This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Anthrax, Antigama, Ashenspire, Behold! The Monolith, Black Capricorn, Hissing, Ian Blurton’s Future Now, Mantar, Molder, Plague Years, Reternity, Sick N’ Beautiful, Sinner and Xenoglyph.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Anthrax – Anthrax XL (Megaforce)
For my money, Anthrax dominated the second coming of thrash’s “Big 4.” Though all four bands kept releasing new music, only our boys from NYC released albums that equaled, or even surpassed, their classic ‘80s catalog. As if to illustrate the point, this 40th anniversary live stream, originally from July of 2021 and now available on Blu-Ray, CD, and digitally, kicks off with “”Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” off 2009’s Worship Music.
Not to worry old school fans, because Anthrax XL (the Roman numeral for 40, not “extra large” – though the riffs are…ahem…huge), is loaded front to back with all the classics – unless you happen to be a John Bush fan. With full production but no live audience, it’s like having a front row seat for a final tour rehearsal. The band is in top notch form. Witness Charlie Benante’s insane drum break on the aforementioned opener, Joey Belladonna nailing every high note on “Lone Justice,’ or Frankie Bello’s bass solo on “Got The Time.” Visually, two hours of watching the guys stomping around in black t-shirts gets a little old, but kudos for the costume change into big shorts during the State of Euphoria selections.
Antigama – Whiteout (Selfmadegod)
Polish grinders Antigama are here to rip your face off with some riff-heavy grindcore on their eighth record Whiteout. Directly from the outset you get everything you expect from the genre without the song lengths being too bite-sized.
“Debt Pool” is a master class in getting your point across in short order with riffs being the primary emphasis, allowing themselves to slow momentarily before launching headlong into their final offensive. Another firebrand is “Holy Hand” which has a modern day Napalm Death feeling to it, Sebastian Rokicki’s heavy riffs backed by Lukasz Myszkowski’s powerful vocal delivery buoyed by a masterful drumming performance of Pawel Jaroszewicz, a well-oiled grind machine if I have ever heard one. Whiteout is the grindcore album of the year so far.
Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture (Aural)
Ashenspire capture the mannerisms of a band like A Forest Of Stars with their avant-garde black metal on Hostile Architecture. They even have a vocal style like that group, a stream-of-consciousness spoken word delivered like a stage actor in the middle of a monologue. There’s also their usage of a violin, which invokes a mournful edge to their disdain for the wealthy elite.
Hostile Architecture steps away from being just an homage by embracing their idiosyncrasies and branching them out. New to the band on this album is an ever-present saxophone, which gets the lead spot on instrumental “Palimpsest” and the conclusion to “Plattenbau Persephone Praxis.” Ashenspire stand apart from others in these examples, including the dynamic violin/vocals harmonies on “Tragic Heroin.”
Behold! The Monolith – From The Fathomless Deep (Ripple)
It’s been seven years since Behold! The Monolith’s last album. In that time the duo of Matt Price (guitar) and Chase Manhattan (drums) have added Menno Verbaten on bass and vocals. The band is a trio again now, as it was prior to the 2013 passing of Kevin McDade. And they are back to melt our ears with their brand of progressive sludge via 46 minutes of aural pummeling.
From The Fathomless Deep is an album full of subterranean vocals and lurching riffs. From the Sabbathian crawl of “Crown/The Immeasurable Void” to the frantic “Spirit Taker,” Behold! The Monolith leave it all out on the floor. Aside from somewhat weak-sounding drums relative to the massive guitar/bass/vocals, From The Fathomless Deep is a stellar and varied prog-sludge outing that will have fans salivating.
Black Capricorn – Cult Of Blood (Majestic Mountain)
The Italian doom metal band Black Capricorn emerged in 2011 and released four full-lengths before deciding to disband. That didn’t last long, as they quickly reunited and began working on their fifth album Cult Of Blood.
They keep things interesting with frequent tempo changes, bouncing from quick and trippy psychedelic sludge to thick, slow doom. They also vary the song lengths, composing relatively streamlined 3 to 5 minute tracks like “Secret Society Of Seven” and instrumental “Godsnake Djamballah” along with lengthy opuses such as 9 minute “Witch Of Endor.” Black Capricorn aren’t reinventing the wheel, playing tried and true doom and sludge, but their execution and variety keep things fresh.
Hissing – Hypervirulence Architecture (Profound Lore)
Hypervirulence Architecture has Hissing morphing the division between erratic black/death metal and calculated noise. The group has switched between the two from release to release, letting one mingle with the other at select points (the elongated outro to closer “Perdurance” from their Permanent Destitution debut album).
For their second album, the merging is more apparent with the monolithic “Operant Extinction” and trippy interlude “Hypervirulence” ramping up the noise elements. Bass guitar breaks are standard on Hypervirulence Architecture, allowing for a murky essence that lingers over the album and never loses its tight grip. After an experimental journey with their last EP Burning Door, Hissing get back to their dissonant ways with their latest compelling full-length.
Ian Blurton’s Future Now – Second Skin (Seeing Red)
Hard to believe it’s already been three years since Ian Blurton’s excellent solo debut, Signals Through
The Flame, but time is funny. This time around Blurton has enlisted help from Glenn Milchem (Blue Rodeo) on drums, Anna Riddick (City and Colour) on bass, and Aaron Goldstein on guitar. Recorded on vintage gear with the legendary Rolling Stones Mobile Studio in Calgary, Second Skin oozes with potential.
