Heavy Music HQ Reviews: Week of June 14, 2024

This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Al-Namrood, Angel Sword, Apes, Axel Rudi Pell, Black Country Communion, Deathwish, Embryonic Autopsy, Fu Manchu, Mono, Mythologik, Questing Beast, RivetSkull, Siculcidium, Sun Descends Alone, Ulcerate and Vendel.

The ratings are on a 5 star scale.

Shaytan Productions

Al-Namrood – Al Aqrab (Shaytan)

When you think of black metal, you don’t think of the deserts of Saudi Arabia. However, Al-Namrood’s Al Aqrab presents a fascinating combination of black metal and deep folk influences. The album paints a vivid picture of a harsh, dry landscape without ever becoming a caricature of folk music. Despite its clean production, the album retains the typical rawness of black metal.

While Al Aqrab sticks to familiar extreme metal formulas, it offers an intriguing yet comfortable listening experience. Some of the interludes, however, feel less engaging and can mess a bit with the album’s pace. Nonetheless, Al Aqrab is a curious and fascinating album worth exploring, merging styles in a way we don’t listen to every day.

Rating: 3.5
(Carlos Tirado)

Dying Victims Productions

Angel Sword – World Fighter (Dying Victims)

Finnish heavy metal outfit Angel Sword‘s third full-length is World Fighter. As you can imagine with an album title such as that, this is metal for the sake of metal with some classic ‘80s feels and a subtle air of grandiosity. “Vigilantes” is a speedy track that blows down the doors and makes you feel as though you just brought home a new LP in the mid-’80s with sick, green artwork on the cover.

There is no denying the band’s M.O. here and you get exactly what you paid for. With other banger tracks like “Weekend Warrior,” “Dangerous Games” and “Church of Rock,” Angel Sword continue to endear listeners with powerfully catchy songs that have some good depth to them and are a ton of fun. World Fighter is a great album to start your summer with.

Rating: 4
(Tom Campagna)

Secret Swarm Records

Apes – Penitence (Secret Swarm)

Apes have taken their blackened grindcore/death metal and bulked it up by adding in another guitarist for a three-guitar rush on their second album, Penitence. While their 2022 Lullabies For Eternal Sleep EP also had three guitarists involved, Penitence is their first album to have six members of the group bashing heads in. The churning noise interludes of their EP returns, as does a few songs that acknowledge careful sonic dissection over wild hacking.

The black metal influences are more pronounced on Penitence, which is compounded by a trio of guitarists aiming to stack contemptuous riffs on top of each other. As has been the case since their inception, Apes know that time is precious, so this album is in and out in under 25 minutes. Within that quick span, the band shows no leeway to anyone courageous enough to enter.

Rating: 3.5
(Dan Marsicano)

Steamhammer/SPV

Axel Rudi Pell – Risen Symbol (Steamhammer/SPV)

Two years is the longest Axel Rudi Pell has gone between albums. The prolific guitarist’s current lineup has been together for more than a decade, with Pell and bassist Volker Krawczak holding down the fort since the band’s beginning in 1989. Risen Symbol is their 22nd studio album.

While there’s all the power metal, traditional metal and hard rock you want and expect from an ARP album, there are Eastern influences on a couple of tracks that give things a different flavor. There’s also some Led Zeppelin worship. “Ankhaia” has those influences, and they also cover the Zeppelin classic “Immigrant Song,” putting their own spin on the timeless song. Vocalist Johnny Goeli has the pipes to handle the challenge of living up to Robert Plant’s vocals. He shines throughout Risen Symbol, showing power, range and texture throughout. Axel Rudi Pell stay true to their core sound while keeping things fresh and injecting some new things.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

J&R Adventures

Black Country Communion – V (J&R Adventures)

More than 40 years on, Led Zeppelin still cast a long shadow. Amongst countless imitators, Black Country Communion stake the most legitimate claim to their legacy. Powered by legendary “voice of rock” Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham, who share the same Black Country roots as Robert Plant and Jason’s unparalleled farther, BCC produce possibly their finest work yet on V.

With modern blues shredder Joe Bonnamassa, a joy to hear in a straightforward rock context, and keyboardist Derek Sherinian, BCC blend the stomp of Zeppelin with soaring melodies and a contemporary vibe that recalls another supergroup, Audioslave. “Red Sun” features the type of grinding pentatonic riff that Tom Morello built his career on, while Hughes’ raspy upper-register bares a striking similarity to Chris Cornell – impressive for a rocker in his seventh decade. On “You’re Not Alone,” Sherinian’s keys veer from a subtle organ intro to epic, “Kashmir”-like orchestral layers. Majestic, and occasionally funky, BCC deliver epic, heavy rock for the masses.

