This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Castrator, Critical Defiance, Fame On Fire, Hatriot, Imperial Triumphant, Karl Sanders, Moonshade, Mosara, Nicolas Cage Fighter, Oceans Of Slumber, Palisades and Wake.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Castrator – Defiled In Oblivion (Dark Descent)
It’s not often a death metal band writes a song about a Pakistani activist for female education, but then again, Castrator are not like every death metal band as evident by Defiled In Oblivion. In a genre that has a whole subsection dedicated to graphic depiction of horrible acts committed to women, Castrator are turning that gaze back on the victims, empowering those looking to make a difference or seething at those being taken advantage of.
If a listener is not one to do deep dives into lyrics — though with this album that shouldn’t be the case — Defiled In Oblivion will give those hankering for unrepentant death metal their fill. Guitarists like Obituary’s Kenny Andrews and Krisiun’s Moyses Kolesne are brought in for some guest solo spots. The seven-year wait between their last EP No Victim and Defiled In Oblivion, as well as the dire shape of the world, has enhanced the merciless of their music.
Critical Defiance – No Life Forms (Unspeakable Axe)
If Critical Defiance’s debut album Misconception was a fright train heading for a wall, their second album No Life Forms is a fighter jet at max speed. Time has made these Chilean thrashers rageful, trimming down their songs while moving the tempos even faster. It makes for a record that retains the trade-off guitar solos and neck-snapping riffs while condensing it into under 30 minutes. Only the short instrumental “We Were Never Here To Stay” eases up, which just so happens to make it the least interesting track.
No Life Forms goes by so quickly that the instrumental could be seen as a way to relax in anticipation for the momentous closing title track, which hearkens back to Misconception with its varied progression and catchy sing-along ending. Critical Defiance doesn’t keep its intention veiled from the listener, as opener “A World Crumbling Apart” is a swift blow that the band delivers again and again without diminishing its effect.
Fame On Fire – Welcome To The Chaos (Hopeless)
The Florida band Fame On Fire made a smooth transition from cover band to writing their own material, first with 2017’s Transitions EP, then with 2020’s Levels album, which garnered them rock radio airplay. Their sophomore effort Welcome To The Chaos is in a similar vein.
Fame On Fire encompass a few different genres, embracing hard rock, nu-metal, metalcore and alternative metal. Songs on the album are modern, with many on the heavy side with harsh vocals combined with melodic singing. Other tracks such as “Lost In Doubt” are radio-ready with only clean singing. Spencer Charnas of Ice Nine Kills guests on the title track, a song that’s catchy but also packs a punch. There’s a lot of variety on Welcome To The Chaos.
Hatriot – The Vale Of Shadows (Massacre)
Oakland thrashers Hatriot have broadened their musical palette a bit on their fourth album The Vale Of Shadows. It’s their second album with their current lineup, and after a five year gap between Dawn Of The New Centurion and From Days Unto Darkness, it look them about three years for the new record.
The galloping thrash riffs remain, but Hatriot dial back the tempos from time to time, injecting death metal and hardcore influences, giving the album a more modern and wide-ranging sound. Acoustic guitar even makes a brief appearance on “Clemency Denied.” There’s also a nice mix of harsh vocals, from guttural growls to higher pitched screams. The songs on The Vale Of Shadows are more streamlined than the last album, having two more songs but still clocking in ten minutes shorter. I probably would have put the mellow instrumental “Murderous Tranquility” in the middle of the album instead of the second to last track, but that’s a minor quibble. Memorable riffs and minimal filler make The Vale Of Shadows a potent album.
Imperial Triumphant – Spirit Of Ecstasy (Century Media)
After a live album last year and a studio album the year before that, the innovative New York avant-garde trio Imperial Triumphant are back with their fifth full-length Spirit Of Ecstasy.
The inscrutable album shifts back and forth between jazzy prog and extreme metal. Catchy riffs devolve into chaotic sections before melody returns.
With songs in the 6 to 8 minute range, there’s plenty of room for experimentation and forays into a plethora of styles and genres. Numerous guests add to the variety of the album. There are some you might expect, such as Voivod vocalist Snake and guitarists Alex Skolnick (Testament) and Trey Spruance (Mr. Bungle). However, I’m guessing you wouldn’t expect Kenny G to appear on a metal album, but the legendary saxophonist lends his unmistakable sound to “Merkurius Gilded.” Spirit Of Ecstasy is a challenging listen at times, but each spin unveils something new, making it well worth the effort.
Karl Sanders – Saurian Apocalypse (Napalm)
Nile’s brand of death metal has Eastern influences and interludes, but it’s only a small part of the albums. Not so with frontman Karl Sanders‘ solo albums. They are album length versions of Eastern ambient music. Saurian Apocalypse is Sanders’ third solo effort, and first since 2009’s Saurian Exorcisms.
