This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Belzebubs, Chevalier, Crownaside, The Damned Things, Danko Jones, Hardline, Leverage, Lord Dying, Manegarm, Mass, Mike Machine, New Years Day, Sabbath Assembly, Smoulder, Spotlights, Steel Prophet, Tanagra, Tillian and Vaura.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale. For more information on our writers, go here.
Belzebubs – Pantheon Of The Nightside Gods (Century Media)
Dethklok proved that cartoon metal bands can succeed, releasing several albums to accompany the TV series Metalocalypse. Now Belzebubs, stars of the comic of the same name and a recently released book, emerge with their full-length debut Pantheon Of The Nightside Gods.
Belzebubs play blackened death metal with symphonic and progressive elements. The songs are grandiose and melodic with potent harsh vocals. There are numerous guests, including ICS Vortex (Borknagar, Arcturus). Whether it’s focused tracks like “Blackened Call” or more epic songs like the 9 minute “Dark Mother,” Belzebubs bring impressive musicianship and composition to the table. Whether or not are familiar with the comic, as a black metal album it delivers the goods.
Chevalier – Destiny Calls (Gates of Hell)
When Chevalier play heavy/speed metal, they go all in; there is no restraints on the music used for their debut album, Destiny Calls. Except for a few brief interludes, which act as mellow retreats, these songs have two irrefutable qualities: elaborate guitar solos and a breakout vocal performance from Emma Grönqvist. With songs that consider shortness as a negative trait, both are given the position they need to excel.
This is not what would be called a quick affair, though they somehow get all their antics in within 45 minutes. When songs reach a point where minutes go by with solos flying around and no finish in sight, it’s surprising how concise they make the album. Destiny Calls makes its intent known from the beginning, as the band outdoes itself from that point forward.
Crownaside’s From Mud To Ashes is a concept album on the history of the Mayans and their demise by the Spanish. Musically, the band animates their story through groove-laden death metal. While the album has a concrete texture owing to the ‘90s—the guitar tones are especially scrapping—there are progressive and melodic segments.
A clean, ominous guitar harmony ushers in “Xibalba.” “Ruins” offers an ominous melody that hovers around the song, at times soft, and other times heavy, but consistently mellifluous. Guitars harmonize with the bass filling in the cracks on the progressive break during “Never Alive.” The band is fairly technical, too, displaying guitar harmonics and oft complex timing of the rhythm section. These movements always seem to revert back to their bread-and-butter grooves. 28 minutes is rather short and the vocals aren’t jaw dropping, but a solid effort overall that should get crowds moving.
The Damned Things – High Crimes (Nuclear Blast)
It turns out The Damned Things weren’t a one-off. More than eight years after their debut, the supergroup has reformed with a slightly different lineup. Vocalist Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die), guitarists Scott Ian (Anthrax) and Joe Trohman (Fall Out Boy) along with drummer Andy Hurley (Fall Out Boy) have returned, with Dan Andriano (Alkaline Trio) taking over on bass.
High Crimes is a rousing hard rock album with songs that are catchy and melodic but also with some edge to them. “Invincible” is a mid-paced song with a lot of groove while “Carry A Brick” has a more urgent tempo and a singalong chorus and “Keep Crawling” moves deliberately. The album breezes by in less than 40 minutes, a quick ride with minimal filler and maximum enjoyment.
Danko Jones – A Rock Supreme (M-Theory)
Canadian hard rock veteran Danko Jones (the man and the band) is back with A Rock Supreme, his follow-up album to 2017’s Wild Cat, which we reviewed here. These guys play a no-frills brand of hard rock that one might put in the same category as Volbeat, or even AC/DC, meaning they have a formula they love, and they stick to it with conviction.
Here on A Rock Supreme, that formula is strictly adhered to once again. Danko Jones drop eleven songs that, frankly, all sound nearly identical. The songs are all short rockers about girls, parties, and being in a band. This is the band’s style, and we all know it, but the songs aren’t as engaging as those on Wild Cat were. A Rock Supreme sounds like a band stuck in a rut rather than cranking out compelling tunes in their wheelhouse.
Hardline – Life (Frontiers)
I come from a place of bias, since “Hot Cherie” is one of my favorite songs. Hardline do not disappoint on Life. Johnny Gioeli’s singing is nearly flawless and the backing vocal accents him wonderfully, almost giving off a southern honky-tonk vibe, all in a smooth pop metal context that paints a pretty picture.
Ironically, the album’s greatest strength is also its flaw. Hardline sound so pristine as “themselves” that the record seems to blur in the middle, not seeming to evolve. Still, the original ballads are sublime, and while the hit (my humble opinion) is held off until the end with “Chameleon.” If you like hard, well written pop metal, this album is for you. Nice work on the Queen cover “Who Wants To Live Forever,” well executed and timely. Comprehensively, some may call the whole effort “too safe,” but the band lives up to who they are, and then some.
Leverage – DeterminUs (Frontiers)
A decade after their last full-length album, the Finnish band Leverage return with DeterminUs. They have a new singer, Kimmo Blom (Raskasta Joulua), along with new guitarist Mikko Salovaara.
