This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Astrophyte, Before The Dawn, Calico Jack, Death Ray Vision, Mutual Hostility, Oxblood Forge, Raven, Revenge Beast, Shakra, Static Abyss, Virgin Steele and Webb.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Astrophyte – 2192 (MDD)
Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Ribpreader, Putrevore, Johansson & Speckmann) may be the most prolific artist in extreme metal, releasing several albums each year from a variety of different projects. His latest band is Astrophyte, whose debut album is 2192.
It’s the death metal you’d expect from Johansson, but the twist is the addition of Tristitia’s Indii Hofvander. Her melodic singing contrasts Rogga’s death metal growls. That adds more accessibility to intense songs like “The Brotherhood” and “Dark Symmetry.” The lyrical concept is based on the role-playing game of the Mutant Chronicles World. The pace at which Johansson releases albums doesn’t seem to dilute their quality, with 2192 loaded with first-rate death metal.
Before The Dawn – Stormbringers (Napalm)
Stormbringers, the first new album in 11 years by Before The Dawn and their seventh overall, brings a strong melodic death metal flavor to the forefront. Shades of bands like Omnium Gatherum can be found, though there are more clean vocals to be found here. This is a rousing affair that pulls in a variety of influences. The music is greatly melodic and features a heavy reliance on these types of portions. The musical performances on the album are solid and bring color to Before The Dawn’s music.
The nice atmosphere created raises these songs above any potential flaws. This is a varied and compelling release that features a fine mood created that is epic in nature. Stormbringers will go down as a strong release for the genre. The variety of moods and textures creates something really strong. The vocals are a bit hit and miss with their mixture of clean and harsh styles, but the music is really solid overall.
Calico Jack – Isla de la Muerte (Rockshots)
Pirates and heavy metal, a mix that works like peanut butter & jelly. Coming on to the scene that is primarily dominated by Alestorm, Calico Jack’s second album Isla de la Muerte is a unique interpretation of the genre. Taking their name from the real-world pirate of the same name, the thematic elements are strong out the gate.
With a stronger focus on Folk elements and vocals, Calico Jack bring a unique yet familiar spin on the genre. This nine track album has a nice ebb and flow of energy. With milder tracks like “Antigua” to the all-out headbanger “Haul Away Joe,” each song feels like its own narrative steeped in the stories of the pirates that they take their inspiration from. For their second album, Calico Jack have their sails set in the right direction.
Death Ray Vision – No Mercy From Electric Eyes (Metal Blade)
The Massachusetts band Death Ray Vision, whose lineup includes Killswitch Engage’s Mike D’Antonio, have been around since 2010. Their third full-length No Mercy From Electric Eyes comes five years after Negative Mental Attitude and is the debut for new vocalist Keith Bennett (PanzerBastard, Casket Rats).
He’s a great addition, with an aggressive and passionate delivery. His lyrics are also more political than past DRV efforts. The band covers a lot of different styles, from the shoutalong vocals on the punk influenced “From The Rafters” to the metallic groove of “Broken Hands Of God” to the blazing hardcore of the less than one minute track “Premature Evisceration.” The songs on No Mercy From Electric Eyes are razor sharp with not an ounce of filler and a lot of memorable moments.
Mutual Hostility – Inhuman Anguish (Lethal Scissor)
While Sacred Propaganda was a solid debut EP from Mutual Hostility, it took nearly three years for them to gather more ideas for an equally powerful first full-length studio album. Inhuman Anguish is not a mere surprise, but it is an impressive and praiseworthy collection of journeys into the most crushing principles of death metal.
Inhuman Anguish benefits from many notable points to be remembered as a memorable work. While mild touches of technical death metal crawl under the skin of the album, it stands under the banner of modern death metal. Yet the voice of old school death metal titans and the identifiers that gave their music a special identity give the album a dynamic, groovy and brutal nature. With palpable influences from Gorguts, Suffocation and Vader, Mutual Hostility easily bring death metal fanatics to the peak of pleasure and satisfaction with Inhuman Anguish.
Oxblood Forge use their Cult Of Oblivion EP to initiate a thrashier charge to the music, along with rawer production values that strip their sound to a “live in the studio” feel. Vocalist Ken MacKay relies too often on his screechy screams, which were used much more tastefully on their 2021 Decimator album. The few times he actually sings, like in the haunting slow passages of closer “Mask Of Satan,” reinforce the distracting existence of the screams.
If the band was forging in fire before, they are now cleansing with fire on Cult Of Oblivion. The lyrics are amplified in a darker headspace to go along with the ignited tempos. They still have some of their doom/heavy metal DNA here, like the nod to Black Sabbath’s “Children Of The Grave” in the intro to “Upon The Altar.” There’s nothing wrong with a denser sonic maneuver, but not when it’s a step down from an excellent debut album.
