This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters album reviews include releases from Aethyrick, Asphyx, Comatose, The Dead Daisies, Ektomorf, Jason Bieler and The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra, Labyrinth, Les Chants de Nihil, Nervosa, Phantom Elite, Red Cain, Sacrocurse, Therion, Wardruna and Zero Theorem.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aethyrick – Apotheosis (The Sinister Flame)
Aethyrick were born in 2016, and with the solid debut Praxis they introduced themselves to the Finnish underground metal scene and with the groundbreaking 2020 album Gnosis they established themselves as another significant Finnish black metal act. And now Apotheosis, the band’s third album, is nothing short of a stunning follow up to Gnosis.
Accompanied by occultism/mysticism-centric lyrics, Aethyrick’s music on Apotheosis, like their previous two albums, is based on emotional melodies and glorious guitar riffs and keyboards, and also murky atmospheres. But that’s not all that happens on this album. Riffs, melodies and atmospheres are intertwined in a single stature to form a mysterious and dark scenery; and this scene is rooted in endless black magic. As a result, Apotheosis becomes more than just a melodic black metal album. It’s a memorable work that flies over the history of Scandinavian black metal and reminds of the glory of each of its regions.
Asphyx – Necroceros (Century Media)
Along with bands such as Autopsy, Incantation and Winter, Asphyx realize one doesn’t have to constantly play death metal 500 miles an hour to be brutal. The Dutch group have perfected the art of death/doom metal since the late ‘80s. Tempering churning, chugging riffage with crushing down tempos, the band return to the fold with their latest full-length, Necroceros.
Album highlights include the ominous, Bolt Thrower-like harmony on “Molten Black Earth,” the melodic, Maiden-esque bridge and harrowing doom of “Three Years of Famine,” the victorious battle march of “Yield or Die,” and the scathing speed of “Botox Implosion.” Led by Martin van Drunen’s sandpaper vocal assault, the album’s lyrics expose some of humanity’s harshest realities, including starvation, cannibalism, war, and prison riots. However, “Mount Skull” is seemingly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional At the Mountains of Madness. Even after 30-plus years of material, Asphyx show they aren’t at a loss for creating memorable riffs and nightmare-inducing lyrics.
Comatose – A Way Back (Transcending)
Comatose’s A Way Back is planted in the more atmospheric side of ’90s grunge/rock, with harmonic vocals and songs that use limited lyrics to let the instrumentation lead the path forward. The vocals drift in the air, tales of lost and hopelessness concurrent with the time period it was written in (early-to-mid 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep the world). The unexpected screams on “Inside” and “Further” are daggers that propel into the soul of the last half of the album.
The group isn’t above an up-tempo pace on “Spread,” but the majority of the songs keep to a more mid-line range, a steady bedrock for the vocals to swing in and out of. They named their band to describe how they feel being a part of a generation that is “forgotten” in all sense of the word. A Way Back doesn’t provide a route back from that, but it symbolizes in sonic form what most of us are feeling in the current climate.
The Dead Daisies – Holy Ground (SPV)
Since being founded in 2013 by Australian guitarist David Lowy, The Dead Daisies have been a collective, with numerous members participating in the project. The latest addition to the lineup is legendary vocalist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), who takes over for John Corabi. Hughes also handles bass duties after the departure of Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy). Guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio) and drummer Deen Castronovo (Journey, Bad English) return for the band’s fifth album Holy Ground.
The album is hard rock, combining straightforward uptempo tracks such as “Like No Other (Bassline)” with more moderately paced, bluesier numbers like “Come Alive.” The band’s musical chops are indisputable, and this batch of songs is packed with memorable hooks and a lot of great riffs. Glenn Hughes is a marvel, still singing with power and range at 69 years old. The band has done at least one cover on their last few albums, and this time around tackle Humble Pie’s “30 Days In The Hole.” Holy Ground has a classic sensibility with modern production.
Ektomorf – Reborn (Napalm)
Picasso once remarked that good artists borrow and great artists steal, and Quentin Tarantino has built a career on that very ideal. Now 26 years in, Reborn, the latest LP from Hungarian groove-thrashers Ektomorf indicates they’re the exception to the rule.
