This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Crown Lands, Demonstealer, Desert Storm, Haliphron, Invicta, Kommand, Last In Line, Lordi, Monachopsis Art, Nervochaos, Puscifer and Spirit Possession.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Crown Lands – Fearless (Spinefarm)
Once in a great while, a band comes along that checks all the right boxes. Somehow both familiar and startlingly original, Crown Lands reinvent progressive rock for a new generation. From the start, the Canadian duo come off like a mad cross between the Black Keys and Rush, and on Fearless, they lean even harder into the Rush side. Working alongside noted producer David Bottrill, the man who guided Tool to similar heights of drama and complexity, Crown Lands release the most mind-bending, yet accessible, “prog-tastic” hard rock record of this century.
Fearless launches with the 18-minute epic “Starlifter: Fearless Part 2,” shades of 2112 and Hemispheres reverberating in what would have been an entire vinyl side. Majestic 12-string guitars, soaring synths, and stratospheric vocals carry this complex-yet-listenable release. Shorter, straightforward melodic rockers like “The Shadow” and the solo acoustic guitar piece “Penny” provide ample contrast, yet it all feels of a piece.
Demonstealer – The Propaganda Machine (Black Lion)
Demonstealer is the long running solo project of Demonic Resurrection vocalist/guitarist Sahil Makhija. His latest two Demonstealer releases have been EPs, with The Propaganda Machine his first full-length since 2018, and fourth overall.
Each song features a different lineup, with some of the guests including drummers Hannes Grossmann (Triptykon) and Ken Bedene (Aborted), bassists Stian Gundersen (Blood Red Throne) and Martino Garattoni (Ne Obliviscaris), keyboardist Anabelle Iratni (ex-Cradle Of Filth) and guitarist Dean Paul Arnold (Primalfrost). Death metal is the core style of the album, sometimes with a symphonic approach and other times more direct. Extremity and pummeling drums with harsh vocals shifts into groovier sections with melodic sections. The album’s variety is encapsulated on “The Art Of Disinformation” that has death, thrash and even proggy sections with aggressive uncleans and catchy clean singing parts. The Propaganda Machine is another impressive album from Demonstealer.
Desert Storm – Death Rattle (APF)
The UK quintet Desert Storm have been refining and honing their style with each new album. Death Rattle is their sixth album, which once again finds them polishing that sound to a razor sharp edge.
Heavy stoner/doom riffs drive the proceedings, but Desert Storm write songs that are dynamic. Dense grooves ease back into accessible melodies on tracks like “Cheyne Stoking,” with “Bad Trip” having the opposite approach. Its peaceful, laid-back intro shifts into heavy mode before easing back into a quiet ending. “Melatone” and some other tracks have retro moments, but they are balanced by modern touches. The album is front loaded with the strongest cuts, losing a bit of momentum on the back half, but finishing strong with the diverse “Self Deprecation” and closing instrumental “New Dawn.”
Haliphron – Prey (Listenable)
Haliphron’s Prey is symphonic death metal with emphasis on the orchestral side of the music, with programmed choirs and orchestra being the defining quality of the band’s debut album. The other musicians aren’t devalued, yet besides a few guitar solos and quick-timed drumming, their contribution isn’t as immediate as the piano flourishes and brash horns. The entire sum of the band is solid, if overly dramatic.
The album doesn’t purposely zoom at neck-whipping tempos, but the few times Haliphron does so comes off messier than it should. It’s the measured tones of “The Resistance” and “Perfect Existence” where all the elements fit smoother, each one complimenting the other instead of fighting for space. Traditional death metal fans may scoff at the abundance of keyboards, but their usage is the high point of Prey.
Invicta – Triumph And Torment (Sublevel)
Invicta’s second album Triumph And Torment has everything a guitar fan would want in their death/thrash metal. Technicality? It’s there in the winding solos that find new ways to dazzle. Hints of melody? Revel in the crafty harmonies from guitarists Jonah Kay and Kyle Edissi. It’s a thrill whether they are locked in together or battle back and forth for solo supremacy.
With half of the ten songs going over six minutes, with the title track approaching 11 minutes by itself, the group makes sure to have the time to wander off into sonic soliloquies. Triumph And Torment loses some of its luster in certain sections, mainly during its middle portion, yet the impressive guitar work keeps a listener engaged.
Kommand – Death Age (20 Buck Spin)
Though Death Age isn’t an outright concept album, its depiction of a world gone haywire could be conceived as such. The opener is called “Final Virus,” with a “Global Death” a few songs later, closing the album out with “Collapse Metropolis.” It’s as if they are forging the downfall of civilization song by song, using their dominant death metal as a way to capture it in real time.
Those that don’t want to think too much about lyrical mass annihilation will still find Death Age to be joyfully raucous. Kommand only need six songs and about 25 minutes to effectively convey death metal unsullied by modern amenities. They get in a cavernous zone that the genre exceeds at so well, especially in the bellowing growls, giving their bleak vision justification.
