This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Acausal Intrusion, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Canyon, The Devil Wears Prada, Jess And The Ancient Ones, Majestic Downfall, Monster Magnet, Mothman And The Thunderbirds, Nadja, Nergard, Nuclear Winter, Pop Evil, Slithering Decay, Temple Nightside, Thundermother, Vexed and Yautja.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Acausal Intrusion – Nulitas (I, Voidhanger)
Acausal Intrusion put an assault on the senses with their debut album Nulitas, pushing their experimental technical death metal to the limits of listenability. The album is a disjointed affair, as if both members of the band set out to arrange a puzzle without a solution. There’s so much going on that sometimes instruments get lost in the noise, as if they are trying to shove their way up in a crowded room.
It’s impressive the band is able to make any sense out of it all, but they don’t make it easy with spacious songwriting that borders on agonizing. The songs that mingle outside of the chaos, like the sullen, low-key intro to “Transcending The Veil” and the various keyboard-laden interludes make Nulitas pliable enough to get through. Its exhausting nature makes it better in pieces than trying to absorb its hour-long denseness.
An Autumn For Crippled Children – As The Morning Dawns We Close Our Eyes (Prosthetic)
During the pandemic, because of no touring, many bands recorded and released albums that might otherwise taken longer. Not so with the Dutch post black/shoegaze band An Autumn For Crippled Children. They focus exclusively on recording, having yet to perform live, allowing them to release a new album every year or so with EPs in between many of them. A year after their previous album, the band returns with As The Morning Dawns We Close Our Eyes.
The songs are expansive in style with a lot of depth and atmosphere, but focused in length, with most clocking in at around four minutes. Harsh black metal vocals deep in the mix contrast with regal riffs and melodic shoegaze sections. They change up tempos, with songs like “Splendour Unnoticed” picking up the pace while tracks such as “Last Night I Believed In You” have a moderate tempo. The prolific pace at which An Autumn For Crippled Children make music doesn’t affect the quality, as this is another well-rounded and compelling effort.
Canyon begin Static with “Insane,” a rousing opener that welcomes new listeners in with a catchy rocker. It’s the kind of thing bands in the 1990s used to do so well, and Canyon’s alternative metal/grunge/stoner rock mannerisms definitely has that decade’s aura. It isn’t just stepping on tired ideas, but gives a nod to the past while making it still seem relevant in 2021.
None of the other four songs deliver quite as hefty a blow as “Insane” does, but they do a deep dive into the well-established “soft/loud” dynamics that were big during that time period. Both aspects are played up for maximum effect, as the songs range from five to six minutes to explore a more transformative side. As a trio, Canyon doesn’t flower their music with studio trickery, and Static goes over well because of this.
The Devil Wears Prada – ZII (Solid State)
In 2010 The Devil Wears Prada released the Zombie EP. More than a decade later ZII pays tribute to that release, but is not a retro release, as there are a lot of modern elements as well. It’s also the band’s first release with Mason Nagy, who replaced longtime bassist Andy Trick a couple years back.
The five tracks on ZII are on the heavier side of the TDWP spectrum. Potent riffs, intense drums and harsh vocals from Mike Hranica provide extremity, but there are also the melodic moments and clean vocals the band is known for. Tracks like “Forlorn” transition smoothly from brutality and breakdowns to catchy sections. Fans should appreciate the blend of classic The Devil Wears Prada sounds with contemporary stylings.
Jess And The Ancient Ones – Vertigo (Svart Records)
Finnish occult rockers Jess And The Ancient Ones have returned with Vertigo, their fourth album. Led by the fantastically charismatic vocals of Jess and the organ-driven psychedelia of the band, this quintet never fails to impress and that doesn’t change here, as they hit us with their occult take on garage rock for eight solid tracks.
Jess And The Ancient Ones are at their best when things get a little weird, like “Talking Board.” At times their occult-driven psychedelia hinges on the verge of hysteria, with Jess just barely keeping her voice in control, and it is then that we are under their spell. “Love Zombi” is a trippy hippy number, somewhat like a more retro/psych version of Blues Pills. All told, Vertigo is an ambitious and largely successful foray into the lands of the psychedelic and occult.
Majestic Downfall – Aorta (Personal)
Majestic Downfall are one of the leading doom-death bands in Latin America. With their sixth album Aorta, they continue down the path of the early ‘90s European doom-death metal. While the group have remained consistent in sound, Aorta presents a grander gesture in song length. The album contains only four songs, clocking in at nearly 70 minutes of music.
Aorta is very lengthy, so it might be best taken in sessions or a road trip. While it requires a long attention span, there is a flow and sectional progression that keeps it from becoming monotonous. Lull points often created through clean guitar tones give way to heavy sections to create massive dynamics. Jacobo Córdova’s upfront bass keeps a clapping pulse between long, ringing chords. “A Dying Crown” is a personal favorite due to its chugging, mammoth strides and catchy, heartfelt melodies. With Aorta, Majestic Downfall continue to mature and develop, while not forsaking their original vision.
