This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Aodon, Avarice, Extreme, False Memories, Geld, Legion Of The Damned, Max Enix, Pyrexia, Scar Symmetry, Shakra, Slow Fall, The Soiled Doves, Stellar Circuits and Torture Rack.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Aodon – Portraits (Willowtip)
Portraits, the third album from French black metal group Aodon, expands on their atmospheric take on the genre. The album depicts nine different characters, some fictitious and others real, and the fallacies of humanity that consume each one. Whether something like greed or ego, all the subjects get their own song named after them. The constant is a furious interpretation of black metal, with good production values to get the most out of each piercing scream and whirlwind riff.
The lyrics are in their native language, but a listener doesn’t need a grasp of it to know that there is a menacing presence behind these songs. To avoid overdoing the aural assault, the band
provides airy breaks where all that is left is melancholic guitars. They last thirty seconds to a minute on average, not fully interrupting the music’s general toxic pace long enough. Aodon’s
spirited black metal is able to leave an invested fan of the genre satisfied.
Avarice – Avarice (Uprising!)
The origins of the Danish band Avarice date back to 2007 when the members were teenagers. After issuing a couple of demos they went their separate ways for more than a decade before regrouping in 2021 for the EP Reborn In Blood.
Their self-titled debut blends the groove of melodic death with moments of blazing thrash metal. Tracks like “Slaughter” and “Reaper Comes” keep the tempo brisk while “Overflowing Coffins” is more deliberate with death metal front and center. The lyrical theme revolves around the band and album name – mythological tales of punishment and extreme greed. Avarice hearkens back to death/thrash albums of the ’90s and ’00s, but they also deliver modern stylings and avoid being a nostalgia act.
Extreme – Six (earMusic)
When Extreme dropped ”Rise,” the lead single from Six, earlier this year, the Earth trembled with the sound of every rock guitarist’s jaw hitting it. Not much impresses guitar snobs anymore, so Nuno Bettancourt’s blistering lead break couldn’t have been a better calling card for their return. Arriving too late in the ‘80s to bask in their success following the chart-topping “More Than Words,” Extreme are back, doing what they do best.
For the uninitiated, the name refers to their many stylistic swings (this is NOT “extreme metal!”). The two rockers following “Rise” start to lean a bit too much on a drop-tuned, generic rock sound, but things soon veer off in several directions, with Everly Brothers-style vocal indulgence on the shimmering power pop of “Other Side Of The Rainbow” and Muse-like synths on “Thicker Than Blood.”. Though things get a tad too “cute” near the end, the variety makes for an engaging listen.
False Memories – Hybrid Ego System (Frontiers)
Dark metallers False Memories have been prolific the past few years. The studio album The Last Night Of Fall was released in 2021, followed by a covers EP that same year. Last year they issued a live EP.
Their latest album Hybrid Ego System features Anette Olzon (ex-Nightwish) on opener “The Storm Inside,” an accessible gothic rock number. False Memories shift between that style and darker, heavier but still melodic songs such as “Holding On,” though the balance shifts heavily toward the melodic and mellow on the album’s second half. “From Dust” is the notable exception. Rossella Moscatello is an engaging and versatile vocalist, especially evident on tracks like “The Other Side,” a ballad with both melodic singing and aggressive harsh vocals. She utilizes both styles on several songs, while a few others are exclusively melodic singing. False Memories have raised their game on Hybrid Ego System.
Geld – Currency//Castration (Relapse)
Australian anarchists Geld are set release a burst of hardcore punk fury with Currency//Castration. This third foray into the fire sees Geld further experiment with hardcore’s past and help to take it into the future on tracks like “Cut You Down” where the shouted lyrics mesh and mosh well with the hurried riffs to create an uneasy atmosphere that is barely held together. Move into the bass line of “Clock Keeps Crawling” and you get an excellent sense of punk transition, it feels like it would have in the early ‘80s.
