This week’s Heavy Music Headquarters reviews include releases from Agent Steel, Cosmic Reaper, Depths Of Hatred, Devin Townsend, Erra, Heart Healer, Lunar Shadow, Midnight Odyssey, Olde, Papa Roach, Seraph In Travail, Trollfest and U.D.O.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Agent Steel – No Other Godz Before Me (Dissonance)
No Other Godz Before Me marks the return of Agent Steel founding vocalist John Cyriis. Over the years, the group has undergone many changes in name and personnel, including Juan Garcia heading to Body Count. Now, Cyriis returns with a new cast. Most of the band may be new, but No Other Godz Before Me recalls the first three John Cyriis-fronted releases.
It marks a return to not only the power/speed/thrash style that characterized albums such as Skeptics Apocalypse, but also UFO/alien-encounters lyrical themes. Cyriis hasn’t lost a step in his remarkably high-pitched vocal approach. His voice has characteristics of King Diamond and Geoff Tate. Nikolay Atanasov and Vinicius Carvalho create infectious, speed-picking licks and trade precise, shredding leads. Besides a more polished production and less apparent NWOBHMisms, the album is quite close to Cyriis’s previous output. No Other Godz Before Me is a tremendous album that should be considered for comeback album of 2021.
Cosmic Reaper – Cosmic Reaper (Heavy Psych Sounds)
Charlotte, North Carolina doomsters Cosmic Reaper plod out of the gate on their self-titled full-length debut album. That’s tempo-wise, not quality-wise. Opener “Hellion” is heavy and deliberate with thick guitar riffs leading the way.
Cosmic Reaper’s brand of doom mixes in stoner, psych and even a few progressive moments. The groove picks up on tracks like “Stellar Death,” while atmospherics are a large part of “Wasteland I.” The band’s sound has some retro influences, but their lyrical bent embraces sci-fi subjects. Many songs have long instrumental passages, showcasing their musical chops. Thad Collis’ vocals are good and have a clear tone, but a lot of the time are mixed fairly low, giving the guitars even more prominence. It’s a promising debut album.
Depths of Hatred – Inheritance (Prosthetic)
It’s a new vocalist, sound and focus for Canuck deathcore exponents Depths of Hatred, who issue their third full-length, and first in seven years, Inheritance. A major talking point – and bone of contention, judging by the YouTube comments – will be William Arseneau’s clean singing. While not the first modern death metal band to infuse such an element, the bipolar vocal approach does inject a fresher dynamic into cuts like “Sadistic Trials” and “Illusive Obsession.”
The greater emphasis on melody and atmosphere may leave some sub-genre aficionados looking as puzzled as if they’d just seen the ending of The Sixth Sense. However, there’s a technical and slightly proggy edge to proceedings, and less shameless reliance on mosh-stirring breakdowns than many contemporaries, which aids the group’s cause. They certainly don’t skimp on the brutal side of the equation either; see the title track and “Fastidious Imitation.” While not every track proves a winner, Inheritance points towards an intriguing future.
Devin Townsend – Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live In Leeds (InsideOut)
It looks like there will be quite a bit of Devin Townsend material being released in the not-too-distant future, such as live albums and quarantine albums. He says the Devolution series is a grouping of oddities and interesting material he wants people to hear, but doesn’t want to present as a “major release.”
Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live In Leeds was originally on the Empath ultimate edition, and has been remastered and remixed for this standalone version. The acoustic set was recorded in 2019, and features songs dating all the way back to his 1997 debut Ocean Machine: Biomech. It’s an entertaining acoustic set with a varied setlist that Townsend fans will enjoy.
Erra – Erra (UNFD)
While the leading metalcore bands seem to be moving into a pop-infused sound, and the underground towards a dissonant, raw and blackened sound, Erra have stayed the course with their new self-titled album. Erra is a riff-fueled feast, that elevates the band’s sound to its full realization. The cybernetic twist that took centerstage on 2018’s Neon is still present, with synths and guitars blending into a full metal onslaught of hard hitting riffs.
Inspired by the haunting Suicide Forest, this record explores struggles with depression and self-doubt, all the while being a resounding testament to the band’s artistic confidence. Vocalist/guitarist Jesse Cash and frontman JT Carvey are both in peak form, and the aggressive production really serves them well. Laying bare one’s insecurities through art takes a massive amount of guts, but in doing so, Erra have produced their best record to date. It’s also their heaviest and most melodic, without compromising on either end!
Heart Healer – The Metal Opera By Magnus Karlsson (Frontiers)
Guitarist Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Allen/Lande, Kiske/Somerville) has put together an ambitious album under the Heart Healer moniker. The Metal Opera utilizes seven female vocalists to play the roles in telling the album’s story. The singers are a combination of well-known names and up-and-comers: Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires, Avantasia), Netta Laurenne (Smackbound), Youmna Jreissati (Ostura), Ailyn (Her Chariot Awaits, ex-Sirenia), Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast), Margarita Monet (Edge Of Paradise) and Anette Olzon (ex-Nightwish).
The arrangements are epic and cinematic with a lot of symphonic elements. On some tracks just one person sings, but the most interesting songs are when there are two or three vocalists, such as “Back To Life” and “When The Fire Burns Out.” All seven appear on the album closer “This Is Not The End.” In theory it’s an interesting approach and concept for an album, and in practice it works well because the songs are good and the vocal performances are diverse and compelling.
