This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Belial’s Throne, Blessed Black, Crucible Of Hate, Eclipse, Gutted Alive, Ledmotiv, Lord Of Shadows, Marduk, Outergods, Primal Fear, Road Pig, Royal Blood, Silent Skies, Soen, Stitched Up Heart and Taake.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Belial’s Throne – Forgotten Land Of The Lost Souls (Spread Evil)
Belial’s Throne are an Irish black metal band that were formed in 2016 and passionately dig into the elements of classic Swedish black metal, reflecting some of that glorious image in their music. Forgotten Land Of The Lost Souls, their debut full-length, is an impressive listen, covered in classic black metal fervor.
Forgotten Land… cannot be easily overlooked. Although in the intersection of the worlds of Dissection, Naglfar and Sacramentum, Belial’s Throne borrow some of their sound elements and personality components as direct sources of inspiration, but they do not lose themselves among these influences. This is why the album’s resonant soundscape takes on a personal and independent form. This is full of striking orchestrations of overwhelming melodies and relentless riffs, riding on the roaring and pounding drums, which does not separate the listener from that glorious Swedish black metal image of the ’90s for a moment. All this makes Forgotten Land Of The Lost Souls a rich and unforgettable work.
Three years after their debut album, stoner/doom metal act Blessed Black have decided to take a different approach to releasing songs with Seasons: Vol. 1. Instead of going the full-length route, they are instead putting out a series of three EPs between now and next year. They are working mighty quickly too, as going by their social media they are already deep into recording the second EP.
Whether the EPs are connected sonically will be figured out over time, but this volume has a major inclusion compared to their previous output with the usage of an organ. Its playful integration with the rest of the band on opener “Hellbender” is the kind of vigorous jam that was prevalent in 1970’s rock. The shortened format, along with spacing out the development of each block of music, is an ingenious use of the EP in an era where this sort of approach is becoming more widespread.
Crucible Of Hate’s debut album Dark Metamorphosis was blunt with its death metal (one of the songs off it was aptly titled “Death By Fu–ing Annihilation”) yet also included actual singing and groove metal tendencies. For their follow-up, The Unknown Path, they drop the former completely while embracing the groove in a calculated design. It opens the group up to new opportunities with their songwriting, allowing for something like the eight-minute closer “Legacy” that wasn’t possible before.
The cost of that is a song like the ruthless “Brutal Ascension” acts as a spark of unrefined viciousness that no other song can match up to. They had too much of that on their first album and now have too little of it on this one. It’s a delicate dance to pull off, though they do fine with their melodic death metal/groove metal fusion on The Unknown Path.
Eclipse – Megalomanium (Frontiers)
Swedish hard rockers Eclipse are approaching the quarter century mark, with the constants having been frontman Erik Martensson and guitarist Magnus Henriksson. Megalomanium is their second album with the current lineup, and their ninth studio album overall.
Their recipe for success has always been accessible and memorable melodic hard rock/heavy metal songs, and Megalomanium is jam packed with them. Nearly every song has single potential, with tracks like “Got It!” and “I Don’t Get It” especially catchy. Not every track is an uptempo rocker, though. Songs like “So Long Farewell Goodbye” and “One Step Closer To You” are more midpaced. The 11 songs are streamlined and focused, filled with hooks that make it another excellent Eclipse album.
Gutted Alive – Human Taxidermy (CDN)
Human Taxidermy, the latest from New York brutal deathsters Gutted Alive, has really aggressive riffs. The music is very raw and features a good degree of chugging riffing and pounding drumming. Where the album falters is in its generic nature that makes the songs sound very much the same. This permeates the album and prevents it from ever really taking off in any fashion.
The positive aspect is that that the sort of butchery theme makes the campy feeling of the album more appealing with a cheesy nature some may find interesting. There is enough shock value to draw the listener in, but this isn’t anything special. It is simply a fairly generic brutal death metal album.
Sweden is a veritable metalhead’s paradise, and symphonic metal newcomers Ledmotiv prove just that. From the brainchild of composer Viktor Hakan, vocalist Fredrik Vahlgren and guitarist Nils Leufvenius, this dynamic trio set out to change up the symphonic scene. With help from King Diamond guitarist Andy LaRocque, their singular goal of creating a pure orchestral style metal album has been met in spades.
