This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Blacklab, Buried Under Sky, Conan, Dawnwalker, Dead City Ruins, DevilDriver, Hammer King, Hive, Orthodox, Splintered Throne, Thundermother and Tomb Of Finland.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Blacklab – In A Bizarre Dream (New Heavy Sounds)
The Japanese band Blacklab, who call themselves the “doom witch duo from Osaka,” return with their third full-length In A Bizarre Dream. Their sound has evolved and progressed with each album as they refine their sludge/doom style.
Heavy riffs drive the songs, which are sometimes slow and doomy, other times quicker with a sludge vibe. Add punk and noise influences and you have a varied release. Yuko Morino alternates fierce harsh vocals and smooth singing for an even more eclectic sound. The band’s name combines Morino’s two favorite bands, Black Sabbath and Stereolab, so it’s appropriate that Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadler sings on “Crows, Sparrows and Cats.” She adds a alt pop sensibility to the thick riffs, making it the album’s most unique track. With In A Bizarre Dream, Blacklab have raised the bar in songwriting and production, making it their most wide ranging album yet.
Buried Under Sky’s melodic gothic rock/metal has within it a hostile twist on their debut EP, Darkest Corners. That hostility comes from the aggravated screams and fluid double-bass drumming that pops up regularly. They don’t proclaim to be the heaviest, the fastest, or the most brutal band, but appear content to write songs that express their preference for many different styles of metal.
Experienced listeners will hear prominent bass from former Otep member Jay McGuire, as well as a guest spot from Bury Your Dead/ex-Between The Buried And Me drummer Mark Castillo on “To Walk Upon Disintegration” (which just so happens to be the most antagonistic song on this EP). The more subdued material, like the title track and “Ghosts Of May,” doesn’t leave as strong of an imprint.
Conan – Evidence Of Immortality (Napalm)
For their first few albums, UK doomsters Conan were on a two year schedule between releases. They did issue a live album last year, but Evidence Of Immortality comes four years after Existential Void Guardian.
That album was streamlined, clocking in at just 35 minutes. This time around the songs are much longer. Evidence Of Immortality has one fewer track than its predecessor, but is 15 minutes longer. Opener “A Cleaved Head No Longer Plots” moves at a glacial pace, with “Levitation Hoax” speeding up the tempo with some of the record’s catchiest riffs. Closer “Grief Sequence” is Conan’s longest ever song at over 14 minutes, a mostly instrumental number with prominent keyboards that has interesting moments but overstays its welcome. Overall, though, Conan deliver another enjoyable album.
Dawnwalker – House Of Sand (Room 312)
On their fourth full-length House Of Sand, Dawnwalker’s brand of post metal is nicely developed and the songs are given proper room to breathe. The arrangements are lush and full of life. They don’t sound like Opeth, but they are a good comparison point because of the amount of dynamics present. Songs like “False Doors” are wondrous to behold and capture your attention. The atmosphere is strong and will give you goosebumps.
However, the album is not completely consistent all the way through. Some of the stronger moments are present near the beginning of the disc. Despite this, the band is able to carve out a nice image for themselves. The album is decidedly serene, able to have its effect upon the mood of the listener without pummeling them. The overall atmosphere of the album is strong and wins out over any inconsistencies. Dawnwalker have discovered a winning formula with House Of Sand.
Dead City Ruins – Shockwave (AFM)
Australian rockers Dead City Ruins aim to bring back the good times here on their third album, Shockwave. This outing sees the band welcome a new singer to the fold, one Steve Welsh. He can belt it out with the best of them, and really brings a strong early ’90s vibe to the proceedings. In fact, Shockwave would be right at home on the shelves with all the big acts from that era.
Whether it’s anthemic blasts like the opener “Preacher” and “Dog on a Leash,” sleazy blues like “Rain” and “Drifter,” or pedal-to-the-metal ragers like “This Side of the Dirt,” Dead City Ruins execute perfectly on every track, making Shockwave a truly fresh and enjoyable throwback to metal’s halcyon days.
DevilDriver – Clouds Over California – The Studio Albums 2003-2011 (BMG)
It has been two decades since Dez Fafara formed DevilDriver after being in Coal Chamber for several years. Their first five albums were released on Roadrunner Records, and those have been compiled in the box set Clouds Over California – The Studio Albums 2003-2011.
There is no previously unreleased material in the set, but it does include The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand‘s six special edition bonus tracks, Pray For Villains‘ four special edition bonus tracks including the Iron Maiden cover “Wasted Years,” and the three special edition bonus tracks from Beast. The box set is available as a 5CD along with a 9LP version that also includes a 20 page book with liner notes from Fafara. Adding a disc with live tracks and/or rarities would have given additional incentive for those who already own these albums to buy the box set. However, these are DevilDriver’s seminal albums and a great introduction to the band.
