This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Bastard Of Loran, Black Label Society, Blodtar, Helmet, Hypocrisy, Imperial Triumphant, Lee Aaron, Lordi, Lock Up, Negura Bunget, The Ocean and Rhapsody Of Fire.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Bastard Of Loran – Beckoning The Red Moon (Northern Silence)
Beckoning The Red Moon is the debut album of Catalonian black metal band Bastard Of Loran. Drawing its themes and imagery from the world of video game franchises Dark Souls and the manga Berserk, this album consists of 8 tracks of organ-laden black metal, conjuring gothic darkness and epic fantasy melodicism in equal part. The vocals have that classic black metal rasp, but in a slightly lower register, sometimes dropping into gurgling whispers.
While the riffs are nothing fancy, the organ drives the song with aplomb, and the composition flows nicely from moment to moment. There’s enough variation to maintain interest despite the overt focus on atmosphere, which comes with a lack of memorable hooks. Beckoning The Red Moon is a solid debut, and aptly captures the haunting grandeur of the works it pays homage to.
Blodtar – Blodtar (Nordvis)
Blodtar’s self-titled EP is four tracks of unfiltered black metal, lashing out with the tenacity the genre is known for. It would be a mistake to assume the band is one-note based on the first few minutes of opener “Djavulskap,” which offers no respite to the listener. A quaint acoustic guitar pops in halfway through, opening up new melodic directions the band continues to push within the confines of its bitter nature.
This exploration includes guitar leads on several songs, as well as the return of the acoustics for an extended outro to closer “Aldrig Mer.” Though not connected as one continuous piece of music, this EP stands better when absorbed in that mindset. Approaching this release that way comes with the discovery that Blodtar are more than just a duo from Sweden worshipping their idols.
Black Label Society – Doom Crew Inc. (eOne)
It has been over 20 years since Black Label Society emerged with Sonic Brew. Over the years they’ve amassed a loyal fan base with their brand of classic metal influenced by legends like Black Sabbath. Their eleventh studio album Doom Crew Inc. follows in the well-worn path they have established over the years.
The songs are driven by Zakk Wylde’s potent riffs. They are sometimes doomy and deliberate, on tracks like “Destroy & Conquer” and other times more brisk, such as “End Of Days” and “Gather All My Sins.” Wylde’s vocals have improved a lot over the years, and are especially showcased on the mellow ballads “End Of Days” and “Love Reign Down.” The BLS template is well established, but along with the familiar styles, there are some surprising moments as well in Doom Crew Inc.‘s dozen songs, making it another strong entry in their catalog.
Helmet – Live And Rare (earMusic)
Surely one of heavy music’s more under-rated and influential acts, Helmet have been plying their noisy trade for more than 30 years (hiatus notwithstanding). Now, the US hard rockers have opened their proverbial vaults, or in this case an old band locker, for Live And Rare.
This set is the group’s first live album, and its less than 45-minute running time features excerpts of two performances. One is from legendary New York club CBGB’s prior to 1990 debut Strap It On. Captured at their neighborhood venue, the band itself and recording quality are raw, but the sweaty energy is evident. The second half is courtesy of the Melbourne leg of the Big Day Out festival in 1993. Having since been snapped up by a major label amid the post-Nevermind frenzy, the band’s a more seasoned unit, but songs from 1992’s Meantime are relentlessly riff-loaded and tougher than a two-dollar steak. Live And Rare can safely be marked “for diehard fans only”, but said folks will find a treasure trove here.
Hypocrisy – Worship (Nuclear Blast)
It has been a while since we’ve heard from Swedish death metal veterans Hypocrisy. Their last album was 2013’s End Of Disclosure. Eight years later they are back with their thirteenth studio album Worship. The lineup of vocalist/guitarist Peter Tagtgren, Mikael Hedlund and drummer Horgh all return.
Hypocrisy have a knack for writing songs that are both brutal and catchy. Memorable riffs and intense parts abound. It’s a diverse record as well. “Another Day” moves at a brisk tempo with galloping riffs, “Bug In The Net” is atmospheric with airy moments, and even the numerous mid-tempo tracks shift tempos and intensities. Thirty years in, there’s no lack of passion in Hypocrisy’s performance, their musicianship is impeccable and the production is excellent. That makes Worship a first-rate death metal album, another consistent entry in a long line of quality Hypocrisy releases.
Imperial Triumphant – An Evening With Imperial Triumphant (Century Media)
With four full-lengths and several EPs under their belt, the New York City avant-garde trio Imperial Triumphant are issuing their first live album, An Evening With Imperial Triumphant. It was recorded at the Slipper Room in their hometown.
Imperial Triumphant songs tend to be fairly long, so the set list is only eight songs. Five of those are from last year’s Alphaville. Their music is complex and ever-shifting in tempo and texture, and Imperial Triumphant expertly shift from brutal to experimental to mellow and back again. Stretching the hour long set list and adding a couple more songs would have been even better, but it’s always better to leave them wanting more instead of overstaying your welcome.
