This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aeon, The Agonist, Alcatrazz, Ded, Dug Pinnick, Feed The Corpses To The Pigs, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, High Desert Queen, Judas Priest, Lords Of Black, The Silver, Snafu, Twelve Foot Ninja and Vildhjarta.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aeon – God Ends Here (Metal Blade)
Aeon have established themselves as one of the torch bearers of death metal in the new millennium. Hailing from Sweden, the band plays a sound more aligned to Florida legends such as Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. God Ends Here is their first album in nine years.
It is a blasphemous, apocalyptic effort that seems divided into chapters by brief, cinematic interludes. “Lair’s Den” channels blunt-force motions of Cannibal Corpse, replete with guitar harmonics, and rapid-fire, layered vocals that resemble Deicide. Janne Jaloma (Dark Funeral/Imperium) created a big, pummeling drum sound with a lot of short blasts and time changes. Hooks are abundant in the riff department as well as vocally. The title track stands out for its refrain. “Queen of Lies” ends the album remarkably with groove and atmosphere. Aeon knocks off the rust with God Ends Here, sticking to their guns and completing another album that should entice long-time followers.
The Agonist – Days Before The World Wept (Napalm)
Canadian metallers The Agonist have been the subject of unwanted headlines in recent years, due to a public spat with former vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. Nonetheless, they’ve been able able to refocus, their heads-down attitude resulting in the strong Days Before The World Wept EP. As a result, they’ve crafted five new brutal, yet melodic death gems.
They’re ably led by vocalist Vicky Psarakis, one of metal’s more versatile singers (check out her diverse range of quarantine covers for further evidence), who is in commanding form. On “Remnants In Time” alone she executes searing highs, guttural lows and angelic clean passages, while also adding haunting piano lines. That’s not to sell the rest of the band short, though. Note their attack on blackened “Resurrection” and the mini-epic, bipolar title track, which straddles acoustic flourishes with vicious blast-beats and incisive polyrhythms. At less than 25 minutes, this EP doesn’t seek a major time investment, but these multi-faceted songs, tied together by “a grim, conceptual tale of greed, gluttony, confusion, pain, redemption and hope” do reward repeat listens.
Alcatrazz – V (Silver Lining)
There are currently two versions of Alcatrazz out there. One is fronted by Graham Bonnet, who formed the band with Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea back in the ’80s. This version of Alcatrazz is Waldo and Shea’s, with vocals from Doogie White (Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen). V follows last year’s Born Innocent, which was released before the split into two bands.
Musically it follows in the path of Born Innocent, with melodic hard rock/traditional metal songs jam packed with hooks. White has a different vocal style than Bonnet, which gives V a slightly different sound. White is a veteran with a great set of pipes who fits right in. Guitarist Joe Stump has quite a legacy to fill, with previous Alcatrazz guitarists including Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, but as on Born Innocent does an excellent job. Having two version of a band that only had minor success during its ’80s incarnation doesn’t make a lot of sense, so hopefully the two camps will resolve their differences.
Ded – School Of Thought (Suretone)
The Arizona band Ded emerged in 2016 with a couple of successful singles (“Anti-Everything” and “Remember The Enemy”) from their debut album Mis-an-thrope. After an EP last year, the band is issuing its sophomore full-length School Of Thought.
Their debut was categorized as nu-metal, and while School Of Thought has some of that, there’s also plenty of traditional hard rock, with some electronic elements injected. There are several tracks prime for radio airplay such as “Kill Beautiful Things” and “Eyes Sewn Shut.” Joe Cotela’s vocals are a blend of singing and screaming. Singing is the prevalent style, with harsh vocals ranging from a line or two in some songs, to heavier use in tracks such as “Mannequin Idol” and “Parasite.” While there were some excellent songs on their debut, Ded have stepped up their songwriting chops this time around. There’s minimal filler, more variety and songs that are well-rounded.
dUg Pinnick – Joy Bomb (Rat Pak)
King’s X bassist/vocalist dUg Pinnick is a very busy man. Just two weeks after the release of the second album from his trio, Grinder Blues, comes his fifth solo album, Joy Bomb. Pinnick has a saying, “may the groove be with you,” that easily applies to pretty much everything he touches. The man absolutely oozes groove and soul, and when combined with down-tuned heavy riffs and his memorable melodies, the resulting sound is unparalleled in modern rock.
