This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Body Stuff, Buckcherry, Dieth, DiGelsomina, Einar Solberg, Gloryhammer, Hellwitch, OK Goodnight, Omnium Gatherum, Pupil Slicer, Rival Sons, Thantifaxath, To Descend and Wytch Hazel.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Body Stuff – Body Stuff 4 (The Chain)
After three EPs, Body Stuff are issuing their first full-length. It comes a decade after Today Is The Day and Wetnurse bandmates Curran Reynolds and Ryan Jones first formed the group. Like their EPs, Body Stuff 4 is a combination of heavy guitars, industrial atmospheres, ’80s synths and pop hooks topped with Reynolds’ edgy singing.
Their songwriting has progressed, with more complex arrangements this time around. Opener “The Chains” is heavy and dark while “Transmission” is more buoyant with Billy Squier-esque riffs and piano accents. It’s a diverse and ever shifting album that goes from the acoustic ballad “S.O.S.” to the trippy (mostly) instrumental “Champion Song.” ’80s icon Tiffany makes an appearance on “Fame,” and Body Stuff recruit Xiu Xiu to remix “New York In The Rain” from Body Stuff 3. While Body Stuff’s album titles aren’t very creative, their music certainly is, with Body Stuff 4 an eclectic yet cohesive album.
Buckcherry – Vol. 10 (Round Hill)
Buckcherry are hard rock lifers, survivors and (brief hiatus notwithstanding) prolific creators. That they’ve reached their tenth LP, fittingly titled Vol. 10 is testament to that. As is sticking to a signature sound that’s the aural equivalent of an evening of fast cars and heavy boozing in strip clubs. This batch of songs is serviceable enough fare in their typically blues-infused, riff-heavy manner. “Keep On Fighting” (boasting a blistering guitar solo) and punky “One And Only” possess the urgency and swagger that will lend extra party fodder to their high-energy live shows.
“Good Time” and “Let’s Get Wild” are the type of hook-laden fare you’d anticipate, even if they feel a little too obvious; at times it almost feels like a pastiche, or recycling of former glories. There’s also the token balladeering – which doesn’t reach the heights of their past songs in this vein – and a cover of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69,” which feels pointless because it adds little to nothing to a song we’ve already heard far too many times.
Buckcherry’s unapologetically sleazy sheen is in many ways the welcome antithesis to today’s overly slick breed of rock bands, and their gigs are a blast, too. Witness them in that environment for the full effect, because while Vol. 10 has its moments it isn’t a career standout.
Dieth – To Hell And Back (Napalm)
The attention grabber to Dieth’s debut album To Hell And Back is the inclusion of ex-Megadeth bassist David Ellefson. Ellefson makes the most of his turn into death/thrash metal, bringing on vocalist/guitarist Guilherme Miranda (formerly of Entombed A.D.) and ex-Decapitated drummer Michał Łysejko to add credibility to this extreme side. The abrupt jump into it after a lengthy acoustic intro to the opening title track (a little too long, in fact) is a ringing shot that is felt for many songs.
Ellefson’s bass work is prominent on To Hell And Back, whether that be the groovy “Free Us All” or the thick crunch in the mid-tempo “Heavy Is The Crown.” He even gets a chance to provide lead vocals to “Walk With Me Forever,” a touching, if out of place, ballad that doesn’t fit well in the context of fervent tunes like “In The Hall Of The Hanging Serpents” and “Wicked Disdain.” Outside of that oddity, To Hell And Back is a strong showcase for these three well-traveled musicians.
Sic Itur Ad Astra is the debut album from DiGelsomina, a collaboration between veteran musicians Andy DiGelsomina (Lysaka) and Robert Lowe (Candlemass, Solitude Aeternus, Disciple Of Doom). Lowe contributed to a Lysaka song years ago, and now here they are in a band together.
Their debut is an epic doom album, with the thick riffs you’d expect from the genre, but also forays in other directions. The uptempo “Harbinger Of Doom” has proggy moments and some creative guitar solos, while “Winternacht” has an atmospheric beginning before the heaviness kicks in. They do a nice job of varying tempos and intensities throughout the record. Lowe’s vocals are the icing on the cake, with the power and emotion he has brought to the table for decades showing no signs of decline.
