This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from 16, Autograph, Disturbed, Doomsday, Enemy Eyes, Foehammer, Incantvm, Rebel Souls, Skythala, Soen, SteppenDoom, Sword, This Is The Last Time and U.D.O.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
16 – Into Dust (Relapse)
Los Angeles sludge unit 16 return with Into Dust, their ninth proper album and first in two years. Being from a place not usually associated with misery has always allowed 16 to exist in a unique place, clearly being influenced by the sludgiest bands of their own heyday while providing their own spin on this malice. “Misfortune Teller” provides a ton of dissonance against a backdrop of jingling keys and Bobby Ferry’s shouted approach in combination with his and Alex Shuster’s riffs, this makes for a supremely heavy approach to amplification. Tracks like “Dead Eyes” and “Ash In The Hourglass” have sections that could lure away the most steadfast supporters of ‘90s stoner rock with furious riffs that fuse a level of accessibility into their misery laden mania.
Closing on a high note, “Born on a Barstool” features tremendous saxophone playing that is interspersed throughout the track for maximum effect, playing the sludge against a jazz background with paradigm shifts happening through this journey. This might be one of the most epic tracks in their catalog to date. 16 have crafted a vile concoction with Into Dust, a stoner sludge tour de force with enough variety to keep things interesting throughout. If you need your sludge fix for 2022 look no further than this greasy gem.
Autograph – Beyond (Frontiers)
Autograph released three albums in the ’80s, and had a hit single “Turn Up The Radio.” They disbanded in 1989 and reformed in 2013 with three original members. Beyond is their third album since getting back together. Earlier this year, founding bassist Randy Rand passed away after the album was recorded.
The band is carrying on with no original members (Keni Richards left the band in 2014, Steve Lynch in 2019). Simon Daniels has been Autograph’s vocalist since they got back together, and does a good job delivering the band’s hard/glam rock songs. New guitarist Jimi Bell (House Of Lords) has a prominent role on the album with a lot of solos and quality riffs. The songs are catchy, ’80s style arena rock with big hooks and singalong choruses. It’s a solid album aimed at fans of ’80s rock.
Disturbed – Divisive (Reprise)
Divisive is an apt title for Disturbed‘s eighth studio album. There’s no denying their success, with numerous platinum albums and a lot of chart topping singles. There’s also no denying they have their detractors. This album won’t change that, as it is very similar to their other recent releases.
Disturbed are at their best on heavy, pissed off tracks like the opener “Hey You,” which became their fifteenth number one rock radio single. There are numerous other songs on Divisive destined for chart success, with a plethora of potential singles ranging from the title track to “Feeding The Fire.” One of the more interesting songs on the album is “Don’t Tell Me,” which features Heart’s Ann Wilson. It’s a ballad, with David Draiman and Wilson’s voices meshing well together. While not breaking any new musical ground, Divisive is packed with well-executed and appealing songs.
Doomsday – Depictions Of Chaos (Creator-Destructor)
Doomsday aren’t timid about going hard on crossover thrash metal on their debut EP, Depictions Of Chaos. That may not seem apparent based on the first minute of the release, as the title track opens with subdued acoustic guitars. Once that is out of the way, the triple-guitar attack the band employs takes over. The more guitars the better, and the band takes advantage of this with a large quantity of solos and massive breakdowns.
They pack a lot of thrashing within 18 minutes, though there are also atmospheric nods, like the extended enticing outro to “Agony Blossoms Fear.” That, along with the acoustics in the first track, count as evidence for a group that can do more than shred skin and rip necks off. As 2022 nears its end, Doomsday have put out one of the last quality thrash releases of the year.
Enemy Eyes – History’s Hand (Frontiers)
It has been a prolific few years for singer Johnny Gioeli. Since 2018 he has been part of releases from Hardline, Axel Rudi Pell and Crush 40 along with a solo album. His latest project Enemy Eyes blends his love of hard rock and classic European metal.
History’s Hand is heavy, yet accessible. Songs like the title track have arrangements that are bombastic and atmospheric with touches of power metal and a modern production and sound. Tracks such as “The Chase” bring hard rock to the forefront with big hooks and a singalong chorus. There are also ballads like “What I Believe” that give Gioeli a chance to showcase his powerful pipes. History’s Hand accomplishes exactly what Gioeli hoped. It’s a varied mix of metal and hard rock that will appeal to fans of both genres.
Foehammer – Monumentum (Silent Pendulum)
Foehammer’s second album Monumentum has the group slimmed down to a duo as they add a death metal-sized charge into their sludgy drone. This comes mainly through the arms of drummer Ben Price, a new addition to the band since their last album, 2018’s Second Sight. His blast beats add danger to a band that haven’t tried out many fast tempos until this point, and this makes the almost hour-long running time sensible.
Price comes off as the lead musician between himself and founding member vocalist/guitarist Jay Cardinell on much of Monumentum. He gets all the cool fills and the flashy moments as Cardinell keeps steady with earth-rattling riffs and unfathomable growls. The two-part “The Great Cortege” uses its combined 25 minutes to encapsulate every angle of Foehammer’s sound, from tense doom to downtrodden melodies.
Incantvm – Strigae (I, Voidhanger)
Incantvm opens their debut album Strigae with a bombastic take on Mozart’s “Dies Irae” composition, and the record only gets more theatrical from there. The group was founded by musician Vittorio Sabelli, who just so happens to be a clarinetist. Many people have probably not heard as much of the clarinet before as they will throughout Strigae, as it’s a key instrument as valuable as any guitar or drum.
