This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Bleakheart, Celestial Season, Devin Townsend, HammerFall, Invincible Force, Kosmovorous, Leaves Eyes, Mork Gryning, Mors Principium Est, Pitchblack, Raging Speedhorn, Saul, Sevendust, Thanatopsis, Undeath and Wobbler.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Doom metal is only the starting point for Bleakheart on their debut album, Dream Griever. By the end of the album’s 45 minutes, there’s time spent in everything from progressive rock to shoegaze. Graceful vocals from Dreadnought’s Kelly Schilling accentuate the deliberate, slow method in which the band conducts their music. No song goes under seven minutes, and though there’s an inevitable uptick of distortion, its build is worth the wait.
Schilling also contributes keyboard work to the album, with its usage notable in the spurts of piano on “The Dead Moon” and the dreamy synths used in the closing title track. The latter has the most tension on the album, picking up the riffs into an almost sludgy direction that fades into a devastating outro that the album seems to have been building to for over 40 minutes. Even so, Dream Griever mostly puts the focus on the subdued side of doom metal.
Celestial Season – The Secret Teachings (Burning World)
In the 1990s, Celestial Season released two albums of melodic doom/death, and then become a stoner rock band akin to Kyuss. Now, the group have returned with their “doom-era” lineup for the release of The Secret Teachings. The Dutch band has brought back their early sound including the use of violin and cello. “Lunar Child” even seems to allude to the song “Solar Child” from sophomore album, Solar Lovers.
Gothic romance pervades through the album, especially lyrically on “For Twisted Loveless.” Cello, violin, acoustic guitar, and piano mark a wide array of instruments. Although they returned to their doom-death roots, hints of stoner remain on “They Saw It Come From The Sky,” cow bell on “Long Forlorn Tears” and bluesy solos through out. “Red Water” honors the Type O Negative song, yet performed in Celestial Season’s. unique vision. The Secret Teachings harkens back to genre classics such as Anathema’s Serenades and My Dying Bride’s Turn Loose The Swans.
Devin Townsend – Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1 (InsideOut)
In March of last year Devin Townsend released Empath. The penultimate concert of the tour in support of that record was in December at London’s Roundhouse. It was captured for Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1, available in various CD, DVD, Blu-ray, vinyl and digital configurations.
Townsend put together a killer lineup with several backing vocalists to deliver a memorable show. Most of the epic songs from Empath are included, plus a couple of older tracks such as “War” from 1998’s Infinity and “Kingdom” from 2000’s Physicist. They also throw in a rousing cover of the ’70s hit “Disco Inferno.” The musicianship is top-notch, Townsend commands the stage and it’s an entertaining and interesting concert.
HammerFall – Live! Against The World (Napalm)
Our second live album review of the week is HammerFall‘s Live! Against The World. It was recorded in February in Ludwigsburg, Germany just before the pandemic shut down live shows. The band was touring in support of 2019’s Dominion.
The 20 song setlist includes five tracks from Dominion along with songs from throughout their career including some that they don’t play live very often. They also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Renegade with a medley of songs from that album. Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo guests on “Second To One,” reprising her performance on the song from Dominion. Nearly three decades into their career HammerFall are extremely tight musically, but still have a lot of energy and enthusiasm that’s apparent when you listen to this concert or watch it on Blu-ray.
Invincible Force – Decomposed Sacramentum (Dark Descent)
Like Invincible Force’s 2015 debut album, Satan Rebellion Metal, Decomposed Sacramentum is raucous blackened thrash. After an unsettling noise intro to “Doomed By The Vision,” the Chilean group doesn’t let up until the title track, the second-to-last song. Between those moments are a defiance of melody, letting screeching guitar leads and mortar-like drumbeats dictate the situation.
That is exactly how Invincible Force conducted themselves on Satan Rebellion Metal, so there isn’t a major leap made in terms of musical direction. It’s really more of the same on Decomposed Sacramentum, just with one extra song (nine instead of eight). That’s not a slam against the band, as the sheer onslaught forcefully grabs the listener along for its blatant throwback to early 1990s death metal. Decomposed Sacramentum is more of an extension of the first album, but that’s not a dealbreaker for Invincible Force.