Rating: 4.5
(Gino Sigismondi)

Beer City Records

Deathwish – The Fourth Horseman (Beer City)

There’s no deep pronouncements or worldly wisdom to find in Deathwish’s third album, The Fourth Horseman. It’s 30 minutes of punky crossover thrash metal, exactly what their 2017 album Unleash Hell was, as was their 2015 debut, Out For Blood. The progression between all these releases is a straight, unwavering live.

This makes the record assessable, as long as the punkier side of thrash metal is one’s preference. A swift bass guitar lead in “Hell In My Head” and swift drum breaks in “Edge Of The Knife” are about as out there as Deathwish gets. The closing title track is catchier than expected, as The Fourth Horseman is at its best when a listener needs a bolt of inspiration to get through a workout or the next drink in a pregaming session.

Rating: 3
(Dan Marsicano)

Massacre Records

Embryonic Autopsy – Origins Of The Deformed (Massacre)

The alien-human hybrids return on Embryonic Autopsy’s gory second album, Origins Of The Deformed. Once again, the group uses body horror tactics to describe genetically altered orgies and malformed newborns through the proper channels of merciless death metal. Vocalist Tim King gurgles and grunts out words that can only be understood every so often, and the band brings back guitarists like James Murphy and Terrance Hobbs for guest solos (Jack Owen also makes an appearance on two songs).

So, in a sense, Origins Of The Deformed isn’t a major push ahead from their equally grotesque 2022 debut Prophecies Of The Conjoined. Like that album, they concern themselves with 30 minutes of antagonist music, with a few moments of levity (the grooves behind “Orgies Of The Inseminated” and the guitar-focused closing instrumental “The Curse Of Madame Pele”). This is death metal comfort food, easy to turn up loud without any fear of overthinking anything.

Rating: 3.5
(Dan Marsicano)

At The Dojo Records

Fu Manchu – The Return Of Tomorrow (At The Dojo)

It has been six years since the last Fu Manchu album, but the stoner/desert rock pioneers haven’t been resting on their laurels. During that time they have released a live album, six reissues, three EPs and a documentary soundtrack. Their 14th album The Return Of Tomorrow is a double album, though the total running time is still under 50 minutes.

The first album is mid to uptempo heavy hard rock. The riffs fly fast and furious on tracks like “Hands Of The Zodiac” and “(Time Is) Pulling You Under.” Fu Manchu slow things down a bit on the second album, but not to a crawl. There’s plenty of pep to “Lifetime Waiting” and “The Return Of Tomorrow.” The album closes out on a mellow note with the instrumental “High Tide.” Fu Manchu helped invent this genre, and The Return Of Tomorrow shows they are still at the top of their game.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Pelagic Records

Mono – Oath (Pelagic)

Mono‘s newest album Oath is a deeply moving experience, blending melancholy and happiness with their signature cinematic arrangements and simple yet impactful riffing. The portrayal of love and vulnerability hit hard, evoking deep introspection and emotions reminiscent of their past works. It’s an effective journey even if unconventional for most metal fans.

However, I found the album’s length challenging due to its minimalist style, and it doesn’t take the risks seen in You Are There or Hymn To The Immortal Wind. Despite this, I recommend Oath for its emotional depth and ability to inspire reflection. It encourages listeners to explore their feelings and consider that metal doesn’t always have to come from a place of anger.

Rating: 3
(Carlos Tirado)

Mythologik – Blood In The Sky (Self)

The linchpin to Mythologik’s debut album Blood In The Sky is the peculiar vocals of Joe Gregory. He conducts himself as a tough barker with a taste for the theatrics with high-pitch notes and falsettos. His broad mannerisms give the melodic thrash/death metal a compelling hook. All of this is backed by musician Bryan Eckermann, who handles all the instrumentation on the album.

There’s some piano brought in on the title track, “Dark Waters,” and “Purgatorium” to give strength to the grandiose storytelling. This was also present on their debut self-titled EP that came out last year, so it’s good they brought that aspect back. The eight-minute “Fallen Empire” is the standout to Blood In The Sky, a thoughtful amalgamation of melody and aggression the album could’ve used more of.

Rating: 3
(Dan Marsicano)

Questing Beast – Birth (Self)

Progressive metal is such an open-ended genre that it gives new bands like Questing Beast and first album, Birth a platform to not be closed off to new ways of thinking. The spacey synths that start out opener “The Comet’s Tale” is a disguise for an outright doom metal tune, though one with a lighter side to it.

