This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Axel Rudi Pell, Beyond Mortal Dreams, Bible Black, Crisix, Darkher, Echoes Of Decay, Egregore, Imminent Sonic Destruction, Qaalm, Ronnie Romero, Semblant and Urferd.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Axel Rudi Pell – Lost XXIII (SPV/Steamhammer)
Axel Rudi Pell has been releasing albums since 1989. Over that time there have been a lot of different members in his band, but the current lineup of vocalist Johnny Gioeli (Hardline), bassist Volker Krawczak, keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg and drummer Bobby Rondinelli (ex-Rainbow) has been stable for about a decade. Their latest album is Lost XXIII.
It follows the template of previous albums: melodic songs with plenty of guitar wizardry from Pell. Gioeli has been the vocalist for the band since 1998 and always delivers a potent and varied performance. This batch of songs blends radio-friendly bangers such as “Survive” and “Follow The Beast” with epic songs like the nearly 9 minute “Gone With The Wind” and the closing title track. It’s a varied and memorable album that flows well and features excellent musicianship from Pell and company.
Beyond Mortal Dreams – Abomination Of The Flames (Lavadome)
It has been about ten years since the last EP Beyond Mortal Dreams released, and during those ten years they haven’t had much studio activity. But these ferocious Aussies, are reminding us the power of their music one more time with their second studio album, Abomination Of The Flames.
With generally long songs, Beyond Mortal Dreams give themselves enough space and time on on the album to not only explore death metal as their main musical path, but also to explore its sub-genres. What makes it an impressive work of art is the band’s serious pursuit of incorporating melodic/technical/avant-garde aspects of death metal to make the album’s fiendish temperament broader and more terrifying. They have created an opera of savagery and darkness by experimenting with and integrating various aspects of death metal into one collection of evil brutality. Abomination Of The Flames has given an imperial visage to Beyond Mortal Dreams musical career.
Bible Black – The Complete Recordings 1981-1983 (Louder Than Loud)
The early ’80s band Bible Black was formed by former Elf/Rainbow members Gary Driscoll (drums) and Craig Gruber (bass). They had three vocalists in their short existence, including Eric Adams (Manowar), Joey Belladonna (Anthrax) and Jeff Fenholt (Jesus Christ Superstar). The Complete Recordings 1981-1983 includes 14 songs.
The band played hard rock/traditional metal. The songs are of varying quality, with some excellent tracks such as the fuzzy and catchy “Fires Of Old” and rousing “Metal Man.” They also covered the Rolling Stones “Paint It Black.” They certainly had the chops to be a successful band, but things didn’t end up working out. Rock historians and fans of the individual members may want to check out Bible Black.
Crisix – Full HD (Listenable)
Spanish thrashers Crisix were productive during the pandemic, releasing not only last year’s The Pizza EP, but also a mini-movie, video game, cookbook and their own licensed pizza. They follow that up with their sixth full-length, Full HD.
Their thrash influences span the globe, from the Bay Area to Europe to Japan. Though their musicianship is deadly serious, Crisix’s sense of humor is also on display with tracks like the speed metal blazer “John Was Born For Metal.” “Full HD” brings back the glory days of crossover while “W.N.M. United” delivers galloping riffs and more ominous, slower sections. It’s a fun ride through a variety of classic thrash styles and some modern touches.
Darkher – The Buried Storm (Prophecy)
Way back in 2016, Realms, the debut release from doom rock goddess Darkher, was my top album of the year. So it is with no small amount of anticipation that I was waiting for The Buried Storm to arrive. And after six years, Jayn Maiven does not disappoint. The Buried Storm is an unearthly joy to listen to, a clinic in combining delicate folk overtures with foreboding doom.
Maiven writes, plays, and produces nearly everything here, with longtime collaborator Christopher Smith taking care of drums, and the songs run the gamut from haunting, ethereal folk-rock to modern doom. Darkher concentrate on atmosphere and mood in the arrangements to convey a sense of oncoming darkness, and do so with stunning effectiveness. Maiven’s voice has been compared to Chelsea Wolfe and Loreena McKennitt, and those comparisons are still accurate. Combine a stunning voice with apocalyptic, cinematic songs and you get one of the year’s strongest doom albums.
Delirium Of Madness is a mighty tome of doom/death metal from the Greek band Echoes Of Decay that has the proper atmosphere and a morose feel to it that is very appropriate for the genre. It is a My Dying Bride style album that brings its own unique take to the
table. The vocals are claustrophobic, but portray the sad stylings nicely. The guitars weep with a depressing vibe that somehow manages to be altogether uplifting.
