This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Apparition, Armored Saint, Blackwater Holylight, Catalyst Crime, Dream Theater, Dust Mountain, Exsul, Green Lung, Hand Of Kalliach, Knife, Livlos, Massacre, The Pineapple Thief, Ravenous, Sulphurous, U.D.O., Venus Syndrome and Worm.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Apparition – Feel (Profound Lore)
Apparition look to the dimmest corners of death metal for a vast sound on their debut album, Feel. The California trio infuse their toxic grooves with doomed pacing, leveling off into a state of uncertain dread that always heads towards somewhere sinister. That may not be unusual, but the group’s affection for jazz is more atypical, with some of that coming out in the rhythmic department. The most blatant instance is the mesmerizing drum solo that opens up “Entanglement.”
Honestly, Feel could have used a bit more of that. It’s not that they don’t do death metal well; it’s just that interest perks up when they step into other musical avenues. The melodic guitar tones on the aforementioned “Entanglement” and the title track finish the album off with a pair of significant winners. These songs are strong representation of the promise Apparition have as a powerhouse death metal group on Feel.
Armored Saint – Symbol Of Salvation Live (Metal Blade)
In 1991, Armored Saint released their fourth album Symbol Of Salvation. It is considered by many to be the band’s best album, and frontman John Bush calls is their “cornerstone record.” In honor of the album’s 30th anniversary, Symbol Of Salvation Live is being issued.
It was recorded pre-pandemic, on their 2018 tour at New York’s Gramercy Theatre. All five current Armored Saint members also played on the original album. Some of the songs on the album the band had never played live, such as “Burning Question.” 30 years later, the band’s musical chops are better, but they still have the energy and passion that comes through on these classic songs. It’s a treat for Armored Saint fans, and the vinyl edition includes five demo tracks from the Symbol Of Salvation writing sessions that didn’t make the album.
Blackwater Holylight – Silence/Motion (RidingEasy)
Portland’s Blackwater Holylight blend doom metal, alt rock, post-rock, and even a touch of black metal into one often enchanting sound. Silence/Motion is the quartet’s (they number five now; guitarist Erika Osterhout joined after the album was complete) third album, once again anchored by the uneasily seductive vocals of Allison Faris.
Blackwater Holylight have an entrancing vibe about them, from the ponderous, spellbinding arrangements to the eerie vocals, but aside from the excellent “Who The Hell,” the songs on Silence/Motion don’t stand out as they should. The listener’s attention can wander more than it should. Throwing some curve balls into the arrangements is all that is holding Blackwater Holylight back from producing a stellar album.
Catalyst Crime – Catalyst Crime (Massacre)
Catalyst Crime are a symphonic/cinematic metal band with members hailing from Germany, Canada and the U.S. Their self-titled debut album was produced by Atrocity/Leaves Eyes’ Alexander Krull. Atrocity/Leaves Eyes guitarists Micki Richter and Thorsten “Tosso” Bauer each appear on one track on the album as well.
It’s prototypical symphonic metal, with heavy guitars, epic atmosphere and a combination of harsh male and melodic female vocals. Zoë Marie Federoff does not have an operatic style, singing with more of a rock/pop delivery, which gives the songs more accessibility. The tracks have depth, catchy choruses and plenty of guitar solos. CyHra/ex-Amaranthe vocalist Jake E. guests on “Cognitive Dissonance,” one of the record’s best songs. Catalyst Crime shows a lot of promise and is very polished for a debut album.
Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World (InsideOut)
After more than three decades as one of progressive music’s elite bands, it’s easy to take Dream Theater for granted. Writing and playing complex yet catchy songs certainly isn’t easy, but the make it seem like it is. The title of their fifteenth studio album A View From The Top Of The World is appropriate, as they are still at the top of their game.
At this point in their career, Dream Theater aren’t as innovate as they once were, but there’s still plenty of creativity on display. A View From The Top Of The World is a more epic album than 2019’s Distance Over Time, with fewer songs and a 15 minute longer run time. No matter the length of the tracks, they are dynamic with numerous shifts in tempo and texture and plenty of instrumental breaks. It closes with the 20 minute title track, which meanders from time to time but still satisfies. Pristine production, memorable songs and next level musicianship makes this another quality addition to Dream Theater’s impressive discography.
Dust Mountain – Hymns For Wilderness (Svart)
Dust Mountain are Finnish siblings Toni and Henna Hietamäki. The name Toni Hietamäki may be recognizable to fans of Oranssi Pazuzu, as he has been their bassist since the band’s inception. This project is much different from that group, as Hymns For Wilderness takes the psychedelic vibes in and leaves the black metal out. This is more like the so-called “flower power” music from the late 1960s/early 1970s, with folksy melodies and a warm touch to the production.
