This week’s Heavy Music HQ reviews include releases from Alter Bridge, Catalyst, Daeva, Girih, Lacuna Coil, Orianthi, Riot City, Sea Of Snakes, Skid Row, Sleeping With Sirens, Stormruler, Victoria K and Vorbid.
The ratings are on a 5 star scale.
Alter Bridge – Pawns & Kings (Napalm)
I struggle with reviews like this, because Alter Bridge are really, really good at what they do. Besides the former Creed boys succeeding in the greatest lead singer upgrade in rock history with Myles Kennedy, their latest album Pawns & Kings is packed full of massive riffs, stacks of guitars, and stratospheric, yet melodic, vocals.
Compared to past releases, Pawns & Kings trends darker, yet still with their trademark themes of inspiration and encouragement. Opener “This Is War” blasts out of the gate with operatic choirs, followed by track after track of epic heavy rock, sure to please the band’s fanbase. So what’s my problem? With the exception of 2016’s excellent The Last Hero, play me a random Alter Bridge song and I’m hard pressed to tell you which album it’s from. Make no mistake, if you like Alter Bridge, you will love this record. My attention started wandering at the halfway mark, simply from the lack of diversity.
Catalyst – A Different Painting For A New World (Non Serviam)
The entire universe is in the crossfire of two opposing forces on Catalyst’s ambitious second album, A Different Painting For A New World. For almost an hour, the technical death metal group weaves a story with high stakes, amplified by a continuous stream of splendid musicianship. They put more emphasis on melodic features compared to their previous releases, with passionate singing on a few tracks and regular usage of acoustics and orchestration.
It’s a smart move, as a way to give the lyrical concept real depth. Those that just want their ears melted will find plenty to like about A Different Painting For A New World, as there’s a seemingly endless trove of solos from all the members. The last third of the album has Catalyst hitting their groove, with astonishing guitar solos on “Behold Thy Purification” and the 10-minute closing title track. The song ends the album on a somber, yet prideful, note.
Daeva – Through Sheer Will And Black Magic… (20 Buck Spin)
Daeva has three members of epic doom metal group Crypt Sermon involved, though Through Sheer Will And Black Magic… has the temerity to sneer at that style in favor of a harsher blackened thrash. These songs are rippers, with a production that emphasizes the walloping drum work and sharpened guitar riffs. All of this is kept together by raspy bellows delighting over Lucifer’s ascent and other ritual splendors.
The big attribute Daeva have worked on since their 2017 EP, Pulsing Dark Absorptions, is an inclusion of unearthly atmosphere. This is most apparent in the instrumental opener “Intro (Emanations)” and the bleak outro to “Passion Under The Hammer,” which doesn’t just act as a space to settle down but a method to conjure up a different perspective to the group. They don’t just fly ahead recklessly but have a methodical stance to their bubbling rage.
Girih – Ikigai (Dunk!/A Thousand Arms)
It’s been four years since we’ve heard from New Hampshire instrumental post-metal trio Girih, but they’re back now with their second album, Ikigai. The album title comes from the Japanese term for finding a sense of purpose, and across the eight songs presented here the band put that purpose to work.
Girih’s style slots in favorably with bands like Pelican and Russian Circles. Enigmatic song titles such as “The Door” and “The Ring” add to the music’s mystique, while the songs deftly show off plenty of dynamics. If there’s a nitpick here it is that the songs don’t readily differentiate themselves from one another – although all strong material, I find myself having problems discerning one song from the next. A bit more variation and Girih will have a true post-metal gem on their hands next time around.
Lacuna Coil – Comalies XX (Century Media)
Released in 2004, Comalies was Lacuna Coil’s breakthrough album. They have re-recorded the songs from that album, with Comalies XX including both the original and new versions.
While some songs are given minor refreshes with modern production, others undergo more obvious changes. “Tight Rope,” “Daylight Dancer” and pretty much every other song adds harsh vocals from Andrea Ferro, giving them more bite than the original. One of their most well-known songs, “Heaven’s A Lie,” is given a more understated arrangement, there are harsh vocals from Ferro, and Cristina Scabbia’s singing is more dynamic. While certainly not essential, Lacuna Coil fans should enjoy the alternate takes of songs they’ve been listening to for nearly two decades.
Orianthi – Rock Candy (Frontiers)
Australian guitarist Orianthi has played and toured with some of music’s biggest names including Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper. She has also released several solo albums, with Rock Candy her latest effort. She handles vocals and guitar, with producer Jacob Bunton providing bass, guitar and keyboards, and Kyle Cunningham on drums.
Tracks like “Where Did Your Heart Go” and the acoustic “Living Is Like Dying Without You” are catchy and accessible in the pop/rock vein, while songs such as “Light It Up” and “Red Light” pack more punch and are hard rock/metal tunes. There are bluesy numbers as well such as “Witches The Devil.” As you’d expect, there are plenty of guitar solos and powerful riffs. Rock Candy is a diverse blend of rock and hard rock with the 11 tracks flying by in about a half hour.
Riot City – Electric Elite (No Remorse)
Albertan assailants Riot City return with their sophomore effort Electric Elite, chock full of plenty of ‘80s styled speed metal with a multitude of melody to meet you there. Flying out of the gate with “Eye of the Jaguar,” vocalist Jordan Jacobs soars in a “Painkiller” way while his guitarists Cale Savy, Roldan Reimer and Dustin Smith power through riff after riff, rhythm after rhythm met only by the likes of their drummer Chad Vallier; a powerful bit of metallic fury.
