This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Asking Alexandria, Augurium, Blut Aus Nord, Colony Drop, Dethklok, Dragonheart, Exmortus, Graveripper, Incantation, Marc Hudson, Nixil, SinHeresy, Till The Dirt, U.D.O., Vandenberg and Vision Master.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Asking Alexandria – Where Do We Go From Here? (Better Noise)
British hard rockers Asking Alexandria have had success on both sides of the pond since they emerged about 15 years ago. Their last album, 2021’s See What’s On The Inside, spawned the number one mainstream rock single “Alone Again.” They strike while the iron’s hot with their latest effort Where Do We Go From Here?.
The band hits on all cylinders, combining elements from various eras and adding some new elements. “Things Could Be Different” hearkens back to their early days, while tracks like “Bad Blood” sound very modern with electronic influences and still manage to throw in some heavy parts and harsh vocals. “Psycho” with its anthemic chorus and contemporary arrangement has already hit the top 10, and the single “Dark Void” has some of the heaviest moments on the album along with some of the most melodic. Where Do We Go From Here? should satisfy the band’s longtime fans while also appealing to the latest generation of listeners.
Unearthly Will is the first album from Augurium following their hiatus, after which they have returned with a revamped lineup and a new sound. Their death metal has seen a symphonic makeover, as orchestration reigns over the album (sometimes too much so as it overshadows the rest of the instruments in spots) and its inclusion gives off a grandiose flair.
The brevity of much of the songwriting means any filler is sliced out, with only “Ancient Grimoire” and closer “Invictus” getting anywhere past the three-and-a-half minute mark. These also happen to push the boundaries a bit, with the former trying out melodic vocals in a verse and the latter holding back on the feverish tempos Unearthly Will tends to falls under. This is a strong new direction for Augurium, with a little bit of fine-tuning of the symphonic side.
Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Nahab (Debemur Morti)
A little over a year after they released Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses, avant-garde black veterans Blut Aus Nord are issuing the second installment of of the cycle, Disharmonium – Nahab.
Like previous releases, Disharmonium – Nahab is an immersive listen, sometimes unsettling and chaotic, other times more melodic and relatively accessible. The songs are slightly shorter than Undreamable Abysses, mostly in the five minute range with three brief instrumental opuses that add atmosphere and provide a reprieve from the extremity. The songs are dynamic with a lot of depth and a variety of harsh vocal styles from Vindsval that are usually deep in the mix. Blut Aus Nord expertly craft a mesmerizing musical journey with Disharmonium – Nahab that grabs the listener from the opening notes and remains completely engaging for the entire album.
Colony Drop – Brace For Impact (Nameless Grave)
On their debut album Brace For Impact, the Seattle band Colony Drop are certainly influenced by classic thrash and crossover bands (especially Slayer). However, they expand their sound beyond that and the production on the album is decidedly modern.
Guitarists Benjamin Burton and Ryan Moon are the driving forces on the album, able to deliver both shredding solos and concise riffs. Tracks like “Remade” emphasize groove, while songs such as “Stand Against The World” rocket along at maximum tempo. In addition to a heaping helping of thrash, Colony Drop sprinkle in everything from NWOBHM to doom to prog, with lyrics inspired by sci-fi, anime and weird fiction. Put it all together and Brace For Impact is an interesting and unique debut.
Dethklok – Dethalbum IV (WaterTower)
Dethklok, the Brendon Small created band known to animated audiences from Metalocalypse, are returning after a long time away. The real-life version features Small on vocals and guitar, legendary drummer Gene Hoglan and bassist Bryan Beller who helped the band get off the mat for the first time in ten years. Dethalbum IV is the accompanying album to their new film Army Of The Doomstar their first appearance in over a decade.
Opening with the silly sounds of a weed whacker is “Gardener of Vengeance,” complete with plenty of death metal moments and some levels of vocal grandiosity playing into the “band’s” style. “Bloodbath” really lets Hoglan go nuts on the drum kit while Small doesn’t let much stop him as well. This is one of the best standalone tracks with a good amount of keyboards thrown in to up the ante for the album, giving off the feeling of a much more brutal Children Of Bodom. For those looking for a good time with a death metal record and a bit of humor too, you will have a hard time topping Dethalbum IV, a proper continuation of the Dethklok legacy started nearly 20 years ago.
Dragonheart – The Dragonheart’s Tale (Rockshots)
It took eight years since the release of their 2015 album The Battle Sanctuary for Brazilian power metal legends Dragonheart to cook up this spectacle. The Dragonheart’s Tale, which features the return of original vocalist Eduardo Marques who rejoined the band in 2019 after a 17 year absence, feels like a power metal fantasy story that unfolds with each song. It feels like a group of bards in a tavern singing tails of ancient battles and mythical stories.