The range of styles on Joy Bomb sets it apart from its predecessors. Despite entering his sixth decade making music, dUg never shies away from exploring new sounds. “Key Changer” fuses his trademark riffs with an uplifting chorus that recalls the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster, “ “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” simmers with a repetitive electronic groove, and you’d swear Brian May is guesting on a guitar on a couple tracks.
Feed The Corpses To The Pigs – This Insidious Horror (Horror Pain Gore Death)
The world is going to hell and Feed The Corpses To The Pigs are here to remind us of that on This Insidious Horror. Through the power of black/death/thrash, the group spits out nothing but truth about social inequality, social media misinformation and the growing wealth gap.
They get a dig in on the religious zealots who chose worship over public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic in the ultra-catchy “Jesus Is My Respirator.” Its chorus is one of the most memorable of the year in the genre, and it’s not the only one that does that, as “Flashpoint” and “This Fu–ing Horror” have their chantable choruses and bridges. There is an over-reliance on sampling in the intros and outros of all the songs, yet the album’s ragged pace makes them a chance to catch one’s breath. The multiple vocal styles, from harried rasps to fireball growls, give This Insidious Horror another distinct flavor that makes for a robust debut album.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Sticky (International Death Cult)
My first exposure to Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes was at a festival where they were supporting their 2015 debut Blossom. Their live show is intense, while the albums are much more polished. That’s the case with their fourth full-length, Sticky.
Incorporating hardcore, hard rock and punk, the songs on Sticky are accessible, but have some aggression. There are numerous guests on the album, including electronic artist Lynks on “Bang Bang” and “Go Get A Tattoo.” Ides vocalist Joe Talbot lends his talent to “My Town,” while Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie appears on closer “Original Sin.” The most interesting collaboration is the rock/electro-pop singer Cassyette on “Off With His Head.” Fuzzy guitars and a punk attitude make this catchy track very memorable. It’s an extremely brief album, with the ten songs clocking in at less than a half hour. But Carter makes the most of that time, delivering a collection of streamlined ear candy.
High Desert Queen – Secrets Of The Black Moon (Ripple)
Texas quartet High Desert Queen have only been around for a couple of years, but the songs on their debut Secrets Of The Black Moon sound like they are drenched in years of experience. Discovered by Ozzy Osbourne bassist Blasko and signed to Ripple Music, the band plays a heavy and catchy brand of stoner doom.
With influences ranging from Black Sabbath to Queens Of The Stone Age and beyond, the songs on Secrets Of The Black Moon are full of thunderous percussion and thick, fuzzy, juicy riffs. The music can be a touch derivative, but what really makes High Desert Queen stand out is the vocals of Ryan Garney, whose styles range from smoky and laid-back to raunchy and energetic, all with a charisma that is not often matched.
Judas Priest – 50 Heavy Metal Years Of Music (Sony)
In honor of their 50th anniversary, Judas Priest are releasing a massive 42 disc box set 50 Heavy Metal Years Of Music. The first 29 discs cover Priest’s catalog of official releases, beginning with 1974’s Rocka Rolla and going through their latest studio album, 2018’s Firepower.
What will interest the hardcore Priest fans are the other 13 CDs. They are mostly previously unreleased live songs dating back to the ’70s. In addition to several standalone shows, the last two discs are called Beyond Live & Rare and in addition to live songs also has the “Epitaph” demo from 1976’s Sad Wings Of Destiny. For those unwilling or unable to spend nearly $500 for the box set, there is also Reflections: 50 Heavy Metal Years Of Music which has nine studio tracks and seven previously unreleased live cuts. The box set is an incredible collection from one of metal’s iconic bands.
