This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aptera, Bekor Qilish, Billy Howerdel, Caravellus, Civil War, Deus Omega, Iconic, Infanteria, Jorn, Merihem, Ornaemental Shrine, Serpent Ascending, Seven Kingdoms, Tombs, Truent, Vexes and Whitesnake.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aptera – You Can’t Bury What Still Burns (Ripple)
Aptera’s You Can’t Bury What Still Burns is high-octane doom/sludge metal, mixing thrash tempos into the formula. It never turns into an outright speed demon, but when it picks up, the electricity is undeniable. Their previous self-titled EP lacked much of this, so it’s a beneficial decision to heighten the pace in spots on their debut album. “Unbearable Stain” is the main song that takes thrash, doom, and sludge and whirls it into four glorious minutes.
The song following that one, “Cosmosis,” is an instrumental with an abundance of guitar solos. This sort of contrast keeps a listener engaged with You Can’t Bury What Still Burns, as it never gets stagnant. Whether gloom is the desired effect (“Nephenthes”) or something that would make Black Sabbath proud (“Voice Of Thunder”), Aptera have options for a wide group of metalheads.
Bekor Qilish – Throes Of Death From The Dreamed Nihilism (I, Voidhanger)
Bekor Qilish are in the realm of existential black metal, using a suitable name for the band’s first album, Throes Of Death From The Dreamed Nihilism. This is the project of Italy’s Andrea Bruzzone, who has enlisted the help of members of Krallice, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Cosmic Putrefaction, and more to bring this record into the world. They contribute guitar solos and drum tracks, yet it’s Bruzzone’s songwriting that garners the most attention.
His use of synths brings a cosmic energy into the album, especially in extended instrumental breaks like the final half of opener “Cryptic Hatred.” The raspy barks are treated as a background player on a few tunes, like the seven-minute closer “Wretched Dawn” that keeps them exclusive to the first 90 seconds before the atmospheric outro hits. That one does drag a little, an outlier to a release that is expertly produced.
Billy Howerdel – What Normal Was (Alchemy/Rise/BMG)
If you’ve ever wondered what A Perfect Circle might sound like without heavy guitars (and Maynard James Keenan), here’s your answer. No surprise given Billy Howerdel masterminded that band’s moody, synth-pop meets prog-metal sound, but on What Normal Was, Howerdel’s first release under his own name, in his own words, “This is me stepping back into my early teen self and making the record I would have made if I had the means and the knowledge when I first picked up a guitar….”
Opener “Selfish Hearts” kicks off with a synth riff seemingly right out of the Stranger Things theme, and that 1980s vibe permeates the rest of the album, only “Beautiful Mistake” and “Poison Flowers” prominently feature brief flashes of proper heavy, distorted guitar. Sounding like a goth New Order with shades of Depeche Mode and Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins, What Normal Was is dark and melodic, well-executed, yet “heavy” in atmosphere only.
Caravellus – Inter Mundos (Rockshots)
It’s been twelve years since the last Caravellus album, and this Brazilian power-prog outfit is making the most of the moment by putting a whopping 74 minutes of music on Inter Mundos, their third record. It’s a complex concept album that this review doesn’t have space to detail, but it deals with the love between two people and touches on a multitude of universal issues.
Don’t be scared off by the length – all the compositions (save for the cheesy ballad “So Near, So Far”) are top notch, wonderfully arranged, produced, and performed. Vocalist Leandro Caçoilo brings a ton of drama and personality to the songs, and Caravellus hold our interest throughout. With some help from members of Angra, Shaman, and Sons of Apollo, Inter Mundos is a power-prog album fans of the style won’t want to miss.
Civil War – Invaders (Napalm)
The Swedish power metal band Civil War have undergone some lineup changes since their last album, 2016’s The Last Full Measure. Invaders is the band’s first album with vocalist Kelly Sundown Carpenter (Adagio, ex-Beyond Twilight) and guitarist Thobbe Englund (ex-Sabaton).
Civil War has several former Sabaton members, and like that band, their lyrics focus on historical topics. This time around there are several songs about Native Americans. They also re-recorded “Custer’s Last Stand” from their debut 2012 EP. Songs like “Dead Man’s Glory” and “Invaders” are bombastic power metal with a lot of atmosphere. “Andersonville” is a change of pace, a grandiose power ballad. The new members give them a slightly different sound, but their approach is similar, and those who enjoyed Civil War’s previous releases should dig Invaders.