In addition to acoustic guitars, there are many unique instruments utilized on Saurian Apocalypse, such as the Turkish lute, Middle Eastern goblet drum, glissentar and gongs. It’s a mostly instrumental album, with some vocals from Mike Breazeale and percussion from original Nile drummer Pete Hammoura. While certainly not metal, the album is engaging with excellent musicianship and intricate arrangements. The unique instruments and guest appearances including Nile drummer George Kollias playing acoustic jazz drums on a track make it an interesting auditory journey.
For their second album As We Set The Skies Ablaze, Moonshade have agitated their death metal while toning down the keyboards and orchestration from their previous work. They are still around, but not at the forefront of most songs. In their place from a melody perspective are a few guest vocalists who offer affecting work to the harsh screams that dominate most of the album.
Sandra Oliveira takes lead vocals on the excellent closer “A Treatise Of Human Nature,” a ballad with bite to it. That one says more in its three minutes than a lot of the songs that go twice as long are able to. This is a prevalent issue in the second half of As We Set The Skies Ablaze, as the first handful of tunes have punctuality on their side. This release is more consistent than their 2018 debut Sun Dethroned, but still suffers from bloated songwriting in spots.
Though it’s only been a year or so since their last album, Mosara have made serious gains with Only The Dead Know Our Secrets. Paring down the number of songs (from eight on their self-titled debut to four) was a wise choice, as that almost sidesteps any shortcomings. “Almost” is key to that last sentence, as one’s mileage of lengthy jams will determine how engaged they stay with “Magissa” and the title track. The former has Greek narration going over its instrumental section, which makes it unique, if not drawn out a bit too long.
The songs between those two are fantastic though, heading towards an atmospheric sound. A solemn acoustic intro puts “Zion’s Eyes” in a good place before the band brings in the sludge. As the shortest song on Only The Dead Know Our Secrets (still near six minutes), “The Permanence Of Isolation” rumbles with a stalwart charge. Mosara only need about 35 minutes to execute its brand of dreary doom.
Nicolas Cage Fighter – The Bones That Grew From Pain (Blacklight)
Don’t be fooled by the band’s name, as Nicolas Cage Fighter are not a parody act or a humorous spin on one of the most eccentric actors in Hollywood today. The Bones That Grew From Pain is legit metallic hardcore, taking hard-hitting breakdowns and throwing them into a death metal pit. “Weeping Sores” and “Heretic’s Vow” are the closest that the elements of one over the other leans towards the latter, with pockets of seething dissention that death metal fans will salivate over.
With a handful of EPs over the past few years, Nicolas Cage Fighter have slowly been working more metal into their hardcore. This album does let in some melodic moments on the title track and “A Great Ruinous Deed.” This hasn’t been shown by the band before, and it’s a sign that they don’t want to be comfortable with being predictable. That mentality is in the favor of The Bones That Grew From Pain and its position as a strong debut album.
Oceans Of Slumber – Starlight And Ash (Century Media)
The new Oceans Of Slumber album Starlight And Ash is a nice progression from past efforts. It shows a movement from 2020’s Katatonia-inspired self-titled album to a newfound state of serenity. The album shows a new vision fully come into effect. Gentle songs like “Red Forest Roads” really show off the new sound. The musicianship on the album is of a high quality with a bolstered production job helping matters. The lyrical concept of the South’s religion comes to full fruition with this novel sound.
The band has not yet released their masterpiece, but this is about as close as one will get. The atmosphere on Starlight And Ash is captivating and makes this one of the better albums of the year. Add in some stellar performances, especially the vocals of Cammie Beverly, and you have a very memorable album. The tunes are consistently enthralling and make their mark upon you in a big way. Also included is a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals. The music on this album is emotive and will have its effect upon the mood of the listener.
Palisades – Reaching Hypercritical (Rise)
For their latest album Reaching Hypercritical, the New Jersey band Palisades have been pared down to a quartet. After the exit of Louis Miceli, Jr. last year, bassist Brandon Elgar is handling lead vocal duties.
The band had both personal and professional upheaval over the past few years, but they had no problem writing a catchy and cohesive album. It’s packed with songs that are melodic and accessible, hard rock with some ‘core influences. There are harsh vocals sprinkled across the album, such as on “Sick Of The Attitude,” but it’s mostly melodic singing. The strongest songs are the ones that have that bite, such as the title track and “Sober,” with some of the mellow tracks not making much of an impact.
Wake – Thought Form Descent (Metal Blade)
Unable to tour in support of 2020’s Devouring Ruin due to the pandemic, the Canadian band Wake immediately began writing what became Thought Form Descent. With such a short time in between writing sessions, their goal was to incorporate some different elements.
That wasn’t a problem, since their sound shifts from album to album anyway, from the grind of their early days to a variety of extreme styles on recent albums. There are always a couple of epic tracks on Wake albums, and this time around they have two that surpass the 8 minute mark. Wake write songs that shift from dense and chaotic to mid-paced and regal. They incorporate atmosphere and dynamics that give the songs added depth. The instrumental “Pareidolia” provides a brief respite before the brutality kicks back in. Thought Form Descent is an extreme album, but it also has a surprising amount of subtlety.