This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters reviews include releases from Betrayal, Bushido Code, Chain Gang Grave, Clouds, Endseeker, Greta Van Fleet, Icon Of Sin, Intonate, Monarch, Pathfinders, Shadowspawn, Spectral Wound, While She Sleeps and Zao.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Betrayal – Disorder Remains (Rising Nemesis)
An interesting combination of death metal with some hardcore influences is performed by the German band Betrayal on their second full-length release Disorder Remains. One can expect massive guitar riffs backed by hollow-sounding drumming. The ensemble is somewhat heroic sounding, which is strange considering the style of music they’re performing. This is a very punishing recording and one that will make you remember the style you heard.
While the band leans more towards death metal, a hardcore presence as well as a thrash one can be detected. With a more original and adventurous approach they would be even more successful, but this is a good way for the band to establish their sound. Disorder Remains is still a fun and enjoyable romp of a death metal listen.
Bushido Code – The Ronin (Upstate)
After issuing a couple of EPs over the past few years, Pennsylvania thrashers Bushido Code emerge with their full-length debut The Ronin. It’s a concept record about a Ronin samurai who has traveled through time.
Bushido Code’s brand of thrash has the fast, galloping sections of the genre, but much of their music is mid-tempo and groove laden. The vocals are death metal style growls, adding extra extremity to the mix. The songs are focused and relatively short, but pack in plenty of variety into three minutes. There are mellower moments, such as the instrumental “Prelude To Battle” that contrast the heaviness and intensity of songs such as “Harvest.” It’s a potent and promising debut.
Chain Gang Grave – Cement Mind (Self)
Chain Gang Grave’s debut album Cement Mind comes after a few years of inactivity and a lineup change that has the band condensed down to just two of its original members, vocalist/guitarist/bassist Andrew Lanza and drummer Jason Markowitz. The noise rock/hardcore of their first few EPs is still on this album, though the feedback levels are raised considerably. Every song is drenched in it, and its abrasiveness is not welcoming for those not expecting it.
It may take a few songs to get accustomed to it, but the second half of the album has the band going longer while stepping off on the sheer noise force for increments on “A Touch Of Evil” (not a cover song from Judas Priest’s Painkiller) and “Denial Made Flesh/Painseeker.” For most people, Cement Mind will be their first introduction to Chain Gang Grave, and it will be one that will result in fascination, revulsion, or amazement; and potentially all three at once.
Clouds – Dor (Personal)
Personal Records presents the reissue of Cloud’s 2018 album Dor. It’s atmospheric doom/death metal leaning towards funeral doom. Each of the seven tracks conveys heart-wrenching tales of loss and the accompanying overwhelming emotions. Bereavement and existential questioning are on display. Cloud’s melodic and atmospheric workings fully realize this intense depression.
As to be expected from a doom album, Dor runs at a slow pace. The album exudes melancholy, especially the violins. Keyboards are utilized heavily. Guitars are often stripped of distortion. Vocals range from mournful cleans to guttural growls. “When I’m Gone” features female vocals by Gogo Melone of Aeonian Sorrow. Certain phrases get under the skin and chill the blood such as “My soul is gone” on “Forever And a Day” and the loss of faith on “The Forever Sleep.” Dor could benefit from more heavy guitar parts to create greater dynamics, but overall the band achieves authentic sensations of grief.
Endseeker – Mount Carcass (Metal Blade)
The ears of many death metal fans will be focused on the new Cannibal Corpse album this week. But their labelmates Endseeker also have a new record. Mount Carcass is the German band’s third full-length.
The songs are straightforward with the extremity you expect from death metal, but they are also filled with catchy riffs. Endseeker let their influences like Slayer, Morbid Angel and Bolt Thrower seep into the songs, creating a sound that’s familiar without being overly derivative. On the lyrical side, there are typical death metal topics like zombies (“Unholy Rites”), but there are also more politically charged topics such as conspiracy theories. Shifting tempos, memorable songs and razor-sharp musicianship make for an engaging death metal album.
Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden’s Gate (Lava)
When it comes to anticipated hard rock albums, Greta Van Fleet‘s sophomore full-length The Battle At Garden’s Gate is near the top of the list. They have only been around for a few years, but have already have several chart-topping singles on the rock charts (including “My Way, Soon” from this album) and have won a Grammy.
A knock on the band is that they are Led Zeppelin clones. And while Josh Kizka’s potent pipes have a Robert Plant sound, and tracks like “Broken Bells” do have a Zeppelin vibe, the band has expanded their musical palette this time around. They continue to channel classic rock with a youthful perspective, but add in more progressive arrangements, such as on the nearly seven minute “Age Of Machine” and closer “The Weight Of Dreams.” They traverse stoner/doom territory on “Caravel” and mellow out on the acoustic ballad “Tears Of Rain.” It’s a dynamic album with more mature songwriting and ample variety.
Icon Of Sin – Icon Of Sin (Frontiers)
Brazilian singer Raphael Mendes drew the attention of Frontiers Music with his YouTube video series “What If Bruce Dickinson Sang In Other Bands?” The led to the formation of Icon Of Sin, which also includes Sergio Mazul (Semblant) and Marcelo Gelbcke (Landfall).
Their self-titled debut is traditional metal with big hooks and rousing melodies. Mendes’ vocals are impressive, and sound eerily similar to Dickinson. The songs are musically closer to Dickinson’s solo albums than Maiden. While the songs are catchy and the singing is impressive, it comes off as a bit of a novelty that’s cool for a while, but quickly loses its luster when compared to its inspiration.
