This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Abhorrence, Bosse-de-Nage, Brant Bjork, Conan, Deicide, Dream Child, Ethernity, Grave Digger, Grisly, Hessian, Infernal Coil, MMMD, Morne and Uriah Heep.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Abhorrence –Megalohydrothalassophobic (Svart)
It has been almost three decades since Finnish death metal band Abhorrence released any new songs. Their previous outputs consisted of a well-regarded demo and EP from 1990/1991 before they broke up, only to reunite in 2012. Megalohydrothalassophobic (the name of a phobia having to do with a fear of large objects in bodies of water) is a signifier of just how relevant Abhorrence’s take on the genre remains.
This EP trades in the rawness of their early work for a refined production; however, it’s one that retains the filthy vibes of long ago. The songs are longer, allowing for an even pacing that crosses across a vast swarth of tempos. While past works were about gruesome harm and evil spirits, Megalohydrothalassophobic has an otherworldly lyrical approach. There’s something lurking in the undercurrent of their music, as if there really is a reason to worry about what lies out there in the calm sea.
Bosse-de-Nage – Further Still (The Flenser)
San Francisco post black metallers Bosse-de-Nage have returned to their original label home The Flenser have issuing a couple of albums on a different label. Further Still is their fifth studio album.
The songs are ever-shifting, moving from dense, chaotic and oppressive metal to airier, more accessible melodic passages. Tracks like “Cruz” are sometimes regal and straightforward, other times edgy and unpredictable, while songs such as “Listless” maintain their intensity throughout. One change on this album is that the songs are more focused. Their last couple of albums have had four tracks of seven minutes or longer, while Further Still doesn’t have any. No matter the song length, Bosse-de-Nage keep things interesting and engaging, which is also the case here, save for the too long instrumental interlude “Dolorous Interlude.”
Brant Bjork – Mankind Woman (Heavy Psych Sounds)
A legend among fans of desert rock, stoner metal – whatever you want to call it, Brant Bjork is a name known to all. Mankind Woman is the 13th solo album from the former drummer of Kyuss, Fu Manchu, and Mondo Generator. This is an album of laid-back, feel-good stoner rock, with plenty of R&B grooves and jazzy soul music.
The performances (Bjork collaborates with the Low Desert Punk Band’s Bubba Dupree) and production are similar on Mankind Woman: thick, warm, and subdued, reminding one of The Guess Who at times, at other times a mellow Fu Manchu, and even, on the excellent “Somebody,” Stevie Wonder. Not all of the songs hit home, but when they do Mankind Woman is a fun, somewhat harmless album that can be played late at night around the campfire.
Conan – Existential Void Guardian (Napalm)
After issuing a compilation of early demos last year, British doomsters Conan return with a new studio release, Existential Void Guardian. It’s their first with drummer Johnny King (Dread Sovereign, ex-Altar Of Plagues).
They incorporate both uptempo driving stoner metal (“Eye To Eye To Eye,” “Volt Thrower”) and crushingly slow doom (“Amidst The Infinite”) into their self-described “caveman battle doom.” Harsh vocals are prevalent, but melodic singing on songs like “Vexxagon” add some variety. To augment the original material’s relatively short 35 minute length, they also include four live tracks of songs from previous albums.
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy (Century Media)
Florida death metal devotees Deicide return with Overtures Of Blasphemy, their first album in five years and twelfth in a long line of releases for these forefathers of death and blasphemy. The lyrical themes are purely what Deicide have made a career of; Satan, anti-Christianity, evil, rinse repeat.
Musically this is an album that on the surface level is standard death metal fare, but it throws nuance in as well upon repeated delves into depravity. Benton sounds demented as always with a the gruff delivery of a man who has spent his career gargling with razor blades, look no further than “All That Is Evil” for all of the best components to come together. If you are a fan of death metal of the Florida variety, Deicide do not disappoint, even during year 30 of their existence. Bonus points for some truly inspired and gnarly album art, too.
Dream Child – Until Death Do We Meet Again (Frontiers)
Dream Child was formed by ex-Dio member Craig Goldy, with the band name inspired by Dio’s lyrics on Dream Evil and the nickname he bestowed on Goldy, Dream Child. Other former Dio members in the band include bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy, Whitesnake) and drummer Simon Wright (AC/DC). The vocalist is Argentinian Dio soundalike Diego Valdez.
With that pedigree, it’s no surprise the songs sound like Dio with some Deep Purple and Rainbow influences. Opener “Under The Wire” is an ’80s flavored anthem, with “You Can’t Take Me Down” more moderately paced. There are some really lengthy tracks, like the nearly eight minute title track and the nine minute closer “One Step Beyond The Grave.” The songs are very melodic and catchy, and while the aesthetic is retro, the production is modern. Though it’s eerily similar to a Dio album, Dream Child incorporate some prog and other influences to avoid being completely derivative.
Ethernity – The Human Race Extinction (AFM)
The Belgian progressive/power metal band Ethernity had a long incubation period. Forming in 2000, they released demos and EPs over the years, but their proper debut didn’t come until 2015. After independently releasing that one, they signed with AFM Records for The Human Race Extinction.
The songs are intricately arranged with a lot of depth and atmosphere, augmented by progressive instrumental breaks and backing choirs along with plenty of heavy guitars. They also bring hooks and melody, making the complex songs more accessible and memorable. Vocalist Julie Colin has a lot of versatility. On songs like “Mechanical Life” she sings with subtlety and texture in parts, while singing with power and edge in others. It’s a concept album with an apocalyptic theme, and while it overstays its welcome a bit at 70 minutes, it’s still an engaging listen.
