This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Ace Frehley, Aldo Nova, Amaranthe, Anthrax, Arion, Erosion, Esoctrilihum, Evanescence, Hatesphere, Moab, Moss Upon The Skull, Pulverized, Shining, Soulfly, A Storm Of Light, Thrawsunblat and Valdur.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ace Frehley – Spaceman (eOne)
If you include his 1978 solo record, former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley has eight solo albums under his belt, some memorable and some not so memorable. On Spaceman, his latest offering, Frehley tackles a number of biographical topics in a variety of manners, with mixed results.
Two songs here, among the stronger ones (“Without You I’m Nothing” and “Your Wish is My Command”), are co-penned with Gene Simmons. They’re thick, gritty, almost grunge-like, and along with a handful of other tracks, highly replayable. Frehley runs out of steam, though, with an Eddie Money cover and the rather uninspired tradition of closing with an instrumental. His fans should love Spaceman, but ultimately the album leaves us only partially satisfied.
Aldo Nova – 2.0 (Megaforce)
Aldo Nova’s 1982 debut remains one of hard rock’s greatest debuts – right up there with Boston’s. After a couple of subsequent, less successful albums, Nova moved into production and songwriting for such stars as Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, and Faith Hill. Now he’s ready to reignite his solo career, and is kicking things off by re-recording a number of songs from that masterful debut on 2.0.
This is an idea that’s both good and bad. For the most part, the rearranged songs are simply longer and more convoluted, losing the simplicity that made these six songs hits 36 years ago. However, it’s great to hear the songs in a more modern light, and a couple of the tracks actually do come off better with the new arrangements – “Foolin’ Yourself” and “It’s Too Late” kick ass, and the penned-for-Lou Gramm number “I’m a Survivor” is excellent. While not wholly satisfying, 2.0 does make me excited to hear what Aldo Nova will come up with next.
Amaranthe – Helix (Spinefarm)
The triple vocalist attack of Amaranthe has a new member on their latest album Helix. Male melodic vocalist Jake E. departed, replaced by Nils Molin. Holdovers Elize Ryd and harsh vocalist Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson return for their fifth album.
The band’s music is melodic and accessible, becoming poppier with each album, though there is still bite and aggression on songs like “GG6.” Ryd is the star of the show, but the male vocalists get plenty of exposure as well, providing a lot of variety. There plenty of potential singles, from the bombastic “365” to the infectious “Countdown” to the ballad “Dream.” Molin fits in well, and Amaranthe doesn’t miss a step with another catchy and polished album.
Anthrax – State Of Euphoria 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Island)
Anthrax released State Of Euphoria in 1988, a year after Among The Living, which many consider their best album. State Of Euphoria actually charted higher (30 vs 62), and includes some of their best-known songs such as “Antisocial” and “Be All, End All.”
The 30th anniversary reissue has been remastered, and includes b-sides and a live version of “Antisocial” recorded in 1989. The selling point for hardcore Anthrax fans is the second disc, “Charlie’s Archives.” Drummer Charlie Benante dug into his vaults for the demo versions of the songs on the album. It’s always interesting to hear how songs evolve from when they are written to the final version on the album. So between the remastered original album and the bonus material, there’s a lot for Anthrax fans to sink their teeth into.
Arion – Life Is Not Beautiful (AFM)
The Finnish symphonic power metal band Arion started as teenagers and immediately found success, with their 2013 debut doing very well in their native country and elsewhere. For their sophomore full-length Life Is Not Beautiful, they have a new vocalist, Lassi Vääränen.
The symphonic elements are intact on Life Is Not Beautiful, but there is more mainstream metal as well, especially on tracks like “Unforgivable” and “At The Break Of Dawn,” featuring Amaranthe’s Elize Ryd. Songs such as “The Last Sacrifice” and title track are bombastic power metal with atmospheric arrangements. They show their softer side on the ballad “Through Your Falling Tears.” In addition to the nine new songs, the album also has re-recorded versions of three tracks from their debut album.
Erosion – Maximum Suffering (Hydra Head)
Erosion’s Maximum Suffering is a hideous-sounding album, its interior stained with foul feelings. With song titles like “We Have Failed Us” and “Scorched Earth,” that much is clear before a note is even played. Once that happens, the true range of depravity is realized. Featuring members of Baptists, along with former 3 Inches of Blood vocalist Jamie Hooper, Erosion seamlessly forge grindcore, hardcore, and death metal into an unsavory package.
