This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from BlackRain, Celtic Frost, Circles, Hibernus Mortis, High Command, In The Woods, Induction, Judicator, League Of Distortion, Leather, Lee Aaron, Lykotonen, Maceration and The Riven.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
BlackRain – Untamed (Steamhammer/SPV)
Having segued from their early heavy metal/power metal leanings, French mob BlackRain sound comfortable in their own skin (and leather pants) nowadays playing sleaze rock fare. Two decades in, they’ve issued Untamed, exuding a vintage sound, albeit with modern production punch, that would fit neatly on a bill or festival stage alongside the likes of Crashdïet and H.E.A.T.
Once the hairspray cloud clears, there are catchy melodies for the listener to sink their teeth into; “Summer Jesus,” “Demon” and “Neon Drift” are aching to be performed live. Swan Hellion leads the way with a versatile voice and charisma, while several memorable solos fly off the fingers of the curiously dubbed Max 2. There are few surprises, and the record loses its lustre towards its conclusion with less-than-stellar cuts that lack a distinctive identity. Meanwhile, the Bon Jovi nod on “Dawn of Hell” is pure cheese. Overall though, the beers-aloft choruses and sizeable riffage are custom-built to send glam-loving crowds into a frenzy, and should achieve said goal when BlackRain takes Untamed on the road.
Celtic Frost – Danse Macabre (BMG)
When it comes to influential extreme metal bands, Celtic Frost must be included on the list. After the demise of Hellhammer, Tom G. Warrior and Martin Ain formed the band, who went on to release several EPs and albums in the mid-’80s to early ’90s (and one final album in 2006). Their early work is collected on the box set Danse Macabre.
It includes all their recordings from 1984 through 1987: the full lengths To Mega Therion and Into The Pandemonium along with EPs Morbid Tales, Emperor’s Return, Tragic Serenades and I Won’t Dance. There’s also a disc of 1984 rehearsal tracks and goodies such as a 40 page book, two sided poster and woven patch. Available in vinyl and CD, the Danse Macabre box set is an essential collection from one of metal’s seminal bands and would make a great holiday gift for the discerning metal fan.
Circles – The Stories We Are Afraid Of Vol. 1 (Wild Thing)
The Australian band Circles take their time between releases. There was a five year span between their debut and 2018’s The Last One. They are back with the EP The Stories We Are Afraid Of Vol. 1, the initial installment of a two-part release.
The six songs are a mix of djent, electronics and accessible melodies. Tracks like “Sleepwalking” and “Bliss” have dense, heavy parts that shift to catchy, radio-friendly hooks. “Echo” flips the template, starting off soft and mellow before kicking in more than halfway through. While Circles have been labeled as a prog band, this EP is more in the alt metal/metalcore vein with streamlined songs, pristine production and not an ounce of filler.
Hibernus Mortis – The Monoliths Of Cursed Slumber (Blood Harvest)
Two things are important about Florida death metal act Hibernus Mortis and their new album. First, we are dealing with a band that formed and grew 26 years ago in the cradle of American death metal. The second and more important point is that the band’s new album, The Monoliths Of Cursed Slumber, is presented 20 years after their debut. Something we should call a glorious comeback, but is it really?
The Monoliths Of Cursed Slumber is a respectable work for those who want death metal based on its old school elements and atmosphere; raw and unpolished. Nothing more, nothing less. Brutality lies in the beats and the vibrating ominous turbulence of the songs that embrace doom metal and roar restlessly. In the raging field of the new wave of old school death metal, The Monoliths Of Cursed Slumber easily finds its place among it. It’s a spot that Hibernus Mortis abruptly abandoned twenty years ago, and are now looking to reclaim.
High Command – Eclipse Of Dual Moons (Southern Lord)
Firing out of the gate in a frenzied metal fury, the title track of Eclipse Of Dual Moons is the clarion call for this metal militia’s next wholesale objective. It is eight tracks of fury, just short of 50 minutes and maximum heaviness that draws from a pool of influences without any discernable depth. ‘80s thrash, death, classic metal; you name it, High Command delivers on it.
