This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Blodskam, Crone, Eternal Closure, Gaerea, Gutvoid, Harvest Of Ash, KEN Mode, Kings Of Mercia, Miscreance, Nordjevel, Razor, Sonja, Upon Wings and Venom Inc.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Blodskam – Ave Eva (Suicide)
The Swedish black metal duo Blodskam emerged with their debut album in 2019 after being dormant for more than 15 years. Their second album is Ave Eve, which tells the story of the biblical Eve.
The production is modern, having been mixed and mastered by Devo Andersson (Marduk, Funeral Mist), but their approach pays tribute to the genre’s early days. There are only six songs clocking in at about 35 minutes, with Blodskam bringing plenty of extremity, but also adding melodic elements on traxcks like “This Lonely War” and “Scales And Sin.” The harsh vocals are actually pretty understandable, somewhere in between black metal rasps and death metal growls. Ave Eve isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a well executed black metal album.
Crone – Gotta Light? (Prophecy)
Gotta Light? is the second album from the German band Crone. It has an alternative metal feel to it and is a slow burner. Songs like “Abyss Road” are very powerful and authentic in nature. Crone are convincing at bringing their dark and moody flavor to the table.
It is a stellar collection of songs with emotional depth. However the band seems a little bit limited by the style they are performing, which holds back Gotta Light? from being truly magnificent. Still, it has the right atmosphere to light up a room and makes an impact and is a quality album.
Eternal Closure have taken their new album, At The Center Of It All, and split it into two chapters, with the first one out this month and the next one coming sometime in 2023. Their metalcore has been bulked up by a new vocalist and a revamped lineup that now features three guitarists and male/female vocal interplay. They take advantage of their bolstered abilities with songs that let them stand out, like the dueling harmonies from the singers on “Exiled” and a vast-sounding conclusion to “Moonrider.”
There isn’t a double-digit mammoth on At The Center Of It All – Chapter I like their previous two albums, yet the six tracks reach across metalcore to thrash, progressive, and ambient avenues. It’s clear with this release that the behind-the-scenes shifts over the last two to three years have worked to Eternal Closure’s benefit.
Gaerea – Mirage (Season of Mist)
Portuguese anonymous collective Gaerea are releasing their third full-length album. Mirage came together over mere weeks, which in this day and age is light speed for songwriting. The album is once again built within a shroud of oppressive, emotional black metal, with occasional embellishments and arrangements that allow several songs to breathe.
This claustrophobic feeling is key to Mirage’s sound, but it also holds the album back from being a bona fide classic. The band’s insistence to brickwall their albums makes for a difficult experience. Songs such as “Memoir” and the title track are crushing in their ferocity and nuanced in their arrangements, but the more brutal material here suffers from far too much compression. A deft touch when mastering and a few more subtleties in arrangements, and Gaerea will have a masterpiece.
Gutvoid – Durance Of Lightless Horizons (Blood Harvest)
In 2020, when Canadian band Gutvoid released their debut EP, Astral Bestiary, it was noted that they promised a remarkable upcoming debut studio album. Durance Of Lightless Horizons stands right there. Death metal, according to Gutvoid, is the expanded fictional world of H.P. Lovecraft, a musical world interwoven with an evil images and beastly sound.
Durance Of Lightless Horizons is the continuation of the first EP, keeping the same procedure, keeping the same soundscape. But what causes a bigger event here is that Gutvoid have found the opportunity of growing and expanding their sound because of the length of the album. The elements of progressive death metal that crosses its borders in many moments give life to a psychedelic, mysterious and hallucinatory image. In recent years, old school/doom-fused progressive death metal, as the main form of the band’s music, had not reached this limit of dynamism and originality, an achievement that Gutvoid have powerfully achieved in Durance Of Lightless Horizons.
