This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Alkymist, Author & Punisher, Behemoth, Coheed and Cambria, Deathhammer, Gridfailure, Hammer King, Leah, Lizzies, Megalophobe, Piah Mater and Windhand.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alkymist – Alkymist (Indisciplinarian)
Alkymist’s self-titled debut album is a trippy take on doom metal, a flower child on drugs while Candlemass is blaring in the background. The extremity of the muscled screams and charged riffs finds a companion with the prog-infused pivots featuring crisp singing. The songs aren’t short, though the band doesn’t force their lengths out.
There is a fair deal going on throughout this album though, and there’s a sense that Alkymist take their time to settle in. The second half is much firmer songwriting wise than the first half, starting with the atmospheric instrumental “Black Egypt II” leading into a pair of ample songs with “Paradise” and “Serpent.” It almost makes up for the subdued early parts of the album.
Author & Punisher – Beastland (Relapse)
Multi-instrumentalist Tristan Shone, otherwise known as Author & Punisher, returns with his sixth album (and first for Relapse), Beastland. For those not in the know, Shone creates all of his own instruments and abuses them in bleak landscapes of industrial/drone metal, similar to a much more harsh, doom-ridden Nine Inch Nails.
Beastland consists of eight harrowing, disturbing tracks loaded with post-apocalyptic soundscapes, augmented by Shone’s harsh, distorted vocals. Machines whir and undulate atop propulsive percussion. Not a second is wasted on superfluous instrumentation, either: it’s hard to imagine songs that are lush and barren at the same time, but that’s just what Author & Punisher have created here. Thirty-seven minutes of rage has never sounded so ominous and compelling.
Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest (Metal Blade)
Polish provocateurs Behemoth remain as blasphemous as ever on I Loved You At Your Darkest, the band’s eleventh full-length. They follow their usual script of razor sharp black/death metal and Nergal’s anti-religious lyrics.
It’s a diverse effort, with cold black metal on songs like “Wolves Of Siberia” along with groovy and more melodic tracks such as “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica.” There’s even brief melodic singing on “Sabbath Mater,” contrasted by the crushing “We Are The Next 1000 Years.” It’s a focused album clocking in at just 45 minutes, while still unleashing maximum destruction. While the lyrical content has reached the point of diminishing returns (we get it, you don’t like religion), musically I Loved You At Your Darkest is a varied and compelling release from one of the genre’s giants.
Coheed and Cambria – The Unheavenly Creatures (Roadrunner)
After taking a break from the conceptual universe that serves as the setting for most of their albums on 2015’s The Color Before the Sun, progressive rockers Coheed and Cambria return to Amory Wars with the grandiose, ambitious The Unheavenly Creatures. Also known as Vaxis – Act I, this gargantuan, 78-minute opus picks up the setting’s storyline with characters attempting to escape a planetary prison.
At its best, The Unheavenly Creatures showcases Coheed and Cambria’s knack for writing some of the catchiest progressive rock out there. The first two-thirds of the album are loaded with excellent songs – heavy, melodic, and thoroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the concept collapses under its own weight, leaving us with a handful of unmemorable songs closing the album out. If The Unheavenly Creatures was ten songs long instead of fifteen, it would be stellar.
Deathhammer – Chained to Hell (Hells Headbangers)
Norway’s Deathhammer bring a fun thrash focus on Chained To Hell, their fourth full length. There is a charisma that is undeniable and leads to the band greatly enjoying what they’re doing on this disc. It isn’t particularly original or groundbreaking as it sounds very much like Slayer’s Hell Awaits. Still, the music is executed perfectly and the riffs the band brings to the forefront are a wonder to behold. This is an intense recording that goes for the throat and brings the more aggressive side of thrash to the table.
For that they can be compared to the Teutonic thrash bands like Destruction and Kreator, even though I find the album sounds more like very old Slayer on the whole. The musical performances show the guitars sticking out of the pack and driving the record forward even though the vocals and drumming is competent. One more thing I wish for with this release was that the production was more punchy, but the good music makes up for this shortcoming. Fans of the thrash genre looking for a good old school performance will find much to like here.