Lee Aaron – Almost Christmas (Metalville)
Most holiday albums suffer from the same issues, and this effort by the original metal queen, Lee Aaron, is no exception. Like most yuletide releases, Almost Christmas contains a mix of holiday standards and original compositions, and herein lies the problem. Though decent enough rock tunes, none of the originals here seem destined to become holiday classics.
Conversely, the challenge with standards is one can’t help but compare with the myriad versions that already exist (compare this “Merry Christmas Everybody” with Cheap Trick’s version from a few years back, and Darlene Love’s original “Baby Please Come Home” is the only one the world will ever need). More successful are Aaron’s saucy take on “Zat You Santa Claus” and a truly heart-wrenching take on Over The Rhine’s “All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue.” Competent, but not essential.
Lordi – Lordiversity (AFM)
The idea behind Lordi‘s last album Killection was that it was a compilation album imagining that the band had been around since the early ’70s (they actually formed in the early ’90s). Now, with Lordiversity they make that ’70s style back catalog a reality.
Lordiversity is a collection of seven albums: Skeletric Dinosaur, Superflytrap, The Masterbeast, Abusement Park, Humanimals, Abracadaver and Spooky Sextravaganza. The albums run the gamut of seventies styles from classic rock to disco to glam to prog to hard rock to metal. With 78 songs it’s an ambitious idea, bringing a fictional back catalog to life, and there are a lot of excellent songs. With four plus hours of material there’s also some filler, but Lordi fans should enjoy this massive collection of new old music.
Lock Up – The Dregs Of Hades (Listenable)
Lock Up has always consisted of an all-star lineup. The death-grind band has included such names as Jesse Pintado (R.I.P.), Nick Barker and Peter Tägtgren. The Dregs Of Hades features the dual vocal attack of Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates, Disfear) and Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth). Adam Jarvis (Misery Index, Pig Destroyer), Shane Embury (Napalm Death) and Anton Reisenegger (Brujeria, Pentagram Chile) round out the group.
Reisenegger is the driving force behind The Dregs Of Hades. He balances D-beats with machine-gun blast beats. Sharp’s caveman voice blends well with Lindberg’s tortured, sandpaper delivery. “Dark Force of Conviction” kicks off with a sick scream from Sharp. The group have an interesting way of mixing death and grind. “Misdirection Thief” combines dark death metal with D-beat grind. “Hell Will Plague the Ruins” has a vicious, steam-rolling low-end guitar riff. Over 20 years since their formation and Lock Up continue to mince faces with The Dregs Of Hades!
Negura Bunget – Zau (Lupus Lounge/Prophecy)
Negura Bunget released Zi in 2016, and with the 2017 death of the band’s driving force drummer Gabriel “Negru” Nafa, it appeared it would be the group’s last release. But Negru had already recorded the drum tracks for a new album before the band’s final tour. The surviving members completed the record, which is Zau.
The opening 15 minute track “Brad” is mostly instrumental and cinematic, with traditional song structure kicking in only briefly in the middle of the song. The rest of the songs have similar arcs, with lengthy instrumental sections contrasted by intense metal parts. It makes for a dynamic album, with instruments like the pan flute giving it a unique sound. It also sometimes drags, with the mellow sections lasting too long. Negura Bunget were always a band that pushed musical boundaries, and that continues with Zau. The circumstances surrounding its creation make it even more poignant, and a moving tribute to the life and musical legacy of Gabriel “Negru” Mafa.
The Ocean – Phanerozoic Live (Metal Blade)
Earlier this year, The Ocean recorded Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic and Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic/Cenozoic live in their entireties during two separate events. The results of these are documented in Phanerozoic Live. Phanerozoic I was performed as a global livestream, while Phanerozoic II was a part of this year’s Roadburn Redux. The band released Phanerozoic II last year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, so this show was a chance to support the album live, which they couldn’t do in 2020.
The transition from studio to a concert setting is nearly flawless, with extended ambient synth intros and outros being added to a few songs. The band doesn’t deviate far from the source material besides those interludes, but it isn’t needed with songs that bustle and weave through constantly shifting emotional states. Phanerozoic Live is an excellent snapshot of a group making the best out of a worldwide crisis by giving these albums an opportunity to be heard live.
Rhapsody Of Fire – Glory For Salvation (AFM)
The Italian symphonic power metal band Rhapsody Of Fire have undergone a lot of changes over the years, from their name to many different lineups. The constant has been Alex Staropoli, the lone remaining original member. Their latest opus Glory For Salvation has another change, bringing aboard drummer Paolo Marchesich.
It’s the second album of original material for vocalist Giacomo Voli, and the lyrical concept continues that of 2019’s The Eighth Mountain, the argument of redemption and the valor of life. The songs follow the template of past Rhapsody Of Fire albums: epic compositions with bombast, atmosphere and depth. The arrangements augment the framework of riffs and melodies without overwhelming them. The addition of backing choirs on several songs add even more grandiosity to the proceedings. The lengths are fairly streamlined, except for the album’s centerpiece, the nearly 11 minute “Abyss Of Pain II,” expanding on The Eighth Mountain‘s brief opening instrumental “Abyss Of Pain.” This era of the band has now delivered two strong records in a row.