This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Dead Cross, Despised Icon, Fall Of Seraphs, Forlesen, Hoaxed, Morbikon, Nostromo, The Otolith, Sodom, Spell, Therion, Triskelyon and Worm.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Dead Cross – II (Ipecac)
Five years after their debut, the experimental troupe Dead Cross return with their sophomore effort II. Fronted by Mike Patton (Faith No More/Fantomas), the band’s lineup also includes guitarist Mike Crain (Retox), bassist Justin Pearson (Deaf Club) and drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Fantomas, Mr. Bungle). It was a challenging recording process, with Crain going through cancer treatment while they were tracking.
Dead Cross explore a variety of styles, from the catchy hardcore of “Animal Espionage” to the lightning fast yet complex thrash of “Heart Reformer.” “Reign Of Error” is Slayer-esque, a furious thrash number blazing by in less than two minutes. Pearson handles lead vocals on “Christian Missile Crisis” and provides backing vocals for several other songs. Lyrically there are certainly serious topics, but also a lot of humor. II is an eclectic album with great musicianship and a unique sound.
Despised Icon – Déterré (Nuclear Blast)
Although most rightfully credit slam masters Suffocation with birthing the sub-genre, Despised Icon haven’t always received their proper due for spearheading a new breed and helping shape extreme metal’s mutant spawn, deathcore. The Déterré EP features five songs from circa 2004-2005, some of which were later re-recorded.
The Canuck bruisers have been somewhat of an anomaly within deathcore – focused on writing actual songs, not merely seeking to out brutalize the competition. Not that they’re lacking in the heaviness stakes. These tracks were recorded a couple of years into their career, so understandably the ideas can be raw, and the songwriting still developing amid the hail of lurching breakdowns and blastbeats. But there’s a considerable aggression apparent throughout the staccato riffing and varied vocal attack, aided by the hunger and energy of a young band looking to win new fans, one MySpace friend at a time. Hardly essential for anyone but the most devoted, but as a throwback to an emerging scene, this sonic gut-punch is a curious and very heavy listen.
Fall Of Seraphs – From Dust To Creation (Memento Mori)
Fall Of Seraphs’ first full-length From Dust To Creation, the follow-up to their 2017 debut EP, is full of moments that delight its listeners. Territorial integrity is founded on old school death metal, but eager to explore the horizons of modern death metal.
Although From Dust To Creation tries to reach the point of excellence, it does not have a unique voice, but it is a considerable musical work. It has a destructive and tremendous force, and its power and wonder owes its property to the effort to process and represent the powerful sound of death metal’s progenitors. Morbid Angel, Immolation and Angelcorpse influences are eloquently heard throughout the album, which is part of the album’s dormant bliss; but another part of this joy is the impressive performance of Fall of Seraphs. By crossing technical-tinged death metal with gentle black metal touches, From Dust To Creation aims to make a pleasant time for its audience.
Forlesen – Black Terrain (I, Voidhanger)
After their 2020 debut, the two-song, thirty-six-minute Hierophant Violent, San Francisco’s long-form blackened doom-gaze quartet Forlesen are back and doubling down with Black Terrain. This time out the band, comprised of ex-Botanist and Kayo Dot members along with a couple folks from Lotus Thief, double down and give us a four-song album that envelops us for nearly an hour.
Set aside the amazing cover art for a moment, and what we have is a varied and compelling album loaded with doom metal, ambience, maybe some shoegaze, and even (on the excellent “Harrowed Earth”) a blast of black metal. It is incredibly difficult to write songs approaching twenty minutes and hold onto the audience’s attention, but Forlesen seem to have mastered the art. Black Terrain is their second consecutive excellent album.
Hoaxed – Two Shadows (Relapse)
Hoaxed hail from Portland, Oregon. The duo of Kat Keo (vocals/guitars) and Kim Coffel (drums) issued an EP last year, which drew the attention of Relapse Records. They signed them for their full-length debut Two Shadows.
