Welcome to our final collection of reviews for 2023. Our best of 2023 list is coming next week, and we will return in 2024 with our weekly reviews. This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Apostle, Atreyu, Children Of Bodom, Dusk, Ektomorf, Evergrey, Mars Red Sky, Mavis, Nebula Drag, Phobocosm, Therion, Undulation, Unmothered and Wrath Of Logarius.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Apostle – Liminal (Terminus Hate City)
The Atlanta trio Apostle are described as “blackened and atmospheric chaotic hardcore.” And while that’s a good start, their latest release Liminal indicates they need a few more adjectives when it comes to describing their approach.
The five songs on the EP race by in a little more than 15 minutes. Chaos is a common thread with these tracks, but songs like “Starve” have parts that are downright mellow and peaceful. Apostle constantly shift tempos and intensities. “Frown” shows their effectiveness when the pace is deliberate, while “Sulk” incorporates everything from dense noise to spoken word to a mellow interlude. There’s no shortage of variety on Liminal, which makes an impact much greater than its short running time.
Atreyu – The Beautiful Dark Of Life (Spinefarm)
During 2023 metalcore stalwarts Atreyu have been releasing a series of EPs: The Hope Of A Spark in April, The Moment You Find Your Flame in August and A Torch In The Dark last month. The full-length The Beautiful Dark Of Life collects the 12 songs from the EPs along with three new tracks.
The songs span a wide variety of genres from metal to hard rock to post hardcore, with moments of industrial, pop and electronic. The new songs are sprinkled throughout the album. “Insomnia” has electronic undertones and plenty of hooks, “Dancing With My Demons” is anthemic and the closing title track ends the proceedings on an uplifting note. The band’s hope is that when taken as a whole, the tracks from the EPs will be heard in a new light. That’s for the listener to decide, but there’s no doubt The Beautiful Dark Of Life is a strong collection of songs.
Children Of Bodom – A Chapter Called Children Of Bodom (Final Show In Helsinki Ice Hall 2019) (Spinefarm)
The messy split of Finnish titans Children Of Bodom was a disappointing occasion for many metallers. But the passing of main-man and bona fide guitar hero Alexi Laiho in 2020 at the age of 41 was truly saddening. The previous year, the group had played its last show in Helsinki and titled it A Chapter Called Children of Bodom. Released with the support of Laiho’s estate, this live album captures a band in energetic form despite its impending dissolution.
It’s arguable the band peaked creatively some time before their split, meaning certain songs here don’t have as much impact. But their fusion of melo-death, power metal and thrash still translates with plenty of punch; virtuosic guitar work and infectious hooks gel neatly. The ensuing collection makes a fair fist of summarising Bodom’s career for the uninitiated and the devotees who were loudly and proudly there. The set list covers many of the expected bases, running for well in excess of an hour and spanning every studio album. Laiho was a unique talent who continues to be missed, and as a whole the group possessed real chemistry. This LP will likely only be essential for the Bodom completists, but there are plenty of those around.
Dusk – Dissolve Into Ash (Dark Symphonies)
It’s been 28 years since Dusk released an album, the vastly underrated …Majestic Thou In Ruin, which was premiere U.S. death/doom metal. It would be nearly impossible to try to recreate the circumstances that led to that gem, even with three-fourths of the original lineup still involved. With Dissolve Into Ash, the group takes cautionary steps to fit their death/doom into a modern landscape without sullying their past glories.
The gloomy synths return, as do the female vocals in a more prominent position (closer “An Aerial View” sees the most benefit from this inclusion). The band members are older and weary of life, and this is reflected in the overall bleakness on display. Though almost three decades have passed between albums, Dissolve Into Ash is timeless in its grounded depiction of death/doom.
Ektomorf – Vivid Black (AFM)
Hungarian outfit Ektomorf have an enviable work ethic. After 30 years in the game, they’re still issuing albums with ruthless efficiency, and Vivid Black is their latest slab of punishing groove metal. This LP offers some of their heaviest fare yet, proving that experience hasn’t mellowed them. There’s no questioning the very real emotions that drive the record, as frontman Zoltàn Farkas channels considerable personal pain, anger and frustration. It comes from, as therapists like to say, from a very real place.
