This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Comecon, Crystal Viper, Eleine, Her Despair, Hypno5e, Lord Mantis, Magic Kingdom, Necrophagia, No-Man, Obsequiae, Skyblood, Tragedy In Hope, Tygers Of Pan Tang and Vesperith.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Comecon – Megatrends In Brutality (Vic)
The Swedish death metal band Comecon formed in the late ’80s and released three albums before disbanding in 1995. Their debut album Megatrends In Brutality was issued in 1992 and is being re-released. Vocals on the album were provided by LG Petrov, who briefly joined Comecon after exiting Entombed.
This is a bare bones reissue with no bonus tracks or remastering. It’s old school Swedish death metal with galloping riffs and Petrov’s distinctive growls. Tracks like “Slope” and “The Mule” blaze along at a quick pace, while songs such as “Teuton Tantrums” have a more mid-paced groove. The songwriting is good, and though Comecon didn’t break through to have huge success, it’s an album well worth checking out for fans of this era of Swedish death metal.
Crystal Viper – Tales Of Fire And Ice (AFM)
The Polish band Crystal Viper have been around since the early 2000s, with their seventh full-length Tales Of Fire And Ice coming on the heels of last year’s EP At The Edge Of Time.
The band’s brand of traditional metal has evolved slightly, with tracks like “Crystal Sphere” pushing into power metal territory. There are still plenty of trad metal songs like “Bright Lights.” The songs are melodic and memorable, with a potent performance from vocalist Marta Gabriel. One of the bonus tracks is a cover of Dokken’s “Dream Warriors,” with Gabriel’s vocals giving it a different vibe even though the arrangement is faithful to the original.
Eleine – All Shall Burn (Black Lodge)
The symphonic metal band Eleine are following up their 2018 album Until The End that topped the Swedish album charts with an EP. All Shall Burn has five songs and clocks in at just under 25 minutes.
Madeleine Liljestam’s vocals are versatile and powerful, cutting through the symphonic arrangements. There are two new tracks: both “Enemies” and “All Shall Burn” are painstakingly arranged and atmospheric, but also have memorable melodies. The band also covers Rammstein’s “Mein Herz Brennt,” giving a symphonic twist to the industrial track with guitarist Rikard Ekberg handling most of the vocals. The final two songs on the EP are symphonic versions of “All Shall Burn” and “Hell Moon (We Shall Never Die)” from Until The End. While not essential, Eleine fans will appreciate the new material as they await the band’s next full-length.
There is a very gothic flavor to what the United Kingdom’s Her Despair provide on Exorcisms of Eroticism. The band’s music is very downtrodden, but maintains enough of a positive note to be upbeat as well. In the relatively brief amount of time this EP lasts, the band is able to make an impact in the vein of bands like Idle Hands and Fields of the Nephilim. The music is certainly deeply morose and manages to maintain a solid atmosphere throughout the length of the recording. But still, the vocals and music also indicate a move towards positivity, which makes this a very two-sided recording.
A Type O Negative influence can also be heard, which could point towards the more upbeat aspect of the band. This duality made this a very interesting release indeed. The music is moody enough to be very special and holds a nice place in my heart. I just wish there were more chances taken to make this a more unique recording. The EP is still very strong and worth the listen for gothic music fans.
Hypno5e – A Distant (Dark) Source (Pelagic)
I’m always leery of bands with gimmicky names, so it wasn’t without some trepidation that I dove into A Distant (Dark) Source, the fifth album from French cinematic prog metal band Hypno5e. This album is the second part of an album duology, and the first has not been released yet. The album is conceptual, and takes part over one night as a man searches for a woman on the shores of an extinct lake.
At seventy-one minutes, and featuring suites that extend over fifteen minutes in length, this is not an easily digestible album. Hypno5e play a style of metal in which hints of Gojira, Soen, and maybe the more atmospheric moments of Pink Floyd all come into play. Hardcore vocals are not the band’s forte, but aside from that this is a very accomplished, intricate, and all-encompassing chunk of modern progressive metal.
Lord Mantis – Universal Death Church (Profound Lore)
In the five years between Death Mask and Universal Death Church, Lord Mantis had to come to terms with the death of an original member, drummer Bill Bumgardner, and internal strife that led to a brief dissolution. This pain and anguish seem to be channeled into the band’s fourth album, which has the group pursuing a psychedelic nuance to their blackened sludge metal in a similar way to their last album.
That isn’t apparent right away, as opener “Santa Muerte” is one of the most vicious songs the band has ever written, with two-and-a-half minutes of unfiltered black metal. It takes a few songs to really dig into the band’s experimental nature, such as the acoustic guitars on interlude “Low Entropy Narcosis” and guest musician Bruce Lamont throwing some saxophone into closer “Hole.” Throughout it all, vocalist/bassist Charlie Fell screams his lungs out as if he’s leaving blood-soaked phlegm on the studio microphone.
Magic Kingdom – MetAlmighty (AFM)
For being around for more than two decades, the Belgian power metal band Magic Kingdom doesn’t have a huge catalog. They tend to take several years between albums. The band has also had a lot of vocalists over the years. The past four albums have featured four different singers, including Michael Vescera (Death Keepers, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) on their latest opus, Met Almighty.
It features plenty of guitar wizardry from founding member Dushan Petrossi along with a lot of atmosphere and the soaring vocals of Vescera. There’s a bit of a DragonForce vibe, but Magic Kingdom have their own take on neoclassical power metal. They mix longer songs like the nearly 9 minute opener “Unleash The Dragon” with more streamlined tracks like “In The Den Of The Mountain Trolls” that injects a Celtic vibe. Those who like their power metal with plenty of shredding will dig this album.
