This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Alfahanne, Big Scenic Nowhere, Gates Open, Infected Rain, Morbid Saint, Petrification, The Pineapple Thief, Revolution Saints, The Sorrow Of Being Immaculate, Spectral Voice, Spiritual Deception and Throat.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alfahanne – Vår tid är nu (Dark Essence)
The Swedish band Alfahanne took their time for their latest album. Their fifth effort Vår tid är nu comes five years after Atomvinter. This time around, they have recruited several guests for the album. As with their previous efforts, Vår tid är nu is a wide ranging combo of black metal, goth, punk and classic rock.
Nordjevel’s Doedesadmiral guests on “Eremiten,” whose folky intro leads into a catchy black ‘n roller. Carpathian Forest’s Nattefrost lends his talents to the raucous “Alfa Omega,” while Horna’s Spellgoth adds a more traditional black metal vibe to “Nar allt faller.” The album’s longest track is the 7 minute title track, featuring Sorhin’s Nattfursth. It has an epic vibe while retaining ample grit and edge. The guests add some extreme metal star power to Vår tid är nu, but the songs stand on their own merits, making for a varied and enjoyable release.
Big Scenic Nowhere – The Waydown (Heavy Psych Sounds)
The heavy/prog rock collective Big Scenic Nowhere, whose members are also in bands such as Fu Manchu, Mos Generator and Yawning Man, are issuing their third full-length, The Waydown. It includes numerous guest appearances.
The opening title track is one of the proggiest on the album, stretching past the 7 minute mark. The rest of The Waydown explores a plethora of genres, from the aforementioned prog to classic rock to psych rock to desert rock. Longtime collaborator Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth) lends his keyboard skills to two tracks. “Bt-oh” is one of the album’s heavier numbers, with fuzzy guitars from Bob Balch and Gary Arce front and center. BSN cover the Hall & Oates classic “Sara Smile,” recruiting that group’s keyboardist Eliot Lewis, extending the original arrangement with a lengthy instrumental break. The Waydown is another varied, quality album from Big Scenic Nowhere.
Gates Open – Voice After Silence (Inverse)
Finnish group Gates Open are described as death metal/thrash metal, and while that’s accurate to some extent on Voice After Silence, there’s more to this duo beyond breakneck tempos. There are raspy vocals that come from the deepest black metal pit, a punky clash of riffs on “We Are No More,” and polished guitars early on in “A Place Called Home” and “Gates Open.”
The band doesn’t lean too hard on these outside sounds, as their standard mode of operation is a workmanlike sonic attack. These musicians have spent the better part of two decades working together before this band came together, including in the melodic death metal sphere, so this thrasher take on death metal is one built on experience.
Infected Rain – Time (Napalm)
Now on their sixth full-length, multinational band Infected Rain are renowned for exploring an eclectic range of sounds, both from the heavy music world and beyond. Time is no exception. These songs sit somewhere between nu-metal, metalcore and EDM, meshed with djent-y riffs and alternative rock melodies. It’s an approach with an emphasis on groove and layered atmospherics. Sometimes this genre-bending works; opener “Because I Let You” comes out swinging with intent; all punishing guitars and Lena Scissorhands’ incensed roar, but the moody, off-kilter drops in intensity only heighten the sonic gut-punches and emotional heft.
“The Answer Is You” tastefully infuses melancholia amid the aggression, and “Game of Blame” is a memorable sleeper late in the tracklisting that hopefully doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Other times the electronic-infused mix of styles prove somewhat jarring, or just far less memorable (bruising “Enmity,” “Unpredictable”). Scissorhands has a commanding voice and presence whether engaging in harsh or clean vocals. The hooks or overall songs aren’t always up to her level, although she does her utmost to elevate them. Infected Rain pour plenty of energy and purpose into these tracks. They don’t always hit the mark, but there’s a fanbase out there for their diverse take on modern metal.
Morbid Saint – Swallowed By Hell (High Roller)
Morbid Saint are best known for their thrash metal classic, Spectrum Of Death, an album that still rips over 30 years later. The band never got to capitalize on it, breaking up before their second album, Destruction System, could be released. Like any great comeback story, they regrouped in 2010, released that lost album, and commenced work on a new record with Swallowed By Hell.
The spirit of their youthful rage is all over this release, as “Rise From The Ashes” or “Burn Pit” could have been from a lost recording session circa 1989. The original guitar duo of Jay Visser and Jim Fergades are on point, with the riffs poking like sharp jabs and the solos howling with back-and-forth shredding. Three decades is a long time to wait for an album, but Morbid Saint does what thrash metal groups like Heathen and Death Angel did in rejuvenating the back half of their career.
Petrification – Sever Sacred Light (Svart)
Petrification brought in Billy Anderson, the man behind many well-renowned albums, to record their sophomore album, Sever Sacred Light. Whatever influence his presence had on their death metal, there’s a clear sonic distinction between this record and their 2018 debut, Hollow Of The Void. This is a cleaner sound, though not so much so to diminish their grotesque vision.
