This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Artillery, Beekeeper, Book Of Wyrms, Candlemass, Disembodiment, Empty Throne, False Memories, Ghost Iris, In Asymmetry, Jordfast, Kataan, Mephitic Grave, Nightshadow, Solstice, Sonic Haven, Sumo Cyco, Terminalist, Tommy’s Rocktrip and Vokonis.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Artillery – X (Metal Blade)
The Danish thrash band Artillery have been around since the early ’80s. As you can probably guess from the album title, X is their tenth full-length. It’s also their first without guitarist Morten Stützer, who passed away in 2019. Kræn Meier, who has been playing live with Artillery for a few years, handles lead guitar duties on the record.
Artillery follow the musical path they’ve been on for decades, exemplified on tracks like the appropriately named “In Thrash We Trust.” They also change things up a bit, adding extra groove to the catchy “In Your Mind” and slowing down the tempo on the ballad “The Ghost Of Me.” One thing that helps set Artillery apart is Michael Bastholm Dahl’s vocals. He has a powerful set of pipes and a wide range more in the vein of a traditional metal or power metal singer. Thrash metal fans can’t go wrong with a band like Artillery, and X is a strong collection of songs.
Beekeeper – Slaves To The Nothing (Metal Assault)
Released back in 2017, Beekeeper’s Slaves To The Nothing is getting re-released on vinyl and cassette, which are fitting platforms for the traditional thrash metal of this debut album. The trio from San Diego, California have obvious affection for the genre, with a riff-centric take that skips over showy solos for mosh-friendly rage. If more convincing is needed of their love for this music, the anthemic closer “Trials Of The Shredder” makes it clear with lyrics like “I will defeat you with thrash.”
It’s not always enough to get by on just admiration alone, so Beekeeper make sure that these songs slay no matter a listener’s knowledge of thrash metal. There’s no way to stay stationary with this album, and it would be a disservice to the band to do so. Slaves To The Nothing may already be four years old, but its pulse-stopping relentlessness has a timeless quality.
Book Of Wyrms – Occult New Age (Desert)
Richmond, Virginia’s Book Of Wyrms play an alluring blend of occult rock, stoner rock, and heavy psych that pulls from bands as varied as Hawkwind and Sabbath Assembly. On their third full-length, Occult New Age, the band (now reduced to a quartet for the first time) attempt to push their boundaries in multiple directions, with mixed results.
Songs like “Colossal Yield” and “Speedball Sorcerer” have a proto-metal feel to them, while “Hollergoblin” is a stretched-out psychedelically bluesy affair and “Dracula Practice” draws influence from Soundgarden’s “Slaves and Bulldozers.” Parts of all these songs work, but too often the rudimentary and unpredictable mix (sometimes we can barely hear Sarah Moore Lindsey’s laid-back, almost disinterested vocals) distract us from the music, making Occult New Age a very uneven affair.
Candlemass – Green Valley Live (Peaceville)
Green Valley Live is a live streamed concert, the first by Candlemass and their only concert of 2020. The kings of doom are releasing the concert on CD/DVD, vinyl and digital formats. Green Valley Live‘s track list is culled from their first four albums, “Astorolus” from their latest album The Door To Doom and a “Doom Jam.”
Green Valley Live sounds terrific. The volume is loud, the mix showcases all the instruments, which highlights songwriter Leif Edling’s powerful bass, plus crunchy guitars by Mats Björkman and Lars Johansson. Johan Längqvist’s range isn’t as impressive as Messiah Marcolin, but he has tremendous emotional depth, especially Epicus Doomicus Metallicus originals “Under The Oak,” “A Sorcerer’s Pledge,” “Solitude,” and bonus track “Demon’s Gate.” It’s interesting to hear Längqvist’s take on these songs 34 years after his session performance. Green Valley Live has a meaty sound and excellent track listing that makes it worth every penny.
Disembodiment – Mutated Chaos (Caligari/Everlasting Spew)
Death metal pugilists Disembodiment, an apparent continuation of Québécois quartet Oath Div. 666, have elevated their sound by way of degradation. While OD666 wielded a jagged buzzing edge redolent of the Swedes, Disembodiment are going further back in time, and roughly 400 miles east, to capture the subterranean C.H.U.D. groove made infamous by the early Finnish hordes.
As expected, what awaits thy ears is a punishing display of brutish death metal of the old-school and down-tuned sort, thunderously heavy with rogue elements of hardcore thuggery that beats its chest proudly. Mutated Chaos is an imposing 15-minute sampling, doomed-out and adrenalizing, that should appeal to fans of the Maggot Stomp and Blood Harvest rosters.
Empty Throne – Glossolalia (Wise Blood)
Two members of the South Dakota death metal band Angerot along with former Possessed guitarist Mike Pardi and veteran drummer Gabe Seeber (Decrepit Birth, Abbath, The Kennedy Veil) have teamed up to form Empty Throne. Glossolalia is their debut EP.
