This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Bornholm, Bryan Eckermann, Bullet For My Valentine, Crazy Lixx, Deber, Deceased, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Fearout, Gaahl’s Wyrd, Ivar Bjornson & Einar Selvik, Mystras, Omnium Gatherum, Outre-Tombe, Scarecrow, The Three Tremors, Varius, Witnesses and Zaaar.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Bornholm – Apotheosis (Napalm)
With a special focus on paganism themes, which have always been a hallmark of their music, Bornholm have made another attempt to create a dark and sinister epic in the form of a black metal work. Apotheosis, their fifth studio album once again emphasizes the band’s mastery in creating this form of epic.
The term black metal can be used to describe Bornholm, but the truth is that in a detailed description of their music, and this album in particular, it falls somewhere beyond this genre. It blends with strong folk, heavy metal melodies and orchestral touches that added the concentrated mythical and epic aspect to the album. Apotheosis shows the maturity of the band and clearly demonstrates their courage to make an ambitious and highly dynamic move in the band’s sound. In the composition of this album, progressive metal manifests itself more than ever. Twenty years after their founding, but it is never too late, Apotheosis is a new starting point for Bornholm to conquer the horizons ahead.
Bryan Eckermann is an industrious musician. His solo albums are the result of just him writing, recording and playing all instruments (with the exception of guest appearances). Plague Bringers, his eighth full-length, is the sequel to his 2018 concept album Winters Plague (The Final Eclipse) about aliens invading Earth.
Acoustic/clean guitar initiate several tracks or provide melodic breaks within songs. Melodies also come through in the form of guitar harmonies and solos. Keyboard intros play a major role on the album. Some keyboard parts are reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity, while others bring to mind the cinematic horror of King Diamond. “Ice Queen” features a powerful Gothenburg-esque guitar riff, while much of the album hinges on chunky, mid-paced riffs recalling Hypocrisy. The vocals are quasi-black metal screams. Stu Block (ex-Iced Earth, Into Eternity) scrapes the stars with his voice as guest on “Moonlight and Frostbite.” Eckermann displays great talent as a story teller and multi-instrumentalist on Plague Bringers.
Bullet For My Valentine – Bullet For My Valentine (Spinefarm)
After Gravity received mixed reviews with a shift in sound, Welsh metalcore veterans Bullet For My Valentine right the ship with a self-titled album. It’s their seventh studio album.
The band has had numerous successful singles over the years, and Bullet For My Valentine certainly has several potential radio-friendly tracks. But it’s also a heavy album, evident in the record’s first two songs, “Parasite” and “Knives.” Those are balanced by accessible numbers like “Can’t Escape The Waves.” They achieve an optimum balance of catchy hooks and extremity on songs such as “No Happy Ever After” and “Paralysed.” Galloping riffs, singalong choruses and moshworthy moments make for a well-rounded album.
Crazy Lixx – Street Lethal (Frontiers)
Ever wonder what your parents thought when the Stray Cats came out in the early ‘80s? Nearly thirty years past rockabilly’s prime, along comes a young band faithfully recreating the sound, look, and feel of a bygone era. Fast-forward to 2021, and the gods of music have given us Sweden’s Crazy Lixx, and their latest homage to the era of big hair and bigger choruses, Street Lethal.
Despite the goofy spelling, Crazy Lixx bring us faithful reconstructions of the heights of “hair metal” – even going so far as to use that term in their own bio. Singer Danny Rexon recalls a more virtuosic Jon Bon Jovi, lifting chorus after anthemic chorus. From the stacked backing vocals on tracks like “The Power” that would make Mutt Lange blush, to the obligatory, keyboard-laden ballad, “In The Middle Of Nothing,” if you long for the guitar-shredding, spandex days of yore, Crazy Lixx do not disappoint.
Deber – Aspire To Affliction (Personal)
Aspire To Affliction is Swedish funeral doom duo Deber’s first album, and features three slow, churning tracks, flanked by ambient intro/outro tracks. Cavernous growls, sparse drums, held pipe organ chords and sorrowful guitar melodies underpinned by pummeling riffs; this is funeral doom by the numbers. What Deber lack in originality, it makes up for in quality of execution and in knowing very well what makes funeral doom tick.
Each song leans into a different facet of the genre conventions, which creates a varied listening experience, all things considered. Where “Pestilence” relies on atmosphere, “Decay” focuses on melody and “Soulbind” on an oppressive groove. The playing is somewhat loose, but the production is tasteful and clear. Aspire To Affliction is a solid debut that strikes a good balance between fidelity to genre conventions and artistic expression.
Deceased – Thrash Times At Ridgemont High (Hells Headbangers)
Death/thrash metal legends Deceased have done a lot of cover songs over the years. In fact, they have released three previous cover albums (2002’s Zombie Hymns, 2004’s Rotten To The Core and last year’s Rotten To The Core Part 2) along with compiling those first two cover albums and adding an additional dozen songs for 2015’s Cadaver Traditions.