The core of the songs are catchy hooks and choruses. The style varies from hard rock to gothic to alt rock to metal. Keo has an ethereal and smooth voice, displaying greater range on songs like “For Love.” Vocal harmonies also add depth to many of the tracks. Hoaxed change up tempos, textures and styles, making for a varied listen. It’s also streamlined, with the nine tracks clocking in at less than 30 minutes. Two Shadows is a quality debut.
Morbikon – Ov Mournful Twilight (Tankcrimes)
Morbikon take two members of Municipal Waste (guitarist Phil “Land Phil” Hall and drummer Dave Witte), add Finntroll vocalist Vreth, and place them into melodic black metal on Ov Mournful Twilight. Hall commits to his obvious admiration of the genre, with icy riffs turning everything into a desolate tundra. This new band allows the freedom to use orchestration on “Borne Of Phantom Vessel” and craft seven-and-a-half minute sagas like “Cursed To March On Shattered Limbs” and “Infinite Pathways To The Earthen Grave.”
These songs could have come from the second wave of Norwegian black metal scene, though with a much better production. The bass, in particular, is right in front, as it thumps away confidently anytime the guitars take a moment to slow down. Ov Mournful Twilight is on the opposite spectrum of anything Municipal Waste have ever done, yet that sort of extremity is what makes this such a standout record.
Nostromo – Bucephale (Hummus)
Back in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, Swiss group Nostromo were taking metalcore and toughening it up by fusing in death metal and grindcore. They disbanded but reunited a few years back and now there’s Bucephale, their first album in about 20 years. There’s a reason a band like Gojira wanted to play shows with them when they got back together, as it’s clear Nostromo had at least a small influence on them.
Their caustic music is unflinching, not stifled by the passage of time. The grindy parts are not as prevalent as their earlier music, though it still reigns dominant over “IED (Intermittent Explosive Disorder)” and “Realm Of Mist.” There’s a psychedelic mood cast over closer “Asato Ma” with help from group Monkey3, evidence that Nostromo are continuing to evolve on Bucephale.
The Otolith – Folium Limina (Blues Funeral)
SubRosa called it a day in 2019, but several members of their final lineup and some from earlier incarnations are now in The Otolith. That includes Sarah Pendleton (vocals/violin), Kim Cordray (violin), Levi Hanna (guitar/vocals) and Andy Patterson (drums). Matt Brotherton is their bassist.
Sonically their debut album Folium Limina treads a lot of the same ground as SubRosa, with violins providing a signature sound, but also moves in a new direction with more of an emphasis on folk and darkwave elements. There are still plenty of heavy doom riffs and dense atmospherics, with the long song lengths giving The Otolith ample space to shift seamlessly between styles. Those shifts make tracks like the 13 plus minute opener “Sing No Coda” compelling throughout. With their pedigree, it’s no surprise that Folium Limina is an impressive and engaging debut.
Sodom – 40 Years At War – The Greatest Hell Of Sodom (Steamhammer/SPV)
40 Years At War – The Greatest Hell Of Sodom sounds like it would be a typical compilation album, gathering songs from Teutonic thrash legend Sodom’s four decade career. Instead of doing that, they re-recorded a track from each of their albums with the band’s current lineup.
Going back to “Equinox” from their 1986 debut Obsessed By Cruelty all the way through “Euthanasia” from 2020’s Genesis XIX, the songs are played in the original keys with the same arrangements as the originals. That makes recent songs sound pretty much identical, but with the band’s better musicianship now, earlier tracks are tighter. They picked songs that were never or rarely played live instead of the biggest hits. That makes for an interesting track listing that hardcore Sodom fans will appreciate. In addition to the usual configurations, there’s also a limited edition box set available with some extra goodies.
Spell – Tragic Magic (Bad Omen)
On their fourth album Tragic Magic, Canadian psychedelic/occult rockers Spell are down to a duo – brothers Cam Mesmer and Al Lester handle everything here. Past influences remain firmly entrenched, including Blue Öyster Cult and Ghost, but additional elements have also been incorporated, such as the retro feel of Dawnbringer and plenty of instrument sounds from the ’60s to the ’80s.
