This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Apolinara, Allegaeon, Bad Omens, Cobra The Impaler, Corpsegrinder, Darkness Everywhere, Deathbell, Eight Bells, Fetal Blood Eagle, Firebreather, HammerFall, Metal Cross, Scorpions, Shape Of Despair, Smith & Swanson, Tankard and Venator.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Apolinara – Shadows & Signs (Self)
Shadows & Signs is the full-length debut from Apolinara, who was raised in Ukraine and now lives in the U.S. The symphonic/gothic metal album was produced by Max Morton (Jinjer).
There’s a lot of variety on the album. Songs like “Wonderful” are more in the pop metal vein of bands like Amaranthe, while track such as “Dragon Dance” have more epic arrangements that are drenched in cinematic atmosphere. Apolinara’s vocals are generally a smooth expressive alto, though she displays a higher range from time to time. Harsh male vocals on the title track and a few other places add even more diversity. There’s also a good mix of heavy bombastic songs and mellower ballads like “Tears Of Love.” Shadows & Signs is a very polished debut.
Allegaeon – Damnum (Metal Blade)
Allegaeon’s sixth album Damnum translates to “loss” in Latin. Bearing such a title, Allegaeon have created an album that processes strong emotions such as sadness, anger, grief and loneliness. They express these feelings through music that is aggressive, fast and technical, yet at the same time broodingly slow, and melancholically melodic.
A morose acoustic intro starts the album on “Bastards Of Earth.” In true melodic death metal fashion, this soft section leads into hard, pounding death metal. The album offers a variety of vocals including deep-yet-understandable growls, often doubled with screams, and soaring cleans. The cleanly sung chorus on “Of Beasts And Worms” keeps running in my head. “Called Home,” a song about suicide, features delicate, Mikael Akerfeldt-type vocals. This track’s instrumentation also brings to mind Opeth. New member Jeff Saltzman’s drumming is exceptional on this track. Damnum is a fitting soundtrack for these difficult times.
Bad Omens – The Death Of Peace Of Mind (Sumerian)
The metalcore band Bad Omens emerged in 2016. They gained momentum as their 2019 sophomore effort Finding God Before God Finds Me spawned the successful singles “Limits” and “Never Know.” Their third album is The Death Of Peace Of Mind.
Their best songs like opener “Concrete Jungle” and “Artificial Suicide” shift from smooth, catchy rock with melodic singing to harder-edged metal with harsh vocals. But the majority of the tracks like “Nowhere To Go” and “What It Cost” are straightforward with all melodic singing and electronic elements adding atmosphere. The Death Of Peace Of Mind has a mostly mellow vibe throughout with periodic aggressive moments. There’s also a fair amount of filler, and the 15 songs could/should have been trimmed down to about 12.
Cobra The Impaler – Colossal Gods (Listenable)
Cobra The Impaler features former Aborted guitarist Tace DC, and their debut album Colossal Gods has session work from drummer Dirk Verbeuren. Both were involved with arguably Aborted’s best album, Goremageddon. Just knowing that may lead to the conclusion that this record will be an absolute assault for the ears, when in fact this is highly melodic groove/heavy metal with thrashy overtures and crisp vocals.
It can get nasty, as it does on “Tempest Rising” and “Spawn Of The Forgotten,” but that’s not a standard occurrence. Verbeuren does cut loose on these tracks, though his best work is in the measured fills and unusual beats he lets out on the rest of the album. Colossal Gods is quite compelling for how much Cobra The Impaler focuses on deeper sounds that can illicit feelings beyond rage or contempt.
Corpsegrinder – Corpsegrinder (Perseverance)
Sometimes artists use solo albums to venture in different musical directions than their main band. Other times it’s in a similar vein, which is the case on the self-titled debut solo album from Cannibal Corpse frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. Skull-crushing extreme metal is his forte, and it’s on full display.
Backed by Charlie Bellmore (guitar/bass) and Nick Bellmore (drums), who are both in Dee Snider’s band, Corpsegrinder delivers a blast of old school death metal. Songs like “On Wings Of Carnage” and “Devourer Of Souls” are mid-paced with a nice groove, while tracks such as “All Souls Get Torn” and “Crimson Proof” bring maximum pace and intensity with some thrash influences. His Cannibal Corpse bandmate Erik Rutan guests on the opener “Acid Vat.” There aren’t a lot of surprises on Corpsegrinder, but it’s well-executed with Fisher writing songs of varied tempos that flow together very well.
