This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from 1914, Aexylium, Bastardur, Beast In Black, Be’lakor, Black Veil Brides, Bobby Liebling and Dave Sherman Basement Chronicles, Contrition, Ghost Bath, Haxkapell, Kayo Dot, Motorhead, Running Wild, Sunless and Thulcandra.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
1914 – Where Fear And Weapons Meet (Napalm)
War is a common lyrical subject for heavy metal bands. The Ukrainian group 1914 focus exclusively on World War I. Their third album Where Fear And Weapons Meet takes a slightly different lyrical approach this time. Instead of focusing only on death, many songs spotlight those who survived the war, became heroes and returned home.
1914 vary their style from track to track. Songs like “FN .380 ACP#19074” and “Pillars Of Fire” utilize symphonic elements, while other songs are focus on death and doom metal. There’s even an acoustic interlude “Coward” with melodic singing. Samples and brief uses of instruments from that era add to the impact of the songs. Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes guests on “…And A Cross Now Marks His Place.” The penultimate track “The Green Fields Of France” is nearly 11 minutes long, shifting back and forth from bludgeoning death metal to ponderous doom. Where Fear And Weapons Meet is a powerful and engaging album.
Aexylium – The Fifth Season (Rockshot)
The Fifth Season, the second opus from Italian folk metal 8-piece Aexylium, is an album that gives the same impression than meeting someone you can’t quite place, but know you’ve already met. Throaty growls, clean soprano vocals, melodeath riffs, a flurry of orchestral and folk instruments, and lyrics that lament the sad state of the world and longs for the reassuring simplicity of pre-industrial times, all the hallmarks of folk metal are here, and they are quite well executed.
The most striking quality of Aexylium’s music is their tasteful arrangements. Despite having eight musicians, they never overwhelm with conflicting layers and give each instrument its place in the limelight. Where The Fifth Season doesn’t succeed however is in creating a distinct sound. The band executes the clichés of the genre with aplomb, and offers us a pleasant escapade, but threads a bit too close to its inspirations to distinguish itself from the masses.
Bastardur – Satan’s Loss Of Son (Season Of Mist)
Solstafir vocalist/guitarist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason started Bastardur as a way to channel his love for bands like Entombed and Napalm Death in a way he wasn’t able to do with his main project. Satan’s Loss Of Son puts a crusty punk layer over primitive death metal. Tryggvason brings in assistance from other musicians, such as Primordial’s Alan Averill, who provides his recognizable voice to “Black Flag Fools,” to realize his vision.
This includes solos from guitarists Ragnar Zolberg and Thráinn Árni Baldvinsson, who tag team a tug-of-war duel on “Viral Tumor” that flashes back to Reign In Blood-era Slayer. These songs have an immediacy that can only come from an album recorded in a few days. The anthemic “Rise Up” is a gratifying conclusion, as the passion Tryggvason has for this style of music drives Satan’s Loss Of Son to the status of a worthwhile debut.
Beast In Black – Dark Connection (Nuclear Blast)
Since Anton Kabanen formed Beast In Black after leaving Battle Beast, the melodic metal band has had a lot of success, especially in their home country of Finland where they have cracked the top 10 on the album charts. They keep the momentum going with their third album Dark Connection.
The songs are melodic and catchy, with instantly memorable tracks like “Bella Donna” and “One Night In Tokyo.” Keyboards add a dance pop sensibility to some of the songs, but there’s still ample heaviness. Vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos sings with a lot of expression and variety, and shows a lot of range as well. Lyrically the album covers sci-fi and cyberpunk related topics along with the manga and anime series Berserk. The album closes with a couple of bonus track covers: Manowar’s “Battle Hymn” and Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us.”
Be’lakor – Coherence (Napalm)
Warhammer obsessed Melbournians Be’lakor have set a high standard since unleashing debut The Frail Tide in 2007. Coherence, their fifth album, is the group’s first since 2016. Playing a bruising, yet deeply melodic brand of prog-infused death metal, their heads-down ethos has paid dividends. This record is book-ended by ten-minute “Locus” and 12-minute “Much More Was Lost,” two of the group’s longest songs yet. Both are winners, and slot neatly alongside the instrumental tracks which further boost the sense of atmosphere.
