This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Altari, Atreyu, Carcariass, Deathgrave, Dodheimsgard, The Hellfreaks, Holy Moses, Jesus Piece, Mike Tramp, Out Of The Mouth Of Graves, VoidCeremony and Wild Beyond.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Altari – Kröflueldar (Svart)
The number nine has some significance to Altari’s debut album, Kröflueldar. It’s representative of the length in years of a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred during the 1970s/1980s in Krafla in Iceland as well as the years it took for Altari to create this record. For something named after an explosive natural incident, their music is not the sort of rumbling black metal one might expect.
Their take is in the experimental realm of a Virus or Ved Buens Ende, using the core essence of the genre and utilizing cleaner-sounding tones as a counterpoint. Though the raspy vocals fit into the genre, almost everything else avoids traditional trappings. Kröflueldar can be understated at times, not giving in to kicking the tempos up, but Altari have put together a release that separates it from the packed Icelandic black metal scene.
Atreyu – The Hope Of A Spark (Spinefarm)
Metalcore/post hardcore stalwarts Atreyu released Baptize in 2021, their eighth full-length and first after the exit of founding vocalist Alex Varkatzas. They follow that up with the four song EP The Hope Of A Spark.
The songs are focused and razor sharp, with the EP flying by in less than 12 minutes. They pack a lot of dynamics into that short stretch, from the soaring melodies of opener “Drowning” to the extremity and aggression of “Capital F.” Closer “Watch Me Burn” has big grooves and a singalong chorus that’s tailor made for live shows. The Hope Of A Spark delivers four quality songs, gives them something new to play when touring, and builds anticipation for their next full-length album.
Carcariass – Afterworld (Great Dane)
Afterworld, the sixth full length from the long running French band Carcariass, features a melodic death metal tone. This is a varied and compelling listen and though the band is branded as progressive death metal, they often stick to the more melodic side of things. It’s a highly entertaining listen with the right grooves put in place to demonstrate a keen sense of harmony. The songs have a grandiose atmosphere to them.
The drumming backs up the band nicely. The vocals are of a typical nature and fit well. However, the album doesn’t always live up to its progressive label, sticking more to a standard melodeath approach. Afterworld is still a very enjoyable effort with lots of variety to boot. Fans of bands like Edge of Sanity will find a lot to like here. It is a consistent and enjoyable release overall.
Deathgrave – It’s Only Midnight (Tankcrimes)
It’s Only Midnight has death grinders Deathgrave back to their ill-tempered ways after a five-year gap between their sophomore album and 2018 debut So Real, It’s Now. Besides a new drummer in Clint Zane, the group haven’t strayed far from a blend of sub–two-minute flights of annihilation with slightly longer tunes with an almost sludgy backdrop.
There’s more of an even split between them on this record, though sometimes it’s a shorter song that offers up a slower-than-expected tempo. This is a long way from their early grind-focused days, as now the death metal/punk side is getting further exposure. Though It’s Only Midnight isn’t much in the way of surprising, it offers well-defined death/grind value.
Dødheimsgard – Black Medium Current (Peaceville)
The long running Norwegian band Dødheimsgard, who evolved from a raw black metal band in the ’90s to a more avant-garde group, take their time between albums. After an eight year gap between Supervillain Outcast and A Umbra Outrage, it has been another eight years since that record and their new release Black Medium Current. Guitarist Vicotnik takes the vocal reins after the exit of Aldrahn.
DHG put their cards on the table immediately with the epic “Et smelter,” a ten minute opus that shifts from mellow to dense and finishes with a progressive flourish. Most of the songs are in the 7 to 9 minute range, giving them plenty of room for experimentation. Clean vocals are at the forefront on the spacey “Interstellar Nexus” while extremity drives “Det tomme kalde morke” for the first few minutes before atmospherics take over. As is generally the case on albums like this, there are some lulls and all the bold experiments don’t stick the landing, but Dødheimsgard’s creativity and innovation make for a rewarding 70 minute listening experience.
The Hellfreaks – Pitch Black Sunset (Napalm)
The long running Hungarian metal/punk band The Hellfreaks have been around for nearly 15 years now, with Pitch Black Sunset their fifth full-length.
They infuse a lot of different styles into the sound they’ve made their own. “Old Tomorrows” starts with aggressive growls from charismatic vocalist Shakey Sue before shifting into melodic mode. “Hit Me Where It Hurts” is a hard rocker with electronic flourishes and both harsh and clean vocals. “Chaos” lives up to its name, flying by in just over 90 seconds with galloping riffs and blazing guitars. “Weeping Willow” is a ballad for its first few minutes before the extremity kicks in with an In This Moment vibe. There’s never a dull moment on Pitch Black Sunset, as they incorporate various genres and approaches into a cohesive and enjoyable album.
Holy Moses – Invisible Queen (Fireflash)
The good news for Holy Moses fans is the German thrashers are releasing their first album in nearly a decade. The bad news is that it appears Invisible Queen could be their swan song.
