This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Autarkh, Carnal Tomb, Fallen Utopia, Gama Bomb, Helms Deep, Horsewhip, Left Cross, The Mosaic Window, Plaguemace, Shylmagoghnar, Sodom, Tarja, Triumph Of Death, Vastum and Welcome To Pleshiwar.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Autarkh – Emergent (Season Of Mist)
After the demise of the Dutch avant-garde black metal band Dodecahedron, Michel Nienhuis formed Autarkh. The group issued their debut in 2021, and follow that up with Emergent.
Autarkh’s brand of extreme metal spans numerous genres. Electronics are a big part of the song compositions, sometimes acting as background atmospheres, other times becoming more prominent. “Strife” has melodeath moments and combination of melodic and harsh vocals, while tracks like “Dunkha” are more progressive and avant-garde. “Trek” starts out very intense and chaotic before eventually mellowing out and becoming catchy later on. There’s no shortage of variety on Emergent, and while not all the band’s experiments work, most do, making for an interesting and ever-shifting listen.
Carnal Tomb – Embalmed In Decay (Testimony)
The intro of the German band Carnal Tomb‘s third album Embalmed In Decay gives way to “The Putridarium” and their death metal begins to take form. The slow lumbering beast crawls through the purulence as the drums crash around vocalist/guitarist Cryptic Tormentor in the best way possible. You can smell the rot from dead bodies on each successive riff.
“Defiled Flesh” features a slow down before unleashing a speedy section which begins to whirl around the listener enveloping you in a blizzard of bloodshed that evokes some of the sounds of the Stockholm scene of yesteryear. Embalmed In Decay is a fun death metal album that speaks to those who have moldered since the scene’s beginning. This album is purely death metal in the most simplistic of ways and Carnal Tomb do it well. If you are the kind of person who cannot get enough death metal in your day, let Embalmed In Decay be the next entry of your revelry.
Ruin, the second album from the Austrian band Fallen Utopia has a heavy melodic death metal flavor to it that verges towards straight up death metal. There is a very modern feel to the songs and the injection of melody is strong indeed. The songs cruise by at a fairly fast pace and this is nice, though they are somewhat derivative of Amon Amarth.
Heavy death metal with a modern edge and this is what the band’s goal seems to be and the unrelenting nature of the material means it won’t get boring. Songs like “The Curse of Akkad” bristle with energy and are infectious. Fans of modern death metal will find a lot to like here. There is simply so much energy to this band and they hold a melodic side that is impressive too. This is an impressive death metal work and I look forward to how Fallen Utopia can evolve in the future.
Gama Bomb – Bats (Prosthetic)
Gama Bomb were part of the wave of young thrash bands that emerged in the early 2000s paying homage to the genre’s greats. Many of those so- called “re-thrash” bands quickly disappeared, but others have carved out nice careers. That includes the UK group Gama Bomb, whose creativity and sense of humor have helped them carve out their own niche in the speed/thrash metal genre.
Their latest album Bats has the galloping thrash riffs you expect, but there are plenty of surprises as well. That includes a guest appearance from rapper The Egyptian Lover on “Egyptron” and a tasty sax solo on closer “Bats In Your Hair.” Philly Byrne’s vocal diversity is on full display as well, with range and a falsetto few singers in the thrash genres possess. More than 20 years after they emerged, Gama Bomb are keeping things fresh with Bats, which they describe as their weirdest yet.
Helms Deep – Treacherous Ways (Nameless Grave)
Helms Deep introduce themselves with air raid sirens and the sounds of gunfire, making a more than fitting intro to their heavy metal attack on their debut Treacherous Ways. The band is headed by vocalist/guitarist Alex Sciortino with drums provided by Mike Heller and bass and backing vocals courtesy of Raven’s John Gallagher.
“Fire Rain” is a great opener for the band as this searing string strike is an unparalleled assault on the senses with speed and melody galore. “Medusa’s Requiem” is a great song to listen to especially if you love a band like Satan; great melodies with a dark sense of purpose and a showcase for what Sciortino’s vocals provide. Treacherous Ways is an awesome debut for Helms Deep seeing as this feels more like a well-oiled machine than a new band, everything is well thought out and played expertly well. Fans of traditional heavy metal have no excuse not to pick this one up, one of the best pure heavy metal records of the year.
