These are our final weekly reviews of 2021. They will resume in January of 2022. This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Behemoth, Cadaveric Fumes, Final Coil, Malignant Altar, Memory Garden, Mercury X, Mordom, Phrenelith, Restless Spirit, Sinful Ways, Slow Burning Rage, Sodom, Stabbing and Thirty Fates.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Behemoth – In Absentia Dei (Metal Blade)
During the height of the pandemic, many bands did live streaming shows. Behemoth‘s was more creative and unusual than the typical show from a band’s rehearsal space. They performed in an abandoned church in rural Poland. Over a year after its premiere, In Absentia Dei is being released in a variety of formats.
The band gives fans their money’s worth, with a 19 song set clocking in just under two hours. The songs span Behemoth’s career. There are two tracks from their latest studio album, 2018’s I Loved You At Your Darkest. Their back catalog is well represented as well, going all the way back to their debut album, 1995’s Sventevith (Storming Near The Baltic). The 2CD/Blu-ray edition allows fans to enjoy the audio of the performance anytime along with the ability to watch the compelling visual show. Behemoth have released several live albums over the years, but In Absentia Dei is a strong addition to their live canon.
Cadaveric Fumes – Echoing Chambers Of Soul (Blood Harvest)
After releasing several demos and EPs since 2012, the French death metal band Cadaveric Fumes have collected some of their finest tunes in the form of their first studio album, Echoing Chambers Of Soul. It’s an album that can be considered as a very significant step. The record is filled with often lengthy songs. And what makes this album so substantial is the dynamism in songwriting, and the audacity in developing and performing them.
The macabre atmosphere dormant in the heart of the songs does not calm down for a moment, even when the band try to deepen the darkness residing in the instrumental introduction or interludes. The uproar and collision of death doom and old school death metal has given Echoing… a terrifying stature, and Cadaveric Fumes’ ingenuity in personalizing the song’s structure has surpassed this genre most common examples. It’s dissonant in the moments when it has to be, and it does so intensely in the moments when it has to penetrate the harmonies. The result is an album that is thrilling, insane and remarkable.
Final Coil – Somnambulant II (Wormholedeath)
U.K. progressive/post-rock outfit Final Coil have been plying their wares for a number of years now, and over the past eighteen months they have focused on revisiting their older material, listening with a fresh set of ears, and in the case of these seven songs on Somnambulant II, completely reworking them.
Each song retains enough of the original to know where it began, but Final Coil present us with entirely new takes. These songs veer in a number of directions, from contemplative to industrial, whimsical to foreboding. At times the performances come across as a bit too DIY (those drum samples…), but overall Somnambulant II is an enjoyable album that will be of particular interest to fans of the band.
Malignant Altar – Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity (Dark Descent)
Malignant Altar’s Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity is technically sound death metal that doesn’t overdo it. Setting a grotesque atmosphere is what this group is great at, as if there’s something inhuman crawling behind a listener’s ear that they can only feel but not see. That sort of edge even comes out in the ambient horror of the title track.
In this genre, the bass guitar is sometimes the most underrepresented part of the music, but some of this album’s best moments comes from that very instrument. It’s the outright catchiness of its lead break on “Rite Of Krasue” and the slithery notes on “Ceremonial Decapitator” that gives the bass that distinction. If grim death metal is one’s agenda, Realms Of Exquisite Morbidity is a great choice.
Memory Garden – 1349 (No Remorse)
Memory Garden are nearing 30 years of power/doom with new album 1349. The Swedish band garners comparisons to the Candlemass album Chapter VI. Memory Garden have more than a stylistic connection to Candlemass. Drummer Tom Björn played in Memento Mori, which featured Candlemass legend Messiah Marcolin.
Encompassing both fact and fiction, 1349 is a concept album based around the black plague. “Shallow Waters” opens the album with a powerfully crunchy groove, one that guides the album including “Distrust” and “The Empiric.” “The Empiric” embodies their sound as with the mid-paced chugging comes crawling, ominous doom riffs capitulated by a wicked vocal part reminiscent of current Candlemass singer Johan Längquist. “The Messenger” and “The Flagellants” inject the album with rich, clean guitar melodies of a dark nature. “Rivers Run Black” features harrowing vocal harmonies. While the vocals are strong, they don’t sway me in the same way as an old Candlemass album. Guitar riffs and solos are what makes 1349 an enjoyable listen.
Mercury X – Imprisoned (Frontiers)
The Swedish progressive metal band Mercury X have independently released a couple of album. For their latest opus Imprisoned they have signed with Frontiers.
The centerpiece of the album is the 20 minute title track. It was originally going to be a single-song standalone EP, but the band decided to write a few other songs to make a full-length. Those songs are melodic and catchy, mixing hooks with progressive instrumental sections that makes for a well-rounded sound. There are crunchy modern moments along with influences of classic prog bands like Rush and Dream Theater. As for the title track, even with its length it still manages to maintain interest with a compelling arrangement and not too much self-indulgence. Mercury X are a talented band.
Mordom – Cry Of The Dying World (Transylvanian)
Mordom’s 2020 demo Eternal Solitude was a terrifying take on death/doom metal, and the follow-up Cry Of The Dying World remains so. Though, in an unforeseen twist, the band has gotten rid of most of the guitars save for the bass. The only other prominent guitars are the acoustic ones used in the dire, acoustic-led “The Fire.” That downer, with its strained singing as if the vocalist is near the verge of tears, is genuinely the saddest tune on this album.
