This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Asystole, Atemporal, Ayyur, The Golden Grass, The Grifted, Heathen Foray, Heretic Plague, Imperial Demonic, Lo!, Medevil, Paul Gilbert, Sunrot, Tribulation and Valensorow.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Asystole – Siren To Blight (I, Voidhanger)
Asystole’s death metal on Siren To Blight unravels itself to reveal a complexity that goes beyond being merely technical. If this was a painting, it would be color thrown on a canvas with whips from a paint brush, not making sense initially before coming together as a work of avant-garde mastery. What could be a 30-minute affair turns into hours of dissection.
Nothing is as is appears on Siren To Blight; even an interlude track “Respite” is a clash between acoustic and electric dominance. There’s plenty going on in each of the seven songs, and Asystole never buckle when it comes to finding new ways to astonish and confuse a listener. Its brevity proves to be one of its strong suits in being able to comprehend exactly what the group is about on their first record.
Atemporal – Thorn Genesis (I, Voidhanger)
Atemporal is a solo project from musician Sebastian Montesi, who has been a member of groups such as Auroch and Mitochondrion. Thorn Genesis lets Montesi loose on the guitar, as the crux of these songs rely upon his prowess to add finesse to the blackened death metal proceedings. An extensive opener and closer, the latter being over 16 minutes, blanket four sturdier tracks that are better suited for Montesi’s vision.
The shorter compositions work better since the schizophrenic guitars can grow to be exhausting. When it’s jammed into a song with the girth of finale “Backward Down The Thorny Path,” it’s hard to maintain that sort of frazzled delivery for anything over a few minutes. Montesi gives himself free reign to put an eclectic spin on death/black music, and Thorn Genesis is quite a berserk debut.
Ayyur – Prevail (Armee de la Mort)
Ayyur are a Tunisian black metal duo formed in 2007 and since then they have released several EPs, splits and a demo. 2023 is the year that Ayyur have put everything together to release their first studio album, Prevail, which is a significant fragment of time for Ayyur that displays an effort to establish stronger foundations of the band’s sonic nature.
The thing that stands out most of all on Prevail is that when it comes to playing black metal, the songs do not reach enough depth in the processing and implementation of ideas; even when the songs are mixed with doom metal, taking on a macabre characteristics. But Prevail has an absorbent feature. When the band decides to create a thick, dense atmosphere constructed on dismal melodies and multi-layered arrangements, suddenly everything takes an impressive shape. Ayyur elevate their doom-tinged mid-tempo black metal with heavy ambient interludes. This is where Prevail gets the attention it deserves.
The Golden Grass – Life Is Much Stranger (Heavy Psych Sounds)
Life Is Much Stranger is NYC based heavy rock trio The Golden Grass‘ follow up to their 2018 album Absolutely! which was my introduction to the band. On opener “Howlin” you get the sense of the band’s adoration of the past, chunky riffs and soulful singing pay homage to the sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s without taking away The Golden Grass’ powerful chops that are 4 albums deep now.
“Spingtime in Stanwoods” is a powerfully progressive track with soaring guitars that help Life Is Much Stranger to move forward from previous records, an album that helps them to carve their proper niche in heavy rock music. “100 Arrows” is a bit more straightforward riffer, coupled with echoed vocals and some wonderful underlying boogie by way of the peppy drums, ending in a crescendo of solos and atmosphere. The Golden Grass have paid their dues and Life Is Much Stranger is evidence of their musical evolution to one of the top bands playing this style today, in their own way.
The Grifted – Doomsday & Salvation (Personal)
Swedish death metal with an affinity for the genre’s roots is a the best way to describe the collective called The Grifted. The band features members of Mr. Death, Septic Grave and oft-forgotten Tiamat precursor Treblinka; no denying the sonic palette from which this group of Swedes draw influence from. Furious riffs introduce the listener to the 1-2 punch of “Fractured” and “Behind Me In Ruins” acting as though 35 years hadn’t passed since some of the more primordial Swedish death metal bands had arisen and taken control of a large portion of the extreme metal landscape.