From the first few opening strings of “Prologue” the tone is set, a wild ride with the flow of an early 2000s Disney movie. Tracks like “Master of Simulation” and “A Thousand Narrators” are just samples of the odd charm An Astronaut’s Diary has. Ledmotiv have the start of a truly unique take on the symphonic scene. Drawing so many comparisons to bands like Nightwish and Rhapsody of Fire, they take these inspirations and make it their own.
Lord Of Shadows – Echoes Of Yore (Meuse/Tragedy)
After releasing a 2021 EP under the name Cruish-Nir, the group now known as Lord Of Shadows are issuing their full-length debut Echoes Of Yore. Formed by lyricist Shadows (Valentin Untaru), he recruited a trio of vocalists: My Dying Bride’s Aaron Stainthorpe, Sojourner’s Emilio Crespo and Light Field Reverie/ex-Draconian’s Heike Langhans. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Lamb (Sojourner) wrote the songs and produced the record.
The combination of harsh male vocals, clean male vocals and melodic female vocals along with spoken word sections makes for a diverse album. Stainthorpe handles the lion’s share of the male vocals, with Crespo lending his talents to “At The End Of Our Eclipse.” Langhans sings on all but the first song and closing instrumental, her versatile voice that’s sometimes ethereal, sometimes traditional, adding contrast to the melancholy doom/gothic music. The songs are fairly long, mostly in the 7 to 9 minute range, unfolding slowly with a lot of shifts, dynamics and depth. Echoes Of Yore will certainly appeal to My Dying Bride fans along with those who appreciate that style of gothic doom.
Marduk – Memento Mori (Century Media)
During their long and influential career, Swedish black metal titans Marduk have been pretty prolific, never going more than about three years between studio albums until now. It has been more than five years since 2018’s Viktoria was released, though there have been a few live releases, an EP, a split and a box set in the interim.
Their fifteenth album Memento Mori follows the path Marduk has blazed over the past thirty years. It’s extreme, raw and intense with fierce vocals from Daniel Rosten and searing riffs from founding guitarist Morgan Hakansson. Tracks like “Blood Of The Funeral” shift from chaos to groove and back again. After an atmospheric intro with spoken word vocals, “Shovel Beats Sceptre” kicks in to regal black metal mode. “Year Of The Maggot” also has an atmospheric intro before the bludgeoning begins. Marduk don’t tread a lot of new ground, but there some new elements, which with variety and atmosphere and razor sharp musicianship, Memento Mori is another solid Marduk release.
Outergods – A Kingdom Built Upon The Wreckage Of Heaven (Prosthetic)
If one wanted a song title that represents the sonic mission of Outergods’ A Kingdom Built Upon The Wreckage Of Heaven (excluding the fact that this title is a great description on its own), it would be “Tangled In The Cogs Of The Nightmare Machine.” Though the album has plenty of devious names to choose from, this encompasses the uncomfortable racket the group manifests with its death/black metal.
Electronics in select spots exacerbate the clamorous delivery, with some grind-inspired sections bringing the tempos into hyperdrive. The closing title track, over seven and a half minutes with a strenuous pace, proves that the taxing first half of the record is not all Outergods have to show. They don’t need to batter a listener to leave behind effective terror.
Primal Fear – Code Red (Atomic Fire)
The long running German power metal band Primal Fear has been around since 1997, and is one of the genre’s most popular groups. The past few years have been challenging for bassist/producer Mat Sinner, who overcame a serious illness. He’s back on board with a new perspective for the band’s latest effort, Code Red.
The album flows really well, with soaring uptempo numbers like “Bring That Noise” complemented by mid-paced groovy songs such as “Deep In The Night” and ballads like “Forever.” They also mix epic songs like the 7 plus minute “Their Gods Have Failed” with more focused tracks such as “Raged By Pain.” Ralf Scheepers is one of metal’s best singers, and still has plenty of power and range that’s on display throughout Code Red. A quarter century in, Primal Fear show they are still at the top of their game and have plenty of gas left in the tank.
Road Pig – Still The Future Is Bleak (Horror Pain Gore Death)
The year is 2029. Civilization as we know it has crumbled, leaving behind a barren land of warring factions fighting over dwindling resources for survival. No, this isn’t the plot of some lost Enzo G. Castellari or Lucio Fulci film, but the setting Road Pig chose for their debut EP, Still The Future Is Bleak. The group goes all in on this concept, proudly proclaiming this release was actually recorded in 2029, brought to us in present times due to some sort of time travel technology (that’s this writer’s theory, anyway).
