This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters album reviews include releases from Ablaze My Sorrow, Abythic, Ad Nauseum, Arc Of Life, Crystal Viper, Dio, Durbin, God Is An Astronaut, Grand Cadaver, Holy Mother, Joel Hoekstra’s 13, Love And Death, Omination, The Pretty Reckless, Sirenia and Swampbeast.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ablaze My Sorrow – Among Ashes and Monoliths (Black Lion)
Sweden’s Ablaze My Sorrow have stayed consistent with the sound established on their 1996 debut If Emotions Still Burn, an aspect still found on their fifth full-length album Among Ashes and Monoliths. While never gaining the popularity of Gothenburg’s Big 3, their records should be considered top-tier melodic death metal.
The core of Ablaze My Sorrow is intact, but the band welcome new singer, Jonas Udd. His voice is aggressive and varied, and he knows how to turn misery-saturated phrases. The mix is good — the bass pops, but the guitars could use more distortion and prior efforts were speedier. Their riffs are catchy, the type of play sought out by fans of old school melodeath. I won’t say this is their best effort, that honor goes to Anger, Hate and Fury, but remain fresh with only five albums. Those who long for the old days of Dark Tranquillity and In Flames can’t go wrong with Among Ashes and Monoliths.
Abythic – Dominion Of The Wicked (Iron Bonehead)
Abythic have figured out how to incorporate genre diversity into their music, which is primarily based on death metal. What happened on their previous two albums has now reached a more significant and impressive level. Their third album Dominion Of The Wicked shows the band entering maturity in making a multi-genre work.
The album opens with fourteen-minute epic “At the Treshold of Obscurity,” and this piece strongly points out that Abythic’s music no longer solely revolves around old school death metal. What stands out the most in this song is the presence of doom metal, not as a small part of the album’s sound, but as a driving force. Melodic death metal joins the structure in the middle of the song and then culminates in “Endless Tides” and finalizes the album. Dominion Of The Wicked is both heavy and soulful, as its extensive guitar solos carry the melody into most of that heavy atmosphere.
Ad Nauseum – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse (Avantgarde)
Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is a very heavy death metal album that has a variety of influences. One can hear Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega and Immolation in Ad Nauseum‘s sound, although they perform slower than any of those bands. Ad Nauseum’s second full-length release is a very atmospherically claustrophobic listen. There is no doubt that this is a nefarious listen, but one that punishes as well.
Ad Nauseum have a unique sound, but get a bit too experimental at times, which doesn’t always work. The variety of sound patterns makes for a listen that is often thrilling despite being disjointed at times. Fans of a variety of types of death metal will find something to like here. Ad Nauseum blend a number of death metal styles nicely together.
Arc Of Life – Arc Of Life (Frontiers)
Arc Of Life are a new offshoot of British prog rock stalwarts Yes, featuring three of its members (Jon Davison, Billy Sherwood and Jay Schellen). This is their first release, and while it immediately brings to mind post-90215 Yes, the band attempts to inject a variety of yacht, prog and pop rock influences in their sound.
Exploring topics drawn from current affairs such as lockdown, the California fires, Siri and political unrest, as well as songwriting hallmarks like love and the passing of time, the 10 songs of this album suffer from an over reliance on tropes and clichés. The arrangements and performances are lovely, but there’s a good minute of bloat on most songs, and while the ending numbers are noticeably better than the first half, they only succeed in creating a desire to go back to classic Yes albums.
Crystal Viper – The Cult (Listenable)
The veteran Polish band Crystal Viper have had a lineup change for their eighth full-length, The Cult. Drummer Cederick Forsberg (Cloven Altar, Runelord) is the band’s newest member. As for the lyrics for this record, vocalist/guitarist Marta Gabriel was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Crystal Viper are able to transition easily from traditional metal with plenty of groove on tracks like “Whispers From Beyond” to uptempo songs with more of a power metal flavor such as “Forgotten Land.” On this album traditional metal is by far the dominant style. There are a couple of cover songs as well. Guitarist Andy La Rocque guests on the King Diamond song “Welcome Home,” while the vinyl edition also includes their take on Satan’s “Trial By Fire.” Quality songwriting and Gabriel’s distinctive vocals make this another memorable Crystal Viper release.