It’s just three songs, but it clocks in at about 23 minutes. Each song has plenty of time to develop and shift. Death metal is at the heart of what Empty Throne do, but things like a piano intro on “That Day Has Come” and influences of black and thrash metal throughout make for a diverse first effort. They shift from dense, blastbeat driven parts to groovier, guitar laden sections. There’s an effective ebb and flow between brutality and melody. Empty Throne are off to a strong start, whetting the appetite for a full-length.
False Memories – The Last Night Of Fall (Frontiers)
The Last Night Of Fall is the second album from the Italian band False Memories. It’s their first for Frontiers, and also the first with vocalist Rossella Moscatello.
Their music is gothic and atmospheric, straddling the line between hard rock and metal. Moscatello is a versatile vocalist, sometimes using a clear, pop approach and other times singing with more grit and emotion. There are a lot of ballads and mid-tempo songs on the album, giving it a deliberate pace. They do amp up the speed from time to time, but doing it more often would give the album additional variety. The songs are impeccably produced and arranged with a lot of depth, some which are memorable and others that could use a few more hooks.
Ghost Iris – Comatose (Long Branch Records)
Comatose, Ghost Iris’ fourth full-length release, has a progressive metalcore aura that is one of a kind. The band’s style indicates that they are pummeling more often than subtle and this largely gives them identity.
There are plenty of breakdowns and chugging rhythms that are very catchy. The crisp production augments this sound greatly. While the band is really heavy at most points they do take the time to slow down and become quieter at other parts. The end result is an interesting metalcore album. It showcases many sides to the band and has great emotional impact. There is also a djent feeling to the proceedings that makes them more interesting. This is a solid and diverse listen.
In Asymmetry – Ashes Of Dead Worlds (Comatose)
In Asymmetry, one of Chile’s newest death metal bands, have stepped forward strongly by releasing one of the most ravaging albums of the year. Ashes Of Dead Worlds offers 34 minutes of absolutely killer death metal.
In Asymmetry have not only engaged in technical death metal complexity, the songs have gained extra energy and destructive power with the high groove embedded in the labyrinths of guitar riffs and drum parts. Although the songwriting does not reach fresh and undiscovered realms and is immersed in the vivid influences of European and American technical/brutal death metal, the dazzling musicianship of the band members brings the album to the brink of a significant work.
Jordfast – Hadanefter (Nordvis)
Swedish black metal doesn’t come much frostier than Jordfast’s debut album, Hadanefter. Compromised of two extensive songs, Hadanefter fits multiple acts into each of them, as if they are each their own cinematic creation. Chanting, haunting interludes of near silence, and pacing kept under control instead of flaring out at every turn lets the album not languish in blackened purgatory.
That doesn’t mean these songs are easy to grasp though, as can be the case when opener “Buren Av Loppor” goes almost 20 minutes. There are little treats scattered in there, like a strong guitar solo that erupts from its icy hibernation, to throw the listener’s expectations all around. Those sorts of dynamics soften the album’s tough interior, though it’s not enough to make Hadanefter accessible except to the most ardent of black metal fans.
Kataan – Kataan (Prosthetic)
Former Vattnet Viskar vocalist/guitarist Nicholas Thornbury has teamed up with Astronoid’s Brett Boland in Kataan, an apocalyptic death metal group that makes a grand impression on their tense self-titled EP. In four songs, the duo ramps up the menace and wrath in a way that transcends their genre trappings. This isn’t a solely dissonant experience though, as the band opens up into post metal on a song like the captivating closer “Vessel.”
For Boland, Kataan provides another outlet for him to step from center stage and back into the drum kit. While he is known for being the vocalist/guitarist in Astronoid, he’s also an accomplished drummer, which he is able to show off on this EP. This gives Thornbury the space to test out his distorted screams and expansive riffs. It’ll be interesting to see where the two musicians take Kataan; if they decide to expand the lineup or keep it as is, or if they go on tour or stay as a studio band.
Mephitic Grave – Into The Atrium Of Inhuman Morbidity (Carbonized)
A rusty gate swings open, leading us into the degradation within Mephitic Grave’s Into The Atrium Of Inhuman Morbidity. This sound effect is part of the album’s opener, “Entering The Atrium/The Gatekeeper,” an atmospheric way to welcome one to the horror that’s contained within the next 30 minutes. The band isn’t looking to make their music pretty or appealing, letting the musk of rot sink into every song.
When the innovators of death metal invented the genre, they probably envisioned it decades later sounding like Into The Atrium Of Inhuman Morbidity. The album was recorded in guitarist Knot’s basement workshop, which makes its low-fi sound understandable. This sounds like something spawned from an underground lair, its walls hiding in them a labyrinth of decay that stretches generations.
The San Diego power metal band Nightshadow formed nearly ten years ago, released an EP in 2017, and now emerge with their full-length debut Strike Them Dead.
The twin guitar work from Nick Harrington and Danny Fang is impressive, with a lot of shredding solos and creative riffs throughout the album. While there are a lot of DragonForce influences, Nightshadow also have obviously listened to plenty of Helloween, Stratovarius and Iron Maiden. While “Ripper” is prototypical extreme power metal, tracks like “Love & Vengeance” deviate from the template. It starts out as a ballad before kicking in to metal mode about halfway through. They even have a little thrash influence on the blazing “Blood Penance.” The musicianship is excellent, but Nightshadow are also able to write memorable songs, which will serve them well going forward.
