This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Angelic Desolation, Dropdead, Ewigkeit, Four Stroke Baron, Kataklysm, Lik, Morta Skuld, Nasty, Painted Doll, Proscription, Spellbook, Svalbard, Torch and White Dog.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Angelic Desolation get their point across on the three song EP Quorum of Unspeakable Curses. Their intent to destroy everything is clear and they have a very heavy sound indeed. The songs go through a number of twists and changes in a brutal fashion not unlike that of Cryptopsy or the band that they cover, Decapitated.
Though the band is very heavy and interesting, they still have the ability to be repetitive and this brings this EP down a notch. Still with an intriguing sound and a great degree of power, this is a very solid collection of songs that needs to be heard by death metal fans.
Dropdead – Dropdead (Armageddon)
After releasing of numerous EPs and splits since 1998, Providence, Rhode Island influential hardcore punk act Dropdead set 2020 to release their long-awaited third album after 22 years. Dropdead, which is also known as Dropdead 2020, is 24 minutes of pure rage and statements on political failures and social issues, the human condition and animal abuse; things Dropdead are always known for.
Following a new approach in songwriting and production on the new album has opened a new window on Dropdead’s music. The heavy mix of hardcore punk, crust and powerviolence that made up their raw and chaotic world is now in order in Dropdead 2020. And in the midst of preserving the identity and character of the music, Dropdead have cleverly opened a new direction which points out to their early riotous sound, yet introducing the re-arranged anger and more organized chaos in their recent music. The strange, apocalyptic year of 2020 seems the best time for the legendary Dropdead to return and drop a legendary album.
Ewigkeit – 23 (Death To Music)
Ewigkeit, the long running experimental metal project of James Fogarty (In The Woods, Old Forest) have been especially prolific the past few years. After a reimagined version of 2003’s Land Of Fog earlier this year, they return with the five track EP 23.
There’s not much musical experimentation here, though the lyrical inspiration is compelling as Fogarty pays homage to The Illuminatus! Trilogy novel with straightforward hard/stoner rock. Songs like “God’s Lightning” and the title track have a ’70s vibe with groovy riffs and catchy melodies. The tempo is more deliberate on “Black Space Suits,” but the groove maintains. The EP clocks in at 23 minutes, hence the album title. It’s an interesting foray into stoner/doom that shows Ewigkeit’s versatility.
Four Stroke Baron – Monoqueen (Prosthetic)
One of the more bizarre bands I’ve listened to over the last couple years is Reno’s Four Stroke Baron. Their 2018 album Planet Silver Screen was odd yet enticing. Now they’re back with Monoqueen, an album that contains six cover tunes and five original songs, which are re-recordings from their debut, King Radio.
Bands covered here range from the Beatles to Chvrches, from Red Rider to Post Malone, and all the songs are given truly bizarre treatment that is very hit or miss. Each song is massively over-drummed as well, which when combined with the odd vocals and strange arrangements leads to a disengaged listener. The original tracks fare slightly better than the covers, but overall Monoqueen is not a step forward for Four Stroke Baron.
Kataklysm – Unconquered (Nuclear Blast)
The Canadian melodic death metal band Kataklysm have been consistently releasing new material every two or three years since the mid-’90s. The core of the band is vocalist Maurizio Iacono and guitarist JF Dagenais, who have been there since the beginning. Unconquered is the band’s fourteenth studio album.
It’s a heavy and aggressive album, evident from the opening track “Killshot.” Galloping riffs and relentless drums power the songs along with Iacono’s fierce harsh vocals. Extremity is at the forefront, but they don’t skimp on melody, especially on tracks such as “Cut Me Down,” which includes guest vocals from Wolfheart’s Tuomas Saukkonen. The production from Dagenais and the legendary Colin Richardson is crisp without holding back any of the ferocity that’s present throughout the album. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the force of nature known as Kataklysm.
Lik – Misanthropic Breed (Metal Blade)
The Swedish death metal troupe Lik, whose lineup includes frontman Tomas Akvik (Nale) and guitarist Niklas Sandin (Katatonia), used a variety of inspirations on their third album, Misanthropic Breed.
In addition to the usual books and movies, Lik looked at their own catalog for inspiration, taking old songs in a new direction mixing in influences from classic death metal bands. For example, “The Weird” draws from “Ghoul” on their 2015 debut Mass Funeral Evocation. No matter the inspiration, the result is old fashioned, skull crushing death metal with a variety of tempos that pays homage to some of the genre’s legends while remaining consistent to their own style.
Morta Skuld – Suffer For Nothing (Peaceville)
From a relatively new Swedish death metal band paying homage to the old school to an American death metal band that is old school. Morta Skuld formed in Wisconsin in 1990 and released a few albums before disbanding. 2017’s Wounds Deeper Than Time was their first new album in 20 years, and they follow it up with Suffer For Nothing, their sixth full-length.
Morta Skuld display impressive musicianship on tracks like “Abyss Of The Mind” that make Suffer For Nothing more than a typical death metal album. Creative solos add spice to the proceedings, and while brutality is front and center, shifting tempos and intensities show the band’s dexterity. The songwriting is stronger this time around and the album will appeal to fans of U.S. death metal’s glory days.
