This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Blood Ceremony, Burning Witches, Countless Skies, Dawn Of Existence, Drain, Enforcer, Godslut, Haunt, Herod, Intoxicated, Nightmarer, Severed Angel, Spinebreaker, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Vintersea and Winger.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Blood Ceremony – The Old Ways Remain (Rise Above)
It has been over sevem years since we’ve heard from Blood Ceremony, whose combination of early Sabbath’s omnipresent darkness melds seamlessly with Jethro Tull’s flute antics to create a sound now five albums deep. The Old Ways Remain is a solid title for a band with a no reason to change what they are doing, “The Hellfire Club” is riff-centric with lead singer/flutist Alia O’Brien ripping a flute solo with ease before the song’s final crescendo.
“Lolly Willows” is a bit more of a folky tune with O’Brien’s stellar vocals at the forefront with sped up riff sections breaking up the chorus with ample changes in tempo to boot. To add a bit of variety “The Bonfires at Belloc Coombe” chugs along with some fiddle thrown in for good measure. This Canadian quartet does a great job of balancing their retro-inspired sound with newer found heaviness and the dark embrace from the other side. The Old Ways Remain for Blood Ceremony and that’s a good thing.
Burning Witches – The Dark Tower (Napalm)
Whatever they feed the kids in Sweden, it’s gifting the world some most excellent heavy metal as of late. Burning Witches’ The Dark Tower (which has nothing whatsoever to do with Stephen King) sits squarely on the shoulders of melodic speed metallers like Helloween and Warlock.
Vocalist Laura Guldemond even evokes a Swedish Doro Pesch who just gargled with Jack Daniels, while the rest of the band pounds behind her, swooping and galloping like vintage Mercyful Fate or Painkiller-era Priest. Lyrically, songs like “Evil Witch” and “World On Fire” tread fairly expected ground for this genre, leaning hard into the occult as metaphor for decadent behavior, with the title track going for full-on vampiric bloodlust. All in all, though not breaking much new ground, The Dark Tower is a blast for fans of classic, soaring heavy metal.
Countless Skies – Resonance (Willowtip)
Resonance contains tracks from the UK melodic death band Countless Skies’ previous albums Glow and New Dawn performed live in the studio. Songs like “Daybreak” from New Dawn are allowed to shine and fully take hold. The addition of cellist Arianna Mahsayeh adds character to the songs. The long title track “Glow” is performed in fine fashion here and the Opeth-like portions are able to shine through. The song progresses in multiple steps and is the perfect mid portion of the album.
These are solid refurbishings of their material. The whole affair has a nice positive atmosphere to it. “Tempest,” the opening song from Glow is done professionally and closes off the proceedings nicely. The somewhat raw feeling to the songs is refreshing, but also holds the album back from being full ear-candy glory. It has all the trimmings of a fine complilation album, a bit shy of being euphoric bliss, but still a good one.
The duo behind Dawn Of Existence cover a lot of ground lyrically on Ancient Arts, tackling war, religion, government conspiracies and free will with their melodic death/black metal. Almost every song on the album uses some form of synths, which livens up their straightforward songwriting. The closest the band gets to going off is the black metal-inspired start to the fierce “Škoda ’14.”
There are bits of this aggression over the entirety of Ancient Arts, but not sustained as it is on “Škoda ’14.” The lack of hooky choruses or riffs overall is disappointing. They do attempt broader structures in the almost seven-minute “The Hierophant,” which abandons traditional verse/chorus for a loftier vision. Even with these flaws, Dawn Of Existence show potential on their debut album.
Drain – Living Proof (Epitaph)
Drain’s Californian crossover antics blast out of the gate with Living Proof, their first album on legendary punk label Epitaph Records. Opener “Run Your Luck” has the exact kind of energy you want from the outset, raging riffs flying around the chaos with a breakdown tossed in to give that anger a much needed cool down. “Devil’s Itch” is another crazed metal punk track that isn’t afraid to unleash several walls of death at very much suspecting audiences, even grinding to a near halt to allow the warlike waves to wash over you like a Bay Area beach.
“Intermission” breaks up the album with a rapped verse before the heaviness picks back up with plenty of bounce riffs to get you going for the album’s final gasp. “Weight of the World” continues Drain’s aural assault with a no holds barred class in punk riffs and furious attitude. If you are a crossover fan and Drain isn’t part of your regular rotation, then you might have just found your new favorite band. Living Proof is the perfect mix of metallic riffs and pissed off punk rock.
