This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Axel Rudi Pell, Dee Snider, Expunged, King Woman, Lantlos, Lotus Thrones, Marta Gabriel, Praise The Plague, Swallow The Sun, Tragedy, Underdark and Vader.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Axel Rudi Pell – Diamonds Unlocked II (SPV/Steamhammer)
Back in 2007 axemaster Axel Rudi Pell released the covers album Diamonds Unlocked. Due to the pandemic and the inability to tour behind new music, Pell and company decided to issue another covers collection, Diamonds Unlocked II.
Frontman Johnny Gioeli (Hardline) has the pipes to sing pretty much anything, and the variety on the album is greater than the usual covers record. There are the usual suspects, such as The Rolling Stones “Paint It Black” and Rainbow’s “Lady Of The Lake,” but there are several unexpected gems. They go all the way back to the ’50s to put a hard rock spin on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” pay homage to Abba’s “Eagle” and perhaps the most surprising cover is Paul Anka’s “She’s A Lady.” There are lesser known artists covered like Geordie, Tony Carey and Chris Norman. It’s a fun collection to occupy Axel Rudi Pell fans until their next studio album is released next year.
Dee Snider – Leave A Scar (Napalm)
On his latest solo album Leave A Scar, Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) worked with Hatebreed mainman Jamey Jasta, who also produced 2018’s For The Love Of Metal.
Once again Snider embraces metal with heavy songs like the opener “I Gotta Rock (Again)” and “Time To Choose,” which features guest vocals from Cannibal Corpse’s George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. Jasta’s backing vocals can be heard on the hardcore flavored “Down But Never Out.” Snider knows to write catchy songs that also have bite, and the album is jam packed with them. There’s also the requisite ballad, “Stand.” The album has classic influences, but the production and songwriting is definitely not retro.
Expunged – Into Never Shall (Hells Headbangers)
After releasing several demos and EPs from 2019 to 2021, Canadian death metal trio Expunged have introduced their first album Into Never Shall, a Swedish death metal record, to the world of extreme metal.
Leather jackets, leather gloves, bullet belts and sunglasses resemble the image of an old school thrash metal band, and though mild touches of thrash metal can be felt in Into Never Shall, Expunged are focused on Swedish death metal with all their might. It’s a crust-fused HM-2-style death metal record that breathes in a parallel world to Carnage, Dismember and early Entombed, featuring ten songs written and played with great destructive passion. Into Never Shall is an interesting album to enjoy what real old school death metal is, and is also for those who want to make sure that the HM-2 cult continues to thrive. Into Never Shall successfully meets expectations in this regard.
King Woman – Celestial Blues (Relapse)
King Woman return with their second proper full length Celestial Blues, and lead singer Kristina Esfandiari continues to impressive with her emotive vocal delivery. Doom metal riffs litter the album from start to finish and manage to become the chaos that Esfandiari’s own vocals battle against to become the true sound of the album. “Boghz” is a great example of the balance King Woman were searching for on their debut, but had difficulty nailing down.
King Woman have a flair for the ethereal, moving in and out of the beauty, giving way at times to chaos, and even working in unison at times, returning solely to Esfandiari’s dreamlike vocal performance to round things out on “Entwined” in particular. With more tracks like those mentioned here plus the excellent title track which opens the album, King Woman will certainly be a force to be reckoned with, especially in a live environment. If you like a doomy album with the ability to tug at your heartstrings then Celestial Blues is for you.
Lantlos – Wildhund (Prophecy)
So many bands tout their new albums with exciting promises of “reinvention”, “genre-defying” or “boundary-pushing”, yet few deliver such a convincing metamorphosis as the one Lantlos achieve on Wildhund. The German two-piece have shed the last remnants of their black metal roots and instead deliver a lush and vibrant collection of alternative metal anthems, drenched in reverb and effected layers of guitars and vocals, reminiscent of shoegaze.
This record was crafted with the care of a seasoned professional, but it retains a refreshing childish candor that will melt the most frostbitten heart. Siegenhort’s voice carries the album’s melodies with aplomb, augmenting his solid performances with layer upon layer of harmony. Mixing the ethereal heaviness of Deftones, the saccharine bitterness of Astronoid and the manic grandiosity of the Devin Townsend Project, Wildhund’s impeccable sound design and arrangements are sadly marred by an overly loud and aggressive mix; the most salient flaw in an otherwise lovely record.
Lotus Thrones – Lovers In Wartime (Disorder)
Lotus Thrones is the solo project of drummer Heath Rave, who previously played in Wolvhammer, and Lovers In Wartime sees him taking on a fluid blend of post-metal, experimental and industrial.
Rave handles the majority of the instruments on the album, enlisting the assistance of Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont to provide saxophone on two instrumental tracks, “Lovers” and “Liberate.” Both are fantastic exercises in gloomy ambiance, the latter track biding its time with Lamont’s soulful performance until erupting into madness in its second half. The rest of the album is just as diverse, from the rocking pace of “Diametric Retrograde” to the snappy percussion of closer “1000 Suns.” There are themes of depression and isolation, potentially exacerbated due to these songs being written and recorded during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Lovers In Wartime proves to be a fertile creative outlet for Rave to work from.