Kosmovorous – Glorification Sermons (I, Voidhanger)
Glorification Sermons is the first EP from Kosmovorous, a trio that uses their debut release for two expansive tracks that run at least 10 minutes each. There’s an impressive ease in how the band passes through that time without it feeling long-winded. They achieve this with sonic valleys in all directions with a clear end point, whether it’s sudden or a slow fade away.
Kosmovorous have a level of mystery, with each member going by an alias or a single letter. Only vocalist Valkenstijn may be known to fans of Nachtmystium, as he was the bassist for that band in their last few years together. That air of mystique fills Glorification Sermons with an all-engrossing darkness that’s hard to shed.
Leaves Eyes – The Last Viking (AFM)
The German symphonic metal band Leaves Eyes have delved into the Viking canon on past albums, and that’s the lyrical focus on their latest opus The Last Viking. It’s their eighth studio album and second with vocalist Elina Siirala.
The 14 songs are bombastic, cinematic and epic, adding in some medieval instruments for added variety. Alexander Krull’s harsh vocals and Siirala’s smooth soprano are the yin and yang that drive the album. They redid three songs from last year’s Black Butterfly EP, with Visions Of Atlantis’ Clementine Delauncey guesting on “Black Butterfly.” The album concludes with the sprawling 10 minute title track. Even at 63 minutes, Leaves Eyes still maintain interest throughout with a compelling storyline and well-constructed songs.
Mork Gryning – Hinsides Vrede (Season Of Mist)
Mork Gryning emerged from the blackest abyss in 1993, making them one of the forerunners of Sweden’s black metal scene. The band released a self-titled effort in 2005 and then dissolved. Fifteen years later, they are back with a new album. Hinsides Vrede encapsulates the true essence of Swedish black metal in the sound of the guitars, speed bursts and melody.
After the ominously ambient intro “The Depths of Chinnereth,” the group go straight for the throat blasting forth “Faltherren.” The guitar sound on this track and throughout is very cold and sharp. The band tempers speed with clean guitar tones around the 1:30 mark. “Hinsides” provides a melodic interlude through dark acoustic sounds. “For Those Departed” is another instrumental consisting of lugubrious piano notes. “Black Spirit” begins with droning sounds and a wailing, female voice. Hinsides Vrede is a genius work of black metal mastery in its balancing of mood, melody and scathing speed.
Mors Principium Est – Seven (AFM)
The situation has recently become a bit dramatic for Mors Principium Est, one of the world’s most promising melodic death metal bands, when the Finnish quintet became a duo. Their seventh studio album, which is simply called Seven, is Mors Principium’s Est first album as a duo. Has this transition changed or weakened the band’s musical foundation? The answer is no.
Seven is a powerful and full of sensational moments that have always occurred in MPE’s music. Although in many moments the tempo of the music has become slower, as fast tempo pieces have given way to mid-tempo progressive death metal songs, but the complexities of melodies and riffs are still remarkably strong. And now, along with Andy Gillion’s classical-influenced guitar melodies, the presence of the orchestra is felt more vividly, and its role has now become one of the main elements that shapes the body of MPE’s new album. Mors Principium Est’s power in this album has not diminished, and Seven will definitely be remembered as one of the brightest works produced by the band to date.
Pitchblack – Death & Disbelief (Emanzipation)
The Danish band Pitchblack emerged in 2007, with their first record named the debut album of the year at the Danish Metal Awards. Another album followed in 2011, and after a long drought, they return with their third full-length Death & Disbelief.
Pitchblack blend melodic death and thrash with numerous vocal approaches that make for a varied listen. Melodies and moderate tempos are on display on songs like “The World Is Mine” while galloping thrash and groove ebb and flow on many of the album’s tracks. There are mellow moments along with more aggressive sections on “I Live In A Grave.” The album effectively mixes brutality and catchiness.
Raging Speedhorn – Hard To Kill (Red Weed)
Looking past the interesting name choice and the middle fingers to the camera promo images, Raging Speedhorn are quite the charmers when it comes to blowing out speakers and straining fans’ vocal cords. Their sixth LP, Hard To Kill, is a mixed bag but should satisfy the fix of any loyal followers.
