This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include reviews from Adarrak, Bison, Burning Witches, Cirith Ungol, Eminence, Ghastly, GWAR, Holosade, Karpenter, King Of Asgard, Noctule, Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen, Silver Talon, Tygers Of Pan Tang and Unfathomable Ruination.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Adarrak – Ex Oriente Lux (Satanath)
One of the selling points of Adarrak’s first album Ex Oriente Lux is a guest appearance from guitarist Marty Friedman on “Bereft,” where he lays down a quality solo. That might be a way to get people into the album, but they will stick around with the spirited death metal the Singapore-based group is involved in. They may seem like they have a lively, if typical, sound based on opener “Final Ethos Demise” alone, until the next song, “Into The Abyss,” introduces melodic vocals and masterful guitar work.
From there, the album tends to use these two elements to great effect. Though they bring in guitarists for guest spots on a few songs, it’s the band’s guitarist Emmanuel George Bi that puts forth a striking performance that isn’t pushed aside by the contributions of others. The band incorporates progressive and technical sides to their corrosive death metal, giving Ex Oriente Lux more dimensions than what it initially appears to have.
Bison – Perfect Mistakes (Self)
You are forgiven if you thought this might be Canada’s Bison act. After all, Australia’s Bison have been dormant for over fifteen years. Back in the day they were torchbearers for nu-metal down under, and they return this year with their Perfect Mistakes EP. Modern production lends a slick sheen to everything on this twenty-one minute endeavor, but make no mistake, this is still nu-metal.
“Begin Again” explodes from the speakers with chugging grooves and semi-rapped vocals and is an urgent and catchy song. After that, though, we are left with another five songs that fail to enliven the genre to any degree – just the typical rap-metal verses, melodic choruses, and 7-string breakdowns, with little or no variation or originality. Bison bring a ton of energy to Perfect Mistakes, but nothing fresh.
Burning Witches – The Witch Of The North (Nuclear Blast)
Due to the pandemic, many bands are shortening the usual two to three year cycle between albums. Just over a year after their last album, the Swiss heavy/power metal band Burning Witches are issuing The Witch Of The North. Like last year’s Dance With The Devil, it was produced by V.O. Pulver and Schmier (Destruction).
There are a lot of epic, soaring songs on the album driven by the guitar work of Romana Kalkuhl and their newest member Larissa Ernst (ex-Shadowrise). It’s the second album for vocalist Laura Guldemond, and she gives an excellent performance, blending melodic singing with some harsher style vocals. The songs are varied in tempo and texture, with a couple brief instrumental interludes adding even more diversity. The album closes with a cover of Savatage’s “Hall Of The Mountain King” with guest solos from Chris Caffery. Though a song or two could have been excised, Burning Witches continue to deliver well-written and performed albums.
Cirith Ungol – Half Past Human (Metal Blade)
Cirith Ungol are following up their fine return Forever Black from last year with Half Past Human. It’s a four track EP which for devotees should be noted as the last release to feature an original Elric of Melnibone book cover. Opening with the excellent “Route 666,” originally part of their famed Orange Album EP from 1978, it sounds as fresh as ever.
Cirith Ungol do excellent heavy metal work as always. Song structures are tight on “Shelob’s Lair” with Jarvis Leatherby’s bass lines backed up by the inimitable vocals of Tim Baker. Jim Barraza and Greg Lindstrom’s riffing are spot on with drummer Robert Garven rounding things out and laying out the foundation for the band’s power. “Brutish Manchild” was originally a Flexi disc through Decibel Magazine that will have you chanting the odd title track in unison with the chorus and the title track is a 7 and half minute mini-epic that will leave you wanting to listen to it over and over again. This is as solid an EP you can get for 22 minutes from these masters of their craft.
Eminence – Dark Echoes (Blood Blast)
It has been a while since there has been a full-length from the Brazilian band Eminence. 2013 saw the release of The Stalker, and an EP followed in 2018. Dark Echoes is their fifth full-length. It was mixed and mastered by the legendary producer Tue Madsen.
