This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Archgoat, Audrey Horne, Caliban, Coma Hole, Corpsessed, Fer De Lance, Huntsmen, Radiant, Reaper, Scarlata, Speckmann Project, Static Abyss, Thos Aella, Udo Dirkschneider, Undeath and Wardruna.
Archgoat – All Christianity Ends (Debemur Morti)
Finnish forerunners of black metal Archgoat return with another blasphemous offering in the form of a 4-song EP All Christianity Ends. This is a telling title. It’s black metal to a T, and their music, lyrical themes and imagery fully uphold this idea. This is black metal as it should be, dark, heinous and oh so satanic!
Archgoat have always brought the black metal, fast and fuzzy, but there is something about All Christianity Ends that makes it special. Even without keyboards, good black metal has an uncomfortable atmosphere. They accomplish that with churning, gritty guitars, throaty, semi-death metal vocals and the inclusion of other elements such as chants and brief keys. Church prayers conjoined to a baby’s cries instill fear and a closeness to the band’s nefarious subject matter on album closer “The Semen of Anti Mastery.” 2022 has been a great year for black metal, and Archgoat’s All Christianity Ends stands on top of the skull pile.
Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell (Napalm)
Some of Audrey Horne‘s members have an extreme metal background in bands such as Enslaved and Sahg, but for the past two decades the Norwegian group has been delivering catchy hard rock. That continues to be the case on Devil’s Bell, their fifth full-length and first in four years.
They are inspired by hard rock and traditional metal bands from the ’70s and ’80s. Memorable riffs and soaring choruses on songs like “Animal” and “Danse Macabre” will get live audiences moving and grooving. The instrumental “Return To Grave Valley” showcases Audrey Horne’s musicianship. While most of the songs are relatively focused, they expand things on the approximately seven minute opener “Ashes To Ashes” and closer “From Darkness.” The songs on Devil’s Bell push in interesting directions while always coming back to the hooks.
Caliban – Dystopia (Century Media)
German act Caliban haven’t spent the pandemic finding new hobbies or binge-watching Netflix. Instead, they’ve stayed busy. Nearly a year on from Zeitgeister, a career-spanning collection of songs recreated in their native tongue, they’ve unleashed an LP of new material, Dystopia.
Bruising metalcore fare is the order of the day. Often adopting a darker feel than some past works, these cuts don’t skimp on the melody or melancholy. There aren’t many surprises, and at times the songs’ structure and dynamics feels akin to ‘core box-ticking. It’s efficiently executed though, and there are memorable moments. “Hibernate” is a pseudo-metalcore ballad that resonates, and furious “Phantom Pain” packs a groove. The guest spots also inject energy. Job For A Cowboy growler Jonny Davy joins in on the vocally versatile “Dragon”. Meanwhile, Marcus Bischoff, front-man of long-time pals Heaven Shall Burn elevates “VirUS,” a track in the vein of his band that offers catchy hooks and seismic-shifting breakdowns. After 25 years, Caliban have crafted a sound that works for them. And at this point, there are worse propositions than giving fans what they want.
Coma Hole may only have two members, (bassist/vocalist Eryka Fir and drummer Steve Anderson), but their self-titled EP has such a full sound to it that any more than that would throw off its appeal. They show excellence in manipulating tension on these four songs. This is best exemplified by the songs that bookend the EP, “The Familiar” and “Sinking,” both of which are 11 minutes each and never short on thrills.
The latter deserves special shoutout for its mind-bending second half, which has Anderson seemingly destroy his drum kit in an exhilarating performance. The closest the band comes to that sort of emotional high is the punchy “Old Climb,” which is like a burst of turbo after the controlled pace of “The Familiar.” Coma Hole’s supercharged debut EP puts this duo in prime position to make some headway in the stoner/doom landscape.
Corpsessed – Succumb To Rot (Dark Descent)
The Finnish death metal band Corpsessed have been around for 15 years now. It took them a while to release a full-length (2014’s Abysmal Threshold.), but they have been on a roll the past several years. Succumb To Rot is their fourth full-length.
While their brutality and song titles like “Death-Stench Effluvium” and “Sublime Indignation” are straight out of the death metal playbook, Corpsessed change things up enough to avoid monotony. Tempo changes on tracks like “Relentless Energy” and an ominous intro on “Spiritual Malevolence” before the extremity kicks in give the album a nice ebb and flow and some respite from constant intensity. It’s a well rounded and well played death metal album.
