This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from The 69 Eyes, Angel, As Everything Unfolds, Blodtar, Blood Star, Dawn Of Ouroboros, Grave Pleasures, Gyrdleah, Liv Kristine, Portrayal Of Guilt, Smackbound, Tanith, These Beasts and Trapped In Thought.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The 69 Eyes – Death Of Darkness (Atomic Fire)
Finland’s The 69 Eyes have been consistently knocking out records for more than 30 years. Led by Jyrki 69’s deep Elvis croon, Death Of Darkness is their latest exercise in goth ‘n’ roll. The group’s sound meshes the worlds of Hollywood – parts of album number 13 were written at the Sunset Marquis hotel – and Nordic gothic hard rock. It’s akin to a glam metal all-star band jamming with Sentenced, and finding common musical ground. Or perhaps a mutual fondness for the morbid, glamour, sex and the supernatural. As a result, there are earworms, but also plenty of brooding.
There’s a darkness running throughout, but without neglecting a quality hook for wider audiences to digest – see the hint of Billy Idol on “Drive.” There’s also sufficient variety to keep things fresh. “Gotta Rock,” a cover of Finnish rockers Boycott, is groovy and catchy. Yet it slots neatly alongside “This Murder Takes Two,” a strangely effective duet with Kat Von D. It’s a Southern gothic murder ballad with roots in Johnny Cash’s studio, and sounds like it. The band soon easily segues into the swagger of “California.” There’s plenty of strong material here – darkness doesn’t typically sound this inviting.
Angel – Once Upon A Time (Cleopatra)
Casablanca Records attempted to capitalize on the success of KISS by signing Angel and pushing them as the “anti-KISS.”- Resplendent in heavenly white satin and soft-focus pouty faces, they differed from KISS in one other significant way: musicianship. Never achieving the superstardom of their darker counterparts, Angel created a uniquely lush and melodic hard rock sound. With original members Frank Dimino and Punky Meadows still involved, their latest release Once Upon A Time continues in that tradition.
Opener “The Torch” recalls the progressive side of Angel’s earliest releases, while lead single “It’s Alright” reflects the power pop tendencies of their best known albums, all of it wrapped up in the grandiose pomposity (and I mean that it the best possible way) Angel fans expect. Singer Dimino stays in a lower range these days, but ballad “Let In Rain” displays a weathered soulfulness reminiscent of Journey’s Steve Perry. All in all, a late-career triumph.
As Everything Unfolds – Ultraviolet (Long Branch)
With its thumping electronics and ear-candy choruses, As Everything Unfolds know the tricks to win over casual metal fans with their second album, Ultraviolet. Their songs have an instantaneous effect on those willing to give in to music with a mainstream pull. Underneath that, however, is a veiled darkness that reveals itself, like when vocalist Charlie Rolfe lets out unexpected screams after a period of smooth singing.
“Flip Side” is one where that angle of the band is explored, coming off the aftermath of an “Infrared” interlude that could be a bouncy dance tune with a proper remix. Even when the metal kicks in, their melodic sense is kept up. Ultraviolet is put together with mass appeal without As Everything Unfolds having to settle for mediocrity.
Blodtar – Det Förtegna Förflutna (Nordvis)
There was folk sensibility to the rawness of Blodtar’s black metal on their 2021 self-titled EP, with acoustic outros wistfully standing out through the low-fi buzz. Their debut album Det Förtegna Förflutna (which translates to “The secretive and quiet past”), boosts the production values to let the folksy inspiration come out even when they are at their most electric. The acoustics do return for a few song outros, and their presence on a dreary break within closer “En brynja av barr” is very effective.
Outside of the folk-inspired compositions is the same boundless negative zest the duo had on their EP. Most songs tend to mix up the mayhem with a surrealism that can be stretched into songs that go six or seven minutes, but they aren’t overloaded. Det Förtegna Förflutna confronts the secrets of the past and shows no mercy to them.
