This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Author & Punisher, Backslider, Girish & The Chronicles, Hammr, Hangman’s Chair, Jestr, Legendarium, Napalm Death, Near Death Condition, Night Cobra, Once Human, Stalker, Theandric, Trouble, Voivod and Zeal & Ardor.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Author & Punisher – Krüller (Relapse)
One-man industrial innovator Tristan Shone of Author & Punisher is releasing his ninth proper album in the form of Krüller. For the unencumbered Author & Punisher has the exterior of an industrial metal band akin to Godflesh, but upon closer examination Shone can let some new wave bands like Depeche Mode and New Order become part of this unique aural amalgamation as per opener “Drone Carrying Dread.”
The droning sounds of “Incinerator” create a feeling like the music is about to crash down on the listener at any given moment; feeling as though the pounding dissonance was to have a monolithic feel. Having heard a few of A&P’s records to this point, Krüller really feels like the perfect industrial metal by way of new wave feeling that Shone has been going for all this time.
Backslider – Psychic Rot (To Live A Lie)
Though Psychic Rot is being touted as Backslider’s second album, and first since 2016, the trio have been keeping busy with various EPs, demos and compilations since then. Psychic Rot takes almost 15 years of the band’s output — an amalgamation of grindcore, powerviolence, hardcore, sludge and death metal — and quantifies it into an unruly creation that is as chilling as it is forceful.
Sometimes, the songs go by so quickly that it’s near impossible to take them in, like “Collision Of Desire” and “Goat Snuff.” Then they get a bit more controlled and atmospheric, as in the one-two pairing of “Bone Thief” and “Mortuary Art.” Or they may just throw a main riff out meant to be moshed to, like the one on closer “The Floating Door” that is an early front runner for best riff of 2022. Psychic Rot is able to take all these genres and moods and make them comprehensible, though in the grimiest fashion possible.
Girish And The Chronicles – Hail To The Heroes (Frontiers)
Girish And The Chronicles hail from India, and released their debut back in 2014. Hail To The Heroes is their third album, and first with Frontiers Music.
Though they are from India, the band’s influences are straight from L.A.’s Sunset Strip. Their sound embraces classic hard rock with big riffs and bigger hooks. Vocalist Girish Pradhan is versatile, able to sing with an edge when needed, but also able to croon melodically (notably on the ballad “Shamans Of Time”) or bring a bluesy approach. He’s also part of Firstborne, as is Chris Adler (ex-Lamb Of God), who guests on closer “Rock N’ Roll Fever.” Hail To The Heroes will appeal to those who appreciate ’80s rock and NWOBHM.
Hammr – Eternal Possession (Hells Headbangers)
Eternal Possession is the second and the newest album from the Cleveland, Ohio black/speed metal band Hammr. It is an album full of rage, with a terrifying and tireless sound. But what makes this album so devastating and outrageous? Exactly the same elements that make any blackened speed metal album destructive and furious.
Eternal Possession offers a 30-minute mix of black and speed metal. Adding flavors like d-beat and punk make the album more forceful, while incorporating some elements of raw black metal. In addition to singing and composing, J. Hammer is responsible for playing all the instruments, and although the structures of the songs are basically simple, he has been powerful enough to deliver wicked riffs, thunderous drum beats, and fuzzy, ominous atmosphere. Eternal Possession is a raw clash between Motörhead, Discharge, Midnight, and even Darkthrone, and this is what keeps it the size of a successful and competent album.
Hangman’s Chair – A Loner (Nuclear Blast)
France’s Hangman’s Chair are set to release their sixth album A Loner, though this is the first I’ve heard of them. Having a sound that seems to marry the heavier grunge bands like Alice In Chains with a little bit of New Orleans sludge, Hangman’s Chair have no issue creating a unique sound all their own.
“Cold and Distant” is a great example of how the band builds up large soundscapes and riffs along like Kirk Windstein of Crowbar to help everything to fall into place just right.
Some of the atmosphere on the album is akin to Deftones especially with Cédric Toufouti’s ethereal vocals. Take all these elements and you have something special on your hands. With so many different heavy boxes checked on A Loner, the sky’s the limit for this French foursome in the heavy metal world.
Jestr’s debut album The Dead & Riches has some great hooks. They may not be immediate on the first playthrough, but by the fifth or sixth, random singing of the chorus to “Hades” or “The Man From Taured” in day-to-day life can occur. The group has an alternative/grunge/hard rock style that favors a catchy musical direction. Though “Birth Of A Charlatan” hangs around darker tones, the majority of the album doesn’t bury itself deep in any sort of muck.