Since the early ’80s, led by vocalist Sabina Classen, Holy Moses have been a thrash institution. Their brand of thrash is fast and brutal, but they add creativity and different approaches that make them anything but standard. This far into their career, Holy Moses have not mellowed, which is evident on tracks like the biting “Cult Of The Machine.” The title track has a crushing groove while “Visions In Red” is dense and technical. No matter the pace or intensity, Classen’s fierce vocals give the proceeding an added dose of extremity. If Invisible Queen is indeed the end, Holy Moses are going out with a bang.
Jesus Piece – …So Unknown (Century Media)
Jesus Piece’s violent hardcore finally has a New Testament in the form of their sophomore effort …So Unknown, featuring some of the most potent songs of their career. The opening 1-2 punch of “In Constraints” and “Fear of Failure” have vocalist Aaron Heard all over the place while stomp and bounce riffs explode with the violent energy you expect from this Philadelphia five piece.
The band’s new rallying cry “FTBS” (F–k The Bulls–t) is one of the most Philly things I have ever heard in terms of overall attitude, infinitely chantable to their fervent masses. “Gates of Horn” is a slow mover that develops into total chaos with many bodies being thrown around for good measure, a track that feels as though it was made to be experienced live. Jesus Piece have nary lost a step and …So Unknown is just the next step in their quest for hardcore domination.
Mike Tramp – Songs Of White Lion (Frontiers)
During the hair band era, White Lion had a lot of success. They had a platinum and gold album in the U.S. along with a couple of top ten singles. Frontman Mike Tramp has gone onto release numerous solo albums. His latest effort Songs Of White Lion revisits tracks from that band’s glory days.
It has been more than three decades since these songs were originally recorded, and these arrangements reflect that. Tramp’s approach is a bit more laid back, and he stays more in his lower register, not going for the high notes on tracks like “Wait.” One of White Lion’s best songs was “Broken Heart,” which should have been a hit. The 2023 version actually works better, because Tramp’s life experience makes it even more authentic now. White Lion’s biggest hit “When The Children Cry” is given a piano background, making for a fresh take on a classic. The only hit not included is “Radar Love,” which was a cover song, so that’s understandable. Songs Of White Lion is a fun trip down memory lane for White Lion fans, and since a reunion doesn’t look like it will happen this may be the next best thing.
Out Of The Mouth Of Graves – Shrines To Dagon (Vargheist)
Out Of The Mouth Of Graves’s second album Shrines To Dagon easily incorporates the resident horror of Lovecraft’s works into its songs. That’s why the band’s effort to place the terrifying world of Lovecraft as the source and main theme of the lyrics has been eloquently implemented, not only in lyrics but also in the musical structure.
Before Shrines To Dagon flaunts its progressive strains, it is a full-on old-school death metal, with dissonant, doom and black metal touches. Since the band hasn’t offered anything new and exceptional in songwriting, the songs gain their distinctive perspective from the impressive ability to implement a blood-curdling and formidable soundscape. The sound is so massive, loud and reverberant that it seems to resonate through the shrines of Dagon, which ultimately leads to a sonic imagery that sets the scene to confront Lovecraft’s favorite sea-dwelling monster; and that provides enough of everything to make Shrines To Dagon commendable.
VoidCeremony – Threads Of Unknowing (20 Buck Spin)
Channeling sounds from beyond, VoidCeremony return with their cosmic death/black metal on Threads Of Unknowing, evoking the sounds of the cosmos through their riffs and otherworldly vocals. Speaking of traveling through galaxies, “Writhing in the Façade of Time” will send you spiraling beyond the astral plane with solos and an outro that act as portals to unexplored phenomena.
The bass playing is expert level on “Abyssic Knowledge Bequeathed,” wobbling its way into the depths of your mind making for an all-encompassing track from a band that clearly excels at getting the listener to do just that. Pay special attention to the closing suite “Forlorn Portrait: Ruins of an Ageless Slumber” as it is right up there for classic long plays of the style. Fans of Blood Incantation, Stargazer and Timeghoul will find themselves right at home with this interstellar and imaginative cosmic death metal, one of the best of the style since Hidden History Of The Human Race and one of the best albums of 2023 to date.
Wild Beyond – Wild Beyond (Gates Of Hell)
Wild Beyond jet out to the cosmos but find nothing but emptiness and death out there on their self-titled debut. This blackened thrash metal group from Philadelphia rattles with the force of a ship in hyperdrive, almost buckling under the pressure of deep space. It takes the ears a song or two to get accustomed to the whiplashing, though tactical steps are taken to ease up the middle of the album with “Arctic Stargate” and “Sculpting The Abyss.”
Even then, the trio never loses sight of their hectic energy. The band doesn’t completely take it easy until instrumental closer “Exit Wounds,” where toned-down guitars and airy keyboards provide the sounds of the void above us. It’s a mellow finish to an enraged album that boils with the heat generated from interdimensional travel.