Their sound blends traditional metal with hard rock, prog and power metal and add some symphonic atmospheres. They come out of the gate with the ambitious “Burn Love Burn,” a 7 minute song that’s a microcosm of what’s to come. They add some surprises, such as a folky vibe on “Wind Of Morrigan” and the power ballad “When We Were Young.” Blom is a nice addition who varies his delivery from reserved and emotional to fully belting it out. It’s a nice combination of memorable melodies and sophisticated arrangements.
Lord Dying – Mysterium Tremendum (eOne)
Death. The end. Or is it? The events that shall unfold once we shuffle off this mortal coil have long been shrouded in mystery and wonderment. No one knows what lies in store on the other side of the veil, but Portland’s Lord Dying are none too afraid to explore the subject with their sprawling third studio LP, the concept-driven Mysterium Tremendum.
Upon hearing the first track “Envy The End,” it becomes immediately apparent Lord Dying made prodigious use of the four years separating the release of Poisoned Altars, which was, at its core, a standard sludge record (albeit an impressive one) and Mysterium Tremendum. Tremendum is an entirely different animal, mixing the band’s masterful use of heavier-than-thou bucketfuls of sludge with more progressive musical leanings, acoustic interludes, and actual singing. The result is a massive and mature musical study of the psychology of death and what might await us in the afterlife, replete with any and all misgivings we might harbor regarding our collective mortality. This album, and its concept centered around death signals a triumphant rebirth for Lord Dying as a band. Do not miss out on this experience.
Manegarm – Fornaldarsagor (Napalm)
Manegarm bring a strong folk presence on Fornaldarsagor, their ninth full-length release. This is similar to the roads traversed by Korpiklaani and Finntroll and has a similar feel good vibes. The album features the use of accordion among other types of unusual instruments for a somewhat odd sound. But what an addicting sound it is, as Manegarm bring a full of life approach to the table. The songs feature Swedish lyrics and this suits their traditional sound quite nicely.
There is a vibrancy and color to these songs that makes them very welcoming. However, this music has the ability to become a bit cheesy sounding like power metal. These are small faults and only affect the music slightly. It’s a fun recording that never lets the pedal up from the metal and continues to impress throughout. Fans of folk and Viking related metal should find a lot to like here.
Mass – Still Chained (Pride & Joy)
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s Mass were a well-known band in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. They released eight albums before disbanding in 1987. In 2016 after some of their early albums were reissued, bassist Gunther V. Radny decided to resurrect the band and recruited an entirely new lineup. That resulted in Still Chained.
One difference in this incarnation is the addition of a keyboardist, which adds some atmosphere. Still, these are straightforward hard rock/metal songs with titles like “Kick Your Ass,” “Born To Lose” and the apt “We Are Back.” At 15 songs and 65 minutes it’s too long, but there are many memorable songs that have that old school influence while beginning a new chapter in Mass history.
Mike Machine – Alive (AOR Heaven)
Ever heard of Cryonic? They were a Swedish power metal band that released a few albums about ten years ago. In 2017, they pared their lineup down to a foursome, changed their name to Mike Machine, and switched to ’80s glam/hair metal as their style. Alive is the band’s first album since this rebirth.
The ties to ’80s glam, sleaze, hair metal, whatever you prefer to call it, is strong and genuine. Alive is an album that could easily slot right into airplay along with bands like Poison and Extreme. While there’s nothing original or unique here, Mike Machine’s debut shows they’re a capable band with a heartfelt passion for the ’80s.
New Years Day – Unbreakable
New Years Day have had a lot of lineup changes over the years, and that’s the case with their fourth studio album Unbreakable. It’s the first full-length for guitarist Austin Ingerman, bassist Frankie Sil and drummer James Renshaw.
It’s the band’s most varied album to-date. There are industrial tracks reminiscent of In This Moment like opener “Come For Me” along with more straightforward rockers like “Nocturnal” and radio-ready tracks like the catchy “Skeletons” and “Shut Up.” The production is slick and modern. Ash Costello is a versatile vocalist, able to sing smoothly and melodically along with edgier and more aggressive vocals. With each album New Years Day’s fan base and stature continues to grow, and that will certainly continue with Unbreakable.
Sabbath Assembly – A Letter Of Red (Svart)
Occult rockers Sabbath Assembly have been a prolific band in their decade of existence. The New York/Texas band are issuing A Letter Of Red, their sixth album. Lyrically they tackle topics of imprisonment and freedom with subjects ranging from New Testament apocryphal writings to the creation story of the Yezidi people that were exterminated and enslaved by Isis a few years ago.
Musically the songs have the psychedelic sound Sabbath Assembly are known for, but this time around vocalist Jamie Myers brings more gothic influences. You’ll also hear traditional metal vibes on tracks like “Hymn Of The Pearl,” while “From The Beginning” is a subdued and mellow song where Myers’ expressive style is front and center. It’s pretty focused, save for the sprawling 8 minute closer “A Welcome Below” that has extended instrumental sections. It’s not a quantum leap for the band, but an incremental evolution.
Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring (Cruz Del Sur)
Smoulder’s universe created in Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring is wizards and sorcery; swords and axes; blood and sweat. All of this makes for fantastical imagery suited for the band’s pulse-raising doom metal. The aim of their music is sky-high, with guitar riffs that seem to levitate over the ruins of an earthshaking battle, with a single warrior raising their weapon up in victory. The vivid cover art further makes this abundantly clear.
An up-tempo tune like “Bastard Steel” has as important of a place on the album as do the slower doom-ridden cuts like “Black God’s Kiss.” Throughout it all, there’s the obligatory epic guitar solo on each of the six songs, a staple of this genre. Though the very idea of fantasy-based doom metal has been done a thousand times over, Smoulder make it seem endearing on their debut album.
Spotlights – Love & Decay (Ipecac)
The New York doomgaze band Spotlights are now a trio, with touring drummer Chris Enriquez officially added to the lineup of Mario (guitar/vocals) and Sarah (vocals/bass) Quintero. Love & Decay is their third full-length, and comes on the heels of last year’s Hanging By Faith EP.
Thick riffs propel the music at a deliberate pace, with dreamy melodic sections providing light alongside the heavy doom. They pick up the pace slightly on “Xerox”, while “The Age Of Decay” adds an alt rock vibe. The album’s tour-de-force is the 11 minute “The Beauty Of Forgetting” that incorporates everything from industrial to acoustic to doom along with ethereal vocals from Sarah Quintero. Sometimes crushing, sometimes airy and light, Love & Decay is an emotive album that should appeal to fans of post metal, doom and shoegaze.
Steel Prophet – The God Machine (Rock of Angels)
Steel Prophet have flown the flag of power metal in America for nearly four decades. The God Machine marks a new era with Mystic Prophecy singer Roberto Dimitri Liapakis taking the reigns as front man. R.D. doesn’t require a green light, as the band goes for the throat on opener “The God Machine.” The speed of this number seems ripe for nailing high-octave wails, and Liapakis pushes his voice to awesome heights while showing vibrato mastery.
Although some of the lyrics and choruses are genre clichés, the melodies linger. Steve Kachinsky and Jon Paget strike a balance between flashy solos and catchy chords. From the doomed dirges of Black Sabbath (“Crucify,” “Damnation Calling”) to the N.W.O.B.H.M. styling on “Life=Love=God Machine,” the duo produce familiar yet effective riffs. The God Machine shows some flaws lyrically and production wise (too clean), but has enough “wow” moments to overshadow these flaws.
Veering off the path that began in their first album, Tanagra have exchanged most of their power metal fuel for a more technical style that carries far more finesse. Meridiem relies heavily on flowing vocal harmonies and a droning undertone, with a direct attack from the melody being extremely rare. The record has enough variety to give an Italian deli a run for its money and the musicianship is nothing short of excellent (especially that drumwork in “Silent Chamber”). At times, Meridiem often sound akin to prog rocker Steven Wilson’s solo work, only far more dissonant and dark. That isn’t to say that the record shows no moments of uplifting intensity, as “Hidden Hand” and “Across the Ancient Desert” do have some, but the moments are otherwise few and far between.
The only issue I find in Meridiem is with the vocals. Regarding technicality, they’re great; the dynamics are there and the occasional rough vocals are spat with power. The thing is, they lack character, and in an album that is as expressive as this, it’s more than a minor issue. However, all things considered, this is a really good prog album that’s well worth checking out.
If you listen to just one prog album this month, listen to this one, because Tillian’s Lotus Graveyard is dramatic and dynamic. Even though they’re relatively new on the scene, Tillian have proven that they’re an impressively formidable force. Throughout the album’s expansive landscape are soft songs like “Touched” and “Earth Walker” that convey powerful emotion despite their tenderness, and heavier metal in tracks such as “Love or Heaven.” Additionally, many of the songs also have a prominent Eastern influence, which adds a lot of sincerity and depth to the music. Supporting this vast array of elements are instruments ranging from heavily distorted guitars and pounding drums to soft acoustic piano and cello parts, as well as various backing keyboards.
While all of the parts and players are virtually flawless, Leah Marcu’s insanely versatile voice is the highlight of the album. She’s got it all: beauty, power, rampant vibrato, agility, dynamics. The command she has over her voice is on par with the command Jackie Chan has over his body and it’s simply ridiculous. It’s enough of a treat to hear Lotus Graveyard just for the vocals; fortunately, the rest of the album is also wonderful.
Vaura – Sables (Profound Lore)
On their second album Sables, Vaura erase any trace of black metal from the new wave/goth that were present on their debut album, The Missing. It has been six years since that album came out, and whether it was the long time between albums or just wanting to explore the less metal side of their sound, Sables takes strides in letting the synthesizers/electronics have an omnipresence over each song.
The only aspect bordering on metal is drummer Charlie Schmid’s double bass playing, which pops up on occasion to remind a listener that half of the musicians in Vaura also perform with groups like Tombs and Gorguts. The emphasis further into a gothic frame is accomplished with stellar execution by the band.