The opening title track is unapologetic about its tamed introduction, a lulling prologue to the craziness ahead, but once that kicks in, it’s uninterrupted for the next thirty minutes. Erosion’s idea of a break is a grimy bass line, a stretch that doesn’t placate the uneasiness lingering through Maximum Suffering. This is an album built upon the idea that the only real cure for humanity’s ills is domination by noise.
Esoctrilihum – Inhüma (I, Voidhanger)
Avant garde label I, Voidhanger have released yet another fiery gem in the unholy shape of Inhüma, the third album by French esoteric one-man band Esoctrilihum, and the second released this year.
This one is a beast. Inhüma has the suffocating depth of Tchornobog and the serpentine occultism of Nightbringer. From the album cover to the music it is a terrifying vision shrouded in a foreboding darkness and licked with mystery. It is an immediate step up from Pandaemorthium, which was only released in February, with the production beefed-up and significantly more brutal, featuring more blastbeats and mesmeric riffage. This is an incredible and bold release from the sole visionary, Asthâghul. Standouts include “Blodh Sacremonh” and “Ƨinsnhy’lh,” but really each track is its own monster.
Evanescence – Synthesis Live (Eagle Vision)
It has been seven years since Evanescence have released a regular studio album. Last year they issued Synthesis, a disc of orchestral versions of some of their previous material along with two new songs. It landed at number eight on the Billboard 200 chart and did well in numerous countries. They then toured the world with an orchestra (I caught their show in Charlotte), resulting in the Synthesis Live DVD/CD.
Evanescence’s music is tailor-made for orchestral arrangements, with Amy Lee’s dynamic vocals fitting perfectly with the full orchestra and band. From familiar tracks like “Bring Me To Life” and “My Immortal” to lesser known songs and the new music, everything flows seamlessly. The digipack includes both a DVD and CD, though there’s minimal bonus material. It’s also available on Blu-ray.
Hatesphere – Reduced To Flesh (Scarlet)
The Danish thrash/death/groove band Hatesphere have been around for nearly two decades now. They have had quite a few lineup changes over the years, with guitarist Peter “Pepe” Lyse Hansen the lone remaining original member. For their tenth opus Reduced To Flesh, they have a new guitarist, Kasper Kirkegaard (The Arcane Order).
They continue to deliver galloping thrash riffs with mostly harsh vocals from Esse Hansen and plenty of groove. The 11 songs fly by in just over 40 minutes, driven by memorable riffs and enough tempo and intensity shifts to provide variety. More deliberate and groove laden songs like “Nothing Is Definite” are contrasted by tracks such as “Ruled By Domination” that has both blazing thrash and melodic singing. Their combination of old and new school remains a compelling one for thrash fans.
Moab – Trough (Falling Dome)
I’ll be honest, I grabbed Moab’s third album Trough because I was just in Moab six weeks ago and had a blast. Little did I know that this L.A.-based trio would be equal to the task of blasting my eardrums with a catchy brand of stoner rock that sounds like a great blend of Ozzy-era Black Sabbath and Torche, with some Fu Manchu thrown in for good measure.
The Fu Manchu connection is legit: Moab’s drummer and co-founder Erik Herzog passed away halfway through recording Trough, leaving singer/guitarist Andrew Giacumakis to fill in, but Fu Manchu’s Brad Davis plays the gigs for them. Regardless, what Moab have crafted on Trough is an excellent and memorable album full of sludgy doom and breakneck rockers, with plenty of fuzz and melody.
Moss Upon The Skull – In Vengeful Reverence (I, Voidhanger)
In Vengeful Reverence, the debut album from Belgian death metal group Moss Upon The Skull, relies on nonlinear songwriting that values flexibility over rigidness. The album is progressive in its substance, as songs are kept to a manageable length while illuminating aspects like melodic vocals to broaden their grim scope.
Moss Upon The Skull keep the listener’s attention with each song, which provides its own identity based around their proggy death metal. The lack of “wow” moments is made up by the consistent base the songs are built upon. There isn’t much from In Vengeful Reverence that hasn’t been perfected by others, but it’s still enjoyable enough for a few plays.
Pulverized – Monuments Of Misanthropy (Krucyator)
Chilean death metallers Pulverized deliver a crushing and long-overdue debut full-length that falls short of greatness. The five-piece play brutal old school death metal steeped in tradition but ever so slightly lacking in originality.
