, as the band worked with Pontus Lindmark, who was part of the original recording sessions. This release includes the bonus track “Epilogue” along with a second disc that includes four live versions of tracks from the album recorded in 2017 and 2018 (“Used,” “Ashes,” “Falling” and “The Perfect Element”) along with a few other goodies. Hardcore fans may notice some different details in the new mix, but it’s the additional material that will pique their interest. And for prog fans that want to delve into Pain Of Salvation’s back catalog, this is a quality album.
pg.lost – Oscillate (Pelagic)
Swedish instrumental post-rock purveyors pg.lost return with their fifth album, Oscillate, a follow-up to 2016’s solid Versus and their second release for Pelagic Records, home of heavyweights such as The Ocean and Cult of Luna. Experts in crafting tense, suspenseful songs full of mood-evoking arrangements, the quartet once again deliver a solid, if slightly long, set of dramatic songs.
Oscillate may not offer up anything new to the genre, but pg.lost execute flawlessly, meaning fans of this sort of almost-apocalyptic post-rock will find plenty to get excited about. Each song succeeds in setting a mood and telling a story, allowing us to escape the stress of pandemic life for nearly an hour.
Skelethal – Unveiling The Threshold (Hells Headbangers)
Frenzied Frenchmen Skelethal are here for their sophomore slaughter with Unveiling the Threshold. Cut from the mold of the origins of Swedeath, Skelethal prefer pure carnage as opposed to melody to get their point across.
“Repulsive Recollections” and “On Somber Soil” pull no punches in a meat and potatoes death metal fashion, no flash all slash with the occasional slowdown so as to not completely break your neck. With so much quality death metal available in 2020, it would be hard to find the time for all of it but this is another one of the quality releases from 2020’s soon to be tomb.
White Magician – Dealers Of Divinity (Cruz Del Sur)
The big trick that White Magician pull off on their first album, Dealers Of Divinity, is injecting life into a style that meshes the mystique of early Blue Oyster Cult with the excess of latter-day Iron Maiden.
What that means is songs about magic and the occult stretched out with broad instrumental sections with multi-tiered guitar solos. The back half of this album is one eight-minute song after another, a bout of self-indulgence that gets to be too much of a great thing, even with the excellent musicianship. The first half is the stronger of the two for White Magician, which includes the dynamic title track, the single-ready “Mad Magic II: In The Absence Of Gods (Bad Magic),” and the classical-leaning “Fading Into The Obscurity Of Ages.” This trio of songs is the centerpiece of Dealers Of Divinity to recommend.