Heavy Music HQ Reviews: Week of June 28, 2024

This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from 200 Stab Wounds, Ainu, Anvil, Big Sun, Crystal Viper, Drift Into Black, Harpazo, Limbonic Art, Neaera, Sear Bliss, Trog, Warthog, White Stones, Wraith and X-Cops.

The ratings are on a 5 star scale.

Metal Blade Records

200 Stab Wounds – Manual Manic Procedures (Metal Blade)

With their sophomore effort Manual Manic Procedures, 200 Stab Wounds allow themselves to become a bit more than the gross out death metal band from Slave To The Scalpel, with even more musicality including leads and galloped guitar riffs on opener “Hands of Eternity.”

Vocalist Steve Buhl still sounds as evil as ever with the band being tighter and tighter instrumentally with each successive riff. Rocking a fat bass riff the title track comes at you full-force, giving more of an old-school death metal vibe, all while kicking into gear and ripping your face off all in due time. “Led To The Chamber/Liquified” sets a frightening horror-themed tone before using that to rip a vicious guitar solo. 200 Stab Wounds are about much more than speed and slaughter these days, these boys can play. If you thought you knew this band ahead of this release, think again. Manual Manic Procedures is the start of a new era for this Cleveland collective.

Rating: 4
(Tom Campagna)

Subsound Records

Ainu – Ainu (Subsound)

Instrumental music can come in a multitude of ways, and one effective method is by telling a story without words. That’s something Ainu are able to accomplish on their debut album Ainu, as they get across their admiration of everything related to the sea. Their knack for making their music flow like waves crashing on the shore makes for some harrowing moments.

Save for a short interlude in the middle of the record, the other four songs average around nine minutes, save for opener “Il Faro” and its colossal 13 minutes. There’s a lap steel guitar and a trombone on “Khrono,” but it’s mostly kept to the Italian power trio to sway these tunes through immense waters. With their sludgy take on instrumental music, it’s easy to get immersed in their slow-churning ways.

Rating: 3.5
(Dan Marsicano)

AFM Records

Anvil – One And Only (AFM)

If 2008’s rockumentary taught us anything about Anvil, it’s that they’re tenacious. Sixteen years later, and – credit where credit is due – they’re still pounding out the metal. Unfortunately, One And Only isn’t likely to move the needle much.

Robb Reiner is still a monster drummer, and though Lips Kudrow cranks out some cool solos, his voice remains Anvil’s major limiting factor. His narrow range bark comes off like Ace Frehley channeling Lemmy. It works best on speed metal numbers like “Fight For Your Rights” and “Blind Rage,” recalling their early work that influenced the direction of ‘80s metal. But juvenile lyrics, particularly on the title track and “Condemned Liberty,” come off like old white guy whining. Recycled riffs – “Truth Is Dying” practically note for note apes “Man On The Silver Mountain” – don’t much further the cause.

Rating: 2.5
(Gino Sigismondi)

Mighty Music

Big Sun – Rite Of Passage (Mighty)

Claiming their origins and lineage to an old lodge for Swedish royalty; newcomers Big Sun have blasted their way onto the scene with their debut album Rite Of Passage. Each song on this album feels different and unique with “I Was Loving You” feeling like an ’80s power ballad and “Ra Horaktus” giving a little Rammstein feel to it.

In terms of overall quality it feels as if this was made further down in Big Sun’s career despite it being a debut album. It helps when you have At the Gates producer Tue Madsen working behind the scenes making Rite Of Passage sound as if they have been around the block before. Big Sun have some solid potential under their wings and it will be interesting to see how they follow up from this.

Rating: 3.5
(Dalton Husher)

Listenable Records

Crystal Viper – The Silver Key (Listenable)

The Silver Key is the ninth full-length release from the Polish heavy/power metal band Crystal Viper. Lyrically the album follows a similar path to 2021’s The Cult, inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Musically, while also similar to The Cult, The Silver Key pushes in some different directions. While their mix of power and traditional metal remains, the balance is tilted a bit more towards trad this time around. Tracks like “Old House In The Mist” and “Heading Kadath” are uptempo and melodic with plenty of punch and extended guitar solos. As always, Marta Gabriel’s performance is strong, using a wide-ranging vocal palette. She really shines on the ballad “Wayfaring Dreamer.” The Silver Key is another impactful Crystal Viper release.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Black Lion Records

Drift Into Black – Voices Beneath The Rubble (Black Lion)

With Voices Beneath The Rubble, Drift Into Black weave the sounds of gothic rock and doom metal with an impressive ease. The seasoned New Jersey band haven’t strayed from their doom metal roots, with lulling vocals that pair excellently with the gloomy instrumentals. However, there is something distinctly gothic about their sound, reminiscent of My Dying Bride or Type O Negative.