Raven – All Hell’s Breaking Loose (Silver Lining)
Long running NWOBHM band Raven return with their fifteenth album All Hell’s Breaking Loose. It has the band continuing their well-known guitar pyrotechnics with opener “Medieval.” Always one of the most technically sound bands out of their original scene, it comes as no surprise that their sonic aplomb is on constant display throughout the album’s nearly 40-minute run time.
“Turn of the Screw” chugs along with guitar and bass in unison with John Gallagher’s vocals being front and center here. The title track is another powerful one with shrieked vocals and a chorus that bears repeating by those who give this one a spin. Overall, this is a solid record by a legendary band with a career spanning nearly 50 years. All Hell’s Breaking Loose is the sound of a band letting it all hang loose.
Revenge Beast – Revenge Beast (Upstate)
In 2020, guitarist Marc Rizzo (Soulfly, Ill Nino) formed the death metal band Revenge Beast. He exited Soulfly the following year. They did a split with Inpsyclobleedia in 2021 and are now issuing their self-titled full-length debut.
Their approach is in the tech death vein, evident on tracks like “Inclination To Darkness,” but they also explore the grooves of traditional death metal along with moments of melodeath. Rizzo’s guitar work is front and center with a lot of memorable riffs and plenty of solos. Vocalist Jay Decay is able to shift from guttural death metal growls to higher pitched rasps. They wrap up the album with a cover of Motley Crue’s “Bastard,” staying true to the arrangement but utilizing death metal vocals. With Rizzo now back in Ill Nino, Revenge Beast may end up being more of a side project, but there’s a lot to like on their self-titled release.
Shakra – Invincible (AFM)
Long-running Swiss hard rockers Shakra released Mad World in February of 2020, and like the rest of the world, were unable to tour to support it because of the pandemic. They used that down time to begin writing what became Invincible, their thirteenth studio album.
It’s in the vein of recent albums, straddling the line between hard rock and traditional metal with songs that are heavy, catchy and melodic. Mark Fox’s raspy voice gives an edge to tracks like the uptempo “The Matrix Unfolds,” the more moderately paced groover “Invincible” and the ballad “As I Lay Down To Sleep.” There’s plenty of variety on Invincible along with excellent musicianship and songs that will hit the spot for Shakra fans.
Static Abyss – Aborted From Reality (Peaceville)
Just over a year after issuing their debut, Static Abyss are back. The duo of Autopsy bandmates Chris Reifert (vocals, drums) and Greg Wilkinson (guitar, bass) wasted no time in crafting Aborted From Reality, which was engineered, mixed and mastered by Wilkinson.
Their their debut, this album shifts between intense, fast paced death metal and more deliberate doom. “Cathedral Of Vomit” has a stereotypical death metal title, but is a slow, doomy song. It’s followed by “Cerebral Ghost,” which ebbs and flows from uptempo death metal to slow doom. “Crosses And Coffins” is a death metal song, sometimes fast and chaotic, other times more moderate and groove based. Aborted From Reality is constantly shifting paces and intensities while managing to remain cohesive, making for an engaging death/doom album.
Virgin Steele – The Passion Of Dionysus (Steamhammer)
The New York heavy/power metal band Virgin Steele have been around since the early ’80s. For their latest album The Passion Of Dionysus, founding member David DeFeis adds drums to his vocal, bass and keyboard duties. The lineup is rounded out by longtime guitarists Edward Pursino and Joshua Block.
The Passion Of Dionysus is an ambitious concept album with an underlying message of duality told through the story of Dionysus. There are ten songs, but the album clocks in at a whopping 77 minutes. Even with songs exceeding 12 minutes, Virgin Steele do a good job at keeping the listener engaged with minimal lulls. Tracks like “You’ll Never See The Sun Again” are dramatic and varied. The just over two minute “Black Earth Blood” is an outlier, brief and relatively straightforward. That’s followed by the title track, which is a ballad. The album wraps up with “I Will Fear No Man For I Am A God,” which has some of the record’s best riffs. Such a long album requires patience, but it is rewarded with subtleties that are revealed with each listen.
The latest release from the UK prog trio Webb is Deadly Sins And Virtues. The lyrical theme is the band’s version of what they consider to be sins and virtues, putting a modern spin on the seven deadly sins.
Webb’s brand of progressive hard rock/metal allows them room for experimentation within songs that are relatively streamlined, most in the four minute range. That discipline makes songs like “Spread Your Wings” and “Keep Fighting” catchy and accessible with some progressive forays. One of the most interesting songs on the album is their cover of the classic Moody Blues song “Nights In White Satin.” Webb’s version keeps a little bit of the original’s trippy vibe while modernizing the sound with a more aggressive and heavier hard rock. Those who like their prog melodic but with an edge should enjoy Deadly Sins And Virtues.