Blood Star – First Sighting (Shadow Kingdom)
Debut album First Sighting brings Blood Star to the fold. The Salt Lake City band is led by vocalist Madeline Smith and Visigoth guitarist Jamison Palmer. Opener “All for Nothing” is a great showcase for Smith’s powerful vocal delivery, at times soaring above the band while Palmer’s guitar lines take on an excellent old school vibe. This record has the makings of a long lost gem that you found in the cut out bin at your local record store.
“Fearless Priestess” is a stop and go lesson in heaviness, with Smith’s husky vocals comparing favorably to Christian Mistress’ Christine Davis; a sublime performance which should continue to push herself and the band forward. Palmer sings lead on “The Observers” making for a bit of different feel, this time sounding a bit more like Manilla Road’s Mark Shelton with Smith joining in unison to bring the track to its close. Blood Star are a solid heavy metal act set to make an impact in 2023.
Dawn Of Ouroboros – Velvet Incandescence (Prosthetic)
In 2018, Dawn Of Ouroboros started building their musical empire; with great abilities to merge, expand and develop subgenres of death and black metal to lead their audience to a sensational soundscape. The result was the acclaimed 2020 album The Art Of Morphology. Now they need a sequel as impressive as the debut, and Velvet Incandescence is here to witness a standing ovation from a stunned audience.
With all the similarities it shares with its peers, Velvet Incandescence is creative and influential. It stands with might in the two poles of endless galactic melodies and hypnotizing complexities in the compositional structure. Everything becomes surrealistic when Dawn of Ouroboros reach a stage of songwriting where music become an empyrean medium to reach the peak of progressive death/black metal glorious storytelling. Dawn Of Ouroboros have completed their music empire with Velvet Incandescence.
Grave Pleasures – Plagueboys (Century Media)
After a six year hiatus, post-punk party Grave Pleasures return with Plagueboys, bringing with them a sense of gothic darkness and a flavor that fits well within the ‘80s underground. The band, who are led by Hexvessel frontman Mat McNerney and bassist Valtteri Arino, go from straight up gloom and doom “Disintigration Girl” to the hip shaking hijinks of “High on Annihilation.” There is a lot to love here.
Dynamics are showcased on plenty of the album, with some of the best uses of them being on “When The Shooting’s Done” where McNerney’s wonderfully dark voice acts as a balance between the jangly guitars and ever pounding drums. This is the kind of death rock that will make you a fan. It has been a while since they’ve been around, but those who have found bands like Unto Others in recent years will find themselves right at home enveloped in Plagueboys’ lovely darkness.
Gyrdleah – Spellbinder (Black Lion)
Spellbinder brings an occultist spirit to Gyrdleah’s black metal, giving reverence to the dark arts. Much of the album lands in a mid-range groove, keeping itself under control until the precise instance to jettison that for a show of wrath. It’s a smart addition that shows growth compared to the band’s first EP, Passage Into The Night, which was missing that jolt.
There’s a gothic streak coursing through a few of these songs, like the deep-toned singing in “Six Hundred Threescore and Six” and the grim instrumentals “Approaching Gyrdleah” and “Outro.” The main musician behind Gyrdleah, who goes by the name of Flagrum, has a vision with this band that goes beyond typical tropes with the mystical Spellbinder.
Liv Kristine – River Of Diamonds (Metalville)
River Of Diamonds is Liv Kristine‘s first full-length solo album since 2014 (she released the EP Have Courage Dear Heart in 2021. The former Theatre Of Tragedy and Leaves Eyes teamed up with Tommy Olsson (Theatre Of Tragedy) for the album, which also has a few guest vocalists.
Opener “Our Immortal Day” has a gothic vibe, enhanced by Østen Bergøy’s (Tristania) baritone vocals. The title track features Moonspell’s Fernando Ribiero and soprano vocals from Kristine, making it another gothic-tinged track. The majority of the songs on the album, though, are are in the pop/rock vein with accessible melodies. River Of Diamonds is a family affair, with Kristine’s sister Carmen Elise Espenaes (Midnattsol) guesting on “Love Me High” and her husband Michael Espenaes sings on the Jon Lord cover “Pictured Within.” The album closes with another cover, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” There aren’t many metal moments, but the album is filled with quality songs and Kristine’s excellent vocals.
