This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters album reviews includes releases from Amon Acid, Blitzkrieg, Culted, Einherjer, Empyrium, Melvins, Moonspell, Ominous Ruin, Plague Weaver, Plankton Wat, Sandstorm, Spelljammer, Summoning The Lich, Terminal Bliss, Tusmorke, Valdaudr and Wehrmacht.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Amon Acid – Paradigm Shift (Helter Skelter)
United Kingdom duo Amon Acid play psychedelic doom influenced by the rich tradition of their country. Imagine the groove of Electric Wizard riding the cosmic tracers of Hawkwind. Taking cues from sci-fi/fantasy and horror, Paradigm Shift, their debut full-length, is a hallucinogenic trip into faraway galaxies and hidden dimensions.
Amon Acid make a grand entrance with swirling electronics and clean, ringing chords on the intro track. “Monarch” begins with a similar vibe, until the beat drops into one of the album’s catchiest grooves. The album finds a good balance of astral effects and hooks. “Overlord” has a groove and chorus line that makes it one of the more memorable tracks. In addition to stoner doom paradigms space rock, doom and psych the duo ethnically add to their glowing color palette with rebetiko and Anatolian elements. Fueled by astro propulsion, Paradigm Shift’s ethereal textures result in a reality-altering experience.
Blitzkrieg – A Time Of Changes (High Roller)
Classic NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg are reissuing their debut A Time Of Changes, over 35 years after its original release. This sole release during the first wave of NWOBHM bands features their self titled song that is well known for being covered by Metallica, a track heavily influenced by Focus’ “Hocus Pocus” right down to the riffs.
They themselves also cover one of their contemporaries in Satan’s “Pull The Trigger” merely a year after the same song was tracked on the classic Court In The Act. A solid piece of heavy metal history, A Time Of Changes showcases another of the lesser-known bands of their respective scenes, with some excellent tracks with which to set themselves apart from the others.
Culted – Nous (Underground Activists)
The Canadian/Swedish collective Culted released an EP in 2019, and are now issuing their third full-length Nous, seven years after Oblique To All Paths.
Culted’s songs have a doom base, sometimes sticking close to that template, but more often making forays into industrial and black metal. Nous’ first couple of songs have a pretty brisk pace, but “One Last Smoke” is deliberate and cacophonous and most of the rest of the songs are slow to mid-tempo. Straightforward riffs shift into more experimental territory, incorporating mellow and introspective sections along with more crushing parts. The album closes with the Godflesh cover “Crush My Soul,” which fits right in with the record’s musical direction.
Einherjer – North Star (Napalm)
Einherjer, one of the world’s most influential Viking metal bands have returned to re-enact the vehement history of the Vikings and eventful Norse mythology in eight epic songs. After the release of the acclaimed Norrøne spor in 2018, now it is North Star’s turn to portray Einherjer as a victorious warrior and a veteran storyteller.
The glory of the north star pays homage to the Vikings’ legacy, and the endless melodies that pervade the songs throughout the album connect the glory of Viking metal to the elements of folk metal. Songs are sometimes structurally complex, but what is apparent on the outside is the eloquence of Einherjer’s message. So if the album does not present anything extraordinary in an overview, its neat production and evident Black Sabbath Dio era influences easily leave the necessary impression, wonder and joy. North Star proves that nothing can stop Einherjer, and their spirited Viking-themed world will never end easily.
Empyrium – Über den Sternen (Prophecy)
Over their quarter century of existence (with a few years off in the ’00s), the German duo Empyrium have explored various musical styles. Their early material was heavier with more black metal influences, while recently they have shifted toward neofolk.
Their sixth album Über den Sternen continues to have a lot of folk, mellowness and melodic vocals. Guest musicians provide atmospheric flute, violin, viola and cello. However, harsh vocals make their presence felt as well on songs such as “A Lucid Tower Beckons On The Hills Afar” and “The Wild Swans.” Those aggressive moments are few and far between, with tranquil sections the norm. The arrangements are compelling, but adding additional contrasting aggressive parts, like on the closing title track, would make it even more compelling.
Melvins – Working With God (Ipecac)
In 2013 the Melvins released Tres Cabrones, which was the 1983 lineup of the band (Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover and original drummer Mike Dillard). After several albums in the interim with their regular lineup, the 1983 iteration returns with Working With God.