Monster Magnet – A Better Dystopia (Napalm)
Unwilling to bide their time while the world goes through waves of viral issues, Dave Wyndorf and his Monster Magnet cohorts set about recording covers of a number of obscure ’60s and ’70s psych and proto-metal tunes. Unless one is heavily vested in ancient rarities, most of these songs will be unknown, which both enhances and detracts from the overall experience.
Overall, the obscurities presented here aren’t songs that stick in one’s head, and while played with the typical Monster Magnet flair, they come and go like the wind. “Born to Go” (Hawkwind) is a kick-ass rocker, and “Motorcycle (Straight to Hell)” (Table Scraps) is another fantastic song. The remainder are unmemorable, but one can certainly hear the seeds of future Monster Magnet material. A Better Dystopia is an eclectic collection, really only for the diehard fans.
From the depths of the wilderness that is humanity’s imagination, Philadelphia cryptids Mothman And The Thunderbirds step forth Into The Hollow with their first album. Very ambitious in concept and scope, this album features many twisted and intricate forests of riffs, interspersed by serene meadows of harmonized vocals and bright melodies. Fans of Mastodon and Devin Townsend will be in familiar territory here.
The many guest vocalists highlight the varied instrumentals, and the eleven songs flow peacefully despite their meandering soundscapes. Sadly, the whole suffers tremendously from a haphazard production and alternatively muddy or sterile mix. Single “Cloud Giant” is a perfect example, with the clicky drums sticking out like sore thumbs. One also wishes the vocalists did a few more takes, or were edited more thoroughly, as it often seems as though they were not at their best. Do not discount this album though. There are plenty of great ideas, fantastic melodies and captivating about-turns throughout that still make for a pleasant journey. If their production catches up to their songwriting and flair, Mothman And The Thunderbirds will be poised for greatness.
Nadja – Luminous Rot (Southern Lord)
A couple months ago, the ambient drone/doom due Nadja digitally released a single track instrumental album. In their nearly two decades of existence, Nadja have released more than two dozen full-length studio albums plus nearly 50 EPs, splits, collaborations and live albums. Luminous Rot is their latest.
The theme of the album is first contact and the difficulties of recognizing alien intelligence. Another difficulty is trying to pigeonhole Nadja, as they explore a plethora of styles and genres. The album incorporates everything from ambient to doom to drone to noise to industrial to metal to shoegaze to cold wave to post punk and probably a couple more I’m forgetting. “Cuts On Your Hands” is the album’s longest song, moving at a glacial pace. “Dark Inclusions” is denser and more urgent. For the masses it may sound inscrutable, but fans of the band will get it, and enjoy it.
Nergard – Eternal White (Pride & Joy)
Nergard‘s first two albums had a rotating cast of vocalists and musicians, with guest appearances from singers such as Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) and Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear). For their third album Eternal White they have a permanent lineup that features three vocalists.
It’s a concept album about the 1719 Carolean Death March when 3000 Swedish and Finnish soldiers froze to death during a retreat. Having a permanent lineup provides more cohesion, yet with three singers there’s plenty of variety. The songs are symphonic with both bombast and melody. The melodic vocals are good, and the harsh vocals are unusual sounding, very much an acquired taste. But they aren’t used very much, with melodic singing carrying the majority of the load. The arrangements have a lot of atmosphere and still deliver catchy choruses. Tim “Ripper” Owens guests on “Now Barely Three.”
Nuclear Winter – Greystone (MMD)
Musician Gary Stautmeister pushes his Nuclear Winter project into industrialized territory on the band’s latest album, Greystone. The melodic death metal of the last few releases is still the primary structure of the songs, but the electronics have been amped up on each of them. This isn’t the first time the band have used them, but their inclusion on this album seems to be at the forefront more often, especially on “Hidden Shrine” and “Stygian Awakening.”
This is the first full-length album from the band where Stautmeister handles all the vocals by himself, and this evolution that started on the Stormscapes EP remains a work in progress. The duality of his vocal style, the bitter screams and ever-present singing, has improved over the last year. There isn’t much deviation between songs, but Greystone moves at a diligent enough pace to make it a non-issue.
Pop Evil – Versatile (eOne)
While Pop Evil have had a lot of chart success over the years with numerous number one Active Rock chart hits, they have always incorporated a lot of heaviness into their music, straddling the line between hard rock and alt metal.
Their sixth album Versatile is probably their most accessible so far, with metal moments that are fewer and shorter, but still there. “Breathe Again” has already made it to number one, and there are numerous other potential singles on the album. “Set Me Free,” the ballad “Inferno” and the catchy “Raise Your Flag” are some of the most memorable songs on the album. The album title is an apt one, as Pop Evil shifts seamlessly between styles.
Slithering Decay – Aeons Untold (Testimony)
Formed in 2017, the Belgian death metal quartet Slithering Decay have released their first album Aeons Untold. It contains a powerful image of devotion to Swedish old school death metal.