Einar Solberg – 16 (InsideOut)
After more than two decades as the frontman for the progressive band Leprous, Einar Solberg is issuing his first solo album. The subject matter on 16 is based on life-defining moments that he experienced from the ages of 16 to 19. Though the lyrics are extremely personal, the music is very collaborative, with numerous guests.
The mellow opening title track features cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne. Other guests include Bent Knee’s Ben Levin and Agent Fresco’s Toti Gudnason. He recruited his sister Star Of Ash for “Where All The Twigs Broke,” a piano based number, while brother in law Ihsahn guests on the track “Splitting The Soul.” It’s mostly electronica, but is one of the few songs that does have metal moments. 16 is an intimate album with the outstanding vocals you expect from Solberg, whether he’s singing quietly and emotionally or belting it out in his patented falsetto. Some songs are similar to Leprous, but Solberg ventures in different directions as well, exploring minimalist and experimental arrangements (including rapping on “Home”).
Gloryhammer – Return To The Kingdom Of Fife (Napalm)
Back in 2013, the Scottish symphonic power metal band Gloryhammer emerged with Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife. A decade later their fourth album Return To The Kingdom Of Fife finds them back in the land of wizards and epic battles.
A cinematic interlude sets the stage for the dramatic symphonic power metal that’s to come, from the futuristic “Holy Flaming Hammer Of Unholy Cosmic Frost” to the urgent “Imperium Dundaxia” to the soaring and catchy “Fife Eternal.” The album closes with the 12 minute epic “Maleficus Geminus,” a fitting conclusion with all the drama and excitement of the album encompassed in a grand finale. Return To The Kingdom Of Fife is a fun if sometimes over the top listen, with an interesting concept and quality songs that delivers everything Gloryhammer fans desire.
Hellwitch – Annihilational Intercention (Listenable)
One of the first extreme metal bands out of Florida was Hellwitch, who even with nearly 40 years to their credit only have released two albums to date. Their third and latest Annihilational Intercention is a continuation of their techy death thrash which puts them closer to the Atheist side of the Florida death metal scene with a bit of Realm, Coroner and Sadus thrown in for good measure. Opener “Solipistic Immortality” has exactly the vocal style you would associate with classic tech thrash – Pat Ranieri sounding shrieky and maniacal with riffs coming in from all angles.
“Epochal Cessation” continues Hellwitch’s swirling attack with everything moving at mach speeds before slowing to a crawl and eventually back into the fray; an excellent use of stop and go pyrotechnics. Hellwitch sound fresh after this first album in 14 years and if Annihilational Intercention is an indicator of future success, then things will only get better for this well-oiled machine.
OK Goodnight’s The Fox And The Bird has a heck of a story hook to it. Two people attempt to bring rain to a place suffering from a long drought, with different animals being encountered along the way. The music adjusts to whatever character or place is the subject of a particular song. “The Bird” is a gentle acoustic number, “The Dream” is an airy interlude and “The Crocodile” is a snapping machine with the fastest riffs on the album.
There’s something for every fan of progressive music, whether that be piano ballads, acoustic jams or technical solos. The band seems to relish exploring all these avenues, taking leaps that are a far cry from the more traditional prog metal style on earlier releases. The Fox And The Bird is the kind of engrossing rock/metal that needs to become the norm in contemporary music.
Omnium Gatherum – Slasher (Century Media)
Finnish melodic death metal veterans Omnium Gatherum follow up 2021’s Origin with the four song EP Slasher. It’s the first release with guitarist Nick Cordle (Arch Enemy, Arsis), who joined the band last year.
There are three original songs. “Slasher” is driving and intense with a searing guitar solo, while “Sacred” keep the grooves front and center. Closer “Lovelorn” slows the tempo and bit and has some really catchy riffs. They also cover the ’80s pop hit “Maniac,” which has a whole different vibe with Jukka Pelkonen’s harsh vocals and heavy guitars, though they do keep some of the cheesy ’80s charm. Slasher is a solid release to tide over OG fans as they wait for the band’s next full-length.