As you can garner from the title, Thrash Times At Ridgemont High pays homage to thrash songs. The genre’s biggest names are eschewed for some lesser known groups like Cyclone, Stone and Blessed Death along with stalwarts such as Voivod and Artillery. Deceased blaze through the 12 songs, with the original arrangements mostly intact, but putting their own twist on the tracks. Essential? Certainly not. Enjoyable? Absolutely.
Diablo Swing Orchestra – Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole (Spinefarm)
Swedish ensemble Diablo Swing Orchestra did not overly impress with their last album, 2017’s Pacifisticuffs, but they are intent on regaining our trust and love here on their fifth album, Swagger & Stroll Down The Rabbit Hole. With their unique mash-up of jazz, prog rock, classical music, and groove metal, the DSO have the potential to knock it out of the park when firing on all cylinders.
That’s mostly what happens on Swagger… as the band tears through number after number of quirky, catchy craziness. Thirteen songs stretch over an hour here, and each of them is full of crazy musicianship, theatrical vocals, and an all-around positive vibe that almost reminds one of a cross between Igorrr and the B-52’s. After a dip in quality last time around, DSO are right back doing what they do best: crafting some of the most fervently infectious music of the year.
Fearout – Bleedthrough (Inverse)
It takes a great effort to be noticed in modern hard rock/metal, where there seems to be a new band with a radio single every day. Fearout are trying to step from their home country of Finland into a global market with their debut album, Bleedthrough. Their four-part vocal harmonies are appealing, as is the rock steady instrumentation that has its occasional illuminating highlights. When the band is on the mark, like on energetic closer “Bring Me Down” and the stoner rock grooves in “Obsession,” they appear poised to break out.
Alas, the album itself doesn’t maintain those benchmarks, as an unfortunate lack of consistent hooks and shaky vocal performances work against Bleedthrough. Something like “That Was the Day I Decided To Start Using Hard Drugs” is clunky enough as a song title; now imagine trying to fit that into a chorus that sounds legitimate. The passion Fearout have is never in doubt, but that doesn’t translate to an album of hits.
Gaahl’s Wyrd – The Humming Mountain (Season Of Mist)
Gaahls Wyrd, fronted by Kristian Espedal (Trelldom, ex-Gorgoroth), issued their debut album GastiR – Ghosts Invited in 2019. For the EP The Humming Mountain, three songs written for but not used on that album have been reworked.
Opener “The Seed” and closer “The Sleep” are newly written. “The Seed” is a 9 minute track that’s mellow and introspective and completely non-metal. “The Sleep” is similar, but just three minutes long. “The Dwell” is the EP’s heaviest song, blending harsh vocals with melodic parts. It’s an eclectic release, and at nearly 30 minutes is a lot of material for an EP, whetting the appetite for the next Gaahl’s Wyrd full-length.
Ivar Bjornson & Einar Selvik – Hardanger (By Norse)
Enslaved’s Ivar Bjornson and Wardruna’s Einar Selvik have together been taking black metal and spinning it through a neo-folk cycle for years now. Hardanger, an EP consisting of two songs, is the first new material they’ve released since 2018’s Hugsja. One of them is “Heim Til Yggdrasil,” a retooling of Enslaved’s “Return to Yggdrasill” given an acoustic makeover, while the title track is an original composition based on a region in western Norway.
Both songs don’t deviate far from the quaint sounds of previous material, as the title track leans on percussion to pace itself. Other members of Enslaved, including vocalist Grutle Kjellson, make appearances, giving the whole EP a synergy that makes sense in the Wardruna/Enslaved universe. It’s over quickly, but Hardanger has its share of hidden sounds that makes it worth repeating.
Mystras – Empires Vanquished And Dismantled (I, Voidhanger)
A mere six months after musician Ayloss released a new album as Spectral Lore, he returns with the second album from his Mystras project, Empires Vanquished And Dismantled. Like Castles Conquered And Reclaimed, Ayloss intersperses covers of traditional folk tunes with the crisp black metal that has become his trademark across multiple bands. The themes of imperialism still loom over these songs and having the lyrics handy shows the attention Ayloss has given to retellings of the history, like the Byzantine Empire’s expanding rule over Europe and the Middle East.
Though this album comes a little over a year after the first Mystras one, there is no rehashing going on. Attempts are made to broaden the sound with the 14-minute evolution of “The Fall Of The Kingdom Of Jerusalem” and the droning “Cheragheh Zolmezalem (Opposition’s Fire).” The operatic vocals on acoustic interlude “Wie Schändlich Es Ist” are unexpected in a positive way. Empires Vanquished And Dismantled pushes Mystras further into its own entity that doesn’t need any rub from Ayloss’ other groups.
Omnium Gatherum – Origin (Century Media)
The long-running Finnish melodic death metal band Omnium Gatherum have had a couple of lineup changes since their last album, 2018’s The Burning Cold. New to the group are bassist Mikko Kivistö (Pain Confessor) and drummer Atte Pesonen (Anger Cell). The lone original member is guitarist Markus Vanhala.
