This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Battalions, Black Math Horseman, Black Royal, Crooked Royals, Lost In Kiev, Orden Ogan, Ruby The Hatchet, Solitude Within, Stryper and Witch Fever.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Battalions – King Of A Dead World (APF)
UK sludgesters Battalions released their first three albums in a three year period. After a 2020 compilation, their fourth full-length King OF A Dead World is being issued four years after Forever Marching Backwards. It’s their first with new drummer Simon Harrison.
The band also used a different producer than their first three albums, wanting a sound more like their early days. The album is driven by thick, catchy riffs, with the harsh vocals relatively deep in the mix. Tracks like “Coughing Nails” and “No Safe Place” move along at a brisk pace, while songs such as the title track move along at a slow, doomy tempo. The eight songs on King Of A Dead World fly by in less than 30 minutes, an efficient and enjoyable sludge album.
Black Math Horseman – Black Math Horseman (Profound Lore)
Black Math Horseman announced their disbandment in 2013, with only one album released. 2009’s critically acclaimed Wyllt made everyone hungry to hear more from them, but it was as if there were no more chances for their listeners and fans. But after seven years, Black Math Horseman rose from the ashes and what they have in their hands is an extremely commendable and breathtaking work.
Black Math Horseman, the band’s self-titled second album, has a strange, wonderful and perfect world. Creating heavy atmospheres along with vast and psychedelic soundscapes is on the agenda. A cold apocalyptic outlook is going on, but at the same time it is emotional and passionate. Despite the chaos in its interior, Black Math Horseman has a coherence and integrity in its entirety. Storytellers who tell the story of a horseman in the artistic body of an experimental-fused psychedelic post-metal work with tangible progressive metal influences. In the absence of SubRosa, Black Math Horseman are ready to step into their realm and take up the torch.
Black Royal – Earthbound (M-Theory)
The Finnish quartet Black Royal have been around for nearly a decade now. Over that time frame they have released a couple of EPs, and their latest album Earthbound is their third full-length, and debut on M-Theory Audio.
Their sound blends a few different genres. There are a lot of stoner/sludge elements with downtuned riffs and thick grooves. Traditional metal is also a part of Black Royal’s sound, as is death metal. The combination makes for songs that are heavy with harsh vocals, but also have plenty of melody and accessible moments. Songs like “Ghosts Of The Dead” and “Bleed Your Soul” smoothly shift styles, tempos and intensities. They manage to be diverse while maintaining a level of cohesiveness throughout.
Crooked Royals – Quarter Life Daydream (3DOT)
Crooked Royals hail from New Zealand. Their demos caught the attention of Veil Of Maya frontman Lukas Magyar, who is now their manager. After a couple of EPs, they signed with Periphery’s 3DOT Recordings for their full-length debut Quarter Life Daydream.
The band’s style is rooted in metalcore, but they push well beyond that. There are the genre’s trademark mix of harsh vocals and clean singing with catchy choruses along with more experimental moments. There are proggy sections and technical moments, but Crooked Royals always bring it back to the hooks and choruses. The album closer “Between You And I” is an old fashioned love song with all melodic singing. It’s an impressive debut, and at around 30 minutes in length, there’s not an ounce of filler.
Lost in Kiev – Rupture (Pelagic)
Paris-based post-metal quartet Lost In Kiev take on environmental angst on Rupture, their second album on the Pelagic label. Over the past ten years this group has been able to hone their songwriting skills – a tough thing to do with post-metal, a subgenre where songs can easily blend into each other. Luckily Lost In Kiev mostly avoid that here.
With the exception of one track (the outstanding “Prison of Mind,” featuring vocals from The Ocean’s Loïc Rossetti) Rupture is instrumental, and each song does manage to stand out from the pack, through arrangement and mood. Sticking to the aforementioned theme, Lost In Kiev give us nine songs that evoke everything from beauty to annihilation, proving in the process that post-metal is alive and well, and in good hands.