High Command are on the cutting edge of what crossover thrash is, whether that be the lyrical content taken from legendary lore or the use of a Hammond organ on a track called “Fortified By Bloodshed” of all things. They have lost nary a step because of this. The album’s closing track “Spires of Secartha” is the most ambitious thing they have done to date. 12-minute songs aren’t often part of this genre’s mix, but High Command are doing their own thing and doing it well. Their ambitious take on a genre that doesn’t often thrive on variety is something that is well worth celebrating. This tour-de-force of an album is a must hear and one of the year’s best.
In The Woods… – Diversum (Soulseller)
Four years after their last album, Norwegian veterans In The Woods… have both a new singer (Bernt Fjellestad, formerly of Susperia and and Scornbath) and a new record label (Soulseller). Diversum is their third album since they re-formed in 2014, and sixth overall.
They have come a long way from their black metal beginnings, evolving into a prog/avant-garde band. Diversum is an appropriate title for an album with a lot of variety. “Moments” has a singalong chorus and streamlined length, while songs like “We Sinful Converge” and “A Wonderful Crisis” are more epic with plenty of ebbs and flows and a combination of singing and harsh vocals. Fjellestad is a good addition, a versatile singer that fits right in and gives a strong performance throughout, especially on “Master Of None.” In The Woods… are able to write songs that are both memorable and interesting, making Diversum a highly enjoyable listen.
Induction – Born From Fire (Atomic Fire)
The symphonic power metal band Induction have gone through a lot of changes since their independently released 2019 self-titled debut. The only remaining member from that record is guitarist Tim Hansen. Their new singer is Craig Cairns (Tailgunner, Metal Order).
Born From Fire is bombastic power metal with layers of symphonic atmosphere. It blends lengthy epic songs like the dynamic “Scorched” and varied “Ghost Of Silence” with more streamlined numbers such as the soaring “Embers” and catchy “Queen Of Light.” Cairns’ voice suits the material perfectly, as he has not only power and range, but also knows when to dial it back. With mixing and mastering by the legendary Jacob Hansen, the album sounds good, but more importantly it’s packed with quality songs that symphonic power metal fans will enjoy.
Judicator – The Majesty Of Decay (Prosthetic)
American power metal collective Judicator are back with The Majesty Of Decay, their sixth album and second with Prosthetic. Things start off a bit slowly, allowing for vocalist John Yelland to get his foothold before unleashing the album’s title track. This song and “From The Belly Of The Whale” come off as some serious Helloween meets Savatage and Dream Theater love, while maintaining Judicator’s unique identity, not sparing any heaviness along the way. Clearly Balmore, John Dolan and Jordan Elcess know what they’re doing.
Unlike many power metal bands, Judicator aren’t afraid of varying what defines power metal at times. A perfect example is the funky “High Priestess,” which feels as though it would be more at home on a Fishbone or 24/7 Spyz album with the wonderfully vibrant horn section taking an ample amount of the spotlight. It’s used in a tasteful way, not tacked on but part of the entire experience. Judicator continue to be one of the most consistent bands in power metal without just sitting idly by. They take some chances and it absolutely rules.
League Of Distortion – League Of Distortion (Napalm)
League Of Distortion calls themselves “modern metal,” a phrase that essentially means glossy, overproduced music with a liberal usage of electronics and snarky attitude. Songs like “I’m A Bitch” and “Do You Really Think I Fu**in’ Care” are full of both of these, proudly using profanity like it’s on bargain at Macy’s. The group does a convincing enough job selling it, but it’s the same kind of overdone gruff postering that’s a staple of mainstream metal.
Stick with the album past its mundane first half and the songs become less fixated on a wall of overly manipulated aggression. “Solitary Confinement” favors melody in an appealing way, and the symphonic angle of “SIN” has a strong performance from singer Anna Brunner (Exit Eden), giving a voice to a grisly tale of abuse and mistreatment. It’s when League Of Distortion have something to say beyond being a rebel or too tough for the crowd that their self-titled debut starts to perk up.