However, from a musical perspective they’re not a band renowned for a distinctive sound, or an ounce of originality. Some past releases have borrowed so blatantly from Sepultura and Soulfly that Max Cavalera must have been close to calling his legal team. There’s still a Cavalera-esque edge to the vocals at times and a familiar groove, while “I’m Your Last Hope (The Rope Around Your Neck)” is a Korn-meets-Soulfly attack with a smattering of Machine Head. But this time around there’s also material highly reminiscent of Slipknot, including Corey Taylor-inspired vocals; “Never Be the Same Again,” ”You and Me” and “You Belong There” being prime examples. Vivid Black isn’t without merit, but may have limited repeat listen value given its derivative nature.
Evergrey – From Dark Discoveries To Heartless Portraits (Napalm)
As the Swedish progressive power metal band Evergrey approach their third decade as a band, the title of their new compilation album pays homage to their 1998 debut album The Dark Discovery and their latest album, last year’s A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament).
From Dark Discoveries To Heartless Portraits is a collection of live songs, alternate song versions and demos. The first six live tracks span their career, with older songs like “Recreation Day” alongside newer songs such as “Call Out The Dark.” There are piano vocal versions of four songs from A Heartless Portrait along with several demos from that album and an instrumental version of “A Silent Arc” from 2019’s The Atlantic. While certainly not essential, From Dark Discoveries To Heartless Portraits has material that hardcore Evergrey fans will be interested in checking out.
Mars Red Sky – Dawn Of The Dusk (Mrs Red Sound/Vicious Circle)
Dawn Of The Dusk from the French heavy psych trio Mars Red Sky has an alternative feel to it. Songs have a heavy post vibe as well. This is very interesting and showcases a versatility on the part of the band, who have a need to be experimental. Musical performances are fairly solid with crunchy guitars that are alternative in flavor. The drumming is versatile enough and the vocals are nothing particularly special and float atop the music.
The music is also progressive and shows a number of different sides, all of which are quite compelling. The progressive side of Mars Red Sky comes in their experimental nature. They have the ability to wander into different territories in the songs and never completely stick to one side. The post metal nature of the band gives the songs a certain weight. They are heavy enough, but also contain that alternative edge. I hope the band continues to expand on their sound in the future. This is a positive and rousing prog/post/alternative release.
Mavis – Grief Is No Ally (Arising Empire)
Germany’s Mavis unleash a brutal yet majestic modern metal assault on their debut full-length, Grief Is No Ally. A concept album based on the different aspects of grief, both positive and negative, Mavis combine complex, drop-tuned, “djent”-style riffage with progressive guitar flourishes that recall Mastodon and Opeth. Layers of ambient synth textures provide moments of light against the dark onslaught of guitars and tortured death metal vocalizing.
Despite the relentlessness of Mavis’ precise attack, the band manages some truly neck-wrecking groove and surprising melodicism, best exemplified on their most recent single, “Tortured Land.” Further on, “Limerent” provides a brief respite as vocalist Phil Donay shows off his clean side, alongside guest vocals from Venues’ Lela Gruber, perfectly complimenting a pop-friendly hook that would make Evanescence jealous. Highly recommended for fans of emotionally-fraught heavy metal, Mavius turn in one of the year’s best synthesis of melody and aggression.
The San Diego trio Nebula Drag are a good example of how you do not need a huge cast of bandmates to make something. Coming to us four years after their 2019 album Blud, Western Death kind of feels like a step down.
On a technical level, Western Death is well mixed and mastered and the overall pacing is good. Each of these seven tracks however, sound about the same with little to no difference between them. “Sleazy Tapestry” and “Crosses” are the two songs that do their best to stand out from the rest, but only just barely. Despite this, it genuinely feels as if Nebula Drag have their fingers on the pulse on something, but not quite.
