This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aggression, Black Reuss, Cobra Spell, Cryptosis, Demons Of Noon, Embrace Your Punishment, Fierce Justice, Flames Of Fire, Hatred Reigns, Helfro, Oldest Sea, Panopticon and Varathron.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aggression – Frozen Aggressors (Massacre)
Canadian thrashers Aggression have had three periods of activity: the first included their 1987 debut, the second encompassed their 2004 album Forgotten Skeleton, and the past decade has seen their most prolific output. They follow up last year’s From Hell With Hate with their sixth full-length Frozen Aggressors.
They brand of old school thrash emphasizes musicianship, with the opening instrumental “C.H.U.D. Invasion” showcasing their chops. Straightforward thrash tracks are augmented by crossover influences on songs such as “Song 666” and a more deliberate pace on the raw “Holidays In Sodom.” While most songs are relatively focused, closer “Hyperspectral Winter Incursions,” written back in 1987, clocks in at nearly nine minutes. It’s the record’s most dynamic composition, beginning with quiet acoustic guitar before kicking in with catchy riffs and a melodic guitar solo. With Frozen Aggressors, Aggressor continue to fly the flag for old school thrash.
Liechtenstein’s one man project Black Reuss have a gothic feeling on their third full-length, Arrival. They sound somewhat like Type O Negative here, with a downtrodden feeling that is associated with the gothic form of music. It is a very moody, atmospheric album that also has a post-metal feeling that is very prominent. The entire concoction is rather interesting. The musicianship is solid with downtrodden guitars making up a large portion of the music. The drumming is machine-like and forms the backbone of what’s to be found here.
Maurizio Dottores has a very nice low register and is appropriate for the tunes. Arrival is long enough, but doesn’t overstay its welcome, either. The morose feeling is infectious and will win you over, the strong mood weaving a mysterious web, with interesting electronic elements. There aren’t many albums that sound like this at the moment, and this filled in a nice void for gothic music for me.
Cobra Spell – 666 (Napalm)
Cobra Spell were formed a few years ago by former Crypta and Burning Witches guitarist Sonia Anubis. After a couple of EPs, the lineup was completely revamped for their full-length debut 666. It includes vocalist Kristina Vega (Born In Exile), guitarist Noelle dos Anjos (Nungara), bassist Roxana Herrera (ex-Endernity) and drummer Hale Naptha (Searching Out Solutions).
’80s sleaze rock/metal bands are their inspiration, such as the W.A.S.P.-inspired “Warrior From Hell” and rousing “The Devil Inside Of Me.” There’s plenty of guitar wizardry and solos, but they change things up from time, such as a sax solo on “Love = Love.” The strongest tracks are ones like “Love Crime” and “You’re A Cheater” where the vocals have more grit and edge and match the vibe of the music. 666 doesn’t break much new ground, but is a fun blast from the past.
Cryptosis – The Silent Call (Century Media)
Over two-and-a-half years after their excellent debut, and first since changing their name from Distillator to Cryptosis, the band have fed the thrash masses with a new EP, The Silent Call. This four-track effort features two new songs, the title cut and “Master Of Life,” along with live tracks from a show in Athens, Greece that took place in November 2022. The live cuts, “Prospect Of Immortality” and “Transcendence,” are precise takes on their studio counterparts.
Bionic Swarm was a reawakening for Cryptosis in 2021, as they stepped away from the retro nature of their Distillator origins into thrash with progressive mannerisms. “Master Of Life” was recorded during the sessions for Bionic Swarm and would’ve fit well with the rest of that record, as would have the frantic title track. The Silent Call is a good teaser to keep fans satisfied as hopes for a sophomore album builds.
Demons Of Noon – Death Machine (Evil Feast)
After spending these last six years amassing their New Zealand fan base and a few single releases, Demons Of Noon have stepped out from the shadows to release their debut album Death Machine. “Echolalia” sets the tone right away with an almost five and a half minute slow burner opening leading into a nice slow breakdown. Though they classify themselves as a doom metal band, the pacing says otherwise.
Songs like “Coward” and “Demons of Shade” give a pseudo power metal feeling to it. The vocal prowess of Aria Jones and Tamsyn Matchett give Death Machine an almost ethereal feel, all while backed by bassist Jonathan Burgess providing the signature doom rumblings. Unlike many doom bands, no one song feels drawn out and each song is distinct and unique. Death Machine is one of the better albums of the doom genre that has come out this year and hopes are high for them for the future.
Embrace Your Punishment – Made Of Stone (Lacerated Enemy)
Made Of Stone is the third album from brutal death metal group Embrace Your Punishment, a record with a modicum of forward creative development. There’s a flashy guitar solo on “Above Creation,” which is something they don’t do often, and the two-part title track is split between chugging sludge supported by guest vocals from Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein and an acoustic instrumental (a first for the band).
Embrace Your Punishment have taken at least four to five years between releases, as they are in no hurry to rush out slamming metal with the breakdowns to get people windmilling in mosh pits. They largely stick to what they’ve been doing since 2014’s Honor Before Glory, though the use of outside vocalists, including Misery Index’s Jason Netherton and Benighted’s Julien Truchan, gives Made Of Stone an advantage over their previous albums.