Solstice – Casting The Die (Emanzipation)
Solstice perform a rash style of thrash with a bit of a death metal influence on Casting The Die. This is a hard-hitting affair that packs a wallop. Songs are full of energy, but at the same time somewhat standard sounding. The band’s sound is modern, but also features some classic influences.
Solstice are in full attack mode throughout and at times rivals bands like Havok. However, there is not a ton of originality, which brings them down a bit. There is potential for even more interesting output from the band, but this is still a solid thrash release with some death metal tendencies.
Sonic Haven – Vagabond (Frontiers)
Vagabond is the debut album by Sonic Haven, a new project spearheaded by veteran metal singer Herbie Langhans (Firewind, Avantasia) to celebrate German melodic metal. While these are proper power metal anthems, the lyrical matter is grounded in reality, tackling topics like anxiety, resilience and hoping for brighter days.
The compositions are slick, catchy. “Keep The Flame Alive” and “I Believe” are instant sing-along material, and “Vagabond” will worm its way into your ears with ease. Langhans’ voice has more than enough personality to make us forgive a few easy rhymes and eye-rolling moments of musical cheese. These eleven songs will doubtlessly please fans of melodic metal, and fill your day with “passion and fire!”
Sumo Cyco – Initiation (Napalm)
Sumo Cyco’s Initiation is, by and large, a story of unfulfilled potential. The band’s third full-length outing, wreaks havok in the same neon-lit, rock/metal crossover dystopia that first brought them fame; but this return to “Cyco city” brings little fortune.
Their brand of metal-meets-punk-meets-pop is certainly enticing and is fully realized through the band’s ravenous performances. But a reliance on worn out pop cliches and lifeless production leaves a sour taste. Guitar riffs heave themselves lifelessly across the track list, unintentionally rendering the electronics as an irritant by contrast, and even powerhouse performances by vocalist Skye “Sever” Sweetnam succumb to a mire of B-rate lyricism. That said, the album isn’t a complete misfire; it simply takes greater falls than it does strides. The melodies are infectious and few could accuse the band of keeping their foot on the brakes. Each song is an attack on the senses and does so with assured direction. It’s a pity, then, that such a vividly painted panorama of cyberpunk aesthetics and roaring rebellion rarely delivers its promised potential.
Terminalist – The Great Acceleration (Indisciplinarian)
French philosopher Paul Virilio coined the idea of “dromology,” the science of speed in terms of societal/technological advances. Terminalist have taken this as the basis behind their debut album The Great Acceleration, by heightening their thrash metal with a blackened boost to form what they call “hyperthrash.” This is a fast record, for sure, but it’s not at 200 bpm the whole way through. The band like to blur the tempo lines (the wild last half of “Dromocracy” is close to black metal), but they also are able to make it sensible and distinct.
The album is split between three shorter, punchy songs and two behemoths that average ten minutes each. Terminalist are able to excel at both, whether it’s the frantic “Relentless Alteration” or the blossoming technicality of “Invention Of The Shipwreck.” It may not be the speediest album of all time, but The Great Acceleration is one that makes the science behind it worth wanting to read more about.
Tommy’s Rocktrip – Beat Up By Rock N’ Roll (Frontiers)
The Tommy behind Tommy’s Rocktrip is veteran drummer Tommy Clutefos, who has played with a lot of high-profile artists ranging from Ozzy To Black Sabbath to Rob Zombie to Alice Cooper. Beat Up By Rock N’ Roll is the debut album from his new project.
Clutefos, in addition to playing drums on the record, also does lead vocals on three tracks. The rest are handled by Eric Dover (Jellyfish, Slash’s Snakepit). The music on the album is bluesy hard rock that while not retro sounding, is certainly influenced by the greats of the ’70s and ’80s. The songs are guitar driven, but also melodic and radio ready. They are straightforward and catchy. Dover’s vocals fit the songs perfectly, while Clutefos does a serviceable job, with his strongest performance on the closer “The Power Of Three,” which is augmented with a saxophone.
Vokonis – Odyssey (The Sign)
The Swedish trio Vokonis‘ style has evolved over the years. Starting as mainly a stoner/doom outfit, they have added more prog to the mix, with their fourth album Odyssey their most progressive to-date. Guest keyboards from Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, ex-Opeth) help guide them down that progressive road.
There are still plenty of down-tuned riffs and sludgey sections along with progressive forays. There are dual vocals with Jonte Johansson’s smooth, melodic style contrasted by periodic harsh vocals from Simon Ohlsson that add variety. Some songs, like the opener “Rebellion” and “Blackened Wings” are compact in length while still providing twists and turns. Others like the title track and 12 plus minute closer “Through The Depths” are given much more space to develop while maintaining interest throughout. There are certainly Mastodon influences, but Vokonis have developed their own approach, with Odyssey their strongest album so far.