This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters album reviews include releases from Altered Dead, And Now The Owls Are Smiling, Belial, The Body, Devotion, Elegy Of Madness, Endezzma, Escarion, Eximperitus, Nopes, Portrayal Of Guilt, Pounder, Soen, Werewolves and Wowod.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Altered Dead – Returned To Life (Memento Mori)
A very heavy and grimy form of death metal is performed by Altered Dead on Returned To Life, the Canadian band’s second full-length release, and first in five years. The music is somewhat messy sounding, but actually really nicely structured. The songs are powerful and have a huge impact upon the listener. If there is a flaw to be found with the release it’s that is has an ability to be somewhat generic sounding and this brings it down a notch.
Still, there is undeniably solid songwriting at play and this leads to a very enjoyable listen overall. The band is consistent in their approach and constantly enthralling throughout. Sure, the music could be a bit more interesting, but it is so well done that you won’t care. As such, Returned To Life gets a pretty strong recommendation. It could be more complex, but it is certainly a lot of fun.
And Now The Owls Are Smiling – Dirges (Clobber)
From North Norfolk, England, the lonesome and prolific Nre, sole member of atmospheric black metal outfit And Now The Owls Are Smiling releases Dirges, his sixth opus in five years. With its walls of reverb-soaked distortion, synthesized string sections and blast beats, Dirges makes good use of all the genre’s clichés, but breaks the monotony with quieter moments and clean vocals.
Thematically, the album oscillates between pain and solace, taking us on the narrator’s journey of self-discovery as he confronts and embraces darkness, then ascends to a higher understanding of his human condition. The tension between melancholy and aggression that dominates the first half of the album slowly gives way to uplifting moments in “Pointlessness” and culminates in the serene tonal landscapes of “Ascension”. While it’s not a very distinctive or forward-thinking album, Dirges is nonetheless a powerful listening experience.
Belial – Gods of the Pit II (Moribund)
Moribund Records present the re-release of Belial’s EP Gods of the Pit II. In the early 1990s, Belial joined a stellar class of bands such as Sentenced, Demilich, Amorphis and Convulse in paving the way for Finnish death metal. Gods of the Pit II was released in 1993 as part of a string of releases in the early ‘90s before the band split. The EP has been out of print since 2010.
Gods of the Pit II is a brutal, chaotic album without a hint of melody. Murky, low-end guitar tones collide with rushed and occasionally pitch-shifted vocals make it hard to understand just what’s going on. Tempo-wise, the album shifts between rolling mid-paced guitars and blasting drum beats. The EP is unrelenting in its short running time of 13 minutes, culminating with the furious less-than-a-minute death-grinder “Piece by Piece (remix).”
The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need To See (Thrill Jockey)
The Portland experimental duo The Body have been prolific in their two decades of existence. In addition to regular studio albums, they have done a lot of collaborative albums along with splits and EPs. I’ve Seen All I Need To See is their eighth full-length, coming on the heels of last year’s split with Bummer and collaboration with MSC.
Electronics, distortion and heavy riffs combine in songs that can be mesmerizing, challenging or both. Tracks like “Tied Up And Locked In” have dense, distorted electronics with frantic, distant vocals. The tempo and intensity is more moderate on songs such as “Eschatological Imperative.” The Body are always experimenting and pushing things in new directions, an approach that’s avant-garde and sometimes challenging for the listener, but ultimately leaves a lasting impact and demands more in-depth exploration.
Devotion – The Harrowing (Memento Mori)
If you believe the majority of modern death metal is too slickly executed, the darkness of The Harrowing, the second full-length from Spain’s Devotion may be what you’ve been yearning for. Fans of Asphyx, Bolt Thrower and Grave will find plenty to sink their teeth into. There’s also a hint of Morbid Angel apparent in “Feast of Esdras.”
This is rancid death metal with plenty of dirt under the proverbial fingernails. To the uninitiated, it’ll be about as digestible as razor blades. But the lurching, lumbering heaviness and uber-guttural vocals of “Valley of Death” will satisfy those with a penchant for such throbbing sounds. The album combines skull-crushing death metal, and interludes intended to boost the menacing atmosphere. The latter largely achieves that goal, although they could have culled one or two and it would’ve mattered little. While the synth-y moments afford a breather, the bludgeoning can still prove a little numbing. The Harrowing is an acquired taste, but should find an audience.
Elegy Of Madness – Live At Fusco Theater (Pride & Joy)
In early 2020, the Italian symphonic metal band Elegy Of Madness teamed up with the Giovane Orchestra Jonica for a special show. Live At Fusco Theater is released on DVD, and also available as an audio download or stream.
The 15 song set includes 10 of the 11 tracks from last year’s Invisible World along with four songs from 2017’s New Era. Vocalist Anja Irullo sings with expression and power, with harsh male vocals on some tracks adding some contrast. The orchestra augments the songs well without overpowering them. More representation from early albums would have been nice, but the performance by the band and orchestra is excellent.
Endezzma – The Archer, Fjord and the Thunder (Dark Essence)
Arising from Hønefoss, Norway, Endezzma’s music is rooted in the authentic characteristics of Norwegian black metal’s golden age but it has been consciously revived in the modern and universal form of black metal. Endezzma’s third album The Archer, Fjord and the Thunder also follows this tradition.
What happens in the musical context of The Archer… is both melodic and atmospheric. But it’s hard to call this album (and Endezzma in general) melodic or atmospheric black metal. It is in the collision between these two forces that a vigorous picture of the misanthropic, cold and dark world is formed. What makes this collision even more intense are atrocious groovy guitar riffs and dynamics in the songwriting. Modern production along with the skillful performance of the band, turns The Archer, Fjord and the Thunder into a memorable and remarkable work.
