This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from The Agonist, Arctos, Coffins, Cult Of Luna, Ecstatic Vision, Hallow Point, Kobra And The Lotus, Michael Schenker Fest, No One Knows What The Dead Think, Sur Austru, Tides From Nebula, Urn, White Ward and Workshed.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Agonist – Orphans (Rodeostar)
The release of The Agonist‘s latest album Orphans has been accompanied by drama, with accusations by vocalist Vicky Psarakis that former singer Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) had been trying to hold the band back, something White-Gluz emphatically denies.
Orphans is The Agonist’s sixth album, and third with Psarakis on the mic. Their blend of melodic death and metalcore is intact, with death metal growls contrasted by melodic singing. They also take a more symphonic and cinematic approach on songs like “In Vertigo” and the title track. It’s a focused effort, 15 minutes shorter than 2016’s Five. There’s a minimum of filler, with sharp songwriting, tight musicianship and ample variety.
Arctos – Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands (Northern Silence)
According to the press release that came with Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands, “Arctos is the voice of the mountains, the call of the rising wild.” That laughable level of embellishment could be a detriment to other bands, but Arctos’ melodic black metal is a lot closer to that description than expected. Quaint touches of orchestration and piano work enhance the woodland vibes Arctos are going for.
The band starts off with a ten-minute opus in “The Ancestor’s Path,” and never relents from this sort of epic songwriting. Even the shorter numbers have a hefty push behind them, as if the gods themselves were piecing this together from mountain boulders and tree trunks. Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands has the kind of snowy atmosphere that could only be the product of five musicians from Western Canada.
Coffins – Beyond The Circular Demise (Relapse)
Long running and constantly busy Japanese death/doom collective Coffins are finally releasing their fifth full length album Beyond The Circular Demise six years after The Fleshland but with many splits and EPs in between. As a matter of fact the sheer amount of material Coffins release is remarkable, yet they really hadn’t hit their stride on a full length until now.
Beyond The Circular Demise is easily the best complete work the band has yet to churn out. Recalling days of yore, ruled by the likes of Autopsy; slow plodding death metal with punk rock type sections to break up the funeral procession such as on “Hour of Execution.” This is the kind of album that could move Coffins to the next level and put their LPs on the same level as their progenitors.
Cult Of Luna – A Dawn To Fear (Metal Blade)
It has been six years since their last studio album, but Cult Of Luna have not been resting on their laurels. Since then they have issued two live records, an EP, a split with The Old Wind and a well-received collaboration with Julie Christmas, Mariner. A Dawn To Fear is highly anticipated, and fans will get their money worth as it is a whopping 79 minutes long.
Cult Of Luna inject a lot of ebb and flow into their compositions, as quiet ambient parts amp up into moments of extremity, shift to progressive sections and they top it off with sludge, doom and post metal. They have the ability to write songs that are compelling upon first listen, but reveal even more on subsequent spins. A Dawn To Fear is not a concept album, but is very cohesive nonetheless. From the relatively streamlined 6 minute “Lay Your Head To Rest” to lengthy opuses such as the 15 minute “Lights On The Hill,” Cult Of Luna bring depth, variety and emotion to an album that meets or exceeds all expectations.
Ecstatic Vision – For the Masses (Heavy Psych Sounds)
If you’re looking for a psychedelic mix of noise, krautrock, and stoner rock, look no further than Philadelphia rockers Ecstatic Vision. For the Masses is the band’s fourth album, and they might owe as much to Hawkwind as they do Uncle Acid.
For the Masses is seven songs full of swirling static, hazy vocals, and catchy rhythms. Extended jams like “Shut Up and Drive” and “Yuppie Sacrifice” offset the short bursts of the title track and “Sage Wisdom.” Overall, this is a trippy and satisfying escape from reality that fans of the genres mentioned above will totally be into.
Hallow Point – Blacklight (Self)
Blacklight is the debut album from the St. Louis band Hallow Point. They are influenced by bands ranging from Lamb Of God to Trivium to Pantera, incorporating classic stylings with modern elements.
Their songs are heavy and groovy, with harsh vocals contrasted by melodic singing on tracks like “Life’s Ghost” and “My Resistance.” They stick to all harsh vocals on songs such such as the uplifting “I’m Alive” and the not quite as uplifting “Beg For Suicide.” A couple of brief instrumental interludes provide a respite before the heaviness resumes. While Hallow Point aren’t breaking any new ground, they write quality songs and their musicianship is rock solid.
Kobra And The Lotus – Evolution (Napalm)
Releasing an album a year is something that was common a few decades ago, but at least two to three years between releases is the usual time frame these days. Kobra And The Lotus are on an old school release calendar, with Evolution their third album in three years, following 2017’s Prevail I and last year’s Prevail II.
Evolution is an apt title, with the band’s sound moving in a more hard rock direction on songs such as “Burn!” and the ultra catchy “Thundersmith.” Vocalist Kobra Paige has a potent set of pipes and a dramatic delivery, equally adept at uptempo rockers or more mid-tempo tracks like “Circus” and the ballad “Wash Away.” It’s an album that positions the band for greater mainstream success, but also maintains enough of their core sound to satisfy their existing fan base.
Michael Schenker Fest – Revelation (Nuclear Blast)
Michael Schenker has been laying down guitar tracks for bands since he was 15. That’s almost fifty years, from his early Scorpions work, to U.F.O. and his solo discs. On Revelation, his second Michael Schenker Fest outing, he enlists the help of a number of people he has worked with over the years, most notably vocalists Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, Gary Barden, and Doogie White.
