This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include Brainstorm, Electric Citizen, A Forest Of Stars, Helrunar, Livekill, Once Human, Onkel Tom, Revocation, Stratovarius, Terror and Walking Dead On Broadway.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost (AFM)
Germany’s Brainstorm have been around for more than two decades now, and their skill and talent really shine through on their tenth album, Midnight Ghost. Back in the day this would have simply been called heavy metal, but the proliferation of sub-genres now relegates this group to power metal status. Don’t let that tag stop you from checking out Midnight Ghost or their back catalog, though.
Andy Franck is a stellar singer, with a voice that is custom-built for exactly this kind of music. Brainstorm soar through track after track of high-energy metal, full of excellent hooks and solos and memorable choruses, all with minimal cheese. All in all, Midnight Ghost is one of the year’s most solid power metal releases, and worth checking out by all metal fans.
Electric Citizen – Helltown (RidingEasy)
Helltown is the third album from Electric Citizen, named after the neighborhood where they live in Cincinnati, Ohio. It also marks the return of bassist Nick Vogelpohl, who also appeared on their 2014 debut Sateen.
Electric Citizen effectively blend psychedelic rock and stoner rock/metal. The songs are mostly uptempo and catchy, though they do slow things down periodically, such as on “Father Time” and parts of “The Pawn.” Vocalist Laura Dolan has a crystal clear tone and sings with power and emotion, with the effects giving it a retro vibe. The album blazes by, with focused and concise tracks that rarely clock in over four minutes. The 30 minute ride is over before you know it, but the songs are memorable enough you’ll soon be reaching for the repeat button.
A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes (Prophecy)
One of the U.K.’s strangest bands has to be avant-garde black metallers A Forest of Stars, with their theatrical, over-the-top approach to their craft. Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes is the band’s fifth release, and is a complex, cacophonous exploration of death and destruction unlike anything else released this year.
Musically, A Forest of Stars excel at crafting music that is at once hypnotic and pulverizing. The lengthy tracks often invoke unsettling feelings as this style should, but what will be the turning point for most people is the vocals of Mister Curse, who comes off as a far too dramatic evangelist in every song. It’s a style that at first is charismatic, but quickly wears thin due to its lack of variance. Dialing back the overacting by about 90 percent would have made this album a real standout.
Helrunar – Vanitas Vanitatvm (Prophecy)
The title of the latest album from the German black metal duo Helrunar refers to an ode from a 17th century poet, but Vanitas Vanitatvm (meaning “vanity of vanities” or “all is vain”) takes a lyrical approach that is relevant to today. It focuses on different forms of vanity and narcissism, which are rampant in today’s world.
Musically, the album is varied. “Saturnus” has aggressive black metal, but also an acoustic interlude midway through. The tempos are on the quicker side, with plenty of blazing fast sections along with mid-paced grooves. The instrumental title track halfway through the album starts as a quiet acoustic number before turning electric toward the end, providing some respite before the pummeling resumes with “In Eis und Nebel.” It’s an album with numerous ebbs and flows that’s engaging throughout.
Livekill – Turned To Grey (SWOL)
The lineup for the south Florida band Livekill includes drummer Kevin Talley, who is a current or former member of numerous bands including Dying Fetus, Misery Index, Six Feet Under, Chimaira, Decrepit Birth and Feared.
The subject matter for the four song EP Turned To Grey is the three year old Shinichi Tetsutani that was killed in the atomic bomb strike in Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 during World War II. The songs on the EP blend alternative metal and hardcore. It’s aggressive and heavy, but with groove and melody as well. Vocalist Carlos Guerreros alternates harsh vocals and singing. Even by EP standards it’s short, just 12 minutes, but very effective, and whets the appetite to hear more material.
Once Human – Stage Of Evolution (earMusic)
Once Human released their sophomore album Evolution last year, and return with the live album Stage Of Evolution. It’s not the typical live album, as it was recorded last year during a U.S. tour where they were not headlining.