These songs are sharp, intelligent and loaded with concussion-inducing heaviness. In other words, many of the qualities that great music of this ilk should possess. It will demand a time investment from the listener, but there are sufficient shifts in dynamics, nuances and well-honed sense of melody to maintain interest. “Hidden Window” is a standout; a prime slice of classic melo-death. In a year filled with exceptional metal releases, Coherence is set to make a late play for many a “top albums of 2021” list.
Black Veil Brides – The Phantom Tomorrow (Sumerian)
Black Veil Brides have undergone some changes for their sixth studio album The Phantom Tomorrow. They have a new bassist, Lonny Eagleton, and also a new record label, Sumerian Records.
The album is jam packed with potential singles. “Scarlet Cross” has already landed in the top 10 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, their highest charting single to-date. “Fields Of Bone,” “Crimson Skies” and “Torch” are other songs that have received radio airplay so far. Black Veil Brides hard rock/traditional metal songs are melodic and focused, with minimal filler. The album clocks in at around 40 minutes, with pristine production from guitarist Jake Pitts. The band has had several albums land in the top 20, and The Phantom Tomorrow should continue that streak.
Bobby Liebling And Dave Sherman Basement Chronicles – Nite Owl (Svart)
Dave Sherman (Earthride, Spirit Caravan) and Bobby Liebling (Pentagram) started hanging out and jamming in 2005-2006, and created a demo at Sherman’s sub-basement called I Plead The Fifth. Originally named Bobby Liebling’s Ram Family, a moniker coined by Liebling to call all Pentagram and Pentagram-related artist collectives, ex-Pentagram members Gary Isom and Russ Strahan provide additional guitar tracks. “Last Call” appeared briefly on the documentary Last Days Here. Now branded Bobby Liebling And Dave Sherman Basement Chronicles – Nite Owl and re-mastered, this is the first time these recordings find an audience outside of the extremely-limited CDR version released in 2008.
Nite Owl sounds good for a jam demo. The guitar tones are fuzzed out with catchy grooves, slide guitar and soaring leads. Album highlights include groove-laden numbers “Drop The Gun” and “Last Call,” and the hulking doom of “South Of The Swamp.” Nite Owl isn’t as engaging as other Sherman bands or Pentagram. However, it’s a decent album with a legendary cast and collectors status.
Contrition – Broken Mortal Coil (Disorder)
Formerly known as Doomsday, Chicago’s Contrition are a death metal band with plenty of hardcore influences on their razor-sharp attack. Featuring members of Cobalt, Novembers Doom, Yakuza, Wolvhammer and Chrome Waves, there is a myriad of experience from which the band can draw from on their debut Broken Mortal Coil. Jerome Marshall’s vocal attack is just as vicious at high speed as it is slowed down which you get on tracks like the album’s opening salvo “Diluted.”
There is a stark black metal leaning on tracks like “For Misery” that ooze pure aural nihilism. The guitar attack slices through eardrums while the drums pummel the listener without much care for their well being. This is an active band, one that would be perfect in a live setting, stopping and starting at a moment’s notice, never relenting on their heaviness. Broken Mortal Coil takes names and grinds them into dust and with it clocking in at just about 30 minutes, you can do so over and over again.
Ghost Bath – Self Loather (Nuclear Blast)
The North Dakota black metal band Ghost Bath issued their debut EP and first three studio albums in quick succession. There has been a four year gap between Starmourner and their latest effort Self Loather.
The time between albums allowed them to write their strongest batch of songs so far. They shift from straightforward black metal to mellow sections and a few post metal moments. The tempos are generally pretty brisk, with emotional harsh vocals from Dennis Mikula. The slow the pace on songs like “Sinew And Vein” and add the piano based instrumental “I Hope Death Finds Me Well,” helping make the album’s flow more interesting. Thy Art Is Murder’s CJ McMahon guests on “Hide From The Sun.” Self Loather concludes the trilogy that began with 2015’s Moonlover, and is their heaviest and most ambitious album so far.
Haxkapell – Eldhymner (Nordvis)
Haxkapell’s debut album Eldhymner revolves around the element of fire, its destructive tendencies being a source of rebirth in its wake. This duality is passed through the lens of black metal, as hot air from an out-of-control blaze flies through songs like “Ur Malströmmens Famn.” It’s exhilarating how fast that tune goes, though it’s when the band’s main composer Oraklet brings in the keyboards and violin that the album lands in the right spot.
