This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from A-Z, Arch Enemy, Aronius, Blasted Heath, Boris, Carrion Vael, The Halo Effect, Locrian, Mimorium, Moths, Nordic Union, Seventh Storm and Sunstorm.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Arch Enemy – Deceivers (Century Media)
Five years have elapsed between Arch Enemy studio albums, the longest gap of the Swedish melodic death metal group’s long career. Deceiver is their third album with Alissa White-Gluz, who has been their vocalist for eight years now. That’s also when guitarist Jeff Loomis (Nevermore) joined the ranks.
With White-Gluz’s ability to both growl and sing, Arch Enemy have utilized those elements, but in small doses. That’s also the case here. The blend of unclean and melodic vocals is on display on album opener “Handshake With Hell,” but that’s the only track where singing is prominent. Michael Amott and Loomis deliver catchy riffs and solos throughout, and the rhythm section of Sharlee D’Angelo (bass) and Daniel Erlandsson (drums) is extremely tight. With both dense, extreme sections and soaring melodies, Deceivers is exactly what Arch Enemy fans expect. There’s enough originality to keep things interesting, and the execution is flawless.
Aronious – Irkalla (The Artisan Era)
What gives Irkalla an advantage for Aronious over their 2020 debut Perspicacity is that they aren’t beholden to following through on the idea of the album being one seamless track. While that was impressive on Perspicacity, it became an endurance test when they went at their tech death style for close to an hour. Irkalla is still technically savvy, yet each song now has its own qualities to stand out.
What helps with this is the increased use of keyboards and synths to bring out an otherworldly atmosphere. They fit in well with the striking instrumentation and shape-shifting songwriting. Though the songs average five to seven minutes, save for short intro and outro tunes, Aronious make them as welcoming as they can.
A-Z – A-Z (Metal Blade)
The new band A-Z reunites Fates Warning vocalist Ray Alder with the group’s former drummer Mark Zonder. The rest of the lineup includes guitarist Joop Wolters (Lalu), bassist Phillip Bynoe (Warlord/Steve Vai) and keyboardist Vivien Lalu (Lalu).
While there are progressive moments on the band’s self-titled debut, it’s not really a prog album. It’s hard rock with focused songs, melodies and catchy choruses. They are inspired by ’70s and ’80s arena rock, adding a few more sophisticated elements while keeping the tracks anthemic. There’s no shortage of potential singles, from “Rise Again” to “Window Panes” to “Borrowed Time.” Alder delivers his usual first-class performance, with backing vocals adding depth to many songs. A-Z is an enjoyable debut from a group of veteran musicians whose chemistry is evident on the album.
Blasted Heath – Vela (Wise Blood)
Whatever lies beyond the distance of space above, Blasted Heath are taking their blackened thrash with them to find out on Vela. They seem set on “cosmic horrors” being the answer, with creatures and other beings set to destroy humanity. To accomplish such a task, the group relies on the power of static feedback and rabid riffs, which drives much of the first half of the album. The last few songs, however, take a nuanced perspective to their thrash/black metal.
This strategy elevates Vela, with “Neutron Star” getting progressive with its tempo shifts, “The Wind In Vela” showcasing the subtle and maniacal musical sides to Blasted Heath, and “Strange Matter” elevating the extravagant scale. It makes Vela the kind of release that has its jewels buried deeper than normal. The digging is worth it for an album that gets better as it goes on.
Boris – Heavy Rocks (2022) (Relapse)
For the third iteration of the Boris Heavy Rocks chronology we continue to get the most rock forward version of the band that is usually difficult to properly define. This is their first such style of album in this series in 11 years and it sees the band using some heavy ‘70s influence, but not being shy about throwing some saxophone in for good measure. Opener “She Is Burning” brings about this new sound without warning in a way that is less jarring than you might think.
Shifting gears, a little way down the line is “My Name Is Blank” which feels as though it could have been a b-side to a ‘90s Fu Manchu album with the distinct flavor of Wata’s amazing guitar sound filtering through this absolute riff fest. The album has a solid amount of variety with songs like “Blah Blah Blah” and “Nosferatou” slowing thing down and bringing the sax and atmosphere with them, making a later track like “Ruins” sound all that more excellent when you get there. Heavy Rocks (2022) is another solid entry from a band that at times isn’t always all that accessible, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t rock out with the best of them when they finally let loose.
Carrion Vael – Abhorrent Obsessions (Unique Leader)
Carrion Vael put a cinematic spin on their melodic death metal during Abhorrent Obsessions, bolstering the technical musicianship as well for their third album. Keyboards and orchestration can be heard on at least half of the songs, as well as some usage of singing instead of the typical froth-at-the-mouth screams and growls. This freshens up their sound after 2020’s God Killer kept to the rotten mannerisms established in 2017’s Resurrection Of The Doomed.
In further branching out, the group culls inspiration from multiple genres to become more distinct. The songs thrive as a result, each one having its own identity as a collection of the most horrific characters in society are drawn out. Murderers and serial killers are the band’s lyrical muses, and Abhorrent Obsessions gives them the canvas to let out their twisted fantasies.
The Halo Effect – Days Of The Lost (Nuclear Blast)
For Swedish melodic death metal devotees, the prospect of a collective comprised entirely of former In Flames members creating new music reminiscent of that group’s early years was incredibly enticing. However, on their debut full-length Days Of The Lost, The Halo Effect live up to the hype. This is Gothenburg metal writ large; there’s no one better qualified to craft a record of this ilk.