Harvest Of Ash – Ache And Impulse (HPGD)
A migraine headache can be debilitating, affecting one’s senses and taking them out of commission for hours if not days. Harvest Of Ash have taken the four stages of a migraine and used it as a concept for their debut album, Ache And Impulse. After a self-titled opening track that properly displays their screeching doom/sludge metal, each stage gets its own song to make up a 35-minute descent into mental torment.
The unease of “Prodrome” leads off into the bass-y gloom of “Aura,” which then transitions into the throbbing guitar stings of “Headache,” ending with the surreal anguish of “Postdrome.” Bands have made music that is migraine-inducing, but none have put it down in lyrical fashion the way Harvest Of Ash does. The subject matter of Ache And Impulse may give off the assumption that the music is a noisy mess, but the band is smarter than that, going through many sonic transitions in order to capture the tidal wave of emotions a migraine can unleash.
KEN Mode – NULL (Artoffact)
Canada’s hardcore/noise flagbearers KEN Mode return with fury on NULL, a thirty-five-minute exercise in catharsis. This is the band’s eighth album, and first to include collaborator Kathryn Kerr as a full-time member. She brings her multi-instrumental skills to bear throughout this post-pandemic release of emotion. NULL is a harrowing account of what the world has been through in recent years, delivered with the unbridled rage only KEN Mode are capable of.
NULL is theoretically part one of a two-part album series. The Matthewson brothers, Kerr, and Skot Hamilton unleash a wide range of fury on listeners, from the short hardcore blast of “Throw Your Phone in the River” to the more Swans-like ten-minute epic “Lost Grip” and everything in between. These eight songs dig deep into visceral emotions we’ve all had over the past two and a half years, and I’m sure even folks who don’t normally go in on this genre can relate to the songs.
Kings Of Mercia – Kings Of Mercia (Metal Blade)
Guitarist Jim Matheos has been part of numerous bands such as Fates Warning, Arch/Matheos and OSI. He has a strong background in progressive music, but his latest project Kings Of Mercia is hard rock/traditional metal. The all-star lineup also includes vocalist Steve Overland (FM), bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Armored Saint, Mercyful Fate) and drummer Simon Phillips (Toto, Michael Schenker).
The songs on Kings Of Mercia are melodic and catchy with excellent riffs and solos courtesy of Matheos. Tracks like “Sweet Revenge” have a bluesy feel, while songs such as “Set The World On Fire” are more anthemic and straightforward. Whether it’s a driving uptempo rocker or a ballad like “Too Far Gone,” Overland’s expressive and powerful vocals are the cherry on top. As individuals, the members of Kings Of Mercia have an impressive track record, but their debut shows not only the musical chops you’d expect, but also a smooth chemistry that could make this more than another side project.
Miscreance – Convergence (Unspeakable Axe)
There was a period of time back in the late 1980s/early 1990s where thrash metal bands tried to out-finesse each other technically, which also bled into the blooming death metal scene. Miscreance’s Convergence is a callback to that era, its thrash/death compounded by mesmerizing instrumental work. That goes for every member of the band, with stunning bass leads on “No Empathy” and expansive guitar solos on “Requiem For Sanity.”
All of this is packaged into a release that’s barely over 30 minutes long, never letting its swirling compositions fall into excess. It’s easy to get swept up into what Miscreance are doing, though there are a few hitches like the abrupt fade out in the middle of “Fall Apart” to an acoustic section that seems like it was copied and pasted in from another recording. They do overcome those sort of production fallacies on Convergence to leave us with a stupendous debut album.
Nordjevel – Gnavhol (Indie)
After an EP last year, the Norwegian black metal band Nordjevel are issuing their third full-length Gnavhol. Members of Nordjevel are members or former members of numerous other extreme metal bands such as Dark Funeral, Odium, Horde Of Hel and Morbid Angel.