Horsewhip – Consume And Burn (Iodine)
Spawned in the dark swamp-scapes of Tampa Bay, there’s nothing pretty, trendy or commercial-leaning about Horsewhip’s music. Their latest effort, Consume And Burn, is the soundtrack to your next black eye courtesy of a stray elbow in the pit. This isn’t a band who are being paid by the hour. Eight tracks clock in at less than 20 minutes, which will give the uninitiated a fair indication of what to expect. However, the quartet packs plenty of intensity into that short running time.
There are a few fleeting moments of Neurosis-like introspection, but flickers of melody in cuts like “Buried” and brief interlude track “Dark Matter” aside, this is paint-peeling, sometimes dissonant, metal-flecked hardcore often played at breakneck speed. For some, Horsewhip’s attack will lack sufficient variety and hooks, and these cuts won’t suit every mood or occasion. But if you’re looking for an uncompromising sonic gut-punch, this could be the answer.
Left Cross – Upon Desecrated Altars (Profound Lore)
Battle-tested death metal is on Left Cross’ agenda with their second album, Upon Desecrated Altars. Those thinking the band has anything more than that are tuning into the wrong record, as they are ready for war and need something to back up their slaughtering. Even the introduction track, “Debellation,” is a minute and a half of an ongoing attack, with yelling and muffled screams.
Those that experienced their mind-numbing debut Chaos Ascension will be prepared for this album. While that first album was under 23 minutes, this one is nearly 35, and those 12 extra minutes make a difference. When the group’s idea of taking it easy is a bass guitar intro with piercing guitar feedback behind it, there isn’t much cover to hide from its reign of terror. Upon Desecrated Altars is unapologetic in being a test for how much sonic punishment one can withstand.
The Mosaic Window – Plight Of Acceptance (Willowtip)
The Mosaic Window’s music is the product of musician Andrew Steven Brown, who wrote Plight Of Acceptance in the aftermath of the deaths of multiple close family members. The band’s Bandcamp page, where the album was originally self-released this past June before being re-released by Willowtip Records, has the message of, “In memory of those we have lost,” at the bottom of the page. The end of life and what comes after it defines every song.
Being in this headspace under a black/death metal banner could’ve led to an impenetrable album, yet Brown finds melodies he can fit in with his guitar and vocal work. The latter is done by layering growls over singing over spoken word, which opener “Comatic Burial” does well. Even at its most vicious, there’s something like an appealing guitar solo to break through the sadness. Plight Of Acceptance is a cathartic experience for anyone who has struggled to come to terms with the loss of someone dear to them.
Plaguemace – Reptilian Warlords (Napalm)
After skewering religion on their Primal Priest EP, Plaguemace are going for world domination with the help of scaly-skinned creatures in Reptilian Warlords. A loose concept album about lizards rising up against humans, this Danish death metal group doesn’t skimp on the decapitations and murderous rage the reptiles unleash. They don’t take themselves totally seriously, with “Rhythmic Demise” being their attempt at a mosh pit anthem.
They aren’t able to avoid the goofier side of the genre, like the spoken word interlude “Cavedweller’s Solliloquy” and battle song “Warcries From The Crypts,” which both border on parody. It’s akin to something from the Metalocalypse TV show, with vocals that sound too close to Nathan Explosion’s deep grunts. Reptilian Warlords is at its best when Plaguemace only concern themselves with gruff death metal.
Shylmagoghnar – Convergence (Napalm)
Shylmagoghnar have gone from a duo to a solo project on Convergence, with multi-instrumentalist Nimblkorg taking on lead vocals. A founding member of a band with inventive progressive death/black metal, their career has been about eschewing expectations for what this style of music can achieve. One of their signatures has been a prevalence of instrumental songs on each album, a feature that is pulled over to Convergence.
Four of the ten tracks are instrumental, an avenue that allows Nimblkorg to utilize synthwave, touching piano solos, and even prog metal rippers like the double-digit opener “I Hear The Mountain Weep.” The other songs with vocals maintain this adventurous spirit, from the folk-laden ballad “The Sea” to the rampaging “Strata.” Convergence is the third record in a row from Shylmagoghnar that delivers bold and daring metal.