Dio – Holy Diver Live (BMG)
After being out of print for years, Dio’s Holy Diver Live is being re-released, newly remastered and with updated cover art. This album is taken from his performance at the London Astoria on October 22, 2005, where Holy Diver was played from front to back, as well as other songs from Dio’s vast catalog. The typical hits are here, such as “Heaven And Hell” and “We Rock,” but there are also deeper cuts, including an energetic take on Rainbow’s “Gates Of Babylon.”
Dio shows his age at times on the Holy Diver material, yet seems to get stronger vocally as the set goes on. The band holds up their end, with guitarist Doug Aldrich in particular doing a masterful job of putting his spin on well-renowned solos. Those who weren’t lucky enough to see Dio perform in person can get a glimpse of what it was like with Holy Diver Live. 2005’s Evil Or Divine: Live In New York City is also being reissued this week.
Durbin – The Beast Awakens (Frontiers)
Singer James Durbin, fresh from his stint with Quiet Riot, has reinvigorated his solo career with an ode to 1980’s heavy metal in The Beast Awakens. His admiration for the genre has been evident since his “American Idol” days, yet The Beast Awakens is his first solo album to totally embrace it. This is no watered-down, commercialized product either; Durbin puts his admiration for everything metal into these 12 anthems.
The album lets Durbin go full-on metal singer, with falsettos galore and the kind of confident posture that sells the fantasy-driven lyrical content. These songs are written to be remembered, as it’s not unlikely that the chorus to a song like “Riders On The Wind” or “Calling Out For Midnight” will be stuck in a listener’s ears for days (as is what happened to this writer). Durbin brings in excellent musicians to help with his vision, yet his voice is the attention grabber on The Beast Awakens.
God Is An Astronaut – Ghost Tapes #10 (Napalm)
I’ll happily admit that Ghost Tapes #10 (GT10) marks my first outing with Irish instrumentists God Is An Astronaut (GIAA) but fortunately the hype train was uncharacteristically on target – GT10 is a gorgeous, unraveling exercise in post-rock majesty.
It’s easy, perhaps even cliche, to say that on an instrumental album it is the instruments that guide the record’s narration, but GIAA make this distinction unavoidable. Its modest 37-minute runtime sees GT10 stray from a world of harsh tremolos and dissonant shrieks that conquer the album’s opening tracks and gradually opens its innumerable layers of synths and piano embellishment to end the album on a more soothing palette. With so much to unpack, GT10 demands multiple listens to achieve full appreciation – something common to the band’s discography as far as I can gather. But, considering just how enchanting it all is, most will find themselves naturally retreating to the record’s cavernous trenches of sound time and time again.
Grand Cadaver – Madness Comes (Majestic Mountain)
Several veterans of various Swedish bands have formed the death metal group Grand Cadaver. Fronted by Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne, the lineup also includes current or former members of bands such as Katatonia, The Grifted, Pagandom and Novarupta. Their debut effort Madness Comes is a four song EP.
It’s 12 minutes of old school death metal, with songs that are focused and compact. They change up tempos and incorporate small doses of other genres such as thrash that add some variety. It’s not original or unique, but is certainly well executed, especially Stanne’s potent vocals. Fans of Swedish death metal should enjoy Madness Comes, and it will be interesting to see if Grand Cadaver are a pandemic one-off side project, or if they will releases more music in the future.
Holy Mother – Face This Burn (Massacre)
Holy Mother are a Long Island heavy/power metal band who formed in the mid ’90s and released several albums, the last one in 2003. Founding members Mike Tirelli (vocals) and James Harris (drums) have put the band back together, with Greg Giordano handling guitar and bass on Face This Burn.
Traditional metal is the direction of most of the songs, with a lot of modern influences and effects, polished by Kane Churko (Five Finger Death Punch, In This Moment), who did the mix and master. The songs are straightforward without being simplistic. Tirelli has a wide range, which works well on songs like “Prince Of The Garden.” His delivery devolves into melodrama at times, but is always compelling. The songs sometimes fall prey to sounding overly sterile, losing the warmth that the strongest tracks maintain, perhaps trying to overcompensate for not wanting to sound like they are still in the ’90s/early ’00s.
Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – Running Games (Frontiers)
Guitarist Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) has released instrumental solo albums in the past, but Joel Hoekstra’s 13 is a traditional band. Their second album Running Games features a star-studded lineup of vocalist Russell Allen (Symphony X), bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder), drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Sons Of Apollo).
The songs are bluesy hard rock/traditional metal that aren’t necessarily retro, but will appeal to fans of Hoekstra’s present and past bands. Just because you have a collection of top-notch musicians doesn’t mean the album will be good, but the chemistry works, and most importantly the songs are memorable. A plethora of hooks, plenty of guitar wizardry from Hoekstra and powerful vocals from Allen make Running Games an album fans of old school metal can embrace.