At almost seven minutes each, “Titan’s Grip” and “Corruption” are back-to-back spacious treats. The latter one is a feature for the group’s three vocalists, all of whom have a different delivery style. There’s piercing screams, deep growls, and melodic harmonies, all working alongside and against each other. Not every song does this, but when it comes up, it helps Questing Beast to be a distinct presence in prog metal.

Rating: 4
(Dan Marsicano)

RivetSkull – Absence Of Time (Self)

Seattle traditional metalers RivetSkull follow up their 2022 debut Trail Of Souls: Samsara with Absence Of Time. Though it’s only their second full-length, the band has been together for a decade and their chemistry is evident.

Their origins are as a Dio tribute band, and while you can hear those influences, RivetSkull have widened their scope to include many other inspirations. The songs on Absence Of Time pack a punch, but hooks and melodies make tracks like “Not Gonna Run” and “Eyes Of A Fallen Angel” memorable. “The King Is Dead” adds subtle electric sitar and Hammond B3, a creative touch. Vocalist Chad McMurray displays range and power on Absence Of Time, giving a versatile performance.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Sun & Moon Records

Siculicidium – A halál tengely and Az Elidegenedés Melankóliája (Sun & Moon)

Twenty years is a fair bit of time lying in the shadows and building an image, and this is a big year for Siculicidium to showcase it. These mad Romanian black metal specters have decided to release two albums simultaneously: A halál tengely and Az Elidegenedés Melankóliája. Out the gate with the first album, A halál tengely is your usual black metal listen with little twists thrown here and there. “Nagyanyó kenyér” manages to stand out with a subtle use of an almost jazzy undertone.

For their second album Az Elidegenedés Melankóliája is the exact opposite of the first album. This album serves as a more experimental non-metal spin off for Siculicidium. Tracks like “Létforgatag” feels like they belong in a Christopher Nolan movie. The combined use of Lugosi’s glow grumble vocals mixed with a fair bit of synths make “Együttérzés és bölcsesség” a truly unique sounding track. A halál tengely and Az Elidegenedés Melankóliája showcase how even with twenty years of experience it is okay to branch off and try new things.

Rating: 3.5
(Dalton Husher)

L’Arte Produce

Sun Descends Alone – Of Everlasting Cravings (L’Arte Produce)

Of Everlasting Cravings by Sun Descends Alone is an acquired taste. Gothic rock is a favorite of mine, so perhaps I am judging more harshly because of that. But something about the droning, emotional vocals simply failed to click. That is not to say there is no value in Sun Descends Alone’s transcendence between musical worlds through ballads and mesmerizing gothic sounds. I think that almost any fan of goth rock should give this a try…

With silky vocals from the project’s frontman Trebel Dot, the ballad-style songs flow through one another, replicating classic sounds of the genre and becoming one solid entity that is equal parts breakout gothic rock and an unfortunate disappointment. While the more lyrical, sensitive approach to gothic musicality is not my personal cup of tea, this album does show promise from a musician juggling death metal bands and goth solo projects all at once. Give it a try if you want something a little softer.

Rating: 2.5
(Ethan Wylan)

Debemur Morti Productions

Ulcerate – Cutting The Throat Of God (Debemur Morti)

Like their past work, Ulcerate‘s Cutting The Throat Of God is album of contrasts. The New Zealand avant-garde death metal band has continually upped the ante when it comes to songwriting, and that’s especially evident on their latest opus.

Ulcerate write long songs, ranging from 7 to 9 minutes this time around, which gives them plenty of time to unfold and unpack a variety of styles, tempos and textures. That’s evident from the opener “To Flow Through Ashen Hearts,” which shifts from mellow to chaotic to groovy and back again. There’s no shortage of variety, with melody, experimentation and dissonance co-existing seamlessly. There’s a lot to absorb on Cutting The Throat Of God, with each listen unlocking something new until the entire depth and breadth of the album reveals itself. It’s another impressive effort from Ulcerate.

Rating: 4
(Chad Bowar)

Dying Victims Productions

Vendel – Out In The Fields (Dying Victims)

Russian epic doom metallers Vendel unleash their debut album Out In The Fields, sounding like a combination of Viking-era Bathory and fellow countrymen Scald. First proper track “Defender” slowly ups the irons and keeps the album heavy and generally mid-tempo, making for an album that feels as though it was released 30 years ago and you just found out about yesterday.

The album’s final two songs make up 25 minutes of this already dense album with 6 songs total clocking in at over 50 minutes, never straying from the epic nature of their music. If you want a doom metal album to hearken back to the days of Candlemass and have a bit of a more heavy metal feel than some others albums, look no further than Out In The Fields, this is truly for fans of vast and expansive music.

Rating: 3.5
(Tom Campagna)

One Response

  1. bobsala

    1 month ago

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