Orden Ogan and Friends – Final Days (AFM)
Last year Ordan Ogan released Final Days. Now they are reissuing it with guest singers. It starts with the brand new song “December,” a rousing power metal number that continues the trend of the album nicely. There is a gripping solo section that sticks out. The original Final Days was a superb futuristic power metal effort, so I was interested to see what changes would be made. Right from ”Heart of the Android” the vocals starting with Rage singer Peavy Wagner change things up a bit, but the spirit is kept. The song “In the Dawn of the AI” featuring Van Canto’s Ross Thompson and Gamma Ray’s Frank Beck continues the vibe of the album keeping things futuristic and fresh.
Orden Ogan continue to keep things gripping, but this is still a similar album to the original. The album continues to put vocalists effectively in to make for a rousing romp of an album. A worthy tribute has been paid to this gloriously catchy power metal album. The songs sound similar to the originals with only minor tweaking. Other vocalists include Iced Earth’s Stu Block, Leaves Eyes’ Elilna Siirala and Dynazty/Amaranthe’s Nils Molin. There is also an orchestral version of the Gunmen album song “Fields of Sorrow”, which is a nice touch.
Ruby The Hatchet – Fear Is A Cruel Master (Magnetic Eye)
Ruby The Hatchet are on the mark with the title to their fourth studio album; fear is a cruel master indeed, yet there isn’t anything to be frightened about with their groovy, rockin’ doom. “The Change” is a sizzling opener that uses a faster tempo than usual from the band, which is capitalized on with the album’s closing pair of “Thruster” and “Amor Gravis.”
“Last Saga” is a duet between vocalist Jillian Taylor and drummer Owen Stewart, and Stewart’s voice could’ve fit in with a band from the 1970s doing their best to be like Deep Purple circa Stormbringer. It’s such a great song it’s almost a shame Stewart and Taylor don’t do it more often. That doesn’t sully the organ-drenched joy of Fear Is A Cruel Master.
Solitude Within – When Kingdoms Fall (Boxfish)
When Kingdoms Fall is the second full-length from the Belgian symphonic metal band Solitude Within. Their band name was inspired by the Evergrey song, but their style is more in the vein of groups like Within Temptation and Nightwish.
The arrangements on When Kingdoms Fall are dramatic and cinematic, with heavy guitars and ethereal vocals from Emmelie Arents. Her tone is smooth and accessible and she sings very expressively. The album combines bombastic, uptempo songs with ballads such as “I’m Not Lost” and “Breathe.” The production is good, mixing the dynamics of the symphonic elements with heaviness. The songs, while well played, could use a few more hooks and memorable choruses, though there are a few standouts such as “Land Of Disarray.”
Stryper – The Final Battle (Frontiers)
The past few years have been challenging for everybody, but in addition to the pandemic, Stryper frontman Michael Sweet and guitarist Oz Fox had to deal with health issues. They didn’t let that slow them down, continuing a very prolific decade. The Final Battle is their sixth album in the past ten years, and 13th full-length overall.
After nearly four decades, Stryper have proved they can write catchy, memorable songs. There are plenty of them on The Final Battle, ranging from the urgent opener “Transgressor” to the heavy “Heart & Soul” to the soaring ballad “Near.” He’s approaching 60, but Sweet hasn’t lost any of his trademark power and range. He’s able to go from controlled crooning to full out belting at the drop of a hat. There aren’t a lot of surprises on The Final Battle, but it’s flawlessly played with songs that Stryper fans will enjoy.
Witch Fever – Congregation (Music For Nations)
Congregation is the full-length debut from Manchester’s Witch Fever. The lyrics draw a lot from vocalist Amy Walpole’s experiences growing up in a charismatic church, though the themes transcend religion.
Characterizing the genre of Witch Fever’s music is challenging, with elements of doom punk, sludge, post punk, and good old fashioned rock and roll. The songs are brisk and sometimes chaotic, other times slower and groovier. Walpole’s vocals are eclectic, going from spoken word on “Blessed Be Thy” to mellow singing on the title track to an angrier approach on songs like “Market.” Most of the songs are in the two minute range, razor sharp and focused. A few push to the four to five minute range, but there’s never a lull. Congregation is a wide-ranging album with something interesting around every corner.