It begins with a profane takeoff of the Beach Boys classic “I Get Around” before their patented sludge kicks in. Killer riffs and a sense of humor evidenced in song titles like “Brian, The Horse-Faced Goon” and “Hot Fish” make for another entertaining Melvins album. The songs are sometimes chaotic, other times groovy, but always compelling. From the doomy “Caddy Daddy” to the uptempo “Boy Mike,” tempos and intensities are constantly shifting on album that’s unpredictable but quintessentially Melvins.
Moonspell – Hermitage (Napalm)
The long-running Portuguese band Moonspell have a realistic and self-aware approach. After nearly 30 years they know the end of their career is closer than the beginning, and are striving for quality and connection. That’s evident on their latest album Hermitage.
Their gothic style is downbeat and morose to begin with, and this time around Moonspell really wallow in that approach, striking emotional chords of sadness, confusion and anger. There are quicker paced (but not necessarily upbeat) and catchy songs like “Common Prayers” and “The Hermit Saints” along with mellower tracks such as “All Or Nothing” and the instrumental “Solitarian.” Fernando Ribeiro’s varied vocals and a collection of diverse and interesting songs make for another quality Moonspell release.
Ominous Ruin – Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone (Willowtip)
There’s no shortage of proficient wonder on Ominous Ruin’s debut album, Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone. From every instrumental side, the band is stacked with experienced people given room to explore the possibilities. Ten years of shaping their sound led to this album being released, and they are given a prestigious boost with Fallujah drummer Andrew Baird brought in as a session player.
Some of the lead guitar and bass work on Amidst Voices That Echo In Stone is mesmerizing, like the gargantuan guitar solo near the end of “Consumed” or the warm bass tones that come up on “Deception.” Though their musicianship is never in question, some shaving would’ve worked on songs that can exceed six minutes. Even with the occasional dragging, the album stands up on the backs of talented musicians.
Plague Weaver’s Ascendant Blasphemy is a frosty block of Satanic black metal from Canada, with a slight gloom-laden edge that breaks up the tough, burnt interior. Its imagery can be deep, as it is on “Of Quivering Doves” with nods to desecrating Catholic symbols of peace, or simple and effective, with lines like “There is nothing” and “Kill your gods” on “In Exitium Caeli.” Those two songs share a common bond, in that their doomy execution is memorable.
That’s a trait that some of the straightforward songs miss the mark on, as their main concern is vicious mannerisms. Little oddities, like a harpsichord solo on the outro to “Deicidal Usurper,” at least give the appearance of something grander. Ascendant Blasphemy is an effective debut album that is most successful when Plague Weaver goes into simmer mode with their black metal.
Plankton Wat – Future Times (Thrill Jockey)
For his third record, Dewey Mahood – the mind behind Plankton Wat amongst a myriad of other ensembles – wields his sharpened psychedelic ambiance to chart an inner journey across anxiety and optimism through the events of 2020’s volatility. Future Times, for its minor shortcomings, is certainly ambitious.
Staying true to Mahood’s love of the natural world, and his compassion for its dire status, Future Times excels in its vibrance, exuding the same richness and color as his West Coast homeland. The soundscapes are intense and bubbling, as swathes of guitar, keys and synthesizer gracefully wrestle for dominance over the listener’s senses and provides the perfect vessel to take them any which way they could desire. Where Future Times may falter for some, myself included, is the intended message. The message itself is not the issue – Mahood’s documentation of the planet’s crisis and a strive for optimism is intriguing – but it’s possible that this is a message that could fly beneath the radar especially when tackling less ethereal topics like police violence. In spite of this, Future Times is yet another space from the Plankton Wat moniker that is a joy to be lost in.
Sandstorm – Desert Warrior (Dying Victims)
Canadian heavy metal band Sandstorm release their second EP Desert Warrior, chock full of their own brand of heavy metal splendor.
Reptile Anderson and Stevie Whiteless split vocal duties and harmonize with one another well while P.J. La Griffe pounds the skins. Sandstorm aims for an epic intro with “Evil Wins” as you slowly delve into their sound which is heavily steeped in the sounds of Thin Lizzy and the great heavy metal music of 1980s Great Britain. A solid if generic EP that struggles to find a niche amongst the strongest bands of the genre, Desert Warrior is strictly for listeners who cannot get enough heavy metal, the rest can pass on this one.