The other three songs lead towards a sonic downhill spiral, double-digit behemoths that plod along in a funerary position periodically veering into fervent death metal. This is a patient person’s kind of record, as the group’s crestfallen state makes for what can be an uncomfortable experience. Cry Of The Dying World fits its bleak moniker without succumbing to repetition.
Phrenelith – Chimaera (Nuclear Winter)
Danish death metallers Phrenelith return with their sophomore release Chimaera following their excellent debut Desolate Endscape over four years ago. Phrenelith play a dark and slow moving brand of death metal akin to bands like, Incantation, Dead Congregation with a little less vile nature than their countrymen Undergang.
The atmosphere on opener “Awakening Titans” feels as though it is shaping for something huge as the song’s title suggests with vocalist David Torturdød acting as one of the disturbed giants. This album makes the term “slab” seem appropriate because of how large it plays as a whole in only 32 minutes. You get your maximum amount of crushing doom with ample to time to do it over and again. If you are looking for a dark death metal album that feels as though it is moving though the mire, then Chimaera is for you.
Restless Spirit – Blood Of The Old Gods (Lifesblood)
Blood Of The Old Gods gives Restless Spirit an opportunity to expand their stoner/doom metal. That wasn’t the case with their 2019 debut Lord Of The New Depression, which had half of its material taken from song ideas found on various EPs prior to its release. Their sophomore album has the group with a clean slate, writing these seven songs over the course of a month.
This fresh start has lengthier compositions that craft a world where its state needs to be changed, no matter how much of it burns to oblivion in the process. Bands like Black Sabbath, as well as Led Zeppelin’s IV album, were beginning points Restless Spirit used for Blood Of The Old Gods. The album turns out to be a rebirth of sorts for them.
For their second EP Darkest Days, Sinful Ways push ahead with their melodic thrash/groove, more of a refinement at this stage in their career than a total overhaul. The band have spent the last two years or so releasing content, slowly piecing together where they want to go. Like the title track to their first EP To Hell Tonight, there’s an attempt at loftier songwriting with closer “Pursuit.” Its grandiose guitar solo and ensuing breakdown are an excellent snapshot of the group’s evolution.
There are some thrashier parts on Darkest Days, though the groove has been heightened up. The vocals have a melodic/harsh interplay, which is done effectively but doesn’t quite reach the quality other groups meet with this sort of entangled vocal approach. With Darkest Days, Sinful Ways inch closer to realizing their core sound.
Slow Burning Rage – Slow Burning Rage (Pax Aeternum)
Slow Burning Rage is the project of musician Ryan Parrish, who has drummed for bands like Darkest Hour, Iron Reagan and Mammoth Grinder. This isn’t a solo project as Parrish makes sure to emphasize, bringing in a multitude of collaborators to produce this instrumental eponymous debut album. No one song completely represents this release, as Parrish takes cues from ambience, jazz and experimental music for an album that defies any conventional styles.
The saxophone/drum duel going on throughout opener “Agonal Gasp” is as frantic as any metal track, while a sense of growing discomfort seeps through “Scaphism (Two Boats).” With Parrish’s background, percussion plays a large role in these songs. There’s over a dozen musicians making up a percussion ensemble on “Dark Thunder…” and several songs have elaborate drum solos. But even with all that, something as low-key as the spacey electronic hum of closer “…Crystal Nebula” reverberates with the same level of impact.
Sodom – M-16 20th Anniversary Edition (BMG)
Two decades ago Teutonic titans Sodom issued their tenth studio album M-16. It’s an antiwar concept album about the Vietnam War, using samples from films such as Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. The 20th anniversary edition was remastered by the band’s drummer Toni Merkel.
It’s available in various configurations. The CD and LP editions include two previously unreleased tracks from Wacken 2001. There’s also a deluxe box set with a lot of extra goodies. Both the songs and the message of M-16 have held up well. The band was firing on all cylinders, with crushing riffs and potent vocals from Tom Angelripper. It’s an album well worth revisiting.
Stabbing – Ravenous Psychotic Onslaught (Comatose)
Ravenous Psychotic Onslaught is the debut EP from the brutal Texas death metal collective Stabbing. However, the group’s members are scene veterans of such bands as Flesh Hoarder, Disfigured, Scattered Remains and Whore of Bethlehem. This first effort has everything one would expect from a brutal death metal group: guttural vocal secretions, jagged riffs, slamming grooves and machine-gun-blasting drums.
“Splatter Pit” kicks off the album with furious blasts from Rene Martinez echoed by putrid vocal volleys. Much of the time one can tell a female death metal vocalist, but not Bridget Lynch. Her growls are low and incomprehensible, sounding as if she’s vomiting eyeballs and intestines. The album thrives on speed, technical twists and turns, harmonics, and is filled with slamming grooves as heard on “Gutted by the Beast.” Ravenous Psychotic Onslaught is brief in its 12 minutes running time, but the violence is unremitting.
Thirty Fates – Circus Black (Rockshots)
Circus Black is a very solid compilation of classic songs taken from a number of phases of the Greek band Thirty Fates. Four tracks are from a 1991 demo, two are unreleased songs from the ’80s, three are taken from Black Fate’s 2001 rare EP. Finally, there’s one brand new song.
The combination of songs is interesting and shows the many phases of the outfit quite effectively. They perform a style of classic metal that never seems to get old. It borrows heavily from the Judas Priest style in an effective fashion. The guitar work is very old school oriented and has a pristine sheen. This is a solid compilation that showcases a number of the band’s time periods quite effectively. It is thus a mandatory listen for those looking to delve further into Thirty Fates.