This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Abhorrent Expanse, End Boss, Envy Of None, Fright, Heidra, Incite, Mors Principium Est, No Tin Godz, Oceansnow, Or, Saphath, Scalpture, Skumstrike and Truth Decayed.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Abhorrent Expanse – Gateways To Resplendence (Amalgam)
Abhorrent Expanse aren’t the first band to incorporate jazz and avant-garde into their music, but they might be one of the first to do it in a way that questions the very boundaries of what defines “death metal” with Gateways To Resplendence. These 10 tracks, labeled as movements, were all improvised live in the course of a single day in October 2020. This lends them a free-form approach, where the members layer on top of each other, waiting for their moment to butt in with their take on controlled frenzy.
This is an album that concludes with a 15-minute noise jam that finds a way to be daring and provocative without losing focus in its improv state. Very little of this will appeal to traditional metal listeners, but they would miss the point anyway. Gateways To Resplendence drills a small hole in a person’s subconscious, to the extent that this reviewer was thinking about it for weeks after even when reviewing other albums.
End Boss – They Seek My Head (Rough Peel)
End Boss are a relatively new band from New Zealand whose lineup includes Beastwars drummer Nathan Hickey. After an EP in 2020, they emerge with their full-length debut They Seek My Head.
They play doom/sludge with thick, heavy riffs topped by the potent vocals of E.J. Thorpe. She utilizes a few equally effective styles, from a more reserved style that floats on top of the music to a more powerful approach that cuts right through it. End Boss vary the tempos from deliberate doom (“The Crawl”) to uptempo sludge (“Nail And Tooth”), making for a diverse collection of songs. It’s an impressive debut.
Envy Of None – Envy Of None (KScope)
If synth-filled art rock was exactly what you expected when told members of Rush and Coney Hatch were forming a band, well step right up; you’re a winner! Envy Of None, a four-piece collaboration featuring Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Coney Hatch’s Andy Curran, play lush, evocative music. Alfio Annibalini provides additional musicianship, but the highlight is most definitely the phenomenal vocals of Maiah Wynne.
From the ethereal beauty of “Look Inside” to the menace of “Shadow” and more, Wynne knocks us dead with outstanding vocals atop stellar musical arrangements. This isn’t a virtuoso guitar album (“Spy House” being an exception), so don’t get your hopes up: instead, Lifeson and company deliver a succinct set of darkly alluring songs. Perhaps the only song that is out of place here is the poignant album closer “Western Sunset,” but since that is Lifeson’s tribute to former bandmate Neil Peart, we definitely give it a pass.
Fright – Fright (Horror Pain Gore Death)
Brash thrash/speed metal with some hardcore/crust punk fused in it is where Fright are at on their debut self-titled EP. Six songs capitalize on this sound over the course of a breezy 14 minutes. Its compact size means that a listener feels the faster tempos more distinctly, as the group doesn’t have many seconds to waste on being timid.
Though there aren’t any full-on turns away from the thrashing, “Obliterated Ruin” tenses up in its intro with rolling percussion bubbling underneath. “Child Of A New War” uses acoustic guitars interlaid with samples of gunfire and screams as a jarring start to a less frantic conclusion to the EP. Fright pull from all corners of the metal world for their fertile first release.
Heidra – To Hell Or Kingdom Come (Mighty)
The Danish band Heidra complete The Dawn Trilogy of concept albums with their latest release To Hell Or Kingdom Come. They move in a slightly different musical direction while embracing a variety of genres.
There are a lot of cinematic moments on To Hell Or Kingdom Come, which combines the melodrama of power metal with the harder edges of Viking and melodic death metal with hints of folk metal. The compositions are ambitious with a lot of dynamics and a mix of harsh and melodic vocals. While there is more singing than growling, each song includes both styles. There are many catchy moments, but some streamlining while keeping the epic feel would make things even more memorable.
Incite – Wake Up Dead (Atomic Fire)
Led by patriarch Max and manager wife Gloria, heavy metal is very much the Cavalera family business. Whether it’s playing in bands, doing guest spots or selling merch on the road, it’s ingrained in their DNA. Gloria’s son Richie has been fronting U.S. metallers Incite for well over a decade now, and they now unleash Wake Up Dead.
This release is essentially an EP of new material bolstered by remastered versions of previous songs. Musically, their straight-ahead attack fuses thrash with a Pantera-like groove. The riffs are tougher than a two-dollar steak, fleet-fingered solos abound and there’s a likeable energy and purpose to Richie’s vocals on the stomping “Built To Destroy”. Stepdad Max lends that trademark bark to “War Soup,” a clear highlight. There are definitely misses though, such as the aimless rant of “Deadbeat,” and other tracks that feel forgettable, or not particularly inspired and lacking long-term appeal due to the limitations of the group’s sound. Although not without flaws, these songs indicate the Cavaleras’ succession plan is well in hand.
Mors Principium Est – Liberate The Unborn Humanity (AFM)
The long-running Finnish melodic death metal band Mors Principium Est have shaken up their lineup for their latest album Liberate The Unborn Humanity. 2020’s Seven was recorded as a duo. Andy Gillion has left the band, paving the way for the return of guitarists Jori Haukio and Jarko Kokkoo and bass player Teemu Heinola. Marko Tommila is the new drummer.