Spelljammer – Abyssal Trip (RidingEasy)
From the serene isolation of the Swedish countryside, heavy psych deep-divers Spelljammer take us on an ominous Abyssal Trip with their new album. The band’s desert rock roots are rather discreet, but still present as their sound settles on the frontier between the burning fuzz of Kyuss and the tidal riffs of Amenra. This is a collection of sludgy, ponderous music which can only be written when gazing at the metaphorical abyss of “the ultimate doom of man,” as the band bassist/vocalist Niklas Olsson put it.
The production by guitarist Robert Sörling is rich and powerful, and the groove captured by the band sits perfectly in the pocket. The distant and strained vocals give a fitting impression of a man desperately swimming against a maelstrom, while the lyrics bemoan our cruel fate. This is an album that takes its time and that carefully nurtures the listener’s attention with the ebb and flow of heavy and calm sections.
Summoning The Lich – United In Chaos (Prosthetic)
When it comes to death metal, there as many lyrical approaches as there are subgenres. Some bands embrace gore and violence, others prefer personal lyrics, while the realm of fantasy is appealing to many artists. The latter is the road Summoning The Lich travel on their debut, United In Chaos.
Atmospherics add to the heavy riffs without diluting them as the band tells a story both musically and lyrically. They venture into several death metal styles, from traditional to tech to melodic. Vocalist David Bruno incorporates both death metal growls and higher pitched, black metal type screams. Tracks like “The Gatekeeper” are brutal throughout, while other songs have moments of respite and melody. It’s a dynamic and potent debut release.
Terminal Bliss – Brute Err/ata (Relapse)
The genesis of Terminal Bliss’ first release, Brute Err/ata, comes after only a handful of practices and less than two months together officially as a band. It can take bands years to find the proper chemistry, but Terminal Bliss did it in less time than it can take for a package to be delivered overseas. Recorded in two days in February 2020, Brute Err/ata condenses its clamorous hardcore punk into 10 tracks, completed in less than 11 minutes.
With such brevity, Terminal Bliss are able to rage against issues like an ineffective healthcare system in “Clean Bill Of Wealth” without muddying their argument. The group breaks up the exhausting pace with noise interludes, maintaining the sonic volume even in the moments of downtime. Brute Err/ata has the kind of reckless energy that can only come from a new, determined band with limited time in the studio.
Tusmorke – Nordisk Krim (Karisma)
The latest release from long-running Norwegian prog rockers Tusmorke is a double concept album about Danish bog bodies (ancient bodies well preserved due to conditions in bogs). Nordisk Krim is just 10 songs, but it clocks in at more than 80 minutes.
Tursmorke’s brand of prog is psychedelic and melodic. The album has focused songs like the under 3 minute uptempo “Age Of Iron Man” alongside nearly 15 minute tracks like “Moss Goddess” and the almost 18 minute closer “Mysteries Of Sacrifice.” No matter the length of the song, the band incorporates numerous twists and turns, whether it be tempo shifts, extended instrumental parts or the addition of instruments like the flute. While Nordisk Krim may slightly overstay its welcome, it’s still a welcome guest.
Valdaudr – Drapsdalen (Soulseller)
Valdaudr are a black metal duo of Dod (Cobolt 60, Blood Red Throne) and Vald (ex-Blood Red Throne). Their debut Drapsdalen is raw black metal that relies on groove and charisma to push it forward. Though the music is raw, the band is capable of creating well-structured songs. This leads to a rewarding experience, but one that can also be one-dimensional.
The band is tight as a unit and performs their part rather well. Still, the music is generic and unclear sounding and could certainly use a production boost. This is a release that will appeal to fans of ’90s Norwegian black metal and is successful at being a well-composed take on that style. Valdaudr have created a successful black metal experience on Drapsdalen.
Wehrmacht – Shark Attack/Biermacht (Hammerheart)
The crossover thrash scene of the late ’80s was dominated by Corrosion of Conformity, Suicidal Tendencies and most notably the band that gave the genre its name, D.R.I. But there were plenty of others. This includes Portland, Oregon’s Wehrmacht, who put their own stamp on the genre with two albums of their own: 1987’s Shark Attack and 1989’s Biermacht, which are being reissued.
You get exactly what you expect, the madness of D.R.I. with the party vibes and alcohol abuse of Gang Green and Municipal Waste. You’ll get through both albums in just over an hour, primed for a repeat kegger in a short span of time. Both albums are just as fun, another one of those bands that you’ve heard of from this scene that demands your attention with raucous energy and a screw you attitude.