The album opens with the potent title track, with extreme moments and harsh vocals contrasted by the melodic tones of Soilwork’s Bjorn “Speed” Strid, who guests on the song. Eminence explore a few different styles, from the uptempo thrash of “Burn It Again” to the groove of “Wake Up The Blind” to the ballad “Into The Ashes” to the electronica-laden instrumental “N3mbers.” They do a nice job of mixing brutal moments and melodic sections along with having both classic and modern influences.
Ghastly – Mercurial Passages (20 Buck Spin)
Mercurial Passages is the third entry into Ghastly’s discography and with opener “Ouroborus” their slow death metal dirges are on full display. Hailing from the metallic landscape that is Finland, Ghastly’s brand of death metal might be slow and deliberate, but it still is able to evoke the sounds of their country’s musical forebearers like Convulse and more recently Lantern.
On “Sea of Light” Ghastly do a great job of weaving a slow pace and fast picked riffs to build various elements into the song as it becomes more and more varied as it progresses. From the middle of the track everything seamlessly comes together from the primordial pool of Finnish death metal. A solid improvement on 2018’s Death Velour, Ghastly have done a great job of taking a style nearest to their country’s soul and also make it their own.
GWAR – Disc With No Name (Pit)
Acoustic renditions of songs tend to bring out subtlety and emotions, not exactly something GWAR are known for. But the band decided to go the unplugged route for Disc With No Name, a four track EP that reimagines some of their previous songs.
Songs like “I’m Gonna Kill You” from 1997’s Carnival Of Chaos and “I’ll Be Your Monster” from 2017’s The Blood Of Gods work really well acoustically. Frontman Blothar gives an impressive performance. The four songs on the EP were originally done for the AV Club website during the Covid lockdown in 2020, and adding a couple more tracks would have been even better. The costumes and over the top humor have made GWAR one of metal’s most entertaining bands for decades, but Disc With No Name shows a different side of GWAR and showcases the songs.
Holosade – Anastasis (Cherry Red)
UK thrashers Holosade released their debut album back in 1988. A live album followed in 1990, but the band disbanded shortly after that. They reformed in 2017 with a lineup that includes original members such as vocalist Phillip De Sade along with former members of bands like Blitzkrieg and Warrior.
Their comeback album Anastasis has an old school approach but with modern production. Tracks like “Through The Eyes Of Wrath” and “Chaos Takes Control” have a brisk pace while songs such as epic 7 plus minute “Money To Burn” have a more deliberate and varied approach. It’s an interesting mix of focused songs and lengthier songs like the aforementioned “Money To Burn” and the nearly 11 minute “Detonation To Oblivion.”
Karpenter – Sleepless (Rockshots)
If their band name wasn’t clear enough, horror films are a major influence on Karpenter’s debut album, Sleepless. From the cinematic keyboards to songs inspired by movies like “Jaws,” “Army of Darkness,” and “Psycho,” the group proudly displays their love of everything horror in these ten songs. Thought the subject matter may be scary, their music is welcoming, free from many of metal’s harsher standards.
Sleepless engage mainstream listeners without pandering to anyone. The vocals are catchy, yet have an edge to them, and the guitar solos scream out like a victim being stalked in a slasher film. With so much going on between the six members of the band, there are times where one instrument overshadows the others (the keys on “Shark,” for example). Those occasional moments don’t ruin an album that professes a band’s admiration for horror.
King Of Asgard – Svartrviðr (Trollmusic)
King Of Asgard play a mixture of traditional black metal with Viking metal and more melodic metal for maximum effect. Though their style is described as melodic death metal, I find the band leans more towards the black metal side of things. Songs are long and developed, but quite harsh in nature. The singing is certainly very black metal in style and while the music has some melody, it is very aggressive.
There is an epic quality to the tracks with a heavy brooding style. Overall, the songs have an impact, but don’t completely pull the listener in. This results in an album that drags at times despite quality songwriting. Fans of melodic metal and black metal should find something to like here, especially those looking for an emphasis on the blackened side of things.
