This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Alter Bridge, Ancient Thrones, Angelica, Bloodsoaked Necrovoid, Countless Skies, Cult Burial, Eternal Idol, Jeff Scott Soto, Mortal Device, Mountain Caller, Neptune, Nitesoil, Sad, Solstafir and Surma.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alter Bridge – Walk The Sky 2.0 (Napalm)
Hard rockers Alter Bridge released Walk The Sky in October of last year. They were able to do some touring in support of the album, but the cycle was cut short due to the pandemic. The band decided to release some songs from early 2020 concerts as Walk The Sky 2.0.
The seven song EP includes the brand new studio track “Last Rites.” It wasn’t a leftover, but a song written and recorded during lockdown. It’s a catchy song with Myles Kennedy’s soaring vocals and some memorable riffs. The other six songs are live versions of songs from Walk The Sky including the singles “Wouldn’t You Rather,” “Godspeed” and “Native Son.” It’s a nice taste of the album for those who weren’t able to see Alter Bridge live, especially since there’s no telling when in-person shows will resume on a widespread basis.
Formerly known as Abysseral Throne, the Canadian band Ancient Thrones perform a combination of black, death and thrash metal with some progressive tendencies on The Veil. They have similarities to Skeletonwitch, but have an even more dynamic sound. The songs are both aggressive and intelligent in equal measure and run through a variety of different emotional tangents. There is a vile and harsh aspect to the band, but the there is also a forward thinking one.
It all results in a creative and dynamic listen. On the downside, the production is less than stellar and holds the tracks back. Despite the diversity, the music is fairly standard sounding and doesn’t do anything out of the norm. The overall sound is still convincing and poignant. Fans of the genres name-dropped should find something to like with The Veil. There is such a variety of genres that one can’t help but take notice.
Angelica – All I Am (Frontiers)
Angelica Ryman has been the frontwoman for the Swedish symphonic band The Murder Of My Sweet since its inception. Back in 2013 she issued her debut solo album, and returns with its follow-up, All I Am. She teams up with bandmate Daniel Flores, who handles production duties along with keyboards and drums. Michael Palace (Palace) plays guitar and bass on the album.
The whole idea of a solo project is do something different, and that’s exactly what Angelica does. The songs on All I Am are accessible, radio-friendly rock. Songs like “Beat Them All” and “A Pounding Heart” are uptempo and raucous, while songs like “I’m Sorry” and “Don’t Say Goodbye” are ballads that showcase a different side of Angelica. The songs are catchy and memorable with minimal filler, an album melodic rocks fans will enjoy.
Bloodsoaked Necrovoid – Expelled Into The Unknown Depths Of The Unfathomable (Iron Bonehead)
Expelled Into The Unknown Depths Of The Unfathomable is the debut album by Costa Rica’s Bloodsoaked Necrovoid. The two-piece play a brand of death-doom comparable to Autopsy and Incantation. The album has a cavernous production shrouded in darkness conveyed through the album title and songs such as opener “Dispossessed in an Asphyxiating Endless Darkness.”
Vocalist Federico Gutierrez’s (also bass and guitars) emits undecipherable lyrics in the most guttural fashion. His voice is more of a tool of instrumentation in the gaping, aura chasm than a messenger of ideas. His vocals and the slow pace approach funeral doom standards, but there are enough tempo shifts to keep this from being a funeral doom album. Jose Maria Arrea’s kick drums and chugging middle section make “Viscously Consumed By The Unfolding Unknown” a stand-out track. Expelled Into The Unknown Depths Of The Unfathomable is decent death-doom, although the droning pace drags a bit.
Countless Skies – Glow (Willowtip)
Glow is UK melodic death metal quartet Countless Skies’ sophomore release, following up 2016’s highly-regarded debut, New Dawn. The album is split into two parts: four standalone songs followed by the epic twenty-minute title track. As one might expect from a progressively-leaning melodeath album, there is plenty of epic bombast to be found here.
