This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Auriferous Flame, Brymir, Cyborg Octopus, Grave Digger, Hierophant, The Hirsch Effekt, Lacrimas Profundere, Machine Head, Santa Cruz and Thoughtcrimes.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Auriferous Flame – The Great Mist Within (True Cult)
Auriferous Flame’s debut The Great Mist Within is a favorable work for those who like black metal for its infernal atmosphere and sinister ritualistic aspects as the band touch and delight their audience instantly with sensational dark epic songs. Consisting of five songs that are generally long, The Great Mist Within’s strength is not in the processing of fresh and intact ideas, but in the developing of usual black metal components in its finest way.
The borders of the album are shared between raw and atmospheric black metal. Both are in the service of each other to form an effective murky scene, and the touches of progressive metal creates an influential coloring of melodies and orchestrations, laid down in the chaotic riffs and atmospheres. The Great Mist Within is not an extraordinary album with unique perspective on songwriting, yet it is not forgettable and diluted. When it comes to proper integration and effective processing of ideas, it becomes one of the considerable black metal albums from Greece.
Brymir – Voices In The Sky (Napalm)
The Finnish melodic death metal band Brymir emerged just over a decade ago. Voices In The Sky is their fourth album, and first for Napalm Records.
The opening title track shows they are more than a typical melodeath band. There are acoustic guitars and combination of harsh and singing vocals that give the track diversity. They move smoothly between extremity and melody throughout the album. In addition to melodic death, there are symphonic elements that provide depth and atmosphere. Folk metal emerges periodically as well, such as on “Far From Home.” Brymir close with the Dark Funeral cover “Diabolis Interium,” adding black metal to their versatile arsenal.
Cyborg Octopus – Between The Light And Air (Silent Pendulum)
The San Francisco progressive metal group Cyborg Octopus released their debut album six years ago. After some lineup changes it took them while to write and record their sophomore album Between The Light And Air.
It’s an eclectic release, beginning with the opener “Old Stories” that’s heavy and complex, alternating between harsh and clean vocals and incorporating a saxophone into the mix. They have a variety of song lengths as well, from relatively streamlined four and five minute tracks to more epic 8 minute numbers such as “The Projector.” A quiet piano intro on “Seizure Of Character” shifts into blastbeat laden prog, while futuristic synths lead into “Hindsight.” Between The Light And Air is an impressive mix of technicality, originality and creativity.
Grave Digger – Symbol Of Eternity (Rock Of Angels)
Forty plus years after their founding, the legendary German heavy/power metal band Grave Digger are still going strong. Vocalist Chris Boltendahl is the lone remaining original member, with their current lineup intact for about 8 years. Their latest opus is Symbol Of Eternity.
Lyrically they revisit the topic of the Crusaders, which they also address on Knights Of The Cross back in 1998. Musically the album is exactly what you’d expect from Grave Digger: heavy yet melodic songs with catchy choruses and Boltendahl’s distinctive vocals. But after all these years the band still has a few new things up their sleeve. The closing track “Hellas Hellas” is a cover of a song by the Greek singer Vasilis Papakonstantinou where Boltendahl sings in Greek for the first time. Symbol Of Eternity is another well executed Grave Digger album that fans will appreciate.
Hierophant – Death Siege (Season Of Mist Underground Activists)
The Italian band Hierophant‘s sound has evolved since their debut came out a dozen years ago. They started as a metallic hardcore group before incorporating more extreme influences. That was more evident on their last full-length, 2016’s Mass Grave and their 2018 EP Spawned Abortions, and that continues on Death Siege.
Death metal is Hierophant’s primary style, with plenty of blackened sections and a bit of sludge. The songs on Death Siege are sometimes dense and chaotic, but they also ease up from time to time with grooves moving to the forefront. The production gives the album an old school sound, with the vocals rather deep in the mix. Death Siege is an aggressive and fierce album, another step forward in Hierophant’s evolution.
