This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters album reviews include releases from At The Graves, Conan, Dead Poet Society, Demiser, Enforced, Gizmachi, Isgherurd Morth, ISSA, Krallice, Myopic, Pupil Slicer, Rioghan, Rise To The Sky, Secret Sphere, Varmia and White Void.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Conan – Live At Freak Valley (Napalm)
While many festivals continue to be cancelled, there’s light at the end of the tunnel that they may be able to resume reasonably soon. Until then, fans can relive past festivals through albums like Conan‘s Live At Freak Valley, recorded a few years ago at the German festival.
The nearly hour long, nine song set includes three tracks each from 2016’s Revengeance and 2014’s Blood Eagle along with two from their 2012 full-length debutMonnos. The other song is “Satsumo” from their 2010 EPHorseback Battle Hammer. It’s an interesting and varied set that moves from uptempo stoner metal to plodding doom and back again. It’s intense and heavy with ample groove, and they connect with the responsive crowd. That gives it that extra spark and energy that’s difficult to capture on record, and is what we miss so much about live shows.
Dead Poet Society – -!- (Spinefarm)
The most important thing to garner from Dead Poet Society’s debut -!- (AKA The Exclamation Album) is that it’s loud, abrasive but not quite as creative as they would have you believe. The end result is enjoyable but by no means refreshing.
To give credit where it’s due, -!- features some of the best off-kilter riffing that alt-rock currently has to offer, which is only helped by a well-tuned production package that gives the band’s first outing a definitive crunch. Where they falter, however, is in the bigger picture of this slightly disjointed soundscape. For as ‘impossible to pigeonhole’ Dead Poet Society are marketed to be, the stronger cuts are remarkably familiar – switching between deflated b-sides from the early Royal Blood catalogue and the folky/bluesy numbers that sound heavily indebted to The Hawkins or Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown. With that said the tracklist is certainly fun and doesn’t overstay its welcome, but the nagging feeling remains that with so much talent on the lineup you would have hoped for something just a touch more unique.
Demiser – Through The Gate Eternal (Boris)
Demiser are not only the kind of band with members using pseudonyms like Demiser the Demiser and Gravepisser, but have a song on their album literally named after one of the pseudonyms (“Demiser the Demiser” in this instance). That’s the kind of wink Demiser give to the listener on Through The Gate Eternal, a lighter note in an album geared towards those who need their thrash metal a little blackened and demonic.
When these songs get ripping, it’s like they are on a fast track to the underworld, sideswiping any traffic or slowdown. Add in some of the fastest guitar solos to come out of thrash metal in recent memory, and Through The Gate Eternal revels in its recklessness. That’s why halting the album to an abrupt stop with the acoustic interlude “Song Of Byleth” in the middle of the album is an odd decision. It doesn’t sour Through The Gate Eternal as a whole, but it’s a slight bump worth avoiding in favor of the rest of the incendiary tunes.
Enforced – Kill Grid (Century Media)
When you’re a crossover thrash metal band from Richmond, Virginia, it’s difficult to avoid comparisons to bands like Municipal Waste, but Enforced are carving their own path. For their second album Kill Grid have signed with Century Media, which will result in a higher profile.
They have the goods to warrant that higher profile, making a leap forward driven by strong guitar work that gives the songs an ample supply of memorable riffs and solos. There are mid-paced, ominous songs along with lightning-fast gallopers like “Beneath Me.” Aggressive vocals from Knox Colby and some death metal and hardcore moments give the album even more bite. While most of the songs are compact and lethal, the band stretches things past the seven minute mark on the title track, and pull it off. Enforced are a band that will draw the attention of a lot of thrash fans in 2021.
The New York band Gizmachi emerged in the early 2000s, released two albums, and then disappeared. After a 16 year hiatus, the band has reformed for the album Omega Kaleid. Most of the original lineup has returned, but the vocal duties on the album are handled by Soilwork’s Bjorn “Speed” Strid.
