Welcome to the first Heavy Music Headquarters reviews of 2021! This week’s reviews (which also include January 1 and January 8 releases) include albums from Bloody Hammers, Dragony, Dread Sovereign, Edenbridge, Emma Ruth Rundle, Frozen Soul, Gravehuffer, Kabballah, Magnum, Miss Lava, Molten, Nicarus, Nomadic Rituals, Samtar, Stass, Stellar Death, Tantivy, Thou and Unbounded Terror.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Bloody Hammers – Songs of Unspeakable Terror (Napalm)
Songs of Unspeakable Terror by Bloody Hammers is a charming ode to retro-ized horror punk from the realms of Misfits and Plasmatics but the appeal of macabre punk rock is fleeting due to a general sense of homogeneity. The album is presented as the lockdown labor of love from husband/wife powerhouse Anders and Devalia Manga, who stray from their trademarked heavy metal/goth rock blend for an indulgent outing in punk-y riffs and witchcraft.
It’s not to be taken too seriously, and is enjoyed best when viewed as such. Anders’ melodies are an instant grab, entrancing all with his operatic choruses and the riffs come as plentiful as the horror-fueled wordplay; on the surface, it’s a fun package no doubt. Those that dare look deeper, however, will find the true nightmare – it’s all rather familiar. While they never hit levels of self-plagiarism, Bloody Hammers’ songwriting abilities leave much to the imagination with the plethora of copycat riffs and predictable structures preventing this passable memoir from being a fitting tribute to its superior source material.
Dragony – Viribus Unitis (Napalm)
For their fourth album Viribus Unitis, the Austrian power metal band Dragony have signed with Napalm Records, which should help increase their profile. It’s a concept album imagining an alternative history of Austria, incorporating things like cyber-punks and even zombies.
The songs are symphonic and bombastic, incorporating atmosphere and drama in addition to catchy hooks and melodies on songs like the rousing “Love You To Death” and the more moderately paced “Darkness Within.” Serenity vocalist Georg Neuhauser guests on “A.E.I.O.U.” The production on Viribus Unitis is pristine, the concept is interesting and the songs deliver the goods for power metal fans.
Dread Sovereign – Alchemical Warfare (Metal Blade)
Dread Sovereign was formed by Primordial mastermind A.A. Nemtheanga in 2013. The trio embrace doom metal along with a few other genres. Alchemical Warfare is their third full-length, and first since 2017.
Thick doomy riffs abound, but this time around Dread Sovereign incorporate some quicker tempos and influences of bands like Venom and Motorhead. That’s evident on songs like “She Wolves Of The Savage Season” and “Devil’s Bane.” Tracks such as “The Great Beast We Serve” have a more plodding tempo, but no shortage of drive or energy. The album has a good mix of raw and loose moments alongside more traditional groove and melody.
Edenbridge – The Chronicles Of Eden Part 2 (SPV/Steamhammer)
In 2007 the Austrian symphonic metal band Edenbridge released The Chronicles Of Eden, a compilation album covering their first few albums. 14 years later, The Chronicles Of Eden Part 2 covers the albums since then. There have been lineup changes over those years, but the core of vocalist Sabine Edelsbacher and multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Langvall has been the constant over that time.
Fans helped pick the track listing of the two CD set. In addition to including the original versions of fan favorites, Edenbridge recorded new acoustic versions of “Higher” and “Paramount” along with a new rendition of “Dynamind.” It’s a comprehensive compilation of Edenbridge’s best songs from the past several albums that’s ideal for newer fans of the group, and the new material makes it worthwhile for longtime Edenbridge supporters.
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – The Helm Of Sorrow (Sacred Bones)
It was just a few short months ago that Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou released May Our Chambers Be Full, a collaboration that proved to be one of the best albums of 2020. That wasn’t all the songs they had recorded, as they are now putting out a companion piece in the form of The Helm Of Sorrow EP. These four songs are B-sides that include original songs and a cover of The Cranberries’ “Hollywood.”
None of these seem like lukewarm leftovers or tracks that weren’t good enough to get on the album, which can be the downfall of a lot of B-sides. It’s not unimaginable that the tender simmer of “Orphan Limbs” or the menacing “Recurrence” would nicely fit in with the previous release. The Helm Of Sorrow is a success whether by itself as a standalone piece or attached alongside May Our Chambers Be Full.
Frozen Soul – Crypt Of Ice (Century Media)
The Texas death metal band Frozen Soul is a recently formed entity, but many of their members are veterans of the scene. After issuing a demo in 2019 they have signed with Century Media for their full-length debut Crypt Of Ice.
Though several songs embrace the icy wasteland (“Arctic Stranglehold,” “Encased In Ice”), Frozen Soul’s musical approach is anything but cold and sterile. They do a nice job varying tempos both within songs and from track to track. Things like the brief piano intro on “Hand Of Vengeance” add even more diversity to the album. What Crypt Of Ice lacks in originality it makes up for in execution and the quality of riffs. Death metal is off to a strong start in 2021.
