This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from The Bronx, Danko Jones, Filth Is Eternal, Graveland, Heathen Rites, Hooded Menace, Hour Of 13, Jinjer, Our Place Of Worship Is Silence, Phinehas, Spirit Adrift, Tesseract, Vandenberg, White Stones and Wormwitch.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
The Bronx – Bronx VI (Cooking Vinyl)
L.A. hardcore veterans The Bronx are approaching two decades as a band. They focus their creativity on the songs, not the album titles, with four self-titled efforts, 2017’s V and now Bronx VI.
That punk aggression is still pumping through their veins on tracks like “Superbloom,” “New Lows” and “High Five,” but they embrace melodic rock tendencies on the catchy “Peace Pipe.” Worlds collide as they bring elements of their Mariachi El Bronx alter ego to the album on “Mexican Summer.” Matt Caughthran vocal’s are varied and passionate, with excellent guitar work from Joby J. Ford and Ken Horne throughout. No matter if it’s uptempo hardcore or more moderately paced hard rock, The Bronx always deliver memorable riffs and clever melodies.
Danko Jones – Power Trio (Sonic Unyon)
You have to respect Danko Jones‘ efficiency – every two years, the Canucks knock out another slab of no-frills, pretension-free and hook-laden hard rock. There’s few surprises, but the aptly titled Power Trio delivers the goods again. From punchy opener “I Want Out,” their latest offering incorporates several cuts you won’t be able to shift from your cerebral cortex. The group balances wearing influences on their collective sleeves with infusing a distinctive personality.
“Good Lookin’” packs the swagger of Kiss, “Raise Some Hell’s riffage references AC/DC and “Get To You” channels Thin Lizzy. Deep and meaningful has never been high on Danko Jones’ agenda, but catchy, driving “Ship of Lies” wages war on the disinformation age. The LP surprisingly culminates in “Start The Show,” an instantly memorable anthem that will now surely kick off every Danko Jones gig. Ten albums in, these lads ought to be ruling arenas, rather than preaching to the converted at European festivals and clubs everywhere else.
Filth Is Eternal – Love Is A Lie, Filth Is Eternal (Quiet Panic)
Filth Is Eternal hold firm to the idea that brevity is bliss with their second album Love Is A Lie, Filth Is Eternal. As is commonplace in hardcore/punk, this release clocks in at a smooth 20
minutes, which is more than enough time for the group to pummel and howl with fury. A majority of the songs waver around the one-minute mark, crashing in and out, leaving as much damage as they can.
A few songs do deviate from this pattern, as the guitars branch out with some noisy lead work on “Strange Men” and “Filth Is Eternal.” While they band doesn’t dwell too much in traditional metal, “The Dog” comes close to it with an exhilarating conclusion that piles on the double bass drumming and blurry riffs. The album isn’t a far departure from their debut album Suffrage, but that album had such a great core that only minor adjustments were needed to make this one work.
Graveland – Hour Of Ragnarok (Inferna Profundus)
Graveland pioneered Polish black metal in the early ’90s. Early recordings possessed a raw grimness. Then, band chieftain Rob Darken went in an epic pagan metal direction inspired by Bathory’s Hammerheart album, a sound still utilized to this day on his new full-length Hour Of Ragnarok. Darken’s voice still leaves a blackened mark, but with a more majestic musical construct.
Darken’s keyboards saturate the album in mysticism and instill a triumphant mood. He often uses horns to create a regal feeling. Ahrin’s heavy-handed drums have a tribal quality and booming percussion. While the grandiosity of the keys are drums are tantalizing, these instruments over power Darken’s guitar, vocals and Skyth’s bass. “Children of Hyperborea” and “Following the Azure Light” stand out for clean vocal sections. Album closer “River of Tears” emphasizes guitar more. Hour Of Ragnarok is an enchanting album, but could have benefited from more guitar like on the closing track.
Heathen Rites – Heritage (Svart)
Heathen Rites’ retro doom metal flair on Heritage will invoke memories of bands like Saint Vitus and Pentagram, though the folkish and traditional Nordic elements try to separate it from those luminaries. This band is a solo project of Burning Saviours guitarist Mikael Monks, who has a firm handle on being able to maintain a melodic temperament alongside leaden riffs. The music doesn’t rush to the finish, building its way there with soaring guitar solos that are equally matched by vocals that reach the same heights.