Lee Aaron – Elevate (Metalville)
Canadian legend Lee Aaron is in the midst of somewhat of a career resurgence. Elevate is her sixth rock release in six years, and picks up where past releases left off, with ten feel-good hard rock tracks. As always, Aaron tries to deliver strong messages in her songs, and Elevate’s focus is on lifting one another up in positive ways.
Once again recorded live off the floor with the whole band, Elevate is forty-three minutes of primarily harmless hard rock. There are some fun but forgettable tracks (“The Devil U Know,” “Rock Bottom Revolution”) sprinkled in with a few gems (the title track and “Spitfire Woman” stand out). Aaron and her band show they are capable of rocking out, although on this album the hooks are less memorable than they could be.
Lykotonon – Promethean Pathology (Profound Lore)
Lykotonon are a side project featuring members of Blood Incantation and Wayfarer that lets them expand more into avant-garde death metal with Promethean Pathology. This is done using electronics and industrial sounds with mechanical beats and synths, which complement the extreme side of the group very well. They even turn it into two engaging instrumentals, “Apeiron” and “The Primal Principle,” fleshed out with ominous energy, as if they are dancing us to the end of the world.
Promethean Pathology is a stark listen, saved from the bottom of despair by guitar leads that rise from the mire. Closer “Seeing Silver In Shadow” adds quaint touches of melody in its introduction and its extended jam at the end has Lykotonon putting their prog shoes on, almost a slight nod to when their other acts do the same. This record is hard to pin down sonically, and that’s to its credit.
Leather – We Are The Chosen (Steamhammer/SPV)
Leather Leone was the singer for Chastain in the ’80s/early ’90s, and then returned in 2013. She has also released solo albums over the years, and her latest is We Are The Chosen. Her backing band for the last two Leather albums
are also Rob Rock’s live band.
The songs on We Are The Chosen are traditional metal with heavy guitars, plenty of solos and of course Leone’s distinctive vocals. There’s a definite ’80s vibe, but the production is modern. Most of the songs are focused and straightforward with catchy choruses. The album’s longest track is “Hallowed Ground,” a seven minute ballad dedicated to Ronnie James Dio that has similarities to the late great singer’s style. The album doesn’t take many risks, with Leone knowing her strengths and staying in that sweet spot, but it’s an enjoyable ride.
Maceration – It Never Ends… (Emanzipation)
30 years ago Maceration were one of the first death metal bands in Denmark. Formed by members of Invocator, they released their debut in 1992 and split a few years later. Three decades later the band has reunited with Dan Swano (Edge Of Sanity, Bloodbath) producing and doing vocals. Original members Jakob Schlultz and Lars Bangsholt also return.
It’s the first time Swano has done harsh vocals in decades, but he pulls it off well. Swano is actually a session vocalist, with Jan Bergmann Jepsen their live vocalist, who appears on the title track and “Tender Twigs Of Innocence.” It Never Ends has the classic HM-2 death metal sound with the extremity and melody you’d expect. It doesn’t push a lot of boundaries, but It Never Ends… is well-executed and a welcome return for a pioneering death metal band.
The Riven – Peace And Conflict (The Sign)
The Riven are a band we’ve been keeping an eye on here since their 2017 EP, Blackbird. Peace And Conflict is the Swedish outfit’s second full-length, following 2019’s self-titled release. It sees the band emerge as a five-piece, with a second guitarist added to the mix to double down on the NWOBHM sound they’ve been aiming for all along.
This is the step forward for The Riven that we’ve been waiting for. The dual guitar attack truly elevates the material as the band displays an as yet unseen enthusiasm, and Totta Ekebergh’s vocals, while not for everyone, have also matured. Production is also top notch this time around, with driving rock, psychedelic, and even flamenco moments all sounding fantastic. The nine songs on Peace And Conflict effectively revisit the late ’70s hard rock vibe the band strives for. Fans of the retro hard rock movement will dig this.