The addition of cello, piano, and choir to a number of tracks, along with the already majestic clean vocals and thick harsh tones, makes for an album chock full of interesting twists and turns – and the epic three-part title track is indeed epic (and seems to have a slight nod to “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). Glow definitely leans more towards the melodic rather than the death side of the equation, but if that’s the way you also lean, Countless Skies have just released an album you’ll love.
Cult Burial’s self-titled debut album is a sadistic treat, morphing back and forth from unmerciful blackened death metal to draining doom. It may not appear that way on the surface, as the band rips through opener “Dethroner” like nails dragged across the ears. Once they break through that on “Moribund” and “Chaos,” the sonic dimensions further open up. That’s where the album starts hitting its gruesome stride.
It doesn’t falter from that, dialing in on the creepiness with toned-back tempos throughout “Plague” and “Kill.” At this point, it shouldn’t be a shock that Cult Burial are a big fan of one-worded song titles, which each of the nine songs possess. It’s hard to misinterpret a song that goes by the name of “Sorrow,” a holdover from their great EP of the same name released in early 2020. The message is clear and handed to a listener with spite.
Eternal Idol – Renaissance (Frontiers)
Singer Fabio Lione has been involved in several projects over the years including Rhapsody Of Fire, Turilli/Lione, Angra, Vision Divine and more. In 2016 he formed Eternal Idol and released The Unrevealed Secret. There have been a couple lineup changes for Renaissance, including vocalist Claudia Layline (Serenade).
And while the album has a symphonic flavor, it’s very melodic with the arrangements adding depth and texture while letting the hooks and melodies shine through. The vocal duties are divided between Lione and Layline. Lione’s prowess is well known, and he gives another strong performance here with a varied delivery. Layline is versatile, able to pull off both operatic and standard melodic vocals. She uses her lower register much of the time, but hits the high notes on tracks like the opener “Into The Darkness.” The quality of the songs and a top-notch vocal performance makes Renaissance an excellent symphonic metal album.
Jeff Scott Soto – Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) (Frontiers)
Jeff Scott Soto has been the voice of numerous bands over the last three decades including Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Journey, Talisman, Axel Rudi Pell and Sons Of Apollo. He’s also released several solo albums, with Wide Awake (In My Dreamland) his latest.
Soto is one of the best singers in the business, and the music on the album is in the hard rock/AOR/traditional metal vein. There’s plenty of guitar crunch along with memorable melodies and of course Soto’s distinctive vocals. Highlights include “Mystified,” “Love’s Blind” and the ballad “Between The Lines.” In addition to the album of new material, there’s a bonus live album that was recorded in 2019 at Frontiers Rock Festival.
Arizona’s Mortal Device are back with the second installment in their three-part EP series, Chapter Two. Chapter One was a promising set of tunes we looked at back in March, and here the band deliver four more songs in the same vein: modern heavy metal/rock with telling influences from the past, most notably Metallica and Black Sabbath. However, there’s a bit more diversity in these four tracks, for good and bad.
Chapter Two isn’t quite on the same level as Chapter One due to the questionable inclusion of a country-metal track, “Time.” This misstep aside, we are still graced with two other top-notch originals as well as a stellar cover of ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid.” Over the course of two EPs now, Mortal Device have shown they are an electrifying band with the chops to deliver. We’re looking forward to Chapter Three.
Mountain Caller – Chronicle I: The Truthseeker (New Heavy Sounds)
Mountain Caller are a progressive power trio from London, England, and Chronicle I: The Truthseeker, is the band’s debut album. By mixing in the jam-like feel of post-rock with some elements of doom and psych, Mountain Caller come across somewhat like a mostly instrumental version of Elder.
Elder is just one comparison; Russian Circles and Pelican would also be applicable. Each of the six songs varies in theme and arrangement, but maintains a certain continuity across the album, as is befitting of a concept album. This is an impressive debut, most especially the guitar playing of Claire, and while there’s plenty of room for improvement in the songwriting, Mountain Caller are definitely onto something.