Grave Digger – The Living Dead (Napalm)
Veteran bands tend to take a little longer between albums than they did when they first started. Not so with German stalwarts Grave Digger, who have been prolific throughout their nearly four decade career. The Living Dead is the follow-up to last year’s Healed By Metal.
Grave Digger play traditional metal with power metal moments. Heavy riffs and soaring melodies create memorable songs with Chris Boltendahl’s distinctive vocals. Guitarist Axel Ritt shines, with creative riffs and searing solos on tracks like the catchy “Blade Of The Immortal” and the anthemic “The Power Of Metal.” It’s exactly what you’d expect from Grave Digger until they get to “Zombie Dance,” which features the folk/polka stylings of Russkaja. The unique combination works, with the campy lyrics fitting right in with the over the top track. It’s a fun song that leads into the potent closer “Glory Of Grave,” wrapping up another solid Grave Digger release.
Grisly – The Spectral Wars (Xtreem)
These days it’s extremely common for people to be in multiple bands, but some people take that to extremes. One of those people is Rogga Johansson, who is listed as a current member of nearly 20 bands. His latest project is Grisly, formed with his former Paganizer bandmate Dennis Blomberg and drummer Henke Lundgren.
The Spectral Wars is no-frills Swedish death metal, powered by Johansson’s ominous riffage and guttural vocals. There’s not a ton of variety, but slowing down and speeding up tempos helps, with tracks like “The Casket Eaters” galloping along at maximum speed, easing into a crushing groove and then taking off again. It checks all the death metal boxes, from gory lyrics to the classic old school sound, and while not forging any new paths, eases smoothly down existing ones.
Hessian – Mercenary Retrograde (Urtold Void)
American retro-metal act Hessian return with their second album, Mercenary Retrograde. Wholesale lineup changes leave only singer/guitarist Angus McFarland as a holdover in this iteration. This band holds the old guard of heavy metal in high esteem, writing songs with a very ’70s vibe.
The music on Mercenary Retrograde is well-produced and for the most part the songs have a great vibe to them. The vocals, however, come across as comical at times – a retro metal version of Jason Segel’s singing in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The stronger songs are really good – “Skull Ring,” “Legpuller,” and “Manos – The Hands of Fate” stand out – but the other songs don’t maintain that level, leaving us with an uneven, at times sloppy, but well-intentioned album.
Infernal Coil –Within A World Forgotten (Profound Lore)
A quick inhale of air is the first sound out of Infernal Coil’s Within A World Forgotten before the album regresses into absolute bedlam. The first two songs, “Wounds Never Close” and “Continuum Cruciatus,” make up less than four minutes, but are some of the most exhausting minutes recorded by any metal band this year. The brutalized death metal the trio locks into tears through any chance of subtlety.
It’s tough to keep that kind of charge going for a whole album without repetition setting in, which is why Infernal Coil incorporate noise and ambient passages as breaks. “49 Suns” is the cornerstone of this ideal, its 10 minutes starting out as typical war metal until the second half’s unsettling ambiance wraps the song in a cocoon of sorrow. The band displays an array of sonic dimensions on their strong debut album.
MMMD – Hagazussa – A Heathen’s Curse (Antifrost)
This is a very subtle horror film soundtrack that makes use of ambiance to the maximum extent. It is for the movie Hagazussa – A Heathen’s Curse by Lukas Feigefeld and is very appropriate as a soundtrack to a film. The music by MMMD (Mohammad) is slow and droning, but this is appropriate for the style of music that the artist is going for. There are eerie moments that would suit a horror movie perfectly, although the music could certainly be a bit more up tempo.
The somewhat slow pace of the songs is a low point and takes away from the foreboding atmosphere the band builds up. Still, the eerie aura that is created has an impact and sets a good tone for the listener. I wish there was more urgency to the music, but this soundtrack suits a slow burning film for sure. It does show that it’s the artist’s sixth release as the music has a maturity and depth to it that is commendable. I just wish there was more happening as that would make the music more interesting.
Morne – To The Night Unknown (Armageddon)
Boston-based band Morne have been at this atmospheric metal thing for a while now, and on To The Night Unknown, their fourth LP and first in five years, the quartet deliver a poised and keenly thought-out performance. Citing doom and classic British crust as their foundational style, the band fit neatly in the sludge-post metal category, with their dour temperament not averse to some seriously rocking and plodding grooves.
Despite the hefty playing time, the eight tracks on To The Night Unknown feel whole and balanced, allowing for a smooth and even listen in spite of the otherwise violent tone. The sound is immense and harrowing, but controlled, with power drumming, clean solo work, and a huge production combining for a jarring, rumbling, and altogether memorable listen. A wholly effective and worthwhile sludge-doom showcase.
Uriah Heep – Living the Dream (Frontiers)
New material in a stylized classic rock format is here at its best with Uriah Heep‘s 25th studio album Living The Dream. Satisfied will be those who remember the ’70s, when rich lead vocals, smooth harmonies, clever verses, and unexpected breaks and bridges ruled the roost. The general sound is tasteful and robust, similar to the band’s famous hits of old like “Easy Livin’” and “The Wizard.”
On the other side of the coin, some younger listeners might question the extreme breaks with seemingly forced transitions and long lead sections with no variance in the keys for multiple measures. Still, Phil Lanzon does have moments of brilliance within these lengthy passes as does Mick Box on guitar and Russell Gilbrook on drums. Fans will be pleased.