This off-the-rails approach should have you heading to the pit with the utmost urgency. This is fast music to make snap decisions to, they aren’t waiting for you. Currency//Castration is a 23-minute blast of adrenaline that will continue to be there for you when you need it. Uncompromising and punishing in its brevity, this should be taken in by all matter of punk and metalhead.
Legion Of The Damned – The Poison Chalice (Napalm)
The combination of death and thrash metal has always been one of the most interesting ones, which over the time has found its own personality and independence. Dutch titans Legion Of The Damned have always been at the forefront of death/thrash metal’s most eloquent sounds, and their new album The Poison Chalice will fulfill the fans’ expectations, but you don’t come across fresh ideas or new song structures.
Actually, it is the potential abilities of the band in playing and processing common ideas, as well as the effective production that turns the stereotypes into a groovy destructive force. Therefore, this important point appears here, that how much Legion Of The Damned have the ability to maintain the vital identifiers of their music; they really do this with power. The Poison Chalice demands you to listen at the highest volume you can to assure you that Legion of the Damned are still one of the truest in the death/thrash metal genre.
Max Enix – Far From Home (Wormholedeath)
It takes great privilege, as well as patience, to listen to Max Enix’s second album Far From Home. Out of the fourteen tracks, only four clock in under ten minutes. it’s a unique hybrid of several genres including but not limited to symphonic metal, classical and hip-hop.
The scale of the album does feel like a Devin Townsend and Hans Zimmer hybrid. Each and every song has several moments where it feels like it could end but then it picks back up with a sudden burst of energy to keep you going. No one track feels like a slog nor do they sound the same. Even the longest track “Far From Home,” coming in at twenty-six minutes, somehow feels like several smaller songs fused together. It is a unique listen from start to end and one where each listen is a different experience.
Pyrexia – System Of The Animal 25 (Gravitas)
System Of The Animal 25 is a re-recording of Pyrexia‘s second album, originally released in 1997. It brings a hardcore death metal vibe to the table. The newfound production values really give the songs a punch that is very impactful. The songwriting is solid and very tight overall. Guitars offer a scathing outlook of things. Drums are pounding and form a nice rhythm section. Vocals are harsh and fit the music nicely. The songs on the album are brief and to the point and offer a quick injection of adrenaline.
Overall, the album is very punishing and pummels from all directions. This is certainly a nice modernization of an older work. It brings the sound into a pulverizing new mix. The newfound sound is powerful, but the album was already very solid to begin with and simply gets a nice revamp. This is a solid look at some of the foundations of death metal. The album has all the right grooves to impress, even in the present day.
Scar Symmetry – The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph (Nuclear Blast)
Nine years on from their previous full-length, Swedish melodic death metallers Scar Symmetry unleash The Singularity Phase II – Xenotaph. A sequel to the well-received first installment of the planned trilogy, it’s probably their heaviest LP yet, but doesn’t forgo accessibility. Part two in the series’ exploration of themes of neo-humanity and artificial intelligence is certainly timely too, given the widespread mix of concern and excitement regarding the potential impacts of AI on the music industry; namely the ability to create new songs in the vein of various artists and genres. At times, melodeath can lean so heavily on formula that entire albums could be created in such a manner.
Scar Symmetry do incorporate the well-worn tropes of the style, but execute these elements more convincingly than most. The ’80s-influenced “Reichsfall,” “Overworld” and “Soulscanner” boast hooks the size of the Chrysler Building, while dazzling guitar solos fly off the fingers, and the dual growl/clean vocal attack possesses real chemistry. Well-placed orchestrations and acoustic flourishes add a cinematic quality, and they’ve infused a proggier, darker outlook overall, as evidenced from the blistering one-two blast of “Chrononautilus” and “Scorched Quadrant” through to atmospheric closer “Xenotaph” and its dramatic, haunting guest choir. At nearly an hour, perhaps the running time could have been trimmed, but that’s a minor grievance. Making melodic death metal feel fresh can be a tricky task in 2023, but Scar Symmtery manage it with a record that’s engaging, yet unpredictable at times.