Phobocosm – Foreordained (Dark Descent)
Phobocosm had in mind what they wanted to accomplish with Foreordained all the way back in 2014 with the release of their Deprived debut. Foreordained was seen as the final part of a trilogy, a way to combine the antsy death metal of their first album with the rumbling death/doom of 2016’s Bringer Of Drought. When listening to all of them at once, the full vision of their grim music is put into perspective.
Foreordained is almost a greatest hits scenario for Phobocosm, as they fuse the best aspects of their other releases into a supercut of unchecked turmoil. Save for a few noise-inspired outros, the group sets to fine tune their sound instead of reimagining it. The end with “For An Aeon” calls for a mass extinction, a fitting way to close out the band’s most complete work to date.
Therion – Leviathan III (Napalm)
Swedish symphonic metal titans Therion wrap up their Leviathan trilogy, whose first two installments came in 2021 and 2022, with Leviathan III. Record labels releasing albums in mid-December doesn’t make a lot of sense, as they tend to get lost in the year-end shuffle. That’s a shame, because Therion finish the trilogy in really strong form.
There are plenty of bombastic and symphonic songs mixed with more diverse songs like “Ruler Of Tamang” that is a great showcase for Lori Lewis’ vocals, starting as a sparse ballad before kicking in to metal mode. She and Tomas Vikstrom share vocal duties on songs like “Maleficium,” his tenor and her operatic soprano blending seamlessly. Therion are able to shift from epic songs like the seven minute “An Unsung Lament” to more focused numbers such as “Midsommarblot.” The album wraps up with “Twilight Of The Gods,” which is melodic, dramatic and symphonic. Leviathan III is a step up from the second installment of the trilogy and a satisfying conclusion to the three album set.
Undulation – An Unhealthy Interest In Suffering (I, Voidhanger)
Undulation’s debut EP, An Unhealthy Interest In Suffering, was released independently earlier this year before I, Voidhanger Records picked it up for a limited CD release. The group’s low-fi black/death metal fits with the label’s eclectic roster, with a vocalist who goes by the name of The Executioner and unexpected flirtations with melody. It’s unpolished without being an irritant; in fact, it heightens the macabre lyrics.
The graphic depiction of a corpse decaying on spoken word opener “Amethyst Necropolis (Une Charogne)” is taken from the work of French poet Charles Baudelaire. The shrieks bury much of the morbid beauty uttered after that song, but that just builds up the mysterious vibes of this EP. Undulation are currently working on their first full-length, which is one that could erupt the USBM scene upon its completion.
Unmothered are purveyors of “haunt rock” on Corridors, which is sludge metal with some blackened overtones due to the slight rasp behind the screams of vocalist/guitarist Matt Walker. This debut album was written years ago, before COVID-19 took hold of the world and led to a lineup change leaving Walker as the sole remaining original member. Undeterred, he forged ahead with a new rhythm section to execute a zealous form of sludgy heaviness.
When they get revved up, especially with the drumming, there isn’t anything in their way. They let the various interludes slow them down, where synths and distorted jamming act as peacemaker. There is maybe one too many, as a pair of them go almost three minutes each. It’s good that Unmothered are embracing an atmospheric side to their sludge metal on Corridors, something that wasn’t used much on their previous EPs.
Wrath Of Logarius – Necrotic Assimilation (Season Of Mist)
Wrath Of Logarius want their black metal to be in a formless shape on Necrotic Assimilation, contorting to whatever their devious minds have thought up. There’s many directions the band takes sonically for an EP that is under 20 minutes long. Opener “At The Knighted Throne” is a haunting instrumental with guest cello work from musician Kakophonix. That catapults into a fired-up “Swarm” which seems to be trying to break the sound barrier with its hurried tempos.
“Soul Ascension” is the largest departure for the band on this release, as they try out some melodic black metal with striking results. No one song stays in the lane it starts in, which is impressive to hear on not only an EP, but the first release from a new band. Necrotic Assimilation has Wrath Of Logarius in an assured stance with their amorphous music.