The group have been pilfering from Max Cavalera’s projects for some time now, and continue to create largely derivative fare. They rip into each song with an enthusiasm akin to kids tearing into the wrapping paper at Christmas, but a distinctive personality eludes them. There’s more than a hint of Max’s bark in Zoltán Farkas’ vocal delivery, while “Smashing the Past” feels like a very poor man’s Soulfly, lyrics included. They’ve looked further afield for inspiration this time, too. Stomping “And the Dead Will Walk” fuses Metallica and Machine Head, but in passages the title track blatantly borrows from “Master of Puppets” – riffs, dynamics, et al. Reborn offers bruising yet wholly familiar metal with too many forgettable tunes.
Jason Bieler And The Baron Von Bielski Orchestra – Songs For The Apocalypse (Frontiers)
Hard rock veteran Jason Bieler (Saigon Kick) has assembled quite the roster of collaborators for his “solo” record. Featuring Todd LaTorre, Devin Townsend, Bumblefoot, Benji Webbe and Dave Ellefson, to name a few, Songs For The Apocalypse is both a throwback to the heydays of AOR and an apt actualization of hard rock tropes. Modern riffs and progressive-inspired drum grooves cohabit with bluesy solos, Van Halen-esque vocal harmonies and the occasional synth flourishes.
Massive collaborative albums tend to feel bloated, a trap which Bieler and co. avoid for the most part. The production and songwriting are precise and efficient, never overindulgent. There’s a high chance you find yourself distractedly humming alone to this album’s many contagious hooks (“Down In A Hole,” “Anthem For Losers”). Overall, this is a solid album, with a wide palette of musical ideas, but it sags in the second half.
Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus (Frontiers)
In 2017, after a seven year gap between albums, the Italian progressive power metal band Labyrinth returned with a revamped lineup and new album. 5/6 of that lineup return for Welcome To The Absurd Circus, with drummer Matt Peruzzi (Shadows Of Steel) the new addition.
Most of the songs on the albums are in the 5 to 6 minute range, which is the band’s sweet spot. It allows them to develop the track, display some variety, but not overstay their welcome. The songs are melodic and bombastic, with prog elements making for a nice change of pace. Frontman Roberto Tiranti has the prototypical power metal voice, singing with power and vibrato when needed, and also able to pull off quieter, more subtle sections. Labyrinth cover the ’80s new wave song “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes,” giving the Ultravox track a metal makeover.
Les Chants de Nihil – Le tyran et l’esthète (Les Acteurs de l’Ombre)
From the shores of Britanny, French black metallers Les Chants de Nihil deliver Le tyran et l’esthète, an equal parts blistering and melodic album. The band’s fifth full length effort features 9 songs, one of which draws themes from Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring,” and cover art painted by composer/vocalist/guitarist Jerry.
From the onset, this album is a grandiose affair. Walls of distorted guitars and relentless blast beats support powerful melodies and carry us into the band’s universe. The lyrics have a distinct Beaudelairian flair; their insolent mixture of vulgar and poetic imagery suits the music’s ebb and flow perfectly. From the rousing call-to-arms of “Danse des morts-nés” to “Ode aux résignés” mournful complaints, this album showcases a band in their prime, and invites repeat listens.
Nervosa – Perpetual Chaos (Napalm)
Thrashing fourpiece Nervosa return after a lineup shake up that left guitarist/vocalist Prika Amaral as the sole returning member. Though the band has Brazilian origins, the new members bring in their European flair With Diva Satanica (Spain), Mia Wallace (Italy), and Eleni Nota (Greece) rounding out the newest iteration of this group.
Satanica’s vocal style is reminiscent of Angela Gossow’s run with Arch Enemy, though the music she fronts this time around is much more raw and mean. Perpetual Chaos fits a more modern thrash aesthetic in terms of production, though the music is decidedly more old school. This is a fun ripper of an album with four powerful women on board, proving yet again that the boys can’t have all the fun.
Phantom Elite – Titanium (Frontiers)
Phantom Elite were formed a few years ago by Marina La Torraca (Exit Eden, Avantasia) with songwriting and production from After Forever’s Sander Gommans. After issuing their debut in 2018, they return with Titanium.