Shakra – Invincible (AFM)
Swiss hard rockers Shakra have been plying their trade for more than a quarter century. They’ve had their ups and downs and a few lineup changes, but have never gone more than three years between studio albums. Invincible is their thirteenth album.
They don’t break a lot of new ground, delivering the melodic hard rock/metal with retro vibe that they have perfected over their long career with flawless execution. They vary tempos and intensities to keep things interesting, from the urgent and heavy “The Matrix Unfolds” to the groovy “Devil Left Hell” to the soaring ballad “As I Lay Down To Sleep.” There are a lot of catchy songs on Invincible along with the usual quality vocal performance from Mark Fox and some top-notch guitar work.
Slow Fall – Obsidian Waves (Out Of Line)
Finnish melodic death metal group Slow Fall have come into their own with their second album, Obsidian Waves, after a string of releases that felt like test runs for the real thing. This is their first release with a full-time keyboardist in their ranks, after bassist Markku Kerosalo handled them previously, and that inclusion may have to do with the expansive role they play on this album.
Once background enhancement, the keys have now taken center stage on many songs, whether that be the piano notes on the gothic “Reflections In The House Of Shadows” or the playful leads
on “Omega.” The band tetters the progressive line on closer “Crown Of Dead Leaves,” its seven minutes including acoustic guitar solos and a back-and-forth between screaming and singing
vocal styles. Obsidian Waves isn’t prototypical melodic death metal, as Slow Fall land a pleasant surprise near the end of the first half of 2023.
The Soiled Doves – Revenant Spirits (Harlot)
Calling The Soiled Doves hardcore or metallic hardcore is to undersell how distinct Revenant Spirits is. The label “progressive hardcore/metal” has been tossed around too, but this isn’t a band that uses keyboards or has a desire to be showy with their instrumentation.
Three of the five songs on Revenant Spirits are over six minutes, though the entire release comes in at under half an hour. There’s a track split into two parts, “Host,” with noisy lead guitars and multiple levels of vocals, including screams, singing, and spoken word. They lean on the spoken word exclusively in closer “The Cave, The Opal,” a fantastical tale told under the guise of bulky metal. The Soiled Doves are stepping beyond the narrow scale of hardcore/metal by not holding back on trying out different sonic techniques.
Stellar Circuits – Sight To Sound (Nuclear Blast)
The North Carolina prog metal/rock band Stellar Circuits issued their debut full-length in 2018, working with producer Jamie King, longtime collaborator of North Carolina’s best known prog band, Between The Buried And Me. That self-released album drew the attention of Nuclear Blast, who signed them for the sophomore album Sight To Sound, once again producer by King.
Stellar Circuits’ brand of prog mixes in a lot of groove and melody, exemplified in songs like “Pleasure Cruise.” The songs on the album are expansive and dynamic, as are Ben Beddick’s vocals that go from smooth crooning to throat-shredding screams and back. And though the songs are expansive, they are not overly long. The longest track on the album is closer “Where Were You,” the only song to exceed five minutes. Sight To Sound finds Stellar Circuits building and improving on their debut, and should appeal to fans of bands like Karnivool.
Torture Rack – Primeval Onslaught (20 Buck Spin)
Portland purveyors of putrid Torture Rack are back for album number three, Primeval Onslaught. What you get from the very onset of “Ceremonial Flesh Feast” is pure unadulterated death metal of the no frills variety, with muddy riffs and the occasional guitar solo thrown in for good measure. There are some hardcore influences thrown in on “F–ked By Death” to add a bit of variety before it too becomes dead and buried by the ruthless assault of furious riffs.
“Impalement Storm” varies the tempos between verses with plodding plucks that look to escape to the next victim, slowly reaching their necrotic nirvana. Torture Rack are a death metal band for death metal’s sake and if Primeval Onslaught isn’t proof positive of that, then I don’t want to know what is.