Lunar Shadow – Wish To Leave (Cruz del Sur)
Wish To Leave is a traditional metal album that nicely follows up on the band’s previous release with a more refined sound. Lunar Shadow draws comparisons to bands like Manilla Road and carries forth a classic sound. The vocals are high pitched and suit the music and the guitars have a smooth sound. The overall feel of the band is pleasant and this is one of the more agreeable metal albums so far this year.
Wish To Leave is consistent and features solid songwriting across the course of the entire album. It will appeal to a wide variety of fans with the well-rounded approach. I found the album to be very well conceived and written despite a relatively simplistic style. Fans of traditional metal should find a lot to like with this album.
Midnight Odyssey – Biolume Part 2: The Golden Orb (I, Voidhanger)
It has been less than two years since Dis Pater’s solo project Midnight Odyssey released the first part of the Biolume series. But he has kept busy, releasing two ambient albums in 2020 leading up to Biolume Part 2: The Golden Orb. This part has the band mixing epic doom metal with low-fi black metal, coating both with a medieval flair that includes resounding horns and classical instrumentation. His melodic vocals have a larger presence, especially on the lush “Aurora Burning” and synth-driven “When The Fires Cool.”
As is the norm for the band, this album clocks in at almost 105 minutes, testing the fortitude of anyone outside the band’s fan base. With how each part so far has been a different spin on a respected sound, it’ll be curious to see what Midnight Odyssey come up with as the closing part to this trilogy.
Olde – Pilgrimage (Seeing Red/Sludgelord)
Toronto quintet Olde grace our pages with their third full-length album, Pilgrimage. Sludgy doom is the order of the day, as the band aims to draw stylistically from luminaries such as Trouble and High on Fire. Pilgrimage features guest guitar solos from Nichol Robertson and Voivod’s Chewy, along with a (somewhat unnecessary) sax solo from Nick Teehan.
Olde’s sound is the definition of sludge: molasses-thick riffs and gravelly vocals trudge through our speakers for 42 minutes. The ingredients for a good album are here, with a number of decent riffs, and “In Defiance” is a fantastic song. Odd song arrangements and a sense of repetitiveness that creeps in on the back half of the album hold Pilgrimage back. Olde are just some fine-tuning away from releasing a standout album.
Papa Roach – Greatest Hits Volume 2: The Better Noise Years (Better Noise)
Papa Roach released their first greatest hits collection in 2010, which encompassed their first five albums. Greatest Hits Volume 2: The Better Noise Years covers the four albums from 2012’s The Connection through 2019’s Who Do You Trust?
While the band’s first several albums went platinum or gold, they’ve actually had more singles chart success over the past decade, with 12 top five songs on the rock chart, and five that made it to number one. This collection includes remastered versions of hits like “Help,” “Born For Greatness” and “The Ending.” There are also four remixes along with live acoustic versions of “Face Everything And Rise” and “Leader Of The Broken Hearts.” For those who want to delve into Papa Roach, this is a good place to start, and for hardcore fans, the remixes and acoustic tracks will make it appealing.
It’s very easy to see how creative and clever Seraph In Travail are, when we look back to their rendition of Led Zeppelin’s classic song “Stairway To Heaven,” which appeared on their first album Bring Forth Death. And this wave of creativity and mastery is repeated in their next two albums.
A Black Death Incense, Seraph In Travail’s third album, shows how they have the power to integrate symphony into melodic death/black metal, just like their two previous albums. Where symphonic elements are not only a part of the music to move it forward, it also has a distinct personality, giving the music meaning and power. Because the album follows a uniform path in structure and songwriting, it may sound monotonous to some at times. But in essence, A Black Death Incense is a 47 minutes epic song divided into eight parts. From the band’s performance to production and mixing, A Black Death Incense has several signs of a fabulous album.
Trollfest – Happy Heroes (Napalm)
Norwegian folksters Trollfest released a full-length in 2019, and as fans await an album of new material, there’s an EP to tide them over. Happy Heroes has four songs. The opener is the title track, a rousing dose of upbeat folk metal that’s exactly what you’d expect. It’s catchy and fun.
The other three songs on the EP are covers. Aqua’s “Cartoon Heroes” features guest vocals from Miriam Renvag Muller, aka Sfinx. Her melodic singing is contrasted by harsh male vocals. The other two covers have a theme: happiness. Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” goes from poppy reggae to blastbeat-driven extreme metal and back again. They also inject metal into “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. The original is good and the covers are fun, making Happy Heroes an enjoyable 15 minute listen.
U.D.O. – Live In Bulgaria 2020 – Pandemic Survival Show (AFM)
Once the pandemic hit, there were not a lot of live shows in 2020. In September, U.D.O. played the Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in front of 2,500 fans in full compliance with Covid protocols. It was the only show U.D.O. played in 2020. Live In Bulgaria 2020 – Pandemic Survival Show is available digitally, on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and vinyl.
The more than two hour setlist includes not only the usual show they would have played in support of their latest studio album Steelfactory, but a lot of extra material. U.D.O. included some songs rarely played live, and then closed the show with three Accept songs: “Metal Heart,” “Fast As A Shark” and “Balls To The Wall.” They also played “Midnight Mover” and “Princess Of The Dawn” earlier in the show. The crowd seems to have extra energy, and U.D.O. plug into that energy to create a special show.