Sodom – 1982 (Steamhammer/SPV)
Back in 1982 thrash was in its infancy. Bands like Sodom, Kreator and Destruction would soon help spread the genre across the world. Just over 40 years since their formation, Sodom are revisiting their early days with the five song EP 1982.
The songs on the EP were part of last year’s anniversary box set, but are now available as a stand alone release. The opening title track is an homage to those days of yore, a new song where lone remaining original member Tom Angelripper reminisces about Sodom’s beginning. The other four tracks are re-recordings of early songs by the band’s current lineup. The arrangements are the same, but the musicianship is certainly better on tracks like “Witching Metal” from their 1983 demo and “Victims Of Death” from their 1984 demo. 1982 is a nice combination of past and present.
Tarja – Dark Christmas (earMusic)
It’s that time of year, when the Halloween decorations are taken down and stores start stocking Christmas merchandise. It’s also the time of year for holiday albums. Back in 2017 Tarja released From Spirits And Ghosts (Score For A Dark Christmas). Six years later she has recorded another dozen Christmas songs.
While these are well-known Christmas songs (except for the title track, which is an original), the title Dark Christmas gives you a good idea of the style of the arrangement. Tracks like “Frosty The Snowman,” “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bell Rock” are given a gothic, symphonic, darker vibe. Tarja’s powerful voice and operatic style is perfect for songs like “The First Noel” and “O Holy Night” where her wide range is on display. She also covers what has become the most popular contemporary Christmas song, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” slowing it down and giving it an entirely different vibe. She does the same with Wham’s “Last Christmas.” Dark Christmas lives up to its name, putting a more ominous spin on holiday classics.
Triumph Of Death – Resurrection Of The Flesh (Noise/BMG)
Hellhammer were a band that didn’t get a lot of appreciation during their brief existence from 1982 to 1984. Two of their members would go on to form Celtic Frost, and it didn’t take long before Hellhammer’s music would get the respect it deserved for its influence on several extreme metal genres.
Celtic Frost and Triptykon would occasionally play Hellhammer songs live, but in 2018 Tom Gabriel Warrior formed Triumph Of Death. They have played numerous shows over the past several years, something the original band weren’t able to do. Resurrection Of The Flesh is a collection of live songs recorded at three different shows earlier this year. Four decades later the songs still have the raw power and aggression of youth, but are played with a lot more skill and better production than they were back then. That elevates the songs without losing their original spirit. Hellhammer fans will definitely want to check out Resurrection Of The Flesh.
Vastum – Inward To Gethsemane (20 Buck Spin)
Hailing from Oakland, California, Vastum have put the blackest spell of evil poetry at the heart of their new album, Inward To Gethsemane. It’s another maleficent narrative of the hellish underworld and death that lurks in the darkest cellars, viciously crawling under the skin.
Vastum’s fifth album is a deadly ambitious ode that contains all the power and glory of the band in one place. Death metal is intelligently mixed with doom metal, and black metal is integrated in the basis of the songs, in a way to point to its most evil strains and to keep the originality of death metal at the same time. The vocal exchanges between Leila Abdul-Rauf and Daniel Butler also confirms Vastum’s rise in the purity of its evil sound more than before. They have taken more than one step forward in Inward To Gethsemane. Exaltation and reaching the peak of the career are the points that clearly show themselves on Vastum’s best and most complete album to date.
Welcome To Pleshiwar – Apostasy (Black Sunset/MDD)
Coming on to the scene in 2021 with their popular Unsolved EP, Welcome To Pleshiwar have decided to follow up with a doom and death metal fan’s dream: Apostasy. It helps that they are formed from previous Reawacan and Immortalis members. With a total runtime coming in just under forty minutes, the time is well used and is not wasted.
The album feels like a nice homage to the death doom bands of the 1990’s, just made for modern day. Tracks like “Darkness within Light” and “Praying Mantis” are two examples of these two genres working in harmony. Welcome To Pleshiwar demonstrate how even in a scene as dense as Germany’s, one can still find ways to make a style unique and fresh to get modern audiences interested and hooked.