The acoustic guitars and violin in “Gleipner” lend a stark beauty to the song, something that continues with the piano intro to “Here Comes The Night.” Heritage does close out on an uneven note, with a few tracks that can’t mirror the lofty expectations raised in the first half of the album. A Scandinavian herding call in “Kulning” isn’t the most exciting conclusion, but it does show an admirable level of fearlessness from Monks.
Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell (Season of Mist)
Finnish death doom crew Hooded Menace return with The Tritonus Bell, their first album in over three years. What has seemingly changed this time around is the band’s heavier emphasis on melody or it could just be plenty of influence from their fellow Finns.
That isn’t to say that they lack their doom-laden plod through your aural canals as evidenced by the glacial pace of “Chime Diabolicus” and “Scattered Into Dark.” The former track draws your attention to the leads several times, adding depth upon each reintroduction to the fray. “Corpus Asunder” blasts out of the gate with the perfect combination of the band’s two styles with tons of melody present, and add in some Celtic Frost bits with the spoken pained words thrown into the mix for even more variety. Classically themed melodic death metal has clearly been an influence on the band this time around, perhaps to drive home the feeling of melancholy. Consistently improving, Hooded Menace have released the doom metal album of the year to this point.
Hour of 13 – Black Magick Rites (Shadow Kingdom)
Since Phil Swanson’s departure in 2013, whose voice has been one of the most influential elements in Hour of 13’s music, Chad Davis, who has been the band’s mastermind since its inception, has taken over all of the band’s music business. Now, has there been a fundamental change in the band’s dark music? The answer is no.
Black Magick Rites opens gloriously with “His Majesty of the Wood.” The ominous power that has always dominated Hour of 13’s music still rests on these songs. From Witchfinder General to Pentagram, put your hand on any traditional doom metal band and you can hear its major impact. Black Magick Rites is fervent and enjoyable. There is no noticeable creativity or novelty in its songwriting nature, but Davis has incorporated sinister darkness into the melodies and atmosphere of the album. It brings you to the essence of occultism, sorcery and evil.
Jinjer – Wallflowers (Napalm)
The Ukrainian band Jinjer have been prolific over the past few years. 2019 saw the release of both the EP Micro and full-length Macro, while in 2020 they issued the live album Alive In Melbourne. Now they are releasing their fourth full-length album Wallflowers.
Pinpointing Jinjer’s sound is challenging because it’s ever-shifting. The overarching term modern metal fits, also incorporating progressive and ‘core influences. The songs shift from technical and intense to melodic and groove laden. Tatiana Shmayluk’s vocal performance is wide ranging, running the gamut from melodic singing to throat shredding screams. “Vortex” and the title track are the more accessible songs, at least most of them are, before the intensity ratchets up toward the end. Other songs tilt that equation, with extremity punctuated by brief melodic parts. Able to shift on a dime, Jinjer still manage to make Wallflowers a cohesive work, one that’s both challenging and engrossing.
Our Place Of Worship Is Silence – Disavowed, And Left Hopeless (Translation Loss)
The point of a bottomless pit is that there is no end to the descent, yet Our Place Of Worship Is Silence keep falling deeper and deeper into the unknown on their third album Disavowed, And Left Hopeless. Like their previous albums, the title of this one is almost a warning to a listener unaware of what to expect. Their relentless form of death/black metal is near the point of intolerable in sections, with an atonal menace hovering as two vocalists bark lines etched in suffering.
It isn’t until the album’s final 10 minutes when the music dissipates from its prior extremity into something more cerebral. It isn’t quite to the point of doom or sludge metal, but it feels that way after previously being inundated with such overwhelming noise. Disavowed, And Left Hopeless is an exclamation point to a trilogy of albums that prided itself on an unbridled hatred of humanity.
Phinehas – The Fire Itself (Solid State)
By combining the frantic pacing of thrash metal, the chiseled and precise riffs of melodeath, the earnest exploration of emotions of hardcore and the swagger of southern rock grooves, Phinehas have refined their signature take on metalcore into an incredibly potent and exhilarating sound on their fourth studio offering The Fire Itself. From the first seconds of opener “Eternally Apart” until the very end of “In The Night,” this album showcases a band firing on all cylinders and executing their vision perfectly.
There is nothing revolutionary in these ten songs, but the execution is impeccable and the songwriting treads familiar ground without falling into soulless clichés. Frontman Sean McCulloch spits vitriol, fire and catharsis in equal parts, and his heated clean vocals and powerfully layered screams cover such a wide range of affects and sit perfectly amidst the band’s angular riffs and pummeling grooves. The Fire Itself exemplifies all one could ask from a metalcore album in 2021.