With a runtime coming in at just under an hour, it’s impressive that they’ve managed to fit a three act musical in that short of time. “DragoNHeart’s Tale” does what any opening musical number does best, its bombastic energy hooks you in for a wild ride. “Barbarian Armada” and “Plague Maker” are just samples on how each song keeps the narrative intriguing. Rounding out this ballad with “Early Days” shows Dragonheart’s skill for keeping a cohesive narrative in all their work. The Dragonheart’s Tale is a definite testament to twenty-six years of experience.
Exmortus – Necrophony (Nuclear Blast)
Returning for their first album since 2018’s The Sound Of Steel are Exmortus, who are primed for a darker experience with Necrophony. You get exactly what you want out of Exmortus as guitarist/vocalist Conan Gonzalez continues his shredding style within the context of fun and heavy music. Adding pieces from Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven aren’t always thought of as the most metal of things, but Exmortus make sure with minor changes here and there anything can be metal. “Masquerade” and “Mask of Red Death” run into each other and are total show pieces combining all the elements of the band into a neoclassical rain of riffs that will keep you guessing.
For a band so technically sound, Exmortus know how to calm it down relatively speaking on “Oathbreaker,” coming off as a slightly less technical band, yet having more in line with Arsis. Of course, there have to be instrumentals when you can play at the level at which this band does and “Storm of Strings” is the band’s play on a Yannis’ version of Vivaldi’s “Summer.” If your metal is lacking some much-needed technicality of late, Necrophony is here to remedy that.
Graveripper – Seasons Dreaming Death (Wise Blood)
Indianapolis blackened thrash maniacs Graveripper have finally readied their first full-length attack, Seasons Dreaming Death. Right from the outset, “Into The Grave” is an all-out assault, chock full of mad riffing at light speed and black metal undertones, making a name for themselves before the first song reaches its close. “Divine Incantations” sees the band fully embrace the dark side of their metal coin with blackened resplendence that shows no signs of stopping; the darkened melodies here show just what Graveripper is capable of.
Of course, the band can slow it down too, and with the title track they do exactly that. %he drums pound your head in while the band’s manic melodicism from prior tracks shows itself in the midst of the maelstrom. Being able to properly balance thrash and black metal is a herculean task. However, allowing for each to have ample footing is where Graveripper thrive. If there is one blackened thrash album to have in 2023 it had better be Seasons Dreaming Death.
Incantation – Unholy Deification (Relapse)
Death metal pioneers Incantation have been a stalwart of the genre for over three decades. Vocalist/guitarist John McEntee is the lone remaining original member, with drummer Kyle Severn first joining back in 1994. Unholy Deification is the band’s thirteenth studio album in what has been a very prolific period for them. Since 2012 they have issued five studio albums, a couple of splits, a live album and several compilations.
Unholy Deification is classic Incantation with punishing death metal, a bit of melody and McEntee’s gruff vocals. They shift tempos, slowing things down on “Concordat (The Pact) I” and keeping the pedal to the metal on most of “Chalice (Vessel Consaguineous) VIII.” The songs are razor sharp and focused, only once going over the five minute mark. That is with the closer “Circle (Eye Of Ascension) VII” that has a slow, doomy vibe before picking up the pace about halfway through and then slowing down again. There’s a reason Incantation have been successful for so long. That’s evident on this album, with top notch songwriting and musicianship.
Marc Hudson – Starbound Stories (Napalm)
Marc Hudson has been the lead singer for DragonForce for 12 years now. He had decided to venture out with his first solo album Starbound Stories. It’s a power metal record inspired by Japanese music and video game soundtracks. His former DragonForce bandmate Frederic Leclercq plays guitar and bass on the album.
That’s evident on the opening instrumental “As The Twilight Met The Sea” that features traditional Japanese instruments. Though the lyrics may have different inspirations, some of the music has similarities to DragonForce. There’s plenty of soaring power metal on tracks like “Freedom Heart” and “Dracula X!” that features Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires, Avantasia). Hudson dials it back on the ballad “Stars,” while “The Siren” has a pop rock influence. The album has some compelling songs along with a few that are more in the filler category. On Starbound Stories, Hudson stretches his musical wings while still appealing to fans of his main band.
Nixil – From The Wound Spilled Forth Fire (Prosthetic)
Going from self-releasing their first album to having From The Wound Spilled Forth Fire being put out by Prosthetic Records hasn’t affected Nixil’s flammable black metal. If anything, it’s actually intensified, as their sophomore album has the group resort to roaring instability on a more frequent basis. It helps soften the six-plus minutes of each song, a slight increase from their debut album, which also had its share of lengthier material.