The Hirsch Effekt – Solitaer/Gregaer (Long Branch)
The album Solitaer/Gregaer by The Hirsch Effekt combines last year’s EP Gregaer, an added band version of that song along with the three song EP Solitaer that features one song written by each band member. There is a somewhat hypnotic feeling to what is present as it twists and turns in different directions. The band is certainly original and sounds like nothing else out there. The diversity is a high point as there is always something new going on.
The somewhat chaotic effect of the album has its appeal in songs like “Amorphus” which brings Meshuggah to mind. It’s a little disjointed, but their fresh style has an impact upon the listener. This music is too strange to be truly phenomenal, but it makes its mark regardless. Fans of bands like Mr. Bungle or even Dillinger Escape Plan will find something to like here. The amount of variety will appeal to many.
Lacrimas Profundere – How To Shroud Yourself With Night (Steamhammer/SPV)
German gothsters Lacrimas Profundere will mark their 30th anniversary as a band next year. Over the decades they have become one of the genre’s most notable bands. How To Shroud Yourself With Night is their thirteenth studio album.
The mood is morose throughout, but Lacrimas Profundere shift between numerous styles. There’s the goth rock you expect on songs like “An Invisible Night” along with some doomy numbers including “Shroud Of Night.” There’s really good ebb and flow between deliberate tempos and quicker paced tracks like “In A Lengthening Shadow.” The lyrical theme of the album is the desire to disappear and become invisible. It’s the second album for vocalist Julian Larre, who displays a varied range from mellow baritone to a more urgent, higher pitched style along with some harsher vocals. How To Shroud Yourself With Night is another consistently good effort from Lacrimas Profundere.
Machine Head – Of Kingdom And Crown (Nuclear Blast)
It has been a tumultuous few years for Machine Head. 2018’s Catharsis was poorly received, and two longtime members (guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Dave McClain) left the band. Lesser bands might have folded, but Robb Flynn was undaunted, adding guitarist Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka (Decapitated) and drummer Matt Alston to the mix. Their latest album Of Kingdom And Crown is the band’s first concept album.
Loosely inspired by a Japanese anime series, Of Kingdom And Crown is an ambitious effort, beginning with the ten minute opener “Slaughter The Martyr.” It starts with subdued melodic singing from Flynn before the metal kicks in. Heavy grooves are contrasted by periodic mellower parts, making for a dynamic listen. While musically it’s much more what fans expect from Machine Head, they still push in interesting directions. From crushers like “Kill Thy Enemies” to catchier numbers such as the closer “Arrows In Words From The Sky,” the songs are consistently good. That along with the seamless addition of the new members makes Of Kingdom And Crown a potent return to form for Machine Head.
Santa Cruz – The Return Of The Kings (M-Theory)
Finnish hard rockers Santa Cruz have had a lot of upheaval over the past few years. They had wholesale lineup changes after both 2017’s Bad Blood Rising and 2019’s Katharsis. Three of the four current members joined the band this year, with frontman Archie Cruz the lone holdover.
The ever changing lineups haven’t affected Santa Cruz’s core sound, which straddles the line between hard rock and heavy metal. They are influenced by the Sunset Strip rockers of the ’80s, with Cruz’s vocals providing a bit more edge than glam rockers of that era. There’s also the requisite power ballad in “Disarm.” Songs are larger than life with big riffs, singalong choruses and ample guitar solos. The songs are streamlined with minimal filler. There’s not a whole lot of originality, but it’s a fun retro rock trip with a lot of anthemic songs.
Thoughtcrimes – Altered Pasts (Pure Noise)
After the demise of the Dillinger Escape Plan about five years ago, band members went their separate ways. Drummer Billy Rymer had a couple of side projects over the years, and in 2019 formed Thoughtcrimes. After an EP that year, they return with their full-length debut Altered Pasts.
Rymer plays both guitar and drums on the album. It’s a dynamic release that transitions from chaotic mathcore to smooth rock. Tracks like “Dare I Say” are fierce and aggressive while still injecting melody, while songs such as “Mirror Glue” are more expansive with electronics adding texture. Vocalist Rick Pepa shows versatility throughout, and there’s even a spoken word song with a poet reading a poem he wrote for the band. Altered Pasts is an intriguing debut full of contrasts that’s hard to pigeonhole.