Gizmachi’s style blends progressive tendencies with ‘core elements. It’s straightforward modern metal that detours into more experimental territory from time to time. Tracks like “Broken Ends” are direct and accessible, while songs such as “Inner Visions” have more ebbs and flows and are more ambitious. Strid’s vocal performance, as you’d expect, is excellent. While there are a few lulls, it is a compelling album from a band with a distinctive voice.
Isgherurd Morth – Hellrduk (Repose)
Members of Necrophagist/Benighted, Kamlath and Escapethecult have formed a band that has a different musical approach from what they do in their original bands. The result of this collaboration is Isgherurd Morth, and their debut album Hellrduk presents a collection of songs which are generally based on esoteric progressive black metal.
Although progressive black metal forms the mainstay of Hellrduk, the avant-garde and atmospheric aspects of black metal make the album’s soundscape darker, more vicious and more dynamic. Assembling melodies on a structure that’s dissonant at its core creates an eerie yet rich composition. Hellrduk does not directly point out to black metal, nor does it explicitly refer to its subgenres. It is a collection of songs with various touches of metal genres that has been skillfully written and played. Fans of Blut Aus Nord and Enslaved will admire this album more than others.
ISSA – Queen Of Broken Hearts (Frontiers)
ISSA proclaims herself Queen Of Broken Hearts on her new album of the same name. With the help of songwriter/producer Alessandro Del Vecchio, the Norwegian melodic metal diva creates a collection of eleven powerful anthems.
The music is both timeless and deliciously dated, combining Euro-metal hallmarks and grandiose songwriting into a very enjoyable Disney-musical-meets-metal sound. Unrequited love, passion, heartbreak, trying to hide one’s suffering from the world; the lyrics deal with universal themes in sweeping emotional tones. ISSA’s vocal delivery is nothing short of jaw-dropping, and the songs are crafted to highlight her prowess, with many modulations placing her voice in the perfect range on every section. From the power ballad “Blue” to the girl-power anthem of “I’m Here To Stay,” or the title track’s driven chorus, this record has hooks aplenty, if you can stomach the copious amounts of cheese.
After the release last August of Mass Cathexis last August, there was no reason to think there would be a new Krallice album anytime soon. Then they posted on social media that a new album was finished, and just over a week later, Demonic Wealth was available on Bandcamp.
It’s the avant-garde black metal band’s ninth full-length studio album, with a different approach than Mass Cathexis. There’s intense black metal, along with a lot of atmospheric keyboards. There’s a space-y vibe on the otherworldly “Still,” with the intensity ratcheted up on “Mass For The Strangled” that still sprinkles in keyboards, this time with a cinematic flavor. The nearly 8 minute “Sapphire” is one of the more experimental tracks, while “Disgust Patterns” is one of the most memorable. There’s plenty you’ll absorb on the first listen, but with Krallice, it always takes a while for things to completely unfold and reveal themselves.
Myopic & At The Graves – A Cold Sweat Of Quiet Dread (Grimoire)
The collaboration between Myopic and At The Graves, A Cold Sweat Of Quiet Dread, has both bands keeping to their progressive/atmospheric sides, while also utilizing a more prominent black metal influence than their main projects engage in. Something like “Oppressive Ruminations” is as direct as either band has ever been, and this immediacy is unlike the boiling tension that surrounds “Reeling Between” and “Stray Parasite.” These songs are in line with what to expect from two groups that like to keep the tempos unpredictable.
A big benefit of working together is that it allows three vocalists to play off each other, trading off different styles and harmonizing in twisted fashion. Myopic bassist Nick Leonard gets ample chances to sing throughout the album too, expanding upon his role from Myopic’s self-titled 2018 album. Myopic and At The Graves take the best of their respective groups and mold them into a compelling partnership with A Cold Sweat Of Quiet Dread.
Pupil Slicer – Mirrors (Prosthetic)
Narrowing down Pupil Slicer’s debut album Mirrors to a single genre is a mighty difficult task. It’s an acidic combination of death/grind, hardcore punk, and technical metal that flip-flops through all of them to form the messy aftermath of a clash between The Dillinger Escape Plan and Psyopus. Through the layers of noise and rage comes flashes of clarity, where the trio let the sublime catharsis seep in.
