This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Arcane Existence, Between The Buried And Me, Black Swamp Water, Bonehunter, Deafheaven, Necronautical, Orange Goblin, Serpent Moon, Sodom, Sun Of The Suns, Warkings and Witchcryer.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The California band Arcane Existence originally started as Kiera Pietrangelo’s solo project, recruiting a couple vocalists for 2017’s Dark Curse debut. They have since evolved into a full band. Jade Ordonez (Deliria, Embrium) does the harsh vocals, with Becca McCabe (Erinyes) handling clean vocals along with keyboard and harp.
The songs on the album are symphonic death/black metal, with extremity contrasted by atmosphere that’s sometimes orchestral, other times more sparse with piano in the forefront. The songs are complex with impressive musicianship, shifting between chaos and beauty in both the arrangements and the vocals. Arcane Existence shift smoothly between compact songs like “Formation” and “Enchantment” that are in the two minute range and lengthier tracks such as “Conclave” and the title track that are 6 to 7 minutes long. No matter the length, Arcane Existence are able to grab the listener’s attention with this dynamic and compelling release.
Between The Buried And Me – Colors II (Sumerian)
In 2007, Between The Buried And Me released their fourth album Colors. Nearly 15 years later they decided to do a sequel. While they have established themselves as one of prog’s most successful bands, they say they still struggle with where they belong in the music scene.
Colors II, while sharing musical similarities with the original, is more wide ranging, plus their songwriting and musical chops are better now than they were in 2007. At 78 minutes, it’s a lot to absorb, but BTBAM balance shorter, more accessible songs like “Fix The Error” (which features a drum solo from Mike Portnoy) and the ballad “Stare Into The Abyss” with epics like “Never Seen/Future Shock” and the 15 minute closer “Human Is Hell (Another One With Love).” Progressive forays and clever melodies keep the listener engaged, with constant shifts and surprises.
Black Swamp Water – Awakening (Mighty)
Danish five-piece Black Swamp Water are one of those bands whose name does not do their music justice – and that’s a good thing. These guys play old-fashioned straightforward metal/hard rock, and they do it as well as anyone out there. Here on their third album, Awakening, they pound you with hooks and melodies rather than, well, swamp water.
The band cites acts such as Corrosion of Conformity and Black Sabbath as influences (and in fact cover “Children of the Grave” strongly here), but I would throw in countrymates Pretty Maids as well. There’s a really modern sheen to the songs here. From the near-thrash of “Endless War” to the arena-ready anthem of “Showdown,” Black Swamp Water deliver the goods.
Bonehunter – Dark Blood Reincarnation System (Hells Headbangers)
Bonehunter proclaim themselves as “Devil Metal Punk.” That’s an apt description of their latest album, Dark Blood Reincarnation System. The group plays blackened speed/thrash metal with major force. Although they hail from Finland, this combination of styles is more aligned with sounds coming out of Sweden than the grim sounds of Finnish black metal.
Dark Blood Reincarnation System is full of riffs with head banging potency. “Black Magic M16” starts with chunky chords that transition into speed metal fret and moshable hardcore rhythms. Ghoulish, rasping vocals define first pumping, sing along moments when Satanarchist screams “Fire! Pull the trigger!” Speed picking and satanic refrain outline one of the catchier songs in “Devil Power Soldier,” which could be on an old Destruction or Nifelheim album. Short blasting drum sections impress on the title track. Guitar leads are ever-present and formidable. Old school yet with a modern crunch, Dark Blood Reincarnation System is another denim-clad, neck-snapping rager from Hells Headbangers.
Deafheaven – Infinite Granite (Sargent House)
After last year’s live album 10 Years Gone, Deafheaven return with their fifth studio album Infinite Granite. The evolution in their sound evident on their last record, 2018’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, continues here.
The band has left metal behind, embracing rock and pop stylings. Harsh vocals are nearly absent, with George Clarke embracing melodic singing. He is a skilled singer, displaying good range and a wide palette of approaches and textures. The musical palette is varied as well. Deafheaven incorporate everything from ’80s style new wave to ’90s/’00s pop rock to dreamy modern psychedelia. “The Gnashing” has some intense moments, but also mellower ones. Everything Deafheaven does seems to be polarizing, and Infinite Granite will be no different. The accessibility of Infinite Granite will expand their appeal to a whole different fan base.
Necronautical – Slain In The Spirit (Candlelight)
On their fourth album Slain In The Spirit, the UK black metal band Necronautical have expanded their musical horizons. Lyrically, the album was inspired by everything from cults to dying to Aleister Crowley.