Marta Gabriel – Metal Queens (Listenable)
Metal Queens is the second covers album being reviewed this week. It’s the first solo album from Crystal Viper’s Marta Gabriel, a celebration and tribute to female singers and female fronted bands of the ’80s.
There are songs from artists that most will recognize, such as Wendy O. Williams, Lee Aaron and Warlock. There are lesser known acts as well, such as Zed Yago, Santa and Malteze. Gabriel tackles songs from some powerhouse vocalists like Chastain’s Leather Leone (“Light In The Dark”) and Hellion’s Ann Boleyn (“Bad Attitude”), and has the chops to pull it off with ease. Jag Panzer’s Harry Conklin guests on “Light In The Dark,” while Riot V’s Todd Michael Hall lends his talents to Blacklace’s “Call Of The Wild.” It’s an interesting concept for a covers album, and in addition to being enjoyable on its own merits, may also inspire the listener to explore some of the artists that are covered.
Praise The Plague – The Obsidian Gate (Lifeforce)
Praise The Plague have dialed up the black metal on The Obsidian Gate, reaching BPMs they were nowhere near during 2018’s Antagonist. Their Antagonist II EP that followed a year after was the initial hint of this shift, and this pull away from strictly blackened sludge gives these songs a powerful shove.
The group hasn’t abandoned soul-stripping heaviness but have complimented it with flesh-peeling quickness. There’s the added effect of subdued melodies to allow for a brief respite, though the sense of impending dread isn’t shaken away. Whatever zone Praise The Plague land in, The Obsidian Gate never dulls the senses. It’s superior to anything they’ve released to date, as they begin to hit their stride with an unsettling blend of black, sludge and doom metal.
Swallow The Sun – 20 Years Of Gloom, Beauty And Despair – Live In Helsinki (Century Media)
The Finnish death/doom band Swallow The Sun celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2020 with some live shows. Just before the pandemic hit and the rest of the tour had to be canceled, they played a concert at Tavastia Club in Helsinki, which was captured for 20 Years Of Gloom, Beauty And Despair – Live In Helsinki. After seven studio releases it is their first live album.
The 18 tracks are divided into two sets. The first is an acoustic set with a string quartet of Songs From The North II. The other is songs selected by a fan poll, spanning their entire discography. They play two songs from their most recent album, 2019’s When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light, one song from their 2003 debut The Morning Never Came, and the rest from the albums in between. Their melancholy and emotional style is really compelling live. Though the pace is mostly deliberate and the show lasts around two hours, Swallow The Sun are able to maintain momentum throughout. It took 20 years, but the wait for the band’s first live album was worth it.
Tragedy – Disco Balls To The Wall (Napalm)
The third covers album we’re reviewing this week is also the most unique. Unlike the other two, which feature artists that usually perform original material doing covers, the New York group Tragedy are a cover band.
Disco Balls To The Wall puts a hard rock/metal spin on disco songs like the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Tragedy,” but they tackle other genres as well. They metalize the Grease soundtrack song “You’re The One That I Want” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” ’80s songs such as “Africa” and “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” also get the metal treatment. It’s more creative than the usual covers album, both in terms of the arrangements that vary from the originals along with doing things like mashing up Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.” It’s a bit long (14 songs) and certainly cheesy, but surprisingly enjoyable.
Underdark – Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry (Surviving Sounds/Through Love/Tridroid)
Our Bodies Burned Bright On Re-Entry, the full-length debut album from the UK band Underdark, is filled with contrasts. There’s a lot of intense black metal with raspy vocals and aggressive sections.
Underdark also incorporate shoegaze and post metal influences, providing atmosphere and melancholy moments that act as a counterpoint to the intensity. There are only five songs on the album, ranging from six to eight minutes long. That gives each track plenty of time to breathe, shift and evolve. The title songs begins with blastbeats and fierce vocals before mellowing out with a quiet, introspective section and then resuming the brutality. It’s a promising debut with a lot of textures and subtlety alongside crushing extremity.
Vader – De Profundis (Nuclear Blast)
Back in 1995, the Polish death metal band Vader released their second full-length album De Profundis on a small label. Physical copies haven’t been easy to come by, and now Nuclear Blast are reissuing the album in numerous formats, including its first ever vinyl release.
De Profundis was a quantum leap for the band, shedding thrash influences and fully embracing death metal. It set them upon the path that eventually led to becoming death metal royalty. It’s streamlined and aggressive with classic Vader tracks like “Sothis” and “Silent Empire.” While the album has been remastered, there is no additional material on the reissue. 25 years after its release, De Profundis holds up well as one of the Vader’s essential works. If you missed it the first time around, it’s well worth revisiting.