Gridfailure and Megalophobe – Tasukete (Nefarious)
Tasukete (Japanese for “help me”) is the second collaboration in as many years for New York experimentalists Gridfailure and Megalophobe.
And experiment they do. In contrast to their first album, which focused on nature-oriented movements and field recordings, this time around it’s more urgent and mechanical. Heavily effected vocals, industrial elements, ambiance, feedback and noise swirl amidst seemingly random song structures, with tracks ranging from two to nearly nine minutes. While mostly dissonant and avant-garde, there are semi-traditional moments on tracks like “Agoraphobic Claustrophobia” that quickly dissipate and the madness resumes.
Hammer King – Poseidon Will Carry Us Home (Cruz Del Sur)
The German power metal outfit Hammer King return with Poseidon Will Carry Us Home, their third release. It was produced by Powerwolf’s Charles Greywolf.
The songs are soaring power metal with crunchy guitars and singalong melodies. There are a lot of memorable melodies and blistering solos. It’s bombastic, but there are quieter and more subtle moments as well. Three songs: the title track, “At The Mercy Of The Waves” and “We Sail Cape Horn” are called the “Nautical Trilogy” and chronicle the adventures of “The King.” Hammer King continue to improve and develop with each album, with Poseidon Will Carry Us Home their most balanced and fully realized release so far.
Leah – The Quest (Inner Wound)
The Canadian Celtic singer Leah (who sang on the recently released Dragonlord album) has been building a strong fan base over the course of the past several years, and has been able to generate substantial sums through crowdfunding, especially on her latest opus, The Quest. The lineup for this record includes Nightwish’s Troy Donockley (pipes and flutes), Delain’s Timo Somers (guitar) and Blind Guardian’s Barend Bourbois (bass).
Blending symphonic, Celtic and traditional metal, the music on The Quest includes epic and atmospheric songs like the ten minute opening title track along with quieter and more subtle tracks such as “Heir” and “Oblivion (Between Two Worlds).” It’s impeccably arranged, with Donockley adding a lot to the proceedings. Leah’s vocals display a lot of versatility, sometimes soft and emotional, other times bold and powerful.
Lizzies – On Thin Ice (The Sign)
Madrid, Spain’s Lizzies have been around for a decade or so, with On Thin Ice their second full-length. Their brand of metal/hard rock has a retro vibe.
It’s not a hair band style, more of a stripped down and straightforward vibe in the vein of The Runaways. They are at their best when the tempos are quick, such as “Talk Shit And Get Hit” and “Rosa Maria.” The slower tracks are not as compelling. Vocalist Elena’s style reminds me a bit of Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Gos with more swagger. It’s no-frills, bare bones rock and roll.
Piah Mater – The Wandering Daughter (Code666)
Opeth haven’t released a new album yet this year, but you might be mistaken for thinking that was the case with Piah Mater’s The Wandering Daughter. The Swedish band’s early progressive death metal sound dominates their sophomore album (as well as a bit of Enslaved worship). The band doesn’t even try to hide the influence, with songs that tiptoe the lightness/darkness sonic ranges that Opeth have made their specialty.
So originality is off the table, but Piah Mater do it so well though that it’s hard to blame them for doing so. It’s easier to just listen to the band that started it all, but for those who have worn out their copy of Blackwater Park, The Wandering Daughter should placate that itch.
Windhand – Eternal Return (Relapse)
After a split album with Satan’s Satyrs earlier this year, the Virginia stoner/doom band Windhand are issuing their fourth full-length, Eternal Return.
The opening notes of “Halcyon” set the stage for an album packed with great guitar riffs. Those riffs and a memorable chorus from Dorthia Cottrell give way to glacial doom for the track’s last couple of minutes. Songs like the mellow “Pilgrim’s Rest” and instrumental “Light Into Dark” add variety, as do changing up song lengths that range from the relatively streamlined “Red Cloud” to the 11 minute “Eyeshine” and 13 minute closer “Feather.” Even with those long tracks, it’s still the shortest album since their debut, an ambitious and deliberate effort that reveals more with each listen.