Enforcer – Nostalgia (Nuclear Blast)
Now six albums into their career, Swedish trad metallers Enforcer return with Nostalgia, a fitting title for a band whose sound is steeped in the ‘80s. Vocalist Olof Wikstrand sounds great on the album’s first proper tracks “Unshackle Me” and “Coming Alive,” joined later by vicious guitar solos and blazing speed, a classic combination that has yet to wear out. “Demon” is about a bout with the devil while providing more pyrotechnics than Beelzebub himself.
Enforcer doesn’t need to change much of what they are doing. The style of traditional metal that they play has become increasingly popular since they set out on their path in 2008 with Diamonds (2010) and Death By Fire (2013) among some of the best of that genre during that time period. Nostalgia is more than its mere definition here, a solid metallic effort to be enjoyed by old heads and burgeoning bangers all the like. It’s their best album in nearly a decade.
Godslut – Procreation Of God (Selfmadegod)
Godslut is such an appropriate name for a death metal band, as is the name of their first album, Procreation Of God. For such a blasphemous moniker, the group wisely doesn’t rely on name-checking tired Satanic worship or go too grotesque with the subject matter. That would distract from the grueling pace the Polish trio stays at, kept in check by drummer Pawel “Pavulon” Jaroszewicz, who is also currently a part of grindcore legends Antigama.
There’s only 30 seconds or so of this 30-minute album that takes itself down a few notches in noise, that being the melodic guitars in the introduction to “Dragged Into Heaven.” That’s in the middle of the album, meaning there’s no levity surrounding that momentary reprieve. Procreation Of God has the dive bomb solos, hate-filled screams from two vocalists and uncompromised ruthlessness that any death metal fan would want in their music.
Haunt – Golden Arm (Iron Grip)
Trevor William Church is a busy man and his dedication to write and record nine albums with Haunt since 2018 is simply astounding. Golden Arm is the first full length since Mind Freeze to not feature any re-recorded tracks from his tenure at Shadow Kingdom records and it is a bite sized under 30-minute tour-de-force.
Opening with “Hit and Run” you get a high octane experience with Church’s vocals and guitars going wild. Compare that to the title track and things slow down and introduce a bit of synths and plenty of pinch harmonics to create an atmosphere that feels like it was 40 years ago. “Piece By Piece” is a wonderfully well-crafted track with a simple riff that transitions the track between gallops and a sense of heaviness and melodicism you expect from Haunt on each album. Golden Arm is another exceptionally well-crafted album by one of metal’s most ambitious songwriters.
Herod – Iconoclast (Pelagic)
Four years after the very well received Sombre Dessein, Swiss progressive sludgesters Herod are unveiling their third full-length, Iconoclast. The band’s influences (Meshuggah, early Dillinger Escape Plan, early Cult Of Luna) are evident, but Herod build on those to create their own signature sound.
That sound includes thick, heavy riffs, interesting atmosphere and forays into post metal and doom. There are several guests on this album. “The Prophecy” pairs Herod vocalist Mike Pilat, the main vocalist on The Ocean’s 2007 album Precambrian, with that band’s current frontman Loic Rosetti. The intense “The Edifice” features Cryptopsy vocalist Matt McGachy. The most interesting collaboration is on “The Ode To…” that features members of the Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares choir, adding mellow and cinematic moments to the band’s heaviness. The eight songs on Iconoclast are diverse, engaging and interesting, resulting in an album that fulfills its lofty ambitions.
10 years after their debut, Intöxicated return with Sadistic Nightmares, a blackened heavy metal album with tons of influence from Motorhead to Venom and even more rock n roll chops thrown in for good measure. “Street Metal Bastards” is the perfect encapsulation of what the band provides for its listeners, riffs packed on top of riffs and vicious speed with a no-frills approach to essentially blow the doors down at the request of the dark lord himself.
“Sex, Violence and Death” puts the band firmly in the Midnight category with the emphasis on the sleaze aspect getting melded into their already evil approach at a rapid fire pace. If you desire a raucous and fun record that just tops 30 minutes, look no further than Sadistic Nightmares.
Nightmarer – Deformity Adrift (Total Dissonance Worship)
Nightmarer’s technical death metal on Deformity Adrift isn’t about as many 100 mph guitar solos they can squeeze in, but how to unnerve a listener with irregular tempos that signify a growing dread in the air. Unlike the embedded industrialized menace in their debut album Cacophony Of Terror, this album is less rigid about its sonic sidesteps. “Throe Of Illicit Withdrawal” and “Suffering Beyond Death” settle down in spots to let the music open up, either with some groove or a bass-led breakdown.
