This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Allen/Olzon, Fallujah, I Am, Inhuman Depravity, Mourir, Mo’ynoq, Parkway Drive, Slugcrust, Trauma, Ultima Grace, Valborg and Wayward Dawn.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Allen/Olzon – Army Of Dreamers (Frontiers)
Singer Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) and guitarist/songwriter/producer Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear) have collaborated successfully previously. However, the duo hit paydirt upon enlisting vocalist Anette Olzon (ex-Nightwish) for acclaimed 2020 album Worlds Apart, which they’ve swiftly followed with Army Of Dreamers. From the opening title track’s shameless bombast, highly melodic metal is the modus operandi, with progressive, power and symphonic elements infused.
Sharing lead vocal duties, Allen/Olzon gel effectively on the infectious “All Alone,” They trade off vocal lines with aplomb throughout. Allen lends a suitably dramatic flair to proceedings, while Olzon revels in carrying melodies to even grander heights, affording a song like “I Am Gone” further gravitas. Karlsson showcases his considerable skills too; guitar solos abound, capped off by his classy effort on closer “Never Too Late.” However, assigning each vocalist a song or two to themselves would have freshened up the formula, which loses some luster towards the LP’s conclusion as songwriting tricks seem to run low and cuts feel interchangeable. At times the lyrics and overall execution are cheesier than a box of Kraft singles, but devotees of the personnel involved will draw plenty from this.
Fallujah – Empyrean (Nuclear Blast)
For the second album in a row, Bay Area tech deathsters Fallujah have undergone some major lineup changes. They have a new vocalist, Kyle Schaefer (Archeologist) and a new bass player, Evan Brewer (ex-The Faceless) for their fifth studio album Empyrean.
The band’s technical mastery is well established, with complex songs and precise musicianship. There are plenty of shifts in tempo and intensity with progressive forays. There are melodic moments as well, whether it be via the guitars or clean singing on tracks like “Artifacts” and “Radiant Ascension.” Fallujah’s incorporation of dynamics makes their songs more compelling and engaging than the typical band in their genre. The lineup changes work well, making Empyrean a return to form.
I Am – Eternal Steel (MNRK Heavy)
Pinpointing I Am’s sound on Eternal Steel is a herculean task, one that the band did on purpose for their third album. Their early material was standard-fare deathcore, yet they have thankfully evolved from that into something that gathers pieces of thrash, death, and groove metal to forge what they call “Texas Death.” That’s not just because they count the state as their home, but because there’s a Southern-fried air that crisps up their meaty music.
Another intentional move was having each song have its own identity, as there is never two in a row that are copies of each other. They may go total thrash on one, like on the title track, and then get moody with their guitar work, like the low-key intros to “The Iron Gate” and “Queen Incarnate.” Dropping the interludes and instrumentals that were on previous albums gives Eternal Steel a sharper focus that lets I Am reach a creative apex.
Inhuman Depravity – The Experimendead (Gruesome)
After a seven year gap, the Turkish brutal death band Inhuman Depravity return with their sophomore album, The Experimendead. They bring killer offerings of death metal bliss with a scalpel-like intensity. The guitar work is furious and the vocals are grimy yet appropriate. This really is a raucous affair with some gory imagery. The band really finds their footing and offers a supreme platter of death metal fury.
If there is an issue with the release it is in its lack of originality, but it is still effective at bringing a blasting effect to the forefront. The musicianship is top notch and the atmosphere is strong making for a solid outing. There is a little bit of lack of freshness, but this is made up for by the chops Inhuman Depravity bring forth. This album gets a solid recommendation to death metal fans that like a brutal edge to their music.
Mourir – Disgrâce (Throatruiner/Total Dissonance Worship)
To say that Mourir just play black metal never captures the essence and motifs of what is happening in their music. On the surface, they are a black metal band, but what actually happens is a collision and crossover of genres that turns the overall form into a terrifying theater of madness and darkness.
Mourir’s second album Disgrâce is a smart leap towards building a strong fortress of black metal with the ornamentations and colorings of sludge, doom and post-metal. Mourir clearly know how to create a massive atmospheric, cold and gloomy soundscape with the subtle but clever addition of these genres to make Disgrâce sounds like a literary piece of dramatic art. The composition is dynamic and full of significant moments. It is as if the songs are recited by a secluded bloodthirsty evil creature that crawls in the bleak and foggy darkness; just like what is heard at the beginning of the album. Mourir is French for die, and in Disgrâce, they have vividly depicted its broad meaning.
It’s not until the last song on A Place For Ash, the almost 12-minute goliath “The Beast That Mourned At The Heart Of The Mountain,” that Mo’ynoq let the music unwind from its black metal headspace. Unlike their last album, Dreaming In A Dead Language, there are no piano interludes or self-control over the tremolo-picked fury. There appears to be a concerted effort to stick to an arduous pace on the first few songs, including “Penance” and “Effigies Adorned In Fire.”
