This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Alien Weaponry, Anomaly, Aversio Humanitatis, Brainstorm, Centenary, Charlotte Wessels, Criminal, Eard, Edge Of Paradise, Employed To Serve, Existentia, Ichor, Illt, Insomnium and Intercore.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alien Weaponry – Tangaroa (Napalm)
Tangaroa, the sophomore release from New Zealand’s Alien Weaponry, has the tribal feel of Sepultura circa Chaos A.D. It is really groove oriented and features a chaotic rhythm section. The overall effect is a modern thrash album that brings a lot of groove to the table. The songs are consistent across the board and continuously manage to excite and entice. They find their footing and never let go.
In terms of musical performances, Lewis de Jong’s guitars feature highly in the mix and do a good job laying waste over top of Henry de Jong’s tight drumming. The singing is tribal in nature and fits the music nicely, though there are definitely improvements that could be had. Still, this is an effective groove-oriented metal album that never fails to excite. It is thus highly recommended for fans of the style.
For their debut album Planet Storm, Anomaly re-recorded their 2019 EP of the same name and added a few new songs at the end of it to make a sort of reimagined/novel hybrid. Though the material comes from two different time periods, it doesn’t come off as disjointed, each half feeding into each other effortlessly.
A slow countdown from a mission control center on opener “Zero Gravity” is preparation for liftoff into the farthest corners of the universe. Space is where it’s at on Planet Storm, and futuristic keyboards and vocoders bolster the setting’s influence. The prog-leaning moments on “Caught In The Ergosphere” and “Remains Of A Cosmic Catastrophe” clash with the charging mannerisms of “A Gift From Theia” and “Subterranean Worlds.” Anomaly keeps their music ever-changing on the satisfying Planet Storm.
Aversio Humanitatis – Silent Dwellers – Live MMXX (Lunar Apparitions)
Just a year ago, Aversio Humanitatis released one of the most intriguing black metal albums of 2020, Behold The Silent Dwellers. The release of the live album Silent Dwellers – Live MMXX is reminiscent of the grandeur and gloom of that album. This live set is 53 minutes of nihilistic black metal that depicts the miserable fate of man in urban life.
When it comes to live performances, what matters the most is the eye-catching stage and lights design, the lively performance of the band, and powerful mixing. Aversio Humanitatis are very successful in all three cases. For those to whom this live album is their first encounter with the band, Live MMXX can be a reliable way to get to know them. By selecting career-spanning songs, Aversio Humanitatis intensely engage the listeners with the withering spirit and nihilistic essence of their music. Silent Dwellers – Live MMXX is a brilliant set with an impressive performance.
Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls (AFM)
One of the best power metal albums of 2018 was Brainstorm’s Midnight Ghost. Thus it comes as no surprise that Wall Of Skulls, the German outfit’s thirteenth album in the past twenty-five years, has been highly anticipated since it was announced. But how does a band follow up the best album of their career?
Well, by releasing something slightly faster and heavier, and nearly as good. While twelve songs might be a bit much, Wall Of Skulls is still an album loaded with rousing choruses, shredding solos, and a ton of fun. It can be hard to pick out the best tracks here, but “Turn off the Lights,” “My Dystopia,” and “End of My Innocence” are all standouts.
Centenary – Death…The Final Frontier (CDN)
Detroit, Michigan’s Centenary join a growing horde of bands influenced by ‘90s Swedish death metal, heavy on HM-2 guitar pedals. The group describe their sound as “Detroit chainsaw metal.” While many of these bands are hardcore imitators of the style, Centenary’s second full-length Death…The Final Frontier pull it off without sounding like a rip off.
The vocals are one aspect of Death…The Final Frontier. While the main growls have a L.G. Petrov vibe, there are higher pitches that give the album a grind flavor. Entombed and Dismember are inherent in their sound. However, mid-paced chugging, groove, and hollowed solos bring to mind Grave above all those bands. Blast beats are not abundant but still push the pace in opportune places. Horror films are a major source of inspiration as heard on samples from films such as Phantasm and Kolchak the Night Stalker. Centenary’s ability to (re)animate monster films through monster tones make Death…The Final Frontier an enjoyable listen.
