This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Abysmal Dawn, And Harmony Dies, Beyond The Styx, Mass Worship, Obsidian Sea, Omnibael, Saxon, Silent Skies, Tymo, Venom Prison, Vinterland and Vorga.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier (Season Of Mist)
Abysmal Dawn fans had to wait six years in between Obsolescence and 2020’s Phylogenesis. The death metal veterans return with a four song EP Nightmare Frontier.
It’s a four song effort. There are two original songs and two covers. “A Nightmare Slain” (a new song) and “Blacken The Sky” (a re-recording of an old demo) showcase the band’s blend of technicality, brutality, melody and creativity. As for the covers, the first is “Behind Space,” from In Flames’ 1994 debut Lunar Strain. That was in the era when they did all harsh vocals, so Abysmal Dawn covering them makes sense. The Candlemass cover “Bewitched” is a little more outside the box. Doomy riffs and melodic singing aren’t the usual Abysmal Dawn fare, but they do a solid job and shows their versatility.
And Harmony Dies – Ballast (Club Inferno)
The Italian band And Harmony Dies take their time between albums. After their 2000 debut it was seven years before they issued their sophomore record, and another nine years until their third. It only took them six years to release their latest album Ballast.
And Harmony Dies deliver a unique sound, incorporating a variety of genres. Black metal is the starting point, with forays all over the map. There are melodic and harsh vocals, electronics, cinematic sections and a lot of experimentation. There are both extreme metal parts and completely non-metal moments. The songs tend to be lengthy, with most ranging between 6 and 11 minutes. They shift styles constantly, sometimes tending to meander, but usually keeping things engaging. Ballast is an ambitious album that doesn’t always meet those ambitions, but there are more hits than misses. It’s one that fans of the avant-garde should appreciate.
Beyond The Styx – Sentence (WTF)
Like many bands during the pandemic, the French group Beyond The Styx had to work on much of their third album Sentence remotely. Lyrically they combine political issues with personal topics.
Beyond The Styx deliver furious metallic hardcore with biting riffs and aggressive vocals. There are plenty of quality riffs on this album along with anthemic gang vocals. They like to shift tempos within songs, moving from mid-paced grooves to glacial devastation and back again. While effective when used in moderation, when done on every song it can become formulaic and sometimes interrupts the momentum of the song. The band also brings aboard several guest vocalists including Luis Ifer (Teething), Guillaume Duhau (Final Shodown) and Vincent Peingnart-Mancini (The Butcher’s Rodeo).
Mass Worship – Portal Tombs (Century Media)
The Swedish band Mass Worship emerged in 2019 with their self-titled debut. Their sophomore album is Portal Tombs, which features some high-profile guests.
The band’s sound is based in death metal, but they incorporate other genres as well ranging from hardcore to post metal. There’s a lot of dynamics and variety in their songwriting, blending focused tracks with more expansive numbers. The title track features Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway, while “Orcus Mouth” sees guest appearances from Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renske and In Flames guitarist Jonas Stalhammar. Having guests like that generates extra attention for the album, but the rest of the songs show the band’s ample talent in composition and musicianship.
Obsidian Sea – Pathos (Ripple)
Pathos is a rollicking doom metal album that features a somewhat rock-type vibe. It is an enjoyable romp that could be made more thoughtful and intricate than it is. The Bulgarian band Obsidan Sea have taken their time to craft a doom album that does enough to fulfill the needs of most of the audience. It has nods to Black Sabbath, for example.
This leads to a standard affair that is spruced up by some exciting moments. Still, it adds another dimension to the year in music. There is always a need for doom metal and Pathos fills in the void nicely. With more innovation, the band could be truly interesting. As a traditional take on the genre, it is fairly effective.
Omnibael – Rain Soaks The Earth Where They Lie (Cruel Nature)
Rain Soaks The Earth Where They Lie is the first full-length of UK industrial/noise act Omnibael. Through nine tracks, the album wanders through every noise music cliché and trope, occasionally landing on seizing moments of emotion, but often getting bogged down in mediocre experimentation.
Some songs, like “The Repetition,” use sound collage and musique concrete-style loops to draw us in a gritty atmosphere before pummeling us with industrial drum sounds and shrieks, but others like “Nothing Tastes Better Than Deceit” go through the motions of industrial noise without producing a memorable or interesting experience. The screams are often drowned in the mix, which makes the lyrics all but unintelligible and removes much of the urgency from the whole. The pacing of the album also suffers from a very long and subdued midsection. Overall, Rain Soaks… would’ve been better as a shorter EP.