There are appropriate atmospheric notes, like the sample of a walk to someone’s final resting place on “The Way Is The Grave” and an eerie start to opener “Collapsing The Poles.” The uptake in guitar solos is great too, as the band gets to flex their musicianship on a stellar number like “Abyss Unto Abyss.” Nixil’s move to incorporate a vitriolic temperament to their sound is effective.
SinHeresy – Event Horizon (Scarlet)
The Italian symphonic metal band SinHeresy have had a lineup change since their last album, 2019’s Out Of Connection. Drummer Gabriele Boz has been in the group for a few years now, but Event Horizon is his first album with the band, which is SinHeresy’s fourth.
Their approach is modern and melodic, with plenty of groove. Tracks like “Black Spirit” pack a punch, but also have a lot of hooks. Cecilia Petrini and Stefano Sain share vocal duties. Petrini is front and center on songs such as “The Life You Left Behind” and “Forbidden Desire.” Sain is versatile, delivering melodic vocals most of the time, but providing growls on tracks like “Castaways” that provides additional variety. Event Horizon is streamlined at only 34 minutes, with songs that are focused and memorable with minimal filler.
Till The Dirt – Outside The Spiral (Nuclear Blast)
Kelly Schaefer needs no introduction to the metal populous due to his legendary work with Florida’s Atheist, but this time around things are very different. Enter Till The Dirt, a combination of what Schaefer feels is needed to conjure up creativity in extreme music in 2023. There are groovy sections, death metal, even grunge thrown in for good measure, with enough going on to have death metal producer extraordinaire Scott Burns to get back in the booth for the first time on an extreme album since Obituary’s Frozen In Time.
Right from the opening track “Starring Role” you get a different side of this technical death metal man with vocals that seem like they were pulled from Seattle in the early ‘90s juxtaposed against some seriously talented young musicians. Outside The Spiral is far beyond what you would expect from this legend and his new pals. “As It Seems” almost pulls directly from Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood’s wheelhouse vocally, against some seriously speedy guitar work. This is an album that requires multiple listens; with so much to digest, there are moments that really pop on repeat allowing for this thing to show you what it’s all about. It’s a fun record and hopefully the start of a continued project.
U.D.O. – Touchdown (Atomic Fire)
Longstanding heavy metal frontman Udo Dirkschneider has been in the game for over 50 years and his band U.D.O. are dropping their 18th album, Touchdown. Few can play music for as long as he can and now in his 70s, he isn’t planning to stop any time soon. Opening with the powerful aplomb of “Isolation Man,” you hear that classic rasp that he has been known for since his days in Accept, one that lets you know exactly who is behind the mic.
Touchdown also sees U.D.O. reunite with original Accept bassist Peter Baltes, seeing them work together for the first time since 1996’s Predator. “Fight For the Right” and “The Betrayer are examples of hard rockers that aren’t afraid to play into the neoclassical guitar solo sections. Technical mastery within these tracks is always appreciated. If you want a solid heavy metal record featuring now two legends, Touchdown is a good example as to why these guys have rocked out for so long.
Vandenberg – Sin (Music Theories)
When Dutch guitar hero Adrian Vandenberg reactivated his original solo band with the appropriately named 2020, it was in name only – a very good thing indeed. Enlisting vocalist Ronnie Romero, fresh off a stint with Rainbow, this new incarnation leaned toward a heavier, melodic, Euro-metal style, a far cry from the pop metal leanings of their ‘80s output. Sin finds Romero replaced by Swedish singer Mats Levén, who bears a striking vocal resemblance to the Dio-equse stylings of his predecessor, but with greater range.
Powered by memorable riffs and Vandenberg’s elegant soloing, Sin also ratchets up the heaviness. The thundering title track recalls Whitesnake’s Zep-pastiche, “Judgement Day,” perhaps a subtle jab at Steve Vai’s screwy sitar-laden take on Vanderberg’s original riff. “Baby You’ve Changed” is the only misstep, a hokey ballad in the vein of the ‘Snake’s “Is This Love?” and an odd fit for Levén’s voice, but all is forgiven by the dynamic, lumbering closer, “Out Of The Shadows.”
Vision Master – Sceptre (Gates Of Hell)
Vision Master had to have a great time in the studio throwing down rambunctious heavy metal with Sceptre. Coming off a fantastic EP in Orb, the duo’s first full-length album has faster songs and fiercer guitar solos. As the sole guitarist in the band, Dan Munro (who also handles vocals) loves to harmonize with himself, as layers of guitars are stacked on each other. He does get to duel with Impaled guitarist Sean “Bloodbath” McGrath on “Arc Terminal X” in a thrilling back-and-forth.
There’s a sinister undertone to some of these songs, with blast beats flying through “Knife In A Velvet Glove” and nods to Venom and Bathory vocally. It never takes away from the galloping metal these guys love to do, and when they are going full throttle, there’s nothing but joy and reverence given to it.