The songs have ample melodies augmented by symphonic atmospheres and progressive flourishes. The tracks are compact and focused with a lot of diversity. La Torraca is a versatile vocalist, equally comfortable on heavy progressive songs like the title track as on softer tracks such as “Diamonds And Dark.” There are also guest appearances from La Torraca’s Exit Eden bandmate Amanda Somerville on “Silver Lining” and album closer “Eyes Wide Open.”
Calgary’s Red Cain have the melodic metal aspect down pat on their sophomore album Kindred: Act II, but they have other influences as well. Vocally, they recall Arcturus. Songs alternate between melodic and more progressive portions in fine fashion. There is also a heroic aspect to the band that assures that they have some variety and also ties them to power metal. The entire affair is uplifting and does a good job getting the listener entranced in the music.
Kindred: Act II could have been improved with more focus on the progressive or avant-garde aspects. As it stands there is a bit of a struggle for the band to find their identity and this brings the quality of the work down a bit. Regardless, this is a fun album and a very nice way to start the year off. It will also appeal to fans of bands from a number of different sub-genres.
Sacrocurse – Supreme Terror (Shadow)
Mexico’s Sacrocurse return with another offering of black/death filth, this time in the form of a four-song, 17-minute EP, Supreme Terror. The band is led by ZK who is known for other blackened incarnations Nodens and Morbosidad. Supreme Terror is a telling title as the EP gets to the point with a relentless onslaught of speed and warring rhythms.
The EP is intrinsically a death metal album with growling vocals, thick guitars and death metal-style drumbeats, but there is an evil quality that pervades through the record giving it a blackened touch complete with spooky vocal echoes, shrill screams and wicked whammy bar solos. The riffs are meaty with some of the catchier guitar parts repeating enough to be memorable, yet with enough change to not become boring. The production is raw, but every note rings with clarity. Blasphemous and bestial, Supreme Terror is a hammering force of south of the border war metal.
Therion – Leviathan (Nuclear Blast)
After 2012’s Les Fleurs du Mal, which featured covers of French pop songs, and 2018’s massively ambitious three plus hour triple album rock opera Beloved Antichrist, the Swedish symphonic metal band Therion return with a more traditional album. Drums on Leviathan were recorded by Snowy Shaw (Mercyful Fate, Dimmu Borgir), who has appeared on several previous Therion albums.
There are several guest appearances on Leviathan such as Marco Hietala (Nightwish), Mats Leven (Candlemass) and Noa Gruman (Scardust). Hietala and Lori Lewis’ vocals on “Tuonela” are an album highlight. While the songs on the album are atmospheric and have the depth and complexity you’d expect from Therion, they are even catchier and more memorable than usual. That, along with the fact that it clocks in at around 45 minutes, makes it one of their most accessible releases.
Wardruna – Kvitravn (Music For Nations)
Norwegian folksters Wardruna are back with their fifth album Kvitravn, which translates to “white raven.” Frontman Einar Selvik has been in bands of various genres over the years ranging from Gorgoroth to Sahg, and has collaborated with Enslaved’s Ivar Bjornson on a couple of well received albums.
The songs on the album are mellow and feature Nordic instruments such as the goat horn, Kravik-lyre and taglharpa. In addition to Selvik, Lindy-Fay Hella also provides vocals. It’s the type of music that would make a good soundtrack for the TV series Vikings, which Selvik has composed music for and has appeared in a couple of episodes. There aren’t any metal moments here, but Kvitravn is a compelling listen for fans of folk, neofolk and traditional Nordic music.
Zero Theorem – The Killing II (Shim Sham)
It used to be that EPs were stopgaps in between full-length releases. But they have become a preferred format for many bands, especially in genres where singles are important. The Killing II is the third EP from Zero Theorem, the follow-up to last year’s The Killing I.
The five songs are modern hard rock/alt metal. Electronic elements supplement heavy guitars, with alternating harsh and melodic vocals from Caesar. They once again worked with producer Kane Churko (In This Moment, Ozzy Osbourne, Five Finger Death Punch), who knows how to capture a sound that’s pristine and punchy. There’s not an ounce of filler in the five songs, setting up Zero Theorem to continue to build their fan base, especially once live shows start again. They are tailor made for the summer festival circuit.