This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Assimilator, Behemoth, Choke, Clutch, The Devil Wears Prada, Edenbridge, Morbus Grave, Phobophilic, Sinnery, Spiritus Mortus, Sublation, Sumerlands and Wolfheart.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Assimilator (formerly known as Death On Fire) take some strides ahead with this new project on their self-titled debut. The awkward transitions and over-usage of timid intros from their previous band are largely gone, with the music taking on more of a thrash/death styling. Opener “Slave” is a firm statement, its intent to cause whiplash with the help of a few blazing guitar solos.
It’s not until closer “Our Bitter End/Witch Hunter” that the group comes close to recreating that sort of thrashing excitement. The songs between those have their shining qualities, and they do know when to pick up the tempos, yet it would’ve been great to hear Assimilator go the route of the first and last track more frequently instead of getting close to the edge before stepping back.
Behemoth – Opvs Contra Natvram (Nuclear Blast)
In their 30 plus years as a band, Behemoth have avoided compromise, courted controversy, and become one of extreme metal’s most successful acts. The writing and recording of their twelfth studio album Opvs Contra Natvram, like many albums of this era, was given extra time and focus due to the confinements of the pandemic.
The black/death metal fury you’d expect from Nergal and company is there, but there’s ample melody as well. That includes melodic backing choruses on “The Deathless Sun” and “Thy Becoming Eternal,” catchy riffs and solos on “Neo-Spartacus” and somber piano on closer “Versus Christus.” There are varied styles, from bombastic symphonic sections to stripped down and raw parts. Behemoth don’t break much new ground on Opvs Contra Natvram, but the songs are razor-sharp, dramatic and flawlessly executed and should satisfy fans of the band.
Choke – Desiphon (Translation Loss)
Green Bay goliaths Choke return with their new EP Desiphon, a 5-track blast in just under 15 minutes. The first 4 tracks including the self-titled opener rip your face off with furious intent and a Kurt Ballou production job that gets the most out of this group of cheeseheads. “Deranged” is an excellent combination of grinding death metal that picks up steam throughout with vocalist Dusty Hansen buoyed expertly by crushing riffs and drummer Chris Piette who just won’t quit.
The EP’s finale, “Wraith” is nearly 6 minutes and becomes the sum of Desiphon’s parts making for the heaviest kind of conclusion and leaving the listener uneasy and looking for more. If you need buzzsaw guitar tone-tinged death grind, played expertly in short form, then Choke have you more than covered.
Clutch – Sunrise On Slaughter Beach (Weathermaker)
Hard rockers Clutch bring something new to the table on every album. That’s also the case on their thirteenth studio album Sunrise On Slaughter Beach. Anticipation is always high for a new Clutch record, but since it has been four years since Book Of Bad Decisions it’s even higher.
Thick, slow grooves drive songs like the title track, while songs such as “Nosferatu Madre” are quicker and anthemic. Backing vocals from Broadway star Frenchie Davis and Deborah Bond on “Mercy Brown” give it a different flavor. “Skeletons On Mars” has some surf rock style guitars and a retro vibe while album closer “Jackhammer Our Names” is a ballad with Neil Fallon’s most emotive singing on the album. Sunrise On Slaughter Beach is only 33 minutes long, more than 20 minutes shorter than Book Of Bad Decisions, but Clutch do everything they need to do in that time frame to make it an effective, unique and memorable album.
The Devil Wears Prada – Color Decay (Solid State)
Metalcore veterans The Devil Wears Prada had a lineup change prior to their latest album Color Decay. Bassist Andy Trick exited, but his replacement Mason Nagy is very familiar, having been a touring bassist for the band.
All the song titles on the album are one word, which is appropriate since they are very focused and tight. The interplay between Mike Hranica’s fierce harsh vocals and Jeremy DePoyster’s singing is seamless. There are numerous catchy songs such as “Noise,” “Broken” and “Time.” TDWP don’t venture far from their comfort zone on Color Decay, another batch of quality and dynamic metalcore songs from one of the genre’s highest profile bands.
Edenbridge – Shangri-La (AFM)
Edenbridge fans have had a lot of material to enjoy over the past few years. In addition to full-lengths, the Austrian symphonic power metal band has issued a live record, compilation and box set. Their latest studio album is Shangri-La, the band’s eleventh.
As with previous efforts, it’s packed with bombastic arrangements, a lot of atmosphere, and powerful vocals from Sabine Edelsbacher. The highlight of the album is the five part, 16 minute closer “The Bonding (Part 2).” It’s the sequel to the title track of 2013’s The Bonding, and like that song, features guest vocals from Eclipse/W.E.T.’s Erik Martensson. Shangri-La has grandiose up-tempo songs such as “Hall Of Shame” and mellow tracks like “Savage Land.” It delivers exactly what Edenbridge fans expect: melodic, dramatic and memorable songs.
Morbus Grave – Lurking into Absurdity (Chaos)
Old school death metal borrowed its heaviness from doom metal and its violence and rebelliousness from thrash metal to lay its cornerstone. Decades later, the new wave of old school death metal revived that movement and the Italian band Morbus Grave have not gone any other way. After several demos and splits, Morbus Grave are releasing their first studio album Lurking Into Absurdity, a complete old school death metal offering.
