This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Amputation, Cult Of Lilith, Dead Lord, Dunwich, Eave, En Minor, Fortoken, The Glorious Dead, Katavasia, Oceans Of Slumber, Persekutor, Rising Steel, Thurisaz, Wings Of Destiny and Zakk Sabbath.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Amputation – Slaughtered In The Arms Of God (Nuclear War Now!)
Amputation were a Norwegian death metal band who never released an album, only a couple of demos. Those demos and some rehearsal recordings are being released as Slaughtered In The Arms Of God.
The reason that demos from an obscure band are being released 30 years later is that when Amputation ended, some members including guitarist Harald Naevdal (aka Demonaz) went on to form the legendary black metal band Immortal. The sound quality of the material is low-fi, especially the 1989 rehearsal recordings. Their brand of death metal was raw and rudimentary, but tracks like “Merciless Slaughter” and “Plague Of Death” showed some promise. This is a release for fans of early death metal and Immortal completists.
Cult Of Lilith – Mara (Metal Blade)
For an album that clocks in around 35 minutes, Mara doesn’t just get in and out in forgettable fashion. With their debut album, Cult Of Lilith take the finer points of progressive death metal and, like an Atheist or Cynic, shrink it down into easy-to-swallow songs. There’s the classical influence in the harpsichord intro to opener “Cosmic Maelstrom,” while “Profeta Paloma” has a full-blown flamenco guitar solo in its middle. Most of these non-metal scenarios play out without distracting from the decimation.
Some may call out the occasional use of melodic vocals as not advancing this cause, but it’s a pleasant enough sidetrack from the gravelly screams. The band doesn’t overdo the theatrics, though when they appear, they become the highlight of the song over the core death metal sound. This happens enough to make Mara an experiment that still needs some tinkering.
Dead Lord – Surrender (Century Media)
Swedish hard rockers Dead Lord don’t hide their influences. They are proud to follow in the footsteps of the great Thin Lizzy, which is evident on their fourth album Surrender.
While there are plenty of twin guitar harmonies and radio-ready hooks on tracks like “Distance Over Time” and “Dark End Of The Rainbow,” there are other styles mixed in as well. “Letter From Allen Street,” an homage to New York, and “Messin’ Up” feature Elvis Costello-esque vocals from Hakim Krim and a poppier twist. And while Dead Lord’s inspirations are from decades ago, they are able to make the album sound timeless rather than dated.
Dunwich – Tail-Tied Hearts (Caligari)
Tail-Tied Heart is the debut album from the Russian trio Dunwich. While listening to the album is enjoyable, categorizing it is much more of a challenge.
Dunwich incorporate a lot of different styles into the album. The vibe is gothic, shifting from mellow and melodic darkwave to intense doom and black metal. Elements of prog and post-punk also make their presence known. Margarita Dunwich’s vocals range from ethereal croons to harsh growls, but are mostly melodic. “Through The Dense Woods” has a creepy, horror movie type feel while “Wooden Heart” is accessible and atmospheric. It’s a unique album that’s dynamic and dark.
Eave – Phantoms Made Permanent (Bindrune)
Black metal isn’t known to be upbeat, but even purists may be taken aback at how downtrodden Eave are on Phantoms Made Permanent. The vocals aren’t so much emoted as they are formless screams that could only make sense with lyrics handy. With the exception of a few acoustic passages, the guitars are locked in a fly-by state, even when the percussion is moving at a pace akin to spilled maple syrup.
This is an album meant for headphones, as blasting it out of speakers loses the melodic nuances of songs like “Visage” and “Gait Of The Ghost.” Phantoms Made Permanent is not always the easiest listen, but it’s one that nails the demoralized atmosphere Eave seem to be striving for.
En Minor – When the Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out (Housecore)
When Phil Anselmo unveiled En Minor as his new side project in 2017, it became clear that it would be completely different from anything he had ever done, and perhaps, it would be the darkest music we will hear from him. This is exactly what When the Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out sounds like.
