This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Autopsy, Botanist, Carcass, Convulse, Draconian, Emma Ruth Rundle, Evildead, Forlorn World, Gwar, Hydrogyn, Insidious Disease, Motorhead, Mr. Bungle, Possessor, Puscifer, Scardust, Thou, Visions Of Atlantis and Wytch Hazel.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Autopsy – Live In Chicago (Peaceville)
There have been prior live Autopsy albums, but apparently they weren’t official, as Live In Chicago is described as the first official live album from the death metal legends. It was recorded in March of this year, just before the country went into lockdown.
They haven’t released a new studio album since 2014, but the 66 minute, 18 song set did include the new song “Maggots In The Mirror,” a preview of what’s to come. Their 1989 album Severed Survival was heavily featured, as they played 9 of the 11 tracks from that record. The musicianship is excellent, especially on tracks like “Ridden With Disease,” but the mix is what you want from a live death metal album, keeping the rawness and grit. Autopsy are one of the genre’s best bands, which is evident on Live In Chicago.
Botanist – Photosynthesis (The Flenser)
The latest effort from the avant-garde collective Botanist is Photosynthesis, a concept album about, you guessed it, photosynthesis. And while it may not sound like the most compelling subject matter, they make it work. The core of Botanist is Otrebor (vocals, keyboards, hammered dulcimer) and Daturus (drums). This time around, Tony Thomas (Dawn Of Auroboros) handles bass duties.
As you’d expect from a Botanist album, it’s experimental and progressive. There’s a mix of clean and harsh vocals. Melodic singing is at the forefront on songs like “Water” and “Stroma” while screams drive songs such as “Chlorophyll” and “Dehydration.” The use of hammered dulcimer instead of guitar gives Botanist a unique sound, as does their experimental approach. Avant garde albums can easily go off the rails, but Botanist create songs that push boundaries while not neglecting the basics that make for a memorable album.
Carcass – Despicable (Nuclear Blast)
Carcass‘ last studio album, 2013’s Surgical Steel was one of the greatest comeback albums of all time. An EP followed in 2014 of songs from that same session. Now, as their next studio album is set to be released in 2021, they are issuing the four track EP Despicable.
From the opening riffs of “The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue,” it’s evident this is no throwaway release. All four tracks are first-class extreme metal, with the single “Under The Scalpel Blade” perhaps the fourth best song on the EP. Bill Steer delivers a nonstop barrage of memorable riffs throughout the album. Anticipation was already high for their seventh studio album, and quality of the songs on Despicable raises expectations even higher.
Convulse – Deathstar (Transcending)
Deathstar is Convulse’s complete transition into a progressive metal band with flirtations into death metal, instead of the other way around. The only aspect that could still be considered death metal is the grizzled growls from vocalist/guitarist Rami Jamsa. There isn’t a blast beat to be found, and the band even has a bit of fun with the anthemic “We Sold Our Soul For Rock’n Roll.” That song, with its bouncy keyboards and a chorus that would make Venom’s Cronos proud, would’ve been out of place on any of their other albums, but the trio makes it work on Deathstar.
What started out as a traditional death metal group has evolved into much more since their reunion in 2012. They haven’t forgotten their past, going on the road to perform their debut album, World Without God, in full a few years back, but they also don’t latch onto it for support. They’ve been testing this sound as far back as 1994 with Reflections, and Deathstar is the end point of something they’ve been brewing for over 25 years.
Draconian – Under a Godless Veil (Napalm)
After 26 years of activity, what makes Draconian, one of the most important gothic/doom acts of our time, still sound dazzling and fascinating? Their mastery of combining gothic and doom metal elements, and making highly narrative albums, has brought their music to the point that each of their albums has become an audible gothic literary work.
Under a Godless Veil, Draconian’s seventh studio album, is a strong testament to all that has been said. It may seem like nothing new has happened, but Draconian have stepped in to the newer chapter of matured, well-produced and obsessively-done songwriting. Although they are following the same old path, Draconian have expanded the nature of their music by focusing on more somber atmospheres and multi-layered arrangements while an ocean of melancholic melodies are woven one by one into them. Under a Godless Veil is like a soundtrack to one of the Gothic/Victorian era’s masterpieces. It was an era that changed literature, and this is an album that redefines Draconian’s career.
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones)
A collaboration between singer/songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle and sludge behemoths Thou may seem unlikely in theory, but the execution is top-notch on May Our Chambers Be Full. This is a product of like-minded individuals banding together to produce an album that will engross both of their respective fan bases. Thou get to maintain a laborious weight over the music, while Rundle’s haunting grace cuts through the murky atmosphere.