With songs like these, along with two instrumentals and a massive closer in “Obliterated Shrine” that incorporates orchestration and samples, Nightmarer are setting their aim in more diverse regions. Doing this emphasizes the times they avoid all of that in exchange for cut-throat death metal with a hidden desire to groove out. Deformity Adrift is technical without having to be flashy with its performances.
Severed Angel – Severed Angel (Sliptrick)
Originally a spinoff of the Rat Salad Review podcast, co-hosts Wayne Noon and Lou Mavs originally gained fame after their cover of Def Leppard’s “On Through the Night” made it on FnA Records’ Let’s Get Rocked Tribute To Def Leppard album. Coming out the gate strong with their self-titled debut album, Severed Angel definitely pay their tribute to the classics with a modern take.
Their debut album is a power metal ballad start to end, with nine original songs and a solid cover of Ghost’s “Square Hammer” rounding out this album. The opening track “Introspective” does a great job in pulling you in and the rest of the album does a great job in keeping you headbanging along ’til the end. As far as debut albums, Severed Angel are definitely on the right track and the future is bright for them.
Spinebreaker – Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition (Creator-Destructor)
It’s been seven or so years since Spinebreaker’s debut album Ice Grave, with not much activity recording-wise besides a 2019 demo. With Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition, the group returns enraged on death metal, mostly leaving their hardcore roots behind. The production is less buzzy on this EP compared to their first album.
This suits the band’s remorseless pursuit of pain, with only short instrumental “Inoculated” taking a slower detour. Longer songs in “Beneath Our Blood Stained Sun” and “Crimson Mask,” the opener and closer to the release, respectively, embolden the group to flesh out deviations in tempo. Cavern Of Inoculated Cognition is a lean, killer death metal EP that should be intensified live with the triple guitar attack they have in their lineup now.
Tygers Of Pan Tang – Bloodlines (Mighty)
NWOBHM pioneers Tygers Of Pan Tang got their start in the late ’70s. Their heyday ended in the late ’80s, but they regrouped after a dozen year or so hiatus and have regularly been issuing albums again since 2001. Guitarist Robb Weir is the lone remaining original member, but vocalist Jack Meille has been in the band for nearly two decades.
Their latest album Bloodlines features two new members, guitarist Francesco Marras (Screaming Shadows) and bassist Huw Holding (Holodade, ex-Blitzkrieg). The current incarnation of the band keeps the spirit of the NWOBHM alive with songs that are heavy and melodic. Songs like “In My Blood” and the ballad “Taste Of Love” would probably have been big hits back in the day. Bloodlines is full of memorable songs that don’t break much new ground, but will satisfy the band’s longtime fans with their flawless execution.
Vintersea – Woven Into Ashes (M-Theory)
Oregon extreme prog metallers Vintersea‘s first two albums (2017’s The Gravity Of Fall and 2019’s Illuminated) were both well received. It took them a few years to complete, but their anticipated third full-length Woven Into Ashes is finally being unleashed.
Vintersea are all about contrast and dynamics, both musically and vocally. Avienne is a powerhouse, shifting from aggressive growls to melodic croons and back again. The songs on the album are lengthy, most in the five to seven minute range. Tracks like “Devil’s Churn” have dense, heavy death/black metal sections with harsh growls along with proggy, post metal melodic parts. “Crescent Eclipse” starts out with a sparse arrangement and ethereal vocals before blastbeats and growls take it to a much more extreme place for a while, then it mellows back out during the last couple of minutes. Those dynamics and constant shifts make Woven Into Ashes an immersive listening experience.
Winger – Seven (Frontiers)
Winger were one of the more successful bands of the hair metal era, with two platinum albums and several hit singles. Like most bands in their genre, they fell by the wayside once grunge came to the forefront. But thanks to their inclusion in Beavis & Butthead, Winger’s career was negatively affected even more than most of their hair band counterparts.
Nine years after their last album, Winger puts all that in their rearview mirror and return with Seven. All their original members remain, and guitarist John Roth has been in the band since 1992. The 2023 version of Winger writes songs that are more mature and introspective with less glossy production, but are still melodic and catchy. Kip Winger’s voice is in fine form, and he’s able to hit the high notes on tracks like “Tears Of Blood” and “Voodoo Fire.” Roth and Reb Beach get their shred on with quality riffs and memorable solos. From uptempo rockers to ballads like “Broken Glass,” Seven has elements of Winger’s glory days, but also modern influences.