Neptune – Northern Steel (Melodic Passion)
For a debut album, Neptune went through a lot to get Northern Steel released. Their origins date back to 1980, at the height of the NWOBHM, with a few demos circulating and a recorded album that sat on the shelf. With a reunion a few years back, momentum was on their side, only to be upended with the death of original vocalist Ray Alex last year. However, after a period of mourning, his brother Row Alex (who was the bassist up to that point) took over the vocal spot and Northern Steel was back on track.
That backstory gives their traditional ’80s heavy metal some gravitas as an example of a group clawing their way through tragedy and decades of hibernation to finally get a full-length album out. The Nordic themes, tales of Viking stones and sharp metal, are rousing, especially on the folksy “Vanheim” and ballad title track. The album gets very cheesy at times (filler like “Seriously” and “Run For Your Life” seem like outtakes from The Final Countdown-era Europe) which hampers the laborious effort Neptune took both personally and professionally to get Northern Steel finished.
NiteSoil are a new death metal project formed by Frank Godla (Meek Is Murder/Enabler) and Nick Emde (White Widows Pact, ex-The Destro). Their six song debut EP Abusement Park includes a different guest vocalist on each song.
It’s a diverse group of vocalists well-known in extreme metal, from Trevor Strnad (Black Dahlia Murder) to Dave Davidson (Revocation) to Jessica Pimental (Alexhine’s Gun). The songs on the EP are bludgeoning death metal. Brutality is never in short supply, especially on “Mother Of Lust” featuring Gost, but there’s ample groove as well. Even with all the different vocalists, it’s still a cohesive death metal release.
Sad – Misty Breath Of Ancient Forests (Purity Through Fire)
Sad have surely made their mark on the Greek black metal scene. The duo consisting of Ungod (instruments) and Nadir (vocals) have a career spanning 15 years. Misty Breath of Ancient Forests is their seventh full-length album. Hellenic black metal is a not a static movement. The country draws inspiration from a variety of sounds. Sad are influenced by ‘90s Norse black metal with nature as a major lyrical and visual theme.
The choice of strings tremolo picked instills a cold atmosphere without the aid of keyboards. Gothic bells create an ominous feeling on “Hellish Ride.” Tremolo picking is constant as is the mid-pace. However, their music isn’t repetitive. The changes, especially the drums, are memorable as are their chords. Nadir relates throaty screams that do more for the atmosphere than relating ideas. Misty Breath Of Ancient Forests would offer a tremendous listen for someone just getting into black metal, but is typical for long-time listeners.
Solstafir – Endless Twilight For Co-Dependent Love (Season of Mist)
The ebbs and flows of Icelandic post metal outfit Solstafir’s new record, Endless Twilight of Co-Dependent Love, has often been merited with a level of organic flow and rightly so. The band’s apathy for following convention has made their seventh outing an entirely unique experience.
It’s a demanding listen with openers “Akkeri” and “Drysill” commanding the first 20 minutes of the album and the remaining seven songs rarely attaining any tangible structure that would seem familiar to the ears. Instead, Solsatfir opt for a soundscape dominated by constant evolution with long elaborate instrumental sequences and numerous pepperings from a myriad of styles from black metal, gothic metal all the way over to jazz. The production is rich and consuming, Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals are waning yet at times vigorous, and while there certainly are moments where the band stumbles into a mindless jam, the instances of more decided direction make for one hell of a journey.
Surma – The Light Within (Metal Blade)
Surma are a symphonic metal band formed by Tyr’s Heri Joensen and vocalist Viktorie Surmova (Bohemian Metal Rhapsody). The Light Within.
While Surmova’s vocals are front and center, Joensen’s harsh vocals make an appearance from time to time, such as “Like The River Flows” and “Cages Of Rage.” While Surmova does an excellent job, a little more Joensen would have added additional variety. Unlike many symphonic albums, the songs on The Light Within are fairly streamlined, with most songs in the 3 to 4 minute range. That’s effective, as the dramatic, cinematic songs don’t overstay their welcome. It’s a promising debut in the symphonic genre.