The six track album Monuments Of Misanthropy is released on Krucyator Productions, a label well known for its destructive metal. The good comes from the in your face ’90s nostalgia of the heavily Deicide and Morbid Angel inspired hooks, whereas the bad comes from the albums predictability. Faults from my viewpoint shouldn’t be to the detriment of this release, though, as this is still a catchy album, but perhaps not for those of more modern-minded tastes. Dust off your sleeveless band tees for this one.
Shining – Animal (Spinefarm)
Having been exposed to the Swedish black metal band Shining, this album was a real surprise to me. The music found on the Norwegian group Shining‘s latest album Animal is undeniably hard rock in nature. It has a rollicking vibe and is very catchy. The band was more avant-garde on previous recordings and this is more of a mainstream sound. There is a lack of saxophone that was used on previous albums. Instead, there are other elements like an electronic aspect, but the album is undeniably rock sounding. The songs follow the normal verse chorus formula, but the energy of the band brings this into something more interesting.
A party atmosphere injects fun into the album that makes it more interesting. The vocals are commanding and overlap the funked up guitars nicely. The sound is really electric and enticing, but thankfully never becomes so mainstream that it’s unappealing. It’s also difficult to compare the band to anything around as they sound unique in their rock mood. While the music is still not perfect and suffers a bit from its simplicity, this is still an invigorating recording and a must for those that like a fun mood in their hard rock music.
Soulfly – Ritual (Nuclear Blast)
As he nears AARP eligibility, no one would begrudge Max Cavalera if he slowed down a little, but he remains prolific, releasing about an album a year from his different projects. Soulfly is his main band, and Ritual is their eleventh studio album.
It’s also one of their strongest. It has what you’d expect from a Soulfly album: groovy riffs, memorable melodies and Max’s unmistakable vocals. The songs are razor sharp, with guests that include Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe on “Dead Behind The Eyes” and Immolation’s Ross Dolan on “Under Rapture.” Marc Rizzo’s stellar guitar work and the potent rhythm section of Zyon Cavalera (drums) and Mike Leon (bass) make for first-class musicianship. They also mix in a couple of curveballs. “Feedback!” is Motorhead worship, while the closer “Soulfly XI” is an acoustic instrumental with saxophone. The diversity and quality of songwriting puts Ritual in the upper echelon of Soulfly releases.
A Storm of Light – Anthroscene (ConSouling Sounds/Translation Loss)
After a five-year hiatus, New York’s A Storm of Light are back with album number five in Anthroscene, another powerful blast of post metal that hears the band dialing up on the political angst with an octet of songs that are uniformly well-written, memorable, and, yeah, even pretty heavy.
The overarching theme seems to be pretty anti-red (for lack of a better term), with Josh Graham’s defiant lyrics and stalwart performance lending the album a strong and enduring identity. While the album ultimately does feel a bit innocuous, the results are consistently entertaining and shrewdly executed—A Storm of Light sound brighter than ever.
Thrawsunblat – IV: Great Brunswick Forest (Ignifera)
Thrawsunblat have smartly blended folk into their gratifying metal in the past, but IV: Great Brunswick Forest is their first album to completely embrace the former while limiting the latter. Though not strictly an acoustic album (electric guitars are used on a few songs, along with tasteful drumming), this is not much of a metal album. Coming off the grandiose reach of Metachthonia, Thrawsunblat tone down the savageness without sacrificing any energy.
Relying on acoustic guitars for the main riffs and melodies gives the band a different, catchier look. Their Canadian roots play a major part, whether in the lyrics of a song like “Green Man of East Canada” or in the music itself, which has a windy chill underneath its flexible shell. IV: Great Brunswick Forest is a risky endeavor to take on for Thrawsunblat, but they handle this sudden shift in sound with poise.
Valdur – Goat Of Iniquity (Bloody Mountain)
When it comes to Valdur, who are one of the wickedest metal acts of our age, we have to talk about their transitioning career, where they have changed their genre many times, from raw black metal to a more ritualistic ominous kind of death metal, and again getting back to black metal, keeping its musical form but now presenting it with a strong blend of death metal on Goat of Iniquity, their most recent effort.
Before we reach the eight minutes pointless closer song “(Iniquitous)” which is a dark ambient/noise piece and it adds nothing special to the context of the album, we learn Valdur have released another impressive album with Goat of Iniquity. Its grand opener “Divine Halls of Obscurity pt.I” and then “Goat of Iniquity/Devouring the Whore of Darkness” have managed attacking blackened death metal with full force. Goat of Iniquity is raw, dark and aggressive,which is what we expect to hear from Valdur.