When the Cold Truth… is a wonderful and mesmerizing journey into America’s folk music. Anselmo and his ensemble go deep to America’s southernmost cities and cultures, seeking the darkest melancholic tunes of the south. In an experimental structure, they ambitiously have written a modern day southern Gothic classic. In terms of musical motifs, the songs are dominated by vast heavy Americana themes, and what drives this album to the brink of a memorable masterpiece is the stunning performance of the band, the colorful arrangements and the astonishing voice of Anselmo; where his deep clean vocals finds special meaning in this album. When the Cold Truth… is a place for Anselmo to face his pain and sorrows, to soothe and purify his bewildered yet wounded soul.
Foretoken – Ruin (Prosthetic)
Foretoken’s Ruin is melodic death/black metal with generous amounts of tech/prog and symphonic energy. Orchestration is as significant as any guitar riff, as the synthetic strings and classically-tuned keyboards lend an air of sophistication that broadens the ill-mannered delivery. The duo of vocalist Dan Cooley and guitarist Steve Redmond have visions of a lofty design for their music, gathering help in the studio from drummer Hannes Grossmann.
Arsis guitarist James Malone also makes an appearance on “A Deathless Prison” to duel with Redmond in a thrilling back-and-forth solo section. One thing to always expect is at least a spectacular guitar solo or two per tune which, along with the orchestration, gives fertility to their passionate debut album.
The Glorious Dead – Into Lifeless Shrines (Bindrune)
The Glorious Dead got their start more than a decade ago, releasing a three song demo in 2009. The band re-emerged in 2017, with founding vocalist TJ Humlinski (Feast Eternal) and guitarist Marty Rytkonen (Prosthesis, Charnel Valley) being joined by bassist Chris Boris (Pan) and drummer Chris Fulton (Reasonable Deception) for their full-length debut album Into Lifeless Shrines.
They play traditional death metal, and do a nice job varying tempos and intensities. Tracks like “Tenebris Arca” are deliberate with some doomy moments while songs such as “Putrefactive Adoration” are dense and destructive with a quicker pace. No matter the speed, the songs are driven by potent riffs that are sometimes groovy, and other times more technical. The Glorious Dead tread down a pretty well-worn musical path, but their songwriting and musicianship help keep things interesting.
Katavasia – Magnus Venator (Floga)
Katavasia are a Greek black metal band featuring veterans from the scene including Hail Spirit Noir, Aenaon, Melan Selas, Agnes Vein and above all, Varathron. Magnus Venator is their sophomore album, which follows their 2015 debut Sacrilegious Testament. Magnus Venator offers what fans of Stefan Necroabyssious would come to expect, classic Hellenic black metal with many nods to the pioneering force, Varathron, which he fronts.
Keyboards instill a sense of the epic. “Triumphant Fate” features guitar riffs of a triumphant nature. These guitar lines represent the song title well. Guitars range from melodic solos (“Daughters of Darkness”) to speed metal picking and gallops (“Triumphant Fate.”). George Emmanuel (Lucifer’s Child, ex-Rotting Christ) contributes a guest guitar solo on “Hordes of Oblivion.” Also, there are moments of traditional Greek music as heard on “Daughters of Darkness” and the instrumental “Saturnalia Magnus Cult.” Fans who can’t get enough of Grecian black metal will revel in Magnus Venator.
Oceans Of Slumber – Oceans Of Slumber (Century Media)
Oceans of Slumber’s self-titled album is their fifth release over seven years, so the group have made their mark and established their progressive sound. Cammie Gilbert’s clean vocal tones give way to growls layered with screams by Alexander Lucian and Semir Ӧzerkan. Soft acoustic melodies transition into a mania of Dobber Beverly’s kick drums and churning, distorted riffs.
“The Adorned Fathomless Creation” seems like a death metal song, but changes melodiously, while “Pray For Fire” has the opposite effect. Even when the music is slow and Gilbert presents her sweet vocal tones, Beverly’s drumming is an impetus that intensifies their songs. Piano and keys are of note too especially on “September (Those Who Came Before)” and “The Red Flower.” Gilbert joins Antimatter’s Mick Moss on the morose-yet-hopeful “The Colors of Grace.” “Wolf Moon” honors the original Type O Negative song while doing just enough to make it their own. Oceans of Slumber is a stunning work of beautiful darkness.