Waves of distortion greet the listener during Deus Omega‘s Among the Dreaming Dead. There is a very bleak outlook to the soundscapes along with an off-kilter, post-apocalyptic sound. Buzzsaw guitars and tortured vocals suit the music nicely. Drums are hypnotic and form the background of the band. The problem with the album lies in the fact that it doesn’t allow a lot of substance.
There is a lack of focus to the music, creating a chaotic, distorted feeling. The entire effort feels morose, failing to excite the listener in any particular manner. There is just an odd feeling left with the band’s unusual vision. To me, if the band made their sound more tangible, maybe it would have a greater impact. As it stands, this is one album I would pass on.
Iconic – Second Skin (Frontiers)
Michael Sweet has collaborated with a lot of different artists over the past several years. In addition to his main band Stryper, Sweet has worked with artists such as George Lynch and Tracii Guns. Iconic brings together a group of veteran musicians including Sweet, guitarist Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), bassist Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders), drummer Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne) and vocalist Nathan James (Inglorious).
Second Skin is a hard rock album with radio-friendly choruses and potent guitar riffs. James handles most of the vocals, and has a bluesy style. Sweet plays guitar and periodically lends his smooth, tenor vocals to the proceedings on songs such as “Run (As Fast As You Can) and “Second Skin.” There’s a mix of rockers and ballads, with the album having a good ebb and flow of tempos and intensities. As you’d expect from this lineup, the musicianship is stellar, and though a couple songs are relatively generic, the majority are compelling.
South African thrashers Infanteria released their debut back in 2013, and the follow-up came two years after that. Much more time (seven years) has elapsed between that record and their third album Patriarch.
Their sound is inspired by American thrash bands such as Slayer, Testament and Anthrax. Frontman Chris Hall is a versatile vocalist, able to blend clear, powerful singing with aggressive, thrash style vocals. Patriarch mixes focused songs such as “Raging Bastards” and “Embrace The Trauma” with longer, prog-influenced tracks like “Into The Depths” and “Swansong.” There’s even a acoustic ballad. Patriarch is an eclectic album, with Infanteria having the skill and songwriting chops to make it sound cohesive.
Jorn – Over The Horizon Radar (Frontiers)
You never have to wait more than a year or two between Jorn Lande albums, whether it be from his main band Jorn or one of his many collaborations. Over The Horizon Radar is the fifteenth Jorn album.
Lande is one of hard rock and heavy metal’s finest vocalists, so there’s never any doubt of the quality of his singing. The quality of songs on this album, though, is hit and miss. There are several memorable tracks such as “One Man War,” “Ode To The Black Nightshade” and “In The Dirt” along with some forgettable songs. The record closes with “Faith Bloody Faith,” originally written for last year’s Norwegian Eurovision contest. Over The Horizon Radar isn’t perfect, but Jorn fans will still find plenty to like.
Merihem – Incendiary Darkness (I, Voidhanger)
Merihem are a black metal entity comprised of members located all over the world, spreading their occultist message through this debut album Incendiary Darkness. Each of the five songs average seven minutes each, their expanded run times making for shape-shifting compositions devoid of padding. In the wrong hands, these tunes could’ve been a blurring, bloated affair, but Merihem pace the album to not fall victim to this.
Vocal harmonies play a significant part, with supercharged wails colliding with deep-toned singing. Each do get their space to go off alone, but they also collaborate together many times on Incendiary Darkness in a layered effect. It’s a good manner to go in vocally, as it helps further establish the album as something more than just ordinary black metal.
Ornaemental Shine – Deima Panikon (I, Voidhanger)
Ornaemental Shine’s black metal is for those that like their music to be thought-provoking and not distilled down for commercial glory. Deima Panikon has only three songs, though they stretch out to fill almost half an hour. The experience of consuming the album can be disorienting, with offbeat vocals that range from terrifying roars to spoken word tangents of esoteric values. The rhythm section proves to be valuable, especially with the bass guitar.
The priority placed on the bass is not always usual with black metal, so its attention-grabbing spot in the band is a thrill. It’s the most exciting aspect of the music, which avoids standing out to take away from the mystical lyrical messages. Deima Panikon is atypical and, at times, uninviting, yet these elements are also important foundations on which Ornaemental Shine stand.