Intonate – Severed Within (Willowtip)
With their sophomore album Severed Within, Intonate have parlayed the twisty sounds explored on their 2016 debut The Swerve into five immense tracks. The songs range from six to nearly ten minutes, as the group focuses on the proggy stylings interspersed on their first album. It’s impossible not to with songs this long, yet they’ve found a way to also punch up their tech death side, with impressive musicianship from all four members that isn’t focused on long solos or the most notes played per second.
There’s so much going on in each of these songs that it can be overwhelming to engage with on a casual level. This isn’t aimless background music as little things, like an acoustic melody or dissonant interlude, are missed without all attention on it. Severed Within is a leaner listen than The Swerve, clocking in around 40 minutes while also being able to push Intonate forward creatively.
Monarch – Future Shock (Self)
If there’s a reason to stick with Monarch’s thrashy second album Future Shock, it’s the fantastic chemistry between guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith and guitarist Casey Trask. They split soloing duties down the middle, trading them off with the finesse of a Mustaine/Friedman pairing, while locking in with harmonies on songs like “Khaos Warrior.” The first song alone, “Blast The Seed,” has seven guitar solos in its five minutes, and that’s not an exception, as all ten tracks have a truckload of impressive guitar performances.
It’s the songwriting itself that doesn’t live up to the high-quality instrumental work. Whether it’s goofy lyrics (“Swarm Of The Whorenet”) or the general lack of memorability, Future Shock whizzes by with the lasting impression set on Smith and Trask. The production values have been stepped up since their Go Forth…Slaughter debut, but Future Shock turns out to be a derivative, if occasionally thrilling, modern thrash album.
Pathfinders – Ares Vallis (Music)
The French band Pathfinders are enamored with space, evident in their name and the title of their debut album. They are named after the NASA space probe Mars Pathfinder, and Ares Valles is an outflow channel on Mars. The lyrics on the album is about adventures to and from Mars.
Their sound is modern, blending groove/alt metal with elements of djent and prog. There are plenty of tempo and texture changes and instrumental breaks. Intense vocals contrast the melodic guitars. While harsh vocals of several varieties are prevalent (some more effective than others), melodic singing appears from time to time, such as on “Precious Star” and the mellow “The Light.” They use a varied approach, and though there are periodic lulls, Pathfinders mostly achieve liftoff on the album.
Shadowspawn – The Biology Of Disbelief (Emanzipation)
The Danish death metal quintet Shadowspawn have released their second album The Biology Of Disbelief. The band has reached a strong point in the integration of old school death metal elements, no longer just paying homage to old school death, but reviving the old traditions of death metal in its truest form.
The Biology Of Disbelief contains riffs that are inspired by death metal veterans of the ’90s. Riffs not only have doom and thrash metal in their undertones, but also a glimpse of European melodic death metal pioneers where the worlds of Benediction, Grave, At the Gates and Illdisposed collide. There is no complexity in songwriting, no songs filled with highly technical moments. The Biology Of Disbelief is all about the groove, glory and energy of old school death metal.
Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst (Profound Lore)
Quebec has spawned some quality black metal bands over the years, and Montreal’s Spectral Wound have served notice over the past few years that they are a force to be reckoned with. A Diabolic Thirst is their third album, and first for Profound Lore.
Their lengthy compositions have plenty of ebb and flow, from vicious and chaotic to introspective and melancholy. Those quieter sections on songs like “Frigid And Spellbound” provide a respite before the brutality resumes. The centerpiece of the album is the nearly 10 minute “Mausoleal Drift,” that shifts from regal and moderate to dense and oppressive and back again. Influenced by some of the old school Scandinavian greats while adding their own twist on the genre, Spectral Wound have created an album that’s thoroughly engaging.
While She Sleeps – Sleep Society (Spinefarm)
For many bands 15 years into a blossoming career, the follow up to a top 10 record would be something of a victory lap. Not While She Sleeps. On Sleep Society, Sheffield’s metalcore heroes instead stay true to their hardcore roots and pay tribute to the countless fans who have propelled them where they are today.
While it is rooted in unusually positive feelings for a metal record, Sleep Society is no saccharine affair. For each celebratory anthem about brotherhood, there’s a rallying call to rebel against the world; for each touching harmony part, an equal pissed off denunciation of those who lead us astray from our own self-worth. The riffs are some of WSS’s finest, and the choruses are instant sing-alongs, with most songs filled with unbridled hardcore energy. One cannot simply resist headbanging to these bangers. The world might be screwed, but with unity, self-love and resilience, and kick-ass songs like these, maybe we’ll be alright.
Zao – The Crimson Corridor (Observed/Observer)
Metalcore pioneers Zao have been around since 1993. Though no original members remain, three current members joined the band in the late ’90s, and the two have been part of the group for more than 15 years. Crimson Corridor is their latest album, and first in five years.
After an opening introspective instrumental, the heaviness begins with “Ship Of Theseus.” It’s a varied album, with tracks like “Croatoan” and “Creator Destroyer” displaying aggression and harsh vocals alongside mellower moments and clean singing and even some spoken word parts. Those contrasts make the album even more potent, with Zao’s arranging skills making the songs cohesive even with the twists and turns. The epic 10 minute “The Web” brings the album to a dramatic and satisfying close. The Crimson Corridor is a master class in creating a memorable metalcore album.