This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include Alda, Antichrist Siege Machine, Atrae Bilis, Black Sites, Blood Red Throne, Eternal Silence, Gus G, Jeff Scott Soto, Karloff, Kowloon Walled City, Local H, Siren’s Rain, Spiritual Deception and Teramaze.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alda – A Distant Fire (Eisenwald)
From Tacoma, Washington, Alda, one of the most impressive names of Cascadian atmospheric black metal, base their music on the sounds and spirit that govern the area’s nature. Their new album A Distant Fire, their first in six years, is no different.
Once again, with a special focus on neo-folk music, Alda blend the darkness and lamenting sound of this music into the layers of mournful but glorious black metal melodies and riffage. This is exactly where the tenebrous atmosphere and intense visual world of Alda’s music takes shape. Generally long songs are based on the narrative nature of Alda’s music, and like the chapters of a book, every moment of it turns into a story and image. In comparison to previous albums what makes A Distant Fire more important is that its black metal musical accent is not limited. It goes beyond the realm of atmospheric black metal because of its dynamic composition and intelligent production approach; yet it still strongly represents the music of the region.
Antichrist Siege Machine – Purifying Blade (Profound Lore)
The brutish war metal of Antichrist Siege Machine enters its second phase of domination with Purifying Blade. The production has been spiffed up just a tad, as the snare drums now sound like cannons firing and the guitars have more bite to them. It’s not as loose and untamed as their 2019 debut, Schism Perpetration, but the duo can still rile a listener up with bashers like “(To Be Sooner) Broken By Pain” and “The Inevitable Penalty.”
The ambient outros from their last album have been condensed into two intro tracks, their spoken word and feedback fodder a gateway to an evil within. They continue excelling in slower sections, using distinguishable death metal grooves in “Antichrist Siege Machine” and “Chaos Insignia.” Like any war, these are only temporary reprieves from the disorder that Antichrist Siege Machine relish in on Purifying Blade.
Atrae Bilis – Apexapien (20 Buck Spin)
A technically proficient death metal band from Vancouver, Atrae Bilis enter the fray with their debut Apexapien. When listening to “Lore Beyond Bone” you get more than just a good old fashioned bludgeoning, you get atmosphere too.
“By the Hierophant’s Maw” is a bit more of what you expect from a combination of death metal both brutal in the vocal style and technical by way of the bass tone, refusing to give too much in either direction; becoming a true hybrid of the subgenres. Apexapien makes for a varied listen that is more approachable than this genre usually is especially when you consider how massive some modern death metal bands tend to sound. This is a relatively short affair with excellent replayability. That way even if the hits come in fast and furious, you’ll want nothing more than take this beating with a smile hidden by gritted teeth.
Three albums into their career, it is safe to say Chicago’s Black Sites have come into their own. While 2017’s In Monochrome and 2019’s Exile were both outstanding releases, on Untrue the progressive metal band delivers their most cohesive album thus far, melding influences from Black Sabbath to Queensryche to Voivod into a singular, unmistakable sound.
Untrue is a slightly darker-sounding album than its predecessors, and the work Sanford Parker (Voivod, Spirit Adrift) does as the producer suits the material perfectly. Featuring incredibly complex yet memorable arrangements, stellar solos, charismatic vocals that have improved on every release, and some of the year’s best riffs, Untrue is an album that is quite likely going to find its way onto numerous year-end lists.
Blood Red Throne – Imperial Congregation (Nuclear Blast)
It has been 20 years since the Norwegian death metal band Blood Red Throne released their debut album. Even with a fair amount of lineup changes over their career they have consistently released albums every two years or so since then. Imperial Congregation is their tenth full-length.
Harsh vocals and dense drums are tempered by groove and some catchy riffage. They also shift the pace on a regular pace within the songs. Yngve “Bolt” Christiansen has the prototypical death metal growl, deep and powerful. Their songwriting chops are razor sharp, with excellent riffs and compelling arrangements. Most songs are compact and focused, in the four minute range. The exception is the seven minute “Zarathustra,” an epic and diverse track that brings the excellent album to a close.
Eternal Silence – Timegate Anathema (Rockshots)
The concept of time is the inspiration for Timegate Anathema, the latest album from the Italian symphonic metal band Eternal Silence. It’s their first full-length in four years, as their last two releases were EPs.
The band features dual vocals from Marika Vanni and Alberto Cassina, but not the typical “beauty and the beast” style of the genre. They both sing melodically, with Vanni getting more of the spotlight. Eternal Silence incorporate different approaches to their symphonic style, with elements of power metal, prog and gothic. In addition to using a real orchestra and choir that adds bombast and depth, there are acoustic parts as well, such as on “Lonely and Firefly.” It’s a well tread musical road, but the band’s execution make it worth the trip.
Gus G – Quantum Leap (AFM)
Gus G‘s (Firewind, ex-Ozzy Osbourne) last few solo albums have featured a mix of instrumentals and songs with guest vocalists. His 2001 debut solo effort Guitar Master was all instrumental, as is his latest Quantum Leap, written and recorded during the pandemic.
Gus G’s guitar wizardry is unquestioned, and that is definitely on display throughout Quantum Leap. However, he’s equally adept at injecting melodies and memorable moments into the songs, making them well-rounded compositions instead of mere exercises in shredding. Some configurations also include a second disc, Live In Budokan, which has seven additional songs, many from 2018’s Fearless.