Portrayal Of Guilt – Devil Music (Run For Cover)
The Austin, Texas band Portrayal Of Guilt have an ever-shifting sound that incorporates a wide variety of styles under the extreme metal banner. Their latest release Devil Music follows in that same eclectic path.
The album consists of five different songs, each with two versions. The initial renditions range from sludge to hardcore to post metal, with black metal style vocals from Matt King, save for some clean singing on “Burning Hand.” The alternative versions replace the extremity with strings and brass, removing the brutality while keeping the harsh vocals, making for an interesting dichotomy. It’s a creative and interesting way to approach an album, and Devil Music doesn’t disappoint, with two compelling versions of each song.
Smackbound – Hostage (Frontiers)
Hostage is the second album from the Finnish hard rock/traditional metal band Smackbound, with members that have been in bands such as Stratovarius, Wintersun and Tracedawn. It has been a busy few years for vocalist Netta Laurenne, who in addition to Smackbound, also recently released an album with Noora Louhimo.
The album continues the path of their debut, with songs that have ample heaviness, but are also packed with hooks and singalong choruses. From mid-paced numbers like “Change” to more urgent tracks like the heavy hitting “Razor Sharp” to mellower songs like the ballad “Imperfect Day,” Laurenne’s versatile vocals are front and center. She sings with subtlety when needed, and is also able to belt it out when required. Hostage is streamlined and flows well, with the band changing their approach on closer “The Edge,” a 9 minute dynamic opus that shows they can also write expansive and complex songs along with radio-friendly singles.
Tanith – Voyage (Metal Blade)
Voyage is thundering trio Tanith’s second album and first in nearly four years. It is the next chapter for co-vocalists Russ Tippins (Satan) and Cindy Maynard along with drummer Keith Robinson. They are a proto metal band steeped well within the nascent years of the genre in the early ‘70s. This is evidenced by the guitar tone on opener “Snow Tiger” as Tippins and Maynard trade verses before a guitar solo picks up the pace and the drums help to keep everything together.
“Olympus By Dawn” has massive riffs, some of which almost sound as though it could have been on Thin Lizzy’s Thunder and Lightning, balanced by the united voices of Tippins and Maynard; masterfully well done. Maynard’s beautiful vocals are at their peak on “Adrasteia” as they masterfully counter Tippins’ riffs which gallop along at a frantic pace. Tanith are a band all about the exact amount of each members’ contribution, and on Voyage everybody is on point making for an exceptionally well-crafted heavy rock record, one that is chock full of little things that make this record more spectacular every time through. Tanith are a retro revolution.
These Beasts – Cares, Wills, Wants (Magnetic Eye)
After EPs in 2016 and 2019, the Chicago stoner/sludge metal trio These Beasts are finally issuing their debut full-length Cares, Wills, Wants. They worked with the legendary Sanford Parker, who has produced everybody from The Gates Of Slumber to Minsk to Spirit Adrift.
Cares, Wills, Wants is packed with potent sludgy riffs and a thunderous drum sound. Tracks like “Cocaine Footprints” never lose the groove, but the shift from melodic singing to harsh vocals give it an interesting twist. “Nervous Fingers” and “Southpaw” are sometimes chaotic, while “Blind Eyes” is smoother. While These Beasts are from the Midwest, you can hear influences from some prominent southern bands in the genre such as Mastodon, Kylesa and Black Tusk along with noise and grittier styles. They synthesize all of that into their own unique approach, one that stoner and sludge metal fans should find appealing.
Though Trapped In Thought have been together on and off over the last decade, For Those Who Never Came Home is only the metalcore group’s third EP, with no full lengths to speak of as of yet. Various lineup changes have led to this current iteration that has them pared down from two vocalists to one, which emphasizes the harsher vocal front.
It works in giving legitimacy to their views on death, relationships and rising up against adversity. The anger in the loss of a close friend in “Brotherhood” can be felt from the charged yells and the breakdown in “Erode Through Me” is a partnership collapsing in real time. There are ambient sounds inserted into the pairing of “Sheltered” and “Exposed” that the band should consider expanding upon in future songwriting sessions.