It has been nearly 20 years since their debut EP, and Omnium Gatherum have established a recognizable sound over the past couple decades. Melodic guitars are augmented by atmospheric keyboards and topped with mostly harsh vocals along with some singing. The songs are engaging, with memorable riffs and a lot of dynamics. They are also remarkably consistent, with minimal filler, even on nearly nine minute songs like “Solemn.” All the original songs are one-word titles this time around, and they close with an interesting cover choice. They put a metal twist on the song “In Front Of Me” from the electronica/pschedelic group Infected Mushroom.
Outre-Tombe – Abysse Mortifère (Temple Of Mystery)
Quebecois death metal four piece Outre-Tombe return with their third proper album Abysse Mortifère (Death Abyss), the follow-up to 2018’s Nécrovortex, a swirling mass of death metal destruction heavily rooted in the genre’s genesis. It should also be mentioned that this is a French language affair, complete with vocalist Crachat sounding like Martin Van Drunen mixed with some Chuck Schuldiner.
Tracks like the instantly listenable “Cenobytes” soar to amazing heights with furious speed but can be just as powerful at slower speeds in a death doom kind of way. The cover art by Putrid Matt is an excellent ode to the vile creatures that have adorned genre classics such as the one on Autopsy’s Mental Funeral; it really makes no mistakes what Outre-Tombe’s modus operandi is. If you like your death metal detuned, down and dirty; look no further than Abysse Mortifère, a barebones and brutal affair surely to leave you just the amount of bludgeoned to come back asking for more.
Scarecrow- Raise The Death’s Head (Relapse)
Matt Harvey is a man of many talents in the heavy metal field with bands Exhumed, Gruesome and Pounder, to name a few. Add in fellow Exhumed member Bud Burke plus two current members of Death Angel and you have a veritable supergroup in Scarecrow, but now in complete thrash form. Raise The Death’s Head is a three track EP and the first new material for the band since their original incarnation in 2008.
This is proper thrashing of the heaviest order evoking bands from the late ‘80s like Vio-Lence, Forbidden, and Overkill for starters. This is all on display on the title track which leads things off, with the nearly 7 minute runtime being perfect to let the leads and solos do their thing with no restrictions present. This sounds like it would be excellent if fleshed out completely as a full length and serves as a wonderful first serving to the band. Thrash on my friends.
The Three Tremors – Guardians Of The Void (Steel Cartel)
In 2019, Tim “Ripper” Owens (KK’s Priest, Beyond Fear), Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin (Jag Panzer) and Sean Peck (Cage, Death Dealer) teamed up as The Three Tremors and issued their self-titled debut album. Later that year solo versions of the album from each singer were released. Now, they are back with Guardians Of The Void.
It’s traditional metal with influences of other genres including thrash and power metal. Each vocalist has a unique sound, and brings something different to the table. There are songs of maximum velocity such as the thrash-infused title track along with more moderately paced and melodic tracks such as “Crucifier.” The songs are melodic and catchy, and with three vocalists there’s no shortage of variety.
For their second EP Concordance, Varius decided to let each band member bring their own song in. This move lets the band step away from the rigid melodic death metal of their first EP, The Great Tribulation, and try out other genre types. Opener “Golden Crown” keeps its deathly roots in the ruinous vocals, as the song is otherwise traditional heavy metal that wouldn’t have been out of place for Manowar or Accept.
Each of the four tunes on Concordance avoid hinting at any ideas of what Varius will do next, like the forceful doom in the second half of closer “Gut Shoveler.” Hearing their two EPs back-to-back is listening to a band actively transforming themselves over the course of 40 minutes. With Concordance, Varius have made a point to keep their sonic options open moving forward, as they could go anywhere from here.
The Collapse, the sixth full-length from Witnesses, is a doomy release with the proper morose atmosphere to captivate. The songs drift by at a slow pace, but a mesmerizing one nonetheless. The riffs are chilling in nature, but also proceed somewhat slowly.
On this album, Witnesses successfully makes a doom style album that has a few post elements to it. Sure, it is depressing, but the music has a resounding impact upon the listener. It has a drudgy feeling that is welcoming and makes for a very atmospheric affair. With a more interesting slant, the band could be even more successful in the future. Still, this was a fulfilling and deep experience that left its mark upon me. It had the right depressing nature to pull me in.
ZAÄAR – Magická Džungl’a (I, Voidhanger)
If an ambient drone album that is longer than most movies sounds like your cup of tea, you’ve come to the right place. Sprouting out of the side of Neptunian Maximalism, ZAÄAR is a similar collective, and Magická Džungl’a is their gargantuan debut double album.
There are only six songs on Magická Džungl’a, but they drone on for an amazing ninety minutes. Fans of jazz-laced droning ambiance might be in heaven, but the rest of the world will be wondering what happened in the outside world during that hour and a half. There is very little to discern the songs. Twenty or thirty minutes (in other words, one song) might suffice, but a whopping ninety is far too much to enjoy.