Love And Death – Perfectly Preserved (Earache)
Love And Death‘s debut album Between Here & Lost was released in 2013, just before Brian “Head” Welch announced his return to Korn. The pandemic has given the band time to work on their sophomore release Perfectly Preserved. In addition to holdovers Welch (guitar/vocals) and guitarist/vocalist JR Bareis, it’s the first Love And Death album for Breaking Benjamin guitarist Jasen Rauch, who plays bass and produces. Isaiah Perez (Phinehas) handles drums.
Love And Death explore a variety of styles on the record. There are accessible hard rock tracks such as the DJ Snake/Justin Bieber cover “Let Me Love You,” which features guest vocals from Lacey Sturm. Other guests include Righteous Vendetta’s Ryan Hayes on “White Flag” and Breaking Benjamin’s Keith Wallen on “The Hunter.” The band embrace modern styles, but also incorporate nu-metal from time to time. Perfectly Preserved is a diverse collection of catchy but aggressive songs.
Omination – NGR (Hypnotic Dirge)
NGR (The New Golgotha Repvbliq) is the ambitious new album from the Tunisian funeral doom band Omination. Fedor Kovalevsky (Severe Agony) is the mastermind behind the band, writing and arranging the songs and also handling production duties.
The album is nearly 80 minutes long, with morose funeral doom augmented by atmospheric organs and choirs. It’s heavy and crushing, but there are mellower moments as well that give the listener a respite. Kovalevsky keeps things moving (though sometimes at a glacial pace), avoiding monotony even on the lengthy songs like the 20 minute title track. The album closes with a cover of Skepticism’s “Nothing” from their 2003 album Farmakon. It’s a challenging listen at times, but funeral doom fans should find NGR worth the effort.
The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock And Roll (Fearless)
It has been a difficult few years for The Pretty Reckless vocalist Taylor Momsen. Her friend Chris Cornell died, and the band’s longtime producer and collaborator Kato Khandwala was killed in a motorcycle crash less than a year later. The band has channeled a lot of emotions into their fourth album Death By Rock And Roll.
The catchy opening title track has already topped the rock chart, making The Pretty Reckless the first female-fronted band to have five number one singles on the Billboard chart. Death By Rock And Roll is packed with potential singles, with “And So It Went” featuring a guest appearance from Tom Morello, also climbing the chart. Other memorable moments include the sparse but effective “My Bones,” the sultry “Witches Burn” and the redemptive “Rock And Roll Heaven.” This is The Pretty Reckless’ most mature album, keeping the accessibility but adding more depth and variety.
Sirenia – Riddles, Ruins & Revelations (Napalm)
Norwegian symphonic metallers Sirenia are marking 20 years as a band this year. Riddles, Ruins & Revelations is their tenth studio album, and third with vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan. There have been quite a few lineup changes over the years, with the constant being Morten Veland.
Sirenia’s sound has evolved from a symphonic gothic style to symphonic electronic with a few gothic moments. This is their most electronic and modern sounding record to-date, with a sound more in the realm of bands like Amaranthe. Zoldan’s voice is more symphonic than pop, but she’s versatile and able to adapt to whatever the song requires. There are a lot of compelling moments on the album, but also more filler than usual, and some of the electronics seem shoehorned in and extraneous.
Swampbeast – Seven Evils Spawned Of Seven Heads (Good Fight)
Swampbeast’s debut album Seven Evils Spawned Of Seven Heads drops the listener right into the middle of the fray with opener “Orc’s Anvil.” There’s no warning and no lead-in, as if the band is already in the thick of their blackened death metal when we’re introduced to them. It isn’t until the album’s penultimate track, the chilling interlude “Chasms Encrusted With Malformity,” that the band eases up. Before that is 30 minutes of demonic rage.
Subdued tempos in the middle of the album, on “1000 Years Of Pestilence” and “The Permanence Of Death,” temper the explosivity of a sub–two-minute bestial tune like “Trudging Through Oblivion.” An excellent, winding guitar solo on closer “Spell Of Decay” is as progressive as Swampbeast get on Seven Evils Spawned Of Seven Heads, but their brute philosophy is gratifying.
I’ve been listening to nothing but black metal all year but I just checked out the Durbin songs and am finding myself enjoying them way more than I have any right to.