Drift Into Black are versatile. Klemen Markelj’s drumming brings a grimy, putrid atmosphere while Craig Rossi’s vocals bring a goth rock seduction not unlike London After Midnight. Paul LaPlaca’s bass playing adds to the lethal vibe, bringing together the macabre and the dingy. All together, it makes for a pleasantly swampy goth-infused experience well worth any doom fan’s time.

Rating: 3.5
(Ethan Wylan)

Rockshots Records

Harpazo – The Crucible (Rockshots)

Harpazo are a prog metal supergroup, with their debut album The Crucible featuring members of bands such as Fates Warning, Royal Hunt, Ayreon, Narnia, Operation Mindcrime and more. Gary Wehrkamp wrote the music and plays most of it. Marc Centanni wrote the lyrics and also plays several instruments on the album. It’s a metal opera in the vein of groups like Avantasia and Ayreon.

The concept involves cybernetics, immortality, religion and more. The songs are painstakingly arranged with complexity and atmosphere. There’s bombastic power metal on tracks like “I Am God” and more introspective moments and classic influences on songs such as the epic “Golden Crown” and “We Are Weak.” Royal Hunt’s DC Cooper is the main character, and gets the lion’s share of vocals, which he delivers with texture, emotion and power. They are contrasted with female vocals on songs like the title track and “Golden Crown,” providing more variety. The Crucible is an ambitious album that manages to be dramatic and engaging without devolving into melodrama, and maintains interest throughout its hour plus run time.

Rating: 4
(Chad Bowar)

Kyrck Productions & Armour

Limbonic Art – Opus Daemonical (Kyrck)

Limbonic Art, one of the pioneers of what is known as symphonic black metal, have returned after a seven-year hiatus with their ninth studio album, Opus Daemoniacal. This return is significant not only because it marks a new chapter in the band’s history but also because it accompanies their audience to the darkest abysses of the cosmos in the midst of a wrathful demonic winter storm.

Unlike in the past, when the symphonic layers were the atmosphere’s primary shaper, Opus Daemoniacal is mainly based on cold and biting guitar riffs. Melodies are formed when these riffs establish on the symphonic arrangements, flowing underneath the songs like a river that swallowed all the darkness in the world. As usual, the songs are played as if they are playing in the biggest halls that lead to the most evil misanthropic cosmos, shivering and reverberating. Daemon, the mastermind and sole member of Limbonic Art, has created a scenic world whose resonant musical echoes and startling visual imagery leave an impactful memory of the listening experience every time.

Rating: 4
(Arash Khosronejad)

Metal Blade Records

Neaera – All Is Dust (Metal Blade)

German act Neaera are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. The band hasn’t been crafting bruising fare quite as long as countrymen Heaven Shall Burn and Caliban, nor have they seemingly built quite the same following internationally. But they’ve nonetheless delivered another quality slab of heaviness via All Is Dust.

The group’s distinctly Euro-centric sound is built on metalcore foundations (groovy “In Vain”), punctuated by melodic death (“Per Aspera”) and blackened touches (the brutal title track). It’s not an approach littered with sanitized hooks and saccharine melodies as per some fare afforded the “metalcore” tag. Instead, this is a work of pure catharsis and darkness, and vicious opener “Antidote To Faith” sets the tone. There are intriguing nuances throughout, too; “Into The Hollow” exudes a careful balance between metallic riffage, melodic finesse and atmospherics. By its uncompromising nature, it seems unlikely All Is Dust will see Neaera elevated to metal’s A-List. But that shouldn’t, and won’t, lessen the record’s sonic impact.

Rating: 4
(Brendan Crabb)

Hammerheart Records

Sear Bliss – Heavenly Down (Hammerheart)

The veteran Hungarian atmospheric black metal band Sear Bliss have been around for over 30 years now. While they were prolific in their early years, there are now several year gaps between records. Their ninth full-length Heavenly Down comes six years after Letters From The Edge, which came five years after Eternal Recurrence.