Gravehuffer – NecroEclosion (Black Doomba)
There are many bands that are trying to establish a musical connection between thrash metal and grindcore. Gravehuffer are one of those bands, and they have always taken this effort to communicate to a considerable extent. But what they did on NecroEclosion has made it not only a brilliant album but also the best work of Gravehuffer to date.
NecroEclosion is full of moments that convince the listener that they have given the essence of their music an experimental and even progressive form. The connection between thrash metal and grindcore is done at the peak of perfection. Death and doom metal enhance thrash metal where needed, and the album’s grindcore/crust basis expands with strong punk touches. But it is in the second half of the album that seems a gate has been opened to the band’s songwriting process. The dynamics of the songs change significantly, and the use of horn adds a dramatic scope to the basics. “Ghost Dance,” “Causes” and “Madwolf” testify to this.
Kabbalah – The Omen (Rebel Waves)
Kabbalah’s occult-ish vibes molds well with their ’70s rock/metal sound on their sophomore album, The Omen. Curses, rituals, and mystical lands all come from this trio from Spain, who infuse the album with the souls of artists from decades ago. There are little extraneous extras added to their music, like an overload of guitar tracks or overdone production. This sounds like three musicians in one room jamming together to bring about the end of the world.
The hypnotic vocal harmonies from the band give eerie lines like “You must fear the ominous truth/stay far away from its relentless claws” a warmness that would otherwise be nonexistent. Like many albums they are no doubt inspired by, The Omen clocks in at under 30 minutes, keeping their music on-point and not letting any one song get too far away from the steady foundation Kabbalah have built.
Magnum – Dance Of The Black Tattoo (SPV/Steamhammer)
For a band that has been around since the early ’70s, hard rockers Magnum have been especially prolific over the past several years. Since 2016 they have released three studio albums, a live album and a compilation. They begin 2021 with another compilation, Dance Of The Black Tattoo.
After 2017’s The Valley Of Tears – The Ballads showcased the band’s softer side, this time around the songs are uptempo. The album includes 14 songs that have all been previously released. It includes seven live tracks including “Black Skies” and “Freedom Day” along with four radio edits. In addition there are two bonus tracks from 2016’s Sacred Blood Divine Lies. It’s a diverse group of songs old (“On A Storyteller’s Night”) and new to tide fans over until their next studio album, expected next year.
Miss Lava – Doom Machine (Small Stone/Kozmik Artifactz)
Don’t let this album title fool you. There’s nothing doom-like about Doom Machine, the fourth album from Lisbon stoner metal gurus Miss Lava. This is an album built around spinning riffs (fifteen to be exact, including three bonus tracks and four interludes) and big vocals, reminiscent of bands such as Fu Manchu, Kyuss, and My Diligence. With subject matter centered upon the loss of the guitarist’s six-week old son, the subject matter is heavy but the music is catchy and loose.
Miss Lava may not hit on all cylinders all the time – some songs lean towards stoner-metal-by-numbers stylings and don’t really offer anything new or catchy – when they do it is glorious. Songs such as “Fourth Dimension,” “Brotherhood of Eternal Love,” and “The Oracle” are sure to be amongst the best the genre will have to offer all year. For fans of this style of music, Doom Machine will be an excellent start to the year.
Molten – Dystopian Syndrome (Self)
Molten start the new year with a premier thrash/death record in Dystopian Syndrome, tied together with a bottomless well of lead work from every member. From the on-point guitar harmonies to fuzzy bass solos, these guys are as technically proficient as they are relentless on the riffs’ front. On songs like “Virulence” and Rising Embers,” they head into a progressive thrash direction, with extended instrumental sections that become flashy showcases.
For those who like their music less flashy, the one-two pair of “Holy Macabre” and “Zombies Curse” do away with much of that with a roaring confidence. The lone breaks from all of this are the acoustic guitars in two short tracks confined to the first half of the album. The second half is much more rambunctious, though melodic undertones on the last few songs elevate Molten’s delivery. Don’t let Dystopian Syndrome pass through in the early months of 2021 without some attention.
Nicarus – Coal People Coal Puppets (Self)
Israeli musician Tali Green is the figure behind Nicarus, a largely DIY affair releasing their debut album, Coal People Coal Puppets. Besides bringing in a drummer, the entire album is handcrafted by Green herself, from the vocals to the instrumentation to the production. This is her vision, not compromised by outside influences, and this vision is a grungy take on indie rock, with a doomy sheen on the massive title track and “The Architect Of Grime.”
Nicarus achieve a sense of grand scale in each of the songs, condensing the accomplishment of something like the launch of a spaceship into under four minutes without losing any wonder. The title track stretches to almost 10 minutes with the inclusion of a lengthy sample from renowned professor Joseph Campbell, an experimental take that may alienate a few listeners. For its occasional trippy components, Coal People Coal Puppets has scorchers like the wonderful “Are You Afraid To Die Alone?” as a counterbalance.