Fer De Lance – The Hyperborean (Cruz Del Sur)
Acoustic guitars have been used for decades in metal, but typically for introduction tracks or as a appetizer for a formidable closer. While Fer De Lance use acoustics for these sorts of instances on The Hyperborean, they are also added onto every song on the album, and not just in throwaway fashion. The acoustics are as vital as any of the other instruments, acting as an alluring presence in the background while these tunes sail some choppy waters.
The band have a bit of blackened Viking metal in their blood on “Ad Bestias” and “Arctic Winds,” though any part of The Hyperborean could have someone with an active imagination picturing crossing a frosty ocean that stretches over the vast horizon. With high-spirited vocals and a far-reaching scope as a plus, Fer De Lance set off for a journey of peril across treacherous environments.
Huntsmen – The Dying Pines (Prosthetic)
Americana metal outfit Huntsmen bestow upon us The Dying Pines, a 3-song EP. Containing two new songs – “The Dying Pines” and “Let the Buried Lie Forgotten” – and an upended and unique cover of Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Carry On” – it is a haunting, doomy, and morose outing that beautifully illustrates exactly where the band is in its evolution.
There’s a definite CSN&Y vibe here, and not just because of the harrowing cover song. The acoustic “The Dying Pines” is rife with odd vocal harmonies, and “Let the Buried Lie Forgotten is an intentionally disconcerting epic while also going all in on vocal harmonies. All three songs are strong in their own right, making The Dying Pines a welcome addition to Huntsmen’s catalog.
Radiant – Written By Life (Massacre)
The 1980’s may be in the past, but that doesn’t stop bands like Radiant from trying to relive those hard rocking days with an album like Written By Life. A loose concept about the lives of the band members, tales of hardship and loss are counteracted by inspirational musings like never giving up on your dream and the power of friendship.
It’s not David Foster Wallace or Edgar Allan Poe in terms of hefty themes, but vocalist Herbie Langhans’ passionate performance sells even the cheesiest line. The music aspect isn’t a far departure from the band’s self-titled 2018 debut, with a mix of rockers and ballads that keeps the album moving at a stable clip. While not as bloated as their previous release was, it’s missing a grandiose anthem on the scale of “You Rock” from their first album. Written By Life is authentically crafted, as long as it being a throwback isn’t a deterrent for anyone.
Reaper – Viridian Inferno (Dying Victims)
Australian black thrash bandits Reaper are here to throw their collective hats into the ring with fellow countrymen Destroyer 666 and Vomitor with their debut Viridian Inferno.
Straight to the point tracks like “Taste the Blood” and “Drop of the Blade” are rapid fire and an absolute blitzkrieg on the senses, barely giving the listener a chance to breathe before shifting back into the chaotic onslaught of riffs and satanism. This is a no-frills affair, barely getting over the 30 minute mark, perfect for that jolt that a morning coffee or a visit to the gym won’t do for you, Viridian Inferno is a debaucherous debut and a shot in the arm for heshers all throughout the collective pit.
Passion can make up for any number of shortcomings, as evident by Scarlata’s debut album, Power Through. The solo project of musician John Scarlata, this is largely instrumental, with “Common Ground” being the only track to feature vocals. That’s fine, as the lack of them lets Scarlata focus on his fluid guitar soloing that is all over these songs.
The songwriting is structured where the solos are the attraction, which works when a song is two or three minutes. When the songs stretch to five, even seven, minutes is where they begin to crumble apart. It’s through Scarlata’s sheer enthusiasm that the whole album doesn’t fall completely into pieces. More contemplative numbers like “Alpenglow,” a lovely composition of subdued guitars, would’ve kept Power Through from being too accurate to its title.
Speckmann Project – Fiends Of Emptiness (Emanzipation)
Paul Speckmann has been in numerous bands over the past few decades, the best known one being Master. He’s also a current or former members of groups including Abomination, Cadaveric Poison, Martyr, Deathstrike, Walpurgisnacht and many more. Back in 1991, Speckmann Project released their self-titled debut. It took more than 30 years, but they return with their second album Fiends Of Emptiness.