Charlotte Wessels – Tales From Six Feet Under (Napalm)
After fronting the Dutch symphonic band Delain for more than 15 years, Charlotte Wessels left the group earlier this year. She’s embarking on a solo career with her debut Tales From Six Feet Under.
It’s definitely different from Delain, an eclectic effort that explores a few different genres. Alt-pop and rock are the dominant styles on the album. The lone connection to the metal world is Alissa White-Gluz, who duets with Wessels on “Lizzie,” but the song is mellow and melodic. Wessels sings in her native Dutch on “Afkicken.” She also covers “Cry Little Sister,” the theme from the ’80s movie The Lost Boys. The songs on Tales From Six Feet Under are a long ways from metal, but if catchy pop is your cup of tea, this will fit the bill.
Criminal – Sacrificio (Metal Blade)
The Chilean death/thrash/groove metal band Criminal have been around for 30 years now, and have been releasing music since 1992. Vocalist/guitarist Anton Reisenegger (Pentagram Chile, Brujeria) is the lone remaining original member.
Their ninth full-length album Sacrificio hearkens back to the ’90s with songs like “Caged” and “Dark Horse” that blend heavy guitars and groove with catchy melodies. Lyrically, the album draws upon the emotion and strife of recent social unrest in their native country. They wrote and recorded the album in Chile for the first time since the ’90s. Criminal do a nice job shifting tempos and intensities, from stifling death metal to galloping thrash to mid-paced grooves, making Sacrificio another well-rounded and quality effort.
Eard – De Rerum Natura (Avantgarde)
Celtic harp and pastoral melancholy lead the way on Eard’s debut album De Rerum Natura. It took this writer a moment to figure out the black metal duo was Italian. With all the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic cultural and musical elements woven in their music, one would expect them to come from the British Isles. Cultural camouflage aside, Eard execute the now well-established combination of black metal and folk melodies and instruments quite well.
The Celtic harp brings a serene melancholic tone to the songs that contrasts the painful yearning expressed by the cascades of guitars and blast beats. The harp sits at the top of the mix, which disconnects it a bit from the rest of the instruments, weakening the overall presentation. De Rerum Natura nonetheless conjures a strong atmosphere, which overcomes the lack of strong hooks. The record ends on a high note with “Eardstapa”, featuring a rousing vocal performance from Déhà (Slow, Wolvennest) and a much more memorable composition.
Edge Of Paradise – The Unknown (Frontiers)
For their fourth studio album The Unknown, Edge Of Paradise brought in the big guns on the production side. They worked with producer Howard Benson, who has worked with pop/rock acts like Kelly Clarkson and 3 Doors Down along with harder edged bands such as Halestorm, In Flames and Of Mice & Men. They also brought the legendary Jacob Hansen aboard to handle the mixing and mastering.
The production is strong, but without quality songs it doesn’t really matter, and Edge Of Paradise wrote a strong batch of them. They expertly blend heaviness and melody, with a lot of catchy choruses and a strong vocal performance from Margarita Monet. She’s able to belt it out on songs like “Tidal Wave,” and have a more reserved approach on tracks like the ballad “The Unknown.” Not sure an industrial remix of “My Method Your Madness” was necessary, but the other 10 songs on the album are quality hard rock/traditional metal.
Employed To Serve – Conquering (Spinefarm)
The UK metal/hardcore band Employed To Serve have made a couple of lineup changes on their fourth album Conquering, bringing aboard a new rhythm section of bassist Nathan Pryor and drummer Casey McHale.
Progressing and improving on each album, this is Employed To Serve’s most impressive effort to-date. Their technicality and musicianship is evident on songs like “Twist The Blade” and “The Mistake,” but they add melody and groove to the brutality as well. The vocals are split between Justine Jones and Sammy Urwin, and are mostly harsh screams and growls. There is some melodic singing on songs like “Mark Of The Grave” and closer “I Stand Alone” adding some catchiness and variety. The songwriting on Conquering is compelling, smoothly shifting from extremity to melody and back again.