Ghavhol is a dynamic album that incorporates dense and extreme black metal with slower, groovier sections. Songs like “Of Rats And Men” are fierce and intense with glimpses of melody. The vocals are relatively low in the mix, bringing the riffs and potent drumming to the forefront. From focused songs like “Within The Eyes” to longer and more varied numbers such as the title track, Nordjevel deliver a punishing album about war, destruction and esoteric beliefs. While not a quantum leap from 2019’s Necrogenesis, it is a step forward in both songwriting and execution.
Razor – Cycle of Contempt (Relapse)
Canadian thrash institution Razor make their long awaited return after 25 years with Cycle Of Contempt. Having albums like Evil Invaders and Violent Restitution among others under their collective belts make them one of the best metal bands ever churned out by our neighbors to the north. Razor play a no frills style of headbanging thrash, nary a neck will be spared during the 40 minute plus assault on your vertebrae as evidenced by the 1-2 punch of “Flames of Hatred” and “Jabroni”.
Save for drummer Rider Johnson the band is held down by members who played on albums through 1987 and the majority of which have been members almost the band’s entire existence with gruff vocalist Bob Reid having been around since 1990’s Shotgun Justice. You can’t go wrong with a Razor record that isn’t so far removed from their glory days and thrashing metal maniacs will feel off their meds on Cycle Of Contempt.
Sonja – Loud Arriver (Cruz Del Sur)
For those familiar with Melissa Moore from her previous work as guitarist for Absu, Sonja’s gothic heavy metal will be an unexpected deviation. Loud Arriver is an appropriate title, as that is exactly what the band does with this treat of a debut release. As a whole, this is a rocking experience, being accessible without losing its darker sensual side. “Fuck, Then Die” could turn into a gothic bedroom jam, anthemic with a perpetual galloping pace.
There’s someone out there that should remix “Pink Fog” into a 1980s club jam. Many of these songs could be transformed into synth-ridden hip shakers with just a few tweaks, though the core of their sound is traditional heavy metal. Moore shows off some of that on the self-titled closer, while she pushes her vocal range on “Daughter Of The Morning Star.” Loud Arriver is a triumph that doesn’t regurgitate any previous bands Moore was a part of.
Upon Wings – Last Love (Sword Of The Spirit)
There has been a gap of nearly a decade between Upon Wings‘ 2013 EP Afterlife and their latest release Last Love. The four song EP collects three singles that have been released over the past year or so.
The opening title track is a heavy rocker with drums provided by Kyng’s Pepe Clarke Magana. “Eternal Way” features vocals from Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear/Gamma Ray) and a guitar solo from Falling In Reverse’s Max Georgiev. It’s a modern sounding song squarely in the metal realm. That’s contrasted by “Scars,” a poppy, mainstream track. The EP wraps up with the tenth anniversary edition of “The Dream,” with vocalist Anne Autumn Erickson utilizing more of a classical style. There is some of that on the new songs, but the vocals are mostly traditional rock/metal singing. It’s a strong collection of songs and whets the appetite for a potential full-length sometime in the future.
Venom Inc. – There’s Only Black (Nuclear Blast)
Venom Inc.‘s original lineup reunited most of the members of Venom’s Prime Evil era. Ave was released in 2017. Vocalist/bassist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan and guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn remain, with drummer Jeramie “War Machine” Kling (Ex Deo, The Absence) joining the lineup in place of Abaddon a few years ago. There’s Only Black is Venom Inc.’s sophomore release.
As you’d expect, There’s Only Black hearkens back to the late ’80s/early ’90s era of Venom with thrashy riffs, melodic solos and harsh vocals from Dolan. Songs like “Come To Me” really showcase Dunn’s guitar creativity while tracks such as “Tyrant” are more straightforward. Kling is a great addition, able to drive songs at a furious pace or ease back into more of a groove. There’s minimal filler in the dozen songs, an energetic dose of speed metal that’s angry and extreme while adding enough melody to make things memorable. There’s Only Black shows Venom Inc. are more than just a one-off, paying homage to the past while continuing to move forward.