This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews includes releases from Big|Brave, Crown Of Madness, Enemy Of Reality, Hammerhedd, Heidevolk, Insomnium, Mammoth Caravan, Megaton Sword, Mortalus, Steel Panther, They Grieve and Wretched Fate.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Big|Brave – nature morte (Thrill Jockey)
The latest release from the Canadian post metal trio Big|Brave is nature morte, which is a French phrase for still life paintings, which translates to “dead nature.”
The band composes lengthy songs, with three of the six on the album clocking in at more than nine minutes. Big|Brave have no problem making long tracks engaging, with numerous shifts in tempo and intensity along with Robin Wattie’s compelling vocals that shift seamlessly from reserved to cathartic. Sparse acoustic sections shift into heavy, doomy parts. The arrangements incorporate extended instrumental passages as well, such as on “the one who bornes a weary load” where it takes a few minutes before the vocals kick in. That’s followed by the fuzzy instrumental “my hope renders me a fool.” With nature morte, Big|Brave have painted their musical picture with emotion, depth and variety.
Elemental Binding is the second EP in a year for Canadian death metal duo Crown Of Madness, following up their first one, The Void, released in March of last year. They’ve stated that Elemental Binding will be their last EP before a full-length album is released, and they close out this series of music with four songs of a discordant design. While there was levity courtesy of a piano on The Void, there’s no such escape from the brutality this time.
The gripping rush of opener “Immortal Eyes,” featuring a guest solo from Truent guitarist Matthew Pancoust, makes it apparent that this EP savors its forceful purpose. The shorter structure of Elemental Binding is a strong format to give listeners a sneak preview of what’s to come, though hopefully they combine the best of both EPs when the LP is ready to be more than just straight-laced death metal.
Enemy Of Reality – Where Truth May Lie (Vinyl Store)
Seven years after their last album, the Greek symphonic metal band Enemy Of Reality are back with their third full-length Where Truth May Lie. It’s a concept album set in ancient Greece with characters including a priest and mythical forest creatures.
To make the concept even more authentic, Enemy Of Reality incorporated some traditional string instruments as well as the ancient Greek wind instrument Avlos. After an intro that sets the stage, the bombastic metal launches with “Downfall.” The songs are mostly mid and up-tempo with heavy guitars and symphonic atmosphere. Vocalist Iliana Tsakiraki alternates between a traditional delivery and operatic soprano. Periodic harsh male vocals add even more variety. The album flows well, and while the songs are dramatic, a few more hooks would make them even more memorable.
The Ismert brothers started Hammerhedd at a very young age. They were just 4, 7 and 9 when it all started just over a decade ago. Their second full-length is Nonetheless.
The album incorporates a variety of influences. Groove and thrash are embedded in the songs, as it prog. The seven minute opener “Pioneer To Be” is very progressive, but there are a lot of catchy sections as well. The title track is relatively focused, but Hammerhedd still manage to explore a few different avenues. “Fruition” is the longest song on the album with an extended intro and a bit of a Voivod vibe once things kick in. The ingredients in Hammerhedd’s musical recipe range from Mastodon to Slayer to Primus to Meshuggah. Nonetheless is an ambitious album, and all the experiments don’t hit the mark, but most of them do, making for a compelling listen.
Heidevolk – Wederkeer (Napalm)
The Dutch folk/viking metal band Heidevolk have been around for just over 20 years now, establishing themselves as one of the genre’s stalwarts. They’ve had several lineup changes since 2018’s Vuur van verzet. Their seventh album Wederkeer features three new members, including vocalist Daniël Wansink.
Even with the new blood, the band’s sound remains consistent. There are rousing, uptempo numbers like “Hagalaz” and “Raidho” along with mellower, folk-infused songs such as the title track and the instrumental “Ver Verkangen.” It’s their usual effective mix of heavy guitars, strings and traditional medieval instruments. There are plenty of great riffs and catchy melodies, and the dual vocals of Wansink and Jacco de Wijs with a lot of harmonies make the songs even more entertaining.
Insomnium – Anno 1696 (Century Media)
Finnish melodeath veterans Insomnium turn back the clock a few centuries for their ninth full-length. Anno 1696 explores what was happening in northern Europe during that era, such as witch trials and cannibalism. Musically, there are elements of both their epic, single song 2016 Winter’s Gate album and 2019’s Heart Like A Grave.
The songwriting on Anno 1696 is outstanding. Opener “1696” sets the stage with an acoustic beginning before the metal kicks in. The melodic triple-guitar attack is contrasted by Niilo Sevänen’s potent harsh vocals. Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis guests on “White Christ,” which adds cinematic atmosphere to its blackened melodic death as its ebbs and flows from extreme to melodic. It’s an album highlight, as is the dynamic “Godforesaken,” which features Eye Of Melian’s Johanna Kurkela. Her delicate singing contrasts well with Sevänen’s bold growls. “Lillan” is more traditional Insomnium, while “The Witch Hunter” has melodic singing that takes it to the next level. Closer “The Rapids” also has melodic singing and a bit of a Ghost vibe. There’s not a weak track on the album, making Anno 1696 a wide-ranging and compelling listen, a master class in melodic death metal that ranks as one of Insomnium’s best efforts.