Darkness Everywhere – The Seventh Circle (Creator-Destructor)
Some bands’ influences are obvious, others try to be a bit less showy about it. When it comes to Darkness Everywhere’s admiration for mid-to-late ’90s melodic death metal on The Seventh Circle, the former is the one in play. Some of these riffs could’ve been on an album like Slaughter Of The Soul or Colony. The rapid guitar harmonies, sneering growls, undercurrent of tuneful notes; all of it came from a playbook written three decades ago.
This EP may lack new ideas, but the ones they have are skillfully executed. The trio that makes up Darkness Everywhere also have a hand with groups Light This City and Crepuscle, so these musicians spend enough time in a melodeath headspace to take on this kind of music effortlessly. Guest vocal spots from Darkest Hour’s John Henry and Light This City’s Laura Nichol add some grit to a well-done homage to an influential style of death metal.
Deathbell – A Nocturnal Crossing (Svart)
Deathbell’s second album A Nocturnal Crossing doesn’t stray far from the sultry doom metal of their 2018 debut With The Beyond. Like that album, this one has six songs that capture the ethos of the genre in all its morose beauty. Unlike that album, this one forgoes the drawn-out opening instrumental to burst into an energetic fit with “The Stronghold And The Archer.” It encapsulates what the rest of the album goes through, with its lengthy instrumental passages, tasteful keyboard backing and mournful vocals.
The usage of keyboards is one of the understated aspects of A Nocturnal Crossing, though it gets some ground to maneuver with in the album’s satisfying second half. There’s solo action from them on “Shifting Sands” and it’s the main tool that progresses the initial few minutes of the title track. Their usage puts a ritualistic quality over the album, as if Deathbell are inviting us all to their bewitching congregation.
Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin (Prophecy)
It has been a while since the Portland, Oregon experimental doom band Eight Bells issued an album. Six years after Landless, they are back with Legacy Of Ruin. There have also been some lineup changes since their last album. Guitarist/vocalist Melynda Jackson remains, with Matt Solis (Cormorant) on bass/backing vocals and Brian Burke (Cave Dweller) on drums.
The songs on Legacy Of Ruin are long (most between 7 and 11 minutes), but compelling. Shifting tempos and extended instrumental sections maintain interest throughout. The vocal harmonies have become an Eight Bells trademark, and they help separate their sound from the doom masses. And while there’s plenty you’ll catch on the first listen, subtleties also become evident after spending more time with the album. And, if you missed Eight Bells’ first two albums, they are being reissued as a double CD under the title Histories 2010-2016.
Fetal Blood Eagle – Indoctrinate (Listenable)
Indoctrinate is the debut album from Fetal Blood Eagle, a new project featuring members of Aborted, Solium Fatalis and Necronomichrist. Those knowledgeable of any of these bands will not be sideswiped by what this group is doing, as it’s not like they decided to go full prog on us or experiment with jazz. It’s death metal they love and death metal they give us on these 10 tracks.
Fetal Blood Eagle appear to be having a good time on Indoctrinate, intentionally getting a rise out of people with song titles like “Hate Fu**ed Face” and “Abortion Dumpster Overload.” These two happen to be highlights of the album, not because of their incendiary subject matters but because they tap into an undeniable groove that’s hard to sit still with. These songs come off stronger than the straightforward relentlessness of “Only Meth Is Real” and “Devoid Of Corrosive Form,” which go for punishment over memorability.
Firebreather – Dwell In The Fog (RidingEasy)
The Swedish band Firebreather’s latest album features a strong stoner/doom outlook not dissimilar to High on Fire. The riffs on Dwell In The Fog are supercharged and crisp. There is might to the music that carries it forward and makes it impactful. The thoughts of the band are nicely put to the record and allowed to breathe. Guitars are forceful and take up the highest point of the musicianship.
The album moves at a crushing pace and demolishes all in its path. Its fiery inferno of riffs keeps on giving time and time again. The nature of the music is such that one will become addicted and want to return again. It is an album that will make you feel good and become entranced in the music. As such, Firebreather get a pretty good recommendation. Though rather short at six tracks, these songs are long enough to carry you into oblivion.
HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn (Napalm)
For a quarter century the Swedish heavy/power metal band HammerFall have been releasing new album every two or three years. Even with some lineup changes along the way, they have been one of the genre’s most consistent performers. Hammer Of Dawn is their twelfth full-length studio release.
It follows the template they have established over the years with songs that are bombastic and melodic with stellar musicianship and excellent vocals from Joacim Cans. There are a lot of singalong choruses on tracks like “No Son Of Odin” and “Live Free Or Die.” While most of the songs are uptempo, there’s the requisite power ballad “Not Today.” The legendary King Diamond guests on “Venerate Me,” adding his distinctive vocals to one of the album’s catchiest tracks. There is minimal filler, with a relatively streamlined ten song album. Hammer Of Dawn is another in a long time of quality HammerFall albums.