Though it’s easy to pick out a few striking moments on May Our Chambers Be Full — the Kim Thayil-mannered guitar solo on “Into Being,” the quick veer off into black metal on “Magickal Cost” — the cohesion of the entire album is noteworthy. From the clashing vocal harmonies on “Killing Floor” to the soul-ripping closer “The Valley,” it’s apparent that Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou were destined to join to create one of the best albums of 2020.
Evildead – United $tate$ Of Anarchy (SPV/Steamhammer)
Evildead released the underground thrash metal gem Annihilation of Civilization in 1989 and followed it up with The Underworld two years later. Then, the group disbanded in 1992 and now return with their first album in nearly 30 years. United $tate$ of Anarchy maintains much of their early sound, but with a modernized feel.
Ed Repka (Megadeth, Municipal Waste, Death) was once again employed to give the cover art an authentic ‘80s thrash feel. This time this album features more chugging guitars and focuses less on speed metal. The gang choruses revive the crossover vibe. Bill Metoyer’s production is louder and fuller. Karlos Medina’s bass cuts through the mix. Current Body Count/ex-Agent Steel guitarist Juan Garcia joins a well-executed axe attack with Albert Gonzales. United $tate$ Of Anarchy is a solid thrash album, but lacks some of the speed metal picking that made Annihilation of Civilization so great.
Forlorn World – Umbra (Self)
Forlorn World bring a lot of the spirit of Bloodshot Dawn to the table on their debut album Umbra, which makes sense since it’s Josh McMorran’s solo project. Songs are still very melodic, but feature an increase in the number of clean sections and greater variety overall. This leads to an impactful mixture of sounds that is unique and interesting. Some of the nuances take a bit of time to absorb, but they come into focus eventually.
The album is more conceptual in nature and this leads to a greater degree of complexity in the overall formation of the song structures. The melodic moments of the band are largely similar to Bloodshot Dawn and it is still quite adventurous in its approach. This is a quality effort that deserves your attention.
Gwar – Scumdogs Of The Universe 30th Anniversary Edition (The Pit)
Gwar’s sophomore release Scumdogs of the Universe was 30 years ago, so the band has released a special remastered edition of the much beloved album. It’s chock full of all the debauchery and bloodshed you remember but with a bit more polish with whatever bodily fluid you choose to believe they used.
Songs like “Sick of You,” “Vlad The Impaler” and “King Queen” sound refreshed thanks to the job done by Ronan Chris Murphy. One issue that always stood out about the original release was the samples and sound effects sounding clunky on the disc, but that is all cleaned up here and makes for the definitive experience for the album as a whole. Still hilarious and edgy after all these years, Scumdogs is a welcome comedic retreat to metallic history.
Hydrogyn – The Boiling Point (RFL)
Their last release was a few years ago, and after wholesale lineup changes, the hard rock/heavy metal band Hydrogyn return with The Boiling Point. Guitarist Jeff Westlake is the lone holdover, with Holly Hines Freed taking over vocal duties.
She has the ability to sing gritty rockers and smoother, more melodic tracks. The songs on The Boiling Point are guitar driven hard rock/metal with big hooks and singalong choruses. In addition to the 10 originals, there are also three cover songs. ’80s new wave gets some love with Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” with the new wave sheen replacing by a rocking vibe and Tears For Fears’ “Mad World,” which is transformed into a ballad. They also rock up the Elvis classic “Suspicious Minds.” This lineup of Hydrogyn is a good one, with strong vocals, quality songwriting and covers that put a different spin on the originals.
Insidious Disease – After Death (Nuclear Blast)
A decade has passed since the last Insidious Disease album. Now the super group returns with their sophomore album, After Death. The group consists of current and former members of Dimmu Borgir, Morgoth, Nile, Napalm Death, Susperia and too many others to name. Their sound is a mix of modern and classic death metal that hints at the European DM sound.
Much of the album relies on mid-paced romps, although ex-Nile drummer Tony Laureano busts out the occasional blast and keeps the tempo fluid. That, combined with ex-Morgoth vocalist Marc Grewe’s tormented screams and dry delivery brings to mind early Morgoth. The guitar section of Dimmu Borgir’s Silenoz and Susperia’s Cyrus create immense, infectious chords and mind-bending solos. Grewe’s unmistakable voice is constant, but there are moments of deeper lead and backing growls. Insidious Disease deliver a tremendous effort on After Death, one that will surely put them in the running for death metal album of 2020.
Motorhead – Ace Of Spades 40th Anniversary Edition (BMG)
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades, a newly remastered version of the album is being released in multiple formats. The album has been analyzed and studied for decades, so most people reading this have probably already heard this album at some point since its 1980 release. The real question is what this offers those who know all the songs by heart.
