This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Ancient North, Defacing God, Figure Of Speechless, Hawkwind, The Hu, King Buffalo, Kings X, Mantic Ritual, Miss May I, Silurian, Sumptus Ignis and Trial.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Ancient North – The Gates (Iron Bonehead)
Paying homage to all the classic elements of black metal, Ancient North have stepped onto the American underground black metal scene to eloquently recall the roots of black metal of the ‘90s. Both in terms of sound and appearance, Ancient North have followed black metal’s common stereotypes so enthusiastically that it is as if their first album The Gates was forgotten somewhere in the mid-‘90s and has now been unearthed.
With an album cover that is heavily reminiscent of Gorgoroth’s Antichrist and the music which is strongly influenced by early Gorgoroth, Mayhem and Darkthrone, The Gates is a thoroughly old-school black metal affair. The production has put the sound of the instruments and the atmosphere in a cold, semi-raw state so that the listener is not separated from the mood of the Scandinavian, mostly Norwegian black metal of the ‘90s. Keeping black metal’s stereotypes alive, The Gates can be an admirable work for the young generation that has just discovered black metal and has not delved deeply into its classic albums yet.
Defacing God – The Resurrection Of Lilith (Napalm)
Defacing God put orchestral accompaniment over their melodic death metal on The Resurrection Of Lilith, giving off the feeling of being in the middle of a symphony from hell. A three-minute song like “The Invocation Part II ‘Jezebel’” has the weight of a soundtrack to a pivotal moment in a blockbuster film. This is the second of the trio of tracks that makes up “The Invocation,” which is spread across the first half of the album and tells the tale of the religious figure Lilith.
Her defiance and unwillingness to fall in line is an attitude seeped across these 12 tracks. There are stretches of time where the bitterness is palpable, the lyrics rich with frustration and the growls matching those emotions. The neoclassical guitar solos that pepper the album seem to step out of the 1980s with their shredding, but they aren’t out of place. They pile onto the cinematic qualities The Resurrection Of Lilith binds itself to.
Figure Of Speechless are a prog metal supergroup fronted by Ray Alder (Fates Warning, Redemption). Their lineup also includes guitarists Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N’ Roses, Sons Of Apollo) and Glen McMaster (who is also the songwriter), bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, The Firm), drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne) and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater).
As you’d expect from a lineup of this caliber, the musicianship is outstanding. The songwriting is also good, a compelling mix of melodic metal and progressive forays. Alder’s voice is in fine form, especially on ballads like “Carve A Smile.” There’s no shortage of creativity or variety on the album, with plenty of solos, tempo changes and intensity shifts. The album has influences from many eras of prog music, synthesizing them into Figure Of Speechless’ own distinctive sound.
Hawkwind – We Are Looking In On You (Cherry Red)
Venerable psychedelic rock band Hawkwind are back with a massive live album for their fans. We Are Looking In On You clocks in at a whopping 114 minutes across 19 songs, and spans much of the band’s career, from 2021’s Somnia all the way back to their 1970 debut. The songs are taken from a variety of recent live dates and feature plenty of spaced-out music and affable banter amongst band members.
As fans will expect, many of the tracks here are sprawling psychedelic jams such as opener “Magnu” and, further into proceedings, “Star Explorer.” These are interspersed with shorter rockers as well. The current Hawkwind lineup shows plenty of vim and vigor (founder Dave Brock is 81 now) across the discs, and the song selection is quite different from past live albums, making this a must-own for fans and an entertaining introduction to the band for those who have never checked them out before.
The Hu – Rumble Of Thunder (Better Noise)
If thunderstorms were a band, they would be The Hu. Rolling and crashing out of their native Mongolia, they are one of the most innovative things happening in metal. By combining instruments typically used in Mongolian folk music and traditional throat singing with lumbering metal riffs (think Metallica’s “Sad But True” played on horsehair violins and you’re halfway there), they’ve created a unique sound well-suited to metal fans looking for something a bit different.
Rumble Of Thunder expands on their sound by lightening their approach. Opener “This is Mongol” combines “Enter Sandman” style riffing with shoutalongs taken straight from AC/DC’s playbook – just yell “hu” instead of “oi!” Major key explorations like “Triangle” and “Bii Biyelgee” add some infectious lightness, and “Mother Nature” channels Zeppelin’s “That’s The Way” elevated with an arena-sized outro that would make Coldplay jealous. Heavy, hooky, and utterly unique, The Hu are paving a new path in metal.
Let’s get this out in the open: King Buffalo can do no wrong. The prolific psych-rock trio from Rochester, NY, have released five albums in the last four years (three in the last year and a half), all of which have been sublime. After the stunning Acheron and The Burden of Restlessness last year, we are left with the final “pandemic” album, Regenerator.