The results are a satisfying but mixed bag of songs that straddle the line between hard rock and metal. Subdued anthems intermingle with fast-paced rockers. Surprisingly, the guitars are not mixed aggressively here, but rather the vocalists take center stage. There are a handful of lightning riffs and of course a healthy sprinkling of tasteful solos, making Revelation a disc that fans of ’80s hard rock will enjoy.
No One Knows What The Dead Think – No One Knows What The Dead Think (Willowtip)
No One Knows What The Dead Think reunites two-thirds of seminal grindcore group Discordance Axis, best known for their classic swansong, 2000’s The Inalienable Dreamless. Vocalist Jon Chang and guitarist Rob Marton make 20 years seem like two, as the self-titled debut from this new project comes off as a cross between The Inalienable Dreamless and Chang’s work with Gridlink, the band he formed after the breakup of Discordance Axis.
Along with drummer Kyosuke Nakano, the band rip through 10 tracks of calculating grind in under 20 minutes. Songs like “Yorha” and “Dominion” are a whiplash to the past, though the band puts on a melodic front on highlights “Dagger Before Me” and “Cinder.” There’s even room for an ambient/electronic interlude near the end with “Red Echoes.” While Discordance Axis are dead and buried for good, No One Knows What The Dead Think reanimates the spirit and drive of that former project.
Sur Austru – Meteahna Timpurilor (Avantgarde)
In 2017, Negura Bunget founder Gabriel Mafa, aka Negru died at the age of 42. His bandmates Ovidiu Corodan (bass), Petrică Ionuţescu (traditional instruments) and Tibor Kati (vocals, guitars, keyboards) have formed the new group Sur Austru. Their debut album is Meteahna Timpurilor, which translates to “Weakness of the Times.”
Sur Austru’s music is atmospheric black/folk metal with traditional instruments and lyrics about the mystical landscapes of Transylvania. The songs are sometimes mellow and folky with traditional instruments at the forefront, other times black metal surges to the surface with harsh vocals and icy riffs. The mood is sometimes somber, other times more uplifting. It continues Negura Bunget’s musical legacy while establishing themselves as their own unique entity.
Tides From Nebula – From Voodoo to Zen (Long Branch)
Although it’s not been a long time since the founding of Tides From Nebula, the Polish band have become one of the most prominent names in post rock music over a decade of their activity. Following the successful release of their previous album Safehaven, which was released in 2016, they have returned to explore their musical universe once again with their new album, From Voodoo to Zen.
Tides From Nebula weave several melodies together and create a sensational soundscape. “Ghost Horses” or the title track certainly are clear evidences of this. “From Voodoo to Zen” is not only one of the best songs on the album, it continues to push the album into a deeper and more epic atmosphere. However, From Voodoo to Zen also has some progressive rock undertones, more than before, and it puts the band at the forefront of playing with post rock, post metal and progressive rock ideas. That’s an act that can be risky, breaking the unity of form and structure of an otherwise cohesive album.
Urn – Iron Will of Power (Season of Mist)
Iron Will of Power seems more suited for chain mail than the bullet belt, old-school worship of earlier albums by Finnish blackened thrashers, Urn. Just the title alone summons visions of steel clashing upon steel. “Will to Triumph” features medieval romps and mead-hall choruses. “Spears of Light” contains Maiden-esque string play and forlorn battle hymns. Mystical melodies mark acoustic instrumental “Gates of Hyboria” and the first part of album opener, “Downfall of Idols.”
As sharp as Urn’s steel is here, they still worship at Baphomet’s throne on tracks such as “Demonlord” and “Prayers,” although these tracks are imbued with an undeniable epic quality. Iron Will of Power isn’t a step away from the blackened thrash of early years, but raised their iron-clad visors to Viking metal pioneers Bathory. In turn, they created something more dynamic.
White Ward – Love Exchange Failure (Debemur Morti)
The first few minutes of White Ward’s Love Exchange Failure could be for the opening to a 1940’s film, a sultry saxophone and piano combination providing the jazzy soundtrack behind a shot of a bustling downtown city. This city hides secrets, dark secrets, the kind that strip away basic decency in a person. White Ward see this and expresses it with a stirring concept that involves a murder, a man questioning his purpose, and a society in upheaval.
The band has upped the progressive side of their music, utilizing guest vocalists to provide melodic vocals and keeping the saxophone and keyboards present on almost every song. At over 65 minutes and stepping beyond the fringes of traditional black metal, Love Exchange Failure feels like the byproduct of everything White Ward had teased on their great debut album, Futility Report.
Workshed – Workshed (Rise Above)
When it came to finding a label for their self-titled album, Workshed didn’t have to look far. The duo of Adam Lehan and Mark Wharton were in Cathedral back in the day, exiting in 1994. Former bandmate Lee Dorrian runs Rise Above Records, who are issuing Workshed’s debut.
They are not a Cathedral clone. Workshed brings an edge and anger that’s driven by gigantic riffs. Stoner and doom are at the forefront, but tracks like “The Windowpanes At The Lexington” and “On Sticks Of Wood” inject thrash and punk influences as well. There are plenty of tempo shifts, with songs like “Anthrophobic” and “The City Has Fallen” going from glacial to groovy and back again. After a long absence from the spotlight, the members of Workshed have delivered a potent debut album.