Beyond the potential are Blurton’s charismatic vocals and uncanny ability to write some of the catchiest hard rock songs around. Second Skin is 45 minutes of hard rock glory ranging from metal (“The Power of No”) to progressive hard rock (the title track). The album is loaded with hooks, earworm after earworm making each song an instant classic. If Signals Through The Flame was my summer soundtrack for 2019, Second Skin is the same for 2022 – only better, if that’s possible.
Mantar – Pain Is Forever And This Is The End (Metal Blade)
The German sludge duo Mantar followed up 2018’s well-received The Modern Art Of Setting Things Ablaze with a covers album in 2020. They have now signed with Metal Blade Records for their fifth full-length Pain Is Forever And This Is The End.
While there’s plenty of extremity on the record, it’s also Mantar’s catchiest album to date. Hanno Klänhardt’s rough and ragged vocals provide an edge to melodic songs like “Hang ‘Em Low (So The Rats Can Get ‘Em)” and “New Age Pagan.” His memorable riffs and variety of guitar tones give the songs different textures and vibes, and the production gives the music additional depth and power. Pain Is Forever And This Is The End is a potent concoction blending sludge, black metal, rock and a few other styles into a cohesive and enjoyable album.
Molder – Engrossed In Decay (Prosthetic)
Visions of oozing wounds and worm-infested tombs are sights that Molder revel in on Engrossed In Decay. They will soothe a death metal fan’s soul like a cup of tea in the dead of winter. In the band’s twisted mind, however, that cup would be fresh blood with a tea bag made of dirt from a graveyard.
If that seems excessive, this album tops it on “Disinhumed Carcass Revived” and “Decomposed Embryos,” both of which are exactly what someone would expect titles like that to be about. Besides getting the gore down, Molder get out some putrid, riff-centric horrors. “Cask Of Maggots” has a groove that could have a live show full of hair flying and feet stomping. The decision to make most of these songs longer than anything off their debut album Vanished Cadavers lets the band breathe dusty air into their mutilated music.
Plague Years – All Will Suffer (MNRK Heavy)
Following up on their excellent debut album Circle Of Darkness, Plague Years have dropped a surprise EP on the masses called All Will Suffer. The 4-track blast of death thrash takes many a nod from the forebearers of the genre, with the backwards section at the beginning of “Make You Mortal” eliciting only the most evil thoughts.
Plague Years are among the heaviest thrash bands on the scene and “Suffer” is a prime example; the guitar tone is flattening and oppressive, making for a deliberately dangerous listening experience. If you have about 20 minutes, just let the heaviness wash over you. This is the perfect hold over until they hit us with album number two.
Reternity – Cosmic Dreams (MDD)
Reternity have an alternative vibe going on with Cosmic Dreams. Songs on the German melodic metal band’s third album are very pleasing and accessible with clean singing and very clean musical performances. This adds up to a fun album, but one that is sort of shallow as well.
The songs glide by in a pleasant manner and make their impact in an understated way. They are commercial sounding and the sparse use of instrumentation makes the album somewhat underwhelming. Still, the performances are effective enough with guitars that are accessible and fit the music nicely. Their alternative form of metal has some significance as there is not much like it at the moment. Cosmic Dreams is a futuristic sounding album thanks to elements like keyboards. It is still recommended to fans of alternative music.
Sick N’ Beautiful – Starstruck (Frontiers)
Starstruck is the third album for the Italian band Sick N’ Beautiful, and their first for Frontiers Music. Their style is slick and modern, and could be categorized as alternative metal.
They inject a lot electronics and industrial elements into the songs. Tracks like “Drop It 2 The B” have a lot of melody and accessibility, but also have dense and heavy sections. Herma is a versatile vocalist. She uses a variety of styles from smooth pop to powerful rock/metal singing to spoken word. Mellower tracks like “Deep End Dark” showcase her voice, and “Schadenfreude” incorporates numerous styles. Starstruck has some excellent songs, but is somewhat watered down by a few filler tracks that are more style than substance.
Sinner – Brotherhood (Atomic Fire)
Sinner have been around for more than 40 years, with frontman Mat Sinner (Primal Fear, Silent Force, Voodoo Circle) the lone remaining member. Brotherhood is their second album the band’s current lineup, and 20th studio album.
It’s exactly what you’d expect with a Sinner album: soaring, melodic metal with plenty of hooks and singalong choruses. There are numerous guest this time around including Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Ronnie Romero (Rainbow), Tom Englund (Evergrey) and Dave Ingram (Benediction). It could have easily been the album title, and “We Came To Rock” is exactly what the record is all about both lyrically and musically. In addition to 11 original tracks, Brotherhood closes with a metalled up cover of the Killer’ “When We Were Young.” Sinner is a metal icon, and the latest album from his band is another in a long line of quality releases.
Xenoglyph – Spiritfraud (Translation Loss)
For all the advantages technology has given us in the 21st century, there’s also a strong chance it’ll be the very thing that leads to our downfall. Xenoglyph may be the psychics seeing what we yet don’t, which is clear to surmise on Spiritfraud. They want us to look to the cosmos for insight, using the fuel of black metal to reach the destination. It’s not the smoothest ride, and there’s no deviations from the route, but it doesn’t slow down for anything.
Xenoglyph are comprised of two musicians who are keeping their identity hidden, adding to the mystique. Though opener “Mainframe Equilibrium” may give the appearance of an album shaking with unrepentant fury, the rest of Spiritfraud is more controlled. They take a listener along with them by fitting into a mid-tempo stance that doesn’t linger much from that for the better part of 45 minutes.