First impressions are key, so starting a debut album with a two-and-a-half minute spoken word track isn’t the way to garner immediate interest. That’s what Fierce Justice are working against on Fireborn, as an inconceivable opener like “Call To Arms” seems like self-sabotage at its finest. They have to work to get back up, and the next few songs do that with a catchy block of thrash metal.
Fireborn slips again with the ballad “Awakened” and never gets back to the glory of the album’s first third. A feeble attempt at glam metal with “Bad Lucy” and tough guy posturing on “Ride To Hell” sap the life out of the record. The rising power behind the second half of ballad “Defiance” and the return of seething grooves on “The Will To Act” are reinvigorating; however, being the last two songs almost an hour into Fireborn, it’s not enough to save an album that was already trailing from behind.
Flames Of Fire – Our Blessed Hope (Melodic Passion)
The Swedish metal band Flames Of Fire, fronted by Narnia’s Christian Liljegren, emerged last year with their self-titled debut. They don’t waste any time following it up with Our Blessed Hope.
They play traditional metal with some power metal influences. Heavy guitars, soaring melodies and potent Dio-esque vocals from Liljegren power the songs. The tempo slows down and the grooves pick up on songs like “Battlefield Of Souls,” while “In Dark Times” is a ballad. The band’s lyrical inspiration is made clear on tracks like “Second Advent Of Jesus Christ” and “The King Will Return.” Our Blessed Hope is a step forward from their debut, with less filler and more memorable songs.
Awaken The Ancients is a concept album from Canadian death metal band Hatred Reigns about a person heading to the afterlife and all the sights and sounds they experience on that trek. From crossing the river Styx to the shores of Necropia where a final judgment is given, there’s a lot packed into 32 minutes. Attempts are made to amplify this story with gusto, as orchestration is utilized on “Obsolarium” and “Absentia.”
“Obsolarium,” in particular, evokes the legacy of the group Nile with its tribalistic percussion and boisterous keys. Hatred Reigns’ core death metal is sturdy, with bass guitar leads and overactive blast beats giving a technical spark to the album. The short running time doesn’t give the concept of Awaken The Ancients the weight it needs, though glimpses of atmospheric tension makes for a valiant try.
Helfró – Tálgröf (Season Of Mist)
Five years after they emerged with their self- titled debut (which was re-released in 2020 when they signed with Season Of Mist), the Icelandic black metal duo Helfro are issuing their sophomore album Tálgröf.
They inject death metal influences and really catchy riffs into their icy black metal, with tracks like “Fláráð Fræði” adding symphonic atmosphere for even more variety. Helfro have the ability to smoothly transition from dense, chaotic black metal to groovier death influenced parts on songs such as “Fangelsaður í Tilvist að Eilífu,” which also incorporates ominous symphonic sections. With a run time of only 35 minutes, Tálgröf is streamlined and powerful, all killer and no filler.
Oldest Sea – A Birdsong, A Ghost (Darkest)
Samantha Marandola started Oldest Sea as a solo, ethereal folk music project. Her husband Andrew later joined the band, and the music evolved into a combination of experimental soundscapes and heavy doom metal. Their latest album is A Birdsong, A Ghost.
Tracks like “Sacred Destruction” unfold slowly, with a quiet, introspective beginning shifting to thick, deliberate doom with Marandola’s passionate vocals. “Untracing” is the album’s longest song at just over 10 minutes, with ebbs and flows between ethereal atmospherics and heavy riffs. “The Machines That Made Us Old” is another epic number that remains relatively mellow and peaceful throughout with only brief moments of heaviness. A Birdsong, A Ghost grows more impactful with each listen, a unique and experimental sonic journey.
Panopticon – The Rime Of Memory (Bindrune)
Austin Lunn’s atmospheric black/folk project Panopticon has long been a critical darling, issuing albums that receive glowing reviews and landing on numerous year end lists. That won’t change with The Rime Of Memory, his tenth full-length studio album.
After an opening instrumental is the nearly 20 minute “Winter’s Ghost,” Panopticon’s longest song since “Patient” from 2011’s Social Disservices. After a peaceful, somber beginning, it abruptly shifts into intense black metal about halfway through, lasting a few minutes before easing back into mellowness and then briefly ratcheting up the extremity again prior to a peaceful ending. “Cedar Skeletons” and “Enduring The Snow Drought” take the opposite approach, beginning with brutality, while “An Autumn Storm” keeps up the aggression until the very end. This varied songwriting approach keeps lengthy songs (9 to 16 minutes) interesting and unpredictable. The Rime Of Memory is Panopticon’s longest album at 75 minutes, but that doesn’t dilute its impact at all.
Varathron – The Crimson Temple (Agonia)
Hellenic black metal pioneers Varathron have been around since the late ’80s, though their output has been fairly sparse. Vocalist Stefan Necroabyssious is the lone remaining original member, though their current lineup has been together for more than a decade. The band’s seventh full-length album is The Crimson Temple, and comes five years after Patriarchs Of Evil.
Over the years, Varathron have become more epic and progressive in their songwriting, and that is evident on The Crimson Temple. A base of old school black metal is augmented with melodies and orchestrations. Tracks like “Crypts In The Mist” and “Sinners Of The Crimson Temple” are downright catchy at times but still bring the extremity. Varathron have a lot of variety in their songwriting, from the doomy “To The Gods Of Yore” to the epic closer “Constellation Of The Archons.” It takes them several years between albums, but when the result is albums like The Crimson Temple, it’s worth the wait.