This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Admire The Grim, Ahab, Beyond The Black, Crom, Death Engine, Feuerschwanz, Gyaos: Diabolical, Hostsol, Screamer, Throat Locust, Ville Valo and Wothrosch.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Admire The Grim – Rogue Five (Inverse)
For a melodic death metal band, Admire The Grim seem to be more comfortable when melody isn’t involved on their Rogue Five EP. The rage displayed on “Mad Queen Of The Second Sun” and the title track is enthralling, especially when the snappy guitar solos come in. It’s not revolutionary, but there’s always enjoyment in hearing unleashed metal.
The other tunes on Rogue Five don’t land as well, with “Admire The Grim” being too focused on the singing instead of the nasty, satisfying roars. The harmonies between the vocal types that the song employs are well done though. The group is finding their footing on this EP, though the two songs mentioned earlier in this review are definite recommendations.
Ahab – The Coral Tombs (Napalm)
German nautical funeral doom masters Ahab are here to take their fans back on another dark epic journey across the oceans with The Coral Tombs. After Moby Dick, Whale-Ship Essex, Arthur Gordon Pym and Glen Carrig, Ahab now have put their fingers on Jules Verne’s masterpiece Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, to give musical life to this breathtaking work.
Featuring Chris Noir of ULTHA and Greg Chandler of Esoteric, The Coral Tombs sees Ahab’s mild entry into more extreme music, as the album begins with death metal blast beats, although in the end, Ahab follow their familiar songwriting tradition. But what makes The Coral Tombs distinctive is Ahab’s approach in creating a highly cinematic work from a literary masterpiece. The narrative nuances that affect the song components bit by bit and after long rounds of gloomy riffs and arpeggios, amazing atmospheric moments are created that are very engaging and memorable. That’s where Daniel Droste’s performance becomes the true hero of the album in many moments. The Coral Tombs is another marvelous work.
Beyond the Black – Beyond The Black (Nuclear Blast)
After some patchy early releases, Germany’s Beyond The Black began elbowing their way nearer the front of the melodic metal pack with 2020’s accomplished Horizons. Their self-titled LP looks set to continue the momentum with a series of well-crafted cuts, many of them machine-tooled for European summer festivals.
Catchy opener “Is There Anybody Out There” indicates that while there are few real surprises, there’s plenty to like about this record. Beyond The Black‘s production packs a punch, without being too slick, and acoustic flourishes and occasional harsh vocals are carefully implemented. The symphonic elements can feel less overt than many contemporaries, and even window dressing on certain tracks, with the end result more memorably song-based. Meanwhile, Jennifer Haben’s charisma and commanding vocal performances elevate several songs, most notably the excellent ballad “Free Me” and “I Remember Dying.” And if you’re scanning the tracklisting, no, “Dancing in the Dark” isn’t a Springsteen cover. Beyond The Black may not reinvent the wheel, but should win this up-and-coming group a slew of new supporters.
Crom – The Era Of Darkness (From The Vaults)
Though they have been around for over 25 years now, the German power metal band Crom haven’t been very prolific. The Era Of Darkness is only their fourth full-length, and first since 2017’s When Northmen Die. Frontman Crom is the only member of the trio remaining from that album.
The songs contain the things you expect from a power metal album: bombastic guitars, soaring choruses and dramatic tales of glory and battle. However, Crom are more versatile than the typical power metal band, adding things like brief bursts of harsh vocals, acoustic guitars and the introspective ballad “The Forsaken” that give the album variety, as do shifts in tempos and intensities. Continuing the momentum from their 2021 EP Into The Glory Land, the current incarnation of Crom is a strong one.
Death Engine – Ocean (Code)
Ocean, the French band Death Engine’s third full-length, features a revamped lineup. It has a heavy post-metal aspect with a distorted feel to the songs. The songs, which also have elements of hardcore, crush with their utter might while connecting an emotional value to the songs that resonates strongly.
Though songs like “Empire” do step out of the box and try to do something different, the majority of the album sticks to a pretty standard sound. Still, Ocean crushes on several levels and is a successful heavy effort that’s being held down by boundaries. This is a fairly solid attempt at a hardcore influenced post-metal sound that embodies the modern heavy metal spirit and showcases a unique talent to the world. The heaviness of the album is continuously a strong point.
Feuerschwanz – Todsünden (Napalm)
After issuing the studio album Memento Mori in 2021, German folksters Feuerschwanz have collected 16 cover songs for the compilation Todsünden. Most were initially part of bonus discs for Memento Mori and 2020’s Das Elfte Gebot.