Noctule – Wretched Abyss (Translation Loss/Church Road)
Svalbard’s Serena Cherry spent last year’s lockdown working on a new solo project Noctule, based around the video game Skyrim. Whether or not one has any knowledge of the series, Wretched Abyss takes Cherry in a black metal direction with an album that could’ve been released during the genre’s heyday. Cherry has prior experience in black metal in the years before joining Svalbard, and this album allows her to go back there with subject matter she is passionate about.
This passion comes across whether it’s in the grim riffs or the flourishes of melody with dual guitar leads. Svalbard fans may be unprepared for how ruthless some of this music is, though Cherry doesn’t make it inaccessible. The tempos fluctuate, letting in softer passages on “Labyrinthian” and a wonderful keyboard-led closing instrumental “Become Ethereal” that could’ve played over end credits to the game. Wretched Abyss shows Cherry in a different light, one where she shines.
Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen – Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen (Nuclear Blast)
Over the years, Amorphis guitarist Esa Holopainen had written music that didn’t fit with his main band, and during the pandemic he decided to work on a solo album. Instead of a shredding instrumental release, he took a different approach and used several different vocalists on the self-titled debut from Silver Lake By Esa Holopainen.
The songs are as varied as the vocalists. Katatonia’s Jonas Renske sings on the melancholy “Sentiment,” Leprous frontman Einar Solberg is front and center on the poppy “Ray Of Light” and Amorphis bandmate Tomi Joutsen adds bite to the heavy “In Her Solitude.” In addition to singers you might expect like Bjorn “Speed” Strid and Anneke Van Giersbergen, Holopainen recruits Finnish actor Vesa-Matti Loiri for the spoken word “Alkusointu” and folk/rock singer Håkan Hemlin for “Storm.” The result is an interesting and varied album from Holopainen.
Silver Talon – Decadence And Decay (M-Theory)
Here’s a debut album fans of power, traditional, and epic metal won’t want to miss: Decadence And Decay, from Portland-based sextet Silver Talon. These guys arose from the ruins of Spellcaster – the same band that gave birth to Unto Others (formerly Idle Hands). So there’s some pedigree here for sure, and the band’s uncommon three-guitar attack has potent possibilities. A guest solo from Andy La Rocque (King Diamond) adds to the attraction.
Decadence And Decay is not a long album – forty-seven minutes – but the band packs a lot into these eight songs. Theatrical power metal with plenty of epic twists and turns combined with Wyatt Howell’s dramatic vocals (he channels his inner Warrel Dane wonderfully) add up to a highly satisfying journey down the metallic halls of power. The three guitarists add plenty of bombast and the songwriting shows a lot of versatility.
Tygers Of Pan Tang – Majors & Minors (Mighty)
NWOBHM pioneers Tygers Of Pan Tang have been around since the late ’70s, with only guitarist Robb Weir remaining from the band’s early days. The compilation Majors & Minors focuses on their more recent output, featuring material from the past 13 years.
It covers the four albums with vocalist Jack Meille (2008’s Animal Instinct, 2012’s Ambush, 2016’s self-titled album and 2019’s Ritual. They picked some of the strongest material from those records, and to give incentive to buy this collection for fans that might already own those, there’s some additional material. There’s the previously unreleased on CD “What You Say” and an orchestral version of “Spoils Of War.” It’s a good representation of the current incarnation of the band.
Unfathomable Ruination – Decennium Ruinae (Willowtip)
It is obvious how destructive Unfathomable Ruination‘s restless music is. Bestial voluminous tunes have a roar that sets up Armageddon. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about an EP or a full length album; Unfathomable Ruination create the mayhem as it should be.
Two years after the release of Enraged & Unbound, Unfathomable Ruination are putting out their new EP, Decennium Ruinae. Four songs once again exhibit the pure insanity of the band. Although the EP generally follows the common tradition of the band’s composition, the final song “Disciples of Pestilence” is a grand closer. By adding the elements of progressive and melodic death metal, a new dimension is slightly forming in Unfathomable Ruination’s music. Decennium Ruinae is an utterly impressive EP. Composing and performance is still at a masterful and influential level, so even in a short 19 minutes Unfathomable Ruination are able to reach the point of destruction.