Influenced by early Possessed and Death, Lurking Into Absurdity derives its power from the design and execution of simple but extremely wild and wicked riffs. An effort that by developing sounds in the studio, boldly targets thrashy death metal of the ‘80s, before reminding of the ‘90s, the prosperity age of death metal. Even the early years of the formation of black metal, especially Sodom, are reminiscent. Morbus Grave passionately travel to many places, many genres, and this is why Lurking into Absurdity becomes a considerable work that nobody wants to miss.
Phobophilic – Enveloping Absurdity (Prosthetic)
One of the last places I would know to look for death metal might just be North Dakota, but enter necrotic neophytes Phobophilic and their debut Enveloping Absurdity. Opener “Enantiodromia,” whose meaning of changing things to their opposites in a psychological way kind of plays into my original thoughts here. This is a refreshing take on odd riffing and atmosphere that Demilich’s Nespithe could be source material for. Couple that with the resplendent dirty basement motif of bands like Tomb Mold, making Phobophilic sound like winners on album number one.
“Cathedrals of Blood (Twilight of the Idols)” starts with an infectious groove that becomes undeniably heavy over the course of the track with ample chunky riffs combined with Aaron Dudgeon’s ghastly vocals make for one of the strongest tracks on the entire full-length. The album is bookended by its longest tracks with the rest of the songs just making it over 4 minutes, allowing the band to spread their disease with relative ease. Enveloping Absurdity is the first step towards Phobophilic’s death metal supremacy.
Sinnery – Black Bile (Exitus Stratagem)
Black Bile, the second album from thrashers Sinnery, has them homed in and doubling down on aggression. The seven and eight minute compositions from their first record, 2016’s A Feast Of Fools, have been pared back, giving off a leaner sound with less fat on the bone.
For those that just want to bang heads and go nuts, there are songs like “The Burning,” “Who Will Be Eaten First,” and “Anti Tribe.” “Hanged From The Sun” and “Holes” flesh out their thrash by either toning down the speed or putting an emphasis on melody. Black Bile is a marked improvement over A Feast Of Fools by striking fast and barely relenting from that stance.
Spiritus Mortis – The Great Seal (Svart)
Spiritus Mortis are Finland’s first doom metal band, and The Great Seal is their fifth album. It’s their first album in six years, and they welcome a new vocalist to the fold, one Kimmo Perämäki. With epic doom in the style of Dio-era Sabbath, Trouble, and more, Perämäki is certainly an apt replacement for Albert Witchfinder.
Songs on The Great Seal range from the epic (“Death’s Charioteer”) to the immediate (“Visions of Immortality”). Throughout the band brings thick riffs and thunderous rhythms. Perämäki sings with a level of drama that treads dangerously close to camp – moving between glorious and cheesy is a fine line indeed, and it makes for an interesting and compelling album. It’s a minor misgiving, though: The Great Seal is a strong slab of epic doom.
Sublation come from the remnants of Fisthammer, a death metal group that released a few albums about a decade ago. Their debut full-length, The Path To Bedlam, isn’t a far cry from those past releases, though the years have hardened their assault. If a listener is looking to get pummeled, Sublation will give them a fight.
“Trepanning Of The Evangelics,” “Haunted Shores,” and “Evoked Through Obsidian” best encompass the band’s cruel streak. The first song in that list also features an excellent guitar solo that goes on for the better part of a minute, a feature that reappears a few times on The Path To Bedlam. The band could just get by on brutality alone, but they throw some flash into the mix to add much-appreciated depth.
Sumerlands – Dreamkiller (Relapse)
Dreamkiller is trad-metal outfit Sumerland’s sophomore LP, following 2016’s eponymous debut. This time around the band has a new vocalist, with Brendan Radigan (Magic Circle) replacing Phil Swanson. The soul of the band remains unchanged, though, with Arthur Rizk composing tunes in line with bands like High Spirits and Eternal Champion (with whom Sumerlands shares bassist Brad Raub), and while the first album showed promise 2022 brings us a far more refined Sumerlands, both in songwriting and production.
From the moody (and with a hint of Krokus) “Night Ride” to the killer title track, from the synth-fueled “Force of a Storm” to the foreboding “The Savior’s Lie” and the dueling guitar attack of closer “Death to Mercy” and everything in between, Sumerlands go all out with ’70s and ’80s adoration, and it’s all tied together with snappy production and Radigan’s earnest vocal delivery. Dreamkiller is a great traditional metal album.
Wolfheart – Kings Of The North (Napalm)
Kings Of The North, the sixth full-length from the Finnish melodic death metal band Wolfheart manages to bring elements of the band’s other albums together in full force. It is quite theatrical and goes through a number of movements. This leads to a dark and uplifting piece of work that is a newfound glory for the band.
More could have been accomplished, but this is still a solid melodic album that encapsulates the good side of metal. It shows a band wielding supreme power and crafting something memorable. It is quite inspiring and has a lot going for it. Those looking for solid doom/death should look no further than Kings Of The North. The production values are solid and add punch to all that is present.