A vile delivery on “The Maggots Feast” is ample warning of the punk-laced extremes that The Grifted are willing to traverse to get their sound across on Doomsday & Salvation. The chugging riffs give way to growled vocals with a hint of melodicism allow for the listener to get a sense of the evil evolution that the Scandinavian continent made throughout most of the ‘90s until today. To some this is a time capsule, to others this is death metal; no matter the reason this is a fun record to blast on repeat until your limbs atrophy from rot.
Heathen Foray – Oathbreaker (Massacre)
The long-running Austrian melodic death band Heathen Foray also incorporate folk and Viking elements into their sound. Oathbreaker is their sixth album.
Robert Schroll’s vocals are harsh and aggressive, contrasting the extremely catchy songs. For the first time they blend German and English lyrics on the same song, utilizing that approach on several songs. “Raiment” has all English lyrics and several other songs are in German. Oathbreaker moves mostly at mid-paced to quick tempos, with more epic length tracks like the seven minute “Leben” and streamlined songs such as “Heimdalls Spross” and “Allvoll.” While influenced by bands ranging from Amon Amarth to In Flames to Dark Tranquillity, Heathen Foray synthesize those influences into their own sound. They are an underrated melodeath band well worth exploring.
Heretic Plague – Context Is A Stumbling Corpse (Selfmadegod)
Adam Watts and Tom Bradfield, the two musicians who perform as Heretic Plague, are not new to the death/grind game. They both perform in the grindcore group Beef Conspiracy, a humorous take on their love of all things meat. That isn’t the direction the duo go with Context Is A Stumbling Corpse, as this is a grim record, with pounding mechanicalized beats and cutting riffs.
Some of the samples used may warrant a chuckle or two (including the “You’re an inanimate f–king object” line from 2008’s In Bruges), though there isn’t much to laugh about with a title like “Bloated. Fly-Bitten. Dead.” There’s not much deviation from track to track, though “Ubiquitous Gore” slows down for something resembling melody, as if the constant pummeling to the skull is temporarily reduced to a light tap on the cheek. Heretic Plague put a savage streak over its death/grind on Context Is A Stumbling Corpse.
Imperial Demonic – Beneath The Crimson Eclipse (Black Lion)
Imperial Demonic was originally the solo project of Darkest Era drummer Cameron Åhslund-Glass before he brought in other musicians to make it a full band. Their debut EP Beneath The Crimson Eclipse is a treat for melodic black metal fans, as this is an accurate nod to the early days of the subgenre given a modern upgrade. There’s none of the folk or Celtic allure of Glass’ other band, with this release holding to a merciless pace for almost its entirety.
That becomes more apparent with songs that go six to seven minutes like “The Path Of Night” and the title track, where the band is at a sprint for a marathon’s length. There’s a rumbling percussion break in “Dawn Of The Infernal Age” that is the closest thing to a lull the EP gets to. The stamina of all musicians involved to keep Beneath The Crimson Eclipse at an elevated tempo is impressive.
Lo! – The Gleaners (Pelagic)
Australian outfit Lo!‘s scathing and quite frankly punishing meshing of sludge, black metal and hardcore has spawned live performances bristling with vein-popping intensity in the past. On fourth full-length The Gleaners they’ve sacrificed none of the raw violence, while offsetting it with well-honed songwriting that incorporates sufficient variety in tempo, mood and atmosphere.
Their first album in six years will be about as digestible as razor blades for the uninitiated, aided by an over-arching storyline with multiple characters that seems as bruising as the music itself. The narrative is punctuated by an occasionally eerie, cinematic quality, hefty grooves and Sam Dillon’s ferocious vocals. It’s a testament to their skill and efficiency that segueing from the D-beat inspired aggression of “Rat King” to the title track’s towering riffage and atmospheric, at times hypnotic “Pareidolia” all gels. The spirit of the underground is coursing through the veins of the collective members of Lo!. Thankfully they can boast some memorably crushing tunes, too.