A mandolin leads the way through “Village On Fire,” while the sunny deposition of closer “Bird Hymns” has a delightful charm. Most of the songs have a jam break, where the music flows like a steady stream in the forest without vocals to cause any ripple effects. Hymns For Wilderness has an endearing, yet mystic, aura to it that works in the favor of Dust Mountain.
Exsul – Allegoresis (Caligari)
A year after the release of their self-titled EP, death metal duo Exsul are back with a brand new EP, Allegoresis, bringing another dark musical voyage. Allegoresis is interesting and it works fine for many. It bravely enters the foundations of old school death metal and connects it to the characteristics of ritualistic death.
But that courage is only spent on connecting the two, as Exsul did not take on the bigger challenges of songwriting. On the other hand, in this state, what happened in these two EPs may be enough for the band. Following the footsteps of Exsul, Allegoresis is a good showcase for the band to demonstrate the nature of their music. But they certainly aren’t enough to present Exsul’s capabilities and potential. You can feel the destructive monster that rests in the layers of their music, but it has not emerged yet.
Green Lung – Black Harvest (Svart)
One of the best self-released albums of 2019 was Green Lung’s debut, Woodland Rites. Adroitly mixing classic hard rock with horrific themes, folk rock, doom, and stoner, Woodland Rites captivated and engaged from start to end. Now the U.K. quintet is back with their highly anticipated follow-up, Black Harvest. Two years wiser, Green Lung have further refined and perfected their style to stunning effect.
The classic rock influences remain. One can hear plenty of Rainbow and Black Sabbath again, but the creepy eccentricity of Atomic Rooster and an unabashed (and frankly far too brief) homage to Boston also rear their heads. Combine this with excellent songwriting and an Uncle Acid uneasiness in the lyrics and we are left with a catchy, charismatic slice of retro hard rock with an updated, modern feel to it. Black Harvest is one of the month’s best releases.
Hand Of Kalliach – Samhainn (Trepanation)
Samhainn is the debut full-length from Scottish duo Hand Of Kalliach. Named after the Gaelic celebration of autumn, this record weaves Gaelic and Celtic folklore into its lyrics and melodies, while still staying firmly rooted in melodic death metal. Contrary to most death metal, Hand Of Kalliach’s music isn’t guitar focused. Sure, there is guitar for most of the 42-minute runtime of Samhainn, but the drums and vocals are clearly running the show.
The pacing and songwriting are excellent, with nary an overextended section and very few duller moments, and the mix strikes the perfect balance between clarity, atmosphere, and power. The crystalline gossamer of harp sits atop the raging drums and roaring guitars like a thin layer of frost, occasionally taking over for brief moments of respite. Meanwhile, Sophie Fraser’s beguiling clean vocals alternate with her husband John’s death growls, both delivering excellent performances. Hand Of Kalliach have delivered one of the best debuts of the year.
Knife – Knife (Dying Victims)
Danish speed metal maniacs Knife arrive with their no frills approach to ‘80s speed metal on their self-titled debut. Right from the outset of “Behold The Horse of War” their intent is obvious; pure speed and thrashing fury. Far from just being one trick ponies themselves, Knife are capable of a variety of shouted vocals, neckbreaking riffs and speed. “Black Leather Hounds” gallops in and allows for vocalist Vince Nihil to sync up his vocals to the riffs of guitarist Laz on the chorus masterfully.
Beautiful riffs help bring this track full circle and make it a focal point on an album that soars high above the clouds when not sending you to the chiropractor. The most creative title on the whole album is “Sword Loser” which adds more blade puns than this album has already lobbed at the listener and helps to establish their pure speed metal attack once again. Knife is pure fun and should be used in lieu of your morning coffee for maximum effectiveness.
Livlos – And Then There Were None (Napalm)
The Danish melodic death metal band Livlos independently released their debut full-length in 2018, with Napalm Records issuing their latest, And Then There Were None.
Their influences include both Scandinavian bands such as At The Gates and Carcass along with American death metal. The result is songs that pack a punch, but are also dynamic and have melodic moments. Those melodic parts are all in the music, as Niklas Lykke’s vocals are harsh. He utilizes a lot of different approaches, from guttural growls to hardcore barks to higher pitched screams. Extremity is tempered periodically by things like the interlude “Kristefjael.” The proceedings close with “The Purest Black” that shifts tempos from slow and crushing to uptempo and back again, wrapping up an engaging album.
Massacre – Resurgence (Nuclear Blast)
Death metal legends Massacre return once again after many lineup changes and legal challenges. Finally this long-running band’s fourth proper album Resurgence is here. If you know nothing of the band, just know it starts with vocalist Kam Lee, who is credited as one of the first death metal front men to use the death growl and they continue to be as sinister as ever. He is joined on this album by original bassist Mike Borders, Brynjar Helgetun on drums, and guitarists Scott Fairfax (Memoriam), Jonny Pettersson (Wombbath) and death metal legend Rogga Johansson.