Well, it depends on the version you purchase. There’s a double CD/triple LP edition with audio of a 1981 live show included. The real valuable content is in the deluxe editions, which include various demos, instrumentals, a DVD of appearances and performances during the Ace Of Spades tour, as well as audio of a second live show from 1981. Some of the material has never been officially released before, making this an essential buy for diehard Motorhead fans.
Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny (Ipecac)
Imagine writing and recording a bunch of thrash metal songs as teenagers, and then thirty-five years later re-recording them as accomplished fifty-something musicians. That’s essentially what’s at play here, with the underground-adored Mr. Bungle regrouping and redoing the songs from their 1986 demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.
Mr. Bungle original members Trey Spruance, Trevor Dunn and Mike Patton are joined by Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, creating a sort of thrash supergroup. What we end up with is eleven blistering songs that sound amazing and at times have typical teenage boy lyrics (song titles like “Anarchy Up Your Anus” and “Spreading the Thighs of Death” are great examples). It adds up to an enjoyable and highly accomplished thrash metal album.
Possessor – Damn The Light (APF)
After the release of Gravelands last year, the UK trio Possessor had lineup changes. They wrote their fifth album Damn The Light during lockdown.
Their lyrical approach embraces horror, with song titles like “Coffin Fit,” “Take It To The Grave” and “Return To Slaughter High.” Their musical approach mixes sludge and stoner with a bit of thrash to create songs that are raucous, heavy and rifftastic. Their musical DNA encompasses everyone from Black Sabbath to Fu Manchu to Metallica to Motorhead, but they blend it into their own unique style. Just in time for Halloween, the horror soaked groove of Damn The Light is a treat for Possessor fans.
Puscifer – Existential Reckoning (Alchemy)
It’s been five years to the day since the last Puscifer album, and now Carina Round, Mat Mitchell, and Maynard James Keenan return with another offering of electronic/industrial music. Existential Reckoning is the band’s fourth full-length, and continues their trend towards more mature songwriting and subject matter. On this outing, Mitchell makes extensive use of the Fairlight CMI synthesizer, an instrument used extensively in the ’80s.
The Fairlight certainly gives some of the songs a dated yet warm sound. Combined with the hypnotic beats, Keenan’s many different voicings, and Round’s excellent vocals, Existential Reckoning remains interesting throughout, even if not completely compelling at all times. Standout tracks include “The Underwhelming” and “Fake Affront.”
Scardust – Strangers (M-Theory)
The Israeli symphonic progressive band Scardust released their debut album in 2017 and return with Strangers. It’s a concept album that deals with estrangement. Each song on the first half of the album has a parallel track on the second half, with each pair telling the story of two strangers.
Opener “Overture For The Estranged” showcases the instrumental prowess of the band with a very progressive arrangement. Noa Gruman is a vocal powerhouse, able to use a rock delivery on tracks like “Break The Ice” along with a more dramatic and emotional style elsewhere while periodically showcasing an operatic soprano and utilizing harsh vocals on tracks like “Over” and “Gone.” The arrangements are equally diverse, with the use of things like a children’s choir and folk musician Patty Gurdy adding even more diversity. The songs have the complexity of prog with the cinematic flavor and melody of symphonic metal making for a memorable album.
Visions Of Atlantis – A Symphonic Journey To Remember (Napalm)
At the 2019 Bang Your Head festival in Germany, Visions Of Atlantis played with the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague. That show was recorded for A Symphonic Journey To Remember and is available on Blu-ray/CD, vinyl and digital versions.
The set includes 16 songs plus an intro, with mostly newer material. There are five songs from last year’s Wanderers and six tracks from 2018’s The Deep And The Dark. Their early days are represented with “Lost” from 2004’s Cast Away. Visions Of Atlantis’ symphonic style and the dramatic vocals of Clementine Delauney are perfect for orchestral accompaniment. From ballads like “The Last Home” to bombastic tracks such as “The Last War,” the orchestra accentuates without overwhelming. It was a unique show, and a good one to capture for posterity.
Wytch Hazel – III: Pentecost (Bad Omen)
Lancashire’s Wytch Hazel return with their aptly-titled third album, III: Pentecost. Ten short and melodic metal anthems come our way, reminiscent of a slightly heavier, more medieval version of Thin Lizzy. Colin Hendra gifts the music with a somewhat regal vocal delivery, giving each song an epic feel that is often matched by the musicianship and arrangements.
The music on III: Pentecost is loaded with hooks and some super guitar playing. While the overt message of Christianity can be a bit heavy-handed here, there is no denying the quality of the songs. If you love the hard rock and metal of the ’70s, this album will be right at home in your collection.