Lords Of Black – Alchemy Of Souls Part II (Frontiers)
The Spanish heavy/power metal band Lords Of Black issued Alchemy Of Souls Part I last year, and return with Alchemy Of Souls Part II, their fifth album overall. It has a classical sounding feel recalling the likes of Primal Fear and Symphony X in fine fashion. Lords of Black have a good grasp on a melodic and symphonic feeling on this album.
The songs have variation and depth, and there is excitement and passion to be found here. Lords Of Black have an ability to display layers and layers of dexterity and skill. Ronnie Romero puts on a good vocal performance that suits the band nicely. The overall impact is strong, diluted slightly by some slightly silly aspects that make the output more theatrical than it should be. Still, this is an entertaining approach shown by the band and it leads to a fun recording.
The Silver – Ward Of Roses (Gilead)
The Silver were formed by Horrendous’ Matt and Jamie Knox and Crypt Sermon’s Enrique Sagarnaga along with newcomer Nick Duchemin. Ward Of Roses is their debut.
By design, The Silver do not sound like Horrendous or Crypt Sermon. Their music is sometimes dense and extreme with black metal style vocals from Duchemin. Matt Knox does clean vocals for the first time, adding melodic moments and a gothic vibe. The centerpiece of the record is the nine minute “Vapor,” with ebbs and flows from mellow goth to blastbeat laden black metal to slow paced doomy parts. There are also streamlined songs such as “Gatekeeper” and the title track. While there are a few lulls, The Silver have developed a unique sound.
Snafu – Exile//Banishment (Housecore)
For at least a decade, Snafu have mixed hardcore, punk and thrash together through two full-length albums. With their third, Exile//Banishment, which comes six years after Present Day Plague, the thrashier aspects of their music are prioritized. The lightheartedness of a “Not My House” from their 2013 debut album Fear The Future is replaced with a societal/personal perspective that dwells into darker topics.
With this change, which has been a gradual move over their previous records, comes a ramped-up slab of ill mannerisms. There’s a blackened tint to “Wake Of Vultures” and “No Rites (For The Less Dead),” and the established thrash technique of an explosive guitar solo break is shot out of “The Pear Of Anguish.” They do revert to their old sound on the snappy “Amazing Waste,” retaining bits of their hardcore punk days to boost their focused thrashy style on Exile//Banishment.
Twelve Foot Ninja – Vengeance (Volkanik)
There are many bands who claim to reject genre limitations, yet few achieve this as well as Twelve Foot Ninja. On Vengeance, their third album, the Australian mavericks deliver yet another slew of the genre-bending madness that made them darlings of the underground. Nu-metal bounce riffs, anthemic hard rock choruses, sleazy electro-funk, horror-tinged synth passages, Afro-Cuban grooves and djenty breakdowns; the band so often turns on a dime without ever missing a step that the ensuing chaos feels coherent, never jarring.
Frontman Kin Etik delivers his best performance to date, feeling at equally at ease during the blood curdling screams of “Culture War” and the smooth disco crooning of “Gone.” The duo with Tatian Shmayluk is also a treat. Despite a frantic pacing that can leave the listener exhausted, Vengeance is an album that never misses its mark. Twelve Foot Ninja are at the top of their game.
Vildhjarta – måsstaden under vatten (Century Media)
Ten years ago, the Swedish prog/djent band Vildhjarta released their debut album. There have been a couple of EPs since then, most recently in 2013. The band are finally issuing their sophomore full-length måsstaden under vatten.
They have compiled a lot of material over the past decade, with the album’s 17 tracks clocking in at more than 75 minutes. There’s a wide range of lengths, from the under three minutes of “toxin” and “phantom assassin” to lengthier tracks such as “vagabaond” and closer “paaradiso.” No matter the length, Vildhjarta’s songs have a varied musical palette. Technical riffs morph into lengthy instrumental sections. While vocals are mostly harsh, singing makes an appearance periodically. måsstaden under vatten is an ambitious album, and though a bit long, still manages to maintain the listener’s interest.