A story about someone chasing a baby woolly mammoth through the frozen tundra is the perfect setting for a sludge/doom metal, and it’s surprising that Mammoth Caravan might be the first band to do so on their debut album, Ice Cold Oblivion. Its fuzzy riffs smack the ears like icicles in a blizzard and their tempos are compressed with the movement of trudging through a foot of snow. The group does an effective job of getting the concept over, whether lyrically or instrumentally.
The latter is integral on tracks like “Megafauna,” an almost five-minute crushing instrumental. Closer “Frostbite” lets guitarist Evan Swift go off with a magnificent solo that has no limits to its progression. There are also a few unexpected turns, like the melodic singing on “Periglacial,” to add some unpredictability to Ice Cold Oblivion.
Megaton Sword – Might & Power (Dying Victims)
Megaton Sword return after a three year gap with their sophomore album, Might & Power. This Swiss syndicate play a style of heavy metal that if written 40 years ago, would be considered an early indicator of power metal to follow. It’s a good cross between the styles without having to use high octane speed to get their point across as is the case on opener “The Raving Light of Day.” Letting the music be Uzzy Unchained’s backdrop for his gruff vocal style, which is at times similar to those of former Sumerlands front man Phil Swanson which adds an air of singularity to each track.
“Power” starts off slow, but features a powerful and complex driving riff that is the very definition of epic heavy metal, the plodding riffs and vocals help you recognize your mission, which is to lift a broadsword and vanquish your foes with herculean force. If you are looking for an epic good time and enjoy some Eternal Champion, Visigoth, and the aforementioned Sumerlands, then Megaton Sword might well be your new favorite band. Eternal hails!
Mortalus have been through a transitional period since their 2018 debut, Heart So Black. On We Are Human, the previous foursome has been pared down to a trio, the lyrics are more authentic (no more gore-soaked zombie tales) and the music is not as thrashy as their last album. It’s still in there at spots, but that’s not really where the band’s strong suits lie. The faster the tempos, the more out of sync they seem, as if they can’t keep up with each other.
It takes until the fourth song, “Intended Victims,” for Mortalus to hit their stride. The loud bass guitar intro cuts to a great main guitar riff that has classic heavy metal all over it. The remaining tunes maintain that consistency, though their cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” isn’t the most thrilling choice (even with its relevancy following the release of last year’s Top Gun: Maverick).
They Grieve – To Which I Bore Witness (Silent Pendulum)
To Which I Bore Witness could’ve been nothing but 40 minutes of agonizing sludge/doom; an obvious move, yet They Grieve refuse to take it, using ambience and drone to shape something more adventurous. To be fair, there is agony in this debut album, as each word is screamed slowly as if being an exclamation point to their collective pain.
The use of electronics, synths and samples unbind They Grieve from the hold of their doomy chains, not so much softening the mood as adding a glow from a tiny candle into their pitch-dark internal prison. Minimalism is invaluable to the group, whether it’s in the piano/guitar instrumental “Guided” or the building uneasiness of closer “Weakness.” They make a lot without doing too much on To Which I Bore Witness.
If you long for the big-haired days of the 1980s, Steel Panther are for you. Musically, On The Prowl harkens back to the best of the era when immature, often misogynistic lyrics were coupled with staggeringly accomplished musicianship. Reminiscent of Van Halen, Ratt, and Dokken, On The Prowl overflows with slinky riffs, searing solos, and sing-along choruses, but with the added benefit of modern, punchy production.
Lyrically…well, to quote their forebears Spinal Tap, “There’s a fine line between stupid and clever.” Panther find themselves straddling both signs of that line, mastering the single-entendre with titles like “Never Too Late (To Get Some Pussy Tonight)” and “Is My Dick Enough,” but providing some truly hilarious moments with “On Your Instagram” and “Put My Money Where My Mouth Is.” And if the Extreme-worthy chorus of “Magical Vagina” doesn’t make you want to scream along in your Camaro, better check your pulse.
Wretched Fate – Carnal Heresy (Redefining Darkness)
Fleshletting was an impressive debut from Wretched Fate in 2019. That album drew enough attention to the band as another striking Swedish death metal act that made everyone hungry to hear more from them. Now, Carnal Heresy is here, another furious record.
As the band claims, Carnal Heresy is another Bloodbath-worship album. Which is completely correct. Wretched Fate have dared to represent the same bloody and sinister image that Bloodbath created. Therefore, what is heard in the basic form of this album and the debut is familiar to the audience. Carnal Heresy is loud and barbarous. It takes advantage of notable production to send its listeners to the edge of madness and fervor and does not let them rest for a moment while Adrian Selmani also acts monstrous behind the microphone along with his fellow members. These are all points that make Carnal Heresy a winner.