Nasty – Menace (Century Media)
There’s something to be said for Nasty’s approach of relentless musical battering on their new full-length, Menace. In one sense the rapid strikes of riffage and vertiginous breakdowns that arrive behind just about every corner can be exhausting – despite the record’s succinct run-time – but there’s an undeniable catharsis that accompanies the band’s unbridled temper.
Reaching just shy of the 30-minute mark, Menace is 14 neck shattering exercises of animosity delivered through a rough-around-the-edges production that gives vocalist Matthias Tarnath a fitting edge to his snappy delivery. With track lengths that venture no further than the three-minute mark, with some even dipping below a single minute, there are moments when Menace fails to make a lasting impression; with a few riffs and indistinguishable hooks flying under the radar. With a touch of homogeneity aside – as well as Menace’s general lack of nuance – the album remains a worthy addition to the band’s catalogue of hardcore indulgence.
Painted Doll – How To Draw Fire (Tee Pee)
The unlikely pairing of death metal legend (Autopsy, Death) and musician/comedian Dave Hill (Witch Taint) raised some eyebrows when their 2018 debut was announced, but Painted Doll‘s brand of psych/rock/power pop was well received.
Their sophomore effort How To Draw Fire continues down the same road. It’s catchy and melodic with influences ranging from ’60s psychedelic rock to ’90s power pop. Throw in a little punk and prog and you have a varied and appealing album. Songs like “You Were Everywhere” are memorable and radio friendly, while tracks such as the psychedelic “Blue Postcards” have more of a retro vibe. It’s a couple songs and about 10 minutes longer than their debut, but How To Draw Fire has zero filler.
Proscription – Conduit (Dark Descent)
Proscription are a Finnish blackened death metal group with a manic, yet strangely accessible, style on their debut album, Conduit. The word “accessible” could mean comprehensible singing or wistful melodies, but Proscription define the word their own way. That way is by jamming into a listener’s brain like an ice pick tapping slowly on the skull for 45 minutes. Painful to some, yes, but those who live off a more severe form of death metal will devour Conduit.
Lyrics from Naas Alcameth (Nightbringer, Akhlys) bring a morbid spirituality to the album, his presence making sense considering he and vocalist/guitarist Christbutcher are a part of Excommunion. The band tampers with tempos later in the album on “Blessed Feast of Black Seth” and “To Reveal The Words Without Words,” though Conduit’s title track ends the proceedings on a frantic note.
Spellbook – Magick & Mischief (Cruz Del Sur)
It’s been a good month for retro rock, with fun albums from Night and Brother Firetribe. Add Spellbook to that list now as well. These guys used to be called Witch Hazel, and released three albums under that name, making Magick & Mischief both their debut and their fourth release. If ’70s proto-metal is your thing, the seven tunes here will definitely rock your boat.
The most obvious influence on Spellbook is Black Sabbath. Nate Tyson sounds like an incredibly enthusiastic Ozzy, and there are certainly some thick, doomy moments on Magick & Mischief. One also hears influence from bands like Pentagram and early Iron Maiden, all of which give Spellbook a very cool retro feel. These guys are in peak form musically, but listeners will likely have a love/hate relationship with Tyson’s vocals.
Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Translation Loss)
The nuanced progression Svalbard have made over the course of their career is commendable, infusing their contemptuous hardcore/metal with graceful shoegaze. When I Die, Will I Get Better? is the group at two different extremes of their sound: dreamy one minute, ruthless the next. The rougher edges are buffered, allowing for understated singing on “What Was She Wearing?” and “Pearlescent.” This isn’t for a line or two, but for full verses and choruses.
It may seem out of nowhere, but Svalbard have been toying with these influences since the beginning. Only on When I Die, Will I Get Better? has it become more outward and on equal levels with their dissonant metal. It’s taken three albums, but Svalbard have fulfilled the potential that was present way back on One Day All This Will End.
Torch – Reignited (Metalville)
The Swedish band Torch formed in the early ’80s, released a couple of albums, toured with bands like Motorhead, and then disbanded. They eventually reformed and an album was released in 2009. More than a decade later comes Reignited, with four of the five current members having been in Torch back in their glory days.
Reignited is traditional metal straight out of the ’80s. Vocalist Dan Dark has similarities to Udo Dirkschneider, and bands like Accept are certainly in Torch’s DNA. The songs are melodic yet pack a punch. There are plenty of guitar solos as well. “Feed The Flame” would have been huge on Headbangers Ball back in the day, and the whole album has that vibe. It’s a well-executed blast from the past.
White Dog – White Dog (Rise Above)
Austin, Texas retro rock rebels White Dog and their eponymous debut are about to take you back to the late ‘60s. They play music from a time before heavy metal, where bands like Blue Cheer and Sir Lord Baltimore might be your escape for heavy music.
With that in mind, songs like “Black Powder” and “The Lantern” are absolute guitar driven jams chock full of melody and a gruff vocal approach. You can almost feel the wind blowing through your flowing locks while driving your van down an open highway. If you’re a fan of proto metal and southern rock, then White Dog are here to satisfy that need.