Pupil Slicer – Blossom (Prosthetic)
Pupil Slicer take the grindy mathcore of their earlier work and loads it with melodic experimentation on their second album, Blossom. Gone are the 90-second sprints, the unhinged noise, the perpetual state of madness they seemed to be trapped in. In its place is a group with no fear, one that will incorporate singing and mellow passages that acts as a world builder involving alien signals and sci-fi exploration.
They do this without completely disavowing their origins, as the viciousness of “Momentary Actuality” and “No Temple” can attest to. The farthest they get away from that is in the album’s glorious final two tracks, “Dim Morning Light” and the title track. Blossom is the apex of their maturation, a transformation into a new form that takes from the past without ignoring what’s ahead.
Rival Sons – Darkfighter (Low Country Sound)
Rival Sons plan to release two companion albums in 2023. The first, Darkfighter, picks up where the Grammy-nominated Feral Roots left off. Again produced by Dave Cobb, best known for his work with Americana artists Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile, his organic approach lends the band an authenticity and gravitas lacking in certain other bands whose attempts to tread similar ground come off more like a School of Rock class project. Jason Bonham himself worked with Cobb on the one-off California Breed release, using the Rival Sons’ drums, in the same recording studio, to get “that sound.”
Opener “Mirrors” succinctly illustrates what makes Rival Sons special, combining the musicianship and grandiosity of Led Zeppelin with the sonic impact and adventurousness of Jack White’s Dead Weather. Singer Jay Buchanan utilizes both his full-throated, soulful roar and vulnerable melodicism on “Rapture,” while “Darkside” closes the album with an ominous grind that rivals “No Quarter.”
Thantifaxath – Hive Mind Narcosis (Dark Descent)
Black metal can already be uncomfortable to listen to, but Thantifaxath find new ways to make it more so on Hive Mind Narcosis. That’s been their method for over a decade now, taking the fundamentals of the genre and spinning them through a series of unnerving deviations. Their second full-length comes almost a decade after their debut, and nearly six years since their last release (Void Masquerading As Matter EP). In that time, they’ve doubled down on their discontent while maintaining an avant-garde status.
The 11-minute “Surgical Utopian Love” is the encapsulation of the band’s essence, its demanding riffs giving a hypnotic quality to the song. Opener “Solar Witch” starts out as a psychedelic doom trip before devolving into a blackened nightmare, and “Blissful Self Disassembly” is the experimental noise the group loves to latch onto. The fact it leads into the punishing “Mind Of The Sun” as the end to Hive Mind Narcosis is yet another turn to keep Thantifaxath from being content.
To Descend – Mindless Birth (Horror Pain Gore Death)
Death metal doesn’t get much more conventional than To Descend’s Mindless Birth. Their second EP, and third release following 2018’s People Of The Abyss EP and 2021’s Exorcism Of Hope full-length, makes no concessions or drastic changes to their sound. This is death metal stuck in 1993, venomous and unconcerned about mass appeal. The most innovation one can find in this release is some creepy gang chants in “Chained To Time.”
This is a band comprised of experienced players in the genre, including members of Massacre and Down Among The Dead Men, so even the lack of originality doesn’t stop this EP from being entertaining. The execution is on point, fueled by the essentials. With five tracks barely going 13 minutes, it’s meant as a quick burst of death metal for those with limited free time to spare.
Wytch Hazel– IV: Sacrament (Bad Omen)
Wytch Hazel’s IV: Sacrament’s unique take on heavy metal and rock music continues with their Christian lyrics sounding favorably like Pagan Altar, especially vocalist Colin Hendra evoking the similarity to Terry Jones. You may think and incorrectly so, that this music may lack an edge given the Christian lyrical nature, but tracks like “Angel of Light” showcase exactly how that folklore can be heavy and all encompassing with guitar harmonics buoying their expert take on the genre.
This powerful and emotive music has touches of the medieval, allowing for Wytch Hazel to take the listener on a ride to battle alongside this Holy Trinity going from battle to calm from track to track. The latter is fully on display with “Future Is Gold” as the band transitions into their final movement. IV: Sacrament is a solid heavy rock record with a message that the band conveys through each and every movement on the album.