As the commanding opening one-two of “Shadowminds” and the infectious title track emphasize, there’s a memorable hook lurking around every corner, and nearly every one of the ten cuts packs its own identity. The melodic, riff-driven style is bolstered by modern production values. Standouts among the non-single tracks include symphonic-laced “Gateways”, which straddles melancholy and intensity; Mikael Stanne’s soulful clean vocals on “In Broken Trust”; and the downright catchy “A Truth Worth Lying For.” While an obvious acknowledgement of the members’ roots, this LP proves a sub-genre that has often felt stale in recent years can still sound fresh and vital in 2022.
Locrian – New Catastrophism (Profound Lore)
American trio Locrian have been at the forefront of the experimental/ambient/soundscape movement for 17 years now, and New Catastrophism (and the accompanying EP Ghost Frontiers) is their first release since 2015’s excellent Infinite Dissolution. The new material pulls from across the band’s history, and continues to showcase Locrian’s uncanny ability to evoke a sense of dystopian decline through music.
New Catastrophism is short – four tracks over 35 minutes – but coupled with the bonus EP it extends to more than an hour of mesmerizing ambient/drone soundscapes tinged with black metal howling. As a comparison, each track comes off as a more menacing interpretation of the apocalyptic compositions of György Ligeti used in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In short, Locrian have delivered exactly what fans would hope for: an amazingly engaging soundtrack to the catastrophes currently enveloping the world.
Mimorium – The Route Of Haeresis (Spread Evil)
After releasing Incipit Chaos and Blood Of Qayin in 2018 and 2020 respectively, the Finnish black metal band Mimorium present the world The Route Of Haeresis, which follows the usual dark and ominous path of the band’s music. But what makes The Route of Haeresis a stronger album?
Not only is the production, as one of the pillars of the album’s strength, being processed in its finest form, but also Mimorium’s songwriting has taken on a more coherent and mature form, even if it doesn’t represent a unique personal tone. The dynamics in the structure of the songs have greatly contributed to their narrative aspect so that the band’s mission in portraying darkness and blasphemy can be successfully accomplished. For black metal aficionados, for those who seek the conquest of sinister anti-cosmic motifs in today’s black metal sound, The Route Of Haeresis is an impressive work, with all the characteristics of Finnish black metal scene, from the past to the present.
Moths – Space Force (Self)
Moths take progressive metal to new frontiers in their exhilarating debut album, Space Force. The sheer amount of directions the group goes in over the course of 30 or so minutes is impressive. Death metal roars on “Broken Slumber” and the Latin jazz-flavored “Awake” all somehow make sense, not coming off as disjointed or throwing too many ideas out at once. It’s the kind of metamorphosis someone would expect a band a few albums in to reach, not their very first one.
Even the two instrumentals are vital, a way to capitalize on the spacey themes that trickle throughout the album. “There’s No Place Like Space” is like a recording of a transmission from light years away, which fades into the crushing closing title track. The song gets full-on doom metal in the middle, guitar harmonies brightening up the proceedings before a brutal finish. Space Force is an excellent example of progressive metal that’s equal parts complex and punchy.
Nordic Union – Animalistic (Frontiers)
Despite a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, veteran singer Ronnie Atkins refuses to sit still. Although his main band, Pretty Maids, hasn’t released an album since 2017, Atkins has recently dropped two solo albums and this, his third collaboration with Erik Martensson (Eclipse) in the guise of Nordic Union.
Atkins’ voice is still in excellent shape, and as with previous Nordic Union outings, Animalistic is littered with catchy, hooky metal and hard rock songs that at times are impossibly hard to get out of one’s head. “If I Could Fly” and “This Means War” have awesome riffs, and “Scream” and “King For A Day” are impossibly catchy. Fans of Atkins, Pretty Maids, Eclipse, and expertly crafted metal in general will be into this one.
Seventh Storm – Maledictus (Atomic Fire)
A couple of years ago, Moonspell drummer Mike Gaspar left the band after having been there since its earliest days. He has formed Seventh Storm, and on their debut album Maledictus he also wrote and arranged the entire record.
The band explores a variety of genres on their debut, with the predominant style being traditional metal and hard rock. Gasper wanted to mix in some Portuguese music, which is evident on “Sarpanit.” Many songs have brisk tempos and catchy choruses, with vocalist Rez sounding a bit like Disturbed’s David Draiman. They also have complexity, with tracks like “The Reckoning” and “Inferno Rising” stretching past seven minutes. Closer “Haunted Sea” is an eclectic and epic song with shifts and tempo and intensity. Though four versions of “Saudade” is a bit much, Maledictus is an enjoyable introduction to Seventh Storm.
Sunstorm – Brothers In Arms (Frontiers)
Brothers In Arms, the seventh full-length by Sunstorm and the second featuring vocalist Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Michael Schenker, Lords Of Black) features a melodic hard rock presence with the presence of a strong melody always injected into these songs. They are anthems that would fill up the biggest of arenas.
There is a real arena rock type of feeling to the tracks that makes them interesting. They are soaring and feature that nice melodic presence. The consistency of the songs is nice and makes the album as a whole enjoyable and very consistent. This is a strong melodic hard rock album and is pretty sweet to listen to. It has the right ingredients of melodicism to make an impact, getting a strong recommendation for melodic hard rock fans.