Spirit Adrift – Forge Your Future (Century Media)
Spirit Adrift return hot on the heels of their last full-length Enlightened In Eternity with a three track EP entitled Forge Your Future. Opening with the title track, you get what you expect from Spirit Adrift, classically styled heavy metal with a slight gallop, tinged with the heavy melody that has become Nate Garrett’s signature over the course of this project’s run.
Upping the speed with the powerful “Wake Up” is a nice change of pace allowing for Spirit Adrift to blow the doors off this EP. A simple riff serves as the bedrock of the track, but couple that with some guitar pyrotechnics and you have an excellent sopng on your hands. Closing things out is “Invisible Enemy” a combination stylistically of the first two and also the longest song here. Garrett’s songwriting and structure have continually improved over the course of the band and this is one of the most dynamic cuts to be released by the band to this point. Spirit Adrift are as solid as ever and Forge Your Future is an excellent small step towards greatness.
TesseracT – P O R T A L S (Kscope)
Like many bands, the UK progressive metal band TesseracT did a live streaming performance when unable to tour because of the pandemic. However, they took it to the next level, putting together a two hour cinematic experience brought together by a chaptered screenplay. P O R T A L S is now available in a variety of formats including Blu-ray, DVD, 2CD, 3LP and digital.
In addition to the 14 songs, the Blu-ray edition also includes a behind the scenes documentary and hi res audio only version. The setlist explores the band’s entire career, going all the way back to their 2010 EP Concealing Fate and going through their latest release, 2018’s Sonder. It’s an immersive experience that fans of the band will certainly gravitate toward. It’s also an effective introduction to TesseracT for the uninitiated, encapsulating a decade’s worth of material in a couple of hours.
Vandenberg – The Complete Atco Recordings 1982-2004 (Cherry Red)
The Dutch/American hard rock band Vandenberg was formed in the early ’80s. They released three albums before disbanding. They reunited last year and issued a new album. The Complete Atco Recordings collects those three studio records along with a disc of rarities and live tracks.
American fans will best known Vandenberg for “Burning Heart” from their 1982 self-titled debut. Since the band is named after the guitarist (Adrian Vandenberg) it’s not surprising guitars are front and center, but Bert Heerink was also a good singer. The second and third albums (1983’s Heading For A Storm and 1985’s Alibi) didn’t have the commercial success of the debut, but there are some quality songs on each album. It’s a good collection of an underrated ’80s band. And hardcore fans will appreciate the fourth disc, which consists of demos, alternate versions and an unplugged rendition of “Burning Heart.”
White Stones – Dancing Into Oblivion (Nuclear Blast)
The members of Opeth have participated in numerous side projects over the years. Mikael Akerfeldt and Martin Axenrot have been in Bloodbath, Fredrik Akesson played on Biff Byford’s solo album, and Martin Mendez formed White Stones a couple years ago. After a 2020 debut, they return with Dancing Into Oblivion.
Fronted by Eloi Boucherie, White Stones play death metal with a progressive flair. Their prog approach is evident on both shorter songs like “Chain Of Command” and longer tracks such as the more than 8 minute “Iron Titans.” Mendez handles both guitar and bass, with the guitar solos provided by their live guitarist Joao Sassetti. The band has a diverse approach, varying textures and intensities, from the mellow instrumental “Woven Dream” to the blastbeat laden “To Lie Or To Die.” The turnaround between albums was quick, but the quality remains high.
Wormwitch – Wolf Hex (Prosthetic)
Wormwitch raised the stakes with their 2019 sophomore album Heaven That Dwells Within, a combination of black metal and melody that was tough to top. Enter Wolf Hex and the band returns with fire especially on their first proper song “Canadian Denim Mountain Attack.” It features the black and thrash you would get from earlier incarnation of Skeletonwitch in tandem of what made Windir one of the most dynamic black metal entities to have ever existed.
It’s not all moonlight and dead flowers here, as Wolf Hex is a bit uneven in parts with tracks like “Abracadabra” being excellent but others kind of dragging along like “Hammer of the Underworld.” The album overall is a slight disappointment from the previous release but still well worth a listen as they do what they can to make a name for themselves in this metal underground. There’s a solid Metallica “Hit The Lights” cover to round things out, too.