Hammer King – Kingdemonium (Napalm)
Hammer King, the German heavy/power metal band fronted by former Ross The Boss and current Lord Vigo member Titan Fox, follow up last year’s self-titled effort with their fifth studio album Kingdemonium.
There’s not a lot of subtlety on the album, which features big riffs, ample hooks and singalong choruses. The anthemic “We Shall Rise” and epic “The Four Horsemen” are highlights. “Guardians Of The Realm” features a guest appearance from Ross The Boss, with the bombastic power metal shifting to acoustic guitar at the end of the track. Ballads like “The 7th Of The 7 Kings” also add some diversity to the proceedings. Catchy songs telling tales of battles and glory makes Kingdemonium a compelling power metal album.
Hive – Spiritual Poverty (Translation Loss)
Spiritual Poverty deftly fuses the noxious energy of Hive’s second album Most Vicious Animal with the expansive mannerisms of their debut, Parasitic Twin. Though there isn’t a stretch of sub-two minute blazers like their last full-length, this record starts off with a boost of crusty hardcore punk. “So It Is Done” flirts with thrash metal as it ends with a thrilling guitar solo, while opener “With Roots In Hell” is unrepentant and ready for a deadly strike.
It takes five tracks in with “Metamorphosis” for Hive to quell the pace, going forward from an acoustic intro to a tempo that can only be described as a lead hammer to the ears. They play with this sort of crushing momentum in the middle of “Protection” as well, giving the back half of Spiritual Poverty an appearance of something more than what it initially seems to be about. The group does remain committed to the bleaker side of hardcore music.
Orthodox – Learning To Dissolve (Century Media)
Tennessean metalcore band Orthodox are a bit of a far cry from their name in terms of style, making a name for themselves like contemporaries Vein.FM and Knocked Loose. They marry the charm of hardcore with borderline nu metal sensibilities, doing so while evoking serious Vision Of Disorder vibes with the cover artwork. “Head On A Spike” is a great example of a balance of both of those styles since the track mostly exists to bang heads without speeding up too much. It’s very middle ground and brooding throughout.
If their influence wasn’t already made perfectly clear, then perhaps the pinched riffs of “Cave In” should give you a good idea of their late ‘90s origin. Couple this with more modern metallic hardcore a la Jesus Piece and you have something of a unicorn on your hands. Orthodox do their own thing; an amalgamation of what made various style of metal special but bringing it together in one package and making a name for themselves in the process.
Much like my other review in this week’s offerings, Splintered Throne welcome a new vocalist here. Replacing a band’s founding member is no easy task, but Lisa Mann (White Crone) is more than up to the task. This Portland, Oregon outfit bathe in the galloping, anthemic metal of yesteryear, and they do it to near perfection.
Sure, there are the prerequisite slower numbers, and Mann brings a bit of her blues background to bear at times (both good things), but the key ingredient here in the band’s third album is pure straight-up killer heavy metal, loaded with majestic vocals and some truly outstanding guitar solos. The Greater Good Of Man is one of the most enjoyable (and enthusiastic) heavy metal albums of the year.
Thundermother – Black And Gold (AFM)
Swedish hard rockers Thundermother will be the opening band on the upcoming Scorpions North American tour. It will be a great opportunity to showcase their potent live chops and promote their latest album Black And Gold.
They don’t break any new musical ground on the album, but they do deliver a dozen songs that are extremely catchy and memorable. There’s not an ounce of filler on the album, with each track having a singalong chorus and great guitar work. Tracks like “Raise Your Hands” have a bluesy vibe while songs such as “Wasted” are more straightforward hard rock. Ballads like “Hot Mess” add variety and showcase Guernica Mancini’s powerful vocals. Black And Gold is good old fashioned, straightforward rock and roll with a timeless approach.
Tomb Of Finland – Across The Barren Fields (Uprising)
With a name like Tomb Of Finland, you’d probably expect a Finnish death metal band. And while that’s mostly correct, their are a few surprises on their third album Across The Barren Fields.
Melodic death metal is the predominant style on the record, with the accessibility of the dual guitars contrasted by Olli Suvanto’s harsh vocals. There are female melodic vocals on “Coffin Bound” along with some really catchy riffs. Tomb Of Finland keep things interesting with tempo changes, with tracks like “Perpetual Entombment” and “Wretched Bliss” slowing down and speeding up, with melodic vocals also making an appearance on the latter song. Guitarist Jasse Von Hast not only provides memorable riffs, he also wrote most of the songs along with recording, producing and mixing the album.