The overall effect of the EP is one that is downtrodden but at the same time brings renewed vigor to the mix. There is a sharpness to the riffing that makes it poignant. There isn’t anything overly original, but fans of the doom-death style still certainly find something to like here. The mixture of moods that is usually on the depressing side will endear in many people’s memory. This was a fairly gripping release that could have been made even more so.
Egregore – The Word Of His Law (20 Buck Spin)
Egregore put a ritualistic spin on black/death metal with The Word Of His Law, the group’s debut album after releasing two demos in 2020. The record has a blazing first half, where the riffs have major bite behind them supported by surprisingly tuneful lead guitar work. Though there’s plenty of shifts that break away from merciless tempos, the music gets more in-depth in the back portion of the album.
The Word Of His Law ends with two eight-minute goliaths back-to-back, as their musical roots expand to include neo-folk and minimalistic songwriting. The former is a big part of closer “An Address To Abraxas,” as acoustic guitars and spoken word chants bring out an occultist energy.
The album is a riveting blend of halves, where the second takes the music in a direction that uses the first as a guide without holding too tight to its precedence.
2022 has been a good year for fans of Michigan progsters Imminent Sonic Destruction. They hadn’t released anything since 2016’s Triumphia, but issued a live album earlier this year and now return with their third album The Sun Will Always Set.
Their brand of prog blends heaviness and harsh vocals with melodies and clean singing. Songs like “Fledgling” and “Source” have an interesting ebb and flow. Influences of heavier bands such as Meshuggah can be heard on heavy songs like “The Core,” which are contrasted by mellower numbers such as “Solitude.” Imminent Sonic Destruction incorporate elements of bands old and new to create their own unique approach. Bringing in guests like cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Leprous) and vocalist Lady Luna make for even more variety.
Qaalm – Resilience & Despair (Hypaethral)
Qaalm live by the phrase “Feeling good is overrated” on Resilience & Despair. For 70
minutes, the band absorbs all of humanity’s negativity into four tracks that push the limits of one’s endurance, as is the way with all well-executed funeral doom metal. The group doesn’t stay locked in the shadows, utilizing keys/cello at points, melodic singing in the opener and closer and cleaner-sounding passages that usually come in halfway through each song.
These do little to shave off the growing sense of mortality brimming through every raspy scream and echoed guitar note. The record remains committed to its downbeat methods, even when “Existence Asunder” heads close to the 20-minute point. On the surface, resilience and despair are two separate emotions, but they can also live off one another, as one can lead to the other or save someone from the other. That’s what Qaalm grapple with on their debut album.
Ronnie Romero – Raised On Radio (Frontiers)
Ronnie Romero is an in demand singer, fronting bands ranging from Rainbow to the Michael Schenker Group to Lords Of Black. For his solo album Raised On Radio Romero covered songs from classic rock and AOR bands.
While the artists Romero covers are staples of albums like this, he covers a lot of lesser known songs by those artists, such as Queen’s “I Was Born To Love You,” Foreigner’s “Girl On The Moon” and Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Grand Funk Railroad, Survivor, Bad Company and Uriah Heep are other bands Romero covers. The best known song is probably Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” but Romero’s pipes and the arrangement give it a unique sound. As cover albums go, Raised On Radio has an eclectic mix of songs and Romero’s vocal prowess is evident.
Semblant – Vermilion Eclipse (Frontiers)
Like many other bands, the Brazilian gothic group Semblant were unable to tour in 2020 to support their album Obscura. While they usually take several years between records, Semblant wrote and recorded Vermilion Eclipse during the pandemic.
With several members losing family to Covid during the pandemic, it’s an especially emotional album for the band. The dueling vocals of Mizuho Lin and Sergio Mazul make for ample variety. Keyboards provide depth and atmosphere to the crunchy guitars. Mellower songs like “Purified” and heavier tracks such as “The Human Eclipse” are equally catchy and melodic. They are streamlined and focused, except for the 10 minute closer “Day One Oblivion,” an epic way to end the record. The compressed timeline certainly did not reduce the quality of Vermilion Eclipse.
Urferd – Resan (Black Lodge)
Urferd is a name that screams “Norwegian black metal,” as do the Scandinavian-penned song titles. But Resan is not what I expected. The Swedish group plays
atmospheric folk music suitable for film and video game soundtracks. Comparisons to similar artists such as Wardruna come to mind, but this ensemble definitely do their own
The folk unit begin their album with the ambient “Gryning.” I imagine scenes of a great discovery, a white light of eureka! The song drags on a bit after a while, but “AvrNrd” picks up the pace and the instrumentation with prominent percussion and a prevailing bowed-string theme. The cello is the best aspect of the album. Also, most tracks have no singing, but the last two tracks features wailing “HemfNrd” and beautiful female singing “Dvala.” While Resan drags on in parts, it is an enjoyable listen for fans of Wardruna and Age of Mythology video games.