The album is a breezy ride, never halting with a ballad or interlude. There are some Queen-like guitar harmonies in closer “Lush,” and there’s guitar leads sprinkled on other songs, but the album doesn’t push any sonic barriers beyond snagging a listener with an infectious riff or vocal melody. The Dead & Riches is a grower, which will work better on a patient listener.
Under The Spell Of Destruction is the third LP from Dutch/Italian punk-tinged heavy metal band Legendarium. Galloping drums, simple and anthemic melodies and trad metal riffs form the backbone of the album, with long solo sections peppered throughout. The production is somewhat cloudy, giving the whole affair a vintage sound.
Laurence Kerbov’s baritone vocals spin tall tales of nightmarish encounters and apocalyptic fears, and although the performances are sometimes shaky, their vulnerable authenticity serves the songs well, especially on “Blood Moon Inferno” and opener “Fear and Loathing in Hell.” There are also a few delightful drum breaks, tastefully sprinkled around the album. By playing up the gothic atmosphere without neglecting the energetic riffage, Legendarium write compelling songs that fans of the fans of the Misfits, Danzig and trad metal will doubtlessly enjoy.
Napalm Death – Resentment Is Always Seismic – A Final Throw Of Throes (Century Media)
In 2020 grindcore legends Napalm Death released Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism, which landed on many best of the year lists, including the number two spot on ours. The EP Resentment Is Always Seismic – A Final Throw Of Throes collects bonus tracks from that album and some covers.
The eight songs are not throwaways. Slower, death metal tracks like “Resentment Always Simmers” and more chaotic songs like “By Proxy” are quality compositions. Napalm Death also cover Slab!’s “People Pie” and Bad Brains’ “Don’t Need It.” The songs on the EP show the band’s various influences, from grind to death to punk. And at nearly 30 minutes, it’s more material than the typical EP. There’s plenty to absorb and enjoy while awaiting their next full-length effort.
Near Death Condition – Ascent From The Mundane (Unique Leader)
For a band that’s been around for more than 20 years, the Swiss death metal group Near Death Condition doesn’t have an extensive discography. Ascent From The Mundane is their fourth album, and first since 2014. Guitarist Patrick Bonvin is the only remaining member from Evolving Toward Extinction.
Near Death Condition follow the traditional death metal path most of the time, but periodically divert and inject things like piano at the end of “Witness Of The Martyr” and the cinematic instrumental “Enlightenment” to add variety. They also switch up tempos, with tracks like “The Bridal Chamber” slowing down and speeding up. The centerpiece of the album is the nearly eight minute title track, which showcases NDC’s musicianship and songwriting. They are a band that values quality over quantity, which is evident on Evolving Toward Extinction.
Night Cobra – Dawn Of The Serpent (Irongrip/High Roller)
Houston, Texas’ Night Cobra are a relatively new band, but they have some experienced members. The lineup includes current or former members of bands such as Necrofier, Eternal Champion and Venomous Maximum. After issuing an EP in 2020, Dawn Of The Serpent is their full-length debut.
It’s traditional metal with some punk influences. The songs are guitar driven with lots of solos and memorable riffs. Tempos are generally fast and urgent. The ominous instrumental “Acid Rain” is a nice change of pace, but would be more effective in the middle of the album instead of the penultimate track. Christian Larson sings in his regular register most of the time, but periodically injects some King Diamond-esque falsetto. Dawn Of The Serpent is an energetic and rousing release.
Once Human – Scar Weaver (earMUSIC)
Despite moments of promise and featuring personnel such as guitarist/producer Logan Mader (ex-Machine Head) and vocalist Lauren Hart, Los Angeles metallers Once Human didn’t quite hit the mark with their first two LPs. For instance, 2017 effort Evolution was largely mid-paced melodic death groove with little contrast. Thankfully, new full-length Scar Weaver helps readdress the balance.