Medevil – Mirror In The Darkness (Self)
The Canadian progressive/power metal band Medevil released their debut album back in 2016. Nearly seven years later they return with Mirror In The Darkness. It is dedicated to drummer Chris Malcomson, who recently passed away.
The band has expanded their approach from their debut, writing songs that are more complex and progressive. Tracks like “Dead Before Birth” are intense and bombastic, while songs such as “Pray For Me” are mellower and more expansive. There are a few shorter numbers, but Medevil prefer extended compositions, with several tracks in the 6 to 9 minute range. The Udo Dirkschneider-esque vocals may be polarizing, but the songs are engaging and the musicianship impressive.
Paul Gilbert – The Dio Album (Music Theories)
Only someone as wacky and talented as guitar maestro Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) could pull this off – a twelve track tribute to the legendary Ronnie James Dio, done entirely instrumental. On The Dio Album, Mr. Gilbert shreds his way through the highlights of RJD’s illustrious career, kicking things off with Sabbath’s mighty “Neon Knights,” a glorious showcase for his uncanny ability to mimic the nuances of Dio’s voice to such an extent that for the first few lines you might find yourself wondering if it’s actually a human voice instead of an electric guitar.
The album continues in much the same manner, highlighting a parade of key tracks from Rainbow, Sabbath, and the solo years (predictably, nothing past The Last In Line), but kudos for including deeper cuts like “Country Girl” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” Ultimately, The Dio Album is a fascinating exercise, but still no substitute for the real thing.
Sunrot – The Unfailing Rope (Prosthetic)
The recording process for Sunrot‘s second album The Unfailing Rope was a challenging one. It ended up taking three tries to get it the way they wanted, and vocalist Lex Santiago had be hospitalized between the first and second recordings after suffering a psychotic episode.
Sludge is the core of the album, but Sunrot aren’t limited by genre boundaries, adding in everything from doom to noise to punk to avant-garde. The massive “Trepanation” has thick riffs and throat shredding vocals from Santiago along with a spoken word section. “Gutter” features guest vocals from Thou’s Bryan Funck and Silver Godling’s Emily McWilliams, making for a song that’s sometimes chaotic, other times ethereal. Not all the experiments work (“Tower Of Silence” is way too long), but The Unfailing Rope is ambitious and interesting.
Tribulation – Hamartia (Century Media)
2021’s Where The Gloom Becomes Sound was this site’s best album of 2021. It was also the last Tribulation album for founding guitarist Jonathan Hulten. He was replaced by Joseph Tholl (Tyrann, ex-Enforcer), and as Hulten did, will co-write songs with guitarist Adam Zaars.
Hamartia is a four song EP that follows fairly closely to their recent output. The opening title track ebbs from urgent death rock to catchy metal with Johannes Andersson’s distinctive harsh vocals. “Axis Mundi” is a showcase for Tholl and Zaars’ guitar wizardry, while “Hemoclysm” is more atmospheric and eclectic. They close the EP with a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Vengeance (The Pact)” mixing in some melodic singing and giving the 1981 song their own twist. Hamartia shows that the new lineup is clicking on all cylinders and will whet fans’ appetites for their next full-length.
Valensorow – Shorestank (Self)
The Northern California folk metal troupe Valensorow emerged a decade ago with their debut and released a follow-up a couple years later. Nearly eight years after The Battle Of Oak Mountain they are back with Shorestank.
Their brand of folk is progressive, though their songs are pretty streamlined with most in the four to five minute range. Opener “Life In A Cliffside Dwelling” is the album’s longest, and probably the most eclectic as well, going from rousing folk to quiet piano to orchestral bombast and back again. Valensorow are able to shift smoothly from intense, heavy parts to folkier, more melodic parts or vice-versa, and do so on numerous songs. The title track has some ’70s prog moments, while elsewhere there are influences of everybody from Dream Theater to Devin Townsend. Shorestank is unpredictable, ever-shifting, and a welcome comeback for Valensorow.