The nine songs include seven from Evolution, one from their 2015 debut The Life I Remember and a cover. That cover is Machine Head’s “Davidian,” which was written by Once Human guitarist Logan Mader (Soulfly) when he was in the band. It features guest vocals from Fred Leclercq (DragonForce, Sinsaenum). Lauren Hart is a powerful vocalist and the band is a tight unit, and though it may be a little early in their career for a live record, it’s still a worthwhile and well-executed release.
Onkel Tom – Bier Ernst (SPV/Steamhammer)
Onkel Tom is the long-running side project of Sodom frontman Tom Angelripper. They have been around since the mid-’90s, with the double album Bier Ernst (beer serious), their seventh full-length. Onkel Tom’s lyrics are in German, and have historically been mostly about drinking and partying.
With one of the two albums titled Bier, even if you don’t speak German it’s not difficult to figure what it’s all about. It’s full of rousing singalongs that are fun and upbeat. The second disc Ernst covers different lyrical topics, and is differently musically as well. It’s thrashier and darker, but still melodic. So no matter if you’re ready to party and have fun or are in a more serious mood, Onkel Tom have you covered.
Revocation – The Outer Ones (Metal Blade)
The Outer Ones is Revocation‘s seventh album, and second with the current lineup of vocalist/guitarist Dave Davidson, guitarist Dan Gargiulo (Artificial Brain), bassist Brett Bamberger and drummer Ash Pearson (3 Inches Of Blood).
While the band has blended death and thrash throughout their career, this album leans a little more toward the death side of the spectrum, with a lot of dark and aggressive parts. They also incorporate progressive elements that make the arrangements more complex and help add variety and push new boundaries. The guitar work is excellent throughout, whether it be meat and potatoes riffs or blazing solos. As have countless metal bands, Revocation take lyrical inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft on this album, blending the mystical with more reality based topics. The album ends with the epic “A Starless Darkness,” a strong closer to a strong album.
Stratovarius – Enigma: Intermission II (earMusic)
In 2001, Stratovarius released Intermission, an album of previously unreleased songs, covers and rarities. The Finnish power metal band is doing a similar thing with Enigma: Intermission II.
There are 16 songs on the album, clocking in at 80 minutes. There are three new songs that are definitely not leftovers. “Enigma” and “Hunter” both would fit well on most any Stratovarius album. They have also recorded new orchestral versions of four older songs. The remainder of the tracks are bonus tracks, some previously unreleased. There are a couple of gems there, along with some more average songs. As fans await a new studio album, this is a nice holdover that has a lot of worthwhile material.
Terror – Total Retaliation (Pure Noise)
As hardcore/metalcore band members get into their forties, you might think there would be a tendency to mellow or be less angry. Not so with L.A. veterans Terror. Total Retaliation is a gut punch of aggressive and passionate hardcore.
The songs are short and potent, most in the two minute range, packing a wallop of groovy guitars and Scott Vogel’s emotional vocals. Shoutalong choruses on songs like “One More Enemy” make them even more memorable, and whether it’s the rocket-fueled “Break The Lock” or the more moderate “Spirit Of Sacrifice,” the band fires on all cylinders. It’s an intense and cathartic album without an ounce of filler.
Walking Dead on Broadway – Dead Era (Long Branch)
Broadway is known as a place of artistic superiority, and it seems Walking Dead on Broadway have formed a brand of aesthetic antithesis. Still, as they pursue the idea of fierce, unbiased art as a form of redefinition, they only succeed in some categories on Dead Era.
The biggest issue with this deathcore project is that most of the time their songs begin with the same introductory licks and vocal hooks. This is unfortunate, because Nils Richber has more than three dynamic tones, or “shades” to his growl vocal, and the guitars and rhythm section are mechanistically brilliant. Still, missing is some sort of holistic difference between songs, making the overall effect generic, lukewarm and predictable.