With axeman Max Karon having taken charge of the writing process, these songs offer more variety, personality and importantly, memorable hooks. “Erasure” and “Only In Death” are easily two of the group’s strongest cuts yet. Their sound straddles melo-death, groove-metal, djent and nu-metal. Machine Head main-man Robb Flynn guest raps on the catchy, groove-filled “Deadlock,” while “Where The Bones Lie” fuses aggression and accessibility. Hart is decidedly more confident throughout – her harsh vocals have intensified, and stronger clean singing the beneficiary of touring with power metal favorites Kamelot. She also does a fair job of channeling Devin Townsend’s freakout during a faithful cover of Strapping Young Lad’s “We Ride”. Scar Weaver can still stoop to generic or forgettable territory, but is a noticeable improvement.
Stalker – Stalker (Wormholedeath)
Stalker are a Swedish melodic heavy metal group containing members of Therion. They are inspired by bands such as KISS, Van Halen, Uriah Heep and Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Tony Martin or Dio recordings come to mind more so than Ozzy Osbourne-era of Black Sabbath as their self-titled effort has a strong 1980s style. The group also tip their hats to popular ‘90s acts such as Pantera.
The Pantera influence inject heaviness into “Pain” and “Black Room.” Stalker are a mildly heavy band. Their sound is rooted in melody, not aggression. “Alone” is has one of the strongest melodic sections with a melancholy piano and violin intro. In addition to their melodic style, there are shredding guitar parts and solos including two instrumental jams with obvious titles, “Instrumental Jam” and “Shred.” “Dance” has an industrial-style riff that reminds me of KMFDM. Although “Dance” has cringe-worthy chorus lines, it shows Stalker’s versatile guitar play and ability to write big hooks.
If one closes their eyes while listening to Theandric’s Flight Among The Tombs EP, they will swear that they got Bruce Dickinson to do vocals on it. That’s how close vocalist Paul Tiseo sounds to the Iron Maiden singer, though thankfully the four songs on this EP are not Maiden knockoffs.
They land between traditional, progressive and doom metal, diving into subjects like centuries-old Scottish battles (“The Battle of Sherramuir”) and 19th century English poetry (“Ozymandias”). These songs average about six minutes each, which allows the group to wow with expansive guitar solos and vocal-less sections of instrumental glory. All of the tunes on Flight Among The Tombs have their own distinctive qualities, which leads to an engaging release that hints at what the band is capable of.
Trouble – One For The Road/Unplugged (Hammerheart)
Chicago doom metal legends Trouble need no introduction, but with the recent passing of original lead vocalist Eric Wagner, fans will cherish any recordings still to be found. Don’t the word “unplugged” scare you away from this gem – that’s only part of the story. Besides the acoustic versions of Trouble classics, this release also contains five songs, originally released as One For The Road, recorded for an EP that would only be available on a 1994 European tour, and limited to 1500 copies.
The EP tracks are vintage Trouble, and serve as the missing link between Manic Frustration (their final release for Def American) and it’s follow-up, Plastic Green Head. Expectedly, the more mellow tunes from their catalog, such as “Rain” and “Misery,” are included, but the heavier songs work well – the acoustic format emphasizing the tortured, introspective side of their music. The album concludes with a surprisingly effective cover of The Yardbirds’ “Heartful of Soul.”
Voivod – Synchro Anarchy (Century Media)
Their style has evolved over the years, but Canadian legends Voivod have always maintained a distinctive and instantly recognizable sound. That sound is on full display on their fifteenth full-length Synchro Anarchy.
Driven by Chewy’s creative guitar work, songs shift from relatively straightforward riffage to complex and progressive forays. While not overly long or self-indulgent, the tracks are given ample room to ebb and flow. Voivod have set a high bar over the years, and while songs like “Mind Clock” and “The World Today” are good, they don’t break enough new ground to be transcendent. Still, Synchro Anarchy is a solid addition to Voivod’s remarkable body of work.
Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor (MVKA)
Since emerging in 2014, Zeal & Ardor have shown they are one of metal’s most unique and original sounding bands. Since their last full-length studio album, 2018’s Stranger Fruit, Zeal & Ardor have issued a live album and an EP.
Zeal & Ardor, their third full-length, once again blends extreme metal with blues, soul and gospel music. In addition to guitars, the sonic palette incorporates some synths and electronic elements, such as on “Emersion” and closer “A-H-I-L.” “Golden Liar” is stripped down and mellow, while “I Caught You” is intense. Most of the songs combine those elements, making for a wide-ranging sound that still manages to be cohesive. Frontman Manuel Gagneux seamlessly transitions from melodic singing to throat shredding harsh vocals. Zeal & Ardor not only pushes musical boundaries, it does so with songs that are catchy and memorable.