Metal Cross – Soul Ripper (From The Vaults)
Straight from the “it’s never too late” department comes Soul Ripper from Denmark’s Metal Cross. Formed in 1983, disbanded in 1989, and reformed in 2009, they will finally release their debut album in 2022! The fact that their original run dates back to the 1980s will come as no surprise to anyone who listens, but this history adds a layer of authenticity often lacking in newer bands that ply their trade in this genre.
Fans of Metal Church and John Bush-era Anthrax will find plenty to chew on here. Best classified as melodic speed metal, tracks as lead-off “My Time” alternate between rapid fire riffs and headbanging interludes, while epics like “The Drone” venture into familiar lyrical themes around “big brother” surveillance and paranoia. Satisfyingly, this album answers the question as to what many bands of the original era would sound like with better (i.e. modern) production.
Scorpions – Rock Believer (Spinefarm)
Most heavy music fans are aware of the ’80s heyday of German legends Scorpions, but they first got together as early as 1965, meaning they’ve been playing nearly as long as the Rolling Stones. While they are by no means prolific, Rock Believer is their nineteenth studio album, and considering that singer Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker are both 73 and guitarist Matthais Jabs is 66, these vets can still rock pretty hard.
There are a few gems on Rock Believer, although they are clearly drawn from the band’s classic era (“Knock ‘Em Dead” = “Big City Nights,” “Shining of Your Soul” = “Is There Anybody There?,” “Seventh Sun” = “The Zoo”). While good, they mostly make me want to go back to the great albums of yore. And the whopping sixteen songs is far too many for an album; at least six or seven of these could have (and should have) been cut. Drop Rock Believer down to nine tracks, brighten up the production, and Scorpions might have been onto something here.
Shape of Despair – Return To The Void (Season of Mist)
After seven years, Shape Of Despair, Finnish bringers of tears and sorrow, have returned once again to plunge their audience into the void of darkness and loneliness, as they claim in the title of their new album. Return To The Void is a theatrical scene from all that the band has left behind, and now, they adorn the stage with more grief.
Return To The Void is a perfect example of what funeral doom metal is. It puts its finger on all funeral doom archetypes and connects it to all of its subplots, with a brilliant modern production. The importance of production, and of course the multi-layered wall-of-sound-like composition, becomes apparent when the dramatic and mythical form of the songs transforms the whole album to an aesthetic of human sorrow. The album begins the pain and melancholy in a terrestrial form and transcends it into an hour-long mournful metaphysical journey.
Smith & Swanson – Smith & Swanson (No Remorse)
Guitarist Tim Schmidt is most well-known for his work with Seamount and Thronehammer, and Phil Swanson, well, he’s been in about a hundred bands, including Seamount, Atlantean Codex, Sumerlands, and Vestal Claret. Together the two have formed Smith & Swanson, and this eponymous title is their first release, and hopefully not their last.
Sixteen years together really shows on Smith & Swanson, as the pair tear through stellar after stellar track of outstanding traditional doom metal with admirable chemistry. This album is loaded with fantastic riffs and great solos, and Swanson’s signature voice is perfect for the music. Songs like “Refuse” and “Bastard” are the epitome of doom, as the pair draw from everything from the bands mentioned above to Black Sabbath and back. The result is a superb doom album.
Tankard – For A Thousand Beers (Noise)
German thrashers Tankard are celebrating their 40th anniversary with the box set For A Thousand Beers. It covers their Noise records discography that spans 1986 through 1995.
Included in the box set are their studio albums from 1986’s Zombie Attack through 1995’s The Tankard along with 1991’s Fat, Ugly & Live DVD that features a concert film and a couple of live shows. 1989’s Alien EP and the Tankwart EP are also part of the set. It’s available on vinyl and CD. Tankard have had a long, successful career playing thrash, sometimes emphasizing fun and partying, other times examining social and political issues. Their first decade or so is all here in a collection that Tankard fans will certainly want to check out.
Venator – Echoes From The Gutter (Dying Victims)
Linz leather lords Venator are here with a wonderfully fun and glorious piece of nostalgia, direct from the record store during the week you were conceived. Echoes From The Gutter is a powerful debut. Uproarious vocals and speedy riffs allow tracks like “Red and Black” and “Manic Man” to get maximum mileage, especially since there is only a single song under 4 minutes on the entire album.
The structure of the songs isn’t anything unique, but the compositions themselves are spectacular and masterful in their approach. If a sound that is nearly 40 years old and sounds this fresh, please sign me up for weekly deliveries of hair products and white high tops, these are the gutters I want to get down and dirty with. With one of the best traditional heavy metal debuts in recent memory, Venator are a force to be reckoned with.