It’s an extremely diverse collection of artists that Feuerschwanz have chosen to cover. There are a few fairly predictable ones, such as Amon Amarth’s “Twilight Of The Thunder Gods” and Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” But they go outside the box for many others, putting their spin on everybody from Ed Sheeran (“I See Fire”) to Bloodhound Gang (“The Bad Touch”) to The Weeknd (“Blinding Lights”). While not essential, Todsünden is an entertaining album with metalized versions of some unexpected songs.
Gyaos:Diabolical – In Accordance With The Prophecy (Self)
In Accordance With The Prophecy, the second album from one-man blackened thrash group Gyaos:Diabolical, opens with an intensified cover of Atari Teenage Riot’s “Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture.” It takes the digitized mannerisms of the original and jumps up the speed, which is something musician Austin Koll likes to do with this band. The group’s first album, 2021’s Let The Vultures Speak, had some of this, though it was buried underneath overwrought songs that needed some editing.
That isn’t an issue with In Accordance With The Prophecy, as only “Katahdin Is Risen” drags out. Most of the album is compact crossover thrash with blast beats, almost regularly on the edge of falling apart. It never does that, but the simple fact that it sounds that way gives these songs a dangerous streak.
Hostsol – Länge Leve Döden (Avantgarde)
Veteran musicians from Norway, Finland and Sweden have teamed up to form the black metal band Hostsol. They are fronted by Niklas Kvarforth (Shining/Skitliv), with the resumes of the other members including groups such as Manes, Suffocation, Ajattara, Dead Shape Figure and many others. The title of their debut album Länge Leve Döden is Swedish for “long live death.”
The album is only five songs, but it’s not an EP. They are lengthy compositions ranging from about 7 to 10 minutes. It has an old school black metal vibe, though with better production. The songs take a while to unfold, many with long intros before the intensity kicks in. Dense blastbeat driven sections ease into more moderately paced parts, with Kvarforth’s fierce vocals adding even more extremity. With the background of these musicians, it’s no surprise Hostsol are able to capture the spirit and sound of classic black metal on Länge Leve Döden.
Screamer – Kingmaker (Steamhammer/SPV)
The Swedish band Screamer got their start in 2009, but their influences are squarely in the ’80s, particularly the NWOBHM. They follow up a 2021 live album with their fifth studio effort, Kingmaker.
Screamer write songs that are simple and direct, but they make them memorable with great riffs and memorable melodies. Twin guitar harmonies and those aforementioned quality riffs along with Andreas Wikstrom’s vocals would have made songs like “Rise Above” and “Chasing Rainbows” big hits back in the day, but are still enjoyable in 2023. There’s not an ounce of filler in the 10 tracks, keeping the spirit of traditional metal alive on an album with modern production but an old school attitude.
Throat Locust – Dragged Through Glass (Self)
Sharp objects are not the only thing Throat Locust push listeners through on Dragged Through Glass, providing an abbreviated history of death metal. Their influences range from Bolt Thrower to Obituary, with the slightest touch of southern-style groove (makes sense considering their roots are tied to Corpus Christi, Texas), and the three tracks are a direct take on the genre’s enormous legacy.
There’s no polish on this demo, with the negative energy emitting untouched and untamed in a throwback to the days when all death metal sounded like this. No grace expels from the squealing lead guitar that cuts through songs like knives on a blackboard. That’s how the entirety of Dragged Through Glass is, which had to be Throat Locust’s intent.
Wothrosch – Odium (Hammerheart)
The Greek band Wothrosch have been around for about five years, and Odium is their debut album. It was recorded by George Emmanuel (SepticFlesh, Rotting Christ) and features a guest appearance by Niklas Kvarforth (Shining).
They blend black metal arrangements with death metal style vocals and make forays into other genres as well. “Disease” and “Sinner” are slow and doomy, stretching over the 8 minute mark. “Tumor” is dense and chaotic, condensed into under four minutes. “Mass,” which features Kvarforth, is urgent with symphonic elements. Wothrosch manage to make lengthy songs manageable with varied arrangements, though they aren’t as memorable as they could be. Odium could use more nuance and dynamics, but there is also a lot to like.
Ville Valo – Neon Noir (Spinefarm)
HIM had a long and successful run, both in Europe and North America. Their last album was 2013’s Tears On Tape, and they officially split in 2017. Frontman Ville Valo issued an EP in 2020, and his debut full-length solo album is Neon Noir.
The gothic elements Valo is known for are present on Neon Noir, but more in the pop/rock vein than metal. There are some heavy moments, but they pop up only periodically, such as on the doomy “Saturnine Saturnalia.” There are a lot of really catchy tracks such as “Run Away From The Sun” and the ’80s tinged “The Foreverlost.” Artists like Depeche Mode and The Cure are definite influences on Neon Noir, but it’s not a retro sounding album. Neon Noir is the sound of a more mature Valo, which you’d expect after a nearly ten year gap between releases, a welcome return that has his voice sounding better than ever.