Persekutor – Permanent Winter (Svart)
It’s a winter wonderland seen through a corpsepaint filter on Persekutor’s Permanent Winter. These guys love the coldest season of the year, as eight of the nine songs have some sort of winter theme, whether it’s about ice wars or the frost of dawn. This black ‘n’ roll delight is simplistic and anthemic, avoiding derivative satanic imagery or super-serious ideals. This is a band that records songs with titles like “Black Death Punk Skins” or “Chained To The Tundra.”
Founding member Vladislav Barladeanu uses the early days of black metal, back before the Norwegian wave of the early 90s, for inspiration with Permanent Winter, as well as his Romanian background (he previously resided in Transylvania). Sliding to a finish in under 30 minutes, this album works in stellar lead guitar to compensate for a few uneven songs, like the incomplete “Winter’s Meat.”
Rising Steel – Fight Them All (Frontiers)
There’s a burly shirtless man on the cover art, the tracklist reads like a fantasy novel vocabulary starter pack, and there’s an indulgent amount of “AAAAHHHHHs” and ripping solos. You know what you’re getting with Rising Steel’s Fight Them All.
Beyond the familiar first impressions, Rising Steel have cooked up a hot batch of no-nonsense heavy metal tracks which, giving credit where it’s due, waste no time in giving your neck a run for its money. The first leg, in particular, is a gauntlet of fast and hard riffs with some nice simplistic earworm-worthy choruses. The thing is, I could have written that about many other modern heavy metal outfits. Rising Steel are simply another that writes good, albeit derivative, music but lacks the identity to hoist them truly out of obscurity. It’s a fine album if you need a mindless neck workout; but nothing worth committing memory to.
Belgium’s Thurisaz have an interesting take on black metal combined with folk metal on their fifth full-length release Re-Incentive. Their songs have an epic feel to them that is all-encompassing. Songs like “In-Belance” recall Enslaved and Borknagar as much as they do Moonsorrow and are fine compositions of extreme music. Fairly long running times allow the band to put forth their vision nicely. There is a rich atmosphere here and it bleeds through all aspects of the band’s songs.
At times heroic, the band has a larger than life sound, but there is a small underwhelming feeling that takes away from really great songwriting. This is still a classy piece of metal that combines folk and black metal tendencies. Re-Incentive is a strong work of metal bliss that mellow out towards its end to nicely complete the overall experience.
Wings Of Destiny – Ballads (Wormholedeath)
The Costa Rican power metal band Wings Of Destiny follow up last year’s Revelations with Ballads, which is a potpourri of guest appearances, remastered songs from previous albums and cover songs.
Timo Tolkki guests on the Stratovarius cover “Forever,” and the band also covers the Stratovarius song “Speed Of Light.” Other guests include Mike Vescera (Loudness, Yngwie Malmsteen), Ivan Giannini (Derdian) and Henning Basse (Firewind). It’s a bit of a stopgap, with two remastered songs from King Of Terrors not adding a whole lot to the proceedings, but there are plenty of soaring, melodic songs for power metal fans to sink their teeth into.
Zakk Sabbath – Vertigo (Magnetic Eye)
Zakk Wylde put together the Black Sabbath tribute band Zakk Sabbath a few years back featuring bassist Blasko (Ozzy Osbourne) and drummer Joey Castillo (Danzig). After issuing a live EP in 2016, they return with Vertigo, their version of Sabbath’s 1970 self-titled debut album.
Zakk Sabbath use the North American track listing on their version, which features legendary songs such as “Black Sabbath,” “The Wizard” and “N.I.B.” Wylde and company utilize modern production, and don’t do a note for note recreation of the original. Instead, they were inspired by some live versions of the tracks that altered the songs slightly. Wylde effectively channels Ozzy’s vocals and Iommi’s riffs, Blasko brings Geezer’s bass front and center and Castillo holds down Bill Ward’s parts effectively. While the need to cover such a legendary album may be questioned by some, Zakk Sabbath do a great job recreating songs they obviously love.