This is most evident in “Eldskapt,” a creative high mark for the album. The violin becomes a central instrument, acting as a folksy side character in a world populated by hardened souls. The album could’ve used more of that interaction, as it’s limited mainly to that song and short closer “Sanningen.” Eldhymner is an effective record that dazzles at select moments.
Kayo Dot – Moss Grew On The Swords And Plowshares Alike (Prophecy)
If you’re looking to do a deep dive into an avant-garde/progressive metal/doom band’s catalog, you can do worse that Toby Driver’s project Kayo Dot. Formed after the dissolution of Driver’s Maudlin Of The Well band, Kayo Dot are releasing their tenth album this week, and it features Maudlin’s original members: Driver (singing and playing everything), Jason Byron on lyric duty, and Greg Massi contributing a handful of guitar solos.
Moss Grew On The Swords And Plowshares Alike is a substantial, layered album whose allure may not be immediately evident. Seven songs sprawl out over an hour, and all of the tracks have intricacies and nuances that take time to decipher. For those who are into this sort of thing, and have the patience to sit down and really listen, it will reveal impressive depths, and likely encourage listeners to check out Kayo Dot’s back catalog, as well as that of Maudlin’s.
Motorhead – Everything Louder Forever (BMG)
Since Lemmy’s death nearly six years ago, there have been releases of numerous Motorhead reissues, live albums and compilations. The latest addition is the greatest hits collection Everything Louder Forever.
In looking at Motorhead’s discography, there have been more than 60 compilations released over the years, several of them greatest hits albums. Everything Louder Forever is a quality compilation. The 2CD release has all the hits such as “Overkill,” “Bomber,” “Motorhead” and of course their best known track “Ace Of Spades.” The 40 plus songs cover a wide era of Motorhead’s career, and can be enjoyed by both those new to the band and longtime fans of the group.
Running Wild – Blood On Blood (SPV/Steamhammer)
The German heavy/power metal band Running Wild have been plying their trade since the late ’70s. It has been five years since their last album, and they have made some lineup changes for Blood On Blood. Frontman Rock’n’ Rolf Kasparek is the lone remaining original member.
After this long, you know what you’re going to get from a Running Wild album, but there are a few surprises. It’s melodic traditional metal with singalong choruses, and a variety of lyrical subjects. There are party songs along with historical topics such as the prophecies of John Of Jerusalem and the story of the three musketeers. The album closes with “The Iron Times,” a ten plus minute epic about the 30 years war. Blood On Blood is one of Running Wild’s more varied efforts, and will satisfy fans of the long-running band.
Sunless – Ylem (Willowtip)
Ylem is the second part of a trilogy of albums Sunless plan on releasing, as the band intensifies their irregular death metal. Like their debut album Urraca, Ylem puts the focus on the rhythm section. The guitars often take a backseat to the fluidity of the drum work and the lead maneuvering of the bass guitar. This is music without a specific pattern, as the verse/chorus structure is ignored for no restrictions.
Sunless work in dynamic melodies into their sound on this go-around, though they are also more ticked off, making that abundantly clear on seismic opener “Spiraling Into The Unfathomable.” Urraca did a great job fusing in some groove, which Ylem continues on “The Unraveling Of Arcane Past” and “Molding Axioms Of The Metaphysical.” With one more album left to go to conclude the trilogy, Sunless have positioned themselves well with Ylem to lead the concept confidently to the end.
Thulcandra – A Dying Wish (Napalm)
Steffen Kummerer of Obscura runs one of the most influential technical death metal bands in the world, but he has always relied his melodic black/death metal side project, Thulcandra, on Dissection’s music. A Dying Wish, Thulcandra’s fourth studio album tells the story of this devotion once again.
In terms of sound, should we expect a different product from camp Thulcandra? A Dying Wish is a resounding no. But the difference and freshness in this album stems from Kummerer’s genius; how to use familiar ideas and sounds to create a personal compositional structure and engrave his own signature on it. Under the supervision and production of the renowned Dan Swanö, A Dying Wish sounds epic and lively. It puts itself sufficiently in the midst of emotional situations and melodies, and it is as sinister and dark as it needs to be. Dissection are long gone, but Thulcandra have kept their legacy alive for nearly a decade, and this is praiseworthy.