As is their style, Spell have produced the most reverb-soaked album you will hear all year. From the wonderfully gurgling bass lines to vintage synth tones, Tragic Magic overflows with warmth and the smell of old records. While perhaps a hair less compelling that 2020’s Opulent Decay, Tragic Magic is still a very enjoyable blast of retro goodness with a number of standout tracks (“Hades Embrace,” “Fever Dream,” and the instrumental closer “The Watching” come to mind).
Therion – Leviathan II (Nuclear Blast)
Swedish symphonic metal veterans Therion released the massive triple album opus Beloved Antichrist in 2018. Their latest project is also three albums, but divided into three separate releases. Leviathan was issued last year, and now we’re getting Leviathan II.
It follows in the path of the first installment, with songs that have the depth and symphonic arrangements you’d expect from Therion, but also plenty of hooks and memorable choruses. There aren’t as many guests this time around, with Eclipse’s Erik Martensson appearing on closer “Pazuzu.” Lori Lewis is front and center on most of the songs, with Thomas Vikstrom getting a larger role on tracks such as “Lucifuge Rofocale” and “Midnight Star.” It’s not quite as memorable as the first installment, but a strong release nonetheless that builds anticipation for the third album of the trilogy that’s due next year.
Various Artists – Bound For Hell: On The Sunset Strip (The Numero Group)
Many bands emerged from L.A.’s Sunset Strip in the ’80s, but groups like Motley Crue or Ratt that achieved worldwide fame were not the norm. Many remained in obscurity or achieved lower levels of fame. Those are the types of bands featured on the Bound For Hell: On The Sunset Strip compilation.
Fans of that scene will be familiar with groups like Lizzy Borden, Black ‘N Blue, Odin, Armored Saint, Hellion and Rough Cutt, which are included. There are also more obscure acts such as Max Havoc, SIN, Romeo, Knightmare II and Reddi Killowat. As you’d expect from a compilation the quality varies, but there are some worthy songs here. Several are previously unreleased, making it even more desirable for Sunset Strip band aficionados. In addition to the music, there’s an accompanying book with interesting details about the bands on the compilation. There have been a lot of this type of compilation over the years, but Bound For Hell: On The Sunset Strip is one worth exploring.
Triskelyon – Downfall (Moribund)
Downfall, the full-length debut from Canadian thrashers Triskelyon features a rather harsh style. The guitar licks are huge and the music is quite appealing. Still, the album comes across somewhat simplistic in nature with a very straight up style that can get old quickly. The style is undeniably old school and this is another positive for the album.
This leads to a very harsh nature that is brought on by the cool guitar licks that liven up the proceedings. The vocals are harsh and high pitched. Though the album is somewhat simplistic it still has the ability to pull out the stops. There is really very little to dislike here despite the quibbles. This is thrash of a classic nature and deserves to be observed as such. There is a lot to like here, and though there is room for improvement, Downfall will appeal to thrash fans.
Worm – Bluenothing (20 Buck Spin)
Florida necromantic doom urchins Worm resurface after the massive success of last year’s Foreverglade with their new EP Bluenothing. The new material is four tracks at just under a half an hour with plenty of what made their second full-length so powerful. The title track kicks things off with a bit of a somber tone, filling the space between pained vocals with more slowly soaring guitar lines, that help to paint a picture of resplendent beauty amongst the choral chaos. Worm had made these sounds hallmarks of Foreverglade and Bluenothing is more of the same with a more solidified approach.
“Centuries of Ooze II” is the sequel to the track ending the last album, making for an unexpected series of sorts. The addition of new guitarist Phillppe Tougas (know here as Wroth Septentrion) continues his assault on your emotions adding another layer to what main man Phantomslaughter had been doing during most of the band’s existence with insane soloing on “Invoking the Dragonmoon.” For those of you who enjoy the slow burn of emotionally distraught and dark doom metal, look no further than Worm, who would love nothing more than be the soundtrack to any local funeral that comes your way.