The album sounds fresh with its modern production, seemingly sounding like a Cannibal Corpse album if you are looking for similarities here. Fans of Lovecraft will pick up on track titles like “Ruins of R’yleh” and “The Innsmouth Strain” being blasted through with Kam Lee’s vocal cord shredding performance. The three headed guitar attack adds a freshness that the band’s previous comeback in 2014 Back From Beyond lacked, making Resurgence the band’s best album since their classic of the Florida scene From Beyond dropped back in 1991. If you want a classic sounding death metal album with great production, look no further.
The Pineapple Thief – Nothing But The Truth (Kscope)
After releasing Versions Of The Truth last year, The Pineapple Thief were unable to tour in support of the record. So, like many other bands, they went the livestream route and performed Nothing But The Truth earlier this year. It is now available in numerous configurations including Blu-ray, DVD, CD, vinyl and digital.
The 17 song, 90 plus minute set includes six tracks from Versions Of The Truth, four from 2018’s Dissolution and other songs from throughout their career. A live show without an audience has a different vibe and not as much energy, but The Pineapple Thief perform the songs with both passion and skill. They have released several live albums over the years, but the circumstances behind this make it their most unique live release, and one that fans of the band will want to check out.
Ravenous – Hubris (Feast Beast/Spiritual Beast)
Epic power metal with healthy doses of symphonic metal and thrash is the kind of formula that swings for the fences but has just as great a chance of striking out as hitting one out of the park. On Hubris, fellow Calgarians Ravenous’ second album, we get ten songs about excessive pride, all with a thrashy Euro-power feel that one can’t help but be impressed with.
Ravenous aren’t afraid to put it all out there; symphonic assaults blend with all-out thrash metal, underpinned by some of the most enthusiastic power metal of the year. From start to finish Hubris is chock full of anthemic and contagious fist-pumping, head-banging songs featuring dramatic vocals and shredding solos. Power metal fans rejoice: Hubris is a worthy addition to your collection.
Sulphurous – The Black Mouth Of Sepulchre (Dark Descent)
What Sulphurous have done on their second album, The Black Mouth Of Sepulchre, is nothing short of astonishing. They’ve taken the abysmal rage of their debut album, Dolorous Death Knell, and funneled it through a tenser environment to make these songs sharper in execution. When they get into a formless blur, as the title track does a few minutes in, it stands out more once they transition into a frightening mid-tempo dirge as a contrast.
This lets in moments of introspection, like a bleak piano melody that pops up on a few songs, and room for striking guitar solos. Both aspects feature heavily in closer “Gazing Into The Patch Of Darkness,” which is the best song the group has written to date. That can actually be said for all this material, as Sulphurous go bolder with their battering death metal in an outstanding sophomore effort.
U.D.O. – Game Over (AFM)
U.D.O. have been prolific since they started back in 1987, issuing a new album every two or three years, with plenty of live album and other releases in between. Game Over is their seventeenth studio album.
This many albums in, there is no doubt what you’ll be getting with an U.D.O. album: catchy traditional metal that’s also heavy and of course the distinctive vocals of the legendary Udo Dirkschneider. The album title doesn’t signify an ending for the band, but a message that on the planet where we all live, if something happens it has international implications, such as global climate change. As he approaches 70, Dirkschneider shows no signs of slowing down, adding to his and the band’s long legacy with another quality release, though at 16 songs and nearly 70 minutes it is a lot to absorb.
Venus Syndrome – Cannibal Star (Rockshots)
Venus Syndrome have a grasp on the progressive side of things on their sophomore album Cannibal Star. Though the songs sound fairly simplistic, they get their point across.
The sound of Venus Syndrome is less grandiose than acts like Queensryche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater. It is accessible and makes for easy listening, making it a recommended progressive album to the masses. It has all the ingredients to be a solid entry to the genre, with Venus Syndrome having the potential to become even more interesting
Worm – Foreverglade (20 Buck Spin)
Downtrodden, murky death/doom is Worm’s specialty on their third album, Foreverglade. While their sound has been cleaned up a tad in the years since their 2017 debut Evocation Of The Black Marsh, they’ve retained the uneasiness that emerges from jagged riffs and chilling synths. The increased focus on guitar solos adds a robustness to the album, as songs like “Subaqueous Funeral” and “Centuries Of Ooze” have added captivation with lengthy sections of proficient shredding.
Though the band gets itself into a heightened state on “Empire Of The Necromancers,” which has the quickest tempos on the entire album, the majority of Foreverglade has an unrushed, stable flow to it. Those who heard Worm’s last album Gloomlord won’t be shell shocked with songs that go as long as 11-plus minutes, yet the band’s gift for engrossing darkness makes this album hard to tear away from.