The songwriting may come across a little sketchy in places but the band certainly never falls flat when it comes to their sound. It’s eight tracks of original material, with a T-Rex cover bookending the final moments, that jump fluidly from the rampant thrashing of “Snakebite” to the colossal grooves of the album’s sludgier moments like “Doom Machine” and “Hammer Down” right through to Anselmo-esque vocals atop groove metal rhythms in “Hand of God.” Each style is given its due respect, with the sextet showing ample proficiency, but Hard To Kill does suffer from the odd dull moment as a result of spotty songwriting and questionable lyrics; “Spitfire” is just a tad ultra-macho for my tastes. Regardless, Raging Speedhorn’s sixth effort does more than enough to keep ears pinned and heads banging.
Saul – Rise As Equals (Spinefarm)
The Iowa band Saul broke through with the song “Brother” in 2019. It was in constant rotation on Sirius/XM and received a lot of airplay on terrestrial radio as well. After the Aeons EP, they are issuing their full-length debut Rise As Equals.
It includes “Brother” along with “Trial By Fire.” Saul also cowrote the song “King Of Misery” with Disturbed’s David Draiman. Sevendust’s Morgan Rose guests on “Inside.” The album is jam packed with potential singles, songs that are melodic and catchy. Some are mellower and accessible, others bring more intensity and aggression. Electronics add atmosphere and texture without intruding. There are a lot of bands treading the same musical path as Saul, but they are able to stand out from the hard rock crowd with quality songwriting that connects with the listener.
Sevendust – Blood & Stone (Rise)
For more than a quarter century Sevendust have been an institution, garnering numerous hit singles and establishing a reputation as a powerful live act. On their thirteenth studio album Blood & Stone they once again worked with producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette, who helmed 2018’s All I See Is War.
Sevendust have established a signature style over the years, delivering catchy songs with passionate vocals from Lajon Witherspoon. Heavy riffs and memorable choruses are standard operating procedure on nearly every song. Filler is minimal, with some of the standouts including “Dying To Live,” “Blood From A Stone” and “Desperation.” The song receiving the most attention (and for good reason) is the closer, a cover of Soundgarden’s “The Day I Tried To Live,” a fitting tribute to Chris Cornell and company.
Thanatopsis – Initiation (Extreme Metal)
Thanatopsis reach back to their early years for their first full-length album, Initiation. A majority of the songs on the album were demoed decades ago when the band was starting out. They went on hiatus a few times before reuniting a couple of years back to finally get an album together. Three-fourths of the original line-up is still involved, which lets the musicians use their combined experience as a group to touch up these songs.
Initiation treads between thrash, death, and groove metal for a sound that could’ve hit big during the mid-’90s when a lot of metal sounded like this. It’s not dated, but the years since its peak has seen this style of music dissected in every conceivable way. With all the songs they demoed in the past, it’s clear that Thanatopsis picked the best cuts for Initiation, though if there is a next album, it will show if they have the ability to bring all-new songs into a contemporary setting.
Undeath – Lesions Of A Different Kind (Prosthetic)
Rochester New York’s Undeath have been making their rounds with grim and dirty death metal for a relatively short amount of time but still managed to catch the attention of Prosthetic Records for their debut LP Lesions Of A Different Kind.
This is the kind of death metal that appeals to the old heads with a bare bones approach and the production here certainly adds some authenticity to the experience for an album portraying a style over 30 years into its lifespan. The song titles are wonderfully twisted such as the later track “Kicked In the Protruding Guts.” Combine that with a tremendously infectious amount of groove you will be looking to decapitate the next detractor you see. An excellent death metal experience for a band just getting off the ground.
Wobbler – Dwellers Of The Deep (Karisma)
Wobbler rekindle the spirit of older progressive rock very nicely on Dwellers Of The Deep, the band’s fifth full-length release. While a bit heavier than some of the older prog rock bands, this outfit shares much in common with Yes, for example. Complex song structures result in difficult-to-grasp songs, but with a little patience, the nuances become clear.
Songs like “By the Banks” display a wealth of progression and interesting ideas. Similar to bands like King Crimson, Wobbler employ a variety of instrumentation to make their songs as interesting as possible. This leads to songs that have a great deal of creativity. It all results in a colorful collection of songs that never stop giving. Add some long track lengths and there is a lot to become attached to, despite only containing four songs total. Glorious instrumentation and beautiful vocals round out the overall experience.