Vocalist vocalist Ville Viljanen is the lone holdover from Seven, but the return of former members makes for a consistent melodic death metal sound. Viljanen’s harsh vocals are contrasted by the melodic guitar riffs. There are also progressive moments on songs like “Eternity’s Child” that add a different vibe while keeping the tracks relatively short. There are more expansive songs like “Valley Of Sacrifice” and “Pure” that have plenty of twists and turns to maintain interest. Mors Principium Est have released a lot of quality albums over the years, and Liberate The Unborn Humanity is another strong release from an underrated band.
No Tin Godz hit all the right rock/metal points on their self-titled EP. There’s the gruff, yet accessible, songwriting that makes sure to include a snappy chorus. Some double bass drumming near the end of most songs to give them a harder edge.
The explosive guitar solos that rumble underneath the earth. Don’t forget a song called “Hell Yeah,” a title used an endless number of times in music already (though it at least hits with a sharper punch than the Neil Diamond song). That’s to say that No Tin Godz aren’t ready to take over the radio airwaves yet, but they got their foot in the door with this EP. The hooks come and go, working their best on “We Are Zombies” and “Just Before Dawn.” This is anthemic, raise-your-drink music that provides surface-level satisfaction.
Oceansnow – Vivienne (Avantgarde)
So far, not much information is available about Oceansnow, and much of the band’s identity remains a mystery. But what we really know so far is that the band’s music, and their first album Vivienne represent the same image that its name evokes in our minds: dark, foggy, cold and dramatic.
Oceansnow create both a pristine journey and image, and borrow their musical identities from the big names of the genre in a general and tangible way. Influenced by Burzum to Wolves In The Throne Room to Paysage d’Hiver, Vivienne is a combination of ambient and black metal in a dramatic and mysterious structure, and even nightmarish and somber. With screaming and whispering vocals, Oceansnow know how to extend the soundscape to every corners of its listeners’ ears and delight them like the significant and classic ambient/atmospheric black metal albums.
Or – Pariah (Dog & Pony)
Instrumental music can come out many different ways, depending on if it’s from people that just want to show off how good they are at their instruments or if they are trying to conjure up a particular mood using atmospheric tricks. Or want to just rock out and liven up their surroundings on Pariah. There is showmanship in their execution, for sure, as each of the three musicians in the band get a platform to provide lead work, but it’s not essential to this release.
These songs have been gestating for years, and the final product has that refinement all over it. There’s very little bloating that can be the downfall of this style of music, though closer “All Of My Children” stretches its limits as it gets closer to eight minutes. The rest of the album is tightly structured, as the group never lets one idea sour to the point of repetition. Pariah is the kind of instrumental album that doesn’t need an advanced degree in music theory to enjoy.
Ascension Of The Dark Prophet is the debut album from the symphonic death metal band Saphath. In addition to bands like Cradle Of Filth, they are also inspired by groups with more gothic approaches such as Moonspell, and also inject black metal influences.
Orchestrations and choirs add depth and texture to the songs that are driven by heavy guitars. The majority of the vocals are harsh growls from Alexey Duraev, who has a powerful and passionate delivery. The aforementioned choirs add melody, and there is some melodic singing as well on songs such as “Asphodel Memories” and “Language Of My Pain.” The production is excellent, balancing delicate orchestrations and extremity. Saphath are off to a strong start with Ascension Of The Dark Prophet.
Scalpture – Feldwärts (FDA)
Feldwärts, the third full-length from the German band Scalpture is a razor-sharp display of death metal. It goes by at a really quick pace with an older Entombed influence but with modern production. The songs have a heaviness and punch to them making for a powerful sound.
The mix of brutality with some versatility is very effective. Though somewhat lacking in originality, Feldwärts has a crushing nature to enrapture the listener. The overall scope of the album makes it impressive as a whole as well and this justifies the carnage going on. Fans of bands such as Asphyx and the aforementioned Entombed should find something to like here.
Skumstrike – Deadly Intrusions (Selfmadegod)
Quebecois black thrash duo Skumstrike unleash their full-length debut Deadly Intrusions, summoning the filthy punks that inspired this subgenre’s heavy past. Opener “Caustic Poison” is a rager from the word go, barely sparing any intensity, sounding like a modern day Hellhammer when everything is going right.
The leads soar and when they come back down to earth sound like Hell Awaits as they transition between different verses of the songs. Skumstrike get the most out of their time allotment with this 11-track beast clocking in at just over 30 minutes, enough to get that proper neck-snapping intensity on repeat or as often as your chiropractor will allow. Deadly Intrusions is a furious genesis, one that when done right is the perfect cup of coffee, kick in the ass that you need.
Truth Decayed – Faded Visions I (Howling Rush)
COVID-enforced lockdowns ensured numerous high-profile metal musicians had ample time to write and record new music. Meanwhile, four South African-based players took matters a step further and formed Truth Decayed. The recently formed unit has now issued an EP, Faded Visions I, the first of a two-part release set for 2022.
They’ve channeled any frustration associated with such isolation into these five songs (including a Metallica-inspired instrumental), which have one boot in thrash and another in groove metal. The band is still chasing an identity to call their own, and some rough edges need to be refined. But there’s an endearing quality to their approach, which bristles with impassioned, roared vocals, blistering guitar solos and occasional atmospheric flourishes. This scribe can envision beer glasses by the dozen being spilled in the pit when cuts like “PTSD” are aired live. While still a work in progress, the spirit of the underground is coursing through Truth Decayed’s veins.