Saxon – Carpe Diem (Silver Lining)
Carpe Diem is an appropriate title for Saxon‘s 23rd studio album. Frontman Biff Byford has indeed been seizing the day. While most 71 year olds are retired or at least slowing their pace, Byford has been issuing a lot of albums over the past few years. In addition to Saxon, there was a 2020 solo album and last year’s Heavy Water record with his son Seb.
The album delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Saxon album: big guitar riffs, soaring melodies and earworm choruses. The band fires on all cylinders on uptempo tracks like the opening title track and “Dambuster.” Mid-paced songs such as “The Pilgramage” and “Black Is The Night” add variety. There’s not an ounce of filler in these ten songs, with pristine production from Andy Sneap (Judas Priest, Accept) showcasing an ageless band that’s still in top form.
Silent Skies – Nectar (Napalm)
Tom Englund has ventured outside of Evergrey numerous times over the years. He’s been part of albums from Ayreon and Epysode and also fronts the band Redemption. While those projects fit comfortably in the metal genre, Silent Skies goes in an entirely different direction.
Nectar is the second album by Silent Skies, the collaboration between Englund and pianist/multi-instrumentalist Vikram Shankar. The songs are quiet and introspective, bringing Englund’s trademark emotive vocals to the forefront. Piano drives the songs, but there are different vibes and influences. “Leaving” has a folk flavor while many others have cinematic atmospheres. There’s even a hint of pop here and there. It’s an album Evergrey fans can appreciate, but also opens the door to non-metal fans to experience Englund’s charismatic singing.
Canadian thrash metal group Tymo know what its audience wants on The Art Of A Maniac: 32 minutes of neck-smashing music meant to be consumed in an environment with bodies flying around. The urgency behind songs like the anthemic “Alcoholocaust” and rambunctious instrumental “Tymonicide” is a feature that elevates this album above their last one, the uneven Purge & Reset.
Vocalist/guitarist Tim Tymo retches out so many words at once at times that it’s like he’s a street corner preacher, except his message is about a TV show like Rick & Morty or a movie like Mars Attacks. Thought the lyrical subjects aren’t always profound, the bombardment of shredding guitar solos is serious business. The Art Of A Maniac is a step up for Tymo, a no-nonsense thrash album with mayhem on its agenda.
Venom Prison – Erebos (Century Media)
Previous releases aggressively proclaimed Venom Prison as one of extreme metal’s most exciting new propositions. Erebos, the Welsh death metallers’ third full-length of new material is their strongest yet. Opening track proper “Judges Of The Underworld” exudes an urgency that’s instantly captivating, infusing tasty guitar melodies and seismic-shifting breakdowns.
The group could’ve unleashed an entire album of vicious bangers in this vein and it would have succeeded. And they deliver such fare – see “Nemesis” and “Comfort Of Complicity.” But the band soon adds extra color and a sharpened sense of songwriting, via elements like synth-y nuances, strings and Swedish-influenced melodicism. “Pain Of Oizys” is a clear standout. Its piano-infused atmospherics, emotionally hefty textures and melancholic clean vocals mesh with some truly crushing and harrowing moments. Venom Prison offer a mosh and a message, as throughout the LP vocalist Larissa Stupar dissects topics like mental health, the legal system and government policy with vein-popping intensity. “Are you the oppressor… Or the oppressed?” she seethes. Earmark Erebos for your best albums of 2022 list.
Vinterland – Welcome My Last Chapter (Black Lodge)
In 1996, Swedish group Vinterland released their first and only album, Welcome My Last Chapter. Its take on melodic black metal was comparable to Dissection and Emperor, and it found a loyal fanbase that kept the band’s name alive in the underground for decades. After being out of print and hard to find without a costly transaction, the album is finally being put out on digital and physical platforms.
Not only is it being re-released, but it’s also remastered by Dan Swano, who was involved in the album’s original recording. Though over 25 years have passed, Welcome My Last Chapter holds up admirably. It can be seen as a blueprint for how this style would evolve, one that is still replicated today. With the ways to listen to this confined to shoddy YouTube streams for years, a wider release of Welcome My Last Chapter is much appreciated.
Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion (Transcending Obscurity)
After independently releasing an EP in 2019, the German black metal band Vorga drew the attention of Transcending Obscurity Records, which signed the band for its full-length debut Striving Toward Oblivion.
The trio’s sound is certainly influenced by Scandinavian bands, and song titles like “Comet” and “Stars My Destination” indicate a cosmic bent as well. Their music is melodic with modern production, though there are plenty of blastbeats and extreme moments. The contrast between melodic section and denser, more oppressive parts makes for a nice ebb and flow. It’s a promising debut with depth and intricacy that helps avoid predictability.