Nomadic Rituals – Tides (Cursed Monk)
Northern Ireland’s Nomadic Rituals perform a drone type form of post metal on their third album Tides that recalls a slower Neurosis. Songs are trance-like and moved along by a usually simple rhythm. The result is an album that is a times hypnotic, but also very dry at other times. It is also hard to classify. When the band discovers an interesting riff or rhythm they can be psychedelic, but at other moments they can become monotonous.
Tides is at times invigorating, but could be improved upon. Fans of Neurosis might find something to like here. A lot of promise for brighter future is shown, especially if Nomadic Rituals can take their more powerful moments and develop them strongly. This will make the band fulfill their promise more in the future.
Samtar – The Curse of Infinite Luminosity (Self)
Experimental solo artist Samtar clearly has a sleeve replete with tricks as his sophomore LP The Curse of Infinite Luminosity comes hot off the trail of 2020 debut Plotting Against Reality and sees the one-man band push limits further beyond expectation.
The term “experimental” raises personal red flags I’ll admit – it can sometimes lead to a matter of throwing sounds at the wall and hoping they stick – but Samtar’s tools of choice give way to a palette that is almost entirely agreeable. While each of the 11 tracks tells its own story, the entire LP brings an overwhelming sense of tranquility. Rich electrics, wind instruments, funk-laden basslines, drum machines, strings, it’s all part of Samtar’s grand arrangement – an arrangement that you would find difficult to remain unmoved by. There’s the odd melody that goes awry and the odd moment where means don’t meet ends (the intensely electric “Slipping” being a key example) but above all, The Curse of Infinite Luminosity should be a driving force for Samtar’s future.
Stass – Songs Of Flesh And Decay (Emanzipation)
Songs Of Flesh And Decay is the first album of 2021 featuring prolific guitarist Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Ribspreader), and if this is like most other years, is the first of many. It’s the second album from Stass, the old school death metal project fronted by Felix Stass from Crematory.
There aren’t a lot of surprises here, just plenty of well-played and well-written old school death metal. Johansson and Kjetil Lynghaug are in other bands together, and their guitar chemistry is evident. Stass’ voice epitomizes death metal, as do song titles like “Sounds Of Terror” and “Fear Of The Living Dead.” There’s plenty for OSDM fans to sink their teeth into on this album.
Stellar Death – Fragments of Light (Self)
From Washington DC, the instrumental metal duo Stellar Death launcs into the cosmos with Fragments of Light, a collection of 8 pieces of astronomic proportions. The brainchild of longtime collaborators Matt Kozar (Brave, Witnesses) and Scott Loose (As the Sea Parts, While Heaven Wept), this project is all about exploring their varied influences and stylistic leanings outside the confines of the constraints of established bands.
With orchestral percussion, sweeping synthesized textures, pounding post-metal riffs and dreamy guitar arpeggios, this is an album that takes you on a journey; from the tense countdown of opening number “The Astronomer” to the serene, Gilmourian guitar phrases of “Betelgeuse” all the way to the colossal riffs of “Critical Mass (That Which Cannot Be Created),” and lands you back on earth with the gentle “Afterglow”. What this album lacks in immediacy and memorable hooks, it makes up for in depth and atmosphere that will seduce post and prog metal fans alike.
Tantivy – Eyes In The Night (Self)
A menacing wolf stares daggers into the listener on the cover to Tantivy’s new EP, Eyes In The Night. That animal looks like it is out for carnage, and these five songs make for great sprinting music as that creature nips at your heels. Vocalist Adam Geurink, who also handles almost all the guitars on the EP, sounds like he could’ve taken some inspiration from the first few Iron Maiden albums, including almost a Paul Di’Anno-esque sneer in his voice.
The gritty early days of heavy/thrash metal are the group’s target, where all a song needed to be was unapologetic and have at least one snazzy guitar solo. They work themselves into a solid groove in the early moments of “Cut ‘Em Loose,” a compelling sonic trait not explored enough. Whether that wolf catches its prey or not, Eyes In The Night keeps the chase close for 20 minutes.
Unbounded Terror – Infernal Judgment (Xtreem)
Infernal Judgment is a compilation album by the Spanish death metal band Unbounded Terror. If the music weren’t so damn good, this compilation would seem arbitrary since the group only released two full-length albums. The compilation features just one new track (the title track), four re-recordings from their 1992 debut Nest of Affliction, and three live tracks from their sophomore album Faith In Chaos, released just last year.
The Nest of Affliction material is excellent old school death metal with a ton of catchy riffs. That release shows why the group are an important piece of Spain’s death metal history. The best material, though, is the leadoff title track. It contains a mixture of buzz-saw guitars, recognizable lyrics and catchy guitar melodies. The melodies bring to mind God Dethroned. This track alone makes Infernal Judgment worth its weight, and overall the comp sheds light on a talented band that split all too soon.