Riot City aren’t afraid to slow things down in more of a European fist-pumping style on “Tyrant” complete with the chanting of the song’s titled interspersed with Jacobs’ flying falsettos. In an ever-evolving effort “Return of the Force” is an old school headbanger allowing only for maximum speed to take the listener to the next level. The band clearly isn’t interested in a singular sound, carving out their unique niche as they proceed. Electric Elite is the sound of an energized band set for heavy metal domination.
Sea Of Snakes – The Serpent And The Lamb (Self)
The Serpent And The Lamb keeps Sea Of Snakes’ stoner metal smothered in Southern grooves, though unlike their EP from last year, World On Fire, there’s a greater haste to its execution. The first few songs maintain a feverish stomp, with “Get The Gun” and “Start A War” being foot tappers. Even when they are restricted to a mid-tempo style, the chunkiness of their riffs gives the songs a hefty feel.
Sea Of Snakes have shown growth with their versatility on this debut album, as “Dead Man’s Song” takes its cues from Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” by virtue of its hazy melodies. “End Of The Sun” pushes the band into doom metal, as a measured start gives way to a strong guitar solo in its second half. They can even pull out a catchy chorus, like on “God Of Creation.” The development of the group between World On Fire and The Serpent And The Lamb is apparent.
Skid Row – The Gang’s All Here (earMusic)
High on the list of things I never imagined typing: Skid Row release a kick-ass record in 2022. Unlike many ’80s bands – Anthrax, perhaps – who reunited with their original singer to achieve it, the Skids did so without a certain tall, blonde big mouth. On The Gang’s All Here, new singer Erik Grönwall (poached from Swedish rockers H.E.A.T.) brings just enough of the spit and range of Sebastian Bach without being a copycat.
Secret weapon Nick Raskulinicz has developed a knack for reminding legacy bands what made them great originally. His muscular production recalls the band’s classic-era high water mark, Slave To The Grind, with modern heft that keeps things from sounding totally retro. “Time Bomb” features a bruising riff, slinky bass line, and one of many memorable choruses, while epic ballad “October’s Song” harkens back to Slave’s “Quicksand Jesus.” All in all, a most enjoyable surprise.
Sleeping With Sirens – Complete Collapse (Sumerian)
Complete Collapse is the seventh full-length from metalcore veterans Sleeping With Sirens. It looks like it’s the swan song for longtime guitarist Jack Fowler, who announced his departure from the band a few months ago.
Like on previous albums, Sleeping With Sirens blend heaviness with extremely catchy hooks and choruses and diverse vocals from Kellin Quinn. There are numerous guest appearances on the record. Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain appears on the heavy yet catchy “Crosses,” pop punk singer Charlotte Sands shines on the accessible “Let You Down,” indie pop singer Royal The Serpent guests on “Be Happy” and Dorothy lends her talents to the rocker “Us.” The numerous guests and varied styles make for an eclectic but cohesive album from Sleeping With Sirens.
Stormruler – Sacred Rites & Black Magick (Napalm)
The St. Louis black metal duo Stormruler emerged last year with the well-received Under A Burning Eclipse. A little over a year later they are back with Sacred Rites & Black Magick.
Their take on the genre embraces the blastbeats and icy riffs of the style with modern production that brings the musicianship to the forefront, though the vocals are fairly deep in the mix. They also put interludes of a minute or so between each proper song, with mixed results. Some are compelling, such as the opening acoustic guitar driven “Hymns Of The Slumbering Race” and the cinematic “In Light Of Paleblood” that effectively set the stage for what’s next, while others don’t really add anything interesting. Sacred Rites & Black Magick is an ambitious album, and despite a few lulls manages to be engaging and entertaining.
Victoria K – Kore (Rockshots)
For their second record, the Australian symphonic/gothic metal band Victoria K decided to do a concept album. Kore explores modern day issues through the Homeric Hymn To Demeter (the story of Persephone).
The arrangements have a lot of depth and atmosphere. There are bombastic and heavy tracks such as “Raptum” along with dynamic songs like “The Child” that go from quiet and reserved to all out symphonic metal and back again. Harsh vocals on songs like “Persephone” and “Blasphemia” also provide variety. The songs on Kore are complex but not overly long, with most in the 5 minute range. Epic tracks like the seven plus “Tower” are engaging throughout. Victoria K displays a wide vocal range and sings in multiple languages on the album, a compelling symphonic metal effort.
Vorbid – A Swan By The Edge Of Mandala (Indie)
For their second album, A Swan By The Edge Of Mandala, thrashers Vorbid have upped their progressive streak, transforming them into almost a whole new entity. When before they seemed anxious to go as fast as they could without flying off the edge, now they are reserved in how quickly they increase the tempos. Melodic vocals, new to the band, are a huge asset to this direction, forming a tight bond alongside jagged screams.
Vorbid doesn’t throw out too many tricks to be labeled “progressive.” They do it with free-forming songs unrestricted to their past. If they want saxophone in the mix, as they do on closer “Self,” it’s done in a natural manner. They don’t need 20-minute songs to do it either (they tried that before with the middling self-titled track from 2018’s Mind). Vorbid have done a great service to the prog thrash metal scene with A Swan By The Edge Of Mandala.