Necrophagia – Here Lies Necrophagia: 35 Years of Death Metal (Season of Mist)
Necrophagia started in 1983, making them one of the first death metal bands, but their name is often forgotten in the conversation about who started death metal. They were forever laid to rest when founding member and vocalist Killjoy died in 2018. Season of Mist have exhumed 18 tracks in the compilation Here Lies Necrophagia: 35 Years of Death Metal.
The compilation contains music from horror soundtracks or clips, as horror cinema was a major facet of Necrophagia. Musically, the tracks are raw and distorted. If the undead had a voice, it would have been Killjoy’s putrid screeches. The 18 tracks assembled have a classic horror film atmosphere, not just in the sound clips, but also in the super distorted guitars. If you’re a death metal fan or aficionado of the macabre who never gave much mind (braiiiins) to Necrophagia, disinter them with Here Lies Necrophagia.
No-Man – Love You to Bits (Caroline)
For someone as prolific as Steven Wilson, it seems impossible that his duo with Tim Bowness, No-Man, wouldn’t have released an album in eleven years. Yet here we are with Love You to Bits, the successor to 2008’s Schoolyard Ghosts. The disco ball on the cover says it all, as the pair set out to craft a compulsive dance album that may remind some of Wilson’s song last year, “Permanating.”
Love You to Bits is practically an EP, featuring just two songs that add up to 36 minutes. “Love You to Bits” is full of infectious dance groove, wistful lyrics, and a truly bent guitar solo. “Love You to Pieces” is a bit more pensive, although it still has a dance vibe to it, along with a killer keyboard solo. Put them together and you have a gem of a progressive dance-pop album, short and very sweet.
Obsequiae – The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings (20 Buck Spin)
Obsequiae’s draw since their formation has been a medieval, folksy melodic black metal that just so happens to come from Minnesota and not 17th century England. The band’s third album, The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings, is an extension of their last album, Aria Of Vernal Tombs, with bouncy, yet fatal, black metal paired with classical harp interludes. It’s a formula that worked well last time, so the band doesn’t rework things too much this go around.
That means that there’s a bit of a same-y feel to this album, just with a slighter better production. Very few bands are using harps and medieval folk melodies in such a winning manner as Obsequiae and that’s enough to keep them from sounding uninspired. There’s a lot of mileage left in this style, though it’ll be interesting to hear the classical elements and the jovial black metal blend further together in the future.
Skyblood – Skyblood (Napalm)
Mats Leven has fronted albums by illustrious groups Candlemass, Therion, Krux, Yngwie Malmsteen, and At Vance. Skyblood’s self-titled debut is Leven’s first shot at a solo record. Being a solo project, the instrumentation mainly focuses on his voice. Guitars are not a major factor on the album like what was heard on Candlemass’ Death Thy Lover. The mix is primarily melody driven to mesh with his voice. The self-titled album calls to attention Leven’s dramatic and unique voice through symphonic elements such as violins, keyboards and pianos.
“Skyblood Manifesto” sets the album’s tone with epic chores, a theme throughout the album, and Eastern/world acoustic guitars. “One For Eye” and “Le Venimeux” also contain rich acoustic guitar passages. The latter track features beautiful classical strings and wind instrumentation. “The Voice” was used as a single and has an unforgettable, anthemic quality. Leven’s debut is a beautiful first presentation, but the album could use more weight in the area of guitars.
Russian musician Sasha Giller is not short on ambition on Smile At Death, the latest EP from his Tragedy In Hope project. Each song is its own story, grim tales with morbid consequences, delivered in a symphonic black metal package. It’s clear that Giller wants this to work so badly, that there is a clear message that needs to be expressed, that reading the lyrics and absorbing the album artwork for each song will lead to a striking discovery.
Unfortunately, all the drive and aspirations in the world can’t help if the music is lackluster, the vocals are spat out with seemingly no rhythm, and there’s difficulty in understanding exactly what is being said. Add in awkwardness, like the title track ending with the phrase, “Sad face,” and the finished result is one that fails to rise to the sky-high goals Giller has for this material.
Tygers Of Pan Tang – Ritual (Mighty)
It has been four decades since the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal changed metal forever. Some bands of that era were flashes in the pan, quickly disappearing. Others became household names while groups like Tygers Of Pan Tang were somewhere in between. They have split up and regrouped several times over the years, and their latest album is Ritual.
Guitarist Robb Weir is the lone remaining member from the band’s early days, but vocalist Jacopo Meille has been with the group for 15 years now. Tygers Of Pan Tang certainly pay homage to the past on the album, but they aren’t stuck there. There’s modern production and some really catchy songs. Tracks like “Worlds Apart,” “Rescue Me” and the uptempo “Raise Some Hell” are melodic and memorable. Meille has a powerful voice with a lot of range, with Weir and Michael McCrystal providing top-notch guitar work. The second album with the current lineup finds them hitting on all cylinders.
Vesperith – Vesperith (Svart)
Sariina Tani is the voice behind Vesperith, who are issuing their self-titled debut album. Oranssi Pazuzu’s Jun-His co-produced Vesperith, which has some of the experimental aspects of that band.
The songs are lengthy, with extended periods of drone and ambiance. Tracks like “The Magi” and “Solar Flood” are relatively mellow with ethereal vocals from Tani, while songs such as “Fractal Flesh” and “Quintessence” feature black metal rasps and more extremity. It’s an album of atmosphere, contrast and emotion, eschewing usual song structures. It’s experimental and difficult to pigeonhole, embracing genres ranging from black to post black to drone to avant-garde. Albums of this type take a while to absorb, as new revelations emerge with each listen.