Existentia’s first EP Calculating Failure is a bludgeoning spectacle, four songs that hack and swing with little care of where they land or what they destroy. The release doesn’t hide its intent or its secrets too deeply; the group’s immense heaviness is apparent from the first second of opener “Planned Obsolescence” to the final abrupt second of “Fulminate.” Save for strong guitar leads on the latter, the music dials up the brutality, finding no reason to deviate from it.
In the course of a 14-minute EP, that strategy pays off well. They channel aggression in a way that gets close to the point of exhaustion, but never crosses over to that. The big question will be if Existentia can maintain the frantic pace they do on Calculating Failure over the course of a full-length without it being overwhelming.
Ichor – The Black Raven (Séance)
Ichor are part of an Australian black metal circle called Ordo Ater Anguis. The group was formed by Wraith and Diablore in 1993, but retired to make way for Nazxul. The Black Raven, their sophomore album, doesn’t sound like it was created in the humid climate of Sydney, Australia; rather, on icy mountain tops and misty forests of Eastern Europe, which the group claim as their heritage.
The Black Raven is a pagan black metal affair influenced by Viking-era Bathory and ‘90s pagan black metal. The album is a wind-strewn, atmospheric offering that runs at a medium pace. Cold, rough-hewn toned tremolo picking dominates the aural landscape. An arcane sense spans the six tracks characterized by whispering vocals that seem like a ghost from forgotten pasts. Keys make dramatic entrances, while tribal drumming (“Veles Is Here”) authenticates their pagan sound. “Fight, Blood, Fire, Hate” stands out as a valorous number among their enchanting, hazy compositions.
Illt – Urhat (Indie)
Roy Westad is an award-winning Norwegian film composer who is also an extreme metal fan. Under the moniker Illt, he has brought aboard some impressive musicians for the band’s debut Urhat. Westad handles bass and guitar, with vocals from Soilwork’s Speed Strid, drums from Megadeth’s Dirk Verbeuren and lead guitars from Nile’s Karl Sanders and Chrome Division’s Mr. Damage.
The album runs the gamut of genres, with the constant factor being excellent riffs and quality guitar work. Blackened death is well represented, with moments of traditional black metal, thrash, doom and rock. Westad’s background in film scoring is evident on songs like “Blood Of The Unbeliever,” with intense metal shifting to a mellow cinematic part before the brutality resumes. With this lineup, there’s no doubt in the quality of the musicianship or vocals, and these songs are well-written and varied, making for a compelling debut.
Insomnium – Argent Moon (Century Media)
It has been two years since Heart Like A Grave, the last full-length from the Finnish melodic death metal band Insomnium. They return with a four song EP, Argent Moon.
Impeccably written and produced, the songs are melancholy and mid-paced. Opener “The Conjurer” is the EP’s longest at more than 7 minutes, with melodic guitars and harsh vocals. “The Reticent” is the most accessible track, with a streamlined length and mostly melodic singing. “The Antagonist” is a dynamic song, going from spoken word to harsh vocals to melodic singing. After a mellow beginning, closer “The Wanderer” ratchets up the intensity. While there are certainly heavy and brutal moments, Argent Moon mostly showcases Insomnium’s softer side.
Intercore – Dreams For Sale (Pride & Joy)
If ’80s hard rock and metal is your thing, Intercore might be your band. This Swedish outfit has spent the past four years recording their debut, Dreams For Sale, and their take on the sound of the ’80s is pretty spot on. Possibly the heaviest influence on the style would be Europe, with some heavier guitar influences thrown in for good measure.
The slinky title track is a sure-fire standout, as well as power ballad “Mother Mary.” These are well-arranged songs with some honestly killer guitar solos strewn throughout. While the vocals don’t quite have the charisma to carry the style, they aren’t bad. Dreams For Sale is a formulaic take on the days of yore, but it is well done and there are some catchy songs here.