Sear Bliss play a dynamic brand of black metal, with new guitarist Marton Kertesz teaming up with Zoltan Vigh for a plethora of memorable riffs. But what makes Sear Bliss unique is Zoltan Pal’s trombone, adding a blast of brass to the band’s dynamic sound. On paper it might sound like a strange combination, but over the past decades they have made it an integral part of their sound, and it works well whether it’s background atmosphere or front and center. Heavenly Down is a streamlined effort at only 44 minutes, delivering everything Sear Bliss fans want.

Rating: 3.5
(Chad Bowar)

Trog – Horrors Beyond (Self)

There’s so much new death metal to listen to being put out by recognizable record labels that sometimes a self-published album comes along that stands above a lot of those major releases. That’s what Trog have done on Horrors Beyond, a debut with all the right components in place already. This foursome from New Jersey capture the thrill of the genre, both with its explosivity and atmospheric designs like the synths used on closer “Ontological Shock.”

That song is a bold chance taken compared to the rest of Horrors Beyond, as the album is kept tidy and without delaying the inevitable collapse of terrestrial life the band delights in. With death metal this essential, labels should be jumping over each other to sign Trog, if that’s what the band is looking for.

Rating: 4
(Dan Marsicano)

Warhog – The Dystopian Chronicles Vol. 1 (Self)

After an inflated debut album, Warhog have cut back with their follow-up EP, The Dystopian Chronicles Vol. 1. The first of a proposed trilogy of releases, an EP is a lot easier to consume and take in their grounded heavy metal. Though their first album owed itself to a vast array of styles, from traditional metal to doom and sludge, this one pushes the tempos with forceful intent.

Catchier songwriting is a big gain for Warhog, something their first album didn’t have enough of. Hooky choruses can be found in songs like “Next” and “Downtrodden.” The Dystopian Chronicles Vol. 1 can be looked at either as its own entity or a part of an upcoming larger body of work. With the band already going back in the studio to work on the second volume, there’s hope that we won’t be waiting too long for the entire trilogy.

Rating: 3.5
(Dan Marsicano)

Reigning Phoenix Music

White Stones – Memoria Viva (Reigning Phoenix)

White Stones were formed by Opeth bassist Martin Mendez about five years ago. Memoria Viva is their third album, and like the first two it mixes progressive and experimental elements with heavier parts. But this time around, the lyrics are in Spanish.

The album eases into things, with a three minute opening instrumental followed by “Humanoides,” which takes a while before Eloi Boucherie’s death metal vocals kick in. White Stones shift easily between heaviness and mellowness, exemplified on tracks like “Grito al Silencio.” An acoustic instrumental “Zamba de Orun” provides a respite before the heavy and proggy “La Ira.” White Stones experiment with a lot of different styles and intensities on Memoria Viva, and while it doesn’t all work and there are some lulls, enough does to make it an interesting listen.

Rating: 3
(Chad Bowar)

Prosthetic Records

Wraith – Fueled By Fear (Prosthetic)

Indiana-based blackened thrash metallers Wraith are ready to wreck necks with Fueled By Fear, an album that is the combination of Venom and Motorhead in a clash that will determine which classic NWOBHM band’s sound is more prominent track to track. Vocalist Matt Sokol sounds vicious in his approach, with throat shredding sections in conjunction with his axe work helping to make this version of Wraith their most deadly yet.

“Code Red” is a high-flying speedy strike that is the band’s stock in trade as they continue to be a well-oiled machine. While no one song is too long, the album is a little bloated with 14 tracks and over 45 minutes of music. This style of metal is generally a hit and run affair meant to be played on repeat. Though the overall impact may suffer a bit from three songs and 10 minutes too much, Fueled By Fear is a solid black thrash album.

Rating: 3.5
(Tom Campagna)

Pit Records

X-Cops – XCAB (Pit)

Gwar offshoot X-Cops are back with their first recorded material since the mid ‘90s with the EP XCAB. It’s chock full of police shenanigans and even acover of a song by the Police. On “We’re The Pigs” all of the zaniness you expect from this band of weirdos is fully intact with the push of their personal agenda in spite of the public that they are made to serve right from the outset.

There is even the blame game played by this bumbling outfit on “Kinderhardened” where a few very serious offenses are “not my job,” or “that’s not my fault” making these young children mentally hardened for witnessing the atrocities committed around them. There is a good amount of punk to “Conflict Management” and the cover of “Next To You” is sped up and much dirtier than the original. If you need a laugh and have just under 20 minutes to do so, XCAB is a solid stand-up act’s worth of insanity and gonzo humor.

Rating: 3.5
(Tom Campagna)

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