Interpretations of “Dies Irae” bookend the album, as three tracks that average over 10 minutes each are sandwiched between them. A classical take on black metal, there are real instruments like piano, saxophone, and violins used; this is not some low-fi synthesized orchestration but warm tones that break through the icy core. Add two vocalists who perform as if they are going for a Tony award and a choir that includes Rotting Christ vocalist Sakis Tolis, and Strigae is an immersive, original experience.
Rebel Souls – Dawn Of Depravity (Blood Fire Death)
The German death metal band Rebel Souls have a long history, but not many releases. Their origins go back to 2000, but their debut album wasn’t issued until 2017. Five years later they are back with their second effort Dawn Of Depravity.
It’s a relentless album with waves of thunderous drums and intense guitars. While extremity abounds, there is also catchiness, groove and melody. They change things up on tracks like “Poisoner Of The Harvest” that has an acoustic section bookended by potent death metal. Rebel Souls also inject blackened sections for even more variety. The lyrics opine about humanity becoming extinct due to corruption and greed. The anger and brutality of the music suits those themes very well. Dawn Of Depravity is a strong sophomore release for death metal fans to check out.
Skythala – Boreal Despair (I, Voidhanger)
Skythala are a group of anonymous musicians putting on symphonic black metal in an obtuse way perfect for the I, Voidhanger Records roster. Anyone familiar with the label (or the various reviews this writer has done of their releases) will know that Boreal Despair is not a standard, Dimmu Borgir-like take on the genre, but a nuanced, rich clash of authentic classical instrumentation and seething outbursts.
There’s a tense arrangement between these avenues, and the band aren’t satisfied with sticking to one idea for long. With songs that average nine to ten minutes each, there’s ample space for deviations like wide-range orchestration-led interludes with woodwind and brass instruments. It’s been a while since someone really did something new with symphonic black metal, and Skythala aren’t bounded by any set precedents on Boreal Despair.
Soen – Atlantis (Silver Lining)
Ten years into their career Swedish prog metal outfit Soen deliver Atlantis, their first “live” album. The album features reworkings of a dozen songs from their catalog, primarily from Lotus and Imperial, along with a sweet cover of Slipknot’s “Snuff” as well as one new song, “Trials.” The band is joined by an eight-piece orchestra and backup singers and the results are breathtaking.
The DVD itself isn’t much to write home about. This is a live studio show rather than a concert, so it is very subdued visually. There’s a short “making of” documentary at the end which is enjoyable, but the real beauty in Atlantis is the performances of all thirteen songs, all of which happen to lend themselves perfectly to these reinterpretations. Orchestrating songs like “Antagonist” adds so much more depth. Atlantis is a must-have for fans of the band.
SteppenDoom – SteppenDoom (Magnetic Eye)
SteppenDoom are a creation of producer Marc Urselli, who brought together doom musicians and singers from around the globe that specialize in throat singing. Their self-titled debut is described as “indigenous doom.”
Among the guest musicians are Matt Pike (High On Fire), Aaron Aedy (Paradise Lost), Steve Von Till (Neurosis), Dave Chandler (Saint Vitus) and Scott “Wino” Weinrich. The rest of the instrumental duties are handled by the versatile Urselli. While metal fans are familiar with throat singing thanks to groups like The Hu and Tengger Calvary, blending it with doom gives it a whole new twist. The songs are deliberate and complex, with more unfolding with each listen. The album ends with the whopping 33 minute song “A-dkar Theg Pa” that’s mostly ambient. That does drag down the proceedings, but the rest of SteppenDoom is very compelling.
Sword – III (Massacre)
Not to be confused with the now defunct The Sword, Sword are a Canadian band that put out a couple of metal albums back in the ’80s, then as so many of their peers did, they disappeared. After rekindling the urge to play together a few years ago, and unearthing some old demos and rejected songs, Sword are now releasing their third album, aptly named III.
There are some killer tracks (“Bad Blood” and “I Am In Kommand”) and some songs that could have been left on the cutting room floor (“Surfacing” and “Unleashing Hell”), but overall III is a strong metal album with excellent performances and production, and definitely worth checking out, especially for those curious about the band.
This Is The Last Time are another band formed during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, all its members working individually to put together the instrumental album Acclimation. Split across four movements over the course of 30 minutes, each song isn’t interlocked together, letting the flow of ideas not be tied down to a giant stretch of music. Whether all the movements are digested at once or spread out, the group searches for brighter hope, even when the blast beats are in unlimited supply.
Though the drums are programmed, their production is great and doesn’t come off as tiny or processed. The songs are long, sometimes a bit too long, though melodious breaks make them manageable. This Is The Last Time cite Acclimation as being for fans of bands like In Flames, Meshuggah, Gorguts and Pelican, which is an appropriate description of what the band does on this album.
U.D.O. – The Legacy (AFM)
It has been 35 since Udo Dirkschneider left Accept and formed U.D.O. Over that time, they have released eighteen studio albums (including last year’s Game Over along with numerous live albums and a few compilations.
Legacy is a two disc, 33 song compilation spanning their entire career. It includes material from each of their studio albums, including several rarities such as “Wilder Life” that was previously released only on the Japanese edition of Game Over and “Dust And Rust,” a bonus track on the Japanese edition of 2013’s Steelhammer. There are plenty of other more familiar songs as well, making for an interesting collection. It’s a collection U.D.O. fans will definitely want to check out, and it’s a good place for those interested in exploring the band to start.