Last In Line – Jericho (earMusic)
It has been more than a decade since Dio members Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice teamed up with vocalist Andrew Freeman (ex-Lynch Mob) to form Last In Line. After Bain’s death, Phil Soussan (ex-Ozzy Osbourne) took over bass duties. Jericho is the band’s third album.
The pandemic gave the band more time to write material for the album and to polish and refine each song. While still traditional metal/hard rock, it’s their most varied and least Dio-esque record, though that DNA is still evident on tracks like closer “House Party At The End Of The World” which is reminiscent of “We Rock.” “Ghost Town” is a catchy single that’s straightforward and accessible. “Dark Days” is a bluesy groover with a more moderate pace. Tracks like “Bastard Son” are more intricate with excellent guitar work. Campbell’s riffs, fills and solos throughout Jericho are top notch. Freeman is a versatile singer, equally adept at belting it out and dialing it back when needed. Last In Line continue to build their own legacy while honoring their past.
Lordi – Screem Writers Guild (Atomic Fire)
Finnish masked monsters Lordi have been extremely prolific over the past few years. In 2021 they released Lordiversity, a collection of seven different albums on the heels of 2020’s Killection and 2018’s Sexorcism. 2023 finds them on a new record label (Atomic Fire) and with a new guitarist (Kone) for their eighteenth studio album Screem Writers Guild.
It’s the same style of horror themed hard rock fans have been enjoying for decades. There are no big surprises, just catchy and fun songs like “Unliving Picture Show,” “Inhumanoid” and “Scarecrow.” Mr. Lordi shows his softer side (both lyrically and vocally) on the ballad “The Bride,” contrasting his usual gruff style. The lyrics are sometimes tongue in cheek, sometimes cheesy but always memorable. At nearly an hour, Screem Writers Guild is probably a song or two too long, but it will hit the spot for Lordi fans.
Monachopsis Art – An Empty Existence (Forgotten Friends)
Monachopsis Art dig through the roots of black metal, way before countries like Norway made it infamous, as the starting mark to their first album An Empty Existence. That early sound is enhanced by atmospheric mannerisms that suit the versatility of their vocalist, who uses her raspy growls and ethereal singing in equally efficient ways. It lends to fascinating contrasts in the melancholic design of a song like “River Of Blood.”
There’s light and shadow playing over this album, neither one becoming dominant for long. Besides the searing riffs in “Flesh Will Be Humiliated,” there’s control taken in holding back on the typical genre tropes. With an unrefined production that adds to the authenticity of the trio, An Empty Existence is a black metal record with spirit, even if that said spirit is haunted by what it has seen.
NervoChaos – Chthonic Wrath (Emanzipation)
Many extreme metal albums start with an interlude, giving the listener a short respite before diving into the brutality. Not so with veteran Brazilian death metallers NervoChaos, whose latest album Chthonic Wrath bludgeons the listener from the opening note and puts the interlude later in the album.
A quarter century after their debut album, NervoChaos have perfected their brand of death metal, shifting between dense chaos and mid-paced grooves. They incorporate subtleties like a quick bass lick on “Chaos Prophets” or guitar harmonies on “Kill For Pleasure” that help avoid monotony. That’s also the case with “Tomb Mold,” the acoustic guitar interlude that provides a minute of peace and beauty before the aptly named “Lullaby Of Obliteration” resumes the skull crushing. With Chthonic Wrath, their third album in three years, NervoChaos show no signs of slowing down.
Puscifer – Existential Reckoning: Re-Wired (Alchemy)
Remix albums can be a mixed bag, your enjoyment based on two factors: familiarity with the original source material, and tolerance for electronica. Preparing for this review, I spent time with the original version of Existential Reckoning, released in 2020, to get a frame of reference for these remixes. Since Puscifer exist largely as an electro-rock/performance art excuse for Maynard James Keenan to do, basically, whatever he desires, no typical “Puscifer” sound exists. Existential Reckoning, however, veers sharply away from the comedic aspects of their earlier efforts towards something darker.
Enlisting collaborators such as Justin Chancellor (Tool), guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen (A Perfect Circle), and A-lister Trent Reznor, Re-wired amps up the anxiety and the electronica. Tool fans beware: there’s precious little guitar found here. Instead, the remixes ramp up the dance beats and samples. “Apocalyptical,” one of the catchiest tracks on the original, gets twisted into an 11-minute workout, and “UPGrade” succeeds by largely preserving MJK’s superb melody amidst the chaos.
Spirit Possession – Of The Sign… (Profound Lore)
Of The Sign… has on ferocity on par with Spirit Possession’s self-titled debut album, as its boiling black metal comes to life from a long-abandoned crypt. Something that sets this release apart is a greater incorporation of synthesizers, as they are no longer resigned to quick introductions but get their own interludes to layer on the eerie aura the album captures. There are also longer compositions, including the nine-and-a-half minute “Enter The Golden Sign,” that let in various tempo shifts.
What still remains true is the cacophony this duo materializes, as the music is on the precipice of slipping into a dreck of unconsumable noise. They keep it together somehow though, excelling at the sort of unhinged metal that doesn’t rely on hyper blast beats to get to that level. The band have worked well on their sinister sonic moods with Of The Sign…