Jeff Scott Soto – The Duets Collection – Vol. 1 (Frontiers)
Jeff Scott Soto has performed with a lot of different projects over the years. His latest effort The Duets Collection – Vol. 1 revisits songs from his catalog, but as you can tell from the title, he brings aboard guests to sing with him.
Three of the eleven songs are Talisman tracks, featuring Mr. Big’s Eric Martin (“Mysterious”), Shaman’s Alirio Netto (“I’ll Be Waiting”) and Electric Mob’s Renan Zenata (“Colour My XTC”). Other notable guests include Journey’s Deen Castronovo, Symphony X’s Russell Allen, Hardline’s Johnny Gioeli and Candlemass’ Mats Leven. In addition to Talisman songs, Soto revisits tracks from Rock Star, Yngwie Malmsteen, Soul Sirkus, Eyes, Axel Rudi Pell, Humanimal and his solo career. It’s an interesting way to deliver a “greatest hits” album, with the tracks ranging from AOR to hard rock to metal.
Karloff – Karloff (No Funeral)
Not to be confused with the German black/punk band Karloff, this Karloff hail from Ontario, Canada. Their self-titled debut consists of emotive hardcore influenced by bands such as Jeromes Dream, Slint, Modest Mouse, Hella, Orchid, Envy, City of Caterpillar, Daughters and Merzbow.
An untitled intro kicks off the album with samples mentioning Boris Karloff, feedback, groove and furious drum fills. The drum fills and raucous feedback continue on the next track “Abrir Los Ojos” and “Edut! Hoch Hech!” These first few tracks are noisy and hard, but melody-driven tracks pop up throughout the album. The emo quality to the vocals are a big turn off. They have a trebly guitar sound, which combined with how noisy the album is and emo vocals makes for a hard listen. Even the melodies do little for me. Early crossover hardcore will always trump the modern sound from bands such as this.
Kowloon Walled City – Piecework (Neurot/Gilead)
Nearly six years to the day since their last album, 2015’s Grievances, the Bay Area’s Kowloon Walled City are back with their fourth full-length Piecework.
Kowloon Walled City albums are dynamic in both their musical and emotional approach, and that’s certainly the case with Piecework. Heavy, doom-laden riffs transition to mellower sections, giving the songs air and light without losing momentum. The pace of the tracks is generally slow, with bursts of faster tempos. Vocalist/guitarist Scott Evans once again recorded and mixed the album, which was recorded live with minimal overdubs. The only negative is that it’s just seven songs and about 30 minutes long, but in that time the album leaves a lasting impact.
Local H – Local H’s Awesome Quarantine Mix Tape #3 (Brutal Panda)
After releasing their latest studio album Lifers last year, veteran rockers Local H weren’t able to do their normal touring due to the pandemic. They embraced the drive-in concert, and also streamed several shows from their practice space. In addition, they recorded their third covers album, Local H’s Awesome Quarantine Mix Tape #3.
Several decades are represented on the album. From the ’80s Local H cover Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again” and Robert Plant’s “Big Log.” There are some ’70s songs such as Looking Glass’ “Brandy” and Blondie’s “Dreaming” along with relatively newer tracks like Fountains Of Wayne’s “Hackensack.” And most importantly, Local H put their own spin on the songs while remaining true to their original spirit. It’s not an essential album, but it is an enjoyable one.
On their debut album Rise Forth, Siren’s Rain explore many different facets of folk metal. From the melodic bombast of “Keepers” to the pounding breakdown that closes the title track, from the straight-to-the point riffs of “13 Steps to Hell” to the grandiose progressive epic “Discarded Hope”, the Tacoma, Washington quintet covers a lot of ground in just 43 minutes.
Vocalist Rena Hellzinger follows suit, alternating between growls reminiscent of Arch Enemy and the soaring clean vocals that are expected from a folk metal singer, with occasional operatic moments. The galloping riffs are accompanied by harp, nyckelharpa, and mandolin, which provide some interesting colors. Where Rise Forth succeeds in concept, however, it often fails in execution. The playing is generally sloppy and poorly edited, and the mix is a bit rough. Hidden beneath this lackluster production is a very compelling take on folk metal, which fans of the genre will surely enjoy.
Oxymoron is the third EP from Italian death metal group Spiritual Deception since 2018, a method of releasing content that emphasizes quality over a full-length with potential filler. These five songs, including a trio interconnected with a concept based around John Milton’s Paradise Lost, expand on aspects of their sound that have been in place since their beginning. This includes elaborate orchestration, snappy guitar solos and breakdowns powerful enough to move skyscrapers.
Even with these EPs put out in a quick manner, the progression is noticeable on Oxymoron. They try their hand at an instrumental on the title track, letting the keyboards take over while the rest of the band supports it with pinpoint technicality. A few lineup changes between this and their last EP Etemenanki hasn’t derailed Spiritual Deception’s upward trajectory.
Teramaze – And The Beauty They Perceive (Wells)
On their new progressive metal platter And The Beauty They Perceive, Teramaze offer up a compelling array of sounds. There is a djent flavor to the proceedings. On the band’s ninth full-length release they display an ability to move out of their comfort zone to produce something truly interesting. The sound is vibrant and diverse making for a very compelling listen. The title track is a nice introduction to the album and makes for a strong beginning to the proceedings.
A nice production job really bolsters the songs nicely and makes the album more massive sounding. The album is not perfect, sometimes becoming predictable and not standing out from the pack. And The Beauty They Perceive is a strong release of progressive music overall that could have been even better.