Their songwriting model for Sever Sacred Light is in line with threatening songs like “Devouring Abysm” and the title track from Hollow Of The Void. These tunes don’t skimp on the speed, but neither do they become consumed by it. They are able to contract and loosen around the stifling hold of death metal with greater focus on unsettling atmosphere.
The Pineapple Thief – It Leads To This (Kscope)
British prog rockers The Pineapple Thief are marking a quarter century as a band. They’ve been pretty prolific over those 25 years, never going more than two years between studio albums, and also issuing numerous live albums, EPs and compilations. It Leads To This is their 16th full-length studio album.
Opener “Put It Right” is melancholy and introspective, while “Rubicon” (with lyrics about Julis Caeser) has a brisker pace. It’s album with depth and texture, but doesn’t forget the melodies and hooks to go with the progressive forays. “The Frost” is one of the album’s most dynamic tracks, shifting from upbeat rock to mellow prog. “All That’s Left” gets off to a reserved beginning before heavier rock kicks in. “Every Trace Of Us” is the proggiest number on the album. The diverse compositions are topped by Bruce Soord’s smooth vocals. It Leads To This has plenty for The Pineapple Thief fans to enjoy, with eight quality songs and minimal filler.
Revolution Saints – Against The Winds (Frontiers)
Revolution Saints‘ fifth album Against The Winds comes less than a year after Eagle Flight. It’s the second album with the current lineup, which saw Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake) and Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Foreigner) join vocalist/drummer Deen Castronova (Journey).
It’s another collection of melodic hard rock showcasing Castronovo’s soaring vocals. Harder edge songs like “Fall On My Knees” and “Will I See You Again” with searing solos from Hoekstra are contrasted by mellower numbers such as “Divine Wings” and “Can’t End Right Now.” Castronovo’s vocals are good and the musicianship good, as you’d expect with veterans like Hoekstra and Pilson. It’s a solid slab of hard rock that will satisfy fans of Revolution Saints’ previous work.
The Sorrow Of Being Immaculate are proof that even a country with a vast scene like England can throw a couple curveballs at you. A one man doom act consisting of only guitar and bass somehow manages to make it unique and interesting.
From note one of the self titled opening track the layered guitar riffs just pull you in and manage to keep you engaged as the album progresses. “Return of the Puritan” stands out for acting as more of a quick eerie interlude before jumping into “My Temporary Heartbeat.” Out of these seven EP tracks, five of them are original songs while the last two are remixes of “360 Degree Cross” and the title track. Church Music For Satanists is a great example of how it is okay to step outside the beaten path to make something unique.
Spectral Voice – Sparagmos (Dark Descent)
Death/doom quartet Spectral Voice return with their sophomore album Sparagmos after nearly seven years of waiting. Featuring three of the four members from Blood Incantation, this band differs heavily from the progressive death metal that has made their alter egos a staple death metal band over the last decade.
Slow and painful is the name of the game on these four long form tracks with only one under the 10-minute mark. Opener “Be Cadaver” features plenty of fast and slow, but since this is death/doom, the slow dirges are part of what draw you in initially. “Red Feasts Condensed Into One” is the longest song, allowing Spectral Voice enough space to flesh out their chaotic sound and crushing riffs that feel as though this track will slowly rend you to pieces before all is said and done. Sparagmos is a great encapsulation of the death/doom genre and a welcome breath of fetid air.
Spiritual Deception – Semitae Mentis (Amputated Vein)
The journey Spiritual Deception took to get to their first full-length album, Semitae Mentis, included three EPs and a few lineup adjustments over the course of about a decade. All of that perseverance hardened their technical death metal, while also prioritizing the choirs and orchestration that were just slight deviations on previous releases. This is all defined in the 20-minute, four-part “Decadence” saga that takes up almost half of the album’s running time.
The band brings on a few guests too, including Gorguts’ Luc Lemay and Nile’s Karl Sanders, the latter of whom provides vocals and plays the baglama, a Turkish folk instrument, on “Thousand Lives Within.” Though this is taxing music, they employ acoustic guitars on the relaxed instrumental “The Night Opens” to swerve the listener. Semitae Mentis is a stupendous debut for Spiritual Deception, one that is as provocative as it is unrelenting.
Throat – Blood Exaltation (Primitive Reaction)
Hailing from the dark depths of the Polish black metal scene, Throat make their return three years after their debut New Flesh Nectar EP with their brand new EP Blood Exaltation.
Featuring the two-part self-titled tracks from their New Flesh Nectar EP as well as two new tracks “Chuc” and “Klatwa,” this EP does a great job in showing the growth already made by Throat in just three short years. Stylistically it feels like Blood Exaltation draws some comparisons to their fellow black metal counterparts such as Batushka. The breakdowns are nice and brutal and are paired nicely with equally brutal vocals. The Polish black metal scene has always been held in high regard to many fans and Throat does not disappoint and continues that legacy.