This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Black Lung, Black Void, Brutality, Crematory, Decapitated, Def Leppard, Michael Schenker Group, Raven, Sensory Amusia, Shed The Skin and Venus Principle.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Black Lung – Dark Waves (Heavy Psych Sounds)
Baltimore’s fuzz-rock champions Black Lung return this week with their fourth album, Dark Waves. Guitarist and singer Dave Cavalier remains along with drummer Elias Schutzman, joined this time around by Dave Fullerton on guitar and Mac Hewitt on bass. 2019’s Ancients featured gripping songwriting but polarizing vocals; fingers crossed that the latter improve here.
As expected, Dark Waves features some of the most excellent riffs of the year. “Dark Waves” and “Death Grip” are catchy as hell, and the rest of the album isn’t far behind. Cavalier’s vocals are definitely toned down compared to Black Lung’s last outing, and they no longer take away from the irresistible nature of these tunes. Dark Waves is a wonderfully entertaining romp down psych/stoner corridors.
Black Void – Antithesis (Nuclear Blast)
Lars Nedland (Borknagar, Solefald) front the melodic hard rock band White Void. He put together the trio Black Void to be the musical and lyrical opposite: embracing black metal and punk along with the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche on the aptly named Antithesis.
There is some melodic singing along with harsh vocals, but the songs are aggressive. Songs shift from mid-paced grooves to blastbeat driven chaos and back again. “Death To Morality” features Taake’s Hoest and has a black ‘n roll vibe, while Rotting Christ’s Sakis Rolis guests on closer “Dadaist Disgust,” which shifts tempos from blazing fast to slow. The songs are diverse and constantly changing, but Black Void manage to make Antithesis a cohesive album.
Brutality – Sempiternity (Emanzipation)
It usually does not happen too often that an 8-song compilation is strong enough to get a passing score. But this has clearly happened with Brutality’s Sempiternity, their newest compilation. A year after announcing the band’s breakup in 2020, Brutality decided to return to the scene, as the essence of their musical power and unity still lingers.
Sempiternity includes two new songs: “Orchestrated Devastation” and “Fluent in Silence;” two 2018 re-recorded songs, and four live performances at Maryland Death Fest 2019, which benefited from stunning sound editing and production. The two new songs are clearly showcasing the band’s mastery to craft vigorous death metal, reminding everyone why and how Brutality are carrying the torch of one of the finest and purest bands from Tampa, Florida. Brutality have gone through a turbulent era; this is not the first time they have returned after announcing their dissolution. Sempiternity may promise that a new album is on the way, because the world of death metal still needs Brutality.
Crematory – Inglorious Darkness (Napalm)
The German gothic metal band Crematory have been around for more than 30 years now. Three/fifths of the band remain from their 1993 debut, with their newest member being bassist Patrick Schmid. Inglorious Darkness is the group’s sixteenth studio album.
It follows the path of recent records, blending gothic atmosphere with prominent guitars and some industrial moments. Vocals are mostly harsh with some speaking/singsong parts. There are songs that ratchet up the intensity such as “Rest In Peace,” while other tracks are more melodic like “Until We Meet Again.” There are a lot of catchy moments thanks to memorable riffs and hooks contrasted by heavier sections with the atmosphere adding depth to the compositions. There are lyrics in both German and English, adding even more diversity to Inglorious Darkness.
Decapitated – Cancer Culture (Nuclear Blast)
It has been five years since Decapitated‘s last album. Since then they faced serious criminal charges (which were dropped) and lineup changes. On their new album Cancer Culture bassist Pawel Pasek has returned to the fold after a five year absence, and their new drummer is James Stewart, who has played in numerous bands such as Vader and Divine Chaos.
Decapitated’s brand of death metal has shifted over the years, bringing new twists to each release. Cancer Culture is intense and extreme with a powerful performance from Stewart. It’s under 40 minutes, lean and mean with not an ounce of filler. Decapitated play with technicality, but there’s ample emotion and groove in their songs. One of the album highlights is “Hello Death,” with guest vocals from Jinjer’s Tatiana Shmayluk. Her melodic singing provides an excellent contrast to Rasta’s intense growls. Machine Head’s Robb Flynn guests on the groovy “Iconoclast.” They bring a progressive flavor to “Hours As Battlegrounds,” an unexpected but well executed track. No matter the obstacles, Decapitated have always persevered, and with Cancer Culture they deliver another potent dose of death metal.
Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos (Mercury)
Many bands that had massive success in the ’80s are content to rest on their laurels, touring on their greatest hits and rarely if ever writing new music. Not so with Def Leppard. Though the time between albums has lengthened recently, they are still composing and recording quality material. The title of their twelfth studio album Diamond Star Halos is a nod to T. Rex.
There are several ’70s style glam rock songs on the album, such as “Kick,” but they also touch on other decades and push in new directions. “Fire It Up” would have fit in well in the Slang era, while “SOS Emergency” easily could have been a chart topper in the ’80s. The most interesting tracks on the album are the collaborations with Alison Krauss. “This Guitar” has a twangy feel, with Joe Elliot and Krauss’ voice blending well together, though they still manage to inject a rock guitar solo. “Lifeless,” the other song with Krauss, is more pop/rock and less country. At 15 songs it’s a bit bloated, but overall Diamond Star Halo is a wide ranging collection of memorable songs. Fans of all eras of Def Leppard should be able to find something to connect with.
Michael Schenker Group – Universal (Atomic Fire)
Legendary guitarist Michael Schenker shows no signs of slowing down. Over the past few years he has issued albums with Michael Schenker Fest and Michael Schenker’s Temple Of rock along with his main band, Michael Schenker Group. MSG’s latest album is Universal.
It has the melodic hard rock and unmistakable Schenker guitar work you’d expect. The main vocalist on Universal is Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Lords Of Black), but there are appearances by other singers as well. Romero actually duets with his predecessor Gary Barden on the title track. Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear) sings “Wrecking Ball,” while Helloween’s Michael Kiske lends his talents to the Ronnie James Dio tribute “A King Has Gone.” The songs also reunites Rainbow members Bobby Rondinelli, Bob Daisley and Tony Carey. The resume of the musicians who appear on Universal is very impressive, so it’s not surprising it’s a quality album.
Raven – Rock Until You Drop (Cherry Red)
In 1981, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was in full swing, and that’s the year Raven issued their debut album Rock Until You Drop. It made our list of 1981’s best albums. A little more than 40 years later, an expanded 4CD “Over The Top” edition is being released.
The original album, which would influence numerous speed and thrash metal bands is included along with several bonus tracks. Disc 2 is demos from 1978 and 1980, with the other two discs collecting live shows from 1982, one in Italy and the other in the UK. It closes with an interview from that era. Songs like “Hard Ride” and “Over The Top” stand the test of time, and with the bonus tracks, demos and live material, it’s a no brainer for Raven fans and those who want to explore the glory days of the NWOBHM.
Sensory Amusia – Breed Death (Lacerated Enemy)
For their second album Breed Death, Sensory Amusia elevate tech death into their chunky chugging and gravitational grooves. The tempos are kept at a busy pace compared to their more controlled debut full-length, 2013’s Disrepair.
Since then, they’ve released a pair of potent EPs leading to this new album, which capitalizes on everything the band have been building towards for years. They know when to set all of that technicality aside to pack in a rumbling breakdown of monstrous proportions, as they do on “Vulgar Thoughts Of Carnage” and the title track. Breed Death fits nicely into the realm of modern death metal without doing anything to disrupt the established sounds that listeners of the style will quickly recognize.
Shed The Skin – Thaumogenesis (Hells Headbangers)
Thaumogenesis by Shed The Skin, the Ohio band’s fourth full length, has a crushing death metal feel to it that absolutely absorbs you. Similar to a faster Morbid Angel, the album rips from the start. There are many tropes that recall other bands from the genre, but this is absolutely a very original album.
The songwriting is inventive and triggers new grooves at every corner. There is a constant need to be fast and slay.
The musicianship is solid with crafty death metal riffs and an appropriately gnarly vocalist. All in all, this is a solid effort that gets a recommendation for hardcore death metal fans. With a little more inventiveness, this could e even better, but Shed The Skin have a vast enough sound to be appealing to many.
Venus Principle – Stand In Your Light (Prophecy)
Stand In Your Light is the debut album from the British/Swedish band Venus Principle. Their lineup includes several former members of Crippled Black Phoenix including At The Gates guitarist Jonas Stallhammer, but this is not a melodic death metal band.
Venus Principle’s influences range from prog rock to classic rock to gothic metal. 10 plus minute opener “Rebel Drones” lays down the template of the record’s depth and breadth. There are some doomy riffs, mellow psychedelic parts, progressive moments and both male and female melodic vocals. While the production is modern, the psychedelic influences give some of the songs a ’60s vibe, while ’70s prog rock is at the forefront of others. There are also plenty of contemporary parts as well. At over an hour Stand In Your Light is a track or two too long, but Venus Principle keep things compelling throughout.