“The Beast That Mourned At The Heart Of The Mountain” packs everything from an unnerving introduction of a single guitar riff for almost three minutes to a glorious guitar solo that heads off in an unexpected direction. It’s the most momentous song the band have ever written, and a real achievement for them. A Place For Ash is merciless in many spots yet has its points of invigorating grandeur as well.
Parkway Drive – Darker Still (Epitaph)
The Australian metalcore band Parkway Drive are approaching their 20th anniversary as a band. They are extremely successful in their native country, with their last five albums cracking the top 10, and the last two hitting number one. They’ve had chart success in Europe and North America as well.
That global success shows no signs of slowing down with their latest effort Darker Still. Their trademark blend of heaviness and melody is fully intact, with a plethora of singles such as “Darker Still,” “The Greatest Fear” and “Glitch.” There’s minimal filler, with the 11 songs clocking in at just over 45 minutes. There aren’t any big surprises on Darker Still, but fans should be pleased with this collection of well-written and memorable songs.
Slugcrust – Ecocide (Prosthetic)
It’s been a busy 2022 for grindcore act Slugcrust, releasing two EPs and a cover of System Of A Down’s “X” all within the first six months of the year. Now, they have a debut album to add to the pile in Ecocide, a wild effort that reaches deep to find new depths of pure mayhem. There are songs where it’s impossible to tell if vocalist Jesse Byrdic takes any breaths as he roars and shrieks with an endless lung capacity.
He has to take this route in order to rise above feedback-laced guitars and drumbeats that are set to “batter” mode. As is the case with most music from this genre, only three of the 12 tunes go over two minutes and one of those is because of the extended noise that closes it out. Ecocide is constantly ready to pounce like a cornered tiger, which makes it an effective case for grindcore’s appeal.
Trauma – Awakening (Massacre)
Trauma vocalist Donny Hillier passed away in 2020, shortly after the band released As The World Dies. He was their original singer, dating back to their first incarnation in the early ’80s that included Cliff Burton (Metallica) on bass. The band considered disbanding, but decided to carry on with singer Brian Allen.
Awakening is Trauma’s fourth album overall, and third since reuniting almost a decade ago. It has more of a modern approach than their past couple of releases, but there’s still plenty of old school thrash goodness. They’ve also amped up the heaviness on tracks like “Death Of The Angel” and “Burn” while maintaining hooks and melodies. There’s also ample variety in terms of pacing and intensity.
Allen had big shoes to fill, and showcases a wide range and vocal versatility on Awakening.
Ultima Grace – Ultima Grace (Frontiers)
This is a big week for Anette Olzon. In addition to the Allen/Olzon album reviewed above, this week also sees the worldwide release of Ultima Grace’s self-titled album that was issued earlier this year in Japan.
The group was formed by Alhambra keyboardist Yuhki. They are a symphonic/power metal band, and the arrangements on Ultima Grace are bombastic with heavy guitars and a lot of atmosphere. Olzon’s melodic style especially shines on the jazzy ballad “Ripples.” However, sometimes the arrangements get a bit busy, overshadowing her. It’s ambitious album, culminating in the 11 plus minute prog-influenced “The Lost.” There are some lulls and it’s a bit long at 65 minutes, but Olzon fans will find plenty to enjoy.
Valborg – Der Alte (Lupus Lounge)
The German band Valborg have been both prolific and varied over their 20 year career. The 3 plus year gap between Zentrum and their new album Der Alte is the longest of their career.
That’s ironic, because Der Alte has the shortest songs in their discography. This time around they keep the tracks short, focused and heavy. They also avoided the use of keyboards, giving the songs even more of a wallop. Sludge, death and doom are the predominant genres, with influences of punk and industrial, among other styles. The 13 songs fly by in 37 minutes. From to the deliberate “Kommando aus der Zukunft” to the urgent “Hektor,” Der Alte incorporates depth and variety in a streamlined package.
Wayward Dawn – All-Consuming Void (Emanzipation)
The Danish band Wayward Dawn, as you might guess from the album cover, are a death metal group. All-Consuming Void is their third full-length. The lyrical theme of the album is how things like anxiety, loneliness and addiction and become an all-consuming void.
There’s plenty of bludgeoning death metal and moderately paced grooves. Influences of everything from doom to punk help set the album part from the typical death metal record. Tracks like “The Crushing Weight” have memorable riffs along with the heaviness you’d expect from the song title. Wayward Dawn really spread their wings on the 12 minute closer “Pull Of The Boulder” that shifts from dense death metal to plodding doom and back again. All-Consuming Void is an interesting album with excellent production from former Hatesphere frontman Jacob Bredahl.