This time Speckmann teamed up with guitarist Rogga Johansson. The pair have released several Johannson & Speckmann albums, the last one in 2020. Kjetil Lynghaug (guitar) and Jon Rudin (drums) round out the lineup. Fiends Of Emptiness revisits the band’s early days, blending old school death with the aggression of punk and thrash. Songs like “Destroy The Weak” and “A Sick Carnival” blaze by in two and three minute bursts. They cram 13 songs into a little more than a half hour. Speckmann and Johannson’s chemistry is evident on this blast from the past.
Static Abyss – Labyrinth Of Veins (Peaceville)
Static Abyss are a new band, but the duo’s members are anything but rookies. Chris Reifert has been part of Autopsy for decades, and has been in numerous other groups such as Death, Violation Wound and Abscess. Greg Wilkinson is also now in Autopsy, and has been in several other bands.
Reifert has explored numerous genres in his other bands, with Labyrinth Of Veins a death/doom record. The death metal parts of songs like “Nothing Left To Rot” are brutal but intricate, with the doom sections deliberate and majestic. Even brief songs like the minute and a half “You Are What You Kill” incorporate both styles. They shift between focused tracks like that one and more expansive numbers such as the title track, which has a glacial pace throughout, and closer “Clawing To The Top Of The Dead,” which returns to the ebb and flow of most of the other songs. Labyrinth Of Veins is a potent debut, which it not surprising considering the caliber of its members.
Thos Aella – Sempiternal Mobocracies (I, Voidhanger)
Sempiternal Mobocracies comes only 13 months after Thos Aella’s debut album, Abnegation Psalms, and has this one-man project from Father Befouled guitarist Derrik “Ghoul” Goulding taking on a maturation of its blackened death metal. Even with a short time between releases, the production values and songwriting have taken a notable step ahead of the band’s first record. The guitar work really shows this, with prog-influenced leads on “Conjured To Conquer (We Drink From The Chalice Of Triumph)” and “Backwards Afterbirth Flows Unto Dreaming Temples.”
These outward sonic reveries don’t diminish the rancid rush of punchy tracks like “Transcending Chronology Towards An Inexorable Future” and “This Firestorm Of Retribution.” That’s where the bliss of a sturdy black/death metal song to ardent listeners of the genre can be pinpointed. That was how much of Abnegation Psalms went, but Sempiternal Mobocracies shows Ghoul isn’t satisfied enough with just repeating what he did a year ago.
Udo Dirkschneider – My Way (Atomic Fire)
In the interest of 100 percent transparency, I admit that the tracklist for this collection of covers by legendary vocalist Udo Dirkschneider brought fairly low expectations. There’s no questioning the man’s legend, and his distinctive snarl is still in fine form here. But as per usual with these covers compilations, this bag, not-so-subtly titled My Way, is decidedly mixed.
Surprisingly, the more unexpected selections work best. The opening blast of “Faith Healer” by Alex Harvey through Uriah Heep’s “Sympathy” are imbued with a classic Accept vibe. Even Tina Turner’s “They Call It Nutbush” gets transformed into a convincing headbanger, and his take on Wolfsheim’s “Kein Zuruck” gives Dirkschneider the opportunity to snarl in his native tongue. Sadly, a rote version of “Man On The Silver Mountain” leads a transition towards largely predictable choices that don’t add anything revelatory, and the less said about his schmaltzy take on the title track, the better.
Undeath – It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave (Prosthetic)
This week’s reviews feature a few death metal bands that have either been around for a long time or their members have. The New York state band Undeath, on the other hand, are relatively new to the game, having formed in 2018. It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave is their second studio album.
While there’s an influence of classic death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel, Undeath bring their own style to the table. The songs are dense and destructive, powered by quality riffs and intense vocals. There’s plenty of extremity, but there are surprisingly catchy moments in tracks like “Rise From The Grave.” Shifting tempos help add variety and show Undeath’s musical proficiency. Albums like It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave show that death metal’s future is in good hands.
Wardruna – Kvitravn – First Flight Of The White Raven (By Norse)
Last year the Norwegian folk band Wardruna released Kvitravn. A couple months after that, they did a live stream playing songs from the album and other tracks. Both the original album and live songs are included in Kvitravn – First Flight Of The White Raven.
The 13 song live set includes four tracks from Kvitravn, with the rest taken from their discography, going back to their 2009 debut Runaljod – gap var Ginnunga. The performance is a good representation of material both old and new that shows the intricacy and depths of the songs. Fans certainly get their money’s worth with Kvitravn – First Flight Of The White Raven with both the hour long live performance along with Kvitravn.