Regenerator is most definitely King Buffalo. It is loaded with hypnotic riffs and rhythms that draw you in and never let go, and Sean McVay’s laid-back vocal style is amazingly charismatic. What separates Regenerator from the previous pair of albums is its buoyancy: the vibe is infectiously upbeat and optimistic, almost as if the fellas can see a light at the end of the tunnel and want us to reach for it with them. One of the year’s best psych-rock albums.
King’s X – Three Sides Of One (InsideOut)
2022 finally sees the release of Three Sides Of One from King’s X, their first studio album in 14 years. Worth the wait? That depends on your expectations – and King’s X have always been a band that defy expectations. If you’re coming to this record looking for Gretchen Returns To Nebraska, put that aside.
Opener “Let It Rain” aside (the closest they get to Zeppelin-style bombast), this album is drenched in King’s X trademarks – heavenly background vocals, emotional guitar solos, and dUg Pinnick’s soulful wail – spun in new directions. Take the djent riffing of “Flood, Pt. 1,” set off by a Beatles-esque verse, the eerie harmonies that permeate “Swipe Up,” or drummer Jerry Gaskill taking lead vocals on three tracks, making this the most vocally diverse record they’ve done. If you’re yearning for the Dogman-days of nothing but dUg, you might be disappointed. But like many of rock’s great albums, it takes a few listens to reveal its charms. Worth the effort.
Mantic Ritual – Heart Set Stone (M-Theory)
Pittsburgh thrashers Mantic Ritual released their debut album in 2009 and split a few years after. A couple years ago they got back together with 3/4 of the original lineup along with Warbringer drummer Carlos Cruz. Their comeback release is the 6 song EP Heart Set Stone.
It includes three originals and three covers. “Crusader” is the strongest of the three new songs, a dynamic and catchy dose of thrash. “Heart Set Stone” is also good, with more of an old school vibe. The covers run the gamut from British punkers GBH to thrashers Razor to the legendary Mercyful Fate. Dan Wetmore does a decent King Diamond on “Black Funeral,” while injecting their own vibe to the song. Heart Set Stone is a welcome return and hopefully sets the stage for a new full-length.
Miss May I – Curse Of Existence (SharpTone)
Ohio metalcore mavens Miss May I were prolific in their early days, issuing six albums in eight years. The five year gap between Shadows Inside and their new record Curse Of Existence is by far the longest of their career.
Though Miss May I have been around for a while, their passion and ferocity show no signs of waning. They’ve sharpened their songwriting chops, expertly balancing brutality and melody. Tracks like “Earth Shaker” and “Into Oblivion” have both headbanging and singalong moments. The interplay between Levi Benton’s harsh vocals and Ryan Neff’s singing is seamless. There’s not an ounce of filler on Curse Of Existence, a focused and varied metalcore album.
Silurian – End Of Ordovicia (Ordovician)
An EP gives a new band such a narrow space to work within, usually only having a couple of songs to get across what they are all about. With End Of Ordovicia, Silurian are able to reap the bountiful rewards of their volatile blackened death metal within three songs. There’s a technical slant with some of the expansive instrumentation in the closer “Eurypterid Emperors,” which takes a few extra minutes to traverse into well-crafted musicianship.
Silurian includes members of Suffering Hour, Sunless and Grand Demise of Civilization, and it’s easy to understand how bands like that turning black and death metal on its head could come out with End Of Ordovicia. It’s an EP that sets the groundwork for a flexible sound that refuses to keep itself rigid in conventional mannerisms.
The Kindred Dark by Sumptus Ignis is a very varied and interesting progressive album. The four song EP includes three new songs and re-recorded track. It leans on the heavy side for the genre and this is what makes the album unique. This is a hard-hitting prog release that utilizes some dense sections to add variety. The vocals are somewhat Borknagar-like and the weirdness of the band adds to their appeal. They have a wide array of styles, but are always interesting.
It pushes boundaries, but not to the extent it potentially could, an original and enlightening album that could have been further refined. But since very little occupies the boundaries the band is working within, they have a high amount of appeal. This is a very heavy and cool progressive release that pushes all the right buttons. It is also one of the heaviest of the style that I have heard.
Trial – Feed The Fire (Metal Blade)
Trial fans got their first exposure to new vocalist Arthur W. Andersson (ex-Air Raid) on last year’s two song covers EP Sisters Of The Moon. Now they get to hear him on a full album of original material on the band’s fourth full-length Feed The Fire.
Andersson’s style made guitarist Alexander Ellstrom want to write more up-tempo songs, which is evident on the album. And while the pace is quick, there’s no shortage of melody. Trial do slow down from time to time, such as on “The Faustus Hood,” which helps add some variety to the proceedings. The album closes with the 9 minute opus “The Crystal Sea,” which maintains interest throughout. While the songs are good, Andersson seems to be a bit too low in the mix, which can be distracting.