Serpent Ascending – Hyperborean Folklore (I, Voidhanger)
Serpent Ascending have taken on a different form with their second album, Hyperborean Folklore, switching from the blackened death metal on their debut Aṇanku to hearty heavy metal with grave undertones. This is a deliberate action on the part of lone member Jarno Nurmi, who adds sonic majesty to Finnish folk poems and Nordic tales. The songs are longer, the scale is grander, and Nurmi changes his vocals to include more usage of a melodic range.
The shift is jarring if a listener goes from Aṇanku to Hyperborean Folklore, though the latter has remnants of the past at select points. It’s an admirable attempt to widen a perspective initially seeped in singular darkness, but it doesn’t quite land with as much force as Aṇanku did back in 2016. A change is never a bad thing, though Serpent Ascending may need another album or two of this style before hitting the right mark.
Seven Kingdoms – Zenith (Distortion)
It has been five years since Seven Kingdoms‘ last album, and for the Florida power metal band’s latest effort Zenith they have downsized from a quintet to a quartet.
Their sound remains larger than ever, with soaring power metal driven by heavy guitars. Zenith is packed with catchy songs such as “A Silent Remedy” and “Chasing The Mirage.” Seven Kingdoms are able to write songs with memorable hooks and quality riffs along with solos showcasing their musicianship, all while keeping the songs near the four minute mark. The songs are taken to the next level by the vocal prowess of Sabrina Cruz, who sings with power, range and emotion. The album closes with a cover of Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” with a slightly more metal arrangement than the original. Zenith means “highest point,” and Seven Kingdoms certainly have elevated both their songwriting and musicianship on this album.
Tombs – Ex Oblivion (Season Of Mist)
Ex Oblivion is Tombs’ fifth EP and their first since 2020’s Monarchy Of Shadows EP. What stands out the most from Ex Oblivion is that Tombs wanted to have some fun.
Ex Oblivion begins with a H.P. Lovecraft-themed self-titled new song, followed by Motörhead’s “Killed by Dead” and GG Allin’s “Commit Suicide” covers, while the electro/industrial-fused remix of “Sombre Ruins” prepares the listener for the final song “Murder Legendre”, a collaboration between Mike Hill and Integrity’s Dwid Hellion. It also revolves around noise and ambient music. While Tombs still can entertain their fans, Ex Oblivion does not bring much, filling the gap between albums. Tombs already have better EPs in their pocket.
Truent’s first two EPs, released between 2017 and 2018, were within the limiting confines of thrash/groove metal. For their debut album Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment, they have opened up into progressive death metal while keeping the grooving thrash around.
To pinpoint where a song will go is as fruitless as trying to predict the future. They can be technical, like with the blazing guitar harmonies on opener “Blood And Dust,” and then later bring on a crushing breakdown, as “Scathe Of Branches” does so well. It’s in this state of flux that Truent subvert expectations for anyone who picks a random song from Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment and expects the rest of the album to follow suit.
Double albums used to be fairly commonplace, but in an era of singles, playlists and short attention spans, they have become rarer. For their sophomore release, the New Jersey alt metal band Vexes are going the double album route with Imagine What We Could Destroy /// If Only Given Time.
Albums of this length work better when there’s a lot of variety, the that’s what Vexes provide. The songs run the gamut from intense metal to mellow post rock to experimental to accessible. While not a concept record, there are many songs about the obsession of being in the public eye in this social media era. Imagine What We Could Destroy /// If Only Given Time is an ambitious effort, and while it’s a lot to absorb and there are a few lulls, overall it’s an engaging listen.
Whitesnake – Greatest Hits (Rhino)
Back in 1994 Whitesnake released Greatest Hits, a collection that focused on their late ’80s platinum albums Slide It In, Whitesnake and Slip Of The Tongue. The compilation also went platinum. Nearly 30 years later they are issuing a new version of Greatest Hits.
Not only have the songs been remixed and remastered, there are some additions to the tracks. Derek Sherinian adds Hammond organ to several songs including “Here I Go Again.” There are new performances by guitarist Adrian Vandenberg on a couple of songs. David Coverdale also went into the vaults and unearthed performances by guitarist John Sykes, adding a solo on “Slide It In” and rhythm guitar on “Give Me All Your Love” that didn’t appear on the original recordings. There are also a few tracks not on the original version, such as 2011’s “Forevermore.” It’s an interesting way to approach a greatest hits album. The songs are very familiar to Whitesnake fans, but these versions are slightly different, making it a worthwhile acquisition even for those who own the original version of Greatest Hits.