The last few songs do a great job of this, as “Mirrors Are More Fun Than Television” and “Collective Unconscious” spend their seven minutes each exploring everything from a shoegaze-y build-up in the former to a black metal-inspired breakdown in the latter. On the opposite spectrum of that, almost half of the 12 songs are under two minutes long, their grindy madness held together by vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies spitting out words so fast it’s like they were her last. Mirrors is not a comfortable listen, but its unease is its greatest strength.
Rioghan – Blackened Sky (Inverse)
Rioghan is the project of singer/songwriter Rioghan Darcy, a Finland-based musician putting out her debut EP, Blackened Sky. This EP includes orchestral-driven compositions and up-tempo progressive metal. It’s a bit all over the place, as each song has Rioghan dipping into a different style. Whatever the style is, her confident vocals keep them in check, her range going from passionate falsettos to a gruffer tone.
Blackened Sky is the kind of EP that jumps around so much that there’s a chance some may only like a song or two, depending on how open-minded a listener is. Someone who likes heavier material will prefer the full-band dynamics of “Enough” over the electro-tinged soul of “Wither,” but the opposite would go for someone who likes lighter fare. This kind of wide appeal is both an advantage and a pitfall for Rioghan on Blackened Sky.
Rise To The Sky – Let Me Drown With You (GS)
Let Me Drown With You has a heavy doom feel that is absolutely crushing to the core. On their third full-length, Rise To The Sky showcase an original style that is different from typical bands in the genre. The style involves a fairly slow approach that is hypnotic. This leads to some addictive riffs that have a very doomy feel, but aren’t always compelling.
The band imposes its heavy vision early and this is broken up by some mellow moments. A cathartic listen lies ahead, although it is also one that tends to drag. Still, the music has an impact and manages to power itself along with its sheer weight. This leads to a strong doom metal album that could have been even better with more variety.
Secret Sphere – Lifeblood (Frontiers)
The long-running Italian band Secret Sphere have been releasing albums for more than two decades. Their latest, Lifeblood, features the return of original vocalist Roberto Messina, who left the band in 2012.
While there are some progressive moments, power metal is the dominant style. The songs have soaring choruses and bombastic guitars along with keyboards that add depth and atmosphere. At times Secret Sphere amp up the speed and intensity to DragonForce levels, but for the most part they keep to a more moderate pace. They get cinematic on “Life Survivors,” while there’s plenty of shredding on “Alive.” Messina has a clear and powerful voice that suits the music perfectly, and his return gives the band renewed energy.
Varmia – bal Lada (M-Theory)
In addition to black metal, the Polish group Varmia incorporate traditional Baltic instruments such as the goat horn and tagelharpa into their music. That gives a folky vibe to their third album (and first for M-Theory Audio) bal Lada.
Black metal is at the forefront on tracks like “bielmo,” which are heavy and intense. Clean vocals make songs like “Upperan” and “Zari Deiwas” slightly more accessible, while “O” is downright mellow with folk instruments driving the song. Varmia smoothly pull off the contrast between heavy black metal and folk, melding the disparate approaches into a cohesive whole.
White Void – Anti (Nuclear Blast)
White Void are a new band made up of veteran musicians from a variety of genres. It includes vocalist Lars Nedland (Borkngar, Solefald) and drummer Tobias Solbakk (Ihsahn) from the world of metal along with blues rock guitarist Eivind Marum and bassist Vegard Kummen.
The result is a diverse debut album in Anti. Its overarching genre would be classified as hard rock, but its recipe includes everything from occult rock to ’80s hard rock to traditional metal. While the album’s concept based on Albert Camus’ absurdism is esoteric, the music is melodic and catchy. Most of the tracks are lengthy, with arrangements that twist and turn, but whether a song is four minutes or eight, White Void keep the listener engaged throughout.