When an album with this feature comes into being and is also mastered by Dan Swanö, it reveals many aspects of itself. Although Aeons Untold is full of familiar melodies and riffs that seem to have been heard over and over again over the last two or three decades, Slithering Decay skillfully use these familiar elements to create a vicious and violent creature, while they have strictly followed the composition patterns of Swedish death metal. And in this way, they cleverly act beyond just praising the titans of Swedish old school death and give the album a special character. It’s as if the album is part of the immortal legacy of Swedish old school death metal. Aeons Untold is old school HM-2 buzzsaw madness, just as the band claims.
Temple Nightside – Prophecies Of Malevolence (Nuclear Winter)
The reissue of a Temple Nightside’s first demo EP, originally released in 2011, certainly sounds like it with very raw production values. They have gone on to release four full-lengths since, thus their sound has changed a lot since then. The band manages to conjure an evil aura and sound brooding in the process. While this is certainly an interesting start for the band, they leave tons of room for improvement and this would occur on their future full-lengths. One would find a fuller and more realized sound in the future judging from this start, though they have some fun with the compositions here.
The reliance on a largely ambient tone makes for a very hollow sounding black/death metal recording that is interesting at some points. There were signs that the band would expand its horizons towards more interesting territories, which were fulfilled on future albums. Temple Nightside tried to be unique and compelling, but sub-par production got the way of their aspirations. It did set the stage for something greater in the future.
Thundermother – Heat Wave Deluxe Edition (AFM)
Having supported acts such as Rose Tattoo – not an easy audience to win over – you’d expect Swedish heavy rockers Thundermother to be loud, brash and energetic. These qualities are all readily apparent on this expanded edition of the Heat Wave LP, originally released last year. Their sound references AC/DC and Motörhead, yet retains a fresh, distinctive personality, led by the blues-soaked voice of frontwoman Guernica Mancini.
For all the swagger and groove throughout – Heat Wave should be the soundtrack to your next Saturday night – they don’t neglect the crafting of catchy as flypaper hooks. There are at least five potential singles here, which is a handful more than the majority of hard rock bands currently treading the boards. Songs like “Driving In Style” and “Dog From Hell” are memorable standouts. This edition also incorporates bonus tracks, live cuts and acoustic versions. The second disc will likely only interest the most diehard fan, but given their work ethic and quality of material, Thundermother’s army of supporters should continue to grow.
Various Artists – Metal Massacre XV (Metal Blade)
The first Metal Massacre in 1982 was one of the most influential compilations in metal history. It included bands like Metallica, Ratt and Cirith Ungol. The compilation continued on a near annual basis through 1991, with additional editions in 1995, 2006 and 2016.
These days compilations are more of a novelty since there are a lot of other ways for bands to get exposure. But being part of Metal Massacre XV is still an honor for underground bands. Decibel’s Albert Mudrian helped curate the ten track collection, which includes a few songs that are exclusive to the compilation and others that are available elsewhere. There’s a mix of more well known bands like Midnight and Temple Of Void along with several up-and-comers. A variety of styles makes for an interesting collection of songs, and though the quality varies, the majority are excellent.
Vexed – Culling Culture (Napalm)
One run through Vexed’s debut Culling Culture will leave you breathless. This is an 11-track coordinated attack on the senses that takes as many prisoners as it does missteps. If there was ever any doubt, modern metal is in safe hands. As the UK metal scene grow stronger, with the likes of As Everything Unfolds and Palm Reader doing well to keep the momentum going, Vexed have done more than enough to get themselves up to speed with the established frontrunners on Culling Culture.
It’s a tale of light and dark where vocalist and deserved contender for one of metal’s most exciting new voices, Megan Targett mercilessly switches between breaking necks and raising goosebumps. The 1-2 of “Weaponize” and “Purity” does well to summarize the record’s dichotomous approach where the former blends fury-filled rap delivery with insidious chugs while the latter pulls on heart strings as Targett strives for maximum emotional resonance. Garnished with technical precision and drenched in atmosphere, Culling Culture is a ruthless first step for a band with a long and prosperous road ahead.
Yautja – The Lurch (Relapse)
In the early-mid 2010s, Nashville’s Yautja were one of the prized pigs when hardcore went hip and veered a hard, heavy left, aligning themselves neatly with others like Trap Them, All Pigs Must Die, Gaza, and Secret Cutter, to name a few. Seven years since their debut LP, 2014’s Songs Of Descent, and the trio are back with The Lurch, an aural extension of the 2020 COVID-election year that brought out the worst in many.
Unlike their debut, which greater utilized huge doomy riffs and a bass-heavy production, The Lurch feels and sounds leaner, more serious, and considerably more deadly. The jagged math aspect remains, the drumming unfettered, the vibe a series of electrotherapeutic jolts, of clichéd controlled chaos, of artful and thoughtful violence. Draining and viciously executed, Yautja’s latest is a well of spastic, granite-edged hardcore that flows unstoppable.