This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from 40 Watt Sun, Abyssus, Ashes Of Ares, Battle Beast, Boris, The Ferrymen, Giant, Nocturna, Pensees Nocturnes, Setyoursails, Shot Down Twice, SOM, Sonata Arctica and Tokyo Blade.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
40 Watt Sun – Perfect Light (Svart)
It has been six years since former Warning frontman and guitarist Patrick Walker has graced our ears as 40 Watt Sun. Perfect Light is the band’s third proper album and perhaps the most beautiful entry to date. Right from the opening of “Reveal” you get the feeling of unrivaled elegance and become awash with emotions. Walker’s guitar playing and emotive voice carry an immense, impassioned weight and might be the “heaviest” thing he has done since Warning’s masterpiece Watching From A Distance.
At over an hour, this is a harrowing and poignant album with the ability to tug at your heartstrings at every turn. There is a good amount of subtlety on shorter tracks like “Colours” with distant piano sounds juxtaposed against acoustic guitar. The whole combination is just marvelous. While this isn’t a metal album at all, it is absolutely gorgeous, especially for fans of general alluring and atmospheric music. A must hear for early 2022.
Abyssus – Death Revival (Transcending Obscurity)
Not all metal from Greece is black-tinged. Abyssus play roots-style death metal. Their sound will take listeners back to the late ‘80s/early ‘90s when thrash was crossing over to death metal. Bands like Possessed and Slayer come to mind in small doses, but overall their sound recalls Death and Morgoth.
“Metal of Death” opens the album with catchy refrain and riffs. “The Ten Commandments” not only references (consciously or unconsciously) Malevolent Creation, but has a sound that could have been recorded in the early ‘90s at Morrisound Studios. It has low-end riffs akin to early Obituary and Leprosy-era Death. Konstantinos Analytis’s does his best vocal impression of Chuck Schuldiner. There are other moments the revive classic thrash rhythms like the Slayer-ish opening of “The Witch.” Even though it’s not the most original material (it has a telling title), Abyssus execute exceptional well. If the golden era of death metal trips your trigger, then Death Revival is the bomb!
Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools (Rock of Angels)
Emperors and Fools, the third full-length release from the New York progressive/power metal band Ashes Of Ares, carries on many of the traditions of the band Iced Earth in fine fashion. The riffs are similarly gigantic and make a huge impact. The band has a feel to it that recalls The Dark Saga with a similar atmospheric effect.
The overall feeling is very claustrophobic and Ashes of Ares do a good job making you feel these effects quite well. This is a good album in terms of songwriting ability. Ashes Of Ares manage to make a consistent ensemble of songs that has the ability to entrance. There are many strong moments on this disc, though it is difficult to find a standout one. What we have here is a solid collection of songs.
Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom (Nuclear Blast)
It’s very rare if a heavy metal band tops the album chart in the U.S. That’s not the case in many other countries, such as Finland. Battle Beast‘s last three albums been hit number one in their home country, and they hope to continue to momentum with their sixth full-length Circus Of Doom.
It continues and refines their recent musical path. It’s anthemic traditional metal mixed with symphonic, power metal, hard rock and pop elements. It’s driven by hooks, augmented by atmosphere and topped with Noora Louhimo’s potent voice. Circus Of Doom is wall to wall with catchy tracks such as the uptempo “Wings Of Light,” the grandiose “Where Angels Fear To Fly” and the poppy “The Road To Avalon.” There are a couple songs that land in the filler category, but the quality of the rest of the tracks more than makes up for them.
Boris – W (Sacred Bones)
The Japanese band Boris are marking their 30th anniversary in 2022, and have had the same lineup since 1996. The lineup is the only thing that’s predictable about Boris, as their sound shifts and changes from album to album. They are also prolific, with 2020 and 2021 seeing numerous releases of live albums, splits, EPs and compilations. Their latest studio effort is W.
This time around Wata handles all the vocal duties. The majority of the songs are mellow and ambient like “Icelina” and “Invitation.” Heaviness rears its head from time to time, such as on the doomy instrumental “You Will Know,” but those are far outweighed by quieter and more introspective tracks. No matter what style they embrace on an album, Boris’ execution is flawless, and they always make for an interesting listen.
The Ferrymen – One More River To Cross (Frontiers)
A lot of times, collaborations and side projects end up being one-off. Not so with The Ferrymen, who are up to album number three. The band is fronted by Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords Of Black), was formed by guitarist/producer Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall) and rounded out by drummer Mike Terrana (Rage, Axel Rudi Pell).
One More River To Cross is melodic metal with elements of power metal. Karlsson writes songs with soaring melodies and catchy choruses that still have ample heaviness. Romero is an excellent vocalist, showing range, power and versatility. There’s not a weak song in the bunch, with some of the highlights being “The Last Wave,” the mid-paced title track and the rousing “Hunt Me To The End Of The World.” Fans of melodic/power metal will find a lot of like with this album.
Giant – Shifting Time (Frontiers)
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s the band Giant had a decent amount of mainstream success. Their 1989 debut Land Of The Runaways included successful singles “I’m A Believer” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” and a couple songs from the follow-up also received airplay. They disbanded in 1992 and have regrouped a few times over the years, issuing new albums in 2001 and 2010.
Shifting Time is their latest album, and it features new vocalist Kent Hilli who replaced Dann Huff. Founding members David Huff (drums) and Mike Brignardello (bass) remain. Giant continue the melodic rock of the earlier albums, with a record filled with potential singles. A variety of songwriters helped compose the songs on the record, but even with the input of numerous people the album remains cohesive. It’s a solid collection of melodic rock, and although Dann Huff’s presence is missed, Hilli does a good job in filling his shoes.
Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night (Scarlet)
Nocturna are a new symphonic/power/gothic metal band formed by Frozen Crown guitarist Federico Mondelli. Instead of the typical harsh male vocals/melodic female singing of the genre, Nocturna utilize two frontwomen: Grace Darkling (Angelize) and Rehn Stillnight (Septum).
The band’s debut album Daughters Of The Night delivers plenty of bombastic power metal along with more textured and subdued gothic sections. The two vocalists complement each other well, alternating leads and doing an excellent job harmonizing. Powerful soprano singing is featured on a lot of the symphonic sections, while more traditional singing is at the forefront on the rest of the album. Songs like “Blood Of Heaven” are on the heavier side of the spectrum while tracks such as “In This Tragedy” are mellower. It’s an impressive debut that fans of bands like Epica and Nightwish should enjoy.
Pensées Nocturnes – Douce Fange (LADLO)
Pensées Nocturnes have come a long way from a typical neoclassical-fused depressive black metal act to a theatrical avant-garde metal band. 14 years after its founding, Léon Harcore, Pensées Nocturnes’ mastermind, is managing an astonishing musical perspective right now.
Pensées Nocturnes’ seventh studio album, Douce Fange still has a shimmering glimpse of depressive black metal aspects, but what is actually happening is not easy to describe. The definition of avant-garde spans a wide range, where black metal ingeniously blends with dark cabaret, gypsy music, chamber music, circus music, and bal-musette that one has to look for melodies and harmonies in the midst of chaos. And when you manage to connect to this chaotic world, this dazzling absurd and nihilistic show culminates in glory. Douce Fange starts with sound of a crowing rooster and ends with a sound of car alarm! So prepare yourself, before you sit down and experience the chaos.
Setyoursails – Nightfall (Napalm)
For Setyoursails, Enough was a debut album seeped with venom, and on their second album Nightfall, they have toned it down with a more melodic focus. Vocalist Jules Mitch has taken her sharp cutthroat screams and growls and added in effective dynamic singing. She gives songs like “Anchor” and “Secrets” an emotional lift that goes beyond the relentless hostility that ran through Enough.
That anger isn’t completely lost on Nightfall, as evident by the vengeful state of “Into The Storm” and “Fckoff.” The latter track would’ve been a knockout closer if it wasn’t for the punched-up version of Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper duet “Shallow” being the true ending to the album. Enough was a bit one-note, so it’s good that Setyoursails decided to work out a successful new side to their music on Nightfall.
The self-titled EP from Canadian hard rockers Shot Down Twice is their second one, with 2020’s Got Up Once putting across their high-energy anthems mixed with some bluesy influences. That mix is elaborated upon on this release, especially the latter part of the blend on a jammer like “Long Haul Blues.” There’s a bluegrass vibe in the acoustic guitars used on that song’s intro, which works as well for them as a hellraiser like “Undermine/Overthrow.”
The bold guitar solos from Got Up Once return for this release with even more fervor. Closer “Goddess Of The Sun” is an understated gem to the EP, letting the five-and-a-half minutes build to an eventful finish. The eponymous EP makes it a clean sweep so far for Shot Down Twice, as they hopefully gear up for a full-length soon.
SOM – The Shape Of Everything (Pelagic)
The Shape Of Everything is American quintet SOM’s second album. With members hailing from bands such as Caspian, Constants and Junius, one gets a good sense of the sort of music the band plays. While The Shape Of Everything is definitely a prime mix of shoegaze and post-rock, there are plenty of pop, doom, and alternative metal influences thrown in for good measure.
These additional influences make for truly interesting music, with lush layers of guitars weaving through strong rhythms, all backing Will Benoit’s ethereal vocals. Sure, shoegaze is the dominant style here, but each song stands out on its own in different ways via different embellishments, ensuring the listener stays on board. SOM are a band to keep an eye on if this is your style.
Sonata Arctica – Acoustic Adventures – Volume One (Atomic Fire)
The first release for Sonata Arctica on their new record label Atomic Fire is Acoustic Adventures – Volume One. It’s the first installment of what will be a two-part acoustic album. The other one is set to be issued this fall. It was spawned from the band’s 2019 Acoustic Adventures tour.
Opening track and lead single “The Rest Of The Sun Belongs To Me,” a 2003 Japanese bonus track, was rearranged for the 2019 acoustic tour, and this version is faithful to that arrangement. Sonata Artica have an extensive catalog to choose from, and these songs are taken from a variety of albums including 2001’s Silence, 2004’s Reckoning Night, 2007’s Unia, 2012’s Stones Grow In Her Name and 2014’s Pariah’s Child. The stripped down versions with piano and acoustic guitar give the songs an entirely different vibe, rearranging and showcasing the melodies at the core of the tracks. These songs work really well acoustically.
Tokyo Blade – Fury (Dissonance)
Having gotten in on the Tokyo Blade action by purchasing Midnight Rendevous on cassette when it came out in 1984, I’m always keen to check out what these vets release these days. Fury is their tenth album, and maintains the pace and feel of 2020’s Dark Revolution. Like that album and its predecessor, Unbroken, it features the band’s classic lineup, and one can still hear that 80s sound seeping into this more modern take.
Fury holds plenty of fun moments, but it’s also very, very long. Fifteen songs is five songs too many, and the tracks tend to blend together after a few listens (“Are they singing about the cold light of day or the cold heart of darkness in this one?”). Cut five songs out and save them for the next album and we’d be left with a highly effective and enjoyable record from Tokyo Blade.