After the release of the Pinnacle of Neglect EP in 2017, which was a solid first step for Escarion, they are looking for a significant position for themselves with their first studio album, Pillars of the Faith. A place is undoubtedly provided for them, and although there is a long way to go, the future is bright enough for them to expand it and give it more power.
As an introduction, ‘a death metal band’ may seem like enough for Escarion, but in fact their music says something more. Pillars of the Faith is a 56 minute album where each of its lengthy songs follow a wide range of death metal subgenres. Progressive metal structure is superimposed on melodic death metal, and Gojira-like groovy riffs occur in the song infrastructure. Technical metal also has power and dominance over the songs; from guitar solos to time signatures. And this enormous dynamic is constantly repeating itself. This amount of power and creativity to balance this force and to create an evil creature forms a bright future for Escarion to elevate their position.
Eximperitus – Sahrartu (Willowtip)
Eximperitus make significant progress on their second album, Sahrartu, beefing up the production values and ballooning the songwriting into more progressive territory, two aspects lacking from their encouraging previous album. Sahrartu allows the Belarusian group to compose a concept of birth to death with the scale required to pull it off.
Connected with a slow-burning opening and closing instrumental track, as well ambient outros between most tracks, the album is constructed as a 37-minute quest through serene and treacherous songs. They can break off into an avalanche of noise on “Tahadu” while also using an audacious guitar showcase to lead into the momentous undertaking of the 10-minute “Inqirad.” It’s clear the five years since their last album has helped Eximperitus discover the capacity to express their own ambition.
Nopes – Djörk (Magnetic Eye)
Djörk is the third album from the Oakland, California band Nopes. They blend raucous punk with genres ranging from hard rock to hardcore to noise.
The songs on Djörk are compact and focused, with many under two minutes long. Their preferred tempo is fast and loose, though they slow things down to a more moderate pace on tracks like “Under The Leather.” They move from chaotic to groovy and back again. After an album of brief tracks, the exception is the closer “Synonym For Defeat,” which is more than eight minutes long and the slow pace is doomy in places.
Portrayal Of Guilt – We Are Always Alone (Closed Casket)
Fast and furious is the name of the game for portrayal of guilt, a band that certainly mix their musical styles well, from hardcore to doom to sludge and even a tinge of black metal atmosphere.
“Anesthetized” brings in some grinding bass lines, which are met with dark guitar lines and a powerviolence assault akin to that of genre giants Full of Hell. It’s surely a vile mixture for the ears but We Are Always Alone is a powerful one that keeps you guessing, an album that reveals more to the listener on repeated visits to its dark compositions. This is as full a listening experience for an album this short in recent memory; one with its varied tempos and overall dismal overtones only add to its uniqueness.
Pounder – Breaking The World (Shadow Kingdom)
In 2019, Pounder‘s full-length debut was well received. Known for more extreme bands like Exhumed and Gruesome, frontman Matt Harvey showed an appreciation for traditional metal and NWOBHM.
Breaking The World follows a similar path. The songs are anthemic and melodic with a nod to the genre’s classic era. There are plenty of guitar harmonies from Harvey and Tom Draper (Carcass) along with the requisite blazing solos. There are seven songs on the album, all of them catchy and memorable. Harvey’s vocals don’t have the smoothness and power of the typical traditional metal singer, but are distinctive. The album does a nice job paying homage to classic metal, speed metal, NWOBHM and AOR while putting their own spin on things.
Soen – Imperial (Silver Lining)
In the decade since their formation, Soen have become one of progressive metal’s powerhouses. After the tour de force that was 2019’s Lotus, expectations are high for the Swedish band’s fifth album Imperial. The band’s album titles have all been one word, and for the third consecutive album, all the song titles are also one word on Imperial.
As you’d expect from a Soen album, the songs are dynamic. Joel Ekelof has a very expressive voice that really brings out the emotions in a song, whether they are melancholy, joyful or somewhere in between. Mellow songs like “Illusion” are balanced by more aggressive and heavier songs such as “Antagonist.” The tracks are melodic and catchy, and at under 45 minutes in length, there’s minimal filler. Imperial is an enjoyable and well-executed prog metal release.
Werewolves – What A Time To Be Alive (Prosthetic)
Werewolves, unable to tour in support of last year’s The Dead Are Screaming due to the global pandemic, decided not to waste any time putting together another album, What A Time To Be Alive. With such a speedy turnaround between albums, their sophomore effort doesn’t mess too much with their vicious design. A tongue-in-cheek album title and songs with direct messages like “I Don’t Like You” and “A Plague On All Your Houses” says everything a listener would want to know about where Werewolves’ mindset is.
Like their debut, What A Time To Be Alive begins with a frenzy and hardly diverges from that. It’s a jagged whirlwind of blackened death metal that gauges its execution by how much hearing loss one will get by the end of it. There are tiny additions to their sound — sampling on a few songs and a mid-tempo closer in “They Will Pay With Their Own Blood” — that show growth in the loosest sense. None of that affects Werewolves’ misanthropic ideals or their drill-to-the-skull delivery.
Wowod – Yarost’ I Proshcheni (Church Road)
Wowod hail from St. Petersburg, Russia and have only been around for a few years. Their three full-lengths were all released independently, with Church Road Records now giving last year’s Yarost’ I Proshcheni a wider release.
The album, whose title translates to “Rage And Forgiveness,” falls under the post metal banner along with incorporating blackened hardcore into the mix. 11 plus minute opener “Rekviem” starts with more than five minutes of instrumental intro before the vocals kick in. That expansive opener is contrasted by the following track, the 2 minute bludgeoning beast “Tanec Yarosti.” It’s an album with a lot of diversity, with a variety of tempos, intensities and styles (musical and vocal). From dense and chaotic to introspective, Wowod deliver a compelling and wide-ranging album.