Their hardcore/crust punk is perfect for songs about “Total War,” “Ancient Noise” and “Leather And Dust.” Samples from The Road Warrior and Army Of Darkness further expand the worldbuilding Road Pig have already started across a previous demo and two splits. If Still The Future Is Bleak is meant to capture what it will be like a few years from now, we better get our motorcycles and homemade spears ready.
Royal Blood- Back To The Water Below (Warner)
It’s always tricky listening to guitar/bass duos and not judging them against more established acts that came before. What was once a novelty (hey – where’s the bass player?) is becoming more ommonplace, but on Back To The Water Below, the U.K.’s Royal Blood carve out their own niche. Harder-edged and more harder-rocking than The Black Keys, but tighter and less garage-y than the White Stripes, the ten short blasts that make up the record fly by in a flurry of pentatonic riffs and danceable grooves.
Modern production touches recall heavy blues rockers Rival Sons’ fat, layered, analog sound, with opener “Mountains At Midnight” also bringing to mind one of Jack White’s other projects, the Dead Weather. Royal Blood further set themselves apart by employing Radiohead-style atmospherics and Beatle-esque melodic touches, with “There Goes My Cool” sounding like an outtake from one of John Lennon’s early-’70s solo albums.
Silent Skies – Dormant (Napalm)
Evergrey’s Tom S Englund likes to explore projects outside of his main band’s genre. He has teamed up with keyboardist Vikram Shankar in two different bands. They are both members of Redemption, and also established the cinematic pop duo Silent Skies a few years ago. Dormant is their third album.
It features Englund’s trademark emotional and powerful vocals, but instead of being backed by prog metal, it’s mellow keyboards provided by Shankar. Things like a cello solo from Raphael Weinroth-Browne on “Just Above The Clouds” keep things interesting. In addition to ten original songs, there are three covers. They dramatically transform songs like the Iron Maiden staple “The Trooper,” Bruce Springsteen’s pop hit “Dancing In The Dark” and Linkin Park’s “Numb” from heavy or uptempo to introspective, slow and mellow. Dormant certainly isn’t metal or even rock, but it is another impressive performance from Englund.
Soen – Memorial (Silver Lining)
With each new album, Soen cement themselves as one of the elite bands in progressive metal. Their sixth album Memorial comes with high expectations. 2019’s Lotus topped our best of 2019 list, and 2021’s Imperial also made our list of the year’s best.
Memorial gets off to a strong start with the potent “Sincere” that starts off heavy and turns mellower and more melodic. “Unbreakable” is a soaring track with a memorable chorus that’s elevated by Joel Ekelof’s versatile vocals. Every song is dynamic and varied, adding in prog elements while keeping the songs in the four minute range. Alternating mellow songs like “Tragedian” with more intense numbers such as “Icon” is very effective. “Vitals” closes the record on a quiet and somber note. Memorial is another excellent Soen album, not quite reaching the heights of Lotus, but comparable to and maybe even slightly better than Imperial.
Stitched Up Heart – To The Wolves (Century Media)
To The Wolves is the third album from the L.A. hard rock/alt metal band Stitched Up Heart. Like their first two releases, it combines a modern industrial tinged sound with the hooks and melodies of hard rock.
There are similarities to bands like In This Moment, but vocalist Alecia “Mixi” Demner has her own distinctive style. She utilizes mostly melodic singing, but injects harsh vocals on tracks like “Possess Me” and “The Architect.” There are plenty of memorable songs, such as the opening title track that features Escape The Fate’s Craig Mabbitt and the punchy “Immortal.” However, there are also a few filler songs that don’t move the meter as much as they should. To The Wolves still has plenty to like, a well-rounded contemporary hard rock/metal release.
Taake – Et Hav Av Avstand (Dark Essence)
It has been nearly six years since the last full-length from Norwegian one man black metal stalwarts Taake (helmed by Hoest), though he did participate in three split EPs in 2020. Et Hav Av Avstand, which translates to “An Ocean Of Distance,” is the band’s eighth album.
There are only four songs, but this isn’t an EP. Three of the four tracks are over 11 minutes long. They ebb and flow, shifting between traditional black metal, modern grooves and some progressive forays. It’s not easy to maintain interest for a nearly 12 minute track like “Deense forblaaste Ruin av en Bro,” but Taake do it with ease. The shortest song on the album is the six minute “Gid sprakk Vi,” intense and relatively straightforward with minimal vocals. Fans of Taake and old school black metal in general will find plenty to like with Et Hav Av Avstand, but those who appreciate modern black metal can also enjoy it.