The band’s black metal core is intact, with the icy riffs and aggression. This time around, Necronautical explore more symphonic and progressive realms, mixing in some death metal along the way. Tracks like “Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination” have symphonic atmosphere and backing choirs that add a cinematic flair along with packing a punch. Operatic soprano vocals add a different vibe to songs such as the title track and “Hypnagogia.” Into each lengthy song, they insert melody and catchiness, grooves and brutality. There are even some extended guitar solos. It isn’t easy to utilize so many contrasting elements and have them meld smoothly together, but Slain In The Spirit is cohesive, a testament to Necronautical’s skill.
Orange Goblin – Healing Through Fire (Dissonance)
All hail the pentatonic riff! The mighty Sabbath may no longer be with us, but their progeny continue their spirit through monumental riffage and dark lyrical subjects. The U.K.’s Orange Goblin fall somewhere on the continuum between Kyuss’ groovy stoner sludge and The Sword’s fantastical gallop. This deluxe reissue of 2007’s Healing Through Fire is a double CD set, featuring an excellent remastering of the original recording, with more punch and a brighter sheen that amps up the group’s considerable energy.
Breaks from the doom come via the gently fingerpicked instrumental “Mortlake (Dead Water)” and the blues-y slide guitar and harmonica on album-closer “Beginner’s Guide to Suicide.” The four tracks captured from a 2007 appearance on the Radio One Rock Show offer a glimpse of the band’s raw power through the stripped down takes, with sound quality vastly superior to the bootleg feel of the live show included on disc 2 (oddly interrupted by spoken interview clips!).
Serpent Moon – On Love… (Cursed Monk)
Serpent Moon is a one-man project, helmed by New York writer and composer Peter Morsellino. He describes On Love… as the sounds of the ghosts screaming inside his head.
The album is blackened sludge with deliberate tempos. Though they aren’t extremely long, the songs take a while to unfold. Harsh vocals are contrasted by melodic keyboards, with many songs having extended mellow instrumental sections. They are more atmosphere and emotion than riffs and hooks. In addition to On Love…, Serpent Moon’s self-titled debut is also included, making it an 80 minute double album.
Sodom – Bombenhagel (Steamhammer/SPV)
German thrash legends Sodom return this week with a quick-hitting EP, Bombenhagel. This trio of songs was originally intended to accompany the band’s 2021 summer festival tour, but life got in the way. Thankfully, Tom Angelripper and company are still releasing this three-song set, and we’re all better off for it.
Opening the EP is the title track, a fiery re-recording of Sodom’s 1987 legendary song, complete with a solo from Harris Johns, who also played on the original version. Add to this a short ripper in “Coup De Grace” and another solid thrash number called “Pestiferous Posse” (wherein resides a formidable riff) and you’ve got three excellent blackened thrash songs that only Sodom can pull off. The band is on fire, and if you’re a fan Bombenhagel is a must-own.
Sun Of The Suns – TIIT (Scarlet)
A punishment dished out in grooves is Sun Of The Suns’ specialty on their debut album, TIIT. With the help of a few outside musicians, including Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Francesco Paoli on the drums, this group weaves a sci-fi story of DNA manipulation and other genetic corruptions on a decaying Earth. Those that just want some crushing music will find TIIT to provide a lot of that, as the chugging is rampant without falling into repetition.
The average song length is over five minutes, save for two shorter atmospheric instrumentals, but the band takes advantage of that time with stellar guitar solos and irregular tempos. Vocalist Luca Dave Scarlatti has quite a roar on him, squeezing as many words in one breath as possible at times. It can be a bit overdone admittedly, as if the band were concerned they weren’t getting the message across quick enough. That’s one of the few downsides of TIIT, an otherwise captivating start for Sun Of The Suns.
Warkings – Revolution (Napalm)
The European power metal band Warkings, with members hailing from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, have been prolific since forming in 2018. Revolution is their third album, telling tales of ancient battles.
They embrace the usual power metal elements of soaring melodies, catchy choruses and plenty of guitar. However, there are a few surprises, such as some brief Middle Eastern influences on “Sparta – Part II. The songs are dramatic, sometimes devolving into melodrama, but there’s no shortage of hooks on songs like “Kill For The King” and “Ragnar.” Even though it doesn’t break much new ground, Revolution is a well-executed power metal album.
Witchcryer – When Their Gods Come For You (Ripple Music)
Austin’s Witchcryer seemed to emerge from nowhere with 2018’s debut, Cry Witch, bringing an updated twist on traditional doom metal through the powerful lungs of lead vocalist Suzy Bravo. Coming on like a demonic Pat Benatar, her soaring vocals heralded a band dragging this well-worn genre into a new era. Everything about follow up When Their Gods Come For You is just…more: heavier, doomier, more epic, more melodic.
What really sets Witchcryer apart is the incredibly memorable vocal melodies as well as the guitar riffs – earworms in and of themselves. Sound-wise, the pumped-up, distorted bass smacks you over the head right from opener “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and never lets up. To top it off, it’s a concept album that revolves around ancient gods and mythological beings – the acapella intro to “Quetzalcoatl” further illustrating their innovative approach. One of the year’s best.